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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 104: Master's Folded Hands

    A flickering lantern wandered atop the Summit of Life and Death, searching for that solitary half-soul returning.

    After the Soul-Guiding Lantern illuminated, living beings could no longer see Mo Ran. He seemed to have become half a ghost, treading across stone steps and wandering through corridors and pavilions, looking around attentively.

    The Red Lotus Water Pavilion, Shuangtian Temple, Platform of Three Lifetimes...

    He searched everywhere but couldn't find his figure anywhere.

    Mo Ran couldn't help but wonder if Master had been exhausted in life and thus didn't wish to see him after death?

    This thought plunged him into an icy abyss. His pace quickened, his robes brushing past withered grass. Suddenly, he caught sight of someone standing at the Bridge of Helplessness, looking clear and cold, pitiful and forlorn. His palms sweated, and his heart pounded like a drum as he rushed towards the person.

    "Master—"

    But it turned out to be a soul he didn't recognize, likely another disciple who had perished in the Heavenly Rift. Half of their face was covered in blood, their eyes dull and lost as they stared blankly at Mo Ran.

    "...I'm sorry, I mistook you for someone else," Mo Ran stammered, hurrying past them. The deceased soul had lost its senses, only staring stiffly as Mo Ran passed by without any reaction. Its corpse-white body stood still on the spot, like a silkworm cocoon left behind in this world.

    Mo Ran couldn't help but feel his heart tighten even more.

    What if Shizun's soul had also become like him, lifeless and numb? Even if he found him, could he protect him until dawn?

    Thoughts of war and chaos rushed through his mind, quickening his footsteps.

    Raising his gaze, he suddenly realized that without knowing when, he had already arrived at the entrance to Meng Po's Hall.

    Considering that Shizun didn't have any particular attachment to food, Mo Ran assumed he wouldn't have made a special trip here after returning from the netherworld.

    Just as he was about to turn and leave, he heard a soft sigh from within the hall.

    The sound was faint, yet it echoed like a thunderbolt inside Mo Ran's skull.

    He stumbled in, almost breaking down the door, and lifted the Soul Guiding Lamp with trembling hands. The light from the lamp was like a nascent sun, warm yet dim, illuminating the profile of a figure clad in white.

    The person's knuckles were stark white, their nails almost piercing the palms of their hands.

    Mo Ran murmured, "Shizun..."

    Half of Chu Wanning's soul stood alone in the vast kitchen, his figure faint as if an aged ink stain, yet unmistakably him.

    Dressed in the white silk he wore when he died, the hem of his garment was stained with large patches of blood, creating a tragically stunning sight that accentuated his already deathly pale skin, ethereal like smoke. It seemed as if a single gust of wind could dissipate his soul entirely.

    With a lantern in hand, Mo Ran gazed at the illusory scene before him.

    He wanted to approach quickly, fearing that if he were too late, Wanning would be gone.

    Yet, he also wished to move slowly, for he was terrified that haste would shatter this dream.

    A myriad of emotions swirled within him, causing his eyes to redden slightly. Overwhelmed by guilt, he felt he owed Wanning and was utterly ashamed to stand so close to him.

    The lantern swayed gently.

    As he drew near, he observed Wanning's hurried and clumsy actions, sensing a hint of anxiety.

    What was Chu Wanning doing?

    Moving behind him, Mo Ran had intended to assist the pitiful wandering spirit. But upon witnessing the scene before him, he was struck dumbfounded, as if struck by lightning. When the initial shock subsided, a searing pain ripped open a bloody maw, viciously biting into his neck.

    Mo Ran abruptly took two steps back and shook his head slowly, unable to utter a single word.

    At this moment, not even piercing his chest with a needle and tearing out his heart along with the veins and flesh could cause more pain.

    He saw Chu Wanning's hands, those hands that had dragged himself up over three thousand steps before he died, hands that were already torn and bloodied, now gently rubbing against the table.

    On the table were flour, seasonings, and filling for dumplings.

    A pot beside it was boiling water, its steam long since billowing, yet Chu Wanning, that fool, hadn't thought to reduce the flame, blurring everything around them in a haze...

