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    Chapter 72: This Seat's Soup Preparation

    That night, the two of them lay on a spacious stone bed. The days of confinement were truly unbearable. They had practiced their cultivation, eaten their meals, and there was nothing else to do.

    Roaming around in that small cave, Chu Wanning's calmness allowed him to endure it, but it was different for Mo Ran; he genuinely felt as if each day dragged on like a year.

    "Sigh, how boring, how boring. What should we play? What can we play?"

    Closing his eyes, Chu Wanning replied, "Sleep."

    "It's still very early," Mo Ran glanced at the water clock and shook his head. "Very early."

    Chu Wanning ignored him.

    Mo Ran rolled around on the bed a few times before suddenly reaching out to tug at his face.



    "Junior Apprentice Brother~"



    Chu Wanning abruptly opened his eyes, seething. "What do you want!"

    Mo Ran shamelessly held his hand and shook it back and forth. "Play with me."

    "Am I the junior apprentice brother or are you?" Chu Wanning's anger was palpable as he flung away Mo Ran's hand. "Who's going to play your nonsense?"

    Mo Ran smiled sweetly, truly brazen. "Of course, it's you who'll play along with my nonsense. Who else could it be?"

    Chu Wanning: "..."

    The headband had been untied from Mo Ran's head – a thin red strip, tied at both ends, now looped between his fingers in a distinctive knot.

    In the end, Chu Wanning sat up on the bed, his temper frayed. "What is this? How do you play with it?"

    "This is a flower thread game. Girls usually play it more often, while boys don't, but I grew up in a music ensemble, didn't I? There were many girls there, so I learned how to play it."


    "It's actually quite interesting. Watch closely, now you try looping this string around your finger... No, not that one, it's your little finger, yes, just like that. Then use your thumb and index finger to hook the other two strings..." Mo Ran spoke slowly and gently, with great patience and tranquility.

    The candle flames crackled, casting a warm golden glow on their figures, big and small, both engrossed in weaving the red string pattern. Their expressions softened as they focused on the task.

    Chu Wanning held the thread taut, following Mo Ran's instructions to create the design. Suddenly, he made a mistake, and as he transferred the string, instead of forming a new pattern, it simply returned to its original, simple double strand.

    He stared blankly, his hand still suspended in mid-air, confusion etched on his face as he muttered, "Why did it come apart? How could it...?"

    "Haha, you must have tangled it wrong again."

    "....Let's try again."

    "No more," Mo Ran chuckled. "It gets boring if we keep doing the same thing. Let's try something else."

    "I insist." This time, it was Chu Wanning who was displeased. He said solemnly, "We'll try once more."


    For three days, the two remained in the cave. On the fourth night, as usual, Mo Ran prepared something delicious for Chu Wanning. He had already figured out that his junior apprentice brother and master indeed shared the same hometown, as their preferences in food were strikingly similar.

    That evening, the Feathered people delivered a hen and a few mushrooms. Mo Ran planned to make a savory mushroom chicken soup with homemade noodles – it was bound to taste delightful.

    "Chicken soup for dinner tonight?"

    "Mm-hmm," Mo Ran replied, glancing at Chu Wanning. Although this young man possessed an exceptional talent in martial arts, he couldn't grasp the intricacies of playing with a jump rope. Yet, he stubbornly persisted, always fiddling with a hair tie whenever there was nothing else to do, which was quite amusing.

    Mo Ran chuckled. "Sit there and play slowly, but I'm afraid my soup will be ready before you figure out this rope game."

    Chu Wanning snorted and paused before casually asking, "Is there any ginger left among the remaining ingredients?"

    "I'll check... Oh, yes, plenty of it. They gave me a bunch yesterday."

    Satisfied, Chu Wanning said, "Add more to it. It'll help remove the gamey taste."

    Mo Ran stroked his chin. "Hmm... Do you think I should add some goji berries as well?"

    Chu Wanning's eyes lit up. "Really?"

