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Into the Abyss

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Rebuilding and replenishing his stores back up is a bitch. It's nothing Shen Yuan hasn't had to do before - the System tends to wipe his slate clean every now and then to bring him down a peg or whatnot, so he'd used to the setbacks. It's never not incredibly annoying though.

He needs new ingredients, he needs to make a new alchemy set, find a whole new base, he needs to restock on furs, he needs just so much stuff. With his luck the System will throw Hellfrost at him before he's ready to try and freeze his ass, again. And this time he doesn't have an elemental cave to hide away in! The hideout had been cold as balls, but not as cold as Hellfrost. During the worst of it, it was actually almost warm.

But it was only a matter of time before the System took it away from him, so Shen Yuan doesn't let himself get hung up on the loss. Instead, he's hung up on this new strain on his resources.

With Luo Binghe there, Shen Yuan needs to get double of everything. Twice as much food, twice as many potions. Shen Yuan is not getting the guy any bombs, but he needs weapons.

And he needs to stop staring at Shen Yuan like he's grown a set of horns!

"What?" Shen Yuan grunts, giving the Protagonist a narrow look through his mask's lenses.

Luo Binghe motions to the fur he'd been spreading on a frame to treat. "Can I help? I would like to learn."

Shen Yuan looks down at the salted and washed pelt and then leans back. Well. "Fine, come here."

Luo Binghe comes closer promptly and then waits for his direction like an eager puppy, eyes shining with interest. It's. Disturbing. "Just - here," Shen Yuan says and shows him how it is done. Not that there's much left to do, the hide is almost pinned.

"Does that look good, Master Shen?"

"It's fine. Now get the head," Shen Yuan motions. "And crack it open. We want its brains."

Luo Binghe pauses just for a moment and then gets to work, using a rock to crack the skull while Shen Yuan gets a pot to scoop it in. It's disgusting work, if you're squeamish, and there's still a modern man in Shen Yuan who shirks away from it. But damn if it hasn't saved his life, more than once.

Tanning hide is one of the few things Shen Yuan didn't learn from PIDW - even if Airplane included something like that into the webnovel, he definitely would've gotten it wrong. Shen Yuan had instead learned it from his activist of a sister, who at one point had gone into a hyperfocused anti-fur-trade binge. It has been very informative, as she unearthed all the horrors of it and made it the problem of everyone around her.

One of the things Shen Yuan's brain had decided to store in its long term memory was that animals have just enough brains to tan their own hides.

Luo Binghe, if he finds the work questionable, doesn't complain. At Shen Yuan's guidance he goes through the motions of mixing the brains into a slurry, which he then rubs into the flesh side of the pelt.

"Don't get it on the hair, it'll ruin it," Shen Yuan directs, though he doesn't really have to. Luo Binghe has the concept down and is well on his way to mastering it.

The Protagonist is a sponge for everything around him. Of course, he'd been that way in the novel too, but to see it in action is a different thing. Every slip, every word, every new skill he just soaks up and apparently never forgets. 

Shen Yuan wonders if Heavenly Demons have eidetic memory. Considering all the shit Luo Binghe went through and had to endure, that would probably suck for him.

"Is that good, Master Shen?" Luo Binghe asks once he's done.

Shen Yuan looks down at the pelt. The brain slime has been spread in a perfectly even layer. Of course it has been. "Yes, good, fine," he agrees and swings to his feet. "Well done."

Luo Binghe looks up, his eyes widening a little, and then he looks down at the pelt. He swallows. "I'm glad my work pleases Master Shen."

Ugh. Shen Yuan turns away. "Come on, we need to collect some spirit herbs."

"What about the pelt?"

"Just leave it to soak up the oils," Shen Yuan waves a hand. "It'll be done by tomorrow."

Luo Binghe nods and then follows, eager and way too close. "What will we use the herbs for?"

"Everything," Shen Yuan grunts. "They're base ingredients for pretty much everything."

Of course, after he's taught the guy what to look for and how to collect the herbs, Luo Binghe excels at that too, going totally overboard and collecting about ten times as much as Shen Yuan, and of course they're all perfect too. In the face of his eager-to-please expression, Shen Yuan swallows the irritation and accepts the bundle.

