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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 107: Portrait of the Master

    The scholar spoke for two hours, filled with Confucian phrases and references to ancient sages like Kong, Meng, Zeng, and Zhu, which left Mo Ran feeling dizzy and on the verge of sleep. Yet he had to maintain an appearance of profound interest, and that was no easy task.

    Mo Ran was quite skilled at feigning attentiveness.

    At first, he would interject with an "Oh?", his brow furrowed as if puzzled or doubtful.

    After the speaker had gone on for a while, he would follow up with a drawn-out "Oh...", his forehead relaxing slightly as if he were beginning to grasp some enlightenment.

    Remember to widen your eyes, gaze intently, and add a drawn-out "Oh~" at the end. The goal is to make the speaker realize that their words have enlightened you, like a sudden realization or a shower of wisdom.

    Mo Ran had never spared these three "Ohs" in Chu Wanning's classes.

    Unfortunately, Chu Wanning was not swayed by such antics, always looking at him coldly, urging him to be silent.

    But the little bookworm had never received such attention before. As the lecture progressed, his eyes gleamed with excitement, as if he regretted not meeting Mo Ran sooner. All traces of his earlier arrogance and reserve were gone.

    "I understand now," Mo Ran said with a smile. "After hearing your explanation and looking at this landscape painting again, I comprehend the invaluable nature of brushstrokes; they are truly priceless."

    If Little Bookworm were still alive, he would surely be blushing with embarrassment. But as a ghost, he was just as thrilled, his joy evident in his beaming smile and fidgety limbs, his slender face glowing with excitement.

    It was the first time Mo Ran had seen someone so blissful in their afterlife.

    Deciding it was time to go, he stood up and bowed to the scholar. "It's getting late. I'll explore a bit more and find a place to stay. If you're free tomorrow, I'll come look for you."

    The scholar was caught off guard by being addressed as 'sir,' and his delight was plain on his face, a mix of trepidation and elation. "N-No, I'm not worthy of such respect. I've taken the exams many times but failed to even become a scholar. I... Ah..."

    Mo Ran chuckled. "One's worth is not measured by rank or fame, but by the heart."

    The scholar was astonished. "You... You can actually say such words?"

    "I learned them from my master. It's just borrowing wisdom from others."

    Scholar: "… Borrowing the wit of others."

    "Oh? Hahaha." Mo Ran scratched his head, laughing. "I mixed that up again."

    Seeing that it was already quite late and unlikely anyone else would come to inquire about paintings today, the scholar packed up his belongings. "Since we have nothing better to do, it's rare to meet someone to chat with. Though a true gentleman's friendship may be as plain as water, it's also said that when you find a kindred spirit, a thousand cups of wine seem too few. I think..."

    Observing that he had started to spout poetic phrases again, Mo Ran interrupted him with a smile. "Are you suggesting we find a place to have a drink since it's getting late?"

    "Aha, yes, exactly! A little sip is good for the mood, don't you think?"

    "Sure." Mo Ran nodded. "You pay, sir."

    The scholar: "............"

    On a greasy small table sat a plate of peanuts, scattered with a dozen or so, and two small cups of wine, each filled halfway. Only one candle illuminated the tavern, flickering meekly. The thin-faced owner scrubbed a chipped bowl behind the counter.

    "The place might be a bit run-down," the scholar said uneasily. "But I've never received any paper money here. I've only been to a few shops, and this one is passable..."

    "It's quite nice," Mo Ran picked up the cup, examining it closely. "Do ghosts eat food?"

    "All illusions, like offerings," the scholar munched on a peanut, but it didn't disappear. He continued, "See? Just like this. It's about the taste."

    Mo Ran put the cup down without revealing his emotions. He wasn't dead, and eating would give away his secret.

    After a few rounds of drinking, the scholar seemed to have cheered up a bit from his gloom. Chatting with Mo Ran for a while, he asked, "Young Master Mo, you wanted me to sketch someone earlier. Was it your beloved?"

    Mo Ran hurriedly waved his hands. "No, no, it's my master."

    "Oh," the scholar was taken aback. "I've been running this stall in the Underworld for many years, and I've seen people ask for portraits of beauties, but never for a portrait of their master. Your master treats you very well?"

    Feeling a twinge of guilt, Mo Ran replied, "Yes, exceptionally well."

    "No wonder," the scholar nodded. "Why do you want to paint him?"

    "To find someone."

    The scholar gave another "oh" and looked surprised. "He's also in the Netherworld?"

