When Shang Qinghua had painstakingly crafted the Mirrors of a Thousand Divine Beauties he had meant them as a poetic parallel to the Endless Abyss, a series of ponds and lakes that acted sort of as a moat to Heaven. A metaphorical moat. So what if it didn’t make sense, the important thing was the imagery!
The beauties were all 100% the genuine goods but some of the ponds were actually acid. Or poison. Or really cool slime monsters that Shang Qinghua was still pretty proud of coming up with? Still, he never dreamed he’d get to see the Mirrors in person!
Especially not on a sorta, kinda date with Mobei-jun!
He keeps sneaking his King little glances, all this ambient Spiritual Qi can’t be comfortable for him . . . but Mobei-jun still seems to be his usual, vigorously perfect self. As to be expected, though, Shang Qinghua had given him pretty great stats! He’s frowning, not his usual resting bitch-face, actually frowning, Shang Qinghua can tell the difference now . . . but it’s probably just because he’s realised that the nearest pond is actually one of the slime monsters, so it’s fine. Nothing to worry about!
The reason they’re here is because Shen Qingqiu, like a really snooty butterfly flapping his sleeves in a bamboo forest, had abruptly decided that Zhuzhi-lang had at least deserved a proper burial in the Ancient Mausoleum.
Just like that, Tianlang-jun and Luo Binghe, that father-and-son pair that Shang Qinghua had destined to be enemies, had . . . well they hadn’t actually made-up, but that was mostly because Shang Qinghua had gifted Luo Binghe with a will of steel and top-tier exceptional grudge-holding abilities! Tianlang-jun, who he had given more easy-going settings to, had been more than ready to let bygones be bygones and start freely handing over the family secrets.
It’s just that Luo Binghe didn’t want to give his father any face, even over this, so guess who’d been sent to pick up the goods!
That’s right, perpetual errand-boy, Mobei-jun! Don’t talk about how being trusted to retrieve the heritage of the Heavenly Demons was a tremendous honour! Don’t mention how Sha Hualing punched a crack in her cave when she wasn’t selected for it! This was still basically using his King as a courier service!
Why’s Shang Qinghua here too? Well, he just really wanted to feel what it was like to be the plus-one on a business trip! Okay, so his King had to work, but couldn’t they have some fun too?
(Oh, and also because Mobei-jun was going to need him if he wanted to have any chance of getting past the Chamber of Profound Truth, but his King didn’t know that bit yet. Spoiler Alert!)
See, back when he had been writing Proud Immortal Demon’s Way, hadn’t he promised that Luo Binghe would conquer and unite the Three Realms? Wasn’t that just, like, an honoured trope of the Xianxia Power Fantasy genre? His readers had expectations, how could he let them down? Hadn’t they all been patiently waiting to see Luo Binghe papapa some actual goddesses?! Shang Qinghua always gave his audience what they wanted!
He had drafted the entire arc out long in advance, a sweeping epic of Luo Binghe clawing his way up to the Heavens to revenge his fallen ancestors . . . but then when Shang Qinghua had decided to cut Tianlang-jun out from the main plot, and then dumped a mountain on top of him to keep him out, most of that story-arc just couldn’t make sense anymore.
. . . But he had planned out so much of it already!
Plus, if there was one thing everyone had to admit, even his haters, even Peerless Cucumber, it’s that he was actually pretty damn amazing at descriptive imagery!
Weren’t all his dramatic scenes gripping and vivid? Weren’t all his monsters powerful and terrifying? Weren’t all his hotties smoking hot?!?
He had had a lot of cool ideas for Heaven! He hadn’t wanted to waste them!
Okay, sure, so now the Pavilion of Eternal Mercy just appeared out of nowhere with no backstory. Okay, so he only used it as an extra-special backdrop for another enormous orgy. Okay, so Cucumber-bro had left him angry comment chains that were longer than his chapters.
His true fans still appreciated that Luo Binghe had gotten a cool new place to bone down in!!!
“Shang Qinghua!” Mobei-jun snaps, and Shang Qinghua realises that his King may have been trying to get his attention for a while.
Also, that the nearest slime monster is trying to eat his boot.
