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Chapter Text

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?"

"Maybe later."

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.

Chapter Text

12 - Humidity

Liu Qingge broke the door down yesterday -doing who knows what- and so the cooling talisman seal broke and now the entire meeting room is really quite painfully humid. It’s odd weather, especially for Qiong Ding peak, the tallest one in the mountain range.

Half the peak lords are slumped one way or the other, fanning themselves with paper documents. The Zui Xian peak lord isn’t even drinking his alcohol, it’s that hot.

Even Shen Qingqiu is flagging, elbow propped on the table in a lack of manners that he usually snaps at other people for. He’s fanning himself, putting qi into the pretty dark wood fan for an extra blast of cold air.

Shang Qinghua is sitting next to Shen Qingqiu, awkwardly at a diagonal to catch the breeze from the fan. The next one down is Po Qingchen, the artificer peak lord of Jigong, tilted even more unnaturally.

Qi Qingqi is too controlled to do something like that but she has been eyeing Shen Qingqiu for the last twenty minutes, trying to catch his attention. Shen Qingqiu is ignoring her.

Yue Qingyuan is the only one who doesn’t look ruffled.

And then a bead of sweat rolls down his temple.

Shen Qingqiu purses his lips and the next downward swing of his fan causes a localised blast wave that throws back everyone’s hair and tugs at their trailing sleeves. Cool air, almost too cold, swirls around the meeting room, most of it escaping out through the broken doors, until the next wave of cool air flows from Shen Qingqiu’s fan.

Several people sigh in delight despite knowing that Shen Qingqiu will demand this favour back three-fold. Worth it.

13 - What kind of idiot-

“-secular world is just muddying the waters,” the woman is saying to Liu Qingge, jade beads in her hair clinking with every unnecessary toss of her head. “You should know, with your family. Us immortals are better than the regular people, it’s simply a fact. I heard your family was still doing business with the mortals? Pity, that.”

Qi Qingqi finally separates herself from the circle of admirers that boxed her in and quickly steps into the conversation, putting a restraining hand on Liu Qingge’s shoulder because he has a hand on his sword. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly agree,” Qi Qingqi giggles. “After all, there’s a wonderful tea parlour at the base of Cang Qiong that makes the most delightful drinks.”

“You shouldn’t even need to be eating,” the woman says with a tsk. “Inedia is so much cleaner. Eating mortal foods will clog the pores, you know.” She looks Qi Qingqi up and down pointedly.

Qi Qingqi now has a hand on her sword because bitch, your golden core is barely formed-

And poor Liu Qingge can’t do anything because he’s tried to leave and the woman just follows him around, saying this and that about Liu Qingge’s family and he’s of marrying age isn’t he, and does he have a cultivation partner?

Shen Qingqiu slides in, a serene look on his face as his gliding steps come to a gentle halt beside Liu Qingge's side, opposite Qi Qingqi. He places a delicate looking hand on Liu Qingge's arm and flutters his fan slowly, languidly.

Someone sent him, Qi Qingqi realises. But why would Shen Qingqiu agree to help Liu Qingge, unless he’s getting something out of it?

“Ah,” Shen Qingqiu muses. “Goodness, miss, I thought you were a lesser demon from across the room. You’re really quite hideous.”

Qi Qingqi catches sight of Shang Qinghua out of the corner of her eye, the man eating melon seeds, and sighs. Yeah, that explains it.

The woman straight up draws her poisoned needles at the blatant insult and Shen Qingqiu hums, pats Liu Qingge on the arm and swans away now that his job is done.

Liu Qingge blocks the first needle aimed for Shen Qingqiu's back and grunts in anger. "You have attacked my shixiong from behind, a cowardly move." He lunges forward, on the offensive.

Qi Qingqi is so sick of her dumbass brothers working together to be even bigger dumbasses.

14 - Seat

Pu Qingtao is the peak lord of Zui Xian, where they make alcohol. His sword is basically the size of a small bar, perhaps a Liu Qingge's shoulder width wide and a Yue Qingyuan's height long. Pu Qingtao usually uses the sword to mix drinks on.

Currently, Pu Qingtao is swaggering through the Zui Xian peak’s many vineyards, chattering on with Yue Qingyuan about a new kind of fermentation method that's showing promise and occasionally pulling off grapes to much on.

Behind the two floats Pu Qingtao’s sword, currently seating Qi Qingqi, Shen Qingqiu, Po Qingchen and Shang Qinghua side by side on the flat of the sheath.

The inventor peak lord Po Qingchen is scribbling something down, mainly diagrams to help Pu Qingtao explain the fermentation method to Yue Qingyuan, since both their peaks are collaborating on the project.

Shang Qinghua is taking the tour of the vineyards because he wanted a justification on why Zui Xian peak was using more resources than normal. Right now, he’s distracted from the explanation because his snacks keep disappearing as soon as he looks away.

Qi Qingqi is tittering to Shen Qingqiu about the last time Mu Qingfang got wasted, both of them mysteriously holding snacks that they certainly didn’t have when the walk started. They were invited to sample the new wine, as the two most vicious critics on the mountain.

15 - Predator

The Dongwu beast peak is currently losing its collective mind because the peak lord’s newest addition to the SSS-grade aggressive conversation plot of land has just escaped.

The peak lord, Li Qingmao, is off the mountain with her best disciples to take care of a mushroom parasite that’s gotten into the cattle of a large farming village to the north. Of the disciples left on the peak, only four have the clearance to even be near the SSS-grade conservation land.

