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Heaven's Official Villain (hiatus)

Chapter Text

Shen Jiu was an average cultivator from a mediocre sect.

In truth, his abilities were more than fine, but his anxiety and distrustful nature kept him from advancing. It did not help matters that his shixiong, Yue Qingyuan, had advanced so far that he ascended to become a martial god. His area was not as vast as most gods – he became the god of the mountain range; the God of Cang Qiong.

Many shrines were built in honor of him. Many people prayed to him. Yue Qingyuan upheld his position well and no one had complaints. He knew when he should intervene; he knew when he should leave matters to be settled among the people. His wisdom and charitable nature made him easily beloved by all the people.

However, Yue Qingyuan held Shen Jiu above and separate from everyone else. Any prayer would be answered. Because he had promised to always be at the cultivator's side and broke his word. The only way he felt he could make amends was answer any and anything that was asked.

Thankfully, at most, Shen Jiu only prayed once every year. He did so on the day that Yue Qingyuan had ascended and always had a spite-filled prayer as he assumed that he was never being listened to by the god.

Thus, Yue Qingyuan gained a reputation for doing odd things like personally entering dreams in order to ensure a very specific series of events happened that did not seem to benefit anyone. No one really knew why he did it, or what purpose, but surely it meant something if the martial god was doing it, right?

As for everyone in Heaven, they whispered behind Yue Qingyuan’s back -- fully aware of the god’s one-sided love to a human. They were only happy that Shen Jiu did not realize the same and end up bringing about some sort of localized apocalypse in his prayers.

But what had ended up happening was something a little worse.

The master of the sect passed and Shen Jiu became its new master. This did not make him happy as he had not ascended to become a martial god. He took his rage and frustration out on the disciples until he was left with only the sect building remaining. No one would come to be taught by him. He had ended up cursed by most that knew of the cultivator as scum that only abused his people. Thus, the little that he gained in the mortal world became worthless.

Yet still he blamed everyone else for his misfortune. He refused to acknowledge that he was to one to blame. In a fit of fury, he prayed to Yue Qingyuan – he berated the martial god for not doing more for him! He denounced the god for not sending him one disciple that could have been deserving! But honestly, Shen Jiu did not want to teach any disciple that had any merit. He couldn't stand their potential grow while his had stagnated and rotted.

Like all the times in the past, Yue Qingyuan granted Shen Jiu's wish. He sent him a disciple that would be worthy. He sent found the most promising youth and personally convinced him to seek out Shen Jiu. He believed that his shidi had changed and was finally willing to act as a proper Shizun to him. That was why Yue Qingyuan sent him Luo Binghe.

Luo Binghe showed honest reverence and humility to Shen Jiu as he begged to join the ruined sect. How could he not treat him honorably? The cultivator had been recommended by the God of Cang Qiong, himself, in a dream!

Unfortunately, Shen Jiu had been twisted by his own malicious suspicions by the time Luo Binghe came to his doorstep. He thought some other sect leader had sent the promising youth to mock him. He believed that he was being taken as a fool. But he decided to play along. He welcomed Luo Binghe into his sect and began tormenting the young disciple daily. He believed it would be sending a message to the other sects to not play such games with him!

The young disciple endured the treatment, believing he had done something to upset the upstanding cultivator. He reassured himself that he must have offended the man, and need only prove his worth to be forgiven and trained properly. Yet he never was. He endured daily abuse, daily humiliations, daily punishments without rest. He was starved and beaten until his spirit started to crack under the treatment. He was locked in a woodshed each night with no means to keep himself warm. His spirit grew more and more resentful.

This was the cultivator that he was sent to be taught under? This man that could only be called the personification of spite and jealousy?!

Luo Binghe eventually died under the cruel treatment done by Shen Jiu. But his spirit did not find rest. It cursed the gods for sending him to such a pathetic and sad death! It cursed the world for allowing him to suffer and suffer without reprieve! It cursed everything until he became a vengeful spirit. He refused to accept his end to be such a miserable one when he knew himself to be destined for something – anything – better!

Centuries past as he swirled in the ether as a spirit until he eventually became a demon lord and vowed revenge against the man that killed him and the god that brought Luo Binghe to him.

As for Shen Jiu, upon coming across the dead body of Luo Binghe, he felt something snap inside of him. He had never actually personally caused the death of any of his disciples. All of them had put up with his abuse as long as they could before the left his sect, denouncing him as their Shizun. Seeing the young boy's dead body was enough to force himself to reevaluate everything that he had done.

He buried the body behind the sect's ruined headquarters. He burned money each and every time that he was able. The change was, of course, too little and too late. The people still reviled him. No one believed him to be sincere in his reparations. Everyone turned their back on him save for one young woman, Qiu Haitang. She recognized he was trying to better himself little by little, and offered him a chance to prove himself.

The two eventually married and had one child. It may have been the only good Shen Jiu had truly given the world before he passed on.

Generations passed without much happening until Shen Yuan was born.

The young man showed some promise in cultivation. He was welcomed into a sect part of Cang Qiong Mountain, but it had taken some doing. A few of the middle officials had expressed concern about allowing him to enter as they noted he had a striking resemblance to his great-great-great grandfather, Shen Jiu, not only in looks but in his voice as well.

The middle officials attempted to appear in dreams of the cultivation sect elders to ask them to prevent Shen Yuan entering. The reason that they were so adamant about not allowing Shen Yuan entrance was due to the fact a few of the middle officials were once shidis of Shen Jiu.

They felt it was a bad omen to allow someone that looked like the spiteful man reincarnated to get anywhere near a cultivation sect. Even if Yue Qingyuan was fond of Shen Jiu, surely after so many years of reflection, the martial god could see that the man had been nothing but cruel and only showed remorse in the last few years of his life! Surely, his love had faded a little.

Unfortunately, their hope had turned to ashes when Yue Qingyuan appeared in dreams to demand Shen Yuan be allowed into the cultivation sect.

And that had been that.

For his part, Shen Yuan had no idea what he had done to earn the admiration of the God of Cang Qiong. Yes, he heard of his ancestor's connection to the martial god, but his ancestor was also a disgraced cultivator! He did not know what to do about his ancestor's shixiong showing such honest care towards him, but he knew he could not be rude and attempted to not let the god's expectations down!

Shen Yuan worked hard each and every day; he never took for granted the opportunity that he had been gifted. His dedication were rewarded, but not overly rewarded. His ancestor's reputation proceeded him and ruined any chances of allowing him to become part of Upper Heaven. So, he had ended up ascending to be a middle official of Heaven. He became the local god for Qing Jing village and his name had changed to Shen Qingqiu upon his ascension.

While that was all well-and-good, he had felt embarrassed for not being able to accomplish more when he had a full-fledged martial god's backing. Not only that, but he hadn't even become a martial god himself! He had felt awful, like he had let Yue Qingyuan down, and could not bring himself to face him. As such, he did his best to politely avoid Yue Qingyuan every time the god came to check on him.

The shrines built for him in the village were small and ignorable. As such, his power as a middle official never grew. He did not mind, because he did not think that he could or should compete with Yue Qingyuan. However, he did occasionally come across gold bars being left at his shrine from time to time. But he assumed someone had mistaken his shrine for Yue Qingyuan's and was quick to place the offering in its rightful place.

What he did not know was the one that was leaving the offerings was Yue Qingyuan himself as free merits. As such, whenever Yue Qingyuan would see the bars return to his shrine, he would always let out a very small, defeated sigh. He had hoped that one day Shen Qingqiu would accept them as it would help to increase his abilities as a local god. But so far, it had ended with the bars being brought back by the panic-stricken middle official.

The only person that was actually using his shrine for daily prayers was a Shang Qinghua.

In the beginning, Shang Qinghua was a farmer that became the lord of An Ding village. How did this happen? It was primarily thanks to Shen Qingqiu.

Originally, Shang Qinghua was from Qing Jing village. He had come across the poorly maintained shrine and cleaned it up. What had actually happened was that he had chores and did not want to do them. So he cleaned the shrine in a slow, lazy fashion to ensure if he was asked why he had not completed his chores, he could point out that he was attempting to show reverence toward the local village god, Shen Qingqiu.

Shen Qingqiu, not yet realizing the heart of the young man, was actually moved someone was showing honest care to his shrine. He had set forth to granting a few of the young man's prayers in return. He was not as flamboyant as Yue Qingyuan was in granting prayers, however. As a local god, he believed he would be made a laughingstock if he appeared in a dream to command any action! Instead, he worked behind the scenes and pushed things to where they would most benefit Shang Qinghua.

His background work helped Shang Qinghua leave Qing Jing village to become head servant for the lord of An Ding village. This resulted in Shang Qinghua had building another shrine to Shen Qingqiu which spread his influence to that area, as well, due to An Ding village having no local god for many years. Apparently, the local god had grown despondent at being connected to An Ding village and decided to fall from middle heaven than continue to watch over the village.

Yue Qingyuan had been watching the affair and involved himself as means to thank Shang Qinghua for his appreciation of Shen Qingqiu. As such, with the martial god’s influence, a hapless farmer becoming a village lord.

From then on, Shang Qinghua prayed daily to Shen Qingqiu's shrine. However, the prayers became less and less prayers and more a series of complaints that the man had. Like: he wasn't fit to be running a village! He had no idea what he was doing! He had just wanted to not have to be a farmer anymore! What were the gods thinking in having someone so unqualified look after the people?! If Shen Qingqiu did not want to be completely hated like his ancestor, Shang Qinghua demanded that the immortal help him with maintaining the village! On and on.

It certainly did not help matters that the previous An Ding lord had connections with demons. Not just a low-level demon but a demon lord! It seemed like his predecessor was an underhanded villainous sort that kidnapped young maidens to be fed to the demon. He also uncovered that the reason that there was no local god for An Ding village was because the demon lord had secretly killed them! That had all been news to Shang Qinghua, who thought his once lord was shady but not that shady!

When he had ended up meeting Mobei-Jun himself, Shang Qinghua had clung to the demon's thighs and begged for his life. The ice demon had no idea how to respond to such a pitiful display and on a whim, spared the human's life so long as he maintained the same deal. Shang Qinghua balked, too cowardly to be able to act as cold-hearted as the previous lord, and instead offered another solution! He would find a way to act as a spy to the heavenly officials for Mobei-Jun.

An Ding's lord explained his relationship with Shen Qingqiu (which he purposely bluffed as being much closer than what it actually was) and the local god’s close personal relationship with Yue Qingyuan (which ended up being correct but was also a bluff).

He promised that he would gather enough information to make it worth both sparing his life and continuing an alliance with him! It had amused Mobei-Jun enough to allow the human to attempt to prove himself. And if Shang Qinghua proved himself, the demon lord in turn promised to introduce him to Luo Binghe for further judgment.

Which hardly seemed like a good thing to Shang Qinghua! To meet his lord's lord, was that really a reward for his hard work?! Especially if he was put on another trial before that demon!? Nonetheless, while he saw no merit in the deal, he was no fool. He accepted these terms, because it meant his continued existence!

He decided to worry about what would come next later!

It was then all the strings of fate came together in one disastrous moment.

