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    Chapter 65: The Story This Seat Tells Is Terribly Unpleasant

    Mo Ran smiled again as he continued, "A very long time ago, there was a little child."

    Chu Wanning kept his eyes closed. "Wasn't it about a cow eating grass? How did it become a child?"

    "Listen to me finish first," Mo Ran said with a grin. "Once upon a time, there was a poor little child. He had no parents and worked as a laborer in a landlord's house. He had to wash dishes, clothes, and sweep the floor, as well as take the cows out to graze. The child felt content just to have three buns to fill his stomach every day."

    "One day, he took the cows out to graze like usual. On the way, he encountered an evil dog that bit one of the cows' legs. Naturally, the child was beaten severely by the landlord. After the beating, the landlord made him kill the dog to vent his anger. Otherwise, he wouldn't give the child any buns."

    "The child was very scared but had no choice but to follow orders and bring the dog back dead. But when he returned home, the landlord discovered that the dog which had bitten their work ox was actually the county magistrate's beloved pet."

    Chu Wanning opened his eyes. "What should they do then?"

    "What else could they do? That dog was the most cherished possession of the county magistrate, accustomed to bullying others because of its master's power. If the magistrate found out that it had been killed carelessly, he would surely not let them off easily. So, the landlord became angrier and still didn't give the child any buns. He even threatened to send the child away if the magistrate came looking for them."

    Chu Wanning: "…What nonsense is this? It doesn't make any sense. I don't want to listen anymore."

    "Many things in life simply don't make sense," Mo Ran said with a smile. "It's all about who has more money, who has the strongest fists, or who holds the higher position. The next day, the county magistrate indeed came looking for someone. The child was given up. Because he was too young, the magistrate didn't have the heart to imprison him. He beat the child harshly with ten sticks before letting him go."

    Chu Wanning asked, "Did the child run away after that?"

    Mo Ran replied, "Haha, no, he didn't escape. The kid still returned to the landlord's house, recovered from his injuries, and continued herding their cows. He still ate three cakes every day."

    "Wasn't he angry?"

    "As long as he was full, he wasn't angry," Mo Ran said. "He took the beating and let it go. They lived in peace for over a decade. Later, the cowherd grew up. There was also the son of the landlord, who was the same age as him. One day, some distinguished guests came to the landlord's house. The landlord's son saw that one of them had a particularly beautiful agate snuff bottle and liked it so much that he stole it."

    "That snuff bottle was an heirloom and very valuable. The guest was panicked and searched the entire house for it. When the landlord's son realized he couldn't hide it any longer, he stuffed the snuff bottle into the cowherd's hands and told him that if he dared to reveal the truth, he would never give him food again and let him starve to death."

    "…" Chu Wanning was speechless at this point. He thought that although Mo Ran had been wandering outside since he was young and had lost his parents, he had at least grown up in the Music Bureau with his mother, who was the head nurse there. Although he didn't have a happy life, it wasn't miserable either. Why did he always make up such gloomy stories?

    Mo Ran continued with relish, "The snuff bottle was soon found. The cowherd had no choice but to admit it under pressure, and naturally, he was beaten violently once more. This time, he was bedridden for three days. The landlord's son, who had escaped punishment, secretly gave the cowherd a steamed bun stuffed with braised pork. The child devoured it greedily and didn't hate the person who had wronged him anymore. Because he had never tasted such a delicacy before, he held the bun in one hand while continuously thanking the landlord's son with the other, saying 'thank you, thank you.'"

    "I don't want to hear any more," Chu Wanning said genuinely angry this time. "Why wouldn't he hate? A steamed bun made him forgive? And thank him? What is there to thank for?!"

    "No, you didn't listen carefully," Mo Ran blinked innocently.

    "How didn't I listen carefully?"

    Mo Ran said solemnly, "That was a steamed bun with a slice of pork belly inside."

    Chu Wanning: "…"

    "Haha, look at your expression. You don't get it, do you? That child could only have a couple of pieces of fat meat on New Year's Eve. He never thought he'd know the taste of a pork belly sandwich in his lifetime, so of course, he had to thank the person who gave it to him."

    Seeing his junior apprentice brother speechless, Mo Ran smiled brightly and continued, "Anyway, that matter was settled. He still had his three buns and carried on with his daily life. One day…"

    Chu Wanning now understood Mo Ran's storytelling style. Whenever "one day" appeared, something terrible was bound to happen.

    Sure enough, Mo Ran said, "One day, the landlord's son got into trouble again."

    "This time, he molested a girl from the neighboring house in the mill, and it just so happened that the unfortunate cowherd boy saw it."

    Chu Wanning: "…Did they make the kid take the blame again?"

    "Ah," Mo Ran chuckled. "That's right. Congratulations, you've learned how to tell stories too."

    "I'm going to sleep."

    "Don't, it'll be over soon," Mo Ran said. "This is my first time telling a story to someone else, so please do me the favor of listening."

    Chu Wanning: "..."

    "This time, the cowherd had no choice but to take the blame. The girl, unable to bear the humiliation, had killed herself by crashing into a wall. But the cowherd wasn't foolish; he knew that taking someone's life required his own as retribution, and he couldn't possibly substitute for the landlord's son," Mo Ran continued. "Refusing to do so, the landlord's son locked him and the dead girl inside the mill, then went to report the incident to the authorities."

    "The cowherd had a notorious record. He had once beaten the county magistrate's dog to death for no reason, later stole a guest's snuff bottle, and now had committed the heinous act of raping a civilian woman. Naturally, he was deemed irredeemably guilty. No one cared to hear his defense; with evidence against him, he was arrested."

    Chu Wanning's eyes widened. "And then what happened?"