Shen Qingqiu and Yue Qingyuan come across this sight when they crest the hill of the open field during a peaceful (and rare) stroll about the peaks.

The red-back horned hyena just manages to throw off the binding ropes three disciple have managed to hook around its crown of horns and charges off in a random direction with a sharp cackle.

It just so happens that it charges towards the two peak lords. Shen Qingqiu tucks his fan away and half draws his sword, a scowl on his face because of these incompetent disciples.

Yue Qingyuan smiles.

The beast's rampage stutters and it staggers to a halt a few metres from the two peak lords. It sits down and whimpers, head lowered.

Yue Qingyuan calmly places a hand on Shen Qingqiu's back and guides his shidi away from the shivering beast.

16 - Calling the storm

Mu Qingfang isn’t quite sure how it happened but the mother of the bride requested Shen Qingqiu present a fan dance to the large gathering. And Shen Qingqiu agreed.

Mu Qingfang is here because the family owns a large chain of apothecaries and so many of the political invitees are well known alchemists that Mu Qingfang would like to talk to.

Shen Qingqiu came along because it is, after all, a political event and Shen Qingqiu can tear through people like no one else Mu Qingfang has ever had the displeasure of meeting.

The mother of the bride was rather insistent and unfortunately, Mu Qingfang was too distracted with his conversation to step into the matter. Shen Qingqiu was then forced to begrudgingly agree and smoothly glides cross the large, open garden of wildflowers (neatly, forcefully arranged and trimmed with any defects plucked out).

Mu Qingfang is clued in when the famous alchemist he is taking too actually starts laughing, the woman looking off to the side where a short stage has been placed for toasting and speeches.

Shen Qingqiu has taken up the beginning stance, looking out over the large gathering with a serene gaze. The crowd hushes slightly and many turn to watch him. The musicians start playing a graceful, light sounding song.

Shen Qingqiu’s fan moves in a slow, graceful arc above his head, followed by a quick turn and an even faster flick of his wrist.

Mu Qingfang ushers the alchemist over to one of the very few undercover spots, a small gazebo covered in vines. The stronger cultivators who can sense the qi, or the ones who know Shen Qingqiu too well, also make a break for it.

Shen Qingqiu calls the storm, leashing the clouds and bringing the cutting wind, pulling the skies until the bright, clear blue is snuffed out under darkening clouds within only minutes.

The bride titters and the groom orders another drink and the parents gossip to the people close to them that they’re really quite close with Cang Qiong sect.

Shen Qingqiu spins, outer robes whipping around, and his fan snaps out. Lighting strikes and thunder cracks right above him, loud enough to startle several people into screaming.

The heavens open and a torrential rain pounds into the earth. People run for shelter but there is no shelter, it’s an open field an hours walk from the groom’s family residence. The musicians abandon their station but Shen Qingqiu dances to the music of the violent storm.

“I’m terribly sorry about him,” Mu Qingfang says to the alchemist, louder than normal to be heard over the thunder.

“I rather like the rain,” she admits, hair and clothes in a flurry from the gradually strengthening winds. “Perhaps not this much, but I don’t mind. He’s really quite graceful and handsome.”

“Yes, he is,” Mu Qingfang muses.

And then you get closer and Shen Qingqiu opens his mouth.

Shen Qingqiu throws back his head, fan to the ground, other hand reaching up to the darkened heavens. Lighting shatters the air, reaching down. Mu Qingfang takes a step forward but the streak of light comes down only far enough to brush Shen Qingqiu's reaching fingers before vanishing.

“Do introduce me,” the alchemist says, watching Shen Qingqiu.

Oh, Mu Qingfang realises. She’s serious.

“I should go collect him,” Mu Qingfang says apologetically, already moving off. “Before this whole place floods.”

Mu Qingfang hurries across the now soaked ground, using qi to not crush the poor flowers even further into the mud. He swoops by and ushers Shen Qingqiu off the stage before people collect themselves enough to be upset.

“Watch me cause an earthquake next,” Shen Qingqiu hisses, fucking infuriated that some half-wit, part-time political cultivator dared to order him around-

“This region isn’t on a tectonic plate fault,” Mu Qingfang gently reminds his shixiong.

“Watch me.”

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Quite unfortunately for everyone involved, the system says Shang Qinghua needs to set up a few things and those things are in the demon realm. Of course Shang Qinghua, shaky part-time cultivator, isn't going to do that himself - at least not without plot armour in the form of an important (and thus unkillable) character coming along.

And, really, that scenario pusher was pretty cheap.

The ground unfurls like a flower, blood red and ashen, edges distorted. The disciples on this mission cry out and leap backwards, the slower ones being thrown by Shen Qingqiu’s fan as the flower starts to shudder and jerk closed in sharp, flickering movements like the tear is glitching.

Shang Qinghua closes his eyes in suffering. Mother fucker, that's why the scenario pusher was cheap. The difficulty setting was probably in the fine print again, and of course he didn't read it. Ugh.

Shang Qinghua jolts when he feels a hand on his own and Shen Qingqiu's grip becomes painfully tight as the array hurls them into the demon realm. Shang Qinghua's arm is almost ripped out of its socket from the force of the throw but they stay locked together.

When they hit the ground, they hit hard.

Shang Qinghua wakes up in a bed of leaflitter under bulbous trees in grey and blue. Shen Qingqiu sits off to the side, fiddling with something in his lap.

Shang Qinghua wonders if he should play dead but sits up anyway. "Thanks."

