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    Chapter 96: This Seat's Hatred in This Lifetime

    No wonder Ye Wangxi looked down on him. Mei Hanxue was precisely that "Senior Brother" who had triggered countless female cultivators' jealousy back in Peach Blossom Spring.

    Assuming that someone formidable had arrived, Nan Gongsi lost interest upon realizing it was just a handsome, superficial man. He turned around and continued fighting the enemy.

    Mei Hanxue glanced at Xue Meng, his eyes filled with helplessness but without paying attention to him. Instead, he lowered his head and casually plucked the strings of the zither a few times. Upon hearing the melody, the hundred Treading Snow Palace cultivators scattered in all directions—

    "The Zither Ensemble, play the Melody of Azure Light; the Lute Ensemble, perform the Breaking Formation Dance."

    As he gave the order, those playing the instruments temporarily changed their tunes. Countless rapid sounds of metal and stone converged in mid-air, resonating through the drifting clouds.

    For a moment, the ghosts and spirits became dazed, stopping their battles. They stretched their necks in confusion, looking around aimlessly.

    Seeing this situation, Li Wuxin recalled that the Treading Snow Palace from Kunlun not only excelled in music but also knew how to mend barriers. Overjoyed, he looked up and shouted, "Nephew Mei, do you know how to mend this rift in the sky?"

    Mei Hanxue didn't mind Li Wuxin's use of "Nephew Mei," which sounded somewhat disgusting. He simply replied, "The leak in the Heavenly Abyss of the Realm of No Return cannot be sealed by my power alone."

    "Oh, I see…" Li Wuxin's face paled, and he finally sighed, waving his sleeves in despair, "Ah!"

    "Hanxue, can you hold the protective barriers in place around Butterfly Town?"

    The speaker was Xue Zhengyong. Given the long-standing friendship between Death and Rebirth Peak and Treading Snow Palace, Mei Hanxue, upon seeing a familiar elder, first bowed with her pipa before replying, "I'll give it a try."

    "Excellent!" Xue Zhengyong clapped his hands. "Guard the barriers and prevent any malevolent spirits from escaping. Now, summon Yu Heng—"

    "Senior Yu Heng?"

    "Oh, how forgetful of me. You've never met Yu Heng before. But it doesn't matter, you'll know who he is when you see him. He's the one currently guarding the barrier."

    "Understood." Mei Hanxue remained calm, redirecting her sword like a shooting star as she flew towards the edge of Butterfly Town.

    Nan Gongsi shot three arrows simultaneously in three directions, the twang of his bowstring echoing. As he saw Mei Hanxue's graceful movements, like a swan in flight, and the Treading Snow Palace disciples disrupting their foes with the melodies of their zithers, he couldn't help but be surprised. He turned to Ye Wangxi and said, "This person is so powerful. Why did you describe him as a pretty boy who relies on women to fight for him?"

    "..."

    Ye Wangxi was also puzzled, but at this moment, the ghosts were moving more slowly, presenting an excellent opportunity to strike. Thus, he didn't dwell on it further, simply telling Nan Gongsi, "Perhaps during our exchange, he didn't use his full strength." Then, he focused on slaying the enemies without further conversation.

    Of the Ten Great Sects, four had now arrived, making their response to the Sky Splitting less desperate, but it was still a tremendous struggle.

    Though the souls on the ground were halted by the Treading Snow Palace's melodies, even more malevolent howls erupted from the Realm of Ghosts through the bloodshot eyes. The Treading Snow Palace members were all suspended in mid-air, unable to spare their hands to protect themselves while playing their instruments. Thus, the demonic forces rushed towards the lute formations and ancient zither formations scattered around the cloud layers.

    The Treading Snow Palace cultivators had no choice but to divert some of their efforts to play a different defensive array music. As a result, the melodies that repelled enemies and exorcised demons instantly weakened, causing the malevolent spirits on the ground to surge forth like swarming ants.

    Even more terrifying was that, with the Ghost Realm Gate opening wider and wider, some high-level malevolent spirits, shackled in chains, had, by absorbing a vast amount of human world essence, broken free from their constraints. They thundered into the mortal realm, unleashing chaos.

