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    Chapter 68: This Seat Cannot Bear It

    Young Chu Lan had perished. Yet the illusionary realm continued.

    Dawn was still distant, and the nightmare of the long night had yet to pass. The fortunate survivors returned to their homes, preparing to depart for Mount Putuo once the sun rose.

    It was hard to believe that anyone could persevere and continue with their previous plans after such suffering. Indeed, it seemed as if Chu Xun's body was merely walking about, his soul already departed.

    Mo Ran walked around the city and heard many people expressing their concerns. After all, Chu Xun had endured such torment. Not to mention whether he would bear resentment, even if he were willing to lead them out of this predicament, his current state of mind likely spelled danger for all.

    However, not everyone was solely focused on themselves. There were those who genuinely grieved for Chu Xun, though few in number, they did exist.

    The anxious crowd waited for daybreak in silence.

    But before the sunrise, the familiar cold voice boomed through the heavy darkness, echoing loudly at the boundary of the barrier.

    This time, the Demon King was not addressing Chu Xun but the citizens within the city.

    "The sun will rise soon, and This Seat knows you plan to escape under its light. But have you truly considered your decision? Mount Putuo is far from here, and there's no way you can reach it within a single day. When night falls again, you'll rely on Chu Xun's power for protection. But can Chu Xun truly shield you all?"


    A child, hearing this terrifying sound, broke into tears and nestled into their mother's embrace. All heads turned upward to gaze at the sky.

    Chu Xun stood before the mansion gates, seemingly oblivious to it all. Leaning against the peach blossom tree, his eyes were closed in contemplation.

    "The death of his wife and child was your doing. Do you truly believe he'll still protect you with all his heart? More likely, he has another plan, one that will make your lives a living hell as retribution for his loved ones. That is human nature... I've lived before, and I was once human too. Though there are benevolent souls in this world, they seek only a good reputation. Human nature is inherently evil, and so-called virtuous people have hidden motives. When pushed to the brink, who cares about the lives of others?"

    The Ghost King's eerie voice echoed continuously.

    "I mentioned earlier that I had no intention of taking the lives of your entire city. You should know that even as living beings, you can serve my ghost clan. If you don't believe me, look at him—"

    As the words faded, a billowing black cloud swirled outside the barrier. Perched atop it was Xiaoman. Beside him stood a man, around forty or fifty, with an amiable and trustworthy appearance.

    Someone cried out, "It's Xiaoman's father!"

    "It's Xiaoman's father! Didn't he die?!"

    "He was dismembered right in front of us. How can this be?!"

    The Ghost King declared, "As one of the Nine Ghost Kings, I may not wield the power to control life and death like the King of Yama, but I can restore the appearance of the deceased. If you serve me, you can be reunited with your loved ones who have passed. However, if you defy me, you'll suffer the same fate as Young Master Chu, watching helplessly as your wife kills your child, with grief that pierces to the core."

    Silence fell within the barrier.

    "Are you truly willing to trust him? To believe he won't harm you and avenge your spouses and children?"

    "Are you truly willing to trust that he can lead you to safety, far away from Putuo?"

    Some turned their eyes to Chu Xun, a sinister gleam emerging in their gazes.

    Finally, Chu Xun lifted his head. Standing alone beneath the blossoming trees, he looked at them quietly. He genuinely didn't know what to say; after a long moment, he spoke, "At this point, what good would it do for me to harm you?"

    Peals of the Ghost King's bone-chilling laughter echoed through the barrier, "Excellent, excellent! He won't harm you. If you believe in him, follow him then. But if you believe in me—"

    His voice rose to a crescendo, almost shattering eardrums as it pierced deep into hearts.

    "If you put your faith in me, you will be rewarded immediately. I can bring back your departed loved ones, as long as you hand over Chu Xun, as long as you surrender him— to me! My enmity runs deep with him, but has nothing to do with you. Give up Chu Xun, and you won't have to leave your homeland. Surrender Chu Xun, and your families can be reunited. Call him out, and everything will come to an end," the Ghost King whispered ominously.

    "I'll be waiting for you at the City God Pavilion before dawn."

    The voice faded away.

    The crowd, emerging from their stunned silence, gradually produced a peculiar buzz. All eyes turned to Chu Xun, who looked back at them with an uncanny calmness, one could even say serenity.

    Some began to murmur helplessly, "What should we do...?"

    "What can we do, my husband? I'm so scared..."

    "Mother, I'm scared too! I don't want to be eaten!"

    There were those who whispered in hushed tones, "The Ghost King does have a point... Those who are kind usually have hidden motives. We've seen our fair share of despicable officials before. Chu... Young Master Chu hasn't done anything yet, but look at his demeanor, he seems distracted. Who knows what crazy things he might do in the future!"

    Upon hearing this, no one contradicted him. Instead, someone whispered in agreement, "You're right. If he decides to seek revenge, he might endanger all of us! There have been instances of betrayal at the last moment in previous dynasties..."

