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    Chapter 122: The Reflection of the Master

    "Come, Brother Mo, let me introduce you. This is one of my junior sisters from my sect, named Song Qiutong."

    He reluctantly sat down and allowed Nan Gongsi to eagerly make introductions at the table. He knew Song Qiutong inside and out, from the mole on her back to the birthmark at the base of her leg. There was no need for Nan Gongsi to elaborate.

    Yet, he maintained a composed expression, nodding slightly. "Miss Song."

    "This is Master Chu's direct disciple, Mo Weiyu of the Summit of Life and Death. You should have seen him in Butterfly Town before, but there were too many people, so you might not remember him."

    Song Qiutong smiled gently and rose to give a polite bow. "This humble girl, Qiutong, pays respects to Lord Mo."

    "..."

    Mo Ran did not rise to return the gesture. His dark eyes gazed at her for a moment before he said, "You're too kind."

    Towards this wife from his previous life, Mo Ran felt genuine disgust deep within his heart. This disgust was not something that emerged after his reincarnation; it had already rooted itself in his bones in his past life.

    In their previous encounters, they had never met face-to-face, so although he despised her, he hadn't felt as uncomfortable as he did today.

    She was a delicate and weak woman, always speaking and acting with a soft and gentle demeanor. She was like an unripe fruit in early autumn, hidden behind lush leaves, not as fragrant as a flower nor as striking in color, but still endearing. Within her slender and plump frame, there seemed to be an endless reservoir of innocence and tenderness. One might imagine that a gentle bite would reveal a sweet-tart juice.

    But only upon reaching the depths would one discover a rotten, stinking worm nestled within the core, its body oozing pus and covered in mold.

    Indeed, compared to him, Song Qiutong hadn't committed any unforgivable sins in her previous life. All she had done was betray the Confucian Wind Sect, which had saved her life. All she had done was offer up Ye Wangxi to save herself when Mo Ran slaughtered the city. All she had done was revel in the rewards bestowed by Mo Ran during the bloodbath in Lin Yi, adorning herself in gold and silver as she eagerly served her new master.

    All she had done was weep bitterly before Ye Wangxi's corpse, which could no longer speak, declaring how cruelly he had treated her, never giving her a single good day. If not for Mo Ran's arrival, she might have spent her entire life serving the Ye family as a beast of burden.

    And what else?

    Mo Ran mused in silence.

    What else is there?

    Nan Gongsi was an impatient man, and with several dishes yet to arrive, he had gone to hasten their delivery. Thus, the chamber was left with only the two former spouses from their past lives.

    "Here's to you, Young Master Mo," she offered, pouring him a cup of wine with grace. Her delicate forearm emerged from the flowing sleeves, revealing a touch of crimson cinnabar on her wrist.

    Inexplicably, Mo Ran lifted his hand and grasped her wrist.

    She gasped softly and lifted her eyes, looking at him in panic with a tender gaze like dewy green onions. "Young Master Mo, you are…?"

    Mo Ran stared at her face for a moment before his gaze fell, resting on her delicate, jade-like hand.

    "What a fine pair of hands," he said after a long while, his tone cold and composed. "Miss Song, do you know how to play chess?"

    "I... have a basic understanding."

    "Such excellent hands should be capable of playing a fine game of chess," he said coldly. Outside, the sound of Nan Gongsi's footsteps approached, accompanied by the barking of his trained wolfhound at the entrance.

    "Apologies," Mo Ran released Song Qiutong's slender wrist and then took a handkerchief to meticulously clean his fingers.

    Outside, the sky was bathed in a rosy glow, and inside, the grand banquet at the Spring Night Pavilion was in full swing.

    Mo Ran's expression remained unchanged as if nothing had happened. Though Song Qiutong had been unjustly humiliated, she was accustomed to enduring, so during the banquet, she stood up and poured wine for Mo Ran.

    He didn't drink from the cup she offered, and thus didn't touch it again.

    Nan Gongsi commented, "Brother Mo, the Spirit Mountain Gathering is not far off. As Master Chu's disciple, you can't let him lose face. Have you made all the necessary preparations?"

    "I won't go."

    "…Are you being serious?"

    "Indeed," Mo Ran chuckled. "It'll be sufficient for my younger cousin to attend. All the sects from around the world are flocking to Spirit Mountain. I dread the commotion, so I have no desire to go."

    Nan Gongsi seemed entirely unconvinced, his brown eyes narrowing into a gaze as keen and perceptive as that of a hawk with unparalleled insight into the flames.

    Yet, Mo Ran's gaze was open and sincere, looking at him without any reservations.

    The eagle gazed at the rock for a while and realized it was indeed just a rock, with no hidden rabbits or slippery snakes within.

