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ever wonder if the person in the puddle is real

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 So, apparently, a portal burning with demonic energy had opened up over Qing Jing Peak and another Shang Qinghua had fallen out of it, and the wound in the sky had unfortunately closed again pretty much immediately. Shang Qinghua (the first one) didn’t see this happen firsthand, unfortunately, because he and Shen Qingqiu both preferred that he set foot on Qing Jing Peak as infrequently as possible, but he was told that the wound in the sky looked pretty cool! Very flashy! Very plot-twisty! 


 Well, those descriptors were implied, at least! Shang Qinghua can definitely make the argument that clones falling from mysterious portals, roaring with demonic energy and which had pierced through sect protections, is inherently pretty plot-twisty! He thinks it’s fine to assume when visualizing! 


 Probably under the impression that this was the regular Shang Qinghua who had gotten himself into some real weird and dangerous shit, Qing Jing Peak Lord Shen Qingqiu did not immediately stab the other Shang Qinghua. He didn’t leave the other Shang Qinghua slumped in the mud either! Instead, in a surprising display of concern and mercy, Shen Qingqiu acted like a bro for once, and brought the other Shang Qinghua to Qian Cao Peak immediately. 


 He also sent one of his disciples to fetch Sect Leader Yue Qingyuan. 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) was on Qiong Ding Peak at the time. He was in Sect Leader Yue Qingyuan’s office, in fact, discussing budgetary concerns for the sect and trying not to cry over them. So he was right there when the Qing Jing disciple arrived in a rush, trailed by concerned Qiong Ding disciples, and immediately blurted: “Shang-Shishu fell out of a portal into Shizun’s fish pond!” 


 Yue Qingyuan looked at Shang Qinghua. 


 Shang Qinghua looked at Yue Qingyuan, pretty sure that he would have remembered tumbling into Shen Qingqiu’s fish pond at some point in his life. That seemed like something he would have for sure remembered happening! 


 And then the Qing Jing disciple kept on babbling and it was understood that there was a newcomer to Cang Qiong Mountain Sect, who was if not another Shang Qinghua, then someone who looked exactly like the An Ding Peak Lord. Very concerning!


 Halfway through this wheezing explanation to their sect leader, the Qing Jing disciple finally seemed to notice that Shang Qinghua had been sitting across from Yue Qingyuan the entire time. Their eyes bugged out before rolling back into their head, and the disciple collapsed to the floor in a faint. 


 Yue Qingyuan got smoothly to his feet, ordered his disciples to take care of the Qing Jing disciple, to put the sect on full alert, and to fetch the other Peak Lords. It definitely didn’t seem like an overreaction, given the utter strangeness of this new mystery! Shang Qinghua didn’t object and he followed Yue Qingyuan to Qian Cao Peak at once. 


 Despite the arguable coolness of this plot twist, Shang Qinghua, in another life known as Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky, was having a bit of a panic. A lot of panic, actually! Mystery and intrigue weren’t so exciting when they were happening to him personally! They were more like terrifying! He started shaking with nerves, during the quick flight to Qian Cao Peak, and he didn’t really stop once they got there. 


 Like! Holy shit! His first thought was that the original Shang Qinghua from Proud Immortal Demon Way was somehow back and that he was probably FUCKED! Original Shang Qinghua was back from wherever the System put him and he probably wanted revenge! Not good! 


 On Qian Cao Peak, they learned that Other Shang Qinghua had arrived in a bad state, which was why Shen Qingqiu had rushed the man to Mu Qingfang. The Qian Cao disciple who met them upon landing immediately informed Yue Qingyuan that Shang-Shibo had a broken leg, a lot of bruising, and some burns, like he’d been thrown around and then briefly set on fire. (Whatever passed for medical confidentiality in this world could not stand up to their sect leader’s right to know everything.) 


 And then the Qian Cao disciple realized who was standing next to the sect leader and went wide-eyed. She didn’t faint, to her credit! Shang Qinghua wasn’t surprised to be noticed belatedly again, because “oh, you’re here too” was kind of his lot in this life. 


 And then Shen Qingqiu walked in, looking as elegant and put-upon as ever, and immediately noticed who was standing next to the sect leader. Shang Qinghua only had seconds to remember how sharp-eyed and suspicious Shen Qingqiu was about everything, before the Xiu Ya sword was in Shen Qingqiu’s hand and pointing towards Shang Qinghua! 


 Shang Qinghua had to do a lot of really fast talking to “prove” that he was the “real” Shang Qinghua. Yue Qingyuan firmly stood up for him, at least! Like a bro! 