    "And then, he spent several months in prison before being sentenced to death in the autumn. He was sent to the outskirts of Xingtai City to be hanged. As he walked with the execution squad through the fields, he suddenly saw someone slaughtering a cow not far away. He recognized at once that it was the very cow he had tended since he was young, now old and too weak for labor. But even an old cow needs to eat grass. How could the landowner be willing to feed it if it couldn't work? It had plowed their fields all its life, yet in the end, they decided to kill it for its meat."

    Despite recounting such a cruel tale, Mo Ran didn't seem saddened. Instead, he smiled and said, "But the cowherd had grown up riding on its back. He'd whispered countless secrets to it, fed it grass, and cried into its neck when he felt wronged. He considered it his only kin in this world."

    "So, he knelt before the prison chief, begging to say goodbye to the old cow. But the prison chief, naturally, didn't believe that a human could have any real feelings for an animal. He thought the cowherd was trying to play a trick, so he denied the request."

    "And then?"

    "Well, then the cowherd was hanged. And the cow was killed. Blood stained the ground, and the onlookers dispersed coldly. That night, the landowner's family had a meal of beef, but the meat was too tough, getting stuck in their teeth. They ate a little, didn't like it, and threw the rest away."

    Chu Wanning: "..."

    Mo Ran rolled over, gazing at him with a grin. "That's the end. Did you like it?"

    Chu Wanning replied, "Get lost."

    "I cried the first time I told it to myself. You have a heart of stone not to shed a tear."

    "It's because you told it so poorly..."

    Mo Ran chuckled, looping an arm around his junior's shoulders and ruffling his hair. "What can I do? That's all my senior apprentice brother's got. Alright, the story's done. Let's sleep."

    Chu Wanning remained silent. After a long while, he suddenly asked, "Mo Ran."

    "Call me Senior Apprentice Brother."

    "Why did you mention cows eating grass?"

    "Because humans are like cows, we both need to eat. And to eat, we must do many things. When one day you can't do those things anymore, no one will care if you're alive or not."

    Chu Wanning fell silent once more.

    The rustling in the courtyard was the soft sound of refugees seeking shelter, occasionally interrupted by the eerie wails of ghosts beyond the barrier.

    "Mo Ran."

    "Oh dear, how naive. Call me Senior Brother."

    Chu Wanning ignored him and asked, "Was there really such a child?"

    "There wasn't." Mo Ran fell quiet for a moment before suddenly smiling, his dimples deep and charming. He nestled the little one into his embrace and said warmly, "Of course I made it up to tease you. Be good and go to sleep."

    But before long, a sudden commotion erupted in the courtyard.

    Someone shouted furiously, "Looking for Young Master! Young Master is busy, how could he have time to deal with your problems? Clear that corpse out of here! Do you know that anyone with blue spots will rise from the dead?! Are you trying to get us all killed?!"

    This voice was like a bolt of lightning in the dark night. At the mention of "rising from the dead," everyone was startled awake, sitting up and staring in the direction of the disturbance.

    Mo Ran shielded his junior brother behind him, taking a look and frowning as he whispered, "Huh? Was it that person from noon?"

    Kneeling on the ground, being scolded, was the young man called Xiaoman from noon. He still wore his daytime attire, but his spirit had changed entirely.

    He seemed drained of all life, clutched tightly onto his foster father's corpse. The nails on the corpse had grown significantly, a precursor to reanimation. Upon seeing this, others retreated in fear. The chief administrator of the governor's mansion sternly reprimanded him.

    "You father was my colleague; I grieve for his loss too. But what can we do? It was you who cried for food last night, forcing him to go out and find sustenance for you. You've caused your father's death, and now you want to burden us further?

    Xiaoman knelt there, his hair disheveled, eyes reddened with tears. "No, it wasn't me... I didn't... Father, oh Father. Please, let me see the nobleman. He has a way to prevent my father from rising as undead. I want to give my father a proper burial. I beg of you... don't... don't dismember him... Wuu..."

    The word "dismember" caught in his throat, and he buried his face in his palms, wiping away tears haphazardly. His lips quivered as he pleaded, "I beg of you... let me wait for the nobleman's return..."

    "Midnight is almost upon us, how could the young master possibly attend to your matters when he's outside? You know ordinary corpses can still be purified, but with your father's blue spots and deformed nails, how could he possibly hold on until the young master returns?"

    "Please... It's possible, Uncle Liu... I beg of you, I'll work for you like an ox or a horse, I'll... I'll find a way to repay you in the future. Please, don't touch my father... I beg of you... I'm begging you..."

    Seeing his desperate plea, the middle-aged steward let out a long sigh, his eyes reddening. However, he still said, "Ah, do you realize that you're putting all our lives at risk? —Someone, come here!"

    "No! No!!"

    But it was too late. Nobody would come to his aid. Everyone knew that if the corpse remained, it would undoubtedly become a malevolent spirit at midnight.

    Xiaoman's foster father's corpse was forcibly dragged away to be brutally dismembered outside. Surrounded by several people, Xiaoman wept blood and dirtied his face as he let out continuous, beast-like howls. Eventually, he too was half-carried, half-dragged away.

    After this upheaval, the courtyard buzzed with whispered discussions before gradually returning to calm.

    Chu Wanning, however, didn't fall asleep. He lowered his head in deep thought.

    Mo Ran glanced at his junior apprentice brother and asked, "What are you thinking about?"

    "I'm pondering over how this person, in his grief and confusion, committed such an act. With his foster father's body taken from him, it's understandable that he might harbor resentment towards others. I have a tentative theory that the failure of Lin'an's city-wide evacuation might be connected to him."

    Mo Ran nodded, tapping his fingers in agreement. "I had the same thought."

    Chu Wanning shook his head. "But it's still too early to jump to conclusions. We should keep an eye on him for now."

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