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    Chapter 111: Master is Like a Blade, You are Like Water

    There was only one entrance to the Palace of the Four Ghost Kings, guarded by royal guards. Mo Ran, of course, wasn't foolish enough to approach through the front gate. He leaped onto the rooftops, but, fearing that the light from the Soul Summoning Lantern might attract unwanted attention, he stowed it away in his Universe Sack. He traversed the crisscrossing tiles and eaves with the speed of a black bolt of lightning.

    The palace appeared grandiose from the outside, and even more so on the inside with its winding corridors and overlapping structures. Mo Ran landed gracefully on the rooftop of an ornamental tower, blending seamlessly with the dark tiles. Looking down, the entire palace seemed like a small city, vast and unending.

    Mo Ran's heart was filled with impatience.

    He finally understood why that man had refused to tell him where his master was; he must have been afraid of offending the Ghost King. But despite now knowing that Chu Wanning was within the palace, Mo Ran was still at a loss –

    There were easily nine hundred, if not a thousand, rooms here. Where could Chu Wanning be?

    He felt like a treasure hunter who was almost at his goal, his heart and hands trembling more than before.

    Master...

    Where are you?

    As he pondered, a group of people appeared around the corner, carrying dim red lanterns as they clomped along. They were clad in golden armor and boots, marching from the East Gate to the main path. After ten twists and turns, they arrived at an inconspicuous side chamber.

    In that secluded chamber stood an ancient, towering locust tree, blocking half of Mo Ran's view. All he could see was half the courtyard, with the other half concealed behind lush foliage.

    As the ghost soldiers entered, the sounds of clattering tables and chairs, grunts, and commotion filled the air. Suddenly, a shrill scream pierced through the silence, and a woman with disheveled hair was dragged and thrown into the yard. Her robes were partially open, sliding down under the rough shoves of the ghost soldiers, revealing her snow-white skin.

    "Trying to run, huh? I'll let you run, damn it!"

    A whip lashed harshly against the woman's body, likely a torturous instrument from the Realm of Ghosts — even ghosts would suffer excruciating pain from it.

    The woman trembled on the ground, seemingly attempting to escape, but with soldiers surrounding her, she had nowhere to go.

    "Wench, do you still fancy leaving the Palace of Four Kings after entering it?"

    "I've lived an innocent life! I have no sins! Why are you treating me like this?!" the woman shrieked. "Let me out! I want to be reincarnated! I don't want to stay here anymore!!"

    Another round of whipping followed, causing her to cry out in agony.

    "Servicing the Fourth King spares one from the cycle of reincarnation! Yet, you refuse such a privilege! How ungrateful!"

    "He didn't show any interest in me! Why can't I leave? I-ah-!"

    Another whip lashed across her face, and the woman broke into sobs, trembling uncontrollably yet still trying to crawl away. Her animal-like desperation seemed to amuse the Yin soldiers under the Fourth King's command, who burst into laughter. One by one, the "offerings" in the side chamber were dragged out.

    The lead Yin soldier said, "Fellow comrades, you've worked hard. Those in this courtyard are what the Fourth King left behind. Knowing how much you've been holding back, choose whomever you fancy for some amusement. If there's someone you particularly like, register with me, and you can even take them back to your own home."

    The licentious ghosts under the Fourth King's control howled with delight, laughing wildly as they entered the room to pick out the most beautiful victims. The woman outside was naturally not spared; she was surrounded by several men under the tree, who pounced on her like starving wolves, as if to devour her very soul.

    The room was suddenly filled with gasps and lewd whispers. Some cried, some screamed, some begged for mercy.

    Some could no longer endure such torment and sought release, offering their souls to curry favor and please their captors. The ugliness of humanity, whether in Hell or on Earth, was always the same.

    Mo Ran landed gracefully from the terrace, using the night's cover to sneak onto the roof of the side chamber. Recalling the old man from the wonton stall's account, Chu Wanning had just arrived and had yet to undergo the King of Ghosts' selection, so he shouldn't be here. Still, he couldn't shake off his concern and lifted a portion of the dark tiles to peer down.

    Amidst the haze of desire and chaos inside the room, he saw a face.

    Rong Jiu.

