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How To Screw Up the Plot

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"...At least there fewer sex scenes," muttered Shen Yuan.

Proud Immortal Demon Way was a popular web novel created by Airplane Towards the Sky. So it was to no surprise that after finishing the novel, the author posted a link in the forums that lead to an unedited rough draft of the book.

After clicking the link, one of the first differences she noticed in the book was the appearance was a new character.

Shen Yù, the supposed younger sister of the scummiest of scum villains, Shen Qingqiu.

Supposedly, her character introduced to the storyline around the time Luo Binghe faced off the Skinner. After she is saved by Luo Binghe, she starts to view him as a younger brother while reuniting with her blood-related brother. This only fuels the blackened Peak Lord's anger and jealousy towards Luo Binghe.

The rest of the story progresses similarly to the published novel, only Shen Yù temporarily married Liu Qingge, who later gets killed off by Shen Qingqiu and in her grief, attempts to take her own life and is instead saved once more by Luo Binghe. To show her gratitude, she actually becomes his first wife instead of Ning Yingying.

While there were surprisingly fewer chapters (and less sex), Shen Yuan was disappointed to see Shen Qingque remain a scum through and through.

What did catch her eye was the way he died.

<

There were few things that Shen Qingqiu regretted in his life. One was not cutting off the head of Luo Binghe when he had the chance.

Another was allowing that half-breed to taint his beloved sister.

No longer able to speak or reach out to his sister, he merely laid on the blood-stained concrete and awaited his torment. Faintly picking up the footsteps of someone nearby, his chapped lips curled into a snarl as he awaited the half-demon to show up in his cell.

Instead, much to his surprise, it was his only sister Shen Yù.

Immediately, he was sent into a fit of rage and struggled to reach out whatever was left of his stick figure.

"You whore! You dare show your face after spreading those legs to that beast?!" Was what he would've said had his tongue not been ripped out. To this, he merely glared with all the rage and betrayal that pent up inside his weary bones.

She stood unflinching, her face a perfect mask of calm before breaking.

"Ge ge," she said softly, eyes glistening as she overlooked his physique."Please allow me to give you one chance of mercy while I still can," she begged.

If he could, he'd laugh and simply sneered at the woman. *What mercy could you possibly give to me?* he thought bitterly.

Stepping into the cell, she gently kneeled before Shen Qingqiu and said a silent prayer before she slit his throat.

Silently, her tears slid down as she held the stunned man in her arms and began to hum an old song that held no words.

Through the choked gasps and gurgles of blood that dripped from his lips, he slowly became limp and struggled no more as his eyes stared blankly into her own.

>

Couldn't the author delve more on the relationship between Shen Qingqiu and Shen Yù? There was barely any interaction between the two except for the times he punished the protagonist and when he died! No wonder she wasn't added to the published work! She thought, her lips dragged to a frown.

Shen Qingqiu had been a complicated character that held no background and no motive other than to blacken the protagonist. Shen Yù would've just... been a waste of a character.

"Screw this stupid book and that stupid author!" She muttered vehemently under her breath, throwing her phone a sizable distance away.

Soon after, she heaved a sigh and turned her attention to the cold tray of food sitting on the nightstand.

"Shit. If the nurse sees this, I'm gonna lose my head," she cursed, grabbing the tray of food.

Since being admitted into the hospital (thankfully her family's hospital) she could only sit, read, and take her daily medicine before puking it back up again. It sucked having a weak immune system and body, but what could she do?

Swallowing down several bites of her food, she held in her gags and washed it all down with a bottle of water and daily pills. "May as well sleep...maybe I'll even dream of a better ."

She heh'd at the thought and quickly found herself falling into a deep sleep the moment her head hit the pillow.

It wasn't until an hour later that an unconscious Shen Yuan began to throw up the contents of her stomach and proceed to choke, eventually dying in her hospital bed.

----

Shen Yuan awoke to a cold hand pressed against her forehead. She can't help but sigh in relief, tilting her head more towards the source. Her body felt unusually hot and it took her a moment before opening her heavy eyelids.

Before she can even comprehend the boy towering above her, she lets out a hoarse whisper.

"Where..." she stopped, followed by a hacking cough.

Seeing she was awake, the boy's anxious expression lightened and Shen Yuan was vaguely reminded of her older brother (this was her brother, wasn't it?) before she slowly sat up from the ground.

Was this some sort of joke? Why is she on the ground?

"Shen Yù, you finally woke up," he finally spoke, visibly relieved and leaned back to give her space. "What were you thinking carrying that large hug of water in the middle of the night? Do you want to give your brother a heart attack?!" He lightly pinched her hand, making her jerk in surprise before letting go.

She blinked at him before looking down at herself.

Oh crap

Shen Yuan could only stare in disbelief as she held up unusually small hands (hands that did not belong to her) that could only belong to a child.

Wait a second...Shen Yù? As in Shen Yù from Proud Immortal Demon Way??? She internally screams as the boy brings her attention back to him.

THEN THIS GUY IS SHEN QINGQIU?!

"Mei mei! Please don't ignore this brother of yours." He furrowed a brow, grabbing onto the hand he previously pinched. "You have to understand, if you don't get better they'll take you away."

Not knowing who 'they' were, an uneasy feeling settled its way into her gut and she was sure she'd throw up.

She almost jerked her hand away had an older male not appeared.

"Little Jiu! You would do well to remember this master's patience is growing thin," he snapped at the boy.

"Yes, master," Shen Qin-, no, Shen Jiu grits out with restrained anger and an unknown emotion, barely sparing a glance at the man before he is smacked in the head.

Just who is this 'master'?!

She jumps, startled and wide-eyed. As if sensing her distress, he squeezed her hand in assurance before getting up.

"Mei mei, please rest and take your medicine. Your big brother will be back soon." His eyes sweep over her as a mother would to her child before turning away.

Shen Yuan stared at the boy, dazed as her eyes also swept over every inch of him.

He looked to be the age of twelve, already at the age where one would begin to mature. His hair, though mildly tangled and ruffled, was long and tied back. His expression seemed to always be pinched, but she noted that it dropped when addressing her.

It was then her eyes lowered that she saw a pair of shackles around his feet. Looking at her own feet, she found herself in the same boat.

Ah...now that I think about it, hadn't Shen Jiu been a slave? Somewhere in the book, there was a woman, Qiu something who exposed Shen Qinque's blackened history and the crime he committed.

Qiu…

Her eyes swept over to the older male dressed in lavish robes and accessories. This must be the older brother.

This had to all be a dream, she feverishly wished and her head began to spin. She frowned, soon hacking into coughs that racked her small frame.

"I won't repeat myself a second time! Hurry up or else!"

In her series of coughs, she managed to hear Shen Jiu's scrambling footsteps fade away.

Soon, all that accompanies her is the small stream of light through the cracks that provide vision through the darkness.

Medicine...where did he put it? With one hand muffling her coughs, she used the other hand to search the surrounding area. Finally, her hand grazed something and she squinted hard to recognize it as a small pouch of powder. Beside the pouch was a small bowl of water.

For a while she wasn't sure how to take her medicine: did she eat the powder and then drink? Or did she have to mix it in? Opting to do the latter, she found herself gagging at the bitter taste that could only belong to medicine.

Damn it, even in a different body, she is cursed to be sick and frail?!

Laying back down on the wooden mat, she stared blankly at the ceiling.

If she truly did transmigrate, that meant she died in the real world. There would no longer be late night talks with her younger sister, no more pillow forts with her brothers despite already being adults and no more home.

Home.

The word rang in her head and she sunk into the itchy mat.

She wanted to go home.

She wished this were all a dream to wake up from. So she squeezed her eyes (tears in her eyes) even tighter and fell into a state of unconsciousness.

----

She did eventually get used to the life of Shen Yù, spending most days in the wine cellar sick and resting. On the days Shen Jiu visited, he appeared more worn out and easily agitated. Always on his guard when visiting her.

Hadn’t the book said he was treated like a younger brother? She often wondered.

On the other hand, she would be requested to spend time with Qiu Haitang, the beloved younger sister whom she soon learned to be the same woman that would burn Shen Qingque's reputation to the ground. Unlike the woman she would become, her younger self coddled the girl in dress up and suffocated her in her affections. She even forced the younger girl to wear a choker, to show proof that she was her own personal doll.

Shen Jiu had been enraged when he saw the choker but could do nothing for the sake of being on Qiu Haitang's good grace.

After three years, she had grown at least an inch and a half, her hair long enough to reach her back and is often compared to Shen Jiu.

The smell of vomit has long since become apart of her solitude and she stares quietly at the wall. She would never admit to Shen Jiu that the other servants only fed her spoiled or leftover scraps of food (or his sake) which then led her to puke in a bucket one of the servants gave in pity.

She thinks to the time she confronts her brother and vaguely recalls the day he came to visit in the dead of night.

<

"Ge ge?" She softly called out to the older boy.

Shen Jiu scowled, his body trembling the slightest as he crouched before her. "Did you take your medicine?" He asked, his tone hoarse like sandpaper. He began to walk toward her and it was easy to see with each step he took, there was a notable limp.

She nodded, poking to the empty bowl of water and pouch as proof. Soon after, she lowered her gaze to the exposed skin that shifted when he moved.

"Is Ge ge hurt?" She asked softly, already lifting a hand to press against the raw wound.

He jerked from her touch like it was fire, his face paling as he hastily fixed his robe. "Pay no mind! Focus on yourself, first!" He snapped at her, expression tensed as she continued to stare.

Finally, after a while, she stood up and walked over to the corner of the room where a large jug of wine sat. Using what strength she could muster, she slowly shoved the jug aside and pressed several spots around the wall.

"...what are you doing?" He asked, finally succumbing to his fatigue as he watched her focus attentively on the wall.

Click

The wooden panel she touched clattered to the floor and she reached in to grab a medium-sized jug along with a blue cloth and bandages.

Because she was always sick, the times she stayed in critical condition required her to go to the Qiu family doctor. And while treated, she the time to grab a roll of bandages and a clean cloth before grabbing a jar of water from the kitchen in the case she ever got thirsty in the wine cellar.

Not like she could drink the wine anyways.

"Mei Mei-!" He stopped to stare shocked.

She was quick to walk back over to him and held up the blue cloth with both hands, fingers clenched around the soft material.
"Ge ge," she spoke softly, sounding more mature than she looked, "please let me dress your wounds, it's the least I can make up for being such a burden on you."

"This Ge ge has always treated me with care and without him, I would not have made it this far." She faintly smiled, as if remembering an old memory (faceless figures who meant the world to her) and placed a hand against his heart.

(Please let this little sister tend to your heart for once.)

"You can rest now, Ge ge, if only for tonight."

"Don't..."

Don't look at this failure of a brother, whose job is to shelter and protect you... He wants to say. He wants to push her away and not let her see the wounds that scar his skin and taint her innocence.

