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    Chapter 110: The Puppy Past Unknown to Master

    Mo Ran walked alone on the street, where ghosts still drifted about, sorrowful and melancholic. The bluish-green stone steps beneath his feet were covered with a lonely moss, slippery and damp under his soles...

    After their heated argument, he calmed down only to discover that his fingers had been scraped raw. The door frame was rough and splintered, piercing into his flesh, but mercifully, the dim surroundings hid this from any lurking spirits.

    He lowered his eyelashes and stared at them silently for a moment. Perhaps because his heart ached terribly, he didn't feel the pain of those grotesque wounds.

    He glanced back at the tightly shut courtyard gate, knowing full well that the man behind it would no longer speak another word to him.

    This kind of rejection wasn't unfamiliar to him. Mo Ran was accustomed to malice, which made him adept at reading people's intentions through their gaze or a few words. He already instinctively understood when the man had changed his answer to "I've never seen him" that this person wouldn't tell him a single truth anymore. But since it concerned Chu Wanning's soul, he couldn't accept it and persisted until he was pushed out the door and the gate slammed shut.

    It had been a long time since he'd been rejected so harshly, but sometimes, the passage of time couldn't determine everything, nor could the turn of events alter the essence of things. Some things were etched deep within one's bones.

    Xue Meng had once cursed him, calling him a bastard.

    Ironically, Mo Ran found it amusing that the poisonous label "prince of heaven" didn't wound his pride.

    Indeed, he was the despised outcast people often talked about. He had long grown accustomed to hearing even more vicious insults. What else was there to be unaccustomed to?

    He cast one last glance at that tightly shut wooden door before slowly walking away amidst the giggles and whispers of the onlooking ghosts.

    Mockery, curses, and loneliness accompanied him.

    It was rare for him to be in such a helpless and miserable situation again, but it overlapped with his long-forgotten childhood memories. As Mo Ran walked, the similarity between the two scenarios probably stirred up his subconscious, and he gradually recalled those days when he relied solely on his mother...

    Back then, they hadn't been part of the music troupe yet; they wandered the streets of Lin Yi, lingering around the Confucian Wind Sect.

    Back then, he still had his mother.

    She loved him dearly and didn't want such a young child to beg for food, so she would always hide him in an abandoned shed while she went out to perform on the streets.

    With her natural talent, she could dance on a bamboo pole and always managed to earn some copper coins each day. With that, she could buy a cake and two bowls of porridge for them to share. As a mother, she wanted her son to eat more, but Mo Ran would always claim after a few bites that the cake was too hard and the porridge tasteless. He'd say he was already full and refused to eat anymore.

    What she didn't know was that every time she sighed and ate the half cake and half bowl of porridge "leftover" by Mo Ran, the young child pretending to sleep beside her would secretly watch her. He wouldn't relax until she finished eating, even if his stomach was growling. His heart would find solace despite the hunger.

    She also didn't know that after she left to perform at the eastern market of Lin Yi each day, their child would crawl out from the pile of firewood and sneak to the street two blocks away to beg for food.

    At the street corner, Mother sang gently and elegantly as she performed acrobatics on a towering pole, her slender frame dancing gracefully above. Beneath her, the ground was scattered with shattered stones and pottery shards. If she were to fall, those fragments would pierce her flesh, but the spectators found it thrilling and novel. She risked her life, doing everything in her power to win a smile from the wealthy elite.

    A short distance away, her child begged along the streets, grinning at every doorstep, his face dirty as he repeated the same well-wishes, hoping for a scrap of food. But such kindness was rare.

    One day, a pregnant lady from an affluent family, bored and in a foul mood, strolled around the streets. She spotted Mo Ran's mother dancing on the pole.

    Finding it amusing, she approached for a closer look and instructed her servants, "She's laid out broken stones and pottery on the ground – it's just for show, not sincere. My lady says if this dancer is willing to replace those shards with knives, standing upright, and then continues her act, she'll reward her with ten taels of gold."