"Are we going to process them right away, Master Shen?" Luo Binghe asks excitedly.

"Guess we might as well," Shen Yuan mutters. "Need to make a grinding wheel first, though."

"I can do that!" Luo Binghe says immediately and jumps to action. With Shen Yuan's make-do stone chisel coated in simmering energy, he shapes a flat piece of rock into a grinding wheel, just shaving pieces off it until it's perfect. It takes him like a minute.

"Will this work?" the Protagonist asks, looking at him hopefully.

Shen Yuan wants to kick him. Last time it took him days of awkward chiselling to do the same, and the result wasn't anywhere as even and smooth.

"It's - fine," he grunts, swallowing his irritation - Luo Binghe human-sticks abusive teachers, he can't kick him. "Good, excellent. Now make a bowl."

Luo Binghe does, and it's disgustingly effortless for him. Shen Yuan isn't even sure the chisel is needed - Luo Binghe could've done it with bare hands, probably, the stone bending to his will like putty. Once done, the Protagonist offers the result to him like a gift. It's perfectly arched to fit the grinding wheel. It even has little legs to hold it in place!

Shen Yuan hates him a little.

"... Nice," he says resentfully.

Luo Binghe preens smugly. "Is there anything else this one can do for Master Shen?"

What a brat! But as much as he hates the Protagonist's cheats, Shen Yuan is not above making use of them - and this ability Luo Binghe has to just shape rock… it has potential. He can use it. And if all Luo Binghe asks as payment is inane praise, Shen Yuan can do that too.

"Mortar and pestle," Shen Yuan says decisively and Luo Binghe jumps into action. "Good work, good work. Now make some more bowls."

At the end of it, Shen Yuan has the best tool set he's had so far, and it took Luo Binghe maybe an hour to make. And as much as he wants to wring that pleased smug look from Luo Binghe's face, Shen Yuan is sincerely impressed.

"... Good job," Shen Yuan says and scoffs at the way Luo Binghe's eyes brighten up. What is he, a puppy? Does he want pets next? "Right. I guess I'll show you how to make the healing salve I used on your burns."

Of course, Luo Binghe figures out the whole thing with only half the instructions, and the end result is much smoother than anything Shen Yuan had ever made. That perfect asshole.

Luo Binghe's behaviour is all the more grating for how fake it is. Like Shen Yuan can't see the calculative looks, can't feel the eyes on the back of his neck whenever he turns. Luo Binghe watches him like a hawk getting ready to strike. And Shen Yuan can't call him out on it, because he's all smiles and obedience when he turns. Ugh.

It's almost a relief when the System throws an attack his way.


 

Black Moon Python Rhinoceroses. A whole damn herd of them rampaging through the Shattered Plain, tearing through rocks and taking trees off by their roots.

Never let it be said that System isn't a dick.

"What are we going to do?" Luo Binghe asks, his eyes wide as they watch the oncoming herd from one of the higher pieces of blocky terrain. The earth rumbles, and there's a rising dust cloud - it's like a scene from a movie. "These spears won't be enough to pierce their hides!"

He's not wrong, the spears are useless, as are most of Shen Yuan's bombs, the Black Moon Python Rhinoceros hide is too hard for mere explosions to do any damage. Freezing them would barely slow them down…

"We'll lure them into the Oil Bog," Shen Yuan decides. "This way."

At least now that Luo Binghe isn't pretending to be weak, Shen Yuan doesn't have to carry him. As a cultivator and a growing Demon Lord, Luo Binghe keeps up with minimal problems, only the terrain causing him to trip sometimes. 

It's really something, watching the Protagonist grow right before his eyes. As much as Shen Yuan wishes he could trip him into the Oil Bog too, it's really amazing. Already, Luo Binghe is so much more powerful than you'd expect! It's infuriating!

"Master Shen!" Luo Binghe gasps. "How far is the Oil Bog?"

"Far enough," Shen Yuan answers. "Few hours. Why?"

Luo Binghe's gait falters a little, but he pushes forward. "Okay," he says determinedly. "Okay. I can do this. I can do this."

