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    Chapter 158: Master Attends the Wedding Feast

    When major sects held weddings, grand banquets were held for three consecutive days. The first day was for welcoming guests, held the night before the wedding ceremony, as the name implies, to cleanse and welcome all the attendees. However, the highlight of the evening wasn't at the banquet tables but in the hunting grounds. According to tradition, an esteemed elder would release three spirit-deer with red ribbons tied around their antlers into the forest garden before sunset. The groom's father would then select twenty-two unmarried men and women to participate in the chase.

    If a guest managed to catch one of the three spirit-deer, they would win a prize of ten million gold coins. Essentially, it was just a gimmick played by wealthy sects like Confucian Wind Sect or Solitary Moon Night.

    Perched high above, the Poetry and Music Pavilion had green glazed tiles and flying eaves. Looking down from the hall, the nearby hunting forest basked in the remaining glow of the setting sun.

    Guests arrived one after another, congratulating Nan Gongliu, who politely responded to each and every one of them, inviting them to take their seats. After a busy half-hour, everyone was finally seated. With the chime of a bell from the Music Pavilion, the evening banquet officially began.

    "I wonder which guests the Sect Leader Nan Gong will choose to join the hunt in the forest garden."

    "Isn't it decided by lottery? In my opinion, those chosen are incredibly lucky. Think about it, catching a spirit-deer earns you ten million gold coins, while those who don't succeed can still capture other spirit beasts or immortal fruits in the forest. What could be better than that?"

    Amidst the lively discussion, the palace doors opened, and Nan Gongsi and Song Qiutong ascended the platform together. The handsome man and beautiful woman, dressed in golden and red, approached the Sect Leader hand in hand.

    Nan Gongliu stood up, nodded with a smile, and announced in a clear voice, "Esteemed guests from all corners of the world and various immortal sects, your presence amidst your busy schedules to attend my son's wedding is a great honor for me."

    The guests below chimed in, "Sect Leader, you're too kind."

    "Young Master and Young Lady are a perfect match, truly a rare and exquisite couple."

    "Yes, indeed."

    These flattering words echoed the accolades heaped upon him during his previous life's wedding ceremony, and Mo Ran found them equally tedious. His gaze instinctively searched the crowd, soon locating Ye Wangxi seated beside Elder Shuanglin.

    With his eyes lowered, Ye Wangxi maintained his simple attire, focused on his food without ever lifting his gaze to meet Nan Gongsi's.

    His demeanor and actions were as they always had been, even more serene than before. Perhaps because he had long endured hardship, such a person knew all too well the futility of defying fate. As Mo Ran watched him, he was suddenly reminded of a beautiful pagoda lantern he had once admired at the night market in his childhood.

    The lantern was exquisitely crafted, with each roof tile meticulously detailed, but the old artisan demanded a high price, leaving it unsold despite its beauty. Mo Ran could never afford it, yet every evening, he would wait for the night market to open, rushing to the stall just to gaze at the lantern for a while. The floating light of the pagoda cast a solemn glow, illuminating the dark eyes of the young child.

    One day, a young couple arrived, dressed in fine silks and satins. The girl instantly fell in love with the pagoda lantern and, with a single coquettish declaration of affection, her companion promptly purchased it.

    As the pagoda was taken away, Mo Ran looked up, watching the old artisan remove it from its long-hanging wooden frame and hand it over to the maiden. The swaying flame illuminated Mo Ran's longing face before disappearing with the couple at the end of the night market's main street.

    At that time, Mo Ran felt a deep sadness, but also a quiet acceptance. He was much like Ye Wangxi now; from the first moment they laid eyes on the pagoda lantern, they both knew such splendor would never be theirs. In truth, every night as they were bathed in the lantern's glow, they had mentally rehearsed the inevitable loss of that radiant light.

    Not that he could let go and find solace.

    It was because from the very beginning, he had been acutely aware of the outcome, so he had never dared to grasp it in the first place.

    "Come, come, come, time for the lottery, lottery—" The head butler of the Confucian Wind Sect carried a large bronze vessel with entwined branch patterns, beaming as he approached the honored seat. He held it above his head, presenting it before Nan Gongliu. "Venerable Leader, the auspicious hour has arrived. Please draw your lottery!"

    "Very well! Come on, Venerable Leader Nan Gongliu, take your pick!"

    Nan Gongliu smiled. "In that case, I shall comply. There are 22 lottery sticks. If any of the young heroes drawn are willing, please honor us with your participation in the Night Hunt Stag Chase. If anyone is unwilling, kindly inform us beforehand. Thank you, thank you!"

    After a short wait, a few daughters from minor sects, with low cultivation and timid dispositions, asked their parents to approach and request that Venerable Leader Nan remove their names from the vessel beforehand.

    Xu Shuanglin glanced at Ye Wangxi and said with a languid smile, "Do you want to have some fun, Little Ye? If you wish to go, I can rig the lottery for you and open a backdoor."

    "I won't be going," Ye Wangxi replied. "Foster Father, please trouble yourself to tell the Venerable Leader to remove my name as well."

    "How can we do that? What if you win the million gold?"

    Ye Wangxi: "..."

    Xu Shuanglin was far more rebellious than his adopted son. After some thought, a mischievous smile curled at the corner of his mouth as he said, "If you're not willing to go, then I'll go instead."