    "Ha. Of course not. I just think your taste is similar to your Shifu's. He also likes adding ginger to his soup and goji berries."

    "... You remember what he likes to eat?"

    "Haha, yes, yes, because I'm obedient." Mo Ran didn't bother explaining further. He couldn't possibly tell his junior disciple about their past lives. So he simply replied, "I'm the perfect filial disciple, but unfortunately, my sincere admiration for Shifu goes unnoticed."

    As Mo Ran spoke casually, he started preparing the poultry, thus missing Chu Wanning's expression. He efficiently plucked the feathers and removed the organs, ready to boil water to wash away the blood. At this moment, he heard his junior disciple say softly, "He might actually know."


    When Mo Ran looked up, Chu Wanning's ears suddenly turned red. He coughed awkwardly and said, "I meant that he might know how well you treat Elder Yu Heng."

    "Oh, that. Actually, it doesn't matter. I've gotten used to it. Sometimes, I do fantasize that he could be like other masters, sharing intimate conversations with me or knowing my preferences as I do his. But those are just thoughts from the past. When I first joined the sect, I was deceived by his handsome appearance and thought he was gentle. Now, looking back, I realize... Sigh, he's too high and mighty, too busy with his duties. How could I ever catch his eye? Ha, ahahaha."

    Upon hearing this, Chu Wanning was initially annoyed. However, upon reflection, he realized that although he cared for Mo Ran, he had always kept a distant attitude. This realization turned his annoyance into embarrassment, causing him to lower his head in silence. After a while, he jumped off the bed and quietly walked over to Mo Ran.

    "What are you doing?"

    "You've been cooking for days now. Let me make something simple for you today."

    Mo Ran was taken aback, then he chuckled. "Why the sudden idea? You're so small, how can you cook? You can't even reach the stove. Besides, I'm your senior brother; since you call me that, what's a few meals?"

    Chu Wanning fetched a stool and stood on it silently, staring stubbornly at him.

    Mo Ran: "… Why are you glaring at me?"

    "I want to see if I can reach the stove."


    "Senior Elder Yu Heng doesn't know what you like to eat, but I'm not as heartless as he is," Chu Wanning said expressionlessly. "Go rest, I'll cook for you."

    After bustling around for half a day, Chu Wanning didn't let Mo Ran help. He brandished a kitchen knife with an intimidating gaze, cutting the dead hen's body with a focused yet stiff demeanor, a sight too gruesome to bear.

    Mo Ran had initially wanted to lend a hand, but his junior disciple's bad temper reminded him of their master. They both disliked being disturbed when concentrating on tasks. After several failed attempts, Mo Ran scratched his head and lay down on the bed to rest in a daze.

    Finally, the chicken was put into the pot. Chu Wanning covered the clay lid of the soup pot and turned to say something to Mo Ran when a soft voice echoed from the entrance of the prison cave.

    "Are you there, Ah Ran and Junior Brother Xia?"

    Upon hearing this voice, Mo Ran was struck as if by lightning. He leaped off the bed and rushed to the door. Through a crack, he first saw a cold Feathered standing outside. But when his gaze shifted, he spotted Shi Mo standing behind her, dressed in white and looking worried. Overwhelmed with joy, he exclaimed, "Shi Mo! You... Why are you here?"

    "I have an urgent matter to discuss with you," Shi Mo said. "The Ruler has received a report and has come to Peach Blossom Spring. They're currently negotiating with the Feathered. How have you been? Have you suffered during these days?"

    "I'm doing great, eating, drinking, and bouncing around just fine," Mo Ran paused before asking, "What about Master? Where is he?"

    "He claims to still be in seclusion for cultivation and hasn't come," Shi Mo replied.

    "Oh..." Mo Ran's eyes flickered, then he sighed softly, muttering to himself, "It's better that he didn't come... It's better that way."