Shang Qinghua yelps and leaps backwards. The slime monster makes a disgruntled gurgling noise and rears up, only for Mobei-jun to snap his fingers and freeze it in place instantly.
“My King, that’s so cool! You’re so cool! Isn’t it pretty? I hadn’t thought about that!” Shang Qinghua says, darting forward to examine the frozen slime. It’s as clear as the sacred waters surrounding them and it catches the holy light pouring off the peak of the (totally not Kunlun!) Heavenly Mountain and diffracts it into a thousand rainbows.
Mobei-jun grunts and strides forward.
Shang Qinghua scurries hurriedly after him, “My King, wait up!”
Shit! He’s still got to keep his King away from the Thousand Divine Beauties!
Well, technically not a thousand beauties. Even at his most shameless and pandering, Shang Qinghua had felt that adding a thousand wives at once to Binghe’s harem was making too much trouble for himself. Eventually, he had decided to write that the Heavens had collapsed centuries ago and without the steady incense of worship the number of divine sisters had dwindled away, until there were just forty left.
Forty was still plenty for a good cat-fight over Luo Binghe!
Of course, Luo Binghe wasn’t here right now. Mobei-jun was! And Shang Qinghua was definitely not letting forty glorified door goddesses get any ideas about his brand-new fiancé!
While he's thinking about this, he doesn’t so much as catch-up with Mobei-jun as run straight into him. The next thing he knows, he’s being scooped up into his King’s arms and then Mobei-jun is taking off with a flying leap across the next lake.
Then he dodges left, skirts his way past the edge of the pools of charming laughter (possibly not one of Shang Qinghua’s better poison ideas, he has to admit), goes right past the pond belonging to the Lady of Steadfast Chastity (at least until she met Bing-ge!) and just completely avoids the Lake of Purifying Acid (after the first hundred lakes he had been running out of good names, so sue him).
Shang Qinghua finally realises this is sort of weird. “My King knows the way across?” he asks, surprised, “How?”
Mobei-jun stares down at him intensely before he eventually says, “I came here once to endure a trial.”
“Wow, my King! What sort of trial?” Shang Qinghua asks, sitting up. He definitely hadn’t written this bit! “Whatever it was, I’m sure my King definitely proved himself worthy!”
Mobei-jun just continues to look at him. Sometimes Shang Qinghua regrets not giving him better conversational skills but if he had, would he really be Mobei-jun anymore? Nope! Heck No! His King was definitely the stoic and silent type!
Philosophical pondering over, Shang Qinghua settles back down in his arms and decides to enjoy the scenic ride.
They’re sneaking past the very last pond, right at the foot of the Cliffs of Overwhelming Divinity, when a fragrance, soft and charming and somewhat familiar, distracts Shang Qinghua.
“Oh hey!” he said, patting at Mobei-jun’s chest until he lets him hop down. Then Shang Qinghua scuttles over to a patch of intensely blue flowers and bends down to squint at them, “Look, my King, it’s these things!”
“The Goddesses’ Footsteps Blossoms,” Mobei-jun says behind him, coming up to loom over his shoulder.
Shang Qinghua chuckles, “Wow, so they really are Goddesses’ Footsteps Blossoms! My King, these bring back so many memories! Is this what these are supposed to look like! They’re much better than the ones back on An Ding! Does my King even remember bringing this servant one to look after? It was so long ago!”
It had been a battered, wilted thing Mobei-jun had brought him. Shang Qinghua had spent years, and half his Peak’s budget, coaxing it into reviving. But, after watering it with his blood and tears (not literally . . . well, mostly not literally . . . at least, not after he finally remembered a god-tier cheat of a fertiliser he had created for a future wife!) Shang Qinghua had finally gotten it to flower again!
And then Mobei-jun hadn’t even wanted them!!!
The memory was still a little bitter, even faded with time and softened by how close they had become now. Shang Qinghua had really worked hard on those flowers! He had been really excited to present them to his King! And Mobei-jun had just made his most terrifying frowny-face and froze those poor little flowers right in Shang Qinghua’s hands!
. . .
Luckily, he still had a whole flowerbed of them left! Ahahahaha!!!
