For as far as he could remember, the first mark that he ever registered was the large nasty bruise on his stomach. The young master of Liu family thought it was something he did so he asked for simple cold water and a towel. Only, it didn’t hurt at all.
He remembered how his nanny gasped horrifiedly as she helped him change his clothes, much to his ire. He was quickly wrapped with a simple robe and whisked away to his parents. His parents fussed when they saw his back.
“Who did this?!” The handsome Liu family head demanded and his son stared blankly at him.
“Did what?” The cute boy asked back plainly.
His mother touched his back and looked at his expression, realization and understanding flashed in her face as she stepped back and pulled her husband. “It’s not our son who’s hurt...” She stated delicately and Liu family head’s eyes widened in understanding and pity.
“Dress him back, don’t talk about it to anyone else,” The stern family’s head said to the nanny who nodded vigorously.
They dropped the topic then.
However, more and more marks appeared on his skin. One day, he woke up with a large ugly wound mark on his side- a wound from a whip. It wasn’t only on his side, his arms, legs, wrist. His parents saw it and told him to cover it all up, he ended up wearing a long-sleeved robe and a pair of long pants after that. His mother hugged him and cried on him. He was four and didn’t really register it at that time.
When he was five, he had a better understanding and knew the non-painful wound marks on his body was not something normal, he asked his mother about it, since she was the easiest to find compared to his busy father.
Madam Liu smiled weakly, “Yufeng,” she called his birth name affectionately. “That is soulmark,” she said delicately.
“What is that?” Liu Yufeng asked, ignorant. His parents never wanted to talk about soulmark to him because of his condition... Or rather, his soulmate’s condition.
“My dear child, soulmark is a mark of soulmate. Whatever wound showed up on your skin if it didn’t hurt, that means, your soulmate is the one who got hurt,” she explained.
“What is soulmate?”
“Soulmate is your destined person, a person that would be able to understand you the most and you would understand them the most. They would be your most important person, someone that, as the son of Liu, you have to protect,” Madam Liu said gently.
“Destiny?” Liu Yufeng frowned. “What if I don’t want them?”
“Shouldn’t you get to know them first?” Madam Liu smiled. “This is someone who is destined to be another part of you, your best friend, your lover, your spouse,” she said.
“I want to be warrior,” Liu Yufeng said blankly and Madam Liu chuckled.
“You can still be a warrior, Feng’er. Perhaps, your soulmate might even be one as well,” she said.
Liu Yufeng blinked, “Is that why?”
Madame Liu blinked in confusion, “Why what?”
“His wounds,” Liu Yufeng gestured to the ugly marks on his skin, visible or hiding beneath his clothes, the fresh-looking one or the fading one. “Are they fighting? A Warrior?”
Madam Liu’s smile instantly faded from her beautiful face. She took Liu Yufeng’s hands and squeezed it tightly, reassuringly. Though, Liu Yufeng was not so sure what she tried to reassure him about. It took her a moment, but she finally replied, “I’m not sure if they’re a warrior. But I’m sure they are fighting,” she forced out a smile. This was the first smile on his mother’s face that didn’t make her look devastatingly prettier.
Liu Yufeng looked at her, furrowing his brows in confusion.
“That’s why, Feng’er... Once you meet them, make sure that you have to help him,” Madam Liu said.
Liu Yufeng did not understand but he nodded, “Yes, mother.”
As he grew older, he began to understand the significance of the soulmarks he got, at the age of six, he had a nasty wound around his neck, as if someone just choked him with a thick rope. His mother cried when she saw that, whisking him into his room and cried as she hugged him.
His father’s emotion was complicated at first when he saw the rope mark around his neck before turning into outrage when he saw ugly bruises circling Liu Yufeng’s wrists and ankles, he was familiar with those too, cuffs marks. Cuts that were made by the restraining handcuffs or legcuffs because of the detainee struggled or the capturer pulled it hard enough.
Master Liu’s qi sparked in outrage, Liu Yufeng distantly heard him saying, “Not self-inflicted,” under his mother’s cries beside his ears.
At that time, Liu Yufeng didn’t know the meaning of those marks around his ankles and wrists until he was seven when he saw his family liberated slaves from illegal slavers.
Liu Yufeng then understood, his soulmate’s fight might not be easy.
When he was eight, Liu Yufeng was wiser, he began to count the soulmarks he received in a day. The wounds he received from training was significantly less than his soulmates, he wondered if his soulmate even noticed the soulmarks from Liu Yufeng amongst his many wounds.
Strangely, although he received many nasty soulmark on his body, Liu Qingge’s face was unscathed. With the exception of last year’s rope-around-neck-soulmark, Liu Yufeng stopped having wounds that could be visible outside his usual long-sleeved white robe and a pair of pants.
He pointed this out to his parents one night in a dinner and they both looked at him, frozen.
Liu Yufeng looked back blankly at them, cutting a piece of a spiritual beast’s meat on his plate and put it into his mouth indifferently.
“That’s... an interesting observation, Feng’er,” Master Liu broke the silence first with a cough and Madam Liu smiled slightly, forced.
Liu Yufeng shifted his gaze away from them down to the food on his plate, “Mm,” he hummed as if he accepted that non-answer wholeheartedly. He didn’t. “But, why?”
Master and Madam Liu looked at each other as if they tried to communicate through a glance, they probably could do it, Liu Yufeng idly mused. “Maybe, there’s a circumstance? We know as much as you do, Feng’er,” Master Liu said calmly.
Liu Yufeng nodded. He doubted it, though. His parents certainly knew more. But Liu Yufeng willingly dropped the subject as he reached for a bowl of soup, distantly, he wondered if his soulmate had eaten yet.
Liu Yufeng didn’t realize that his feeling of his ‘soulmate’ slowly shifted from borderline unwillingness to genuine care and curiousity.
At the age of nine, Liu Yufeng was wise beyond his age. The very reason was his soulmate. Liu Yufeng never forgot any of his nasty soulmarks despite it left no pain for him. And as he grew and began to recall the nasty fading wounds, some had disappeared, some scarred, he began to realize many things.
One thing he learned about his soulmates was, he was probably older than Liu Yufeng, but not much. Because the soulmark aligned weirdly for his small child body, so it was obviously older- but not quite an adult, his parents were sure about that.
At the age of eight, despite being a young master, Liu Yufeng already went out to learn about the outside world, he stumbled upon many crimes, many wrongdoers. He slowly acquainted of world’s cruelty and despicableness. He saw many things that shouldn’t be witnessed by an eight-year-old boy.
His soulmarks still increased every day. Today, a few scars finally faded away, only to be replaced. Some were even covered by new ones before they managed to fade away. But his face was still unscarred.
He knew how serious the fight his soulmate was fighting.
Sometimes, Liu Yufeng was taken of sitting before a mirror or by his courtyard’s koi pond, staring at his reflection. Especially his neck, he recalled back how nasty the rope mark looked and sometimes, he cringed. The mark that used to not bother him really bothered him when he recalled it again. He remembered how that particular mark only faded after a month.
That was only a soulmark, Liu Yufeng can’t imagine how bad the real deal was.
“You must know. They’re a victim, Feng’er...” Madam Liu once said after she unwillingly and vaguely explained those scars to her son after he demanded it from her directly.
Liu Yufeng frowned, “No. They’re a fighter, mother,” he defended.
Madam Liu looked at him, astonished. She smiled, “You know that his fight is not a normal fight, then?”
“I know...” He said, he was not a child. He was not a normal child, sheltered and naive. He was a warrior of Liu family, the proud first son of the main branch of Liu. “I will fight by his side,” he vowed.
Madam Liu smiled, bright and full of hope, pride shone in her eyes. “Thank goodness. That’s exactly what I expect from you. Listen, your soulmate would turn out either very meek or very stubborn, but keep in mind, no matter which outer shell they showed you, inside, they are really fragile.”
