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    Chapter 153 - The Sect Leader Master Dislikes the Most

    Despite their frustration, they still had to continue on their journey.

    After bidding Mei Hanxue farewell, they traveled upward from Dai City for more than half an hour before finally arriving at the world's largest sect, the Confucian Wind Sect of Lin Yi.

    As its name suggested, the Confucian Wind Sect was situated in Lin Yi, where seventy-two contiguous immortal mansions were built within the city. Due to the vastness of these mansions, it would take a mealtime to ride a horse from the front gate to the back. Hence, these mansions were referred to as "cities." Each of the Confucian Wind Sect's seventy-two cities had its own function and clear hierarchy, which was a stark contrast to the chaotic grassroots Death and Life Peak. Even someone like Xue Meng, who inherently despised the Upper Realm, couldn't help but be awed when standing at the entrance of the city.

    The Confucian Wind Sect, a noble and prestigious sect indeed.

    This statement was not an exaggeration.

    They had arrived at the main city, the largest of all the cities in the sect. With white walls and black tiles, it reached towards the sky, with towering watchtowers at each corner. Four constellations were depicted on the stone archways facing the cardinal directions. The main gate was gilded and painted red, while the carriage road extending from it was five feet wide. A long, endless road paved with top-grade Spirit Condensation Stones led the way. One didn't need to do anything with these stones; just standing on them could gather spiritual energy, albeit not much. However, everyone understood the principle of accumulating grains into a tower. Thus, each of these stones could fetch a price of over a thousand gold coins.

    Xue Zhengyong sighed, "How wonderful it is to be wealthy..."

    Madame Wang chuckled. "If you were rich, would you want to pave a Spirit Condensation Road on Death and Life Peak?"

    "No, I'd pave a square in every village of the Lower Realm," Xue Zhengyong replied. "These stones are rich in spiritual energy, so ordinary ghosts and monsters wouldn't dare approach. If we could pave one in every village, our disciples would have a place to hide if they couldn't reach the scene in time when demons wreaked havoc." He counted on his fingers and shook his head, saying, "Unfortunately, we can't afford it."

    Xue Meng sighed in agreement, "The Peak of Life and Death, oh, they seem a bit impoverished."

    "Yes," Xue Zhengyong nodded profusely, "We're all cultivators, I wonder where the Confucian Wind Sect gets all their wealth from."

    At this point, Chu Wanning, who had been silent until now, spoke up, "Lord knows how much the common disciples of the Confucian Wind Sect charge the common folk for exorcising demons?"

    "I've never inquired, how much do they ask for?"

    Chu Wanning then held up four fingers.

    "Four hundred silver coins?" Xue Zhengyong's eyes widened. "That expensive?"

    Chu Wanning said, "Four thousand gold pieces."

    "..."

    "In the Upper cultivation realm, there are many wealthy merchants, so it's easier for the Confucian Wind Sect to amass wealth. With Lord Zun charging eighty silver coins for each commission, how could he possibly keep up with their riches? Besides, there are times when Lord Zun doesn't accept any payment at all," Chu Wanning said, his gaze softening. "Come on, let's enter the city."

    Major sects, in their dealings with others, typically adhere to strict etiquette. These days, the Protocol Department of the Confucian Wind Sect has been standing at the city gates, ready to receive visitors. Though they wear smiles for all, they are keenly aware of the stature and significance of each arriving guest. Their hearts are as clear as snow, discerning the true weight of every visit.

    Minor cultivators were simply shown around and then taken to their accommodations. However, for those with more prominent backgrounds, they were escorted to meet the sect's presiding elders, who would personally receive them.

    As for the Death and Life Summit, now one of the top ten sects, the Confucian Wind Sect didn't put on airs. They directly invited them to rest in a cozy chamber, where they would await the arrival of the sect leader, Nan Gongliu, who was currently occupied.

    The chamber was scented with a rich agarwood incense, and the plush carpet could almost swallow half a foot. Inside, there were exquisite camellia flowers in full bloom: eight of them with different colors on the same stem, known as "Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea"; some with white petals dusted with crimson dots, called "Red Makeup, White Dress"; and others with petal veins tinged with crimson threads, referred to as "Gentle Lean on the Railing." These were beyond Xue Zhengyong's comprehension, but Madame Wang knew that every single one was a supreme masterpiece.

