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    Chapter 130: Master, I'll Cross Five Years to See You

    Chu Wanning's breathing was heavy, and his throat felt dry.

    Unwilling to accept defeat, he decided to provoke a response. He suppressed the fire in his heart and asked calmly, "For a lifetime?"

    "For a lifetime."

    "...I might leave quickly, regardless of you."

    "That's fine, I'll chase after you."

    "I might also stand still and not want to go anymore."

    "I'll accompany Master while you stand."

    Chu Wanning was irritated by his disciple's spontaneous answer. He waved his sleeve and said, "What if I can't walk at all?"

    "I'll carry you then."

    Chu Wanning: "…"

    Mo Ran was taken aback for a moment, feeling somewhat disrespectful and abrupt. He quickly widened his eyes and waved his hands, saying, "I'll carry you."

    Chu Wanning's heartbeat grew increasingly rapid. He had to exert all his effort to suppress the urge to help this man up, to touch him. This agitation made him frown, appearing anxious and slightly annoyed. "Who asked you to carry me?"

    Mo Ran opened his mouth but didn't know what to say.

    His master was just so difficult to please – neither carrying nor hugging was acceptable, and lifting or dragging were out of the question. He was clumsy, not knowing how to make Chu Wanning happy.

    So, he lowered his head in disappointment, resembling an abandoned puppy.

    He whispered softly, "Then I won't leave either."

    "..."

    "If you want to stay in the rain, I'll stay with you."

    Chu Wanning, accustomed to his independence, was at a loss under such persistent entanglement. Without much thought, he replied, "I don't need your company."

    Mo Ran finally fell silent. From Chu Wanning's perspective, he could only see his broad forehead, dark eyebrows, and long eyelashes that hung like a misty curtain, quivering slightly as if a gentle breeze was blowing them up and down.

    "Shifu..." Chu Wanning's impatient refusal had led Mo Ran to misunderstand his feelings. Mo Ran continued, "Are you still angry with me...?"

    Lost in the turmoil of his emotions, Chu Wanning couldn't shake himself free and didn't hear him clearly, asking instead, "What?"

    "In the Netherworld, I apologized to you many times, but I know it wasn't enough. In these past five years, I've lived with guilt every moment. I know I owe you."

    Chu Wanning: "......"

    "I wish I could do better, at least so that when I'm standing before you, I won't feel so dirty, or that I can't hold my head high. But I... I can't catch up to you... Almost every day when I wake up, I worry if it's all just a dream, that when I wake up, you'll be gone. Your words from when you saved me in Jin Chengchi echo in my ears; you said that a dream too good to be true can't be real, and... I get so sad..."

    Mo Ran's voice was a bit hoarse.

    He had more to say, but he didn't want to continue. He felt he had no right to speak these things in front of Chu Wanning. How could he bear to let Chu Wanning know about the pain he'd endured over the past five years?

    He... sometimes, alone in the snow valley, he lost track of time and place. At those moments, he pricked himself with needles, piercing the bones of his fingers one by one. The pain was intense, but it reminded him that his consciousness was still clear, that he still lingered in this mortal world.

    He knew that it wasn't all just a grand dream from his previous life, that upon waking, he wouldn't find the Peak of Life and Death transformed, with a vengeful Xue Meng, the Confucian Wind Sect flattened, and Chu Wanning lying fully clothed in the Red Lotus Water Pavilion, as if he were still alive.

    As if in life, as if in life itself.

    What four words could be more heart-wrenching than these?

    It was strange. When he learned that Chu Wanning had died to save him, and when he descended into the Realm of Ghosts to rescue his beloved, his heart ached, but he had never felt such overwhelming despair.

    Yet, as time passed swiftly and the days drew closer to Chu Wanning's awakening, Mo Ran's pain intensified, his heart feeling as though it were being torn apart by a sharp blade.

    Perhaps it was the solitude of those years that granted him more time for contemplation, or maybe it was because in the absence of Chu Wanning, he had once gone to extremes, desperately emulating that person with every fiber of his being, longing to dismantle himself and transform into the reflection of Chu Wanning.

    In short, many things that he had once overlooked, failed to ponder deeply, and gradually forgotten, resurfaced in his mind. Those past events were like the damp tidal flats revealed after the ebb of the tide, leaving him standing alone by the seashore where the waves had subsided.

    Everything was seen with such clarity.

    He recalled his past life, where smoke and flames billowed in all directions, and he found himself at a desperate dead end.

    Xue Meng sought him out on the Summit of Life and Death. In the unrecognizably devastated Wushan Palace, Xue Meng had once tearfully questioned him, every word weighted with emotion.

    Why would you do this to your own master?

    Xue Meng once pressured him, urged him to turn back before death...

    He said, Mo Ran.