Liu Yufeng looked at her and nodded, “I’ll remember,” He said shortly.
Liu Yufeng looked at his reflection on the koi pond, rubbing his smooth neck, “You’re very strong,” he murmured to his reflection on the water. His feet grazed the water and ripples spread out, making his reflection blurred. “Stronger than anyone,” Liu Yufeng murmured again.
‘That’s why, don’t stop fighting until I find you,’ When the ripples settled, Liu Qingge could see his reflection on the water again. Only this time, he saw a new soulmark had formed, a handprint-shaped bruise around his neck. Liu Yufeng’s eyes were wide as his hand raised to touch the new soulmark.
Soulmarks could only be transferred if the wound was nasty enough, every day’s wounds for his soulmates were nasty enough to be transferred to Liu Yufeng. This bruises, someone had choked his soulmate not long ago and now it was forming on Liu Yufeng.
Then, for the first time, a clean and thin red line appeared on Liu Yufeng’s face. Namely, his cheek. Liu Yufeng’s other hand went up to touch his cheek, disbelieving.
Different from bruises that took time to form, a cut was an instant one. That meant, his soulmate was still fighting on the other side, they just got cut. For the first time, it marred their face.
He stared blankly at his reflection as if he could see what the other side was experiencing if he stared hard enough. Liu Yufeng almost could see it, a struggle, a furious one.
Liu Yufeng saw several scratched marred his neck, he still observed intensely.
Although so many wounds appeared, Liu Yufeng had no other reaction and can only do nothing but watch.
He didn’t feel any pain.
Somehow, that made him feel bad.
After a moment of reporting the new change to his worried parents, Liu Yufeng was assured that it would be alright and was sent to his courtyard.
Liu Yufeng also did not dwell on it too much and decided to take a bath to wash out the fatigue because of today’s even. As he washed, he noticed the previously unseen mark. In his inner thigh, it bruised purple, he wondered where did he got the injury or whether today’s error in his split training cost him several bruises.
However as he absently rubbed the bruise, he noticed it didn’t hurt even when he pressed it, he blinked as he traced the bruises that slowly registered in Liu Yufeng as fingerprint-shaped bruises. As he washed, he began to take notes of the similar bruises on his hips, a bit faded.
The young and still innocent young master of Liu family went silent as he pondered just what kind of fight that cost scattered similar but orderly bruises in the inner thighs. He went through several scenarios in his mind but came up with nothing.
Young Master Liu shrugged, no need to alert his parents again. It didn’t hurt after all, he would just need to talk to them again tomorrow.
Liu Yufeng’s mind wondered if his soulmate could bear a bath with his real injuries.
“Where?” Madam Liu looked at Liu Yufeng like he just announced that he was going to give up his sword.
Liu Yufeng iterated, “thighs, my hips. Looks like fingers. A bit faded. But-“
“Hips, show this mother the one on your hips,” Madam Liu all but demanded.
Liu Yufeng huffed a bit but obeyed as he loosened his waistband and opened his robe to reveal his torso down to the hips. Madam Liu circled around him for a bit and complex emotions flashed in her watery eyes. She was silent for a long time before she spoke up, “I see...” her tone was darker and colder than anything Liu Yufeng ever heard from her.
“You said yesterday, for the first time you had a soulmark on your face, right?” Madam Liu coughed.
“Yes,” he said simply.
Madam Liu smiled bitterly, easily patching up the story in her mind. “It was the last straw, huh...” she murmured.
“Last straw?” Liu Yufeng furrowed his brows. “What is that mean?”
Madam Liu patted his head, “Feng’er, your mother promises you, we’ll absolutely find your soulmate. When we find him in the future, remember, he needs your help more than anything else, okay?” she teared up. “Don’t avoid them...” she whispered.
The young master narrowed his eyes, he didn’t like it when adult being all cryptic on him, but he didn’t say anything because this was his mother.
Since that day, Liu Yufeng began to notice the number of bruises and whip wounds decreased dramatically, only for cuts began to appear more frequently on his body. He felt conflicted whether to feel grateful or more worried.
The marks didn’t hurt at all and cuts were certainly less ugly and could be covered easily, he used swords anyway, no one would look at him strangely if he had cut wounds. But it still didn’t bode well...
It was only at ten-year-old that Liu Yufeng lost that final piece of his childhood innocence when he stumbled upon a mountain bandit’s hideout in his group outing. There were several women inside, and a few children.
Liu Yufeng had the misfortune of being the first to find the accursed room and stared in disbelief at what he found. He had seen enough before one of his older cousins pulled him back and told him to go away. One of his older female cousins pulled him into an embrace and forcefully dragged him away, shouting profanities unlike her usual elegant self.
Liu Qingge knew the definition of rapist pretty early in his life. But there was a large difference between knowing and seeing it himself. A child’s brain often simplified and glossed over several things no matter how detailed the explanation being taught was.
However, it was anything but simple. He never thought of it as a light or simple thing but still, seeing it, it was far worse than he had imagined.
Liu Yufeng was chilled when he recalled hellish sight, something a child like him shouldn’t see. When they saved the victim, Liu Yufeng glimpsed at them again, the women were covered, some of the children were quickly given a piece of cloth to cover themselves. Liu Yufeng saw those bruises, he paled.
That night, he couldn’t sleep at all as he tried to deny it. He didn’t want to think that his soulmate might be someone who had gone through it all. He clenched his fist.
‘I hope you killed them all...’ Liu Yufeng, who was never taught nor even thought of killing anyone in his short ten years of life, mused darkly. ‘If not. Then, I will.’
Liu Yufeng had no idea of his soulmate’s pain. He couldn’t feel the pain from his soulmarks, only a visual mark to give him ideas about the seriousness o. But he hoped they were doing alright on the other side.
Liu Yufeng soon drifted to sleep, mildly, he wondered if his soulmate could sleep at all.
At the age of eleven, Liu Yufeng was doing his routine practice when a new soulmark appeared. He looked at it as it formed before his eyes.
“Breathing exercise! Mucheng, I could hear your unpracticed ragged breath from here!” The cultivator who trained the young masters, misses, and some future guards, said strictly.
Everyone’s concentration broke as they curiously looked at the source of the sounds only to find Liu Yufeng there, pale. His practice sword laid waste beside him.
“Young master Yufeng, what’s wrong?” the question was asked but Liu Yufeng didn’t respond.
A few tense seconds later, Liu Yufeng bolted out of the training ground with his head down, several people called out after him but he didn’t respond at all.
Liu Yufeng ran and ran until he reached his courtyard. When he entered his room, he collapsed on his knees and cried out as he clutched his left wrist close to his chest.
Soulmarks supposedly never hurt. It only showed the damage but never actually did any damage to the other side-
But when Liu Qingge saw that clean and wide line on his wrist, all Liu Qingge could feel was pain. His chest burned, it felt like someone had pierced it with a poisoned arrow.
‘What are you doing???’ He demanded inwardly. That cut was too clean to be inflicted by someone else, and it widened as seconds past. There was no struggle. That can only mean it was self-inflicted.
Liu Yufeng stripped off of his robe, he sat up and watched. He watched his soulmarks carefully, he watched the countless scars scattered across his young body. For the first time in his life, he looked at the scars with full of hope.
If they were gone... Liu Yufeng was alone...
However, it didn’t happen. Another hour of waiting, worrying to death that his soulmate was bleeding to death in the other side, still nothing. Liu Yufeng spent the rest of the day and night to anxiously looking at his soulmarks until he passed out on his bed.
When he woke up in the afternoon on the next day, having a nightmare in his sleep, terrified and confused, Liu Yufeng felt a wave of relief that he still had the scars. He looked at the red thick thread-like soulmark on his wrist and smiled when he saw it wasn’t as red nor as wide as yesterday.
It probably got patched up.
