Mobei-Er is lonely. His life has been spent mostly in solitude with only his uncle, Linguang-Jun, sparing him any attention. Although the palace is always awash with activity, Mobei-Er is treated like an intangible, invisible ghost. No matter where he goes, he is never given the even smallest acknowledgement.
He often finds himself alone in his quarters, playing with small sculptures he conjures for himself. Mobei-Er knows that his family wants him to dedicate his time solely to training, but he continues to rebel quietly against their wishes if only because they’ve never noticed his rebellion at all. Large, ornate doors separate his quarters from the rest of the palace, flanked by shelves that stretch from floor to ceiling. On the opposite side of the room, windows encompass almost the entire wall, letting what meager light the north’s sun offers flood the room.
“Uncle!” Mobei-Er cries one day as Linguang-Jun knocks on the doors. He abandons the small sculpture he had been playing with, jumping up to tackle his uncle in a hug.
“Hello, nephew.” Linguang-Jun chuckles as he catches the small form of his nephew in his arms. “Having fun?”
“Mm,” Mobei-Er hums. “Do you want to play with me?”
“As much as I’d love to, I have to go back and help your father soon.”
Mobei-Er pouts and lets go of his uncle. “When will you have time to play again?”
Linguang-Jun kneels down to be at eye level with Mobei-Er. “Your father, mother, and I are very busy. When you take up the mantle of Mobei-Jun, you’ll understand just how much it takes to be king.” Linguang-Jun tucks a piece of Mobei-Er’s hair behind his ear.“I came by to ask whether or not you would like to come with me to meet with some merchants south of here. It’ll be boring, but it’s good to get out every now and again.”
“Yes!” Mobei-Er bounces up and down in excitement. “Let’s go!”
“Alright, alright. Calm down. I’ll come get you a little later, then.”
“Promise?” Mobei-Er’s eyes fill with hope. “You have to now, you can’t go back on a promise!”
Linguang-Jun laughs softly. “Of course, I promise.” With a quick pat to Mobei-Er’s head, Linguang-Jun leaves with a swish of his robes.
If Mobei-Er had watched his uncle for just a moment longer, maybe he wouldn’t have missed the signals Linguang-Jun sends.
Silence falls as Mobei-Er turns back to his forgotten sculptures.
“I never liked him.” A voice suddenly rings out, breaking the brief quiet. It was firm, neither loud nor quiet, and it seemed to echo slightly.
Mobei-Er whips his head around in search of the source. “Who’s there?”
Suddenly he hears a surprised squeak. “Huh? Ah-No one!” The terrible lie awkwardly settles over the room before Mobei-Er hears nervous laughter.
Mobei-Er suddenly notices a tawny cat on his windowsill. The cat scrambles to sit up straight, facing the young prince. The cat’s tail thumps softly behind him, drawing Mobei-Er’s attention to the hypnotic movement.
“Aiya, you’re still so pure, My Prince.”
“You’re a cat,” Mobei-Er says.
“Ah? I guess so? I mean, right now I am a cat.” The cat jumps down from the windowsill, stumbling just slightly on the landing.
“And you’re talking.”
“Yes?” The cat pads over to Mobei-Er, sitting at his feet. Their big, yellow eyes stare straight into Mobei-Er’s own. “Anyway, that’s not important. What is important is your uncle over there. He’s no good. Stay away from him.”
“No!” Mobei-Er cries out suddenly, the floor cracking beneath him. After a second, he reddens at his violent reaction. “I don’t want to. What do you know anyway?”
“My Prince, don’t be fooled! He’s a rotten creation. He doesn’t deserve the chance to turn you into a black lotus!” The cat paws at the ground. “Please, My Prince. Stay away from him.”
“Who are you to tell me what to do?” Mobei-Er puffs himself up. “I’m the crown prince of the north! You can’t order me around.”
The cat mumbles to themself, “You’re so stubborn, My Prince. I forgot how spoiled you act.” He gets up and rubs his body against Mobei-Er’s leg in a show of exasperated affection.
Mobei-Er marvels at how soft the cat is. He has felt pelts of almost every creature in the northern realm, yet not a single one comes close to the feeling of the fur brushing against him. He wants to bend down and pet the cat, but he’s upset about how rude he is. Clenching his hands to his sides, they make eye contact once again.
“I guess I can’t convince you, ah?” The cat shakes their head and walks back towards the window, mumbling to himself about “ungrateful creations.” He jumps up back on the windowsill. “Well, this servant will always be here for you, should you need me. All you need is to call out, and I’ll be right by your side in a heartbeat!”
Mobei-Er scowls. “I don’t need your help.”
“You never know what’ll happen in the future, My Prince! I can do a great many things. Please let me be of service to you!”
‘Is he whining ?’ Mobei-Er thinks incredulously. ‘Is he really whining because he can’t serve me? How pathetic.’
“Fine. Go away.”
“As you wish, My Prince.” The cat laughs, and the sound reminds Mobei-Er of the soft tinkling of bells. After a short moment, the cat whispers, almost imperceptibly, “You’ve always been my favorite. Ah, look at how you’ve grown.”
With that, the cat was gone from existence as if he was never there, and Mobei-Er was left wondering whether he had dreamed the whole encounter.
Later that day, a knock sounds from the door. “Nephew?” Linguang-Jun’s call is muffled through the door. “Are you ready?”
“Coming, uncle!” Mobei-Er opens the door with a smile.
Linguang-Jun places his hand on Mobei-Er’s head to guide him out into the hallway. “Come on, we don’t want to be late.”
Too focused on picturing what kinds of adventures the day might bring, Mobei-Er misses the looks Linguang-Jun shoots the servants flanking them over his head.
“Uncle, isn’t A-die supposed to see us off before we go?” Mobei-Er asks.
Mobei-Er doesn’t know much about the politics behind the formalities of the palace, though, so when Linguang-Jun answers, “No,” he doesn’t think much of it. After all, his uncle is never wrong. Mobei-Er watches as his uncle opens a portal for them to step through. In a blink, they’ve made it to the edge of the demon realm.
Mobei-er blinks. “Uncle,” he softly calls. “Weren’t we just going a bit south of the palace? Why are we here?” Mobei-Er turns his head.
“Uncle? Where are you?” The wind rushes by, roaring in his ears as he fights down panic. His uncle has to be nearby, maybe he’s just playing a prank on him, right? “Uncle?”
Trees rustle above him as leaves whirl about, and Mobei-Er tries to steady himself. Nothing will be solved if he breaks down. Maybe this is a test? He takes a step forward.
“Come on! The demon’s this way!” Muffled voices ring out through the trees. From the sound of their footsteps, it’s a dozen cultivators. How did they know he was here? How are they already gaining on him?
Mobei-Er tries to force himself to move. His mind is spinning. Mobei-Er isn’t stupid. His uncle left him here to die. His uncle wants to kill him.
Four cultivators dressed in yellow robes come up behind Mobei-Er. Numbly, Mobei-Er feels one stabbing him in the back with a poisoned knife. He barely feels it, his mind overcome with emotion. In the next second, Mobei-Er strikes down all four cultivators, running each of them through with thick ice javelins. His knees buckle. Mobei-Er forces himself to stand upright. He will not kneel. He steps forward: once, twice. His head spins and he falls roughly on his side. His vision darkens.
His thoughts are sluggish, but his mind wanders back to the cat.
“He’s no good. Stay away from him,” he had said.
Mobei-Er laughs to himself. He closes his eyes, trying to pretend that his darkened vision was only due to that. As he lies there, floating in between sleep and wakefulness, vaguely, he feels a furry creature crawl around in his robes.
“Aiya, I’m too soft on you, My Prince.”
The world goes black.
Instead of being dead like Mobei-Er thought he would be, he wakes up in a human inn. The bed below him is more hard than soft, and his feet come just shy of hanging off the end of it. Blinking open his eyes, a plain wooden ceiling greets him. Mobei-Er groans and winces, the pain from the stab wound in his back a harsh reminder of his uncle’s betrayal.
Suddenly, a small, furry creature appears directly in front of his face, making Mobei-Er have to cross his eyes to see them.
“Oh, good! You’re awake,” they say.
Mobei-Er scrunches up his face. They sound exactly like the cat, but as far as he knows, cats don’t magically turn into hamsters. “Who-” Mobei-Jun cuts himself off with a cough.
“My Prince!” the hamster whines. “Please don’t push yourself! This servant bent a lot of rules to help. Of course, this lowly one isn’t qualified to tell you what to do, but please, this servant only has your best interests at heart.”
The pathetic show only makes Mobei-Er roll his eyes. He grabs the creature firmly with one hand. “What do you want,” he says, now understanding that the cat and this hamster are one and the same.
“Nothing!” he wheezes. “This servant wouldn’t dare-” a gasp, “-wouldn’t dare to ask something of-” the hamster chokes, “-of His Prince.”
Mobei-Er squeezes tighter. “Don’t lie to me.”
The hamster coughs violently. “This servant would never! Please, please have mercy!”
Mobei-Er drops him back onto the bed.
“Thanking My Prince for his mercy.”
“Who are you?”
“Aiya, My Prince, did you forget already? We only met just the other day!” the hamster grumbled to himself.
Mobei-Er’s face must’ve shown his confusion because the hamster’s eyes suddenly lit up with mirth.
“Oh, yes. This one was in a different form at the time. It pleases this servant to change appearances when going out.” Suddenly, the hamster chokes. “Not that I’m accusing My Prince of being unobservant! My Prince is the most perceptive of all! Truly, it was this one’s fault for jumping to conclusions.”
Mobei-Er raises an eyebrow at the endless stream of words. Upon their first meeting, he had assumed that the other had at least a semblance of grace, but Mobei-Er quickly corrects that mistake in his mind.