She smiles up at him with eyes so understanding and loving (Why do your eyes look so mature? Where is the mei mei that has never seen such filth like himself?).

He does not stop her from dressing his wounds and finds himself sleeping on her lap as she hums a song.
Let me shelter you for once, Ge ge

>

Her attention turned to the door that softly creaked open, moonlight seeping into the cold cellar.

"Ge ge?" She called out quietly, body stiffening as an unfamiliar face was illuminated.

"A-Yù," the unfamiliar boy sighed in relief, taking a few steps before dropping onto his knees. He gently grasped her forearms, pulling her into a swift hug that felt oddly comforting.

"Who...who are you?" She asked the boy and he pulled back from her.

She felt a pang of guilt as his expression turned to one of guilt and remorse. Did she know him?

"Ah, of course, it's been three long years. You've grown since then, how could you possibly remember this Qi ge."

Her mouth parted as soon that he spoke that last line. Shen Jiu had once mentioned a Qi ge, cursing that name under his breath with hate and pain. That had been the first time she had seen the boy cry with such emotion, though if she brought it up she was sure he'd deny ever crying.

"Why are you here?" Her mouth felt parched and she licked her dry lips. Eyeing the older boy, she saw his expression slowly ease out.

Then, he grabs her hand and pulls her up.

"I'm here to take you and Xiao Jiu away from here." The words slowly die in her throat and she nodded.

The two took some time to find the cellar Shen Jiu was locked in and she was tasked to find the keys.

"A-Yù, did you find the keys?" Qi ge asked in a whispered tone, looking to her hopefully as he placed on hand on the door.

Returning empty-handed, she looked to Qi ge with a pained look and softly shook her head.

"Yue Qi...Qi ge...?" A hoarse voice called out from the other side of the door and grew presumably louder. "You bastard, you finally decided to show up?" There was venom in his words, but Shen Yù manages to make out the subtle relief that lies underneath. "What are you waiting for? Is Shen Yù with you?"

There is shuffling on the other side and a soft thud resounds against the door. “
” His voice wavers between anger and desperation.

"Xiao Jiu," the other boy says regrettably, "I'm sorry, I can't get you out..." he chokes on his words when he realizes this and rests his head against the door.

For a moment, the air is tense and Shen Jiu cuts it with sharp words.

"Then leave!" He screams, banging his fists, "If you can't even make yourself useful, then take Shen Yù and go! Leave me here to rot like you always do!"

Her head snaps up and her eyes widen once she processes his words.

"Ge ge," she cried out, "don't make me leave you! I won't go without you!"

She grabs the door handle and pulls, not caring that it's locked. "Ge ge!"

Her heart pounds, blood rushing to her ears as she silently begs the door to unlock. How is she to save Shen Jiu, the one that has nurtured her, cared for her, if she is not there beside him? She refuses to let him blacken.

"Let go!" She shrieks, tears furiously running down her face as Yue Qi pulls her away. She kicks at his leg, struggling to reach out to the door where her brother lies in pain and hopelessness. "There can still be another way!"

"Xiao Jiu..." Yue Qi quivers, sucking in a breath before he collapses completely to the ground, taking Shen Yua down with him.

"I promise! I'll become a righteous cultivator strong enough to take you and A-Yù away!" He cried out, his grip loosening on the younger girl. He knows he cannot truly rip the girl away, despite Shen Jiu's request and the other boy accepts it silently from the other side.

"...do you promise?" Shen Yù speaks up, her voice is raw and scratchy. She pulls herself away from Yue Qi and lifts up her pinky. Staring at the boy with uncertainty and hope.

"You'll truly come back? For me and Ge ge?" Her bottom lip trembles and her other hand reaches out to grasps his sleeve.

(A faint memory of a young toddler grasping two boys' sleeves enters the boy's mind.)

"Can you promise me that?"

He stares down at the face that looks so similar to the boy he loves and shakily wraps his own pinky around hers. "I do," he breathes, wrapping her in one last hug. He breathes in the comfort of her scent, not caring if she vaguely smelled of vomit, and soon let go.

"I'll come back. So please..." he lets the sentence hang and she understands his hidden request.

Wait for me

So she waits, the time that passes painstakingly slow, and it is nearly a year when she no longer waits.

Or, rather, couldn't.

----

It is the middle of the night, she is jerked awake when the door to the wine cellar slams open. Barely conscious, her bleary eyes blink to see the ugly expression on the man's face and a weight drops on her stomach.

A startled cough erupts from her throat before large hands wrap around her. Startled awake, her legs fly and kick underneath the man and only prompts him to squeeze harder.

"Ge...ge..." she struggles to make out, oxygen running in large pants that gradually quicken and burn her throat.

Her hand shakes and grabs the sleeve of the other person and he sneers down at her.

"Little Jiu...Shen..." he mutters her brother's name in a drunken trance, fingers tightening with each name slipping between his lips. Anyone could see his obsession.

And he snarls, looking to the empty air above her. "Shen Jiu, you dare leave this master for an insignificant little brat!?

Tears are running down her face along with the spit that flies from the man's mouth and her heart is pounding. Her tongue is tied, unable to form words and instead lies flat against her teeth.

The man's long hair falls over his shoulder like a curtain, shielding her away from the moonlight that enters the cellar and she desperately reaches out to the door as her other hand claws at the man's face.

Shen Jiu...

Shen...Jiu...

Ge ge...Ge...

Her eyelids flutter, spots dancing like the fireflies her brothers used to catch. (Who are her brothers?)

Shen Yuan...a voice whispers, can you sing me a song? (She doesn't know who Shen Yuan is.)

(Shen Yuan is...)

(I am...I was...)

(Shen Yù...)

She is no more than an empty corpse.

...

[Hibernation COMPLETE. System Activated. Welcome, Shen Yù - younger sister of Shen Jiu, secondary character in Proud Immortal Demon Way. You currently have a total of 5,000 points collected from:
- Unlocked: Shen Jiu (100 points)
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- Unlocked: Qiu Haitaing (100 points)
- Unlocked: Yue Qi (100 points)
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- Strong Bond Boost: 2-4 with Yue Qi (1000 points)
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- Yue Qi: Increased Character stat (500 points)
> Scenario Pusher - Yue Qi (200 points)
- Shen Yù Backstory Event (Complete) (200 points)

Because of your progress in rewriting a better Proud Immortal Demon Way, you have been granted Junior VIP status and automatically enabled "Second Chance" and the following 5,000 points will be spent. Because “Second Chance” is enabled, you will not be sent back to your original body at this time.]

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Chapter Text

Shen Jiu wakes up disoriented and aching. His limbs scream in protest as he supports himself against the wall and he can't help but overhear some of the servants behind the door.

He wipes the dried vomit on his chin and spit at the floor.

"...last night Young Master Qui went on a drunk rampage again." His mind thinks to the events of last night and a terrible itch crawls over his skin, remembering the man's drunken laugh and stinging hits that bruise his skin for days.

"Lately the Young Master always drinks."

He unconsciously trails his fingers across his bruised and broken rib and snarls. That fucker doesn't know when to stop.

"Did you also hear?"

"What?" The second servant sounds interested, lapping up the gossip as if it were wine from the Gods.

More like piss, Shen Jiu thinks bitterly, raising a hand to massage his migraine.

"Apparently he also went to the wine cellar last night and smashed a few things," the first servant spoke overdramatically, but his words are enough to make the boy freeze up.

'You can never leave this place, you hear me' The older Qui's mocking words drown beneath the ringing that pounds his head.

'If I ever hear about you wanting to escape, I'll wring your precious sister's neck.'

The image of his sister's face is engraved onto his mind and he almost heaves as unpleasant scenarios run amok.

The second servant laughs, his voice annoyingly high and wheezing and it only fuels that rage that builds beneath the skin of Shen Jiu. "Probably to get more drunk."

Footsteps come closer to the door and Shen Jiu clenches his fists once he hears the jingle of a key.

Finally, the door opens and he forces
himself into a mask of calm. He gets up from the floor and greets the two servants who barely pass him a glance.

"Master Qiu has asked for your presence," the first servant states, looking revolted as if he touched trash.

He stiffly replies, "Very well, this servant greet his Master."

His legs guide him through the empty halls like a puppet on strings and moves a guard who carries a sack on his shoulder.

Eventually, he reaches the room where his master has mocked, hurt, tormented, killedkilledkilled-

He needed to know.

"Ah, Little Jiu," the Qiu master greets, "I hope you know that I enjoyed our little games the previous night." He joyfully takes in the look of disgust that passes over the younger boy's face.

"Where is she?" Shen Jiu looks at the man with cold fury, a fractured crack in his stoic mask. His eyes fly to the sword lazily cast aside and clenches a fist.

"I believe you'll have to elaborate," the man replied snidely, already his attention was turned to the side where he drank a glass of wine. "I thought I taught you better-"

"SHEN YÙ! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY MEI MEI!?" Unknown to him, the air around him shifts as seething hot Qi energy snap in the air. And he trembles, no longer able to keep calm.

The master straightens and finally drops his mocking charade. A jeer lifts from his lips as he eyes the boy.

"Haven't you heard? I strangled that little whore." Kill kill kill kil-

There is a scream, raw and ear-splitting. It takes a second to recognize it as his own, and his screams turn to cries of wrath upon those who wronged him and his sister.

I'll kill them all.

A flash of metal sparks from the corner of his eye and it's his master's sword that he takes a hold of.

WHOOSH

The thud of his master's head rolls to the ground and does not stop there. He thruts stab after stab, not caring if blood splatters on his form.

Satisfied after the face of the man he loathed is finally unrecognizable, he marches through the halls and slices everyone in his path, the screams of those around him falling upon deaf ears.

Why should he give mercy when none were given back?

He stops just before the ajar door to the wine cellar and pushes it open.

Inside are crushed jars of wine and what he hopes isn't dried blood that stains the floor.

There is no sign of life in the room that confined his Mei mei, his last string of humanity

There only remained a beast.

He let's himself go, slicing and cutting all who breathed. He only stops when the tip of the bloodied sword draws upon the guard he passed earlier.

"Where is she?" He snarls like a vicious animal, bristling as the guard cowers.

"I-I was instructed by Master Qiu to burn-UGH!" the man chokes as his throat is pierced and Shen Jiu stalks past him silently.

He enters the kitchen where a large furnace sits in the corner, flames coaxing him to come closer. Beside the furnace was an empty sack.

His throat closes up and he falls to his knees. Fatigue rushes to his bones and he crawls closer.

Opening the cover, his eyes gaze at the burnt lumps that could only be his sister.

Something flutters from the corner of his eyes and stuck underneath a chunk of scorching coal is the same blue cloth his sister possessed.

'Why do you keep such a dirty thing with you?'

'Because this reminds me of Ge ge, no matter how dirty or torn it is, it'll always be the same.'