    The courtesan he had favored in his previous life, who had used his affection to scheme against him and try to steal his cultivation, was also among them.

    He was the most perceptive, understanding both life and death.

    Many within the room were struggling, unwilling to comply. Some of the deceased called out the names of their beloveds in the mortal world amidst the chaotic illusions, while others maintained their dignity by incessantly cursing. But Rong Jiu was different. Mo Ran knew this person well. He loved wealth, loved his life, and of course, after death, there was no life left to cherish. But he valued his own soul and had no desire to endure further torment.

    Amidst the sprawling, disheveled bed, the rejected "tributes" around him begged for mercy and struggled, yet he alone kept his eyes closed, submitting to the man's advances with soft, feline-like coos.

    Mo Ran gazed at his flushed face, an unexpected chill creeping up from the depths of his heart.

    He thought of Chu Wanning.

    Rong Jiu is like supple silk, while Chu Wanning is akin to refined steel.

    At first glance, he appears as hard and unyielding as black iron, impervious to any attempts to break him. Yet in such circumstances, Rong Jiu would ingratiate, flatter, and willingly bend to construct an indestructible fortress with his own gentleness.

    But what about Chu Wanning?

    Mo Ran doesn't even need to ponder to know how that man would react. He would rather have his soul scattered, preferring to plummet into the depths of the eighteen hells, than allow anyone to touch him.

    Water flows ceaselessly, whereas only steel blades can be broken.

    "Crumble!"

    It was a startling sound that sent shivers down the spines of both those inside and on the rooftop.

    Mo Ran's face turned deathly pale as he looked up into the courtyard.

    The woman who had been engulfed in flames just now had a hole pierced through her chest by the Yin soldier. Her soul gradually became translucent, with tears streaming down her eyes.

    After a moment of suspended stillness,

    She suddenly disintegrated into specks of dust.

    Her soul scattered, destroyed.

    The Yin soldier who had ruined her soul cursed as he stood up. A grotesque whip mark marred his face, likely inflicted by the woman when she snatched his Soul Suppressing Whip and lashed it against him. The soldier spat, "Damn it, what bad luck! Even as a ghost, she can't let go? Bah! Stinking old hag!"

    Mo Ran felt as if he had fallen into an icy abyss.

    He didn't think he had just witnessed an unfamiliar woman; instead, it felt like he had seen the choice that Chu Wanning would make.

    Rong Jiu was still entwining himself amorously with the lustful ghosts, using his unique skill to cling to them like a creeper and envelop them in his gentle embrace like an invisible net.

    The offerings in the room gradually succumbed, their rancid stench constricting the throat and threatening to induce nausea.

    After an indeterminate period, the lascivious spectacle finally drew to a slow close.

    Rong Jiu indeed left a lasting impression. Some of the soldiers, now clothed, went to register with their leader, awaiting the inspection of the Fourth King before they could take him back to their homes.

    These soldiers were all under the command of the Four Kings, ghosts who had forsaken the cycle of reincarnation. Though following them wasn't as good as serving the Four Kings, it offered a respite from humiliation and a comfortable existence.

    Rong Jiu was content with this arrangement.

    The Yin soldier who would be taking him back engaged in some playful banter before departing, as it was already late and he needed to switch shifts. As the group of demons receded into the distance, the side chamber felt desolate and disordered, as if a grand feast had ended, leaving behind scattered remnants of wine and human sentiment, cooling gradually.

    He lazily sat up, appearing more composed than the others despite being a man.

    Finished grooming, he gazed into the copper mirror, noticing that his complexion after death was pale and haggard, not as rosy and vibrant as when he was alive, which clashed with the spring-like charm in his eyes.

    Disregarding the weeping, dazed, and trembling women, Rong Jiu happily dressed himself, donned silk slippers, and strolled into the courtyard.

    In Hell, peony flowers bloomed even more vibrantly than in the mortal world. He plucked a cluster, using his delicate fingertips to dab at their nectar, smearing it across his lips and blushing cheeks.

    Each person valued different things. Rong Jiu had been born into suffering; in his eyes, affection was something only well-fed and lofty nobles could pursue. He himself was but a filthy seedling in the mud, caring little for morals or honor. All he held dear was his own life; when that was gone, it was his soul that he clung to.

