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    Chapter 144: Master, I Like You

    Mo Ran plucked a piece of paper from the large bowl and unfolded it flat.

    Upon seeing its contents, he initially sighed in relief, only to feel slightly nervous after.

    "What is it?" the village chief asked.

    Mo Ran showed him the paper, and the village chief examined it before saying, "Haha, it's fortunate that Lord Mo didn't come with any fellow disciples, be they junior or senior sisters, or else you might have offended someone."

    Curiosity had already been piquing Chu Wanning about what question Mo Ran had picked up. Hearing the village chief's words, his interest was further piqued. He stared intently at the slip of paper as if he could bore a hole through it.

    Mo Ran chuckled. "But Chief, doesn't this paper violate the rules? Others have written just one question, but he's practically asked me three."

    "The deity just happened to pick this one," the village chief said. "If the deity isn't satisfied, he can throw it away and draw another."

    Who knew what other content he might end up with if he drew again, such as "Are women with long legs more attractive or those with slender waists?" Mo Ran smiled. "Forget it, forget it. Let's stick with this one then."

    With that, he handed the paper back to the village chief. "The question I got is to name my three favorite people."

    Chu Wanning: "…"

    At that moment, Ling'er returned with reddened eyes. She didn't approach the others, fearing they would notice her recent tears, so she sat by the edge of the fire pit, and Mo Ran didn't see her.

    In fact, after Mo Ran finished his question, he didn't look at anyone. He felt that such an intimate topic was awkward for all to witness, leaving everyone speechless. Thus, he simply stared into the fire.

    The flames flickered in his dark eyes, casting a shifting light on his handsome face. Lost in thought, he gazed at the blaze for a long while before speaking:

    "Well, let's start with my mother."

    "My mother passed away early, so I don't really remember what she looked like. All I recall is that when she was around, I always had food to eat and slept soundly," Mo Ran said. "So if we're talking about three people, she would be one of them."

    The village chief nodded. "Deep parental love. Alright, I'll count that as one for the Immortal Lord."

    "The second person would be my senior brother. He treats me kindly, even though we aren't related by blood, but he's closer to me than any real sibling."

    Chu Wanning had anticipated this answer, so there wasn't much of a reaction on his face or in his heart. It was clear that Mo Ran liked Shi Mingjing. Chu Wanning had heard it firsthand in Jin Chengchi and didn't find it surprising.

    As he gazed at the man illuminated by the night fire, he saw a chiseled, rugged profile, making him appear extremely handsome. Yet, there was a stubbornness beneath his appearance. A person's spirit often reflected in their eyes, and Mo Ran's were black and bright, full of life, like a lamp that would never go out unless the oil ran dry.

    One with such eyes was destined to be exceptionally stubborn.

    Chu Wanning was deeply fascinated by this obstinacy, alas, it did not belong to him.

    Mo Ran praised Shi Mingjing in countless ways, but Chu Wanning paid no attention. He felt the evening breeze was a bit chilly, so he poured himself a cup of hot tea, held it in his palm, and sipped it slowly.

    The warmth of the tea traveled down his throat, soothing his stomach and warming his flesh, melting his heart along the way.

    He silently poured another cup, about to take a sip when suddenly, Mo Ran finished talking about Shi Mingjing, paused, and said,

    "There's one more person. The third one I want to mention is my master."

    "Cough, cough, cough!!" Chu Wanning seemed to have been scalded. A bit of tea spilled out as he choked, his face turning red. He bowed his head to wipe away the moisture, but didn't lift his gaze to look at Mo Ran.

    For someone who had grown accustomed to emotional subjugation, even if you lifted them from the ground, they would only panic at their own dirtiness and wish to retreat back into the shadows, curling up and hiding away.

    But clearly, Mo Ran had no intention of giving him that chance to escape.

    Chu Wanning was too introverted. If left to his own devices, he would always give you his back, his profile. He appeared passionate and fierce, with lightning and frost in his eyebrows, hinting at thunderous aggression. But Mo Ran knew this was merely a finely crafted human skin mask.

    He had witnessed the gentle human soul of Chu Wanning, so pitiful and helpless amidst the swirling mist in Meng Po's Hall. He didn't want Chu Wanning to continue demeaning himself like this anymore.

    Chu Wanning shouldn't have to wear that grotesque mask any longer. If the proud man refused to take it off, then he would extend a hand on his behalf.

    The tea stains had been wiped clean long ago, but Chu Wanning continued to wipe at the dried residue tirelessly. He was accustomed to binding himself within his own cocoon, so he didn't lift his head.

    Gradually, he sensed an eerie silence around him. Then, the giggles of a child could be heard, the laughter muffled but still audible to all.

    "Mommy, Lord Chu is so silly."