The hamster is still rambling. “Anyway, My Prince, may this servant be given the opportunity to accompany you for a while? This one anticipates that there may be some, ah, difficulties to deal with upon My Prince’s return to the northern palace.”
Mobei-Er narrows his eyes. “Is that your goal? To make it within the northern palace’s walls?” he growls.
“Nothing of the sort! This lowly one only wishes to follow My Prince and pledge his allegiance!”
Mobei-Er doesn’t believe him for a second.
“Leave. This Prince has no need for servants like yourself.”
“My Prince!” The hamster clings to Mobei-Er’s robes. “My Prince, please! This one wishes to help serve you! This one knows much about the world and what is to come, I’m sure to be of some use to you.”
Mobei-Er resists rolling his eyes at the desperate display. Too tired to deal with the ridiculousness of this creature, Mobei-Er says, “Fine. Do as you will.”
“Thank you, My Prince.”
“What is your name?”
The hamster’s eyes shine with mirth. “Shang Qinghua, My Prince!”
Mobei-Er blinks once, twice, and the newly dubbed Shang Qinghua is gone without a trace yet again. He looks down. The movement stretches out his muscles in an unpleasant way, and Mobei-Er resists wincing at the pain. The bandages wrapping around his chest are soft, wrapped firmly enough to be snug, but loosely enough to not hinder any circulation. If the creature had healed him, he’s well-practiced and efficient. Maybe it would be worth it to keep him around.
Rolling out of the bed, Mobei-Er feels his muscles ache. Every part of him screams to lie down again, but he ignores the pain. Holding his head up high, Mobei-Er opens a portal to the northern palace.
‘Shang Qinghua,’ he thinks to himself. ‘Where have I heard that name before?’
Although he expected it, Mobei-Er can’t help but feel even more alone after realizing that no one had noticed his absence during the time he spent in the human world. No one notices his return either. Mobei-Er supposes this is fine. After all, there’s no need to worry about another betrayal if no one gives their loyalty in the first place.
The hamster’s words echo through his mind as he halts for a second. “This lowly one only wishes to follow My Prince and pledge his allegiance!” he had said. What a joke.
He turns towards the courtyard. Mobei-Er has years of training to catch up on. None of the servants pay him any mind, and that suits him just fine as he takes a stance within the ring in the center of the courtyard. He conjures up an ice sword, running through drill after drill. Mobei-Er lets himself get lost in the activity, briefly forgetting about the pain and numbness in his heart. For this moment, all that matters is tightening up his forms and leaving no openings for his imaginary opponent. One day of practice won’t fix years of neglect, but his newfound resolve gives him the push he needs to make the first step to being stronger.
As he practices, Mobei-Er tries to ignore the blank stare his uncle is giving him from a palace window overlooking the practice grounds.
A few days later, after Mobei-Er wraps up his training for the day, he hears a familiar voice speak up from behind him. Startling, Mobei-Er has an ice sword pointing in their direction before they can blink.
“Ah!” yelps a sparrow. “You’ve gotten much stronger, My Prince.” His voice is shaky. “This servant is very impressed at your improvement! It’s been such a short time after all.” He laughs nervously.
It’s Shang Qinghua. Mobei-Er still doesn’t know exactly who this creature is or what he wants from him. It’s best to assume that he’s come to execute some plan on him. “You again? What do you want this time?” he growls.
The sparrow hops closer to Mobei-Er. “This servant has come with another warning.”
Mobei-Er takes a moment before nodding. There is a reason to hear him out. After all, he had taken time to warn him about his uncle.
“This servant must advise that it would be best to avoid eating the food given to My Prince by the servants for a while.” He hops nervously from side to side. “There is another assassination plot being planned. Some servants still feel unwarranted disapproval towards My Prince. Of course, they don’t know what they’re talking about. My Prince is the best Mobei that ever lived! Clearly, they don’t understand-” The sparrow cuts himself off. “Anyway, there is talk going around about maybe, um, tampering with My Prince’s food. If this lowly one may suggest it, it would be in My Prince’s interests to avoid what they present.”
Mobei-Er considers this for a moment. It isn’t unreasonable to believe it. Even if it were to be a lie, it would be wise to take precautions anyway. Making his own food is troublesome, but he doesn’t trust the servants not to poison him the first chance they get. After a moment, he nods and lowers his sword. His servant is visibly relieved.
“Who are you, exactly? How do you know this?” The sword is back.
“A-Ah, My Prince, this lowly one isn’t really anyone of any importance,” Shang Qinghua says. “I can’t really-ah, that is, I mean, this servant just has a habit of hanging around places, aha. People need to be more aware of others listening in!”
Mobei-Er narrows his eyes, but determines he isn’t a threat. No one that cowardly would dare attack. He scoffs. Well, it isn’t as if not eating what’s presented is more dangerous than eating it.
The next week, Mobei-Er catches a kitchen servant trying to poison the meat he had hunted for himself.
The years pass by one after another, each day filled with the same activities. Mobei-Er devotes himself entirely to his studies, focusing wholly on honing both his body and his mind.
Mobei-Er continues to be visited by his strange servant. He’s grown accustomed to suddenly hearing a familiar voice calling from nearby at seemingly random times. Although Shang Qinghua has a tendency to ramble on at length, he has yet to answer him as to who (or what) he is. Every time he visits, Mobei-Er asks only for him to evade the question by distracting Mobei-Er with something else. It’s annoying, but since the servant hasn’t been wrong yet, Mobei-Er allows it for now.
Although he is loathe to admit it, Mobei-Er has come to look forward to visits from his servant. Bit by bit, Shang Qinghua had wormed his way into his heart (Mobei-Er still privately smiles to himself remembering the time he had shown up as an actual worm. His servant really has some odd tastes).
Over time, Mobei-Er likes to think he’s gotten to know Shang Qinghua a bit better. After learning of Shang Qinghua’s partiality towards melon seeds, he’s taken to keeping a small stash hidden within his sleeves at all times. Of course, he makes sure to show his affection for his servant outwardly whenever they meet as well. It’s important that his servant knows how much he is appreciated, and hopefully, Shang Qinghua treasures his broken bones as proof of Mobei-Er’s gratefulness. After all the time they have spent together, Mobei-Er truly doesn’t know what he’d do if his servant left him. He still doesn’t completely trust Shang Qinghua, but there’s still something to be said about time spent in another’s company.
“My Prince!” Mobei-Er hears as he stalks through the northern forest. He has hunted all of his own food ever since Shang Qinghua warned him of poison so long ago.
Mobei-Er doesn’t so much as flinch at the sudden call. Not for the first time, he wonders what kind of ability lets him drift in and out of his life so silently. How is Shang Qinghua able to disappear and reappear without so much as a ripple in the air?
“My Prince, wait up!” He hears the tell-tale crunch in the snow of his servant running up to meet him. “Please,” Shang Qinghua says. “This servant can barely keep up! This servant’s legs are much shorter than My Prince’s. Please have mercy!”
Mobei-Er is happy to see that Shang Qinghua is taking his human form this time. This form is his favorite by far. In this form, Mobei-Er can see all of the myriad expressions cross Shang Qinghua’s face one after another, and if he didn’t have a princely image to uphold, he would definitely pinch and squeeze at those cheeks until Shang Qinghua tears up.
Lost in his fantasies of bullying Shang Qinghua’s cheeks, he hums in acquiescence, stopping so his servant can catch up.
“Thanking My Prince.” He stumbles into a bow once he comes close enough to not have to raise his voice to be heard. “This servant has come across some information regarding cultivators along the southern border.”
Mobei-Er hums. “And?”
“Ah?” Shang Qinghua’s eyes snap up to Mobei-Er’s face instead of staring at his chest.
“The cultivators. What about them?”
“Ah-The cultivators, yes. They’re gathering allies and planning on sneaking their way through the northern desert’s canyons to steal blizzard crystals.”
Mobei-Er huffs. The crystals were a huge source of profit for the northern kingdom, and it was irritating to have some insignificant no-name cultivators try and steal some.
“If this servant may suggest something,” Shang Qinghua begins cautiously, holding his arms up in front of his face. “It might be best to have a small number of assassins waiting for them? If they can’t see what they’re fighting against, they won’t have many options.” He tenses up with another nervous flinch.
It was good counsel. Mobei-Er turns over Shang Qinghua’s proposition in his mind before rewarding him by throwing Shang Qinghua against a nearby tree. He hears a soft snap with satisfaction. A broken rib should get his appreciation across well enough. He narrows his eyes with good humor while Shang Qinghua flinches away again. Mobei-Er huffs. He will never understand his servant.
Without so much as a shift in the wind, Shang Qinghua disappears again.
It’s easy to dispatch the foolish cultivators. Instead of bothering with the assassins as Shang Qinghua had suggested, Mobei-Er went himself. It’s pathetic. Not once do any of the cultivators have even the slightest inkling they were being stalked. Mobei-Er feels his brow twitch with both annoyance and pity. Well, at least they’ll be good target practice.
One by one, the yellow-robed cultivators were killed soundlessly. Mobei-Er almost lazily directed his ice swords, stabbing one cultivator while slashing another on a whim. Heads roll and blood spurts from the wide-eyed corpses while Mobei-Er looks on in disappointment. From the frantic way his servant was acting, he was hoping for a good fight. Mobei-Er fights back a sigh. He shouldn’t have expected too much from them. After all, wasn’t his servant always frantic? With a slight twitch of his lips, he turned away from the massacre, the fur mantle around his shoulders shifting slightly with the sudden movement.
