Actions

Work Header

Raising the Protagonist

Chapter Text

“Just as the Black Moon Rhinoceros Python was about to turn her into bloody paste, she clutched a hand over her quivering bosom and cried for help—Junshang! My Junshang!” Shang Qinghua’s voice pitched higher. “Come save me so that I may become your wife!”

“Rescue her!” Luo Binghe shouted. He rocked back hard on Shang Qinghua’s lap, forcing a breathy cough from his eager storyteller.

“Yes, yes, just like that. You have to rush in!” Gripping one of Luo Binghe’s wrists in his hand, Shang Qinghua pushed it forward in a mock punch. “Wu Mingxia is going to be the 262nd love of your—er, someone’s life, and a real man never keeps a damsel waiting. She even comes with a very nice little summer home in the mountains and--”

“Do you really believe in such a thing?” Mobei Jun interrupted, revealing he was awake from his cross-legged position on the floor, head dipped and eyes closed for the past hour.

“Believe in what, my king?” Shang Qinghua asked without turning to face him. He lightly bounced Luo Binghe on his lap, noting with every press of weight how much he had grown since being brought here years ago.

“A love of one’s life.”

The elaboration was dismissed with a hand wave. “Eh, of course not. No one of any sense would swear their life away to one person, let alone someone they had only just met. It’s merely something authors use to shill books and pad poetry.” Shang Qinghua chuckled, remembering just how well his own readers had lapped it up hundreds of times before, regardless of its insincerity. He cleared his throat. “But he’s just a baby.”

“I’m not a baby!” Luo Binghe protested, looking back only to be lightly shushed. His cheeks puffed in a pout.

“Young minds love romance, and our Bing-er has to grow up innocent and pure-hearted.” Shang Qinghua nuzzled his face into the fluff atop Luo Binghe’s head where his hair was already settling just above his shoulders. You can’t blacken a heart that doesn’t exist after all, he added to himself, then flinching from a sudden twist in his gut. It had become something of a common occurrence recently, clearly a sign of overworking. Could a cultivator get ulcers? He pushed the sensation down like he always did and looked to Mobei Jun for distraction.

He was met with a sour face.

“If you’re going to spend so much time telling him these stories, then teach him something useful with them.” Mobei Jun’s tone was cold for someone who hadn’t voiced any concerns before. Everyone’s a critic!

The demon heir’s nightly presence was nearing a regular thing now, as he opted to stay an hour or two after Shang Qinghua returned to the Leisure House. He rarely did much, usually just sitting in the same corner somewhere between meditation and sleep. He allowed Luo Binghe to use him as furniture, and was a surprisingly silent audience to Shang Qinghua’s habitual ranting about his day, which until recently had been a Binghe-only show.

Tonight he had stayed long enough to make a crowd of two for storytime.

“I like Baba’s stories but I am not a baby,” Luo Binghe argued again. “Binghe is...ah…” He looked down at his hand, moving his fingers like they were suddenly new to him.

“Not a baby, yes, my mistake.” Shang Qinghua admitted, closing both his hands over Luo Binghe’s to stifle the train of thought about his age. “Where as I am already old, your poor Baba. Time for sleep.” He provided a helpful start by sliding Luo Binghe off his lap and onto the bed.

“Okay…” Luo Binghe agreed, his voice so laden with sadness that Shang Qinghua would’ve fallen for the blatant manipulation if he hadn’t already built up some tolerance. He watched as Luo Binghe carefully let his slippers drop onto the floor neatly by the bedside, and pulled back the blanket to squiggle beneath it.

Satisfied bed time was in progress, Shang Qinghua stood up and stretched until he felt the satisfying pop of his spine. Old as he may feel mentally, he couldn’t deny his body was finally starting to settle. His coming of age ceremony had passed only a few months prior and, while not an exceptionally grand affair for sect disciples, he was pleased to say goodbye to his second-go at being a teenager and rather liked the new hair piece gifted to him by his Peak Lord as it actually managed to survive most of his daily chores without needing to be redone.

“With all due respect, my king,” Shang Qinghua started. “Bing-er is unlikely to learn much from tales of cleaning, sewing, and account keeping. What else do you expect of this servant?”

