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Bamboozled Into Parenthood

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Opening his eyes to the wooden ceiling, Liu Qingge winced at the sunlight filtered into the room. The acrid smell of herbs assaulted his nose. The War God of Bai Zhan Peak realized he was in the infirmary of Qian Cao Peak. 


So white. Too bright. Why infirmary? Ah, Lingxi Cave. Qi deviated. Someone else with me…Shen Qingqiu? Saved me… or tried to? Is he… alive?


Trying to sit up from his sickbed, Liu Qingge gritted his teeth as the sore muscles of his body protested at the rough treatment.      


Turning his head around, Liu Qingge found no sign of his senior martial brother. Despite his turbulent relationship with Qing Jing’s Peak Lord, the man was still determined to save his life. Why was Shen Qingqiu not here? Or did the scholar already get discharged ahead of him? Something did not add up. He must set forth to investigate why the asshole shixiong tried to save him back in the cave. Liu Qingge’s right hand barely gained purchase in the bedsheet before a pair of hands firmly stuck him back to his bed. 


A familiar dry voice spoke, “If Liu Shixiong is conscious enough to get out of the infirmary, especially without official discharge from shizun or myself, perhaps he can answer a few questions, yes?”


It was Mu Qingfang though his martial brother’s voice had a slightly higher pitch. While the healer examined his spirit vein, Liu Qingge squinted at Mu Shidi’s face.      Where was the healer’s shitty mustache? The one all of his martial siblings detested, was gone! In fact, there was still the lingering baby fat around his cheeks. Overall, Mu Qingfang looked younger, almost like he was…


Like he was restored to the appearance of his teenage self.


Wait a minute. 


He ignored his shidi’s sputtering when he stood up as he leapt out of the sickbed. The Bai Zhan disciple shakily clutched at the rim of the water basin sitting next to him. Looking into the clear reflection of his face, Liu Qingge noted several distinct differences. 


His eyes looked a bit rounder than he last remembered. 


His jawline was missing the sharpness attained by his older body.


The uniform robes worn by every disciple on Bai Zhan Peak. The robe lacked the dark silver embellishment in Bai Zhan’s unique geometric pattern. The blue hems looked faded because disciples' robes were all coloured in cheap dyes. The fabric around the joint areas had been worn thin from his daily training.


I went back in time?! HOW?


Shocked at the incomprehensible reality, Liu Qingge stood stock still. First thing he felt was the rapidly increasing heartbeat, followed by the tremor in his hands. Then, agony gripped him and burned his insides out. The stressful revelation had triggered another qi deviation. It was not as horrible as the time in Lingxi Cave yet the painful sensation was unmistakable. He bit his lips to keep himself from screaming. The last thing he knew was a slap full of calm spiritual energy flowing into his body and the blissful darkness that followed.


One week later, after the close monitoring by Mu Qingfang and Qian Cao Peak Lord, Liu Qingge was finally released back to his peak on the condition of performing daily meditation. He grated at being trapped in the infirmary with nothing better to do but meditation, but the forced bedrest did give him time to reflect upon what happened.


He had travelled in time. If his youthful appearance was not enough, hearing his shizun scold him as if he was still a junior disciple cleared out any doubt he had. How he managed to do such an impossible feat was irrelevant now. What mattered was what he should proceed next. 


He had always thought Shen Qingqiu was a cunning scum, a shameless lecher, and an overall unrepentant bastard. They had traded countless barbs with each other since who knew when. The head disciple of Qing Jing Peak always preferred to use underhanded methods to win a fight. Yet, Shen Qingqiu really tried to save him back in the cave. Did that mean he was not as bad a person as Qingge believed? 


According to a baffled Mu Qingfang, he was back to the role of head disciple. It was just after a mission he had taken with Shen Qingqiu and the cowardly Shang Qinghua. It had only stood out to him because Mu Qingfang had not mentioned Shen Qingqiu during their conversation. Being Liu Qingge’s only friend, Mu Qingfang still clearly remembered how his belligerent shixiong was mad at the refined scholar’s attempt to murder him. The healer feared mentioning his arch rival would trigger yet another qi deviation. Apparently, Liu Qingge fainted from a minor qi deviation a few days after coming back from the mission. Having so many qi deviations in such a short period of time was not good for cultivation.


Instead of returning to his peak to report to his master, Liu Qingge sped towards An Ding Peak. He remembered something crucial from his last mission. If he recalled correctly, Shang Qinghua had wanted to say something but he had clammed up when Shen Qingqiu had berated him for his cowardice. Naturally, Shang Qinghua clamped his mouth shut and avoided eye contact with the fuming Shen Qingqiu for the rest of the trip. 


Asking a harried An Ding disciple for directions led him to the quarters designated for the peak’s head disciple. Liu Qingge kicked open the door and stepped into the room. Other than the unusual chill in the middle of the warm season and the haphazardly tall stacks of paperwork, there was nothing notable about Shang Qinghua’s room. He scoffed at the empty seat of the ink-smeared table. Just as he was about to exit, the man he was looking for came back, carrying even more scrolls in his scrawny arms.


Closing the door with one foot, Shang Qinghua whined, “Oh man, more paperwork. Will I ever get a break? My kin – LIU SHIDI, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!!”


Shang Qinghua flailed, dropping scrolls near his feet. Liu Qingge rolled his eyes at the scrolls dropped onto the floor. Shang Qinghua hurriedly surveyed his surroundings before sighing in relief and picking up the scrolls. Really, other than his organization skills and high pain tolerance, how this man attained the status of head disciple was beyond him. 


He leaned onto the wall, “Tell me something.”

“Uh. W-what d-does Liu shidi m-mean?”


“The day when Shen Qingqiu and I were subduing the ghosts from that well. What did you want to say?”


“W-what? Umm… this one doesn’t quite understand?”


“When we were arguing and Shen Qingqiu told you to shut up, what were you going to say?”


“I-I can’t! No, I-I mean I did not see anything!”


Shang Qinghua seemed agitated. Good , thought Liu Qingge. His martial brother definitely had witnessed something he himself had not seen. To add more pressure on the timid man, he gripped the hilt of Cheng Luan and let a small amount of qi flow into his constant companion.


He growled, “Just tell me!” 


With Liu Qingge’s spiritual energy, Cheng Luan shook within its sheath and its metallic vibrating sound echoed in the room. At the sight of Cheng Luan coming out of the sheath, Shang Qinghua was predictably spooked and began to spill more than the ink on his table. 


On that day, Shang Qinghua had been crouching behind a bush while Liu Qingge and Shen Qingqiu had been battling the spectors. The head disciple of An Ding had been observing the fight. Apparently, a phantom had tried to ambush Liu Qingge from behind. Shen Qingqiu’s timely intervention had kept him from getting hurt. Since he could not see the vanquished ghost, naturally Liu Qingge thought his shixiong was trying to murder him.


Upon learning the answer, Liu Qingge tuned out the rest of Shang Qinghua’s babbling and decided to run laps around the mountain until nightfall. 


Was I wrong… about Shen Qingqiu? So back in Lingxi Cave… He really tried to save me? If he had been saving me all this time… Oh no.


He had wronged his senior martial brother. Regardless of Shen Qingqiu’s unpleasant personality and spotty reputation, Qingge committed wrongdoing against his martial brother. 


Shen Qingqiu saved him, and he repaid him with cruelty. 


Unforgivable. Always proclaiming to uphold justice. Yet I accused a man of a crime he had not done. How many times had I done something like this to the man? 


His breath ran ragged. His legs were in agony. His eyes stung at the high-speed wind current hitting his face. He did not care. Pain was good; it made the lesson stick for a long time. Every next breath he took got difficult. His throat burned without any water intake. A fitting punishment, for what could be better punishment to his wayward mouth that spread falsehoods about his martial brother?


Regardless of their history, Shen Qingqiu deserved respect. Dignity. Recognition. Most of all, an apology.


He ran all the way back to his peak and crashed onto his dusty bed. His body ached to rest, but his mind was restless. What could he do to redeem himself in his martial brother’s eyes? Then, an idea hit him. For the amount of disrespect he had shown to Shen Qingqiu, there was only one way to adequately express his regret.


Time to pack up travel supplies. His master would admonish him for not reporting back to him the next morning, but he had more important things to worry. 

Two weeks after Liu Qingge’s abrupt and unsanctioned departure, Shen Jiu was savouring a cup of green tea after a particularly difficult meditative session. He had once again reached a bottleneck of his cultivation. The urge to smash the tea set was strong but he managed to maintain his composure and avoid qi deviation. 


No matter how hard he had worked towards the next stage of cultivation, there was no room for advancement. Lingxi Cave might hold the answer to his problem. Going into the cave required the sect leader’s permission. However, getting approval from Qiong Ding’s Peak Master meant going through Yue Qingyuan. Although the pitiful man would cave to his petty demands, it came with a price. He did not feel like sitting through the painful and awkward tea with the liar. Had Yue Qingyuan not danced around certain topics about their past, he might have felt more generous. Alas, he knew he would never get what he wished. 


