Shen QingQiu was startled awake from his haze of pain by a surge of demonic qi that chilled him to his very bones. He had been trapped in the Water Prison for days, months, years – Shen QingQiu did not how much time had passed exactly, as the dungeon was underground, and there was no differentiation of day and night. The tortures and occasional meals he was given the only way he could keep time, but Shen QingQiu had stopped counting them after a while.
What was the point, when the only fate that awaited him was death?
It appeared that the demon lord had arrived to torment Shen QingQiu further.
Shen QingQiu did not react beyond his initial groan, refusing to acknowledge Luo BingHe. This was his small rebellion; the only thing that he could do to spite Luo BingHe in his current predicament.
“Shizun, you’ve grown so boring in recent weeks,” the familiar sickly-sweet voice resounded in the dungeon. “Aren’t you going to even look at me?”
Shen QingQiu closed his remaining working eye resolutely.
“So disobedient, Shizun. It’s only thanks to this lord’s largesse that you’ve this eye at all,” Luo BingHe continued with mock disappointment. “Although, I suppose it’s also because of this lord that you lost your other eye.”
“Still no response, Shizun? You would’ve been spitting at me weeks ago,” Luo BingHe complained. “I wonder what will it take to get a rise out of you now?”
Luo BingHe advanced toward Shen QingQiu, stepping over the pools of blood with casual disregard. He stopped right before the maimed man, gripping Shen QingQiu’s chin tight enough to bruise. Shen QingQiu’s head was forcibly tilted upwards, and Shen QingQiu could feel the demon lord’s breaths puffing unbearably hot across his cheeks when he next spoke.
“Shizun, do you remember how you begged me to spare Yue QingYuan when I told you that CangQiong Sect was next?”
Cold dread pooled in Shen QingQiu’s stomach.
“So, guess what I did? Shizun, ask me.” The statement was a mockery in itself. Shen QingQiu could not speak.
“Shizun, are you really not going to ask me why?” the grasp on Shen QingQiu’s chin shifted to his neck, tightening like a manacle around the vulnerable flesh. Shen QingQiu’s face turned pale at the lack of air and he blearily opened his working eye to glare balefully at the demon lord.
Luo BingHe seemed to be satisfied with that reaction, finally loosening his hold. “Shizun, you’re finally looking at me. Since Shizun is so obedient, this lord will tell you why.”
Luo BingHe paused for dramatic effect. “This lord spared CangQiong Sect and killed Yue QingYuan.” Saying so, Luo Binghe threw the unmistakeable shattered remnants of XuanSu onto the floor.
Nine simple words, but they caused Shen QingQiu’s world to come crashing down. His heart pounded wildly as if it was about to beat its way out of Shen QingQiu’s chest. Thoughts ran a mile a minute in his head, but nothing was computing, nothing was making sense. Only the constant refrain of “killed Yue QingYuan” echoed ceaselessly in his mind, driving Shen QingQiu to want to scream out his terror and pain. But Shen QingQiu could only open his mouth to let out animal groans, his tongue torn off and unable to shout.
Luo BingHe had taken that away from him.
Luo BingHe had taken away everything from him. Shen QingQiu’s standing in the cultivation world, Shen QingQiu’s reputation and position as the QingJing Peak Lord, Shen QingQiu’s body, and finally, and most importantly, he had taken away Shen QingQiu’s Yue QingYuan – Shen QingQiu’s heart.
Shen Jiu had only ever wanted Yue Qi’s safety. He had exposed himself recklessly to a young Qiu JianLuo to save Yue Qi, because Shen Jiu had always been a bright child and he knew even in his youth that if Yue Qi was not safe, then Shen Jiu might as well have died. Yue Qi had held Shen Jiu’s heart the moment he took that young child under his wing.
Luo BingHe had killed his heart, and in the heat of the moment, Shen QingQiu felt as if he had nothing to live for. He gathered the measly spiritual qi he was left with and commanded his meridians to self-implode.
But Luo BingHe took that away from Shen QingQiu too. Shen QingQiu had consumed Luo BingHe’s heavenly demon blood a long time ago, and it was during this moment that Luo BingHe commanded the blood parasites to counter Shen QingQiu’s qi, to force his meridians to mend.
“Shizun, you can’t die so hastily,” the hateful voice purred beside Shen QingQiu, “This lord is not done amusing himself with you yet.”
During the subsequent days, Shen QingQiu came to understand that Luo BingHe’s control over his body was absolute. He could not die.
But, at the very least, Shen QingQiu’s mind remained his own. Not even the blood parasites could corrupt or mould his thoughts into something that Luo BingHe wanted.
He resolved there and then, that since Luo BingHe had taken away what Shen QingQiu wanted most, then Shen QingQiu would take the same away from Luo BingHe.
Shen QingQiu would bide his time and wait for his opportunity. After all, revenge was best served cold. He would live on as a vengeful ghost whose only purpose was to hurt Luo BingHe.
Shen QingQiu would be Shen QingQiu no longer. He would be Shen Jiu, the cunning, scheming street rat from BaiHe city, who would resort to all manners of underhanded means if he could get what he want. He would not be the proud Peak Lord who would rather break than bend, but would be Shen Jiu who would lie, steal and kill.
Shen Jiu would bow and bend, but he would not break. Not till he had exacted his revenge.
On an unremarkable day with only the familiar sound of blood dripping onto the dungeon floor accompanying Shen Jiu, Luo BingHe visited the Water Prison again.