 And then the cavalry arrived! The rest of the Peak Lords who were currently in residence showed up! And, after some rather shitty explanations were offhandedly offered, everything went to shit for a while, until Yue Qingyuan could offer a clearer explanation of what little they knew and tell everyone to hold the fuck off (he did not say this exactly, but Shang Qinghua takes artistic license based on tone) until they had more information. Even then, it seemed to Shang Qinghua as though everyone was glaring at him as though he was the imposter now (which, haha, was technically true). 


 But they didn’t haul him off for an in-depth interrogation, so he called it a win. 


 What happened next is all kind of a blur. Shang Qinghua doesn’t really remember who said what in the chaos of all that! His memory only really picks up again when Mu Qingfang announced that the other Shang Qinghua was awake, when he, Mu Qingfang, Yue Qingyuan, and Shen Qingqiu went in to speak with this other Shang Qinghua. 


 Shang Qinghua particularly remembers Other Shang Qinghua’s absolutely panicked expression at the sight of him. Shang Qinghua’s intuition could be a little unreliable, given his anxious disposition in difficult situations (assume the worst and you’ll never be too disappointed!), but in that moment, though he couldn’t have said why to save his life, he found himself quite precisely recognizing the soul-deep terror of another transmigrator, mirrored in the face he’d also been forced into wearing. 


(It wasn’t stealing, he’d decided years ago. He hadn’t stolen this life. Stealing required intention and desire, he’d decided, and also the ability to give something back.) 


 The other Shang Qinghua immediately informed them all that he was from a parallel universe. It was the very first thing the guy said to them! Which made Shang Qinghua (the first one) even more certain that this pathetic mess of a man, with his broken leg and heavy bandages, was a fellow transmigrator. Probably one who thought that Shang Qinghua (the first one) was actually the original Shang Qinghua! 


 According to the other Shang Qinghua’s hasty explanation, he’d been caught up in a battle against a powerful demon who wielded a sword that could bend and slice through space. The other Shang Qinghua had been thrown through a portal opened by their foe, probably to get him out of the way and to distract his allies with his absence. 


 Shang Qinghua’s brain immediately went, “XIN MO?! XIN MO?! XIN MO?!” 


 Shen Qingqiu was, of course, openly dubious. Yue Qingyuan gave the appearance of being more open-minded, though his trust was reserved, in the way where a person could only understand his inability to commit unreservedly. Mu Qingfang, surprisingly laid-back about all this, volunteered to perform tests to confirm that this person was a real Shang Qinghua and not some demon. 


 Both Shang Qinghuas winced. Shang Qinghua (the first one) thought of the wide and unpleasant array of tests needed to confirm that someone wasn’t a shape-shifter, a face-stealer, a body-snatcher, or anything like that, demonic or otherwise. 


  “Oh! Sucks to be you, Transmigrator Bro!” he thought. 


 “Perhaps both Shangs should undergo the tests, to be sure,” Shen Qingqiu said. 


 Because the man was, if nothing else, a complete fucking bastard. 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) turned to Zhangmen-Shixiong for mercy. 


  “Bro!” he thought desperately. 


 “If Shang-Shidi wouldn’t mind,” Yue Qingyuan said. 


 From the sect leader himself, that was not really a request. 


“BRO!” Shang Qinghua mentally wailed. 


 The other Shang Qinghua looked sympathetic. Shen Qingqiu did not. 


 So, they went through the tests, some of which were awkward with the other Shang Qinghua’s broken leg, all of which sucked. It was proven, as far as they could prove it, that this other Shang Qinghua was a real Shang Qinghua. Combined with the portal, which was pretty compelling evidence for the “alternate universe” explanation, the only way forward seemed to be to believe the story for now. Space-slicing and dimension-hopping artifacts weren’t totally uncommon in this world after all, thanks to the various dramatic antics within the plot-twisty Proud Immortal Demon Way. 


 The other Peak Lords, who had gotten involved at some point during the testing, were still pretty disbelieving in general. However, ignoring their objections and discontented muttering, Yue Qingyuan announced that they would be offering their hospitality to the alternate universe Shang Qinghua until further notice. Zhangmen-Shixiong said this in such a way that declared the matter was final. He also mentioned that Shen Qingqiu could come up with no more reasonable tests for deception, so any Peak Lord who felt like being pushy would have to pretty much declare that they thought they knew better than Yue Qingyuan and Shen Qingqiu. 


 Shen Qingqiu looked murderous, in a mostly expressionless sort of way, that Yue Qingyuan was daring to speak for him in any capacity. The objections of the other Peak Lords fizzled out pretty quickly, unwilling to catch the edge of Shen Qingqiu’s sharp tongue alongside Yue Qingyuan’s weighted disapproval. 