They had a lot of uses, especially for cultivators who owned a set of ovaries, and being able to supply them to Xian Shu Peak meant that Qi Qingqi finally upgraded her opinion of Shang Qinghua from “insect” to “rodent”, so it had all been worth it in the end!
Shang Qinghua leans closer to take a deeper breath of the fragrance, brushing a finger-tip over a velvet-blue petal, “Really, these are so much nicer than the ones I grow. This really shames my An Ding Peak!”
Mobei-jun says, “They thrive off the abundant Qi of Heaven. There will be more further on.”
“Huh,” Shang Qinghua says. His King was being unusually chatty today! A little weird, but still, nice! “My King, what did you even want these for? I never figured it out.”
Mobei-jun just gives him another intense look.
Ah well, maybe his King had already used up all his words for the day. Shang Qinghua wasn’t going to be greedy.
After a moment, Mobei-jun bends down beside him and reaches out to pick a flower. Shang Qinghua yelps as Mobei-jun’s fingertips hiss black smoke from where they touch the stem, “My King, that’s! Don’t! Demons shouldn’t! Let me do that for you!” but Mobei-jun just ignores him and tucks the flower behind Shang Qinghua’s ear. They stare at each other a while, then Mobei-jun gives a satisfied huff and pets his head.
Then he’s away and walking off towards the foot of the cliffs.
Shang Qinghua gives a start, “My King! Wait up!”
The Cliffs of Overwhelming Divinity were a sheer rock-face formed from translucent, almost-glowing moonlight-white jade. (It wasn’t a cliche, okay? It was a classic!) The surface was smooth and sleek, as glossy as water, with no obvious hand-holds or any other way up. The only decoration was the poetry written on the stone itself, golden calligraphy soaring up for hundreds of li like dragons flying towards heaven.
Mobei-jun stares blankly at the strange writing, no characters he’s ever seen elsewhere (Shang Qinghua can 100% guarantee this!) and then turns to look at him, “Can Qinghua read this?”
“Of course, my King! Don’t under-estimate An Ding Peak's education levels!” Shang Qinghua says proudly. It’s Airplane’s Time to Soar!
Of course he could read it! This was based on the secret language he had made up when he was 12! He absolutely would never forget it!
. . . And even if he did forget a few of the words, he still remembered how this part of the story went! So no problem! Ahahahahahahaha!
“My King, please let me have the keys that Tianlian-jun gave us.” he says, putting his hands out confidently. After Mobei-jun drops the keys into them he swaggers towards the line of writing that starts closest to the ground. Standing on his tiptoes, he can just about reach the lowest character, so he brushes his hand against it, mostly for show, then takes the smallest key, the one shaped like a swallow, and taps it against the last brush-stroke.
The brush-stroke shimmers and the ink flows aside to reveal a keyhole. Shang Qinghua inserts the key and turns it and, with a series of crystalline chimes that totally didn’t sound like he stole them from a video game, a section of the cliff slides out into a staircase.
One down, ninety-nine more staircases to go!
. . . Shang Qinghua curses his past self for giving the cliff a stupid anti-flying array.
Several hours later, without Mobei-jun getting even vaguely out-of-breath or sweaty, even though he’s been carrying Shang Qinghua since starcase #43, they finally reach the top and the Gates of Heaven itself. They’re firmly shut, and Luo Bing-ge had had to spend four days battering them down by force, but Bing-bro didn’t know about the special knock!
Shang Qinghua totally knows about the special knock!
The special knock is actually a talisman, written with the same script that decorates the cliffs. Kind of like a passport? Or maybe a birth certificate? Shang Qinghua hadn’t really bothered finishing thinking the mechanics through after he decided to have Binghe enter Heaven by force instead of subterfuge.
Whatever it’s supposed to be, when Shang Qinghua flings it at the closed gates they shimmer as it hits their surface, then absorb the talisman in a ripple of golden light and even more secret script. With a rumble, the gates slowly begin to swing open.
And then immediately halt and start shutting again when the gate gods peer through and catch sight of Mobei-jun!
It’s too late, though! A couple of weak heavenly uncles are absolutely no match for his King!
Ice freezes the gates in place and then Mobei-jun is warping through the gap they’ve made in their defenses, reappearing behind them a moment later. One hit! Two hits! And they’re down!!!