    Xue Meng, equally clueless, noticed a charming white camellia with black spots adorning its soft petals. Finding it amusing, he reached out to touch it.

    Chu Wanning said, "Don't touch."

    "Why not?" asked Xue Meng.

    Chu Wanning didn't respond, only shaking his head. Madame Wang sighed and explained, "These are Precious Enchanting Eyes. A single one of these could fetch tens of thousands of gold taels."

    Xue Meng's face turned ashen as he retracted his hand. He then slumped into a soft cushioned armchair, feeling deflated.

    He recalled the ranking list he had seen at a book stall earlier. Back then, he had been annoyed not to find himself among the top hundred young talents and wealthy cultivators. Now, he realized that the book hadn't lied to him.

    There seemed to be a huge, blackened character stamped on his forehead:

    Poverty-stricken.

    However, he had lost that book before he even had the chance to finish reading it...

    A moment later, the tinkling of coral and freshwater pearl curtains announced the arrival of two refined and elegant female cultivators from the Confucian Wind Sect. Draped in snowy gauze robes, they glided in and gracefully lifted the beaded curtains, lowering their eyes and kneeling with bowed heads as they sang out like orioles in spring.

    "Venerable Sect Leader has arrived."

    With those words, a man in his forties stepped in with a smile. He was average-looking, somewhat scholarly, and easily blendable into a crowd. He seemed unremarkable except for his exceptionally fair complexion; there was nothing else that stood out about him.

    But when he opened his mouth, Mo Ran, who was seated sipping tea, nearly spat it out.

    "Oh, Venerable Sect Leader Xue! Venerable Sect Leader Xue! I've been eagerly awaiting your arrival, longing for the day you'd grace us with your presence at the Confucian Wind Sect. Look at you now, radiating with vigor and grandeur, surpassing all heroes under the heavens! Excellent, excellent, excellent! My humble abode shines brightly with your visit! Marvelous! Marvelous! Marvelous!"

    Xue Meng: "......"

    Mo Ran: "......"

    The head of the world's number one sect, facing the leader of the last-ranked Death's Peak among the Ten Great Sects, lavished praise without reserve, repeating "excellent" three times, each exclamation more enthusiastic and impassioned than the last.

    His lavish praise pleased Xue Zhengyong, who beamed and replied, "Oh no, Headmaster Nan Gong is too kind."

    "Nay, I speak from the bottom of my heart. Headmaster Xue is a true hero, awe-inspiring and admirable. In contrast, I, in my middle years, have lost all spirit, merely a bag of flesh with excess fat. I truly feel ashamed."

    Nan Gongliu spoke with enthusiasm, and although Xue Zhengyong tried to hold back, his pride couldn't help but show: "I am unworthy, I am unworthy. Haha, hahahaha. Headmaster Nan Gong is being too modest."

    In Mo Ran's previous life, he had never interacted with Nan Gongliu. When he slaughtered the Confucian Wind Sect, this man had fled quickly. Mo Ran hadn't bothered with such a insignificant fish, nor did he care whether the man had died in the chaos or escaped to live in obscurity.

    This was the first time in this life that Mo Ran had come face-to-face with Nan Gongliu, and from his demeanor, Mo Ran disliked him. He whispered, "So the head of the number one sect's charm lies in their tongue, huh?"

    Surprisingly, Xue Meng agreed with him and whispered, "That's right. Just listen to him speak—his words are as sweet as honey, so much so that I can't even smell the flowers in the room anymore. Tsk, only the sweetness of Nan Gongliu's mouth remains."

    After praising the elder, Nan Gongliu turned his attention to the younger.

    "Oh my, isn't this the pride of heaven, Young Master Xue?"

    Despite being a poor young master, Xue Meng didn't lack confidence.

    He gave a nonchalant bow. "Headmaster Nan Gong."

    "Truly, heroes emerge in their youth, handsome and remarkable! Look at that nose, those eyes, tsk tsk, so spirited! As they say, a tiger father has no dog son!"