"Huh?"

Luo Binghe's body answers for him - it turns out, he can't do this. He doesn't have it in him to sustain a superhuman sprint yet, and eventually he starts lagging behind.

Right, Shen Yuan thinks. The time skip sections did mention that Luo Binghe had to actually build up his stamina through vigorous trials and by building up his body. Airplane hadn't ever lingered on those parts, too eager to get to Luo Binghe's successes, but he did occasionally play lip service, pretending there was some character growth somewhere behind the scenes. Luo Binghe, rising from the ashes as a new man after Shen Qingqiu's betrayal, and all that.

Plus, as much potential as he has, wasn't Luo Binghe's training in Qing Jing Peak really poor? Even the technique he uses to carve stone is just brute forcing it, in a way.

Shen Yuan slows down, and Luo Binghe gasps for breath. Behind them the dust cloud rises like an oncoming sand storm. 

"This one apologizes," Luo Binghe pants. "He is slowing Master Shen down."

"Whatever," Shen Yuan says and grabs him by the arm. Then he throws the Protagonist over his shoulder again, and runs.

"This one is -" Luo Binghe tries.

"Save it," Shen Yuan grunts, grabbing him by the backs of his thighs. "Just tell me if they get closer."

"They're getting closer," Luo Binghe reports obediently and Shen Yuan runs.

It's slower with Luo Binghe's weight. Shen Yuan wonders resentfully if he could just drop the Protagonist - Luo Binghe has plot armour, it's not like he would die. It might even slow the herd down a little. 

And then Luo Binghe would come after him to kill him. Yeah, no.

"Master Shen," Luo Binghe grunts, trying to shift into a better position over his shoulder. "This one doesn't wish to be a burden."

"Tch," Shen Yuan answers and with a running leap gets them over a ravine.

"Are there any potions that will make this one stronger?"

Shen Yuan snorts. "Sure, but you won't need them."

Luo Binghe's weight shifts at that. "What does Master Shen mean?"

"You're a Heavenly Demon. Your natural potential is greater than any potion. You don't need them."

Luo Binghe is quiet, his hands gripping at the fur on Shen Yuan's shoulder, trying to keep his balance. "Master Shen knows much about Heavenly Demons."

"Sure," Shen Yuan grunts and grips him tighter to keep him in place. "There's a fall coming up. Hold on!"

Luo Binghe grips the spines of his fur cloak and holds on, and the fall still knocks the breath out of him. Shen Yuan scrambles down the side of a cliff, careful to make sure Luo Binghe doesn't get too badly banged up, and then looks over his other shoulder.

The Black Moon Python Rhinoceroses are already coming down the cliff like gravity isn't even a thing that affects them, just running down the steep wall like a black swarm of death and destruction and dust.

[Warning! You are being hunted!]

"Yeah, no shit!" Fucking System.

Shen Yuan turns and keeps running. It's still ways to go. Here's hoping the Zombie Bull Demons sunk far enough down that he doesn't need to worry about them too.


 

Shen Yuan is finally approaching his limits. Even with stamina potions, the days running, hunting and not sleeping are making themselves felt, by the time he finally reaches the Oil Bog. Luo Binghe is quiet too, desperately gasping for breath as Shen Yuan drops him down on the edge of the bog, where the ground turns into a lake of black tar.

"Right," Shen Yuan pants, rubbing at his stinging side. "If we're lucky the Sys -" warning flashes red across his vision. "The fucker will keep it's grip on them and they'll just run into the bog. If not, then - then we're fucked."

Luo Binghe looks up, his expression stained as he looks around. "Master Shen -" he says and then coughs. "How are we going to get them into the bog?"

"There's a few places to stand - see those rocks?" Shen Yuan points. "If we can jump there, we'll be pretty safe. Probably."

The Oil Bog is one hell of a sight. It's basically a lake of black oil slowly bubbling away before their eyes. The air above it is a sickly sort of yellow with all the gasses. The place would be worth a fortune if the right industry existed in this world. Or it would be an unmitigated environmental disaster. Neither really applies here, so the place is just a fancy piece of deadly terrain - and a handy way to trap things that are too hard to kill. Even the greatest monsters can't swim in oil for long.

