1 – Language of flowers
Qi Qingqi does a double take. “Why do the flowers on your fan say ‘malicious intent’ and ‘war’?”
Shen Qingqiu swans past, a fan of soft blues and pretty purples raised like a threat. “Because if they get in my way, they have no one to blame but themselves.”
Yue Qingyuan sees the fan next and smiles pleasantly but pointedly at Liu Qingge beside him.
Liu Qingge sighs but moves off to distract the other peak lord.
The War God tries his best, the poor man, but Shen Qingqiu catches on quickly and escapes the hissed argument they were having in favour of slinking around the gathering looking vaguely poisonous.
And, just because Shen Qingqiu is a petty man, he targets Yue Qingyuan for thinking that Liu Qingge would be enough of a distraction.
“Oh my,” Shen Qingqiu purrs, slipping out from Yue Qingyuan’s shadow and into the conversation. “It’s been too long since we last saw each other.”
Yue Qingyuan’s conversation partner is the head of a small cultivation sect, started perhaps three generations back. The small sect leader pauses but offers up a polite smile. “Oh, yes. I have been quite busy with-“
“How is your daughter these days?” Shen Qingqiu muses, cutting in. “I heard she turned to demonic cultivation, not that she’s had much success. After all, any cultivation needs talent and hard work, neither of which your daughter has.” Shen Qingqiu looks at him up and down. “You would know about that too, wouldn’t you?”
Yue Qingyuan calmly stares off into the distance, enjoying the nice breeze and the graceful slide of fluffy clouds across the horizon as Shen Qingqiu violently tears into the other sect leader.
2 – Afternoon strolls
A screech rings out, far too close, and a lithe bat-faced tiger lunges out from its cover underneath a fallen tree. The disciples turn but their swords are only just being unsheathed and the creatures is almost on them.
Shen Qingqiu summons a hurricane with his fan, the edge cutting through the air fast enough that it screams its own war cry. The disciples are thrown upwards, outer robes spreading like wings, and immediately take action.
The first Bai Zhan disciple spins into a flip, hurling her sword directly downwards at the passing bat-faced tiger. The second Xian Shu disciple whips her sword around to turn herself in the air, in preparation to charge as soon as she hits the ground. The third An Ding disciple keeps his eyes on the trees, watching for any threats, taking in the entire situation.
Shen Qingqiu raises the fan to his face, the beautiful painted hues of green and white unblemished from the attack.
The sword lodges into the creature's shoulder blade, not sinking deep enough due to the leathery wings that rest over its back. The bat-faced tiger scrambles around, shrieking in pain. The disciples drop and Bai Zhan blurs as she lunges, ducking under a bite from powerful jaws and slicing a deep cut through the same injured shoulder. The creature rears back, keeping weight off its injured leg.
Xian Shu hurls a talisman at another tiger before it even springs out of the brush with a graceful movement, as befitting of a disciple of the all-female peak.
The Wan Jian disciple can be heard long before he clanks into the clearing, hauling around eight swords because he has yet to pick which weapon he likes best. The Wan Jian throws himself towards the second bat-faced tiger and takes it down with help from the Xian Shu.
A Qian Cao flies overhead on a sword and half tackles the Bai Zhan away before she kills the bat-faced tiger. They roll and pop back up swiftly, facing off against each other.
The Qian Cao hisses, his body half crouched, far more feral than any disciple from the medicine peak usually allows themselves to show. “Do not touch the cochlear, it heals Blue Left syndrome.”
“I don’t know what a cockliar is but I’m going to touch it anyway,” Bai Zhan snaps back and she takes a threatening step forward.
The first bat-faced tiger staggers back up and the Qian Cao hits it with a poisoned dart, before the boy then tries to sink one into the Bai Zhan.
An Ding rolls his eyes so hard it nearly strains something and just walks off after Shen Qingqiu.
By the time the disciples go staggering back into Cang Qiong mountain, they’re looking tired and roughed up – with clear signs that Shen Qingqiu had gotten annoyed at some point and fanned each of them into a tree once or twice.
3 - Visit
"Shen-shixiong," Mu Qingfang greets as his disciples scatter in fear, parting like a wave in front of the Qing Jing peak lord.
Shen Qingqiu strides through the room and comes to a stop at Mu Qingfang's desk. "Mu-shidi, I hope you have time for your dear shixiong."