    These spirits were different from the previous ones; their corporeal forms fused with vengeful souls, making them even more ferocious and endowed with greater spiritual power. Ordinary cultivators found it impossible to fend them off individually. Some solitary disciples were effortlessly flipped over by these spirits, their bony claws piercing ruthlessly into the living beings' lungs and hearts.

    With a puff!

    Bloody splatters filled the air as the hearts of cultivators, brimming with spiritual energy, were devoured by these high-ranking malevolent spirits. Blood trickled down their decaying visages.

    With bits of flesh and blood still between their teeth, the spirits grew stronger and lunged back into the crowd, pouncing on new prey like panthers on the hunt.

    Instantly, chaos erupted!

    Xue Zhengyong shouted, "Form a defensive circle, stick together, don't scatter! Don't run around in panic!"

    Yet, amidst the cries and screams, some still fled aimlessly. The scent of blood in the air intensified, while waves of demonic creatures surged forth, akin to an endless tide of death...

    Nan Gongsi was in the midst of an intense battle, drawing his bowstring taut, when suddenly a hanging ghost with a blood-red tongue coiled around his waist and lunged its sharp claws towards his chest.

    From a distance, Ye Wangxi, usually composed, turned pale as he looked back—

    "Ah Si!!"

    "Milord!"

    In the nick of time, Song Qiutong swooped in with her sword drawn, plunging it into the hanging ghost's arm. But she had never killed a person before, let alone such a grotesque creature; her fear caused her to loosen her grip, and the sword clattered to the ground.

    Enraged, the hanging ghost swung at her. Nan Gongsi released his bow, drew his own sword, and intercepted the attack in front of her, yelling, "Get away, hurry up!"

    Tears shimmered in Song Qiutong's eyes as she replied, "My life was saved by the Confucian Wind Sect. How can I leave now...?"

    Nan Gongsi wasn't skilled in dealing with women, but seeing her delicate form and resolute gaze stirred something within him. He cursed inwardly, "Ye Wangxi!!"

    "Ye Wangxi! Get over here right now! Protect her for me!"

    Amidst the bloodshed, Ye Wangxi approached, his handsome face smudged with dirt. Seizing Song Qiutong's arm, he sternly instructed, "Find Senior Brother Qin. Don't wander off."

    "I won't leave. I can still be of assistance," she pleaded. "Young Master, I want to stay with you."

    "Ye Wangxi, protect her!"

    Ye Wangxi's expression turned grim, an uncommon sight for such a refined gentleman.

    "Nan Gongsi," each word trembled from between his teeth, fragmented and furious, "you must be out of your mind."

    With that, he ignored them both and soared away with his sword, disappearing into the surging tide of corpses.

    Higher-level malevolent spirits were multiplying, blending into the crowd like razors slicing through fish bellies, peeling off their shimmering, sticky scales tinged with dark red blood. Each person was now too preoccupied with their own survival as the evil spirits encircled the living, seeking to devour them all and drag them down to the abyss of hell. Mo Ran, Xue Meng, and Shi Mo stood back-to-back, fending off attacks from all sides, but their defensive circle was shrinking. With a swish, Xue Meng severed an arm from one of the spirits, sending a fountain of contaminated blood soaring.

    Seeing this formidable opponent, the attacking ghosts veered around him, converging on Shi Mo instead. Shi Mo formed seals with both hands, but his weakening strength caused the watery barrier to flicker and fade...

    Realizing they could no longer hold out, Mo Ran steeled his heart and said, "Shi Mo, create a protective formation. Xue Meng, hide inside."

    "What?" Xue Meng's anger flared upon hearing this. "Do you want me to cower like a cowardly turtle?"

    "Listen to me and hide! What's the point of competing now? Can we possibly slay all these ghosts?"

    Shi Mo asked, "What are you planning to do, Ah Ran?"

    "Don't ask so many questions, just do as I say." Mo Ran softened his tone. "It'll be fine."

    As the circle tightened, Mo Ran urged, "Hurry up, it'll be too late if we delay any longer."

    With no other choice, Shi Mo activated a protective charm, summoning a barrier of blue light that enclosed both him and Xue Meng. Seeing this, Mo Ran suddenly pulled out a hidden arrow, smeared his palm with blood, and sprinkled it onto the array to leave his spiritual energy behind. Then, with a fierce gaze, he yelled, "Still not moving?!"

