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Violent's MoShang Week 2021

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Have you ever read those stories on the internet about the creepy things little kids say? Like there being a little boy with old-timey clothes and a bloody face who crawls out of their closet at night? Or how they used to be a mother with two children of their own before they died in a car crash on this very bridge?

For Shang Jian, it was a little like that. Not the horrible ghost part, thank goodness. But the past life part. It wasn’t like the isekai or transmigration novels he’d read; He hadn’t arrived in this world trapped in an infant’s body with the mind of an adult. But the fact that he even knew what those terms meant at all was proof enough that he remembered his previous life before its ignoble ending with a jolt of electricity.

And kids are blunt and guileless and usually self-absorbed. They say whatever floats through their minds without a care for how it might be taken, and thus don’t realize that adults might find some of those things distressing. For children, a past life and gruesome death are as normal a topic of discussion as the cool bird they saw that morning or reporting the extremely important news that grandpa farted so loud during his nap that he woke himself up.

Reincarnation is the widely accepted understanding of what comes after death, so realizing your child is a reincarnated soul with the memories to go with might be shocking, but it’s not necessarily cause for alarm. It might even be celebrated, if it was a cherished loved one returning. But when your child is matter-of-factly describing impossible things that could never exist in any mortal realm (cars and skyscrapers and the internet and Systems) and speaking in tongues (Chinglish)...well, children really are too naive to understand the consequences of that kind of talk in a society where possession by evil spirits is a very real possibility.

It was clear their Shang Jian had died at birth, or shortly thereafter, and something else had made its home in the vacant body (and maybe they were right. Isn't that what happened, after all?). They had to do what was necessary to protect their real children.

So that’s how a very young Shang Jian found himself being sold to slave traders on their way to the demon realm.

__________

The demon realm didn’t actually have much use for human slaves. Humans weren’t as strong as demons, typically, and were far more delicate: few and far between was the human slave that could stand up to hard labor in the extreme temperatures of the Northern Desert or the Southern Plains. For indoor work, they had plenty of low-level demons of their own to kick around for fun and to scrub their floors and empty the chamberpots; they didn’t need humanity’s dregs for that, when all it meant was another mouth to feed.

But humans could be very beautiful, and sometimes softness was of value. Failing that, the meat was good when you could get it.

A five year old wasn't much good for either use, but luckily for Shang Jian, the current Mobei-Jun had decided it might be nice for his young heir to have a companion. One that wouldn't pose any kind of threat to his only heir, and wouldn't be much trouble to replace if his son accidentally killed them. Which ruled out the children of the court (any self respecting demon would see the opportunity to encourage a son or daughter to put certain thoughts into his own still unfortunately impressionable son's head, and barring favorable results, arrange an "accident" during play).

He'd originally been considering a fanged snow field mouse, or maybe a pretty golden fish, but there was something to be said for a companion who could understand speech. A human would do nicely.

__________

It had taken Shang Jian a frankly embarrassingly long time to realize the little Mobei-Jun he played with and was ordered around by was his Mobei-Jun, the one he wrote. That this world was the one he’d made in that other life, and he hadn’t just been reborn in a different province of China, where people looked and acted different than the one he grew up in the first time. Maybe people had blue or green or purple skin, and horns or claws or tails in other places, how was he to know?

And it had taken far, far longer for him to put two and two together to realize that that made him Shang Qinghua. Although he wasn't sure how that'd be even possible now. How could he ever become Qinghua if he was living in the demon realm when he was supposed to be head disciple at An Ding in Cang Qiong by now?

His system was as silent and unhelpful as it had always been. Again, all those transmigration novels had steered him wrong. His system wasn’t anything he could converse with; it was quite literally just a “system,” and didn't seem capable of anything but pre-canned responses. Even Siri would be better than what he got. Prodding could only produce the same message, unchanged from the day he first saw it, that his current and only mission was still ongoing.

Mission: Fix the World of Proud Immortal Demon Way

Objectives:

  • Patch plot holes
  • Complete character arcs
  • Ensure a satisfying ending

He was in a sandbox world with no direction. This was fine when he assumed he could just live and eventually stumble onto ways to complete his extremely vague and arbitrary objectives when he got to them, hopefully years from now (the protagonist wouldn’t even be born for a while).

But that was before he realized he'd been assigned a character! The shitty system never provided any information without prompting, and there was apparently a very limited set of available accepted queries that he had to figure out through trial and error. And he’d never thought to ask this specific question before.

Which was better than it constantly throwing pop-ups at him, he supposed. This world may have been built from his book, but it was still his life now. He went for years at a time without remembering he had a system at all, and that was the way he preferred it!

But now that the system had confirmed he was assigned the "character role: Shang Qinghua," he thought he was going to lose his mind. What did “complete character arcs” mean? Was he losing already before he’d even realized they’d started?

