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    Chapter 116: Master Encounters Rong Jiu

    When Chu Wanning saw the ghost king's hands gathering light, he immediately pushed Mo Ran and said, "Run!"

    There was no need for him to say it again. Mo Ran grabbed Chu Wanning's arm, and the two of them leaped off the ground, racing towards the palace gate.

    Fuming, Mo Ran cursed, "Master Huaizui's spellwork is so careless! Why did he leave my shadow behind, giving people a chance to identify me?"

    Oddly, Chu Wanning didn't react much to his disciple cursing his master. He only glanced at Mo Ran out of the corner of his eye, as if he wanted to say something but ultimately decided against it.

    "Trying to escape?" The Fourth King sneered from behind. "It won't be that easy."

    Both of them were extremely skilled in lightness kung fu. Seeing that the palace gate was about to close completely, they jumped up by pushing off the wall. At the same time, the Fourth King summoned lightning, which he waved toward the sky. A bolt of thunder struck the gate, causing the originally dozens-of-feet-tall wall to rise abruptly, as if it would reach the heavens.

    The palace gate slammed shut at an alarming speed, sealing all exits.

    Mo Ran swore under his breath and turned around with Chu Wanning. If they couldn't get through the gate, then they wouldn't bother trying. What mattered now was not getting caught by the Four Ghost Kings.

    This was a stroke of luck. Each king in the Ghost Realm had their strengths and weaknesses. Although the Four Ghost Kings were powerful in magic, their bodies, after a thousand years of debauchery, were likely not as strong as the others'. Let alone running a mile, even fifty paces would leave them gasping for breath.

    Adhering to the principle of never sitting when you can lie down, and never standing when you can sit, the Four Ghost Kings had been lazy for millennia, turning themselves into masters of useless lightness techniques.

    Seeing Chu Wanning and Mo Ran running farther and farther away, he couldn't help but become furious. However, due to his habit of scavenging beauties from the territories of the other kings in Hell, his relationships with the other eight kings were not exactly amicable. Thus, when this incident occurred, he was unwilling to inform the other kings to join forces and capture them.

    "What's so impressive about running fast? Your King may be plump, but you won't escape the palm of my hand!" The Four Ghost King rubbed his belly, feeling somewhat wronged by his own anger. Upon seeing the eight strong men who carried his sedan chair standing still, he became even more displeased. "What are you standing there for? Your King's legs and feet are too noble to chase after them. Are you not going to pursue as well?"

    "..."

    It was rumored that the Four Ghost King had been an attractive man when he was slender. Due to having not tasted mortal delicacies for far too long, he indulged in overeating ever since he attained a physical body, eating while sitting, lying down, walking, or even squatting. Even during the busiest times in Hell, when he needed to rush through official documents, he would have two attendants standing on either side of him – not to grind ink or prepare paper, but to slice fresh fruits and feed him pastries.

    And so, an otherwise stunningly beautiful man had forced himself into becoming plump. While his constitution allowed him to eat without gaining excessive weight, he still looked different. After this, the Fourth Ghost King had all the mirrors in his palace thrown out. He was most displeased to hear the words "fat" or "plump." It was said that once, a charming concubine had sung a little ditty for him, beginning with the lines, "Half-moon curves, half-moon curves, half-moo—"

    Before she could finish the last word, the Fourth Ghost King had kicked her in the chest and scolded, "Fat, fat, fat! I haven't had enough of your two 'fats,' and now you want a third? Don't think that by splitting it up, I won't realize you're sneering at me! You dare to be so brazen!"

    Despite their bravery, these ghostly carriers did not dare to pursue Chu Wanning and Mo Ran. They hung their heads as the Fourth Ghost King complained. Eventually, one of them, who seemed more clever, spoke up, "Your Highness is so agile. If even Your Highness can't catch them, how can we?"