    Xue Meng: "......."

    Nan Gongliu turned to Xue Zhengyong and said, "Brother Xue, I truly envy you. Just look around our world today, which noble son can match your son's valor? In my opinion, within the vast cultivation realm, with so many outstanding young talents, if your son were to claim second place, no one would dare to take first!"

    Xue Meng had been holding himself aloof, disdainful of Nan Gongliu's words. However, Nan Gongliu seemed oblivious to the distance in Xue Meng's expression, showering him with effusive praise until the young Master Xue was left dizzy with it, eventually breaking into a small smile.

    When he whispered to Mo Ran again, his tone had changed: "Ahem, while this Sect Leader Nan may be somewhat extravagant, what he says is indeed the truth."

    "What great truth?" Mo Ran found it amusing and glanced at him sidelong. "You're saying that if you're the second in the world, no one dares to claim the first?"

    "What's wrong? I was a participant in the Spirit Mountain Congress..."

    "But that was a contest, many independent cultivators didn't participate. Do you really think all the heroes of the world were truly vying for supremacy on that small arena?"

    "......" Xue Meng's face flushed red. After a moment, he grumbled indignantly, "Forget it, I know you're envious of me."

    If it had been in their younger days, Mo Ran would have certainly ridiculed him. But now, as the words were about to leave his mouth, he felt that Xue Meng's competitive and narcissistic nature wasn't worth arguing over. So he nodded and chuckled. "Alright, alright, I'm envious of you. You're the most amazing."

    However, when he looked at Nan Gongliu again, the amusement in Mo Ran's eyes vanished.

    There were many types of villains in this world. Some committed heinous crimes, deserving the hatred and condemnation of the entire world, prompting everyone to seek their swift demise.

    But then there were others who were formidable in their own way. With their glib tongues and sycophantic skills, they managed to evade public disdain despite being rotten to the core.

    In his previous life, Mo Ran had been the first kind. But what he despised most were not the righteous people who opposed him; he didn't hate Mei Hanxue, he didn't hate Xue Meng, and he even admired Ye Wangxi and pitied him.

    What he loathed the most were individuals like Nan Gongliu, those who would prostrate themselves on the ground just to lick someone's hemorrhoids if it served their purpose.

    Damn flatterers, willing to suck on festering sores for personal gain.

    Since Nan Gongliu's arrival, Chu Wanning had stood by the window, gazing at the orderly and magnificent buildings of the Confucian Wind Sect outside.

    The strong wind at the height he stood at made the soft, fragrant curtains flutter, veiling Chu Wanning in a hazy blur. Nan Gongliu's initially enthusiastic expression froze for a moment before he quickly composed himself and walked towards the window.

    "Master Chu..."

    Chu Wanning didn't look at him, his expression indifferent as he said, "Headmaster Nan, we already know everything about each other."

    The fragrant silk, soft as spring water, danced playfully against his face with the east wind, provoking Chu Wanning's impatience. He lifted his hand, firmly pushing away the annoyance, and spoke calmly, "No need for formalities."

    Nan Gongliu smiled and replied, "I have no other intentions. It's just been years since I last met with the Grandmaster, so I came to pay my respects. Why must you keep your distance, Grandmaster?"

    "I am here for Nan Gongsi," Chu Wanning still didn't turn around. "Not for you."

    "Si-er would be delighted to see you. Although you didn't take him as your disciple, you hold a debt of gratitude for his enlightenment. After you left, he often mentioned how much he missed you to me."

    "..."

    Seeing that Chu Wanning finally did not refute him, Nan Gongliu continued, "Grandmaster, when the sky tore apart over Caidie Town, you bravely answered the call of duty, earning the admiration of the world. Later, you were rescued by Master Huaiwei and returned to Yuanyang, but surely your body has yet to fully recover? The Confucian Wind Sect has especially prepared twenty supreme-grade Soul Nourishing Pills for you, as a token of gratitude on behalf of all the immortals in the world. Please accept them, Grandmaster."

    "Ronggong Liu."