"Always," is the dry reply.
Shen Qingqiu flutters his fan. "This one was thinking about the last talk we had-"
"When was the last time you visited Zhangmen-shixiong?" Mu Qingfang interrupts, not wanting to once again explain that he can't, in good conscience, supply deadly poisons just for his older martial sibling to play with.
Shen Qingqiu flutters his fan even faster. "Shidi-"
"I have a report to give to him," Mu Qingfang continues. "Perhaps Shen-shixiong could visit Zhangmen-shixiong and kindly carry my reports as well.”
"I am a peak lord," Shen Qingqiu huffs. "How ridiculous, get one of the little Qian Cao disciples to go running across the peaks. Outrageous!"
Mu Qingfang watches idly as Shen Qingqiu storms out, trying to make it look like he isn't running away.
"Goodbye, shixiong," My Qingfang drawls. "Do come by more often, I enjoy these pleasant talks of ours."
4 – Our Disciples
"-why poor trash shouldn't be allowed to cultivate," the Huan Hua disciple is sneering, the little posse obediently snickering on cue.
The Dongwu peak disciple holds the platypus-faced hyena cub in her arms tightly, lips twisted into a snarl. Maybe she wants to say that she's a noble, robes dirty only from caring for the animals of her beast peak.
But maybe she doesn't care enough about these entitled shitheads to explain herself.
"At least I didn't get into Cang Qiong with money passed under a table," the Dongwu disciple barks. "You call that a spirit cat?" She snorts at the limp pile of fur wrapped pathetically around the leader’s shoulders. "My Fa Guo takes more spiritually powerful shits."
The platypus-faced hyena in her arms hisses.
Someone clears her throat from above. "Shen-shixiong, enjoying the view, are we?" the Dongwu peak lord says pointedly.
All the disciples look up, looking at the third floor window of the tea house that they’re scuffling next to. Li Qingmao as the Dongwu peak lord stands behind the Qing Jing peak lord, Shen Qingqiu lazily fanning himself with a beautiful bamboo grove painted on his fan in exquisite detail.
"Hush, shimei," Shen Qingqiu berates, watching the disciples with narrowed eyes. "They're about to come to blows."
A sigh that sounds a lot like the Ku Xing peak lord comes from further inside the room, and the monk quietly intercedes with, "Surely you have something else to entertain yourself with, shixiong."
Shen Qingqiu eyes narrow behind his fan, a smile that looks more like a threat. "If the Huan Hua brats strike first, I can gut them in righteous anger at my disciple being attacked."
"That's not your disciple, Shen-shixiong," Li Qingmao points out, raising her only arm to gesture outside. “She’s from my Dongwu.”
"They're all mine," Shen Qingqiu dismisses. "Do continue, children."
The Dongwu disciple looks at the other girls, only to see the ends of their robes disappear behind the corner of a building as they run away.
A sudden gust of wind shoves her to the ground, the disciple barely managing to catch herself on hands and knees, her platypus-faced hyena leaping to the cobblestone road and hissing again.
Shen Qingqiu gasps, fan snapping shut. "You all saw that! Such violence towards my disciple."
"You pushed her over," Li Qingmao deadpans.
The fan snaps out again. "Li-shimei, you simply must tell Liu-shidi to avenge this poor girl. And, oh, if I remember correctly the Huan Hua babysitter is that frumpy man with the spear."
The Ku Xing monk’s scoff is not quite hidden. "This whole thing is because that man called you a pretentious weakling?"
"I also just dislike Huan Hua in general," Shen Qingqiu admits frankly.
Li Qingmao leans out over the window. "Thank you, disciple, stay with your friends from now on."
5 – Pond
Yue Qingyuan isn’t even pretending to host a meeting anymore, he’s just watching Shen Qingqiu along with everyone else.
The peak lord of Qing Jing is painting something on the huge table they’re seated around, rather blatantly. Small, tiny script that might be some kind of explosive or curse, knowing him.
Shen Qingqiu pauses, re-dips his brush and draws wide, sweeping arcs that encircle the small packages of sealing script. Each forms it’s own long, graceful catfish, and when Shen Qingqiu finally seals off the script inside, the fish dart off with a flick of their tails.
The shadow fish sweep out in wide, meandering paths, past dishes and cups, under sleeves and pages of notes.