Shang Qinghua went to Shen Qingqiu's shrine to cry on the statue. He wrapped his arms around the crude depiction of the god, sobbing loudly as he complained about how life was not fair! As he was shedding huge tears and blowing snot all over the shrine, Luo Binghe had chosen that moment to take a small peek at the human that had captured his subordinate's attention. It had only been idle curiosity that brought him out so he remained in the shadows to avoid being seen.

The demon lord had sneered at the pathetic sight of Shang Qinghua and almost left rather than continue to be assaulted by the human's cries.

"Absolutely none of these are prayers!" A familiar voice filled the shrine with outrage stopping the demon lord's departure.

It was the first time that Shen Qingqiu had ever manifested in the material world before a devotee. He felt honestly guilty in appearing in the flesh at all! Such things were more than a little frowned upon, but Shang Qinghua's constant complaining had worn him down. He would accept his punishment for appearing after he was able to air his own grievances!

Luo Binghe sucked his breath in as "Shen Jiu" manifested on top of the statue. He had assumed the man was dead. He had assumed that he must have died because centuries had passed before he had been able to return to the Human Realm. But seeing his old Shizun sitting on the statue, looking as contemptible and lofty as he remembered, he realized the man had not died but ascended.

Thus, the start of an unfortunate story of mistaken identity began.

Chapter Text

When Shen Jiu died, Yue Qingyuan pulled away from directly influencing the mortal world for years. He had always hoped that his shidi would have become a god; he always believed that Shen Jiu had the ability if he honestly tried. He forgave every sin and every misstep the man took, but it had not been enough to save him.

It was only due to the urgings of others that he should actually look in on his region that he chose to check on the Shen family. Of course, the other gods had meant that he observe the political and sociological state of the land, but Yue Qingyuan took it as he liked. The only reason that he even cared about Cang Qiong Mountain at all was because of Shen Jiu. But, perhaps, seeing the man’s family would help him care as he once did.

That was when he had been startled to see a young teenager that resembled Shen Jiu in every possible way. Shen Yuan looked and sounded just like him. It was like he was given a second chance to watch over the person he loved. Yue Qingyuan returned to being the meddling god that he was once known as – while some of Heaven's officials were pleased, some were worried as to what had brought back the god's vitality.

But Shen Yuan had no idea he appeared so much like his ancestor. After all, the only people that could tell him were Yue Qingyuan and the middle officials that were Shen Jiu's shidi. And, sadly, no one knew how to broach the subject with him, and didn’t know how for very different reasons. The middle officials were uncertain how to tell an innocent child that he shared a strong resemblance to an ancestor that was still reviled by the locals; Yue Qingyuan believed Shen Jiu had reincarnated and did not think he had to state the obvious.

So, he went on oblivious.

When he ascended and changed his name, he officially met Yue Qingyuan.

The reason why the god never appeared before him in a dream was he feared it would have angered Shen Jiu to see him that way. The cultivator always hated to be reminded that Yue Qingyuan had become the regional god while he remained mortal, so for the sake of the soul he believed was reborn, he waited until Shen Qingqiu arrived in Middle Heaven to see him. Seeing him again, dressed in beautiful robes of green and immortal, it filled his heart with peace he had not ever known.

Unfortunately, Shen Qingqiu viewed the meeting completely differently. He would have rather the immortal had not come to meet him at all, as he felt he had failed him. So, there was no warmth in his heart but a sinking guilt that threatened to swallow him whole.

Shen Qingqiu cupped his hands to bow low before the full-fledged god.

"There is no need for you to do that, Shen-shidi." Had been the first thing Yue Qingyuan said to him.

The god was truly too kind to refer to him as 'shidi!' Did he do so because they were watching over the same region? Please! Shen Qingqiu was watching over a small village! Yue Qingyuan was caring for an entire region! It was the difference between a village lord and the emperor!

Or was he willing to call him such due to the shixiong-shidi relationship he had with his ancestor?! Really, the god honored such things after so many generations made Shen Qingqiu respect him all the more. Especially since the immortal was upholding it to his awful relative!

Still, the kindness that Yue Qingyuan continued to show to him embarrassed him to no ends, but he could not admit or show it. Wouldn't that have him come off more than a little ungrateful?

"I'm sorry." He lifted his head but saw Yue Qingyuan smiling fondly at him. Was there something he had missed? Shouldn't he be more upset? The human that he put so much faith into fixing his family's rotten history had only been able to become a local god. Certainly, that was worth something! But, put another way, hadn't Shen Qingqiu achieved nothing of note when given support from a god?!

"I've already forgiven you of everything." The words were softly spoken and had so much weight to them.

Shen Qingqiu had no idea that Yue Qingyuan was such an upstanding and righteous immortal. It made his failure at becoming a full-fledged god sting that much more. Even if the god was willing to forgive him, he couldn't forgive himself, okay!? "I promise to do better from now on." There as always a chance to ascend again; it was just more than a little difficult.

"You’ve already been doing so well. Don’t beat yourself up so much."

Really! He was too nice to him!

Yue Qingyuan reached his hand out like he meant to stroke the side of his face but stopped just before his fingers even touched his hair. Shen Qingqiu smiled politely, as he wondered what the immortal was doing. The god breathed in sharp seeing his soft smile and murmured, "You rarely ever smiled before."

Shen Qingqiu lightly slapped his hand over his mouth. He never paid attention to how much he smiled so he wouldn't know! Did he actually come off as some sort of overly serious person? Oh, wasn't that a good thing? Shouldn't he attempt to uphold the appearance of an ethereal, untouchable immortal? No, no, putting on airs like he was someone important was definitely wrong!

"Yue-shixiong." He choked on his next words. He had only wanted to show appreciation to the man by referring to him kindly back, but he felt like his soul had departed from his body. Who did he think he was?! Even if Yue Qingyuan called him ‘shidi,’ that did not mean he had the right to call him ‘shixiong!’ "I'm sorry."

Unable to say anything else, Shen Qingqiu fled. What a disastrous first meeting! He wouldn't be surprised if Yue Qingyuan regretted ever supporting him in any way!

As for the martial god, he only felt his heart beat a little faster to be called 'Yue-shixiong’ again by that voice.

A few middle officials had witnessed the affair and couldn't help but want to protect Yue Qingyuan from once more being used by someone from the Shen family. The god was a beloved one, for certain, but his weak spot was completely obvious! They also couldn't help but wonder if Shen Jiu really had reincarnated just to take advantage of him. Being dead would’ve allowed him to see how deep Yue Qingyuan's love ran for him, so did he come back to capitalize on it?! Lost to their own paranoia, Shen Qingqiu was no longer seen as an innocent man that shared the looks of their hated shixiong but possibly their shixiong reborn.

They wouldn’t allow it, and as soon as Yue Qingyuan’s back was turned, the group of middle officials chased after Shen Qingqiu until they cornered him.

Being suddenly cornered by middle officials, Shen Qingqiu wasn’t certain what to do besides cupped his hands to bow to his seniors.

One of the officials did not even acknowledge his bow and instead snarled, "You. Stay away from Yue Qingyuan."

"Naturally, I intend to." Was that really what they chased him down to say? As if he wouldn't attempt to avoid the god! Even if Yue Qingyuan forgave him for that trespass, he felt awful. Not only was he unable to meet the god's expectations but he had made it sound like he was full of himself in the first meeting! Who could recover from that?! No one!

"So, you were just playing around!" Another official snapped, displeased with his answer. The middle official thought the immortal would, at least, put up a defense! But it seemed like he did intend to play games with the martial god's heart.

"I promise you that I wasn't." Shen Qingqiu knew they had every right to think he was messing around in the Human Realm rather than taking the task of ascension seriously.

"What kind of circular argument is that?!" The first stepped forward. "Not playing around but also trying to stay away from Yue Qingyuan!"

"What is it are you accusing me of?" Honest confusion hit Shen Qingqiu before he felt indignant. They were all middle officials and even if they were his seniors, he wasn't going to let them bully him. He just got to Middle Heaven, after all! "Say it outright if you have some issue with me! I would love to hear it!"

The group glowered almost at the same time. Each middle official thinking the same: this was like every single time that they cornered Shen Jiu about his behavior. It really had been a bad omen to allow Shen Qingqiu to join the cultivation sect.

"It doesn't matter. You'll return to being a mortal soon enough." Another middle official jeered. If Shen Qingqiu was Shen Jiu reincarnated, it would only be a matter of time before the immortal ended up descending back down.

Shen Qingqiu had no idea that their hate came from some place so personal and wouldn't have been able to guess it, either. The hatred for his family had eased slightly over the generations; he was still known as the great-great-great grandson of the most rotten cultivator of the area, however.

So, his family history was bad but some were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, he constantly came across someone whose family was really wronged by his ancestor and they still were holding a grudge. But they always made their reasons known. People seemed to delight in telling him how black-hearted his ancestor was, after all.

That said, he had no idea that the middle officials personally knew Shen Jiu but just upset someone from his bloodline ascended. He also believed he was being berated for not trying hard enough to reach Upper Heaven. But he would like them to try to become a full-fledged god with such a blackened family reputation! He was lucky he was even able to practice cultivation in the first place! Did they know what his life had been like!

He had no idea middle officials of his region were so unreasonable!

Sure, he believed he understood their feelings, but he also felt he was being wronged. He had burned the paper money for his scum ancestor when everyone else had considered it an unsavory chore. He had apologized constantly for what Shen Jiu had done, like it was his second job in life. Hadn't he shown enough contrition for his ancestor's actions?! He was tired and he didn't want his time in Heaven to reflect his time as a human!

A spark of rage hit him as he decided for once to fight back!

Shen Qingqiu stepped back and allowed his most elegant smile grace his face. "If you keep this up, I will have no choice but to tell Yue Qingyuan about your behavior." All that bravado of fighting back and it was simply that he was going to tattle on them for being mean, but he had no other card to play.

However, it worked.

All the middle officials backed up at and once again shared the same thought: it was really was Shen Jiu. Each turned pale then red in the face before they fled.

And that was how Shen Qingqiu became the villain of the local gods.

The middle officials did what they could to get Qing Jing village's god demoted by subtly convincing their followers not to pray at the god's temple. But their efforts failed.

When Shen Qingqiu was in trouble, Yue Qingyuan would gift him free merits, which ensured Shen Qingqiu's continued immortality. Everyone whispered behind his back and treated him coldly yet not too coldly as no one had the gall to actually confront him. The middle officials felt like it was just like their time on Earth -- Shen Jiu protected by Yue Qingyuan while they had to play nice.

As for Shen Qingqiu, he couldn't help but think he was a useless immortal that could only continue thanks to the kindness of the regional god. He did what he could to grant the prayers of the few people that prayed to him; he worked in the background so that their wishes had the highest probability of coming true. Some didn’t; some did, but it was not like he wasn’t taking his duties seriously. Yet his shrine received less and less prayers each year.

He started to believe he shouldn't have ascended as he obviously had no skill at being an immortal.

He also had made a terrible first impression with everyone and every time he tried to apologize, the immortal would say that they forgave him but the chilling glare they gave him said otherwise. Sure, perhaps, he could've mentioned his hated status to Yue Qingyuan but it felt too much like whining and complaining for something that was his own fault.