 Yue Qingyuan declared that the current matter at hand was now investigating the portal that had opened on Qing Jing Peak. The sect leader and his martial siblings filtered out, with Shen Qingqiu looking like he could not believe that he was being asked to allow people to poke around Qing Jing Peak for Shang Qinghua’s sake, leaving Shang Qinghua (the first one) alone with the other Shang Qinghua. 


 Ah, except for Mu Qingfang. The Qian Cao Peak Lord looked at Shang Qinghua (the first one) with an expression which seemed to say, “This is my Peak. Where exactly do you expect me to go? I’m not going anywhere.” 


 Thankfully, with only a little bit of wheedling, the Qian Cao Peak Lord was persuaded to leave the Shang Qinghuas to speak privately. Before he left, he politely reminded them that he and some of his disciples would be in the next room and would be listening for any calls. Very much a “if anyone tries to murder anyone, I’m murdering everyone” vibe! 


 There’s only one door too, so there’s clearly not going to be any sneaking out for either Shang Qinghua! Especially not this newcomer with the broken leg and bandages. 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) sits carefully in the seat beside the other Shang Qinghua’s sickbed, trying to figure out how to begin this super awkward conversation. Was his lightning-strike assumption even correct? He never actually met the original Shang Qinghua, that scum spy from Proud Immortal Demon Way, in any fashion, since he transmigrated into this universe as an infant. For all he knows, he’s projecting! Maybe this is the original Shang Qinghua from an alternate universe! 


 He’s pretty sure - almost, kind of mostly sure - that this is another transmigrator, though! The original Shang Qinghua was supposed to be… eh… he likes to think that the original goods was supposed to be slimier than he is. A smoother talker! 


 So, his guess here is a transmigrator, who’s been going through a parallel run of Proud Immortal Demon Way and ended up here by accident. Either that, or this is someone who’s just transmigrated, has been accidentally dumped into an already occupied role due to System error, and is pretty good at thinking on their feet to come up with a cover story. Though the injuries that this other Shang Qinghua has is making Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky lean more towards the first explanation. 


 The System is being no help right now, of course! Shang Qinghua tried to be like, “Hey, what the fuck is up with this crossover event?!” And the System was just like, “Please stand by.” But, like, in a “fuck off” kind of way? Shang Qinghua is pretty sure that this means the System has no idea what’s going on any more than he does right now. 


 He’s all ready to commiserate with his new transmigrator friend about how much it sucks to be Shang Qinghua! This is someone who’s not only in the same boat, but in the same shoes! And if they’re not… well, that’ll just be a disappointment. 


 “So…” he begins. “Have you ever heard of ‘Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky’?” 


 The other Shang Qinghua lights up immediately. 




 Shang Qinghua (the first one) is feeling that he might just have a really good handle on this unauthorized crossover event, actually, until the other Shang Qinghua says: 


 “Bro! Oh, thank fuck, you are another transmigrator! I was really hoping that you weren’t the original goods or something. You have to be a transmigrator if you know my ID!” 


 It takes Shang Qinghua (the first one) a second to understand that. 




 No… no, wait… 


 Hold on a second here… 




 “What was your ID?” the other Shang Qinghua asks. 




 Shang Qinghua (the first one) has stopped fucking working, sorry! Please stand by! 


 “Don’t be shy,” the other Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky beckons genially, like he’s forgotten all about his bandages and broken leg. “It’s been a while, sure, but I still might recognize it! Maybe! I mean… track record favors people who were waaaaay too invested in my web-novel, after all, haha!” 


 “Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky,” Shang Qinghua (the first one) says numbly. 


 “Yep! That’s me! In person!” the other Author God of Proud Immortal Demon Way confirms, before giving him a wary look. “You’re not going to start taking shit out on me, right? I swear that I didn’t know that the System or whoever was going to make anyone actually live my web-novel! I would’ve done a much better job if I’d known! And look at me, I’ve had to make do with a cannon-fodder role too!” 


 The other Shang Qinghua does look kind of pathetic. If the first Shang Qinghua’s brain had been working right now, he might have noticed that there was something off about the alternate universe Airplane’s clothes and hair ornaments. Unfortunately, his brain is definitely not working! Please stand by! 


  “System?!” Shang Qinghua (the first one) thinks. “SYSTEM?!” 


 “So, what was your ID?” the other Shang Qinghua asks for a second time. 


  What the fuck?! What the fuck?! What the fuck?! 


 “...Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky.” 


 The other Shang Qinghua’s brow furrows. He looks a little annoyed now. 


 “Bro… you have to get it together. Mu Qingfang isn’t too far.” 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) is very much trying to get it together! But it’s just not working! It’s really not working! 