    Faced with such a harsh demand that could cost a poor person their life, the mother's response was surprisingly simple: "But I have no money to buy knives to replace them."

    The wealthy lady burst into laughter and immediately ordered her servants to purchase a hundred sharp knives from the blacksmith's shop, arranging them vertically on the ground.

    "Go on, dance."

    The radiant woman, adorned with jewels, rubbed her swollen belly eagerly.

    A crowd of onlookers, like vultures drawn to the scent of blood, quickly gathered. The shimmering silk and pearls glinted under the sun. They craned their necks, their eyes gleaming with anticipation.

    "Jump, jump away!"

    "Well done, we'll reward you with money."

    "Money, give her the money!"

    In the domain of the Confucian Wind Sect, riches were abundant, but what was scarce was this kind of thrilling, life-risking spectacle.

    Surrounded by silks and satins, gold and pearls, the woman holding the bamboo pole was encircled. Encircled by this impoverished, tattered woman.

    This woman, whose life was as fragile as a blade of grass, smiled as she bowed to the vultures feeding on decay, thanking them for their support. Then, with the pole in hand, she leaped up as gracefully as a swallow.

    Upon the edge of blades, she danced a song of life and death.

    She sought favor with her very existence.

    Despite her impressive skills, when she landed, a momentary panic seized her as she glimpsed the row of sharp knives. The bamboo pole tilted a few inches, and amidst the gasps of the crowd, she descended—

    Avoiding the dense cluster of blades, yet still grazing the edge, slicing open her leg. Blood spattered instantly, provoking a chorus of startled cries.

    The woman, disregarding her pain, hastily stood up, forcing a smile as she bowed to apologize.

    The onlookers chuckled and said, "Madam's skills aren't polished yet; you need more practice."

    "Indeed, to earn your keep, you must have some real talent, not just superficial skills that give away your lack of expertise."

    A few compassionate souls, with tears welling in their eyes, interjected, "Oh, stop it. Look at this poor girl, so badly injured. Quickly, someone fetch medicine for her."

    The woman stammered, "I... I don't have any money to buy medicine..."

    The crowd was taken aback. Some sighed, others touched their jewelry but remained silent, while a few wiped their eyes, seemingly lost in thought.

    "What a pitiful soul."

    "Yes, yes, indeed."

    "One can see you're struggling. Let me give you some money," said a plump elderly woman, reaching into her bulging purse and pulling out a handful of gold leaves, holding them in her hand. She then delved deeper into the purse, producing three copper coins. Weighing them in her palm, she put two back and, with great solemnity, placed one copper coin in the woman's hand.

    Having bestowed her charity, the old woman shed two genuine tears and spoke compassionately, "My dear, this is what you deserve. Hold onto it tightly."

    Clutching the copper coin she had risked her life for, the woman muttered blankly, "Thank you..."

    Thank you...

    But where was that wealthy lady who promised her ten gold coins? She had already stormed off in a rage.

    The injured woman, bleeding from her legs, limped over, hoping to catch up and demand her money. However, she was shoved to the ground by the attendant accompanying the lady, with their curses echoing down the street:

    "What bad luck!"

    "The madam is trying to carry her pregnancy safely; how could she encounter such a bloody omen? If the master were to hear of this, he'd be devastated!"

    "How dare you still ask for money? What was that ridiculous act of yours? It's fortunate the blood didn't splash on the madam, or else— you would have been in deep trouble!"

    "Get lost!"

    The woman was roughly pushed to the ground. As the family in question was a prominent one in Lin Yi, no one dared to come to her aid. She writhed in pain on the ground like an insignificant ant, crawling along helplessly.

    No one offered to lend her a hand...

    No one was willing to offer more aid...

    She had danced with her life on the line, only to receive a cold, stinking copper coin in return.

    The kindhearted woman who gave her the coin said it was what she deserved.