    Hastily, the mother covered her child's innocent mouth, "Shh—"

    But Chu Wanning still heard.

    Silly...

    No, Yu Heng would never be associated with the word "fool" in his lifetime. He was arrogant, sharp, and ruthless –

    "Shifu, if you keep wiping, you might just scrub a hole through this table."

    Black boots approached his desk, dangerously close, almost to the point of being disrespectful, before they finally halted. Chu Wanning saw a dark shadow loom over him like a towering mountain, crushing him until he struggled for breath, filling him with both humiliation and anger.

    Suddenly, he felt a surge of resentment towards his own unexpected vulnerability.

    With a toss of the handkerchief, he shot up abruptly, his gaze brimming with provocation. His furious, impertinent phoenix eyes stared daggers at Mo Ran, tension escalating between them.

    Almost simultaneously, Mo Ran spoke respectfully and gently,

    "Shifu, please acknowledge me."

    Those words were like a spell, intertwining with Chu Wanning's reaction. Only he knew that he hadn't looked up because Mo Ran said, "acknowledge me," but rather, it was simply a coincidence.

    But what difference did it make?

    To everyone else – Mo Ran, the onlookers – they all believed that Chu Wanning had swiftly acquiesced to his disciple's plea.

    Swiftly.

    No words could be more humiliating, more devastating to one's pride.

    Chu Wanning's face was as cold as ice, yet his eyes burned with a fiery intensity.

    Yet what he encountered was Mo Ran's gentle and warm gaze, like boundless spring water that effortlessly enveloped his anger and sharp retorts.

    Mo Ran said, "Shifu, the third answer is you."

    Chu Wanning had nowhere to vent his frustration and thus wore an expressionless mask. "Mm."

    He appeared so composed, so indifferent.

    He carried himself with great poise and grace, truly deserving of the title of Grandmaster Chu who had transcended mortal passions. Chu Wanning secretly cheered himself on inwardly.

    But Mo Ran looked at him amusedly.

    Grandmaster Mo thought to himself, This Grandmaster Chu must be a bit of a simpleton, no?

    Unaware of the label 'little fool' his disciple had secretly attached to him, Chu Wanning appeared even colder and more haughty due to his anxiety.

    He asked, "So what? Why have you come here?"

    This question unintentionally hit the mark, causing Mo Ran's smile to freeze for a moment.

    Mo Ran wanted to do everything.

    But he couldn't do anything.

    What did it matter that he liked Chu Wanning? It was too late now; the person he yearned for was out of reach. Besides, he had spent two lifetimes chasing after Shi Mo. Suddenly being told he loved the wrong person and asked to turn back wasn't something he could easily accept in his heart.

    If he had understood his feelings at the beginning of his rebirth, perhaps everything could still have been salvaged.

    Now, this 'discovery' only added to his torment.

    In his previous life, Chu Wanning had suffered so much physically that Mo Ran had come to see their intimate encounters as the cruelest torment for the proud man.

    Thus, in Mo Ran's mind, Chu Wanning remained an ethereal figure, detached from mortal desires and incapable of romantic love.

    To ruin Chu Wanning, he had countless intimate methods at his disposal.

    But to treat Chu Wanning well...

    He couldn't think of too many ways.

    Suddenly, he felt clumsy, knowing only that he should keep his distance from his Master, elevate him to a pedestal, and kneel in worship beneath.

    That one word "like" actually contained a scorching and secretive passion.

    But Mo Ran couldn't let Chu Wanning sense it. He could only restrain himself, disguising this affection with the facade of "master-disciple feelings," and then respectfully present it before Chu Wanning's eyes.

    So Mo Ran replied, "I just want Master to know."

    "..." Chu Wanning looked at him silently.

    Mo Ran continued, "It's just that I can't help but want everyone to know..."

    "Know what?"

    Mo Ran smiled, his dark eyes shining brightly, their glow intense enough to veil the hidden desires surging beneath the surface.

    "I know I'm lucky," he said with a charming grin. "I've bowed to the best, the very best, the absolute best master in the world."

    He emphasized this with three repetitions, his expression sincere and earnest.

    It was a rather crude but genuine display of Mo Ran's unrefined character.

    Chu Wanning looked at him enigmatically, his lashes the only thing that moved.

    Mo Ran took a deep breath, drawing on an unknown source of courage. He sensed that if he missed this opportunity, he might never again have the chance to express himself so openly and fearlessly.

    Suddenly, he knelt halfway, attempting to align himself with Chu Wanning, who sat dignified before the desk. Unfortunately, he was still too tall, and even kneeling, he found himself looking down at his master.

    He couldn't afford to worry about such details now; his heart was pounding fiercely, his blood rushing through his veins.

    "Master."

    "..." Chu Wanning suddenly had a foreboding feeling.

