The young man who was known to a majority of the world as Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky was spending an evening like many evenings after he uploaded a chapter: refreshing the webpage and scouring through comments. He’d thought, once, that he’d lost his taste for them, filled with anon rancor and uncomfortable demands to give more details on whether one of Luo Binghe’s new concubines had her armpits showing as they were.
However, he returned to his old pastime because he was expecting a specific message that, sure enough, appeared in his inbox. It was a critique.
A scathing critique.
It was exactly what the young man wanted to see.
Despite the almost pinpoint accuracy he showed in hitting Airplane’s inner squishy weaknesses, this commenter, known by the handle Peerless Cucumber, was actually thoughtful in his responses. He never made outright vitriolic statements, and neither did he ask for gross details that he had a sinking feeling were jerking material. That said, he was writing a stallion harem novel, but too much was too much sometimes! Didn’t they realize an actual person was providing them the content they treasured and trashed?
That wasn’t to say Peerless Cucumber was ever especially kind in his reviews; far from it. However, he could always rely on him leaving a comment and writing about things that were actually relevant to the chapter. Though he gained more followers as Proud Immortal Demon Way ’s arcs became more and more convoluted narratively, it was nice to have the assurance that one reader was sticking to his work through thick and thin. To anyone else, it was probably pathetic that the one constant in Airplane’s life was a commenter on the web novel he posted online, but that was neither here nor there.
When he finished going over Cucumber-bro’s comment (he had taken to calling him “bro” to himself, though not in his responses, was that weird?), he turned off his monitor and went to bed. He never turned off his computer, (how else would he save all those tabs he kept open?); he made enough from writing now that he could keep the AC running as long as he lived off more affordable food, so there was no worry of it overheating. All in all, his biggest fear was that when he finally put an end to the monstrosity that was Proud Immortal Demon Way , he would have very little means of contact with the outside world. Which brought its own sense of existential dread, but it wasn’t unlike what he’d dealt with before.
He had no idea that his death, in a few weeks, would be because of that very same computer.
When he transmigrated to his novel, the man who was now known as Shang Qinghua had very little time for writing. When not desperately trying to juggle his dual job as An Ding Peak Lord and spy, and not die at the hands of his king and favorite character, Mobei Jun, (who was still his king, but maybe also something more, but Shang Qinghua was still kind of too terrified to ask--), he lived under constant threat of the whims of the everpresent “System.”
But with his System now dormant, his job as a spy no longer necessary with the influx of demon and human cultural exchange after the aborted apocalypse, and being able to manage the accounts of both Cang Qiong and the Northern Desert, his life was calming down, somewhat.
How strange: Shang Qinghua didn’t think he’d been fully calm for an age.
As a reflection of this, he began to have tea with fellow transmigrator, Peerless Cucumber. Maybe they were destined to be friends if they ended up in the same boat! Even though Shang Qinghua had been terrified of him for a long while due to him possessing the veneer of Shen Qingqiu. But having a fellow transmigrator to relate to, and discuss what they missed and didn’t miss about their world, was nice. Whether it was at An Ding, Qing Jing, or Luo Binghe’s underground palace in the Demon Realm, they made a regular thing of it. It helped that their respective… significant others worked together, to describe it broadly.
It was another funny connection: gay, and ended up with demon partners!
He was so calm, and so used to hanging out with the only guy he knew that was almost a friend, that he didn’t realize what he’d said in between the usual chatter.
“You’re thinking of writing again?” Shen Qingqiu said, cutting through his mind space that had now perfected thinking about five different things at once, to ensure him that, yes, he actually still sucked at that if he couldn’t control his mouth.
No use taking it back now. He wouldn’t let it go until he said it.
“Another stallion novel?”
Shang Qinghua snorted in disgust. “ No. I mean, like, just something for fun. Nothing to do with this place. At least, I hope not.”
Maybe he could go back to the writing he’d wanted to do for his first draft, but for a different world. He didn’t want to risk changing this one on accident. Not when he was starting to enjoy living in it.
Shen Qingqiu looked over at him, before unfurling his fan and covering the bottom half of his face as he fanned himself. “So, have any ideas?”
“How the hell did you last as a spy if you lie like that?”
Shang Qinghua groaned. “Look, remember the comments you used to leave? I liked getting them--”
“You l iked them?”
“You complained and yet read every chapter, you don’t get to accuse me of being a masochist!” Shang Qinghua fired back, before leaning back on his seat cushion with a grunt. “But, it’s been awhile, and… starting out, I think it would be better for me to just… free write for a bit, regain some confidence in my craft.”
Shang Qinghua half-expected a comment like “what craft?”, but, strangely enough, Shen Qingqiu nodded.
“Okay. I’ll wait until you’re ready, or until you publish, if you don’t want me to be an editor.”
Shang Qinghua’s mouth dropped, nearly spilling the tea he had begun to sip. “Wait, you will? After all your comments, I thought…”
“I like your concepts, your ideas, even if they get bogged down by plot holes and tertiary characters. Look, I married one. He’s very different from the book version, thank goodness, but… that doesn’t mean I hate your writing. I want to see you write without the threat of a deadline or some commentators trying to sway your outline. Whenever you're ready, you’re ready.”
Shang Qinghua had never heard the phrase “whenever you’re ready” before. It was always “update faster” or “meet your deadlines.” No one he thought was actually invested in his work ever told him that.
Maybe that was why the original novel went so far off the rails from his original vision? No wonder things ended up better for almost everyone when he wasn’t at the reins.
But… he didn’t have to worry about that now.
Now, if he really wanted to, he could just write for himself, and the people around him would be okay with it.
“Thank you, Cucumber-bro.” Shang Qinghua replied.
Shen Qingqiu shrugged, but his eyes closed, a faint gesture he was at peace. “...Sure.”
Eventually, he would write another novel.
And eventually, Shen Qingqiu would read it.
He would start with “It’s good, but--”
Then, Shang Qinghua would proceed to make half a dozen drafts, until both he and his self-appointed editor were content. Never too happy, but content. Shang Qinghua had learned now that when it came to publishing work, contentment was the most realistic goal to aim for.
When they were about to order reprints and start selling, Shen Qingqiu commented that it would be best for him to work under a pseudonym.
Shang Qinghua knew just the one. Dipping in his ink brush, he wrote a name he had almost forgotten, a name that he hadn’t been known by for years: his real one.
And, strangely enough, he was content with that name now too.