    Suddenly, a man rushed forward, shouting, "Capture him! If we catch him, we'll survive!"

    No one responded immediately. After a long while, a young woman stepped forward and stood in front of the man, her voice soft yet resolute, "How can a true gentleman repay kindness with enmity?"

    "Scram!" The man kicked the girl to the ground and spat a mouthful of phlegm at her face. "A worthless harlot like you, who sleeps with men, has no right to speak up! I have my parents and children to think about. I won't let my family suffer injustice! Young Master Chu, forgive me!"

    He then made a move to seize Chu Xun.

    However, before he could take a step, his leg was tightly grasped by someone. The man looked down and flew into a rage. "You dare to stop me? Do you want everyone to die with you?"

    The girl replied indignantly, "Though I'm a courtesan, I can still distinguish right from wrong. Even cats and dogs know how to repay kindness. How much more should humans?"

    "F*ck your mother!"

    The man kicked her face again, leaving it bruised and swollen. At this point, others started closing in on Chu Xun. Although a few, like the courtesan, attempted to intervene, their efforts were futile. They were like a single leaf in a raging current, quickly swept away.

    "Milord—Milord, hurry and leave!"

    An old woman trembled as she called out to Chu Xun. "Young Master Chu, go! Go! Don't waste any more time on these beasts! Leave!"

    A child's voice chimed in, "Stop fighting, Mama, Papa, don't hurt the lord, don't hurt him—"

    Amidst the bustling crowd and cacophony of voices, chaos reigned.

    Chu Xun stood alone in the rain, as if he could see countless malevolent spirits crawling out from the depths of hell. For a moment, he was tempted to leave.

    But his gaze fell upon those weeping and wailing living souls. He saw the child desperately pleading with their parents, the girl who had been the first to stand up, now bruised and swollen, the old woman trembling in the storm with her white hair, and the dozen or so citizens, backs turned to him, striving to hold back the chaos.

    His feet, which had intended to depart, hesitated.

    They were not at fault. If the barrier were removed, these people would also die.

    It turned out that the most repulsive creatures in the world were not demons, but cowardly beasts in human disguise. Powerless and seeking only to survive, they hid among the masses, ready to do anything and say anything for their own survival.

    In the end, they would rationalize, "I only wanted to save my life. I'm pitiful, helpless. What crime have I committed?"

    He had once believed he was protecting innocent and defenseless souls, but he had been mistaken.

    Only now did those beasts strip away their human facade, revealing one grotesque, red-grinning face after another...

    They had concealed themselves so deeply... So very deeply.

    He no longer wished to shed blood and tears for those disguised monsters, yet they were cunning, hiding among the virtuous, their faces laughing wildly and triumphantly at Chu Xun's inability to protect them all.

    "You must save us. If you dismantle the barrier, we'll drag the ones you want to save, the ones who owe you gratitude, down to hell with us."

    There's nothing you can do about it.

    It was your choice to be a gentleman, to be a good person.

    Having made that choice, sacrificing yourself to save everyone is what you should do. If you don't, you're a hypocrite, a fraud, falsely noble, and no better than swine.

    He seemed to hear their shrill cries, their laughter echoing:

    You have no other option. You have no other choice!

    Amidst the tumultuous cacophony, Chu Xun slowly raised his head, gazing at the sky amidst the howling winds and torrential rain.

    Daylight was finally breaking.

    A night of heavy rain had washed away the blood on the City God Pavilion's stone steps. Chu Xun and those who had protected him were now bound and being led towards the temple.

    What a tragic and comical sight. They had tied Chu Xun up so tightly, gloating over capturing such a formidable opponent. Yet they were oblivious to the fact that Chu Xun could have reduced these ropes to ashes with a mere spell.

    Yet, he didn't do so. He didn't withdraw the Upper Clearness Barrier in the end.

    Ling'an had already shed too much blood. He didn't wish to take the lives of more innocent people just to avenge his own grudge.

    Thus, that thin veil protected both those who repaid kindness with enmity and those who treated him sincerely. When he arrived in front of the temple, the Ghost King didn't appear. There was only a candle flame emitting rolling black smoke, coiling into an ethereal human shape.

    "Why—don't you withdraw the barrier!" The voice was furious when it saw Chu Xun. "Withdraw the barrier!!"

    Calmly, Chu Xun replied, "Unless I die."

    The mass of black gas let out a shrill scream. It croaked, "Chu Xun, you're insane! You… kill him—kill him for me—or else, by nightfall, I'll claim all your lives!"

    Dawn arrived.

    Layer upon layer of daylight weakly illuminated the endless night.

    The Ghost King couldn't withstand the light and retreated into the darkness. The candle flame burning with black smoke trembled abruptly before going out.

    Chu Xun regained his senses. The City God Pavilion was quite tall. From afar, the landscape was veiled in mist and rain, its wounds indiscernible. It seemed like time had stood still, with spring in the south as beautiful as ever.

    "Young Master Chu, I apologize."

