Shang Qinghua didn’t have to be here. The only reason he came down from the heavens was that he was completely fed up with the other gods and goddesses’ self-importance. They were practically toddlers to him, so why did they insist on trying to order him around! As it turns out, though, the world of his creation isn’t much better.
All his children knew that, while many religions come and go like the tide, there has been and will always be an Original God watching over the world he created. They wrote legends and myths about his creation of the world, some more fantastical than others.
‘It really wasn’t this interesting,’ Shang Qinghua finds himself thinking more often than not. ‘All I did was write a story in my spare time. Honestly, some of these myths are really embarrassing. Crying the ocean into existence?! I don’t cry that often!’
In any case, there’s only so long he can sit around in the one-room void that he calls home before he gets bored. He’s redecorated three times in the last eternity. Three! He doesn’t even like redecorating! Eventually, he just left a little note on his door telling the young ones that he won’t be in for a while, and any emergencies can wait for him to come back.
Shang Qinghua really feels like a single father of way too many children sometimes with these young gods and goddesses. The youngest god of lightning destroyed his favorite mountain once, and he could’ve cried. All that work, lost! Shang Qinghua made sure to scold him for at least a year in human terms, but that didn’t stop him from doing it again later on. If the humans make any more imaginary friends to crowd the void, Shang Qinghua really is going to cry.
He found himself at Cang Qiong a few years after his descent. Or maybe less than that? Or more? He’d never been good at keeping track of the time here, being more used to just existing in the void. At this point, he didn’t care exactly how old he was, only that he was old enough to make the word “ancient” seem more akin to “fetus.”
This made it all the more frustrating to be the peak lord of An Ding. He was run ragged without even scraps of respect.
‘Whatever happened to “respect your elders?” This old man deserves a break!’ Shang Qinghua cries at his desk more often than not. ‘Next time Liu Qingge doesn’t hand in his quarterly reports I’ll erase him from existence!’ He never followed through on that threat or any of his threats, for that matter.
Shang Qinghua contemplated just going back to the void every time he looked at the ever-growing pile of paperwork to get through, but because Cang Qiong would definitely fall apart without him, he always stayed. Pity is a very convincing argument.
“Qinghua.” A voice says from behind him.
‘Ah, here’s another very convincing argument.’
“My king!” Shang Qinghua squeaked as he practically falls into a bow, trying his best not to get caught staring at the pecs practically cut from stone. ‘I really did a good job with this one.’
He was just about to open his mouth before he got interrupted by a very rude kick to the stomach. ‘At least let me finish my report first! Is this treatment even worth the eye candy?!’ While Shang Qinghua reflected on his life choices, Mobei Jun finished up giving him a new set of bruises to match the ones that had finally faded.
It was silent for a second before Shang Qinghua launched himself into a roundabout report. He never knew how many words would adequately get the point across to his creations, so he always made sure to try and fully explain his thoughts. (He didn’t realize that, by the time Shang Qinghua had finished his speech, his creations usually forgot their questions because the explanation took so long.) When Shang Qinghua was finally done with his report, Mobei Jun’s brow was twitching in a display of annoyance. Without a word, he turned and made a portal back to his ice palace.
The disciples of An Ding peak have a consensus that their peak lord was probably insane. He ran about from place to place muttering nonsense to himself. At one point Wen Zhong swears that he heard their shizun call the other peak lords his “children.” While the rest of the peak lords were always perfectly put together, the An Ding peak lord was in a constantly ruffled state: ink stains across his cheeks, hairpiece always crooked, paper flying past in his wake. Even though all of this was looked down upon by the rest of the Cang Qiong mountain range, the An Ding disciples knew better.
Their shizun gave out the best candy and made sure to pat their heads when they did a good job. He was always there to catch them when something goes wrong or if the stress got to them, always looking out for his disciples in every way possible. While An Ding was still a place of learning, the disciples all eventually began to call it their home. Yes, the work was grueling; yes, they were sorely underappreciated, but at the end of the day, they were able to claim this gentle warmth and found family for themselves.
Because the other peak lords ranged from neglectful to sadists, the disciples welcomed the most-likely-crazy status of their shizun with open arms. After all, none of the disciples from the other peaks could claim to have their shizuns personally help them when they’re sick. None of the other disciples could claim that their shizuns allowed for them to cry on their shoulder when the work got too overwhelming. Their shizun was the best.