__________

He hadn’t feared for his life from Mobei-Jun since their very first meeting. When the two had been introduced and left alone together, Shang Jian had trailed after the slightly older boy hesitantly, like a duckling that wasn’t sure it was following the right mother, until a pair of demons passing by in the hall had spotted him and casually began discussing what type of dish he’d taste best as. He’d promptly burst into tears, crying that he didn’t want to be eaten, and little Mobei-Jun had snapped, “I wasn’t going to, but I will if you don’t shut up!”

Little Shang Jian had clamped his mouth shut, valiantly gulping back his sobs and trying to blink away the tears still flowing. Mobei-Jun’s glare had only made it harder to hold in the whimpers, until he was forced to take a gasping breath and then hold his hands tight over his mouth to muffle the noises. Seeing this, Mobei-Jun had heaved a great put-upon sigh and, pulling one of Shang Jian’s hands free, took it in his own before dragging him down several halls until they arrived in front of a door.

Pushing it open revealed a garishly decorated receiving room, and what was clearly a bedroom visible through the crack beyond a thick brocade curtain hanging over another doorway.

Mobei-Jun dropped Shang Jian’s hand and went over to a table, dragging over a stool to climb on so he could reach a round silver tin placed on top.

“Is this your room?” Shang Jian had asked, looking around in confusion, wiping at his dripping nose with his now free arm.

Mobei-Jun scoffed. “Don’t be stupid. This is Lady Shu’s room. She’s my uncle’s favorite dancer.” Prying hard with both hands eventually caused the lid of the tin to come off with a loud pop, and Mobei-Jun made a triumphant sound of approval. “Uncle buys her fancy imported sweets, and she never even eats them.”

He removed two cookies from within, carefully tamped the lid back down, and jumped off the stool.

Walking over, he handed one of the cookies to Shang Jian, rather than keep both for himself as Shang Jian had expected him to. He realized that this entire little venture had been for this purpose, giving a scared little boy something to cheer him up and sharing a secret to make him feel like he belonged. And that’s the moment Shang Jian knew he wanted to stay by the side of this haughty but soft-hearted demon prince for the rest of his days.

But now, all these years later, that he knew he wasn’t just Shang Jian, the companion to the prince, but that he was supposed to be Shang Qinghua, a cultivator, servant, and spy meant to assist in opening the Endless Abyss before dying at his master’s hands when he no longer proved useful...well, he did a lot of screaming into a pillow.

__________

“Complete character arcs.”

What did it mean, what did it mean, what did it mean?!?!

Did he have to become a Peak Lord of Cang Qiong Mountain Sect, where the protagonist would begin his blackening, or could he infiltrate any sect that would appear at the Immortal Alliance Conference when the Abyss was opened? Did he have to be a spy at all, or was it enough to be a human who “betrayed” humanity by siding with the demons?

Siding with one demon: Mobei-Jun, his Mobei-Jun. The current Mobei-Jun may be the definition of an uninvolved father, but Shang Jian would always owe him a debt for doing the one and only good thing he’d ever done for his son—bringing the two of them together. The rest of the demons could go hang. Fuck Linguang-Jun in particular!

And he didn’t mind betraying humanity one bit.

If Shang Jian had been aware enough of his situation at the time to think Mobei-Jun’s “abandoned in the human realm as a defenseless child for a cruel prank and also very likely murder attempt” backstory wouldn’t happen if he was around, considering the way the two of them were never apart, then nope! They just both got left behind on that particular field trip. But this time around, unlike in the novel, Shang Jian was there to protect Mobei-Jun.

He could appear human; he was human. So he could beg for food and bring it back to share. He could steal a cloak off of a clothes line to hide Mobei-Jun’s more demonic features under, and risk nothing more than a beating if he was spotted, rather than a pitchfork through his stomach. He could chase away Mobei-Jun’s bad thoughts and feelings with a reminder that Linguang-Jun was a mean, awful, bad uncle, and it wasn’t Mobei-Jun’s fault for getting tricked, because Shang Jian was tricked too, and wasn’t he the smartest person Mobei-Jun knew? Of course he was! And when they got back (not “if” they got back), Shang Jian would put bison poop in Linguang-Jun’s bed, and a whole lot worse than that as soon as he thought of something!

(What Mobei-Jun remembered most about what, but for Shang Jian, would have been the worst experience of his life, was when Shang Jian held Mobei-Jun’s face squeezed between his hands, making him look him in the eye even as the prince tried to turn away so the younger boy couldn’t see the tears forming, and said, “I love you. Always, always, always. You don’t need anyone but me, and I’ll never leave you.”)

Mobei-Jun protected him too: from the wild animals in the woods, from the pain of his sprained ankle with the press of a cold palm against the swelling, from his nightmares as they huddled together in the dark each night. They protected each other during that long, awful week.