    The Fourth Ghost King finally caught his breath and decided against pursuing them. Turning to his attendants, he said, "Hmm, there's some truth to that... You have some self-awareness. Alright then, that's it. Pass on my decree: all main gates of the palace must be closed, and the palace walls should be covered in sealing spells. Not even a fly should be allowed out."

    He spat out the grape seed he had been holding in his mouth and said with a sinister tone, "We'll see where they can run off to."

    Mo Ran and Chu Wanning moved swiftly, navigating the labyrinthine palace and leaving the pursuing ghosts far behind. They concealed themselves in a narrow alleyway. As a ghost, Chu Wanning could run indefinitely without tiring, but Mo Ran, being a mortal, leaned against the wall to catch his breath.

    Chu Wanning looked out with a heavy expression. "He's sealed off the palace."

    Mo Ran, still catching his breath, waved dismissively. "It's alright, Shifu. Step into the Soul Guiding Lamp. That way, we can return to the living world directly, and he won't be able to stop us."

    Chu Wanning nodded but, for some reason, worry etched his brow.

    Unaware of this, Mo Ran took out the Soul Guiding Lamp and recited the incantation. However, the golden light flickered a few times before extinguishing, leaving Chu Wanning's Earthly Soul standing motionless before him.

    "Something's wrong?" Mo Ran was startled. "Why isn't it working?"

    The gloom on Chu Wanning's forehead deepened. He sighed. "As I suspected, teleportation spells are ineffective here. We'll likely have to leave the palace to cast a spell to return to the living world."

    Mo Ran bit his lip at these words, his gaze determined. After a moment, he said hoarsely, "No matter what, I'm getting you out of here."

    Chu Wanning glanced at him. "We need to hurry. The palace is vast, and it won't be easy for the ghost soldiers to find you. But with no water or food here, while I'm fine for now, you won't last many days."

    Mo Ran smiled. "I can handle hunger. I've been doing it since I was young."

    After a brief pause, allowing the surroundings to fall completely silent, the two emerged from the alley and strolled down the deserted cobblestone boulevard. The cool moon was like water, bathing the returning wanderers. One cast a shadow, while the other did not. They walked side by side.

    Mo Ran said, "Shifu."

    "..."

    "I apologize if I offended you at the entrance just now."

    Chu Wanning seemed taken aback for a moment before lowering his eyelashes, his gaze turning cold. "It's of no consequence."

    "Pressed by the circumstances, my words... were disrespectful. I do apologize for that."

    Chu Wanning: "..."

    "I also made a mistake in mentioning your marriage, and for that, I'm truly sorry."

    Chu Wanning suddenly halted, his voice icy cold. "How long do you plan to keep apologizing? Can't you say something else?"

    "Something else?" Mo Ran was taken aback, then pondered sincerely for a moment before cautiously choosing different words. "Well... I am genuinely regretful?"

    "..."

    Chu Wanning swept his sleeves and left, leaving behind an oblivious Mo Ran who had no idea what he had said to upset his master. Nevertheless, he was careful not to disturb him and, fearing he might provoke his master further, scratched his head in confusion before obediently following.

    "Master."

    "Hmm?"

    Halfway through his walk, Mo Ran couldn't resist asking, "Did you... encounter something extraordinary in the past?"

    Chu Wanning paused and turned back, "What do you mean?"

    "In the Netherworld, I found your other earth soul, which means you have an extra soul compared to ordinary people... When I saw Chu Xun at Shunfeng Tower, I asked him about it, and he said that the additional soul is usually not part of one's original self." Mo Ran hesitated slightly, "But with your physical body on Earth, I've seen four versions of you, so I wondered... did Master perhaps have some previous connections or encounters..."

    Chu Wanning fell silent for a moment, as if something had crossed his mind. A faint glimmer appeared in his eyes, but he quickly closed them and said, "It shouldn't be."

    Pausing again, he seemed both perplexed and hesitant as he continued, "I truly have four souls?"

    "Mm."

    "..."

    Chu Wanning wasn't sure why either. He pondered for a moment and sighed. "I'm unable to provide an answer to this. Anyway, it doesn't make much of a difference. Let's just let him be."

