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 It took… Shang Qinghua… a while to figure out that demons actually had horns in this realized version of his sellout stallion web-novel. But in his defense, Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky never actually imagined the demons all having horns! And he never actually met a demon in person, he never saw one with his own eyes, until he was seventeen years into his second life. 


 Sure, it’s “common knowledge” that demons have horns, but, honestly, “common knowledge”? In Shang Qinghua’s experience, “common knowledge” is kind of bullshit! 


 Shang Qinghua was born into a bitterly disgraced, moderately poor family in a shitty little town in the middle of nowhere, where common wisdom ranged from “don’t go walking alone in the woods at night” (extremely reasonable) to “don’t eat misshapen produce when you’re pregnant or you’ll end up with an ugly and possibly even demonic baby” (what). He was pretty disappointed to finally get to a city, which seemed almost like real civilization to a starved-for-modernity transmigrated millennial at first, only to run into professional cultivators and doctors who were perfectly happy to say things like, “I diagnose you with ghosts and you should do shots of liquid fucking mercury about it.” 


 He’s barely paraphrasing there. 


 (Later, he will tell this anecdote to Qian Cao Peak Lord Mu Qingfang and watch his martial brother snort his drink out his nose from shock. Shang Qinghua will then undergo a terrifying interrogation that ends in Mu Qingfang storming off, presumably to hunt these people Shang Qinghua overheard once twenty years ago down and end their careers.) 


 So, yeah, people went, “Oh, yes, everyone knows that demons all have horns!” And Shang Qinghua politely didn’t fucking believe them. Haha, yeah, sure! But also no. He was totally willing to believe that their third-cousin’s wife’s brother’s friend who allegedly saw a real demon once had run into, like, a deer-like demon or a sheep-like demon or something that could be reasonably expected to have horns. But all demons? Nah. 


 He is, after all, the Author God of this world! He’s the authority on character design in this world! Even if he quickly realized that he’d skimped on a lot of details and the System has taken many artistic liberties and made some adjustments to make things more culturally consistent, there were, like, special embroidery patterns Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky never could have imagined and then there were huge fucking horns coming out of a person’s head. He thought he ought to know whether or not his protagonist and a large chunk of the main characters had horns! He’d totally know! Right? 


 When he actually became a disciple of An Ding Peak and saw many illustrations of their fearsome foes in the Demon Realm, all horned, he assumed… well… artistic liberties? The artists did tend to exaggerate the sharp teeth, the long claws, and fearsome features of those ugly, ugly demons. All the better to illustrate the “wickedness within”! Which is a totally understandable impression, honestly, if a person’s first impression of a demon is accompanied by a terrifying amount of demonic qi burning with killing intent! Terror tends to warp the memory like that! Shang Qinghua would probably remember only the teeth and the claws too if a demon tried to tear out his throat! 


 But he knew for a fact that many of those demons had been designed to be extremely beautiful! Extremely sexy! And if one mistake can be made, then others can be made! Maybe all these righteous cultivators just didn’t want to admit that a lot of these demons are, in fact, extremely fuckable if you’re not an uptight asshole, huh? 


 And he also knew that sometimes those artistic renditions were done purely off descriptions, anyway. The person who saw the demon and the artist were sometimes different people. So, ultimately, young outer disciple Shang Qinghua attributed the whole “demons have horns” thing to a miscommunication that’s become a stylistic tradition for the symbolism. Everyone just went with funky reinterpretations of someone else’s bad painting, maybe! 


 And then, when he’s seventeen for the second time in his experience, he encounters the future Northern King. He meets the figure of daydreams and nightmares alike: his Mobei-Jun. He sees that tall figure step out of the woods, not only cloaked in black shadow and blue demonic qi that feels like death, but crowned by glittering white horns curving taller still. 


 And he thinks, “Oh.” 


 And then he thinks, “Wait, what the fuck?!” 



 Later, Shang Qinghua will figure the universe alteration with the horns happened something like this: at some point, Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky had a plotline, possibly several plotlines, involving a type of demon that could reasonably be expected to have sexy horns for the aesthetic of sexy horns. Some type of demon based on a deer or a sheep or even a cow. Or some mythical creature with horns, maybe! 


 During those plotlines, Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky almost certainly spouted lots of total bullshit masquerading as worldbuilding - stuff about when in their development those demons grew horns, what kind of horns demons consider super impressive, what demons did to make their horns more attractive, and blah blah blah. He probably made all sorts of sweeping generalizations and didn’t think shit about any of them after he moved on to the next formulaic, scum-villain-crushing, wife-seducing plotline of power fantasy drama. After all, with rent on the line, it was all about meeting the word count! Not about the actual words. 


 What he’s guessing happened here is that the System - maybe not his personal Transmigration System, but whatever is connected to it that realized his sellout stallion web-novel - took those sweeping generalizations and decided to make them the rule for all demons, instead of the exception they were clearly supposed to be


 Which is, in Shang Qinghua’s opinion, total bullshit! 


  “Hey, System!” he’ll think, utterly outraged by this completely warped adaptation of his magnum opus. “It didn’t occur to you that it was maybe weird that Mobei-Jun and Bing-Ge and Sha Hualing’s horns WEREN’T MENTIONED over the course of the ENTIRE WEB-NOVEL?! Huh?! Did you think that this Author God just decided not to mention their demonic horns because they weren’t relevant in that scene?! Or ANY scene?! Fuck you!” 


 Of course, it’s also totally possible that in a sleep-deprived, energy-drink-induced, “oh, fuck, when’s the last time I stood up or went outside” haze, he did accidentally give Mobei-Jun, Luo Binghe, or Sha Hualing horns for one scene. Then never mentioned them again or corrected his mistake. Except he’s pretty sure that one of his anti-fans would have totally tried to skewer him for such a flagrant continuity error. 


 Maybe they did, though? He skimmed plenty of comments. 


 Who fucking knows, honestly! 


 Eventually, he decides there’s no fucking way to know for sure and settles for cursing his no-good System for its artistic fucking liberties. “This is not MY artistic vision, you know!” he’ll think, as loudly and angrily as he can. “I don’t agree with this adaptational choice! Even if it’s kind of neat! Maybe! I never gave you the rights to adapt my work in the first place, but I’m revoking those rights EXTRA hard right now.” 



 Later still, Shang Qinghua will hear the legend of the First Northern King in this world. 


 He didn’t go into the history of Mobei-Jun in great detail in Proud Immortal Demon Way, always leery of the haters and anti-fans realizing that this supporting character was his favorite above all others (and also, ahem, kind of his personal Dream Guy). He didn’t make Mobei-Jun a total mystery, of course! Because Mobei-Jun was his favorite and also the protagonist’s OP lieutenant. So, he made use of the fabulous Ice Palace, which had been the seat of the Northern Kings’ power for generations, of the powerful Mo Clan and its subordinate clans, of deadly weapons and deadlier northern beasts, and of rituals like the ascension ceremony during many demon-centric plotlines. 


But… like... vaguely. 


 Readers of Proud Immortal Demon Way fawned over or spat on the blackened stallion protagonist, Luo Binghe, and that was… whatever. Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky didn’t really take any of it personally. Who was the greater fool, the person who was writing sellout stallion bullshit or the people who were paying for it? 


 But if they’d paid the same amount of attention to his Dream Guy… well…. 