Shen Qingqiu looks up, eyes narrowed. "For what?"

Shang Qinghua waves around vaguely. "I don't know, but I'm not alone and I'm not dead. Clearly something is going right."

Shen Qingqiu scoffs and looks back down at the arts and crafts project going on in his lap. "You wouldn't have lasted long alone. If you died, I'd get blamed."

Shang Qinghua nods along because yes, that’s generally what happens in the story. "Great, so what's next?"

"Shelter, food..." Shen Qingqiu holds up a complex talisman, three times larger than a standard slip of paper. "Send out a distress signal."

"Is that Po Qingchen’s?" Shang Qinghua asks because the inventor peak lord’s devices are great…until they explode.

"Yes." Shen Qingqiu sighs. “Untested.”

“Oh, great. So it’s 50/50 that it kills us.”

A week later, they run into Liu Qingge and the entire hive of Fire Bees he pissed off.

Shen Qingqiu shoves Shang Qinghua down as they're running away.

"Did you just-" Liu Qingge begins, glancing behind him, ready to be outraged that Shen Qingqiu just tripped someone to be a distraction but he can't see Shang Qinghua anymore. "What?"

Shang Qinghua had been shoved into a hole at the base of a tree, hidden by a prickly bush, and he curls up tightly as the heat of the bees washes past.

"Shut up and run!" Shen Qingqiu hisses, cutting past Liu Qingge as the man is distracted. "Or better yet, sacrifice yourself! At least then you'll be useful!"

No matter how fast they go or what route they take, the bees eventually catch up with relentless stamina and unnecessarily impeccable tracking. It doesn’t even matter how many they cut down, more bees join in from out of nowhere.

(Sorry, Shang Qinghua thinks. It was needed for plot convenience, that then ended up as papapa convenience.)

"Let's split up," Shen Qingqiu orders, only to burst through foliage and come to a stuttering halt at the edge of a short drop off into a still blue lake.

Liu Qingge skids to a stop as well, glancing to the huge swarm of fire in the vague distance but catching up on them quickly. "Jump!" Liu Qingge yells.

"Are you mad?!" Shen Qingqiu snaps backs.

"Get in the water, they can't get us there." Liu Qingge makes a grab for Shen Qingqiu’s sleeve but the man dodges back.

"I'll find my own way," Shen Qingqiu snarls and turns, ready to take his chances running alongside the lake.

Liu Qingge just picks Shen Qingqiu up around the waist and jumps off the short cliff, plunging into refreshingly cool water. Shen Qingqiu is kicking and clawing at him but Liu Qingge shakes the man hard and starts swimming when it seems like Shen Qingqiu just isn't going to stop.

They can both clearly sense the danger hovering above the water, can see the orange glow from the Fire Bees but Shen Qingqiu is frantically trying to get to the surface. Liu Qingge assumes Shen Qingqiu doesn't have enough oxygen and kicks harder, managing to duck under the violent, foaming churn of the waterfall and lurching back up behind the cover of water in a shallow cave system.

Shen Qingqiu elbows Liu Qingge off and hauls himself up onto the rocks, gasping.

"You're welcome," Liu pants out, breathing a lot harder than he should be even after running for so long, and climbs up too, limbs weak for some reason.

"You idiot!" Shen Qingqiu snaps. "All the water in the demon realm is poisoned."

Liu Qingge tries to stand but he can't get his legs under him. He slumps to the ground. He swallowed some when they fell in and he can feel the ache in his mouth and throat where the water touched. " we..."

Shen Qingqiu curses and tries to use the wall to pull himself up but his fingers are numb and his body is shaking. Instead, he crawls. "I...did not come this die to your fucking incompetence."

Water sources on the demon realm are often toxic but there's a plethora of fauna that grow around the toxic water that absorb the poison if eaten, which is a major reason why the demon realm isn't more of a dead wasteland than it already is.

Shen Qingqiu can already see a common toxin-absorbing fern growing in the back of the shallow cave, between chipped rock. He keeps dragging himself towards it, even when his vision blurs out at the edges, even when he can't feel the ground underneath him anymore.

He blindly rips out the plant with a hand too numb to really curl properly and eats it, the leaves melting in his mouth with an astringent, chalky taste. He swallows and the paste leaves a freezing cold trail down his throat, the cold blooming in his chest. He rips up more, eats that too.

Thinks about letting Liu Qingge die.

Shen Qingqiu rips up another stalk and staggers to his feet, fumbling against the wall to keep himself upright and collapses once he reaches the other man.

Liu Qingge is passed out, breathing stuttered and wheezy. Shen Qingqiu chews the fern and leans down, opening Liu Qingge’s mouth and lets the melting plant sit under Liu Qingge’s tongue where it's absorbed by the network of blood veins close to the surface.

Shen Qingqiu rests there for a few minutes, as long as he thinks he can leave it, then hooks his arms under Liu Qingge’s and starts dragging the man further in, to the remaining plants.

Liu Qingge wakes reclining back on something warm, feeling damp and cold with an unpleasant sour taste in his mouth but otherwise fine. He opens his eyes and blinks, confused why his cheek is pressed against Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder.

Shen Qingqiu is sitting back against a corner of the rock wall with his knees up as a backrest for Liu Qingge’s and arms wrapped around the Bai Zhan peak lord to keep him from slipping off, Liu Qingge’s lower body sprawled out on the ground next to several dozen holes pockmarked in the dirt between rocks where plants had been ripped up.