Over the time that he had been the peak lord of An Ding, the peak had become a place for the misfits to learn. He took in those whose potentials were overlooked by the rest, so it was no wonder that the young ones imprinted on him faster than ducklings. It was almost like he went to the selection trials specifically looking for the most down-on-their luck prospective disciples to sweep them away to An Ding.
The air of familiarity he carried with him certainly didn’t help. Talking to the peak lord was almost like talking to a grandfather or an uncle. However, their peak lord was mostly confined to the peak from all the work that was forced upon him, so it was odd that even the newest disciples felt that they had seen him somewhere before.
“Li You!” Bi Yun called. “Could you take this to shizun?” They walked over and put a small pile of scrolls in Li You’s hands.
She nodded and went off in the direction of their shizun’s leisure house. Knocking on the door, she slid it open when she heard a soft “enter” from inside. He was hunched over what seemed to be paperwork from Bai Zhan peak. Li You winced. Probably another damage report.
“Bi Yun told me to give you these, shizun,” Li You said, holding up the scrolls.
“Thank you, Li You. Could you put it on that table?” He gestured to a table already piled high with other scrolls and paperwork.
Li You winced again as she set them down.
“Your birthday is coming up, right?” he asked.
“Go ahead and tell the kitchens to bake a cake. We’ll have a quick celebration after lunch.”
"Yes, shizun!" Bowing and heading back to work, she thought to herself, grinning, ‘Our shizun really is the best.’
The other peak lords knew they were guilty of taking Shang Qinghua for granted, but they couldn’t help it. They were spoiled by and too used to Shang Qinghua’s scary competence. He had the uncanny ability to be exactly where he was needed at any given moment, he made sure to have all aspects of any event running perfectly without needing their input, and he was patient to a fault when they didn’t turn in their paperwork on time (or at all, for that matter). They reassured themselves that it wasn’t their fault that they began to take it as the natural order.
The only peak lord that didn’t make himself fully comfortable with the situation was Shen Qingqiu. He prided himself on being the only peak lord with any sense (except maybe Shang Qinghua, but he wasn’t about to admit it), and he found this competence rather suspicious. How did he know where to be, and where did he get the skills to perfectly plan for any and all possible issues that may arise during an event? Shen Qingqiu, for all the suspicion he may have, never spoke up about it partly because he heavily benefited from it and partly because it would cause a lot of trouble for Yue Qingyuan if his suspicions ended up being true.
Shang Qinghua was presently trying his best not to get tears on this month’s financial report. What were all these expenses for?! Why did Liu Qingge insist on allowing his disciples to raze down Bai Zhan peak every other day?! Shang Qinghua really wanted to strange his martial siblings sometimes. No, Shen Qingqiu, you can't have this extremely expensive paper, what you have is fine. Also, Shang Qinghua makes a mental note to corner Wei Qingwei for his reports later.
“The Mao clan,” speaks a voice behind him. “What do you know about them.”
Shang Qinghua nearly jumps six feet out of surprise. He doesn’t think that he’ll ever get used to these unannounced visits.
“Ah, my King!” Shang Qinghua scrambles to bow. After finally realizing the situation, he says, “Please allow this servant a moment to retrieve paper so that I can draw up diagrams.”
Mobei Jun inclined his head in assent. He had stopped questioning exactly where Shang Qinghua got his information a long time ago; the only important thing was that, somehow, Shang Qinghua was able to know everything about whatever or whoever Mobei Jun asked after. Honestly, Mobei Jun had no use for a spy in Cang Qiong, the northern kingdom usually stayed away from this region, but Shang Qinghua had long since proved his worth as a source of information. Without him, Mobei Jun wouldn’t know half of what he did.
It didn’t matter how obscure or lost the subject was. Where to find ancient treasures lost to time? Shang Qinghua was able to draw up a map with coordinates and detailed instructions on the spot. Internal clan structures of a clan halfway across the world? Even though Shang Qinghua most definitely had never come into contact with them, he was already handing Mobei Jun family trees and maps pointing towards their most important and/or most vulnerable locations.
However, Mobei Jun still doubted his spy at times, especially when he caught Shang Qinghua staring at him with a glint in his eye. His gaze would be fixed on some exposed patch of skin then, and every time that happened, Mobei Jun would think to himself, ‘Is he searching for a weak point? Somewhere to sink a blade into?’
