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17 – Pu Qingtao/Zui Xian Peak

Shen Qingqiu covers his nose with a long white sleeve as he passes by the students of Zui Xian Peak scattered over the field, hunched into their small bottles and barrels that are so potent, even the smell of the alcohol could get someone drunk.

“What are they doing?” Shen Qingqiu asks, half muffled by the sleeve.

Pu Qingtao glances sideways and smiles, wide and easy-going, corked gourd of baiju swinging from its string in one hand. “Oh, this is a little test we give them every year. They’re making the most explosive Molotov cocktails.”

“How do you calculate the intensity of the damage?” Shen Qingqiu wonders, not seeing any straw or wooden targets.

Pu Qingtao points upwards. “Feng Qingxi said the landscaping up there needed to be redone anyway.”

Shen Qingqiu tilts his head back, following Pu Qingtao’s raised arm, and sees one of the narrow and empty off-shoot peaks that border Zui Xian. “Oh,” he says. “The whole thing?”

“Nah, just a little off the top,” Pu Qingtao says casually.

They walk in silence for a moment.

Shen Qingqiu clears his throat. “This shixiong will assist.”

“Huh? Oh, there’s no need…” Pu Qingtao catches sight of Shen Qingqiu’s stare. He looks away for a moment and then looks back when he has the smile under control. “Yes, thank you for your understanding, Shen-shixiong, I’m grateful for your assistance. Would you like me to show you to the supplies available?”

Shen Qingqiu purses his lips. “Yes.”

18 - Wei Qingwei/Wan Jian Peak

Shen Qingqiu stares as he is presented with a massive battle fan.

“I've been experimenting,” Wei Qingwei admits. “I love swords of course and there are so many styles and souls I can forge but it's good to branch out every so often.”

Shen Qingqiu slowly reaches out and picks up the battle fan which is half the size of him. “Oh,” he says quietly.

Wei Qingwei smiles. “You can fan a lot of disciples into trees all at once now.”

Shen Qingqiu pets the battle fan. “I will use this only for evil.”

“Oh, please do,” Wei Qingwei chuckles.

19 - Qi Qingqi/Xian Shu and Liu Qingge/Bai Zhan

Liu Qingge’s block is just off enough that Qi Qingqi slips past his guard and slices open his sleeve.

Liu Qingge leaps back and, purely on instinct, he turns to look at Shen Qingqiu off in the distance on a raised boulder, barely seen past the hoard of disciples clustered around watching the display match.

Shen Qingqiu has his head down, long black hair falling over a shoulder as he idly plucks at the strings of the zither lying across his lap.

Shen Qingqiu looks up, as if sensing Liu Qingge’s gaze, and his smirk is razor sharp.

A sharp screech rips through Liu Qingge’s head and he stumbles, only just managing to dodge Qi Qingqi’s next strike out of sheer muscle memory.

Qi Qingqi advances, a smile growing on her face. “Ah, you caught on, what a pity.”

The few other peak lords in attendance with their disciples sigh heavily when they understand what’s happening, but don't bother stepping in to what is still basically a friendly spar.

“You’re cheating,” Liu Qingge spits out and tries to blink the black spots from his vision. He can barely hear her next taunt over the building music pounding in his head.

“All is fair in love and war,” Qi Qingqi giggles and her sword dances to Shen Qingqiu’s music, a flurry of blows that Liu Qingge can barely keep up with.

“This is a display match, this isn’t war,” he snaps.

“Well then it must be love,” Qi Qingqi drawls. “Come, Liu-shidi, let me love you.”

Liu Qingge snarls and lunges forward. There’s a brief moment where all the disciples can see is a blur of cloth and the occasional glint of a blade in the sunlight.

Qi Qingqi steps wrong, forced out of tune by Liu Qingge’s all-out offence, and she’s struck down by a full strength blow with the flat of Liu Qingge’s sword. He stands the victor, bleeding heavily from the score of cuts all over his body, hits he knew he had to take to win the upper hand.

Liu Qingge turns and the music stops, Shen Qingqiu already darting away.

A split second later, Shen Qingqiu drops the zither and leaps back. "I thought you wanted a challenge, Liu-shidi," Shen Qingqiu mocks, blocking the first strike though it makes him slide back through the dirt a good meter.

Liu Qingge darts in close, jaw clenched. "Do you think, if I hit you hard enough, Zhangmen-shixiong will come fight me?"

Shen Qingqiu's focus narrows down until all he can see is Liu Qingge. "You'd have to land a hit first," he snarls and lunges.

20 – Feng Qingxi/Meihua Peak

Shen Qingqiu sits on the picnic blanket next to Feng Qingxi, watching the disciples of the landscaping Meihua peak run around setting up the large sealing array for their combined class assignment.

