The man can barely see through the cloud that covers his eyes, a mist of rage and betrayal and... confusion.
This anger isn't my own, he thinks. It's a cloak someone has thrown over my head, one that I can pluck away and cast aside.
The confusion, which should make things more hazy, instead has the opposite effect. It clears his head, lets his eyes open and really see what lies before him.
He's beautiful, the man thinks inanely. His long hair spilling over his shoulders, his fair skin, his swan-like neck...
This isn't right.
This isn't what I--
[Activation code: “Stupid author stupid novel.” System automatically triggered.]
The voice speaks in his head, an automated thing that echoes throughout it.
Liu Jiahao lowers his hands, which had been wrapped around the man's neck.
“Liu-shidi, are you all right?” The man is coughing, but he sounds hopeful, and there's an eager light in his eyes.
Liu Jiahao is a man of logic, of impeccable reasoning and straightforward thinking. He doesn't speak before he's ready to, he uses his words sparingly, and when he finally makes his judgment, it's always unchanging and final.
“No,” he says.
Damn you, he thinks.
Or rather, Liu Qingge thinks because if this ridiculous System insanity that seems permanently lodged in his head speaks the truth, he's currently trapped in the body of the starter scum villain of Ambitious Unending Demon's War, Liu Qingge.
Liu Qingge, the bullying, bloodythirsty Peak Lord of Bai Zhan, a man who never met a fight he didn't want to take on or an enemy he didn't want to crush into the ground. And by enemies, he meant everyone because Liu Qingge learned at a young age that the only way to survive was to be the strongest, the fiercest, the one that could beat before he could be beaten.
Liu Qingge, who died screaming and cursing Luo Binghe, with the greatest revenge being that he wasn't even the strongest villain the hero had to face. He was a disc-one boss, a nothing that was left behind to rot and be forgotten as AUDW veered into--
Look, Liu Jiahao didn't read the book for the plot, because there was quite a bit of terrible and pointless meanderings about Luo Binghe's conquests and could anyone blame him for skipping past that part to get to the more interesting stuff, like the epically gory and gratuitious battles in which many limbs went flying? It was fairly obvious that Airplane Shooting Toward the Sky was a horrible writer that had copied quite a bit from some much better wuxia, but--
No, he thinks. Stop making excuses. You have to take responsibility for your actions. You were the one that chose to read lesser literature when you should have been studying the classics.
You have only yourself to blame.
“Zhangmen-shixiong, he seems to have suffered some memory loss,” Mu Qingfang says. “It's not uncommon in Qi deviations this serious.”
Yue Qingyuan frowns, but nods. “I see,” he says. “Liu-shidi, it might be best if you take some time to rest and recover.”
Liu Qingge grunts.
[OOC Alert!] flashes before his eyes.
He grunts again, makes it slightly angrier sounding.
The System subsides.
Yue Qingyuan holds out his hands placatingly. “Just give it a week,” he says, almost pleadingly.
You're too kind, Zhangmen-shixiong, Liu Qingge thinks. It's how the original took advantage of you, used your desire to help at least one angry young man out when he failed the first time and twisted it to his liking, destroying those he deemed beneath him in the process because Cang Qiong couldn't afford weaklings like Luo Binghe...
Or his teacher, Shen Qingqiu.
Shen Qingqiu, who sits across the table from him and smiles behind his everpresent fan, before coughing and raising one delicate white hand to his mouth. If this was the original story, he wouldn't be sitting here. He'd be unconscious for three years, a combination of his frail health and the injuries that Liu Qingge dealt before he came to his senses and made up a demon attack to explain what happened to Qing Jing's precious Peak Lord.
Luo Binghe didn't believe him, but it didn't matter, not when the original Liu Qingge kept pushing him down day after day, refusing to let anyone else teach him, and constantly reminding him of just how weak he was, how he couldn't save his Shizun, how he was nothing and nobody and--
A surge of loathing fills Liu Qingge and he swallows it back, keeps the unreadable expression upon his face. He nods. “Fine,” he says curtly. “A week.”
There's a naked look of relief that passes between the two head Peak Lords, and Liu Qingge grips his fists tighter.