“I know how to clean!” Luo Binghe chimed in before a sharp look from Shang Qinghua had him pulling the blanket up under his nose.

A faint snort escaped Mobei Jun. “He cleans?”

Luo Binghe swiftly took the inquiry as an invitation to sit back up. “I sweep everyday!” A smile brightened his already glowing features as he spoke with an enthusiasm that only somebody with a brain still growing could muster for such mundane tasks. “And I put Baba’s boots away too. I help clean the brushes, and...hmm, sometimes I prepare the bed!” His little fingers then began to fiddle with the edge of the blanket. “But I’m not very good at that one. The folding is hard...”

A shame too great had settled over his tiny shoulders and Shang Qinghua couldn’t help but reach over to pinch his plump little cheek. “Ah!” Luo Binghe squeaked.

“You have him minding your messes?” Mobei Jun asked, his voice deep and displeased. It gave off the impression of a storm cloud moving in, threatening to unleash it’s wrath.

Shang Qinghua suddenly found himself waving his hands in denial. “Ah! No, no, no! It isn’t so much that he cleans, my king, as he...uh...” His words trailed off before an excuse could form.

It wasn’t as if Shang Qinghua was forcing Luo Binghe to clean his room. What a ridiculous idea! The soon-to-be super powered protagonist of his career-defining stallion novel dirtying his hands with housework for a mere An Ding Peak disciple? Absolutely not!

...unless he wanted to.

Luo Binghe himself had volunteered. He used to watch Shang Qinghua tidy up their living space with what seemed like a normal amount of toddler curiosity, until one day his expression was not unlike how he looked at toys at the market. Worse even! So who was Shang Qinghua to deny him? He wasn’t sure where Luo Binghe got this workaholic attitude from—it really was a terrible waste of his best lazy years—but maybe children just came with some pre-installed features.

Besides, was it really so unreasonable that Luo Binghe did a little cleaning now and again? Must Shang Qinghua be a slave to everybody both outside and inside his home? Nevermind how much of the mess was often Mobei Jun’s—muddy boots and damp robes!

Silence settled before Shang Qinghua finally snapped, “Why shouldn’t he clean?” in a tone he immediately regretted.

Mobei Jun glowered and his arms uncrossed. Shang Qinghua shrunk back on instinct. Unexpectedly, Mobei Jun smirked. “ Mmn. To discover my ward is not only made to clean but his caretaker feels fit to challenge my concerns...” As he stepped towards them, Luo Binghe was pleased with the attention, while Shang Qinghua became increasingly more concerned for his own health.

“Challenge? Who would challenge? This servant would nev--AH!” Shang Qinghua squawked as Mobei Jun’s nails dug into his cheek, a harsh mimicry of what Shang Qinghua had done to Luo Binghe only moments before. The grip lingered several beats too long to be anything but painful, with Mobei Jun staring at Shang Qinghua like… Shang Qinghua squeezed his eyes shut tighter. He didn’t want to know!!

These random ‘attacks’ were becoming more frequent. While he never saw Mobei Jun raise a harsh hand to Luo Binghe, Shang Qinghua continued to be his personal punching bag—a target for unprovoked aggression that began from the day they had met. Shang Qinghua could stand there doing nothing and suddenly find himself on the receiving end of a cuff to the back of his head or a flick to his forehead. If he bothered to ask why, he’d simply be reminded of his “stupid expression” or “being too idle”. This was clearly just harassment! He had no illusions about Mobei Jun’s violent nature—having already witnessed the remorseless murder of his fellow disciples—but who knew it also made him little different than a schoolyard bully?!

The pinch was released before his face popped like a freshly ripe grape.

“I’ll return in the morning.” Mobei Jun stated, as if it wasn’t something he did everyday.

“Good night, Father.” Luo Binghe chirped to the darkness. The last remaining candle was extinguished by Mobei Jun’s flourishing turn as he vanished into shadow.

Shang Qinghua made an obscene hand gesture towards the empty corner, his other fingers rubbing ruefully at his swollen face.


