I'm what's left, I'm what's right
I'm the enemy
I'm the hand that will take you down
Bring you to your knees
The Pretender by Foo Fighters
He was twenty and he died.
He died in a hospital with monitors around his bed and tubes inside his body.
It was expected that he would go in this fashion and he made his peace with it years and years ago.
Even if it seemed like he was on the mend this time. That he could survive this latest bout of hospitalization and maybe live for a few years without relapsing.
That he could be there for his sister’s graduation that came around.
But his immune system was seriously compromised. So when the infection set in, he was too weak to fight it. And then he died.
What was interesting was the thing that came after dying.
He woke up feeling like he was on his deathbed all over again.
Like he was back in his own personal Hell, the Hell he had been in for months before his untimely expiration.
Was this what the Afterlife was like? Is this supposed to happen?
Was he such a bad person that he had to relieve his most pain-filled months again?
However, he didn’t think that he would feel the rain on his skin. If this was him relieving the last few months as some kind of punishment for his sins.
Why was it raining in the hospital? Did someone push the fire alarm and the water sprinklers started dousing the wards?
But then… why weren’t there any noises? Like a siren? Or screaming if the hospital was really on fire? Or even the general noises he got kind of used to?
And why was it so cold?
It felt like, he could see his breath in the air if he exhaled out.
Something was on him, he thought it might have been clothing. His hospital gown? Whatever it was it felt like it was a hundred times heavier than those flimsy things were supposed to be. It weighed him down.
Heavy with water, just touching his skin all over.
The water soaked it through already, making his shivering even worse.
He should be happy that he could even feel the cold, right? Because being cold meant that he could still feel things. So he wasn’t dead again, he was still alive and kicking?
It was only cold comfort in the face of the elements bearing down on his weak body.
FUCK THAT SHIT.
He thought that he was over that.
That he would never have to feel pain again.
What was this bullshit, someone fucking answer him, because this wasn’t supposed to happen!
Shen Yuan finally gathered enough strength to open his eyes.
That wasn’t the white ceiling of the hospital. Though it would have been interesting to see a white ceiling over him what with the still falling rain.
So definitely not the hospital.
Should have known as other signs told him a wildly different tale, even if he didn’t realize it yet at the time.
His subconscious still picked up on them. Somewhat.
Not quite well enough, so Shen Yuan was still somewhat surprised to see a cloud-covered, dark sky over him.
He wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
There were trees, tall trees, reaching towards that sky. No tall buildings, skyscrapers from what he could see. That only meant he was away from all larger city centers. Maybe in an outer district.
Nothing else, surely.
He was also down in a pit. Deep within, several meters from the top. He wondered for a few seconds how could that happen.
So he died and now was in a pit?
But he was still alive?
Did the hospital make a mistake or something?
Probably not, if the mistakenly declared him dead, he wouldn’t wake up in the middle of nowhere in a ditch. Maybe on a dissection table, or in an actual coffin.
His family would pay for a proper burial.
He wouldn’t be discarded like this.
Eventually, the rain couldn’t stop the stench from reaching him, couldn’t mask it anymore. There was some wind and he got a blast of it.
The smell of rotting, the smell of dirt, the smell of death.
The smell of burnt things; clothing, meat, hair.
When he could move his head to the side he wasn’t surprised to come face to face with the empty eyes of a corpse. She might have been a pretty woman in life, but in death, she was definitely not someone who could become Miss China anymore.
She wore rather traditional clothing or at least from the burnt leftover scraps which Shen Yuan could see.
He was in a mass grave, thrown in like he was nothing. Just another nameless, faceless nobody, who had no one and meant absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.
A grave which might have been in the middle of being set ablaze, if the soot on his skin and the burns meant anything.
But the rain came and the downpour stopped that from happening.
Shen Yuan didn’t know why was he so… calm about this whole thing.
Shouldn’t he be horrified, screaming?
That would be an appropriate reaction to findings oneself on top of several decomposing corpses, being burnt while he was still unconscious. Almost dying before he woke up, never knowing that he got a second life.