The rest of the day is equally as boring. Mobei-Er elects to walk back to the palace instead of portalling. He wasn’t in a rush, and he didn’t want the remnants of the good mood Shang Qinghua had left him to wither away under the gazes of the servants. Instead, he looks out at the sunset, watching the day’s last light disappear behind the horizon. He stands there, surrounded by the quiet solumnitude of the northern desert’s eternal winter. Mobei-Er welcomes the chill seeping into his bones as a human might welcome heat. His mind trails off. Looking besides him, he could almost picture a phantom image of his squirrely servant beside him. Would they shiver? Mobei-Er has never felt discomfort from the cold, but he has seen envoys die from the harsh freezes that night brings this far north.
Mobei-Er pictures the human form of Shang Qinghua again, this time covered in furs and robes in his clan’s colors. Why shouldn’t he stake a claim on what’s his? Sapphires hang themselves on his imaginary Shang Qinghua’s ears. Pins of silver and blue make their way into his hair. Yes, this is how his servant should look. He’s been with him for so long, proving his loyalty again and again. Why shouldn’t he be granted clothes that display his status as someone who should not be touched? Mobei-Er smirks, thinking of the dumb looks he might inspire from the useless, old demons of the northern court.
Mobei-Er stands there for a moment longer before turning towards the palace with a smile.
A few days later, Mobei-Er stands in his quarters alone. The trinkets and sculptures of his youth had long since been thrown out and replaced by books on war, strategy, and politics. What was once a child’s playroom now looked more befitting of a military tent with the sheer amount of maps and hypothetical plans drawn out. If he was to become king, Mobei-Er needs to study every bit of knowledge he can get his hands on. The only way he and his country may survive is if he was one step ahead in any and every situation.
Mobei-Er hums lightly to himself as he runs his hands over a folded fur on the table in the center of the room. Standing up straight, he schools his expression before calling out firmly, “Qinghua.”
It only takes a heartbeat before he hears the response of his servant.
Mobei-Er looks at the snake crawling along the ground amusedly. “Turn into your human form.”
“Eh? What’s wrong with this form,” Shang Qinghua mutters to himself. In the next second, the snake had turned into a short, soft human.
Mobei-Er smiles on the inside while watching his servant trying to suppress his pout. Cute.
“What can this servant help you with?” Shang Qinghua shifts his weight from side to side, twitching nervously.
Shang Qinghua nearly falls over himself to comply. When he stands nearly chest-to-chest with Mobei-Er, Mobei-Er suddenly unfolds the fur and drapes it over his servant’s shoulders. The size of the fur makes Shang Qinghua seem even smaller than usual. His head barely peeks out over the surface, fur brushing up against his cheeks. It falls all the way down to his ankles, and Mobei-Er has to suppress a snort. His servant looks more akin to a snowball than a human. He fastens the front by pulling a golden bauble through the leather hoop at Shang Qinghua’s collar bone and looks at his servant’s face. His mouth is frozen open in shock, staring up at Mobei-Er. For once, he’s rendered his servant speechless. Knowing that if he looks at the stupefied expression for one more moment he would break out laughing, Mobei-Er roughly tugs the fur’s hood over Shang Qinghua’s head.
“A-Ah? My Prince?!” Shang Qinghua struggles to pull the hood back and uncover his face. “What-Do-Should I wash this for you?”
They stood there in silence for a moment. Neither knew what to say.
“Well then, um, My Prince, what should this servant do with this?”
“Ah, okay,” Shang Qinghua trailed off.
“Come.” Mobei-Er turns away and walks toward his bedroom.
“My Prince?! Um-If this servant may ask-”
Mobei-Er turns back toward his servant and narrows his eyes.
Shang Qinghua squeaks. “Nevermind! My Prince is wise as always! This servant will follow!”
Mobei-Er pulls the stone doors open for the two of them. Ever since Shang Qinghua made a pathetic display of himself trying and failing to pull open the doors, Mobei-Er took it upon himself to abandon propriety and now opens the doors within the ice palace himself instead of letting his servant do it. Who knew that humans couldn’t pull open doors barely the weight of a boulder?
Single-mindedly walking through while his servant slinks in behind him, he sits squarely in front of a desk with a round bronze mirror atop it. As with the rest of the room, it’s fairly bare. Shang Qinghua stands dumbfoundedly in the corner, clearly not knowing what to do. Mobei-Er tries not to roll his eyes as he sharply beckons him over. Roughly placing a comb in his servant’s hand he pointedly looks forward. Mobei-Er elects to pretend he does not hear the soft mutter of “What a spoiled child,” from his servant. Shang Qinghua settles in behind him and begins to untangle Mobei-Er’s hair, muttering all the while.
“Oh, My Prince.” Clearly, Shang Qinghua has no idea he is speaking aloud. Mobei-Er isn’t about to correct him, though. “How long has it been since you combed your hair, ah? What have you been doing? Crawling in the mud? Don’t you have other servants to do this for you?”
After hitting a particularly stubborn knot, Shang Qinghua quickly apologizes and holds the tangle in his hands, working the comb through the lock from the bottom up. The sun has already set long ago, and the only light guiding Shang Qinghua’s hands comes from a candle on the desk. The corner is awash in soft, warm light, and the two fall into a comfortable silence.
It takes a long time before Mobei-Er’s hair is completely untangled, but not wanting to disturb the peace, Shang Qinghua continues to pass the comb through it, humming to himself.
“Qinghua,” Mobei-Er’s low volume seemed to reverberate through the chamber just as a yell would.
“Ah-!” Startled, Shang Qinghua dropped the comb. “Y-Yes, My Prince?”
“Who are you?”
“Do you have memory loss, My Prince? Do you remember where you are?” His servant laughed frantically.
“Qinghua,” Mobei-Er said. “ What are you?”
“My Prince needn’t worry about someone so insignificant-”
“Yet I am,” Mobei-Er interrupts. “You test my patience.”
“I-This servant-” Shang Qinghua stutters. “There’s not much to say.” He folds his hands in his lap behind Mobei-Er. “This servant isn’t anyone important. I-” he opens his mouth as if to say something then stops.
“Speak.” Mobei-Er stares at him through the bronze mirror.
“This servant cannot say who he is, but should My Prince guess correctly, this servant would have no choice but to confirm it.”
Mobei-Er mulls this over in his head. Why couldn’t Shang Qinghua say?
“Are you being threatened,” he growls.
“Nothing of the sort!” Shang Qinghua was quick to deny. “It’s just-Well, this servant has-ah- circumstances that prevent him from saying. Please believe this servant when he says that he wants nothing more than to tell you, My Prince!”
Mobei-Er raises his eyebrow. Although his suspicions about his servant only grew that night, he was willing to take this gamble to see if he could trust them. Shang Qinghua has proven himself over the years they have been together. Above all, Mobei-Er wanted more than anything to know more about his servant. He wants to know what kind of place could create a being with such soft smiles yet ruthless plans. Mobei-Er hates the heat by nature, but he has chosen to chase after the warmth brought to him through his servant.
“Very well,” Mobei-Er says. “This Prince shall guess.”
Then begin their new routine from that day on. Mobei-Er calls Shang Qinghua into his chambers at the end of each week, either outfitting his servant with some new accessory or plying him with delicacies while Shang Qinghua rattles away his report. Without fail, at the end of every night, just before Shang Qinghua leaves, Shang Qinghua asks Mobei-Er the same question:
“Who am I?”
This question begins to bounce around in the forefront of Mobei-Er’s mind at all times. Weeks turn to months turn to years, yet Mobei-Er, now Mobei-Jun, still has no answer for his servant. His father is not yet deceased, but as Mobei tradition dictates, he is to live in solitude for the next few years until his last breath is taken by his heir. The newly anointed Mobei-Jun settles into his new role as easily as breathing. The childhood he spent endlessly pouring over his studies pays off, and the kingdom flourishes. Although his kingdom is full of the perfect amount of bloodshed and plentiful gold, it doesn’t matter how many tributes are brought in or how many dignitaries he kills, there is always a small hole in Mobei-Jun’s heart that will only be eased by knowing the answer to Shang Qinghua’s question.
Mobei-Jun is sure he’s answered it in every way possible. All of his guesses have proven themselves to be wrong. Every night his servant leaves with yet another denial on his lips. Mobei-Jun would think him to be lying if not for the sad look on Shang Qinghua’s face. At this rate, Mobei-Jun fears that he will be in his father’s position himself before he gets an answer to the infernal question, “Who am I?”
Mobei-Jun shakes himself out of his reverie as Shang Qinghua calls out to him from across the table. “My Prince?” he says through a mouthful of melon seeds.
They have grown much closer over the years. He allows Shang Qinghua to sit by him instead of standing off to the side, and Shang Qinghua has slowly lost the stutter that plagued his speech in their youth.
“Is there something wrong?”
Mobei-Jun glares at him without saying anything.
“Ah, this servant apologizes!” Shang Qinghua drops the melon seeds in favor of waving his hands in front of him. “This servant didn’t mean to imply that-uh, My King looked wrong?” It came out more as a question and Shang Qinghua winced.
“Qinghua,” Mobei-Jun starts. “Give me a hint.”
Mobei-Jun just stares in response.
“My King,” Shang Qinghua says softly. “You know that I can’t.”
The room falls into a somber silence. It’s been so many years and yet no progress has been made. Mobei-Jun feels himself growing angry, but he swallows it down. This is all because of his own incompetence. His servant already knows the answer, his only job is to guess it, yet he hasn’t hit the mark once.
“Ah!” Shang Qinghua claps his hands. “I haven’t told you about how the Immortal Alliance Conference is proceeding yet. Would my King allow this servant his ear?”
Mobei-Jun inclines his head, gesturing at him to continue.