“Shizun, guess who I just welcomed into my harem?” Luo BingHe’s asked lightly as he activated the blood parasites to jolt Shen Jiu into consciousness.
Shen Jiu breathed in shallowly, opening his eye.
“Shizun, it happens to be Lady Jiang from YingHe House of Pleasures!” Luo BingHe said, spreading his arms open. “Do you remember her?”
A gleam of recognition entered Shen Jiu’s eyes.
Lady Jiang was a top-tier courtesan from YingHe House of Pleasures. She had talent in the art of music and was an adept hand at playing the zither. With both beauty and talent, she commanded a high price for her company at night, and Shen Jiu had famously selected her for many nights, squandering a fair amount of his wealth at the YingHe House of Pleasures.
“You do! Of course, you would remember her!” Luo BingHe crowed delightedly. “After all, you’d spent so many nights in the warm embrace of Lady Jiang. It would be strange if you don’t remember her.”
Luo BingHe continued. “But do you know the strange thing Lady Jiang told me?” Luo BingHe lowered his voice conspiratorially, “She said… not once have you had sex with her, despite having paid for her company so many times.”
“Isn’t that so strange, Shizun?” Luo BingHe said, “I’ve only spent one night with Lady Jiang and I’ve had sex with her. Does that mean that I’ve won you in just a single night?”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Luo BingHe sidled up and patted Shen Jiu’s cheek lightly. “But what I’m more curious about, Shizun, is why do you pay for Lady Jiang’s company and only hold her to sleep?”
For once, Luo BingHe’s interaction with him was not dominated by hate and an intent to hurt. Instead, curiosity reigned supreme and Shen Jiu could tell that Luo BingHe was genuinely intrigued by this little mystery. After all, for a man who boasted of a harem over 600 women, Luo BingHe probably could not comprehend the concept of spending a night with a woman, but not having sex with her, much less paying for a night with a prostitute and not making full use of it.
This could be the opportunity Shen Jiu was waiting for.
Shen Jiu recalled the artifices he employed in his youth – how sometimes feigning tears or embarrassment enabled a beating to end earlier. Shen Jiu allowed a faint blush to rise on his cheeks, refusing to meet Luo BingHe’s eyes.
Luo BingHe did not miss the heat on Shen Jiu’s cheeks. “Shizun, I’m not going to leave till you answer me,” Luo BingHe said lightly. He then pried Shen Jiu’s mouth open and forced a thick liquid down his throat. “Swallow, Shizun. Drink it all up and answer me.”
Shen Jiu gagged it down and was nearly astounded at the speed the miracle solution regrew his missing parts. His tongue was back, and it appeared that even his bleeding stumps were starting to repair themselves.
“Ahhh, w—what…” Shen Jiu’s voice was hoarse and weak as he experimentally tested out his new tongue. “What—what did you make me drink?”
“A healing potion, Shizun,” Luo BingHe answered with an easy smile, “But do not be thankful, Shizun, I can cut off your tongue and limbs again if you don’t answer me.”
“Y—you!” Shen Jiu’s gaze darkened and he did not hide the trembles that shook his body at the thought of once again becoming a cripple.
“But if you answer well, Shizun, I may consider letting you keep your tongue and limbs,” Luo BingHe said, “So think twice before you use your regrown tongue to spit at me again.”
A long silence passed and Shen Jiu considered his next move. Here was where the branches of fate split. To succeed here would mean that Shen Jiu was one step closer to his revenge, as a maimed man could hardly move, much less exact revenge on another.
Shen Jiu had long discerned what Luo BingHe desired most. The best way to go about his plan was to upset all of Luo BingHe’s preconceived notions about Shen Jiu. He had to transform himself from a despicable villain into a wronged angel.
“I… It’s the only way I can go to sleep some days,” Shen Jiu blinked tiredly, even as his cheeks remained unwaveringly flushed.
Luo BingHe seemed to be genuinely taken aback by the response. An inscrutable look crossed Luo BingHe’s face before said demon lord dissolved into unrestrained laughter.
“Are you telling me that you purchased prostitutes to find comfort? Comfort?” Luo BingHe clutched at his stomach, unshed tears of mirth in his eyes. “Shizun, are you telling me that your reputation for promiscuity is just a grand misunderstanding? You’re too hilarious, Shizun.”
Shen Jiu looked elsewhere resolutely. The flush on his face was turning real as Luo BingHe’s laughter inspired embarrassment that Shen Jiu did not know he still had in him to surface.
Finally, Luo BingHe’s peals of laughter quietened and he shook his head in false remorse as he looked at Shen Jiu. “Shizun, doesn’t this mean that I’ve wronged you? If you’ve never engaged in immoral activities with prostitutes, that means that one of the charges levelled against you was untrue,” Luo BingHe said. “We need to right this wrong, Shizun! How can this righteous lord allow such a wrong to go uncompensated?”
“Shizun, why don’t we get you out of this Water Prison,” Luo BingHe crooned, “You can be released to serve this lord instead.”
Luo BingHe then added, leering, “Perhaps in my bed?”
A complicated series of emotions crossed Shen Jiu’s face as he seriously considered that proposal. Shen Jiu now lived for only one purpose and did not consider his body sacred. If this was necessary for Shen Jiu to get out of the Water Prison, then Shen Jiu would take it up. But was it too quick, too fast and too easy for Luo BingHe?
The first time was something that could only be used once, after all. Could it be better used in a later situation?
“Alright, alright,” Luo BingHe laughed, appearing to be endlessly amused by Shen Jiu. He relented, “This lord does not need another person in his bed. You can serve me as a scribe instead.”