    As the two of them continued walking cautiously along the secluded path, they probed the spiritual energy that the Four Ghost Kings had used to seal the entire palace.

    "All barriers have their weak points."

    As Chu Wanning spoke, he approached a pavilion. His fingers traced over the rough walls, which shimmered with a faint blue glow. Closing his eyes, he tried to capture the flow of spirit energy beneath the bricks, but as he currently lacked any magical abilities, it was a difficult task. After a while, Chu Wanning lowered his hand in frustration and shook his head.

    "My soul is incomplete, and my power is diminished. I don't know how to break through just yet."

    Mo Ran suggested, "Why don't you teach me, Master? I can give it a try?"

    "It won't work. Barrier magic is intricate and cannot be learned in a day or two."

    Mo Ran asked, "Normally, what are the weaknesses of a magical barrier? We can try each possibility one by one."

    "...Each barrier has its unique vulnerability; there's no such thing as a typical weakness. If we were to test them all one by one, who knows how long it would take?"

    "Only by trying will we know," Mo Ran replied with a smile. "Maybe I'm particularly lucky?"

    Chu Wanning was about to respond when he caught sight of a fleeting white figure in his peripheral vision. His brows furrowed, and he instinctively prepared to summon his celestial weapon, Tianwen. But when he reached out, nothing happened, causing his expression to darken. He bellowed, "Who's there?!"

    The white figure immediately attempted to flee.

    Mo Ran wasn't about to let that happen. He swiftly darted over, seized the elusive figure, and covered its mouth and nose to prevent any cries for help. Then, he twisted its arms behind its back and forced it to kneel on the ground. Upon closer inspection, his anger flared.

    "Rong Jiu...!"

    The young lad kneeling on the ground was delicate and fair, like a willow swaying in the breeze, but there was a trace of unwillingness in his eyes. He turned his head away, remaining silent.

    Mo Ran seethed, "Are you going to betray us again? Do you really think I won't kill you?!"

    Chu Wanning approached. He had never seen Rong Jiu before, so he looked down and asked Mo Ran, "Do you know him?"

    Mo Ran didn't know what to say. He recalled that it was because of the incident involving Rong Jiu that he was charged with theft and adultery by Chu Wanning and publicly tried at the Platform of Virtue and Vice years ago. Back then, he had perceived Chu Wanning as ruthless and held a deep grudge against him. But now, as this old account resurfaced, he felt utterly ashamed.

    Chu Wanning, however, didn't sense anything amiss and assumed this person was an old acquaintance of Mo Ran's. He said, "Since he's followed you here, don't leave him in this palace. When we find a way out, take him with you."

    As he spoke, he scrutinized Rong Jiu more closely. "He seems like a decent fellow. It would be best for him to reincarnate as soon as possible."

    Mo Ran: "…."

    Rong Jiu had initially been rather flustered, but upon hearing Chu Wanning's words, he froze for a moment before suddenly breaking into a smile. With his alluring gaze slanted, he looked at Mo Ran. "This is your Master?"

    "What Master? You can't call him that!" Mo Ran was incensed. "That's my Master!"

    Rong Jiu, harboring resentment and intending to provoke him, replied leisurely, "Oh, my Master."

    "You—!"

    After this back and forth, Chu Wanning sensed something was off. "Mo Ran, do you have a grudge against him?"

    "I..."

    Rong Jiu smiled. "Dear Master, don't be harsh on him. There's no grudge between us; we merely have some old ties."

    He spoke in an ambiguous tone, but with a hint of intimacy that was hard to miss. Chu Wanning remained silent, his eyes narrowing slightly as his lips pressed together, giving off an indifferent air, though the gloom in his brows was impossible to conceal. Rong Jiu, having grown up in the entertainment district, was skilled at reading people's expressions. How could he miss the emotions flickering in Chu Wanning's pure nature?