'Foolish girl,' he said to her once, 'how stupid must one be to love something so dirty and vile.'

He remembers her fondly smiling as she replied, 'Because Ge ge will always be Ge ge to me.'

Silly girl, he thinks, stupid, ignorant, precious Mei mei.

His face, stained red and stiff, crumples as he sticks his hand into the furnace and pulls out the tattered rag.

The ends of the evenly cut cloth are frayed and blackened, small remains of amber still clinging to the cloth. His hand, burnt and raw from the fire, carefully holds it to his chest. Afraid that it too would fall apart and leave him behind.

Tears flood down his cheeks, washing away some of the blood that clings to him. He cries, his sobs heavy and grief-filled as he is left with what remains of his heart.

It is nighttime, the same color of the blue cloth clutched in his hand when sparks of amber roar into the dead of night and he watches the Qiu household burn to the ground.

Reduced to ashes like his Mei mei.

You can rest now, Ge ge, if only for tonight, she once told him under the same sky.

He stood in front of a tree where he buried his heart beneath the ground and left a trail of ashes in his wake.

Only the dead could truly rest.

Chapter Text

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A loud thud echoes from the wine cellar, soon followed by a sharp inhale. The smell of smoke lingers in the air, arousing the girl from unconsciousness.

Where... Her thoughts drift, her body numb and tingling as she forces herself up.

Where is Ge ge?

The floor is sticky, stained with red. She swallows down the terrible feeling that builds in the back of her throat and her breath hitches.

Hands larger than her own are wrapped around her neck and squeeze.

A face stares down at her, sneering as he shouts obscenities and her brother's name.

She trembles, hands pulling at her hair as the memory plays in her head.

'Shen Jiu, you dare leave this master for an insufferable brat!?'

'You'll truly come back? For me and Ge ge?' Her bottom lip trembles and her other hand reaches out to grasps his sleeve.

'Ge ge.'

It echoes, distorted as it all comes flooding back and she screams for it to stop.

Make it stop make it stop make it sto-

She pukes, her stomach empty and head pounding as she gags and sputters.

She chokes on air and is the only one with signs of life.

Shen Yù is supposed to be dead.

(She already is)

----

The sun is barely rising when she steps out from the wine cellar, pale as a ghost and in a daze.

She passes many bodies that lay bloodied and grimaces at the stench of blood and burnt flesh.

Death was everywhere.

Her stomach churns and twists with anxiety, her heart bleeding for her brother.

Ge ge...Where is Ge ge? Her mind is spinning and somehow makes it past the gate. She slowly gravitates to a tree where a pile of fresh dirt lies and her name is carved. She hiccups, tears streaming as she collapses on top of the dirt.

"Ge ge," she wails, fingers desperately digging into the dirt. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." I didn't want to leave you

Her hands stumble upon something wrinkled and she pulls out the blue cloth that is no longer clean and she clings to it tightly.

She shudders and stands, covering her grave with fresh dirt and fallen tears before she walks her own path.

She keeps the cloth underneath her thin clothes where her own heart lies.

I'll find you, Ge ge

----

Rain falls from the sky and she tilts back her head, catching any drops that fall into her mouth. She had been resting in an alley for days, sick with a high fever that delayed her search.

She coughs into her hand, mucus in her throat as she presses against the side of a building. Her eyes cast to the open street where several street vendors continue to gather customers and inhale the scent of warm food. Closing her eyes, she turns away her head and curls into a ball, ignoring the rumble of her stomach.

As long as she could breathe, she would continue to search for her Ge ge.

"Little girl?" A gentle voice speaks from above and soft footsteps cause her to look up warily. There stood a woman with refined beauty and a placid expression.

"Oh, you poor child," she softly tsk's, bending low enough to reach out a hand and gently caress her cheek.

She flinches, uncurling herself to scramble back.

"Come with me," she gently coaxes, "this is no place for a child to live."

Shen Yù is wary, but something tells her it's okay. This woman would not harm her.

"What is your name?"

She hesitates, watching as the woman remains a respected distance away and says, "Shen Yù." She winces at the crack in her voice and the brief pain that accompanies it, but the woman merely smiles.

The air around her is soothing and kind and she is drawn to her like a moth to a flame.

Shen Yù allows herself to be taken to large building surround by a brick wall and an arched entrance. In the yard are two towering trees that are decorated with red lanterns and music in the air.

She learns that this is a brothel, but it does not faze her. There were worse places she could live in.

When the two step inside, Shen Yù finds herself greeted by a woman dressed in lavished robes and overly-sweet perfume that makes her dizzy.

She clings to the woman's sleeve with a vice grip.

"Who is this, Madam Xue?" One of the women closest to her left peer down at her curiously, only her eyes (which are painted with a soft hue of red) are visible behind the paper fan she holds. In fact, many of the women standing before her held fans that shielded the lower half of their faces.

Some of the women mutter and send looks of pity to the girl, making her scuffle behind the woman.

"This," Madam Xue gently pats her head in assurance, "is your new sister, Yù."

Shen Yù looks to the woman with shock, to which she received another smile.

"Come now, we can discuss later. Huifang?"

In the back of line steps out a notably younger woman whose hair twists into braided buns and is topped with a golden hairpin.

"Yes, Madam?" Her voice is delicate and curious as her eyes sweep over the young girl.

"Please draw a bath for us, I believe it's been a while since your newest sister has properly bathed."

"Of course, Madam," Huifeng is swift to reply and leaves through a sliding door.

Madam Xue acknowledges the rest of the women with authority. "The rest of you are dismissed, we have a very important banquet tomorrow," she gingerly reminds them before guiding Shen Yua to the back, walking past the women who coo and smile behind their fans.

There, she and the madam step through a door that leads to a different building, smelling of scented flowers and bamboo. This eases the timid girl, her eyes drawn to place.

"This is the teahouse," the woman answers her silent question, "both are established under my name." There is pride in her words, and Shen Yù is sure that she took care of her business with passion.

They climb up the stairs, past the men and women who sit and watch the dancers weave through the stage, and stops at the end of the hall.

"You will sleep here tonight." The room is almost bare with the exception of a large bed and wardrobe and already it feels welcoming.

The woman moves with light steps, pulling blankets out from the wardrobe along with a set of robes and a towel.

"The bath should be ready now, let's get you settled, little jade."

----

Half a decade has passed and she has grown used to her new life. And while she continues to cling to the blue cloth, she does not let herself wallow in her pain.

The clothes she wore are no longer rags, instead, they are silk robes that wrap around her small curves and flutters when she dances with her fellow sisters. Some days she performs on stage and strums the strings of her pipa, other days are spent traveling in search for her brother.

And always returns disheartened, but determined.

As of now, she travels on foot with a satchel on her back and the blue cloth close to her heart as always.

She enters a town that sits by the edge of the icy Luo river and several eyes fly to the girl. Paying no mind to the stares, she enters a brothel.

"Madam Meiyin?" Shen Yù tentatively calls out, placing a hand on the strap of her satchel.

"Oh? Is that you, little jade?" A voice smooth like silk speaks from behind a veiled curtain, obscuring the curved figure of a woman.

The curtain pulls back, revealing a well-endowed woman with pleasing features and a spark of mischief in her eyes. Her lips, plump and painted a dark shade of red, curl into a smile once her eyes land on the girl.

"How sweet of you to visit this madam," she purrs in delight, pulling Shen Yù into a hug. She affectionately nuzzles her hair before letting go. "What brings you along to this madam's brothel?"

"Madam Xue requested that I delivered you some herbs."

"Oh yes," the woman makes a sound of acknowledgment, tapping her chin with a  manicured nail. "I had almost forgotten."

"Chunhua."

Footsteps pound on the wooden floorboards and a young woman walks out.

"Yes, Madam Meiying?" There is a shift in the atmosphere the moment she enters, and Shen Yù recognized it to be a demonic aura.

Of course, she had known for a while that Madam Meiying and those working under her were succubi. They first met one another when Madam Meiying came to visit the teahouse.

Shen Yù had been the one to serve her and was commended on her tea-making skills. Of course, at the same time, an older male fell into a drunk-haze and began to harass the woman who merely released a bit of Yin energy before the man collapsed onto the table and spilled tea everywhere.

The rest was history.

Chunhua lights up at the sight of her, immediately bowing as she greets, "Welcome back, A-Yù! What brings you here? Have you come to stay with us?"

"I was just getting to that," Madam Meiying cuts off the young succubus and fans herself, her tone clipped and businesslike. "Little jade has brought the herbs necessary for making our concoction. Prepare the rest of the ingredients with your sisters."

The young woman nods vigorously, saying, "Of course, of course!" She leaves out the room she originally came from and Shen Yua is reminded of her task.

Pulling off the satchel, she opens the bag and carefully takes out a medium-sized pouch. She hands the contents over to Madam Meiying, who graciously accepts it and gestures her to follow.

"Unfortunately, we need a bit of assistance from you," she informed Shen Yù, guiding her up the stairs and to a room located at the back of the hall. "Recently, one of my succubi had encountered a young cultivator, a disciple from Bai Zhan Peak."

She frowns, distaste on her lips as she opens the door. "Such a waste for a pretty face, that disciple. Anyways, would you be so kind as to lure him here? I fear he has already alerted other cultivators of our presence."

Shen Yù gulps, furrowing her brows as she gazes inside the room. On a bed lies a weeping succubus, Lijua, hands pressed against her tear-stained face.

"I'm sorry, Madam Meiying!" She cries out, "this one has caused you trouble with her foolishness."

"Nonsense," the woman waves a hand at her words, coaxing the younger one, "it's common for young succubi like yourself to fall for a pretty face. You still have a lot to learn, my little flower."

Chunhua enters with jars of powder and a wooden bowl in her arms. "I've brought them, Madam Meiying!"

"Very good," the madam praises, stepping away from Lijua who no longer weeps. "Please set them on the table."

Following her madam's instructions, Chunhua sets down the ingredients and places the bowl in the center.

Stepping forward, Shen Yù eyes the different colored powders. "What... what will you be making?"

Without skipping a heartbeat, Madam Meiying flippantly replied, "Oh, just a simple concoction that melts the organs of anyone who drinks it."

"..." Shen Yù is sure her face is as pale as a paper fan, and seeing this, Madame Meiying laughs loud and boisterously.

"I merely kid, little jade. This is merely a potion that will wipe the memory of those within ten feet. The effects, however, are tempory and last only a day. Enough time for us to escape."

She slowly nods, visibly relieved that no one would actually die.

----

The next day, she hides behind a tree. Often peeking out from the trunk, she examines the young man who had attacked Lijua. When she thought about it, the words 'pretty face' did no justice for the cultivator's beauty.

His face was pale and smooth, holding a sharp jaw and narrowed eyes framed by arched brows. With a thin nose and pleasant looking lips, along with the beauty mark under his left eye...