Maybe it was a leftover feeling from death?
He should add that this whole thing just didn’t feel real.
Even if the rain was cold and it felt like ice was spreading in his veins.
Even if his body hurt and his teeth chattered.
It was muffled and he didn’t know how to feel.
It was like it was happening behind a screen to someone else. Not him.
He should get up and try to find a way out.
He should move before he joined all the others in the pit.
And with that, he fell back asleep, cradled within a mountain of corpses.
Someone was watching him.
He woke up to the distinct feeling that someone was looking at him, their eyes boring into his core.
Shen Yuan opened up one eye and shivered in the still falling rain.
It wasn’t the cold and the wetness of the water on his skin which made him do that, but rather the man’s eyes, who stood at the edge of the pit.
He wanted to burrow deeper into himself, to get away from the penetrating expression, but the corpses around him weren’t exactly good hiding places.
At first, he didn’t even notice the sounds around him.
He just watched the man watching him.
Incredibly tall, long black hair, piercing blue eyes, blue mark on his forehead.
Clothing that was similar to some ancient garb, definitely not something Shen Yuan had seen worn in his daily life. Except maybe during cons. Or on cosplay photos.
Still, even in the dark, he could tell that it wasn’t made of some cheap plastic materials. It looked real and authentic.
And the man wearing it was devastatingly handsome. He looked familiar, though he wasn’t quite sure why.
Also, possibly not a man at all, as he cocked his head to the side and Shen Yuan glimpsed somewhat pointed ears.
Nah, definitely not possible. This wasn't a videogame.
Probably just some prosthetics. He saw these small tips for ears that could be ordered from a lot of webshops when he could not sleep and surfed the net for something to take his mind off the pain.
He blinked and suddenly there were hands under his arms and he was dangling in the air held by them.
The cosplayer jumped into the pit and made his way to Shen Yuan without him realizing it.
'Damn, he is one big guy', he thought as he looked up and up and up into the light-colored eyes.
Then he looked down and realized that the man could be called regular sized. It was him who was smaller.
A child really, maybe three or four years old. A boy.
He figured that one out when his flimsy coverings gave up the fight against gravity.
Why was he a kid again? Last thing he remembered he was a grown man. What kind of Hell was this?
Shen Yuan waited what the man would ask, whether he would make sense of finding a boy in a mass grave. Also, some explanation of why was he there in the dead of the night would be nice.
He waited and waited, flashing the cosplayer and anything that was possibly watching them.
The man said nothing and Shen Yuan stared back at him silently.
He could feel the strong hands he had on him flex slightly, but the man didn’t hurt him. It was a bit uncomfortable, but didn’t add to the pain he felt in his body.
Otherwise, the skin touching his skin felt cold, like a soothing balm.
The man nodded, Shen Yuan stared then let out a somewhat frightened yell, when he was suddenly hanging upside down.
The cosplayer flipped him just like that!
What the fuck was that?!
He was a child, not some ragdoll to be thrown around!
He was fragile, some caution would be appreciated!
DELICATE OBJECT HANDLE WITH CARE, PLEASE AND THANK YOU!!!
Shen Yuan became silent with one look from those icy eyes, but inside he was fuming and swearing at the child… at the child endangerer! He wasn’t sure if that was a word, but if it wasn’t it should be one, because this guy was definitely that!
The man shrugged off his outer robe from his shoulders before Shen Yuan was tucked into his side like a black robe wrapped burrito.
Shen Yuan blinked up at the chin he could see, trying to wiggle around, but the robes were way too tight around him.
He opened his mouth to give the guy a piece of his mind about his frankly atrocious manners regarding the handling of small children.
Only a pained wheeze came out and he wanted to clutch at his throat.
The wrapping, however, prevented that.
"Be calm." The man spoke up suddenly and Shen Yuan raised his head. His cheeks were puffed up like he was an angry chipmunk.