But it wasn't like he didn’t try to fix things.

Shen Qingqiu had gone to Yue Qingyuan and knelt before the god. "Please pronounce your punishment on me. Anything would be fine. Please, take it all out on me." He felt if he had experienced some punishment for failing as a local god that he would feel better. It may even ease everyone's feelings towards him, too.

Yet Yue Qingyuan had turned bright red and left him kneeling on the ground without a word.

The middle officials that heard about what happened called him "shameless" and even worse than they remembered. He really had left a terrible first impression. It further ruined relations with everyone around him, as they thought he was just putting on a show rather than honestly asking for penance for his failures.

Qing Jing village’s god wanted to return to being a human. He wanted to die in obscurity rather than live on as a washout. However, every time he seemed discontent, Yue Qingyuan did everything he could to cheer him up. He felt that if he made a fuss about no longer wanting to be a god that he would be spitting on all the goodwill that was given to him; that he would be thought of as ungrateful and a spoiled child!

In short, no one was happy but everyone kept quiet about it because of Yue Qingyuan.

But as he was sinking into despair, a mortal entered his shrine and began cleaning. Shen Qingqiu had stopped paying attention to anyone that entered his shrine, as it was usually people that got caught out in some storm and using it as shelter, or someone that mistook it for a forgotten one to Yue Qingyuan (how else could someone explain the gold bars he received?!). But the human was actually taking the time to clean the altar and statue.

Shen Qingqiu was startled that there was even one person left that cared! He had drawn closer to watch the human work. He worried that the person mistook the shrine for some other gods’ and wanted to convince him to leave it be. But he actually called him by name.

"You lazy--!! Why aren't you doing your chores?!"

"Mother, I showing care to our village god, Shen Qingqiu." Shang Qinghua swept the floor haphazardly as he explained why he wasn't doing his actual work. "Don't you think it's disrespectful of us to have let our local god's shrine end up in such disrepair?"

"Yue Qingyuan usually comes into someone's dream to tell them to fix it when it gets too bad." His mother sighed. She had no idea why the martial god was concerned, but tending to the temple would eventually be picked up by somebody. Surely, it was the immortal's way of saying that they should trust in Shen Qingqiu, but she would rather journey to Yue Qingyuan's temple if she was going to pray for anything. "Why not wait until he does that and do what you're supposed to do?!"

"No, no. Qinghua cannot accept that." He swept the dirt around in a circle. "I've reflected on this matter thoroughly, and going to clean the shrine from top to bottom."

She huffed. It was her wish to walk in to grab him by the ear and drag him out to work in the fields. But she decided that if her son was actually showing initiative of this sort, that she would allow his skipping work. "Just for today. I'll go grab your brothers to handle the rest of your chores, then."

"Thank you, Ama!" Shang Qinghua kept his snickering to a minimum. He had done it! He had actually gotten out of the backbreaking work out in the fields. As soon as his mother left, he turned to look to the statue of the local god. "Thank you, Shen Qingqiu. I wish you could always get me out of these tasks. I'm just not meant to be a farmer! Please, if you could help me out, I would really appreciate it!"

Shen Qingqiu mused over the prayer he was given. It wasn't necessarily an official prayer but more like a wish. However, he felt so moved by what he thought was honest reverence to him that he wanted to do his best for Shang Qinghua.

As it so happened, An Ding's village lord had come to visit Qing Jing to discuss important matters between the two villages.

Apparently, An Ding village was losing population due to both low birthrates and its girls frequently running off whenever any suitor came through. He proposed a few of Qing Jing's villagers come to move to his own in order to help boost the numbers. In return, he would remove all fees from trade for the foreseeable years. It was not a bad deal, honestly. An Ding village may not be named the best, but it was a quite the trade central.

It specialized in a widespread of goods that helped to grow the village considerably. But that meant, as the village lord indicated, girls would leave with whatever merchant or passing traveler that came through. So while they were quite the trade hub, they were losing more people than they were gaining. No wonder the village lord came to surrounding villages to ask for people to move in with the stipulation that they stay.

Shen Qingqiu felt this was the perfect chance to have Shang Qinghua leave Qing Jing village! The man could pick up trade as a merchant! Or wait, maybe, the immortal could do one better? Rather than a merchant, why not become head servant of a respected, rich estate? Less labor and Shang Qinghua would not have to worry about the uncertainty of the market!

How did he accomplish that goal? Well, An Ding's lord brought his own head servant. Shen Qingqiu had been certain to sprinkle salt in every piece of food the servant brought his lord. The village lord, at first, wanted to blame the kitchen but the same thing happened when the head servant cooked the food himself. It was filled with salt! The lord had ended up so irate that he fired the servant on the spot.

From there, it was just making sure Shang Qinghua was in the right place at the right time throughout the rest of the visit. An Ding's village lord ended up helped immensely by the farmer that he hired him in place of the head servant. Shen Qingqiu felt that he had done the best he could have done, and wished Shang Qinghua well in his new life.

Shang Qinghua had been so moved by Shen Qingqiu’s assistance that he built another shrine as soon as he had the means in An Ding’s village.

Neither one thought that Yue Qingyuan would get himself involved, after that!

The rest snowballed to the present with Shang Qinghua sobbing hysterically on his statue. Shen Qingqiu had done a good deed; he had done his duties as a local god! He had done everything right! He finally lost his temper and manifested on top of his statue to give Shang Qinghua a piece of his mind!

"Absolutely none of these are prayers!" His voice reverberated in the small temple as he appeared.

Shang Qinghua stumbled backwards away from the statue, crab-crawling away, as the immortal floated down gracefully to the floor. "You-- you!"

"I've listened to you complain long enough, mortal!" Shen Qingqiu didn't have time to feel embarrassed at his vernacular as he swung his arm out like he intended to hit the cowardly lord. "Each and every day is painful for you because of me! Each and every day, you're suffering because of me! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! I don't want to hear it anymore! I don't want to hear it anymore!"

His foot raised as he attempted to kick the man but Shang Qinghua squirmed like a slug out of the way of his attack.

"Show mercy, kind god!" The human shrieked as he dodged another kick.

"Absolutely not! Just do you work! Do your work! If you did your work, you wouldn't be kicked right now!" As Shen Qingqiu saw it, Shang Qinghua spent more time crying and complaining in his shrine than he did doing actual paperwork as the village lord. If he just put his mind to it, he probably would be doing fine! He should have said that much, but his temper got away from him.

"After all this time, you haven't changed at all." A chilling voice cut through the chaotic scene of a local god attempting to dropkick a troublesome pest.

Shen Qingqiu felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He breathed a little faster as he saw the demon sigil on the newcomer’s forehead. And from what he knew, only high-level demons had such glowing sigils. But a demon lord!? Here?! He was just a local god; he could do some things but fighting against demon lords was not one of them!

But he was also bewildered. He knew it was suicidal to ask, but tried to get some clarification. Especially since the demon apparently knew him?? "Um, I'm sorry? Who are you?"

The demon’s face only darkened and the eyes grew so red there was no white left in them. "You actually forgot."

The temple exploded seconds later.

Chapter Text

Intuition told Shen Qingqiu that something was coming as soon as the demon lord's expression darkened. He had grabbed onto Shang Qinghua and thrown them both out of the temple just before it exploded in concentrated blast of demonic energy.

Looking back at the smoldering wreckage, he wondered if some of the debris had managed to knock the demon unconscious. Wouldn't that be a stroke of luck? But luck had never been on Shen Qingqiu's side. Already he could see the rumble moving before it was blasted away as the demon stalked towards him with an unusual smile on his face. It brought shivers all over the immortal but he somehow kept himself from falling backwards and screaming.

Shen Qingqiu said he did that somehow, but in truth, he was actually too afraid to move!

"How is it that my old master has forgotten all about me? That makes this humble one a little sad."

A person shouldn't say that they were sad when they were smiling so frighteningly at someone else, okay?! Also, what was he talking about?! Master?! Who?!

"You're wrong." He pressed his lips together; his insides twisted with so much anxiety and fear. Unfortunate for Shen Qingqiu, he was unable to translate any of his panic on his face; it was taking everything that he had to remain standing and not collapse in the presence of the demon lord. His expression, as such, was completely blank and emotionless. "I do not recognize you at all."

"So, that's how it is." Cold understanding filtered over the demon's face. Luo Binghe understood; his Shizun was telling him that he refused to acknowledge that he was ever a disciple of his. How very like him.

Shen Qingqiu swallowed as he lifted his chin a little. "Good, you comprehend my meaning." Right, right. Whomever the demon thought that he was; he was not that person! It was good that they were on the same page.

Shen Qingqiu was suddenly choking as the demon darted forward, faster than he could see, and gripped him tight by his throat. "How about now?"

"No!" He coughed out the single word, wasting what little air he should be saving, to try to get the demon to see reason! He had no idea who he was! Didn't he make that painfully obvious?!

"Stubborn."

The only stubborn person was the one choking him!

He was violently throw backwards but rather than hit the hard ground, he collided with Shang Qinghua who had been slowly crawling on all fours trying to escape the battle. The two let out a shared cry of pain. Dazed, Shen Qingqiu laid on top of the human that actually had not given up trying to escape. Shang Qinghua continued to crawl forward but had the local god unintentionally riding on his back.

"Trying to help him get away?"

Both of them felt the overwhelming pressure of the demon stalking in their direction. Shang Qinghua let out a pathetic scream as he started to crawl faster away, which inadvertedly made it seem they were escaping together. The human, surprisingly, was good at sensing danger in that he was able to slink and shuffle out of the way of a multitude of attacks that were sent their way. Each blast of energy was dodged completely and all without dislodging Shen Qingqiu from his back.

But there was no telling how long it could continue. Reaching into his robes, Shen Qingqiu pulled out an unassuming bag. He looked back toward the demon lord stalking after them; dark energy crackled all around his body. It was enough to turn his insides to water! However, he tightened his hold on the bag and chucked it at the demon.

The demon lord did as he hoped he would: he cut right through the bag, which caused a small explosion of salt to fly backwards into the demon's face.

Shang Qinghua had an awful habit of grabbing whatever happened to be around to offer to Shen Qingqiu. Today, it had been a bag of salt. Yesterday, it was a half-eaten pear. At least, the village lord knew to leave something before he would launch into his fit of whining at his altar. And, at the most, the bag of salt of today had been enough to temporarily blind the demon chasing them!

Flinging himself off Shang Qinghua's back, Shen Qingqiu grabbed onto the mortal's arm to pull him to his feet. "Come on!" He didn't think he needed to tell him to stand but he did so anyway. Holding onto the human's hand, he chose a random direction and ran.

Yet as they fled, he started to hear loud complaining from his companion. "Stop, stop, stop! My arm is going to come off! I can't run this fast! The soles of my feet will be worn down to the bone! Stop, merciful god! Stop!"

"And be caught?!" Shen Qingqiu twisted his head around to glare at Shang Qinghua. But the human's face began to change all sorts of colors. He stopped running as he watched over him in worry. "Are you--?"

