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    Chapter 131 - Master Reading

    That night, Chu Wanning tossed and turned on the bed in the Red Lotus Water Pavilion, unable to fall asleep.

    He was pondering how Mo Ran had grown into the person he was now. The image of Grandmaster Mo, Mo Weiyu, filled his mind as he closed his eyes, his face exuding vigor and his gaze burning with intensity, combining strength and tenderness.

    Chu Wanning cursed inwardly, kicking the covers off with great force. The blanket slid off the edge of the bed, leaving him lying sprawled out, staring at the ceiling with a tormented expression.

    He struggled with all his might to free himself from the sea of desire, severing emotional ties until he was utterly exhausted.

    "Mo Weiyu, you beast," he muttered under his breath.

    Turning his head, he still couldn't shake off the thoughts. The vision of that firm, heated body he had seen in the Wonderful Sound Pond seemed to linger before his eyes, the broad shoulders, the sharply defined back, and as he imagined turning around, the hot spring water trickling down the man's Adonis line...

    He shot up from the bed, his face deathly pale, not daring to let his thoughts wander any further.

    Grasping for a book like it was a lifeline, he found himself clutching one of Xue Meng's purchases. The open pages revealed rows of tiny, meticulous script, which initially escaped Chu Wanning's attention. After a while, he suddenly realized what he was reading.

    On the delicate parchment, there was a line of characters written with impeccable neatness:

    "The Categorical Ranking of the Most Outstanding Cultivators in the Realm of Cultivation"

    Each character was familiar, but when assembled together, they left Chu Wanning somewhat perplexed.

    Primeval heroes... measurement... ranking?

    What dimensions are you referring to?

    Height?

    Scanning further down, smaller script added a note beside: "Due to the scope of this ranking involving heroic figures, those who never bathe outside or frequent pleasure houses are not included, hence the incomplete records. The Confucian Wind Sect's heroes lack Nan Gongsi and Xu Shuanglin's measurements, Solitary Moon Night lacks Jiang Xi's, and the Peak of Life and Death lacks Xue Meng, Xie Fengya, and Chu Wanning's..."

    "..."

    Chu Wanning paused in confusion.

    What did that mean? Did their height require them to go outdoors for a bath or visit brothels to be measured?

    He even saw his own name...

    Frowning, he tapped the list with his finger and continued reading. Unfortunately, the first name made him choke.

    Mo Weiyu.

    Identity: Young Master of the Summit of Life and Death, Grandmaster Mo.

    Chu Wanning recalled Mo Ran's figure. The boy was indeed tall and imposing now, but surely he wasn't ranked first?

    Reading on, it said, "Observed in Deyu Hall while bathing, truly extraordinary, leaving one in awe."

    "..."

    Bathing in Deyu Hall...

    Truly extraordinary...?

    Chu Wanning had a vague sense that something was off, but being accustomed to pure thoughts, he pondered for a long time without figuring out what was amiss. He could only continue reading.

    Ranking second was an unknown wandering cultivator, with the accompanying note, "Observed while bathing in the wilderness; truly impressive."

    "Complete nonsense," Chu Wanning grumbled, feeling a sense of disgust. "Shoes and headgear might alter one's appearance, but not to such a drastic extent. Why must they spy on others while they bathe? How can such indecent books be popular among the masses nowadays?"

    Moving on to the third place—

    Mei Hanxue

    Title: Senior Disciple-Master of Treading Snow Palace, Kunlun

    This time, the accompanying text was different. Instead of mentioning bathing, it read, "Measured by a servant girl from Spring Crystal Pavilion, with additional verification from various female cultivators. Young Master Mei's asset has the power to render women as soft as water and their bones as clay, capable of satisfying ten partners in a single night without any difficulty."

    Chu Wanning: "………………………………"

    After a brief, deathly silence, Elder Yu Heng's mind exploded like a bomb. He hurled the book across the room, landing it with a resounding slap on the other side, his face flushed crimson, eyes flickering with anger, and his entire being overwhelmed with fury.

    What had he seen?