“What do they do?” Feng Qingxi asks warily. The peak lord of Meihua, specialising in landscaping, is entirely blind but he can still feel Shen Qingqiu’s power inside the fish. He is, rightfully, worried.
Shang Qinghua screeches and yanks his notes off the table but not before a fish manages to take a bite out of something that was probably important.
“When you bore me, I punish you,” Shen Qingqiu explains.
Yue Qingyuan just calmly begins the meeting again, apparently having no issues with this.
Qi Qingqi sighs but starts to add drawings of lotus flowers. Li Qingmao draws herself a turtle, occasionally getting advice from Qi Qingqi about the sealing script to make it move. Mu Qingfang drops a dumpling on the table and watches the fish swarm over to eat it.
Over the next dozen meetings, the table turns into an entire shadow pond of black ink swirls and complex seals.
After it gets too crowded, and too much paperwork gets eaten, Yue Qingyuan pulls and ink runs down the table legs, moving as a wave across the floor before bleeding into the walls and once more forming the pond.
6 - Teaching
"That’s not how you teach people to fight," Liu Qingge says in disgust.
"Good morning, Liu-shidi," Shen Qingqiu deadpans. "It's such a lovely day, shouldn't you be out killing something?"
Shen Qingqiu slowly turns away from watching his disciples practice sparring and gives Liu Qingge such a look of distain that the War God actually leans back.
"If I want your opinion," Shen Qingqiu begins. "Then I've been possessed, and you should kill me."
Liu Qingge points at one of Shen Qingqiu's disciples, a noble girl who was not expecting to practice fighting when she joined a sect. Or calligraphy, or music composition, or anything not relating to sitting and looking pretty.
"Let's not talk about that one," Shen Qingqiu mutters.
"I'll teach them," Liu Qingge says and starts forward. A fan slaps him across the chest.
"Shidi," Shen Qingqiu grits out. "How about you go teach your own students instead. Perhaps some manners, so they stop running wild all over this mountain." He leans forward, eyes narrowed. "The next one that bumps into me will get pushed right off the edge."
"Didn't you do that to an An Ding disciple?" Liu Qingge vaguely remembers.
"It was the peak lord."
"You pushed Shang Qinghua off the mountain-?"
"You're about to be next."
Ming Fang hovers nervously a good twenty metres from the two peak lords. He doesn't want to interrupt but has been given a very important task that his teacher specified is more important than all other matters. "Shizun? The sect leader was spotted crossing the rainbow bridge."
Shen Qingqiu breathes deeply. "Liu-shidi, this one would be honoured if you took over lessons for today. I am so very busy, after all."
Liu Qingge raises an eyebrow.
Shen Qingqiu speedily walks away, hoping on his sword when Yue Qingyuan comes into view. The peak leader smiles genially and gives chase on his still sheathed sword, nodding politely to Liu Qingge as he zooms past.
7 – A way with words
Yue Qingyuan sits across the low table, plying Shen Qingqiu with more snacks, speaking of nothing in particular but still having the gall to call this ‘sect business’ as a thin guise to bother Shen Qingqiu ever so often.
There is a new fan on the table, off to the side and spread open, perfectly angled towards Shen Qingqiu like an offering to an apathetic god.
It’s been about two hours now of niceties where Yue Qingyuan genuinely wants to know if Shen Qingqiu has been doing well or not and Shen Qingqiu replies with one word answers before eventually not responding at all.
“Someone has asked to enter the mountain for observation, perhaps a tour,” Yue Qingyuan finally admits. “Most notably Qian Cao, although they insist that Mu Qingfang must be very busy and simple disciples may serve as guides instead.”
"Which sect?" Shen Qingqiu asks, picking at the last tanghulu, the candied shell clicking as he taps his nails on the bright red fruit.
Yue Qingyuan hums. “The…interesting nomadic cultivators that have recently settled nearby.”
By that, he means the badly disguised demonic cultivators who have only lasted this long because they have political connections and so everyone is trying their best to distract Liu Qingge from killing them outright. The rats keep trying to dig their way into Cang Qiong by luring over disciples that travel to the foot of the mountain, asking about interesting cultivation techniques and rare materials.
"Mu-shidi is already so busy," Yue Qingyuan sighs. "I'm afraid another thing to occupy his time would be asking too much from our dear shidi." He peeks over. "If Shen-shidi could perhaps find some time to graciously open up communications with the new neighbours, I would be very grateful. Shidi has such...a way with words."