 He used Mobei-Jun carefully. 


 Probably more carefully than he handled… basically anything else by the end of things. 


 The System has, clearly, taken advantage of his terrified vagueness. 


 And, also, apparently the fact that he didn’t go into the literal evolution of his world? Honestly, why would he do that?! The readers didn’t want to hear about detailed family genealogies, see maps of land division, or hear about agricultural practices for magical plants or fantasy ecosystems in that kind of detail! They wanted character drama! They wanted blood and guts and poison! They wanted nasty revenge on scum villains and pretty girls swooning at the feet of a stallion protagonist and a whole lot of (admittedly repetitive) papapa! So long as it was “sexy”, it didn’t have to make sense. The fans of Proud Immortal Demon Way didn’t want endless chapters on the properties and evolution of the monsters


 Well, except for the occasional monster-focused weirdo. 


 But there’s a whole fucking mythology built out of Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky’s tidbits of contrived bullshit here?! Shang Qinghua hesitates to call whatever the System did here good, because he’s still pretty bitter over the System not asking for the Author’s input into any of this, but it’s… functional. Most of the time. At least so far. 


 Anyway! The First Northern King! 


 The northern kingdoms are hostile for many reasons, including but not limited to: the deadly weather, the horrifying monsters who are tough enough to stand it, and the hateful demon locals who are tough enough to tangle with both of those things. One of those many reasons the northern kingdoms are super unwelcoming to tourists, which Shang Qinghua wasn’t really expecting (despite the fact that he probably offhandedly mentioned this detail at some point), are the huge, spectacular, interdimensional vents scattered throughout the horrible landscape, connected to even more horrible places like the Eternal Abyss. 


 They’re like an extra terrible version of steam geysers, but they spew out things like beings of smoke with eyes like fire. Or like massive hot springs, but bottomless and acidic, and also with tentacled creatures with dozens of mouths writhing in the depths. And so on. 


 Legend has it, in the north, that one day… long, long ago… something big crawled out of one of these vents. The earth quaked for days as it tore its way free from the Eternal Abyss. What this being looked like, exactly, no one can say, because they say that nothing survived seeing it up close. From a distance, they said it appeared to be a living shadow, which stayed in no one form, which spilled over the landscape like molten earth, and which had no purpose but to devour all that it came across. Everything that approached this Emperor of the Abyss or could not escape its many mouths quickly enough died. 


 Much, much later, Mobei-Jun will actually show Shang Qinghua the broken vent, which makes Shang Qinghua reevaluate his personal belief in the legend. 


 Whatever came through the Eternal Abyss into the Northern Desert, before either of those places had a name, actually broke the vent. The vent wasn’t big enough for this dark being, physically or spiritually or whatever, so the thing had to force its way through and the interdimensional vent collapsed behind it, leaving behind a massive crater-like formation. 


 This is known because demonic seers have apparently danced the edge of madness attempting to divine the moment of its escape, to witness the birth of one of the oldest demon lines alive today. Like, in some really bizarre demonic equivalent to archeology. 


 There’s an ancient temple next to that spot now, still maintained and attended by a branch of the Mo Clan, to which demons all across the Demon Realm sometimes make a pilgrimage to prove their strength. It’s kind of a lovely place, actually. It’s very scenic! Very historic! But it’s also only nice if a person can ignore the fact that the air makes the skin crawl and that it’s far below freezing there every single day of the year. 


 Formless beings from the Eternal Abyss don’t survive in this world for long - in the Demon Realm for longer than the Human Realm, but definitely not forever - even these Boss types which fight their way out of the darkness occasionally, which are colloquially titled Emperors of the Abyss. So the thing that came from the Eternal Abyss, which was according to legend cleverer than most things like it, became something else to survive. It evolved into something solid, something which wouldn’t disperse across the white wastes, something of flesh and blood and bone - more or less. It became a horrifying amalgamation of all the northern demonic beasts it had eaten: a monster among monsters. 


 They call it the First Northern King, but there was no court and there were no courtiers then. No palaces and no thrones. No crown except for the great, glittering antlers on its head, because this happened long before crowns. They say it had fur that was neither white nor black, but both at once, and it had teeth and claws as long as swords and that looked like ice, but were much stronger than any metal. 


 The artistic renditions can’t decide what the First Northern King looked like exactly, probably because the legends say that the early Northern Kings’ solid form changed, being descended from a former Emperor of the Abyss. All of the early Northern Princes looked different too, they say, no two of them exactly alike the Northern King or each other. Shang Qinghua has seen a cave painting of an early Northern King that looked like a polar bear and an elk, a statue of a different Northern King that looked like a tiger and an eagle, and a bone carving of another that looked like a leopard and a killer whale. They almost all have horns, but rarely the same horns, at least in those days. It was apparently kind of a “you are what you eat” situation. 


 The First Northern King was a monster who “ruled” the white wastes of the north for an untold number of years, just by being the biggest, toughest thing out there. Nothing could fuck with it except monsters among monsters like it. 


 The former Emperor of the Abyss had many children over the course of its reign and sooner or later devoured nearly all of them. Either the equally monstrous Northern Princes would inevitably challenge the great beast that had birthed them... or the Northern King would eventually grow hungry for something filling and heartlessly devour them. The Northern Desert wasn’t big enough for two Northern Kings. 


 The reign of the Second Northern King came, they say, when a Northern Prince managed to escape their parent’s hunger by fleeing south, living along the Northern Desert's borders and growing in strength, then finally returned monstrous enough to kill the monster that had birthed them. No one can agree how long the battle raged. Some insist it must have taken years, while others insist it was an ambush that could not have lasted longer than an hour. 


 Afterwards, the injured and exhausted Northern Prince devoured the body of the First Northern King, the former Emperor of the Abyss who had ruled the white wastes of the north for time untold, for its strength. And, in doing so, became the Second Northern King. 


 The King is dead! Long live the King who ate him!  


 The rule of the Third Northern King, they say, came the same way. 


 They call them Kings and Princes now, but this is a misnomer, the storytellers say. The Northern Kings and Princes were neither male nor female in those days, and even later (sometimes even now still), when they might be one or the other, some were still neither. Other parents came later and are, eh, still arguably necessary. The early Northern Kings were mother and father and murderer all to their many children. They were the sole giver of both life and the most common dealer of death in those days, until the child who would finally murder and devour them first. 


 Untold generations of Northern Kings passed this way, they say, massive beasts that would feed on the beings of smoke with eyes like fire which spewed from the Abyss Geysers, monsters which would leap into acidic Abyss Springs to fight the tentacled creatures with countless mouths. They ate the blizzards and became them. They swam in the northern seas and, where other creatures might have drowned or froze, they swallowed enough ice water to spit it forever. They gorged themselves on the Northern Desert and everything that lived there until they were equal parts the children of the white wastes and abyssal shadow.  


 Much later again, when Shang Qinghua tries to get a number from someone - from anyone - to figure out the timeline of evolution here, they only say cryptic things like, “It was the time before time. The time before humans and demons who looked like them.” 


 “Oh, so like… hundreds of thousands of years? Millions of years?” Shang Qinghua says, in a high-pitched voice. “Hundreds of millions of years?” 


 The elderly, withered ice demon he’s talking to just shrugs. 


 “Most likely not a hundred million years,” she says. 


 Very unhelpful! 


