Luo Binghe steps out in the red robes that he was able to acquire last-minute from god knows where, and Shen Qingqiu is overcome with emotions too embarrassing to dwell on even in the confines of his own mind.
Luo Binghe! What the hell?! How do you look good in everything you wear? Have some mercy on this master!
Shen Qingqiu coughs and looks away, fiddling with the edge of his own wedding garment. It just wasn’t fair! He didn’t even think he looked that bad in red, but standing next to the protagonist, whose starry eyes and soft smile were directed upon him and him alone… it was enough to cause any maiden to fall to their knees and weep to the gods!
“Shizun...” Luo Binghe says, breathlessly. “Shizun, you look beautiful.”
Shen Qingqiu glances back at Luo Binghe, only to avert his gaze again quickly after seeing the overwhelming amount of adoration in his eyes.
Ahhh... what the hell…
“You also look... very good in red…” Shen Qingqiu manages to get out, even though it’s the understatement of the century. He squares himself up to say more, to tell Luo Binghe just how good he looks, when there’s a slight disturbance in the air. Luo Binghe’s head snaps up and he shoves Shen Qingqiu behind him, quicker than Shen Qingqiu can blink.
It only takes him a second longer to remember why the feeling in the air feels so familiar, and his blood runs cold when his mind finally catches up. He grips Luo Binghe’s forearm from behind as a dark purple and black rift splices the room in front of them, dousing the warm, anticipatory atmosphere with heavy haziness. A lone figure steps through the portal, darkened sword pulsing with energy. A small surge of panic shoots its way down Shen Qingqiu’s spine at the sight of the sword, and he tightens his hold on Luo Binghe’s arm.
The rift closes quickly. Silence sits heavy in the air for a few tense moments, before it’s broken by a low chuckle.
“It seems this lord has arrived at an inopportune time,” the man says, locking gazes with Shen Qingqiu. He keeps Xin Mo unsheathed and down at his side. “Congratulations to the happy couple.”
Luo Binghe widens his stance and opens a palm, as if to call forth demonic energy at any moment. “Who are you?” He asks, a dangerous tint to his tone.
“Is that not obvious enough?” The man replies, continuing his stare-down with Shen Qingqiu. A bead of sweat runs down the side of Shen Qingqiu’s face.
It’s weird, okay?! Why is this guy staring at him, when there’s another him standing right there? If Shen Qingqiu came across a duplicate of himself, he’s sure he’d flip out! Plus, Shen Qingqiu has already figured out who exactly this man is, and he’s not liking that he has to see him again! The last and only time they had met was during the System’s punishment protocol, and that had been the furthest from a fun time. And! He was literally about to get married! Married!!!! To Luo Binghe!!! Why must this happen on his wedding day, of all days?!
He knocks on the door to the System, hoping to ask what exactly he triggered to press play on this awful plot point. But, to his continuing luck, the System only answers in silence. Well, fuck you too!!
Luo Binghe growls low in his throat, clearly running out of patience. Shen Qingqiu puts a hand on his shoulder and moves a step closer. The other Luo Binghe - Bing-ge - tracks the movement with sharp eyes, similar to a predator watching its prey.
He knows Luo Binghe unquestionably would have attacked by now, if not for Shen Qingqiu’s presence. He’ll have to commend him on his restraint later, but for now…
“I know who you are, but not why you are here. Would you tell us?”
Bing-ge’s gaze impossibly sharpens more at being addressed by Shen Qingqiu. The hand around his sword hilt tightens imperceptibly, but he remains silent. Shen Qingqiu releases a small sigh.
“Would you tell me?”
Luo Binghe balks, actually turning away from an enemy directly in front of him to search Shen Qingqiu’s face questioningly. “Shizun...?”
A piercing grin spreads across Bing-ge’s face. “Is Shen Qingqiu offering to be alone with this lord?”
Shen Qingqiu steels his resolve before he answers, “I am. That is what Lord Luo came here for, is it not?”
“Shizun!” Luo Binghe cries. Shen Qingqiu’s heart breaks a little at the sound, and at seeing Luo Binghe’s face twist into something miserable. He wants nothing more than to make this other Luo Binghe go away, to leave them alone so he can comfort his soon-to-be… ahem, that is, his soon-to-be husband, but he knows this situation would end in a fight any other way, and he really… doesn’t want to see them hurting each other. He’ll do whatever he can to make sure there’s no bloodshed between any Luo Binghes present… despite how cool the fight may look. But that’s not important right now!