    The ghosts reacted to his voice, causing the flames to intensify. Each willow leaf was wrapped in crimson spiritual energy, resembling sharp blades hanging on a vine. The entire willow vine suddenly extended for several feet. Mo Ran closed his eyes, remembering the moments when Chu Wanning had unleashed deadly moves. When he opened them again, his vision was filled with the grotesque faces of the demons.

    He swung the See Ghosts sword in mid-air, sparks bursting and scattering.

    Mo Ran raised his hand, his clothes fluttering in the wind.

    In that instant, his figure seemed to overlap with the image of Chu Wanning in his mind. Their movements were almost identical, without the slightest difference.

    "Wind."

    Razing destruction! Dark clouds press low to the ground!

    The two people behind Mo Ran only witnessed a colossal scarlet light array bloom like a hellish red lotus, its fierce gale sweeping across the earth like countless invisible blades. Ghosts were swirled into Mo Ran's grasp, becoming ephemeral shadows, as sand and gravel were lifted into the air by the tumultuous current. Countless malevolent spirits were instantly shredded into mincemeat by this cataclysmic tide!

    It was Chu Wanning's Heaven-Questioning Massacre Technique, the "Wind" strike.

    Mo Ran had already mastered nine-tenths of it...

    The raging wind gradually subsided, leaving behind an endless expanse, devoid of life or debris. Not a single bone or scrap of armor remained.

    Turning back, Xue Meng and Shi Mo both wore expressions of astonishment. Before Mo Ran could savor the joy, he realized that his daily studies had been inadequate. If he could immediately regain his former cultivation, how would this mere deficiency in the Netherworld trouble them so?

    "Look over there!"

    Suddenly, someone shouted from afar.

    They all looked up together, seeing several arrays of sword-riders coming from different directions across the sky. Each wore different clothes and exuded varying levels of spiritual energy.

    The rupture in the Realm of Endless Torment had finally alerted all the sects in the Upper cultivation world. As the glowing swords descended, whether it was the graceful elegance of the Linling Island inhabitants or the solemn grandeur of the monks from Temple of No Sorrow... the scene was overwhelming.

    All ten major sects had finally arrived.

    Stronger and more relentless fiends continued to emerge, like an endless swarm of locusts. However, with the sudden increase in cultivators, the situation gradually turned in their favor.

    At the same time, Mei Hanxue and Chu Wanning's exchange of spiritual energy was complete. The barriers in the four directions—south, east, north, and west—transformed from golden to blue.

    Mei Hanxue took charge of the borders while Chu Wanning, defying gravity, gracefully glided towards the heart of the fierce battle.

    He looked up at the fully opened tear in the sky. Behind it, there seemed to be a colossal, terrifyingly malevolent force lurking.

    Chu Wanning could almost sense the madness of that power, as if it had quenched its thirst with the blood of millions and devoured the brains of countless creatures...

    If they didn't seal the barrier soon, the immense evil spirit confined in the depths of hell might break free and wreak havoc upon the mortal world!

    Chu Wanning couldn't help but wonder, could it be that the mastermind behind all this had gone through immense hardships to unleash a monstrous spirit from the abyss into the mortal realm?

    But what was their motive?

    "Master!"

    Shi Mo called out to him anxiously.

    Chu Wanning turned his face in response to the sound.

    The scene from his past life overlapped once more.

    "Master!"

    Back then, Shi Mo had also called him like this.

    Chu Wanning turned his head at the sound.

    In the snowy ground, Shi Mo was gasping for breath, covered in blood, but his gaze was unwavering. "Master, you're going to mend this tear in the heavens?"

    "Mm."

    "But this... This isn't an ordinary celestial scar. It's a fissure from the Realm of Endless Torment. How can Master possibly withstand it alone?"

    "..."

    "I'll lend Master my strength. I did learn protective spells in Peach Blossom Spring, so I won't be a burden to you..."

    The conversation they had years ago, deciding their fates, echoed in his ears as if it were just yesterday.

    Mo Ran's heart pounded, his scalp tingling with anxiety. He suddenly pulled Shi Mo behind him and thrust Xue Meng forward, shouting, "Xue Ziming, keep an eye on him! Watch him closely!"