If I'm stuck here, he thinks, if this isn't all some feverish dying dream or a manifestation of insanity, then there's nothing that says things have to go the same way.
[Warning] The System begins to say in his head.
Liu Qingge cracks his knuckles.
“Are you sure?” Mu Qingfang asks doubtfully. “I mean no offense, Liu-shixiong, but you've always been resistant to this in the past.”
Well, I would be more resistent, Liu Qingge thinks, but I've managed to bully the System into keeping quiet and letting me get rid of the OOC stupidity it was trying to foist upon me. Instead, he says, “I feel that I owe Shen-shixiong a debt and I wish to repay it.”
Mu Qingfang still eyes him, skeptical. “It requires a delicate touch,” he says. “Perhaps--”
Liu Qingge growls.
“Fine, fine,” Mu Qingfang relents. “But if anything happens to Shen-shixiong--”
Yeah, Liu Qingge thinks. I know what will happen. You'll all hate me and want to kill me, but none of you will because I'm stronger and more ruthless than almost all of you and Yue Qingyuan will shut himself away until it's too late.
It'll take the protagonist to finally kill me, and I'll deserve it.
I've always believed that.
“I won't hurt him,” Liu Qingge says. It's meaningless to say it, of course, since all of Liu Qingge's actions pretty much say the opposite of these flimsy words.
Mu Qingfang's face changes, into a more thoughtful, pondering one, and he peers at Liu Qingge. “You know,” he says. “I actually believe you.”
I'm just doing this to be a better person, Liu Qingge thinks.
Shen Qingqiu is a nice young man who didn't deserve his fate and if it means that I don't die at the hands of the protagonist, it's a good thing. Why risk a battle that you know you're destined to lose?
Fight smart or don't fight at all.
He steels himself, knocks on Shen Qingqiu's door. You're doing the right thing.
Shen Qingqiu opens it.
He's flushed, disheveled, and yawning as if he barely woke up. Which, given that it's mid-afternoon and his students have been given the day off, is entirely possible.
Another reason Liu Qingge hated him. Kindness or laziness, it was the same to the original.
“Liu-shidi,” he says sleepily. “What brings you here?”
Liu Qingge blinks. This density cannot be real, he thinks. If I was really Liu Qingge, you should have shut the door on my face by now. True, I hadn't gotten around to actually tormenting your disciple yet, but I almost killed you the other day. If it wasn't for this insanity I'm calling my current existence, you'd be in a coma, while your demon disciple swore revenge against the world that put you there.
No one can be this forgiving.
Liu Qingge clears his throat. “You might want to get dressed,” he says mildly. “I'm here to help you.”
And Shen Qingqiu's face shouldn't brighten that much, shouldn't look pleased at this, shouldn't... be so Shen Qingqiu.
He rushes off, leaving Liu Qingge standing there awkwardly.
The thing is, when he read the novel, he wasn't really paying attention to the characters beyond basic details. Luo Binghe was the hero. Liu Qingge was a villain.
Shen Qingqiu was the kindly mentor that existed to give Luo Binghe a reason to really hate Liu Qingge and strive to get his revenge after--
Liu Qingge sort of skipped through the early chapters, since they were mostly “Luo Binghe gets picked on by Liu Qingge, most of the Peak is oblivious to it, and a random girl shows up to comfort him.” Boring, repetitive, and really kind of uncomfortable after a while.
But even with all of this tedium, it's hard to forget the climax of the first part:
Liu Qingge's sword flashed and blood flew into the air.
But it was not Luo Binghe whose body lay impaled upon his blade.
“Shizun!” Luo Binghe cried. “No, what have you done? You should still be--”
Shen Qingqiu coughed and smiled. “How could I sleep when my student is in danger?” He put his hand to Luo Binghe's cheek. “Don't cry,” he said softly. “Saving you was worth it.”
“Weakness,” Liu Qingge scoffed, pulling the blade out of the unresisting body as it tumbled to the grouund. “You should have fought harder if you truly wanted to save him. What good does dying do?”