Liu Yufeng stared thoughtfully at the devastating soulmark (Painful, too painful. Liu Yufeng couldnt handle so much pain like that- no, no, no-) and grabbed a silver wristband from his pile of men’s accessories, he put it on and covered the distinct soulmark with it.
Liu Yufeng sighed, his soulmate was truly a pitiful person...
Liu Qingge whirled around as a sharp wisp of qi tore through his robe and grazed his shoulders, his eyes blazed with fury when he saw the only man who was capable to do that cheap and dirty trick behind him. “You!” He accused, feeling more indignant as the man stared back, surprised like he didn’t just launch a sneak attack on him.
“Were you trying to kill me?!” Liu Qingge growled as Cheng Luan was directed to a brother from the same sect after the enemies were wiped out.
Shen Qingqiu’s expression had gone back to neutrality as he looked at Liu Qingge with no small amount of indignance and disdain, “And pray tell, what good is it for me to kill you, Liu-shidi,” as always, the ‘shidi’ for Liu Qingge had always been full of mockeries. “Your life and death valued little for me,” he hissed.
Liu Qingge glared, “Stop putting up airs! We both know who you truly are!” he accused.
Shen Qingqiu glared back, clenching the hilt of Xiu Ya tighter, “You are a truly brainless, inane, ignorant, shallow barbarian,” he hissed, voice dripping with venom. “I have nothing to prove in front of such a nescient shidi?!”
Liu Qingge raised his sword higher, “Raise your sword. Unlike you, I prefer a fair method to solve my problem.”
Shen Qingqiu narrowed his eyes, “You are the only problem here,” he raised his sword also, voice colder than the northern domain.
Shen Qingqiu was Qing Jing peak’s head disciple. Shen Qingqiu was someone who was pretty famous for his misdeeds.
Liu Qingge was someone above listening to rumors, but apparent proofs presented themselves on silver platter rather easily. It was hard to not trust the rumours when most of them were true. He still didn’t understand why the peak lord of Qing Jing chose a man like Shen Qingqiu to be his successor.
“What made you resent him so much, anyway?” Qi Qingqi complained as she fanned herself, they had become quite of close friends since Qi Qingqi were friends with one of Liu Qingge’s older female distant cousins who was a disciple in Xian Shu.
Liu Qingge scoffed, “You know it,” he said simply.
Qi Qingqi shook her head, “Sometimes, I wonder, between the two of us, just who is the woman. I should be the one who spoke in short and undeciphered code, okay?” she commented blandly. “Seriously, be more specific.”
“Everything,” Liu Qingge stated.
Qi Qingqi closed her eyes in an attempt to not roll it out of frustration, “Very detailed, Liu-shidi. Shen-shixiong was cold, sure, but he was not the worse you can find in the sect. If you want to say he’s weak, well... Shang-shixiong is unbeatable in that place,” harsh, indeed. But that was the truth. “Truly, this shijie just wants you to answer specifically. What make you resent Shen-shixiong in the first place?”
Liu Qingge opened his mouth before closing it again, he thought back of that day where he could just know that they wouldn’t get along.
That day they first met in the Sect opening ceremony, Liu Qingge was merely eleven going twelve. Shen Qingqiu was a young man with pristine appearance and cold countenance, looking at people with unveiled disdain, like he hated to be there with all of those people, like he was looking down on everyone.
That gaze reminded Liu Qingge of those no-good rich young masters who kicked their slaves when they even breathe wrong. Liu Qingge turned back and ignored him that moment, there was a prickle in his chest, what Liu Qingge knew was he didn’t like that feeling.
The second time Liu Qingge saw him again was on the cultivation measurement test, Shen Qingqiu was amongst the lowest by cultivation, not the lowest and certainly not the oldest in that category. However, the people beside him were those commoners, coming to Cang Qiong to test out their luck, though, they most likely would be put in An Ding.
A commotion happened, Shen Qingqiu stood there, his entire being screamed disgust and indignance, a little boy with ragged clothes before him, kneeling down. Liu Qingge had felt angry at that time but Shen Qingqiu had walked away first, he helped the boy out.
He heard the explanation, the boy tripped and tried to reach for Shen Qingqiu’s sleeve, he stepped aside and snatched his sleeve back with a snap when he saw the boy’s grip. Of course, the boy fell. Liu Qingge frowned, thinking it was still not the reason to be a jerk.
The third time he saw Shen Qingqiu again was before the battle test, they happened to stand a few paces away from each other. Minding each other’s business. Liu Qingge didn’t want to involve himself with a person like Shen Qingqiu, he was taught to be more assertive after all. He wasn’t about to pick a fight or befriend the likes of Shen Qingqiu.
But then there was this handsome shixiong wearing Qiong Ding peak’s uniform, Yue Qingyuan. Liu Qingge didn’t really pay attention on what they were talking about too busy in his own world, and sneering at anyone who quietly ridiculed each passing contestants. However, one line caught his attention the most.
“What’s the use of useless broken things?” Shen Qingqiu said, his voice sounded mocking and Liu Qingge unconsciously turned to look at him and Yue Qingyuan. “Look at him, he’s but a beggar, probably a slave,” he said and Liu Qingge looked at the ring to see a boy, his face was pale stricken, his stance was messy, his clothes was ragged clothes pieced together at best.
“This world is not made for the weak and helpless. Slaves are nothing but slaves,” the cold smile on Shen Qingqiu’s face chilled Liu Qingge’s heart but he couldn’t stop staring and eavesdropping with his amazing hearing.
“They shouldn’t hope for more. Their lives were nothing but dispensable, lower than trashes, are you sure you want these slaves in your prestigious Sect, head disciple?” Shen Qingqiu’s tone was cutting, mocking, he insulted people’s lives so easily that it sounded just natural coming from him.
Liu Qingge’s grip on his sword hilt tightened.
“Even if you want to throw them to the street, they couldn’t complain at all. Better than playing with them like this. Who knows how dirty, sullied, and tainted they are?” Shen Qingqiu tilted his head, his expression was still blank as ever. “Undeserving, dirty, lower than trashes.”
“Xiao-“ Yue Qingyuan had tried to cut Shen Qingqiu off but Shen Qingqiu continued, even sharper and cutting.
“They don’t need your pity, they don’t need your compassion, let broken things rot. Yet again, it would only be your downfall, what use having them here.”
Every word Shen Qingqiu said cut deep into Liu Qingge’s heart. Let broken things rot. Undeserving. Dirty. Lower than trashes. Liu Qingge recalled all those wounds that littered his body, how each scar and bruise told a story. How it reflected the cruelness of the world and how broken the person on another side is.
Liu Qingge’s hand went to his left wrist, where the wound from a year ago had faded but not completely. Liu Qingge had hidden it with either a silver bracelet or a silver wristband, he didn’t tell this scar to his parent. The only scar he kept a secret from his parents.
That scar hurt.
Liu Qingge was awake for a whole night, stupidly trying to tell his soulmate to not do anything stupid. Praying that he wasn’t bleeding to death somewhere.
His soulmate was a very strong person, a pitiful soul, and a broken one.
His soulmate was most probably a slave.
Liu Qingge felt a hot rage bubbled in his chest. Indignance. How dare you.
For the first time in his life, Liu Qingge experienced an extreme fury, a furious protectiveness. How dare you mocking what is mine? You don’t know what slaves had to experience at all! Try to be a slave and we’ll see how you like it! Dark voices kept yelling in Liu Qingge’s ears but he held in.
“Xiao Jiu...” Yue Qingyuan’s eyes faltered in sadness. “Don’t talk like that, please. Everyone deserve chances,” he said, it was as if there was another layer to their conversation but Liu Qingge didn’t register that at all, too angry and too busy to control himself.
A few moments later, it was Liu Qingge’s turn and his opponent was surprisingly Shen Qingqiu. Liu Qingge held nothing back, ending the battle within a minute. Payback. Liu Qingge had said something insulting to Shen Qingqiu back then, but he didn’t quite remember, perhaps he mocked him or outright insulted him.