 Legend says that when the time of humans and the demons who looked like them came, the Northern Kings had settled, more or less, into a consistent monstrous shape. They had also become… slightly less hostile to their siblings and children, and to their fellow beasts and elemental beings of the northern desert. They had settled enough to occasionally take mates and to occasionally allow those mates to contribute to their children, to sometimes live in incredibly deadly packs instead of abject solitude, and to have unspeakably destructive wars with each other. 


 Everyone had to get a hobby eventually. 


 There was still only ever one true Northern King, however: the beast who had eaten the previous Northern King and gained the strength of its ancestors. 


 It was not difficult, according to legend, for the first Northern King who met a man-shaped Heavenly Demon to cultivate a man-like shape as well. They were a demon with the power of countless Northern Kings before them, after all. They call the first Northern King to cultivate a near-human form the first Lord of the Northern Desert.  


 Some of the following Northern Kings eschewed a near-human form entirely, preferring the monstrous form of their ancestors, but the time of humans had come and it was as pervasive as it was inevitable. The Lords of the Northern Desert eventually became the Mo Clan and they slowly took on the trappings of human kings - the courts, the courtiers, the thrones, the grand palaces, the monuments of power, the lavish banquets and splendid tournaments, and all the wealth that had little purpose but to glitter. But they had no need for crowns, for they still proudly wore the great, ice-like horns of their monstrous forms, of their legendary ancestors, even in their near-human forms. 


 Which is, according to the mythology Shang Qinghua didn’t write in this kind of absurd, graphic, prehistoric detail, why his Mobei-Jun looks the way he does. He’s a sexy, sexy beast of a man standing at the end of a long line of cannibalistic monsters from a time before time and a space beyond spaces. 


 By the end of this first full explanation, before the much laters, Shang Qinghua will stare at Mobei-Jun in amazement and awe and no small amount of authorial jealousy. 


 And then Mobei-Jun will pat him on the head and turn over to go to sleep. 


 “My king?! You can’t just leave it there?!” 



 But that’s later. This is now. 


  Now, seventeen-year-old Shang Qinghua, a lowly outer disciple of An Ding Peak, is staring at the realized version of his favorite character and the man has horns. Horns that he’s not supposed to have! Because Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky did not imagine Mobei-Jun having horns! What the fuck?! 


 Honestly, his imagination doesn’t do the correct parts of the realization justice, anyway. And the demon lord who will someday kill him is still breathtakingly handsome, even if Shang Qinghua didn’t fully imagine the animalistic shine to his eyes or the inhuman sharpness of his canines. Or the long, black claws at the end of his flexing hands. Or the frost-like patterns of leopard-like spots or tiger-like stripes over his forearms and across his half-bared chest. Or the relatively human-like long and pointed ears, actually pointed down as he snarls at the An Ding Peak disciples before he slaughters them with spikes of ice summoned from thin air. 


 But that’s all… that’s… look, none of that can compare to the horns. 


 Mobei-Jun is terrifyingly tall, but the horns add another full head of height at least. Maybe more?!They can’t possibly be actual ice over bone, but they look very much like it. They aren’t like any earthly animal Shang Qinghua knows, possibly because his zoology is shit, but the closest comparison might be an elk of some kind. 


 The horns should look fucking ridiculous, honestly, but they somehow don’t? Mobei-Jun stands tall with enough dignity, radiating enough killing intent even before he effortlessly slaughters everyone else around them, that the horns can’t look anything but fearsome and graceful and majestic. Sexy and scary as fuck. Shang Qinghua clings desperately to the thighs of a demon lord whose kingship is built into him, down to the bone, in every drop of his blood, curling and gleaming above his head. 


 Which is probably part of why, when Mobei-Jun collapses because the poison has become too much for him, Shang Qinghua can’t bear to kill him. 


 He should. He really should, he knows! 


 He’d be saving his own life, if he did kill Mobei-Jun like this! He’d be putting a stop to Shang Qinghua’s plotline as a scum traitor right here and right now! He might also get some actual credit from Cang Qiong Mountain Sect if he kills a demon lord as powerful as this one, emerging victorious from a massacre. And most importantly: the System is apparently willing to let Mobei-Jun go before the plot has even started, having apparently deemed the demon not a critical part of the Proud Immortal Demon Way story!  


 Which is kind of insulting, actually! When Mobei-Jun is and has always been Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky’s favorite. Like, really! Mobei-Jun isn’t totally irrelevant! He’s not! And he’s not replaceable or interchangeable with any other demon either! 


 Linguang-Jun would make a terrible lieutenant! Just the worst. 


 So, yeah, anyway, Shang Qinghua doesn’t kill his future murderer because he’s a fool. 


 Not for love, but, well, for something. 


 Sentimentality, maybe? 


 Sentimentality sounds better than saying, “Look, the demon lord was very pretty, okay?!” As much as Shang Qinghua loathes to admit he has any emotions, much less ones like sentimentality for the fool he was in another life, he does have them. 


 Shang Qinghua’s initiual impression that the unauthorized horns are dignified and majestic starts to die about halfway through secreting Mobei-Jun to safety, then hiding the demon lord in an anonymous inn in the middle of nowhere. By the time that Shang Qinghua collapses on the floor of their rented room, utterly exhausted, he’s very firmly decided again that the horns are stupid, actually. Definitely! 


 Totally ridiculous! Artistic license gone too far! 


 Because Mobei-Jun’s horns got stuck twice when Shang Qinghua tried to lift him onto the cart. They made hiding Mobei-Jun inside the cart (because the middle of nowhere town is definitely going to freak the fuck out if they realize he’s hiding a demon) incredibly awkward, because Mobei-Jun is already awkwardly large without the horns. Shang Qinghua had to arrange the demon lord in a fetal position, basically, to keep his stupidly long legs from sticking off the end of the cart. And then, when Shang Qinghua was secretly trying to unload Mobei-Jun from the cart to sneak him into the room, Mobei-Jun’s stupid fucking majestic horns got stuck no less than three times. 


 The horns scraped the cart, the ground, and every single doorway. 


 When the time came to put Mobei-Jun on the bed so that Shang Qinghua can treat him properly, he couldn’t, because the bed wasn’t long enough. Shang Qinghua had to pull the bed away from the walls, out into the middle of the room, so that, once on the bed, Mobei-Jun’s horns could stick out past the top end. Thank fuck that there’s nothing like a headboard. 


 The stupid horns scraped the walls and the floor while Shang Qinghua was hefting him onto the bed, by the way. The horns also nearly stabbed the pillow, before Shang Qinghua got the demon lord placed properly. And Mobei-Jun is still so stupidly tall that, even with his horns not on the bed, his feet still hung off the bottom end of the bed, so Shang Qinghua had to use another piece of furniture and a cushion to prop them up. It’s awkward as all fucking get out, but it… well, it works. Kind of. 


 Dignity? Never fucking heard of it, actually. 


 Honestly, if he ever had any dignity, he probably sold it in his past life for noodle money. 


  “Yep!” Shang Qinghua thinks, sprawled across the floor from the sheer effort of awkward handling it took to get Mobei-Jun here. “The horns are stupid, actually! System, can I get a ‘no horns’ mod in here?! Or, if this is a ‘give the demons horns’ mod, maybe you can turn it off already?! It’s not working out! Cancel the subscription! End the trial period!” 