In all honesty, Mobei-Jun doesn’t care about the conference. Planning an ambush for it makes his servant happy, though, so Mobei-Jun will follow through. He’s only half listening to Shang Qinghua’s rambles, instead focusing on the way his lips form the words.
“-So that’s why this servant believes that it would be best to take the Black Moon Rhinoceros Pythons instead of going in person,” Shang Qinghua finishes.
Mobei-Jun doesn’t want to admit to needing Shang Qinghua to repeat his speech, so he just huffs and crosses his arms.
Mobei-Jun raises an eyebrow and throws a book at Shang Qinghua in gratitude. His servant has been the backbone of his competence as a king. Although he has studied long and hard enough to be a good enough king on his own, Shang Qinghua’s knowledge and suggestions have allowed him to become one of the best Mobei-Juns in history.
The book hits its mark perfectly, drawing blood from his servant’s forehead from where it had slammed into. Mobei-Jun looks on in satisfaction. He vows to never clean the blood off of that book. Shang Qinghua’s eyes fill with tears, no doubt beside himself with happiness that Mobei-Jun appreciates him so much. Shang Qinghua raises his arms out in front of his face, looking away and tensing up, clearly expecting another hit. Like the benevolent king he is, Mobei-Jun reaches over and cuffs him upside the head hard enough to knock Shang Qinghua over.
“My King, please have mercy on this servant!” Shang Qinghua whines from the floor.
Well, two hits isn’t too much, but it seems to have been enough to get his feelings across. Mobei-Jun settles back down in his seat across the table. They fall into a brief silence filled only by faint sniffles from Shang Qinghua. Mobei-Jun crosses his arms and looks expectantly at the other as he tries to calm down.
“Well,” Shang Qinghua says. “Does my King have an answer yet? Who am I?”
Mobei-Jun wishes that he could freeze time and hold this moment in stasis forever. His servant would never have to leave, and he would have all the time in eternity to answer this seemingly impossible question.
“You’re the leader of a previously undiscovered race of demons,” Mobei-Jun says.
When Shang Qinghua’s eyes dull with disappointment, Mobei-Jun knows that he has answered incorrectly once again. Every time Shang Qinghua wilts with the sadness of yet another failure, Mobei-Jun’s heart squeezes with shame. He begs silently that one day their routine will instead end with excitement instead of quiet disappointment.
“Ah, that’s, um, not quite right,” Shang Qinghua says, smiling softly in resignation.
“Well, until next time, my King. Please keep yourself out of too much trouble until then!” With a small wave, Shang Qinghua was gone.
Mobei-Jun doesn’t notice at first, but the bloodied book had turned completely clean with the disappearance of his servant.
“Nephew!” Linguang-Jun calls, walking up to Mobei-Jun.
The two of them stand in the hallway adjacent to the throne room. Mobei-Jun had been just about to open the doors in order to preside over yet another court session before his uncle interrupted him. Internally sighing, Mobei-Jun turns towards Linguang-Jun. Every so often, Mobei-Jun curses filial piety. Even though Linguang-Jun clearly cares little for familial loyalty, Mobei-Jun still wants to adhere to his values and tries not to kill his uncle.
“Ah,” Linguang-Jun smiles once he’s close enough to put his hand on Mobei-Jun’s shoulders. “How much you’ve grown! It seems like just yesterday you only came up to my knees. I’m so happy you’ve been doing so well. All your hard work paid off!” Linguang-Jun laughs.
Mobei-Jun fights hard to keep himself from rolling his eyes. Instead, he simply raises an eyebrow.
“Well, I know I can’t keep you away from the court for too long, but this uncle simply wants to congratulate you on your upcoming ascension ceremony! Soon, you’ll fully be the new Mobei-Jun. I hope you’ll remember your poor uncle once you’ve absorbed all of his power, eh?”
Mobei-Jun hums, trying his best to not let his impatience show. Dealing with Linguang-Jun is always an ordeal.
“In any case,” Linguang-Jun says, “I hope you’re not too nervous. Everything will turn out well. The kingdom is flourishing under your rule. Who would dare rise up?”
‘Uncle is planning on rising up, then,’ Mobei-Jun thinks, groaning internally. This is going to be a hassle. Mobei-Jun’s brow twitches in annoyance. Does his uncle think him an idiot? If he’s going to plan something, why doesn’t he at least try to keep it to himself?
“Well! Good luck with today’s court assembly!” Linguang-Jun pats Mobei-Jun’s shoulder before walking off.
Mood sufficiently soured, Mobei-Jun opens the doors to the throne room with a little more force than necessary. They slam against the walls while Mobei-Jun strides through. The council members scramble to stand up. The room is silent save for the soft scrapings of their chairs as they frantically push them back. Eventually, Mobei-Jun makes it across the room towards the ornate throne across from the entryway. The whole room was akin to a very wide hallway, longer lengthwise than widthwise with the throne and entrance on opposite ends. When Mobei-Jun finally sits on his throne, he waves his hand to signal that the court may sit as well. Once everyone is seated once more, the court members try to reorganize papers that had been strewn across the long table in their haste.
“Court is in session,” Mobei-Jun says with disinterest.
“Ah, my King,” a mousy demon starts from the left side of the table. “If this one may speak, your court has concluded that the most pressing matter to be addressed is that of the upcoming ascension ceremony.”
Mobei-Jun tries not to space out while the demons discuss the particulars of how the ceremony will be carried out. His irritation slowly grows as he thinks about what a waste of time this all is. Every ascension ceremony has been conducted in the same way for generations. There isn’t much to debate, and Mobei-Jun tries not to lash out too early as they make a show of discussing every single detail.
“Recently, I have been notified of the fact that the ceremonial horn has been lost in the palace’s storeroom,” a demon with two curled horns says. “There’s no way we can plan the ceremony without its recovery.”
“Where is the archivist?” another demon speaks up. “How have these records gotten lost yet again?”
“The previous archivist has already been, ah, dispatched by our benevolent king.”
They fall silent as they look cautiously towards Mobei-Jun. The court breathes a sigh of relief as Mobei-Jun hasn’t yet made a move to kill anyone for their insolence.
Mobei-Jun eventually puts a stop to this useless farce by killing a demon for a reason he’s already forgotten. As soon as their head has been ripped from their shoulders, Mobei-Jun leaves the throne room, making his way back to his quarters to change out of his now blood-soaked robes. What a complete waste of time. Would Shang Qinghua be willing to dig around in their stores to find the horn they were complaining about? On one hand, it would stop their whining, but on the other, Mobei-Jun really doesn’t want to make his servant go through something so tedious. Shang Qinghua doesn’t deserve to be used as such a lowly type of servant. After being with him for so long, Mobei-Jun has plans to elevate him into the high position of his personal advisor. The court had whined about the currently-empty position for a long time before they finally gave up. Unless Shang Qinghua was willing to show his face to others, Mobei-Jun will allow him to only assist in the shadows. In fact, Mobei-Jun much prefers their current arrangement. This way, he can be sure that no other demon will look at his advisor and covet his knowledge.
It wasn’t yet time for their regular meeting, but Mobei-Jun finds himself calling for his servant anyway. For some reason, his irritated mood has made him seek out Shang Qinghua’s company. Mobei-Jun does not yet want to think of the implications.
“Qinghua,” he calls to the open air.
Before he can even blink, Shang Qinghua appears in front of him. “My King? What’s the matter? Have I lost track of time, and-”
Mobei-Jun raises an eyebrow, effectively stopping Shang Qinghua from rambling further. They stand in silence for a moment and Mobei-Jun allows himself to briefly study how the setting sun illuminates his servant’s profile. The large window allows the day’s last light to bathe Shang Qinghua in a dim light. His eyes sparkle with confusion, and he fidgets his hands at his sides. Mobei-Jun’s heart clenches with a foreign feeling. Ignoring it, he shoves his servant onto the soft rug in the corner of the main room next to the window. He falls with a soft grunt, relaxing slightly as he sinks into it. Mobei-Jun stands over him, and Shang Qinghua laughs nervously at the intense stare.
“My King?” He cautiously says. “Is there something you need from this servant?”
Mobei-Jun says nothing as he sits beside his servant. Shang Qinghua’s legs are folded in front of him, and Mobei-Jun uses his servant’s lap as a pillow.
Shang Qinghua is tense underneath him, but as time passes, he relaxes more and more. “Ah, my King,” he says. It’s barely above a breath, too soft to even be called a whisper. “You’re really just a spoiled child. I guess I have no one to blame but myself, huh?”
Mobei-Jun doesn’t make any indication of hearing him, drifting off in the in-between of wakefulness and sleep. For the first time in decades, Mobei-Jun feels the comfort of safety. Although he vowed in his childhood to never trust again, in this moment, Mobei-Jun alters that vow. He’ll never trust anyone except for Shang Qinghua. After all this time, after experiencing so much together, he decides that, even if his servant eventually betrays him, Mobei-Jun will allow it.
The sun dies out over the horizon as Mobei-Jun silently surrenders his heart to his servant. Mobei-Jun thinks to himself that, even if Shang Qinghua were to kill him here and now, as long as it’s Shang Qinghua, he may be at peace. His servant dedicated his life to Mobei-Jun, and it’s time for him to dedicate his life to his servant-no, Shang Qinghua is more than just a servant now.
They lie there long after the horizon covers the sun. Mobei-Jun eventually succumbs to sleep, and when he wakes, Shang Qinghua is no longer there. He finds himself in his bed with no evidence that the evening before had happened at all.
