When his brother ascends, Shi Qingxuan thinks he’s finally free. Shi Wudu brings him up to the Middle Court and finally, he’s safe.
These days Shi Qingxuan can laugh again without fear clinging to him like a disease. Those months are some of the best of his mortal life.
It doesn’t last. He’s in the middle of meditating – his brother wants him to ascend and he wants to make his brother proud – when he hears a familiar voice in his ear.
“You will never become a god,” it says, the words sickly sweet.
At first, Shi Qingxuan tries to ignore it. He’s safe. He’s already in the Middle Court, already so close to being untouchable that he can taste it. It can’t hurt him anymore.
Then it gets worse, and every time he descends to cultivate it finds him.
Not long after that first time, he finally breaks down, clinging to his brother’s robes as if he still were a little child afraid of thunder and darkness.
It’s then when his brother tells him the truth.
That night, Shi Qingxuan weeps for the person he should have been, for the burden his brother tried to carry for the both of them and he swears that he will not give in.
In the end, he can’t outrun his fate. He has no family left in the mortal realm and their wealth long gone. There isn’t much left anymore that the demon can take from him.
He has only his life to lose.
The angry mob gets to him when his brother is facing his first heavenly calamity. It’s a case of mistaken identity, but no one cares enough to listen to his explanation. The crowd is out for blood and Shi Qingxuan already knows they won’t listen to him.
Resentment fosters in his heart.
There is no justice in this world. His brother’s words ring in his ears.
When Shi Qingxuan dies, his ghost clings to the world with stubborn determination. He won’t let anyone take what is rightfully his.
He won’t leave his brother to face the cruelty of fate on his own.
Shi Wudu finds him days later. His brother’s impeccable appearance is disheveled. There are dark circles under his eyes.
Shi Qingxuan knows he must have gone looking for him as soon as he passed his calamity. It doesn’t matter that it’s too late. It still fills his lifeless heart with warmth.
“What happened to you?” Shi Wudu asks, trembling with barely concealed rage. Shi Qingxuan smiles at his brother and reaches out to grasp his hands.
They are much warmer than before.
“Don’t worry, Ge. I will never leave you behind.”
Grim determination flashes in Shi Wudu’s eyes. “I will kill them,” he promises, his grip tightening. “I will make everyone pay.”
Shi Qingxuan only laughs. “I already did.”
He’s not cruel, he never saw himself as a murderer. But if he has to become a monster to stay by his brother’s side, he will.
He’s just another creation of fate, after all.
When Mount Tonglu opens, Shi Wudu makes up a flimsy excuse and rushes off to be by his side. His help is not needed, not anymore, but Shi Qingxuan appreciates the effort.
It’s been almost two centuries since his death and Shi Wudu has always been by his side. It’s no different now.
Shi Wudu might not be a martial god, but he’s a formidable enemy. Seeing him fight is awe-inspiring.
They part just when they reach the mountain. Shi Qingxuan knows his brother can’t follow him there. This is something he has to face on his own, a heavenly calamity of his own.
Gods and ghosts aren’t that different, after all.
He bids his goodbye and enters the mountain.
In his mind, there is no doubt he will make it. His brother might be strong, but Shi Qingxuan spent his years getting strong in his own ways.
Devouring others isn’t the most dignified thing to do, but Shi Qingxuan stopped caring about that long ago.
He needs the strength, for one day, he will take his revenge. The gentle breeze has long since become a deadly tempest.
Even as a Supreme, Shi Qingxuan tries to keep a low profile. He has no interest in getting dirt on his brother’s name and, as long as he doesn’t cause any real trouble, the Heaven Officials couldn’t care less about him.
It’s a pity that the same couldn’t be said for his own kind.
“Black Wind,” a voice calls out to him, and Shi Qingxuan turns around to face the ghost king that chased him down.
“Crimson Rain,” he returns the greeting, flipping his fan open to hide his tense smile. It’s a thinly veiled threat. It’s widely known how much damage he can cause with the innocent-looking device, a present from his dearest brother. “What do you want?”
The smugness in Hua Cheng’s smirk tells him he asked just the question the other wanted to hear. “I have a proposition,” the ghost king replies, “I believe we could help each other.” He pauses, and Shi Qingxuan has to admit that Crimson Rain knows how to get someone’s attention.
It’s a pity he doesn’t have the patience for Hua Cheng’s games. “Go on,” Shi Qingxuan demands, the wind picking up around him.
“I’ve found a way to infiltrate the Upper Court – and I need someone to fill that role for me,” Hua Cheng continues, his smile razor-sharp. “I believe you might be interested.”
Shi Qingxuan doesn’t freeze. He doesn’t give away his shock at the implication of the other’s knowledge. He snaps his fan shut and smiles back at Hua Cheng.
“You have my interest.”
A few years later, Shi Qingxuan finally ascends in the guise of the unfortunate Earth Master. Centuries ago, he would have balked at the idea of taking the place of someone else, if only temporarily.
Nowadays he just doesn’t feel anything about it anymore. He wonders what that says about him.