“You show them, my King!” Shang Qinghua cheers, “even Heaven’s defenses are no match for you!” Mobei-jun rewards him with an actual smile (it’s tiny, but Shang Qinghua can tell it’s a smile!) before using even more ice to wedge the gate wide enough that Shang Qinghua can step through over the groaning bodies of the gate gods.
Next comes . . . uuuuuh. Shang Qinghua’s mind blanks, “The Pavilion of Celestial Gathering? The Bridge of Attained Wisdom?” he mutters to himself, wracking his brain. He definitely had put plenty of obstacles in the way for Binghe to curb-stomp!
But the flower field they’re moving through seems to just be . . . a field? Goddesses' Footsteps Blossoms are flowering abundantly all over the place and there’s a path running through it that’s paved with white jade (because isn’t everything), but there’s no other visible landmarks. Clear blue skies stretch from horizon to horizon. If he squints, Shang Qinghua thinks he can see a speck that may be the Pavilion of Eternal Mercy itself, far off in the distance, but that’s about it?
They walk for some time. The field seems endless and the pavilion seems to be getting no nearer. The only motion around them is the misty white clouds that drift distantly across the sky.
. . . Eventually, Shang Qinghua realises it’s a little odd that the clouds are moving even though there’s not even a hint of wind. He looks up at the sky, where the clouds are now swirling directly above them, and finally remembers.
The Celestial Cloud-Swimming Spider-Shark!
It’s going to be the Celestial Cloud-Swimming Spider-Shark next!
The Celestial Cloud-Swimming Spider-Shark was one of his greatest creations. It fought by spinning its webs into cloud-like formations that let it float above its prey while remaining out of sight. Shang Qinghua had gotten the idea from one of those nature documentaries about spiders that spun their own parachutes!
On cue, because this world he created ran on drama, a stream of pure white silk streaks down and hits where Mobei-jun had been standing seconds before.
Cucumber-bro was going to be super-mad he missed this!
Swift as the wind, teeth and legs like swords, unbreakable silk shot in all directions for three li . . .
. . . he was also super-mad that Cucumber-bro was missing this! Shang Qinghua didn’t remember any of this thing’s weak-points!!!
“My King, wait!” he cries, futilely trying to drag Mobei-jun back by his cloak, “Wait wait wait let’s not rush! We’re storming the Heavens here, we should spend some time thinking about strategy!”
Mobei-jun doesn’t even look back at him. He just waves his arm so that a wall of ice springs up around Shang Qinghua, then disappears in flicker of shadows.
“My King!” Shang Qinghua wails, left with nothing to do but stare worriedly up at the glowing white clouds above.
A couple more shots of silk rain down, splorting suggestively off the icy barrier around him. What?! This piece of bukkake imagery was completely unintentional on his part!
Five seconds later there’s a high-pitched hissing noise and then the shark-spider’s head drops abruptly out of a cloud.
After a few more seconds, its body lands heavily several chi away, air still hissing out of it.
Thinking on it, Shang Qinghua had written this fight for Luo Binghe, who had been nerfed right at the start when the Spider-Shark had spat sticky silk at Xin Mo, immediately neutralising his golden finger. Luo Binghe had been forced to rely instead on help from his fourty new fiancees, who had all stopped their squabbling for just long enough to work together and cast illusions that confused the Spider-Shark into dropping to the ground and into Bing-bro’s reach.
. . . Turns out that sort of help isn’t really necessary for a teleporter like Mobei-jun! He could just go straight up to the clouds and punch it right in its ultra-light, ultra-fragile body!
Mobei-jun reappears without much fanfare. Shang Qinghua checks him over but, really, nothing to be worried about! The Spider-Shark was basically a balloon! One blow from his King and it was all over!
“Amazing, my King, amazing!” he says anyway, and it earns him another of Mobei-jun’s smiles so that was a great idea, “It’s just the Pavilion of Eternal Mercy left! Then we can go home!”
He takes Mobei-jun’s arm and leads him forward, grinning, “My King, what shall we do when we go home? Will my King make me noodles again? Can we take a nap? What does my King want to do?”
. . . Whatever Mobei-jun’s reply was going to be, it’s lost in the power that suddenly floods out towards them from the Pavilion of Eternal Mercy.