The Black Moon Python Rhinoceroses are catching up with them.

"Come on," Shen Yuan says and grabs Luo Binghe by the arm. "Up you get."

Luo Binghe coughs again and then struggles to his feet. He's swaying. He didn't even have to run all the way, what if be swaying and gasping for?

"What's wrong with you?" Shen Yuan demands

"Apo-pologies, Master S-Shen," Luo Binghe wheezes. "I - I can't seem to - to breathe -"

… Oh. Shit.

Shen Yuan looks at the bog again - and the gasses just idly milling above it. "Well, fuck," he says and detaches his gas mask. "Exhale - empty out your lungs, completely."

Luo Binghe looks at him through teary eyes, confused. Then he exhales. As he does Shen Yuan fills his own lungs, and then takes the mask off, shoving it over Luo Binghe's mouth and nose.

"Breathe," he orders and holds his own breath.

The Protagonist looks a little ridiculous with just the lower half of the mask on, his eyes big and dark over it. It helps, clearly, the first breath rattling slowly in his throat, his eyes widening further with realisation.

"Again. Deep breaths," Shen Yuan orders, trying to let as little of his own air out as he can. "Keep breathing."

And then the herd is upon them.

Shen Yuan has just enough time to grab Luo Binghe up into his arms again and spin out of the way, before the first one of them comes barreling at them, head bent low and horn pointed forward. And fuck, he'd forgotten how massive the damn things are. It's like being faced with a rampaging tank.

The rhinoceros opens its maw, spits out a blood red python, and then rams right through the empty space where Shen Yuan and Luo Binghe had just been and over the edge and into the Oil Bog.

What follows is not at all what Shen Yuan had planned. The noise is incredible as the shoreline is utterly overtaken by the herd, an overwhelming melee of dozens of massive bodies trampling the shore and clashing into each other as they single-mindedly try to gore him. There's no way to jump into safety, Shen Yuan can't get the running start to make the distance. The best he can do is weave between the rampaging beasts, ducking their attacks, trying to desperately bait them into running into the oil. Even if they don't sink completely, it slows them down, might make them slip, maybe -

But there are so many, and Luo Binghe is an awkward weight in his arms, throwing Shen Yuan's balance off. He can't move as fast as he needs to, he can't get as far, can't - he can't -

He can't breathe without the mask.

Shen Yuan's field of vision dims around the edges, and then he's hit.

It's like being clipped by a bus - it's just a touch, a Black Moon Python Rhinoceros brushes past him, its massive leg touching his shoulder. Shen Yuan is instantly sent spinning, his body ragdolling like a discarded toy. A moment later he crashes down, and Luo Binghe flies out of his arms.

What a pathetic fucking way to die, Shen Yuan thinks as he hits the ground.

But it doesn't knock him out.

Light bursts across his vision as his chin hits the ground first, and he inhales convulsively, gasping for a breath. It's not the gasses that fill his lungs, though, but familiar stuffy, filtered air, just barely fit to breathe.

Luo Binghe is holding the mask to his face, tugging Shen Yuan up by his arm, his eyes huge and red and fucking amazing. The Heavenly Demon's signature mark glows like red flames on his forehead.

Then Luo Binghe yanks him to his feet and motions wildly. They're just at the edge of the bog. There's a rock there, flat and inviting, just across from them. And there's at least three Black Moon Python Rhinoceroses coming right at them.

There's no way they can make that jump. 

They jump anyway, Luo Binghe tugging Shen Yuan's arm over his shoulder and forcing him into it. And it must be Protagonist plot armour in action, because it's just not doable otherwise, their combined weight and pathetic windup should've made it impossible.

They make it, landing on the rock and barely keeping their balance on it by grabbing a hold of each other… but they make it. On the shoreline the Black Moon Python Rhinoceroses begin in mindless fury throwing themselves over the edge and into the bog.

Shen Yuan falls on his ass on the rock, and for an exhausted, adrenaline-driven moment he loves Luo Binghe almost as much as he hates his life.

And then, the weeks catch up with him.