Shen Qingqiu is too controlled to smirk without a fan to hide it. "I'll see what I can do about it."
Shen Qingqiu reaches across the table and picks up the new fan in cream and teal, tilting it so it catches the light and observing the detail that shines through.
Yue Qingyuan seems very satisfied.
8 – Huan Hua Hoes
The Huan Hua sect leader hums, gazing out over the gathered cultivators and sect leaders as if he organised this, as if they came for him instead of this being the usual meeting every decade.
Shen Qingqiu is already rolling his eyes before the man even speaks.
“I see that once again the esteemed Yue Qingyuan could not find it in himself to attend the gathering,” Lao Gongzhu says.
Shen Qingqiu turns away from the rest of the gathering and smiles. “Oh, Lao Gongzhu. My, I didn’t see you there, coming out of the shadows. I trust all is going well in Huan Hua?”
Lao Gongzhu hums again, this time sounding like a stifled insult. “Ah, yes, all is well. And your Cang Qiong? I worry, seeing as sect leader Yue isn’t here.”
“He’s quite busy,” Shen Qingqiu murmurs, turning away again and catching sight of several other Cang Qiong peak lords gracefully but swiftly making their way over. Perhaps to rescue Shen Qingqiu for the conversation. Perhaps just to hold him back before he stabs someone.
“Busy with things more important than his fellow righteous cultivators?” Lao Gongzhu asks, louder than he needs to be just so others in hearing distance look over.
Shen Qingqiu slides a sideways glance at the Huan Hua sect leader. “Since Cang Qiong sect has the largest influence-"
And Huan Hua will never be more powerful than them.
"-we have a lot of responsibility to respond to people's worries in a swift and efficient manner-"
Unlike Huan Hua, letting demons run around out of negligence or stupidity but most likely a mixture of both.
"-so I'm terribly sorry that Zhangmen-shixiong couldn't attend, but not to worry, my fellow peak lords and I take our duty here very seriously." Shen Qingqiu smiles, icy.
The Cang Qiong peak lords step up, standing shoulder to shoulder with him, and they too smile with teeth.
9 – New technique
"Ah, Shen-shixiong," Qi Qingqi greets, stepping into Yue Qingyuan's waiting room, on the arm of Po Qingchen, a man of great brilliance with inventions as the Jigong peak lord – but little intelligence regarding anything else.
"Zhangmen-shixiong is away," Shen Qingqiu says, having just ascertained that. He leaves a scroll on the ‘in’ tray and begins to leave.
“Let’s call him!” Po Qingchen happily pulls out a new invention from his billowing sleeves, a flat stone tablet with a communication array delicately carved into one face. “The partner invention of this is able find someone's qi once it's been programmed in, and then opens the communication array.”
Shen Qingqiu moves closer, interested. Qi Qingqi also leans in. There’s a lot of fuzzy noise and images before it stabilises, showing Yue Qingyuan’s face, looking back in curiosity.
“Po-shidi,” Yue Qingyuan greets. “What a wonderful device.”
Mu Qingfang peers over the sect leader’s shoulder and blinks. “Ah, hello.”
“Move it around,” Po Qingchen says impatiently. “I want to see what else it can show. I haven’t adjusted it to stay with the target so perhaps…”
Shen Qingqiu has lost interest now at the babble and moves towards the door.
Qi Qingqi clears her throat and raises her voice to be heard over Po Qingchen’s excited conversation with the other two. "I know, Shen-shixiong, but Zhangmen-shixiong is away for now. We'll all just have to wait."
Shen Qingqiu looks over, brows furrowing because what does she want from this-
A sudden influx of immense qi fills the room, localised to the spot beside Shen Qingqiu, and Yue Qingyuan appears within a ripple of air.
"Shen-shidi," Yuen Qingyuan says softly, eyes alight with inner power and clothes only just settling from the abrupt shift across half of the goddamn mountain range. Yue Qingyuan places a hand on Shen Qingqiu's shoulder. "What can Zhangmen-shixiong do for you?"
Shen Qingqiu stares.
Mu Qingfang makes a strangled noise through the communication array so it must have been quite the show over on that side too.
Qi Qingqi blinks a few times. "Could-could you always do that?"