    Or perhaps it wasn't the steam that blurred the onlooker's vision, but Mo Ran's own moist eyes.

    Chu Wanning's remaining human soul was slowly shaping the dumpling wrappers. He had once possessed incredibly nimble hands, capable of wielding divine weapons with his slender fingers and conjuring towering barriers with his palms.

    But now, those hands were mangled and trembling as they carefully wrapped one plump dumpling after another.

    "..."

    Mo Ran abruptly raised his arm, fiercely wiping away the tears in his red-rimmed eyes, still unable to find any words to speak.

    Chu Wanning stood with his back to Mo Ran, seemingly finally remembering that the water in the pot had been boiling for too long and might soon evaporate if left unattended. Thus, he returned to the pot.

    He caressed it.

    Yes, he caressed it.

    Mo Ran, at last, regained consciousness from the overwhelming pain that threatened to drown him. He hurried over and approached his Master's side.

    He saw clearly.

    After their souls were separated, each lacked something. It could be memories, consciousness, or even flesh and bone.

    The soul that returned from the underworld lost a portion of its senses.

    Upon returning from the Netherworld, Chu Wanning's vision was blurry, and his hearing seemed impaired. He couldn't even discern where an object landed when it fell. Nonetheless, he still exerted himself to make this ordinary bowl of wontons as if it was the very thing he cherished doing before his death. Amidst the hazy steam, he found fleeting tenderness.

    Mo Ran watched, feeling his heart rending in agony and the world spinning around him. For a moment, he was unable to think, standing frozen on the spot, gazing at everything before him.

    "Clang."

    A faint soul, struggling to see clearly, accidentally knocked over a salt jar in Meng Po's hall.

    Chu Wanning seemed startled, retracting his hand silently. His face, stained with spattered blood, revealed an uneasy expression.

    "What do you need...?"

    A raspy voice sounded by his side, almost choking with emotion, filled with profound guilt and heartache.

    "I'll help you, okay?"

    Chu Wanning was slightly surprised, but perhaps due to his incomplete soul, his emotions remained relatively calm, and he quickly regained composure.

    Yet, each word that Mo Ran spoke was torturous, bordering on pleading.

    "Shifu, let me help you, please..."

    The water in the pot boiled, while the dead objects in the kitchen were warm and lively. But the living person, Chu Wanning, was forlorn and silent.

    After a long while, finally, there came the familiar voice of Chu Wanning, gentle yet steady, like shattered Kunshan jade.

    "You're here?"

    "…Yes."

    "Good that you're here. Wait a moment beside me. Once these dragon dumplings are cooked, take them to Mo Ran."

    "…!"

    Mo Ran was taken aback, not understanding what Chu Wanning was talking about.

    But he watched as Chu Wanning gently placed each plump jade dumpling into the pot, his face softening in the steam. Then he said, "I punished him quite severely yesterday. He must hate me now. I heard from Xue Meng that he hasn't been eating. When you deliver them to him, don't mention that I made them. If he knows, he might refuse to eat."

    Mo Ran's mind was in chaos, as if some long-concealed secret was stirring, ready to break free.

    "Shifu..."

    Chu Wanning smiled wryly. "Perhaps I've been too strict with him. But he can't keep doing whatever he wants. ...Forget it, let's not talk about it. Help me find a sturdy bowl. It's cold outside, so make sure the dumplings stay warm when you take them over."

    On the verge of breaking through, on the verge of breaking through.

    It was as if a delicate, cracking sound reverberated in his mind, and a fragment of memory finally pierced through its protective shell with its sharp talons, shrieking like a vengeful ghost as it lunged towards Mo Ran!

    In an instant, the world turned dark.

    Wontons.

    Shi Mo.

    Master.

    ...

    That was the first time he had tasted the wontons made by Shi Mo. That day, he had been punished by Chu Wanning for accidentally destroying a prized flower planted by Madame Wang. The Heaven-Questioning Sword had lashed his skin to shreds, leaving his heart as cold as ashes.