Just as he was asking his question, Shang Qinghua lurched forward to collapse. Shen Qingqiu panicked inwardly as he caught the man just before he hit the ground. He rested his hand over the other's forehead, glanced down at the human's feet to see that they were bleeding. Without hesitation, he began to circulate energy through him in order to heal the other's wounds.

"Got you." The demon's voice cut through as he joined the scene. However, he halted at watching how Shen Qingqiu was tending to the weakened, injured Shang Qinghua. "What are you playing at?"

Drawing the village lord closer, Shen Qingqiu mustered up his best glare. "What do you mean?! This person is my follower! He may be an awful, unappreciative one, but at one time, he was alright." A beat. He was getting off-topic. "I won't allow harm to come to him."

"Do you think that I don't know you?" He unsheathed the sword at his side.

"I know you don't!"

"I know who you are, Shen Jiu!" Luo Binghe refused to play the man's game. "I know exactly who and what you are!"

The immortal sat back. All color drained from his face. "What did you call me?"

Luo Binghe bit his lip so hard that it bled before he spit out, "I am calling you a snake! Scum! And unfit to have ever taught anyone cultivation!" Why was it that no matter what he said nothing seemed to reach him?!

"No. What name did you call me?" His eyes grew wide. Shen Qingqiu was feeling lightheaded and he could not blame it on blood loss.

"Shen Jiu. Or would you rather I call you 'Shizun?'"

"Please don't."

A blast of demonic energy struck Shen Qingqiu again as he was knocked over Shang Qinghua's body that he was shielding and onto the ground. He felt like something inside had broken, but he couldn't feel it. His head was reeling from what he was starting to understand; he didn't even know how to properly process any of it! He needed time to do it, but he did not have the time to do it.

Lifting his hand up, he decided the first step was to fix this misunderstanding. "I'm not Shen Jiu. I'm Shen Qingqiu."

"Shen Qingqiu."

"Yes, that's right." Blood was running down out of his mouth and down his chin. Yet he continued to plead his innocence that he was not his ancestor. "Shen Jiu is dead. I'm Shen Qingqiu."

"Is that how you view it?"

"Yes? Because that's what happened!" He didn't know how he could be more clear! "The person you are seeking… he doesn't exist in the world anymore. So, do not refer to me by that name, because you're calling to a dead man!"

“Shut up!"

The sword slashed down and Shen Qingqiu put himself in the way of it, seeing that it was aimed straight at Shang Qinghua. The energy of the slash cut through his arm and across his back. Breathing heavy, he could actually feel a line of blood dripping down from his forehead. He hurt, but it also wasn't as bad as he thought that it was going to be. In addition, Shang Qinghua was still unharmed. Well, unharmed due to the demon lord, at least.

Luo Binghe could not believe it. He had assumed "Shen Jiu" would have thrown the body out in front of him to protect himself. He had made the attack weaker than usual due to believing the human was not fit to die by his blade. Instead, his old master was protecting the human at the cost of his own body. Did he change in so many years? Why couldn't he have changed when he was his disciple?!

"Why?" He pointed the sword at him. "Why!"

"I told you… " Shen Qingqiu spit out a mouthful of blood. "Listen to people when they speak to you!"

"I refuse to believe this lie!" More energy crackled off him. A dark cloud seemed to manifest and spread out from the demon himself! "I refuse to believe you changed. People like you don't change, Shen Jiu!"

Luo Binghe refused to believe it.

He refused.

He stared at the immortal, bleeding and injured yet trying to protect a mortal. He took a step back before slashing at the space next to him. Instead of a blast of energy, it punched a hole in reality. He turned back to give one last glance at "Shen Jiu" before hurrying himself through the portal he created.

"Is he gone?" Shang Qinghua sat up.

"Were you awake … this entire … time?"

"No." He was too quick to answer. Shang Qinghua stood up, dusted himself off, and gave a half-bow. "Thank you."

"Where are you going?" Shen Qingqiu could not believe the thickness of the man's face.

"What do you expect me to do? I'm not a cultivator so I can't fight. I'm not a doctor so I can't heal you. Also, you're an immortal. Also! It sounds like some personal business between the demon lord and you. What should I do? What can I do? Please, show some reason." He was already backing up away from him with each word.

Shang Qinghua abruptly stopped backing up.

"Hey, what are you going to do?! Is this going to be a regular thing? I don't want my village torn up over a personal dispute!" He yelled back to the immortal. To be fair, he had to yell to be certain he was heard as he had put quite some distance between Shen Qingqiu and himself.

Shen Qingqiu had a lot of things that he wanted to say in that moment. There was a list a few kilometers long of issues that he had with what Shang Qinghua said. However, the man had a point. He didn't think that things were over. He had to come up with an idea of what to do. A thought came to mind. "I'm going on a journey!"

"Running away?! Good choice!"

"Running for reinforcements!" Shen Qingqiu fell over on his side. He would have to wait until he recovered some before he could do what he wanted, but he had a plan. "There is a martial god of war up north in the Bai Zhan region. I'll ask him for assistance!"

"Ah, that weirdo?!"

The Bai Zhan martial war god was known as a fight-crazy immortal. So long as the challenge sounded interesting, he would go to beat it to a pulp. Most gods when they traveled to areas outside of their influence lost some of their power. That would be enough for many not to look for a fight in such circumstances unless they were certain they could win. The martial war god not only won but won with minimal injuries. There was even talk that the walls in the god's temple had tally marks indicating all of his victories – and they were running out of space.

In short, yes, a weirdo.

Shang Qinghua cocked his head to the side and asked. "Why aren't you going to call to Yue Qingyuan for help?!"

"What?!" He looked up, befuddled by the question.

All the care and kindness that he had been given by the God of Cang Qiong was because of Shen Jiu. If he told Yue Qingyuan that his old shidi was responsible for creating a demon lord; he couldn't imagine the heartbreak that would cause! Certainly, the god was aware his ancestor was rotten, but probably not that level of rotten! While Shen Qingqiu could not fix the problem himself, he could at least find someone else to fix it to spare Yue Qingyuan the misery of knowing the truth!

"Yue Qingyuan! Aren't you going to ask him for help?!" Shang Qinghua thought perhaps he wasn't heard.

"No!" He snapped back.

"I mean…!" The village lord held his arms out.

Shen Qingqiu squinted back. What?

"Ah! Okay!"

Shang Qinghua cupped his hands and half-bowed before he properly walked away.

What?

He didn't have time to think about it. Shen Qingqiu waited until the human was far enough away before he fell over on his side. Everything was hurting. He moaned in pain as he lifted his sleeve up to wipe away the blood still dripping down his chin. His eyes closed as centuries-worth of conversations came flooding through his mind. He did not realize that he resembled his relative so closely! He had no idea! Why didn't anyone tell him!?

Also, why didn't anyone assume it was just a family resemblance?!

Or wait. Did he act just like his ancestor and that was why they thought he was him?

He didn't think his behavior was that bad.

Shen Qingqiu was suddenly struck with waves of doubt about his personal behavior and would have remained lying on the ground had not the crushing sense of dread hit him.

He didn't have time to feel sorry for himself!

He had to save his life first and then he could wallow in depression for a few thousand years!

A reward for a job well-done!

Chapter Text

When Shen Qingqiu returned to Middle Heaven, the officials present all looked aghast at his appearance. Yet he did not pause to acknowledge any one of them as he stormed his way to the offices that housed maps. He had only heard of Bai Zhan region but was not completely sure where it was. He pulled out various maps before locating one of the northern region that properly illustrated where the martial god's temple was located. Tapping it a few times, to commit the place to memory, his bloody fingerprint marked the spot as he stormed back out of the office.

A few officials slipped inside where Shen Qingqiu was to look to see what he was searching for out of curiosity and concern. No one was quite certain what to make of the mark made in blood on the map. Was he attempting to say he was going to wage war with Liu Qingge? Did Shen Qingqiu centuries later wanted to settle the score with his shidi?! Was he suicidal?

Shen Qingqiu had only taken the time to clean himself up, put on his best robes, as he did not want to make a bad impression on the person he was asking for help. Yet that only increased the murmuring going on as he headed out. However, he did not have time to bother with all the gossip going on about him; he turned a deaf ear to the rumblings of everyone and jumped down from Middle Heaven to fall into Bai Zhan region.

As soon as he touched down, he immediately felt intimidated just by the size of the temple. His own temple was barely half a room with a crudely made statue and altar, but to be fair, he was a local god. If he put it in perspective, the ones for Yue Qingyuan dwarfed the temple before him. Maybe what was most intimidating was how many torches were lit; it looked like the temple itself was on fire.

In addition, he supposed the other reason for his anxiety was how grounded he felt. Certainty, he was aware that he'd be weakened but did not think how much he would be.

"Excuse me."

"Huh?" Shen Qingqiu turned to see the head priest walk up to him At least, he assumed so based on clothing alone as the person was built like a mountain. "Yes?!" What an intimidating presence!

"Why are you standing out on the entrance? This isn't a place you should gawk at." The priest explained in blunt, sharp tone.

Was that any way to talk to anyone?!

Wait a second! Why was it that he was able to be seen by mortals?! He looked down at himself, lightly patting his robes, before looking back to the priest.

Ah!? How much trouble was he going to get into for this blunder?! Shen Qingqiu decided he should get away as quickly as possible and hope to conclude his business and use what energy he had remaining to return to Middle Heaven.

"I apologize." He cupped his hands in a loose fashion as he hurried away into the temple. The priest yelled a sharp "Hey!" but Shen Qingqiu ignored it to head straight toward the altar.

Snapping open his fan, he cooled himself as he walked in – more fire and torches aligned the walls that made the inside of the shrine quite warm. He thought it was a bit much but realized that the torches were meant to light the walls which were, as rumored, covered in tally marks.

Finally reaching the altar, he balked at the finely carved statue. The war god looked like an ape with muscles upon muscles upon muscles! Shen Qingqiu looked down at the fan he had brought to offer and wondered if the martial god would even find that suitable. Perhaps, he should have brought a sword? As he was hemming and hawing about the inappropriate nature of his offering, the priest caught up with him.

"Hey!" The priest shouted again.

"Yes?!" Shen Qingqiu backed up.

"What do you think that you're doing?!"

He blinked and pointed toward the altar, but said nothing else. Wasn't it obvious?

"You really are a fool." The man stormed up to him. "Don't you know anything? The list of challenges has been finalized. Our god is out fighting and only accepting thanks, if anything."

"But surely, he'll finish with those and be willing to fight new battles!" He felt the hope he had been grasping at start to slip out of his fingers. "One more certainly won't…"

"He'll tell us when he wants more challenges. Right now, he's satisfied with what he has."

Shen Qingqiu felt like his legs were losing whatever strength was in them. Did he really have to return home and tell Yue Qingyuan of this issue? Did he have no other course of action? Wait! "You said the list has been finalized. It's a list of where he is going, correct? Might I have it?"

“Why? You're not one of his followers."

"If I can't pray to him here, perhaps, I could go to meet him on the battlefield and request his help." He, at least, realized that if he was to pray right at this second that he was going to be ignored. Worse, he was going to earn the ire of the martial war god for not listening to his head priest.