    Xue Meng's eyes widened. "Where do you think you're going, scoundrel?"

    "I..."

    The wind howled, filling the air with a sweet, metallic scent.

    There was no snow falling from the sky this time; everything was different from the previous life.

    Mo Ran's gaze fell upon the bewildered Shi Mo, and he felt a mix of sorrow and relief.

    There was no way Chu Wanning could mend this barrier alone.

    But apart from his disciples, no one else knew Chu Wanning's techniques for manipulating spiritual energy, which would allow them to work together seamlessly. Thus, one of them had to leave to ensure their master's safety.

    The northern wind howled fiercely, casting a desolate atmosphere across vast distances.

    Mo Ran abruptly steeled his heart, pulling Shi Mo into his embrace for the first time, holding him close for a moment before abruptly pushing him away.

    Shi Mo.

    This time, the one who might die could be me.

    "I'll assist Master in sealing the barrier," Mo Ran declared firmly, his tone leaving no room for argument. He narrowed his eyes and gazed deeply at Shi Mo once more.

    Suddenly, he no longer cared about what others might think, nor did he care that Xue Meng was nearby or that he might be rejected. He had waited two lifetimes, loved for two lifetimes, and now as he was about to depart, perhaps never to return. Amidst the raging winds, he stood firm, wanting to say a few final words to the one he loved.

    "Shi Mo, actually, I..."

    But just as he was about to speak, the cacophony of wailing ghosts and ferocious beasts drowned out his voice.

    That impulse, like molten lava surging relentlessly, gradually cooled in this moment of stillness, ultimately subsiding.

    "Aran, what were you going to say?"

    A flashback of his past life suddenly flashed before Mo Ran's eyes—beneath that half-drawn curtain, Shi Mo's gentle smile lingered.

    How cruel.

    He had remembered it his entire life, from birth to death, through the depths of hell and the heavens above.

    Mo Ran's eyes reddened slightly, but he smiled instead.

    "I won't repeat myself. Good things need only be said once."

    Shi Mo: "You...?"

    "I'll go assist my Master, and when I return... if I still wish to speak of it," he said, his dimples deepening as his gaze softened, "I'll tell you then..."

    With that, he turned and darted towards Chu Wanning.

    Shi Mo wouldn't die.

    Not at least in front of him.

    Suddenly, Mo Ran felt the expanse of the heavens and the breadth of the earth. Perhaps that figure in flowing white robes before him was the ultimate destination of his rebirth in this lifetime.

    His master, always with a heart that embraces the world.

    When Shi Mo passed away, in order to fulfill the final reconciliation and rid the world of the malevolent spirits lurking about, Chu Wanning made the heartrending decision to depart.

    This time, it was him who had to seal the boundary with another cultivator. Chu Wanning despised and loathed himself so much that he would never sacrifice his impeccable reputation as the Venerated Immortal of the Northern Dipper to ensure the survival of an insignificant minor character.

    "Master."

    He stood firmly before him, a ghostly glow emanating from his hand.

    "In this world, there is no remedy for your pain, but I am here to assist you."

    With the situation dire, Chu Wanning cast him a glance that neither confirmed nor denied, effectively acknowledging the circumstances.

    He soared into the celestial expanse, perching atop the eaves of Chen Manor's ornate rooftop, and Mo Ran followed suit, leaping up to join him.

    Chu Wanning declared, "Form a formation, and observe with insight."

    Following Mo Ran's cue, they both raised their hands simultaneously, their fingertips imbued with the seal of the Reflective Boundary Spell. They lifted their hands slowly.

    "Array activate!"

    With a low growl, their spiritual energy surged forth from their bodies. Standing on opposite sides, they held hands and bolstered each other, using their immense cultivation to form an expanding golden-red boundary.

    As the boundary touched the newly emerged malevolent spirits, they shrieked in agony like being scorched by flames, retreating back into the Gate of the Netherworld. The boundary grew clearer, its light piercing, as two dragon-throne platforms, formed from spirit spells, rose beneath Chu Wanning and Mo Ran, lifting them higher and higher towards the sky.

    The Netherworld Eye, pressured by the golden-red light array, slowly closed, but seemed unwilling to do so, intensifying the resentment within.

