Shang Qinghua's teacup falls out of his nerveless hands, the delicate porcelain shattering across cold tile.
"You've been what?!"
"Poisoned," Mobei Jun says, as calmly as if he's discussing the weather. He takes a sip of his cold tea.
"My king!" Shang Qinghua wails, resisting the urge to grab Mobei Jun's cup and throw it on the ground too. "How can you be so calm?! We - we have to do something! We have to do something right now!"
"There is nothing to be done."
Shang Qinghua jumps to his feet and starts pacing, his mind already leaping ahead to all the poisons he remembers creating. He'll have to get in touch with Shen Qingqiu and ask him too; that encyclopedic bear trap anti-fan mind of his will definitely catch any details that Shang Qinghua has forgotten. They should already have the ingredients to create most antidotes, unless it's something that requires a 1000-year old magical night-blooming flower or some stupid shit like that, or worse, something that requires - Shang Qinghua freezes, struck by an awful thought.
He whirls to face Mobei Jun, who is watching him pace with poorly concealed amusement.
"My king, what is the name of the poison?"
"It is called 'A Remnant of Grace.'"
Shang Qinghua blanches. Mobei Jun sobers at the expression on his face.
"You know of it."
Shang Qinghua nods. A Remnant of Grace is a rare, insidious demonic poison that slowly and silently strips away a demon's spiritual veins and meridians before attacking the vulnerable core. It renders all cultivation useless the longer it goes uncured, leaving the victim mortal and completely powerless. It's not commonly used as an assassination tool because it takes a while to ramp up, but once it reaches a demon's core, the effects become irreversible, and death is inevitable. It is usually seen as a cruel method of execution for political prisoners.
Another reason it's not often used is because the cure is, of course, dual cultivation. No one wants their very expensive and rare poison to be nullified by a single night of [BEEP], but in this case, it's absolutely an advantage! An easy cure! Thank god! Shang Qinghua feels nearly giddy with relief.
"What stage is the poison in, my king?"
"It is in the early stages, but if you know of it already, then you know that there is nothing to be done."
"What do you mean?! Of course there's something to be done! It's easy! All my king needs to do is dual cultivate with someone - "
"No," Mobei Jun says shortly.
Shang Qinghua's smile freezes solid on his face. "No?"
"No." Mobei Jun downs the rest of his tea. "This king will not."
Shang Qinghua sputters soundlessly, hands flailing. His thoughts run in panicked circles, trying to figure out why the script has gone so far off the rails.
"M-my king! Why not?! It's the cure! It will solve everything!"
Mobei Jun's eyes flash in warning. "This king is aware."
"Then - then why!"
A shadow of an expression flits across Mobei Jun's face, too quick to make sense of. His gaze seems particularly intense when it lands on Shang Qinghua.
"This Mobei Jun refuses to concede to any enemy seeking to gain favor or advantage in this cowardly manner. Unless there is some other cure to be found, this king refuses to dual cultivate with some stranger."
He gets up and sweeps out of the room, leaving Shang Qinghua open-mouthed behind him, at a complete loss for what to do.
A few hours later, Shang Qinghua sits slumped at his writing desk, head in his hands, despair in his heart.
After conferring with the northern palace's head healer, who had diagnosed the poison, he now knows the timeline they're working with.
A Remnant of Grace is a slow-acting poison, and the speed of the blight depends on the strength of the demon afflicted. Mobei Jun, as one of the most powerful demons in the entire demon realm, has more time than most. The healer estimates at least a year before it reaches his core.
That's plenty of time to cure him…if only Mobei Jun would allow himself to be cured!
After racking his brains and mentally reviewing the chapters in which the poison originally featured, Shang Qinghua is forced to conclude that his memory isn't lying to him. Unlike some of the other poisons he'd made in this vein, there is no alternate cure for a Remnant of Grace.
Stupid world! Stupid author! he curses, pulling angrily at his hair.
Worst of all, he doesn't understand why this happened in the first place! He's never written any weird aphrodisiac-fueled papaplotlines for Mobei Jun, not even a draft or a throwaway line. The worst he's done is vaguely imagine it, but he can't be held accountable for his thoughts! So why does his king have to undergo this stupid fuck or die trope when it had never been in the original story! Has Cucumber-bro changed the plot so much that the buildup of unused storylines is starting to pull other characters into an inescapable XXX event horizon?