This young man was better off a prince than a disciple!!!

Her cheeks flushed and she lightly slapped herself to stay focused. This is no time to gawk at him!

Taking out a paper fan, she fanned her flustered face with vigor.

"You there," a voice interrupts her and she startled to find the teen standing right in front of her, his expression wary and cautious. It is easy to see that he is not one to be trifled with.

"Why have you been following me?" He easily towers over her small frame and she has to take a step back to properly look up.

Too close! Too close!

Her mind runs blank as she gazes into his eyes. How could she possibly focus!?

Before she can stop herself, she blurts out the first thing on her mind. "You're the most handsome man I've seen!"

"..." The hand that hovered over his sword slackened and she could only watch as his expression shifted to one of confusion.

Ge ge. She internally weeps, already picturing her next death. Please forgive me.

Chapter Text

"...what did you say?" He stared at her, puzzled. No one must've ever told him he was attractive...and lived.

A bead of sweat trickled down her cheek and she cleared her throat.

"M-may I have your name?" She hastily asks, already accepting her humiliation as she imagines Madam Meiying crackling in the background. His lips thin into a frown, sizing her up with caution.

"Liu Xing," he says after a brief silence and she can't help the pleased smile that blossoms on her face.

"Liu Xing," she tests out the name on her lips and meets his eyes once more.

"I am Shen Yù, a pleasure to meet you."

He grunts, turning away but doesn't move to leave yet. "That still doesn't explain why you've been following me."

"I..." she falters, her mind still blanking. "I heard that you recently fought a succubus."

His eyes narrow into a glare and she shields her face behind the paper fan. "I-I know where their nest is located, I can show you," she says. 

"Show me," he demands, furrowing his brows. "If I find that you're lying..." he lets the sentence hang, enough to make the girl gulp. Were cultivators allowed to kill humans? She sweats nervously, feeling the spiritual energy of his sword grow.

"A-are you going to face them alone? Won't you be surrounded by them?"

"I can face them," he grunts, his eyebrow twitching when she gives a compliant nod but remained rooted in her spot. "Hurry up, we're wasting time," he pursed his lips into a thin line and seized her hand. He ignored the indignant squeak that came Shen Yù and started walking in a random direction.

It takes her a moment to process this, stumbling behind him as her cheeks flushed and she lowers her fan to gaze at their hands, the corners of her mouth twitching before shifting her gaze to his swishing ponytail.

"This is the first person other than Gege to hold my hand." The thought slips out of her mouth without knowing and she is surprised to see the man stop so suddenly.

"My apologies," he stiffly spits out, taking this moment to also look down at their intertwined hands before letting go. "I grabbed without thinking."

"T-the brothel right across from the inn," she stammers, causing Liu Xing to look back at her. With the two of them just standing there in the middle of the street, she completely lowers her fan in concern.

"Liu-!" She chokes on her word the moment he grabs her wrist, causing her fan to drop in shock as he leans in. "W-what is it?" Her voice is strained, struggling to maintain her breath as he leans in closer.

"Were you poisoned?"

What? She blinks, not understanding the question but answers anyways.

"...yes," she coughs into her other sleeve, desperately wanting to flee from the bizarre situation she finds herself in. "I'm afraid so... That's why I also confronted you."

Though it ended up being the other way around... she wants to say, but merely sighs a breath of relief when he drops her hand.

"Wait here for me."

She makes a faint sound of agreement, finally pleased to see things going the way it should. "Be careful."

At this point, she is more concerned about choking from all the blood she swallowed than at the hands of Liu Xing.

She looks just at the man unsheathed his sword. The moment he kicks down the door, she waits and listens as his footsteps grow quieter until a loud bang resounds and she catches the smell of something sweet. Black lines appear on her face as she hears several thuds that gradually grow louder and counts to five before stepping in.

Could it be...?

Just as she suspected, she finds him spread across the bottom of the stairs, most likely unconscious.

Straddling him was Chunhua, the potion in her hand as she tilts it down into his parted lips.

Several girls flock down the stairs and gloss over Liu Xing.

"Oh my, such a beautiful face!"

"And long lashes as well~ I want to claim him!"

Seeing how close their hands were to groping the teen, she clears her throat and they obediently step back.

"Ah, little jade," Madam Meiying glides into the room with pleasant air. "I must thank you properly someday, but for now, we must leave before any more cultivators show up."

"Shen Yù!" Chunhua beans from her spot, cheeks flushed in delight. "You-"

A shriek cuts through the room as a bright light nearly blinds all of its occupants. There are screams followed by a grunt before Shen Yù finds herself caught by the sash as she is dragged with a yelp.

"Liu Xing," she cried out in alarm as the man wraps an arm around her waist and the two fly upward.

"He's getting away!" Cried out Chunhua from below.

Seeing how high they were in the sky, Shen Yù had no choice but to grip onto him as they flew several yards away. Course, this did nothing to lower her accelerated heartbeat and trembling legs.

The sword they're on wobbles and wavers,  making her flinch as they start to descend.

Eventually, they landed near a lake and she took this moment to breathe. It had all happened so suddenly, her head spinning once she stepped off the sword.

In front of her, Liu Xing stumbles and falls against a tree, taking heavy breaths that catch Shen Yú's attention. Already, the potion takes effect, causing the man's face to soften and his eyes flutter. He sluggishly wiped his chin, glaring at her weakly as she steps forward cautiously.

"You..." he almost falls flat on his face and she catches him in time, landing on her back as he groans.

"I'm sorry, Liu Xing," she sincerely said, shifting underneath him. She sits into a more comfortable position and watches him struggle to stay awake.

"You really are a good person...I promise I'll pay you back one day," she promises just as his eyelids finally closed.

Counting to three seconds, she gently moves out from under him and sheaths his sword back into its sheath.

Silently bidding the man goodbye, she fixed herself before leaving the forest.

Liu Xing would not leave her mind, rather, the fact that he was a cultivator. It bothered her enough to stop in the middle of the road. Her Gege had once met a cultivator who tested his spiritual aptitude. From what she could vaguely remember, he had been good enough to be chosen as a student under the man but was denied by the Qiu.

She frowned, unable to remember his name but her spirits were somewhat lifted as she thought it over.

Perhaps her brother finally managed to cultivate! She kicked herself from not realizing this sooner. If that was what Gege sought to become, then she would become one as well.

It would be several steps closer to reuniting with her beloved brother.

"Gege..." she muttered with hope, her chest light and unburdened for once.

When we meet again, I'll be the one to protect you.

----

Truth be told, she hadn't expected to be picked as a disciple. Looking back at the others who weren't picked, she was thankful to the Heavens for blessing her with luck.

>

They were all tasked with digging holes into the ground, and she did so diligently despite wanting to spit out blood and collapse. If her brother had put a lot of effort into cultivating, then so would she.

Following after her new shixiongs and shijies, she was welcomed to Qian Cao Peak, known for specializing in medicine.

Just standing at the entrance was enough for her to feel easily overwhelmed the moment she stepped through Qian Cao Peak, eyes wide as she took in her surroundings. Doing so allowed a sliver of doubt to form in her gut.

What if she failed? Wouldn't she be too weak and frail? She had forgotten about her weak body years ago, so focused on living and finding her Gege that her body began aching at this realization.

"Welcome, shimei." Her eyes stopped at a tall male with smooth features, a humble expression on his face as he greeted her. "As a head disciple of Qian Cao Peak, this shixiong greets you."

"My name is Mu Fang."

She nods politely, smiling with gratitude. "Thank you, shixiong. I go by Shen Yù."

"You may follow your shijies into the dormitory and find an empty room. Tomorrow, you will start your morning lessons."

"Yes, shixiong!" The tension on her face lessened, and this seemed to please the older male.

"I look forward to your progress, Shen-shimei."

<

During the time she studied books of medicine and practiced with her marital brothers and sister, she had eventually grown into a young woman. Only a half step to Mid-Core Formation, she remained youthful and her weak body gradually became stronger despite the occasional fever or cold.

Around this time, the current Peak Lord had retired and gave away his position to Mu Fang, who was now called Mu Qingfang.

There was a smile of pride in her face when she watched the old Peak Lord announce his successor.

(She wondered if her Gege would also become a Peak Lord)

Seeing as he helped her during rough stages in cultivation, or when she often broke out into fevers, she had come to his new quarters to greet him as the new Peak Lord.

"Congratulations on your promotion, Mu Qingfang." She bowed to the man, dressed in beige robes and his sword hung on his belt.

He smiled at her. "Thank you, Shen-shimei. I suppose I do have to get used to being addressed as such." He closed the book he had previously been reading and gestured her to sit.

"I've never mentioned this to you before, but have you ever wondered how you were picked?"

She rose a brow in surprise, leaning forward the slightest as she shook her head. "This shimei has always wondered, but is thankful enough to not question why."

Hearing this made the man only smile with a hint of amusement. "You were picked because I asked our old Shizun to choose you."

Shen Yù froze, mouth agape as she stared at him. "W-what?" Her voice cracked, some of her vulnerability leaking through as the words processed inside her head. Mu Qingfang...asked for her to be picked?

"Why? Surely you know this shimei lacked more than the others." Words blurted out before she could stop and quieted down afterward.

"On that day, I saw you digging that hole with determination. Clearly, you wanted to become a cultivator for some purpose, did you not? You did not let your flaws hold you back, and I respected you as a shixiong."

Sucking in a breath, she bowed her head. "Thank you, Mu-shixiong! I-I don't know how I can repay you." Tears were beginning to gather at the outer corner of her eyes and she rubbed them.

"Simple, you can repay me by secluding yourself in the Ling Xi caves for five years." All of this was said with a vague smile and she could only stare at him.

"What?"

"From what I've heard, you've almost reached Mid-Core Formation. A bit lacking for a senior disciple, but understandable because of your health condition." He gingerly reached over to grasp her hand. "So I ask that you repay me by reaching the next stage in Core Formation, even better if you can reach Late-Core Formation by the end of these five years."

She sharply exhaled, shoulders tensed as she forced a mask of calm on her face. Five years? Surely he's not serious?

"Or," he paused, letting her focus on him once again, "you can travel across Cang Qiong Peak and collect rare herbs for me. Some of these will require you to reach Mid-Core or Late-Core Formation, so you will be required to reach those stages as well." He watched as her face twitched and crumpled with each word, his smile softening.

"Perhaps you may even find your brother."

"Mu-shixiong-!" Her tears returned, face twisting into an ugly expression as she brought her hands to her face. "You...you would allow this disciple to...?"

Throughout the seven years of cultivating, she never once had the chance of visiting the other Peaks, unable to find her brother on Qing Cao Peak. No matter how many times she asked the precious Peak Lord for permission, she was always denied and given more manuals to study.

"It is up to you, Shen-shimei," he said humbly.

