Like with most things, if you asked Shen Qingqiu where everything had begun, he would say Luo Binghe. If you asked Luo Binghe, he would say his Shizun. Neither was entirely wrong, but neither was entirely right.
This is a possible beginning: A nameless slave boy finding a baby in a ditch. A youth kneeling despairingly outside a locked door, swearing to come back. A leader sits vigil by a sick-bed, hands clenched as his shidi cries out in his sleep for a treacherous disciple. A sword drawn regardless of the cost, and a long overdue confession. A man’s earnest words: Cang Qiong will always remain a place for you to return. A dangerous wish kindling in Shen Qingqiu’s heart.
Another: A young man eating cup noodles. He’s failing two economics subjects, and the novels he writes while procrastinating from his studies are wildly unpopular – the most common comment is ‘pretentious’ when he gets any feedback at all. He writes a ridiculously long smutty one-shot at three a.m. one night, in a furious burst of (quite frankly) sexually frustrated energy.
It centres on - cough, cough - that taboo theme! Yes, that eternal classic beloved of shy young virgins - student/teacher! That saccharine fantasy of having the ultimate lessons of adulthood gift-wrapped and given - any realistic thoughts of the shady power dynamics were to be ignored, please and thank you. A cold, merciless Shizun, berating the student as a beast as she had her way with him over increasingly heated nights. An all-female peak only gradually, reluctantly accepts this single male disciple thanks to his efforts in the kitchen and the bed. Dream sequences, infinite papapa, a stallion protagonist with a rock-hard pillar and a ready-made harem, but his first wife was and would always be his proud and aloof Shizun. The ending with the suggestion of a Sect-wide orgy, because where else could this kind of story go?
Yes, this was the true seed of inspiration for Proud Immortal Demon Way. He could never let Cucumber-bro know.
Here is yet another beginning: A proud warrior with no understanding of his own heart, dying alone in a cave. A god of war saved by a despised rival. A life-debt softening into exasperated words and smiles hidden behind a fan. A call for aid, heard and answered, but in the end, a lifeless body still falls from on high. Five years of futile battle. And to the last, a faithful shidi, searching the ruins of a river for two that were lost.
There are so many possible beginnings. A grave-faced girl lifts her brush from long habit to give shape and form to romantic rumour – a respite from facing the reality of her brother and her Sect’s furious grief. A proud demon king ascends his throne in the North. A forsaken disciple lies prone in front of a heavenly snake demon. A writer brings his latest work to be ruthlessly beta’d by his blade-tongued friend. Two peak lords - one alive and one dead - are locked in the same room. A grieving uncle buries his nephew by moonlight, by the clear shores of a lake. With one hand he plants a seed.
This is one of the saddest: out in a clearing in a bamboo forest, a man is beating a boy. The boy’s starry eyes are filled with unshed tears, but he steadily counts out the strokes of a bamboo switch, and makes the proper obeisances when the beating is finally over. The man dismisses him with a single cold glance. It was only a minor infraction reported by his head disciple, but that little beast requires the strictest discipline.
Perhaps in another world, things would continue this way. In this one, the man catches sight of his face, reflected in a quiet pool. He realises his body is still tight with burgeoning pleasure; he sees a familiar sick satisfaction twisting his own features. He realises that no one, not even that righteous hero Yue Qingyuan, will stop him. No one else will stop him from taking the scrawny boy grown to slim pretty youth, and doing everything that was done to Shen Jiu to him, a cycle without end. The only one who can stop Shen Qingqiu is himself.
A man falls to qi deviation. Another man wakes. A butterfly may dream it is a man, or a man he is a butterfly, and perhaps both are true while the dream lasts. But who can say whether a single mind, a single heart can hold more than one dream in it at once? Surely that depends on the heart.
More fortuitously, what can happen once, can happen twice. A man falls asleep, safe and content in his husband’s arms. A man awakens, and remembers who he is.
The scum villain of the story, naturally!