    Think about it carefully. Lay aside your monstrous hatred. Look back.

    He once taught you to cultivate and train, shielding you from harm.

    He once instructed you in calligraphy and reading, in composing poems and painting.

    He once learned to cook for you, clumsily injuring himself in the process.

    He once... he once waited for you day and night, alone, through the darkness... until dawn...

    Back then, Mo Ran didn't listen, refused to see.

    Now, standing at the shores of destiny as the tide recedes, he lowers his head and sees a discarded heart beneath his feet - a heart that had treated him so kindly, pleading so earnestly it nearly withered away, drained of its vitality.

    It was his arrogance that blinded him, causing him to overlook the fact that it was right beneath his feet.

    He had trampled Chu Wanning's heart beneath his feet!

    Each time Mo Ran thought of this, he felt a chill run through his body, as if his flesh and blood were mangled. What had he done... What had he done? Across two lifetimes and sixteen years, had there ever been a single day when he had truly repaid Chu Wanning? Had there ever been a day when he had placed Chu Wanning first in his heart? !

    Beast!!!

    Could it be that I had a heart of wood and stone in the past, hence why didn't it know pain? !

    In these past five years, how many times had he seen Chu Wanning return in his dreams, clad in white robes with his appearance unchanged?

    Awakening, his pillow was damp with tears. Every day, he muttered, "Chu Wanning, Master, I'm sorry. It's my fault, it's all my fault."

    Each day I say it, yet it does little to alleviate the weight of my guilt.

    Later, when he saw the fragrant blooms of spring, he would think of him; when he saw the falling snow in winter, he would also think of him.

    After that, every dawn was golden, just like Chu Wanning's soul. Every night was pitch black, akin to the depths of his eyes. Later on, every shimmering moonlight was as pure as the snow brushed by his cloud-like sleeves, and every rising sun held the warmth concealed within his gaze. Eventually, he saw Chu Wanning's figure amidst the crimson hues of dawn, the azure morning light, and amidst the magnificent, surging sea of clouds.

    He was everywhere.

    Amid such pain and longing, he gradually faded his resentment towards his humble origins and the fervent infatuation he had for Shi Mo.

    One day, he noticed a snow-covered winter jasmine peering out from a crevice outside Snow Valley.

    He gazed at it calmly for a while, just as he would on any ordinary day, thinking to himself, Ah, this flower is so beautiful; if Master were to see it, he would surely love it.

    He thought about it lightly, contemplating the simplest, most casual matter.

    The sorrow that hadn't driven him mad or crushed him when Chu Wanning died suddenly surged upon him like a fierce tempest. The dam of his composure broke, and he collapsed.

    He wept uncontrollably. The deep valley echoed with the startled honking of geese, and his voice was so hoarse and ugly that he was ashamed to cry over the golden blossoms that bravely defied the snow.

    Five years had passed.

    He had never forgiven himself.

    "Master... I'm sorry... Today, I tried my hardest to come back, and I brought you a gift. I wanted to see you without being empty-handed..." His forced composure disintegrated, and his pretended calmness crumbled away.

    Mo Ran knelt before Chu Wanning. For the first time in a long while, he was at a loss for words, and only in front of Chu Wanning could he feel so vulnerable.

    "I... am still so foolish. After you returned to life, I failed to fulfill the first promise I made to you. It's my fault."

    Seeing Mo Ran like this, Chu Wanning's heart ached with compassion. He had always cared for Mo Ran, and after being reunited after such a long time, he couldn't bear to see him suffer.

    But hearing him mention his tardiness, he hesitated and asked, "Why were you late today?"

    "At first... it should have been on time. But in Butterfly Town, I encountered some malevolent spirits causing trouble. I..."

    "Did exorcising them delay you?"

    "Sorry," Mo Ran lowered his head. "Not only that, but the gift I prepared for my Master was almost ruined... and I got covered in dirty blood, so I rushed to take a bath, and then..."

    Chu Wanning's heart softened.

    Grandmaster Mo.

    This Mo Ran was indeed no longer the same as he was five years ago.

    Five years ago, he was selfish and self-centered, but now he understands the difference between what truly matters and what doesn't. Chu Wanning isn't someone who dwells on romantic notions; if Mo Ran were to ignore the haunting problem in Butterfly Town, he would have been upset. But seeing this man sincerely kneeling before him, awkwardly seeking forgiveness, he finds it somewhat endearing.

    Chu Wanning steps forward slowly, warmth surging within him. He extends his hand, ready to help Mo Ran up, when he suddenly hears Mo Ran mumble, "Master, please don't expel me from the sect."

    This time, it's Chu Wanning's turn to be taken aback. He had no idea of Mo Ran's deep sense of guilt and anxiety, so he didn't anticipate this plea. He hesitates, asking, "Why...?"