“Shen-shixiong, I do regret bothering you, but as shidi is rather blind…” Feng Qingxi trails off, holding out his teacup the perfect distance for Shen Qingqiu to pour into.

“Oh, allow me,” Shen Qingqiu says politely and reaches over to pick up Feng Qingxi’s own teapot and not the one Shen Qingqiu just brewed to perfection.

Feng Qingxi kicks the teapot just out of range unless Shen Qingqiu wants to stand up to get it, the pot not even wobbling as it lands neatly in its new place. “Oh no! Did I hit something?”

Shen Qingqiu rolls his eyes and pours his own tea into the cup. “You’re shameless.”

“And it gets me your lovely tea so I see no downsides.” Feng Qingxi clinks the cup lightly against Shen Qingqiu’s. “Sit back, they’re about to start.”

The disciples drop to one knee in their carefully scripted places, hand to the ground and then into it before the ley lines underneath glow a deep blue.

The ground ripples, one end dipping down and rattling as large rocks rise to the surface before clear spring water follows, the other end peaking back up to create flat ground as grass and wildflowers glide across the shifting dirt to fill in the wear and tear of training.

The entire area then rises up higher to meet the main Meihua peak, evening out the damage done from the rockslide – that Liu Qingge caused.

“I can get you a hot springs in Qing Jing peak if you wanted,” Feng Qingxi offers. “If you tell me I’m your favourite.”

“That’s going to cost you a lot more,” Shen Qingqiu scoffs.

“How much more?”

“Your soul.”

“Hm…still tempting.”

21 - Shang Qinghua/An Ding Peak

The picnic goes on far longer than it should have. They watch the sunset turn to hues of black and stargaze for a while after. Then someone brings out wine and another conjures fireballs to float along and keep the night air warm.

Shen Qingqiu is sitting on a picnic blanket, nursing his (spiked) tea and blinks as he's assaulted by a clearly drunk shidi, Shang Qinghua stumbling over and flopping down onto the blanket, half spilling over Shen Qingqiu because he has no balance as intoxicated as he is.

"Spicy baby, I love you," Shang Qinghua announces with a bit of a slur, rubbing his cheek against Shen Qingqiu's shoulder where he's fallen. "Daddy loves all his cute sect babies. And husbando Mobei. But spicy baby has a special place in daddy's heart."

"What language are you speaking?" Shen Qingqiu deadpans. Except Shen Qingqiu is also a little tipsy from his tea (and really, this is just what Shang Qinghua does some times) so he doesn't push away the idiot and instead sits there tolerantly. "Shang Qinghua, you're very drunk, go and drink some water."

"God-daddy will keep you safe," Shang Qinghua says and even though the words are incomprehensible, he's serious, his eyes steady and voice clear. "I will. Trust me."

Shen Qingqiu sighs and awkwardly pats Shang Qinghua on the back. "Okay, yes. Good job."

Shang Qinghua blinks and then, for some unknown reason, his eyes start watering. "Oh." He sniffs. "Yeah, I am doing a good job. I am."

Shen Qingqiu sets down his tea then because Shang Qinghua is wrapping around him like a constrictor snake, blubbering about spices and infants, and this is definitely heartburn and not love.

22 - Li Qingmao/Dongwu Peak

Li Qingmao steps into the iron box and pauses, the seal still glowing from when she unlocked the cage.  

“That can kill you,” Li Qingmao says to Shen Qingqiu, who is sitting on the ground with the bone-throned spider resting its head in the man’s lap, allowing the flaking bark of its protruding spine to be picked off as ingredients for later.

“It can try,” Shen Qingqiu drawls.

“Oh, so you know how venous it is and you're still touching it. Great.”

23 – Jing Qingshen/Ku Xing Peak

Shen Qingqiu hits the ground hard, sword skittering away from him across the wet leaf litter of the forest floor. He rolls away but the demon steps on his robes with a taloned foot and drags him back across the ground.

She looms over Shen Qingqiu, three times the size, hooked claws sharp enough to pierce straight through the massive trees that stretch up and bloom out to catch the sunlight.

“Why are you alone, little cultivator?” the demon croons, leaning down until she can lightly caress Shen Qingqiu’s face with the back of a sharp claw as big as his head.

Xiu Ya streaks past, the sword slicing a chunk out of the demon’s bulging bicep before it’s caught in one massive hand. The demon raises one of her eyebrows at Shen Qingqiu as the cut seals over and then drives the sword down into the ground beside his head, not stopping until only the barest hint of the hilt can be seen.