Woops, looks like the Heavens-Protecting Valiant Lady has decided to turn-up early!
. . . Okay, see, even if he ended up skimping on the Heavenly Realm arc, he absolutely couldn’t skimp on the heavenly sisters! Liu Mingyuan and Sha Hualing, the two most beautiful women of the Human and Demon Realms, had been established for so long as the Empresses of the harem (at least in the hearts of his fandom, if not Bing-ge’s) that his readers had been calling on him to shake things up a bit! Honestly, there had really been a lot of pressure on him to make sure the Heavenly Representative was just as dazzling!
Plus, think of the merchandising opportunities!
Shang Qinghua had definitely thought of the merchandising opportunities.
Enter the Heavens-Protecting Valiant Lady, Hong Xiuying! This martial goddess was a perfect-grade, S-class beauty, okay! He had put some of his finest work into describing her!!!
He holds her breath as she appears before them. Stars glitter in her eyes. Her skin is fine jade. Her teeth are pearls. Her silk hair ripples around her like black ink through water. Her breasts haughtily defy gravity and sway and float in the breezes of heaven . . .
. . . WTF?! He never meant any of that to be literal!!! Fuck, this is way scarier than the Shark-Spider! No wonder this character had never caught on!
( . . . Cucumber-bro must never know!)
“Accursed Demon! You dare defile the Peace of Heaven?” Hong Xiuying says, voice like a nightingale. Voice literally like a nightingale! She’s kind of hard to understand!
“The Peace of Heaven is nothing but the quiet of a crumbling tomb,” Mobei-jun growls back.
Hong Xiuying pulls her sword an inch from its sheath. Mobei-jun drops into a fighting stance.
“Woah woah woah wait wait wait,” Shang Qinghua says, quickly stepping between them. Hong Xiuying was basically one of Luo Binghe’s final bosses, if Mobei-jun fights her Shang Qinghua isn’t sure who’d win. He doesn’t want to find out the hard way!
She stares down at him, bemused, and once he’s sure he’s got her attention he drops to his knees before her. Mobei-jun growls behind him but Shang Qinghua just ignores him. Stand back, my King, because it’s hustling time!
“Valiant Lady, we mean no disrespect! This is all just a big misunderstanding! Didn’t you see how we entered the gates properly? They attacked first! Can we be blamed when we were only trying to defend ourselves!”
Hong Xiuying continues to stare down at him, her eldritch and frankly terrifying eyes starting to get a pretty familiar look to them. It’s one that Shang Qinghua’s been getting from Qi Qingqi every day since he was 17.
It’s the look of a righteous lady realising he’s too pathetic for her to hit without dishonouring herself!
“Valiant Lady, these lowly ones carry an offering for your gallant and admirable self,” Shang Qinghua says as he pulls the pre-prepared gift from his spatial array. Mobei-jun’s eyes track curiously over his hands. Sorry, my King! Shang Qinghua thinks, he only brought enough for one!
“Valiant Lady, please accept this gift as a greeting from Luo-junshang.” Shang Qinghua says, bowing, “He asks only that these lowly servants of his be allowed access to the vaults of his ancestors, nothing more.”
Cucumber-bro had been the one to think of it. He had even brought the idea up without any prompting and barely five minutes of ragging on him for his life choices! And hey, even Shang Qinghua will admit that this was MAYBE one of his lazier pieces of writing?
He had come up with it after two weeks of eating nothing but dried noodles and seven hours of watching videos of people cooking delicious food he couldn’t afford. In his protein-craving fugue state he had dreamt up the idea that maybe it’d be cool for Luo Binghe to perfect his cooking to the point that he’d stumble across an alchemical treasure by accident! An ancient secret miracle recipe that no one could figure out until Luo Binghe came along and recreated it just using store-cupboard staples!
Shen Qingqiu hadn’t even finished ranting before he snuck them both into Luo Binghe’s kitchen to give it a try! That dork, he just wanted an excuse to see if it’d work!
And it did!!!
Hong Xiuying’s eyes gleam and she stretches out her hand; the bottle floats out of Shang Qinghua's hands and up to hers. She delicately plucks off the stopper and takes a sniff, eyes widening, “The Immaculate Tonic of Myriad Insights?”