Shen Qingqiu allows a small and - what he hopes to be a - reassuring smile, taking one of Luo Binghe’s hands in his own. Luo Binghe turns to face him fully, showing his back to Bing-ge. It’s a bit of a cocky move, and an insult in its own right. Shen Qingqiu casts a quick glance to Bing-ge, and is relieved when his face is impassive, eyes still boring a hole through what he can see of Shen Qingqiu around Luo Binghe’s body.
“It’s okay, Binghe,” he starts, but Luo Binghe barely waits until he’s finished speaking to begin his counterargument.
“Shizun, we could take him,” he urges. “There’s two of us, and we’re strong together. And he’s me, so you and I would both know how he fights.”
Shen Qingqiu sighs. “That’s not necessarily true. We don’t know anything about how he learned how to fight.” Well, that’s a bit of a lie; Shen Qingqiu did read Proud Immortal Demon Way, after all, but… tedious details! “He’s a different you, from an entirely different world. Plus, he has Xin Mo.” Shen Qingqiu squeezes Luo Binghe’s hand, reaching up with his other hand to brush a stray strand of hair from Luo Binghe’s face. “I just don’t want to see my Binghe hurt by that sword again. This master is trying to keep that from happening, and is willing to speak with him under his terms.”
Luo Binghe pouts, but Shen Qingqiu can tell it’s a real, mostly subconscious one, not the kind usually followed by crocodile tears and kisses. He’s upset the protagonist again, ah...
“This disciple doesn’t see why Shizun has to talk with him alone,” Luo Binghe says, sounding desperate. “I can’t just leave Shizun here, and Shizun can’t make me leave either. I’m staying,” he adds with a sense of finality.
...This stubborn disciple!
Shen Qingqiu wanted to throw something. I’m trying to protect you!
He doesn’t want to be without Luo Binghe during this either! In all honesty, he’s a little unnerved about this strange, sudden turn of events. The appearance of Xin Mo specifically is throwing him all out of sorts; seeing that wretched sword again without its seal, and not even the length of a room away from Luo Binghe… you can’t blame him for wanting Luo Binghe far away from it! Even if that means Luo Binghe being far away from him, too.... he’s willing to take that risk.
Shen Qingqiu hardens his gaze. “When did my disciple become so disobedient?”
Luo Binghe glares right back. “Around the time Shizun decided recklessness was the answer.”
Shen Qingqiu opens his mouth to snap back, to tell him “I’m doing this for you!” when there’s a loud and frankly over-dramatic sigh from behind them. Luo Binghe clams up just as fast and whips his head around to direct a much more heated glare at Bing-ge.
“This lord did not come here to watch this display,” he says, looking a touch irritated. “Nor to cause a fight, unless I am given a reason to.”
Luo Binghe narrows his eyes, still keeping most of his body facing Shen Qingqiu. His grip on Shen Qingqiu’s hand is tight, almost to the point of being painful, but Shen Qingqiu doesn’t pull away.
“Nobody asked you to come anyways,” he says scathingly.
Bing-ge looks mock-offended. “Harsh. Who raised you to speak that way?”
As if the way you talk to people is any better, Bing-ge!
Luo Binghe’s eyes flash red. He finally turns all the way frontwards, free hand open and ready to attack again. “You dare insult Shizun?!”
Bing-ge, for some reason, looks amused by this. “Who’s insulting anyone’s Shizun? It was truly difficult for this lord to believe what he had heard, but seeing it personally… you really are a pathetic imposter, aren’t you? You get riled up just from that?” A vicious glean enters his eyes. Shen Qingqiu feels dread settle in the pit of his stomach at the sight. “This lord should tell you that this isn’t even the first time your precious Shizun and I have met. I can see why you’d want to keep him around. After all, he cried so prettily for me-”
“Enough!” Luo Binghe yells, demonic sigil flaring. Darkened energy begins swirling around his hand; he wastes no time throwing himself forward, palm out, wrenching his hand from Shen Qingqiu’s.