 

When he wakes up, Luo Binghe is sitting cross-legged beside him, holding the mask to his face again, and everything is quiet. Shen Yuan inhales and the mask lifts, the Protagonist using it to inhale quickly before putting it back to Shen Yuan's face.

Shen Yuan blinks behind his lenses and takes a moment to compute the situation, to internalise the knowledge that they're in the middle of the Oil Bog and Luo Binghe has been keeping them both alive by switching the mask between them. It's.

Unexpected? Is it unexpected? He isn't sure. He can't think of a time Luo Binghe would have done this for a guy. For a wife candidate, sure, there was like three different occasions where the Protagonist had literally shared the breath from his lungs with a woman that couldn't otherwise breathe - subsequently making out with them in the process, of course. But sharing a life-saving device with a dude?

"Master Shen is awake," Luo Binghe comments, holding his breath.

"How long was I out?" Shen Yuan croaks into the mask, trying to understand.

"Two sichen maybe. It's hard to tell time here, I'm sorry," Luo Binghe says and looks up, coughing a little. "The herd left. The ones that didn't drown in the bog, anyway."

Shen Yuan sits up and carefully turns to look, keeping the mask on his face. The shoreline is empty, with maybe three indistinctive masses floating in the oil. Guess the System let them go after Shen Yuan wasn't awake enough to appreciate how fucked he was. Hooray.

"How is Master Shen feeling?"

Shen Yuan looks back at the Protagonist and then runs a tongue around his mouth. He can't taste any blood, but Luo Binghe could've fed him some and then marched it down his throat so that no taste was left behind. If he did, then… fuck. What could Shen Yuan do about that, other than bitch about it? Die, maybe.

Fuck it. Luo Binghe kept him alive, and he's starting to look a little green behind the gills, holding his breath.

"Good," Shen Yuan says, breathing deeply. "Don't talk without the mask, you'll end up breathing in the gasses," he says, and then thrusts the mask at Luo Binghe's face. The Protagonist inhales gratefully, eyes closing. He looks exhausted. Shen Yuan waits until he's had his fill and then takes the mask again. "You're unexpectedly reliable," he comments, watching him with fascination.

Obediently, the Protagonist waits until he has the mask on before he talks. "This one is just happy to be of service," Luo Binghe demurs and then snaps his eyes open as Shen Yuan slaps him over one ear.

Shen Yuan takes back the mask. "Stop that. You did good, stop acting all humble."

Luo Binghe's eyes flash with a little bit of red, the corners squinting. He's smiling beneath the mask.

… Cute.

"Master Shen saved my life," Luo Binghe says quietly. "Again."

"Master Shen almost got you killed, you mean. If you'd stayed in the cave you would've been fine," Shen Yuan grunts on his next inhale, standing up. "Think you can make the jump back to shore?"

Luo Binghe looks at the shore and hums, noncommittal, and stands up as well.

So, Shen Yuan hands him the mask, hoists him up and carries him. The drowned Black Moon Python Rhinoceroses make good stepping stones, slightly slippery as they are. Once on shore, Shen Yuan gives them a look. One of them has its horn sticking out of the oil. Hm.

Black Moon Python Rhinoceroses' skin is too tough to do anything with, but the venom and the horn… Oh, he could think of a few uses for a Black Moon Python Rhinoceros horn. 

"Master Shen?" Luo Binghe asks tiredly behind the mask. "What is it?" He hands the mask back.

"Just thinking about how to get them back on shore," Shen Yuan hums thoughtfully and makes a face. The mask is getting all damp, and it smells like the bog with all the switching. Ugh. 

They really need another mask.

"Master Shen is going to…?" Luo Binghe asks once he has the mask again, giving him a look over it. "This one can help."

Shen Yuan accepts the mask again and inhales. This is ridiculous. "I'm just going to get one of the horns," he decides, takes a couple of breaths and then thrusts the mask back to get his hands free. He should've packed the spider silk rope… yes, he had, excellent.

Lassoing the rhinoceros by the horn, Shen Yuan digs his heels and begins pulling. The damn thing is almost impossible to move, not only is it unspeakably heavy, but it's very firmly embedded in the bog. The weight barely budges.