    She didn't feel wronged for herself, but with just one coin earned today, what could she buy? It could only afford an empty pastry, not even enough for an extra bowl of porridge. With her leg injured, she wouldn't be able to dance tomorrow—what would become of her child then... He was so young, so thin, and he would go hungry again...

    At this thought, she couldn't bear it any longer. She curled up in the sand and sobbed bitterly, her voice shrill and hoarse, breaking the hearts of those around her. The crowd sighed and prepared to disperse.

    In that moment, a filthy, stench-emitting child suddenly dashed through the crowd.

    Mo Ran rushed over, crying out like a caged beast, "Mother! Mother!!"

    He embraced her.

    The lowly child held his equally lowly mother.

    Like an ant clinging to a blade of grass, a sacrificial dog embracing a drifting lily pad.

    The woman's eyes revealed a flicker of alarm and astonishment upon seeing him. Though women were generally perceived as fragile, they became resilient when it came to protecting their children. She immediately stopped weeping; life was already too difficult, each day feeling like falling asleep in hell and waking up in purgatory. She refused to show her vulnerability before her child.

    With tears still damp on her cheeks, she hastily forced a smile, saying, "Oh my, look at you. Why have you come? Mama is fine, just a tiny injury... See..."

    She pushed the sweaty copper coin she had been holding in her palm into his hand.

    Mo Ran shook his head relentlessly, small droplets of water marking his face.

    "It's enough for a bun, go... go buy it and bring it back. Mama will wait here for you. Let's go home."


    Where was home?

    That dilapidated thatched cottage?

    Or the sheep pen they had been kicked out of after only two nights...

    Mo Ran's voice choked with emotion, his eyes burning with determination. He said, "Mama, please sit down and wait."

    "What are you doing? Don't do anything reckless!"

    Mo Ran rushed over and picked up a knife, his youthful voice ringing out loudly, catching the attention of the dispersing crowd.

    "Gentlemen and ladies, lords and ladies, please don't leave! Please stay! There's still an incredible display for all of you distinguished guests to witness—"

    Since childhood, he had possessed spiritual energy within him, though he had never cultivated it. Nonetheless, he was far more talented than the average person without any aptitude.

    Mo Ran gripped the sturdy and sharp blade in his hands, exerted force with both hands, and let out a low shout before snapping the knife in half and throwing it on the ground.

    The people around him were startled. Among the spectators were some cultivators who found this particularly astonishing.

    "This kid is impressive."

    "Give us another one!"

    Mo Ran took two knives this time and followed the same method, breaking both blades in half.

    "Bravo!" Some applause broke out.

    "Three more!"

    The child continued stacking the knives, each blade growing thicker and harder to break, igniting the crowd's excitement once more.

    "I beg of all uncles, elder brothers, and aunties, please give me some coins so I can add more."

    The onlookers, eager for the spectacle, threw their least valuable copper coins at his feet.

    Mo Ran collected every coin, holding them carefully in his dirty little hands, before approaching his teary-eyed mother, who was in a daze.

    He smiled, "Mother, there's enough to buy your medicine now."

    The woman's tears could no longer be held back as they cascaded down her cheeks, "Child... good child... let me see your hands..."

    "I'm fine..." His smile was radiant and innocent, piercing her heart with its warmth.

    She pulled him tightly into her embrace, sobbing uncontrollably, "It's Mother who's incapable, unable to take care of you properly... making you suffer at such a young age..."

    "It doesn't matter," Mo Ran said softly in his mother's embrace. "Mother, I don't feel bitter when I'm with you... I'll stay by your side and take good care of you. When I grow up, I'll make sure you have a better life."

    The woman smiled, wiping away tears from the corners of her eyes. "It's fine if we don't have a better life. As long as you grow up healthy and safe, that's enough... more than enough."