Blue eyes stared straight into his own and Shen Yuan couldn't see it but there was a slight red tint to the cosplayer's pointed ears.
There was a growing pressure in the air, dark and menacing, reeking of death, but Shen Yuan wasn't aware of that.
The man sighed before he pressed a point on Shen Yuan's skin and he felt something radiate through his body, like whatever it was, was rushing through his veins.
It was warm and comfortable.
It slowly calmed him down and made him get sleepy.
He yawned, tried to rub his eyes (but couldn't) and didn't react much when a black swirling tear appeared in the air at the man's impatient hand gesture.
'Not a cosplayer then,' that was his last thought as they were slipping through the portal.
Then he fell asleep for a bit. It was getting a tiny bit annoying.
He didn't know how long he had been asleep when he woke up but he was still in the crook of the guy’s arms.
He had questions. So many of them. An entire book could be filled with only a fraction of them. Maybe even a library.
The main one which worried him currently was about his possible fate in this scenario.
It didn't seem like a normal thing to do. To bring away a mostly dead child into a world looking like something that came out of a videogame.
Without saying anything.
It was deeply suspicious. Shen Yuan’s stranger danger senses were going haywire.
Could the man be a child molester?
Shen Yuan didn't know.
And the somewhat muted feeling was still there and he couldn't properly freak out.
Like he was behind a veil. It definitely should have freaked him out a lot.
He blinked slowly and managed to wriggle out one arm to move it around almost drunkenly.
The man caught that flailing little fist and tucked it into his neck.
Shen Yuan latched onto his hair immediately, clenching and unclenching his fingers.
There was only one fleeting look from those blues, but he did nothing to stop Shen Yuan from continuing. So Shen Yuan kept loosening his aching joints with repetitive motions.
Sometimes he might have yanked on the black strands a bit too hard, but there was no reprimand or anything aside from a slight furrow between the man's brows.
It made Shen Yuan mildly unsettled.
Shen Yuan glanced at the blank face a few times while trying to make sense of what was happening to him.
And around him.
The place they were currently walking through was a desolate wasteland with a crimson sky and rolling black clouds. Occasionally there was this brief ash storm around them. He didn't know what it was, because they were safely encased in a bubble of protective… something.
Hell, if he knew.
It was a dome and it moved with them in the center.
A few times he tried to ask questions, but the moment he opened his mouth it was mostly painful wheezing.
His vocal cords still didn't want to cooperate with him too much for some reason.
His whole throat felt like it was a giant bruise, a mess of torn flesh.
And to be honest, since the robe was wrapped around him and he was tucked into a marginally warmer body's side, his body started hurting more and more.
Like the pain was somehow muted because of the previous bone-chilling coldness he felt.
It didn’t matter to him why, but he felt worse with each passing second.
He whimpered painfully and the man looked down at him, then the gentle pressure was back and he went back to sleep once again.
He was calling bullshit on all of this!
The guy was a demon.
An ice demon.
An ice demon named Mobei-jun.
He should have fucking figured because the cosplayer looked a lot like the official artwork of the previous Demon Lord of Proud Immortal Demon Way.
But his mind had no reason to jump straight to transmigration, there was no System to explain it to him, or anything else.
Shen Yuan wanted to scream.
This wasn’t possible, right?
He wasn’t stuck as a nameless child in that trashfire of a stallion novel?
Next time he regained his consciousness from the last fainting spell, he was still stuck as a kid.
Mobei-jun was also staring at him like he was a particularly interesting circus animal that did a nice trick.
Cold blue eyes glared at him and he curled up further into himself.
He felt sluggish, his joints hurt a lot.
The Demon Lord's plan for him was taking him into his cold-ass castle and start to feed him. And stare at him.
Shen Yuan couldn't dismiss that this entire situation might be some Hansel and Gretel type of stuff.
What did Mobei-jun do before he got trounced by Binghe and became his right-hand man?
No fucking idea.