    Somewhat surprised, he had initially thought that Mo Ran, a man known for his dalliances, had daringly lusted after his own master. Yet now it seemed that Mo Ran's feelings were not one-sided.

    ...The Peak of Life and Death was truly filthy.

    Despite the perilous situation, Rong Jiu couldn't help but comment, feeling both disgusted and astonished. While same-sex cultivation partnerships were not unheard of in the cultivation world, they were still considered quite scandalous. For Mo Weiyu, a young master of the Peak of Life and Death, to become involved with his own mentor... if word of this got out, Sect Leader Xue Zhengyong would surely be left with no face.

    With his enchanting peach blossom eyes, Rong Jiu scrutinized Chu Wanning from head to toe, ready to add fuel to the fire. However, before he could speak, the latter preempted him.

    "What's the point of discussing old ties when we're both dead?"

    "But didn't Immortal Sir ask me?" Rong Jiu smiled. "I was simply answering honestly."

    "Who asked you?" Chu Wanning replied coldly. "I was asking him from the beginning."

    The identity of "him" was self-evident, and the sparks in his tone made it abundantly clear that he wanted to distance himself from Rong Jiu. Hearing Chu Wanning's partiality towards him, Mo Ran felt a slight relief and warmth in his chest, prompting him to approach and strike up a conversation. However, before he could get close, Chu Wanning turned around in anger.

    "How you deal with yourself is your own business."

    But in his heart, Mo Ran was uncertain. If he let Rong Jiu go, he worried that the man would turn around and cause trouble for them or even inform on them. But if he kept him by his side, it was like walking with a powder keg; one wrong word could provoke Chu Wanning to no end. After a moment of deliberation, seeing that Chu Wanning had gone to inspect the barrier set up by the Four Ghost Kings, Mo Ran grabbed the hem of Rong Jiu's robe and whispered:

    "What do you really want?"

    "I feel stifled, unable to calm down," Rong Jiu's fine eyelashes trembled, a faint light shining within. "I just can't stand seeing an evil person like you get a second chance."

    Mo Ran knew that Rong Jiu wasn't someone who would harm himself just to hurt others. This guy only did things that benefited himself, even if he was full of resentment. For him, living comfortably and peacefully was the most important thing. He had no reason to risk being obliterated by tagging along with them.

    His gaze swept over and landed on Rong Jiu's feet.

    One foot was shod, while the other was bare, both muddy – a clear sign of a hasty escape.

    Mo Ran narrowed his eyes. "Tell me the truth."

    Rong Jiu: "Didn't I already say? The truth is that I can't stand —"

    "If you try to lie or threaten me again, I'll blindfold you, gag you, and toss you into a dry well. As a spirit, you won't starve to death or be able to escape. If you're lucky, a patrol will find you in three or five days. If not, prepare to spend a decade or eight years down there." Mo Ran paused and lowered his voice. "It's up to you."

    Sure enough, Rong Jiu paled.

    For a moment, he said, "I've changed my mind. I don't want to stay here. You have to take me out."

    "Why, no longer planning to be your ghost husband?"

    "..." Rong Jiu bit his lip, then lifted his head in anger. "I want a normal life too. I can start over." He took a deep breath and said, "I want reincarnation."

    "Alright. Then let me ask you one more time. Did you betray me to the patrol, telling them of my whereabouts before?"

    "..."

    "If you don't speak, I have other means to interrogate you," Mo Ran said, a red glow flickering in his hand. "Tell me."

    "Yes, it was me who betrayed you. So what?" Rong Jiu raised his chin, his eyes flashing with resentment. "If I hadn't taken advantage of guiding them, how could I have escaped?"

    Mo Ran abruptly loosened his collar in fury, laughing through his anger. "You sure know how to kick someone when they're down, you bastard."

    "I can also spit venom with my words," Rong Jiu slowly straightened his clothes, glancing at Chu Wanning not far away. "Lord Mo, you care a great deal about that person, don't you? I can tell him in detail how you treated and cajoled me before. No need for exaggeration. How do you think he'll react?"

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