    "Mm," Mo Ran said. "I've heard that the deceased have to stay in Nankang Village for ten or eight years. I can't stop worrying about him, so I want to find him and keep him company."

    The scholar didn't suspect a thing and was even somewhat moved. After a moment's contemplation, he sighed. "It's rare to see such deep affection between a student and their master. Very well! Young Master Mo, I'll help you with this!" With that, he got up to open a chest and retrieve his painting supplies.

    Mo Ran was overjoyed and thanked him repeatedly, asking for his name and surname and secretly making a mental note to burn more gold and silver for this poor brother when he returned to the living world.

    The two of them, one grateful and the other excited, busily prepared the paper and ink, creating a lively atmosphere.

    Yet, as soon as they started, there was an issue.

    "My master... well..." Mo Ran clenched his fists and tapped his knee a few times, but still couldn't figure out how to express it. After much hesitation, the man with a limited vocabulary finally managed to say, "He's a very beautiful person, just draw him."

    The scholar stared at him.

    Mo Ran: "Draw then."

    "...How beautiful?"

    Isn't it simple? Just draw something beautiful, make it visually appealing.

    "I know about making it look good, but... forget it, forget it. Tell me, what kind of face does he have?"

    "What kind of face?" Mo Ran was taken aback, staring blankly and saying, "... It's just a face."

    The scholar grew somewhat annoyed. "Melon seed, almond, wooden character, oval—can't you give me one of these?"

    "I don't know about all these specifics; anyway, he's quite handsome."

    Scholar: "............"

    Mo Ran: "Forget it. If you don't know, just draw according to my face. Our facial structures aren't too different."

    Scholar: "............"

    Then came the eyes.

    Scholar: "What kind of eyes?"

    Seeing Mo Ran about to speak, the scholar suddenly stopped him and added.

    Scholar: "Don't just say they're eyes."

    Mo Ran waved his hand and said, "I understand what you mean. His eyes... well, how should I put it? They're fierce yet... alluring? Cold yet gentle."

    The scholar threw down his brush in anger. "I'm not drawing anymore! You find someone else!"

    Mo Ran quickly held onto him. "No, please don't! Nobody else can draw as well as you."

    The scholar held back his frustration, staring at him. But seeing the sincerity on Mo Ran's face, he grudgingly said, "Then speak properly. I'll ask, you answer."

    Mo Ran felt wronged too. Didn't he answer well just now? Didn't he respond to whatever the other person asked? But when seeking help, one had to be three parts submissive. So he obediently nodded and hugged the Soul Guiding Lamp in his arms pitifully.

    The scholar continued, "Still the eyes. Were they leopard-like? Three white eyes? Apricot eyes? Phoenix eyes? Or perhaps..."

    Mo Ran felt dizzy from listening and shook his head. "Slit eyes? Wouldn't that mean they're very small? No, his eyes slanted upwards. I don't know what they're called. Anyway, they're... uh, they fly upwards, and they look quite nice..."

    "That would be phoenix eyes then."

    Mo Ran opened his mouth, but seeing the scholar's displeased expression, he meekly closed it again. "Alright, if you say slit eyes, then slit eyes it is."

    The scholar proceeded with his questions. "Was the nose high or low?"

    "High."

    "Were the lips thin or thick?"

    "Thin."

    "How are the eyebrows? Thick or thin?"

    "Thick."

    "What about their width?"

    "They're moderate... I believe they should be sword-shaped eyebrows."

    "Very well." The scholar added a few more strokes before asking, "Are there any moles or birthmarks on his face?"

    Mo Ran tilted his head in thought, but as he pondered, his face flushed. He stammered, "There... is one..."

    "Where?"

    "By his left ear." Mo Ran spoke slowly, "It's just a tiny spot, rather light in color, and then..."

    Then, when kissing this spot, he becomes extra sensitive.

    The scholar raised an eyebrow. "And then?"

    "No." Mo Ran shook his head like a rattle-drum, his face reddening even more. "That's it."

    The scholar looked at him quizzically, fortunate that the dim light concealed the flush on his cheeks. Dipping the tip of his brush into the ink, he asked again, "His attire?"

    "He likes to wear white clothes. He ties a green jade hairpin or pulls his hair up in a high ponytail," Mo Ran recalled and added, "Sometimes he wears a cloak. When he does, he looks especially..."

    "Stop saying how handsome he is!" The scholar couldn't take it anymore.

    "Alright, then let's say he's dashing."

    Scholar: "......"