If so, Liu Qingge exists! So does Yue Qingyuan! Leave his king out of this! Shang Qinghua would like to remove Mobei Jun from the running for the dubious honor of secondary male lead!
And why is Mobei Jun being so stubborn? The cure is right there! Easily available! No thousand-year old flower required! Just one good round of XXX to cure him!
Turning the situation over in his mind though, Shang Qinghua arrives at the unhappy conclusion that there's no one Mobei Jun can turn to for something this sensitive. Despite all his titles, his lands, his power, Mobei Jun is so isolated. He doesn't trust anyone.
Sure, if people knew that Mobei Jun, King of the north, Regent of the demon realm, Right-hand general to Emperor Luo Binghe, needed a little bit of help with dual cultivation, there would be a queue of eager volunteers spanning from the northern desert all the way down to the southern seas! But there is no way in hell that Mobei Jun would ever consider it, if his testy response today was any indicator of his willingness. Plus, releasing information about the poisoning is an awful idea. Just hearing that Mobei Jun has been weakened could cause their enemies to try their hand at a coup.
The Mobei clan has plenty of alliances they might turn to, but they're demon alliances. They would just as easily take advantage of this to kill Mobei Jun, or demand some concession or humiliation from him first. And the shame of having to ask for help with something like this...the entire Mobei clan would lose face.
Even within the Mobei clan, there would be infighting about how to best proceed, if Mobei Jun continues being stubborn (guaranteed). Plus, Linguang Jun is still out there, just waiting for the opportunity to finish the job he started. For those exact reasons, the only people who know what's happened are Mobei Jun, the head healer who diagnosed him, Shang Qinghua, and two of his king's most trustworthy clan elders.
This means that Shang Qinghua has the only working brain capable of finding a solution. He tugs a little harder at his hair, tearing up from the stress.
My king, why won't you just dual cultivate with someone and get it over with!
The two Mobei clan elders hold a strategic planning session with everyone in the know, in which two possible courses of action are established.
The first and easiest way out would be find someone to do the deed with as quickly as possible, like visiting a top tier house of pleasure or hiring a discreet high end escort or several. Mobei Jun rejects this plan entirely, to the protests of both elders.
When Mobei Jun retires to his bedchambers the following night to finish up the day's remaining paperwork, he has Shang Qinghua in tow because he needs more input on the trade issue of the week. Thus, it's Shang Qinghua and not Mobei Jun who opens the bedroom door to see eight extremely beautiful and finely dressed courtesans awaiting within.
Shang Qinghua slams the door shut immediately. Sweating, he turns to face Mobei Jun, who is staring at him impatiently.
"Haha! Um, m-my king! Maybe we should, uh...go back to the discussion room! There's more space, and uh, I really need to spread out all these scrolls, and your desk isn't big enough, and - "
Mobei Jun's face darkens ominously. "What's inside."
"Nothing, nothing! Nothing at all, my king! How about we just uh, take a break really quick and, uh, get a snack, or something - " Mobei Jun moves past him and reaches for the door. Shang Qinghua drops everything he's holding and plasters himself against the doorframe, bracing for a kick.
Mobei Jun doesn't kick him. He does distastefully peel Shang Qinghua off the door frame, finger by finger, and open the door despite Shang Qinghua begging him not to.
Shang Qinghua hears the whisper of eight sets of silk robes falling to the floor and a chorus of respectful greetings in soft voices. Part of him howls that he didn't get to see that heavenly sight for sore eyes. Another part of him is already racing to do damage control.
Mobei Jun slams the door shut, his face thunderous. Frost races out from him like a murderous tide, spidering across the floor and up the walls, leaving Shang Qinghua curled up on a tiny island of frost-free tile. Dark qi fills the air like a cloud of black smoke, malevolent. Mobei Jun's eyes are incandescent with fury, his demon mark glowing bright blue. He snarls once and reaches for the door again, dripping killing intent.
At great personal risk to himself, Shang Qinghua flings himself up off the floor and clutches Mobei Jun's powerful forearm.
"My king!" he cries, hanging off Mobei Jun's arm. "It's not their fault! They were probably just hired to - for, to provide services! We need to find out who hired them! Please don't kill them, my king! Exercise your mercy!"
At least half of those women were probably supposed to belong to Luo Binghe at some point in time. Probably all of them, considering the odds. He can't allow his king to cold-bloodedly kill potential wives of the protagonist just because the story is in the epilogue! There's probably some kind of awful karmic vengeance waiting for him if he does that!
