It happened around a week after the succubus incident with Liu Qingge.
Shen Yuan had been suffering from boredom and decided to ask the system a question that had been bothering him for a while.
“Hey, what happened to the real Shen Qingqiu?” Ever since transmigrating into PIDW, he had always wondered what fate befell the original goods. Even though he was a shitty person, he didn’t deserve to have his soul ripped out of his own body and replaced with someone else.
The system was silent for a moment, processing his question before cheerfully replying:
[Answering host dada, nothing “happened” to Shen Jiu. He has not gone anywhere.]
“What do you mean ‘not gone anywhere’! How could his soul still be here? Is he… cohabitating this body with me??” Shen Yuan shuddered, but before he could continue with that train of thought, the system chimed in again.
[Shen Jiu has not gone anywhere because host Shen Yuan and Shen Jiu are the same person.]
Shen Yuan nearly fainted from the shock. “What?!?”
The system sounded irritated.
[Shen Yuan and Shen Jiu are names belonging to the same soul. Both lives and both sets of memories belong to host. Host originally lived their life as Shen Yuan before reincarnating into the life of Shen Jiu.]
That… was a lot to swallow. Shen Yuan didn’t want to accept that he could have hurt Binghe and felt justified about it.
“Then why don’t I have Shen Jiu’s memories? How could we possibly be the same person if I only remember my life as Shen Yuan?”
[Answering host: Shen Qingqiu’s fever triggered the surfacing of both past memories as Shen Yuan and host’s status as a transmigrator. System determined that the reconciliation of two extremely different personalities would be too much of a shock for host, so system elected to suppress Shen Qingqiu’s childhood memories instead to better complete this world’s objectives.]
Shen Yuan pinched the bridge of his nose before asking, “If that’s the case, then all the despicable acts carried out by the original goods… that was me? I acted like that simply because of a different set of memories?” What sort of past would cause him to become such a bitter, backstabbing snake?
[Life circumstances are integral to shaping a person’s personality~]
“Is there any way to get Shen Jiu’s… no, my memories back?”
[Yes, but it may be difficult for host to handle. Is host certain?]
Shen Yuan glanced around the bamboo hut. If there was a way for him to recover his past memories, it would help him in future circumstances… and perhaps he would no longer have to tiptoe around his conversations with Yue Qingyuan.
But on the flip side, what if he recovered his memories and became a shitty person again? Shen Yuan didn’t want that. And if he somehow lost his memories as Shen Yuan… he didn’t even want to consider the possibility.
Shen Yuan supposed he would be kicking himself later if he didn’t at least try. He inhaled sharply before nodding. “Go ahead.”
[Downloading memory recovery protocol…]
[Initiating protocol, standby.]
Shen Yuan braced himself, but still didn’t feel anything. He was about to call out to the system again when he suddenly found himself in darkness. Events began playing through his mind at an extreme speed, and he could barely keep up. Many of them left only a slight impression, but some were very clear, and Shen Yuan began to witness his memories in real time.
He saw his childhood as a slave with Yue Qi, a boy he came to realize must have been Yue Qingyuan. Yue Qi was his Qi-ge, and Shen Jiu followed him everywhere. The two were inseparable, and Shen Jiu had placed all of what little trust he had remaining in Yue Qi. He remembered sleeping in Yue Qi’s embrace, feeling safe and warm. Yue Qi would protect him. Yue Qi would always be there. When they were inevitably forced apart as slaves, Yue Qi still found excuses to visit Shen Jiu as often as he could.
One memory was particularly clear: Shen Jiu was leaning against a heavy door while hushed promises were being made to him by the boy on the other side. His Qi-ge was leaving. He had found a way to escape, a way out. I’ll come back for you, Xiao Jiu, he promised.
Shen Jiu felt torn. Half of him was relieved that Yue Qi was able to escape and promised to come back for him, but the other half was trembling with the realization that Yue Qi, the only person in the world that he trusted, was leaving.
Two questions haunted Shen Jiu in the months following Yue Qi’s departure.
What if he doesn’t come back?
What if he forgets about me?
He didn’t come back.
The next memory was vivid but distorted, like looking through a glass bottle. Shen Jiu registered being in extreme pain. His body was bruised all over, at least three of his ribs were broken, and his mouth was filled with blood. The back of his head had just been slammed onto the floor, and a heavy weight sat on top of him.
Shen Jiu’s vision was spotty, but he could still make out a figure leaning over him. Qiu Jianluo, his slave owner, had pinned him down on the ground. He ran a hand up and down Shen Jiu’s torso, his clammy fingers leaving a sense of filth in their wake. Shen Jiu felt overwhelmingly disgusted. Qiu Jianluo then leaned forward and whispered something in his ear, his hot breath fanning over Shen Jiu’s neck. The words were muffled and incomprehensible, but they made his body instinctively stiffen. The hand on his torso traveled lower, and Shen Jiu felt like he was going to black out. Everything sounded like it was underwater.
Please, don’t do this.
DON’T TOUCH ME.
An indescribable rage burst forth from within him.
[Host, please hold.]
Shen Yuan’s surroundings were black again, and he was shivering uncontrollably while floating in empty space. His thoughts were in complete disarray, and he could do nothing but wait quietly for the system to recover itself.
[Internal Error: corrupted file found. Protocol recovered, re-entering memory sequence.]
When Shen Jiu came to, he was standing in the courtyard of the Qiu mansion surrounded by bodies and clutching a bloodied sword. His clothes were torn, and he felt bruises forming on his neck from where someone choked him. He coughed painfully, rubbing his throat as he kicked aside the corpse in front of him.
After dragging Qiu Haitang to safety, Shen Jiu lit the mansion on fire and left without looking back.
The young and naïve Shen Jiu who thought his Qi-ge would come back for him had died in that burning mansion.
