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    Chapter 146: Master, It Really Has Nothing to Do With Me That She's Getting Married

    Since that day, a peculiar sight emerged at the Netherworld's Teahouse.

    On the "Exclusive Seat for Elder Yu Heng," which no idle person dared to occupy, there was now Mo Weiyu.

    Passing disciples would often catch sight of Mo Ran and Chu Wanning sharing a meal together, sitting across from one another. Mo Ran would frequently pick up dishes and place them into his master's bowl.

    "Shh, look! Senior Brother Mo is passing another piece of beef tendon to Elder. Wow, it's such a huge chunk. I bet Elder Yu Heng won't eat it."

    Not far away, a group of disciples whispered amongst themselves, placing bets in hushed tones.

    "I'll bet he won't eat it. Elder Yu Heng doesn't seem to be much of a beef connoisseur."

    "Well, I'll bet he will. After all, he did accept those quail eggs earlier."

    The group stealthily glanced in their direction, holding their breaths as they watched Chu Wanning frown, poking at the piece of beef with his chopsticks while speaking solemnly to Mo Ran.

    From their distance, they couldn't make out the conversation, but whatever Mo Ran said seemed to further darken Chu Wanning's expression.

    The disciples who had bet on Chu Wanning not eating immediately beamed with delight. They were so engrossed that they nearly poked their noses with the soup ladles.

    "Look, look, Elder isn't eating! He's really not eating!"

    "Don't jab me with your elbow. Keep it down. If Elder Yu Heng finds out you've been betting on him, he'll skin you alive!"

    "Hehehe, I don't care. Those twenty silver leaves are mine!"

    The disciple reached for the silver leaves used as stakes on the table, but before his hand could touch them, someone nearby hissed in a hushed, anxious voice, "Wait, the outcome is still uncertain. Elder has picked up his chopsticks again!"

    "What?"

    Looking again, they saw that Chu Wanning had indeed picked up the beef. The gamblers watched, feeling their hearts gripped tightly by those white jade chopsticks, suspended in painful uncertainty.

    "He's going to eat it, he's going to eat it, he's going to eat it... twenty silver leaves, twenty silver leaves, twenty silver leaves..." The disciple who had bet on Chu Wanning eating the beef chattered nervously, his legs trembling. Suddenly, his gaze froze, and he seemed to freeze in place, "Ahh!!"

    Elder Yu Heng, without any hesitation, had returned the piece of beef he had picked up back into Mo Ran's bowl!

    "..."

    "Ha, ha, ha, ha! A narrow victory, indeed!"

    "I told you the Elder wouldn't touch it. Come on, all the leaves are mine now."

    The disciple who had lost the bet let out a sigh of regret, instantly deflated. He bumped his head onto the table, tilting his head in silence, staring blankly in Chu Wanning's direction.

    Elder, I was wrong. I shouldn't have used you as a betting target. Now I've even lost the money for this month's spirit stones!

    Lost in self-pity, suddenly, he noticed Mo Ran's elbow moving. The tall figure leaned forward slightly and exchanged a few more words with Chu Wanning. Then, to the defeated disciple's astonishment, he saw their Senior Brother Mo pick up the beef again, this time adding some vegetables, and once more offering it to Chu Wanning's lips.

    ...

    ??

    The disciple was stunned—was Senior Brother Mo planning to feed the Elder directly?

    It was clear that Chu Wanning was equally uncomfortable. Without any hesitation, he tapped Mo Ran's chopsticks with his own, conveying two solemn words with a serious expression.

    His lips formed an easily readable message:

    "Put it down!"

    Mo Ran chuckled and returned the vegetable and beef to the plate, but not onto his own bowl. Instead, he placed them in his Master's bowl. Chu Wanning had no choice but to sigh, silently consuming the mixture of vegetables and meat under the watchful gaze of over a dozen sly stares that he hadn't noticed.

    ...

    The gamblers at the table were dumbfounded. The disciples who had previously believed themselves to be certain winners were now staring with their mouths agape, the silver leaves they had been holding slipping from their fingers.

    The previously slumped and dejected man, however, immediately perked up, his eyes shining with excitement. "Hahaha, a comeback! A comeback! Senior Brother, Junior Brother, my apologies. These leaves still belong to me, hahaha, I've struck it rich! Let's gamble again tomorrow, hah, let's do it again tomorrow!"

    But the two Master and disciple were oblivious to the commotion. Mo Ran held his chopsticks, slowly scooping rice into his bowl while watching Chu Wanning eat the beef stew.

    It was warm inside the Netherworld Teahouse, so Mo Ran had rolled up the sleeve of his left arm to his elbow, revealing a strong and slender limb. His muscles flexed beneath his honey-colored skin as he ladled a bowl of soup, deliberately adding extra pieces of rib to it when Chu Wanning wasn't looking. The meat was submerged at the bottom of the bowl, not easily noticeable.