❆ ☀ ☀ ❆ ☀


Now years into their arrangement, Luo Binghe was an energetic and talkative little boy. He was no less adorable either—round cheeks, bright eyes, oddly noticeable eyelashes, and an angelic voice he could wield like a weapon—but with his size and his curiosity growing in equal measure, concerns about his secrecy grew with him. Silencing talismans between each wall of the Leisure House offered some comfort, but even the low IQs of An Ding Peak disciples could only be counted upon for so long—nosy and gossipy as they were—and Luo Binghe needed much more than a few random visits to town could provide him.

It turns out parenting on the sly is a permanent work in progress.

Shang Qinghua’s role as head disciple included much more frequent outings, often being sent away on missions that extended well beyond those an outer disciple could be trusted to manage and survive. Often it would involve teamwork, providing unique and unnecessarily stressful chances to get to know people from other peaks, such as the quick-to-stab Liu Qingge or the quicker-to-insult Shen Qingqiu. If asked to pick a favorite, it would definitely be the more level-headed Mu Qingfang, though rarely was Shang Qinghua so lucky in his group assignments.

Of course for reasons no one would outright say, there hadn’t been a caravan of only An Ding Peak disciples since a particular mission went very poorly some years ago. Alas another blow to the reputation of logistics!

Solo missions were Shang Qinghua’s favourite. There were always the supply runs large enough to require a carriage, or leading a flock of terrified disciples into battle to provide something resembling support, but most things he was trusted to do on his own.

For many reasons, he intended to keep it that way.

With Luo Binghe harder to sneak out unseen, Mobei Jun began using his progressively more powerful portal abilities to transport him off An Ding Peak in place of their baby-in-a-bag method. Shang Qinghua would still leave the old-fashion way—making a show of hopping up on his sword and taking to the skies for his fellow disciples to see off with a wave or a jealous sneer—then quickly meet the pair at the base of the mountain where they’d be off via more convenient methods. Distances that would take hours by sword were covered in mere seconds by shadow.

There were some limitations however. Shang Qinghua had only ever written the barest of lore for Mobei Jun’s abilities, so was surprised to learn that Mobei Jun could only portal directly to a place he had been before, unless there was some significant source of power to latch onto. As such, their first few outings as a group made for some long awkward flights to new places, with Mobei Jun standing behind Shang Qinghua on his sword—one hand on his shoulder and the other holding Luo Binghe. Only a demon’s natural sense of balance avoided more awkward travel touching.

Shang Qinghua still felt goosebumps at the thought. The fewer claws near his fleshy bits, the better!!

Nowadays most of their destinations were repeats, and cutting down on travel left Shang Qinghua with more free time than he ever had back on An Ding Peak. For example, if they expected him to be in flight for six hours, it meant he had six hours to spare! Most often they were spent writing his reports for Mobei Jun like a dutiful spy, and then trying to make sense of the Qian Cao Peak shopping list, cursing himself for ever thinking it was funny to give healers in this world such stereotypically poor handwriting. It was all still work, but doing it from a comfy patch of shade beneath a tree—a bag of melon seeds at his side and a catchy tune on his lips—really felt like a vacation in comparison.

It was during these days that Mobei Jun had taken to teaching Luo Binghe some hand-to-hand combat. Often Shang Qinghua would take breaks to watch Mobei Jun showing him basic forms and Luo Binghe doing his best to copy them. Naturally he picked everything up with unnatural speed, and the very rare slap to his back or light kick to his leg to correct his posture didn’t motivate him nearly as much as the simple nod Mobei Jun would give when he did one just right.

For a demon raised to hold all those beneath him in contempt—and doing that very successfully on a regular basis—Mobei Jun struck a surprisingly good balance in dealing with someone so young. He treated Luo Binghe with a sternness that spoke of great expectations, and a cautiousness that showed he knew how easily a child could be broken. He verbally snapped at him now and again, in the rare instances Luo Binghe managed to provoke his temper, but they both always moved past it quickly, one trailing after the other as if nothing had happened.

Of course Mobei Jun found ways to twist his care to Shang Qinghua’s disadvantage. When it came to certain types of training, Shang Qinghua would be called over to be used as a practice dummy. Arguably it was to avoid hurting Binghe, but the entertainment Mobei Jun got from humiliating Shang Qinghua was obvious. There was an unmistakable twinkle in his eye as he calmly explained a technique before abruptly grabbing a hold of Shang Qinghua and slamming him into the ground. Mobei Jun would then twist his arm or set a foot on his back until Shang Qinghua wailed for mercy.