The man stared at him long and hard before breaking out in a long laugh. "Fine, fine. If you go and meet him on the battlefield, I'm certain he would be more than happy to listen to you." He did not believe that Shen Qingqiu could actually see the god, and thought it was the desperate whining of some rich lord. "He may be able to squeeze in whatever request you have, then."

Again, the priest laughed at the very idea but reached into his robes to hand over a piece of parchment.

"You'll really give this to me?" Shen Qingqiu was shocked as he carefully took the paper from him.

“Of course, it is just a copy." He snorted. "Many of his devotees like to know where our god is and what he's fighting, so it's best to keep copies on hand."

Shen Qingqiu kept himself from blushing as he had almost been touched by what he assumed was the priest accepting his heartfelt plea for help.

"Ah… that is quite wise. Thank you." He unrolled the parchment and nearly coughed up a mouthful of blood. The first two places were over one-thousand li from where he was! Well, he probably wouldn't be able to make it to the first place in time, so he'd have to go to the second. "Thank you. I'll leave right away."

"Yes, you better."

The local god sprinted out of the temple before hopping as soon as he exited. The sudden return to Middle Heaven seemed to startle everyone was he hurried back to the offices to drag out maps in order to figure out exactly where the martial god was going. He had to figure out about where the battle would be and how far out he should jump down – as obviously, mortals can see him as soon as he would arrive in the new area.

It took a little while to figure out where he should be, but he soon rushed back out the offices to jump back down to the Human Realm.

Leaping down, he landed outside a large city and slipped inside without too much trouble. The local god felt quite relieved that there was still talk of some monstrous creature tearing up the countryside! It was probably not the best thing to be happy about, but it mean that he would be able to meet Bai Zhan's War God.

He just had to wait.

As a god, he did not need to eat or sleep. Therefore, he was not troubled about having to find food or a place to rest. The city was also large enough that he didn't feel like anyone took too much notice to him.

His wait lasted a while with nothing of note happening save more and more upset about the beast outside the city walls, raging wildly. But nevermind that!

One day, as he grew bored being idle, he happened to catch a street show. It was of some young teenager dancing for coins; a bandage was wrapped around the neck. Shen Qingqiu frowned a little as he wished he had something to contribute as it seemed like the young man could use the help, but he had nothing to give.

Stepping back, he suddenly didn't think it was right to watch someone's street performance if he couldn't pay and ran away in the opposite direction. But he was not able to get too far. The street performer had interrupted his show to catch him. Shen Qingqiu paled and wondered if he was going to be hustled for money that he did not have!

The local god was about to profess that he was very sorry for watching the show for free but he didn't have anything! But who would believe him? His immortal robes may be a little dirty, but they still spoke of wealth.

"Here. Please take this." The teenager held out a slightly moldy mantou.

What? Shen Qingqiu stared down at it. "Um, why?"

"Ah, you don't want it…"

"Oh. No." He had inadvertently ended up insulting someone that he didn't even know! Shen Qingqiu reached to take it before pushing it back towards him. "Though, I don't think I can take this. Don't you need it more?"

"I see. Well, then." Breaking the stale mantou in half, he held it out to Shen Qingqiu, again.

"Oh." He repeated, thinking the street performer was much kinder than he could ever hope to be. Bowing his head, he took the stale mantou. "Thank you. I'll repay you for this one day!"

The young man paused at the comment before smiling politely.

It was at that second that he heard a sudden boom. It was loud enough to shake the ground in the bustling city.

"Please excuse me!" Shen Qingqiu stepped back before he sprinted away, again.

Delight filled his heart as he attempted to run out of the city so that he could reach where the battle was taking place. This ended up rather troublesome as many people stood in his way; he had to push through crowd after crowd; his clothes and hair getting more and more disheveled in the process. Nevertheless, he was finally able to run out of the city and began dashing towards the sound of battle.

He tripped and fell as he climbed up the hill only to peek over to see that the monstrous beast had been slain; it's glowing blood splattered across the entire valley and the god that slain was nowhere in sight. Shen Qingqiu stood up, outraged, as he threw the fan down in a huff.

Missed him!! All that sitting around for nothing!

After he finished pacing angrily around in a circle, he planned to return to Heaven to once more try again. However, he heard a soft sound in his ear that stopped him. Someone was praying in his temple?! His surprise turned to disappointment as he heard Shang Qinghua's voice.

《I just wanted to let you know that I have good news and bad news.》

"What now?" Even though, the mortal could not hear him; Shen Qingqiu let out a pained moan of having to listen to more complaining while he was struggling with his own problems!

《Good news is that I fixed your temple! That means I can let you know what's going on in Qing Jing and An Ding village!》

"My temple is not a communication array!" He barely restrained himself from hopping up and down in anger.

《Bad news is that the demons came back. But don't worry! I told that demon lord we encountered where you are!》

"What?!"

《What would you have me do?! If I said nothing, they would have tortured me! If they tortured me, I would have told them eventually where you were! Isn't this better? I'm alive and well! The villages are not destroyed! This is really much better than the alternative, right?》

Shen Qingqiu held his head as he wasn't sure it was better! He didn't think that it was, but could he really say that with a clear conscience? If the people of the villages remained unharmed, perhaps, it was a good thing? But in his heart, he really wanted to punch Shang Qinghua in the nose!

《Anyway, I don't know when they'll hunt you down, but please be prepared.》

"Be prepared, how?!" He decided yelling at the sky wasn't going to solve his situation. He would deal with Shang Qinghua later!

Once again, he returned to Middle Heaven. His mood was as dark as the look on his face. No one got in his way as he stomped back to the offices to dig out maps and locate his next destination. He let out a long suffering sigh, glared at nothing and everything, before hopping back down.

He could see flashes in the night sky which most probably were taking as an oncoming storm but he could see a small shadowy figure swinging their sword among the dark clouds.

Hurrying through the town, he thankfully reached the area just as the battle just about closed.

A Bone Eagle slammed into the ground, causing an eruption of earth and rock, as the creature struggled valiantly. Shen Qingqiu let out a sharp gasp, seeing the monstrous creature still alive. Bone Eagles were creatures that were true to their names – monstrous creatures made out of bone that resembled eagles. The insides of them glowed bright with unholy red light.

Shen Qingqiu had heard of them. They were high-level creatures that usually resided deep in the Demon Realm! Furthermore, he had never seen one that was this size. Which reminded him, he suddenly realized that there was no one in the village that he had run through. That meant this beast had been feeding happily until just now.

Why didn't the gods of the region do something about it? Were they attempting to leave it up to the cultivators?

As he held his chin and mused over the reasons why, the Bone Eagle lurched forward to try to take a bite out of him. But it was stopped dead. A sword plunged deep into the side of its skull as a figure clad in white landed hard – further shattering the head to dust. The pulsating glow inside the monster's body cavity dimmed and darkened.

When the god stood, Shen Qingqiu was able to get a better look at his face. The person looked unbelievably good-looking and had a beauty mark just underneath the corner of his left eye.

Damn! Rather that being able to meet Bai Zhan's War God, he met the regional god of the area!!

After all, the immortal looked nothing like the ape-like creature that he had seen in Bai Zhan region. Certainly, humans could get their depictions wrong, but that seemed a little too wrong!

"Hey!" The god's face started to darken.

Oh, right. He just kind of showed up, didn't he? Shen Qingqiu decided to try to soothe the situation. "That was really a wonderful battle you had, and I am certain all the lives lost are thanking you for your bravery." A beat. "I also apologize for getting in the way at the end, and would say I owe you my life, but it is not worth too much at the moment."

The local god laughed weakly and he received a strange look.

"I'm sorry. I really must part. I'm looking for someone and it is important that I find him fast." He continued as the god silently stared at him. "Still … that was spectacular. Truly, you are worthy of your godhood." Cupping his hands, he bowed low at the waist before returning to Middle Heaven.

Liu Qingge blinked as the immortal disappeared. He thought that the individual looked a lot like that awful shixiong of his, but it could not be. That man would have rather choke than give him any praise.

Oblivious that he had met whom he needed to meet; Shen Qingqiu only thought that while it was good that the god of the region was handle the problem, it didn't help him solve his problem! He, at least, knew where to jump down next.

With the hope that, this time for sure would be the one that he would end up lucky!

Jumping down yet again, he tried to keep his sighing to a minimum as he entered a large open field. He had chosen the very next creature that the martial god was going to fight, because surely, if he missed killing the Bone Eagle; he'd move on quickly.

Unfortunately, he arrived just a few steps too soon.

He heard the loud cry that sounded like a rhinoceros and python screaming together at once. Shen Qingqiu immediately knew what creature was causing trouble. However, he did not get much of a chance to do anything beyond acknowledge what the "challenge" was.

He saw the large shape of the Black Moon Python Rhinoceros begin barreling straight in his direction. The very beat of its hooves was enough to tear apart reality! Panic made him stupid as he chose a direction and began running instead of returning to Heaven as what he should have done.

He barely dodged out of the way of the python's snapping jaws as it lashed out from inside of the rhinoceros's mouth. Hitting the ground, he rolled away out of the stomping hooves of the beast. Shen Qingqiu rather hated that he came up with this tactic after seeing how well it worked for Shang Qinghua. He felt a little dissatisfied that it was working so well, until he heard the beast cry out in pain.

Looking up, he saw a figure dressed in black and red standing on top of the rhinoceros's back. Scrambling backwards, Shen Qingqiu did not think that the demon lord would have been able to find him this quickly.

What he did not know was that Luo Binghe did not have an easy time finding him. Shang Qinghua had ratted the local god out, yes, but that didn't help narrow down where Shen Qingqiu was. It just was where Liu Qingge might be. That meant he had been cutting a path through dimensions hoping to catch the immortal that was hoping to find the martial war god. It was running around in circles for months, and he was unamused that a Black Moon Python Rhinoceros nearly made his entire search meaningless!

Unsheathing Xin Mo, he slammed the blade through the creature's head. It pierced through both rhinoceros and python; they violently struggled against the blade before toppling over. Dead.

"I finally found you!"

Shen Qingqiu felt his heart lodge itself in his throat.

It was over.

Blades of white energy rained down upon the demon lord and the carcass of the beast. Everything was obliterated in a shower of bright, pure spiritual energy. As soon as it ended, there was little to nothing left save a large crater just inches from where Shen Qingqiu was on the ground.

Liu Qingge landed softly, looking at what he created. "Who was that?"

Chapter Text

Shen Qingqiu was too elegant a person to crawl forward on his hands and knees to peer down into the crater. Instead, he rose with more grace than he felt he had left within him and strode forward. He braced himself on what he was going to see before looking down – and was legitimately disappointed. There was quite literally nothing left of either beast or demon. He had built himself up to see torn up body to see a dark red smear spread out in the center of the busted stone.

However, in a way, wasn't that a little more horrifying? There weren't even scrapes of bone left. Only smoldering earth that was a deep shade of red (almost black in color) and smelled of burnt meat.

"Hey!"

He nearly tumbled forward into the hole at the loud exclamation but breathed out a quick puff of air and turned around. "Yes?" This was reminiscent of the meeting he had with the head priest in Bai Zhan region. However, this time around, he was able to maintain his composure. Shen Qingqiu supposed the only reason that he was able to have a thick face was because he was too shell-shocked to register what had happened yet.