    After much persistence, the portrait was finally completed. Mo Ran blew on the ink and held it up for a closer look. Although it didn't quite capture Chu Wanning's handsomeness or resemblance, it would suffice. He smiled and said, "Thank you, sir. It's quite nice."

    "I only have Pan An, Fan Li, Xi Shi, and Diaochan left to draw."

    "Ha ha ha." Mo Ran chuckled and replied, "When I find my Master, I'll properly thank you again."

    They drank some more wine and chatted for a while. As the sky grew darker, they parted ways at the tavern. Mo Ran kept the portrait of Chu Wanning close. According to the scholar, there was a building on the fifth street of Nankao Village called "Favorable Wind Tower." It was a place where newly arrived wandering spirits could seek information.

    He decided to take a look.

    Outside the Fengshun Tower, a crimson banner fluttered gently, adorned with an inky black snake symbol. Mo Ran pushed open the door and saw a long counter stretching across the hall. Behind it, a dozen ghosts clad in dark red robes sat, all wearing wooden lacquer masks with furious expressions, obscuring their true faces. In front of these masked spirits, long queues snaked along, composed of variously-styled deceased seeking something specific.

    Hundreds of white candles floated at the rooftop, casting overlapping shadows that illuminated layer upon layer of the departed souls. Ghosts came and went, engaged in a bustling activity.

    "Little Master, can you help me find my younger brother? His name is Zhang Baichi, from Suzhou. He was twenty-one when he died..."

    "Do you have his portrait?"

    "No... no, I don't."

    "We can still locate him without a portrait, but the fee will be ten times higher."

    "Brother—"

    The masked figure cleared its throat, producing a crisp sound.

    "Oh, forgive me. So you're a young miss, huh? Miss, here's the thing: When I passed away, my wife promised she wouldn't remarry, but I've always had a feeling that she's been flirting with my brother for quite some time. I just can't rest in peace knowing this. Could you possibly help me investigate if she's truly being a faithful widow in the mortal world, or if she's in a relationship with my brother?"

    "Looking into matters in the mortal world comes at this price. Please have a look."

    "Apologies for the intrusion. In my previous life, I had feelings for a maiden, but she was of noble birth and saw no worth in an unsuccessful scholar like me. I lacked the courage to confess my love. Later, she married, and I rejoiced for her. Little did I know she had chosen poorly, a man already bound to another. Alas, tragedy struck, and she... preceded me to the afterlife. Thus, I wish to inquire about two things: first, where is this maiden now? And second, I wish to learn of our fates in the next life..."

    "The afterlife can be investigated, but no payment in currency is accepted. It requires trading your future lifespan. As for the maiden's whereabouts, please provide her name and a portrait."

    "Oh, very well. Yes, I have a portrait right here. Her surname is Yao, and her given name is Lan..."

    Each counter was abuzz with chattering ghosts, their decaying bodies still clinging to their earthly obsessions.

    Mo Ran carried his lantern, surveying the area. People sought information on various matters, some paying with wealth, others with their remaining years of life.

    He had no money, and if he offered his lifespan, his presence as an unauthorized soul in the underworld would be detected. Filled with anxiety, he inwardly scolded Master Huai Zui for not having the foresight to slip him some paper money or gold.

    Upon examining the prices, however, he realized that inquiries about a person were not overly expensive. Determined, Mo Ran rushed back to the tavern, managing to catch up with the scholar. Persuading him, he borrowed a small amount of silver and returned to the Fortune Wind Tower.

    After waiting in line for what seemed like an eternity, it was finally his turn.

    Mo Ran eagerly said, "I'm searching for someone. Here's the portrait."

    He presented Chu Wanning's portrait to the man, ready to continue his explanation. To his surprise, the man laughed softly after examining it, folding the scroll and asking, "Why are you looking for him?"

    "Uh?" Mo Ran was taken aback. "Just by looking at the painting, you know where he is?"

    "Yes. But first, tell me why you're searching for him."

    "He's an old acquaintance of mine."

    The man glanced at him again before saying, "Wait here for a moment." He then leaned over to whisper to a colleague beside him. When he returned, his tone was much warmer.

    "Since you're an old acquaintance of Mr. Chu, I won't be taking any money from you." The man stood up and waved him over. "Follow me upstairs."

    Author's Note:

    The initial "oh"s in the beginning are borrowed from various Weibo jokes and skits, not original material. However, because they've been used so frequently, I can no longer trace their origins... It seems they might have originated from a Spring Festival Gala sketch? That's surprising, such a folksy and comedic element? To avoid misunderstandings, I'm clarifying this here, QAQ.

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