Mobei-jun came, was summarily defeated, Luo Binghe took over his territories. Aside from the occasional deus ex machina appearances, the previous Demon Lord fucked off into the unknown for all Shen Yuan knew.
The novel never really specified anything else about him.
Like it never really specified a lot of other things either.
Around ninety percent of the plot points which began in the novel fell wayside to the increasingly bad sex scenes. Whoever Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky was, they had never really touched a woman in their life.
And they didn't read many romance novels written by women either. That was quite clear too.
Well. So what?
Shen Yuan wasn't picky about his genres. If a story had a relatively good plot he didn't care what the main CP was. BB, BG, GG, gen, harems, stallion novels…
He didn't care. He usually skipped the sex scenes.
Proud Immortal Demon Way was a prime example of that. Shen Yuan skipped almost entire chapters or speed-read them.
Originally the novel started quite well, it wasn’t very popular at the beginning.
There was only a small dedicated fanbase and the atmosphere on the forums was quite friendly. Kind of hopeful.
Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky was no master writer, but they had nice ideas even if the execution was occasionally somewhat lacking.
They gained readers at a steady rate, then somehow around the commissioning of the official portraits of the main characters the novel blew up during one night and new readers poured in in droves.
Mobei-jun was geared to become an important main character, Shen Yuan originally thought. There were only five portraits released at the time.
Luo Binghe the protagonist, Ning Yingying one of the original love interests, Liu Mingyan the other original love interest, Shen Qingqiu the scum villain of the first half of the story and Mobei-jun.
All in all, when Mobei-jun actually showed up, the plot was still more or less intact. So Shen Yuan remembered quite a lot of things from those days.
But there was pretty much only the ice demon's description he had to go on. Him being the only second male lead to Luo Binghe. The only one who was allowed to live, the only one who didn't seem to be a rival for Binghe’s wives’ affections.
One would think that if the author spent so long detailing his chiseled features then that would be a red herring? That he would have an official portrait before several others? But no. After he was quickly defeated by the protagonist during his training time skip/montage in the Endless Abyss the demon was soon left forgotten. And unused mostly.
Like many others before him.
So Shen Yuan… didn't actually know shit about him.
Some demons skinned humans.
Some demons ate humans.
Some demons raped humans.
Some demons killed them.
Some did different combinations of those or other unmentionable things.
Because of that, the main problem was, that Shen Yuan wasn’t sure what Mobei-jun’s damage was. He had no fucking idea, he couldn’t even guess what went on in the demon’s mind.
What was the reason he was there in the Demon Realm, why was he brought here by the second strongest demon in Proud Immortal Demon Way?
Heck, if he knew.
Mobei-jun certainly said nothing.
So Shen Yuan might have been slightly concerned. Slightly because the muted feelings were still in effect and whatever could he have done to him? Die? He did that already.
Cause him pain? He wasn't a stranger to that.
There was nothing and no one in this world that he cared about. So he had no fear of them being used against him.
He had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
So he waited and watched the ice demon.
Originally he was thrown into a room when they arrived at the ice palace. He called it room but it was more like an ice pit with furniture made from metal and glass. Also, ice that never seemed to melt.
Shen Yuan had the thought that it was a glorified holding cell nothing more or less.
The cold permeating the air made his joints hurt more and he slowly twisted his hands and fingers with intent.
The demon left his cloak with him and he burrowed deeper into it.
He clenched his hands into the fabric of it, to find a grip, to gather it up and absently noted that his skin was really white.
It could be called almost ghastly white, with the dark veins showing through here and there.
Mobei-jun was very tall.
If Shen Yuan curled up he could use it to cover himself in maybe three looser layers.
So the air could get warmer between those layers?
He had vague memories of a long-forgotten documentary where layers were used for insulation in cold areas? He watched it when he was unable to sleep anymore from the beeping monitors.
A large figure appeared behind the clear-ish looking walls and the air grew even colder.
There was no question that it was the Demon Lord himself.
Who else had such a frigid spiritual pressure around them that Shen Yuan could see the ice crystals blooming over the already cold surfaces?