Before long, the day of the ascension ceremony arrives. Mysteriously, the ceremonial horn was found just the day before. After that, everything is set up efficiently. Mobei-Jun dresses himself in traditional ceremonial robes. He wrinkles his nose in discomfort. He wants to rip off the elaborate clothing. He’s always hated how ostentatious and uselessly detailed formalwear is. Glaring once more at the mirror, he moves to leave his quarters. He breathes in deep.
Instead of opening the doors, Mobei-Jun opens a portal. Stepping through, he allows the still calm of the portal to envelop him for a brief moment. The silent loss of sense brings him peace, and he straightens up with renewed energy after emerging.
He barely announces himself before opening the doors. Judging by the demons’ panicked faces, it might’ve been just as well if he had just portalled directly into the throne room. Completely ignoring the scene in front of him, he walks towards where three demons stand near his throne. The demon in the middle holds an ornate crown while the demon directly to the left holds the previously-lost ceremonial horn. It was just as ugly as he remembers it being.
The final demon unrolls a scroll and starts to read from it. Judging by the length of the scroll itself, Mobei-Jun tries not to wince as he realizes just how long this speech is going to be. There’s only one person in the world who Mobei-Jun would willingly listen to that much verbiage from. As he listens to the demon drone on, Mobei-Jun allows his mind to wander off to his servant. Is it too late to replace them with Shang Qinghua? Listening to this speech would be much more tolerable if it came from his mouth. He tries to replace the demon in front of him with his servant in his mind’s eye. His eyebrow twitches with amusement at the absurd picture, but it seems that the demon in front of him took it as a twitch of annoyance.
The demon reads through the rest of the speech as fast as they could, barely enunciating each individual word at the end, quickly gesturing to the one with the horn to blow into it, symbolically signalling the end of the last king’s reign. Mobei-Jun tries not to wince at the awful sound. A drum sounds from the back of the room, and he circles behind the throne to get to the ceremonial sepulcher where his father has lived for the past few years. There are no doors to the sepulcher. From the outside it just looks like a smooth, iced-over wall. Of course, to any regular demon it would, for all intents and purposes, be just that, but those in the Mobei royal line can pass freely through it as if the wall isn’t there at all.
True to form, Mobei-Jun walks straight inside unhindered. As soon as he passes through, the din of the throne room suddenly cuts off. The silence within is eerie, especially when coupled with the uproar he had just come from. Mobei-Jun thinks back to the first time he came here. His uncle had been the one to show him, but that wasn’t enough to sour the fond memory of the unadulterated awe he felt as a child. It was justified, in his opinion, the sepulcher is breathtaking. The room is surrounded by walls of smooth, glassy ice, ancient runes running up and down each one. A large skylight bathes the room with light that glitters off countless suspended crystals in the air. The floor itself is carved with an intricate magic array with a raised platform resting in the middle. His deceased father is encased within a clear ice structure atop the platform.
Mobei-Jun kneels down onto the floor, feeding the array with energy. Invisible chains lock him in place, and they won’t let him go until he finishes absorbing all of his ancestors’ power. Mobei-Jun’s eyes close as he feels the array begin to work, his spiritual veins widening to accommodate the gentle rush of power being handed over to him. A pleasant chill runs over him, and Mobei-Jun allows himself to relax ever so slightly. The quiet is peaceful but also odd at the same time. Mobei-Jun’s life has barely held any silence for decades, if it’s not filled with the noise of servants bustling about, it’s filled with the howls of the beasts he hunts or, more pleasantly, idle chatter from his servant. Although the silence is refreshing, Mobei-Jun finds it brings him a small sense of loss.
He sits there, his mind drifting off here and there out of idleness. There isn’t much to do while he absorbs his ancestors’ powers. He wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s bored, but he would much prefer it if he weren’t locked in one place. The room is beautiful, but beauty can only go so far for entertainment.
“Nephew,” says his uncle from behind him.
‘And there goes the peace,’ Mobei-Jun groans internally.
He can’t move from his position and his demonic cultivation is sealed off during the transfer, so should Linguang-Jun attack, he would only be able to take it head on. There isn’t anyone he could call, either, since only those of the Mobei royal clan can access the sepulcher. Mobei-Jun curses silently.
“I feel bad for you,” his uncle begins. “You’re pitiful, really. A forgotten prince in his youth, betrayed by the only one he ever trusted. What a tragedy!” Linguang-Jun sighs dramatically. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, nephew. It’s nothing personal. I had planned to betray you long before your birth, ever since your father stole your mother from me.”
‘Maybe if I keep him talking,’ Mobei-Jun thinks, ‘the transfer will be over before he has a chance to attack.’
“What do you mean by that?” Mobei-Jun asks.
They both know he doesn’t care much about the answer, but apparently, Linguang-Jun can’t help but explain. “Before you were born, I had briefly courted your mother. She was a lovely woman, coldhearted and cruel. Yet, as the years ticked down to your grandfather’s death, your father stole her away from me to ascend to the throne. Just think! How would you feel if your brother stole away your one true love? Both your mother and the throne should’ve been mine, yet your father stole them from me!” Linguang-Jun wipes away a fake tear.
There is a bout of silence before Linguang-Jun bursts out laughing. “In all honesty, nephew, this is all just an excuse. To be honest, I just can’t help but dislike both your father and you.”
Mobei-Jun freezes. Although he had thought he had long since come to terms with his uncle’s betrayal, his statement ripped open the wound he never realized had only scabbed over.
He shrugs, abandoning his dramatic facade. “I never liked your father in our youth. Of course, he never did anything to deserve my ire, but I never liked him all the same.” He shakes his head. “And when you were born, I looked at you and realized that I felt nothing but disgust. Don’t take it personally, you never did anything specific. I have always loathed you since the day you were born.”
Tension fills the room, which is quiet enough that Mobei-Jun could even hear his uncle breathing. Was that it? Has he really suffered from loneliness and insecurities all his life for such an inane reason? He can’t help but bristle with anger. His uncle tried to condemn a child to death solely due to a dislike . He became the root of Mobei-Jun’s trauma just because of a whim .
All his life, Mobei-Jun has been plagued with constant fears of abandonment. All his life, Mobei-Jun has felt cut off and isolated from the rest of the world. All his life, he has had no one, and his uncle says that there was no reason for it. That there was no reason for all of his anguish.
(A sunny smile on dimpled cheeks passes through his mind’s eye.)
Distantly, he feels the cold, sharp pain of a summoned sword running through his left shoulder. His mind buzzes with emotion and thought, numbing the pain of the next stab as well, this time through his right shoulder. He thinks he hears his uncle continuing to speak from behind him. Mobei-Jun doesn’t flinch when another sword pierces all the way through his abdomen. A small trickle of blood falls from his lips. The wet cold shocks him awake. He whips his head around with a growl. The transfer is nearly complete. He just needs to hold out for just a bit longer. He only needs a few more minutes, then he can heal himself and fight his uncle properly.
Mobei-Jun tries to ignore the numbness in his body. He focuses on staying awake through the dull lightheadedness. Mobei-Jun knows that, logically, he is fighting a losing battle. Even so, he can’t help but redouble his efforts. It’s childish, but he had wanted to show off just a bit to his servant after this was all over.
He feels the steady influx of power slow down. The transfer is near its end. He only needs to hold out just a moment longer. Mobei-Jun thinks of the awed, smiling face that his servant might wear once this is all over. He tries to imagine how their next meeting might go. His uncle is talking behind him, but Mobei-Jun ignores him in favor of doing everything he can to keep himself awake.
The blood loss is getting to him. His vision darkens although his eyes remain open. Mobei-Jun stubbornly remains conscious.
He only needs just a few more minutes. He tenses in his bindings, ready to strike the second they release. Linguang Jun holds another sword up to the nape of his neck. Mobei-Jun feels it dig into his skin. Any second now. Linguang-Jun laughs in triumph. He’s so close. His uncle says something. Mobei-Jun feels the bindings loosen ever so slightly. He tenses.
“Well, goodbye, nephew.”
For a moment, Mobei-Jun sees himself not as the king he is, but as the small, lonely child he once was. His mind races with regrets and childish pleads. Mobei-Jun wishes desperately with all his heart for the impossible. He just wants to see Shang Qinghua’s face one last time. He doesn’t want to die like this. He doesn’t want to die alone in the silence of the sepulcher. The loneliness crashes over him like a wave.
‘Please,’ he thinks desperately. ‘Please, if anyone’s listening, please let me see Shang Qinghua just one more time.’
A sudden flash blinds both Linguang-Jun and Mobei-Jun with the purest light they’ve ever seen. A thunderous sound resounds through the sepulcher. The walls shake. The crystals suspended from the ceiling swing about, gently clinking together even after the flash slowly fades away. The sword at Mobei-Jun’s neck shatters. His body is still turned towards the altar where his father is held, but he can feel a new presence appear behind him. There had been no indication of their entry, not even the barest ripple in the air. The only reason Mobei-Jun notices them is through the sudden overwhelming spiritual power filling every corner of the sepulcher. Mobei-Jun gasps for air. His head spins, and from the incredulous sounds coming from his uncle behind him, Linguang-Jun feels the same way.
For the first time in his life, Linguang-Jun is lost for words. The air charges with a buzzing sound that fills Mobei-Jun’s ears. His head feels full of cotton, senses overwhelmed.
The moment seems to stretch on into an eternity until, suddenly, the newcomer sighs. “Really?!” he says.
Mobei-Jun feels a slightly-hysterical laugh bubble in his chest. He would know that voice anywhere. It’s Shang Qinghua.
“I know I made you like this, but what the hell!” Shang Qinghua says. “Aiyah, sneaking into a sacred ceremony to kill your nephew while he’s stuck, telling him his life’s struggles were pointless while you’re at it? Even the most evil beast would shame you!”