    Mo Ran nodded vigorously. Then, he added softly, "Mother, if I ever make something of myself, you won't have to suffer anymore. No one will be able to bully you. I'll make those people come and apologize to you one by one. If they refuse, I'll make them dance on the edge of a knife. I..."

    "Dear child, don't think like that," the gentle woman caressed his hair, murmuring. "Don't think that way, don't hate anyone. Mother wants to see you become a good person. Promise me that you'll be a kind-hearted person, alright?"

    Back then, Mo Ran was too young, like a tender, immature seedling. He would lean towards any direction with just a little external influence. His mother, who didn't have much education but had a pure heart, became his first guiding light. Thus, the young Mo Ran, after some thought, replied earnestly, "Okay."

    "I promise, Mother," he said.

    "Then, if I... if I can achieve something in the future, I'll build many houses for those without homes, and plant plenty of crops for those who are hungry..." He told his mother, "Mother, no one else will have to experience what we've gone through today."

    The woman was lost in thought for a moment before she sighed and said, "That would be great."

    The child nodded along and echoed, "That would be great."

    Neither of them could have imagined that the person who spoke such words would eventually be covered in blood, trampling on countless skeletons, walking amidst vultures and crows in a storm of blood, becoming the infamous Traitorous Immortal Emperor who brought calamity upon the world.

    The malevolent Transcendent Emperor, who brought calamity upon the world, would also rarely, if ever, care to look back on those memories. He would never again fulfill the earnest promise he had made in his mother's embrace with his childish voice and clear gaze.

    Back then, with his mother's guidance, Mo Ran had never nurtured hatred, even though life was hard. However, there was always a tinge of dissatisfaction within him.

    Days passed by uneventfully. Street performances were entertaining for the first time, dull for the second, and tedious by the third. They gradually received no more copper coins as tips and could only survive by begging.

    Mo Ran remembered a child from a wealthy family who was around his age. The boy had a large black mole at the corner of his mouth. Sitting at the entrance of his grand courtyard, he held a bowl in his hands, perhaps struggling with chopsticks, so he used bamboo skewers to poke at the golden, crispy pan-fried dumplings. The child was picky, nibbling on the filling and spitting out the wrapper, discarding it on the ground to amuse the dogs.

    He approached cautiously, standing beside the boy and watching.

    Startled by the boy's overpowering stench and filth, the child cried out, "Who are you?!"

    Gently, Mo Ran inquired, "Young Master, could… could you give me this dumpling skin?"

    "Why would I give it to you? Why should I?"

    "You... You don't eat either, so I was wondering..."

    "I won't eat it, our very own Wang Cai needs to eat too!" The child pointed at the two dogs on the ground, their fur sleek and glistening with health, their bodies plump and well-fed. With indignation, he declared, "If we can't even keep our dogs alive, how could we possibly give them to you?!"

    Mo Ran forced a smile and said, "What if the dogs don't want to eat them?"

    "How could they not eat it? They can never get enough of braised pork, let alone dumpling wrappers. They'll finish it in two bites. It has nothing to do with you, go away, go away."

    Upon hearing 'braised pork', Mo Ran's gaze fell on the two dogs. Suddenly, he imagined how delicious those fat dogs would be if cooked...

    He couldn't help but swallow his saliva at the thought.

    The child noticed this gesture and was first taken aback, then startled. "What are you planning?"

    "I'm not... I just..."

    "You want to eat Wang Cai and Wang Fu?"

    Mo Ran panicked and replied, "No, no, I'm just too hungry. I couldn't help but imagine it. I'm sorry..."

    The young nobleman didn't care about what Mo Ran said. The mention of 'couldn't help but imagine' had already frightened him into a different color.

    How could a child from such an affluent family comprehend someone thinking of food when looking at adorable guard dogs? Overwhelmed with shock and horror, he started yelling and screaming.

    "Someone, come quickly! Drive him away! Hurry!"