And wail he did!

Shang Qinghua had not suddenly forgotten he was a cultivator, trained in forms of defense himself, but it took barely a twitch of his nose for him to be eating dirt. It was thus only sensible that his energy was better spent on healing the bruises than attempting to prevent them. A prince with his ego freshly stroked was easier to deal with anyway. Where better to hug a thigh than from the ground?

He only drew a line when Mobei Jun suggested that Luo Binghe try the moves on him instead. Shang Qinghua was smart enough to know an insult when he heard one, and the joke really would be on him if he was stupid enough to allow it. This was the protagonist, halo-fresh, so there was no way Shang Qinghua was going to risk his dignity by potentially being taken out by somebody who just barely came up to his waist!

On these days Shang Qinghua’s pride quivered but survived, even when Mobei Jun plucked blades of grass from his hair with a smug look and Luo Binghe hung from his arm, asking if he was okay. Who was training who here?!

Still, it all made for a decent enough trade-off, Shang Qinghua thought. Mobei Jun did protect his investment in other ways. No matter what his mission was, Shang Qinghua would still walk away from even the most high-peril of situations with barely a scratch. Tales of An Ding Peak’s head disciple and his unnaturally high dumb luck was added to the sect’s growing list of rumors.

The best outings were when Mobei Jun simply dropped them off in a nice meadow, and then left for “important business”. Shang Qinghua would spend hours watching Luo Binghe explore the area, talking out loud about everything he saw, before they both sat down for reading lessons and a little practice meditation. Shang Qinghua had to get his cultivation in somewhere after all, even if the latter often resulted in Baba and Binghe nap time. Neither had any complaint.

Visits to different towns and cities were now with enough regularity that Luo Binghe had made friends with groups of children in each. He was quick to scamper off with them while Shang Qinghua saw to his work. Fortunately the System had eventually awarded enough Care points that he was able to upgrade the guardian proximity allowance. It worked out well, not only for the purpose of socializing someone who would one day be overseeing a harem of hundreds, but also the frequency with which the An Ding Peak Lord’s requests brought Shang Qinghua to a brothel were a part of the equation little Bing-er was not quite ready for.

Other than receiving a prepared bag of goodies, and inspiring some thoughts he did not wish to have about his sect boss, Shang Qinghua found the brothel a pleasant place to linger—the food was decent, everyone treated him well, and it was overflowing with gossip. There were few locations better to gather useful information than the place where even the most powerful of cultivators, lords, and ladies let their defenses down. If ever there was something extra juicy that friendship and a bit of wine didn’t let slip organically, a few coins from his personal savings would seal the deal.

Overall, everything was under control.

But two potentially big problems loomed. One was that when it finally came time for Luo Binghe to officially join Cang Qiong Mountain Sect, he was going to be noticeably more advanced than a boy his age should be with no rich family backing—and two, he was old enough now that when Mobei Jun told Shang Qinghua he wouldn’t be able to look after him every day anymore, it was much more worrisome than it would’ve been back when Luo Binghe was asleep most of the time and wasn’t tall enough to open doors.

Shang Qinghua supposed he could convince his Peak Lord to let him do more paperwork in his Leisure House, but it didn’t solve the problem of every other responsibility that would leave Binghe unattended for hours.

Spoken with the confidence of someone he suspects has never known the meaning of the word ‘babysitter’, Mobei Jun insisted Luo Binghe would be fine left alone. Shang Qinghua was less sure. Thinking back to when he was very young in this world, he could rarely recall being alone, practically glued to the hip of a parent or sibling in the little village he was raised in. Memories of his first childhood came to him less clearly but with disproportionate emotional clarity. He remembers being alone, or at least the dull ache of loneliness, but it was just as likely his parents were still there, arguing in the background while he pretended the TV was loud enough to drown them out.

Shang Qinghua really missed TV sometimes.