“Valiant Lady, as you can see, Luo-Junshang means no disrespect!” Shang Qinghua mentally does a little fist pump. She’s taken the bait! She’s really, really going to want to keep that and her strong sense of honour’s going to stop her from just beating him up and stealing it. He’s striking while she can’t stand the heat! “All we ask is for unhindered passage to and from the Chamber of Profound Truth.”
Hong Xiuying’s eyes flash. Kinda literally. Shang Qinghua holds back a wince and says, “If these lowly ones can pass the Chamber’s trial, then none could fault the Valiant Lady for allowing us to take the treasures, even if one of us is a demon. If we fail, then the Chamber will dispose of us itself.”
“The Chamber of Profound Truth?” she says, smile flicking over her beautiful and terrifying mouth, “Very well, I will allow this.”
“Thank you, Valian . . .” Shang Qinghua says, but she’s vanishing with the tonic before he can even finish. A moment later, a portal opens up in front of them. Grinning, he gets up, dusts himself off and makes sure his flower is still secure behind his ear. “My King, let’s go!”
The Chamber of Profound Truth was . . . pretty much what it sounded like! Ahahahahahaha!
All it really required were two or more people with some sort of formal relationship (by blood or vow, the Chamber wasn't picky) sitting around having a meaningful chat. Luo Binghe’s ancestors had designed it as a way to force harmonious relations between their descendants before letting them get their hands on the inheritance. The Chamber had enchantments on it that prevented any lies; if your relationship could survive a day of honest truth, then you passed. If not, then you died!
Shang Qinghua had ended up never using it in the novel. By that point, who did Luo Bing-ge have left to have an honest heart-to-heart with?
It was okay, though! He and his King are different! And they’ve been getting pretty good at communicating with each other! They’ll get through this just fine!!!
He summons some cushions from his spatial array and settles down to get comfy. They’re going to be here a while.
“My King, my King, my turn first! What does my King like best about me?!”
“Your words,” Mobei-jun says.
“Uh?” Shang Qinghua says intelligently.
“Just now, that goddess. If we had fought, the outcome would have been uncertain. Yet Qinghua stepped forward and defeated her with words. Words are Qinghua’s weapon and it is a beauty to see him use them.”
“My King likes my babbling?!” Qinghua asks, helpless to keep from grinning. He fiddles with the flower in his hair, “Thank you, my King, that makes me very happy.”
“My turn then?” Mobei-jun asks.
Shang Qinghua nods eagerly. This is going to be fun!
“When Qinghua was a god, which god was he?”
Shang Qinghua wants to tell Mobei-jun he doesn't understand the question. Or to say he heard that it wrong. But the words stick in his throat like he’s, say, trapped in a room that forces you to tell the truth?
How the hell does this count as the truth?!?
After a moment of silence, Mobei-jun continues, “Qinghua did not understand my intentions with the Goddesses’ Footsteps Blossom but could still grow a plant that legends say would only deign to bloom in Heaven. Qinghua could read the script on the Cliffs of Overwhelming Divinity and could bid the Gates of Heaven to open for him. Once, when I offered him the Fruit of Heaven-Defying Arrogance, Qinghua refused to eat it.”
“The . . . Fruit of Heaven-Defying Arrogance?” Shang Qinghua asks, trying to remember when Mobei-jun had ever even given him that sort of game-breaking item. He’s sure he would have noticed! Getting any sort of gift from his King would obviously be a treasured memory!
“After we came back from routing out the bandits of the Seven Passes, after Shang Qinghua outwitted their leader, I gifted it to him then.”
Shang Qinghua remembers now, sort of? Look, it’s not like he could entirely forget about it, the thing had been pretty horrifying, a ghostly grey thing covered in fuzz that had looked soft but cut his finger-tips when he touched it. Sometimes it twitched.
. . . That was a fruit?!
He had nervously kept it hidden under his bed for a few months until it disappeared one day. Thank Fuck.
(Come to think of it, that would explain the monstrous semi-divine giant rat that went rampaging across An Ding that week! Luckily Liu Qingge got interested in fighting it before it ate anyone else besides the auntie who swept the steps.)