"You're awake," Shen Qingqiu murmurs.

"Yes," Liu Qingge says and sits up properly. "What-"

Liu Qingge’s head snaps the side with the force of Shen Qingqiu’s slap.

Liu Qingge takes a deep breath and turns to the other. "I deserved that-"

Shen Qingqiu slaps him again, though this time Liu Qingge doesn't move an inch.

Liu Qingge grits his teeth. "Hit me again, I'll hit you back."

Shen Qingqiu already has a hand raised and looks like he's willing to test it. 

A moment passes and Liu Qingge stands up, shaking out his still damp clothes, and starts moving around to try and warm himself up. "Will there be side effects?"

"The fern is also deadly if left unchecked," Shen Qingqiu deadpans. "It has a strong yin energy, that's the cold you're feeling."


Shang Qinghua stays put, right in that hole, for two days until Shen Qingqiu comes back to pick him up.

He feels no shame in it, fuck shame, that doesn't keep Shang Qinghua alive. This is the bloody demon realm and Shen Qingqiu is the smart one (and plot armour hell yeah).

Except when Shen Qingqiu comes back, Liu Qingge follows and they're both staggering tiredly and shivering.

"Aren't all demon realm water sources toxic?" Shang Qinghua asks when they explain what happened, and then flinches at Liu Qingge's glare.

"We're not sick from the water anymore," Shen Qingqiu mutters, arms wrapped around himself to keep warm. "But the fern has an insidious yin essence, it's taking effect now."

"What does that mean?" Shang Qinghua asks.

Okay, look, Shang Qinghua wrote a lot of chapters, he can't be expected to remember every plant, and xianxia stories are complicated with a lot of lore anyway.

"Both of our cultivation practices follow yin techniques," Shen Qingqiu admits. "We'll only get colder because we had to eat a lot of the herb after Liu Qingge dragged me into the lake."

"I let you hit me twice, the matter is over and done with!" Liu Qingge snaps.

"Do we need to shove some yang into you?" Shang Qinghua asks before a real argument breaks out. "Make some hot soup?" This is starting is slowly starting to jog his memory, something about a wife so it's probably sex.

"You practice a yang technique," Shen Qingqiu tells him.

Yep, definitely papapa. Shang Qinghua nods.

Oh, wait.


"You need to warm us up," Shen Qingqiu explains, eyes narrowed in annoyance and with Liu Qingge scowling beside him. 



My body isn't ready.

Shang Qinghua stares up at the blinking stars that night, arms numb because he has two beautiful sleeping men cutting off his circulation, a little outraged he didn't actually get sex. It makes sense, that only the protagonist of the stallion novel gets sex, but still. Rude. 

Not that Shang Qinghua doesn't like cuddling.

Liu Qingge's head is on one shoulder, the man half on top of him, one leg pinning down both of Shang Qinghua's and an arm reaching across to grab a fistful of Shen Qingqiu's robe. Liu Qingge's eyelashes flutter occasionally, insultingly perfect face relaxed and content with using Shang Qinghua as a body pillow.

Shen Qingqiu's head is on the other shoulder, plastered against Shang Qinghua's side but furled inward towards himself, hands half curled into loose fists and tucked under his chin, lips slightly parted.

Why the hell did Shang Qinghua decide writing in such pretty men was a good idea? That was an awful idea. Someone should have run him over. Truck-kun, take him away to an isekai with only ugly people.

But no, Shang Qinghua was too gay to pass up the chance. At least the fanart was nice. Pity he didn't see a live action before he got shuffled off his mortal coil.

Did novel Shang Qinghua get sex? Is he going to have to live two lives and yet die without even a blow job? Not that it's strange in the cultivation world where people focus their entire lives on getting stronger, and some techniques are built on abstinence (but mainly the opposite because stallion novel hello). 

It must be some kind of cruel joke. In his first world, you can become a wizard if you're a thirty-year-old virgin. In this second world, you can ascend to heaven if you're a three-thousand-year-old virgin.

Shang Qinghua laments his impressively shitty luck as he stares up at the night sky full of blinking stars and realises, oh shit, those aren't stars - those are eyes.

Thankfully, Liu Qingge wakes in time to deflect the first strike. Even better, the fight scares the boner out of Shang Qinghua.

Man, fuck the demon realm.

The cuddling didn't fix the problem entirely because yes, they were meant to papapa instead. Thankfully, Shen Qingqiu has Mu Qingfang’s standard first aid set of pills and salves hidden in his qiankun bag so no one is going to die just yet.

Shang Qinghua speaks up after a few days as they skirt around a giant hole in the sand dunes. “So, Liu Qingge. You’re lost too, huh?”

Liu Qingge purses his lips.

Shen Qingqiu turns on him. “What?! Why are you even in the demon realm then, what’s the point?”

Liu Qingge scowls. “The disciples came back hysterical, I was told you two were lost, and Po Qingchen received the transmission of your location. It was an emergency so it just made sense for me to enter first to protect you while the others set up a proper teleportation array.”

“Protect us?” Shen Qingqiu scoffs, coming to a full stop. “Liu-shidi, the first thing you did was get us into trouble! I have been keeping Shang Qinghua alive the whole time, you are not taking credit for that. You would be dead if I weren’t here, drinking lake water-”

“Why must you keep bringing it up!?”

“Because you’re wrong, and I have yet to get a single fucking apology out of you!”

It quickly descends into an argument and the noise calls others. As it turns out, yes, the giant hole in the dunes was a burrow.