There was a rumble from beneath him, and Liu Qingge jumped back quickly, as more of the cliffside eroded. Below them, the Abyss stared up, black and endless. It was terrible.
But not nearly as terrible as the red in Luo Binghe's eyes or the vengeance promised by them.
“You may be a demon,” Liu Qingge hissed, and pressed forward, forcing Luo Binghe to the edge, “but you're still young and weak. You're no match for me.”
Luo Binghe's foot slipped. “Maybe not,” he said quietly. “But we know that you can only get weaker from here.”
He stepped backwards, let himself fall.
His words still carried up to Liu Qingge, however, and for the first time, Liu Qingge was truly terrified.
“But I'll get stronger.”
Unsurprisingly, the very first person the new Demon Lord took his revenge on was Liu Qingge and it was truly horrific indeed.
So Liu Qingge definitely has a reason to avoid this whole terrible fate. But he doesn't really know that much about Shen Qingqiu besides the faintly-sketched cliché of the noble mentor whose death spurs the hero onto greater things.
It's fine, he thinks. Just don't be cruel, keep him healthy, and whatever you do, don't piss Luo Binghe off.
Shen Qingqiu comes back into the room, looking more like an immortal Peak Lord. He's smiling still, as if he finds this all deeply amusing.
Liu Qingge shakes his head. Just stick to your plan, he thinks.
They sit down. Shen Qinqiu extends one delicate wrist.
Liu Qingge shows no outward emotion, but there's a warmth that spreads through him and it's not the Qi's he's starting to circulate into Shen Qingqiu.
[Congratulations! +500 points to “The inherent eroticism of clearing someone's meridians!”]
Mentally, he stabs the System.
The scream is ear-piercing, terrified, and oh, yes, coming directly from the protagonist.
“Fuck,” Liu Qingge mutters and thinks he hears a muffled laugh in response.
Bai Zhan Peak is relatively easy to handle.
Liu Qingge never willingly took a disciple and Luo Binghe still has his teacher, so there's no need to worry about having to expressly look after anyone. The students he does have are self-sufficient, independent, and frankly terrified of him, so if their own Shizun has decided to leave them alone rather than constantly try to fight them, they chalk it up to a brilliant stroke of fortune rather than the change of soul occupying the body.
Really, Liu Qingge, they're just kids. No need to go all out on them when making them run laps works just as well.
It also means that Liu Qingge has plenty of time to try to get used to this world. He really wants to start his monster-fighting, hunting down the various creatures that were one of the highlights of this otherwise boring world.
But he supposes until he masters his cultivation, Hell might be a little bit out of his reach.
Otherwise, for a book called Demon's War, it's remarkably dull and filled with monotony.
He sips his tea, keeps his same stoic expression, and tries not to wish for something exciting to happen.
One of his various interchangeable students runs up, making a deep, terrified bow. “I am so sorry to trouble you, but there is a situation that may require your assistance.”
Liu Qingge tries not to roll his eyes. Get to the point, he thinks. “Yes?”
And then he hears the screaming in the distance.
“There are demons at the--”
Oh, fuck, already?
It seemed much longer in the book, which is why Liu Qingge happened to skim over the various events that had happened, but yes, this would be the time that the first demonic invasion occurred.
With Yue Qingyuan gone, Qiong Ding was vulnerable to attack and the demons had taken full advantage.
Which means... well, in AUDW, Luo Binghe and his pupils had held the demons at bay, relying upon their inadequate strength. Several were lost, including Shen Qingqiu's main disciple, Ming Fan, who gave his life to save Luo Binghe, despite their mutual animosity.
Liu Qingge only turned up at the end, once he deemed that enough of the “weaklings” had been eliminated and was greatly shocked and displeased to realize that Luo Binghe had managed to survive at the cost of other's lives. To him, it was just further confirmation that the protagonist wasn't strong enough to make it on his own and needed to be shown as the coward that he clearly was.
The original Liu Qingge was many things, but intelligent was not one of them.
But now, Luo Binghe wouldn't be on his own. He'd have--
Powerful, but physically vulnerable Shen Qingqiu who would throw himself in front of his students, strive to protect each and every one of them, die for--
Oh, for fuck's sake.