Shang Qinghua slaps his cheeks to get his thoughts back on track.
“That was years ago, my King, you can’t mean?!”
Mobei-jun inclined his head slightly.
Woops. Shang Qinghua guessed he did mean it?!
But . . . that really had been years ago! He hadn’t even been Peak Lord yet!
“So Qinghua was once a god.” fuck, Mobei-jun said it so matter-of-factly.
“Uh . . .” Shang Qinghua swallows hard, “ . . . I? Guess?” The words slip out of him without any trouble from the room’s stupid truth enchantment. Fuck.
“So what was Qinghua god of?” Mobei-jun asks, “I have often wondered. Before, when you left, I visited every human temple I could find to make an offering in apology, but found none that seemed to fit.”
Shang Qinghua opens his mouth, trying to make the right words come, the ones he needs to laugh this off, but the truth enchantments press down against his tongue.
“Shang Qinghua will not say?” Movie-jun asks, softly.
“Um . . . I . . . kind of . . . createdtheworld.” Shang Qinghua says in a rush, suddenly, painfully, excruciatingly aware of exactly how fucked-up this world he created is.
Mobei-jun’s eyebrow twitches upwards in surprise, “ . . . I had not expected that one once so high would undergo tribulations. Surely Qinghua had already earned enough merit.”
“Tribulations?” Shang Qinghua asks, “What does my King mean?”
“Did you not have a trial to undergo? Did you not complete it?” A dark look flickers through Mobei-jun’s eyes, “Is that not why you were leaving?”
Shang Qinghua sucks in a breath. The problem is it’s kind of true. The System had sort of been a trial? And if he had taken the reward to go back to his old life, wouldn’t he be back in control of this world, able to shape it to his whims once more?
“I . . . this one wasn’t as grand as it sounds, my King. This one shaped this world, yes, but there were a myriad of others telling him how to do it! If I had ignored them, I'd have been in a lot of trouble!”
And just like that, 30-plus years of suspended guilt come flooding out of him.
“I’m sorry. I . . . this slave, this slave should not have listened to them! This slave should have crafted a better world! A kinder one! If it wasn’t for this slave’s choices, my King would not have been so alone! This slave molded your life to make you his ideal of a man but . . . this slave didn’t . . . this slave didn’t think of you as a person. This slave never considered what it would have been like, for a person to live so alone.”
“Hrn,” Mobei-jun said, like Shang Qinghua hadn’t just confessed to ruining his life, “But then Qinghua came down from the Heavens, did he not? Did he not he save my life, at great risk to his own? In all these years, has he not kept me company?”
Shang Qinghua gawks at him. My King, at least get mad at him!
Instead, Mobei-jun takes his hand, “If this King is the pine in Winter, is not Lord Shang the blossoms in Spring?”
Shang Qinghua doesn’t even know what that question's supposed to mean! Mobei-jun stares at him a while, holding his hand the entire time, and then tries again, “If Qinghua created me to be perfect for himself, does it not work both ways? Isn’t Qinghua also the perfect one for me?”
“Per . . . perfect?!” Shang Qinghua stares at him, torn between love and horror. Horror wins out, “This slave’s so sorry! That my King would be . . . be fated to be . . . with . . .”
Mobei-jun frowns, “Stop calling yourself that.”
Shang Qinghua gapes at him, “But my King! Aren’t you listening?! This . . . I . . . how can my King have known these things and yet . . .”
“And yet what?” Mobei-jun asks, “Did Qinghua not become Peak Lord of An Ding Peak through his talents alone? Did he not carve out the Endless Abyss and raise up the Mountains of Cang Qiong? Even without his powers, Qinghua still has great gifts and great beauty within him.”
“I . . . the Abyss, when did I say . . .?”
Mobei-jun looks at him for a moment, “Qinghua talks. All the time. To himself. To myself. To the walls. To the air. He has spoken of many things.”
. . . Shang Qinghua has REALLY got to break himself of that habit.
“My King, this slave . . .”
Mobei-jun sighs and then leans forward and kisses him. When Shang Qinghua freezes, mostly in shock, Mobei-jun pulls back, “. . . Qinghua? To Shang Qinghua, does it change matters, if he knows that I know his secrets?”