 As always, his no-good Transmigration System doesn’t listen to him. 


 He treats Mobei-Jun’s injuries as best he can. 


 He tries not to freak out over the fact that Mobei-Jun killed all the other disciples and that the man is destined to kill his character someday too, and mostly fails on that count. 


 He falls asleep cursing the System for its stupid universe alterations in the name of “consistency” and cursing himself for… everything, pretty much, convinced that he’ll most likely be brutally killed whenever the demon lord wakes up. 


 Fortunately, when Mobei-Jun wakes up, he seems confused enough to be alive that he doesn’t kill Shang Qinghua. The demon lord threatens him, though, and interrogates him over his motives, and hits him to get him to back the fuck off and give some personal space while he thinks letting him live over. All while Shang Qinghua begs and pleads and wheedles desperately enough to make lowly cowards and pathetic wretches across the world look good by comparison. 


 At one point, Mobei-Jun is angry and disgusted enough by being saved by, apparently, the world’s most power-grubbing and shameless human lowlife, to get to his feet suddenly. 


 Which is…. 




 The demon lord’s majestic horns punch through the low ceiling, which wasn’t made to comfortably accommodate men or demons of his non-horned height. There’s a very loud CRUNCH as the horns go through the ceiling. Mobei-Jun stumbles, curses, and tries to pull back again, except he can’t. He can’t pull back. 


 He’s stuck. 


 Holy shit, he’s stuck?! 


 Like, he could totally get free on his own, but he’d probably bring half the ceiling down trying to yank his majestic horns free, which would probably bring lots of humans to investigate and then running to form a mob.


 Shang Qinghua desperately babbles about their need for secrecy while flailing around uselessly and urging the stuck demon lord to please stop struggling. Someone could hear! 


 Somehow, this ends with Shang Qinghua using a sturdy knife and his bare hands to carefully take the ceiling around Mobei-Jun’s horns apart, dropping chunks of wood at their feet. 


 Except, ah, with Mobei-Jun’s hand loosely around his throat the entire time, in case he tries anything foolish. Shang Qinghua gets to feel the prick of Mobei-Jun’s claws every time he swallows. And he swallows nervously a lot because who doesn’t with a trapped demon lord able to snap your neck at any moment?! The close quarters to the hottest man he’s ever seen and the piercing stare of that man definitely don’t help his nerves. 


 Mobei-Jun is soon freed with… limited damage to their room’s ceiling. 


 After the demon lord is freed, he lets go of Shang Qinghua’s throat, lies back down on the bed, and turns his back. Shang Qinghua stares at the hole and the pile of ceiling in despair, trying to figure out how to fix it before the innkeeper sees or how to leave before the innkeeper sees. He paid extra for privacy, so… he thinks it should be fine? They’ll just have to vanish promptly before the innkeeper can even conceive of anything like a bill for damages. 


 “...You promised food,” Mobei-Jun says. 


 “Eh? Oh, I did! Right!” Shang Qinghua said a lot of things while freeing Mobei-Jun from the ceiling, most of which he doesn’t really remember and probably won’t remember without prompting. “Ah, yes, I have food! I will… serve you the meal in bed, my king, so that you don’t have to get up again? Aha, please don’t trouble yourself! This servant will do everything!” 


 “If you don’t, I’ll eat you,” Mobei-Jun promises. 


 Shang Qinghua’s poor, confused brain (which, in its defense here, has just undergone prolonged proximity to and physical contact with his Dream Guy) goes a very different place before he realizes that his Dream Guy means this in a cannibalistic fashion, probably. His brain snaps back from the completely impossible fantasy it was entertaining. 


 “Ah, of course!” 


 And then he scrambles to prevent the non-sexy devouring from happening. 



 Mobei-Jun over the course of his convalescence does not get out of bed very often, except for the daily baths he insists upon, and later for meals at the low table. It’s beneath the dignity of a demon lord to do anything like crab-walk, so Shang Qinghua gets to watch his potential murderer stoop awkwardly and scrape his very majestic horns on the ceiling every single time. 


 Once, Mobei-Jun’s horns get stuck again, but only briefly, on the hole he punched through the ceiling. For a terrifying moment after the initial stumble, Shang Qinghua is absolutely certain that the incandescently angry Mobei-Jun is going to tear this establishment apart by hand, and also murder everyone inside in the vicinity with his bare hands. He doesn’t, in the end, and Shang Qinghua thanks him profusely for his graciousness, while apologizing again for the shitty accommodations which absolutely do not deserve Mobei-Jun’s royal presence and much less his graciousness. 


 The Ice Palace, Shang Qinghua presumes, must have nice and high ceilings. 



 After Shang Qinghua is found by his fellow Cang Qiong Mountain Sect disciples, including Wei Qingwei, and dragged back to earn Shen Qingqiu’s (rightful, honestly) distrust forever, and after he makes the mistake of thinking that this horrible misadventure is over, Mobei-Jun shows up at his Leisure House. The demon lord portals in, in the middle of the night, to mock Shang Qinghua’s oath of lifelong servitude, threaten his life again, and steal Shang Qinghua’s shitty bed because he can. He's apparently completely unconcerned about being caught in the middle of the most famous cultivation sect in the world?! 


 He also accidentally punches a hole in Shang Qinghua’s ceiling with his horns. Shang Qinghua knows that it’s an accident because Mobei-Jun seems really fucking pissed about it. 


 Shang Qinghua is kind of pissed about it too, but he instead apologizes profusely for An Ding Peak’s failure to design accommodations for their outer disciples that can handle midnight visits from horned demon lords. Among other apologies for unwillingly abandoning his new king in order to protect his hiding place and so on. Anyway, Shang Qinghua doesn’t really have the time or emotional space to be pissed off about the hole in his ceiling when he’s too busy being terrified - terrified that someone will find out that an injured demon lord who might kill him on a whim is napping in his bed!  


 The terror wears off a little bit, over the next year or so, after he runs out of fingers to count Mobei-Jun’s surprise visits on. Well, the terror can be temporarily moved to background processing on occasion, at least. A sturdy lock on his door and a redoubled propensity for violent retaliation protects his privacy nicely nowadays, which lessens the bone-shaking fear of discovery by nosy martial siblings. 


 Some people think he’s up to something wicked by being so secretive, but Shang Qinghua just gets really shrill and outraged about unknown fellow disciples stealing from him and touching his shit. Which used to happen before, occasionally, but is now a convenient lie justifying his protectiveness. When an attempted trespasser (who either thought he was up to something or tried to touch his shit to teach him a lesson) tries to bring it up with the An Ding Peak Lord, their wise immortal master pretty much just shrugs, attributes the entire affair to teenage shenanigans he doesn’t care about because he’s too busy for their bullshit, and says (Shang Qinghua is paraphrasing here, but not by much), “My young disciple, if you don’t want your hair set on fire by traps, don’t touch your senior martial brother’s shit.” 


 Ha! Take that! 


 Anyway, the terror wears off enough that Shang Qinghua is inwardly very pissed off every time that Mobei-Jun punches holes in or scratches his ceiling. Or scrapes up pretty much anything and everything within a certain radius to the head of Shang Qinghua’s bed. 


 Shang Qinghua gets really good at home repair very quickly. 