The head disciple of Qing Jing Peak sighed at the inevitability of possibly being alone with the man he loathed. With nothing to do for the day, he decided to go out and ‘negotiate’ with Yue Qingyuan. Just as he was about to open the door, he felt a tremor right outside his bamboo house. 


An invasion? This deep into the mountain?


Shen Jiu strained his ears but his cultivation-enhanced hearing detected no other loud noises save for the beetles in the bamboo woods. With no further sound, he cautiously peeked at the corner of the window and saw a large object looming over his house. Seeing no motion outside, Shen Jiu unsheathed Xiu Ya and took out a binding talisman. 


While there was no obvious sign of an invasion, one must maintain vigilance. It would not be the first time an arrogant Bai Zhan disciple came to mess with him.      Those brutes never learned their lesson.


Dealing with the witless disciples had become as natural as breathing. Shen Qingqiu opened the door slightly to better assess his environment and opponents. Yet, he found no one. At least nothing alive, anyway. 


There was now a giant Thousand Li Rock Serpent lying dead right outside his house! Granted, it was not actually a thousand li in length, but the sheer size of the dead serpent completely dwarfed his private dwelling.


Shen Jiu screeched at the unsightly corpse and wondered how the hell this spiritual snake was so far from its unique habitat. The Rock Serpent could travel underground at high speed and eat boulders for breakfast. Aside from being gigantic and viciously territorial, this spiritual creature interested no one save for those eager to battle it.


Who did this? There was no rope mark but he suspected that a specialized qiankun container was used. Shen Qingqiu spotted signs of sword slashes between the joints of the Rock Serpents. All of the marks were right on the weak spots of the serpent. Theoretically, each strike could sever the linking joint of the Thousand Li Rock Serpent. However, each strike needed to be fueled with plenty of qi and done in quick succession. Otherwise, the serpent might have a chance to recover.


Few were skilled enough to slay such an elusive beast save for highly skilled cultivators. Last he recalled, all the peak lords had not left the mountain. If not the peak lords, someone else with high cultivation was definitely pranking on him. This entire existence of this corpse was an eyesore violating the aesthetics of his scholarly image! And it was blocking the main path of Qing Jing Peak!


Unbeknownst to Shen Qingqiu, Liu Qingge observed everything from a vantage point hidden by the bamboo blades. His sight focused on the reddening face and the enraged hacking of his hard-earned trophy. Judging by Shen Qingqiu’s reaction and the broken pieces of the boulders, Liu Qingge could see the gift was not appreciated. He hopped off his hiding spot soundlessly and left the scholarly peak without anyone noticing. If Shen Qingqiu was dissatisfied with the gift, he just had to try harder to impress the older man.

It was too soon to have another dead spiritual animal at his house in Shen Jiu’s honest opinion. In fact, it was ridiculous to have a rotting corpse of an animal at Shen Jiu’s house in the first place. This time, he was faced with a dead Twin-Waterfall Tortoise. Its body was huge though much smaller than the Thousand Li Rock Serpent. Both were incompatible with his elegant style. The sight of the giant tortoise was giving him aneurysm, a beginning sign of qi deviation. 


It would have been a sight to see this tortoise alive. There were two openings in the shell of a mature Twin-Waterfall Tortoise. From the openings, two powerful jets of water would spring forth and form sizable waterfalls. But as always, the prankster behind this tasteless scheme did not appreciate the value of lives. 


Definitely the work of Bai Zhan Peak. At least more than one of them. To not only slaughter these gigantic spiritual animals but also transport them to the mountain… The number of these brutes is many. I must take time to narrow down the suspects before I strike. Let’s see if they dare threaten me again.


Shen Qingqiu scowled at the dead tortoise. After cutting the Rock Serpent from last time, he regretted his anger. Xiu Ya was a beauty that did not deserve to touch onto these foul things.


Thus, he decided to make the An Ding rat Shang Qinghua haul the unsightly thing away from his home. 


Standing outside Shen Qingqiu’s bamboo hut, Shang Qinghua stared at the dead Blastoise with a vacant expression. 


The head disciple of An Ding Peak murmured, “What the actual fuck?”


“Do make sure to remove it before I return in the afternoon, Shang shidi,” Shen Qingqiu huffed and left with a splendid wave of his delicate sleeves.


Yesterday before he went to bed, Shang Qinghua once again received a request (more like demand) from Liu Qingge to deliver the dead Pokémon to Shen Qingqiu’s house. Now he had to dispose of the dead body by taking it down the mountain. He had asked why Liu Qingge was doing this if not for sending xianxia equivalent of hate anon messages to his shixiong. His shidi only blushed and prodded him to hurry up before Shen Qingqiu woke up. 


Honestly, if he did not know better, Airplane felt like a messenger sending love letters on behalf of the shy female love lead. 


With no one in his vicinity, Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky broke down on the ground. 


He cuddled the shell of Blastoise and wailed, “ Why can’t you pick smaller Pokémons, or better yet none of them, stupid Liu Qingge!!! I did not include this in my original draft… Poor Blastoise did not deserve to be used to harass the scum villain!!! Neither did Onix, goddamn it!”


Liu Qingge, the second man to rival the protagonist Luo Binghe, had now derailed the main story. Before Liu Qingge went on his hunts, Shang Qinghua had heard that the guy stopped fighting with Shen Qingqiu although animosity from Shen Qingqiu was still going strong. But he dismissed the rumours. After all, if Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge were best buddies, how would Luo Binghe be persuaded by Liu Mingyan to capture his scum villain shizun and turn him into a human stick?


After he told Liu Qingge about the truth of the ghost-well mission, how was he supposed to anticipate Liu Qingge trying to reconcile with Shen Jiu?! The pettiest, meanest, and sharpest man in a sea of IQ 40 canon fodders and harem members? No matter how many times the author had badgered the System for questions and bug reports, the System informed him there was nothing wrong.


Eying at Blastoise’s heavy shell towering over his smaller form, Shang Qinghua wondered if he could persuade Liu Qingge to pick something smaller next time. His back could not take this much abuse after using the last of the Poké balls. Those things were not cheap! Suddenly, writing paperwork did not seem as painful as he believed.

Shen Jiu was now used to dead animal corpses sitting at his doorstep. Really, he should not get used to this. For all he knew, the person behind the prank gifts could be a serial killer. He reported this series of disturbing gifts to his shizun but the old master just sighed and gave him a new manual on warding and home invasion defenses. Grateful for the useful book, but Shen Qingqiu was confused as to why his shizun also muttered something about cabbage being snatched.


For the seventh victim, the monster hunter got him a Fire-quailed Echidna. Dead like all the previous ‘gifts’ he got. If anyone said they saw him shed a single tear for the cute little thing, he would pierce them with thousands of spirit leaves. Shen Jiu noted that the fiery quills on the back of the echidna were still burning. These quails, if well-preserved, were worth a lot amongst spiritual weapon craftsmen.


How thoughtful, this monster killer actually took a moment to preserve the fire quails for him. Just not the animal itself…


Well, maybe he could use the quills to reinforce his favourite war fan and thrash his stalker with it.


Far away from Shen Qingqiu, Liu Qingge saw that the older disciple did not snarl or toss away his gift this time. Seeing Shen Qingqiu no longer reacting to his gift with disdain, Liu Qingge was secretly grateful for Shang Qinghua and Mu Qingfang’s intervention when Shen Qingqiu furiously kicked his last gift down Qing Jing Peak. He may be insensitive in nature, but it still hurt to see his fruit of labor not be appreciated, okay?


Everything changed after he brought in his third gift. Out of pity martial sibling concern, Shang Qinghua and Mu Qingfang sat him down to brainstorm on what kinds of gifts to present to Shen Qingqiu.  


Shang Qinghua had suggested fans and other frilly stuff that the man would really like, but Liu Qingge argued Shen Qingqiu already received plenty of those from either Qing Jing Peak Lord or Yue Qingyuan. Besides, his own mother always said his taste in weapons did not extend to fashion. What if he offended his shixiong again without intending to?


Eventually, Mu Qingfang gave a compromising solution. Hunting spiritual animals with useful parts to boost Shen Qingqiu’s golden core or lessen the burden on his frail spirit vein. Liu Qingge thought it was a brilliant idea whereas Shang Qinghua paled and started chanting sutra for the animals about to be put under Cheng Luan’s sharp blade.


Despite Shang Qinghua’s initial reluctance, the An Ding disciple gave his shidi a massive scroll of spiritual animals for him to hunt after their meeting was adjourned. Habitats, physical descriptions, powers, weaknesses, Shang Qinghua got it all down. The scroll was so long and detailed even Mu Qingfang was impressed enough to borrow the copy after Liu Qingge. Liu Qingge immediately dived into studying the entire scroll. A good week or two passed before he finally narrowed the candidates down to a reasonable number.