Mu Qingfang drags an injured Qi Qingqi away from the massive eight-headed Owl Lizard but they can't run because they're both injured. 

Liu Qingge attacks it head on, slowly cutting off limbs that flail and still attack regardless of being detached from the main body and everything is regrowing rapidly anyway.

Li Qingmao and the Fish-Hawk beast she brough from her Dongwu peak defend Shen Qingqiu, who's writing an array in the air with golden characters but he already knows it isn't going to be enough. The circle closes and he hurls the array, punching a three meter hole through the Owl Lizard's chest and decapitating three of the remaining five heads but two more have almost fully grown back.

Liu Qingge is thrown to the ground, Li Qingmao sprints over in time to tackle Mu Qingfang and Qi Qingqi away from one of the many detached tails that tries to crush them, while Shen Qingqiu retreats back into the trees to-

A giant rip opens up and sucks the Owl Lizard and its many pieces inside before closing.

Shen Qingqiu slowly turns to find Shang Qinghua, who has been pointedly missing this whole time, now standing sheepishly at the tree line.

"Wow, that was pretty crazy, huh," Shang Qinghua says, tossing a thirteen-pointed bronze star behind him and then kicking it under a bush. "Huge coincidence, did not see that coming."

Shen Qingqiu takes a deep breath. "I am going to let it go, just this once."


Shang Qinghua and Mu Qingfang returns from a trip out, the healer now with a large seed bulb the size of a fist, a happy smile on his face as he presents it to the others. "Shang Qinghua found a rare Dew-Maker seed. The matured plant's flowers is used in several pills for soothing qi deviations while the branches can be used for pain relief lotions."

Shen Qingqiu glances at Qi Qingqi and Li Qingmao. "Perhaps you should save it for when we return to the sect."

"Oh, it doesn't take long to mature at all," Mu Qingfang assures. "And it's small enough to be portable, plus I have enough equipment to start making the medication even in the demon realm."

Shen Qingqiu looks away.

Mu Qingfang approaches Qi Qingqi and holds out the bulb. "The Dew-Maker needs to be cared for by a virgin to grow."

Qi Qingqi hums. "I see an immediate problem."

Mu Qingfang pauses. "Ah, I understand." He turns to Li Qingmao instead.

"I wish I could help," Li Qingmao offers.

"Never mind," Mu Qingfang muses. "I suppose I'll save it for later."

"Or," Shang Qinghua cuts in, a bit too loudly. "I mean, it doesn't specifically need a virgin woman, right?"

"The literature implies 'maiden'," Shen Qingqiu says.

Shang Qinghua holds up his hands defensively. "Virginity is a construct? We live in a society. I mean has anyone tried a man?"

Mu Qingfang chimes in, "It wouldn't hurt to experiment." He turns and gives it to Shen Qingqiu.

"What?" Liu Qingge cuts in. "That man is constantly in and out of brothels-"

The flower bulb slowly starts to unfurl in Shen Qingqiu's hands, revealing the light, clear sky-blue inner petals of the Dew-Maker. Liu Qingge stares, and he's not the only one.

Li Qingmao is even more confused. "But then what do you do in the brothel?"

"Enjoy intelligent conversation," Shen Qingqiu drawls. "Which I'm valuing all the more now that I am being deprived of it."

"Ouch," Shang Qinghua mutters. “It hurts more because I had to think about it for a second before I realised it was an insult.”

The Dew-Maker seed ends up hopping between Shen Qingqiu and Shang Qinghua because Liu Qingge is too busy killing things to babysit a plant.

After Feng Qingxi of the landscaping Meihua peak arrives, things really settle in; because they build a house.

“I’m trying to leave,” Shen Qingqiu says as he watches Feng Qingxi drag a heavy stick through the dirt to outline the array. “You seem to be having fun, but I don’t like the demon realm. I would like to leave.”

“We’re not holding you hostage,” Feng Qingxi scoffs, blind eyes unerringly locking onto Shen Qingqiu. “Not openly, anyway, but good luck finding a way out without us.”

“Feng-shidi, do be more aware of the fact that I could kill you and blame it on demons.”

Feng Qingxi only laughs. “Come on, when was the last time we had a nice holiday together?"


"Well we’re about due for one, aren’t we?”

“We run a sect,” Shen Qingqiu complains but then Li Qingmao comes back holding Rock-Footed Geese and he gets distracted with making lunch.

The house that gets built is a large open rectangle, a third of it cut off by one or two silencing arrays to be used as a bedroom inner room, layered up with all the protective seals Shen Qingqiu can feasibly carve into the smooth stone walls.

Liu Qingge huts down some large, furred beasts and Li Qingmao instructs them all on how to strip the hides and convert it for bedding. The inner room turns into something of a nest. The outer two thirds is set up as a work area for Mu Qingfang's pill refining and a workshop for Shang Qinghua to struggle through figuring out how to make simplistic wooden furniture.

Qi Qingqi carries in a stack of water reeds and strips the tough outside to reach the thin, flexible core to start weaving make-shift baskets and pouches. 

Shen Qingqiu sews himself a qiankun bag out of the reeds, which is promptly taken by Mu Qingfang to bring back more medicinal herbs every time he goes on a gathering mission with Qi Qingqi. Shen Qingqiu makes another, but that's stolen by Li Qingmao who's prepping meals and further drying rations to store for a rainy-day scenario.

Shen Qingqiu gives up and makes everyone a bag.