(In another timeline, Mobei-Jun had never had anyone protect him before. This changed things. In another timeline, Mobei-Jun had nothing he wanted to protect. He had things he was obligated to defend, like the reputation of his name, or the borders of his kingdom from invading humans and demons alike. But these were duties. There was nothing and no one that stirred his heart, and made him want to place himself between them and the world. This difference changed a lot more than anyone could have anticipated.)

But back to the present. They were sitting in the courtyard of Mobei-Jun’s private rooms, with Mobei-Jun laying his head in Shang Jian’s lap as usual, eyes closed in lazy contentment. Shang Jian distractedly combed his fingers through his prince’s hair—what was the penalty for failing to “complete character arcs?” Could he just...not do it? Or would that result in the system deciding to deactivate his account for not following along, and make him drop dead for the second time? No, better to play it safe by sticking as close to the original plot as possible—while Mobei-Jun snacked on thinly sliced raw meats, cheeses, and winter fruits on a tray balanced on his stomach, occasionally reaching up to press one morsel or another through Shang Jian’s lips.

“My prince…” Shang Jian struggled to find the words to begin and his fingers slowed to a stop. Mobei-Jun just hummed in reply.

“My prince, I’ve been thinking about the ways I can serve you better.”

“Okay,” Mobei-Jun said, clearly only half-listening.

“I need to know for sure that your position is secure and your life safe from all attempts against it.”

At this Mobei-Jun squinted one eye open to glare at him suspiciously.

Seeing he wasn’t off to a great start, Shang Jian took a deep breath and let it all out at once. “And the best way for me to do that is to go back to the human realm and join a cultivation sect, so I’ll know what they know about the other demon clans, and what the cultivators are planning too, of course, because it’s been long enough that they’re starting to forget the blow your father dealt them at the last Immortal Alliance Conference. And it’s only a matter of time before they think it’s a good idea to move against the demon realm again, don’t you think? And maybe especially against the North. So I need to go and find out so I can report it back to you!”

He startled back as Mobei-Jun sat abruptly upright, sending the platter crashing to the ground with a ringing clatter.

Mobei-Jun’s eyes were wide open now, panicked. “You want to leave?” he asked incredulously, like Shang Jian had just said he was planning to go for a dip in the magma pools in the volcano outside the city.

Shang Jian reached forward hesitantly, before leaning fully in and wrapping his arms around his prince. “I don’t want to, but I have to. This is what’s best for both of us,” he whispered, pained, into Mobei-Jun’s shoulder.

Mobei-Jun let him hold him for a moment, breathing heavily like a frightened animal, before shoving him off and staring at him like he was a stranger.

“No. No!” he shouted. “You’re not leaving. I’m the one who decides what’s best for the both of us.” The next words came out in a whisper, as if reaffirming their truth to himself. “Father gave you to me. I decide.” Then he stormed out of the courtyard in a swirl of black, fur-trimmed cloak.

Shang Jian watched him go, alarm and hurt warring in his chest. He wanted to go after Mobei-Jun, comfort him, assure him that whatever he was thinking, he was wrong. But those parting words were ringing in his ears.

Father gave you to me.” Shang Jian gulped. He’d...forgotten. It had been so long since Mobei-Jun had last said anything like it, that he’d honestly forgotten. He may be the bosom companion to the prince, with all the social standing and privileges that position brought with it, but he wasn’t a free man. He was still a slave.

Well, he’d do what he had to. He may have been given to Mobei-Jun, but his contract belonged to the royal family. And he knew one royal in particular who would relish the chance to see him gone from the capital, even if the thought of explaining to Linguang-Jun why he should be sent to spy on the cultivators made bile rise in his throat.

But he could do it tomorrow. He wanted a little time to nurse his wounds.

__________

Shang Jian woke the next morning with a start as Mobei-Jun slammed the door to his bedroom open with a bang, grim satisfaction on his face.

“It’s settled,” he said, clearly pleased with himself. “You’re not leaving.”

“What are you talking about?” Shang Jian asked sourly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, before remembering what had occurred the day before.

“I spoke with Father and made my intentions clear.” Mobei-Jun stalked forward and pulled one of Shang Jian’s hands free from the covers, and clasped it tightly in both of his own. “He was not pleased, but he would not dare to deny me when my strength grows daily while his own fades more and more with each passing season.”

“My prince!” Shang Jian said, wide awake now and clasping Mobei-Jun’s hands right back. “You threatened your father?! Why? What were you thinking?!”

Mobei-Jun leaned close and pressed his forehead to Shang Jian’s own, closing his eyes and inhaling the scent of the other’s sleep-warmed skin, before his eyes opened again and his lips curled up in a possessive smile. “We are betrothed, now. And you are not leaving.”

Shang Jian’s heart fluttered like a bird in flight at the same moment an icy rock dropped into his stomach and carried it down into his knees.