“We're going,” Liu Qingge says and sweeps off without a backward glance.
There's a hand that touches his brow, wiping it carefully. “Honestly, Liu-shidi,” the voice says. “You don't need to take every fight upon yourself.”
Liu Qingge opens his eyes and immediately regrets it, as the pain strikes in his forehead and travels down, filling him with an aching pain.
Shen Qingqiu comes into blurry view. “You're lucky,” he says thoughtfully. “Mu-shidi thought for a second you were hit with the Without A Cure poison.”
Liu Qingge blanches and Shen Qingqiu nods sympathetically. Because the only cure for that is—no, he's not asking the protagonist to help out in that regard. Ever.
“But you will have to take it easy for some time,” Shen Qingqiu continues. “Even lesser demonic poisons take some time to work through your system.” His face brightens. “Fortunately, that means I can return the favor you've been granting me.”
His hand, warm and thin, wraps around Liu Qingge's wrist.
“I don't need your Qi,” Liu Qingge manages to grit out, as he lifts his own hand to try to gently take Shen Qingqiu's fingers off his wrist.
And Shen Qingqiu looks—hurt.
“Liu-shidi, I know we haven't always gotten along, but you're hurt.” Shen Qingqiu looks downcast. “Please let me help you at least for a little bit.”
“It's not that,” he says, because that look is far more devastating than any demonic venom circulating through his veins. “You don't need to—you shouldn't have to help me.” Not in your condition, he thinks, but something in him refrains from saying that part out loud.
Shen Qingqiu, damn him, still sees through what he doesn't say and smiles gently. “But I want to, Liu-shidi,” he says. “Let us help each other?”
This is why you're Yue Qingyuan's head disciple, Liu Qingge thinks. Like him, you have the ability to make people do things against their worst nature.
“All right,” he agrees, and mentally adds, but the protagonist is definitely going to kill me now.
“If you wouldn't mind staying, Liu-shidi,” Yue Qingyuan says, in a polite, gentle voice that leaves no room for disagreement.
Shen Qingqiu flashes him a sympathetic smile before he exits the room.
Liu Qingge has never been timorous in any of his incarnations, but something about Yue Qingyuan makes him slightly nervous. He is, after all, the strongest of the Peak Lords, even if he doesn't choose to ever display his strength.
The original thought it a sign of weakness in a man long past his prime.
This Liu Qingge knows better. Did he not read the extras in which Yue Qingyuan went on epic journeys in his youth, long before he established himself as the leader of Cang Qiong? Monster-hunting, slaying of demons, even a promised battle with a dragon – Liu Qingge devoured it all and wondered if perhaps Airplane-Bro had finally decided to write a proper novel.
“Xiao-jiu, please!” Yue Qingyuan's voice called through the mist, a song of lament that matched the skies crying like the tears that dripped down his face.
“Don't call me that,” Shen Jiu snarled. “I am a friend of nothing, a brother to despair and pain. My father was right. The world could never understand me.”
“Lies,” and the dragon lashed his tail out.
Yue Qingyuan refused to look away, even as it came close to his face – and stopped.
“You're a fool,” Shen Jiu said softly. “Even if you could accept me, we both know your duty. And I know mine. I am the ninth son of the Stormbringing Dragon. Nothing can change that.”
Yue Qingyuan could only watch as he flew away, his sworn brother, his companion. There was no magic he could use to make him stay and words turned to ash in his mouth.
It would be the greatest regret of his life.
So instead of the epic confrontation that was promised against the forces of the Peony Temple, they got an entire chapter of Yue Qingyuan feeling guilty and deciding he would only use his sword when there was no other choice.
No more battles. No more wars. Just moping.
Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky definitely heard Clouds and Rain's displeasure over that plot development for a full month.
“Yes, Zhangmen-shixiong,” he says calmly and sits back down.
Yue Qingyuan keeps smiling and places his hands gently on the table, wrapping his hands around a delicate porcelain cup. “Are you feeling better, Liu-shidi?”
Liu Qingge shrugs. “Fine,” he says.