Feng Qingxi often walks the perimeter with Liu Qingge and sets up traps and dangerous terrain for anything that gets close to the camp. 

Liu Qingge disappears to hunt more beasts and returns with Po Qingchen who got too excited and wanted to see how his transmission invention worked on this side and then, two weeks later, Liu Qingge also comes back with Yue Qingyuan.

Jing Qingshen wanders in one day by himself, the monk calm and unhurried as usual, only to turn right back around and leave with Yue Qingyuan (much to Shen Qingqiu's displeasure) and Li Qingmao to find the others who had gotten lost along the way.

They throw a party with tough meat stripped from Liu Qingge's kills, fruits gathered from the surroundings and alcohol stolen from a nearby town.

Feng Qingxi raises his cup in toast. "To avoiding responsibilities."

"Avoiding responsibility!" Everyone cheers and drinks.

That night, with everyone cuddled together in the bedding nest, Shen Qingqiu slips a hand across the furs until he taps against the warm metal sheath of Xuan Su. The sword hums under his touch and Yue Qingyuan shifts a bit in his sleep.

Shen Qingqiu purses his lips and slowly pulls the sword towards him until it's firmly in his grasp. He'd like to see Yue Qingyuan run off again without his sword.

Shen Qingqiu huffs and settles in to sleep.

Yue Qingyuan wakes up a lot slower than normal, pleasantly warm, held tightly.

Held tightly?

Yue Qingyuan opens his eyes and turns to the side, his spiritual sense guiding him until he registers Shen Qingqiu curled around Xuan Su.

Yue Qingyuan sits up and immediately tries to gently ease his sword away but Shen Qingqiu has the handle and left guard clutched in a hand each with the lower sheath trapped between his thighs. Yue Qingyuan sighs and just leaves it. Shen Qingqiu will wake up soon.

Shen Qingqiu's head turns a bit and his lips brush the right guard.

Yue Qingyuan shivers.

It's fine. Everything is fine.

Wei Qingwei watches on from the outer area of the house, sipping tea, fucking incredulous these idiots haven’t sorted their shit out yet.

They had been hunched over a map of the current area, currently plotting out a quick raid for supplies before they headed back to Cang Qiong because they do have a sect to run, but they get distracted pretty quickly.

Pu Qingtao swings his gourd of alcohol and then thumps it down on the table they’re all sitting around. “Easy. This, right here, is all I’d need. A good drink.”

Qi Qingqi boos at the boring answer. “What about you?” she asks Shang Qinghua. “And don’t say something like ‘a portal back to Cang Qiong’.”

Shang Qinghua shrugs. “If I got lost in the demon realm, I’d want a Shen-shixiong.”

Wei Qingwei scoffs, sitting further back and polishing the swords. “You’re just saying that because he’s sitting next to you.”

“Think about it,” Shang Qinghua begins, propping his elbows on the table to flail his hands. “If you’re likely to die in a strange new place, who do you want with you?”

“Liu Qingge?” Qi Qingqi points out.

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Shang Qinghua says carelessly, maybe a little bit tipsy from the spiked tea (Liu Qingge looks offended at being called ‘fine’). “But you want someone ruthless. You want someone with no limits, no morals, who won’t stop until they get you out - no matter what they have to do. You don’t want a good fighter, you want a villain.”

Everyone peeks at Shen Qingqiu hiding behind his fan, wondering if he’s going to get upset at such blatant (accurate) defamation.

“You know what I mean?” Shang Qinghua asks because this was something he never got to elaborate on in his novel but it’s such a good character trait to explore, people love that yandere shit. “Liu Qingge will fight, but Shen Qingqiu will kill. He’d burn down sects, wipe out towns, and it’d all be for you.”

Shang Qinghua spreads his hands, eyes wide. “You have nothing to fear because Shen Qingqiu is the worst thing you can come up against. And yeah, he’s bad to you, but he’s so much worse to others. Why would you be afraid of monsters under the bed when there’s one sleeping next to you! Right?”

Shang Qinghua looks around and locks eyes with Shen Qingqiu over the razor-sharp edge of the fan, only just now remembering that he’s in the novel as an actual character.

“Do you want the town?” Shen Qingqiu murmurs, eye narrowed, pleased. He reaches out and taps a long finger on the map in front of Shang Qinghua, the one they had been talking about before, an isolated demon town but still large enough for any resources they could need. “I can get it for you.”

“Get it?” Shang Qinghua asks hesitantly.

Shen Qingqiu brushes a long streak of hair over his shoulder. “The head merchant has all the power since he imports all the supplies, but he’s scared of the town leader’s relatives. Fortunately, the leader is quite estranged from his clan and weak all alone. Even better, leader’s daughter is sick and we have a Mu Qingfang.”

Shen Qingqiu leans in, presses against Shang Qinghua’s arm. “Underneath it is the alter, the one you’ve secretly been trying to find.” He tilts the fan so only Shang Qinghua can see his dangerous smirk. “You’re right about one point, Shang-shidi, I certainly know how to take care of my things.”

The hidden alter eats the Dew-Maker plant and spits out a 20-sided polygon which Shang Qinghua picks up.

Then accidentally drops.

It lands on a 1.

"Oh you bitch."

An hour later, the earth is cracking open, a yawning, gaping tear into molten lava. The spires of twisted metal that disappear up into acid clouds are falling, shrapnel plunging back to the ground and breaking open more stone platforms. The acid rain is heavy, the wind lashing out and howling.