    "Master, finish your soup. It'll help ward off the chill."

    "Clear broth?"

    Mo Ran blinked. "I think so. I didn't pay attention when I made it. I forgot."

    Chu Wanning glanced at the soup, noticing a vividly green vegetable leaf floating on its surface, making it appear quite appetizing. He didn't decline and took a spoonful.

    "Is it good?"

    "It's decent."

    "Then don't waste it," Mo Ran smiled. "Drink more."

    Chu Wanning shot him a faint glance. "You're lecturing me? Next time, don't pile up your plate with so much food. You can't finish it all and expect me to help you out."

    "Haha, alright then, I'll take less next time."

    Seeing Chu Wanning nod, Mo Ran finally held his own soup bowl. The soup was a bit too hot, so he blew on the surface, dispersing the steam and softening his rugged features.

    Hot soup was an incredibly magical dish. It was merely boiled water with some meat, vegetables, and seasoning, yet it could warm one's entire being from the stomach to the heart. Sharing a bowl of soup with someone you cared for created a sense of fulfillment like throwing a small pebble into a lake, rippling outward in shimmering waves.

    In this rare moment of tranquility, Mo Ran couldn't help but let out a gentle sigh.

    Turned out that in the passage of time, the taste of a simple bowl of soup could encapsulate serenity.

    For this bowl of soup, he had once bared his fangs and drunk blood, slaughtering countless lives. And for this same bowl of soup, he now regretted deeply, his heart aching with sorrow.

    He held the bowl, drinking hastily.

    Be it inner unrest, uncertainty about the future, or feelings of remorse and guilt, he didn't wish to ponder over them at this moment. His good days were far too few, leaving him no choice but to seize every opportunity relentlessly. He wasn't unwilling to savor the moment slowly, leisurely; in fact, he envied Xue Meng, whose natural affluence allowed him to remain unperturbed at all times.

    Mo Ran couldn't afford such composure. What he possessed was often so meager that he was perpetually locked in fierce competition, constantly afraid of losing what he had fought for. Thus, he had to devour immediately, greedily, preserving a primitive animality within himself. He believed that only by consuming the food and hiding it within his stomach could he truly feel secure, truly possess it—no one could take it away then.

    As a child, he'd fought with others for scraps of food.

    In his previous life, he had battled against celestial lords for control of the world.

    But in this lifetime, he sought only to claim this bowl of soup.

    Aware of the many atrocities he had committed, he feared retribution from fate. So he aimed to snatch a sliver of happiness for himself, then bolt away, leaving destiny far behind.

    Like all who, after grave misdeeds, seek redemption, Mo Ran laughed on the surface while remaining inwardly uneasy. He knew that "good and evil shall be rewarded" was no empty promise. Amidst the fading revelry, he always felt that the tranquility before him was illusory, like a mirage or a reflection on water, bound to vanish as he woke up, returning to that deserted Wushan Palace, back to hell.

    Thus, he wished to drink more while the soup was still warm.

    In that case, if one day, his wicked deeds did catch up to him, if he were scorned by the world, judged by fate, and cast back into the icy depths of despair, he could still rely on this warmth within him to walk alone.

    "Thinking about something?" Chu Wanning asked him.

    "Mm," Mo Ran returned to reality, softly acknowledging, then smiled. "Nothing much, I tend to daydream after eating."

    Chu Wanning glanced at his empty bowl. "Finished?"

    "Mm."

    "You seemed to enjoy the rib soup quite a bit today?"

    "Haha, yeah."

    Taking the bowl from him, Chu Wanning said, "I'll get you some more."

    He quickly returned with a full bowl of steaming soup. It was a bit hot, so after setting it down, Chu Wanning used the tips of his fingers to warm his earlobes, both soothing his ears and cooling his digits.

    Resuming his seat, he said, "Go ahead and drink."

    "A full bowl indeed."

    "Take your time," Chu Wanning said. "There's more if you need it. No one's competing with you for it."

    Mo Ran was moved by these simple words. He held the soup bowl in his hands, his dark eyelids drooping slightly as he replied with a light nasal tone, "Alright."

    Chu Wanning didn't know that in that moment, Mo Ran had exerted all his strength to prevent himself from shedding tears while holding that full bowl of soup, hearing those words, "There's more if you need it. No one's competing with you."

    Chu Wanning had been gone for five years, and Mo Ran had endured self-reproach for just as long.

    Five years later, his master told him to take it slow.

    Suddenly, Mo Ran felt an intense pain in his heart. The closer he was to Chu Wanning, the sadder he felt. Many things, if not paid attention to, hid their underlying emotions. But now, he saw how lenient, kind, and wonderful Chu Wanning was towards him.

    In his previous life, he had taken such a person for granted.

    What right did he have in this life to stay by Chu Wanning's side once more?

