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    Chapter 140: Master, Turn Over

    Relying on Mo Ran's well-wishing, Chu Wanning had another dream that night, alas, it was not a pleasant one.

    In the dream, he returned to the year when the sky cracked in Butterfly Town, except this time, it was Shi Mo who mended the fissure alongside him.

    Heavy snow fell from the leaden sky. Shi Mo, unable to withstand the pressure, was pierced through the heart by malevolent spirits. He tumbled down from the dragon coiled pillar and landed in the endless snowy expanse. Mo Ran rushed over, picked up the blood-soaked Shi Mo, and knelt at his feet, pleading for help to save his disciple.

    He wanted to save Shi Mo too, but under the influence of the Twin Soul Barrier, he suffered the same severe injuries as Shi Mo. His face was deathly pale, and he remained silent, fearing that if he spoke, blood would choke him, and the surrounding ghosts would pounce upon them, tearing them into pieces.

    "Master... Please... I beg you..."

    Mo Ran was crying, continuously bowing before him.

    Chu Wanning closed his eyes and ultimately fled...

    Shi Mo died.

    Mo Ran never forgave him.

    He dreamed of the Bridge of Helplessness on the Summit of Life and Death, where a chilly spring rain was falling. The world was filled with the tender buds of spring trees, glistening with moisture. The endless cobblestone path beneath his feet stretched out before him as he walked alone, holding an umbrella.

    Suddenly, he saw someone approaching from the other side of the bridge, dressed in black, without an umbrella. The person carried a stack of oilskin-wrapped books, heading straight for him. Chu Wanning couldn't help but slow his pace.

    That person had clearly seen him too, but their footsteps remained steady. They lifted their damp eyelashes, soaked from the rain, to give him a cold, emotionless glance.

    Chu Wanning wanted to call out to him, to say: Mo...

    But Mo Ran didn't give him a chance to speak. He carried his books, walking as close to the very edge of the left side of the bridge as possible, as if he might fall into the river at any moment – all just to stay farther away from his Master, who walked on the right.

    They reached the midpoint of the bridge.

    One, who used to hold an umbrella, walked in the rain, while the other, who was unaccustomed to umbrellas, also walked in the rain.

    Eventually, they passed each other by.

    The one caught in the rain walked away without looking back, while the one with the umbrella stopped, standing still in the same spot.

    Raindrops tapped softly against the umbrella's surface. Chu Wanning stood there for a long time, until his legs grew stiff and numb, as if the damp chill of Sichuan had seeped into his bones.

    Suddenly, he felt exhausted, unable to take another step.

    The dream grew dark and deep.

    Cold and heavy.

    Cold like rain, heavy like legs that could no longer move.

    In his sleep, Chu Wanning turned over, curling into a tiny ball. Something trickled from the corner of his eye, dampening the pillow. He vaguely realized that this was merely a dream, yet why did it feel so real? So vivid that he could sense Mo Ran's hatred, his disappointment, his determination.

    But... was that all there was?

    Was it over just like that?

    Unwilling to accept this, the surroundings seemed to brighten in response to his resentment.

    Still within the dream, many months had passed since Shi Mo's passing.

    Mo Ran's demeanor grew increasingly gloomy, and he spoke less and less. Yet, he still attended all cultivation classes, only listening without engaging in conversation with Chu Wanning.

    Chu Wanning made no attempt to explain why he hadn't saved Shi Mingjing back then. He could see through Mo Ran's attitude and knew that any words at this point would be futile.

    During that day's cultivation session, Mo Ran, as instructed, stood atop the highest branch of a pine tree to practice gathering spiritual energy. For some unknown reason, he suddenly lost his strength and tumbled straight down. Before Chu Wanning could react, he rushed over to catch him, but in the haste, he couldn't cast any spells. The two of them fell from the tree branch with a thud, landing on the ground.

    Fortunately, the soil was soft, cushioned by a thick layer of pine needles. Neither of them was injured, except for a deep gash on Chu Wanning's wrist caused by a sharp branch, blood seeping out.

    Mo Ran looked at the wound, then, for the first time in months, lifted his eyes to openly scrutinize Chu Wanning's face.

    Finally, he said, "Master, you're bleeding."

    His tone was somewhat numb, yet still mild.

    "I have ointment and bandages in my Qiankun Pouch. Let me tend to it."

    They sat amidst the lush needle-like foliage, the air fragrant with the scent of pine and cypress. Chu Wanning remained silent, watching as Mo Ran lowered his head and silently wrapped the bandage around his wrist, round and round.