Po Qingchen tilts his head. "What...technique is that?"
Yue Qingyuan tucks a stray lock of hair behind Shen Qingqiu's ear.
Shen Qingqiu is still wide eyed.
10 – Lap pillow
Shen Qingqiu is sleeping on Li Qingmao’s lap, the leader of the beast peak petting his hair soothingly with her ‘good’ hand. The wind blows her other empty sleeve over Shen Qingqiu and he seems to grab it in his sleep.
The grassy hill is hidden inside the Dongwu peak’s large conservation site, for the violent, opportunistic and carnivorous beasts so very few people dare to enter. Or at least, the two peak lords have yet to be interrupted when they meet like this.
Shen Qingqiu reminds her of a childhood pet. The human-head spider that she raised in secret (feeding it pig heads instead of course, helping it to lay its eggs in the freshly butchered chickens of her family’s farm).
Li Qingmao quite likes Shen Qinqiu, when his vitriol isn’t pointed at her.
But that’s rather the same for most dangerous things.
11 – So blind, very blind
Yue Qingyuan wipes a grain of rice off Shen Qingqiu's cheek with his thumb and then licks it off with a smile as he moves past, further into the bamboo house.
The room is silent.
Feng Qingxi of the Meihua landscaping peak takes a very deep breath. "O-oh, Shen-shixiong, was that someone? This shidi is blind, after all. Very blind, can't see a thing."
Shen Qingqiu grits his teeth and slams his chopsticks down. "Shall this shixiong describe it to you?"
"No! No, no." Feng Qingxi stands quickly, patting around in a very staged manner and knocking scrolls off the table, tipping over a cup and spilling tea. "Quite late, I should get going."
Shen Qingqiu watches as the Meihua peak lord stumbles away from the table, with dinner only half eaten. Shen Qingqiu slowly picks up his fan and opens it, focusing on the breeze it gives and trying to remain calm.
Feng Qingxi bumps into the doorframe deliberately. "Oh, very blind. Apologies, Shen-shixiong, I'm really quite blind. Just darkness."
Shen Qingqiu snaps his fan in half from the strength of his grip. "Leave, now, before I also make you a cripple."
Feng Qingxi disappears in a flurry of robes.
Shen Qingqiu tosses his broken fan to the side and stands in a sharp motion before stalking through the building. He finds that Yue Qingyuan has seated himself on the bed with a vague but happy smile.
Mu Qingfang burst through the door. “Wait! Wait, he accidentally inhaled pollen from a rare Don’t-Forget-Me flower!”
Shen Qingqiu whirls around. “I am this close!” He holds up a thumb and forefinger, literally touching. “This close to ripping off one of his hands.”
“Okay,” Mu Qingfang soothes. “I know, he did something to Liu Qingge too. I thought I had Zhangmen-shixiong distracted in his room but he ran off.”
Shen Qingqiu purses his lips. “Liu Qingge too?”
Mu Qingfang sighs. “It’s not a dangerous pollen, just makes the victim rather dazed and…mildly affectionate.”
Shen Qingqiu snatches a new fan off a display shelf just to hide his face. “I will keep him.”
“Zhangmen-shixiong, I will keep him.” Shen Qingqiu’s fan flutters as he waves Mu Qingfang out. “Go find a cure, I will keep him distracted.”
“I…don’t think that-“
The fan halts and Shen Qingqiu narrows his eyes. “I will deal with it.”
Mu Qingfang is about ninety percent sure that Shen Qingqiu won’t actually harm Yue Qingyuan, certainly he hasn’t before. “Alright. I’ll send word before the day is over.” He nods to both of the other peak lords and slowly, with many backwards glances, leaves the bamboo house.
Shen Qingqiu turns to Yue Qingyuan after. He frowns. “Lie down, fool, sleep it off.”
“Okay, Xiao Jiu,” Yue Qingyuan says happily and starts stripping.
Shen Qingqiu grits his teeth but after a breath he relaxes, rolling his eyes so hard he nearly strains something. “You better not have pulled anything odd with that warmongering idiot.”
“I gave Liu-shidi a hug,” Yue Qingyuan says idly.
Shen Qingqiu fans himself for a while. “Don’t do that again. There are sleeping robes that will fit you, put one on.” He turns and strides out of the bedroom, slamming the door shut on his way out.