He would make sure Shen Qingqiu get what he truly deserved. And perhaps he would start calling Shang Qinghua ‘Shang shixiong’ from now on. That man really did him a solid one.

“Did you hear? Liu Qingge has been hunting all kinds of rare monsters in the wilds, only to deliver all of them to Shen Qingqiu!” said a disciple in the typical Bai Zhan blue robes, carrying two large training dummies in his arms.


Another disciple from the same peak piped up, “I did! Why does that prissy asshole get to see all the cool monsters before us? I thought those two don’t get along.”


“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong. I heard from Tang shijie that Liu shixiong wronged the guy somehow and is now trying to say he’s sorry. But the guy just refuses the gift every time, so Liu shixiong just keeps trying. Can you believe?!


This time, a female Bai Zhan disciple spoke, “Oof, what a shame. Though I gotta say, Liu Qingge has been staunchly consistent with the quality of his kills. All these animal bodies still look supple after death, and they hardly smell at all.”


“Of course, what do you expect from Shizun’s favourite? Though, I must say… do you think all these gifts could mean something else too?”


“Whatcha mean?”


“Like, you remember how Shi Shijie asked Lu Shijie out in the traditional Bai Zhan way? She caught rumours of a Skulking Dragon Carp causing big damages in JiangNing City’s harbour and immediately went there without informing Shizun. When she came back with the scales of the fish, Shi Shijie immediately proposed to Lu Shijie at the entrance of the sect.”


“How romantic! Wait, are you saying that Liu shixiong –”


“– is trying to propose to Shen Qingqiu? Damn right I am.”


“ARE YOU NUTS? Why would he want to ask that guy out? I admit Shen Qingqiu is a looker, but there is nothing else nice about him. I still have nightmares from his stupid war fan…”


Other Bai Zhan disciples who did not participate in the conversation almost dropped the training dummies in their hands, but even they subconsciously wondered if Liu Qingge was trying to woo the cold beauty of Qing Jing Peak. 


Walking behind them was the head disciple from Zui Xian Peak Fan Qingxu on his way to deliver paperwork to Qiong Ding Peak. Despite the delightful buzz from his homebrew, Fan Qingxu listened and memorized every word from the gossiping Bai Zhan disciples. Seriously, these muscle-brains had no lid over their mouths. He had no doubt his friends from Qiong Ding to Zui Xian (plus his Shizun) would be very interested in this juicy tidbit of inter-peak romance.


Fan Qingxu hoped Yue Qingyuan would up his romance game a little if only to add more spice to this dog blood drama.

“Hehehe, Zu Kangzhe, I see your little cabbage is still being wooed by Liu Qingge. Any new development yet?” Ho Kangle, the Peak Lord of Zui Xian, grinned at his shixiong who was clutching his fan tightly to the point of almost breaking it.


“What is this, an inquisition? My poor Qingqiu dreads to open the door everyday he goes out, all because that little beast has little consideration for his heart. If he really wants to win over Qingqiu’s heart, he should have consulted me first. I’m practically the boy’s father.”


In response to Zu Kangzhe’s comment, Bai Zhan Peak Lord Li Kanghong slapped his hand on the conference table, “What do you have against Qingge? He’s got good looks, high cultivation, and righteous reputation. Not to mention he is faithfully upholding the courting tradition of my peak word by word. I cannot say much about his taste in cultivation partner. A cultivator should not visit brothels lest his cultivation base be ruined.”


Excuse me ! Qingqiu deserves more than the horror show you call ‘courting tradition’! And I will have you know he is the shining jade in a sea of mediocre children of this entire sect!”


Sect Leader Pan could only shake her head and pop a headache pill into her mouth. Every generation of Bai Zhan and Qing Jing peak lords could not tolerate each other. If Liu Qingge and Shen Qingqiu could become cultivation partners, then it would be all the better for the future generations. Sect Leader Pan sent a silent prayer to her headstrong head disciple who had been spending on more pretty trinkets for Shen Qingqiu. Seriously, the boy had to change his tactics at some point.


The other peak lords snickered and drank their tea as their martial brothers bickered back and forth. Currently, none could focus on the meeting agenda except the dog blood drama, so Sect Leader gave up steering her martial siblings back to business. 


Peak Lord Yu Kangping from An Ding put down his tea cup and said, “Qinghua has been overworked to get Liu Qingge’s gifts on display every time he brings back new kills. He just pulled a muscle in his back. Liu Qingge better succeed or Qinghua’s effort would be in vain.”


Xian Shu’s Jin Kanglan smirked, “I bet 40 spirit stones that Liu Qingge is going to succeed in four months.”


Qian Cao Peak Lord nodded to his Wan Jian counterpart and said, “The two of us are betting the same amount on Liu Qingge getting rejected in two months.”


Li Kanghong sneered at his martial siblings, “How dare you? I bet double that Qingge would prevail at the end of this farce!”


Ho Kangle sniggered, “Wow, wow, Li Shixiong, I thought you dislike Shen shizhi. Why this change of heart? Oh, Jin Shijie, add 20 more spirit stones for me on Liu Qingge winning in six months.”


“Regardless of Shen shizhi’s character, I know Liu Qingge is nothing but determined and passionate. Hopefully, his righteousness can rub off on that cold fish disciple.”


“Once again, I have to remind you Qingqiu is superior to all those brutes you call disciples. Also, I’m fairly certain Qingqiu is oblivious to Liu shizhi’s wooing attempts. He approached me about ‘a potential stalker’ who has been leaving ‘creepy gifts’ on his door steps. Though he did say he actually likes the Fire-quailed Echidna from last week, but I’m sure that’s just a fluke.”


Upon hearing the latest update, the peak lords started to alter their bets. Jin Kanglan wrote down all the updated bets on her tally sheet. Everyone except Shen Qingqiu’s master pitched in on the gambling pool.


Zu Kangzhe fanned himself, trying to strategize on how to best protect his cabbage. Regardless of his negative view on Bai Zhan courting tradition, he sincerely wished Qingqiu could find real happiness. The poor child had suffered much in his old life. Surely a shred of happiness could find a way to cast light on his dear disciple’s jaded three views?

This was his limit. This one really nailed the coffin. The worst-case scenario he had feared for.


Shen Jiu stared incredulously at the grotesque display when he cautiously opened the door. This time, it was a legendary creature of old – Solitary Amethyst Mind Slayer. No one knew whether this insanely strong creature truly existed. He himself only knew of this creature because he was an avid scholar. How was this his life?


The one book in Qing Jing Peak’s library described the Mind Slayer as a false form of another legendary beast, Pale Amethyst Sprite. Cultivators in ancient times attempted to replicate another Pale Amethyst Sprite from the blood they collected, only to create a mutated creature that murdered them all. Both creatures used psychic powers to manipulate sentient beings and objects. However, Mind Slayer could only control other spiritual creatures to attack its enemies. Pale Amethyst Sprite could influence minds of all sentient beings but it was an overall benign creature, with strong preference to wander by itself between realms.


To think his monster hunter managed to kill one of the most unkillable spiritual creatures chilled his bones. Normally, Shen Qingqiu could maintain the calm façade of a calculating tactician. Yet, gaping at the gruesome sight of fish hooks embedding into the flesh of the Solitary Amethyst Mind Slayer, Shen Qingqiu could not move away. As if the hooks were not bad enough, threads of various lengths connected to the hooks were hanging from the eaves of the roof. Instead of limping, the Mind Slayer’s large tail and hands were suspended in the air like it was still alive and ready to battle.


Holy shit, the secret monster hunter really was a serial killer. I’m in danger.


It took every ounce of his will for Shen Jiu not to scream at the gory scene. Although his house was not far from his shizun’s residence, there was no telling if his stalker was observing him right now. A couple deep breaths stabilized his erratically beating heart. 


Relax and focus, scan the body for any potential clue of your personal serial killer. You have narrowed the candidates down to three people, you can do this. Oh god, I have my personal serial killer. Why can’t I have a cute spirit animal instead? 


However, he did not need to examine the dead body in close detail. There was a piece of blood-stained paper with his name on it. Shen Qingqiu took a deep breath and picked up the letter with his handkerchief. Struggling to not stain his hands with the purple blood, Shen Qingqiu read the letter line by line.


To Shen Qingqiu Shixiong


Sorry for all the disparaging remarks on your character from all these years. Consuming the flesh of Solitary Amethyst Mind Slayer will boost your golden core. Your core can use the extra help.


Liu Qingge


Shen Jiu read the short letter over and over again, confirming that the stupid brute really penned this letter.


“Well, that answers the question of the identity of the serial killer,” Shen Jiu said, “Now, what to do, what to do… LIU QINGGE, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!”


Enraged, Shen Qingqiu hopped on Xiu Ya, soaring towards Bai Zhan Peak at a speed way past the recommended threshold. All the refined scholarly image was discarded, replaced by the street urchin longing to sink his teeth into his offender. 