After minutes of crying and wiping her face, she clasped her together and bowed her head one final time. "This shimei will not disappoint you, Mu-shixiong," she replied gratefully.

Then, in a softer tone, she said, "Thank you, Qing-ge."

It was the next day that she bid her goodbyes to all her shixiongs and shimeis, a spark in her eye as she carried her satchel and stepped onto her flying sword Yuán Fèn.

Chapter Text

There so very few things in Yue Qingyuan's life that truly mattered to him.

>

A child's face stares up at him, tears dripping down his pudgy cheeks as he clung to the wailing infant.

"Don't take her away, Qi ge! Please," he begged, scuffling away from his open arms. "You can't take away Mei mei."

"I won't," he promises, crouching so that he could hug the boy and their newest addition. "This gege will protect the two of you."

<

Standing in front of him is the same person who once called him Qi ge. Instead of a face that once held desperation and tears in his eyes, Shen Jiu's lips twist into a snarl, his face coated in dirt and ponytail loose. His eyes narrowed into slits, resembling a cat when provoked.

"You," he spits out with sharp venom and Yue Qingyuan merely takes one step back. The feral expression on his face reminds him of a wounded animal, and his heart sinks

"Xiao Jiu," he attempts to coax and jumps away from the swing of a sword.

"How dare you! How dare you!" Shen Jiu continues to swing, sparks of Qi flickering in the space around the two. "You have no right to call me that. Leave!" He nearly shrieks, and each time Yue Qingyuan only dodges, his heart sinking further until it downs in regret.

"I'm sorry, Shen Jiu," he no longer attempts to hide his remorse, expression ugly as he stops in the middle of Shen Jiu's swing.

"I'm sorry," he repeats again and again, unflinching as his neck stings and dirt flies at him.

The male before him trembles, teeth gritting as he throws down his sword and instead decides to punch the other in the chest.

"Shut up. Do you think apologizing will fix anything?" There was a crack in his voice, and his punches gradually lessen.

"Why should you, a man who has been blessed with cultivation and his own Sect, apologize to scum like me?" He emphasizes the last word with a hard punch that causes Yue Qingyuan to stumble even further.

"Give it back to me," he demands, grabbing a fistful of the male's prestige robes.

"Give back everything you've stolen from me." His rage shimmers away from his face and leaves him physically drained, more cracks spreading across the mask he so carefully placed to hide the void inside his chest.

"Give back my Mei mei to me."

Yue Qingyuan's next words die out like a flame, his face paling as the male drops and rest his hands over his face.

"On that night, you promised to take us away. You could've taken her from that hellhole but you let her stay behind to rot with me and you-" there's a hitch in his breath, voice choking as he exhales.

"You think your words are enough to be forgiven? You abandoned us." He laughs, bitter and cold as he sits there before him.

The dread that travels down Yue Qingyuan's spine shoots up his throat and he forced himself to ask, "What happened?" The scenery around him spins, only focusing on his Xiao Jiu.

At this point, Shen Jiu stopped trembling and did not speak for a while.

"What happened?" He repeated, slowly lifting his head to stare him down with haunted eyes. "You..." he stops and instead starts with a question.

"Did you know that Qiu Jianluo loved alcohol? Every night when he came to beat me, cut me-," he swallowed before continuing, "there would always be the wretched stench of alcohol on him."

Yue Qingyuan said nothing, his heart hammering in his chest.

"One night, he..." he stops, mouth opening and closing several times as his eyes lowered. "He said, 'If I ever hear about you wanting to escape, I'll wring your precious sister's neck.'" His voice matches the same tone of malice behind those words and gives Yue Qingyuan goosebumps.

"Qiu Jianluo...he.." his mind blanks, as the other male jerks at his words.

Shen Jiu's shoulders began to shake, breathless and choking as he throws his head back, staring at the vast blue sky.

Finally, he catches his breath and finishes quietly, suffocating Yue Qingyuan's heart even further as he realizes there are tears rolling down the sides of his face.

"It was morning when I found her ashes." The words echoed in his head as he thinks. I failed I failed I failed I-

It explained why he came to the burnt remains of the Qiu mansion, why there was no Xiao Jiu and...

His breath stops short as his legs collapse from all the weight that builds upon his shoulders.

You'll truly come back? For me and Ge ge?

I do.

Can you promise me that?

I did...I...

I'm sorry

This Qi ge was too late to rescue the two of you. He weeps and stabs his own heart again and again.

In the end, he was only able to save himself.

----

Yue Qingyuan greets the new Peak Lord of Qian Cao, stepping into the room with graceful steps.

"Mu-shidi, how are things as of today?" He asks, taking a seat before the man. Throughout the past few days, he has traveled from Peak to Peak to officially welcome the newest Peak Lords.

Mu Qingfang looks away from the medical book in his lap and offers a humble greeting. "Zhangmen-shixiong, this shidi is humbled to have you visit. I've been doing well."

He moves to pour tea for the two of them, setting the teapot down gently with nimble fingers. "Is there something bothering you, shixiong?" Mu Qingfang stares at the notable lines of stress that build up once he asks that question.

Yue Qingyuan, whose heart drowns every day, had recently left from Qing Jing Peak and angered the newly appointed Lord, Shen Qingqiu, once more.

The man merely smiles, albeit weakly. "It is nothing for Mu-shidi to gloss over. I am merely...exhausted."

"So it seems," Mu Qingfang agrees without trouble, dropping his gaze to the table. "That reminds me, I figured it'd be best to inform you that I have sent a disciple out to collect rare herbs for me. She will be traveling for quite a bit, so to speak. About five years."

Yue Qingyuan nods in affirmation. "That is quite a surprise. You must value this disciple to send her on such a long journey. May I ask what her name is?"

"Her name is Shen Yù, a bright disciple indeed," he does not see the way Yue Qingyuan halts and continues, "she has been a disciple here for nearly a decade. She is very dedicated in her cultivation, which is also why I sent her out." Mu Qingfang smiles fondly as the cup in the Sect Master's hand shatters.

Yue Qingyuan paid no attention to the shards of porcelain in his hand, instead, he relaxed his grip and stood up from the table. "Excuse me, Mu-shidi, I'm afraid I'm not feeling well. I will be returning to Qiong Ding Peak."

"Zhangmen-shixiong! You are bleeding." Mu Qingfang stares shocked but watches cautiously as the man leaves without another word.

Did he perhaps know his shimei? He thinks but makes no further assumptions. It would be best to not provoke the Sect Master.

His thoughts quickly drift to Shen Yú and sighs. "By now, she should be in Zui Xian Peak," he says to himself before remembering the mess on the table.

"Ah."

----

Yue Qingyuan's head throbs, his focus wavering as he flies over the Twelve Peaks of Cang Qiong Sect.

Shen Yù. The name echoes in his mind and he remembers.

I promise. I promise. I promise. I failed.

Before he even realizes, Xuan Su drifts and gravitates him towards Qing Jing Peak. It is only when the sword plops onto the ground that he takes notice of his surroundings.

Around him lies the familiar scene of bamboos, nearby is the bamboo house that Shen Qingqiu resides in. He swallows down the dry feeling in his throat, trembling as he sheaths Xuan Su in his belt.

"You." It is Shen Qingqiu that descends from the top of the mountain, eyes trained on him with hate. The rest of his face is obscured by a paper fan, but Yue Qingyuan knows there is a snarl.

"I thought I told you to leave," he spits, not sparing another glance at the Sect Master. "You've overstayed your welcome, Zhangmen-shixiong."

"Xiao Ji-," Yue Qingyuan falters when the other bristles. "Apologies, Qingqiu-shidi. I..."

He wants to hug his Xiao Jiu and tell him, that Shen Yù, A-Yù is alive. He wants to apologize over and over again, this time telling the truth. But he restrains himself, full of guilt and regret as he thinks back to that day in the woods. Never had he seen Xiao Jiu so broken, and it scared him.

He would wish to never see his Xiao Jiu so broken ever again if it meant hiding the possibility of Shen Yù living. 

"Well?" Shen Qingqiu edges him to continue and Yue Qingyuan's heart continues to waver between lying and telling the truth. (How long will he hurt his Xiao Jiu?)

"This...this shixiong assumed he had dropped something. I will be going now," the lie is bitter on his tongue and turns away before Shen Qingqiu can see the crack on his own mask.

Instead of flying on Xuan Su, he walks and climbs down the trail until he goes past the entrance to Qing Jing Peak and onto the Rainbow bridge that connects all twelve Peaks.

It was him who was truly trash.

Chapter Text

Shen Yù had managed to collect herbs from four of the Twelve Peaks in a span of a month. Did Mu-shixiong really believe it would take 5 years? She thinks, black lines on her face before she sighs. "I really shouldn't overthink this."

"Rather..." she stared down at the jugs of Emperors Wine. Having returned from Zui Xian Peak, she was gifted with two jugs filled to the brim with 'the best alcohol you'll ever taste!'

Should I go back to Qian Cao Peak? Carrying these two jugs would limit her mobility and if she returned so soon, she'd imagined the talk between her martial brothers and sisters. From the top of the mountain, her gaze lowered and landed upon Shuang Hu city.

"Ah, maybe I could visit Madam Xue," she said absentmindedly, "it's been years since I last visited." Making up her mind, she fixed her grip on the two wines and flew onto Yuán Fèn.

Arriving just outside the border of the town, she places her sword in her belt and walks. It doesn't take long for her eyes to wonder before spotting the familiar building. Her footsteps hit the ground with vigor, stopping only when her nose nearly hit the door. Catching her breath, she slowly opened the door.

"Welcome." A woman humbly greets her, dressed in shades of red and pink. "How may I be of service today?"

Shen Yù stares more closely at the woman, recognizing her round cheeks and delicate voice. "Hui-jie?" She slowly beckons, smiling once the woman openly gapes.

"Shen Yù! You've grown so much," the older woman speaks with emotion, dropping her gentle facade as she steps closer.

Shen Yù quickly places the jugs down before hugging Huifang. "How is everything? Is Madam Xue doing well?"

Huifang nods, pulling back to resume a graceful posture. "She mainly stays in the teahouse, but I know she'd be very delighted to see little jade once more. Come." She beckons her to follow, casually throwing a glance at the discarded wines. "You can leave those, one of the other girls will take them."

The two walk through the back door, greeted by the smell of scented flowers and bamboo. They travel up the stairs to a room that smells of lavender and Hui politely knocks.

"Madam Xue, I've brought a special guest," Huifang said softly. There's a brief silence and Shen Yù hears a muffled voice, old and weak. "Come in. Show me this guest."

Huifang looks to her with an encouraging nod, and Shen Yù slowly opens the door.

"Madam Xue," she greets,  taking in the look of surprise on the woman's face.

----

Even though a month had passed, that did not ease the suspicion that stirred inside his chest. It was clear as water that Yue Qingyuan was hiding something. That man couldn't lie at all. 'Drop something' my ass!