“Mu-shidi says that you seem to be recovering nicely.” Yue Qingyuan takes a sip of tea. “It appears that Qingqiu-shidi has been assisting you.”
Yue Qingyuan's smile doesn't waver. “Mu-shidi assures me that his condition shouldn't worsen from his help in your treatment, but I would hope you could allay my concerns on that front as well.”
Well, shit.That's what he gets for getting too close to Yue Qingyuan's favored disciple.
“I'm making sure that Shen-shixiong doesn't exert himself too much,” Liu Qingge says. “I am sure I will fully recover soon and then there will be no need to call upon him.”
Yue Qingyuan's smile turns more pensive and his eyes grow distant. “I believe you may misunderstand me slightly,” he says. “I'm not asking you to stop your association. In fact,” and his stare is piercing into Liu Qingge now, “I believe it's done you quite a bit of good. I thought it might.”
He blinks. “That's—good?”
“You seem to be a calmer person, Liu-shidi,” Yue Qingyuan says. “And your students have noticed a change as well.”
Then it's a good thing I shut down the System, Liu Qingge thinks. I'd probably be into negative points by now for complete and utter OOCness. “They've started getting slightly better,” he says instead. Perhaps if the original hadn't completely terrified them into either hiding from him or beating the shit out of each other, it wouldn't have taken him this long to get them to an acceptable base state.
“I suppose so,” Yue Qingyuan says. His face is still thoughtful, as if the words he's speaking aren't really registering. He seems to be somewhere far away, a past or a place that Liu Qingge can't reach.
He is taken aback, therefore, when Yue Qingyuan reaches across the table and firmly grasps Liu Qingge's arm.
“Zhangmen-shixiong?” he blurts out.
“Qingqiu-shidi's always been a good child,” Yue Qingyuan says. “Take care of him.”
Why did that feel like he suddenly got permission for something he didn't ask for?
“Certainly,” Liu Qingge manages to say and definitely doesn't run out the door as soon as he's able to.
“Really,” Shen Qingqiu says. “Shixiong is always so overprotective.” He fans himself. “I'm not a child anymore.”
Liu Qingge sits there awkwardly. “If this is a bad time--”
“Nonsense.” Shen Qingqiu waves his hand. “Just ignore Shang-shidi like I do.” His smile is radiant.
Shang Qinghua lets out a huff. “You know, you were the one that asked me to come over.”
“Of course,” Shen Qingqiu says, and his smile vanishes. His eyes narrow and Liu Qingge... shivers.
What the hell? How did he go from sunshine to shadow so quickly?
“After all,” Shen Qingqiu continues, “I do find myself in need of some assistance and you seem the most likely candidate to help me.”
Shang Qinghua gulps and looks nervous, which isn't that surprising. Liu Qingge's wracking his memory for the relevant bits about him. It's not much, considering that Shang Qinghua was a minor character at best, only there to provide a name for one of the numerous Peak Lords of Cang Qiong. He wasn't a notable fighter, only an average cultivator, and even his Peak was a background one. The original Liu Qingge saw him as a fly that he would occasionally bat away, but nothing worth devoting any sort of attention to.
Honestly, what he was most known for was his friendship with Shen Qingqiu, something only briefly explored in the Yue Qingyuan extras. It was one of those cutesy side stories that Liu Qingge vaguely remembered skimming through before realizing with dawning horror that it a: featured children and b: had no fighting. Really, it was just unnecessary padding to show how beloved Shen Qingqiu was by all, and to give Shang Qinghua a plausible reason for betraying Cang Qiong.
“Why would someone like you betray Cang Qiong?” Luo Binghe said. The demonic energy radiated from him, a dark power that dominated all who saw it. “They're your people. Peak Lords,” he added with a curled lip.
“Not anymore,” Shang Qinghua quietly said. “Shen Qingqiu was my friend. I grew up with him after Yue Qingyuan took us both in from our families who didn't want us. He was my best friend. He was my brother. And yet no one has stood up to Liu Qingge and challenged him about what he's done.”