There was the small tell-tale whooshing noise of an ice sword from behind Mobei-Jun.
“You ungrateful child, ah!” Shang Qinghua’s tone was frazzled as usual. He mutters to himself, “Where’s your brain? Why did I ever think it was okay to make a world full of such stupid villains? What kind of sane person would attack in this situation?”
The bonds holding Mobei-Jun in place unravel. Shang Qinghua is still ranting behind him. He places one hand on the altar to steady himself. Trying his best to staunch the blood flowing out of his wounds, Mobei-Jun hauls himself upright bodily. He stands there for a moment, suddenly feeling uncertain. He’d seen Shang Qinghua in countless forms, but Mobei-Jun knows that this one isn’t like the rest. Would things still be the same if he turns around?
“Who are you? How did you get in here?” Linguang-Jun questioned.
“I’m really no one important! Please, don’t concern yourself too much with me. In fact, I would really appreciate it if you forget this whole encounter even happened after this mess is all cleaned up! A friend of mine is already very upset with me for coming here in the first place.” Shang Qinghua laughs a bit nervously. “You really are the worst. Look at this! I took so much care in creating this sanctuary and look at what you’ve done to it! You’ve gone and covered it in blood!” he bemoans.
Another desperate swipe from Linguang-Jun rips through the air. “Leave! This doesn’t concern you.”
“‘This doesn’t concern you,’ huh? Is this what it’s like to deal with a rebellious teenager? Anyway-”
Linguang-Jun lunges at the same time Mobei-Jun turns around. Without even registering Shang Qinghua’s appearance, Mobei-Jun zeroes in on the threat to his servant.
Many things happen at once. Mobei-Jun strikes forward and grabs the blade rushing toward Shang Qinghua with his bare hands, Linguang-Jun’s eyes widen as he tries to redirect his blade toward his nephew, and Shang Qinghua, having altogether too much of this situation, lashes out at the both of them.
“Stop!” Shang Qinghua’s voice echoed around the sepulcher louder than thunder. He uses his spiritual energy to throw Linguang-Jun hard enough against the wall to crack it, leaving a large bloody stain where his head had crashed into it.
As Linguang-Jun slumps to the ground, limp as a broken doll, Shang Qinghua turns to catch the collapsing Mobei-Jun.
It was an accident. Shang Qinghua only wanted to check in on his favorite creation, but as soon as he saw Linguang-Jun oh-so-sweetly calling on the little Mobei-Er, Shang Qinghua yet again opened his mouth without thinking.
‘Oh no,’ he panicked. ‘This is very decidedly not just checking in on him! This is very much against the rules! Abort mission!’
Logically, Shang Qinghua knows that he technically outranks every god in the void they call home, yet he’s still a bit of a pushover. Can you blame him? The other gods are scary! He’s the very weak god of creation, ah! You don’t get OP skills to fight with if your job is to go around crying rivers and piling rocks to make mountains. He can’t even summon natural disasters! Godhood is such a scam. Shang Qinghua is the eldest by far and yet he’s stuck cowing to these disrespectful baby gods drunk on destructive power. He blames the System.
“Who’s there?” Mobei-Er asks.
It takes all of Shang Qinghua’s self control not to coo over Mobei-Er’s childlike voice and chubby little cheeks. The sight is so cute that his brain to mouth filter fails him yet again.
“Huh? Ah-No one!” he catches himself saying. He cringes at himself. He could’ve just left and played it off as if his statement was actually just the wind.
Well, if he was already in trouble, he might as well go all the way. As they say, in for a penny, in for a pound! Shang Qinghua takes the first form he can think of. After an unfruitful attempt at trying to warn Mobei-Er, Shang Qinghua makes another impulsive decision and swears his servitude to him as well. He doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. A god swearing his loyalty to a mortal! He really should be too old for this. He’s really going to be killed this time. He’s going to be dead! Well, dead as a god can be. Can gods die? Did he make it so gods can die? Well, he’s going to find out very soon!
[WARNING! Points will be deducted from user SHANG QINGHUA’s account should he continue to interact with character MOBEI-JUN]
He pointedly ignores the System’s sudden message.
The second time he visits Mobei-Er, Shang Qinghua uses the excuse of his already-promised servitude. It’s only natural that he has to follow through with his promises, of course. He used the same excuse for the third, the fourth, the fifth, and so on until he stopped bothering to use an excuse at all. Shang Qinghua just wanted to see his son, alright?
It became a sort of game, he showed up in some form or another, and Mobei-Er finds and points him out. Shang Qinghua laughs every time he thinks about when he showed up to the northern palace wearing the form of a southern diplomat. The young prince’s glare could freeze even ice. Mobei-Er had pouted for so long; it was too cute.
If asked when he began to fall in love with the mortal, Shang Qinghua wouldn’t have an answer. He fell slowly for a long time, starting as far back as when Shang Qinghua was first creating him. It made sense, he had specifically molded Mobei-Er into his ideal man. There wasn’t much reason for it, looking back. It was mostly on a whim. He had already crafted so many mortals, why would he put extra care into this one specifically?
Shang Qinghua doesn’t regret it and hasn’t regretted it for even one second. He’s happy with stealing glances when Mobei-Er, soon to be Mobei-Jun, wasn't looking. He could wax poetic about his beauty for eons. His skin reflected the meager northern daylight just as the purest first snow, his eyes shone like the most precious jewels, and his fists hit like the most exquisite rocks-wait, that last one didn’t make much sense. His point still stands!
When Shang Qinghua was first invited into Mobei-Er’s bedroom, he was stiff as a board. It took a few more visits until he could relax just slightly without panicking over the fact that he was in his Prince’s bedroom. Their relationship started to change from there, slowly bringing them closer and closer together. It was terrible for poor Shang Qinghua’s heart.
A while after Mobei-Er turned into Mobei-Jun, Shang Qinghua was wandering around when he came to the startling realization that he was head over heels. It was rather anticlimactic, nothing really changed in his life from then on, he just found himself being a little more jumpy than usual.
After issuing Mobei-Jun the guessing-challenge, Shang Qinghua never expected it to cause the both of them so much grief. He wholeheartedly wanted his King to know who he is, but there were some laws that not even he could break. The System might really make good on its promise to punish him! As year after year went by with multitudes of wrong answers, Shang Qinghua’s heart stuttered with pain. Shang Qinghua resigned himself to never being known yet he continued to play their game, holding out some irrational hope that Mobei-Jun might answer correctly someday.
Shang Qinghua cursed as the ascension ceremony arrived. He has almost no control over his creations, but he can see and hear everything within it. Shang Qinghua isn’t particularly surprised to hear of Linguang-Jun’s plot against Mobei-Jun, but it’s still alarming. Immediately after learning about this plot, Shang Qinghua prepared to rush in and stop it. He hadn’t even made it one foot out of the realm of the gods before red notifications popped up around him.
[WARNING! Stepping in between LINGUANG-JUN and MOBEI-JUN will result in severe punishment]
“I know, I know!” Shang Qinghua closed the notifications. “I don’t care! Let me go!”
[WARNING! User SHANG QINGHUA does not have enough resources to interfere in yet another mortal matter]
“Didn’t you hear me the first time, ah? I don’t care, I’m going anyway.”
[Is User SHANG QINGHUA sure?]
He barely spares the pop-up a glance before roughly hitting the “YES” button.
[Calculating appropriate punishment for User SHANG QINGHUA…]
“Have fun with that,” Shang Qinghua rolled his eyes. “I need to go save my King.”
When he tumbles into the mortal realm, he’s already frantic. He doesn’t even get the smallest break in between dealing with the stupid System and dealing with Mobei-Jun’s stupid uncle.
“Really?!” he says, cursing internally.
His king is near death, Linguang-Jun is pouring salt in every wound he can find, his beautiful sepulcher has been sullied, Shang Qinghua’s patience is running thin. When Linguang-Jun attacks, he can’t help but deflect his sword with more force than necessary. What an ungrateful creature! His anger is reaching a boiling point. He still responds subserviently to the question, though. Force of habit, he guesses, from dealing with Mobei-Jun for so long.
Linguang-Jun lunges at him, Mobei-Jun steps in between them, and Shang Qinghua’s patience snaps. He throws Linguang-Jun against the wall, making sure to pull back just enough that he doesn’t die. Next to him, Mobei-Jun’s body, still following the momentum of his defense, hurtles toward the ground. Shang Qinghua catches him, crying out frantically.
Lowering the both of them to the ground, Shang Qinghua lays Mobei-Jun across his lap. He shook him gently, getting a sleepy eye shudder in response. A few moments pass before Mobei-Jun is able to open his eyes fully.
“My King! Are you alright? I mean, of course you’re not, look at you. That’s not to say that my King isn’t the strongest and most resilient of course! It’s just that you, erm, have a few, uh, holes in your body. Last I checked, that wasn’t a good sign!” Shang Qinghua laughs fakely.
“Mm,” Mobei-Jun hums in agreement. “Qinghua.”
“Yes, my King?”
Mobei-Jun reaches up with difficulty towards Shang Qinghua’s face. His bloody palms paint streaks of blue across Shang Qinghua’s cheeks and a few locks of his brown hair. The front of Shang Qinghua’s robes are already soaked through, but neither acknowledges it.
“You’re going to be okay, my King, this servant promises it.” Shang Qinghua’s eyes fill with tears. “This servant will take care of everything. Just, please, stay awake. Please. I beg of you.”
“Qinghua,” Mobei-Jun says as if it were a prayer.
“No need to talk, my King! I already know exactly what you mean. Aha, all these years made this servant really good at anticipating your orders, huh?”
“Stay.” A pause. “Please.”