    He leaned back in his chair, twirling his chopsticks, then suddenly grinned. "Interesting. Does that mean I won't see you at the Spirit Mountain Grand Assembly?"

    "I won't be there."

    Nan Gongsi placed a hand on his forehead and scoffed. "Master Chu's disciple is impressive. Such a grand event isn't even worth your attention."

    "..."

    Mo Ran thought to himself, how could he possibly explain this? Could he tell Nan Gong Si that he was actually a thirty-something-year-old zombie, forcing Heaven-Stepping Lord to play with a bunch of young novices, while the sect leaders he had either killed or beaten in his previous life were forced to sit around the stage holding up scorecards for him?

    ...That would be absurd.

    Clearing his throat, he said, "It's not that I don't value participating, but I'm not skilled in orthodox techniques. My foundation is weak, and I'd only embarrass my master if I were to join. With your exceptional talent, Young Master Nan, you have every right to be proud, so please don't mock me."

    A simple-minded fledgling like Xue Meng might have been pleased to hear such words from Mo Ran, feeling that he had struck the right chord. But Nan Gong Si, growing up in the intricately intertwined Confucian Wind Sect without a mother, had not led a simple life. Thus, when he heard Mo Ran's compliment, he only smiled, not getting carried away by it.

    Taking a few gulps of wine, he swallowed, then wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Since Young Master Mo isn't competing, as an impartial observer, why don't you try guessing who will ultimately emerge as the champion of this grand assembly?"

    "..." Mo Ran thought, you've damn well asked the right person.

    Who else would know better than him which flower would bloom where? Apart from the fake Jiu Chen, who was also highly likely to have been reborn, there was only Mo Weiyu who knew the outcome of that Spirit Mountain Sword Tournament years ago.

    The victor was...

    "Nan Gong Si."

    Suddenly, the beaded curtain of their private room was whisked aside. Amidst the shimmering light, half of a face emerged from the shadows. Before the two men in the room could react, Song Qiutong sprang up as if pricked by a needle, her expression filled with a pitiable panic as she bowed her head apologetically. "Y-Ye Young Master."

    The newcomer stood tall and straight, dressed in black attire embroidered with subtle golden threads, with wrist guards and an impressively slender waist. His features were a blend of three parts elegance and seven parts handsomeness—none other than Ye Wangxi.

    "Didn't call you," Ye Wangxi said without even glancing at her. He pushed aside the beaded curtain and entered the room, his gaze fixed on the same person, cold yet shimmering with subtle emotions. "Nan Gongsi, I was addressing you. If you heard me, look up."

    Nan Gongsi didn't raise his head but instead spoke to Song Qiutong, "Why are you standing? Sit down."

    "No need, Young Master Nan. My status is lowly; I'll remain standing," she replied respectfully.

    Suddenly, Nan Gongsi burst into anger and bellowed, "Sit down!"

    Song Qiutong flinched and leaned on the table, hesitant.

    Ye Wangxi didn't wish for the tension to persist. With a detached tone, he said, "Do as he says."

    "Thank you, Young Master Ye..."

    Ye Wangxi turned his attention away from Song Qiutong and continued, "Nan Gongsi, how long will you keep this up? The sect leader is beside himself with rage. Rise and come back with me."

    "That's fine by me. I'll consider him mad, and he can consider me dead! There's no point in going back until he retracts his decision. I won't set foot in the Confucian Wind Sect again until then." Nan Gongsi enunciated each word deliberately, "Young... Master... Ye, please take your leave."

    "You—" Ye Wangxi's fists clenched, his entire body trembling slightly. Mo Ran watched from the side and felt as if he would overturn the banquet table at any moment, dragging Nan Gongsi away with him. But Ye Wangxi was, after all, a gentleman. He suppressed that overwhelming fury with great effort.

    "Nan Gongsi," he said after a moment of silence, his voice hoarse and weary, in contrast to his upright appearance, "Are you truly determined to go this far?"

    "So what if I am?"

    Ye Wangxi closed his eyes and let out an almost imperceptible sigh before slowly reopening them. Standing by the table, he finally turned to look at Mo Ran.

    It was said that family matters should not be aired in public, and the same went for issues within a sect. Mo Ran, being perceptive, stood up and bowed to Ye Wangxi. "I just remembered that I have an appointment at a tailor's shop tonight to pick up some clothes. I don't want to keep the owner waiting, so I'll take my leave first."

    Ye Wangxi nodded at him. "Thank you, Young Master Mo."

    "You're welcome. Enjoy your conversation."

    As Mo Ran walked past Ye Wangxi, their shoulders brushed. He couldn't help but glance at him intentionally or unintentionally. Up close, he noticed that the corners of Ye Wangxi's eyes were slightly red, as if he had been crying before arriving.

    Mo Ran suddenly found Ye Wangxi's restraint to bear a striking resemblance to Chu Wanning's.