Mobei-jun, the gorgeous ice demon and second-in-command of the demonic army, stepped forwards. “You could be lying to us,” he said, conjuring up a spear of ice. “Why shouldn't we kill you now and take the information from your body?”
But Luo Binghe shook his head. “No,” he answered. “If he can be of use to us, then we shall use him. No sense in wasting what might be valuable.”
Shang Qinghua blinked back his tears. He had been prepared to die that day, to see his beloved friend avenged, but it appeared that the demons were more noble than the humans he had grown up with.
So perhaps it was something serious that Shen Qingqiu needed help with, the kind of thing he could only ask an old childhood friend for.
With a flourish, Shen Qingqiu whips out a book and sets it on the table.
Liu Qingge peers at it closely and only too late does he realize his mistake. The gaudy cover, the men embracing, the--
“Would you mind explaining this, Shang-shidi?” Shen Qingqiu asks sweetly. “Is this another one of your literary masterpieces?”
Liu Qingge's face is hot and he knows he has to be crimson by now.
Shang Qinghua picks it up and thumbs through it, showing little embarassment. It's not good evidence for his innocence, and the grin doesn't help. “You should know, Shen-shixiong,” he says. “Aren't you the expert scholar on my work?”
“Only because someone has to keep filth like this out of the hands of our disciples.”
Shang Qinghua's grin widens. “I'm sure that's also the reason that if I picked up one of my “filth” from wherever you're currently hiding it, I definitely wouldn't find any sort of writing in it correcting my research.”
Liu Qingge knows he's not the most brilliant of people. He's not dumb, but he's not one to keep himself locked up with books when there's fresh air to be had. Still, there's something in his brain that clicks and he takes the opportunity to pluck the book out of Shang Qinghua's hands.
“Liu-shidi?” Shang Qinghua looks scared now as Liu Qingge flips through the book.
“Don't be angry,” Shen Qingqiu says. “You're scaring him and it's just a silly--”
He shuts the book firmly and slams it on the table. “Shen-shixiong,” he asks calmly, “would you mind stepping out for a second?”
“But this is my house,” Shen Qingqiu says and Liu Qingge refuses to acknowledge how absolutely adorable his little pout is.
“I just need a bit of time alone with Shang-shidi,” he says.
Now Shang Qinghua looks truly terrified.
The door shuts and they're alone.
“Listen, Liu-shidi, there's really no need to hurt me,” Shang Qinghua says, holding his arms out as if to ward him off.
Foolish, Liu Qingge thinks. If you were dealing with the original, he would have already broken those by now. “Well, let's see,” he says. “Should I not hurt you for writing this trash about Shen Qingqiu and me?”
He doesn't want to believe that Yue Qingyuan has seen this book, because that would present a mental image he's not comfortable with me, but clearly some of what is in it has gone around.
It would explain the look on Liu Mingyan's face when she saw her brother.
See, Liu Qingge, this is what you get for isolating yourself from your sister for so long. You get your assuming that the only reason you've been nice to her is that you're getting regularly laid.
The worst part is it's not even true.
Wait, that's the worst part? Liu Qingge shakes his head, but the thought persists.
Why does his brain say that?
No, Liu Qingge thinks, this is why Shang-shixiong has to pay.
“I'm sorry,” Shang Qinghua stammers. “I promise--”
“Or should I not hurt you for creating a world in which I inhabit a scum villain that bullies children, tries to kill his fellow lords, and ends up dead at the hands of the disciple he hurt the most?” Liu Qingge leans forward. “Airplane-Bro. “
Shang Qinghua's jaw drops in shock. “How do you--” He leaps to his feet and points his finger. “You transmigrated too!”
“Obviously,” Liu Qingge says. “At least your terrible writing style is consistent across universes.”
“You know, I already get shit about it from Shen Qingqiu,” Shang Qinghua complains, “and I wrote him. I don't need to hear it from--” He stops and frowns. “Who are you? Really?”
“Clouds and Rain,” Liu Qingge says.
There's silence. Liu Qingge can see the calculation on Liu Qingge's face as he tries to remember.
All right, so I wasn't the most active participants on the boards, Liu Qingge thinks. But surely...