There’s a vulnerability in the set of his mouth and the angle of his shoulders that Shang Qinghua has only seen once before, back when he left Mobei-jun lying on the floor of his father’s chambers.
Shang Qinghua is a coward, everyone knows it, but for Mobei-jun’s sake he’s been brave before.
He leans in and kisses Mobei-jun softly back, “My King. In truth, I’ve loved you for so long. Long before you ever even met me.”
Mobei-jun sighs, in what can't possibly be relief! It can’t be! And then he pulls Shang Qinghua towards him.
"Oh thank fuck," Shang Qinghua gasps, "Making-out is so much less awkward than talking!"
. . . He hadn't meant to say that bit out-loud either! But Mobei-jun just rumbles with a noise that would have been laughter in anyone else.
Shang Qinghua ends up in his lap. He loops his arms around Mobei-jun’s neck and Mobei-jun’s arms come up around his waist. Shang Qinghua lets his fingers dip under Mobei-jun’s collar as Mobei-jun tips them forward, resting Shang Qinghua gently against the scattered cushions, and kisses his forehead.
Then the tip of his nose.
Then his mouth.
There’s a grinding noise as the outer doors to the vaults fling open. Shang Qinghua blinks, distracted even as his hands slip Mobei-jun’s cloak from his shoulders. Shouldn’t they be stuck in this trial for at least half a day longer?
“Qinghua, ignore it,” Mobei-jun purrs against his ear, the tips of his fangs scraping across the delicate edge. He slots one leg between Shang Qinghua’s thighs and Shang Qinghua arches up against it.
There’s a loud resounding thud, almost like the inner doors to the vaults had also just unlocked themselves. Shang Qinghua turns his head to try and look but that just gives Mobei-jun free access to start kissing down his neck.
Shang Qinghua decides it can wait and starts tugging at Mobei-jun’s belts.
From the depths beyond the doors several loud clanging noises echo, like dozens of vault gates being thrown open at once.
“Um . . .” Qinghua says, sitting up.
Mobei-jun snarls, “Qinghua . . .”
“I’m sorry my King, but I think the Chamber is trying to tell us to get a room. Just, you know, not this room?”
As if in agreement, more metallic clanging sounds come from below, like the Chamber was throwing in a bit extra as a bribe to get them moving.
“Come on my King,” Shang Qinghua says, smiling up at him, “Let’s go get this over with! After all, the sooner we go home, the sooner I can show you the secret caverns I created beneath your fortress!”
Mobei-jun glares down at him, his hands still on Shang Qinghua’s ass, but now he’s got his words back Shang Qinghua can’t really stop them spilling out, “Oh wait, what about the ice volcanoes in the Far North! You’ll really like those, my King, they spit ice instead of fire! Or the underwater city I carved into a glacier! It's all sparkly, my King!”
With a sigh, Mobei-jun stands and helps him up as Shang Qinghua keeps talking, “Oh, and the ancient palace ruins in Sha Hualing’s western forests! Won’t she be mad when you find it before her? My King, I have so many secrets to show you!”
Their return to the Demonic Court was not the end of their task. Mobei-jun had hoped otherwise, but the treasures they brought back were potent and carried a will of their own. Luo-junshang had required the help of Mobei-jun’s Betrothed to fully subdue them. As always, Mobei-jun had stood by, ready to protect Shang Qinghua if he needed him.
When Mobei-jun finally had some time, though, he slipped away to his private study and opened a small chest tucked away on a low shelf.
Inside were the few mementos he kept of his mother; not the armor and weapons that made up his official inheritance from her, those were still in their special vault in the armory. These were her more private effects.
He barely remembered her, not much more than the memory of her voice as she read to him. In that little chest were all he had been able to save from her secret library, the old books and her scrolls filled with ancient legends. His fingers brushed over his favourites; The Crimson Rain Who Sought the Flower, The Primordial Darkness and the Wild Mountain God. Hearts reaching out to each other, unstoppable despite the centuries or the distance between Heaven and Hell.
She had been a romantic. He had taken after her in that way.
Maybe, when things are less busy, he could convince his Betrothed to add their own story to these books.