Shang Qinghua has nothing to say to that. Tears fall silently, one after another.
“Beautiful,” Mobei-Jun says. “This one’s my favorite.”
Shang Qinghua shakes himself out of his reverie. “Then this servant will have to use this form from now on! Later this week when I come see you, you’ll get another good look at it!”
“Mm,” Mobei-Jun hums. He leans his head into Shang Qinghua’s chest and closes his eyes.
“My King?” Silence. “Aha, this isn’t funny, please have mercy on this servant!”
Shang Qinghua is the god of creation, of life. He knows when someone has died.
He stills. For a moment, nothing moves.
“Aiyah, the things I do for you, my King,” he says, gently laying Mobei-Jun down and kissing his forehead.
Shang Qinghua has long since been ripped away when Mobei-Jun opens his eyes.
Mobei-Jun leaves the sepulcher feeling a sense of loss and confusion. He’s sure he had died, so how did he come back to life? Nothing made any sense. He goes through the rest of the week in a daze. Mobei-Jun’s mind is plagued by questions surrounding Shang Qinghua’s appearance during the ritual. Mobei-Jun knows that all of the clues are there, and he just needs to connect the dots. However, he doesn’t know if he wants to. For some reason, he feels as if it might be better to remain ignorant, to pull the wool over his own eyes. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s stubbornness. Mobei-Jun takes extra care when he sets up for their usual weekly meeting.
Shang Qinghua never shows up. He stays awake all night waiting for his servant to stumble in, but he never does. Mobei-Jun throws the plates he set out to the floor, shattering the plates and scattering the food. He looks at the melon seeds. Did his servant finally betray him? Did something happen to make Shang Qinghua leave? Is he finally completely and totally alone in this world?
He’s even more short tempered than usual after that. Within the palace, everyone from the lowest servant to the highest noble lives in fear for their lives. Mobei-Jun is willing to kill for any reason, real or imagined, with no hesitation. If he was intimidating before, he’s overwhelmingly terrifying now.
Mobei-Jun thinks back to every interaction he and his servant have ever had, combing through them for answers. He tears into his memories to figure out where his servant may have fled to. He thinks about every possibility, marking off places on a large map pinned to a wall. Whenever he is free of his royal duties, he closes himself up in his quarters trying to figure out where he may find Shang Qinghua.
It isn’t until many months later that Mobei-Jun remembers a seemingly-unimportant detail from their first meeting. He is staring unblinkingly at the desk he has been piling high with clues, trying to figure out if there is anything he missed when suddenly a ghost of a memory flits across his mind. He remembers when Shang Qinghua first told him his name and the feeling of familiarity it brought.
A new lead found, he tears into the library with fervor. It has to be in there. He begins to read every scroll within it, not missing a single one. Another few months pass before he finally finds the answer. After he rolls the very last scroll back up, his morale is crushed. He had been so sure. He moves to replace the scroll back in its place, but just before he slots it in, he notices a small hole in the back of the compartment. Curiously, he puts the scroll down and reaches his hand slowly towards it. It’s just big enough for a finger, and quickly probing around proves that the back of the compartment can be tugged loose, revealing one lone scroll in the cutout behind it. A small spark of hope lights a fire in his chest as he retrieves it. The paper is ancient and feels like it could tear from one wrong move. Without bothering to sit down, Mobei-Jun begins to read.
It’s a creation myth. He doesn’t see how this could possibly help him, but it’s the last thing he has. It tells of a lone god who molded the world out of paper, painting its continents, pinching up its mountains, and crying its oceans. When the paper world was completely finished, the god set it aside to fold paper animals, paper demons, and paper humans. When that was finished, he stepped back and looked at his creation. Each being was placed just so, and the god hung it up in the universe.
Other gods flocked to the new world, interested in the paper world. Although the god liked the attention, with more eyes came more opinions. He was forced to alter his work more and more to appease the others. Before long, his creation was unrecognizable and the creation god wept. Seeing the chaos, an ancient being reached out to the creation god. It brought order back, and established a set of rules.
Skimming the rest of the scroll that detailed hundreds of different religious rituals, Mobei-Jun finds a list of the gods’ names at the end of the scroll. He stands there, staring in disbelief at the name at the top of the list, “Shang Qinghua.”
Mobei-Jun could’ve laughed at the ridiculity of it all if he weren’t so exhausted. He had spent decades treating a god as a servant if this scroll was to be believed. In all honesty, it would explain quite a bit: how Shang Qinghua could easily appear anywhere with no warning, wearing any face, how Mobei-Jun could never guess correctly as to who he was, how Mobei-Jun is still alive. He shakes his head. If Shang Qinghua is a god, then where is he now? Has he been watching him make a fool of himself? His eyes fall on a ritual to contact the gods. It looked fairly simple. He just needed to go retrieve some materials.
Five snowblizzard crystals, the bones of a hellfox (this one was difficult. It was a once nearly-extinct species, but luckily there was one left before Mobei-Jun made them completely extinct), the breath of an eastern lily, and a candle made on the top of the tallest mountain in the west. Finally, Mobei-Jun finally had everything he needed. He arranges the materials and lights the candle. Mobei-Jun hesitates for a split second, insecurities plaguing his mind. It hadn’t even been a second since he lit the candle and yet a hundred imagined rejections have already run through his mind, but he’s come too far to not follow through at the last second. Using his nails, he lets blood drip onto the array.
At first, nothing happens, and Mobei-Jun moves to heal his hand and turn away, defeated. The myth must’ve just been a simple fairy tale, a bedtime story that Mobei-Jun got fooled by. Pathetic. Mobei-Jun sneers at himself before suddenly jumping backward and pointing a summoned sword at the box that suddenly appears in front of him. It’s flat and slightly transparent, and when Mobei-Jun moves, it moves with him. A very unpleasant voice resonates from it.
[System summoned by Event Code: #69. Hello, Character MOBEI-JUN. Please select the god you wish to speak to by touching their name.]
[Yue Qingyuan] [Shen Qingqiu] [Wei Qingwei]
[Shang Qinghua] [Qi Qingqi] [Liu Qingge] [Mu Qingfang]
The list goes on, but Mobei-Jun doesn’t bother to read the rest. He moves to touch Shang Qinghua’s name, but he notices that, unlike the rest of the names, it’s suspiciously crossed out. He tries to select it anyway.
[The System apologizes, Character MOBEI-JUN. User SHANG QINGHUA is not available at this time. Please select another god.]
“No,” Mobei-Jun says. “I wish to speak to Qinghua.”
[The System apologizes, Character MOBEI-JUN. User SHANG QINGHUA is not available at this time. Please select another god.]
“Bring him here to speak to me.”
[The System apologizes, Character MOBEI-JUN. User SHANG QINGHUA is not available at this time. Please select another god.]
He grits his teeth. “And why is he not available,” Mobei-Jun seethes.
[This information is not available to Character MOBEI-JUN. Please select the god you wish to speak to by touching their name.]
He breathes in deeply, trying to calm down. This “System” is definitely the most infuriating thing he has ever had to deal with. He stands there for a moment, thinking. It was clearly not going to give him any information nor was it going to let him speak to Shang Qinghua, and he wasn’t about to lose this opportunity.
“Fine,” he says, selecting a random other god. He’ll get information out of them instead.
[Connecting Character MOBEI-JUN to User SHEN QINGQIU, please stand by…]
It takes a few agonizing minutes before there’s a clicking noise, and a clearly out-of-breath and ill-prepared voice speaks up.
“Hello?” Their voice sounds tinny. “Who is this?”
For a moment, Mobei-Jun doesn’t know what to say. “I am Mobei-Jun, King of the North. I take it you are Shen Qingqiu?”
There are a few excited background whispers from the god’s side.
“Oh, how disrespectful!” “Shut up, we haven’t been called in centuries. I bet he doesn’t even know who we are.” “How much are you betting?”
A sudden hissed-out scolding gets them to shut up. “Yes, I am. Why are you call- contacting me?”
“Where is Shang Qinghua.” It isn’t a question.
Another whisper from the background says, “Hey, isn’t this the demon Shang-shixiong-”
“If you can’t be quiet, go stand somewhere else,” Shen Qingqiu says, presumably to the one who just spoke. “Shang-shidi is, ah, unavailable at the moment.”
“I am aware,” he says, remembering the irritating back and forth just moments prior.
There is a bit of shuffling before the voices become a bit muted.
“Oh that’s the sound of someone who got the delightful experience of dealing with the System, alright.”
“What should we tell him?”
“Oh, yeah, that’ll go over really nicely Liu-shidi.”
“Are you suggesting we lie?”
“No, I’m just saying-”
“I’m sure Liu-shidi means well, Qi-shimei, please sit down.”
“Liu-shidi’s right. We shouldn’t lie, but-”
“BUT, we can be tactful about it.”
“How, Mu-shidi. How could we possibly tell him that Shang-shixiong is suffering an indefinite amount of torture because of him in a tactful way?”
Mobei-Jun’s heart stops. He goes numb from head to toe. His mind can’t even begin to process that statement before they continue whispering.
“Not like that, that’s for sure.”
“Shen-shixiong, don’t keep them waiting too long.”
There’s more shuffling before Shen Qingqiu speaks directly to him again, this time much less muffled. “Ah, Mobei-Jun?”
“I heard. How can I get him out?”
He can hear a distant thud in the background. “Nice going, Liu-shidi.”
Shen Qingqiu clears his throat. “Well, there isn’t a way to retrieve him unless the System releases him from his punishment.”
“Hm.” Mobei-Jun considers this.
From the background, “Is he gonna do something stupid?”
After a moment, Mobei-Jun says, “Let me talk to the ‘System.’”