The peak lords watch this from a safe distance, already stocked up on supplies to last them the trip out.

“Shall we head back?” Shen Qingqiu muses idly, fluttering his fan, now speckled with blood.

Li Qingmao tilts her head. “Am I allowed to feel sorry for demons?”

Shang Qinghua grimaces. “Well, you know, freak storm like that is normal around these parts. Not suspicious at all. We should leave, Cang Qiong probably needs us.”

“Maybe we should just help them evacuate,” Mu Qingfang suggests.

“It’ll get worse,” Shang Qinghua states with utter certainty because that little tantrum of nature does not account for all the horror of rolling a 1. This spot in the demon realm is about to be punctured out of existence.

The cracks spiderweb out and rivers of ghostly, reaching hands lurch from the bloody rivers that form. The pale, anaemic orange sky above bows under the pressure of something great pushing down, stretched over what appears to be an impossibly massive face, screaming. There is something in the in-between trying to claw its way in.

“Yeah, we should go,” Feng Qingxi says.

They leave without a glance backwards, because it’s really not good for the mind to watch a transcendental being gouge through from the Otherside to swallow reality.

Chapter Text

It starts with a noncommittal comment during a peak lord meeting that swiftly escalates into sideways glares and scoffs while the other is talking, then outright snide remarks before it comes to full blown insults.

It’s not that the other peak lords don’t try to calm Shen Qingqiu down, it’s just that anything they say comes across as condescending and an attack on him because Shen Qingqiu is already so riled up and defensive.

They try to distract Liu Qingge but that doesn’t work either because he thinks they’re being too soft on Shen Qingqiu with all this ‘avoiding conflict’ nonsense, and someone needs to stand up to him because Yue Qingyuan sure as hell won’t.

No one is quite expecting things to go past the point of blatant insults because it rarely ever gets to full blown fighting unless they’re already in a sparring area and even then, it’s impossible with Yue Qingyuan present.

Except Liu Qingge shifts slightly during the yelling match, more so to see better around Pu Qingtao’s alcohol gourd the man is trying to offer up as a truce, but it means he rises up slightly from his seat. Shen Qingqiu takes that as a threat towards a physical confrontation and puts a hand on his sword – which only triggers Liu Qingge.

So it goes from zero to a hundred real fucking fast when both of them lurch to their feet and launch themselves at each other with no visible cue at all, which means no one else gets up in time to stop them.

Liu Qingge slams Shen Qingqiu down onto the ground -no swords because even this deep into it they both know Yue Qingyuan will shut that down- so they scrap on the ground.

The other peak lords panic and are shouting over each other, Li Qingmao and Mu Qingfang scrambling away from their seats before they get dragged into it.

Yue Qingyuan is up on one knee but unsure and hesitating as he always does when Shen Qingqiu gets like this. “Don’t hurt him!”

The other peak lords aren’t quite sure who he’s talking to, right up until Shen Qingqiu rams a knee up between Liu Qingge’s legs. To be fair, Liu Qingge should have expected it, it’s not the first time he’s taken a hit like that - but he was too distracted with protecting his eyes from Shen Qingqiu’s fingernails instead.

While Liu Qingge is stunned, Shen Qingqiu flips them over and reaches back towards the table, where he picks up the tea pot he only just prepared and then holds it, boiling hot, over Liu Qingge’s face.

“Let’s all take a deep breath!” Mu Qingfang cries and half holds out a hand towards the tea pot but he can’t just grab it because then he might cause it to tip over while he’s struggling with Shen Qingqiu.

The same occurs to everyone else who hesitantly edge closer but don’t dare make any sudden movements. Liu Qingge has gone still, a vicious snarl on his face. Shen Qingqiu is straddling Liu Qingge’s stomach, one hand delicately holding the pot like he’s in the midst of a tea ceremony while the other hand smoothes down his ruffled clothes.

“Oh my,” Shen Qingqiu murmurs, eyes half-lidded. “That was quite a shock, being attacked by such a brute during a perfectly amicable meeting between peak lords. How positively frightening.” Shen Qingqiu bites down on the word like he’s tearing into something. “My hands are…shaking.”

Shen Qingqiu slowly tilts the tea pot.

“You wouldn’t,” Liu Qingge spits out.

“He would,” Shang Qinghua says quickly. “No, he would.”

In fact, this is a favourite of Shen Qingqiu’s. Usually, he has someone make the tea and, depending on how long he tolerates their company, he will then dump the tea out on them at whatever temperature the poor fellow has manage to crawl their way to through the conversation.

However, they have spent decades with this man. Rather than a serious threat, they’re all very clear that Shen Qingqiu is now doing this as a performance to better humiliate Liu Qingge. Even Shen Qingqiu has admitted previously that ruining such a beautiful face as Liu Qingge's should be considered an unforgivable crime.

And the problem with Liu Qingge is that he will never back down from a fight. They have about a minute at best until Liu Qingge decides he’d rather take the tea than Shen Qingqiu’s smug taunting.

“Shen-shixiong,” Feng Qingxi wheezes out from further down the table because he’s going to try and help but also this is so funny. “Ahem, this shidi came across some previously unknown documents regarding the Meihua peak’s landscaping of the sect grounds before the sect expansion during the Hei generation of peak lords.” It was not newly discovered, Feng Qingxi simply keeps things like this in stock if he ever needs a favour.

Shen Qingqiu slightly turns himself, internally at war between the petty asshole and the scholar versions of himself.