"Who was that?"

His eyes widened into round circles. He pressed his lips together as he looked away, lifting his sleeve up to cover his mouth to further hide his expression. Shen Qingqiu had no idea how to explain how he had no idea who the demon lord was. Now that he properly thought about it, how did he plan to explain his situation to Bai Zhan's War God? He had been so terrified at the near-death experience and the implications that his ancestor had been responsible for the creation of a demon lord, that he had not taken the time to think of what he was going to say.

Liu Qingge did not take his silence as embarrassment but upset. He didn't talk to many people; when he did, his conversations were always brief and to the point. That said, he didn't necessarily want to be cruel or unkind to someone undeserving. The god had felt the pulsating demonic energy radiating enough to drown the entire area in it.

Rather than taking the time to assess the situation, he acted and eliminated the threat. Nevertheless, with the threat dealt with, he wanted to know what was going on. Especially since the other immortal was the one he had just seen not too long ago – how could he forget someone who shared the face of his most hated shixiong? Unfortunately, Liu Qingge felt a rush of awkwardness assault him as he failed to convey what he had wanted to ask and asked the "wrong" question.

So, the two stood in silence next to a smoldering crater.

The quiet lasted for a few seconds before Shen Qingqiu could not stand it anymore. His embarrassment was one thing, but he was being more than a little ungracious to the person that saved him twice.

"You truly helped me in more ways than you know." Shen Qingqiu finally said. He couldn’t answer the question, but he could convey how thankful he was. "I also did not think our paths would cross, again. Is this--" He was about to ask if where he was still part of the god's region. However, he felt that made him sound too much like a country-bumpkin that didn't know anything so shut his mouth.

"Go on."

"No, please don't worry about my question." He smiled and the immortal leaned back. His smile faded as he gently touched his face and felt dirt on it. Shen Qingqiu nearly choked at what image he must be giving. "But, anyway, I have a gift of thanks for you. I hope you will accept it."

"A gift?" Liu Qingge was initially troubled by seeing the smile, and even more so that he was receiving a present out of nowhere. The situation before and present called for him to do something. It wasn't some great call-to-arms moment, so he could not follow the other immortal's thinking at all.

"Yes." Shen Qingqiu reached into his sleeve. His face instantaneously turned pale. "Where…?" The fan was missing! Where did he leave it?! His eyes darted from side-to-side as he couldn't recall what he had done with it.

"Are you alright?"

"I…" He paused as he pulled out a moldy piece of mantou. His head jerked up to catch the other god's eyes as he looked back down at the ruined food. "Oh no."

Liu Qingge frowned. Did he intend to give him that as thanks? What sort of half-hearted gift was that?

"That person had nothing and gave me this, and I didn't even have the chance to eat it." Shen Qingqiu murmured to himself, but his murmurings were easily picked up by the immortal that was standing in front of him. He had been running all around and ended up besmirching the small bit of kindness that he had been given.

"It is hardly that big of a deal--"

Opening his mouth, he quickly ate the small moldy piece of mantou. He immediately had regrets on his decision. If he thought about it logically, his train of thought had become an absolute mess.

He wanted to show his thanks to the regional god; the god had such a nice look to him that giving an elegant-looking fan seemed right versus giving it to that ape-like war god that he had intended it for; he had no fan to give because he had misplaced it; finding the mantou given to him, he thought of how he hadn't shown any gratitude to anyone; he decided to try to make up for it by eating what had been meant for him; he believed the person probably would have rather he thrown it out rather than suddenly take a stand on fulfilling all his obligations to people.

"Did you really eat that?!" Liu Qingge was aghast.

"Anyway…" He held his sleeve up as he coughed a few times into it. He didn't think that he could get sick, but his tongue was not thanking him for his ridiculous choice. "It seems I actually don't have anything to give you. I apologize."

"It's fine!" The war god had no idea what to do about the immortal in front of him. His tone was sharp because he had no idea how to reconcile how the person resembled Shen Jiu so much yet acted so much like a good-natured fool. He already accepted that the god wasn't that man, but it didn't make the disconnect in looks and actions any less shocking. "Who are you?!"

"Shen Qingqiu. Local god of Qing Jing and An Ding village." Cupping his hands, he realized he hadn't even properly introduced himself. No wonder the god was so irritated with him. Who did he think he was? He made a large production on how he was going to thank him, gave him nothing, and ate rotten food in front of him. Exactly what was he going to think about him beyond he was some lunatic?!

"In the Cang Qiong region?"

"You've heard of it?" He hesitantly asked in return. It wasn't that the Cang Qiong region was not famous, but he did not think the two villages were something well-known. Qing Jing was a beautiful, peaceful village that soothed the soul with its quiet beauty. An Ding was a bustling marketplace and quite large, but not so large that he thought gods of other regions knew of it offhand.

"It was where my sect was." Liu Qingge explained. Seeing the expression on the immortal's face go blank, he continued. "I moved up north to continue with my cultivation and ended up becoming a god in the region." He made it sound a lot easier than what it actually was. However, that was the big and small of it; he had learned all that he could learn in that sect and left to improve his skills in the world. He came across challenges after challenges in Bai Zhan region until he stabilized the area with his strength and abilities. It resulted in his godhood, but he still wanted to improve his skill. Because why did he, as a god, have to stop improving himself?

Shen Qingqiu had not pieced everything together and instead, his stomach started to feel upset. "Oh?"

"Shen Jiu--"

"I'm not him." He kept himself from screaming, because it would not earn him any points.

"Obviously not." Liu Qingge sighed. "But he's related to you, isn't he?"

"Distantly…"

"You probably already realize this, but you resemble him a lot." He saw how depressed the immortal was becoming. "I already said you aren't him. He was a person that blackened the entire history of our sect. A poor cultivator that could never amount to much so he took it out on everyone and everything until he ruined all good that could possibly come his way. Someone that even years probably has his family bowing their heads in shame. In short, sorry for your rotten luck in whose blood and face you share."

Shen Qingqiu felt a rush of gratitude hit him so hard that he was almost in tears. Indeed, he heard all sorts of negative comments about his ancestor; he assumed at the end of Liu Qingge's admonishment that he would expect Shen Qingqiu to apologize for Shen Jiu's wrongs. Not only that, but he confirmed his worst fears that he resembled his ancestor, as well.

But instead of demanding an apology, of stating that he seemed just like his rotten ancestor, the god had said he was sorry. The statement wasn't said out of pity, either, but honest sympathy. He wanted to take his hands and thank him repeatedly. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Yet that felt like it would be acting far too familiar with the god. Therefore, he remained silent and hoped his gratitude was understood.

Liu Qingge looked away, as a rush of shame hit him hard. Hadn't he just been saying how he did not want to be cruel or unkind to someone undeserving? Without meaning to, he had said a lot of awful (but true) things about Shen Jiu to a descendent of him. No matter what, blood was important and familial ties were not easily dismissed. He had insulted this Shen Qingqiu -- a much weaker god that had to just stand and take what he said without being able to retaliate at all.

He also was usually someone who finished his thoughts in six syllables or less. But when it came to Shen Jiu, he had more than enough words. But he knew he shouldn't have said them. "Sorry." Liu Qingge did not think he could say anything else. A good-bye seemed appropriate but he didn't want to see the god be forced to bow to him after he disrespected him so mercilessly. Turning away, he returned to Heaven without another word.

Watching the god leave, Shen Qingqiu felt his heart soar. Even if he made a dreadful first impression, he took solace there was an immortal that felt sympathy for his bloodline. A bonus for all the running around that I did. The local god was just about to leave when he heard a sudden painful moan.

"Huh?" He twisted his head to look toward where he heard the sound. Walking cautiously over toward the pain-filled sounds, he peeked over the small ridge to see that there was a young man lying in a pool of his own blood.

Ah!

Stumbling down, he hurried over to the injured human. He carefully reached for his shoulder to turn him over. Shen Qingqiu stumbled back, startled. It was a teenager and one that looked just like the demon lord that had just attempted to kill him!

He lifted his hand up to slap himself across the face. What am I doing?! I'm a person that is constantly thought of as someone else! There are plenty of people that look the same. Furthermore, how could a grown demon suddenly turn into a teenager?

Chapter Text

Luo Binghe had been expending so much energy searching all over the land for Shen Jiu. Even killing the demonic beast had taken a good quarter of energy that he did not have to spend, but he was too furious to think of reason. His old Shizun had put on a good face for everyone; people thought him to be a harmless local god but he was a scheming, vile, disgusting immortal. Who knew he was even able to convince and dupe another god that knew Shen Jiu that he was someone else?!

His anger had blinded him so much that he did not even notice the presence of the martial war god. He assumed that this too was the schemes of Shen Jiu.

The energy that rained down on him had torn through his body. He barely had enough time to cut a dimensional hole to throw himself through it before the final blast of energy came roaring down. His body and spirit was injured more than he could heal in a single sitting. If he waited for himself to recover, he would have to return his search for Shen Jiu and found that to be a displeasing thought.

This time, he had barely escaped death and danced in the palm of his Shizun. If Shen Jiu did not think that he was dead, what other scheme would he come up with?

It had been centuries since Luo Binghe felt so cornered.

However, he had a plan. It was a gambit, really.

The weakness of Shen Jiu was real. He could sense just how much spiritual energy that the local god had and knew it to be at a pathetic level. Even more so since the immortal had traveled so far out from the two villages. In short, even in his weakened state, his Shizun would lack the ability to kill him. Unfortunately, he also lacked the means to kill him. Therefore, the ploy was simple -- allow his master to find his injured body and know that Shen Jiu would not be able to leave him alone.

His old master would see him as a threat and want to kill him as soon as possible. But seeing that he would be unable to do so, he would drag him along until he could find someone else to do the job. Just as he had done this time, dragging Luo Binghe all over the land until he found an uninvolved god to strike him down. As his master searched for someone to kill him in his weakened state, he would recover to kill him first.

So, it did not surprise Luo Binghe when Shen Jiu came running towards him. It didn't surprise him when he saw the calculating expression that he had. What did startle him was that his old master had slapped himself across the face for seemingly no reason.

Shen Qingqiu would have been astounded at how calculating and methodical that Luo Binghe thought that he was. After all, to him, he thought he looked like he was running around like an idiot for months. The fact that the person chasing him believed that it was all part of some greater scheme to entrap and kill them would have honestly flattered him a little. As it made him look a lot less like a fool than how he felt.

Unfortunately, he had no idea that was what was being thought. He also did not know young teenager was the demon that had been hunting him down. He assumed that it was someone that had been hurt by the Black Moon Rhinoceros Python before he had arrived. It was how he made sense of the gorge marks all over the teenager's body.

"You're still alive." He was amazed at the teenager's willpower and in awe of it. Snapping himself out of his mesmerized state, he pressed his hands lightly on the body to heal him. Unfortunately, his energy was only enough to take him out of what Shen Qingqiu believed to be the crisp of death itself, and not allow for a complete recovery.