    What kind of measurements were these?! Even if he was slow to catch on, he now understood the implications. What else could it be but shameless, immoral, filthy, and utterly disgraceful?!

    Sitting stiffly on the bed for a long while, Chu Wanning still felt unsatisfied. He got up again and picked up the booklet, exerting force through his fingers, causing the paper to shatter into scattered fragments...

    Yet those eight words "truly extraordinary, impressive beyond measure" were like a scorching hot branding iron that seared into his heart, leaving him flushed and with a thunderous pounding in his chest.

    He was an extremely principled person. Back at the Wonderful Sound Pond, he had deliberately looked upward, avoiding anything inappropriate. With the steam swirling around the pond, figures were obscured in a hazy mist, making it impossible for him to see clearly even if he tried. But now, this filthy book had used just eight words to vividly present that scene before his eyes. And words often conveyed more color and life than images, feeding one's imagination.

    Truly extraordinary...

    Chu Wanning fiercely wiped his face. After a moment, he grabbed the blanket, covering his head.

    On the first day of his return, what had he encountered... Chu Wanning thought resentfully — the world had changed, he wished he could lie back down and die once more!

    However, Elder Yu Heng was always strict with himself. Despite a sleepless night and the shock and unease in his heart, the next morning, he still got up on time, groomed himself, and dressed neatly. With his austere and abstemious demeanor, he descended the Southern Peak of Death and Life Ridge.

    Today was the monthly inspection. The Good and Evil Platform shimmered with light as thousands of disciples demonstrated their martial skills, while the elders observed from above.

    Despite being absent for five years, Chu Wanning's position remained unchanged, still situated to the left of Xue Zhengyong.

    Dressed in a flowing white robe that touched the ground, he appeared listless as he walked up the long stone steps. Then, with a sweep of his wide sleeves, he sat directly on the empty seat, poured himself a pot of tea, and sipped while observing.

    Xue Zhengyong, noticing Chu Wanning's displeased expression, assumed that Mo Ran's absence from yesterday's feast had upset him. He leaned in, attempting to appease, and whispered, "Yu Heng, Ran-er is back."

    To his surprise, Chu Wanning's brow furrowed, and his complexion worsened. "Yes, I've seen him."

    "Oh? You've seen him?" Xue Zhengyong was taken aback before nodding. "That's good then. How was he? Has he changed much?"

    "Mm..."

    Chu Wanning wasn't keen on discussing Mo Ran further with Xue Zhengyong. Ever since yesterday, the haunting mantra "a remarkable person to marvel at" had been echoing in his mind. He had no intention of searching for Mo Ran amidst the sea of people below. Instead, he lowered his gaze to the table.

    "There are so many fresh fruit pastries," he remarked.

    Xue Zhengyong smiled. "You haven't had breakfast yet, right? Help yourself if you like them."

    Without hesitation, Chu Wanning took a lotus cream pastry and began to savor it with hot tea. The pastry's color graduated elegantly from the petal base to the tip, reminiscent of a young girl's blushing cheeks. Its flaky layers crumbled delicately, revealing a sweet bean paste infused with the aroma of osmanthus flowers.

    "The craftsmanship of Lin'an's Clear Breeze Pavilion..." Chu Wanning murmured, turning to Xue Zhengyong. "Didn't these come from the Nai Po Tang's chef?"

    "No, Ran-er specially brought them back as a tribute to you," Xue Zhengyong chuckled. "Look, none of the other elders have them on their tables."

    "..." Only then did Chu Wanning realize that his wooden table was uniquely adorned with an array of fruit snacks, pastries, and sweet preserved fruits. There was even a small celadon bowl with a lid, inside which sat precisely three sweet-filled glutinous rice balls.

    These weren't ordinary white glutinous rice balls; they were made with lotus root from Lin'an, mixed into the dough. Each translucent ball shimmered like a jade gem.

    "Oh, these are little trinkets that Ran-er borrowed the kitchen from the Netherworld Lady's Hall to make this morning. The red one is filled with rose bean paste, the yellow one has peanut and sesame, and the green one claims to have Longjing tea ground into fine powder for its delicate tea skin. They're all quite innovative, but there's just a bit too little..." Xue Zhengyong muttered. "He was busy all morning, being meticulous, and only made three."