It was all the brute’s fault. Within a year, he had received more dead animals than he cared to get. Liu Qingge behaved like a cat that kept dropping ‘unwanted gifts’ to its human. Sure, the brute lately had improved the selections of the monthly monster offerings. As a result, Shen Jiu was able to advance past his bottleneck and improve his cultivation. Nonetheless, Shen Jiu drew his limit at that horrifying mockery of puppet show.


He landed on Bai Zhan training ground without disturbing a grain of sand. Towards the centre of the training ground, Liu Qingge was beating challengers from all directions. Shen Jiu fished out his recently renovated war fan and cast a fan of flame towards the bystanders. One by one, the Bai Zhan disciples started to dodge attacks from their front and back, confused by the sudden appearance of the famed Qing Jing beauty. 


By the time there was no one in between Liu Qingge and Shen Qingqiu, their eyes only had each other. Liu Qingge saw no sign of fatigue or qi deviation on Shen Qingqiu as the head disciple of Qing Jing Peak kept up with his pace. He congratulated himself on sending those spiritually nutritious meals to his shixiong. Shang Qinghua’s scroll on spiritual animals worked wonder. Also, he noticed the fire quills on Shen Qingqiu’s war fan. Good, the man was a hardworking cultivator. With the fan, he would be a great sparring opponent.


Shen Qingqiu was ruthless in his attacks as he signaled Xiu Ya to aim at Liu Qingge’s shoulder blade, hoping to disarm his opponent. Liu Qingge fluidly parried the attack with Cheng Luan and deflected the sword to the side of training ground. Digging his left heel into the ground, Liu Qingge built up the momentum and sprinted to swing at Shen Qingqiu. His spiritual sword clashed against the quill-reinforced war fan with a clang.


Shen Qingqiu gritted his teeth, “Liu shidi sure has a humorous way to express his remorse. All these years, I thought you were just a muscle-brained simpleton, but you are actually a freaking psychopath. You should be admitted to Qian Cao for insanity.”


“Have you eaten the Solitary Amethyst Mind Slayer yet? You should eat it fresh to optimize the absorption of its spiritual energy.”


“Fuck you, who has the mood to eat when faced with that monstrosity hanging in front of my house?! Oh, not to mention the nice touch of a blood-stained letter pinned to the corpse! What’s that bit about my golden core ‘needs an extra help,’ HUH?”


“It’s necessary. I already drained the body fluids for you, so it doesn’t smell like the time I left you that Blue Giant Sloth. Leaving the meat to dry in the wind will enrich the flavour and lock the spiritual energy within.”


“Well, the letter doesn’t help! The rude tone just makes me even angrier. Your so-called apology gifts are just one nightmare fuel after another –”


Liu Qingge’s lips tightened. He really messed up this time. Shang Qinghua had pleaded to him to present the meat of the Mind Slayer in a ‘charcuterie’ style as the strange man called it, rather than just dangling it at Shen Qingqiu’s house. Yet, he didn’t listen. His reasoning was that why should he wait longer when Shen Qingqiu should get the best result as soon as possible?


As the fight went on, the nearby disciples from other peaks converged to Bai Zhan training grounds with melon seeds and wine distributed by An Ding Peak and Zui Xian Peak. 


Yue Qingyuan was also present at the training ground, rubbing the hilt of Xuan Su for support. Just as Fan Qingxu predicted, the man would cast aside anything to see Shen Qingqiu. After Fan Qingxu let slip of the ‘Bai Zhan courting tradition’ to his Qiong Ding friends, Yue Qingyuan started to drop by Qing Jing Peak more frequently especially when his favourite shidi needed someone to clean up the crime scenes. The word ‘sucker’ crossed his mind several times but even Fan Qingxu would not say it out loud, sober or not.


Peak Lord Li, who was moments ago supervising other Bai Zhan disciples, was now lounging in his chair next to his gaggle of nosy martial siblings. He facepalmed as Shen Qingqiu listed the various ways his head disciple was about to make him lose the bet. Disciples of Qiong Ding Peak and Qing Jing Peak all cringed at vivid imagery of Shen Qingqiu’s poorly presented gifts. One even found a nearby bush to puke out the contents of his stomach. Amongst the disgusted Qiong Ding disciples, Yue Qingyuan’s face brightened like a night pearl in the darkness.


Zu Kangzhe had a point about Qingge scaring his paramour away, Li Kanghong thought. Perhaps, he should ask Disciple Shi to give the boy pointers on how to best woo his man. To Peak Lord Li’s left, Shen Qingqiu’s master just shook his head because everything was just as he predicted. Messy and too much misunderstanding.


As their swords once again locked with each other, Shen shixiong continued to rant, “– Why can’t I have something that is NOT DEAD for a change?” Liu Qingge widened his eyes at the words of ‘not dead,’ “Or better yet, do me a favour and – “


Liu Qingge stopped attacking and gazed into the jade green eyes, “So you prefer them to be not dead?”


“What kind of question is that? Of course I don’t want freaking corpses at my house!”


“Understood, I will strive to deliver what you want.”


“There is a next time?! Wait, where are you doing? I’m not done with you yet!”


“To get you something that is not dead,” Liu Qingge abruptly leapt onto Cheng Luan and headed towards the sky. Shen Qingqiu sputtered at the anticlimactic end to the fight. He was out of his stress relief outlet and his rage was not going away.


Everyone else blinked at the fading form in the sky and stood stock still. What just happened? The Xian Shu Peak girls who joined in later lamented the unsatisfying end of their favourite drama.


Shang Qinghua was into his third serving of melon seeds. The proclamation Liu Qingge just made right before he departed… Then, a proverbial light bulb lit up atop the hamster-like head disciple. 


Leaping up in the air, Shang Qinghua excitedly hollered, “Finally, I don’t have to help set up the bodies at ass crack in the morning!”


Unfortunately for Shang Qinghua, Shen Jiu was standing not far away from him and the cold green eyes immediately locked in on the head disciple of An Ding.


Shen Jiu snarled, “What did you say, Shang Qinghua ?” 


Shang Qinghua yelped, “Ummm, I… Y-you mishear me, shixiong. I did not make any comment about cadavers wh-whatsoever.” 


The audience lit an incense for Shang Qinghua’s big mouth.


Shen Qingqiu pointed Xiu Ya at Shang Qinghua, “ So, you are an accomplice to Liu Qingge’s madcap scheme… I did not know you have a penchant for tasteless horror. Such hidden depth in my martial brothers. It’s almost as if I do not know you at all.”


Shang Qinghua gulped at the cold glint in the scum villain’s eyes and knew he fucked up. Abandoning his bag of melon seeds on the ground, Airplane hastily flew away on his rarely used sword with Shen Qingqiu chasing after him. 


Clapping at his chest, Ho Kangle heartily laughed, “Hahahaha, oh what a bunch of energetic youngsters. Zu shixiong, you raised one hell of a firecracker. That boy did not stop verbally eviscerating Liu shizhi for a second.” The drunk peak lord took another hearty gulp of his wine jar.


Unable to face his shixiong’s molten glare saying ‘ I told you so ’, Peak Lord Li drooped his head in shame, “I… I hate to say this, but… Qingge might need help to buffer some of his blunt edges. Perhaps someone from Qiong Ding can volunteer?”


Sect Leader Pan snorted, “Don’t bother. That’s not going to happen when you-know-who is still in pursuit of Shen shizhi.”


Peak Lord Zu said, “My disciples refuse to breathe the same air as your students, so you’re on your own.”


Bai Zhan Peak Lord groaned at being shut down consecutively. His normally ramrod straight posture sagged into a pile of mush. All these years, he should have sent Liu Qingge to Qiong Ding for etiquette lessons instead of letting him run wild.


After Shang Qinghua was thoroughly thrashed by Shen Qingqiu, a smiling Yue Qingyuan came to Qing Jing Peak with a box of Osmanthus cakes to soothe Xiao Jiu’s wrath. Shen Jiu munched on every piece of cake next to Yue Qingyuan while a bruised Shang Qinghua tirelessly took down the Mind Slayer.

Three weeks of silence passed, yet Shen Jiu was unable to sleep soundly at night. Liu Qingge might have decided to stop bringing deceased creatures to Cang Qiong Mountain, but who knew what that man was going to bring instead?


In the privacy of his room, Shen Jiu yawned and rubbed his eyes. He just finished the paperwork for his shizun when someone rapidly pounded on his door. Shen Jiu frowned, irritated by the loud sound. No one on Qing Jing Peak would recklessly abuse a delicate bamboo door, and neither would Yue Qingyuan. Only someone with no manners nor patience…


Oh no, it was him , wasn’t it?


Shen Jiu took a deep breath and said goodbye to the blissful quiet granted by Liu Qingge’s absence, for he shall find no peace after the brute revealed whatever monster he managed to capture this time.


As he slowly rose from his desk, the percussion on his precious entrance door was getting faster, like a drumroll to a big event.