  “Bro, my ID…” he chokes out, “was ‘Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky’.” 


 The other Shang Qinghua frowns. 


 “What?” he says. 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) looks back helplessly. 


 And then, clear as day, realization finally seems to cross the other man’s face. 


 He freezes. His eyes get wider. His mouth drops open slightly. 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) sees the other Shang Qinghua - the other Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky - get it in real time. He sees, reflected in that same stolen face, the faint hope that this is a really shitty joke dying miserably. 





 So, they have, uh, a small mutual crisis. Several small mutual crises, actually! Mu Qingfang pokes his head in at least once and they have to pretend that everything is totally fine! Like, “Nope, Mu-Shidi, don’t worry, no one is killing anyone! No one’s had any realizations of sanity-crushing proportions either, if you were planning on asking about that next, haha! It’s all fine!” 


 They get past the accusations of lying and a really shitty prank pretty quickly, at least, since they each know too many incriminating details about Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky’s real life! Real name! Real birthday! Parents’ names and life details! Bathroom habits! Porn habits! Fears and hopes and dreams that have never been documented anywhere, never been spoken aloud to anyone or even in proximity to a microphone or ever, which, hearing finally released to light of day, is off-putting and a little bit terrifying until the subsequent realization that this is a case of mutually assured destruction. 


 They’re the same fucking person. 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) is pretty sure that he briefly blacked out from sheer WTF at one point. Proving that they are the same fucking person inhabiting the same fucking role doesn’t… well, it solves some problems, but it also raises a lot of deeply upsetting existential questions! 


 Questions about the realness of the worlds they each transmigrated into! Questions about which one of them might be “the original Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky” and which one of them might be a copy! Or if there even is an original! What if both of them are basically clones here? What if they’re actually equal halves of one person split between separate runs of Proud Immortal Demon Way? What if they’re just fragments of an original Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky?! 


 “Alright, new idea! Let’s not fucking think about any of that!” the other Shang Qinghua loudly decides, as though loudness makes a decision extra legitimate. 


 “Oh, thank fucking god, bro,” Shang Qinghua (the first one) says. 


 And he immediately shelves all of that nonsense! Not something he can do anything about! 


 “I mean, we’re clearly dealing with different worlds here,” the other Shang Qinghua continues, nodding wisely. “We have totally different experiences, even if we had the same pre-transmigration experience, which makes us different people! Haha, we’re basically twins, right? We’re brothers!” 


 “You know, I’ve never wanted a twin,” Shang Qinghua says. 


 “Oh, me neither!” 


 The most important question here, clearly, is what they’re supposed to call each other now. Having the same name is going to get confusing quickly! Shang Qinghua (the first one) is of the firm opinion that the interloper, as a guest in this universe, should be the one who has to be “Little Qinghua” or “Second Brother”! Shang Qinghua is not calling this guy “Big Brother”, no way! This is his universe! 


 The other Shang Qinghua huffs. “I’m pretty sure that I’m older, though!” 


 “What? Wait! Wait, a second, bro!” 


 “Cool. Waiting.” 


  “Bro, how do you already know that we’ve been having totally different experiences here? How can you tell that you’re the older one?” Shang Qinghua demands, because his alternate universe twin has so far only travelled between Qing Jing Peak and Qian Cao Peak. What could he have seen to have figured that out so quickly? 


 “Ahhh, it’s, uh, well…” 


 “Who died?” 


 Did his alternate universe twin kill one of the other Peak Lords or something?” 


 “Aha, well… temporarily?” 




 “Haha, don’t worry, bro!” the other Shang Qinghua says jokingly. “They’re all alive and well back in my world! Or, well, last I saw, everyone was fine! It’s… ah… how to explain? I’ve already finished the plot in my world.” 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) tries to reconcile his available information and fails. Because if his alternate universe twin has already gotten through the plot, then Cang Qiong Mountain Sect should be… well… a pile of rubble? But his alternate universe twin has just said that all of the Peak Lords in his universe are still alive?! Also, the scum spy Shang Qinghua isn’t supposed to survive the plot! 


 The other Shang Qinghua looks sympathetic towards his shock. “How long has it been since Tianlang-Jun was sealed under Bailu Mountain?” 


 “Ah, about two years now, more or less?” 


 “See, for me it’s been around twenty-seven or twenty-eight years!” 


 “...Congrats on surviving that long, bro?” 


 “Thanks! I really tried!” 


 On one hand, Shang Qinghua (the first one) is glad to know that it’s actually possible for his traitor character to survive the plot! He’s relieved to hear that Cang Qiong Mountain Sect and his martial siblings survived too, no matter how frequently he curses them during the day-in-day-out of An Ding Peak. On the other hand, he’s still confused! 