    Servants swarmed around, sparing no effort to kick and punch Mo Ran. Amidst the relentless blows, he struggled to grab more of the scattered dumpling skins from the ground, clenching them tightly in his hands. Despite being kicked and shoved, he refused to let go.

    The young nobleman seemed to be terrified stiff. He abandoned the remaining dumplings on his skewer, dropping them along with the bamboo stick onto the ground before fleeing.

    Mo Ran crawled towards them with all his might. His slender body was bruised and purple, one eye swollen shut from a kick, yet he smiled in delight as he reached for the remaining dumplings.

    There were still two left.

    And they were filled...

    One for himself, and one for Mother...

    Or perhaps both for Mother, while he would content himself with the skins...

    However, before he could even pocket the dumplings, a servant's foot stomped down amidst the chaos, crushing the skewered dumplings into pieces. The crispy skin crumbled, and the filling was mashed into a paste.

    He simply stared blankly at the dirty, broken stick in his hand as punches and kicks rained down upon him. He felt no pain, but witnessing the ruined dumplings, tears welled up and trickled down his swollen eyelids, streaking across his dirt-smeared face, obscuring his features.

    He only wanted to taste what other children had left behind, the scraps they didn't want.

    Why must it be wasted, shattered, turned to mud, and still not belong to him?

    Later, Mo Ran became the young master of the Summit of Life and Death. Many in the sect fawned over him, admired him, and even on his birthday, people who barely exchanged a few words with him would send gifts and congratulate him.

    Those who once had to crawl on the ground for a single scrap of dumpling skin finally received heavy praise and adulation. Standing before a pile of carefully selected presents, a vague fear emerged in his heart.

    He was afraid that these gifts would soon vanish, be smashed to pieces, or that some unforeseen calamity would strike, leaving everything before him in ruins, just like the dumpling that had been trampled into mush before it could reach his mouth. So, he quickly used whatever he could from the pile, ate whatever was edible, and for those truly unusable or inedible items, he dug out a small hidden chamber in the disciples' quarters, meticulously hiding away those exquisite gifts. He counted them every day, twice, to make sure they were still there.

    At that time, Xue Meng laughed at him, pointing and mocking, "Hahaha, it's just a box of pastries from Lining's Clear Wind Pavilion. It's wasted, so what? Look at you, like a starving ghost reborn, stuffing your face with one meal. Who would fight you for it?"

    Back then, he had just arrived at the Summit of Life and Death, and deep down, he still felt immense insecurity.

    In response to his younger cousin's ridicule, he merely smiled, crumbs clinging to the corners of his mouth, before lowering his head to open another box of pastries to eat.

    Xue Meng was surprised, "You have such a big appetite, aren't you full?"

    He was too focused on eating.

    "Well, if you truly can't manage another bite, then don't force yourself. Every year on my birthday, I receive countless pastries. It would be impractical to consume them all..."

    Mo Ran's cheeks were swollen with food, his rapid eating causing him to slightly choke. His moist, jet-black eyes stole a glance at the youth across from him.

    In that instant, he suddenly recalled the young noble he had encountered during his childhood, who could candidly nitpick, eating only the filling of the pan-fried dumplings while feeding the skins to the dog without a second thought.

    Xue Meng must have grown up similarly, hence he could casually utter phrases like "if you can't consume it, discard it" and "no one is competing with you for it."

    He was truly, genuinely, incredibly envious of them.

    Now, he had finally become a refined and well-fed nobleman, one who should live comfortably and indulge without restraint.

    Yet, he dared not.

    All he could do was grasp the water cup beside him and gulp down several mouthfuls, swallowing the choking pastry into his stomach, then continue to persevere through the hardship.

    Eventually, he ascended to become the Immortal Emperor Treading Heaven.

    The entire land of China was at his fingertips.

    In those days, beautiful people, fine wine, sumptuous food, gold and silver, pearls, and exquisite treasures would be delivered to him in an unceasing stream by people from all corners of the world.