Luo Binghe was confused as to what Shen Jiu was doing, but said nothing.

Shen Qingqiu wondered what he should do. He did not know where a village was located, or where he should start walking. But he knew he could not just leave the young man to die. The teenager had fought so hard to live and to be abandoned at this point was more than cruel. Kneeling down, he grabbed onto the other's arm to sling it over his shoulder and heft him up onto his back.

Immediately afterwards, he started walking; the direction he chose was one where he thought he saw the faint hint of light off in the distance. He could only hope it was a village.

"What are you doing?" The demon froze as he was on the other's back. It made him sick to have to be this close to him. He would have rather his old master forced him to walk in his injured state than carrying him to further humiliate.

"Please save your breath." He did not want him wasting any unnecessary energy. "I am going to take you to a village. Dying out here is not what you want to do either, right?" Certainly, the young man must have reservations about trusting a stranger. But if he put it plainly like that, he surely would be understood. His eyes rolled up as he wondered if that sounded like a threat.

Shen Qingqiu thought to reassure that he would not do anything to him, but didn't that sound like he was going to do something to him? How could he reassure? "You really are brave to have come out this far. But… allow this humble one to take you somewhere safe, all right?" He smiled to himself, finding that to be a good way to put things.

Luo Binghe growled just under his breath and spit blood on his teacher's shoulder. His gambit may have worked, but his anger at hearing such talk from him was enough to make him regret it.

The local god ignored the blood that was spit on his shoulder. After all, what was he supposed to say? Scolding someone for bleeding when they were injured seemed like a foolish thing to do. His lips pressed together as he realized that he should give his name. "Also, please call me Shen Qingqiu."

He was already going to be in trouble for appearing before mortals and going so far to help one out. True, gods could appear if a great crisis that required it, but he had been appearing before quite a few people simply due to his spiritual energy making it impossible for him to appear invisible. Therefore, he was bending the rules more than a little bit. At this point, he might as well go for broke.

"Fine, Shen Qingqiu." If his teacher wanted to hold onto that name, he could hold onto that name. Luo Binghe knew who he was, and that was what mattered.

"What did I say about wasting your breath?" Goodness, he hadn't really expected a reply. His response was a little sharp in turn. But he was only worried. How could the teen worry about propriety at a time like this? "You are really badly hurt. Don't do anything to make your injuries worse."

Luo Binghe bit the inside of his cheek until new blood filled his mouth. He had wanted to rip the man's arms off as soon as he recovered, but he decided that he'd start with tearing out his tongue.

As the two walked (or one walked with the other on his back), Shen Qingqiu was relieved that the lights he saw off in the distance were lights from a village. It was still some distance but he felt a little bit of hope come into his heart. Looking over his shoulder, he almost flinched back when he saw the young man was glaring down at him. "It is still quite a ways off. I'm sorry that I can't get us there sooner."

A weak sigh. "Your parents… why did they let you travel out so far?" He wanted to slump his shoulders but kept them straight so not to jostle the person he was carrying too much. The immortal couldn't understand why the young man's parents would allow him to come out to the field where such a dangerous creature was known to be roaming.

"How long do you think you can mock me?!" Luo Binghe snarled as he struggled. He had left Xin Mo behind in the Demon Realm; it would have absorbed too much energy and would impede his healing. Furthermore, he did not want the weapon to fall into his teacher's hands. But even so, he wished he had it in his hands so he could remove the monster's head from his shoulders!

"I have no intention to mock you! I merely think--" Shen Qingqiu was about to explain his thoughts, but realized that he may have said too much. He did not know what life the teenager lived and could only assume he had stepped on something painful. "Nevermind. I spoke out of turn. Think nothing of what I just said! And if you keep squirming, you're going to end up falling so remain still!"

The demon reached around to grip tight on Shen Qingqiu's neck, no longer wanting to wait out until he was well enough to kill him slow. His rage at hearing the man talk about his parents was more than enough to try to dig his nails into the soft of his neck and rip his throat out.

Shen Qingqiu twisted and involuntarily threw teen off him and onto the ground. He stared down in shock as he held his throat -- the mortal was not even able to bruise the skin before he reacted. He had no idea what prompted the attack, but seeing the boy twist around on the ground and reopening up his wounds to be a pitiful sight.

Grabbing onto his own sleeve, he tore some of the material off. Biting down on his finger to draw blood, he began to draw a complicated pattern on the material. The teenager was slowly able to rise up and lunge at him but before he got too close, Shen Qingqiu slapped the poorly made charm on the other's forehead. He watched as the youth tumbled and caught him just before he fell.

It was a simple charm to put him to sleep.

Whatever he had said must have been truly upsetting, Shen Qingqiu couldn't guess what hidden hurt he had dug up but felt sorry for it. Picking the teen up, he continued to carry him to the village. Like he would let one attack against his person be enough to say that he was done with the mortal. He was hardly so thin-faced that he would allow something like that to stop him. It wasn't like the human could actually do anything to him, anyway.

The rest of the journey was, unsurprisingly, a quiet one. When he arrived at the village, he looked a mess. No one would guess that he was a middle official with the way he looked! All the running around he had done to try to find Bai Zhan's War God had done him no favors. Not to mention that he was covered in blood and carrying the unconscious, badly wounded teenager. People gave him one look and hurried away out of sight.

He was, at least, able to reach the inn unobstructed.

"Forgive me, I found this young man injured… is it possible to have a room?" Shen Qingqiu was only happy that he lookedhorrible rather than felt horrible. One of the few perks of being a middle official was that he at least had enough energy that the long walk from the field to the village had not been overly taxing to him.

"Ye, yes!" The innkeeper was up on his feet before staring at the young man. "Hey. What's that on his forehead?"

The immortal froze as he forgot about the charm that he had put on the teenager's head. He became so fixated on making it to the village that he forgot all about it. "I know my appearance is as it is, but I am a cultivator." A few beats may have been lost, but he kept his voice calm and even as he outright lied. "That seal is present to help him heal."

"Such a thing exists?!"

"Obviously, or else it would not be on his forehead."

The innkeeper made a few more louder awestruck noises before allowing Shen Qingqiu to carry the teenager to the room. Really, where was the man's head? He was carrying an unconscious and wounded person! Shouldn't he have been less impressed about the nonsense he was saying and lend him a room? Shen Qingqiu felt like his patience for everything was finally reaching its breaking point.

He carefully laid the young man on the bed before taking the charm off. "Calmed down now?"

Luo Binghe couldn't believe that even a weak spell like that had been capable of putting him to sleep. He really had expended too much energy hunting Shen Jiu down. His mood darkened more as he thought of how he would return all these kind "favors" back.

"It seems I had said something I should not have. I apologize." Shen Qingqiu offered a small smile, but he was met with silence. He decided to move onto another topic. "I'll have the servants come up with water for a bath. Do you think that you'll be all right?"

The demon turned his gaze onto the god next to him before slowly looking around the room. And, why was he in an inn? His anger had gotten away from him and he had attempted to tear out the immortal's throat – so why was he resting on a bed? Wouldn't it have been easier (more understandable) if Shen Qingqiu had simply left him out in the wild?

It wouldn't have killed him, of course, but it in his weakened state, it would have upset his recovery. The demon sorted out his thoughts and couldn't come up with a reason. So, he asked, "Why?"

"Why, what?" Shen Qingqiu furrowed his brow. From what he had asked him, he didn't think 'why' made much sense as a response.

"Why did you bring me here?"

"Because you were hurt." The local god suddenly worried if the teenager's memories were distorted from having been attacked by the demonic creature. His lips pressed together in a thin line. "But since you are awake, you must wish to return home."

Luo Binghe stared at him, not comprehending what he was hearing. What game was his old master playing? His eyes narrowed a little as he watched him with suspicion.

"This … is your village, isn't it?" Shen Qingqiu had walked to the one that was "nearest" to the field. However, he realized the foolishness of his question as soon as he asked. "I suppose you cannot tell. We're about a --"

"This isn't my village." Seriously, what nonsense was this?

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because I have no village." He sneered in response.

"Oh." His gaze dropped away as he lightly bit his bottom lip. He closed his eyes, as he hated the idea that this young man would have died out in the field without anyone to worry about him; without anyone that would wonder where he was. It tore at the soul something fierce. Yes, he was aware this sort of scenario happened often in the world; he knew that it was not uncommon, but that did not make it anymore right!

Luo Binghe felt his sneer vanish from his face. He couldn't understand that response. Why did his old master have a bleeding heart at this moment?! Why could he not have this sort of kindness when he was actually young!? Why did he have to show it to him – mock him with it?! Why did he have to taunt him with what might have been! Was that it? Did he want to show how much he had changed over the centuries? Did that make up for anything that was done to him!

The unfairness of it all ate away inside of him just as it had when he saw Shen Qingqiu defend that human.

"Why do you care?" He could not help but ask. "You never cared before."

Shen Qingqiu took the 'you' as a general 'you' and not directed at himself. Why wouldn't the teenager feel bitter? Furthermore, it was not as though he could do much. He had intended to bring him to the village with the mindset that he was returning him home. However, he would not be able to do anything other than offer a small bit of kindness before disappearing from the other's life forever. What answer could he give that would not sound like empty words?

The local god thought back to that street performer -- that young man had nothing and was dancing for spare change in the city. Yet he had offered a half-moldy mantou bun. It was, perhaps, the only thing to that person's name besides the clothes on his back. "Because our paths have crossed. Because they crossed at this moment… it would be wrong not to allow our short time together not to be a 'good' one."

Luo Binghe continued to stare at him, feeling more and more unfairness at such a kindhearted answer. "Do you really…. do you know who I am?" His voice sounded rough even to his own ears.

"No, but that shouldn't stop a person from being kind." Shen Qingqiu offered another smile and felt something return to him. That was right – he used to be the sort of person that would help no matter what. In his mortal life, he was known as being quite the meddler much to his later chagrin. However, all the new rules he had to follow when he became a middle official stopped him from interfering so much in the lives of others. He had also not wanted to cause trouble or shame for Yue Qingyuan. In doing so, he realized that he lost a bit of himself.

"You don't know…" The demon repeated. Then, all that time, it really had given his old master amnesia. He turned his head away as he smiled to himself. It wasn't that Shen Jiu had consciously changed, but so many centuries had whittled away the man's memory and self. He hadn't thought that was possible, but recalling the dilapidated state of the god's temples; it was possible. Gods only remained whole due to the amount of people that remembered them.

"It doesn't matter." He smoothed the teenager's hair out of his face, smiling.

"Luo Binghe." His smile was as bright and radiant as ever. A vicious, awful thought was being born inside of him as he felt his smile widen that much more. "My name is Luo Binghe."

"A fine name." Shen Qingqiu knew that he should have asked sooner what it was, but did not want to dig up anything unpleasant in asking.

"Isn't it? My mother gave it to me before she died. She named me so because she had found me in a frozen river." Luo Binghe felt his eyes starting to burn with an unknown vigor and excitement. A rush of amusement hit him as he saw Shen Qingqiu's expression crumble a little at hearing about his namesake.

"It is a wonderful name." He struggled to keep smiling as compassion bled inside him.