Holding his breath, Shen Yuan grunts with effort, refusing to give up.

Luo Binghe looks between him and the horn and then holds the mask to Shen Yuan's face for a moment. Then the Protagonist takes hold of the silvery rope and adds his strength to the task.

Between them, they just barely get the massive body moving. Not enough to get it on shore, that's beyond even Luo Binghe right now, but they get it close enough to reach the horn, and that's all Shen Yuan needs.

"Isn't Black Moon Python Rhinoceros horn one of the toughest materials there is?" Luo Binghe asks worriedly, taking his turn in the mask while Shen Yuan gathers the rope. "How is Master Shen going to cut it?"

Shen Yuan takes the mask with one hand and an Ice Breath Bomb with the other - one of his older versions - and grins. "I'm not. Back up, like, a lot."

Luo Binghe accepts the mask, looks at him, at his grin, and then the bomb. Then he backs away hurriedly.

The oil of the bog doesn't care at all about the bomb, of course - black oil doesn't freeze, it just thickens. The rhinoceros is a different thing. As the Ice Breath washes over it, a diamond dust cloud sweeps through the whole area, the visible parts of the Black Moon Python Rhinoceros turn completely white, like snow.

Shen Yuan waits until the deadly ice cloud dissipates. Then he grabs a rock and shatters the base of the horn, grabbing the point before it falls into the oil.

"Ha! Got it," Shen Yuan grins, hefting the frozen, rock-like horn in his hand. "Fuck yes."

And then he's coughing again. Fuck.

Luo Binghe hurriedly puts the mask to his face until he's caught his breath and then asks, "Master Shen can make a potion out of the horn?"

Shen Yuan nods with a grin and accepts the mask back. "It's going to be great. Come on," he shoves the horn into his bag. "Let's get the hell out of here before we both choke."

Luo Binghe nods, casting a look at the bog. "Shouldn't we collect the oil?" he asks once he has the mask again. "Can't it be used for something?"

Well. It could be. Burning mostly. "I guess," Shen Yuan says. "I don't have an empty container, though."

"I can make one," Luo Binghe says and hands the mask over. Then does just that, making a lidded jug out of stone. Right. Cultivator with cheaty Qi powers.

So their haul for the day is several litres of crude oil and the horn of a Black Moon Python Rhinoceros. And no one broke anything.

Not too shabby.


 

Shen Yuan has a pretty simple approach to alchemy when it comes to Airplane's stupid world: grind it down to powder, steep it in hot water and drink it like a tea. If that doesn't work, start adding spiritual herbs of this and that nature. And as a final resort, add something suitably awesome and magical of similar nature, and that should do the trick. The whole thing is just stupid make-believe anyway. If it sounds right by Airplane-illogic, then it probably works. Plus, he can't remember any actual incident where someone was seriously poisoned by medicine or potions. Either stuff worked, or it just… didn't.

It hasn't failed him so far. It's how he came up with most of his effective potions and medicine, and it's what he does with the horn this time too, shaving pieces of it and grinding them to powder while a pot of water heats by the fire.

It's still a bit awkward, having Luo Binghe watching him bullshit his way through the whole process.

"What?" Shen Yuan asks, giving him a look.

"I'm wondering what Black Moon Python Rhinoceros horn is used for," Luo Binghe says, like he doesn't already know.

"Strength of the body, stamina, yadda-yadda," Shen Yuan says and adds another sliver of shaved horn into the mortar.

"Master Shen intends to use it on himself," Luo Binghe guesses, arching a brow.

"Obviously," Shen Yuan agrees and then gives him a look, remembering Luo Binghe asking about it. "I can make some for you too, but I wouldn't hold my hopes up. Heavenly Demon Blood might just negate the effect."

Luo Binghe looks at him, surprised. "Master Shen would share the potion with this one?"

"Stop it," Shen Yuan scoffs. "It's whatever. There's a whole thing of horn, I won't be using all of it. And you helped me get the thing."

Luo Binghe's eyes are shining - it's unnerving. "Master Shen is very charitable," he says, very grateful, looking like he wants to bow. Ugh. The Protagonist leans in. "What does Master Shen mean, though? This one's blood will negate the effect?"