    The intensity in the man's gaze was so piercing that it compelled him to lean back slightly.

    Yet, in the end, it was still an arrow that pierced through the heart.

    "I have feelings for you."

    Cornered, with no escape route, the deer that had been leaping gracefully amidst the woods was struck in its legs by a hunter's arrow, causing it to tumble down in defeat. Chu Wanning stared at the scene, his mind echoing with a deafening roar, rendering him oblivious to all else—sounds faded into nothingness, and sights blurred into obscurity...

    "Like" —— what a subtle, ambiguous word.

    It was not as blatant and naked as "love," which could scorch another's heart upon utterance. It held countless interpretations, offering countless lovestruck souls the chance to express their feelings with composed grace, spilling over with concealed affection.

    Mo Ran thought silently: I like you, but I won't disturb or force you. If you believe my liking is merely that of a master and disciple, though it would be a regret for me, it would be the best for you.

    Chu Wanning, in turn, thought quietly: You say you like me out of pity, because of our teacher-student bond and your gratitude for saving your life. That's not the kind of liking I desire, but for your present favor, I've done all that I can. I have no more strength or leverage to win more of your affections. To hear you acknowledge me as your master with a word of approval, a whisper of fondness, is enough. I will no longer insist on more.

    No more words were exchanged between them, and those around, captivated by the spectacle, praised their profound master-disciple bond.

    Only Ling'er, in a corner, sensed something amiss. Gazing at Mo Ran's handsome face, she detected a deeply repressed desire and an unusual fervor that left her feeling uneasy.

    Yet, she was innocent, having grown up in a small village where even the concept of same-sex affection was unknown. Hence, she only felt that something was off, but couldn't quite pinpoint what it was.

    In this world, there exist some individuals who, when unattached, act carefree and fearless, strutting about as if they owned the world, not giving a second thought to even the most powerful figures.

    But once they fall in love, their passion ignites like blazing oil, their hearts aflame with desire. They yearn for their loved one to uncover their hidden feelings, longing to dive into a sea of desire, inseparable from each other.

    However, if their feelings were to be discovered, they become fraught with anxiety, fearing rejection or disapproval. From being unafraid of even the highest deity, they now tremble at the slightest hint of trouble, imagining, for instance, that a cicada's chirp on a tree might signify their beloved's lack of interest.

    The most ambiguous romances often involve endless guessing games, each party hiding from the other, the pungent stench of their unspoken emotions wafting through a two-mile radius.

    Mo Weiyu was Heaven-Stepping Lord in his past life and Grandmaster Mo in this one.

    Infamous yet renowned throughout his existence.

    He had been the wickedest ghost, and now he was the epitome of goodness, but the lingering sourness of his heart remained unchanged.

    As for Chu Wanning?

    That guy was forever a fish caught in a net, vulnerable to any flutter of sentimentality. The slightest hint of emotional turmoil would leave him vexed and entangled.

    Yet, he stubbornly held onto his pride, harrumphing and saying that there was nothing to discuss about such trivial matters.

    Truly courting death for himself.

    Author's Note:

    Short Play: "The Bitter Stench of Unrequited Love"

    Mo Ran

    Before falling for someone: Who are you? Which one are you? Excuse me, I'm busy. What? You're hungry? Then go buy something on the street yourself.

    After starting to have a crush: As shown in the text – Oh my, the cicadas in the tree are chirping. How unbearable. Does this mean he doesn't like me?

    Chu Wanning

    Before falling for someone: Need help with something? Nothing? Then why are you here? Are you bored?

    After starting to have a crush: ...You can come find me even if it's nothing. I'll be glad to help.

    Xue Meng

    Before falling for someone: Go away, ugly creature.

    After developing a crush: Hm... Upon closer inspection, you're not that unattractive. Though you're still a bit inferior to me, I suppose you're tolerable...

    Shi Mo

    Before falling for someone: Are you feeling unwell? Should I be concerned? Come, sit down. Let me take your pulse.

    After developing a crush: I'm not feeling well. Could you stay with me for a while? There's no need to call a physician, just get me a glass of warm water and keep me company, please.

    Ye Wangxi

    Before falling for someone: All actions shall be in accordance with the orders of the Confucian Wind Sect, except when they conflict with moral principles.

    After developing a crush: Everything revolves around you. As for moral principles... You won't cross that line, I trust you.

    Mei Hanxue

    Before falling for her: Lady, I offer you this sachet, this bracelet, these earrings, and this hairpin. In return, could you perhaps give me something?

    After developing a secret crush: Same as above.

    Nan Gongsi

    Before falling for him: Move aside, you're obstructing me from feeding my dog.

    After developing a secret crush: Come here, let's ride my dog together.

    Naobaijin: ??? Woof woof woof!! (Master, what about the 70kg maximum weight limit you mentioned?)

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