But Liu Qingge didn’t care, he went to Bai Zhan and began to practice there. Shen Qingqiu went and got himself into Qing Jing, places where prominent delicate young masters and mistresses went, figures.
“Hey,” Qi Qingqi waved her dainty hand in front of Liu Qingge’s face. “Why are you spacing off?” she asked.
Liu Qingge sighed, “I just don’t like him,” he said. “It’s something personal.”
“So now you admit it is something personal?”
“I dislike his personality.”
“Yeah, his personality is indeed dislikable,” Qi Qingqi agreed with a nod. “For you, boys, that is...” she added.
“And...” Liu Qingge fiddled with his left sleeve. “He’s a jerk.”
Liu Qingge got into the hot spring to wash himself after a long week of mission, he sighed when he got in. He would only use the place when no one was inside, preferring to have a bath alone, being mindful with the scars his soulmates had. Liu Qingge didn’t care about the stares but his soulmate probably did.
However... Liu Qingge looked at his reflection on the clear water, he raised his arms and looked at it. in the past few years, the scars began to fade and were rarely replaced back. Even the ones Liu Qingge thought wouldn’t fade unless they use rare medicines... It seemed like his soulmate finally got his rest and nice healing, still, Liu Qingge needed to find them.
Only then he could truly protect and help his soulmate for the rest of his life.
Liu Qingge scooped up the water to wash his face, a light sting made him stop and looked at the healing wound on his shoulder. That damn Shen Qingqiu, this was his fault.
Liu Qingge touched the wound, that had been healed by Qian Cao’s head disciple, in thought. This should be healed in no time with the help of Qian Cao’s herbs, still, Liu Qingge resented Shen Qingqiu’s dirty trick to catch him off guard like that earlier.
Liu Qingge leaned back carelessly, dumping water over his shoulders. He wondered if his soulmate finally saw his soulmarks.
Shen Qingqiu was avoiding him. Liu Qingge just knew that. They still argue and fought a lot when they met but there was something about Shen Qingqiu’s body language that screamed ‘I have to get out of here’ whenever he was near Liu Qingge.
To be fair, Liu Qingge could be careless. Shen Qingqiu wasn’t worth Liu Qingge’s time, after all.
His accidental cross-paths with Shen Qingqiu began to dwindle, Liu Qingge almost didn’t realize how few he saw Shen Qingqiu until they both stood outside Qiong Ding’s main hall. As they were both head disciples, they were ordered to send the list of respective peak’s disciples who would be in the Immortal Spiritual Conference which would commence in a month time.
Shen Qingqiu looked away after looking at him in surprise for a few seconds, naturally, as a man of a few words himself, Liu Qingge looked away and proceeded to ignore him too. In the way inside, they bumped with Wei Qingwei who greeted them with his usual light smile.
“Shen-shixiong,” Wei Qingwei cupped his hand over his fist and bent a bit to greet Shen Qingqiu before turning to Liu Qingge and nodded curtly, “Liu-shidi.”
They both returned the greeting according to their own position as Wei Qingwei’s shixiong and shidi respectively. A nod and a slight bow.
“Here to deliver the list?” Wei Qingwei tilted his head. “Zhangmen-shibo is inside,” he said.
Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge nodded lightly at his words. They both walked in silent into the hall and soon found a man seated on a platform, he seemed leisurely as he wrote something on a scroll with several other scrolls around him.
They kneeled down to greet him and the Sect Leader lightly nodded his head and they stood up.
A senior female disciple smiled at them from her position below the platform, “I’m in charge for the Immortal Spiritual Conference’s disciple lists, please put it here,” she said gently.
The two head disciples took out a scroll and wordlessly presented it to her ceremoniously with both hands, she raised both of her hands to receive them at the same time. She flicked a glance to their hands and then towards their faces. “Is silver wristband currently in trend for the men?” she said lightly to make a conversation.
The two disciples, who were famous for having too few words and too poisonous words, paused and unconsciously looked at each other’s wrist. They both wore a silver wristband on their left wrists. Shen Qingqiu retrieved his hand into his sleeve.
“Only a coincidence,” Shen Qingqiu said blandly and the female senior disciple nodded.
“That’s all. I’ll help Shifu to look through this, thank you for your inconvenience,” she said.
Liu Qingge had just nodded to her when Shen Qingqiu already bade his ceremonious goodbye to the Sect Leader and left quickly, his steps were as light as the wind. Not a second after he left, Yue Qingyuan came out from one of the corridors so Liu Qingge thought Shen Qingqiu was trying to avoid their shixiong.
Liu Qingge didn’t think much about Shen Qingqiu’s reaction that day, however, he began to see less of him in the next several weeks.
And then, the Immortal Spiritual Conference commenced. A disaster waiting to happen.
Liu Qingge’s lungs felt like on fire, he coughed out blood and leaning on the cave’s wall, luckily he managed to find shelter after he was injured.
He was caught off guard.
He pressed on his wound, a chest wound. Nearly a fatal one if Liu Qingge was any slower. He exhaled, Liu Qingge should know better than to dive in headfirst to a few dozens of demonic monsters to help out three-men team of some stupid small sect that he didn’t bother to remember.
One moment he was helping them, the next moment they pushed him to the pack of hungry and murderous wolf demons, running away cowardly. No, it wasn’t even sacrificing, they outright tried to kill him, one of them even snatched his emergency firework.
Liu Qingge didn’t expect they were so quick to sacrifice him when he came solely to help them out. Guess, some people are rotten like that. It was lucky that Liu Qingge was very strong and managed to retreat.
Liu Qingge closed his eyes and tried to meditate, he would lose the first place for this one conference, but his life was far more important. The emergency healing pills only did so much.
Liu Qingge submerged into his meditation, training his breath and refining qi inside his body. He didn’t know how long he was meditating, but mid-way through, he heard some shuffles from outside the cave.
“This... be it?” A vague voice came from the outside and Liu Qingge’s furrowed his brows.
“The trail of blood ends here. Someone might be dying inside,” another voice said, his tone was solemn.
“Shall we go and see?”
Liu Qingge tensed and opened his eyes slowly.
“Let’s go,” the people outside took a step into the cave and Liu Qingge brought the unsheathed Cheng Luan near him.
Liu Qingge jumped out from his hiding place and swung Cheng Luan, enough to injure anyone coming close but not enough to kill anyone.
An almost ear-shattering sound resounded as the two blades met. Liu Qingge’s eyes blinked when he saw a pair of cold ones stared back at him, he recognized Shen Qingqiu’s face with the other man’s sword’s, Xiu Ya, light.
For a fleeting second, Liu Qingge’s instinct told him it would be a dangerous situation if he was trapped with this guy, a fleeting second, and then he was taken aback for another fleeting second because of the expression on Shen Qingqiu’s face- but then someone stepped out of Shen Qingqiu’s back.
“Liu-shixiong!” Mu Qingfang gasped and immediately rushed towards him.
“Qingfang...” Liu Qingge murmured. Seeing Mu Qingfang, Liu Qingge relaxed for a bit and let the healer to hold and guided him to sit down.
“What happened? How could you be severely injured like this?” Mu Qingfang stressed as several medicinal herbs appeared in his hands, he also took out his simple equipments.
“Nothing,” Liu Qingge murmured and winced a bit as Mu Qingfang slowly helped him removing his crimson robe. It was once white...
Mu Qingfang inspected the injuries, “Wolves type, just like what we found on the way,” he shook his head and cleaned up the injuries gently with water before applying a layer of medicinal water to disinfect it. “How could you end up like this?”
Liu Qingge furrowed his brows, “Doesn’t matter,” he brushed it off.
Then, Shen Qingqiu snorted, “Grey-fanged Crystal Wolves. They move in a pack and had great coordination. Seems like this fool tried to take them on by himself. Anyone with a brain should know they couldn’t be taken alone,” he looked down on Liu Qingge in disdain.