    The young man's eyelashes trembled, and Chu Wanning couldn't read his expression. For a moment, he desperately wished to gather enough courage to ask:

    Mo Ran, do you really hate me that much?

    But the wind back then was too gentle, the sunlight too warm. There were birds singing and insects chirping amidst the branches. His injured hand was quietly held by Mo Ran as he tended to the bandages. Everything was tranquil, serene.

    In the end, he still didn't ask, didn't dare to shatter that tranquil scene.

    Suddenly, he realized the answer wasn't that significant. What mattered was that in this dream, after Shi Mo's passing, his blood and wounds could still evoke some response from Mo Ran, a sliver of tenderness.

    The next day, when Chu Wanning woke up, he was momentarily disoriented.

    Lying in bed, he could even feel a faint ache in his arm, as if there was still some residual warmth. After a while, he rubbed his face wearily and couldn't help but smile wryly.

    What on earth had he dreamed about?

    People say that our dreams reflect our thoughts during the day. Could it be that seeing Shi Mo's handsome appearance made him feel a bit down, and he unconsciously vented in his dreams, even dreaming that Shi Mo had died...

    How absurd.

    He got dressed, got out of bed, washed up, and tied his hair. Soon enough, he forgot about last night's fragmented dream.

    Today, the village chief and his fellows were making rice cakes.

    In the Lower cultivation world, rice cakes were an indispensable delicacy for New Year's Eve, symbolizing good fortune. The glutinous and non-glutinous rice flour had been ground the night before. Women and the elderly were responsible for heating up the stove and steaming the flour, a time-consuming process that didn't require the assistance of young, strong men. Thus, Chu Wanning woke up a little later and leisurely made his way over, without any rush.

    Upon arrival, he saw a huge pot set up in the spacious courtyard, with a half-human-height wooden bucket steaming inside, releasing clouds of hot vapor. The village chief's wife stood on a low stool, occasionally adding more rice flour to the mix. A few children ran around the fire, playfully jumping and laughing. They would occasionally take out a skewer of roasted peanuts or a corn cob from the hearth.

    To Chu Wanning's surprise, Mo Ran had risen early as usual and was assisting the village chief's wife with tending the fire. One child, while running merrily, stumbled and fell, promptly bursting into sobs.

    "Where did you fall?" Mo Ran helped the child up, dusting off the dirt from her clothes. "Are you hurt anywhere?"

    "The hand—" The little girl, still crying, lifted her sooty black hand for Mo Ran to inspect.

    Mo Ran picked her up and took her to the well, fetching a bucket of clean water to wash her hands. It was a bit of a distance, so Chu Wanning couldn't hear their conversation. However, the child, with tears still glistening in her eyes, gradually stopped crying. After a while, she started giggling, looking up at Mo Ran with a snotty face and began chattering away.

    "..."

    Chu Wanning silently stood in the corner, watching him comfort the child, watching him carry her back to the hearth, watching him carefully peel a sweet potato from the flames and hand it to the little girl.

    He just watched.

    It was as if he had witnessed the five years Mo Weiyu had spent passing by.

    "Ahh, Shifu's here?"

    "Mm." After a long while, Chu Wanning finally came to sit beside Mo Ran. Gazing at the blazing fire beneath the furnace, he asked, "What's roasting in there?"

    "Peanuts, sweet potatoes, and corn," Mo Ran replied. "Since you're here, I'll roast a candy for you."

    "…Candies can be roasted too?"

    "Shifu can't roast them; they'll burn easily," Mo Ran chuckled. "I'm better at it."

    Speaking of which, he fished another milk barley candy from his pocket, peeled off the outer paper wrapper, and used tongs to hold it over the furnace flame, turning it slightly to toast. He then quickly retrieved it, blowing on the candy. "Ouch, it's a bit hot." He blew some more before holding it up to Chu Wanning's lips.

    "Taste it."

    "…" Chu Wanning wasn't accustomed to being fed, so he reached out and took the candy. The white candy, softened by the heat, exuded a rich milky flavor as he chewed. "Not bad. Roast another one."

    Mo Ran did so, and this time, Chu Wanning took the candy with his own hand and ate it himself.

    "Another one, please."

    "..."

    Mo Ran roasted eight in a row. By the ninth, a child came over asking Mo Ran for a sweet potato. With his hands occupied, Mo Ran asked Chu Wanning to fetch one.

    Chu Wanning picked up another pair of tongs and selected the largest one. Mo Ran took a glance and said, "Put that back and grab the smaller one next to it."