    Suddenly, there was a soft rustling behind him, as if someone had brushed against the petals.

    Assuming it was the official who had returned for another tryst, Rong Jiu lavishly offered the alluring gaze in his eyes. Everything else might come at a price, but springtime desire was free.

    He turned with a charming smile, his beauty transcendent, gender indistinguishable.

    But upon recognizing the cold figure standing by the flowers, Rong Jiu took a startled step back. His eyes widened, his lips parting as if struck by lightning—

    "It's you?!"

    "It is," Mo Ran replied.

    Rong Jiu's enchanting face transformed through countless expressions: surprise, hesitation, schadenfreude, anger, anxiety, and feigned nonchalance.

    Eventually, his expression settled into a chilling stillness.

    He was accustomed to putting on a friendly facade, and such overtly fierce expressions felt heavy on his face; he didn't wish to draw too much attention to himself.

    "Why is Young Master Mo here as well?" Their last encounter had been rather unpleasant, so Rong Jiu straightened up, appearing indifferent.

    Mo Ran replied, "I'm searching for someone."

    Rong Jiu seemed to scoff. "I never would have thought that a man of your romantic disposition would still have attachments in the Realm of Ghosts."

    Mo Ran didn't want to engage in further conversation. He took out the scroll and handed it to Rong Jiu. "Have you seen him before?"

    With a sultry gaze, Rong Jiu cast a glance at the portrait and sneered. "Just another pretty face, I suppose. Which brothel does he belong to?"

    Mo Ran frowned. "Stop talking about courtesans. Just tell me if you've seen him or not."

    "No," Rong Jiu said coolly. "Even if I did, I wouldn't bother telling you."

    "..."

    "I'm tired. I'll be retiring now. Young Master Mo can go back the way you came; no need to see me off."

    Mo Ran called out to him, "Rong Jiu!"

    The slender figure paused, turning his enchanting profile with a hint of smugness. "Why? What is it?"

    "I'm going to save him. If you're willing, I'll save you too. There's no morality here, so you can't possibly be serious about mingling with those ghost soldiers," Mo Ran said. "It's time for you to return to your reincarnation cycle."

    Rong Jiu turned most of his face away and purred, "What Young Master Mo says, there's no morality here, but where else would there be? Rong Jiu has had a hard life, living twenty years on earth and finding it not much different from here. The only difference is that customers have gone from being humans to ghosts. What's the point in reincarnation or not?"

    "You're living on the edge of a blade."

    This time, Rong Jiu genuinely laughed. He smiled as he regained his composure, studying Mo Ran. "When haven't I been living on the edge of a blade? People are the knife, and I'm the fish on it. When I meet some good people, they might give me extra silver. But if I encounter someone like Young Master Mo, a 'kind soul' who doesn't pay and even runs off with my belongings without acknowledging me, then that's a different story. Young Master Mo, you stabbed me first and then warned me to watch out for blades. You truly have a kind heart."

    The author has something to say:

    When Dogzi was young, he had resolved to be a person without hatred, one who would shelter all those in need with joy. Yet, it was this same person who eventually became a bloodstained devil with sins that could never be washed away. If Dogzi's mother had not yet reincarnated, and if she knew, she would surely be very saddened.

    Yesterday's update might have seemed pitiful, but it wasn't actually that bad because those were the best days of Dogzi's first fifteen years.

    As he began reminiscing, he mentioned that at least he still had his mother back then.

    Later on, Mother was no more.

    In truth, it's often unnecessary to strictly distinguish right from wrong or good from evil. People can transform from kindness to malice, and some rise from the depths of despair back to the light of humanity. It's the blend of lovable, hateful, pitiful, and detestable traits in a person that makes them feel real, and it's the coexistence of errors, remorse, injustice, and fairness in a world that makes it whole.

    If a story were filled solely with unblemished heroes, uniform values, and no emotional dilemmas or moral conflicts, where reforms are sung high without a hitch, as if the world is always joyful and righteous, where morals are so upright that no one would dare to take what's not theirs and doors remain unlocked at night, or where you find a lost coin and wait a year for its owner to return – then might as well tune in at seven-thirty sharp to watch the never-ending serial drama, "The News Broadcast," which guarantees satisfaction...

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