Mobei Jun seethes visibly, glaring at him, but he doesn't turn Shang Qinghua into an icicle in his fury. He jerks his arm to toss Shang Qinghua aside and wrenches the door open again.
"Out!!" he roars. The eight girls file out quickly with no complaint, not wanting to risk Mobei Jun's foul mood. Mobei Jun grabs the wrist of the last one, making her yelp. "Who hired you," he snarls, frost crackling threateningly over his knuckles.
The scared girl drops the name of the direct subordinate of one of the Mobei elders, and Mobei Jun shoves her away, his face murderous. "See them gone from the palace grounds," he snaps at one of the guards who have come running, attracted by the commotion.
"My king, he meant well!" Shang Qinghua tries, hastily picking scrolls off the floor. This is a blatant lie, he personally thinks it was a terrible idea! His king doesn't tolerate strangers in his personal space, everyone knows that. This plan was a failure from the start!
Mobei Jun is not in a magnanimous mood either, and summarily tosses the clan elder into mandatory secluded cultivation in the black ice caves. That puts a hard stop to any further attempts at Plan #1.
The second, more difficult way out would be to not disclose the poisoning and find someone to marry as quickly as possible, which is likely what triggered this whole mess in the first place.
Shang Qinghua would bet good money that it was one of the four other noble demon families of the north getting impatient with Mobei Jun's lack of interest in taking a consort. If it wasn't them, there are 600+ displaced women in the market for a powerful demonic husband after Luo Binghe lovingly took up a life of monogamous bliss. The poison could have come from any number of candidates looking to force Mobei Jun's hand, but that doesn't mean that marriage isn't a fitting answer to the current problem.
He ignores a weird feeling, like a stampede of black moon rhinoceros pythons flattening his heart, as he makes the suggestion of marriage, detailing the benefits of an alliance with several high ranking demonic families while murderously wondering which of them had dared to poison his king. He even puts together binders with illustrations and qualifications for his king to review, like a real matchmaker!
His king takes one look at the binders and flatly refuses. Not only does he refuse, he gets angry about it! Plunging the entire room into a deep chill with his bad temper and making Shang Qinghua shiver and cower behind the nearest available furniture! He ignores the remaining Mobei elder who suggests the same thing, absolutely vehement in his denial, his dark scowl cold enough to frost over the sun! With one clipped sentence, Mobei Jun makes it clear that a mandatory and very unfun session of secluded cultivation in the black ice caves is in the future of anyone who goes behind his back to arrange a marriage for him. That puts a stop to Plan #2.
The black moon rhinoceros pythons trampling Shang Qinghua's sore heart disperse. The feelings of overbearing dread and worry over his king's fate do not, because now they're all out of ideas and still no closer to convincing Mobei Jun towards the cure.
There...is a third possible course of action, but Shang Qinghua doesn't even give voice to it because he thinks he might actually die if he says it out loud. Just thinking about it makes him all sweaty.
And besides, Luo Binghe would never agree anyways!
No. No no no. Shen Qingqiu would kill him for even daring to suggest it, and then Luo Binghe would set whatever was left of him on fire because he made Shen Qingqiu mad. Either way, he would die, so he definitely doesn't give it any more thought!
Only he does . He can't help it! Because if Mobei Jun doesn't find someone to dual cultivate with, he will die within one year.
Mobei Jun takes this realization much more calmly than Shang Qinghua. When Shang Qinghua confirms, again, that there is no other cure besides dual cultivation, Mobei Jun remains perfectly composed. Shang Qinghua wishes he wasn't! He wishes his king would rage, and let his bad temper out, and act spoiled, and demand to be cured at once! His king can't die to something like this! He just can't!
Mobei Jun does none of that. He has no immediate heir, so he starts looking through his family tree for an appropriate successor to his title. Making the necessary preparations for his own upcoming death like it's going to happen within one month instead of one year, like he's already committed to his fate.
Shang Qinghua watches him do this, sitting in the chair next to Mobei Jun's writing desk, his knee bouncing with frustrated energy, one foot tapping an increasingly faster rhythm on the thick carpet of the study. The deep injustice of it chokes him. The hopelessness of the situation is unbearable. He glances at his king, hoping to see his icy anger, or frustration, or fury, or something at the stupidity of it all!