 “Oh, come on,” he actually mutters aloud, when Mobei-Jun accidentally punches a hole in the spot that Shang Qinghua finally got around to patching just the week before. Though when Mobei-Jun glares at him, covered in a type of plaster dust and silently promising punishment, he yelps, apologizes again, and scurries to fetch his king a wet cloth to clean himself with. 


 Time passes this way. Years pass. Shang Qinghua (not yet given the name Qinghua, of course, though he can’t help but think of himself by his character name) goes from an outer disciple with a terrible secret to an inner disciple with a terrible secret, with a very real shot of being head disciple with a terrible demonic secret. He gets another Leisure House, a larger and more luxurious Leisure House, with ceilings that are, to his great disappointment, only barely higher than the last house’s ceilings. They’re a perfectly reasonable height for a reasonably sized human, which he is, so he has no room to complain to his seniors or his master. 


 He manages to use the excuse of needing to safely take apart his traps to prevent anyone immediately moving into his old Leisure House, an excuse which he manages to stretch just long enough to let a visiting Mobei-Jun know that he’s got a new place and someone else is going to be getting these patchy ceilings. The junior disciple who gets his old house is going to have enough trouble with a leaky roof, they don’t need demonic portal problems! 


 He is… ridiculously disappointed the first time that Mobei-Jun scratches his new ceilings. Like, it’s not that he really thought things would change! It’s definitely better than Mobei-Jun accidentally punching a hole, which happens way less than it used to! But… come on. 


 Come on, bro. Like, come the fuck on, bro.   


 He could swear that Mobei-Jun, a man of extremely limited facial expressions, actually looks embarrassed for, like, a single second. Before he glares at Shang Qinghua like, “Why the fuck haven’t you gotten a place with decent fucking ceilings yet?” 


 Shang Qinghua doesn’t know what to yell at the demon lord first? Firstly, he’s still a relatively lowly disciple in a cultivation sect and he doesn’t get to say shit about his living accommodations. Secondly, even if he could just rent a nicer place, he’s broke as fuck and it’s not like Mobei-Jun pays any fucking rent. Thirdly, Mobei-Jun doesn’t have to fucking visit him! Shang Qinghua has explained many times that they can do their spy meetings anywhere fucking else - in part because Mobei-Jun has unmatched teleportation powers - and even though they do regularly meet elsewhere now to exchange information now, Mobei-Jun still shows up to eat Shang Qinghua’s shitty food and bleed on his bedsheets! Like, go to a fucking doctor, bro! Go lick your wounds from whatever the fuck is that you do at one of your many fucking palaces! 


 But, nooooo, Mobei-Jun keeps visiting like a demon determined to conquer low ceilings. 


 Shang Qinghua has to sleep with his bed in the middle of the room, like some kind of madman, just so Mobei-Jun’s horns don’t fuck up the walls when the demon lord steals his bed! He spent a full fucking three days building an extension on his bed so that Mobei-Jun’s feet didn’t hang off the end. Now, he has no clue how to explain to anyone why he would need to have his bed like that until he’s wiggling up and down the bed at night like a snake. Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky basically used to sleep in a closet, like some wretched little apartment-dwelling cave creature, and now he lives like this?! 


 In the end he doesn’t yell at Mobei-Jun at all for scraping up his ceilings. It would absolutely be the end of him if he did, for sure Mobei-Jun would eat his guts for daring, but he really, reeeeeaaaaally wants to yell. Pay rent or get out, asshole! 


 This is what inspires Shang Qinghua to hunt for a magical substance to reinforce his ceilings. It seemed a good idea at the time! Proud Immortal Demon Way, being a hand-wavey fantasy novel full of ridiculous plot devices, had a couple of types of slimes and potions that could be spread over surfaces like wood or silk to make them harder or more durable than steel. So, Shang Qinghua employs all of his shaky knowledge as Author God of this world to retrieve some rare slime from some demonic slug, then spends an entire sleepless night painting his ceilings with demonic goop while trying to understand what the fuck his life has become here. 


 Like, he could be spending his time on something useful here! He has things to steal, people to sabotage, and actual cultivating to do if he’s ever going to be a Peak Lord someday. He’s actually managing to cultivate to immortality here, which is a breathtaking accomplishment, and yet one of his main concerns in life is somehow his ceilings. 


  It seems to work okay at first? Shang Qinghua pays maybe too much attention to how much damage Mobei-Jun’s horns are causing his treated ceilings. He definitely does, actually, and in doing so doesn’t pay nearly enough attention to the demon lord himself, which is dangerous. Mobei-Jun doesn’t like it when Shang Qinghua’s attention is divided. Mobei-Jun really doesn’t like it when he gets the sense that Shang Qinghua isn’t paying him any attention at all. 


 Somehow, and Shang Qinghua is not precisely sure how, this ends in Mobei-Jun standing up suddenly in a frightening huff and… briefly knocking himself out?! Well, he collapses at Shang Qinghua’s feet in a hefty THUMP, at least! His majestic horns meet the ceiling - an especially low part of the ceiling, at that, why the fuck was he even sitting in that part of the Leisure House, that’s usually Shang Qinghua’s corner - and the ceiling doesn’t shatter on impact like it usually does! Not at all expecting any resistance, Mobei-Jun undeniably overbalances and falls over, even if he doesn’t actually knock himself out. 


 Just to top it all off here, Shang Qinghua’s poor ceiling still breaks. It just doesn’t break in the usual way. Instead of splintering or anything, the ceiling breaks off into much larger chunks, along the lines where he failed to evenly apply the demonic goop. So, like, the hole in his ceiling today is, thanks to his efforts, even larger than usual. 


 “What the fuck?!” Shang Qinghua cries.  


 He allows himself that much. He deserves it. He deserves to treat himself. 


 Shang Qinghua then hurries to get a dazed Mobei-Jun off the floor and onto his bed for treatment. Mobei-Jun flounders and flails a bit at first, even growling in warning, before Shang Qinghua cries, “My king, it’s me! Let me help you!” And then Mobei-Jun finally relents and helps Shang Qinghua help him to bed. 


 Once there, the demon lord seems to pass out?! Which is probably not good! 


 Shang Qinghua goes through his personal medical kit in a panic and does his best to treat Mobei-Jun, who isn’t actually unconscious, but seems ultimately determined to turn his back to Shang Qinghua and not look at him. Ungrateful as always! Shang Qinghua almost calls the demon lord a waste of good miracle cures! But, ah, since this is kind of his fault and he doesn’t want to attract Mobei-Jun inevitable ire at the moment, he generously refrains from insults while trying to force healing tea down his king’s throat just in case and carefully cleaning off his king’s horns, both of which he’s done several times before when Mobei-Jun has actual wounds of some kind. 


 (He fucking hates the horns, really, as an author and a homeowner, but cleaning them is kind of therapeutic, when Mobei-Jun allows it. They’re cool to the touch.) 


 He doesn’t quite manage to keep himself from muttering a few complaints, though. It’s really disappointing that, after all that effort to obtain it, the demonic goop has backfired this badly! He doesn’t have much spare time, between all his tasks and training, and now he’s going to have to spend it on home repair again. And for the biggest hole in his ceiling yet! 


 Sometimes, he’d like to actually spend some of his time at his Leisure House actually being at leisure. Super selfish, he knows, but a young man can dream! He can totally dream! 