 “Wait, the plot didn’t end when the protagonist was only twenty-seven!”  


  Proud Immortal Demon Way had been a beastly web-novel of at least twenty million words (as far as he remembers, anyway)! Epics of literature wept at its bloated chapter count! Instead of the narrative coming to a natural end, Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky had basically propped up his money-maker on life-support and kept hitting it with a stick, so Bing-Ge should have been going through the motions of formulaic plots for a long time yet! 


 The other Shang Qinghua laughs. “Ahhh, the plot went a little sideways in my world! A lot sideways, actually! Closer to the original outline than I ever could have imagined, actually, which was kind of cool. It was looking not good for a while there - I thought we were all going to be goners, honestly - but it turned out not so bad! Everything worked out in the end! Pretty well, actually!” 


 Shang Qinghua doesn’t know if he finds that reassuring. 


 It’s good to hear that it’s possible for things to turn out “pretty well”, but he’s thinking that maybe his alternate universe twin isn’t such a reliable source! This other Shang Qinghua got thrown through a portal into another universe, after being thrown around and set on fire! That’s not “pretty well”! 


 It’s totally better than being dead, sure, but… 


 Wow, his standards aren’t that bad, are they? Is he an optimist in that universe? 


 Also… what about Xin Mo?! 


 “Bro, didn’t you get thrown here by the protagonist?!” 


 The other Shang Qinghua scrunches up his face. “Ah, well, by a protagonist, sure!” 


 “Bro, in another universe with a broken leg is better than getting killed by the protagonist, but I wouldn’t call it ‘pretty well, actually’! Wait! What the fuck does ‘a protagonist’ mean?! There’s only one protagonist!” 


 The other Shang Qinghua sighs, leaning back against his cot. “I wish! Everything was going pretty well in post-canon at first, you know, and then Bing-Ge from the universe of the original Proud Immortal Demon Way showed up for some reason into our alternate universe! Turns out that Xin Mo has dimension-hopping abilities! And then he showed up again! Ah, my bro’s ability to enthrall protagonists really is something else…” 


 Hold up! He cannot mean Shang Qinghua here! 


 “Your bro? What bro?” 


 The other Shang Qinghua waves a hand dismissively, which is super frustrating! 


 “Ah, that’s not super important, bro! I mean, it’s part of how I knew right away that I was in a very different world. I’ve got another transmigrator in my run of Proud Immortal Demon Way! An anti-fan, kind of, who threw the whole plot off course!” 


 The other Shang Qinghua sounds weirdly frustrated and fond. 


  “Another transmigrator?” Shang Qinghua thinks, stunned and… definitely envious. 


 “But I’m pretty sure that this world is already different - not just my world at an earlier time, you know,” the other Shang Qinghua continues, totally oblivious to the first one’s raging envy over this transmigration buddy. “Like, what was up with Liu Qingge patting you on the shoulder like that before he left? I mean, that was kind of weird, bro!” 


 “Oh. We’re friends now, kind of?” 


  “Friends,” the other Shang Qinghua repeats. “With Liu Qingge?!” 


 “Sort of a weird accident, really?” Shang Qinghua offers. “He’s less of an asshole once he decides to like you… or, uh, actually starts to remember that you exist?” 


 “Bro, I like it better when people as tough as Liu Qingge do not remember I exist.” 


 Ah, hm, Shang Qinghua is starting to get an idea of what an early major difference between their worlds might be! Good to know that Liu Qingge can survive the plot, after all, but there’s an even taller shadow looming over all this unexpected canon divergence. 


 “He’s not as bad as Luo Binghe, but still…” the other Shang Qinghua is muttering. 


 “Did you, ah, ever go looking for the protagonist before he showed up at Cang Qiong Mountain Sect?” Shang Qinghua asks. 


 The other Shang Qinghua gives him a searching look. “No? I mean, I kind of wanted to see the protagonist as a baby, sure! But I didn’t want to set off the plot early or anything… Why? Are you thinking about it, bro? Because the System can get really finicky when it comes to Bing-Ge!” 


 “It can be surprisingly lenient sometimes too…” Shang Qinghua says weakly. 


 “I guess? When it’s not being stingy and unhelpful, maybe.” The other Shang Qinghua narrows his eyes and demands, “Did you get a better System deal than me? Mine barely talked to me! I haven’t heard from it pretty much at all since the plot ended and I, ah, turned an offer down. Which, you know, good riddance!” 


 “I think I should be the one asking the questions here, bro, since you’re the one who fell into my run of Proud Immortal Demon Way. And you’re the one who finished the plot! Kind of! I barely remember the original outline! Did you just not do all the later plotlines?” 