In any case, Mobei Jun came to understand that, even if Shang Qinghua (‘inevitably,’ he adds to himself) betrays him, after all he’s done for the young king, the little spy deserves some recognition. It started small with little pastries and treats brought from the demon realm to the peak lord’s office. Seeds became a common gift at that point as Mobei Jun realized how much Shang Qinghua loved to snack on them. After a while, Mobei Jun decided that was decidedly not enough for his spy, and he began to show his appreciation in the ways of his people. Beatings came regularly, Mobei Jun striking hard blows on Shang Qinghua’s body, hoping that his deep appreciation and respect for the spy shone through.
‘Aiya,’ Shang Qinghua cried out in his head as Mobei Jun beat him. ‘Why does my King hate me so much? What could I have possibly done to deserve such awful treatment?! What happened to filial sons! Respect your father, my King!’
Despite his internal complaints, Shang Qinghua dutifully grabbed a blank scroll and began to grind some ink. “The Mao clan tend to keep to themselves,” he began. “Unless an outside clan attacks them, they usually stick to trading and practically stealing money with how ruthless their merchants are. Seriously! Sell your goods at a reasonable price! Even if you can’t get most of those goods elsewhere, their prices are barely above thievery.” He coughed lightly. “Well, anyway, they usually live in small family unit tribes instead of in one big central location. These tribes are still situated fairly close to each other so that they can intermarry.” At this, Shang Qinghua pointed to a mountain range on a freshly drawn map. “They live on this mountain range with their family tombs hidden in the valley between this mountain—” He drew a circle on the mountain in question. “—and this mountain.” Another circle. “Is there anything else my King would like to know?”
Shang Qinghua gave Mobei Jun his best An Ding patented customer service smile. Hopefully, Mobei Jun won’t need anything else and will let Shang Qinghua go back to his paperwork.
Luckily, Mobei Jun decided that was sufficient. He grunted lightly, grabbed the scrolls, and left through a portal.
It wasn’t until much later that Shang Qinghua’s godly status came to light. The original Proud Immortal Demon Way’s storyline had already come to a close by then (Shang Qinghua had written up the story while bored in his one-room void. He had no idea that it would come to be so big that he met a fan!), and Shang Qinghua’s spy status was already revealed to his martial siblings. To be fair, Shang Qinghua never actively went out of his way to hide the fact that he was, in fact, the Original God, so in his opinion, he’s not at fault here! It wasn’t his fault that no one bothered to listen to him past when they absolutely beyond a doubt had to.
At present, Shen Qingqiu was currently drinking tea at the low table in Shang Qinghua’s leisure house while looking over his most recent work. Their husbands were away quelling yet another plot-device-caused demon uprising, so they had some free time (read: Shen Qingqiu had some free time). It wasn’t too long ago that he had beat Shang Qinghua over the head with his fan for wasting his talent.
(“If you can write this well, why did you insist on writing garbage?!” he had said.
“Sex sells, Cucumber-bro!” Shang Qinghua whined in response. He didn’t actually need mortal money, but it made him happy to see the numbers go up in his account.)
“It’s not terrible, I guess,” Shen Qingqiu began. “The characters are halfway believable. Why are all of your plot devices so contrived, though? Have you ever heard of natural plot progression? Also, stop writing weird metaphors! They never work! ‘Her bosom was as still as a lake?’ What does that even mean, Airplane?!”
“You’re so mean, Cucumber-bro.” Shang Qinghua pouted. “What would you have said?”
“Not that, that’s for sure.”
They fell into an amicable silence while Shen Qingqiu read over the rest of the manuscript and Shang Qinghua caught up on financial reports and item requests.
“Cucumber-bro,” Shang Qinghua spoke up. “Thank you so much for not asking for expensive paper for no reason.”
“Why would I?”
“The original goods did, and I had to constantly deny the request. It was almost as if the original goods thought that even if I said ‘no’ the past million times maybe I’ll accept his request this time! One time, the sect leader came into my office to try and convince me to let the original goods have this entirely unnecessary type of paper.”
“That sounds rough.”
“Shizun!” a frantic disciple threw open the door. “Shizun, there are demons breaking in! They’re everywhere! Our disciple’s quarters were just burnt to the ground—”
Shang Qinghua’s face darkened. Shen Qingqiu didn’t know he could make that face.
“Li You, breathe. Where are all of the disciples?”
“All evacuated and accounted for, shizun! They’re all in the underground safe house.”
“Good job.” Shang Qinghua patted her head. “Just as I expected from my head disciple. Let’s get you there as well while I take a look around outside.”