 “My king, I don’t understand why you keep coming here. It’s been years of this. And it’s not like I can really do anything about the ceilings right now? Shifu would never approve of the expense of renovations,” Shang Qinghua mutters, more to himself than Mobei-Jun, who seems to have fallen asleep after putting up with all of Shang Qinghua’s apologetic fussing. 


 Shang Qinghua doesn’t think that Mobei-Jun actually gave himself a concussion or anything, with how hardy demons are, so if his king has suddenly decided to take a nap after this latest incident, instead of flying into a rage, then that’s okay! Sure thing! Sleep away! Mobei-Jun’s daze didn’t seem to actually last very long anyway, long gone even before he chugged the healing tea Shang Qinghua forced on him (the demon lord won’t swallow pills, but he’ll drink tea so long as Shang Qinghua drinks it first). Shang Qinghua definitely won’t complain if he’s managed to pamper Mobei-Jun into chilling out and letting this go!  


 The ceiling actually injuring Mobei-Jun back has never happened before, even just a little bit like this, so this is new and terrifying territory for Shang Qinghua. Usually, Mobei-Jun prefers to ignore his destructive encounters with Shang Qinghua’s poor ceilings. He never does anything more than glare and say, “Fix that. It’s unsightly.” Maybe he’ll be willing to ignore this ceiling incident too?


 Oh, fuck, what if he’s just biding his time to give Shang Qinghua shit for this later?  


 “I don’t like seeing you discomforted, my king,” Shang Qinghua murmurs, even more quietly, as he moves away from the bed to pick up the large chunks of his ceiling. “Is this a demon thing? About proving you can walk all over me? Because I already know that! I also know demons are supposed to have a thing - lots of weird things - for pain. And I’m a human, so, like, I’m never going to get that. I hate pain. I’m not into it. Arguments can totally be made, but I’m not actually a masochist, you know? No, thanks. But surely demons’ things for, like, hitting and standing in fire and other weird sadomasochistic shows of endurance and power doesn’t extend to, like, mild persistent inconvenience and discomfort? That can’t be a thing. No way.” 


 He goes to get a tarp for his ceiling. He’s been cursed, on and off, with a leaky roof ever since he met Mobei-Jun, so he’s got those sort of patches conveniently on hand. 


 “Ahhh, maybe I should just redo my roof?” Shang Qinghua wonders, quietly going about the beginning of his home repair routine. “I could make it taller myself, maybe? Fuck, no, I’d probably make a roof that falls in within a few months and accidentally crush myself. And I just put all the effort into trying to reinforce it. No, no, no. Hmm, maybe I can use those space-warping spells we use in some of the warehouses and when making artifacts? I can maybe ask some Ku Xing Peak people if there are any talismans that might add space to my ceiling…? That one guy owes me a favor now, after all….” 


 When he gets back down from the roof and back inside, Mobei-Jun is awake again and staring at him. Shang Qinghua’s heart immediately does a somersault, like, oh, shit? Is this how he goes out? Not for being a scum spy, but for being a shitty handyman? 


 Shang Qinghua swallows. “My king, are you alright? How are you feeling?” 


 “What did you do to your ceiling?” Mobei-Jun demands. 


 Oh, shit. 


 Shang Qinghua flies into a fumbling apology for his mistake trying to reinforce his ceiling. He didn’t anticipate that trying to reinforce his ceiling would have Mobei-Jun banging his head on his own horns! Really, he didn’t! He promises to find a way to undo it right away! He grovels and begs his king’s forgiveness and his mercy for his foolishness. 


 Mobei-Jun grunts and beckons Shang Qinghua forward. 


 Ah, fuck, he was staying out of reach for a reason! 


 Shang Qinghua reluctantly shuffles forward, prepared to be the stickiest thigh-hugger who has ever lived, also prepared to get a demonic swat that’ll leave his poor human body bruised for weeks at minimum. Even though it was an accident! Even after he gave the demon lord good medicine (which, admittedly, he probably didn’t need) and cleaned his troublesome horns for him! As always, Mobei-Jun’s cool aura and piercing gaze aren’t helping his nerves here! 


 Except all Mobei-Jun does is put a cool hand on Shang Qinghua’s head. 




 “Make your ceiling an appropriate height as soon as possible,” Mobei-Jun decrees. 


 “Ah, of course,” Shang Qinghua says. “Thank you, my king.” 


  “My king! It’s not that easy! I have other things to do, you know!” he thinks and does not say, because he values his life. Nope! No more complaining! He is very grateful for Mobei-Jun’s mercy after such a humiliating accident! Super grateful! The most grateful! 


 Well, if he fails to become the Peak Lord and survives the System’s punishment for failure in the one thing it actually seems to want from him, maybe he can be the home repair guy on Cang Qiong Mountain Sect? There’s lots of demand for the skills he’s developing here, really. Their cultivation sect is full of people with superpowers, teenagers developing superpowers, and no small amount of drama, because drama comes in spades when all anyone does around here is fight the forces of evil and try to one-up everyone around them. There is always construction going on around here. There is never not construction happening around here. 


 “Ah, maybe I can blow up my roof?” Shang Qinghua schemes to himself. “If I fake an accident and they have to rebuild my house, I can probably convince them to make it with taller ceilings? It’ll look suspicious, but if I frame someone else for it…” 


 Oh, wait, Mobei-Jun still has his hand on Shang Qinghua’s head. 


 Mobei-Jun is staring at him. 


 “My apologies, my king! I’ll get it done somehow! You can count on me!” 


 Mobei-Jun narrows his eyes, but he also retracts his hand and nods. He tells Shang Qinghua to prepare him a bath and Shang Qinghua leaps to obey, ultimately very glad that the demon lord has decided to more or less ignore this latest incident after all! Also kind of pissed off at the bullshit this unauthorized horns mod has wreaked on his second life, but he can’t do much about that but curse the System’s artistic liberties and Mobei-Jun’s unfathomable stubbornness. 



 He ends up not committing arson and framing a martial sibling for it, mainly because none of the people who would be worth framing have pyromania or would be the type to commit arson, so it would be too suspicious. Instead, he lucks out by pilfering some texts from Qing Jing Peak’s library, as well as talismans and artifacts for space-warping from a shipment between Ku Xing Peak and An Ding Peak. After some feverish research, some prayer through tears over sleepless nights, and some mild trial and error, in which he accidentally comes close to burning his Leisure House down anyway, he manages to create a mostly stable extension to his ceiling. 


 It helps that Mobei-Jun barely visits while Shang Qinghua is working on this. The one or two times he invades the Leisure House, he mostly just sits around and stares at Shang Qinghua like he’s trying to stare straight through him. It’s extremely unnerving. 


 Anyway, let it not be said that Shang Qinghua can’t be clever, sometimes! When his life is on the line! Sure, the array needs to be completely redone every two weeks and he doesn’t have the spiritual power to maintain it himself when Mobei-Jun visits, so he needs to cajole Mobei-Jun to spare the energy to fuel it, which makes him extra paranoid about the reliability of the defenses intended to mute demonic qi within his Leisure House. 


 But it works. 


 He thinks Mobei-Jun is almost impressed? Maybe? Mobei-Jun barely reacts to the whole setup beyond a hum, at first, but he also spends a great deal of that visit-slash-invasion of Shang Qinghua’s house standing up and walking around the room without having to stoop, apparently just because he can. Shang Qinghua will take that as approval! 