This brat. "It might," Shen Yuan grunts, turning his eyes back to the mortar. "Heavenly Demons are impervious to most poisons, and I can't remember any of them -" Luo Binghe to be exact, "using potions to grow stronger. They don't usually need to bother."

"Because Heavenly Demon's natural potential is so great?" Luo Binghe asks, looking down at his own hand. "I don't feel that great."

"You blew up the back end of an Eater of Worlds," Shen Yuan reminds him with a scoff. "And that was with barely any training and probably no idea what you were even doing. Give it a few years and a bit of practice, and this sort of shit won't even get on your radar."

"My - what?"

"You won't care," Shen Yuan clarifies, shaking his head, and grinds the pestle harder.

Luo Binghe is quiet for a moment, considering him and then leaning back a little. "I am a half-Heavenly Demon, though. One of my parents was human," he says then. "Maybe I don't have that much potential."

"Are you fishing for compliments or something?" Shen Yuan asks incredulously. "Seriously. Back end of an Eater of Worlds. You were there."

That makes the Protagonist smile a little. "Without Master Shen there, I would have died," he comments, propping one knee up and leaning his cheek on it. "I wouldn't have been able to run away. Master Shen saved my life."

Shen Yuan eyes him warily. Is he… acting cute? His head tilted and cheek smushed against his knee, eyes all big and bright, curly hair spilling everywhere - if it was a girl, it would've been downright moe!

"Master Shen has saved my life many times now," Luo Binghe says quietly, watching him, something unnameable in his eyes. "I don't even know how many. I don't know how I will ever repay - "

"You can start by stopping that," Shen Yuan says, giving him a disturbed look and leaning away from him. "You are creeping me out. Seriously. Stop that."

That makes the Protagonist grin a little - the little bastard is enjoying this. "I just want to show Master Shen I am grateful -"

"You little shit, I swear to -"

Luo Binghe actually laughs a little at that, and Shen Yuan freezes. Luo Binghe just laughed. And it was nice laugh. He's smiling, and it's - it's - hell if Shen Yuan knows what it is. It's soft? What the fuck.

Terrified for his life, Shen Yuan turns his eyes back to the rhino horn, and tries not to implode.

"Master Shen," Luo Binghe says quietly, not quite looking at him, his eyes low lidded and simmering. "You know I come from a cultivation sect. I come from the biggest of them all. Cang Qiong Mountain Sect. I was a disciple of Qing Jing Peak. I… wasn't a very good disciple."

Shen Yuan swallows, biting his tongue. It isn't that Luo Binghe was a bad disciple - he just had a shitty set of Shixiongs and even worse Shizun. None of them ever helped Luo Binghe realise his true potential, all their did was hold him back. "Okay," he says and continues grinding the rhinoceros horn desperately. "Sure. What about it?"

Luo Binghe sighs. "When I joined the sect, all I wished was… was to learn, to become a good disciple. I didn't even know what Cang Qiong Mountain Sect was like, I just wanted to learn something, anything," he says quietly. "I wanted to be part of something. A student of a master. A good master."

Shen Yuan bites his tongue on about six thousand word forum post about just how much Cang Qiong Mountain Sect fucked up with Luo Binghe. "Mm-hmm," he grunts. "Sure, sure. Very admirable."

"I didn't get that. My teacher, my… Shizun… hated me at first sight," Luo Binghe says, his voice just a whisper now. "Nothing like you."

I don't like you that much either, Shen Yuan wants to argue, but can't. Luo Binghe is probably going to be the death of him one way or the other. Shen Yuan is going to end up dying either at his sword point, or doing the whole teacher's sacrifice thing to give his student motivation to move on with a plot. It's stupid. It's ridiculous. He doesn't want any of it.

Is this what Luo Binghe did to Meng Mo? No wonder one of the supposedly strongest Dream Demons, a Demon Lord in his own right, ended up waiting the Protagonist hand and foot for absolutely no gain. The Protagonist is seriously too powerful.

"Master Shen… can I call you Shizun?"