Shen Jiu hollered, “I’m coming, stop breaking my door!”


The knocking stopped but the silence would not last long. There was little point in delay. The sooner he opened the door, the sooner he could yell at the impertinent man and go back to business usual. As Shen Jiu stepped out of his house, there stood Liu Qingge looking effortlessly impeccable and not a hair out of place. How this barbarian could spend weeks in the wild without looking like a beggar was beyond anyone’s guess.


At first, Shen Jiu did not see anything that screamed serial killer. A sign that the primitive man actually listened to his feedback, but still not reassuring. Though he heard scuffling, the Qing Jing head disciple could not determine the source.


Taking his fan to cover his expression, Shen Jiu curled his lips, “It has been quite some time since Liu shidi graced this humble one’s bamboo hut. Just what does this shixiong have to face this time, if not a reimagination of sick murders?”


Liu Qingge straightened his back, refusing to take the bait. Over the months he had observed his shixiong, he realized Shen Qingqiu was often more bark than bite. Most likely, the other just did not know how to speak with someone without activating the instinctive defense mechanism. Similar to Shen Jiu, Liu Qingge was not well-versed in the art of social interactions when he would rather concentrate on advancing his cultivation. Metaphorical explosion was inevitable when you found two socially inept and hot-tempered people in a room. 


Shen Jiu said, “Well, out with it. Not everyone has time to gallivant the world for rare monsters to fight,” Shen Jiu scoffed, motioning his shidi to get on with the business.


Liu Qingge turned around and talked to something below his waistline, “You can come out now.”


Shen Jiu raised his eyebrow. Judging by the angle Liu Qingge declined his head, whatever was behind him was clearly very small and capable of understanding human language. And most importantly, not dead. That…actually was a relief, almost?

The scuffling sound was back, and Shen Jiu could see this time a tiny figure – no bigger than a small dog and donning a white bone mask – waddling to the front of his shidi. Its brown eyes were glimmering under the sunlight. With a bone club held tightly by its tiny hands …


It was…


Dropping his fan and formality, Shen Jiu deadpanned, “Liu shidi… Did you bring a wild Mourning Skull Dragon to my peak? A dragonling to my doorstep?”


Liu Qingge enthusiastically nodded, “The dragon could be a great companion. I heard its bone chips of such dragon could be ground to create core-enhancing pills, and you don’t have to kill them for those chips. As the dragon grows, the spiritual energy in the bone chips will be even more powerful. Very good for you.” His eyes even sparkled as he waited for his shixiong’s further reaction.


Massaging his temple at the increasing tension, Shen Jiu said, “I don’t think you understand this. Qing Jing Peak is not meant to accommodate wild spiritual beasts. Shouldn’t you go to Fu Shou Peak, you know, the beast-taming peak of our sect? I bet that maniac Jiang Qinghai would love to get his hands on the dragon.”


The Bai Zhan brute had the audacity to pout at his logical suggestion. Yet, a treacherous corner of Shen Jiu’s mind could not help thinking his shidi looked kind of cute like this. Thankfully, the rational side of his brain crushed the stray thought quickly.


Liu Qingge frowned, “He. Not it. He just lost his mother. Fu Shou Peak is already at maximum capacity. I checked.” They both knew this was a flimsy excuse. Fu Shou Peak always found resourceful ways to fulfill their animals’ needs.


Shen Jiu tsked, “Oh, and how exactly did the mother dragon die, hmmm ? If I remember this correctly, a dragonling from its race dons their dead mother’s head skull, and this puny thing is obviously wearing a skull. Did you orphan the dragon on purpose, Liu shidi? And here I thought, you are a righteous cultivator . ” 


The last part was spoken in no small amount of spite and bitterness. As it turned out all men were hypocrites. Promising one thing, but never delivering the promise. Not the man he once called Qi-ge. Apparently, not Liu Qingge either.


Shaking his head, Liu Qingge scowled, “Stop jumping to conclusions. The dragonling’s mother was suffering from illness. I heard him mewling for his mother to wake up. It was only a matter time before the mother – “


Alright, maybe Liu Qingge had a point about ending the female dragon’s suffering, but the naïve man forgot one important thing. 


Shen Jiu bitterly laughed, “What makes you think I will be an ideal parent material for a grieving dragon? Or any living being, huh? Liu shidi, did you forget you were the one spreading rumours about me staying at the brothel in the first place? Or the one time that I ‘tried‘ to kill you?”


Liu Qingge did not respond to Shen Qingqiu’s taunt. To Shen Jiu’s surprise, the younger man kneeled down to the ground and hung his head in shame. Why was this proud shidi suddenly being respectful towards him? To even go this far to apologize to him?


Liu Qingge calmly explained, “You did not try to kill me. This shidi asked Shang Qinghua what happened that day. He said you were trying to protect me,” Shen Jiu sneered at the mention of their martial brother, “By now, I probably have offended you without cause more than once even though you are always a jerk.”


Humph, at least the barbarian still retains some degree of awareness , Shen Jiu was half-relieved that Liu Qingge had not completely been blinded by a few exceptions in their interactions. But his shidi continued to surprise him.


Liu Qingge said, “But for what’s worth, I am sorry for giving you a bad time all this time.”


Still kneeling, the proud young master deeply bowed his head, his ponytail almost touching the ground. Shen Qingqiu was too shocked to utter a word. Did the man care nothing about dirtying his robes for a loathsome scum of a martial brother? Was he actually sincere? Liu Qingge was a bad liar and even shittier actor. A morally upright man like his shidi would never set up a long-winded ruse just to upset him. Shen Jiu’s cheeks and ears gradually warmed up at the straight-forward gesture. 


As he was about to ask his shidi to stand up, a warm solid presence wrapped itself around his left leg. Shen Qingqiu looked down and saw the small dragon hugging him. Voluntarily, without fear of consequences of cuddling the most hateful man of the sect. The tiny dragon refused to let go of his leg when Shen Qingqiu tried to pry it away with his hands. With Shen Jiu’s improved cultivation, it was difficult to counter against the strength of a dragon even at its young age. 


Trying to shake the scaly ankle biter off, Shen Jiu hissed at the clingy dragonling, “Get off me, beast.” 


If anything, the dragonling now clutched his leg even tighter. Its claws, while not really sharp as he feared, Shen Qingqiu could feel them embedded in his leg sleeves. Was he hallucinating, or did the dragonling’s eyes shine a little brighter even after he tried to get rid of it? 


The unhelpful Bai Zhan brute raised his head and said, “See, your shitty temper reminds him of his mother so much, he’s imprinted on you now.”


Today, he learned his uncultured martial brother had a sense of humour, and he did not appreciate it one bit.


Shen Jiu glowered, “If that’s all it takes for him – it to imprint on someone, why did it not do so on you?! You’re just as bad as me.”


Liu Qingge shrugged, “I don’t know. It took a lot of my effort just to get him to leave his mother’s body behind. He definitely did not take to me as he does to you now. If anything, I think you should give him a chance.” His shidi pointed at the Mourning Skull Dragon gluing itself to Shen Jiu’s leg.


Shen Jiu glared at his kneeling shidi, “I stand by what I said earlier. I’m not equipped to care for a living being.” Not emotionally anyway was left unsaid.


He hated to be so vulnerable in the face of affection (even from a small beast). He hated it even more that his moment of weakness was exposed to one of his least favourite people of the entire sect. 


Rising from the ground, Liu Qingge patted the dirt off his trousers, “You won’t know until you stop pushing people away.”


Shen Jiu raised his fan to cover his face, “This is all your fault, brute. If something goes south, this is on you.”


Liu Qingge grinned, “Fine by me.”


And now Shen Qingqiu had a spiritual dragon.

Before leaving, Liu Qingge promised to drop by An Ding Peak tonight and ask them to deliver the necessary supplies to him tomorrow. As if they had unanimously agreed that Shen Jiu had the sole custody of the dragon. 


It was not until Shen Jiu dragged himself inside his house, did the dragon let go of his leg. With night settling in, Shen Jiu lit up candles in his house. Under the warm candlelight, the Mourning Skull Dragon seemed even smaller. Its brown eyes roamed every corner the light touched. The pitter-patter of its clawed feet followed him into the kitchen.


With all the angry shouting and soul-bearing confession, he did not have much appetite, so he just drank tea. Remembering the diet of this dragon species from the Qing Jing’s bestiary, he set a pear on a plate before the dragon. The curious dragonling sniffed at the pear left behind and happily engulfed it after a long day of travel. 


Mourning Skull Dragons were rare to be spotted in the wild as they were loners by nature. Even the scholar writing this entry in Qing Jing’s bestiary had only seen a Mourning Skull Dragonling once in his lifetime as the adult dragons were cunning stealth artists. Due to their mythically eerie appearance, mortals tended to associate them with death and misfortune. For cultivators, the Mourning Skull Dragon’s bones held regenerative property to heal damages done to the spirit vein. 


