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Counterfeit Goods

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1. Liu Qingge

Shen Qingqiu saved Liu Qingge's life, spouted a bunch of nonsense about starting over, and went away. When Liu Qingge arrived in the middle of the demon invasion to return the favor, Shen Qingqiu had gotten himself poisoned saving a student and actually looked happy—happy!—to see Liu Qingge.

Where was the petty, underhanded man who'd spent the entirety of their time as disciples never hesitating to get in another dig, who looked at Liu Qingge like he was picturing burying his sword in his back? Who was this person who looked at his students with pride? What kind of qi deviation could result in this, a new, better personality?

Or had this Shen Qingqiu been there all along, and Liu Qingge had been too blinded by his own misgivings to see it?

Whatever the case, there was no question: this Shen Qingqiu was better.

2. Zhuzhi Lang

Shen Qingqiu did not act like a cultivator. He did not act like anyone Zhuzhi Lang had ever met. He was … kind. He assumed, if not the good in people, the lack of malicious intent. He looked below the ugly surface to that which lay beneath and did not recoil in disgust when that, too, was not pleasing.

Shen Qingqiu did not act like a cultivator. He should not die with the rest of them.

Fortunately, Tianlang Jun agreed.

3. Shang Qinghua

That was not Shen Qingqiu.

And he figured out entirely too fast that Shang Qinghua wasn't the original, either.

Fuck. This really was the worst. Next time, Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky was writing something light, something fluffy, something where nothing bad ever happened.

On the plus side, those plot holes were filling in nicely.

4. Yue Qingyuan

That wasn't Xiao Jiu. Yue Qingyuan knew it from the moment the man opened his eyes.

That was Shen Qingqiu's body. Those were Shen Qingqiu's eyes staring back at him in uncharacteristic confusion. That was Shen Qingqiu's voice that spoke to him.

But that wasn't Xiao Jiu. There was something off, something just a little bit wrong.

The impression only strengthened as time passed. This Shen Qingqiu was stressed and unhappy, but he also had a lightness that had been stamped out in Xiao Jiu. He looked at Yue Qingyuan sometimes, and it was with a distant fondness, like one might a stranger on the street they'd heard good things about. There was nothing of the resentment or the history or the deep, biting love Xiao Jiu had packed into every glance and glare he'd spared Yue Qingyuan over the years.

This Shen Qingqiu was kind, taking to all his disciples with an interest Xiao Jiu had never been able to muster for the boys under his care and once reserved for the girls alone. He nurtured friendships with the other peaks. He was willing to sacrifice himself for a child Yue Qingyuan had begun to think he scorned above all others.

This Shen Qingqiu was calmer, was better liked, was widely regarded as an improvement. Even Yue Qingyuan liked him. Yue Qingyuan loved him.

But that wasn't Xiao Jiu. Yue Qingyuan's brother was gone.