The only thing that dropped was his respect for the man.

His lips thinned into a frown as he stepped inside the Warm Red Pavilion. Immediately, he directs his gaze to the two jugs of wine sitting before him. Squinting, he came to recognize the jugs from Zui Xian Peak. What would two jugs of Zui Xian wine be doing in a brothel?

A faint sound alerts him and he looks to see one of the women appear from the back. "Ah, welcome sir," the woman greets in a delicate voice. He faintly recognizes her, raising his fan to cover his face.

"How may this one be of service?"

"A room, the one closest to the back. I need some peace and quiet," he said after a moment of thinking, lazily fanning himself as the woman bows and momentarily leaves.

It doesn't take long for him to be sitting in a room as one woman plays the pipa and another has his head nestled in her lap, his hairpiece discarded to the side as long fingers strum through his hair. His thoughts drift, the tension in his body slowly evaporating as each cord of the pipa reverberates.

"What seems to be troubling this master?" The woman from earlier hums from above him.

His eyelids flutter, staying shut as he makes a noise of disinterest. "Nothing to be concerned of, simply a fool is all."

"Hmm, the same fool from before?"

"..." He doesn't answer, and she knows.

----

Shen Yù couldn't help but admit that she missed living in between the brothel and the tea house. It certainly brought good memories to mind.

She closed the back door behind her, noting that the two jugs were gone. "Maybe I should stay one night," she muses to herself, remembering Madam Xue's offer. "One night won't hurt."

She ascends the staircase, picking up the sound of a pipa. She faintly smiles, remembering the times she's performed with the other girls on stage. She starts humming, the same song she's always sung when her brother took shelter in the wine cellar with her.

She crosses the room where music flows from and steps into one of the few private rooms that only wealthy people can afford. She doesn't notice that the pipa stops or the footsteps that step out from that room.

"Sir?" She stops humming once she hears Huifang down the hall. She listens closely, wondering if there was a customer causing trouble. It remains quiet for a while before Shen Yù picks up on another voice.

"...no, it's nothing." The man's muffled voice sounded pleasant, a vibe of calm in his tone but she could easily pick up the agitation that lingered underneath. It's familiar, despite not seeing the man.

"Thank you for the service," he grimly says, and the sound of money hits her ears before footsteps fade away.

She shook her head, knowing to mind her own business and started unpacking her sword and satchel. She'd only begun taking off her boots when Huifang knocked on the door. "Little jade?"

"Come in," she called back, turning to smile at the woman.

"I hadn't realized you'd be staying, I could've prepared a bath and everything," the woman frets, making the younger woman laugh.

"It's fine, Hui-jie. You've done enough in the past." She pauses, lips briefly parting. All of a sudden, she felt nervous as well as curious. "Who was that man?"

Huifang blinked and smiled apologetically. "I'm afraid our customer is a private one, he likes to be kept discreet and treats all of us with respect," she said fondly. "Not at all like most of the men who come by for company. Is there a reason you asked?"

"Hmm," Shen Yù averts her gaze to the floorboards. "That man...it feels like I know him from somewhere, but I can't..." she exhales slowly, furrowing her brows at the unfamiliar feeling that begins to settle in her chest.

"His voice was just how I imagined my brother's voice sounded like," she finally said, placing a hand over her heart. Her fingers feel for the small indent of her blue cloth, slowly easing her nerves. She's always imagined how Shen Jiu would be during the years she searched. Would he be any different from the Gege she grew up with? 

Huifang stares at her with sympathy, moving to pat her on the head. The hand that rests on top of her head freezes for a moment and tilts Shen Yú's face towards her own.

"Huifang?" Shen Yù finds herself being scrutinized by her, the woman's eyes looking over every detail of her face. Finally, she spoke.

"I do not know his name, but he wears the robes of a cultivator from Qing Jing Peak."

"Perhaps it would be best to confirm tomorrow."

Shen Yù shifts to stare at her, her hand wavering before a smile blossoms on her anxious face.

"Thank you." Her heart pounds heavily.

One step closer.

Chapter Text

Instead of sleeping, she finds herself restless. Twisting and turning in bed as she thinks of him. So many nights she's imagined him, tall and dressed in clean clothes, no more marks on his body, no more limp in his step because he can stand proudly now. Unchained and healthy, and breathing--

Tomorrow would be the day, it sinks in. Her lips wobble at those words and press the back of her hands against her moist eyes. She swallows the large bump in her throat and wills herself to calm down, closing her eyes shut as she falls into another dream.

When she wakes up the next morning, she finds there are tear stains on her cheek and drool trailing down one side of her mouth. Hastily, she stumbles out of bed and almost trips over the fallen Yuán Fèn. She sucks in a breath and exhales slowly.

"You have time," she says to herself getting dressed, visibly calmer. That doesn't stop her from jumping out the window and flying on her sword, an ever so placid smile on her face as she heads to Qing Jing Peak.

At the speed she went, she was nearly halfway to the Peak when she spotted the large masses trailing downward. Her brows furrowed in confusion and she slowed herself. Where was everyone going?

Following the group of Qing Jing disciples and the carriage in front, she hovered not too far or too close. Enough to remain hidden for the moment.

It was then her eyes trailed over several of the disciples, heart in her throat as she searched for anything familiar.

Too young, she thought with dismay. None of the male disciples could've been her brother. Her eyes float over to the carriage just as it halted to a stop. Having a quick look around, she finally realized what was happening.

Today was the day that each Peak Lords would select new disciples.

She nervously bit her lip, spotting her own Peak in the distance as she wavered between staying and going.

"It's you," a voice called from below.

Shen Yù snapped out of her thoughts, throwing a quick glance down. Not far from her location were the disciples from Bai Zhan Peak. In the center of them stood a tall male, his features matching one of a prince and-

Her mind stuttered and she quickly lowered herself to the ground, sheathing her sword onto her belt. "Liu Xing! It's been a while," she smiled at the male, earning a grunt in response as he stomped over.

Then, she flinched as something entered her vision, blinking. Oh.

It was the same fan she lost years ago. Did he keep it this entire time?

"Next time I won't be returning it," he gruffly said, narrowing his eyes at her lack of response.

She couldn't help smiling, cheeks slightly flushed as she grabbed the fan from him and gently tucked it beside her sword.

"Thank you, Liu Xing." To her surprise, his neck began to turn red. Thinking she offended him, she quickly apologized.

"Ah! My apologies, you must go by another name now, right?" It wasn't easy to miss the distinctive difference between the robes of a Peak Lord and a disciple's. "Congratulations on becoming Peak Lord, it suits you." She added after a moment.

"Liu Qingge," he said.

She softly repeated after him, her smile widening. "It suits you, Liu-shibo."

He merely grunted once more, turning to walk back to his group. "Wait! Aren't you going to find a new disciple?"

"I have no need for another one," he answered confidently. "The ones I have are enough."

Unknown to them, the disciples of Bai Zhan Peak were gobsmacked to see their master make conversation with a female. Could she be their master's lover?

"Ah," she hummed, smiling at the man once more before heading to her own group. "Mu-shixiong," she greeted, clasping her hands together.

"Shen-shimei," he greeted back. "How are you?" He beckons her over to stand beside him.

"I've been good, Mu-shixiong," she paused, looking over the field, "I've finally reached Mid-Core Formation."

He made a noise of acknowledgment, patting her on the head. "Mu-shixiong!" She squeaked, her cheeks easily reddening. She quickly took out her fan and covered herself, biting the inside of her cheek as he merely chuckled at her.

"How goes the search for your brother?"

Of course, this easily brings her attention back along with the feeling in her chest. "I've recently learned that he resides on Qing Jing Peak."

"A disciple?" There's something strange in his voice, his expression calm yet...it flickers to uncertainty.

She shook her head, making him chuckle awkwardly as he slowly directly his gaze over to someone. She turns to look as well, breath caught in her throat as she takes in the sight of a male dressed in green robes and his hair elegantly pulled back. Immediately, her eyes swept over the details of his face: thin nose and lips, the slope of his cheeks and his sharp jaw.

It's him, she realized. Something wet trailed down her cheeks and she blinked, raising a hand to wipe away her tears.

He was right there. She could easily walk over and call out to him, but...

She swallowed, hyperaware of the others around them. Afterward, she thought to herself. Once he's done choosing.

This doesn't stop her from watching him, conversing with a younger female disciple who smiles eagerly and walks onto the field.

She lets out a shaky breath and turns away, briefly making eye contact with another man before she goes to mingle with her other disciples.

I can wait

----

Yue Qingyuan is sure he's going to faint, the voices of his own disciples deafening as he stares at the female disciple.

It's her, a voice whispers, relieved and happy. She's alive and breathing. Shen Yù is -

He stumbles back, catching himself before he could bump into someone. His eyes never leave her face as she smiles, eyes brights and lively as she greets other disciples. The dimple on her right cheek and the way she holds herself is too uncanny. Her laughter is the same, gentle and carefree and she's alive alive alive -

He directs his gaze to Shen Qingqiu, who appears bothered but ignorant of her presence. He swallows, the terrible feeling of guilt rising as his expression crumbles behind his hand.

I'm sorry.

----

It was noon when all twelve Peaks began to disperse. She cast one last look to her master, feeling ease from his knowing smile.

She mounts Yuán Fèn and follows after the disciples of Qing Jing Peak.

It is not so hard to spot him after they reach the mountain, his disciples returning to their lessons and he makes his way to a house made of bamboo. Her heart races with adrenaline, and she lowers herself to a stop.

She doesn't bother sheathing her sword, taking two steps forward and knocked.

"Who is it?" Her brother's voice snaps and she shudders, her eyes moist as she opens the door.

The inside of the house is dark, illuminated from the outside as she squints and finds the male sitting on his bed.

He jeers at her, unable to properly see her face. "Who sent you?"

"It's me, Gege," she answers softly, voice trembling as she steps closer. He stiffens, the hand on his sword trembling.

"What...did you say?" He sounded faint, not processing her words clearly.

She steps closer and closer until she kneels before him. "Please, Gege, it's me." She choked on a sob, tears feverishly running down her face. She raises a hand to clutch his sleeve around the same time he raises his own -

 And slaps her. She freezes, stunned as her cheek begins to tingle.

"She's dead." His words are empty and cold, eyes glaring down at her shivering form. There is rage filling in his veins because how dare this woman claim to be his sister. He is no fool, he's seen with his own eyes and grief that all that remained of was her ashes.

"How dare you." He pays no mind to the air that shifts, spiritual energy building up to the point that it cackled in the air, snapping at its surroundings.

Her eyes lift to meet his in panic. "You're going into Qi deviation!" She stumbles, standing to place a hand on his chest and instead finds her wrist grabbed.

"You think you can waltz in here and play pretend? What did you expect, you wrench?" He growls, quickly seizing her neck in one fluid movement.