His brother doesn’t come to greet him, but that is to be expected. As far as everyone else is concerned, he’s never met the Water Master before. Someone else is waiting for him though, and Shi Qing Xuan almost takes a step back when he recognizes the fan in the stranger’s hand.
He suddenly feels naked without his own.
“Lord Earth Master,” the Wind Master greets him with a calm voice and a smile that’s barely there. “Welcome to the Upper Court.”
For a second, Shi Qingxuan is at a loss of what to do. He knew he would run into the Wind Master sooner or later. He just never expected the man to seek him out.
Before he can think of a reply, the man continues. “Let me show you around, it’s all a little confusing at first.”
Confused doesn’t even begin to describe it, but Shi Qingxuan finds himself being led away by the same man that once stole his fate to ascend.
Later, he learns that the Heavenly Emperor was the one that sent the Wind Master to greet him. It makes sense in a way, and he is almost relieved that He Xuan doesn’t seem to recognize him.
It’s an opportunity and Shi Qingxuan would be a fool not to take it. He latches onto He Xuan, clinging to the Wind Master’s side as he pronounces them best friends. His enthusiasm clearly startles the god, but He Xuan is too polite to shake him off. It’s his first mistake to indulge him that day.
Masquerading as a god is different from what Shi Qingxuan expected. He feels trapped in the confines of the Heavenly Capital. He’s not sure how his brother can even stand this life.
The Wind Master’s company proves a welcome relief to the boredom. He Xuan always ends up indulging him when he goes on trips to the mortal realm, and Shi Qingxuan readily takes advantage of that.
He’s not sure what the other gets out of their friendship. After all, He Xuan never seems exactly thrilled with his company, but he never turns him down either. Shi Qingxuan learns that He Xuan doesn’t care much for his fellow gods, keeping all of them at arm-length. Somehow, he allows Shi Qingxuan close.
It’s all just part of the plan, Shi Qingxuan tells himself as he invites He Xuan to join him for another dinner.
These days, hunger always gnaws at his insides, the food barely enough to fill him up. He Xuan never comments on his eating habits, accepting all of Shi Qingxuan’s odd tendencies easily.
He’s not what Shi Qingxuan expected, and he has to be a better actor than Shi Qingxuan himself.
But he won’t be fooled.
Decades pass and Shi Qingxuan settles into a life of lies with the ease of a fluttering breeze, making himself a home among all the gods. They are awfully arrogant, and his brother fits right in with the rest of them.
Shi Qingxuan is not sure what he thinks of the man he sees in the Upper Court. His brother has always been confident, his tongue sharper than a blade. Now, Shi Wudu is almost haughty, his eyes filled with contempt and Shi Qingxuan isn’t sure he recognizes the stranger in his brother’s body.
He finds his beloved brother again, when they meet in private, away from prying eyes. There, Shi Wudu is waiting for him with open arms and a warm heart and Shi Qingxuan is relieved to find that his brother has never lost himself.
It’s the most time they get to spend together after decades of only meeting briefly, so Shi Qingxuan tries to make the most of it.
One night, he walks past his brother’s palace, letting himself in when there is no one around to stop him.
He doesn’t expect his brother to have company.
In the flickering light, he can see three silhouettes in his brother’s chambers. It’s not hard to guess who they are, and Shi Qingxuan frowns in displeasure.
“You know, he’ll find out eventually?” The voice is female, and Shi Qingxuan recognizes her instantly. Despite knowing better than to eavesdrop, he ends up staying, unnaturally still in the dark hallways. His brother’s reply is too quiet for him to hear.
Ling Wen speaks up again: “It’s simply impossible, after all. You weren’t the first one trying to forge your own path.”
The words stir something inside him, and Shi Qingxuan becomes abruptly aware that he shouldn’t be here. When he takes his leave, he almost flees the palace. Their conversation could have been about anything, but –
Shi Qingxuan refuses to think about it.
His brother would never lie to him, after all.
It all comes crashing down, when Crimson Rain reaches out to him with urgent news and Shi Qingxuan has to flee the Heavenly Capital in the middle of the night.
Hua Cheng already awaits him at Ghost City. For a moment, Shi Qingxuan wants to accuse him of a sloppy job, but he already knows that Hua Cheng wouldn’t be so careless.
They quickly settle on a plan, and Shi Qingxuan lets himself be locked up in the dungeons beneath the opulent manor.
It doesn’t take long for someone to find him. He’s almost impressed that Crimson Rain managed to orchestrate His Highness to find him, but Shi Qingxuan finds himself more rattled by the other god who is cramped into his tiny cell.
He’s never seen He Xuan so angry. The god is deathly pale in the dim light, his mouth pressed in a thin line.
When He Xuan picks him up with gentle hands, Shi Qingxuan feels him trembling. Sudden dread washes over Shi Qingxuan when he sees the Wind Master’s eyes alight with emotion. He clings to the other’s back, letting himself be saved from Crimson Rain’s clutches.
In the end, he pretends to faint, so he doesn’t have to look He Xuan in the eye anymore.
Falling for He Xuan was never part of the plan.
The days after his supposed capture, He Xuan refuses to leave his side. When Shi Qingxuan teases him about his obvious worry, He Xuan cuts him off, coming up with excuses why he has to stay with him.