In the bestiary, there was a sizable chapter theorizing how a Mourning Skull Dragon came to be. At a young age, the dragonling’s body, especially its head, was fragile. Without their mother’s protection, the young dragon could easily die. For this reason, the mother dragon would bequeath their dragonling a club made from a bone chip of its own skull. Upon the mother’s death, the dragonling would carve out its own skull from the dead parent’s and don it on top of its head for protection. However, the author also noted theories that maybe the dragonling wanted a memento of its parent. 


Did the thesis on the dragons hold any truth? Not that it mattered to Shen Jiu, as he had been ignoring the thing since dinnertime. He had a feeling once he acknowledged its existence, there was no going back. 


Loosening the hair crown and ribbon, Shen Jiu slipped into his sleepwear and blew off the lights in the house with a wave of his hand. As the human got ready for bed, the dragon dragged a futon from the tearoom and placed it right beside Shen Jiu’s bed as if it had already decided this house was going to be its permanent residence. The young man snorted at the sticky gesture but chose not to further comment on it. 


An hour later, Shen Jiu could not fall asleep because the creature would not stop crying in its sleep. He forgot that Mourning dragonlings would cry at night, lamenting the loss of their parents. His house might be far from the disciple’s quarters but the Mourning Skull Dragons’ wailing had acoustic quality to it. Covering his ears did not stop the sobbing sound reaching his eardrums. It would not surprise him if people on his peak started complaining about the noise.


Damn you, Liu Qingge. Why did you deposit such a troublesome critter at my doorstep? I almost wish you go back to murders for this ungodly noise, Shen Qingqiu cursed his shidi inside his mind. 


He glared at the dragonling shivering and making his futon wet with tears. Its small body curled into a ball around the bone club given by its mother. Pathetic, yet the sight of it unearthed his memories buried in the streets of his childhood. Clothes in patches, hair unkempt, with no source of warmth except huddling with other street kids. Not that anyone except Qi-ge would come near him, given his fiery temper. During those cold nights, Shen Jiu the street urchin would curl into a ball underneath a wood shed, hoping the frost did not bite under his skin. When he struggled to keep tears at bay, Yue Qi would envelope him like a blanket and huddle for warmth.


‘I will keep you safe and warm, Xiao Jiu, ’ Qi-ge would always say that and let Shen Jiu lay on his arms even when his arms went sore and numb the next day. 


The similarity between Xiao Jiu and dragonling was becoming overbearing, and the wailing was only getting longer and stronger. Out of impatient impulse, Shen Jiu grabbed the dragon by its torso and took the creature onto his bed. A light gasp was echoed in the skull of the dragonling as Shen Jiu’s arms encircled it.


Shen Qingqiu scoffed, “You better stop crying and waking everyone up, beast, or I will toss you back to Bai Zhan. I need my sleep after what that brute put me through.”


The dragonling’s eyes widened at the warmth permeated from Shen Qingqiu’s embrace, a stark contrast to the cold seeping into its paltry tearoom futon. As the wailing stopped, Shen Jiu’s eyes finally closed. In his arms, the dragonling was trying to savour the warmth and a beating heart it had not heard since its First-Mother died. Small-Mother was a little distant at first, but the dragonling felt safe and content as Small-Mother’s light snore resonated in the air. 


Soon, the dragonling too fell asleep, and that was the last night it cried for its long dead parent. Unknowingly to Shen Jiu, this was the start where he would no longer need to visit the brothel for a good night's sleep.


The next day, as Liu Qingge promised, An Ding Peak sent someone to drop off the supplies for the Mourning Skull Dragon. Only instead of a run-of-the-mill disciple, Shang Qinghua - the head disciple himself - arrived with a cart full of goods.


Shen Qingqiu sneered at his shidi who attributed to his many gory nightmare fuels, “Why are you here, Shang Qinghua? Don’t you have some papers to sign or inventory to be counted?”


Shang Qinghua smiled awkwardly, “Well, Liu shidi did ask me yesterday to deliver some pet sup – I mean the essentials for your spiritual animal,” Shang Qinghua lowered the last box of animal feed onto the kitchen ground, “Where’s the little fella? I guess he’s pretty shy, huh?” 


Airplane craned his neck looking left and right for the Cubone. A living Cubone! Not killed by Liu Qingge! Right in this house! He had never published some of his work-in-progress because there were far too many blatant displays of plagiarism. At one point, Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky included every Pokémon in the first generation in the original draft. The author couldn’t believe he would get to see the fruit of his (stolen) labour coming alive. 


Last night, Airplane had wept with joy when the Bai Zhan Head Disciple had knocked on his door during his dinnertime and asked him to send necessities to Qing Jing Peak. A young Mourning Skull Dragon was now residing at Shen Qingqiu’s place. He had a chance to see a Cubone in the flesh!


Before he left, the warrior warned him not to tell Jiang Qinghai about the dragonling until the dragon had settled in. Everyone in the sect knew that the madman from Fu Shou Peak was the type to go cuddle animals with no protection or any sense of caution. The boy’s shizun Xiao Kangxi almost fainted from stress because of his head disciple several times. That was not to say the youngest Qing-generation disciple was stupid or uncaring towards animals under his care. On the contrary, he was popular with them. Jiang Qinghai was a living example of his family motto ‘ attempt the impossible .’ Nonetheless, Peak Lord Xiao had been dedicated to train the recklessness of his chosen disciple and urged everyone not to add oil to the fire.


Liu shidi, you finally got it right! That’s right, you’re supposed to catch them all! Alive! And maybe not put them in an arena for twelve-year-old’s’ entertainment.


Right about then, a light scuffling sound came behind Shen shixiong’s bedroom door. There was a small crack open wide enough for the Cubone to see his Small-Mother and a human he had never seen. Airplane saw the Pokémon hesitating to come out and immediately opened his pouch for his secret weapon. From the spiritual pouch, a red apple appeared in Shang Qinghua’s hand. 


Shang Qinghua waved the tantalizing fruit in the direction of Cubone, “C’mon, Cubone. Here’s a red juicy apple for you if you come out~ Look how juicy and yummy it looks~” ‘


The dragonling’s eyes were locked onto the fruit. Good, the Pokémon bait he prepared was working. 


Standing right behind him, Shen Jiu frowned, “What did you just call him?”


As if a bucket of cold water was dropped on him, Airplane looked up at his shixiong nervously. Shit, is the system going to deduct my points for explaining what Pokémon is? The transmigrator panicked. 


It was at the moment Cubone opened the door wider with his bone club when a very bright idea hit Shang Qinghua. 


Gesturing at the dragonling walking towards them, Shang Qinghua said, “Why, Shen shixiong. I called him Cutebone. Just look at him! So cute! Carrying bone club as big as his body,” He turned towards the Cubone waddling towards the fruit, “That’s right, Cutebone! This sweet, sweet apple is a gift for you from Uncle Shang~❤” 


The Cubone latched onto the apple and assessed the snack for any sign of poison. Eventually, he bit into the fruit with much gusto. Shang Qinghua would not stop cooing at the dragon’s messy eating like a doting grandfather feeding his grandchild for the first time.


Shen Qingqiu eased his frowning upon hearing the explanation. Although looking at Shang Qinghua’s dopey face made him want to slap the man with his war fan, the dragon seemed happy enough with the emotional bribe. The apple certainly did not look like a cheap one. Shang Qinghua must be really eager to befriend his dragon.


Shang Qinghua’s ridiculous nickname reminded Shen Jiu that he had not named the dragon himself. As the custodian of the dragon, he should think of a name befitting the scholarly peak of Cang Qiong Mountain. Perhaps he could revisit his favourite poems for inspiration? 


The Mourning Skull Dragon left nothing but a thin apple core behind. Upon finishing eating, he tossed the core to the floor and went on his merry way.


Less than half a day, the dragon is already showing signs of Bai Zhan behaviour , Shen Jiu angrily thought.


Shen Qingqiu scolded the dragon, “Hey, you! My house, my rule. One does not litter on Qing Jing Peak. Pick it up and throw it in the bin!”


The dragonling did not respond to Shen Jiu’s demand, and he sat down on a tearoom futon to sharpen his bone club.


Shen Qingqiu was getting really mad. Now his pet dragon was entering the rebellious stage?!


“Look at me! I’m talking to you!” yelled Shen Qingqiu.


Shang Qinghua was taken by surprise at Cubone’s indifference. According to Liu Qingge’s limited words yesterday, the dragonling was very sticky towards Shen Qingqiu. Unless…


Shang Qinghua cleared his throat, “Cutebone?”


The dragonling snapped his head up right away and looked at the two humans standing in front of him. 


The silence that followed could only be described as the calm before the storm. A few seconds passed by, and a ping sound of the system notification alerted Airplane. His back was penetrated by a pair of icy cold eyes that did not belong to his king.