Li You, Shang Qinghua, and Shen Qingqiu went outside to a scene of carnage. Fires were everywhere on An Ding, burning the buildings and everything inside. Crackles and crashes sounded from everywhere. Heat licked at their skin and evaporated their sweat almost immediately. Their surroundings were disorienting, and the longer they stayed out there, the dizzier they became. Their bodies were overheating, and they were quickly becoming dehydrated. Finally, Shang Qinghua herded Li You under a reinforced trap door.
The peak lords’ qi circulation could only help so much. They were constantly healing burns from the flames burning hotter and hotter, and they could only spare so much for their internal organs. Their bodies had no protagonist halo. Eventually, the smoke thickened around them, blotting out their surroundings.
“Enough!” Shang Qinghua’s voice rang out clearly, all the clanging, crashing, burning sounds immediately dying out. “What’s wrong with all of you?! How ungrateful do you have to be to attack your own father!”
The flames were extinguished with a faraway whooshing sound, replaced by a deadly calm. Shang Qinghua grabbed on to Shen Qingqiu’s wrist and they ran towards the central fight. There was still a battle raging on, but what most likely used to be a fierce battle between opponents sure in themselves had turned to become a more confused flailing of limbs.
“What is this sorry excuse for a fight? Is this truly the world I created? Did I really make a world full of ungrateful creations looking for nonsensical fights?” The clanging and clamor died down into silence. No one could even move out of the awe.
They could feel the amazement from deep within them. Every single pore was filled with it. They felt the blood rushing through their veins, excitement brought upon by something they did not understand.
“I know why you’ve come here.” Shang Qinghua cut off a brave demon who had opened their maw. “There’s no reason to explain yourselves.”
The fray vanished in an instant, leaving no trace that they had ever been there in the first place. Cang Qiong’s peak lords looked down on themselves, their brains trying to comprehend what just happened. Even the blood on their robes had been whisked away to nothingness, leaving them wondering if it ever happened in the first place. Despite their confusion, no one could find it in themselves to open their mouths and ask a question. Maybe it was because they already knew the answer.
There was one lone demon still standing at the scene of the once-battle. He couldn’t move an inch from where he stood, all four eyes shakily focused on the An Ding peak lord. At that moment, it was as if everything turned into a flow of water. Even the peak lords felt it. The world became hazy yet secure all at once. Their senses were muted and their sight was limited. They no longer had a sense of where they were or the boundaries around them. They just were.
While the peak lords felt a sense of calm, the demon panicked. His eyes were unable to tear themselves away from the peak lord steadily approaching from what was both a faraway and a very near distance. His surroundings crushed him while stretching him out at the same time. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t scream. He felt his very soul being ripped out of his body. His head swam as he no longer could understand what shape he was supposed to be in. All he knew was white-hot pain.
It was over in an instant. Actually, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that it was over before an instant. Time was weird like that. It was eerily silent as the world slowly shifted back into the state it was before this incident. Wei Qingwei emptied his stomach over the nearest bush while Liu Qingge stood in place with a queasy look, refusing to allow himself to do the same. Qi Qingqi collapsed on the ground to catch her breath. Yue Qingyuan could do nothing but stare off into space. Shen Qingqiu tried his best to stand his ground, forgetting to raise his fan over the bottom part of his face.
The quiet remained for what seemed like an eternity while Shang Qinghua clearly didn’t know what to do with himself. He was fretting, wanting to go over and help his martial siblings but not quite knowing how to help. This ended up with Shang Qinghua distractedly fidgeting in place, bouncing up and down on his heels as he tried to decide where to go.
“Stop!” Liu Qingge shakily called over. “You’re making it worse.”
Shang Qinghua tried his best to keep the fidgeting to a minimum before Shen Qingqiu tripped him so that he sat on the ground instead.
“Stay there for a second,” he hissed out through gritted teeth.
As it turns out, having reality stretched out like taffy really gives some serious nausea to whoever experiences it. All the peak lords’ heads were spinning around and around. Vertigo wasn’t a strong enough word to describe it.
After a long while, all of the peak lords sat on the ground without a sense of decorum. They had unanimously decided that it wasn’t worth keeping up airs right after that.
“Explain,” Yue Qingyuan ordered.
Shang Qinghua scrambled to figure out what the best way to say, ‘Hey I’ve been the most ancient creator god this whole time!’ to his very scary martial siblings.
“Y-You didn’t already know?” Shang Qinghua settled on. It was a fair assumption on his part. He assumed everyone already knew he was some sort of god. Normal humans don’t usually appear in multiple places exactly where you need them, you know! No demons can do that either!
This probably wasn’t the best thing to say going off of the identical glares on each of his siblings’ faces.