Liu Qingge glared at him, he would have growled if not for Mu Qingfang pressing his wounds harder as a warning.
“That’s reckless even for you, Liu-shixiong,” Mu Qingfang frowned. Now, why did he made it sound like that Liu Qingge was in another level of recklessness?
Liu Qingge scowled, “I tried to save three people...” he hissed as Mu Qingfang began to spread a powder-like medicine over his wounds. “Thought we could work together...” he said.
Shen Qingqiu snorted, mocking. “They left you didn’t they?”
Mu Qingfang frowned when he saw Liu Qingge scowled and looked away. “That’s so shameless... Which sect they came from?” There was no way those people were from Cang Qiong, how could they leave a head disciple of a peak behind? Besides, they had a tight familial feeling, they wouldn’t leave a brother behind.
“Dunno,” Liu Qingge answered shortly.
Shen Qingqiu snorted again, shaking his head, “Foolishness. Next time, think if you can save yourself first before jumping in to save others. You would die a useless and foolish death,” Shen Qingqiu said cuttingly. The venom in his voice even made Mu Qingfang biting his lips in discomfort.
Liu Qingge scowled, “Not everyone is bad.” he winced as Mu Qingfang put his newly-created medicines atop the powdered wounds. “It’s just a humane thing to save people,” he said as a matter of fact.
Shen Qingqiu glared, there was annoyance and resentment in that gaze but Liu Qingge held his gaze. “You would die a stupid death, barbarian,” he hissed.
Mu Qingfang looked at them both, “Um, Shen-shixiong. You shouldn’t blame Liu-shixiong. It’s those people who did the wrong...” he said gently.
Shen Qingqiu shook his head and turned his back towards them, “Whatever, this shixiong would not give his useful advice anymore. I’m going out,” he said and briskly walked out.
“Jerk,” Liu Qingge spat out and Mu Qingfang applied pressure on his wounds.
“Don’t seek a fight,” Mu Qingfang frowned. “It’s Shen-shixiong who found Liu-shixiong, Shixiong shouldn’t annoy him.”
Liu Qingge groaned, “How did you find me?” he asked, curious.
“I met Shen-shixiong not far away from here,” Mu Qingfang said as he began wrapping the bandage around Liu Qingge’s wounds. “He seemed to be tracking the wolves’ howl. He asked me to come with him and I accepted since I was about to offer a partnership myself. We then tracked down the pack of Grey-fanged Crystal Wolves and killed them after a long time.” He said it with a tired tone, Liu Qingge saw his shidi’s appearance was less than his usual neat and tidy look, it must have been a struggle, but it was better because there were two people in a group to look out for each other’s back.
Something Liu Qingge lacked earlier.
Liu Qingge blinked, “Tracking? Alone?”
“Ah, yes, he was alone before I met him,” Mu Qingfang nodded.
Liu Qingge squinted his eyes, “He’s aware the wolves moved in pack. But he sought them alone?” he asked.
Mu Qingfang blinked, seemingly to realize that now, “Yes... Ah, maybe, he was scouting? Shen-shixiong had always been a strategist, I’m sure he had some plans to fight the pack.” He moved to patch another wound. “And then we found blood trails unlike the wolves’ grey blood, so Shen-shixiong said we should check it out.”
Liu Qingge frowned. What for? That doesn’t sound like the indifferent and cold Shen Qingqiu. Perhaps, he wanted to rob a dead man?
“I was also concerned so I agreed. I didn’t expect we’ll find you here!” Mu Qingfang said and he was finally done.
“Thanks,” Liu Qingge said.
“Why didn’t you use your emergency firework, Liu-shixiong?” Mu Qingfang frowned.
“Stolen,” He said.
Mu Qingfang frowned and bowed his head down darkly, “It’s a murder attempt. Do not worry, I’ll tell this to everyone, I’m sure our brothers from Yin Hui could investigate it.”
Liu Qingge nodded. He slowly relaxed back, letting go all the burdens in his mind and slipped back into a meditative state. Out of nowhere the image of Shen Qingqiu’s face, when he stared back at him as their swords met earlier, appeared and left a deep imprint in Liu Qingge’s mind.
For some reason, Shen Qingqiu’s face looked deeply concerned earlier, but it must have been Xiu Ya’s light playing trick on Liu Qingge’s eyes and muddled head.
The Immortal Alliance Conference ended with little dramas. By little, it meant, at least no massive death counts. Cang Qiong Mountain Sect made quite a stern search after Mu Qingfang all but reported everything to his Shifu who immediately told his brothers and sister who immediately felt upset at the incident.
Liu Qingge pointed to a small group of people wearing the uniforms he recalled and it was easy after that. To steal another contestant’s emergency firework was almost considered a murder attempt. They were disqualified for joining the next two Immortal Alliance Conference when they were found guilty.
The sect leaders discussed a new rule and decided it would be better to give each contestant three emergency fireworks to prevent it from being stolen or lost somewhere. It could also be used to attack a stronger enemy as a retreat strategy.
After all was taken care of, they finally headed back to Tian Gong Mountain Range. Liu Qingge got a week break because of his injury and he spent it by meditating in peace or practicing a lighter training to his sword.
However, Liu Qingge’s mind still couldn’t move on from that concern Shen Qingqiu showed in the cave which was most probably his delusion. He felt a bit distressed. And he still couldn’t thoroughly digest or convince himself with Mu Qingfang’s reassurance.
Shen Qingqiu tracking a pack of demonic wolves that he knew he could never take on alone. Liu Qingge was stronger than him and he came out injured terribly from that. Shen Qingqiu was practically like the second monster encyclopedia in the whole Cang Qiong Mountain Sect, second only to Qing Jing peak lord himself. He knew when to give up on a monster.
And Shen Qingqiu actually offering partnership first before Mu Qingfang even suggested it? Shen Qingqiu was never the pro-active kind of person, he was the kind that stood there in silence until someone asked him if he wants to work together. He would then assess you and the mission and would it be worth it to have you on his side.
What was he on about? Liu Qingge couldn’t just let it go easily.
Maybe, he was just looking too deeply into it because of his prejudice???
Liu Qingge shook his head. Maybe that was it. But Shen Qingqiu’s action was still odd. He would delve into that later...
“You guys had it rough,” Qi Qingqi said, inviting herself in as Mu Qingfang was changing Liu Qingge’s bandage and applying more medicine on his wounds. She whistled, long and deliberate, “Those wolves are troubles, huh?”
“Shijie, pardon Qingfang for being unable to greet you properly,” Mu Qingfang nodded lightly but his hands were still working to wrap bandages around Liu Qingge’s wounds.
Qi Qingqi waved him off, “It’s okay, Qingfang. Take your time,” she sat down and looked at them silently. “You look terrible, Liu-shidi.”
Liu Qingge didn’t deign to answer that.
“How strong are those wolves to get you all roughed up?” Qi Qingqi asked.
“Liu-shixiong had it rough because he fought them alone,” Mu Qingfang replied. “Shen-shixiong and I got off lightly without any severe injuries since we could watch for each other’s back and Liu-shixiong had killed half of their numbers.”
“Really?” Qi Qingqi blinked. “Then, how could I saw a claw-like scar along his right wrist?”
“What?” Mu Qingfang paused.
“The wind is blowing so viciously today, I met him on the Rainbow Bridge playing a tune with his bamboo flute, I accidentally saw it. He stopped and fixed his sleeves when he saw me, though,” Qi Qingqi recalled. “I just saw the scar peeking out, not sure if that was severe but it seemed pretty rough.”
“Impossible, we worked together. Although we got our fair share of injuries, there shouldn’t be a scar, I’ve shared my best medicines, after all...” Mu Qingfang frowned. “Did it escape my notice?” if it scarred like Qi Qingqi just said, then, it could be pretty nasty.