‘Congratulations, host. You just unlocked the achievement of The Godfather , by naming Shen Qingqiu’s spiritual dragon with your author privilege. This content is brought to you by It’s Not Plagiarism if It’s Not Published Bonus Campaign .’ 


Shen Qingqiu whipped his ink black hair around and flourished his war fan in an elegant manner rivaling any fighting game character. Airplane gulped at the frosty glint in the scholar’s eyes that promised murder. He also noticed that the war fan was lit with the spiritual fire from Cyndaquill’s quills.


‘A total of 70 B-points has been added to your account.’


No amount of B-points is worth being killed by the scum villain Ahhhhhh, Shang Qinghua internally sobbed.


Shang Qinghua hollowly chuckled, “Ah, Shen shixiong. Looks like it’s noon already. I gotta go for, uh, a meeting. That’s right. A very, very urgent meeting, ha, ha.”


He ran as fast as his feet could take him.


Shen Qingqiu yelled, “HALT, YOU INTERLOPER! You have crossed me for the last time!” He brandished a fan of flame at the escapee, “ How dare you take away the naming right of my spiritual dragon?!”


The apple core was forgotten on the floor, and a game of angry cat chasing hapless hamster began. Shang Qinghua’s cries for help and Shen Qingqiu’s shouts echoed throughout the mountain range. By the end of the day, everyone knew Shen Qingqiu accepted Liu Qingge’s gift, and the name Cutebone was stuck. Peak Lords and disciples were gleefully discussing the new development of Liu Qingge’s quest for romance. Xian Shu disciples were discreetly taking notes for reference. 


When Mu Qingfang came to visit Liu Qingge, the healer told him about the news. Liu Qingge was pleased that Shen Qingqiu accepted his gift. He would have gone to Qing Jing Peak to see Shen Qingqiu had he not been grounded by his shizun.


Originally, Liu Qingge thought he would be severely punished due to another unsanctioned outing. However, his shizun was giddy to hear his success and let him off with a much lighter punishment. For once, his shizun decided to make him copy certain sections of Bai Zhan Rules instead of the usual punitive training routine. The old master even said something about ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ Liu Qingge did not understand why people were so nosy and excited about his own business. 


The only unhappy one in the sect was gazing longingly at the demon-like form of his childhood friend. Yue Qingyuan wondered if he should also get Xiao Jiu a pet as well. One could not have enough spiritual animals, right? 

Shen Qingqiu was not in a good mood. For multiple reasons.


One, as of five days ago, Shang Qinghua became the unofficial godparent to Cutebone. He made it known to the An Ding rat that he would forever resent this and demand the man to do his share of dragon caretaking. That included paying for Cutebone’s food and customized bedding. Upon hearing his supposed sentence, the rat had the nerve to beam at him. He even lent a rather detailed monster manual to him, so he could understand how to best take care of Cutebone. Shen Jiu would never understand what was going on in that fool’s mind.


Two, every person in his generation within and without Qing Jing Peak were chuckling at him or catcalling him for some reason. That was infuriating on its own, but even the Peak Lords were in on it. What did he miss between the animal corpses and the new dragonling gracing his home? 


Three, speaking of Cutebone, there was a large gaping hole in the wall of his living area because Cutebone thought throwing a bone club around the house was a good idea. The urge to bash his head against any hard surface got stronger when Qi Qingqi decided to visit him whom she used to disdain.


As a refined scholar, Shen Jiu serenely sipped his green tea pretending that his shimei did not just playfully whistle at the half-destructed wall. As if he needed another reminder of Cutebone’s mischief.


Qi shimei grinned, “Aww, Shen shixiong, don’t be mad at Cutebone. He is just a rambunctious youngster who needs time to settle into a new place. Besides, I’m sure Shang Qinghua will fix up that hole in no time.”


The young woman even started calling him shixiong now. Had it not been Liu Qingge’s previous gift-giving attempts, Shen Jiu would have suspected possession in his shimei. At this point, everyone and their mother knew Liu Qingge had been paying gory tributes to him. Since the two of them never clarified the nature of their relationship, people like Qi Qingqi started to make assumptions.


Shen Qingqiu scoffed, “I will feel more grateful if he did not send me anything to begin with. Why can’t he just beat up his fellow brutes who have been harassing me since the dawn of time?”


Helping herself to a new cup of tea, Qi Qingqi replied, “Where’s the fun in that? Besides, with all the animal parts you got to upgrade your secondary weapon and improve your golden core, none of those people comes to mess with you now, do they?” 


Shen Qingqiu hid his blush behind a decorative fan. He might have benefited from the one-sided arrangement, but it did not mean he would admit it. 


Qi Qingqi smirked and let her shixiong stew in silence. Then, she heard tiny footsteps coming from Cutebone, who was approaching Shen Qingqiu with a wildflower. The roots of the flower were leaving a trial of dirt, and the flower was missing half of its petals. Anyone with eyes could guess the dragonling probably dug the plant out with his bone club. 


Cutebone trotted over to the tea table while Qi Qingqi cooed at it. The dragonling put the flower on the table and turned his eyes towards his Small-Mother. Shen Qingqiu glanced at the half-ruined flower and sighed at the contrite look of the Mourning Skull Dragonling. It was kneeling on the floor. Head hung in shame, waterwork shimmered underneath the skull mask.


Shen Jiu groaned, “He has the same look as Liu shidi when that brute is trying to apologize.”


Qi Qingqi quipped, “Like father, like son.” Her smile was covered by the tea cup, but she was not fooling Shen Qingqiu.


Resisting the urge to throw the tea cup at his martial sister, Shen Qingqiu tightly clutched his cup, “Please cease using that analogy. It makes me feel like a mother carrying all the child-rearing burden.”


Qi Qingqi wagged her well-groomed eyebrows, “Well, maybe Shen shixiong should do something about it. Liu shidi’s punishment should be over soon. Ask him to help you settle Cutebone in Cang Qiong. He is the one who brought Cutebone to our sect here, after all.”


Despite his shimei’s heavy-handed tone, Shen Qingqiu pondered over Qi shimei’s words. She was technically correct. As the person responsible for Cutebone’s existence on Qing Jing Peak, the man should at the very least inquire about the dragonling’s wellbeing and do his part in the babysitting duty, not just dumping the dragon in his lap. Though he was not planning on having the man over all the time, bad manners of Bai Zhan Peak could be contagious. It would not do to have Cutebone learn bad habits.


Shen Qingqiu said, “Hmm. This shixiong thanks Qi shimei for her advice. I shall take it under consideration.”


For the rest of the afternoon, they turned their attention towards more frivolous topics. The ruined flower was placed in a plain white vase in the middle of the tea table. Happy that Small-Mother accepted his apology, Cutebone let the conversation lull it to sleep and dozed at Small-Mother’s lap.

When Liu Qingge exited his peak, the only thing on his mind was Shen Qingqiu. All he wanted to know was if Shen Jiu got along with Cutebone. Was the dragon getting enough attention and care? If he went to see Shen Qingqiu, would the older man welcome his presence after everything?

He had not anticipated to copy Rules of Gifts and Rules of Conduct for a hundred times each as punishment. At first, the Bai Zhan head disciple had not understood why shizun ordered him to copy these chapters. However, only one shichen later, his soul felt compelled to jump out of his body. 


As it turned out, everyone thought he was courting Shen Qingqiu. Sure, everything started because he wanted to apologize to the infamous Qing Jing disciple. Somewhere along the line though, people noticed Liu Qingge’s fervor to push beyond the boundaries of a simple appeasement. And they just could not help salivating and regurgitating a hot gossip.


It was his own fault for not paying attention to people and their talks. But did he want to correct their assumptions? He enjoyed hunting down the monsters for Shen Jiu. He liked showing off to Shen Jiu. He savoured the proud spark in Shen Qingqiu’s eyes when the older man managed to push past his bottleneck. 


He unearthed many facets of Shen Qingqiu he had not seen in his first life, but he also discovered a few things about himself. In his new lease of life, Qingge understood what he should have done as a martial brother to Shen Jiu. But most importantly, Liu Qingge wanted to see him grow as a friend. And more, if his shixiong allowed it. 


Despite the drop in temperature, he did not need winter clothes yet. Instead of flying on his sword, Liu Qingge opted to sprint towards Qing Jing Peak. Once he reached the entrance of Qing Jing, he slowed his pace out of respect for the peak occupants. By now, the disciples learned to scatter whenever he came back with his tributes, so Liu Qingge did not find it strange to find the place so quiet.


Before time travel, Liu Qingge had never once paid much heed to the rules of Qing Jing Peak because he had purposely avoided the peak and its master as much as possible. In this new (time?) life, he got cowed by Peak Lord Zu when he delivered gifts to Shen Qingqiu and caused a ruckus by bumping into other disciples. From then on, he began to be more considerate to the Qing Jing residents. After all, if he got banned from Qing Jing Peak, how else would he catch a glimpse of Shen Qingqiu’s subtle smile after receiving his gift? That, and also Master Zu Kangzhe was one scary, overprotective man.