She gasps, the movement of her throat constricted as fear begins to settle.

"I'm no fool to cling to such false hope."

Chapter Text

Her eyes widen, lips moving to speak but only wheezes come out. "Ge..." she struggles to speak out, heart racing as he only tightens his grip. But she knows she can't blame him for the way he is.

Because he's always been the one who always fought for both of them.

<

"Ge ge!" A much younger Shen Yù coughed from the cloud of dust that arose when Shen Jiu kicked at a wooden basin. As a result, it landed back down with a 'thump' and caused dirt to fly. Being the youngest slave of the group, she stuck to her brother and ended up inhaling some.

The boy paid her no mind, crossing his arms in an indignant manner as he glared at the older boy before them.

"Shen Jiu! You don't own this street, stop kicking us off!" The other boy cried, more confident than the rest who lingered behind.

Shen Jiu refused, throwing a hand over his sister protectively. "I told you to scram! This is mine and A-Yù's spot!"

He crouched low, grabbing a brick in his hand as he lightly shoved Shen Yù aside. "I'll kill you all!"

>

He was the one who always came to rescue her.

<

Shen Yù looked around in panic as the sound of hooves came upon her and her brother was nowhere in sight.

"Ge ge?" Upon the noise, many were scrambling to get off the streets and she found herself shoved against the boy previously arguing with her brother.

"What's happening?" She asked, tugging on the boy's sleeve anxiously. She was ignored, the boy pushing her aside to confront the young master on the horse.

"You! Who gives you the right to drive people off the street-"

She was shocked to see a black blur hit the boy in the face, paling at the sight of blood as the boy collapsed backward. Stunned into silence.

On her right, she heard the faint laughter of her brother, but her eyes had begun trailing up to meet the young master's gaze in fear.

He sneered, raising his whip high in the air.

"Mei mei!"

She raised her arms in defense, choking on a wail as a sharp pain spread across her arms.

There was another scream that joined alongside her, slender arms scooping her up as she cried.

Soon after, the master's horse bucked and kicked its two front legs in a wild frenzy.

Through her tears, she saw her brother standing behind the horse. A blood-soaked blade in his hand before he quickly hid it.

>

It is because of her...

"Don't call me that!" He snaps, shaking with each heavy breath like a dog foaming at the mouth.

Tears slid down her cheek and onto his hand, the girl smiling as she places a trembling hand against his chest. "It's okay...ge...you..." her words are short and choppy, hoarse from the pressure against her throat. Looking at him with soft eyes, she sends a large burst of spiritual energy that quickly suppresses his own chaotic energy and dispersed it.

That he has suffered so much.

She sucks in as much air as she can once his fingers loosen and falls onto the ground, harsh coughs racking her body. She squeezes her eyes shut, curling into herself as the memory plays in her head.

Gege Gege Gege Gege- Her head pounds, painfully gasping with each intake of air as she feels invisible hands squeeze tighter.

----

Shen Jiu stumbles onto the bed, finally with clear conscious. "You..." his voice, usually cold and aloof, wavers as he brings a hand to his face. The burst of spiritual energy from her palm washed over him 

"You died...why..." he grits his teeth, brows pinched as he sits on the bed. Something wet trickles down his face and pays no attention.

"Why must you haunt me?" He lets out an empty laugh, his head tilted toward the ceiling.

(Even as a Peak Lord, he is ashamed to face his sister.)

"Is this my punishment? To be reminded of my failure?" His words turn bitter and resigned, disheveled strands of hair falling over his shoulder as he dips his head to look at her. Dark shadows cast over his face, only highlighting the fatigue that finally eats at his mask.

(He was no different, no matter how much he struggled to succeed nor how much his sister believed in him.)

His eyes cling to her neck, splattered in splotches of red and purple that form the shape of his hand.

(He had promised to never lay a hand on her)

He lets out a sigh, his eyes closing as he remembers that day.

The seething rage that burned beneath his veins.

(Animal, a voice taunts)

Blood coating the walls of every room he attacked.

(Filthy)

His sister's ashes in the furnace and the blue cloth.

(Weak weak weak weak weak)

Burnt, dirty, ripped, unclean unclean unclean uncle-

(A permanent stain on his sister)

In the end, he was no better than Qiu Jianluo.

"Gege," she croaks, finally lifting her eyes to meet his. "I'm sorry."

Her eyes are filled with pain and guilt, her gaze lowering as her lashes flutter. Another wave of tears cascade down her flushed cheeks, her voice cracking.

"This Mei mei never wanted to leave you. I...I always looked for you, throughout those years," she uttered softly, managing a smile despite her tears.

"I was so determined to find you again, I wanted to be strong enough to protect you this time and I...I hurt you once more because of my ignorance."

He stares down at her, his expression cold as he shields himself behind a paper fan.

"If you're truly sorry, then leave and never come back." His mask, though cracked, never truly left his face. His words were cold and untouched.

(He couldn't afford to be vulnerable, just like all those other times.)

"I never want to see you again."

He watched through half-lidded eyes as she stiffened and slowly eased with resignation.

Slowly, she stands with shaky limbs and smiles at him one last time. Reaching for his hand, she gently kissed the tips of his fingers with delicacy before lowering it.

Giving one last squeeze, she folded his hand onto his lap and said, "I'll always be waiting."

He looks down at his hand for a long time, even after his sister is long gone and the sun finally sets. Finally, he uncovers his hand and finds himself staring at the familiar blue cloth. 

He scoffs, barely swallowing down the bile that rises up his throat before slowly tucking it into his robe.

Silly girl.

Chapter Text

She can't stop the tears that fall, her sleeves wet and cheeks red from vigorously wiping her face. She shuddered, resting her head against a thick stock of bamboo as she stared up at the moon. She couldn't find the strength to leave yet, not wanting to risk being caught in her current state. Hiding away like a child, she thought absentmindedly.

Her ears picked up the sound of feet walking up the dirt path that led to the bamboo hut and turned. Squinting, she saw the silhouette of a young male. Most likely a disciple of her brother's.

As he passed by her spot, he stopped.

Not at all prepared, she froze under his gaze the moment he turned to face her. Even as she sat under the shadow of tall bamboos, that didn't mean she was completely hidden. His eyes were completely black but shined under the light of the full moon like two bright balls of obsidian. Her breath hitched, quickly turning away to hide her face.

She wasn't sure why, but...he felt...familiar.

"Are you okay?" She stiffened at the concern in his words, half expecting him to run and alert the others of an intruder. Thankfully, he stayed rooted in his spot and merely looked over her. More specifically, her neck.

Flinching, she hid the bruised skin under her sleeve and said, "This shijie is fine, I am merely...resting. I'll be on my way soon."

The disciple's lips lowered into a frown, not fully believing her but relented after a moment of contemplating.

"This...this shidi will return with medicine."

"Wait!" She called out, coughing as he turned to leave. "Thank you for your concern, but it won't be necessary," she said slowly, her voice rasping with each exhale. She cleared her throat, keeping her face resigned.

"I'm afraid I've troubled this shidi. May I...know your name?" The question passes through her lips without a second thought, her thoughts blank as she stares at him.

He was someone...someone she knew, no, knew of. But from where?

The disciple looked surprised, though quickly regained composure as he bowed his head and clasped his hands. "This disciple's name is Luo Binghe."

Luo Binghe

The name rings in her head. A monotone voice is quick to invade her range of hearing.

[System Activation code: Luo Binghe. Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!]

She winces, grabbing at her ears as a transparent screen appears before her.

"What...?" What on earth is a System?!

[You have unlocked the main protagonist Luo Binghe! As promised, for achieving this goal, we will now begin re-installing (Shen Yuan Memory file)!]

"Shijie...?" She jerks away from the screen, meeting the concerned eyes of Luo Binghe through the text before her.

[Downloading begins in 10...]

"E-excuse me." She doesn't comprehend standing up, her legs trembling as she steps onto Yuán Fèn and ascends. She doesn't hear him call after her, or the lack of weight on her being.

[...5...]

Every turn she makes, the screen follows. It's impossible to see where she's going. And then, a sharp pain crawls up her head and-.

She doesn't comprehend falling, only registering the throbbing pain that pulses through her body before darkness.

[...download pending...1%]

----

She finds herself standing in a room filled with strange furniture. On the walls are pictured with strangers dressed in even odder attire.

"Hey, sis! Did you find it yet?" A young, female voice calls out from behind the door.

She barely manages to turn around when the doorknob twists open and she finds herself face to face with a young girl. The girl huffs, face scrunched into a pouty expression as she stomps past her to grab something off what she recognizes to be a shelf.

"Were you reading your web novel again, Shen Yuan? I thought you promised to sing with me." The girl's voice is teasing, her eyes a warm tone and lips curling up to an impish smile.

She misses this smile, her heart fluttering as her own lips stretch to smile back and-

She blinks, unable to speak as she finds herself outside. The sky is dark, filled with towering buildings that glitter under the moonlight.

Shen Yua-

Shen Yù jolts at the sound of a click, her head swerving to face a tall who sitting beside her. The cold air bites at her face, her breath visible as it comes out in small amounts.

The male turns to face her, his face slender and eyes curling upward. He vaguely reminds her of Mu Qingfang.

"What's on your mind?" His voice is gentle and coaxing. "You know you can tell this big bro anything."

Who are you?

She merely watches as he raises a cylinder-shaped beverage to his lips and tilts back his head.

A shadow quickly towers over her, and she is stunned to see a stern face that loosens once meeting her gaze. "You two shouldn't be out here. The nurses are going crazy looking for her." The last sentence is directed at her 'brother,' who merely shrugs and twists the drink between his fingers. As if this isn't the first time.

"She said she needed some air."The other man's lips twitch, reminding her of Ge ge.

"Twenty minutes." His words aren't as cold as before. And he promptly turns on his heel to leave.

Her 'brother' laughs, light and airy. "Here that, A-Yua?. Twenty minutes to do whatever you want."

Twenty minutes is too short, she wants to say.

His face slowly melts away with the rest of her surroundings and she can't help reaching out a hand to him. Desperate and yearning-

Who am I?

She tumbles to the floor, landing before a bed. She hears the muffled gasps of a person, which for some reason fills her gut with dread.

She slowly stands, eyes trailing to see a young woman. Something dribbles down the sides of her mouth, eyes closed and body jerking.

She's choking, she realizes and reaches out a hand. And passes right through her convulsing form. Soon, the woman stills and lies there.

No

A tear slides down her cheek and she can't breathe because this wasn't supposed to-

"No no no no-!" She cries out, hands trying to grab the woman. Her arms. Her face.

"I'm not- No, I-" her words fumble, lungs gasping for air as she falls to the ground and finds herself pouring out the empty contents of her stomach.

She trembles, her eyes looking down at unfamiliar hands and a strange material wrapped around her.