 Even if the demon lord isn’t really impressed, the Peak Lord of An Ding is kind of impressed! Although, when Shang Qinghua hands over his research, babbling about how they might be able to implement it in their storage facilities (once better experts than a mere disciple take a look at the array), he also gets this look from the Peak Lord. It is a look that says, “Now I know for a fact that it was you who ‘borrowed’ a bunch of shit earlier.” Shang Qinghua gulps and the next look from his shifu says, “You know I know, hm? Good.” 


 Fortunately, the An Ding Peak Lord doesn’t seem to care all that much about any theft. He tells Shang Qinghua to watch himself, takes the research to see if they’ll be able to use it for anything, and Shang Qinghua gets bumped just a little closer to becoming head disciple! He’s so close. He’s willing to call the whole mess a huge success! 


 He’s also willing to revise his opinion on the whole horns universe alteration thing again, now that they’re not regularly tearing up his poor ceiling. He still ultimately disagrees with the System’s choice, as the Author God, whether or not it was in the name of continuity and consistency, but he’s definitely not immune to the sexy horn aesthetic. Never has been! It’s just that, until now, their inconvenience has definitely outweighed the fact that they are fine as fuck and do make Mobei-Jun look extremely majestic. 


 He’s also willing to revise his assessment of Mobei-Jun’s approval, because the demon lord is definitely being way nicer to Shang Qinghua now that he can actually stand up properly in Shang Qinghua’s Leisure House. The physical abuse and intimidation has basically vanished. He still gets the occasional death threat, but that seems to be habit, more than anything else. Like, “Stop humming or I’ll eat you,” is Mobei-Jun’s version of, “Stop humming, please.” 


 Shang Qinghua isn’t going to argue this change! He’s more than happy to offer the demon lord extra juicy information and to source some special luxuries to encourage this shift in their dynamic! Like bath salts and horn balm! If any of his martial siblings manage to break into his Leisure House and go through his toiletries, he is absolutely unprepared to explain why he owns multiple types of horn balm, some of which actually would be mildly poisonous to a human being (Shang Qinghua has to wear gloves when applying it), but Mobei-Jun seems to appreciate it! As he continues to use Shang Qinghua’s house as… a private getaway? A hiding place when he’s injured or bored? Who fucking knows, really. 


 Shang Qinghua used to have fantasies about cutting off Mobei-Jun’s stupid fucking horns, knowing that doing so would be like inviting the demon lord to kill him. Now, he has fantasies about grabbing Mobei-Jun by the horns in a much sexier way. He would also probably totally die for this too, but they’re still very nice daydreams. Mm. 


 It is way easier to focus on cultivating and clawing his way to the top of An Ding Peak now that he’s not constantly on the verge of tearing out his hair over the state of his ceilings. Or maybe it just feels that way, high off his success. Especially when it’s soon followed by his invention of a cleaning soap that can remove most demonic substances, thanks to his Author God knowledge and his determination to get the demonic slug goop off his ceilings because it kind of fucking stinks, actually. Holy shit. He thought absolutely none of that scheme through! 


 The An Ding Peak Lord is very impressed with this soap, because they are cultivators deeply concerned with the laundry and tailoring of the sect. Every time a Bai Zhan Peak cultivator ruins another set of robes by drenching themselves in demon guts, An Ding Peak has to have new ones made, but now they can more often just send Bai Zhan Peak a shipment of Shang Qinghua’s special anti-demonic-goop soap and say, “Have fun scrubbing, asshole.” The An Ding Peak Lord likes it so much that he barely bothers to give Shang Qinghua a look that says, “I’m not going to ask why it was so important to you to invent a soap to get rid of demon blood, but keep in mind that I have not forgotten that you work primarily in agriculture and not fabrics.” 


 Shang Qinghua laughs nervously and fucks off to literally anywhere else. 



 Making it to head disciple isn’t as easy as all that, but thanks to years of hard work and scheming, after buckets of blood, sweat, and tears, Shang Qinghua manages. It’s such a relief that he almost trips into someone else’s sabotage attempt directly after his shifu bestows the honor. By the time he actually becomes a Peak Lord, years later, after Tianlang-Jun falls, it feels a little too good to be true, and like it’s about fucking time because he’s fucking earned this. 


 Sure, the victory is dampened a little by his System butting in to give him points for fulfilling his mandatory mission (and the fall of Tianlang-Jun also reminds him that there’s a plot that’ll be coming for his ass eventually). And it’s also somewhat dampened also by his master waving a hand over the Tian Gong mountain range and going, “See that? Everything the sunlight touches? It’s all your problem now.” But it’s still a victory! 


 He did it! He did it, he did it, he fucking did it! 


 Peak Lord! He’s an immortal master now! 


 The first thing he asks for is for his new Leisure House to be redone with higher ceilings. 


 The head architect of An Ding Peak gives him a confused look, which makes him think he probably should have made it his third or fourth request when discussing the renovations, to throw off suspicions, but he just tells her, “High ceilings help me think, you know? Anyway, they’re absolutely non-negotiable, so write that down and underline it a few times. No, I’m serious, I want to see you write it down. Now underline it. Yes, good. It’s very important.” 


 Almost all of the newly ascended Peak Lords are having their new accommodations renovated and half of them have gotten started on a fancy wardrobe that has no input from the previous generation of masters, which Shang Qinghua as An Ding Peak Lord is facilitating, so he won’t be made to feel guilty about his own weird requests here! He's not the one asking for a new fish pond or gardens worthy of a palace! He’s still repairing old scrapes on his ceilings and walls, in preparation for moving out of the head disciple’s Leisure House. The only thing getting him through the stress of his new position right now is picturing having a Leisure House in which Mobei-Jun’s horns couldn’t hope to touch the ceilings, all without a complicated space-warping array to stretch the dimensions of the building. 


 All the weird looks for having ceilings one-and-a-half times the height of the average man and abnormally high doorways are worth it for the first time Mobei-Jun drops by. The demon lord looks up at the high ceilings with an expression that could totally be interpreted as approving! Shang Qinghua is sure that most people would interpret Mobei-Jun's expression when he sees Shang Qinghua’s new bathroom as approving. There are even some nice, sturdy shelves for all of Mobei-Jun’s bath salts, soaps, hair oils, shampoos, horn balms, and etc. (Shang Qinghua’s toiletries take up, like, one small corner of the bottom shelf). 


 “How long does this appointment last?” Mobei-Jun asks, near the end of the tour. 


 “As Peak Lord, my king? Ah, well, until the next cycle, though my shifu liked to say that there was always faking your death,” Shang Qinghua says. He tells the demon lord how many years he’ll be expected to be Peak Lord of An Ding, which seems like a dauntingly long time now that he’s been given the position and the many, many stacks of logistics paperwork. 


 “Hm,” Mobei-Jun says, apparently somehow displeased. 


 “I’ll, ah, still be able to keep up my duties to you, my king!” Shang Qinghua promises. “I’ll have ever better information about the movements of all the sects now! At least, aha, until I fake my death? Or until I have to step down for the next generation…” 


 Shang Qinghua is, ah, fairly certain that he’s only got the next twenty years or so at most before the Immortal Alliance Conference causes him to break with Cang Qiong Mountain Sect or the blackened protagonist tries to raze the sect. Unless the plot spirals off course, there won’t be a next generation. He was originally planning on faking his death before Mobei-Jun could kill him, but Mobei-Jun actually seems to like him now, maybe? Probably. So he’s kind of hoping to just… abandon the sect at some point and continue serving the demon lord in some capacity? Maybe he won’t have any juicy political information anymore, but he does have the recipes to all of Mobei-Jun’s favorite soaps, so that’s something. 