 “Pretty much?” the other Shang Qinghua says. “Look, bro, I’d totally love to help, but honestly, I don’t know how much I should say here! Maybe I’ve already said too much. I already did this once, it was super stressful, I don’t want to do it again! I just want to get back to my world and bask in that hard-earned post-canon goodness!” 


 “You’ve got a plan to get back?” 


 “Haha, well, no.” 


 “Because no one is anywhere close to getting Xin Mo in this world, bro.” 


 “I know, it’s more like I’m planning on other people having a plan? If my world’s Binghe can kick the original Bing-Ge’s ass again, and get Xin Mo from him, then… uh… other people can hopefully persuade him to open portals to find me?” 


 Somehow, Shang Qinghua doubts that his alternate universe twin has a very close relationship to the protagonist. “...That sounds like a kind of unlikely plan, bro.” 


 “Hey, I have people who’ll miss me! Cu- Transmigrator Bro likes me! Most of the time, anyway! And they can talk the protagonist around to pretty much anything!” 


 Shang Qinghua doesn’t know anything about this transmigration buddy and can’t really put his faith in some faceless anti-fan. Is this other Airplane’s transmigration buddy one of the protagonist’s wives? (He knows there were plenty of people out there who were not fans of Proud Immortal Demon Way but were still huge fans of Luo Binghe!) Because the protagonist’s wives are the only people who can probably get the protagonist to do anything! And even that’s kind of unreliable! 


 Who calls a woman their “bro” anyway? Not that women can’t be bros, of course! Women can totally be bros if they want to be bros! Shang Qinghua has never imagined that he might someday be transmigration buddies with one of his protagonist’s wives! 


 “And, uh, I have someone,” the other Shang Qinghua says. 


 “Someone who what?” 


 The other Shang Qinghua gets a kind of shifty look, but… it’s a shifty look that’s on the verge of being a kind of smiley look. “Well, ah, you know… someone.” 






 “You’ve got someone?!” Shang Qinghua demands incredulously. “How the fuck-?! Who?!” 


 Currently number one on Shang Qinghua’s priority list is surviving his own stupid plot, but… well, if the other Shang Qinghua managed to dodge all the death flags, then… well… maybe love could happen? Thirty-ish years is plenty of time to get his shit together! It sounds totally unlikely! But the other Shang Qinghua has a kind of dopey expression now, a weird mix between bashful and smug, and Shang Qinghua (the first one) just has to be like, “Oh, shit? Does my face really look like that? Is that what ‘lovestruck’ looks like on me?!” 


 “Ah, I don’t know if I should say… what’s your System doing now, bro?” 


 “It’s just telling me to ‘please stand by’?” 


 “Haha, yeah, that sounds like my shitty System! Ahhh, I don’t think it’ll hurt to tell you?” The other Shang Qinghua checks to make sure that Mu Qingfang and his disciples are still far out of hearing range, then whispers grinningly, “The someone is Mobei-Jun.” 


 Shang Qinghua’s brain crashes immediately! Again! 






 The other Shang Qinghua is grinning at him. Very widely. Very smugly. 


 “What?!” Shang Qinghua (the first one) demands. 


 “I know, right? I totally thought he hated me! But, ehhh, it looks like it was a lot more complicated than that! Getting my king to talk about his feelings is a lot like pulling teeth, but… he’s probably in the ‘I can’t afford to trust anyone ever, especially not a human cultivator, so I’d better make him fear me so he never betrays me’ phase for you right now? With a side of ‘I don’t understand this human’s motivations and that makes me angry’ and ‘this human keeps lying about his capabilities and I hate being lied to’ and ‘my family alternates between trying to kill me and dumping all the responsibility of kingship on me, which makes me unspeakably unhappy’. Plus, there’s the whole ‘I feel vaguely obligated to try and subjugate humanity’ goal and ‘being destructive is entertaining and I’m bored’ demon thing!” 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) blinks at the unexpected depth to Mobei-Jun’s anger. 


 It’s a shame that his brain still isn’t working well enough to help him understand all of that! That sounds like it would probably be super helpful to know! Shang Qinghua has always supposed that Mobei-Jun’s anger had, like, levels - he’s very invested in the difference between “mildly annoyed” and “pissed off enough to take the scum spy out of the story early” - but those sound like layers. 


 Also, now that his brain has stopped freezing long enough to start chugging along again, he’s noticing that his alternate universe twin is… a bit more fashionable than he is? Blue and black color scheme? Jewelry and embroidery bordering on opulent? That is not normal Peak Lord attire! Definitely not for An Ding Peak!


 “Bro, your face!” the other Shang Qinghua crows delightedly. 