    Refusing to get out of bed, he brooded over how he had picked the flower intending to give it to his Master, only to be relentlessly whipped. He felt that he must have been blind to have ever admired Chu Wanning, that his heart had been clouded by foolish infatuation to believe Chu Wanning was gentle, that Chu Wanning cared about him.

    It was on that very day that Shi Mo entered his room with a steaming bowl of spicy red oil wontons, his soft voice and warm tone, along with the comforting, heart-warming dumplings, transformed his disappointment in his Master into fondness for Shi Mo.

    But who could have known...

    Yet, who could have known!

    That wisp of a wandering soul stood by his side. Each returning soul had its own purpose. Some, like Luo Xianxian, returned to witness the aftermath of their departure; others, like the soul at the Bridge of Helplessness earlier, were detached and simply wandered back to where they once lived.

    Chu Wanning's soul, blind and unable to recognize familiar voices, was oblivious to the passage of time.

    He had returned to the mortal realm perhaps because he felt that he had done something wrong or left behind a regret in his previous life.

    He sought to make amends.

    Thus, Chu Wanning made a choice different from what he would have done in life.

    With hands folded, he scooped the dish into a bowl. Verdant green scallions, creamy broth, and a drizzle of red oil adorned it.

    He passed the bowl to "Shi Mo," but abruptly paused at the last moment.

    "I treated him too coldly in the end," Chu Wanning murmured softly.

    A moment of silence followed.

    "Never mind. There's no need for you to accompany me. I'll go and see him myself, and apologize."

    Mo Ran stared blankly, his face as pale as a ghost.

    He had thought that it was his Master's coldness, like icy steel, that had frozen his heart into ice. But who could have guessed that his Master had actually been caring for him...

    The regret he couldn't let go of in this mortal world was none other than himself.

    —To apologize to him once more.

    The ice melted, turning into water, becoming an ocean.

    Mo Ran slowly raised his hand, burying his face in his palm.

    His shoulders trembled slightly.

    A heart as hard as iron? A heart as hard as iron?

    No... not anymore.

    Mo Ran's throat constricted, and he wept bitterly. Kneeling down, he knelt before that invisible remnant of a soul. The Soul-guiding Lantern lay at his feet as he stammered and cried, his voice hoarse and almost bleeding with sorrow. He could no longer hold back his sobs.

    He knelt before Chu Wanning.

    No...

    He lowered himself to the ground, grabbing onto the bloodstained hem of Chu Wanning's garment.

    If you were not cold-hearted like iron, I would not be so stubborn. But our past calculations were wrong, causing you much suffering... just...

    "Shifu, Shifu..." He wept, curling up in despair, "I'm sorry for letting you down. Please... please come back with me..."

    "Shifu... please come back with me, I was wrong, it's my fault. I don't blame you, I don't hate you. It was me who was always making you angry. Even if you hit or scold me again, I won't retaliate. Shifu, as long as you return, I'll listen to everything you say... I'll respect you, cherish you, treat you well..."

    But Chu Wanning's garment felt so ethereal in his hands, as if it might crumble at any moment.

    Mo Ran wished he could tear open his own chest and give him his heart, just to hear its beat once more. He longed to drain every last drop of his blood, flowing into Chu Wanning's veins, to see a hint of color on his face.

    He would do anything to make amends for the wrongs he had committed.

    "Master," he finally sobbed, unable to speak further.

    "Shall we start again from the beginning, my love..."

    Beneath the flowering crabapple tree, in front of the Tower of Heaven.

    The master gentle as a white kitten raised his head, his phoenix eyes slightly widening, as the cicadas chirped softly from the branch overhead. Before him stood a youth, smiling.

    "Immortal Lord, Immortal Lord, I've been watching you for so long. Won't you spare me a moment?"

    In the blink of an eye, two decades had passed, spanning two lifetimes.

    All of that is in the past now.

    Truly shameless and wolfish in nature, yet he still has the audacity to utter such words.

    Master, let's start all over again.

    How about it?

    "Please, just acknowledge me, would you...?"

    Author's Note: Copyhand Jun has made a unique appearance, congratulations to those who guessed correctly! ~

    It’s such a long article, so save some votes and just keep it for reading the main text. Thank you, thank you qaq

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