Like many things, concerns about the disciple trials and Luo Binghe’s ability to look after himself were repeatedly pushed to the back of his mind as a tomorrow problem.


❆ ☀ ☀ ❆ ☀


It was during an otherwise peaceful afternoon that a different hurdle came upon them first, almost spoiling the special occasion of Shang Qinghua treating them to a fancy meal in town. Normally he was much more frugal with his money, opting to squirrel away his savings in a dozen secret burrows, but today his pouch was heavy with the An Ding Peak money he had left over after a very successful day of bargaining. He couldn’t waste what wasn’t his! And so it was here—seated in front of a table covered in dishes with more flavour than you could squeeze from a month’s worth of lunches in the sect—that Mobei Jun told him he would be taking Luo Binghe away and didn’t expect they’d be back for several nights.

This was clearly not the first time young Binghe was hearing of it because instead of getting excited and spilling more greasy duck fat over the front of his robes, he instead stared at Shang Qinghua with pleading eyes wider than the tea cup he had clenched between his fingers. It was the strongest he had ever felt the power of protagonist pressure. It was like saying no would somehow be worse than doing so to Mobei Jun! It didn’t help Shang Qinghua had yet to build up any resistance to Luo Binghe’s tears and avoided them at all costs.

So to preserve his sanity, Shang Qinghua put up only the mildest of protests, repeating back the length of time before simply asking, “Where?”.

Mobei Jun lifted a cup of tea to his lips and took an annoyingly long sip, his eyes closed as if he was actually enjoying it and not prolonging the wait to make his servant suffer.

“What business is it of yours?” He finally responded, a question for a question. Typical! And excuse me... business? You asked this lowly human to look after Luo Binghe, but he can’t very well do that if the child’s not here!

It wasn’t uncommon for Mobei Jun to take Binghe places, but never overnight. Certainly never for days! Shang Qinghua stuffed his mouth with more of the perfectly cooked vegetables that Mobei Jun kept dropping into his bowl like the picky eater he was. Every chew was a silent protest.

Luo Binghe shrank back from the tension as his eyes moved between them.

Moments later, Mobei Jun exhaled slowly. “You will survive a few days without our presence.”

Shang Qinghua choked on a piece of bamboo shoot.

That wasn’t the issue!!

Only after Luo Binghe started patting him on the back, assuring him he would come home quickly, did Shang Qinghua sputter out his approval, regardless of the fact he knew Mobei Jun had no intention of seeking it. These two spoke as if Shang Qinghua was suddenly incapable of living by himself! To be thought of so poorly by both of his sons, it really was too cruel...

True to his word, Mobei Jun took Luo Binghe away two days later. Shang Qinghua’s room was empty when he returned to it that evening. He grinned ear-to-ear as he stretched his limbs across the bed, all his for the first time in ages.

The excitement must’ve been a bit too much. After the initial charm of an empty bed faded, he found it difficult to actually fall asleep. When the ceiling got too boring and his snacks ran empty, he worked on Luo Binghe’s calligraphy practice sheets until he eventually passed out.

Unfortunately his body was too used to waking up early to let him sleep in, but the absence of his royal roommate meant he had plenty of time to drag himself through the process of dressing. He finished by cleaning his face with the unpleasantly warm water in his wash basin, which was as useless for waking him up as it was likely just a sign of how hot the day would be.

He was late to An Ding Peak’s weekly budget meeting. Shang Qinghua sought to make up for it by suggesting smaller beds when it came time to order new ones, suddenly feeling their current ones were simply too large for one person. The Peak Lord did not take kindly to his words, and it had been so long since one of his ideas had been so thoroughly trounced that he stared at the man as if he had ten heads.

Snickers nearby were not nearly as quiet as their owners thought they were. Shang Qinghua assigned every disciple double the work quota they would normally have in a single day, thinking it best to make good use of the extra time he had, and pointedly ignoring background grumblings about somebody having spit in his congee.


❆ ☀ ☀ ❆ ☀


Five days later, considerably longer than Shang Qinghua had expected—and definitely not spent frequently opening the System to ensure he hadn’t missed any alerts—Mobei Jun returned. He deposited a rosy-cheeked and high-spirited Luo Binghe onto the floor, beating home even the sun.