    "The bigger ones taste better."

    "The bigger ones aren't cooked yet," Mo Ran chuckled.

    Chu Wanning was somewhat indignant. "How do you know they're not cooked?"

    "Trust me, I often roast them outdoors. Give him the smaller one; it's sweeter."

    So Chu Wanning exchanged it for the smaller one. The child, unaware of Chu Wanning's prominent status in the cultivation world, seeing that he was willing to pick out a sweet potato for him, leaned over and whispered to Chu Wanning, "Big brother, I want that big one."

    "Ask the other big brother," Chu Wanning replied. "He's the one who said no, saying it wasn't ripe."

    The child really went to find Mo Ran and said, "Brother Mo Ran, I want to eat that big one."

    Mo Ran replied, "If you want the big one, you'll have to wait a bit longer."

    "How long is 'a bit'?"

    "Count from one to a hundred."

    "But I can only count to ten..." The child sounded rather upset.

    Mo Ran chuckled. "Then I guess you're punished with eating the small one."

    The little one had no choice but to accept this unfair fate with a sigh. He said dejectedly, "Alright, if it's small, then it's small."

    Chu Wanning peeled sweet potatoes for him. Just as he was about to finish peeling, Mo Ran's candy had reached its softest point. If they didn't eat it soon, it would melt completely. So, he quickly plucked it off the fire and handed it to Chu Wanning. "Shifu, open your mouth—"

    With a sweet potato still in his hand, Chu Wanning didn't think much of it and instinctively opened his lips. It wasn't until Mo Ran placed the soft milk candy between his teeth and gently wiped the corner of his mouth with the rough pad of his finger that Chu Wanning suddenly realized he had just eaten a candy fed to him by his disciple. His ears turned red instantly.

    "Do you want more?"

    Chu Wanning coughed softly. Fortunately, the warm glow of the fire illuminated his face, hiding any unusual changes in his expression. He said, "No, thank you."

    Mo Ran smiled and replied, "Just enough to fill you up. There's only one milk candy left. After that, there won't be any more."

    Relaxed, he spoke casually without much thought. Thus, the word "feed" came naturally. But an apprentice would never dare address their master in such a manner. The connotations of these two words were too indulgent and dominant, akin to how a pet owner feeds their beloved pet, or a monarch nourishes their spouse. It could even evoke a scene between the sheets, where the conqueror above satisfies the submissive beneath with their fiery, heated body.

    Lost in the rough implications of those two words, Chu Wanning remained in a daze for a long while.

    After steaming, the glutinous rice needed to be pounded on a wooden board, a physically demanding task. In the village, strong men used wooden mallets to make rice cakes. The village chief handed Mo Ran a wrapped wooden hammer and attempted to give another to Chu Wanning, but Mo Ran stopped him.

    Mo Ran chuckled and said, "Village Chief, my master has never done this before. He wouldn't do it well."

    "…" Chu Wanning stood silently by.

    He was quite resentful, even angry, because no one had ever associated him with "not doing well" since he left the mountain until now. Others always sought his help with requests like, "Immortal Sir, could you please assist me?"

    For the first time, someone stood behind him and said, "He can't do it. He won't manage."

    Chu Wanning was furious. He wanted to fling his sleeves and retort, You're the one who can't do it!

    But he held back, biting his tongue.

    Because Mo Ran was telling the truth—he really couldn't do it.

    In the end, they were assigned by the village chief to a stone mortar where steamed rice flour was already placed, releasing scorching hot steam.

    Mo Ran said, "Shifu, I'll be pounding the cake later. You just need to remember to flip it over for me every three strikes. Be careful not to burn your hands, and don't be too hasty. Avoid getting hit by the mallet."

    "...If you can hit me with a hammer, you might as well give up on cultivating as a celestial being and go back home to farm."

    Mo Ran chuckled. "I'm just reminding you. It's better to be safe than sorry."

    Chu Wanning didn't bother with his nonsense. The pairs beside them had already started, and he didn't want to lag too far behind, so he stood by the mortar and said, "Go ahead."

    Mo Ran lowered the wooden mallet, striking down heavily on the soft, hot rice flour. The flour sank in, enveloping the mallet. After three repetitions, he lifted his bright eyes and said to Chu Wanning, "Shifu, time to flip."

    Chu Wanning flipped the rice cake over, and Mo Ran brought down his mallet once more.