 “Are you kidding me right now?” Shang Qinghua demands. “Seriously, fuck you!” 


 “No! No! I’m not kidding! It’s true!” 


 “Fuck you, it’s not!” 


 “It is!” 


 “Nope! I don’t believe you! Pics or it didn’t happen, bro!” 


 “How the fuck am I supposed to get pics?!” 


 No matter how Shang Qinghua balks and prods and scoffs, his alternate universe twin keeps insisting that he’s not lying. In fact, the other Shang Qinghua starts coming out with some serious T.M.I. (Too Much Information) to prove that he’s been banging Mobei-fucking-Jun! 


 “Shut up! Shut up about Mobei-Jun! Shut up!” Shang Qinghua insists. 


 Oh, fuck, those mental images are going to be stuck in his brain forever now. The next meeting he has with Mobei-Jun, all he’s going to be able to think about is the two of them alternatively banging it out and making “sweet, tender love” (the other Shang Qinghua has to be fucking with him). And Mobei-Jun is somehow going to figure out that Shang Qinghua is daydreaming about sex and Shang Qinghua is for sure going to die for being too horny. 


 “Well, how could I know that if I wasn’t sleeping with him?” the other Shang Qinghua demands. “You asked for pics, bro, and all I have are the dirty details.” 


 “You could be making it up!” 


 “Why would I make something like this up?” 


 “I don’t fucking know! Maybe I became an even worse liar in my old age, huh?!” 


 “Bro. Harsh.” 


 It gets bad enough that Mu Qingfang comes back into the room. He doesn’t even say anything, he just stands in the doorway with crossed arms and an expression that says, “I have better fucking things to do than play mediator.” Both of the Shang Qinghuas murmur apologies and he leaves again. Somehow, even though he hasn’t said anything, the fact that they’re on their final warning right now hangs in the air.  


 The other Shang Qinghua is still insultingly condescending afterwards. “Aw, it’ll turn out in the end, bro, probably. Don’t be afraid to tell him off a little bit! Tell him to treat you a little better! He has no idea how squishy humans really are. You’re a Peak Lord now! He’s probably reevaluating his estimation of you now.” 


 “Haha, no,” Shang Qinghua says. “Did he tell you that, bro?!” 


 “He did, actually! More or less!” 


 Shang Qinghua eyes his alternate universe twin skeptically. “How? He doesn’t make fucking conversation.” 


 “He only talks to people he likes,” the other Shang Qinghua says defensively, then flaps a hand. “It’s cool that you don’t believe me! I wouldn’t have believed me either, honestly. Haha. You’ll understand when you’re older! Huh. I’ve always wanted to say that to someone.” 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) can’t fully fathom Mobei-Jun liking anyone. The man hates everyone! Or, at least, disdains everyone, since Shang Qinghua can’t be sure that Mobei-Jun cares enough about anyone to hate them properly. Mobei-Jun is one of those cool badasses who doesn’t have friends so much as he has “enemies’ enemies” and “enemies who aren’t dead yet because it’s too much of a bother to kill them now”. 


 “This world probably won’t follow the path of your world,” Shang Qinghua says, somewhere between determinedly and desperately. Clearly, this other Shang Qinghua’s world is a total AU! Because in this world, there’s no way Mobei-Jun could ever be interested in Shang Qinghua of all people! 


 The other Shang Qinghua looks interested. “Yeah, what’d you change? Making friends with Liu Qingge is a bold and unexpected move - not sure how that will turn out - but he can be surprising, so maybe it’ll work!” 


 “I saved the protagonist’s adoptive mother.” 


 Shang Qinghua relishes the expression on his older, retired alternate universe twin’s face, just a bit. The other Shang Qinghua’s face starts out as simple puzzlement, like maybe he heard that wrong, but then it turns to shock as the words sink in! Sure, his alternate universe twin hugged Mobei-Jun’s thighs so hard he ended up hooking up with him somehow, but Shang Qinghua (the first one, who is totally not jealous, not even a little bit) has a few tricks up his sleeve too! 


 “Bro, you did what?” 


 “I brought the baby protagonist and his mother to one of the towns along the Tian Gong range.” 


 The other Shang Qinghua’s mouth drops open a little. “The System allowed that?” 


 “I know, right? Weird! But yes, I talked it around!” Shang Qinghua says, rightfully smug, because upping the System’s involvement in his life hasn’t been easy! “It’s cool, apparently, so long as the protagonist isn’t raised by his birth parents or killed early!” 


 “...The bar is that low?” 


 “He has to join Cang Qiong Mountain Sect though, at some point, and it has to be Qing Jing Peak, or else I lose a ton of points and face some terrifyingly vague ‘consequences’,” Shang Qinghua complains. “But yeah! The backstory is a little flexible when it comes to lessening the tragedy, apparently! All the better for Shen Qingqiu to crush the optimism out of him, right?” 