Shang Qinghua squints. “Were you the guy that always complained I didn't put in enough fight scenes?”
Liu Qingge truly has mastered his discipline, for he refrains from punching Shang Qinghua in the face.“Yes,” he says evenly. “Among other things.”
“Huh.” Shang Qinghua flops down again, his terror seemingly gone. “You know for all the shit I've gone through in this world, the one good thing to come out of it is that I finally have a reader who appreciates all the research that goes into writing this.” He smiles. “Even if Shen Qingqiu will never admit it.”
Liu Qingge closes his eyes. “It's nice to see that destroying two people's lives has given you a fan.”
“You know, it's really weird to see sarcasm on that face,” Shang Qinghua muses. “Or any sort of expression other than rage.”
“Wait long enough and I give you that,” Liu Qingge says. “I'm fairly sure I have a well of anger that can be drawn from just for you.”
Shang Qinghua doesn't even bother to lift his head. “Dude, seriously, you're going to have to do more than yell at me. The System's been doing that for—forever.” He yawns. “You must have gotten sick of it too.”
“I wouldn't know,” Liu Qingge says. “I turned it off a long time ago.”
That does make Shang Qinghua sit upright in shock, his eyes going immediately to Liu Qingge's face. He's pale again. “You can do that?” he asks.
He should have known, though.
It's never that easy.
Villains don't give up with a simple defeat. Bullies can't always be backed down by standing up to them.
And there's only so much you can do before the story comes screaming back at you, demanding its sacrifice.
The message flashes across his vision.
“Is something wrong, Liu-shidi?” Shen Qingqiu must notice Liu Qingge's distraction, the interruption in flow of the qi and he shifts.
“Nothing's wrong,” Liu Qingge grits out. “I'm fine.”
He's fine, he's fine, it's the day of the Immortal Alliance Conference and everything's fine. The System turned on, but he doesn't have to deal with it, and it can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do.
[Special Event Notice: Must be performed in order for progression. Failure to do so will result in loss of 10000 points.]
I don't care, he thinks, and focuses on stabilizing Shen Qingqiu's qi. They've reached a comfortable equilibrium where he pretends not to notice Shen Qingqiu's lingering glances or sly remarks, and Shen Qingqiu doesn't bring up that he really doesn't need Liu-shidi coming over every day to check up on him.
It's a lie that works for both of them.
He tries to dismiss the System message.
[Current point balance is 100. You do not have enough points to skip this event. Punishment may occur.]
He still doesn't care, but it's clear it's not going to go away.
What is the event?
[Climax of first arc – Mentor Death must occur for protagonist plot progression. Cliffside duel above Abyss will be initiated in 3 hours.]
Of course is his first thought.
Fuck you follows right after.
[Refusal will result in punishment.]
I don't care, he thinks. If you think I'd choose killing Shen Qingqiu over physical pain, over punishment, over losing my life, you're wrong.
Because you didn't know my life before you came here. You don't know me at all.
[Liu Qingge will kill Shen Qingqiu.]
[Primary Plan failed. Punishment protocol activated. Secondary Plan activated]
And there's a searing pain in his head as he falls to the ground. Shen Qingqiu's qi falls away, the warmth leaving him as he slips into cold and darkness.
He's hoping it's him.
Liu Qingge has always been alone and he tells himself it's by choice.
And for a while, he can believe that.
He has a sister, whom he sends away, knowing that wherever she goes, she'll be safer than with him.
He fights, he bleeds, and with every body that drops at his feet, he learns that flesh is weak, that strength is the only coin that matters, that only the weak need help.
The strong stand on their own two feet.
So he arrives at Cang Qiong and he vows, he'll lead it one day. Yue Qingyuan will lose the stomach for it, it's plain to see, and if a few demonic invasions speed it along, well, it's a win for him there too.
But there's a smiling, kind obstacle in his way and it calls him Liu-shidi and laughs.
It looks after his students and says, really, Liu-shidi, they're just children. There's no need to be hard on them.
It shows up in meetings and politely argues against taking the war to the demons. We defend, it says. We don't attack.