    "But Elder Xuan Ji is here, saying he's vouching for Junior Brother Xia," Shi Mo continued. "Is Junior Brother Xia sleeping?"

    Mo Ran answered, "No, he's making soup. Junior Brother—come over quickly!"

    Chu Wanning put down the small bamboo fan he had been using to fan the fire and walked to the door. Looking at the two people outside without any surprise, he said coolly, "What's going on?"

    Before Shi Mo could speak, the Feathered huffed and shot back, "Isn't it obvious? Your master is here, saying they'll protect you while negotiating with our Celestial Ruler."

    "...My master?"

    "The Elder Xuan Ji."

    "Oh." Chu Wanning paused, his expression unreadable. "Very well."

    The Feathered tribesman pouted and said, "Both of you come out. The Esteemed Lords have gathered at the Dew Drinking Pavilion, waiting for your explanations."

    Chu Wanning glanced back at the simmering chicken soup and said, "I won't be going. The soup is halfway done, and I can't leave. Mo Ran, you can represent me."

    Upon hearing this, the Feathered tribesman thought to himself that he was indeed just a naive child, speaking so irresponsibly. He sneered and threatened, "If you don't go, you'll miss your chance to defend yourself. If you're found guilty of killing Miss Eighteen, you'll be executed."

    To his surprise, Chu Wanning didn't seem to be afraid at all. Instead, he looked indifferent, gave him a cold glance, and walked away.

    Shi Mo was about to call after him, but Mo Ran shook his head with a smile. "Let him be. I'll go instead."

    "But Elder Xuan Ji has come a long way. It would be rude if he doesn't pay his respects..."

    Before Mo Ran could speak, Chu Wanning's voice drifted from afar, "Senior Brother Mo, please convey my regards to our Master."

    "..." Surprised that his soft-spoken words had been overheard, Shi Mo felt a bit awkward. Clearing his throat, he waited for the Feathered to clear the bramble outside the dungeon entrance before taking Mo Ran's hand, ready to leave.

    Unexpectedly, Chu Wanning turned back and called out, "Senior Apprentice Brother."

    "Has Junior Apprentice Brother changed your mind and decided to come with me?" Mo Ran asked with a smile.

    Chu Wanning waved his short sleeves and replied, "I'm not going. I just came to remind you to return early. If you're late, the soup will be cold and won't taste as good."

    Startled, Mo Ran laughed. "Alright, then wait for me."

    "Mm." Chu Wanning didn't say anything more. Only when Mo Ran was far away and had disappeared around the corner did he turn back and focus on cooking the soup.

    The Pavilion of Dewdrops wasn't far from the dungeon. On their way, Shi Mo casually asked, "Ran, it seems like you've become closer to Junior Apprentice Brother Xia these days?"

    Smiling, Mo Ran answered, "Yeah, we've gone through some hardships together. Why, is Shi Mo feeling jealous of a child?"

    "...) Nonsense."

    "Hahaha, don't worry, Shi Mo. You're still my favorite, and that won't change."

    "…Stop the nonsense. I just find Junior Brother Xia a bit peculiar…"

    "Peculiar? Oh…" Mo Ran pondered and nodded. "He is rather odd, indeed."

    "You think so too?"

    "Yes," Mo Ran chuckled. "At such a young age, he speaks as if he were an adult, and his magical powers are formidable. Besides, what happened in the illusionary realm was even more bizarre. I haven't had the chance to tell you yet. Did you know? I suspect he might be a distant relative of our Master."

    A flicker of emotion passed through Shi Mo's eyes as he asked, "In what way?"

    "We saw someone in the illusion who was the son of the Taishou (Governor) of Linan City two hundred years ago, and he also bore the surname Chu. He looked incredibly similar to our Master. He had a son whose appearance was also…."

    Just as he was about to divulge the crucial point, a furious string of curses echoed ahead. Looking up, they saw Xue Meng storming towards them with a scowl on his face, still yelling, "Scoundrel! Beast! Shameless cur!"


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