    One day, a wealthy copper miner from Lin Yi arrived, claiming to have unearthed an exceedingly rare piece of 10,000-year-old Fire Mystic Jade while mining, and wished to present it to the Immortal Ascender Emperor.

    Common folk seeking rank or protection with their treasures were a dime a dozen, so Mo Ran had little interest in such matters.

    However, on that particular day, Chu Wanning had fallen ill with a cold. Mo Ran furrowed his brow; he knew that Fire Mystic Jade was especially effective at dispelling colds. It would be better to save that sickly creature sooner rather than later, sparing himself the sight of Wanning lying in bed, a gloomy and irritating presence… Thus, almost as if possessed, he decided to receive the wealthy merchant bearing the precious gift.

    The merchant was roughly the same age as Mo Ran, slightly plump, with a large, hairy mole beneath the corner of his mouth.

    Mo Ran sat enthroned in the Wushan Palace, his long fingers intertwined, resting beneath his chin as he silently observed the plump merchant, who grew so uneasy that his legs turned to jelly and his back was drenched with sweat.

    After a long moment, the man's voice quivered as his lips trembled, and suddenly he fell to his knees with a thud, bowing repeatedly while stammering, "Your Imperial Majesty, this lowly subject... this lowly subject..."

    For a long while, he remained a "lowly subject," unable to find any coherent words. His bulky frame shook beneath the silk garment embroidered with golden threads.

    Mo Ran suddenly smiled.

    Even with only one encounter, he would never forget this person.

    In front of that grand and prosperous residence of yesteryear, the child with a mole at the corner of his mouth indulged in golden dumplings skewered on bamboo sticks, in a manner that Mo Ran had never imagined he could afford. His greasy lips glistened against the crispy skin of the dumplings.

    He smiled gently and said, "You know, your pan-fried dumplings are particularly delicious."

    Though he had never tasted them, he had thought about them for half his life.

    Seated on his throne, Mo Ran watched as the person below transitioned from fear to shock, then bewilderment, and finally to obsequiousness, babbling ingratiating words, offering to summon his personal chef to the Summit of Life and Death as a gift to the Immortal Emperor.

    In that moment, Mo Ran realized more acutely than ever before that there were many people in this world who would rather kneel and lick the boots of the powerful than lower their heads to show a little mercy and kindness to the weak.

    Mo Ran shook his head, striving to rid his mind of those past memories.

    In truth, he had seldom delved into reminiscing about those times. They were his weakness, and he didn't wish to dwell on them.

    But the similarity between being turned away from door to door in the present and his past experiences had inadvertently unlocked the shackles deep within his mind, drawing him momentarily into the abyss of dark memories.

    He stood there, somewhat dazed, lost in thought.

    He realized that as a child, he had promised his mother that he wouldn't bear grudges, and vowed to provide shelter for countless needy souls, ensuring their happiness...

    And yet, he had failed.

    In the end, he had caused the death of the last person in this world who had been kind to him, the death of Chu Wanning, the death of his own master.

    Chu Wanning...

    At the thought of him, Mo Ran's heart ached. He instinctively reached into his chest pocket for the thin paper with Chu Wanning's portrait. The paper was slightly creased now. He pursed his lips and silently held up his hand to smooth it out, but when his fingers touched it, blood stuck to the surface.

    Almost immediately, he drew his hand back in panic, afraid of smudging the drawing. He dared not touch it again.

    From Fifth Street to Third Street, he continued to ask every ghost he encountered, but they all replied that they had "never seen a man like the one in the portrait."

    Walking alone through the boundless night, the darkness so thick and endless, it felt as though he could never reach dawn no matter how hard he tried. Mo Ran grew weary after a while. He hadn't had a drop of water or a morsel of food, and he was starting to feel the strain. Spotting a wonton stall at the corner, he bought a bowl, secretly swallowing its contents without being noticed.

    All food in the Ghost Realm was cold, not even the wontons emitted any heat.