Briskly walking under the shade of bamboo trees, Liu Qingge felt serenity and anticipation in equal measure. The sun was as warm as the day he brought the young Mourning Skull dragon. Yet, the bamboo leaves began to lose their lush green colour as the daylight hours waned. It had only been two weeks since his last visit to this path. He hoped everything turned out well.


As he got closer to Shen Qingqiu’s abode, his breath hitched as he heard a soft and slow melody. Upon hearing the sound of guqin, Liu Qingge rushed to the front gate, rules be damned. 


To Liu Qingge’s delight, Shen Qingqiu and Cutebone sat together at a stone table. The low thrum of guqin never wavered even though Shen Qingqiu knew he was there. The older man was plainly dressed. A simple hair ornament kept his fringe out of his way. The green robe was standard issue for the head disciple, but it was clean and pressed thoroughly. Shen Qingqiu’s eyes were closed but his pale fingers always plucked the strings just right. 


The dragonling bobbed its head to the rhythm and gently beat its bone club on the bench to jam with its human. Cutebone was off the tempo but Shen Qingqiu did not seem to mind. Liu Qingge would dare say Shen Qingqiu looked very …peaceful. And happy. The upward corners of Shen Jiu’s mouth were very pronounced.


Anyone would believe Shen Qingqiu was a heavenly official untouched by the material world. Oh, he knew better than that. His shixiong had a tongue as sharp as his high cheekbones. A cold glance from the scholar alone could cower ordinary men into submission. 


Liu Qingge sat down on the other side of the stone table and closed his eyes, listening to Shen Qingqiu’s performance. Soft rhythm lulled him into a meditative tranquility. When Shen Qingqiu finished his song with a diminuendo, Liu Qingge finally opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was Cutebone clapping its tiny paws and gesturing for an encore.


Shen Qingqiu turned to his martial brother and said, “This shixiong congratulates Liu shidi for being out of his punishment. Do you have any plans today?”


Liu Qingge shook his head and waited for what came next. Surprisingly, Shen Qingqiu held back the usual sarcasm. His shixiong even asked him about his plans with the intent to spend time with him. At the thought of being closer to Shen Qingqiu, Liu Qingge began to feel his heart strain against his ribs. Perhaps, the man was warming up to him?


Shen Qingqiu suddenly narrowed his eyes, “Well, since you have nothing planned, then you can start with fixing the holes of my bamboo hut.”


Liu Qingge exclaimed, “What?!”


Shen Qingqiu pointed his fan towards Cutebone, “This troublemaker has made a mess of my house, tossing that bone club like a toy. I was told An Ding Peak has to prioritize fixing Wan Jian Peak’s forge today. Shang Qinghua, the coward, is too scared to approach my Peak to fix it himself. Which leaves you, Liu shidi. You are an able man, aren’t you?”


Liu Qingge spluttered, but Shen Qingqiu ignored his protest and dragged him by the sleeve. He let the green-robed disciple manhandle him to the side of the bamboo hut where a human-sized hole was located. From the outside, Liu Qingge could see trinkets on the wall display and a wooden-framed bed sans bedding. On the ground was a shattered mess of a flower vase. It would not be comfortable to sleep in the open air at night, especially with the weather getting colder. 


Shen Qingqiu said, “This one is the largest hole in the entire house. As you can see, I can’t sleep in my room. I had to take my mattress to the tea room last night. Since you are the one who forced the dragon on me, take some responsibility . It’s tiring to be the sole caretaker of a young animal.”


Responsibility ? Liu Qingge’s mind drew a blank at the particular word. Was Shen Qingqiu saying what he was thinking? He looked to the other man. Shen Qingqiu’s face was expertly hidden behind a bamboo-themed fan. Yet, Liu Qingge could see Shen Jiu’s ears poking out of the sleek black hair, and they were as pink as peony in its full bloom. Shen Qingqiu averted his eyes to the painting on the fan, not looking back at his shidi.


Liu Qingge felt his cheeks warm up at the lovely sight of his blushing shixiong, who normally disdained emotional display. Perhaps, their newfound truce really could turn into something more. One day, Shen Qingqiu could be comfortable with talking to him. No fan to be used as a comfort object. No defensive mechanism to push others away. Wouldn’t that be a day?


Liu Qingge stood straighter, “I will take full responsibility, Shen shixiong!”


“Well, that’s good to hear. I do hate to sleep on the tea mat -”


“I will be the man worthy of your trust!”


“I sure hope so. I refuse to let Cutebone catch your bad habits. Now, the tools are right beside the bed frame. Do hurry and patch up the holes. If you need me, I will be in the tea room.”


Liu Qingge watched Shen Qingqiu turn his back, walking a little faster than usual into the house. Cutebone hurriedly followed behind. Shen Qingqiu paused at the door to let the dragonling enter. 


Right after the billowy green robe disappeared behind the door, Liu Qingge picked up the tools and got to work. Two hours into the repair work, Liu Qingge patted off the sawdust on his hands and clothes. While he could not say his handiwork was professional, at least his shixiong would not have to bear the chill of the night. 


A dull thud knocked on the bedroom door. Liu Qingge tossed the hammer away and rose to answer the door. When he opened the door, he saw Cutebone standing underneath him. The dragonling excitedly chirped at him and tugged his leg sleeve towards further inside the house. Liu Qingge raised his eyebrow but followed Cutebone’s lead. As he was being led inside, the Bai Zhan disciple noticed something different about Cutebone. The young dragon’s steps used to be a series of unsteady pitter patter, but being with Shen Qingqiu had given it a more confident stride. Liu Qingge smiled at the dragonling’s growth. 


It looked like he was being led into the tea room where Shen Qingqiu said he would be. When he opened the door, Cutebone sped towards the seat right beside Shen Qingqiu. On the table, a plate of his favourite snack - rougan - was placed right between two tea cups. 


Shen Qingqiu calmly said, “Liu shidi must be exhausted. Have some refreshment.”


Liu Qingge smiled and replied, “Thanks. How did you know I like rougan?”


At his teasing remark, Shen Qingqiu spat back, “Hmph, do not be mistaken. I recently discovered Cutebone has a penchant for the dried meat slices produced by our sect. I imagine travelling with you must have rubbed off on him.”


Shen Qingqiu must have noticed Liu Qingge staring at his ears earlier because they were now covered underneath his silky hair. The red-dusted cheeks were a dead giveaway though. Liu Qingge wisely chose not to comment on it. The image of a rosy-cheeked Shen Jiu was archived in his mind. 


As he sat down, Shen Qingqiu poured him a cup of tea. Even the tea blend was dark and rich, just the way he liked it. Liu Qingge drank the tea and watched Cutebone happily munch on its first piece of rougan. Shen Jiu lightheartedly chastised the dragonling when it tried to grab another piece without finishing the piece in its mouth. Liu Qingge just sat there and watched the dragonling beg for leniency from Shen Jiu. 


He could get used to this.

Later that day, Shang Qinghua braved the Qing Jing Peak and witnessed the worst patch-up of his lifetime. The nails on the plans were crooked and not all the way in. Some even got too embedded into the wooden planks. He would have to redo the whole thing. What was supposed to be a half-hour job was going to be at least thrice as long. 


Shen Qingqiu regally stood next to him and said, “Liu shidi was kind enough to do a quick repair so I can sleep in my room last night. But I can still feel the draft from the cracks. I’m sure Shang shidi can fix it quickly, right?


The imperious glare radiated behind Shen Qingqiu’s war fan made Shang Qinghua’s legs jitter. Shang Qinghua’s lips wobbled at the small flames flickering on the fan.


Shang Qinghua whimpered, “Yes, Shen shixiong. I will start right away.”


First I have to fix the plot holes according to the slave-driving System, now I have to fix literal holes for another slave driver , Airplane sighed. He desperately hoped this was all worth the scum villain’s disdain towards him. But on the bright side, Cutebone seemed willing to look past his human mother’s grudge. The little dragon even fetched Shang Qinghua tools he needed from the toolbox. 


Shang Qinghua sighed, “Well… If Liu Qingge fucked Shen Jiu all the time, maybe the shitty ending could be avoided? And I have you as my new best friend, Cutebone! Isn’t that right?”


Cutebone was confused by this odd human’s muttering but it just sat there letting him chitter away. Even though this human’s focus was not necessarily on it, Cutebone still felt safe and content. 


The first human with a long tail on his head brought Cutebone to its Small-Mother. Judging by the scent, Tail-Head seemed determined to court Small-Mother. Cutebone was a little annoyed by Tail-Head for dividing Small-Mother’s attention. 


Other humans had come to visit them and brought gifts for Cutebone to snack. The young Mourning Skull Dragon liked those nice humans. Small-Mother had not brought it outside the bamboo forest, but the dragonling knew there were beings out there. It seemed this whole mountain was a pack on its own, and Cutebone could not wait to meet the rest of the Small-Mother’s family.