The jolt awake was welcome. Shang Qinghua wasn’t really enjoying another weird dream about spiky cucumbers and having his delicate parts strangled by a power cord.

Quickly calming from the initial shock, Shang Qinghua’s hand covered a wide yawn as he brushed back his loose hair and looked to the successful travelers. Luo Binghe was wearing a thick cloak that matched Mobei Jun’s apart from size, and the two made such an adorable pair, that Shang Qinghua couldn’t help but comment.

“How am I expected to handle a sight so cute this early? Wearing my king’s clothing, Bing-er will save us so much money.”

Eventually Mobei Jun’s magical supply of baby clothing had dried up, and as Shang Qinghua couldn’t very well have Luo Binghe parading around naked, he could only smile through the pain of spending his meager earnings on multiple sets of robes for a boy who outgrew them every year.

Luo Binghe giggled, pressing his face into the still damp fur of his outfit. Mobei Jun seemed to be in a hurry, offering unexpected mercy when he left briskly without retort and only a light pat on Binghe’s head. Shang Qinghua would have thought it odd, but opted instead to be grateful he wasn’t starting the day with a fresh bump on his own.

Having no interest in sleep, Luo Binghe carefully took off his outer wear and boots before he pounced on the bed with all the finesse of an overstimulated puppy, eager to tell Shang Qinghua about his adventures.

Somewhere between ice beasts and catacomb mazes, Shang Qinghua must’ve dozed off because he awoke some time later to the sound of Binghe coughing, standing nearby with a broom in hand nearly twice his height. The cloud of dust that a single sweep kicked up left Shang Qinghua feeling a little embarrassed despite himself. With so much to do, it was only natural that he had no time to clean! Who could judge him?!

Substandard living conditions. -20 Care Points

...

As soon as Luo Binghe caught movement from the bed, he wiped the dirt from his nose and flashed Shang Qinghua a grin wide enough to show off an awkward gap left by the recent loss of a tooth.

Shang Qinghua fetched water for a bath, while Binghe poked at his breakfast and continued his earlier recollections without taking any offense to Shang Qinghua’s sleep.

Being cleaned, clothed, and fed was finally enough to tire Luo Binghe out, because by the time Shang Qinghua was ready to leave, his little head was bobbing where he sat at the table. Clearly Mobei Jun wasn’t going to be around today— something he’d failed to mention, thanks —but Shang Qinghua felt it was probably fine to leave Binghe by himself since he would be sleeping off days of travel.

“Bing-er is going to be well behaved, isn’t he?” Shang Qinghua asked, intentionally mussing Luo Binghe’s hair after coaxing him back into bed. “No one will be pleased if I’m forced to call over one of those Bai Zhan Peak beasts for punishment. Sword drills until your arms pop off!”

He was only half-exaggerating and would gladly be sent against a dozen high-level spirits than face Liu Qingge’s workout routine again.

Luo Binghe laughed, delighted at the whimsical threat about people he had only met through stories. His small hands held Shang Qinghua’s palm on his head just a few moments longer. His expression softened. “Binghe will be good.” 

The trust was rewarded as Luo Binghe obediently saw to his chores after resting for most of the day. He squeaked in surprise when Shang Qinghua popped in to check on him mid-afternoon, apologizing for reading in bed and not at the table as if he wasn’t speaking to a repeat offender. Of course all was forgiven.

By the evening, things began to take a turn. A few sniffles didn’t seem like cause for concern at first, but during dinner Luo Binghe let loose a flurry of coughs that sounded much deeper. Could Luo Binghe actually get sick...? Shang Qinghua thought back to his millions of written words, recalling only cheap tricks like poisons and curses that left Bingge in the care of his doting wives for the sake of pulling a few readers’ heartstrings.

Just to be safe, he put Binghe to bed early, but hours later, that handful of coughs had become dozens.

This was progressing a little fast, wasn’t it?!

Shang Qinghua sat up, accepting the loss of sleep, and placed a hand on Luo Binghe’s shoulder. “Bing-er?” He shook him lightly. When all he got was a wheezing inhale, he moved his hand to his forehead instead. The heat collecting there was definitely not normal, and definitely not good!