“Try that again,” the demon snarls, pupils turning to red slits against black eyeballs, spikes flaring up against her leathery dark purple skin, icy grey veins bulging out against rippling muscles as her giant body casts Shen Qingqiu into shadows.

Jing Qingshen kicks off a tree and dives over the demon, grabbing her by the large spikes across her back, the momentum swinging her around as the monk flips and slams her into the ground. She’s winded but manages to roll out of the way before a small human foot almost crushes her head in, cratering the ground and splitting open thick tree roots instead.

The demon leaps back but Jing Qingshen moves forward and closes the gap, lashing out with a foot to the head. The demon ducks past, surging forward, claws out and aiming for the monk's chest.

Jing Qingshen grabs the half of the thick wrist that he can fit his hand around, twists, and his extended body snaps back in, foot catching the demon on the back of the head and slamming her into a tree hard enough that the strong, thick bark cracks like thunder.

The demon roars, surging up, right into Jing Qingshen’s knee to the back of her neck, her spine making muffled clicking noises. She hits the ground and doesn’t move again.

Jing Qingshen gracefully lowers himself to a knee and then punches through the armoured skin to rip out the demon's heart and ensure his kill.

Jing Qingshen stands up, drops the mush of flesh and turns to Shen Qingqiu with a bland smile. "Shen-shixiong, are you hurt?"

Shen Qingqiu is sitting up now because that's as far as he could get in the split second it took the monk to kill the demon.

Liu Qingge is considered the strongest fighter, only because the cultivators of Ku Xing peak don't use spiritual power. They use their bodies and bare hands and attain the destructive force solely through immense physical training.

If Jing Qingshen was capable of the vast array of spiritual fighting techniques, if he could even use a sword to its full potential, it's hard to say who would win in a fight between the peak lords.

Jing Qingshen raises his hands with a pleasant smile, even as Shen Qingqiu is glaring holes through the monk’s skull. “I apologise but I wanted to end it quickly since she was too close to you.” His smile only widens. “I’m more scared of Zhangmen-shixiong than I am of you.”

“An honest mistake,” Shen Qingqiu hisses. “Allow me to correct that.” He surges to his feet and stumbles on a twisted ankle.

“Yes, dearest shixiong,” Jing Qingshen says humbly, stepping in and catching Shen Qingqiu with the arm not covered in icy grey demon blood. “This shidi is foolish, I will reflect.”

Shen Qingqiu flings him off. “Why are you here?!”

“This is my mission,” Jing Qingshen explains calmly. “You probably didn’t know I was assigned here because Zhangmen-shixiong said you weren’t allowed to take this job, and then you became upset and stormed out of the meeting.”

Shen Qingqiu grits his teeth and with a heave of his energy, Xiu Ya is pulled from the ground, perfectly clean and undamaged. "I thought you were a pacifist," Shen Qingqiu says with a huff, sheathing his sword with a sharp click.

"And I thought you were the gentle, well-mannered one," Jing Qingshen replies with no small amount of humour. "Amazing, what lies people will believe."

24 - Mu Qingfang/Qian Cao Peak

“Such a terrible matter,” Shen Qingqiu says solemnly, like he didn’t just poison a woman to death.

Mu Qingfang stands on the other side of the woman’s sick bed, surrounded by her mourning family and sect leader who are still choked up from having to watch her die in pain, forced to lie because Shen Qingqiu is Cang Qiong’s.

“Yes,” Mu Qingfang says. “Terrible.”

Shen Qingqiu peers at him over a fan in pale pinks, eyes slightly narrowed from the smile that Mu Qingfang knows must be breathtaking in its viciousness.

How awful, that Shen Qingqiu caught wind of the fact that this woman set up that failed ambush for Shang Qinghua, who won the auction for an immensely powerful bracelet a few weeks back.

“My condolences,” Mu Qingfang tells the family quietly. “I did all I could,” he lies.

Because Shen Qingqiu is not the only one who knows how to deal with a threat.

25 - Po Qingchen/Jigong Peak

Shen Qingqiu inhales sharply and exhales slowly, trying to calm himself, paint brush hovering over the transparent silk stretched across half the massive room, tucked under and over random scrolls and books and partially constructed inventions. “Po Qingchen.”

“Yes!” Po Qingchen cries, sitting up straight again where he was slowly slumping further over his schematics of the newest qiankun storage bag but in seal form. “Yes, continue. Was it this pose?”

Shen Qingqiu lowers his brush and glares over his half-done painting. “I’m not doing this for fun, I hope you know.”

Shang Qinghua commissioned the painting, to be placed in this peak lord generation’s artifact room along with all the powerful or meaningful items they’ve already collected over the years – the artifacts hopefully to be never used, but there if a later generation needs help defending the sect.