 Mobei-Jun hums consideringly, then says, “My father will most likely be dead by then, by some cause of another.” He announces this like this is, overall, a good thing. “When he dies, you will leave this position for the Demon Realm at once.” 


 “Ah, okay? Sure.” 


 That sounds terrifying, actually! Best case scenario: Shang Qinghua spends his time living in the Demon Realm mildly annoyed by the presence of all these horns he didn’t write and begrudgingly admitting that some of these character designs actually look pretty good. Worst case scenario: Mobei-Jun forgets to tell the other demons not to eat him or Shang Qinghua freezes to death in the Northern Desert in his first week. Mild upside to either scenario: the palaces will have been designed for Mobei-Jun’s majestic horns and any repairs, which are extremely unlikely to happen, probably won’t be Shang Qinghua’s responsibility. 


 “If my father lives that long and objects, I will kill him for his hypocrisy,” Mobei-Jun says. 


 Okay, what the fuck?! 


 “My king?! What?! That sounds unnecessarily dangerous-” 


 Mobei-Jun ignores him, as though challenging the Northern King over a human servant like Shang Qinghua isn’t super bonkers fucking batshit, as the demon lord then decides, “And then, after the ascension ritual, we shall be married.” 


 Oh, wow, Shang Qinghua has auditory hallucinations now? Fun! 


 Mobei-Jun is staring at him expectantly. 


 Shang Qinghua stares back helplessly, given that he has no idea what Mobei-Jun actually said. He can’t respond to something he didn’t hear thanks to his new auditory hallucinations! 


 “...My king, aha, this servant must have misheard! Please forgive me. Could you repeat-?” 


 “We will be married after the ascension ritual,” Mobei-Jun says, looking mildly annoyed at having to use his words. “Sooner than that will require the permission of my father to hold a celebration appropriate to my station. He is equally likely to allow it as he is to fall to one of my uncle’s machinations, and he will not prevent every member of my clan and the all clan heads beneath him from expressing foolish objections that are not theirs to offer.” 


 “Oh, that’s… what I thought you said… okay, no, my king?! What?!” 


 Mobei-Jun actually frowns. “If you wish, I can kill him sooner, but the wedding will be much easier after I am officially the Lord of the Northern Desert,” he says, like this is self-evident. “If any dare to object, I can have them banished to the Eternal Abyss.” 


 “Okay, no! Don’t- don’t start killing your relations, my king!” 


 “It is a sacrifice I am willing to make.” 


 This is one of the rare occasions in which Mobei-Jun has actually said more than five sentences in the space of five minutes, and he’s talking complete nonsense. Shang Qinghua puts the papers he’s holding aside (having accidentally left them in the wrong room earlier) and hurries up to the demon lord, determined to check for… for… he doesn’t know! Poison, maybe? A curse? The signs of a love potion of some kind?! 


 Mobei-Jun just lets him peer into his eyes and turn his head left then right to check for, like, mind-controlling ear worms. Mind-controlling ear worms seem waaaaay more likely than Mobei-Jun actually wanting to marry him?! 


 “What are you doing?” Mobei-Jun demands finally. 


 “My king, did you eat anything strange lately? Are there any husband-hunting demonesses visiting your father’s court at the moment? Well, I mean, I know your father is- Are there any who have shown any persistent interest in you? You’re usually so good about avoiding the poisoned wine, maybe it was magical dust in your chambers? It can’t be incense, you don’t like it, but maybe in your candles? Have you smelled anything strange lately?” 


 Mobei-Jun catches Shang Qinghua’s hands and glares at him. “No. I am not under the influence of any spell or substance.” 


 “Okay, but-” 




 Shang Qinghua doesn’t know how to point out that Mobei-Jun talking about marrying him completely out of the blue and meaning it is totally impossible! What the fuck?! The demon lord can hear the complete nonsense coming out of his mouth, right? How does a loyal servant tell their king, “My liege, you’re making sounds, but they don’t make any fucking sense”? 


 “Ah, my king, you’re talking about marrying me?” 


 “I do not court lightly,” Mobei-Jun says distastefully. “Unlike my father.” 


 “Of course,” Shang Qinghua says immediately. 


 Right, now to figure out how to say, “I didn’t fucking know we were courting?!” 


 “The strength of the Northern Kings has never depended on their mates,” Mobei-Jun says, like he’s trying to assure Shang Qinghua here. “I have consulted with a trusted elder. Even a part-human child will inherit the strength of my ancestors, so your donation to the reproduction process need only be minimal when the time comes.” 


 Wow, Shang Qinghua has so many questions right now. 


 Babies?! Babies?! 


 He’s still stuck on the “getting married” business! 


 “If your fellow cultivators object to the union, when I am king, they will have to face the full might of the Northern Desert,” Mobei-Jun tacks on, as though Cang Qiong Mountain Sect would honestly give a shit if Shang Qinghua fucked off to the Demon Realm to marry the Lord of the Northern Desert. 


 They’d probably be like, “Haha, nice one.” And then they’d be like, “Oh, fuck, you’re serious? Wow, how the fuck did you convince the Lord of the Northern Desert to marry YOU?" And then they’d be like, “DEATH TO THE TRAITOR TO HUMANITY!” And then they’d be like, “Ah, no, the Northern Desert is too far to go just to kill that guy whose name I’ve already forgotten. It’s not worth it. It’s cold there. Just don’t come back, you demon-fucking traitor!” 


 Shang Qinghua is still mostly sure that this is all just a dream. Mobei-Jun is looking down at him with an expression that can almost be construed as concern, though he’s probably actually annoyed at Shang Qinghua’s lack of cooperation, and holding his hands incredibly gently. Their bodies are basically pressed together. This totally has to be a dream. 


 Ah, well, if Shang Qinghua is going to have weird dreams about his favorite character proposing to him - marriage, babies, and patricide on his behalf - then he might as well take advantage of it! If this is a dream, then there are no consequences to his actions! 


 Shang Qinghua tugs his hands out of Mobei-Jun’s grip, reaches up, and grabs one of Mobei-Jun’s like-ice-over-bone horns. Mobei-Jun lets him do it too, which is the last bit of confirmation he needs that this can’t possibly be real and that he’s been trapped in his own head by some dream demon. Ah, well! He uses his grip on the demon lord’s horn to bring Mobei-Jun’s head down for a kiss. 


 He’s been wanting to do that for years now. 


 Mobei-Jun’s lips are cool, unsurprisingly, and he makes a surprised sound before he returns the kiss. It all feels very real, which is kind of alarming (very alarming, honestly), but Shang Qinghua decides that he’ll worry about dream demons, love potions, and the slim chance that Mobei-Jun actually means it sometime later. That’s Future Shang Qinghua’s problem! 


 After all, he’s in charge of logistics now because he’s detail-oriented when he wants to be, so when he ordered a Leisure House with tall ceilings, he didn’t forget to put in an order for a king-sized bed.