"Please." The demon reached out to suddenly grab onto his arm. "Please, don't leave until I've recovered. I want to be able to repay you when I'm well."

"I…"

"Please, promise that you won't go until I'm well." Luo Binghe filled his voice with so much pain and anxiety. It sounded pitiful and weak. He tightened his hold on the immortal's arm, as if he was afraid the god would disappear at any second.

"I promise." Shen Qingqiu relented and bowed his head. He would have so much explaining to do when he returned to Heaven. "But don't worry about repaying me. Just think of getting well."

"En." He smiled warmly back. It was a smile that he gave to many of his wives; one that told them that they could believe in him, no matter the lies that he was spilling. "Thank you."

Chapter Text

Shang Qinghua sweated profusely as he trembled at his desk. His eyes darted from the papers in front of him to the ice demon that was leaning against the wall to his right. The brush in his hand shook so badly that he was only making splatter marks on the parchment. It was about the time that he stopped being able to read that he put his brush down to turn around (slam his knees into the legs of his desk when he did not realize how far he had scooted in) and talk to Mobei-Jun.

"I would have thought you'd go searching for Shen Qingqiu with your lord." While the words themselves did not sound bad, his voice was trembling so much that only every second half-word came out. His panic, however, kept him from being able to hear himself. All he could hear was the pounding of his heartbeat in his ears.

"What?" Mobei-Jun unsurprisingly had no idea what had been said to him and asked for clarification. His eyes narrowed (squinted) as he tried to make sense of the nonsensical series of noises.

"Sorry!" The village lord would have hid under his desk if the space underneath allowed for it. "Of course, you're right where you need to be."

"Speak plainly." Having missed the first half, the second half made absolutely no sense.

"I didn't think you'd like to be in my company." Fanning himself with his own hand, he worried that if he didn't try to cool down that he would end up fainting. "I'm extremely honored that my king is staying with me."

"Your king?"

"Of course! Even if there is an emperor, you are my king." He was dedicated to the ice demon before a certain fiery demon sovereign that was obsessed with a middle official. It seemed like the smartest plan to him. Luo Binghe was a merciless sort of demon that would kill first and not even bother to ask questions later! If he didn't like something, that "something" would be out of his sight quickly. But from what he came to understand Mobei-Jun, the ice demon had a much tamer personality.

"Hn." Mobei-Jun had no idea how to answer such a heartfelt confession beyond making a soft sound of acknowledgement. Most humans were terrified of being around demons and while Shang Qinghua seemed frightened, he was willing to say the most shameless of things. He could not understand it.

The beat of silence made Shang Qinghua nervous. He had already started talking to the demon and he felt if he turned back to his paperwork that it would come off haughty. So, he grasped at straws to continue talking to him. "But really, I wonder why your lord is so fixated on a middle official like Shen Qignqiu."

"What business is that of yours?"

"None! But there are much better gods and even middle officials to want to kill!" His arms were thrown up and over his head as he shrunk down in his chair.

"Much better?" That was right. The human had made a point to say that the immortal and he were very close. He wondered about the validity of that statement, but Shen Qingqiu had descended down to save Shang Qinghua. So, why did the mortal forsake the god?

"Ah, right." Shang Qinghua puffed up just for a second, before he shrank back down. "You wouldn't worry yourself about how the local gods became the local gods … is, is what I was just realizing."

Mobei-Jun stared at him, uncomprehending what that had to do with what was mentioned before.

"Shen Qingqiu, while he was mortal, was a huge meddler. Worse than a dog that hunted mice!" He crossed his arms as he explained the issue. "His family history was rotten and so he overcompensated for the trouble caused. Whenever he put his mind to helping someone out, he'd go way too far. Like! With! Me!"

Shang Qinghua hopped a few times in his chair as his arms waved about. The ice demon froze the cloth of the man's robes to the floor, so when the human tried to hop up a second time; it ripped the clothes.

"My king, why!" He lamented as he looked over his ruined clothes and attempted to bring the two frost-covered pieces together, like that would repair what had been done.

"Shut up." Mobei-Jun felt that the mortal should be much more grateful that the god worried so much about him. If Shen Qingqiu had decided to not challenge Luo Binghe, Shang Qinghua would be dead. So, what reason did he have to complain?

"A, Anyway, you probably have complaints about your own lord." Shang Qinghua hesitantly added. The glare that he was shot was enough to send him hiding under his table. "I merely mean that you are a reasonable and dignified demon. He seems less elegant in comparison to you! If you asked me which was lord and which was … n, not lord, I'd flip the two of you!"

The demon squinted at him, wondering if he was just being flattered. After all, one could physically feel the difference in their strength even if they were an untrained as a cultivator. "Nonsense."

"Not at all!" He waved his hands in front of him. "You have such a regal aura and even I can tell that you were raised in high society!" If there was one thing that Shang Qinghua knew, it was that people did not mind being told how wonderful that they were. So long as the person was not completely hated by the one being lavished by compliments, it was a quick way to ensure positive relations.

"High society." At that comment, Mobei-Jun scoffed. Yes, in his mortal life, he was a prince. However, that was before his uncle had dragged him out of the safety of his kingdom to be murdered by brigands. His death had been a slow, painful one in order to break the spirit of his kind-hearted father. It had allowed his uncle to usurp control of the kingdom, without anyone to stop him.

"My king?"

Hearing that title repeatedly somehow eased a pain that he had not realized he was suffering. Mobei-Jun looked away before saying, "There is no such thing as high society."

"Ah." Shang Qinghua fiddled with the torn pieces of his robe. He felt that was just the sort of thing that someone discontent in high society would say! As someone who lived on a quiet farm to coming to live as a village lord, he could talk a lot about the differences in how life was! But he kept his mouth shut. He knew better than to argue with his betters; he wasn't that stupid!

"Anyway, anyway! Let's go out!" The village lord stood up as he announced his intentions. Of course, in standing up, he further ripped his robes to where he was indecent from the thighs down. "As soon as I change!"

"Mmn." Mobei-Jun nodded, but felt his lips quirk a little. Like he might have laughed. The demon had no idea why Shang Qinghua abruptly decided they should head out into the village, but was curious enough to see where it would go.

---

The two of them went out into the bustling streets of An Ding village. It was difficult to carry on any conversation with so much noise going on; the merchants calling out to those passing by, the din of the everyone carrying on their own conversations. However, the crowd gave Mobei-Jun a wide berth. The same could not be said for Shang Qinghua who was bumped into by almost everyone.

"Forgive me, my king!" The human cried out before he latched onto Mobei-Jun's arm. "If I don't cling to you, I fear that I'm going to be washed away by the crowd."

"Why did you want to come out here in the first place?" Mobei-Jun responded by popping Shang Qinghua on top of his head. Yet that did not deter the lord from clinging onto him.

"You've been stuck inside the estate with me for so long!" Shang Qinghua explained even as he rubbed his head with one hand. "I worried that you might be getting bored." Furthermore, he wasn't able to do his own paperwork as he internally (and externally) panicked about Mobei-Jun; so, he also wanted to get some fresh air!

"You worried I may kill you if I grow too bored?"

"What?! Would you really?!" He shrank back, yet still held onto the demon's arm. It was something that he was humoring, but did he mean to say that it was a possibility?!

Mobei-Jun was surprised that had not been Shang Qinghua's intentions. At least, he inferred from how the human responded. It took a moment before he give a slight smile and added, "I might."

Sobbing loudly, he wrapped both arms around Mobei-Jun's. He cried into the sleeve of the demon. "No, please! I'll definitely entertain you!"

The demon did not want to say that he was already entertained more than enough. He turned his head away, letting out a soft chuckle. Indeed, he was used to mortals begging for their lives; he was used to them falling all over themselves in order to ensure that they'd be spared his wrath. But the manner in which Shang Qinghua went about it was notably different.

"Get off." Mobei-Jun lifted his hand again to bop the other on the head. It was only a little lighter than how he had hit the man before.

"All right, all right, as you say!" He let go of the demon's arm as he rubbed his head with both hands.

Shang Qinghua paused as he massaged the growing bump as he caught sight of a jewelry booth. He dropped his arm back down to his sides before he hurried over to the stall. A lot of the piece were, unsurprisingly, for young maidens to receive. Yet he was able to notice a rather ornate and beautiful looking hair ornament decorated in azure gems.

He pointed at it. "Give me that."

"It's three silver." A curt reply.

"Three silver!" He roared and hopped up into the air. "Come now, come now, I'm the lord of this village and--"

"If you're the lord, then you can afford three silver." Indeed, the presence that Shang Qinghua emitted was one that allowed even a shopkeeper to feel they could walk all over him.

"Don't be so unreasonable! For every piece of silver I spend, that's less that can go to this city to make it better." This was all lies; he just was a bit of a stingy person when it came to the wealth he acquired. He guarded his money well as he always feared that one day; he would have to flee from the village with whatever he had on hand.

"What nonsense are you talking about, ah?!" The shopkeeper banged his hands on the counter of his stall. "If you take that for free, I'm the one that's out by the end of the day!"

"B, But!"

A shadow passed over both jeweler and Shang Qinghua. "Why did you wander off?" The chilling voice of Mobei-Jun put an end to the argument that the two were having.

"Well--" Shang Qinghua started to say.

"Is he with you?"

"Yes?" Both demon and village lord answered at relatively the same time, as neither was certain who the shopkeeper was talking to.

"It's free!" The hair ornament was all but chucked at Shang Qinghua as the man backed away from his own stall.

"Ah, ah!!" Shang Qinghua was not expecting it to be thrown at him; it bounced off his chest as he flailed wildly to try to catch it.

Just as it was about to hit the ground, it was caught by Mobei-Jun. He held the item up between his index and thumb, turned it over a few times to get a good look at it, before holding out for Shang Qinghua to take.

"No, no." He waved his hands lightly in the air. "That is something for you."

Mobei-Jun pulled his hand back and looked down at the ornament, again. He glanced back up and uttered a single but calm, "What?"

"What?" Shang Qinghua parroted back.

He lifted his hand to pop the human again on the head -- this time quite hard. "Why?"

He yelped, violently rubbing where he was just hit, before answering, "Isn't it fun to get surprise gifts?"

"It, it also will look quite nice on you, my lord." The shopkeeper popped up from where he was hiding behind his stall.

Shang Qinghua pointed at the man. "Right!"

"Both of you, shut up." The ice demon scowled at the two men, who both wilted under the heat of his glare. Mobei-Jun felt the tips of his ears burning and turned to stalk away from the booth. He did not know who had overheard their conversation, and did not want to know.

Without delay, he started to walk down the street. However, he did not get overly far before he heard: "Wait, wait! My king! My king!"

The demon rolled the not-quite-gift around in his hand and thought about continuing to walk on through the crowd -- which would force Shang Qinghua to lag further behind. He dallied a little too long on deciding what he should do before the village lord stumbled up back to his side, huffing and puffing.

Mobei-Jun thought about how strange the other was. Wouldn't normally a person feel relieved that the demon had walked away? That it meant that he could escape? But instead of running away, the human came back to cling to his arm. Truly, Mobei-Jun did not think he knew of a human as odd as Shang Qinghua.