“Then why did you agree to do it?” Po Qingchen muses because he’s quite frankly worse than Liu Qingge at social interactions and that’s really saying something. “And why are you holding that brush like you’re about to throw it at me?”

Shen Qingqiu very gracefully lays down the brush on the small squat table beside where he’s sitting on a cushion, between a handful of other brushes and the pale inks he’s using. “Po-shidi, there is a very large difference between being intelligent and being smart. Sometimes, I fear that you have neither.”

“Oh, I apologise,” Po Qingchen says dismissively, already hunched over again. “I suppose you’ll just have to put with me, won’t you?”

Shen Qingqiu rubs his temple. It’s so tiring when people aren’t afraid of him. He flips out his sleeves to shake out the wrinkles that have settled in while he painted and uses a brief wave of energy to unfold the entire ten-metre-long silk.

All the peak lords are featured, out in a sunny field of Qing Jing peak where the deep green bamboo forest rises up to fade into the glittering mountains of Cang Qiong. The men and women are standing, striking graceful, neatly done poses that accentuate the glorious robes and flowing hair, the gleam off their jewellery and the beauty of their serene smiles.

“I like the other one better,” Po Qingchen admits, cheek in one fist as he gazes with boredom over the breathtaking, artful display of colours and models.

“What other one?” Shen Qingqiu snaps.

“The small one in your rooms, that you hide behind the fan display,” Po Qingchen explains, like he didn’t just break the promise all the peak lords made to never tell Shen Qingqiu they found it.

It’s an old painting done on basic paper in smears of unblended colours, each peak lord stark and almost too bright against the dusty, half mud-ridden ground of an unnamed peak. The dimming sunlight splashed over the dried tufts of grass is too yellowed, the background is a blur.

Liu Qingge holds his sword like it’s about to be drawn, eyes narrowed and half looming over Qi Qingqi. She’s sitting draped over Wei Qingwei, jade cup in hand, laughing too loudly as she yells down the line – probably something just this side of crass judging by the look on Liu Qingge’s face.

Wei Qingwei has spilt something on his robes, leaning to the side (and taking Qi Qingqi with him) to offer Po Qingchen a drink. Po Qingchen is cross-legged, hunched almost in half over the paper he has laid over one thigh, sleeves and fingers splotched in ink, hair a mess and face almost entirely obscured.

Li Qingmao has shed her outer robes to the point of indecency as she lies back against the dirt, one knee raised carelessly and hand behind her head as she takes a nap. Mu Qingfang is dotted in blood -none of it his own, for not the reason most people think- having a nice conversation with Jing Qingshen, who is skinning a wrath-lion right there on the ground with his bare hands, now also covered in blood.

Shang Qinghua is standing, tending to the fire they’re going to eat over and half turned away because he’s laughing too hard at whatever Qi Qingqi said, sleeve on fire in not quite the right blend of inks. Feng Qingxi is leaning back on his hands and has his lips pursed, looking like he wants to say something but also wants to pretend he ‘hasn’t noticed because he’s blind’ to just sit back and watch the chaos.

Yue Qingyuan stands at the end, being the responsible one with his hand slightly raised, the fire of Shang Qinghua’s sleeve bending under his control, about to be snuffed out. He’s smiling, but it’s not the usual customer service, bland expression. Yue Qingyuan just looks so soft as he gazes out over the others.

And Shen Qingqiu sits at Yue Qingyuan’s feet, making a mock-up of the scene he’s in with a scrap of paper he stole from Po Qingchen. His lower face is smeared out completely from repeated attempts, because when the painting was made, Shen Qingqiu didn’t know what he looked like when he was happy.

The art is sharp in places, the fine details smeared, lines crooked, the paper crinkled and dusty and warped from the way the ink dried. It’s an amateur work, with the peak lords younger than they are now. They got in so much trouble for sneaking out that night because it was right before they ascended from head disciples to peak lords.

“I really like that one,” Po Qingchen admits. “And honestly, I think Shang Qinghua meant he wanted that painting as well.”

Po Qingchen then has to duck a fan aimed for his head by an angrily blushing Shen Qingqiu.

26 - Yue Qingyuan/Qiong Ding Peak

Yue Qingyuan is slumped sideways, head on Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder, dark circles under his eyes lit by glowing orbs hovering at the ceiling of his office and hand slack on the table with his ink brush slowly dying the document as black as the night sky outside.

Shen Qingqiu sits there, like he has been for the last ten minutes.

After a long moment, he dims the lights with a soft flicker of qi. He switches the brush to his other hand and continues with the stacks of paperwork that have been progressively drowning the sect leader these past few weeks.