He wouldn’t wait anymore.
[Error… error… rebooting.]
[Corrupt file overloading system… rebooting…]
Shen Yuan woke up to find himself once again in the bamboo hut, but something was wrong. A scorching pain was traveling through his veins, and it felt like his entire being was on fire.
He clawed at his chest, desperately gasping for breath, but his chest felt tight and he couldn’t get any air. He coughed harshly, blood splattering the ground in front of him.
People and places flashed behind his eyes as his brain attempted to reconcile two lifetimes worth of memories. Unable to withstand the pain, Shen Yuan’s vision faded to black.
[Memory Recovery 65% complete, entering Safe Mode.]
Shen Qingqiu woke with a start. Peering around, it looked like he had fallen asleep at his desk.
“Shizun, I came to remind you of the peak lord meeting happening today… are you awake?”
That voice… it was Ming Fan. Shen Qingqiu sat up hastily and dully registered that his head felt like it was stuffed full of cotton. When he reached up to rub his temples, he noticed that his sleeves seemed longer and… baggier than before?
Ming Fan rapped on the door again, “Shizun? Are you there?”
Shen Qingqiu turned towards the door and called out, “Yes, this master heard. Thank you for your reminder. You may go now.”
He was shocked when, instead of his normal silky voice, a higher-pitched sound that cracked at the end escaped his throat. Ming Fan seemed to have noticed too, and he stood at the door for a moment scuffing his feet in the dirt, unsure of what to do.
“Shizun, are you… unwell?”
Shen Qingqiu took a breath to calm himself, and as he struggled to stand he replied, “This master is fine, just a cold. You may go.”
After waiting to hear the sound of Ming Fan’s retreating footsteps, Shen Qingqiu shuffled over to the mirror he kept in his room.
Except… when he looked into the mirror, a 14 or 15-year old Shen Jiu was staring back. He stood there practically drowning in his Qing Jing peak lord robes, cutting a slender, somewhat effeminate figure. He didn’t appear to have any of Shen Qingqiu’s hard-earned musculature. His face was pale and youthful-looking, and his phoenix eyes had dark circles under them. His hair was no longer a waterfall of ink reaching his knees, and instead swept to just past his shoulders.
Shen Qingqiu reached up to touch his face, and the reflection did the same. Considering the length of robes on the floor, he must be at least a head shorter than he was just a day ago.
He… what happened? Why did he look younger than Luo Binghe? Shen Qingqiu sat down in front of the mirror and decided to ask the system.
[Welcoming host back! Host was unable to fully integrate the memories of both lifetimes due to an error, and as a result had a qi deviation and reverted to Safe Mode. Safe Mode is a lower-energy state of being that requires less qi to sustain itself.]
“An error? What error?” He tried to remember what he experienced the night before, but most of it was a blur and a lot of it was still sinking in.
[Memory recovery halted due to host’s trauma, resulting in a corrupted file. Recovery is 65% complete, but a Background Memory Installer has been initiated.]
Remembering Qiu Jianluo and the mansion, Shen Qingqiu suddenly wanted to retch. “How… do I return to normal?”
[Safe Mode will remain active until system finishes debugging.]
“How can I walk around like this?? I’ll have to wear Binghe’s old robes just so I don’t trip over myself! Ugh, what a mess.”
Shen Qingqiu pinched the bridge of his nose hard enough to bruise and started to peel off his layers one by one. He walked into the side room that Luo Binghe used to use before the immortal alliance conference and dug out some of his old clothes. After reminiscing for a while in silence, he pulled them on and returned to the main room.
Shen Qingqiu was about to make himself some tea to relax when the system chimed in:
[New Mission: Attend the Peak Lord Meeting. Reward: 100 B points. Penalty of failure: -1000 B points. Don’t be late!]
Shen Qingqiu cursed loud enough to wake his ancestors before he grabbed his outer peak lord robe and draped it over his shoulders. It was a bit big, but how else would the other peak lords know it was him? He snatched his hair crown off of his desk. After a few tries, he managed to put the crown in his short hair, and he grabbed Xiu Ya and a folding fan.
He circulated his qi through Xiu Ya, and to his relief it still seemed to register him as its master. In fact, his meridians and qi seemed to be completely normal, and only his physical appearance had changed.
Shen Qingqiu decided that despite this unexpected boon, it would be best to conserve his qi as much as possible. He didn’t want to accidentally delay the transformation back to his regular body.
He traveled quickly, avoiding the disciples on his peak. After landing on Qiong Ding peak, he silently sheathed his sword and approached the main hall.
“System, am I late for the meeting?”
[Host is just on time.]
Closing his eyes and inhaling deeply to bestow some semblance of calm upon himself, Shen Qingqiu flipped open his fan to hide his face before entering the main hall.
The moment he stepped in, all eyes were on him. The earlier clamor had descended into complete silence. Shen Qingqiu elegantly strode down the hall, hiding his nervousness behind a veneer of confidence.
He made his way over to the seat beside Yue Qingyuan, trying (and failing) to ignore the variety of reactions from his martial siblings.
Mu Qingfang was staring at him with wide eyes, Qi Qingqi audibly gasped, and the teacup in Liu Qingge’s hand shattered into pieces.
Shang Qinghua started laughing nervously, and, despite stifling it, the sound still echoed across the room. Shen Qingqiu made a mental note to strangle him later.
Upon reaching his seat near the front of the room, Shen Qingqiu turned to make eye contact with the sect leader.
“Zhangmen-shixiong.” He snapped his fan closed, feeling overwhelmingly irritated.
Yue Qingyuan rose from his seat abruptly, knocking over the low table in the process. The pale expression he wore made it look as though he had suffered a shock. He reached out a trembling hand, inhaling shakily.