There is nothing on Mobei Jun's face except quiet resignation.
Shang Qinghua bursts to his feet abruptly, unable to bear it any longer.
"I'll do it!" he shouts, furious.
Mobei Jun stares at him, startled. He puts the heavy book of bloodlines down.
Shang Qinghua's brain finally catches up to his mouth and the bravado in him seeps away like a receding tide. "I - I mean - " he stutters, already preparing his apologies.
"You'll do what?" Mobei Jun asks.
Shang Qinghua swallows tensely. He glances at the heavy book underneath Mobei Jun's hand, thinks of the tired acceptance in his king's eyes at his inevitable fate. He straightens and tilts his chin up decisively.
"My king. Please permit this servant to cultivate with you in order to cure you of this poison."
Mobei Jun stares at him for so long that Shang Qinghua starts to fidget. A trickle of cold sweat rolls down the back of his neck. This was a bad idea, a bad idea, such a bad -
"Are you certain?" Mobei Jun finally asks. His blue stare is very, very intense.
Shouldn't I be the one asking you that, my king?!
"Yes," Shang Qinghua says fiercely, hands clenched into fists. "My king already knows that this servant would never do this to seek any kind of favor or advantage."
"Because your death is completely unacceptable to me, my king! This one is willing! This servant will do anything to ensure that my king survives this!" Shang Qinghua bows down onto one knee, heedless of his dignity.
He feels incredibly stupid, making a big bold declaration like this. That sort of thing should be reserved for the protagonist, not cannon fodder #217! And saying it like it's some kind of hardship for him, when his king is so beautiful - when he's had so many daydreams about -
Salting the wound, the System chimes in.
【+100 cool points! Looking cool, host!】
Shang Qinghua grits his teeth and turns off the notifications. When had those come back?! He squares his shoulders and looks up at his king.
He does not retract the offer!
Mobei Jun looks at the book, then back at him. Shang Qinghua wishes he'd made Mobei Jun a teensy bit more transparent with his facial expressions. What are you thinking right now, my king?!
Coming to some kind of decision, Mobei Jun stands up very suddenly. He reaches for his belt and starts undoing it, letting his outer robe fall to the ground. He's - he's undressing?! Shang Qinghua bolts to his feet with a squeak and grabs his hands, stopping him.
"My king! What are you doing?!"
Mobei Jun stills under his fingers. "You said you would assist this king."
"I - I didn't mean right now!"
It's not like Shang Qinghua is going to lay Mobei Jun down on his writing desk and just - just do him right there!! This is his king! He deserves - roses, and, and candles, and perfumes, and things! What the hell!
"I…" Shang Qinghua's mouth feels very dry. "Give this servant a week or so, my king. This one needs to make um. Some preparations."
Mobei Jun gives him a long, unreadable look before pulling his outer robe back on, to Shang Qinghua's immense relief. "Five days. Delegate your duties to others and make your preparations."
"Y-yes, my king! Understood, my king."
Mobei Jun stares at him some more, making Shang Qinghua sweat for a long minute before he gathers his cloak and sweeps out of the room. "Come to my bedchambers that night," he calls before the door clicks shut behind him.
Shang Qinghua sinks down to the floor on shaking legs. He whimpers a little with disbelief. Did...did he really just proposition his king? More importantly, didn't his king just agree to it?!
Oh god. Oh shit. Uhh. Fuck. Fuck! His hands are so sweaty.
The thing is, he's never had sex before. He's especially never had sex with anyone as stunning as his king, who only deserves the best. Shang Qinghua is far from the best, and maybe, possibly, closer to being the worst. He is just a virgin with one dick, two hands, a lot of enthusiasm, and no technique! That has to change, pronto!
Oh god, is Mobei Jun a virgin?! That…can't be possible, right? There are demons literally lining up in hopes of getting a glimpse of him when he holds court, and his king is so strong, and so beautiful, and - Shang Qinghua thinks of Mobei Jun's emphatic refusal to marry or [BEEP] someone for the cure and his tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth.
If his king is a virgin, he deserves to have a god-level first time, not Shang Qinghua pawing awkwardly at his gorgeous, sculpted body! Mobei Jun deserves succubus-queen level of multiple orgasms for his first time, not, not Shang Qinghua! He wants to wail!
My king! It's not like this servant can ask if you've done it before!
And why is this old man the one who has to top?!