    "It's not that we're heartless or cruel, but you blinded the Demon King's eye. He holds a deep grudge against you... We had no choice..."

    "What more do you have to say? Delay brings uncertainty, and my entire family is waiting to live. Is one person's life more important than everyone else's? As an enlightened being, one puts others first and oneself last—those were his own words!"

    Chu Wanning stood at a distance, watching the man whose relationship with him was shrouded in mystery, overwhelmed by a bittersweet mix of emotions.

    Suddenly, a pair of hands covered his eyes.

    Chu Wanning whispered, "What are you doing?"

    "I'm not letting you see."


    "It'll be painful for you."

    Chu Wanning fell silent for a moment, his eyelashes fluttering gently against Mo Ran's palm. "It won't. I've told you, it happened two hundred years ago."

    Mo Ran's voice sounded from behind, a gentle sigh escaping his lips, "…Little fool, why is my palm damp?"

    Time passed, be it a stick of incense, two hours, or just a fleeting moment – it was all blurred amidst the chaos and madness.

    When Chu Wanning opened his eyes, the Celestial Barrier had dissipated. Chu Xun lay sprawled in a pool of blood, surrounded by both humans and spirits, disguised as demons lurking beneath human skin, savoring the scent of fresh blood.

    Amidst the joy, guilt, and relief of survival, there was also pain and the beastly nature of humanity.

    Death lingered in the air.

    Was it still the world of the living, or had it transformed into hell? The distinction had become hazy.

    The crowd gradually dispersed. Ghosts would not linger in daylight; they hurried to satisfy their hunger, rest, and await the return of the Ghost King at night, to examine the dead man in the temple and bestow rewards for their loved ones' supposed return.

    In the end, only those dozen mournful survivors remained within the temple.

    There was the courtesan, the elderly woman with her shimmering white hair, a couple who were stopped by their child, an orphan, a scholar, a storyteller, a former wealthy young master, a widow holding her infant, a schoolmaster, and a farmer.

    No one else.

    Yet, as they wept over the corpses, the man who had bled out in the pool of blood fluttered his eyelashes and slowly opened his eyes.

    "Young Master!"

    "Young Master Chu!"

    Mo Ran's heart trembled as he said with compassion, "It's no use... This is..."

    This spell had long been lost in the mortal world, but to his surprise, it appeared again in this illusory realm.

    "This is the Echoing Voice Curse. He's already dead, but he cast this spell on himself before he passed," Chu Wanning paused and continued, "He must have had something unfinished, something that still weighed heavily on his heart."

    Sure enough, Chu Xun's gaze was hollow and unfocused. He spoke calmly, "The Ghost Clan is treacherous, and their words cannot be trusted. After nightfall, when the Upper Clearness Barrier is lost, demons will run rampant and kill indiscriminately. I beg of you all, leave this place and head for Putuo Island."

    "Young Master..."

    "I am already deceased, unable to accompany you all anymore. Yet, I have condensed my entire life's spiritual energy, sealing it within a spell in my spirit core. If you carry my spirit core, malevolent spirits shall not dare approach."

    The sobs intensified, bordering on tears of blood.

    Mo Ran and Chu Wanning's faces paled with horror.

    Spirit core...

    That was a crystal born alongside the heart...

    The deceased Chu Xun slowly raised his still-flexible hand, following the incantation he had prepared before his death, and grasped the blade buried in his chest, pulling it out.


    "Milord!!!" The people around them wailed in agony, their voices distorted and hoarse, filled with blood and tears, "What are you doing, Milord—!!!"

    The dead man's fingers tore open the wound in his chest, pierced into his flesh, and seized his no-longer-beating heart, slowly, bit by bit, dragging it out.

    That heart was bleeding, pulsating with golden-red flames.

    It was the essence of Chu Xun's spiritual core, the last flicker of light from a candle burning to its end.

    "Take... it..."

    He lifted the blazing heart and held it out straight, repeating persistently, "Hold it... take... it..."

    Blood droplets rolled down, transforming into red hibiscus blossoms. Those flowers burned, their brilliance captivating.

    "On this long and treacherous journey, Chu Xun's fate is fleeting, unable to offer any further assistance. I implore you all... I implore you to take great... care of yourselves..."

    Mo Ran watched in shock as this unfolded before him, suddenly feeling a prickle on his back, beads of cold sweat trickling down.

    The scar... That scar!

    He abruptly recalled that on Chu Wanning's chest, right above his heart—

    There was also a scar!

    It was an area of extreme sensitivity for Chu Wanning. How could he have forgotten? Whenever they were intimate, when he licked at that faint mark, Chu Wanning's usually aloof expression would reveal a restrained longing. Mo Ran found this look provocative, so he always took pleasure in tormenting the man beneath him.

    Back then, he had never concerned himself with Chu Wanning's past, and he never inquired about the origin of that scar. He took the secret to his grave without ever asking.

    And in this lifetime, even if he wanted to ask, he no longer had the right to do so.


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