 It’s kind of nice to finally be able to confess some of his transmigrator troubles to someone, even if it is an alternate universe version of himself! 


 Except the other Shang Qinghua bursts out laughing. “Hahaha! Right! Yep, totally!” 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one) immediately gets the sense that his alternate universe twin knows something he doesn’t here. Honestly? Fuck this guy. Just a little bit. It’s one thing to have the general sense that you might be a bit of an asshole. It’s another thing completely to actually meet yourself and think, “If we weren’t twins, I probably wouldn’t hang out with this guy! He’s kind of a dick.” 


 “Really, though, bro, I hope it all works out for you!” the other Shang Qinghua says, wiping a tear away from his eye. “Ahhh, maybe Bing-Ge will calm the fuck down for once if his mother lives.” 


 Shang Qinghua sure fucking hopes so (not just because his entire chest lurches at the thought of that poor woman dying now). He’s hoping for some rewards for putting his neck on the line with this canon divergence, since the System sure isn’t offering any rewards for potentially improving the protagonist’s emotional stability and sense of mercy. He’s hoping extra hard now, seeing a jaded glint in the eyes of his alternate universe twin. 


 Shang Qinghua waits for his alternate universe twin to ask after his protagonist son and his protagonist son’s adoptive mother. There’s lots that he could say about the house, which is the homiest home he’s ever been in, though the woman who lives there still frets over whether her furniture is good enough for the ass of the likes of Shang Qinghua. In exciting recent news, Luo Binghe said “please” to him for the first time yesterday and Shang Qinghua, completely unprepared to stand up against cuteness of such overpowering levels, folded like wet paper. There’s lots and lots to tell! 


 The other Shang Qinghua doesn’t ask. 


 “Ah, I gave up pretty early on on trying to meddle with the plot like that,” the other Shang Qinghua says. “Probably why C- Transmigrator Bro showing up after all those years of nothing happening really took me by surprise.” 


 “When did they show up?” Shang Qinghua asks. He wants to know when he might be able to look forward to some transmigrator company that isn’t himself. 


 “Not until the protagonist joined Qing Jing Peak.” 


 The other Shang Qinghua sounds mournful and Shang Qinghua (the first one) can relate! That long?! Another eleven or twelve years?! Now that’s just unfair! Shang Qinghua has been stuck in this world since birth and some other transmigrator just gets to waltz straight into the plot?! 


 “Unfair,” he mutters. 


 The other Shang Qinghua nods. “Super unfair!” 


 Luo Jiahui is good company, but there are some things Shang Qinghua can’t share with her. His accidental modern pop culture references fly over everyone’s heads! Sometimes a man just needs to bitch about suddenly missing stupid cat videos with such fierceness that he can barely breathe with it! Sometimes a man just really needs to call his Transmigration System a no-good bastard and have another person agree with him for once! 


 “You’re going to be waiting a while for the plot to start, bro,” the other Shang Qinghua says ruefully. “Honestly, I barely remember those years at all. They barely seemed to matter. I know they sucked and I remember some shit here and there, but… yeah… wow… huge blur there, pretty much! Time flies!” 


 Shang Qinghua (the first one), who has another dozen years before the plot comes close to kicking off, can’t find it in himself to appreciate this insight. Not really useful, thanks! 


 “Cool,” he says instead. “Great to know there’s a lot to look forward to.” 


 “Haha, yeah.” 


 Neither of them seems to have anything to add to the conversation anymore. 


 “So, is the baby protagonist cute?” the other Shang Qinghua asks finally. 


 “Oh, yeah, unbelievably cute,” Shang Qinghua answers. “Super unfairly cute.” 


 “Because if I’m going to get tossed through a portal by the original Bing-Ge because my transmigrator bro can’t stop seducing protagonists, I kind of want to see the little white lotus baby so I can rub missing the experience in my bro’s face later,” the other Shang Qinghua says. “I’m probably only going to get a not-apology at the end of this, so I want a little leverage for afterwards, you know? After I get back.” 


 There’s no guarantee that the other Shang Qinghua will get back. They both know it. 


 Shang Qinghua can hear that knowing in his alternate universe twin's voice. 


 Another thing not to think about! 


 Anyway, Shang Qinghua (the first one) totally understands that sort of “I saw the super cute baby protagonist and you didn’t” pettiness. Super understandable! His alternate universe twin has been thrown into another run of a terrible web-novel and he needs to look on the bright side while waiting for his broken leg to heal! 


 “I’ll see what I can do,” he says.