    After several rounds of cooperation, they had established a good rhythm. Basically, as soon as Mo Ran lifted his mallet for the third time, Chu Wanning would swiftly flip the cake, and just as his hand retreated, Mo Ran would deliver another blow. Making rice cakes seemed simple, but one had to control the force precisely. The person doing the pounding needed great strength and energy. After flipping and pounding countless times, when the rice dough became thoroughly sticky and unbreakable, the task was considered complete.

    After a while of bustling about, Mo Ran remained unperturbed, but the farmers around them began to feel exhausted. With hoarse voices, they started chanting, "One, two, three—One, two, three—" They were calling out the rhythm of the mallet strikes. Finding it interesting, Mo Ran joined in with their rhythm. When the rice cake was half-formed and sticky, the others were already panting, but Mo Ran felt no strain at all. He smiled at Chu Wanning and said, "Again."

    Chu Wanning looked at him. Beads of sweat covered the young man's forehead, glistening under the sunlight like honey. His lips were slightly parted, not gasping heavily as most people would after exertion, but his breathing was still somewhat labored, his chest rising and falling.

    Noticing that Chu Wanning was watching him, he paused and wiped his face with his sleeve. His eyes sparkled like stars as he asked with a smile, "What is it? Did some rice dough stick to your face?"

    "No," replied Chu Wanning.

    "Then…?"

    Chu Wanning observed Mo Ran, drenched in sweat yet folding his collar neatly around his throat. Suddenly, he couldn't bear to see him like this. He asked, "Are you hot?"

    Yesterday, he had asked Mo Ran if he was cold, and today he was asking if he was hot. This confusion perplexed Mo Ran. The temperature difference between the two days wasn't significant, so he took a moment before answering, "I'm fine."

    "If you're hot, take off your clothes."

    "If my Master doesn't like it, I won't take it off," Mo Ran said.

    "..." Chu Wanning replied, "You'll only become more unpleasant with sweat sticking to you."

    Since he had said so, and Mo Ran was already feeling sticky and uncomfortable, he removed his outer robe and tunic, tossing them onto the nearby grindstone. Chu Wanning watched with a cold gaze, but his heart gradually grew warm. He observed Mo Ran reveal his broad shoulders and strong arms as he stood by the stone, and when he took off the inner shirt, the heat seemed to radiate toward Chu Wanning. Mo Ran was indeed drenched in sweat, glistening moistly under the sunlight. He resembled a merman emerging from the water, turning around to smile at Chu Wanning, his handsome features captivating.

    "The two Immortals, would you like some water?" The village chief's wife carried a tray of tea, asking each person in turn, and eventually reached them.

    Mo Ran returned to the mortar, picking up the wooden mallet again, and smiled. "No need, I'm not thirsty yet."

    A hand reached out, taking one of the teacups from the tray.

    Chu Wanning, amidst the astonished gazes of the two, guzzled an entire cup of tea with a gallant air and then handed the teacup to the village chief's wife, saying, "Please, another cup."

    "Master, are you very thirsty?"

    Something in those words pricked him, and Chu Wanning abruptly lifted his head, his gaze sharp and guarded. "Thirsty? ...No, I'm not thirsty."

    He drank another full glass of water, gulping it down steadily.

    Mo Ran gazed at him, somewhat perplexed. When did his Master's pride become so acute that even thirst became a source of shame to mention?

    Author's Note: Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, but the updates won't stop~ They won't stop during the Spring Festival~ However, from New Year's Eve to New Year's Day, I'll be busy, so I might not have time to reply. Please don't mind it~ Thank you for your understanding!

    Short Skit: "What Valentine's Day?"

    Doggo: What Valentine's Day? They all compete with me for food. Is dog food for humans? Can humans eat dog food? Put it down, all of you! I'll bite whoever eats it!

    Chu Wanning: I have no desire to join in this commotion.

    Shi Mo: (Rolling his eyes, Shi Mo, the idol in casual attire, was devouring lunch on set without any concern for his image.) Oh please, if I were really to spend Valentine's Day with someone, you'd probably wish it was Qingming Festival instead. I see right through this.

    Xue Meng: I have thought about it, but I don't think anyone is worthy of me. What can I do? I'm troubled by this too.

    Nan Gongsi: Caring for canines is everyone's responsibility. Boycott Valentine's Day and safeguard the purity of Naobaijin. I'll lead by example.

    Mei Hanxue: Selling condoms, selling condoms, Okamoto air condoms, let’s find out.

    Ye Wangxi: Excuse me, sir upstairs, but I'm afraid I need your cooperation. Our department has received fifteen reports since last week alleging that you have been engaging in deceptive behavior for intimate purposes. I would appreciate it if you could come with me for further discussion.

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