They are increasingly ridiculous, but Shi Qingxuan lets him get away with it. After everything he’s done, He Xuan’s honest care feels like a slap in the face.
He hasn’t done anything to deserve the Wind Master’s friendship.
Shi Wudu finds him when he’s already fully healed. “It’s almost time,” his brother tells him in a hushed voice, the declaration so sudden that Shi Qingxuan can only stare at his brother.
He knows what Shi Wudu is talking about. It’s time to take his revenge, time to take He Xuan’s life.
He’s not sure if he wants that anymore.
But his brother takes his hands and smiles at him. “We’ve waited so long, Qingxuan. You will get what is yours.”
In the end, Shi Qingxuan can’t say no to his brother.
His chance comes when He Xuan faces his second heavenly calamity. The winds push him out onto the sea, and here, he’s in their grasp. The waves obey his brother’s command, while the sky above the darkened sea is his domain. They call him ‘Black Wind Devastating Ships’ and He Xuan soon finds out that the air above the dark waters listens to another master.
Swallowed by the sea, He Xuan ends up in his manor. Chained to a wall, his fan securely in Shi Qingxuan’s hands, he’s a bird robbed of his wings. When he wakes up, confusion flits across his pale face until understanding dawns in his eyes. He doesn’t look surprised.
“Why?” he asks, his eyes glued to Shi Qingxuan’s.
“Funny, you would ask that,” the calamity replies with a sharp smile. “That is what I wanted to ask you.”
Before He Xuan can reply Shi Wudu steps out into the light. Taking his place beside Shi Qingxuan. “You shouldn’t bother talking to him.”
He Xuan looks at them, looks at their faces and the pieces click into place. His gentle eyes harden into something akin to hatred. Shi Qingxuan suddenly feels terrible small under that gaze.
His hand around his fan is shaking.
“You’re a liar,” He Xuan states and his voice is filled with barely suppressed loathing. Shi Qingxuan almost wants to laugh, high and desperate. Of course, he is.
He lied about everything, everything except –
But He Xuan isn’t looking at him, he’s staring at his brother with disdain written all over his face. Shi Wudu sneers. “Don’t listen to him.”
“You’ve fed him lies all those years, you –” The words are cut off when Shi Wudu suddenly moves and wraps his hands around He Xuan’s neck, cutting off his airflow.
For a second, Shi Qingxuan stands there motionless, not knowing what to do.
“Listen –” another voice cuts in, coming from He Xuan’s mouth and Shi Qingxuan recognizes this one as well.
“Ge, stop!” he calls out to his brother, but Shi Wudu doesn’t listen to him, the intent to kill written all over his face.
Before he knows what he’s doing, Shi Qingxuan rushes forward, prying his brother’s hands off of He Xuan’s neck with brute force. No matter what He Xuan has done centuries ago, Shi Qingxuan no longer believes he deserves to die like this. Shi Qingxuan wants answers, and only the Wind Master can give them to him.
He wants to know why.
He Xuan slumps in his chains, taking deep gulps of air when he can finally breathe again. Shi Qingxuan doesn’t dare to let go of his brother’s hands. Shi Wudu’s face is dark, his eyes burning with hatred.
Shi Qingxuan has never seen him like that.
He remembers a dark night and an overheard conversation. They are all liars here, aren’t they?
“Leave us alone,” Shi Qingxuan demands quietly, the weight of his sins heavy on his shoulders.
“No,” Shi Wudu snaps. “He will only try to manipulate you.”
Shi Qingxuan laughs at that. It’s not a pretty laugh, sharp and bitter. His whole world is falling apart and yet his brother insists on clinging to his crumbling lies.
“Like you did?” he asks when he catches his breath again, his body is still shaking with tremors of laughter.
His brother stares at him, not quite believing what he’s hearing. He grabs Shi Qingxuan now, holding him close with a vice-like grip. “They are liars,” he tells him, his eyes alight with the same insanity that also flows in his own veins. “I’m only looking out for you. I’m the only one you can trust.”
The words are damning, Shi Wudu’s reaction a confession of their own and Shi Qingxuan is sick in his stomach.
He should have died that day, centuries ago.
There is so much blood on his hands. He feels like throwing up.
“Scram,” he tells his brother, his voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t want to see you anymore.”
Shi Wudu just grabs him tighter, laughing in his face. “You’re nothing without me Qingxuan. Don’t be silly.”
Of course, his brother is right. Without him, Shi Qingxuan wouldn’t be here anymore, he wouldn’t be a ghost. He pushes Shi Wudu away, and with a wave of his fan, he’s gone.
He takes He Xuan with him.
In the end, Shi Qingxuan never gets his revenge. His fate has always been his own, he was never meant for the splendor of godhood.
He doesn’t have a purpose to bind him to this world anymore, and yet, he doesn’t fade.
As the early morning sun shines in through his window, Shi Qingxuan can’t help but think, maybe he was never meant for revenge.
There’s a warm body in the bed next to him, and a set of matching fans on the nightstand. It’s enough, for now.