Shen Qingqiu curses inwardly. Ahhh, Bing-ge, what are you doing ruffling Luo Binghe’s feathers! This is exactly the situation Shen Qingqiu was trying to avoid! He makes a quick sign with his hands, summoning Xiu Ya from where it lay discarded with his other, neatly-folded set of robes. He was supposed to be getting married right now, not attacked! Sue him for setting his sword in an inconvenient spot! However, right as Shen Qingqiu positions Xiu Ya for an attack, Bing-ge slashes open another rift in front of himself. Luo Binghe stops just in time to avoid falling through, and Bing-ge uses this split second pause to shoot across the room and grab Shen Qingqiu around the throat.
What the hell!!!!!!!!!
Shen Qingqiu thinks he hears Luo Binghe shout something, but the blood pounding in his ears overrides all other sound. He grits his teeth at the sudden, crushing pressure against his windpipe, directing Xiu Ya to surge towards Bing-ge’s back. Smoothly, faster than the eye can blink, Bing-ge maneuvers himself behind Shen Qingqiu and takes the hand off his throat. Shen Qingqiu has less than a moment’s reprieve before he feels the strangely warm metal of Xin Mo digging into his neck. With his other hand, Bing-ge effortlessly stops Xiu Ya, directly grabbing onto the sharp edge without so much as a wince. He throws the sword aside and manhandles Shen Qingqiu’s hands around his back before he can create another hand sign, holding them together at the wrist with an iron grip.
(A very small, very easily ignored part of Shen Qingqiu is secretly relieved that his sword hadn’t actually been able to stab Bing-ge through the back.)
Shen Qingqiu seeks out Luo Binghe across the room, and is rapidly overwhelmed by the amount of killing intent radiating from his entire being. He hasn’t taken another step, not since the threat of Xin Mo cutting into Shen Qingqiu became very real. Everything had happened so quickly; the rift has only just begun to close, sealing the room back into mostly silence, broken by Luo Binghe’s harsh, angry breaths.
Shen Qingqiu speaks up. “This is not what I agreed to.”
He could feel Bing-ge’s smirk in his words. “Your imposter attacked this lord first. This lord only did what he had to do to avoid getting hurt.”
Bullshit!!!! You grabbed Xiu Ya with your bare hands!!!!! Nothing in this room could hurt you enough to warrant taking a hostage as protection!!!
Shen Qingqiu knows better than to try and wrestle free with the threat of an OP demonic sword centimeters away from slicing his head clean off, and so he stands there, feeling indignant about the entire situation, and a little embarrassed that he was caught so easily. He catches Luo Binghe’s eye.
“Let him go,” Luo Binghe says slowly after a second of eye contact. He must know that trying to persuade the protagonist is a fruitless endeavor, but the split-second distraction of Bing-ge opening his mouth to answer gives Shen Qingqiu enough time to wrench a captive hand open and aim the palm, shooting a strong spiritual blast right into Bing-ge’s stomach. It’s his only shot at breaking free! He tenses his muscles in preparation of darting under Xin Mo and back towards Luo Binghe’s side the moment he feels Bing-ge loosen his hold, but it never comes. Instead, he hears a grunt of surprise from behind him followed by the grip around his wrists immediately tightening. Bing-ge squeezes, harder and harder, until there’s an unmistakable snap. Shen Qingqiu’s face scrunches up in pain, unable to hold back a gasp.
Broken wrists now?! On top of everything else? How much more humiliating can this get?!
Luo Binghe appears positively murderous, his entire body shaking with rage. He still hasn’t advanced a single step though, fiercely staring at the dark blade against Shen Qingqiu’s neck as if he could move it through sheer violent will alone.
“This all could have been avoided,” Bing-ge says, “if you hadn’t attacked this lord in pointless defense of your Shizun. Now he’s hurt, and it’s all your fault.”
The words take effect; Luo Binghe instantly looks stricken. Shen Qingqiu hates it.
“Binghe, don’t listen to him. This master will be fine,” he tries to reassure. It’s second nature, at this point, to comfort Luo Binghe no matter the circumstances.
“Will he, though?” Bing-ge cuts in, pretending as if Shen Qingqiu isn’t even there and addressing Luo Binghe only. He leans in close, breath ghosting over the shell of Shen Qingqiu’s ear. “You have no idea what this lord may do to him, and you will be helpless. Unable to know. Unable to save him. Unable to do anything.” He punctuates his final statement by nuzzling into the side of Shen Qingqiu’s head. The action feels patronizing, somehow.