    Chu Wanning finally turned to look at him straight in the eye, but the way he addressed him had changed. He withdrew his arm from the incense veil and abruptly turned around, his slender figure seeming to blend into the vast expanse of light.

    His eyes blazed like lightning, his brows furrowed with frost, and his gaze was incredibly sinister.

    "Don't put me on a pedestal where I can't come down. How can a mere Confucian Wind Sect represent all the immortals in the world to thank me? Who gave you the audacity?"

    "..." Nan Gongliu's lips twitched, but his enchanting smile remained intact. After a moment, he chuckled and said, "Why do you insist on doing this, my friend..."

    Xue Zhengyong was aware of the strained relationship between Chu Wanning and Nan Gongliu, a fact well-known throughout the cultivation world. When Chu Wanning was fifteen years old, Nan Gongliu had honored him as a guest dignitary, providing him with the finest food, drink, and accommodations, treating him as if he were a deity. However, within a few years, Chu Wanning suddenly had a public falling out with Nan Gongliu in the main hall of the Confucian Wind Sect. The two engaged in a heated exchange, their words filled with references to "Jin Chengchi," "Divine Martial," "the demands of the lake's denizens," "morality," "prolonged illness," and "madam." The onlookers were left utterly bewildered by their cryptic dialogue.

    Yet, it was common knowledge that Chu Wanning eventually flew into an uncontrollable rage and slammed his palm down on the table.

    At that time, he was bestowed ten thousand gold pieces in salary and received over a thousand spirit stones and talismans each month, yet he refused to accept a single coin or the smallest fraction thereof. Standing before the palace hall, he unfastened his cosmos purse in full view of the crowd, returning every remaining penny. With a solemn face and without uttering a word, he then removed the supreme master jade crown that Nan Gongliu had gifted him when he was first appointed as a visiting scholar. Letting his long hair fall loose, he returned the jade crown to the ritual official of the Confucian Wind Sect.

    This is a segment that many story-tellers in the Lower Cultivation Realm delight in recounting.

    Nan Gongliu's expression was grim, but he still tried to smooth things over, addressing Master Chu, "Master Immortal has served our sect for so long. Even if you're leaving, the due compensation should be settled. The Confucian Wind Sect doesn't wish to gain a reputation for taking advantage of others."

    But Master Chu replied, "In the past, I served before the palace to repay Madam Rong for her kindness in providing a meal. Now that she has passed, your sect's principles conflict with mine. I have no intention of staying. There's no need for payment either; I am ashamed to accept wages from a ruler I no longer serve." With that, he closed his eyes, turned around, and bid farewell to the Confucian Wind Sect.

    Xue Zhengyong had once thought the storyteller was exaggerating, so he had asked Chu Wanning what the Confucian Wind Sect had done to offend him. However, Chu Wanning didn't speak ill of others behind their backs and merely shook his head without elaborating.

    Now, it seemed the storyteller's words might have been entirely true.

    Seeing the tension, Madame Wang couldn't help but intervene, saying softly, "Elder Yu Heng, please don't be angry. It wouldn't do to harm your health." Then, turning to Nan Gongliu, she bowed slightly, "Immortal Nan Gong, we appreciate your kindness, but the Peak of Life and Death is well-stocked with spirit stones and precious medicines. We cannot accept your Soul Nourishing Pills..."

    "Ahaha, Lady is quite right; I was indeed lacking in foresight." Nan Gongliu gracefully took the opportunity to save face and said, " Elder Yu Heng, I apologize. Please don't take it to heart."

    Mo Ran watched from the side, thinking to himself that this person could still laugh so calmly after being given a cold shoulder by his Master. He was truly impressive.

    With this in mind, he lowered his head to take a sip of the Sunlit Snow Green tea in his cup.

    Little did he expect that while he was sipping his tea, Nan Gongliu had already approached him with a warm smile on his face.

    Author's Note: The description of camellia flowers is borrowed from Jin Yong's "The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber," Chapter 12, "Drunk From Now On." To avoid any misunderstanding, I felt the need to clarify.

    For today's short scene:

    "Xue Meng, the straight man, is like a brick—always moved where a bottom is needed."

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