    Chu Wanning: "..."

    "Yu Heng, will you have enough?"

    "Mm." Chu Wanning fell silent for a moment before nodding.

    In truth, he had always eaten only three rice balls. The first was sweet, the second left a lingering aftertaste, and the third satisfied his cravings. If he ate a fourth, it would become cloying.

    Mo Ran had cooked precisely three, coincidentally suiting his preference. Not a single one more or less.

    With a white porcelain spoon, he scooped up the perfectly round, adorable glutinous rice balls with lotus root skins, bringing them to his lips. He found the size just right, perfect for swallowing in one bite without the hassle of the sticky mess that came with the oversized ones made by the Netherworld Lady's Hall chef during the Lantern Festival.

    The person who made the rice balls seemed to know exactly how much his mouth could accommodate, what size food would be comfortable in his mouth. The tender filling seemed to embody endless intimacy.

    This thought stirred an inexplicable flutter in Chu Wanning's heart, only to die away in the face of embarrassment and be concealed by composure.

    "He does have good skills."

    "Pity that he only makes them for you. No one else gets to taste them, not even this uncle," Xue Zhengyong lamented with regret.

    Listening, Chu Wanning pursed his lips faintly, remaining silent. He simply stirred the hot water in his bowl with a spoon. The sweet dumplings were long gone, yet their sweetness lingered in his heart.

    After the snack, ignoring the lively martial demonstrations below, Chu Wanning picked up a file from his desk to review some recent reforms and changes at the Summit of Life and Death over the past five years.

    Xue Zhengyong had compiled these documents, concise and to the point. Chu Wanning quickly finished reading them. Closing the file, he noticed another book hidden beneath it.

    "This is..." He pulled it out, revealing a thick, bound volume. Xue Zhengyong glanced at it and chuckled. "Another gift from Ranyang. Yesterday, he said he encountered demons on his way back and the book accidentally got splattered with blood. Many pages are also torn. He was too embarrassed to give it to you personally, so he asked me to put it on your desk this morning."

    Chu Wanning nodded, opening the book. His slender fingers traced the title at the beginning, which was written in neat, regular script:

    A Letter to My Master.

    His eyes widened slightly, surprised.

    Is this a letter written for him?

    His heart felt as if it had been seared by hot coal, a burning sensation that was both scorching and painful. He lifted his eyelids, searching through the vast crowd for Mo Ran's figure, but instead, he saw armor gleaming like fish leaping in a pond.

    Unable to locate him immediately, he continued reading the letter.

    It turned out that every day after Chu Wanning went into seclusion, Mo Ran would miss his Master. There were countless thoughts in his heart that he feared would fade with time. So he had someone create a sturdy book, thick and filled with one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five pages. He calculated that over five years, he would write a letter to his Master each day, no matter how insignificant the details, from eating an unusually tasteless yè’érbā (a type of Chinese pastry), to newfound insights gained during cultivation practice.

    He had initially planned for exactly one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five pages, no more, no less. Once completed, his Master would have emerged from seclusion.

    Yet, sometimes he couldn't stop writing, his words cramped together in tiny clusters, overflowing with eagerness onto the paper. He wished Chu Wanning could witness the sea buckthorn flowers in the desert north, the misty clouds of Mount Changbai. He longed to tuck today's sweet treats into the crevices of the paper, waiting for Chu Wanning to awaken and share them.

    Those rows of small script flowed continuously, devoid of melodramatic phrases or expressions of sorrow. Instead, they faithfully recorded every brilliant moment of the past five years. He chose to share only the good things with his Master.

    Consequently, the initially planned daily page was not enough, so he added another thick stack of letters at the back of the book...

    Chu Wanning flipped through the pages slowly, his eyes growing moist.

    He observed the evolution of Mo Ran's handwriting, from childish to strong, then from strong to elegant.