Luo Binghe looks ready to explode, but his voice is eerily calm when he asks, “Shizun, what did he mean before, when he said you and him have met?”
Shen Qingqiu is… absolutely not ready to relive that memory, thank you very much! Having his wrists being held and bound by the true blackened protagonist is already bringing back phantom pains, and not just because the bones are broken!
He feels Bing-ge smile against his head. “This lord believes some things are best kept secret, away from filthy imposters. The time we shared together was special, don’t you agree, Shizun?”
Shizun??!? Who’s your Shizun???
And, no! No, it was not special!!!!!!
“What is Lord Luo planning on doing with this master?” Shen Qingqiu asks instead, ignoring Bing-ge’s question.
“Hmmm…” Bing-ge hums contemplatively, as if he hadn’t thought of it. (More bullshit!) “What is this lord to do with you?”
You could let me go and fuck off, for starters!!
“Perhaps take you back with me to my palace,” he continues, “and make you mine.”
“No,” Luo Binghe snarls. He takes a step forward, as if the threat of losing Shen Qingqiu to another version of himself is greater than the terrifying sword currently placed in a fatal area against the latter’s neck.
“No?” Bing-ge parrots, sneering. “As if someone as lowly as you could stop me.”
Shen Qingqiu feels something familiar inside him stir, and in the next instant, his vision whites out against the onslaught of extreme pain suddenly blooming in his abdomen. It feels like someone is running a sword through his stomach, over and over, pulling it out just to slam it in again. He distantly hears Luo Binghe call out “Shizun!” and wants to reach out to him, to hold him and tell him Shizun is okay, I’m okay, please don’t call out to me in such a heartbreaking tone, ah, I really can’t stand it…
After what feels like hours, but must have not even been a full minute, the pain recedes just as quickly as it had spread. Shen Qingqiu is panting harshly, and there’s sweat dripping down the back of his neck.
Absolutely fuck Airplane-bro for ever imagining up such an OP torture device.
He must have closed his eyes at some point during the blood parasites’ attack, because he opens them to a surreal sight: Luo Binghe, kneeling on the ground, head lowered.
“Please,” he rasps, as if he had done a lot more yelling than the single call Shen Qingqiu had managed to hear. “Don’t hurt him anymore. This Luo Binghe will leave, so Lord Luo and my Shizun may talk. Will that be satisfactory?”
What!! What is this!!!! There’s no way the stallion protagonist, the Luo Binghe, is… kneeling?!?! And referring to his other self as Lord?? Just because of a little blood parasite attack???
“Binghe…” Shen Qingqiu murmurs. Luo Binghe lifts his head, desperate gaze hitting Shen Qingqiu like a truck. Shen Qingqiu feels an urgent need to have him in his arms now. “This master feels okay. I promise. It stopped.”
“But it could happen again,” Luo Binghe whispers brokenly. “This disciple is the one who put them in Shizun… if it hadn’t been for me…”
“Binghe, stop.” Shen Qingqiu feels a desperation of his own. “The only fault here lies with Lord Luo.”
Bing-ge had, at some point, stopped resting against Shen Qingqiu’s head, but he was still close enough for Shen Qingqiu to feel more than hear the quick huff of laughter.
“Shizun truly is amusing,” he says, unbridled glee in his voice. “This lord will enjoy our talk.”
He then pushes Xin Mo’s blade deep enough to break the skin, and it burns. Shen Qingqiu lets out a truly pitiful wail, how embarrassing, and realizes too late that it was done as a distraction for both him and Luo Binghe, because in the next instant, yet another rift is cut open to the side, and Shen Qingqiu is being forcibly pushed towards it.
Three portals in one single room in such a short amount of time… Bing-ge, aren’t you overdoing it?! Does this not take a toll on you??
Shen Qingqiu is able to cast one last glance at Luo Binghe, who had quickly scrambled to his feet and was closing in with an arm outstretched, frantically trying to get to Shen Qingqiu in time.
He doesn’t make it.
As Shen Qingqiu is fully pulled through, he manages to get two short sentences out:
“Shizun will be back. Wait for me.”
The rift closes, and Shen Qingqiu is left with the searing image of Luo Binghe’s devastated expression and a pain in his chest far stronger than any physical injury.