The door opened.
Mobei-jun didn't make a fuss, just put down the still-steaming pile of meat on a small table.
Then he looked at Shen Yuan like he didn't do something that he expected him to do.
Shen Yuan wasn't even aware of moving before he was halfway across the room, the dark cloak dragging behind him.
He froze there like a deer caught in the headlights.
‘What just happened?’ He thought, his eyes not on the demon but the meat.
It was bloody, he could smell the copper in the air.
It was obviously very fresh.
It was definitely raw.
He didn't even know what kind of meat it was!
And he still had to swallow back the gathering saliva in his mouth.
It was like the most appetizing meal he had ever seen or smelled in his life.
He turned his head towards the Demon Lord watching him silently. Solemnly.
"Eat." That was the first thing he told him.
He dragged his wandering eyes away from the plate of quickly cooling raw flesh at that single word.
Now that the Demon Lord noticed that his attention was on him fully, or as fully as possible with the distraction he brought with him into the room, he elaborated a bit.
"While it's still warm."
Shen Yuan stared at him before he tried to ask the demon to clarify what he meant.
It was not safe.
While his sensible part screamed at him that it was raw meat so whoever knew how many disgusting bacteria could be hiding in it already, a larger part was too busy salivating.
Sushi had raw fish. Sashimi was raw. Steak tartare was made of minced raw meat.
There were many raw meat dishes across his old world. He knew that.
It still felt unthinkable to eat that.
The Demon Lord probably got fed up with his indecisiveness or something because Shen Yuan quickly found himself hanging from black-clad arms, then sitting in a cold lap.
With a spoon holding a chunk of meat to his lips.
He turned his head away and the blood from it smeared on his cheek.
The demon didn't get angry or annoyed, his body language didn't change from cold indifference.
"Eat." It was repeated, now an order instead of an offer.
Shen Yuan shook his head and tried to form words, but his throat was still not fully cooperating with him.
A sigh, then the spoon clattered down into the plate and a clawed hand pressed on his jaw.
He didn't know exactly what muscle jumped under the probing fingers but suddenly there were fingers in his mouth.
Pushing something inside.
Shen Yuan wanted to fight to gag over having the bloody meat in his mouth, but unknown instincts took over and he chomped down on the meat.
The fingers still in his mouth pressed against his teeth, but Shen Yuan didn't bite down on them. He cleaned the blood off them and whined. A plaintive high sound.
At that, there was another piece popped into his mouth and he hurriedly chewed on it like he had been starved for months.
With every swallow, he finally felt warmth return to his body, like he was drinking hot cocoa on a cold day.
It spread through his body, and eventually, he held the spoon somewhat clumsily showing food into his mouth.
The demon sat silently, one large palm on his throat, another on his back.
Shen Yuan slowed his chewing, staring at the hand holding the spoon.
It was no longer trembling and the ice demon let go so that he could feed himself. Even if he made something of a mess with his current coordination.
His hands were strange.
He had claws. Sharp, longish nails.
And it was all black.
Even the tips of his fingers were black.
His veins too.
He pushed his hands up higher to the light above and turned towards the demon with a questioning noise.
Mobei-jun looked down at him, face revealing exactly nothing. And then he waved a hand and ice grew into the shape of a mirror.
Shen Yuan looked at the two figures' reflections.
A tall, cold beauty and something small and dirty.
He cocked his head to the side and his hair slid across his skin. The dirty thing with the white hair in the mirror mirrored his moves.
Deathly pale, eyes that looked clouded-over.
Black fingers and veins.
Aside from that, under all that dirt, he looked almost like what he could remember seeing in his childhood photos.
Shen Yuan stared... and the silent demon behind him watched him freak out.
This is what Shen Yuan figured out.
He died in that hospital.
He was still dead.
Well, mostly dead. Kind of alive, but still deader than a several-days-corpse.
He loathed to say but he was a damned zombie.
This transmigration thing sucked ass.