    "Even when it rains, I've accompanied you, chased after you, guarded you, carried you, hugged you – all to your dissatisfaction. Please, don't send me away."

    Mo Ran finally lifts his face, and Chu Wanning's heart trembles.

    He sees the faint redness in the man's eyes, misty with emotion.

    Chu Wanning, usually decisive, is now at a loss. Flustered, he stammers, "You... You're already twenty-two, how can you still..."

    Pausing, he lets out a long sigh, then says, "Get up first."

    Mo Ran abruptly raises his arm, fiercely wiping away his tears. Defiantly, he replies, "If Master doesn't want me, I won't get up."

    ...Indeed, still a rogue!

    Chu Wanning felt a headache coming on, his lips thinning as he grasped the wrist and pulled the young man up.

    As their fingers touched, he sensed the strength in the muscles, the warmth of the flesh. This youthful and sturdy body was no longer the same as it had been in his youth; Chu Wanning felt a sudden flutter in his chest upon contact, his hand jerking away in surprise.

    Fortunately, Mo Ran was too distressed to notice Chu Wanning's odd behavior. But Chu Wanning stared at his own hand in disbelief for a moment, his heart churning with turmoil.

    What was happening to him?

    Could five years of slumber have erased his detachment and pride?

    He lifted his gaze, staring in astonishment at Mo Ran.

    Or had the person before him changed so much that he could no longer control his feelings?

    Mo Ran bit his lip, seemingly determined not to back down. "Please, Master, don't send me away."

    With those words, he prepared to kneel again.

    How could Chu Wanning dare to help him up again? He quickly sternly stopped him. "Kneel again, and I'll truly abandon you!"

    "..." Mo Ran paused, blinked, and suddenly understood. His eyes lit up abruptly. "Shifu, you don't blame me... You aren't angry with me for breaking our appointment today? You..."

    Chu Wanning snapped, "Have I ever been so petty?"

    Mo Ran's heart raced, and he couldn't resist the urge to embrace him. This startled Chu Wanning, who took a step back, his brows furrowing in anger. "What are you doing? How improper!"

    "Oh." Mo Ran realized his mistake and quickly apologized. "I'm sorry, sorry, I lost myself."

    Chu Wanning's ears turned crimson, but he tried to maintain his composure. "You're already in your twenties, yet you still have no manners."

    Mo Ran's own ears reddened as he mumbled, "It's my fault."

    "It's my fault" seemed to have become his go-to phrase. Chu Wanning found it both amusing and endearing, evoking feelings of tenderness and warmth.

    Lifting his eyelashes, Chu Wanning glanced at Mo Ran from the corner of his phoenix-like eyes, a subtle yet noticeable look.

    In that glance, he saw a handsome and stalwart man. The man's suntanned face was slightly flushed, either from the lingering heat of the hot springs or some other reason. His radiant energy seemed to dissipate the surrounding mist, making his dark, sparkling eyes shine even brighter.

    Thud.

    Chu Wanning felt his heart throb violently, as if the scorching heat from touching Mo Ran had rekindled in his fingertips. Suddenly, his throat went dry, and he couldn't bear to look at Mo Ran anymore. He cursed, "Idiot," before abruptly turning and leaving.

    The barrier above his head remained undisturbed, just as Mo Ran had promised. He followed Chu Wanning as he said he would.

    Lowering his eyelids, Chu Wanning didn't dare to turn back. He knew that his eyes must now be brimming with love and desire that could no longer be concealed, like flames burning at his fingertips, engulfing him.

    He had finally ruined him.

    What Mo Ran hadn't accomplished five years ago, this man had achieved after five years. He had captured Chu Wanning's heart and plunged him into an ocean of desire.

    From this moment on, Chu Wanning was but a mortal, a fleshly being, surrendering his soul and body, trapped in a web from which there was no escape.

    Author's Note:

    Short Scene: "Master's First Day of School Exam"

    Chu Wanning: Come, let's play a round of Brain King. Don't worry, they're all easy questions.

    Dog (referring to Mo Ran): Uh-huh! Uh-huh!

    Chu Wanning: How many petals does a peach blossom have?

    Puppy: Five!

    Chu Wanning: What variety of peach blossom is found at the Red Lotus Water Pavilion?

    Puppy: It's the Xifu variety!

    Chu Wanning: Shi Mo's height?

    Dog: 183!

    Chu Wanning: Xue Meng's height?

    Dog: Hahaha, 178.

    Xue Meng: ...fml, what's so funny about that?

    Chu Wanning: Your height?

    Dog: Hahahahaha 189!

    Xue Meng: Hmph.

    Chu Wanning: My height?

    Mo Ran: Um... ahem, eight meters one.

    Chu Wanning: Alright, you passed the test. I won't expel you from my tutelage.

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