    The latest ink stains seemed yet to dry, while the earliest script had already faded to a pale yellow.

    "Letter to My Master" — these four words adorned every page, each with a unique touch. Gradually... time passed like a swift steed galloping through snow until the hair turned white.

    In the end, the calligraphy was as elegant as plumes and as strong as bent iron, with strokes that danced gracefully across the horizontal and vertical lines.

    Chu Wanning turned to the final page, caressing the four characters at the top of the scroll.

    Letter to My Master, Letter to My Master.

    As he gazed at the solemn ink, it was as if he could see Mo Ran's pen tip just lifting, his wolf-hair brush set down. The man raised his head, no longer the boy he once was.

    From the first letter to the last, Chu Wanning saw Mo Ran grow from sixteen to twenty-two, his figure stretching and his features deepening.

    Yet every day, he sat before his desk and wrote a letter to him.

    "Master!"

    Without realizing when, the martial arts demonstration had ended. Chu Wanning heard someone calling his name and abruptly lifted his head. He saw Xue Meng, thrilled, waving at him from the front row of the Virtue and Vice Platform.

    Beside Xue Meng, a man stood with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, his long legs straight and strong. His face, flushed from the martial exercises, glistened with sweat under the sun, like the lustrous pelt of a leopard.

    Mo Ran caught sight of Chu Wanning looking at him and was taken aback for a moment before he suddenly smiled. In the golden morning light, his smile was captivating and radiant, like a pine tree swaying in the sun's embrace. Enthusiasm burned in his eyes, while gentleness brushed his lashes. His rugged, upright features seemed to flush with bashfulness, creating an irresistible vitality and intensity.

    What a handsome lad.

    Sitting on the high platform with folded arms, Chu Wanning watched him with an imperious gaze, seemingly aloof as usual. No one could perceive the turmoil within him, the loss of composure beneath his cold demeanor.

    In the crowd, Mo Ran, still smiling, suddenly raised his hand, pointing at his own clothes and then at Chu Wanning.

    "..." Chu Wanning didn't react at first, his phoenix-like eyes narrowing slightly as he looked at him in confusion.

    Mo Ran's smile widened, and cupping his hands around his lips, he silently mouthed something.

    Chu Wanning: "?"

    The rustling of leaves accompanied the gentle morning breeze. Mo Ran appeared a bit helpless, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he shook his head and pointed at his own lapel.

    Lowering his head, Chu Wanning took a moment before suddenly realizing something, his ears turning red.

    "..."

    The majestic Elder Yu Heng, guided by his disciple's pointer, suddenly realized that he had been too hasty in the morning and the clothes were in disarray at the Red Lotus Water Pavilion. In his hurry, he had carelessly draped himself in the same robe he had mistakenly taken from Mo Ran yesterday.

    ...No wonder he felt something dragging on the ground while walking today! It was the hem of the robe!

    Mo Weiyu, you really know how to push my buttons. Frustrated, Chu Wanning turned away in anger. You oblivious fool, always bringing up the wrong topics!

    Author's Note:

    Mini-Theater - Dogzi's Letter Content

    When it comes to ancient letter writing, one must admire "A Letter to Yuan Wei," which is incredibly sentimental. I can't help but applaud the friendship between Mr. Bai Juyi and Mr. Yuan Zhen with rounds of applause, hahaha.

    Dogzi's letters aren't as complex, nor does he start off as eloquently as Bai Juyi with his affectionate "Wei-zhi, Wei-zhi" or "hearts bound like glue." So, what does Dogzi write about?

    Excerpt from Dogzi's Letter:

    The almond sweets in Lin Yi taste delightful, though they are a bit expensive at forty copper coins per pound. But oh, they are delicious, delicious.

    Potato stew with meat is incredibly filling - one meal and I'm not hungry all evening. Delicious, delicious.

    I accidentally used the honey from my Qiankun Pouch as oil for the grilled chicken wings, but it turned out delicious, delicious.

    The fish sashimi in Quanzhou is exceptionally tasty, oh so good, oh so good.

    Since Master has awakened, let's enjoy a meal together!

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