I was...

She shudders, wrapping her arms around herself.

"It's you." It's her own voice that speaks out, but it doesn't come from her lips. It sounds more childish and younger.

She slowly turns to face a younger version of herself. Her child-self is small with thin limbs and disheveled hair, cheeks too flushed and eyes reflecting her own.

"You're that woman."

Shen Yù stares, confused and tired as the younger Shen Yù walks closer.

"Who am I?" Her voice cracks.

(A part of her already knows)

The girl smiles. "You're Shen Yuan. But at the same time, you're...me." There's a hint of sadness in her tone and a faraway look in her eyes.

"Why?" Shen Yuan doesn't understand anything, her head spinning as the original stops before her.

"Because I died." The hospital room fades to the wine cellar at the Qiu estate. Before the two are a mirage of Shen Yù in bed and Shen Jiu who crouches over her, wishing for her to wake up from her fever-induced coma.

"Ge ge did what he could. But I was too tired to hold on, too weak," she uttered, eyes beginning to grow misty.

"I didn't want to die yet. It isn't fair at all, to both of us."

"No," her own voice is faint, eyes trailing the scene before them. "It's not." This was when she first transmigrated.

"But there's a reason why you're still here, right?" Shen Yuan said and turned to her, hoping for an answer.

The girl merely smiled.

"While my soul was slowly decaying, a part of it latched onto yours and so I was still able to remain," she explained, kicking away at the dirt. "That's because you had the system take most of your memories, barely leaving you a name to remember. And because of it, my memories started to overlap with yours, to make up what was whatever missing, or lacking."

Her smile dips lower into a considerate frown. "Perhaps that's why I can only remember parts of Ge ge and my death."

"I'm sorry." Shen Yuan trembles, trying to process everything all at once. "I'm sorry."

I didn't want this, goes unsaid.

"I know." Her attention is turned elsewhere, eyes staring into the back of Shen Jiu as tears slide down her face. It is then that Shen Yuan notices the transparency of the other girl.

"Please, take care of him for me."

Shen Yuan moves to grab the girl, lips parting to say "You can't-"

"I believe in you, Shen Yuan...Thank you."

Her eyes, so full of pain and hope, are the last thing Shen Yuan sees before Shen Yù fades to dust.

And she feels empty.

Goodbye.

----

Shen Yù takes in a large breath of oxygen, chapped lips smacking against one another as her eyes are forcibly open. Above her lies the sky and trees that enter from the edge of her peripheral sight.

The System lets out a ring, making her head pound.

[Download of (Shen Yuan's memory file) is now complete! Complete overdrive of Shen Yu is now complete! Would you like to view your B-points?]

"Go away!" She snaps at the screen, angrily tapping at the exit button. Her anger barely lessens once the screen shrinks to nonexistence and she sits up, her hands moving to feel the back of her head. To her dismay, she finds a decent-sized gash along with dried blood that clumped up her hair.

None of this eases the guilt.

Shen Yù is gone.

She takes in a shuddering breath, fists clenching.

It's not fair at all.

Chapter Text

It has been a year and Shen Yù finds herself occasionally visiting Luo Binghe while at the same time hiding from Shen Qingqiu. The first time she visited was on a whim because holy shit she wasn't supposed to meet the protagonist yet and fucked up everything so let's just screw it up more.

>

She had visited in the dead of night, finding the protagonist huddling in the small woodshed. The door creaked once she pushed it open and she has to take a moment to admire the protagonist.

Even if his face was bruised and cut up, his golden halo maintained his beauty!

"Luo Binghe?" The teen flinches at her voice, slowly lifting his head to meet her gaze.

Truly the protagonist of a stallion novel!

His eyes seemed even brighter than before, despite a rough session of being beaten by his martial brothers. She shivered, knowing he would eventually blacken and take revenge against his past tormentors while she...

She was meant to become a part of his harem whether it be his first wife or one of the other three-digit numbers. Harem or not, she won't be taking his sky-pillar any day!

"It's you...that shijie from before," he falters, seeming to remember something unpleasant.

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hold onto your fan," he said with remorse, surprising her.

She blinked, moving to grab the empty spot on her belt. Oh.

"It's fine," she said, moving to kneel beside him. He jumps at this, quickly straightening his back.

"Where does it hurt?" She makes a bold move, placing her hand over his cheek to send a small amount of Qi. It washes over his skin like a breeze, tingling over his bruises. It feels warm and welcoming.

It's the first time he's ever felt anything like this. He can't help but lean closer, his eyelids fluttering as the sensation stops. Any closer and he'd be pressed against her shoulder.

"Feeling more at ease now?" Shen Yù smiled, eyes overlooking his face and other exposed skin despite the flush on her cheeks. You're too close! Get back!

"I know we don't know one another very well, so I'll just leave this here." She wasn't going to strip him just to find some more bruises!

She shifts away from the male, digging a hand through her satchel to pull out a small vile of medicine.

"It's not much, but there won't be any marks the next morning if you apply it tonight."

"Thank you." His words are wobbly and sincere, tears forming at the corner of his eyes. "May I know your name?" He looks at her hopefully, a small smile forming on his cut lip.

Too much! He truly was like a fluffy white sheep! She can't resist leaning forward to pat his head, fingers weaving through smooth strands.

Fluffy, indeed!

"Ah." She falters, drawing her hand back with a cough.

"I go by Shen Yù." The name is bittersweet on her lips, but she can't bear to discard the name.

<

She finds herself hiding behind a tree, listening to several boys beat up Luo Binghe as Ning Yingying protests.

"System?"

[How may the System offer assistance, host?]

"Will B-points be deducted if I intervened?"

[The intervention of Shen Yú is not prohibited, but may cause instability to the original storyline.]

Her lip twitched. "But I already screwed the plot over, haven't I?" After all, she had met the protagonist one year early!

[...]

She reaches up to pluck several leaves off of a branch and exits the screen. Pouring a bit of Qi from her fingertips, she gracefully throws them into the open air. She lets out a satisfied hum when she hears the panicked voices of the disciples.

"What is this!?"

"My cheek stings!"

"It must be Luo Binghe!" Oops, that's...not good at all.

"A-Luo doesn't have anything sharp on him! It wasn't him so give back his jade guanyin!" Ning Yingying cried out, stomping her foot. Yes, Ning Yingyng! Defend your future husband!

Ming Fan clicks his tongue in disappointment. "It's just a fake. If he wants it so bad, then he can have it!" Instead of throwing it to its original owner, the fake jade guanyin soars through the air and out of sight.

Ming Fan, you really are ensuring a slow and painful death!

That was when Shen Yuan decided to step in. And, much to her surprise, so did Shen Qingqiu.

He merely passes her a glance, face unpleasant as he took in the sight before him. "What is the meaning of all of this? Do you wish for Qing Jing Peak to be ridiculed by the other Peaks?" He demands, eyes narrowing at the sight of Luo Binghe before turning to the others.

"For such insolence, you all will run 30 laps around Qing Jing Peak. Ning Yingying, return to the dorms and review your manuals."

His eyes move over to her, making her freeze before she can take a step back. "You," he says after a moment of contemplating. "Follow me."

"Ge ge," she falters, falling silent as he turns to glare at her and then Luo Binghe, who had moved to stand and most likely try and find his jade pendant.

"And you. Don't move until I say so."

The walk to the Bamboo house is silent and it's only when the two siblings settle inside that he breaks it.

"Why are you here? I thought I told you I never wanted to see you again."

She flinched at the sound of an object clattering before her and finds it to be her fan. Did he take this from Luo Binghe?

As if hearing her question, he leans forward with disdain. "How do you know that little beast? What is he to you?"

Her brows scrunched up, unsure how to tell her brother that for the past year she's been visiting his least-liked disciple and giving him medicine and head pats. But on the other hand, was he...being an overprotective brother questioning the boyfriend? Or in this case, questioning the little sister about the boyfriend?

They aren't even together! He's like a little brother! A brother!

"He's my martial brother, it's only natural to show some concern for a boy who is bullied by his peers," she said firmly.

He scoffs, taking a sip of his tea. "That little beast is merely toying with you. I don't want you around him any longer."

Her brow twitched at this. He really is like an overprotective brother!

"...and how will you ensure this?" She's almost too afraid to ask. Almost. Because surely he wouldn't go through such extremes even for a scm villian. But then again- She has to stop herself from remember the evil deeds of the original Shen Qingqiu because her Shen Qingqiu is not completely blackened!

Shen Qingqiu props open his fan with a single flick of his wrist, his own brows arching.

"You're to stay away from that thing and not speak to him. The moment you look at him, I'll have him kicked off Qing Jing Peak." He looks to her behind half-lidded eyes, daring her to protest.

"Okay," she pleasantly hums, reaching to grasp the wooden handle of her fan. "Only if you can ensure that Binghe won't be bullied or shunned from his studies."

His eye twitches with each word, his mood dampening further. "I refuse." His words end with a snarl and-

Her lip twitches, smiling sweetly at him without realizing. "Then no deal, Ge ge."

"..." After a long time of the two just sitting there, he averted her gaze and fell silent. She takes this as a sign of acceptance and sighs.

She opens her own fan, cooling herself as she leans back. A minute later, she says, "It's nice...being able to speak to you like this."

Her eyes slowly dart to the table where her own cup of tea lies, untouched. Her smile lessens but remains. "I...I really did miss you, Shen Jiu. Even if you forgot about me."

"Foolish."

Her eyes raised to stare at him confused. What?

"Do you think so little of me that I'd forget a nuisance such as yourself?" His words hold spite, but do not jab at her as much as they did before.

For the first time since seeing him, she finds that he is also not as tense.

"Hmm."

----

She decides to leave after bidding goodbye to her brother and digging through the forest to find the fake jade guanyin. Along the way, she silently passed a dejected-looking Luo Binghe.

She sighs, steadying herself on Yuán Fèn. "System?"

[How may the System be of service?]

She pursed her lips, hands securely wrapped around her satchel as she flies toward Shuang Hu city, the jade pendant securely tucked into one of her sleeve pockets. "How long until the Skinner event opens?"

[Invalid. We are unable to provide the inquired info. Would you like to view your B-points instead?]

"..." Stupid System needs an upgrade!

She twitches, then nods. "Sure."

[Currently you have earned 350points from:

- Acquired Key Item: Fake Jade Guanyin +200 points
- Relationship Build w/Shen Qingqiu +100 points
- Protagonist coolness points +10, +10, +10, +10, +10

In total, you have a number of 7,400 B points accumulated from over the past 13 years.]

She looks away from the screen, landing on the rooftop of the Warm Red Pavilion. Swiping the screen away, she sheathed her sword and stepped onto one of the vacant balconies. 

If she was going to play a part in this event, then she figured she'd at least place a few talismans around the brothel and the teahouse.

A little precaution never hurt anyone.