    A surge of emotion overcame him, compelling him to turn back and say to Nan Gongsi, "Young Master Nan, though I'm unaware of the conflict between you and Young Master Ye, it's clear to me that he cares for you deeply. If you're willing, talk things out with him properly instead of bottling up your feelings."

    Nan Gongsi, however, was not in the mood for gratitude. In the heat of his anger, he disregarded all notions of familiarity and shot back coldly, "It's none of your business."

    "..." This short-lived fellow!

    Mo Ran left. Before he even reached the ground floor, he could hear Nan Gongsi's furious bellow from the room. That wolfish young man was tearing apart Ye Wangxi's soul with his sharp teeth and claws. He was interrogating him—

    "Ye Wangxi! What kind of love potion did you feed my father? How could he value you more than me?! Go back? Why should I go back with you? Since I was a child, when have I ever been able to make my own decisions? Huh? Ye Wangxi, let me ask you, what exactly... what exactly do you think of me?!"

    With a crash, a table toppled over, followed by the clatter of shattered plates and cups.

    The serving girls standing in the corridor were all terrified, and some guests poked their heads out of their private rooms.

    "What's going on?"

    "Oh dear, who has such a terrible temper? Look at this, they might just end up destroying the entire tavern."

    Mo Ran pursed his lips and glanced back at the end of the corridor.

    He heard Ye Wangxi's voice, as dry and lifeless as autumn leaves.

    "Nanguan, if it is my presence that renders your time at home unpleasant, then I shall depart, never to darken your sight again."

    "..."

    "Return home," Ye Wangxi requested gently. "Please."

    Mo Ran would never have believed, if not for hearing it himself, that someone as resolute as Ye Wangxi could utter such a vulnerable word as "beg."

    In his memory, Ye Wangxi was an unyielding gentleman, an invincible god of war. Mo Ran could imagine him bleeding, but not weeping; he could envision his death, but not him kneeling.

    Yet today, he was actually confessing to a man before Song Qiutong in a tavern, pleading with him.

    Mo Ran closed his eyes.

    In one's lifetime, how many things remained unknown?

    No one revealed themselves entirely to others. People concealed their bodies with clothes and masked their emotions with words and expressions. They wrapped themselves tightly, like flowers extending their heads through branches, presenting the world with a clear mask of joy or anger. Some played the female roles, some the male, as the world was but a grand theater, with distinct characters: sheng, dan, jing, chou, and mo.

    After playing the male roles for so long, who could accept the transition of draping a silk sleeve, raising an alluring gaze, and suddenly switching to the female lead?

    But when the cymbals fell silent, the moon lute faded away, and the night grew still, each person removed their thick makeup, letting the soapy water wash away the sharply defined faces of the day, revealing unfamiliar features.

    Turned out the female roles were valiant men, and the martial roles had gentle, longing eyes.

    Mo Ran returned to his temporary abode, pondering: in two lifetimes, how much of the world had he truly seen? And how much of himself?

    One Chu Wanning was enough to make his heart live, die, and be reborn. Chu Wanning...

    Then he recalled how Nan Gongsi had mistaken him for Chu Wanning today. It was somewhat amusing, but how could such a mistake have happened?

    Yet, while washing up, he suddenly noticed the man in the copper mirror, with a high ponytail and a simple white sorcerer's robe.

    The ponytail had been tied carelessly that morning, and the robe was because his old clothes had become too small recently. He had gone to the shop to pick out new clothes, and after circling around, he found a beautiful white robe. Without much thought or contemplation over why he found it appealing, he bought it and put it on.

    Looking into the mirror, he finally understood.

    This white robe was strikingly similar to the one Chu Wanning used to wear.

    The copper mirror was yellowish, like a dream from a past life. As Mo Ran gazed at his reflection, he saw through the heavy hues of the dream fragments of Chu Wanning, as if catching glimpses of an illusion of him.

    The water from washing his face still hadn't been wiped away, trickling down his increasingly defined jawline.

    Standing before the mirror, he began to understand; just as his Night Traveler awkwardly imitated Chu Wanning's, he himself was clumsily mimicking his own Master.

    Mo Ran instinctively searched for Chu Wanning's figure in the mortal world, and in his absence, he gradually transformed into him.

    ---

    Time flew by. I grieve with regret, or perhaps something else.

    Unable to see you, I imagine how you would react if you encountered such situations. What would make you smile, what would provoke your ire.

    In everything I do, I think of you, wanting to bring you joy with every action.

    I ponder, "If you were here, would you nod in approval? Would you offer a small compliment, acknowledging that I haven't erred?"

    I think this way every day, embedding it deep within my bones, turning it into a habit. So much so that later on, I didn't even realize it myself.

    As time passed, I had unknowingly become the image of you that resided in my heart.

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