Shen Yuan exhales. Fuck. "Did you somehow miss the fact that I'm not even a cultivator?" he asks with a snort. "Do I seem like a respectable old master to you?"

Luo Binghe looks at him with eyes that seem as though backlit from within by red. "Yes," he says seriously. "More so than Immortal Master Shen Qingqiu ever did."

Not as great a compliment as he might think. Being in any way compared to that child-abusive piece of shit lecher is not exactly a high praise! "Tch," Shen Yuan answers and keeps his eyes firmly fixed on his work. "You're delirious. Go take a nap. Maybe you'll make sense afterwards."

Luo Binghe doesn't budge, watching him. His gaze is like a radiator, it feels hot on Shen Yuan's cheek. "Master Shen might be unconventional and a little rough around the edges. But in just a few days he's taught me more than the Peak Lord of Qing Jing Peak ever did," the Protagonist says and lifts his head a little, giving him a level look. "And I can tell there's much more to learn. I would be beyond honoured to learn at Master Shen's feet."

At his feet, like hell! System, now would be a good time to throw an attack his way!

Of course the System, being a dick, does no such thing.

Shen Yuan grits his teeth as Luo Binghe's gaze bores into him. Can he do mind control with his eyes? Did Shen Yuan end up drinking his blood anyway? What is this? "And what if I don't want to teach?"

Luo Binghe hesitates at that, looking down just for a moment. "Then I would be happy to serve Master Shen in any way I can, until Master Shen no longer stand - "

Shen Yuan exhales a heavy sigh. That's even worse! "Okay, okay, fuck, I'll… think about it, okay? I promise I'll think about it." He'll think about an exit strategy, anyway. "Now stop looking at me like that, it's giving me the creeps. Go mind the fire, or something. Leave me alone."

Luo Binghe smiles and shifts to his feet. "As Master Shen wishes."

This guy…

Keeping his eyes nailed on the mortar, Shen Yuan waits until Luo Binghe is out of his personal space and then releases an exhale. The fuck, did the guy imprint on him or something? What is he, a chick? Shen Yuan isn't a mama bird! He eats mama birds! What even is this?!

At this point Luo Binghe should be beyond done with teachers. After Shen Qingqiu, he barely endured Meng Mo, and that's because he had power over the Dream Demon. No one else ever got that kind of respect from Luo Binghe again - not unless they were of the sexy milf variety and down to clown! The Endless Abyss was Luo Binghe's journey to become a man - in more ways than one! He should be past wanting anything to do with male teachers!

Shen Yuan shudders, feeling Luo Binghe still watching him from the sidelines, and then continues grinding the rhino horn. He needs to get stronger. Fuck, he really needs to get stronger, if he wants to survive the fate of possibly ending up being Luo Binghe's teacher. Betrayal, revenge, or sacrifice, Shen Yuan is not dying to make Luo Binghe stronger. No fucking way.

With a burst of furious energy, Shen Yuan finishes grinding the horn slivers into fine white powder. Without pausing to think about it, he gets a pot of boiling water from the fire, and begins mixing the most basic of medicines, powder dissolved in hot water.

"Do you want some?" Shen Yuan asks awkwardly.

"Master Shen thinks it won't be of any use," Luo Binghe points out, watching him. "I will take his word on it."

… That is so going to bite him on the ass if Luo Binghe ever got it into his head that Shen Yuan was lying and holding back a power-up potion from him. It's just the sort of thing done by a teacher that ends up being killed by his vengeful student. Tch. 

"I don't think it will do anything for you, but it probably won't hurt," Shen Yuan says, gritting his teeth. "Have some anyway."

Luo Binghe's expression brightens, his smile like a ray of sunshine, and he quickly stands up. "If Master Shen doesn't mind," he says and gets his cup, holding it out eagerly.

Fuck, why is he acting so cute? Argh!

Shen Yuan makes a face at him and dishes out the horn soup for them both. He lives to regret it - because while the Black Moon Python Rhinoceros' horn really does nothing for Luo Binghe, strength-wise, it has another quality, which Shen Yuan had been blissfully forgetting. It's not just yet another bullshit potion to increase one's vitality and strength.

It's also a fucking aphrodisiac.