“Interesting too,” Feng Qingxi continues, a smile making his blind eyes curve up slightly. “For instance, the maps seem to imply the ley line under Zui Xian peak’s vineyards isn’t a natural formation at all. Very ancient work, a bit scuffed. If Shen-shixiong could lend his assistance to restoration and further contextual research, this shidi would be very grateful.”

“This shixiong would be pleased to help,” Shen Qingqiu finally says and sets the tea pot back down on the table.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Qi Qingqi yells because when Shen Qingqiu stands up, Liu Qingge grabs him by the ankle.

Shen Qingqiu topples over sideways and lands in the arms of Yue Qingyuan who is still half risen onto a knee during the chaos. They connect in a flurry of robes from the fall and scrambling hands out of shock. The catch is firm but late, Yue Qingyuan’s hands around Shen Qingqiu’s waist, Shen Qingqiu’s hands on his shoulders.

Lips lightly brushing.

Yue Qingyuan slams through two levels of cultivation, barely hitches over a breakthrough to the next realm, and then ascends four more levels.

Shen Qingqiu throws himself back and the other peak lords are already running, Po Qingchen bursting out of the meeting room door without even taking his artificer notes and then just sprinting for it as the shockwave of excess qi explodes out behind them.

Liu Qingge and Wei Qingwei turn, swords at the ready and take the detonation head on because if the energy hits even a senior cultivator without warning they won’t stand a chance and the meeting room is isolated but not even being half a peak away is enough to protect the disciples.

The meeting room splinters, is unmade, under the force. Wei Qingwei is launched through the air, caught by the monk Jing Qingshen who braces the peak lord’s head as they land hard, rolling with the momentum. Liu Qingge’s feet scrape a furrow through the ground as he’s pushed back, drops to a knee after, nose bleeding and sword slightly bent.

It gives enough time for Shen Qingqiu, Feng Qingxi and Po Qingchen to raise a desperate barrier, not outlined with a template talisman and barely stable but they can’t do anything else when they’re just trying to keep the mountain from shattering apart under the sudden pressure.

Even that wasn't everything Yue Qingyuan has, it was only what slipped from his control in the sudden splurge, not even half, not even a quarter of his full power. The air is heavy, choking, but it slows and pulls back as he regains the tethers on his power. 

But the heavens open up to a vortex of dark purple clouds, stuttering and expanding in rapid bursts like the tribulation lightning is trying to catch up to the insanely fucking fast cultivation realm breakthrough. It builds too quickly, too fiercely, blots out the sky and smothers the sunlight as it spreads like a swarm of locusts over the Cang Qiong sect mountains.

At Yue Qingyuan’s level, the tribulation lightning is a devastating force that can wipe out entire cities if the cultivator isn’t able to get to seclusion fast enough. The storm clouds are already flashing within from flares of lightning and the deep, bone trembling rumble of thunder shakes the air as the heavens themselves reject such power as Yue Qingyuan's being carried in the mortal realm. They don’t have time, they can’t do anything, it’s too much.

Shang Qinghua has hit the ground with his hands over his head, and Pu Qingtao has dropped his gourd of alcohol, just trying to stay standing under the force of the tribulation lightning’s very presence.

Mu Qingfang and Qi Qingqi are scrambling, triggering sect-wide evacuation orders with the emergency talismans but it won’t be fast enough to save anyone. Li Qingmao stares off into the distance where her peak sits, knows that the animals won’t survive, knows that she might not survive.

The first lightning strike shrieks as it’s hurled down like a sword, cutting through the air straight towards the blown apart meeting room.

Yue Qingyuan stands in the debris of splinters, eyes alight with inner power, his robes held slightly aloft from the vacuum around him. The lightning strike reaches his chest. Stops.

Everything stops, the noise, the torn grass and shreds of the dismantled building still frozen mid-air, the lightning strike itself forced still before it splits the mountain apart.

The lightning bends, like wire, like it isn’t a representation of the heavens. Yue Qingyuan curves his power around it and the strike is forced back, the edges of the deep purple clouds are compressed. The tribulation lightning splutters, sparks, gasps like a dying man before it’s all snuffed out.

The floating debris now drops lightly in the warm, sunlight-flooded grounds. A soft breeze returns to lightly ruffle the healthy green grass. The other peak lords stare at Yue Qingyuan, fucking incredulous.

Yue Qingyuan purses his lips. “Excuse me,” he says softly. “I should…go meditate. To...settle my cultivation.” He half turns, looks like he might say something, and then just leaves with a blink from how fast he moves.

The peak lords collapse, to their knees or fall back onto their ass, some crumpling completely to the ground and lie there.

They all just concentrate on breathing now that they can, staring off into nothing at all as the faint sound of screaming, panicked disciples reaches them.

“When can I retire?” Mu Qingfang sighs.

Qi Qingqi is sitting with her arms braced on the top of her raised knees. “That wasn’t even a real kiss. What happens if you dual cultivate?”

Shen Qingqiu is sitting back on his calves, running lightly shaking hands through his hair to smooth out the knots. He places his hands in his lap. Turns to look at Qi Qingqi. “I would fucking die.”

“Along with half the continent,” muses Po Qingchen from where he’s flat on his back, tone of voice like he would want more data on that for a later experiment. “Could probably wipe out Huan Hua sect from here.”

“Don’t give him ideas,” Liu Qingge snaps, a sleeve already dyed red where he holds it up to his bleeding nose.

Shang Qinghua is still curled up in foetal position, making noises that could be either sobbing or laughing.