    With every inch it closed, the aura of malevolence surging out grew more potent. When the two were just a few miles away from the tear in the boundary, the demonic winds and evil auras inside were almost tangible.

    Mo Ran, in his reborn body, gradually felt as if he carried a million pounds on his shoulders, while a massive boulder seemed to weigh down on his chest, making it hard for him to breathe.

    On the other hand, Chu Wanning's spiritual energy remained steady and powerful, continuously flowing outward.

    An inch, then another.

    The demonic winds from all corners of the world converged, turning into sharp blades that flayed every inch of Mo Ran's flesh and bone.

    "Master..."

    As his consciousness blurred, he seemed to see the scene from that distant past.

    Shi Mo and Chu Wanning worked together to mend the array, with the barrier between the living and the dead closing in an instant. The vengeful spirits, unable to return to the mortal world, saw Shi Mo's weakened power and swarmed towards him in unison.

    "Shriek!"

    In just a moment, they pierced through Shi Mo, who was desperately maintaining the balance of the barrier!

    It was like a replay, almost unchanged in every way.

    Only this time, it was Mo Ran who was being torn apart by the multitude of ghosts.

    At the tear in the sky, a black, malevolent aura tore through the heavy clouds, instantly piercing Mo Ran's chest. He saw a splash of crimson before his eyes, realizing it was the blood gushing from his own heart.

    Struggling against the stifling air, he turned his head with great effort. Chu Wanning stood there, his clothes as white as snow, his expression cold and unforgiving, not sparing him even a glance.

    Suddenly, countless resentments surged within Mo Ran's chest.

    In the end, hatred ran deep.

    He fell from the Dragon Coiling Platform, blood seeping from the corners of his lips, a crimson inferno raging in his chest.

    The descent was swift, but it felt endless, like a drowning man sinking gradually into the ocean's depths, unable to hear the whispers of the living anymore.

    Chu Wanning did not reach out to him.

    He did not try to stop it.

    Not even once did he divert his gaze to spare him a glance.

    As he plummeted, the red spiritual energy vanished abruptly. Like in his previous life, Chu Wanning chose to expend all his magic, sealing the incomplete barrier that Mo Ran had failed to mend—by himself!

    With a thunderous explosion, he closed it shut!

    But the demons left behind on Earth, deprived of the nourishment of the Netherworld's Yin energy, grew restless and more frenzied. They turned their rage against the cultivators, slaughtering mortal flesh in the blink of an eye. The formations of numerous sects crumbled in mere moments.

    Chu Wanning descended from the sky. When Mo Ran fell, a layer of light array enveloped the dragon pillar beneath him, cushioning his impact and preventing him from being crushed to pieces.

    Yet the sight of his entire chest pierced through with malevolence, blood pooling at his feet, was eerily reminiscent of Shi Mo's fate years ago.

    Chu Wanning repelled the horde of vengeful spirits surging towards Mo Ran and, in a swift motion, cast a barrier to shield him within.

    "Master..."

    The figure behind him seemed to murmur these words softly.

    "Are you leaving...?"

    Mo Ran coughed up blood, yet his face wore a smile.

    "Leaving again, are you?"

    Outside the barrier, shimmering with golden radiance, that person still stood with their back turned to him. Mo Ran opened his mouth, but a rush of bitter sweetness filled his throat.

    "Chu Wanning, are you made of wood? Don't you feel sadness, have no personal desires, do you...?"

    "Chu Wanning..."

    "Chu Wanning..."

    His vision grew increasingly blurry. The intense battle had left him wounded all over. An unknown cut on his forehead dripped blood into his eyes. As he laughed wildly, with an almost insane abandon, tears mixed with blood rolled down his cheeks.

    He choked out, "Chu Wanning, turn around! Look at me... Are you still leaving...?"

    Just look at me once more.

    I'm about to die.

    Back then, Shi Mo at least took one last glance at you.

    Don't you...

    truly...

    not like me at all? Not find me worthy of a second glance?

    Otherwise, why wouldn't you even spare me a final glance? Why won't you ever turn back?

    "Master..."

    Tears stained his cheeks with blood.

    In his final memory, that person was standing alone in his white robes, his back to them as he disappeared beyond the golden barrier.

    He had gone to exorcise evil.

    It turned out that in his heart, anyone in the world... was more important than Mo Weiyu.

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