“Called it. You owe me a pot of wine, Mu-shidi. The good kind!”
Mobei-Jun would really appreciate not having the running commentary in the background.
Shen Qingqiu pointedly clears his throat. “I’m not sure how to do that, Mobei-Jun. It’s-” he pauses “-difficult to work with.”
Mobei-Jun huffs out a laugh. He’s doing his best not to break down in hysterics at this point; he’ll allow himself that much.
Out of a bit of desperation, Mobei-Jun holds the other’s voice in his mind’s eye as he tries to see if he can rip open a portal there.
[WARNING! Character MOBEI-JUN is not allowed access to that area. Further attempts will result in punishment.]
“Is that what you told Qinghua?”
“Excuse me?” says Shen Qingqiu behind him.
[The System is unable to answer such questions about its Users]
Mobei-Jun grits his teeth. It sounds like it causes him pain when he says, “How can I save Qinghua?”
He hates the idea that he has to ask for the answer to this question, but if he can save Shang Qinghua, then it’s worth it to sacrifice a bit of pride.
[Character MOBEI-JUN should be advised that User SHANG QINGHUA is in a mandatory punishment event and cannot be taken out before it is over]
Mobei-Jun feels giddy. “So he will be taken out, correct?”
[The System is unable to answer such questions about its Users]
“What can I do to shorten his time there?”
To his manic delight the System takes a moment to answer. He’s so close to seeing his servant again.
[If Character MOBEI-JUN completes MISSIONS as dictated by the System, the System will shorten User SHANG QINGHUA’s time in his punishment event by a certain amount of time indicated by the System per each mission]
[Does Character MOBEI-JUN accept?]
Mobei-Jun doesn’t hesitate for a second, selecting “Yes” as soon as it is displayed.
“Mobei-Jun? Are you alright?” Shen Qingqiu said. Mobei-Jun had forgotten he was still there. Suddenly, he continues haltingly, “Oh-I see-”
The whispers in the back grow louder, the volume now just shy of yelling.
“Best of luck to you, Mobei-Jun.” Shen Qingqiu says over the din, sounding both impressed and concerned. “I hope everything goes well.”
[Activation Code: OVERRIDE. Please stand by as Host is assigned a System…]
[Welcome to the System, Host MOBEI-JUN. You can you up, no can no BB!]
Years later, Mobei-Jun can honestly say that the System is still the most insufferable thing that he has ever had the displeasure of dealing with. Even after completing hundreds of missions, the System still always finds ways to make his life difficult. It was almost as if it was trying to set him up for failure.
[NEW MISSION! Avoid conflict with the EASTERN KINGDOM]
Mobei-Jun groans internally. The eastern kingdom makes no secret of their hatred of Mobei-Jun’s northern kingdom. They have been passive-aggressively moving against them for years. Mobei-Jun had been planning on just going to war with them, but now the System is closing off that path. He tries to think up possible peaceful solutions. Their king is notoriously stubborn and unwilling to negotiate even the smallest amount. Although, he does have a reputation for stupidity.
“System,” he speaks to the air. “How much time is this worth?”
‘So stingy,’ he thinks. “And how much time do I have left?”
There’s a pause before another dialogue pops up.
Mobei-Jun can practically feel the distaste the System feels. Clearly, it isn’t happy that he’s so close to getting Qinghua back.
“What’s the penalty for failure?”
[3 Years added to User SHANG QINGHUA’s time in punishment]
Has he mentioned how much he hates dealing with this thing? He’s too close to fail now. It doesn’t matter how impossible the mission seems. He will bring Qinghua back, no matter how much the System wants him not to. If this is all he has left, then he’ll face the eastern kingdom’s king a hundred times over.
It isn’t difficult to arrange for a diplomatic meeting. Within a week, Mobei-Jun has the pleasure of having the eastern kingdom’s king lounging in a side room. He tries not to let his eyebrow twitch. How insulting.
“Can’t you make these rooms warmer?” They complain. “It’s much too cold for us eastern demons. Is the northern kingdom always so rude to their honored guests?”
‘The palace is frozen over. The northern desert is the coldest place in the world. It’s inhabited by ice demons. What do you want me to do about it?’ he sneers internally.
Mobei-Jun refrains from killing the insolent “honored guest” by picturing the smiling face of his servant. As he thinks about Qinghua’s private laughter and frantic movements, he can feel himself relaxing enough to not immediately put an ice sword through the other king’s skull.
He channels every bit of patience he could possibly gather while he meets with the other king. He tries to keep the fact that, after this is completed, he’ll see Qinghua again at the front of his mind. It’s the only way he’ll get through this without starting a war.
The sun had set halfway through the meeting, and it’s just peeking out over the horizon as the meeting comes to a close. Trade deals were struck, and Mobei-Jun is pleasantly surprised that the other king is unobservant enough to not notice how skewed the deals are towards the northern kingdom’s favor. How has the eastern kingdom not fallen yet?
[CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! Good things must be said three times! Conflict with the EASTERN KINGDOM successfully avoided.]
[Host MOBEI-JUN has earned -1 Month off of User SHANG QINGHUA’s punishment]
A weight lifts off Mobei-Jun’s chest, and his lips raise in a small smile. He waits for the System’s announcement of Qinghua’s release with no small sense of satisfaction. The long pause makes him even more smug.
[CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! Good things must be said three times! Host MOBEI-JUN has successfully earned User SHANG QINGHUA’s freedom!]
Mobei-Jun uses every bit of self control in his body to not sprint towards his quarters. He’s so close to seeing his servant again. His eyes grow misty. It’s been years since his servant had been ripped from him. His light is coming back to him. Qinghua is coming home.
[Retrieving User SHANG QINGHUA. Please wait…]
His heart beats faster and faster. He swings open the doors to his chamber. He feels as if he were a young child again. Excitement takes over once he closes the doors behind him.
[Retrieval 25% Complete…]
He looks down. Does he look okay? What if Qinghua thinks he looks bad? He has to look as good as possible for their reunion.
[Retrieval 40% Complete…]
Mobei-Jun shifts from foot to foot. Anxiety and doubt fills him. What if Qinghua regrets saving him?
[Retrieval 55% Complete…]
He shakes his head. No time for doubts.
[Retrieval 70% Complete…]
[Retrieval 80% Complete…]
Qinghua is coming home
[Retrieval 90% Complete…]
His Qinghua is coming home.
[CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! CONGRATULATIONS! Good things must be said three times! Retrieval 100% Complete!]
[Thank you for using the System! We hope your experience has been satisfactory!]
A bright light fills the room. Mobei-Jun’s ears ring louder than they ever had before. He can feel the blood rushing through his veins as the room slowly dims enough to see. Mobei-Jun stands in disbelief as he stares at his servant’s silhouette in front of him. He looks ethereal. Shang Qinghua looks every bit of the god he is.
Mobei-Jun falls to his knees in front of his servant. Silence fills the room. Shang Qinghua’s eyes slowly open. His eyes whip around in confusion before settling on his King on the floor in front of him.
“My King?” Shang Qinghua croaks.
“Qinghua,” Mobei-Jun chokes on his words. “Welcome back.”
“My King!” His servant’s eyes fill with tears. “I’m so happy you’re okay. How long has it been? What have I missed? Is your court still bothering you? How is-”
Mobei-Jun stands up suddenly and cuts him off with a kiss. It’s inelegant, messy, and their teeth clack together. His hands come up to cradle Shang Qinghua’s head as if it were the most precious treasure.
“My King?” Shang Qinghua says after they separate.
“I’ve waited for so long.”
“Eh? Ah-pardon this servant, but may I ask what’s going on?”
Mobei-Jun rolls his eyes and kisses him again.
“Wait! I’m definitely not complaining, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced, but-” A kiss. “My King-” Another one. “Stop! Stop for a second, please.” Shang Qinghua tries to catch his breath. “What’s going on?”
Mobei-Jun pulls away. “This king apologizes. This one is happy to see his Qinghua. It has been many years.” He pauses. “This-no, I have been dreaming of this moment for a long time.” He gets down on his knees.
“E-eh? My King! No need to kneel to this servant!”
“Qinghua, I will say this once. If you wish to reject me, do it, and I will never speak of it again.”
“What? Why would I reject-”
“Qinghua,” Mobei-Jun cuts his servant off. “Qinghua has saved this king more times than he can count. Over the years, you have stayed by this king’s side no matter what. I owe you everything.” He breathes in. “You hold my heart in your hands. I will ask this once, and if you say no that will be the end of this.”
“Qinghua, will you allow me the privilege of courting you?”
Silence fills the room. “My King,” Shang Qinghua begins shakingly. “This servant doesn’t know what to say. This is all very sudden, you know. One moment I’m in punishment, the next I’m being confessed to! This could all very well be a dream!” He laughs nervously. “But, if this servant may make a confession of his own, this servant has loved his King since long before he was even born. I’m sure you already know who I am.” Mobei-Jun nods. “I made you out of my ideals, to be honest. You have always held a special place in my heart from the very beginning. Even so, this one fears that this is all too sudden.” He darts forward to catch Mobei-Jun’s hands in his. “That isn’t to say he does not wish to be courted! This one would like nothing more!”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“This king is willing to do anything. If you need proof of my love, name a challenge for me to complete. If you require riches, I will conquer the world to give you all you desire. If this is because you are a god and I am a mortal, I will dedicate my life to cultivation so that I may ascend to the heavens with you. Whatever worries Qinghua may have, this king will ease them. Whatever Qinghua may desire, this king will provide.”
“Aiyah,” Shang Qinghua breathed after a pause. “When you say that, how am I supposed to argue?”
Mobei-Jun smirks. “You aren’t.”