Qi Qingqi shrugged, “Probably? But seeing he could play his flute so carefreely, I’d say he’s doing fine.”
“I’ll send some ointment for him later...” Mu Qingfang nodded.
Liu Qingge looked at his own right wrist, already nicely bandaged up by Mu Qingfang a few minutes ago.
He shook his head.
Liu Qingge was lost in thought as he walked towards the Rainbow Bridge, his hand was subconsciously rubbing his side where a new soulmark wound appeared the other day. It looked pretty bad a few days ago but it slowly faded away.
Lately, his soulmate rarely got a severe wound so Liu Qingge was understandably worried when they suddenly got a severe one.
Liu Qingge stopped and sighed when he saw someone else from another side of the Rainbow Bridge, he walked up to him and called out, “Shen Qingqiu.”
Shen Qingqiu only shot him a glance, cold as ice.
Liu Qingge knew if he didn’t make it quick, he would probably walk away, “Thanks for your help in the conference,” he said. He wasn’t actually willing seeing it wasn’t like Shen Qingqiu deliberately trying to help him from his gesture, but he thanked him anyway. He would have thanked him earlier but Shen Qingqiu was so difficult to find.
“Mu Qingfang helped you,” Shen Qingqiu said blandly, detached.
“You brought him there, indirectly, you helped me too,” Liu Qingge said.
Shen Qingqiu looked at him blankly, furrowing his brows and then nodded lightly. “Whatever,” he said but Liu Qingge noticed how his eyes flicked to Liu Qingge’s covered injuries.
The two head disciples looked back, Shen Qingqiu’s face soured. “Ugh-“ He made a sound of disdain and annoyance as he turned away and continued his walk, not even bothering to bid a goodbye to Liu Qingge.
Liu Qingge saw Yue Qingyuan from the direction Shen Qingqiu just walked away from and cupped his fist, “Yue-shixiong,” he greeted and Yue Qingyuan stopped before him, smiling.
“Liu-shidi. How are your injuries?” Yue Qingyuan asked gently.
“I’m recovering nicely,” Liu Qingge said.
“I see. That’s great,” Yue Qingyuan nodded before he turned his head towards the leaving Shen Qingqiu. “Qingqiu-shidi, where are you going?”
Shen Qingqiu stopped, only turning his head to glance at Yue Qingyuan, “This shidi is unaware than his business has become Yue-shixiong’s business.”
“Qingqiu-shidi, you’re still injured from the last mission. Mu-shidi said you need to rest for a few days,” Yue Qingyuan coaxed gently as he approached the scholar.
“I’m better now. Don’t you have anything better to do than busying yourself with this shidi’s problem, Yue-shixiong?” Shen Qingqiu said unconcernedly.
“I’m just worried, shidi,” Yue Qingyuan said softly. “It almost broke your rib-“
“Shut up,” Shen Qingqiu looked at Yue Qingyuan and shot him a murderous glare. “I don’t need your worry, Yue-shixiong. Now, if you would excuse me, I’m going down the mountain,” he hissed and briskly walked away.
“Qingqiu...” Yue Qingyuan murmured, he seemed to be used to such rejection.
“How severe is it?” Liu Qingge asked and Yue Qingyuan turned to face him again.
“It was bad, the junior disciples of Qing Jing couldn’t keep up with Qingqiu-shidi’s plan and it cost him quite a bit,” Yue Qingyuan said helplessly. “His ribs fractured slightly but nothing too serious, Mu-shidi fixed it nicely. But he still needed to rest.”
“Blunt force?” Liu Qingge asked.
“It’s a broad sword,” Yue Qingyuan said. Meaning, it was both piercing injury and blunt force.
“I see,” Liu Qingge nodded.
“Come back safely, Shifu.”
“May you all attain victory.”
“Please, be careful.”
“Shifu, drinking is good but don’t let yourself wasted before the battle.”
Many head disciples and normal disciples bade goodbye and goodwill to their respective masters before they go. The peak lords would go and fight the demon lord, Tian Langjun, to stop him from harming the human world. Several chosen senior disciples were brought. One of them was Qiong Ding’s head disciple.
Qing Jing peak’s peak lord put his hands on Shen Qingqiu’s shoulders, “This master and his brothers and sister would be gone, as well the head disciple of Qiong Ding. While we are gone, as my head disciple, you’re in charge of our Sect’s safety. You are to make sure order is kept in place by your juniors. You are a clever child, I believe you can do it.”
“Yes, Shizun,” Shen Qingqiu bowed deeply as the rest of head disciples behind him followed his lead and bowed deeply to the peak lords.
“We wish you a good fortune and victory,” they all said at the same time.
The peak lords solemnly nodded in response.
“I’ve set up the formation around the mountain range. You all would be safe until reinforcement came should enemies decide to attack,” The peak lord of Tian Yi, which specialized in seals, said reassuringly.
“Thank you, shishu,” Shen Qingqiu bowed to him.
“Be safe, we’ll return,” Yue Qingyuan smiled at his junior brothers and sister.
“You too, shixiong,” Qi Qingqi said with a light smile.
When the peak lords and a few senior disciples had gone, Shen Qingqiu turned to his shidi and shimei, “Be alert and open your eyes wide, you all may return to your own peak to keep watch there, I’ll stay here,” he ordered. “Mu-shidi, it never hurts to prepare healing medicines and pills earlier. Zhang-shidi, I leave the observation of formation to you. Don’t let your swords leave your side.”
They all bowed down obediently, “Yes, Shen-shixiong.”
Shen Qingqiu turned away and they all immediately unsheathed their swords and flew to their own respective peak to keep watch from there, bringing their own respective peak’s disciples along.
Shen Qingqiu nodded to a group of Qing Jing disciples who straightened and headed back to Qing Jing.
“They’re still not back?” Liu Qingge jumped off of Cheng Luan and the Immortal Sword immediately flew to its sheathe.
Shen Qingqiu shook his head, “Not yet,” he said as he tilted his head up to the sky. “Maybe not today...” he murmured.
Liu Qingge gazed to the distance, the direction where his Shifu and several other lords fighting Tian Langjun. “The others are still caught up in preparation,” he murmured.
“Hm,” Shen Qingqiu responded.
“Can we talk?” Liu Qingge looked at him, waiting till Shen Qingqiu finally tilted his head down to look at Liu Qingge.
“What?” Was the harsh response.
Liu Qingge ignored the unwelcoming response and said, “Why are you avoiding me lately?” he said bluntly.
Shen Qingqiu looked at him, his expression twitched subtly, “Why? Did that hurt your ego?” he spat out.
Liu Qingge looked at him, unmoved. He took out a dagger from his pouch and brought the eye close to his cheek, before Shen Qingqiu could react, Liu Qingge already sliced a thin cut on his cheek.
Shen Qingqiu reacted almost immediately, he covered his own cheek and instinctively flinched back. But Liu Qingge already saw the mark that formed on Shen Qingqiu’s cheek.
Liu Qingge narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips, “You knew,” he stated. “Why didn’t you tell me?!” Liu Qingge demanded.
Shen Qingqiu glared, “Idiotic,” he sneered. “It’s a useless thing. Why should I tell you? This bond between soulmates is nothing but weakness. If I don’t want to, then I won’t. Simple as that. We can just leave it here,”
Liu Qingge grabbed Shen Qingqiu’s wrist and pulled him closer to him, “And pray tell, why would I want to leave it here?”
“Because we both detested each other?”
“I don’t,” Liu Qingge stated.
“Pathetic, you changed your feeling so quickly just because of this stupid bond?!” Shen Qingqiu hissed. “How needy are you, Liu Qingge!?”
“I didn’t,” Liu Qingge said solemnly. “You sought me out in the conference because you saw your own soulmarks, right?” he said and Shen Qingqiu glared at him. “Qingfang said you were tracking a pack of wolves, specifically wolves. You wished to help me so that means you’re not so bad-“
“Ha! Who knows, perhaps, I was just looking for a pack of wolves’ track to see you get mauled while I watch on the sideline,” Shen Qingqiu retorted.