    His heart trembled, struggling in agony. He felt unworthy, believing he should keep his distance from Chu Wanning, questioning how he could still bear to smile at, or be good to, Chu Wanning? How shameless of him!

    Yet, on the other hand, he yearned incessantly—was it possible that it would remain like this? Could they just continue like this? They had a long life ahead, and he was willing to spend it atoning for his past transgressions, wouldn't that be acceptable?

    ---

    Bearing the burden of my sins, I returned from the mountain of corpses.

    With hands stained by blood from my previous life, I held the rich and warm broth of this life.

    I am willing to kneel for the rest of my days, and have my soul return to the fiery depths of hell after death, all for the hope that you... might still hold the cup and taste it lightly.

    "Master."

    Unbeknownst to others, Xue Meng had arrived.

    Mo Ran returned to his senses. Ever since Chu Wanning's demise, he had been plagued with guilt and unease almost every waking moment. Immersed in such sentiments for extended periods, he had grown heavy-hearted, a state that hardly boded well for those around him. Consequently, he had been striving to regulate his emotions, and it was only in the recent year that he had started to feel somewhat improved.

    Yet, there were still one or two points in his life that could touch him. He could still fall into a whirlpool of turmoil and self-loathing over a single word or incident.

    He lifted his head, and though the shadows still lingered on his face as he gazed at Xue Meng, it was Xue Meng who ended up startled.

    "Oh, what are you up to, you mongrel? Looking at me like that? Do I owe you money or something?"

    Knowing he had just been lost in thought and couldn't snap out of it easily, Mo Ran forced a smile and said, "I ate a bit too much. If you have something to discuss with Master, go ahead. I'll step out for some fresh air."

    "No, don't leave. Sit down, this concerns you as well," Xue Meng said with an enigmatic expression.

    "What does it have to do with me?" Mo Ran asked.

    Xue Meng hesitated, "When I tell you, don't be too disappointed..."

    Chu Wanning intervened, "Xue Meng, just come straight to the point."

    "Okay, okay." Xue Meng, who was about to tease them, promptly revealed, "We've just received an invitation. Song Qiutong is getting married."

    Mo Ran's face paled dramatically in shock.

    But his chills weren't due to Song Qiutong; rather, they were caused by Xue Meng. Mo Ran knew very well what kind of person Song Qiutong was, and he'd always tried to avoid her. Their relationship was now clearer than pure water, with no connection at all.

    But Xue Meng...

    Why would Xue Meng think he would be upset about Song Qiutong getting married?

    Mo Ran's heart tightened. He had almost instantly thought of that fake Gouchen who had been haunting him, the hidden mastermind who had yet to reveal themselves.

    That person might also have been reborn. If so, they would know everything about Mo Ran's past and be well aware of his sins in his previous life!

    Mo Ran's face paled, but he tried to remain composed as he looked at Xue Meng. "How does it involve me?"

    "Shouldn't you know better?" Xue Meng's expression was odd. "Today, the Confucian Wind Sect came to deliver the wedding invitation. That Miss Song even entrusted someone with a letter for you. If there was no connection between you two, why would she write to you? Mo Ran, don't tell me you don't know when you got involved with her."

    "..." Mo Ran's mind was in turmoil, feeling as if needles were pricking his back. After a long moment, he said, "For me? It must be a mistake..."

    "There's no mistake."

    Xue Meng pulled out an envelope from his robe and placed it on the table in front of Mo Ran. "Black ink on white paper, addressed to Lord Mo, written by Qiutong. How could it be wrong?"

    Mo Ran glanced at the envelope, his heart pounding like a drum. Countless thoughts raced through his mind.

    It was indeed Song Qiutong's handwriting, but why would she write to him before her marriage when they had only briefly crossed paths in this life?

    Xue Meng crossed his arms, clearly displeased. "Are you going to open it secretly back home, or here with us?"

    "..."

    Mo Ran turned his head and saw Chu Wanning looking at him with slightly furrowed brows.

    "Shall we open it?" Xue Meng couldn't stand such indecent behavior and pressed the matter assertively.

    If that was truly the case, there would be no escaping it...

    Mo Ran felt a wave of unease wash over him, and his outstretched fingertips were cold. He didn't say a word, but silently took the letter and opened it.

    Author's note:

    Mo Ran: Master, have some soup.

    Mo Ran: Master, eat the meat.

    Mo Ran: Master, eat the fish.

    Mo Ran: Master, have some snacks.

    Mo Ran: Master, have some wine.

    Four Ghost Kings: What's the difference between a protagonist and a supporting character? It's that I gain weight easily while he can eat all he wants without gaining an ounce!

    Mo Ran: No, it's not like that. You're just a chubby orange cat, unrelated to being a protagonist or a side character.

    Xue Meng: Besides, Four Fatty, you're not a side character; you're just a bit player, o(n_n)o.

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