“I mean,” he went on, “uh, I don’t think people can do most of the work I do? Unless something happened when I wasn’t looking which is very unlikely. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the kids messed around, though. Wouldn’t be the first time.” Shang Qinghua couldn’t stop himself from rambling. “Well, what I mean to say is that I wasn’t exactly hiding it all this time? I’m pretty sure I actually said something about it at some point. Maybe. I thought everyone knew, though, based on how often I was called for from across the mountain range. It would be very difficult for a mortal to—”
“Wait, wait.” Qi Qingqi held up her hand. “‘Mortal?’ Are you trying to say you aren’t mortal?”
A beat passed before Shang Qinghua squeaked, “I am—I mean, I’m not—I am trying to say I’m not mortal.”
“Immortal, then.” This answer seemed to satisfy Liu Qingge who seemed like he would rather be anywhere than there at that moment.
“No, no, no.” Qi Qingqi tugged at Liu Qingge’s sleeves to get him to sit down again. “What are you actually trying to say.”
‘Please let this old man go check on his kids,’ Shang Qinghua cried out to himself. ‘They must be so scared down there.’
“Could we—uh, not do this?” Shang Qinghua tried.
Another round of identical glares gave him his answer.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I explained—”
“Get to the point, Shang Qinghua.” Yue Qingyuan was out of patience.
Shang Qinghua opened his mouth and started hurriedly talking, “Well, I’m a god. More specifically the first god? Creator god? You guys call me the Original God, but that title’s a little embarrassing if I’m being honest here. If anything, I’m more like a glorified babysitter for the new gods you all imagine up. It feels like new ones appear out of the primordial soup every day, so if you guys could stop creating them for one second, that would be nice, thanks. Anyway, I did a lot of things, then I got bored, so now I’m here.”
There was silence as the other peak lords tried to process Shang Qinghua’s explanation.
“You expect us to believe that?” Yue Qingyuan was the first to speak.
“Nope!” Shang Qinghua laughed nervously. “Can I go back to An Ding now?”
“It would make a lot of sense, though,” Shen Qingqiu spoke up in a measured tone. “I can’t speak for you all, but whatever that was wasn’t exactly what you would expect from anyone here.”
Liu Qingge got to his feet. “As long as you’re not a threat, I don’t care who or what you are.”
‘Wow,’ Shang Qinghua thought to himself. ‘That was the worst cop-out I’ve ever seen. I’m not complaining, though. It gets me back to An Ding sooner.’
The rest of the peak lords seemed similarly ready to be done with this whole situation, so they shook their heads and got back to their feet. Halfheartedly excusing themselves, Shang Qinghua and Shen Qingqiu were eventually left as the last two standing at the scene. Yue Qingyuan had wanted to tear Shen Qingqiu away, but a harsh glare stopped that line of thought.
“You never thought to tell me?” Shen Qingqiu glared from over his fan.
“I thought you already knew!”
“Knew that I had been criticizing a god?! Airplane!” Shen Qingqiu snapped his fan shut. “I guess it makes sense, given that this is literally a world of your own creation.”
“Cucumber-bro,” Shang Qinghua said tearily. “I knew I could count on you.”
They stood there awkwardly for a moment before Shen Qingqiu opened his fan to hide his face.
“If you were this powerful all along, then why?”
“Why—” He gestured all around them. “—all of this. You’re not exactly treated very well here.” Shen Qingqiu grimaced slightly.
A mischievous smile made its way across Shang Qinghua’s face. “You really want to know?”
Shen Qingqiu reddened and coughed, looking away.
Shang Qinghua laughed, and with all of the confidence in this world and beyond, he said, “My King is very, very hot.”
Shen Qingqiu snapped his fan shut and was about to hit Shang Qinghua over the head as usual but stopped himself before he actually hit his friend (could he still call Shang Qinghua a friend now?). The other man’s smile turned a little gentler as he guided Shen Qingqiu’s hand within hitting range again.
Shen Qingqiu laughed and rapped Shang Qinghua lightly on the head, feeling almost palpable relief.
“I should’ve known you were a masochist.”
“Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu softly called to his husband. Luo Binghe had drawn them a hot bath after he had gotten back to the bamboo house. “Did you know that peak lord Shang was a god?”
Luo Binghe furrowed his brows in confusion. “Was husband not aware already?”
“This master was not. How did Binghe come to learn of it?”
“Mobei told me.” Luo Binghe rested his head atop Shen Qingqiu’s. “From what I can tell, he’s known for a long time now.”