“You invited Mu Qingfang to partner up with you before he even offered his service,” Liu Qingge said.
Shen Qingqiu gritted his teeth, “Maybe, I just want a healer close to me? It’s an important instinct for survival.”
“Since when did you know?” Liu Qingge asked, ignoring Shen Qingqiu’s vicious denials.
“Why is it so important!?” Shen Qingqiu growled as he pulled his wrist from Liu Qingge’s grip but Liu Qingge stepped even closer instead.
Liu Qingge looked at him carefully, “I’m sorry...” he said. “I shouldn’t jump into conclusion about you.”
Shen Qingqiu finally able to broke free from Liu Qingge’s grip and stepped back, he was visibly trembling in fury, “Shut up!” he said. Glaring, he spat out, “Do it. Insult me. Despise me. Spread it out and far, no need to pity me!”
Liu Qingge blinked, surprised, “What are you talking about.”
Shen Qingqiu growled in frustration, “You know it, right?! Those scars? Those dirty, pathetic injuries! My disgraceful past! Stop pretending, if you want to insult me by doing this, just do it directly! Aren’t you the blunt and barbaric disciple of Bai Zhan!? Why are you so roundabout-”
Liu Qingge grabbed Shen Qingqiu’s shoulders and pulled him close, he flinched under his touch but Liu Qingge looked at Shen Qingqiu in the eyes, “I’m not going to insult you.”
Shen Qingqiu struggled, “Why wouldn’t you?” a self-loathing smile appeared on his face. “It’s unfortunate that a talented rich young master like you, whose name had spread out wide, to have a former, dirty slave as your soulmate...” he murmured darkly. “Unfortunate... People would pity you-“
“I don’t care about such a thing-“
“You should!” Shen Qingqiu growled. “A pristine reputation, a dazzling talent, a good background, why would you want to dirty it with a trash-“
“What are you talking about?! Who cares about your past? I...” Liu Qingge’s eyes softened to grief, “I always admired your strength...”
“Strength?” Shen Qingqiu sneered. “You meant helplessness? If I had strength, I wouldn't be in that hell at all,” his tone darkened.
“Not many people could withstand what you have experienced,” Liu Qingge said seriously.
“I didn’t!” Shen Qingqiu yelled. “I was ruined! I didn’t survive... No...” He brought up his hands and covered his face. “Please... Forget it. Forget all those scars, we’ll make a deal, I wouldn’t get any shameful injuries to keep your own body clean...”
Liu Qingge looked at him, speechless.
“Listen, your soulmate would turn out either very meek or very stubborn, but keep in mind, no matter which outer shell they showed you, inside, they are really fragile.” Madam Liu’s words resounded in Liu Qingge’s mind and he looked back at Shen Qingqiu.
Very stubborn, indeed. All of those harsh edge to cover up this weakness? “Shen Qingqiu,” Liu Qingge murmured, his arms wrapped around Shen Qingqiu. “I love you,” he said.
Shen Qingqiu tensed.
“Long before I met you, I’ve fallen for you,” Liu Qingge confessed.
“You should have changed your mind after you meet me,” Shen Qingqiu mocked.
“This is hypocritical of me, but I love you now despite all of our animosity in the past,” Liu Qingge said. “I resented you and humiliated you in the Sect’s opening ceremony, I admit that. That was because I heard you said something insulting and I couldn’t forgive you for that.”
Liu Qingge sighed, “You insulted my soulmate. Not directly, but still, you insulted my soulmate. The one that I’ve more or less saw the struggles from the shared soulmarks...” a pause. “Only now that I realized you were insulting your own self. That you are my soulmate.”
“You’ll regret this,” Shen Qingqiu threatened.
Liu Qingge smirked as he pulled away, “I hope you wouldn’t.”
Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge looked at the voice’s source to find their other martial brothers and sister huddled around the corner with Zui Xian peak’s head disciple getting a vicious kick to the stomach by Qi Qingqi for making a voice and popping open a gourd of wine.
“Congratulations! I’m happy for you two!!” Mu Qingfang was the first to extract himself from the group and went up to congratulate them.
Shen Qingqiu flinched and Liu Qingge stepped in front him subtly, “Since when you guys have been there?”
“We came together, we were there since you said ‘I love you’,” Qi Qingqi said teasingly as she skipped closer. “Hoho, it seems like two peak lords would be in-laws soon~”
Shen Qingqiu relaxed slightly when he heard that and opted to give an unimpressed stare at Qi Qingqi.
“Soulmates, huh? How nice,” Wei Qingwei teased and Liu Qingge rolled his eyes.
“We should celebrate!” Zui Xian’s head disciple groaned from his place on the ground Qi Qingqi pummeled him to.
Liu Qingge shook his head, “You all are unbelievable,” he said and took Shen Qingqiu’s hand. “Don’t follow us,” he said as he pulled Shen Qingqiu away.
“Looking for an isolated place to kiss?!”
“Watch for your hormone, Liu-shidi!”
“If I see a scratch on Shen-shixiong, I’ll tell Jing-shishu on you!”
“Should we expect you back or not!?”
Shen Qingqiu used his folding fan to cover up his burning lower face, “Disrespectful,” he said in regard to his juniors’ teasings.
“Busybodies,” Liu Qingge agreed.
When they were further away, silence once again fell and Liu Qingge stopped. He looked at Shen Qingqiu brushed his bangs aside, “How about it? You still haven’t answered. Since when did you know?”
Shen Qingqiu looked at him and his face instantly soured. “That mission with Shang Qinghua,” he said, almost challengingly, daring him to recall it.
Liu Qingge’s face also dropped a bit when he recalled that mission, “When you...”
Shen Qingqiu looked at him quietly, cold.
Liu Qingge stayed silent before he sighed, “Do you have anything to be explained?” he asked patiently.
“Explain what?” Shen Qingqiu spat out, obviously pretending to be ignorant.
“I’ll listen now,” Liu Qingge earnestly promised but Shen Qingqiu simply looked away and crossed his arms. His qi began to churn unstably again. His gesture indicated that he absolutely didn’t try to do that. To Liu Qingge’s knowledge, after all of those difficult confessions and self-loathing statement, Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t hesitate to admit murder attempt. But he didn’t. So it probably wasn’t a murder attempt.
Liu Qingge sighed as he put a hand on Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder, turning him towards him, he brushed the other’s bangs aside and kissed his lips before he could react. Shen Qingqiu tensed, instinctively trying to draw back but Liu Qingge held him back, arm around Shen Qingqiu’s waist and the other hand snuck behind Shen Qingqiu’s head, deepening the kiss.
“You didn’t mean so.”
“I believe you.”
“Just say it.”
“Stop, stop, stop!” Shen Qingqiu covered his lips before Liu Qingge could take advantage of him again. Aren’t he older than Liu Qingge!? Why is Liu Qingge more aggressive and shameless?! “I didn’t, okay!? There was a demon, it dissipated with one attack and the residual hit you. You turned back after it completely disappeared,” Shen Qingqiu hissed indignantly.
“I’m sorry,” Liu Qingge sincerely apologized as he went to kiss Shen Qingqiu’s forehead. Shen Qingqiu paused when he heard the apology, he bit his lips.
Just when Liu Qingge’s lips touched Shen Qingqiu’s forehead, there was a flash and a wave of qi splitting the space. Next, there was a gasp.
Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge paused. They looked at the space nearby where it was empty before only to find several people there, the peak lords and the others that had been gone to fight and seal Tian Langjun.
Qing Jing peak’s peak lord stomped to the front, noting Liu Qingge’s firm and possessive hold and the furious blush on his dear disciple’s face who was covering his lips like his life depended on it, he snapped. He shoved the man he supported and fumed, “FENG QINGDE!!! YOUR DISCIPLE IS HARASSING MY DISCIPLE!!!”