    Mo Ran took out his Soul Guiding Lamp and scooped up a spoonful, holding it before the lamp. "Master, would you like some?"

    Of course, his master wouldn't respond.

    Mo Ran ate on his own, saying as he did, "But you've never liked wontons. You've always preferred sweets. When I find you and we go back, I'll make pastries for you every day."

    In the silent night, a lone figure sat in front of a solitary night stall, accompanied by a single lamp. The evening breeze rustled softly, occasionally sending a few withered leaves swirling past. Even the Netherworld seemed tranquil at this moment.

    "Peach blossom cake, osmanthus sugar, walnut shortbread, cloud-layered cake..." He enumerated each dessert to the soul lamp as if Chu Wanning would respond if he heard. After a while, Mo Ran smiled bitterly. "Master, where is your other earth soul?"

    The young man's slender hand reached out and gently stroked the silk covering of the soul lamp. It was just like when he was thirty and Chu Wanning had died. He had held the corpse in his arms, lost in thought and dazed. He had said, "Chu Wanning, I hate you so much," but then lowered his head to kiss his face.

    "A young'un, just arrived here, huh?"

    Suddenly, a raspy voice interrupted. The old man selling wontons, with his failing eyesight, shuffled over and sat beside him. He must have died of old age; his dark, wrinkled face resembled a dried-up poplar tree in a desert. He fished a cigarette from his burial clothes, put it between his lips, and, with the kindness and nosiness that only seniors possess, struck up a conversation with Mo Ran.

    Mo Ran sniffled and turned to smile. "Yeah, it's my first day."

    "Indeed, you look unfamiliar. Mind if I ask why you left so young?"

    "I fell victim to demonic possession."

    "Oh..." The old man sucked on his unlit cigarette. "A celestial lord, then."

    "Um." Mo Ran nodded and glanced at him. Though not overly hopeful, he still took out the scroll from his chest and said, "Old Man, I'm looking for someone. This is my master, who also recently descended. Have you seen him by any chance?"

    The old man took the painting, bent over to examine it under the lamp, squinting his cloudy eyes as he studied it meticulously, for quite some time.

    Mo Ran sighed, about to retrieve the scroll. "It's alright. I've asked many people, so it's no issue if you haven't seen him. Anyway, everyone seems to be..."

    "I've met him."

    "!" Mo Ran was startled, his blood surging with excitement. He quickly grabbed the old man's arm. "Old Man, you saw him?! You... You didn't mistake him for someone else, did you?"

    "No mistake here," the old man replied, sitting cross-legged on a bench and scratching his foot. "Few people look like this all year round. There's no doubt it's your master."

    Mo Ran had already risen to his feet but, feeling awkward, bowed again to the elder. Looking up, he pleaded earnestly, "Please guide me, Old Man."

    "Oh, there's no need for such formality, little one. Once we become ghosts, we'll soon be reincarnated. Memories of our past lives can only linger for a decade or eight years at most. My old heart aches seeing all you children," he wiped away his tears before blowing his nose with his sleeve. "Do you remember that grand palace on the first street?"

    "Yes, I saw it. Was my master there?"

    "That's right, exactly there."

    "What is that place?"

    "That's the secondary palace of the Fourth Ghost King," the old man sighed. "The Fourth Ghost King doesn't reside there, but he specially instructed his subordinates to build a palace in Nankao Village for one purpose only: to imprison the beauties of the Netherworld. The Fourth King has an insatiable lust. From time to time, he personally visits the palace to select concubines, regardless of gender. Those chosen are immediately taken to the fourth level of Hell, while those not chosen are reportedly given to his subordinates for their amusement. Ah, what a world we live in..."

    Before he could finish his sentence, he saw the young Immortal Prince beside him rush away with a lantern, disappearing into the dark night like a hungry hound.

    The old man paused, then spoke wistfully, "Being young is truly advantageous, they can run so swiftly..."


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