“Sorry, Baba,” Luo Binghe said through a sleepy haze, followed by a disgustingly wet sniffle. “Binghe can get up.” Believing that he’d slept in despite the heavy darkness that still enveloped the room, Luo Binghe made a valiant effort, but those little arms hadn’t struggled so much to lift his weight since his head was disproportionately too large for them.

Shang Qinghua insisted he stay laying down as a familiar jingle rattled his brain.

New protagonist status updates: Cough. Congestion. Fever.

System… Aren’t some of your updates coming a little too slow? Perhaps you’re the one who needs an update, hmm?

Current objective: cure the protagonist or consequences may be severe. Advance warning: Point deduction may occur!

What’s severe? Isn’t it just the flu?

On cue, Luo Binghe moaned. His brows knitted as if in pain before his whole body shook from the force of the following coughs. “Baba...I don’t feel well…” He whimpered, looking up at Shang Qinghua with glassy eyes.

Correct. Protagonist Luo Binghe has contracted *ding* Frost Flu. Symptoms include--

Shang Qinghua harshly shooed the windows away. He already knew what the symptoms were, being the one who wrote them. Frost Flu... It was an illness that someone could only catch in the frigid cold of the Demon Realm’s northern territories, the Mobei clan’s home base. For local ice demons it was rarely more than a bad cold, but for other kinds of demons, who rarely spent much time in that environment, the outcomes could be a lot worse because of their low-resistance to the strain. If a human caught it? Well, it was known to non-locals as “Winter's Widowmaker” for a reason.

He rubbed at his face. Another plot device back to bite him in the ass. It had been such a successful one too, where Bingge was forced to abstain from papapa with a prospective wife, a distant cousin of Mobei Jun’s, to see if Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky could blueball more readers into a subscription on the promise of a celebratory orgy later. (He could.)

The good news was that it meant the cure wasn’t sex. That got him partway to recalling what it actually was.

Shang Qinghua slid out of bed, adjusting Luo Binghe more comfortably before he started to pace. It’s probably something that grows in the North. Bitter Ice Poppy? Thorned Wolfberries? Arctic Roseweed? Shang Qinghua bit his nail nervously, stealing glances to the bed as he tried to remember. If little Binghe was already Bingge, the Frost Flu might pose a risk, but he wouldn’t have to worry so much about giving him the wrong medicine with his body able to counter any side effects.

“Baba…?” Luo Binghe called out, finally realizing Shang Qinghua wasn’t next to him.

Shang Qinghua gave a little shush and moved closer, taking the small basin of washing water with him. He dipped in a clean towel and wrung out the excess. For now he had to stop this from getting worse, grateful that the telltale rash resembling snowflakes had not yet appeared on his skin.

But, as his fingers shifted the damp strands of hair from Luo Binghe’s forehead, they revealed something he did not expect to see for many years—a demonic seal!

It was faint, but it was there, a little red indicator of Shang Qinghua’s beautiful plot continuing to spin wildly out of control. It pulsed in time with Binghe’s heartbeat.

Shang Qinghua slapped his palm over the glowing mark. Hiding it from view didn’t make him feel any better as the energy thrummed beneath his skin.

Luo Binghe scrunched up his nose.

This was bad.

Really, really, really bad!

Luo Binghe could not survive the seal being released at this age, and certainly not while he’s sick. There was also still the matter of discussing Luo Binghe’s unique lineage with a certain someone who is very difficult to strike up a serious conversation with when simply making eye contact makes his bladder quake! He tried, okay?!

Shang Qinghua bit back a string of colorful curses. This was all Mobei Jun’s fault! Again! Not an ounce of sense! He removed his hand from Luo Binghe’s head, quickly replacing it with the towel before storming a few steps away.

“Ahh! Stupid, spoiled prince!” He furiously pulled at his own hair. “Who takes a child to play in that icy hell?! You think everyone’s like you?! Mobei Jun, this servant ought to teach you a lesson and send you right to hell!”

If Mobei Jun was here, he would definitely give him a real lashing this time!!

“I invite you to say that again.”

The temperature of the room sharply fell—a temporary relief for someone fighting a fever, but a harbinger of death for one Shang Qinghua.