The obstacle touches his shoulder gently and lets blossoms fall in its hair and it looks at Liu Qingge's scars with sympathy and he wants to hurt it so badly, because it's useless and lazy and beautiful and it just exists to make him want things that would make him weak like it.
And a voice in his head says, Shen Qingqiu means nothing to you.
The man can barely see through the cloud that covers his eyes, a mist of rage and betrayal and... no, he's done this before, and it can't make him do this, he won't do this, there's a sword in his hand and he'll run it through himself before he runs it through--
Shen Qingqiu steps forward and the sword--
Slides to the left of him, leaves his robes torn and fluttering in the wind.
“It's all right, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu says. “We're--”
Liu Qingge drops the sword, takes Shen Qingqiu into his arms. He's not crying. Liu Qingge would neve cry.
“We're fine,” Shen Qingqiu says quietly. “Qingge just needed to wake up.”
The last of the original Liu Qingge leaves his mind. There's a hole there, an abyss of its own that wants him to fall down it, to become a demon in human shape that inflicts his pain upon everyone around him.
Goodbye, Liu Qingge, he thinks. Please find peace wherever you end up.
And Liu Qingge kisses Shen Qingqiu because if there's only one lie he's going to keep living, it's not going to be the one about denying his feelings for Shen Qingqiu.
Impossible, beautiful, deeply complicated Shen Qingqiu.
It won't be easy.
There's pain in his head still, an overwhelming reminder of his punishment and the System won't take this easily, will probably still want to--
[Mentor Death failed. No more quests will be given.]
And the System turns off again. No threats, no points, just silence.
Liu Qingge doesn't know what that means, but he's alive. Shen Qingqiu's alive. Luo Binghe is glaring suspiciously at both of them, no doubt gearing up to scream at Liu Qingge about his arms around his precious Shizun.
He'll take it.
It's the least of what he's earned.
Shen Qingqiu nestles against him, his body leaning back in utter contentment. “If this is what Yue Qingyuan goes through on a daily basis,” he murmurs, “I'm going to run away and let Shang Qinghua deal with all this mess.”
Liu Qingge snorts. “Assuming you can pry him away from Mobei-jun's service,” he says. “You are going to do something about your fellow Peak Lord running away to join the demons.”
Shen Qingqiu lazily yawns behind his fan. “What's the point? I've already got enough work trying to keep the alliance going. I don't need a lovesick demonic general and Peak Lord moping around and making it worse.”
Plus, the fact that Shang Qinghua keeps bribing you with what appears to be volumes of demonic porn inspired by his time down there has nothing to do with it, I'm sure. For a man that claims to be so particular about his personal library, Liu Qingge has ran into a fair amount of smut in Shen Qingqiu's library.
It's been personally... inspiring.
“Zhangmen-shixiong is coming back at some point, right?” Shen Qingqiu hasn't given anyone the full details from the letter he was given, just saying that Yue Qingyuan has “personal affairs” to attend to, but in private, he did mention to Liu Qingge that if goes on for too much longer, they'll just track which area has the most rain and go from there.
Shen Qingqiu turns and gives Liu Qingge a sweet, soft kiss before he answers. “What, you don't trust me to run Cang Qiong?”
“I trust you,” Liu Qingge says. “But I would like more time alone with you.”
That's all Liu Qingge can get out before Shen Qingqiu puts his hands down his robes and well, Liu Qingge is a man who's had to put up with his boyfriend being swamped in paperwork and meetings.
No one can begrudge him this, especially when Shen Qingqiu is so hot and needy and perfect against him. He takes Shen Qingqiu's mouth with his own, tastes the sweetness of the fruit he's been nibbling on.
“Qingge,” Shen Qingqiu says, breathlessly when they break away. “Please.”
Everyone thinks that Liu Qingge just read it for the fight scenes. Even Liu Qingge.
But the truth is there was one other thing he read it for.
And now it's in his arms, lovely and warm, and--
“I love you,” he says.
Shen Qingqiu beams back. “I love you too.”
All right, so Shang Qinghua may actually be a brilliant writer after all.
That's the biggest twist.