After that disastrous ‘welcoming’, the two’s lives were thrown upside down pretty quickly. Female disciples giggled merrily at the sight of them, male disciples smirking playfully when they passed.
Liu Qingge practically had to visit Qing Jing every day because Shen Qingqiu refused to go outside. Even though that meant Liu Qingge had to be subjected under Qing Jing peak’s peak lord’s judging glares, he just had to visit his soulmate to be closer.
The scholarly peak lord didn’t seem to be so pleased about Liu Qingge but Liu Qingge was sure it would change with time. If not, then, too bad. Liu Qingge was still Shen Qingqiu’s soulmate and nothing could change that.
The disciples of Qing Jing often pretended that they didn’t see them together when they were in the peak, mainly because Liu Qingge made sure to glare at them when they gave as much as a second glance to them.
Months after that incident, it began to cease down. Liu Qingge then recalled something whilst he was laying by Shen Qingqiu with his head on Shen Qingqiu’s lap as the older man practiced his flute skill by playing a few simple melodies.
Shen Qingqiu noticed Liu Qingge’s thoughtful expression and stopped, “What is it?” he asked blankly.
Liu Qingge blinked and looked at him, “Hm,” Liu Qingge responded as he caught Shen Qingqiu’s left wrist. He brought it before him and rubbed the smooth and flawless skin of Shen Qingqiu’s wrist.
Shen Qingqiu looked at him, his expression was rather gloomy. “You saw it, right?”
Liu Qingge hummed, “I covered it up,” he said but didn’t push further, content in just seeing the unblemished skin, no doubt, Shen Qingqiu had used Qian Cao peak’s high-level healing medicines to get rid of the scar. As your cultivation advanced, scars could also disappear too...
Shen Qingqiu gazed at Liu Qingge as if waiting for a judgement, after sometimes, he sighed. “It was a qi deviation...” he murmured and Liu Qingge paused, not expecting Shen Qingqiu would elaborate. He continued, “I was not in control of myself and did something stupid. I managed to stop before it became too troublesome. I’m not that stupid.”
It was a rough month for Shen Qingqiu, he had gone off alone out of Wu Yanzi’s sight and qi deviation just happened. He still remembered how humiliated he felt when he returned and Wu Yanzi snorted disdainfully at his self-inflicted injury. His fists clenched at the thought of that sadistic disdain in Wu Yanzi’s eyes.
Liu Qingge brought the wrist down and planted a light kiss on it, “Who said anything about you being stupid?” he said. “I told you before. I will never judge you,” he stated and let go of Shen Qingqiu’s wrist when the man snatched it away.
Shen Qingqiu smacked Liu Qingge’s head with his bamboo flute, “Vulgar,” he hissed.
Liu Qingge hissed in pain, what vulgar? Liu Qingge was practically on his lap, what was so vulgar from kissing his wrist? “Sorry,” but he apologized anyway, giving Shen Qingqiu some face. After a while he started the conversation again, “I was wondering...”
Shen Qingqiu didn’t pause playing his flute but he looked at Liu Qingge.
“If you would come with me to my home,” Liu Qingge said bluntly and the flute’s sounds stopped altogether.
“What?” Shen Qingqiu stared at the younger man in disbelief.
“My mother just gave born to a baby sister a week ago,” Liu Qingge said. “Celebration. I ought to visit,” his mother gave born when she and his father were in an outing, the news didn’t reach him till three days ago after they returned home. He wanted to take Shen Qingqiu to meet his family, but then he remembered he hadn’t even told them that he had found his soulmate.
“That... They are-” Shen Qingqiu struggled to answer.
“They know,” Liu Qingge nodded and he could practically see Shen Qingqiu was even more unwilling to go. “They don’t mind,” he said. They didn’t mind. The ugly scars. The bruises. Whoever his soulmate is, whatever he experienced. They didn’t mind.
Shen Qingqiu hesitated before he sighed, “Fine.”
Liu Qingge smiled. Consequence be damned as he raised his hand and pulled Shen Qingqiu’s head down for a kiss.
Shen Qingqiu felt so small in Liu Clan’s mansion. His breathing was short, he almost couldn’t breathe at all.
It felt wrong.
They weren’t his. He just happened to be their unlucky son’s soulmate. They had no choice but to accept him.
He couldn’t stand other family members’ scrutinizing stares, judging him, observing him, watching him. Liu Clan was huge, there were several branches and Liu Qingge was the young master of the main branch. He was to be next clan head but as he was obviously going to be a peak lord of a Great Sect in the future, the position would fall on his offspring’s shoulder.
But Liu Qingge’s soulmate was a man.
Shen Qingqiu kept his aloof mask, not looking at anyone’s faces, too afraid to see the veiled emotion. Sometimes, it was even unveiled, openly judging him. They didn’t even know Shen Qingqiu was Liu Qingge’s soulmates and they already looked at him, judging. What would they do when they found out?
His doubts returned to him. Is he really suitable for Liu Qingge? Liu Qingge is Liu Clan’s hope and pride, should Shen Qingqiu destroy that by being unable to continue the line? Should Shen Qingqiu destroy yet another life by being in it?
Yue Qingyuan and now Liu Qingge.
Shen Qingqiu’s hand shook in his sleeves, unnoticed by Liu Qingge. But his head was still held up high proudly, not wanting to look meek. If he showed weakness, he might get mauled by those people.
‘This isn’t my place...’ Shen Qingqiu somberly thought. ‘This is the last time...’ despite it only being his first time.
“Father, mother,” Liu Qingge said and bowed down, snapping Shen Qingqiu out of his stupor, he followed Liu Qingge’s lead but stayed silent. “How’s Mingyan?” Liu Qingge asked and Madam Liu smiled showing the little baby in her arms to her eldest son.
“A healthy and beautiful baby sister for you,” Madam Liu smiled as she trustingly handed Liu Mingyan to Liu Qingge who fumbled for a bit before he managed to hold the baby.
“She’s pretty,” Liu Qingge complimented.
“Of course, nothing less from your mother,” Master Liu said dotingly and Madam Liu shook her head exasperatedly.
Liu Qingge smiled and nodded, “Mother, father, I want you to meet someone,” he then stepped aside and looked at Shen Qingqiu.
“Oh, who is this?” Master Liu asked, mildly wondering, his son never bring a friend home. Madam Liu also looked at Shen Qingqiu with a gentle smile, wondering the same thing.
“The head disciple of Qing Jing peak,” Liu Qingge started. “Shen Qingqiu. He’s my soulmate.”
Shocked gazes landed on Shen Qingqiu’s body and he shifted, he quivered inwardly, fighting the fight or flight instinct to politely bow down. Bracing for a polite smile back or a dismissing gesture filled with disappointment.
But before he could bow down, Madam Liu had stepped in front of him and pulled him into the warmest embrace Shen Qingqiu ever felt since a long time ago.
The last time he was ever embraced this warmly was years ago, when Qi-ge... No...
“My child, I’m glad my son finally found you,” Madam Liu said, her voice was as soft as the finest silk, tinged with hurt and the overflowing feeling of content. “You’re here, you’re home now.”
Master Liu smiled gently seeing his wife and soulmate got dragged by the current of emotion, he looked at Shen Qingqiu and nodded, “We’ve been waiting for you for so long...”
Madam Liu was crying, Shen Qingqiu didn’t see it but he could feel it. Shen Qingqiu was not one for physical contact outside for Liu Qingge, even then, his soulmate had to struggle for months before gaining that honor. Lingering touch burned him. A hug made him feel trapped.
But this one warmed him instead of burning him.
It made him feel welcomed instead of trapped.
Shen Qingqiu raised his arms and wrapped them around Madam Liu. It feels right.
Shen Qingqiu caught Liu Qingge’s smile and he smiled back.
This is home.