    "Adoptive father... You're already in your forties..."

    "So what? I look young. Once I bring back those three deer, we'll have three million gold coins. Anyone who doesn't seize such fortune deserves divine punishment."

    Blind to his adoptive son's disappointment, Xu Shuanglin slouched off in his slippers, cheerfully seeking out Nan Gongliu. He whispered something into Nan Gongliu's ear, which would lead others to believe he was taking Ye Wangxi's ticket. Little did they know that he was as greedy for wealth as he was and wanted to join the game himself.

    Nan Gongliu swiftly selected the guests for the Deer Chasing event.

    "Shen Feng, Lin Sheng, Qu Yanran..."

    Elder Shuanglin stood by, receiving the slips of paper from the sect leader and calling out each name one by one with a leisurely pace, "Oh? This is impressive, a heavenly favored child, Xue Meng."

    Soon, twenty participants were chosen, leaving only one spot unfilled. Elder Shuanglin, with an incredibly thick skin, raised his hand with a grin, "And there's me, an old man with brittle bones. Please guide me." Nan Gongliu, familiar with the elder's personality, didn't object but simply smiled helplessly, distributing signal fireworks to each participant.

    "Nan Gongliu said, 'For the Deer Chasers, the signal firework serves as proof. After three blasts, it signifies that all three spirit-horned deer have been captured, marking the end of the hunt.' We will personally greet everyone's return at the Howling Moon Training Grounds, and the winner shall be rewarded with ten million gold coins."

    The crowd applauded enthusiastically, cheering on their acquaintances.

    Nan Gongliu smiled again and added, "Furthermore, on behalf of my child, I have another prize for the winner: ten demonic wolves, bound by blood contracts for you to take home!"

    Demonic wolves!

    Such precious spirit beasts were scarce even in black markets, and yet he was offering ten!

    The grand hall erupted with excitement. Someone couldn't resist standing up and cheering to their fellow disciple, "Senior Brother, it's up to you! If you win first place, I'll polish your boots for a whole year!"

    Laughter echoed throughout the room.

    An indignant female cultivator shouted, "Senior Brother, surpass them all! If you win, I promise to practice dual cultivation with you!"

    "Woah—now that's a good deal! That's impressive! Haha, which fairy maiden is so bold?"

    The Poems and Music Hall buzzed with laughter and joy, and even those initially uninterested now had a spark of anticipation in their eyes as they watched the lively spectacle with their wine cups in hand.

    Amidst the laughter, Mo Ran left his seat and whispered to Chu Wanning, "Shifu, I'll accompany Xue Meng to the hunting grounds first. Enjoy your meal and drink, and wait for my return."

    Chu Wanning replied, "Go ahead, but remind Xue Meng to be cautious. He can be too impulsive."

    "Very well."

    Mo Ran descended the grand, lavishly illuminated palace hall alongside the other twenty individuals, as Chu Wanning watched their handsome and graceful figures fade into the vast darkness of night. He drained the cup of his sweet red wine.

    He felt that Death's Peak could easily afford to build a Spirit Stone Road in the Lower Realm with their earnings. He had the most faith in his disciple.

    Thirty million gold coins were within easy reach.

    As the younger generation entered the forest, it was only a fleeting moment before Mo Ran had sent Xue Meng off and hadn't returned. With a loud bang, the first crimson firework lit up the sky. Nan Gongliu marvelled and clapped his hands, exclaiming, "Truly remarkable! I haven't even finished my cup of tea, and someone has already hunted the first deer. I wonder which sect's disciple this is? Such bravery is truly commendable!"

    At the Jade Pond Manor, Li Wuxin, seated beside Nan Gongliu, twirled his beard and chuckled. "If any of you gentlemen have the inclination, why not engage in a wager? Among these twenty-two promising youths, who do you think will come out on top? The stakes are fifty thousand – I, Li, shall contribute to add excitement for Sect Leader Nan?"

    The crowd agreed, and thus, twenty-two wooden slips inscribed with names were placed on a long table, each accompanied by a red silk cloth for placing bets. Those who wished to participate stepped forward to write down their stakes and signatures.

    Xue Zhengyong turned to whisper to Chu Wanning, "Why does the Jade Pond Manor offer only fifty thousand as the prize? Is that old man surnamed Li broke?"

    Chu Wanning replied, "Small bets amuse, but large ones can be detrimental to one's well-being."

    Xue Zhengyong chuckled and asked Chu Wanning, "Then shall we also indulge in some amusement?"

    Chu Wanning gazed at him intently, not uttering a word. Xue Zhengyong felt a chill down his spine under that stare and shrank his neck, saying, "O-okay, okay, I get it. You don't like it—"

    "What's the point in gambling for pleasure?" Elder Yu Heng unfastened his money pouch, slapped it on the table, and said expressionlessly, "If we're going to do it, let's do something that could harm our bodies."


    Xue Zhengyong stared at him for a while as if he had seen a ghost before asking, "How much are we betting?"

    "Three hundred thousand."

    "......That much? What if we lose? How will we pay it back?"

    "We won't lose," Chu Wanning replied. "Didn't you want to build spirit stone roads? With more funds, we can construct a few more in those villages plagued with heavy miasma."

    Xue Zhengyong: "Are you serious? What if Xue Meng loses?"

    "He won't lose. He's your son; you should know him better than I do."


    Seeing Xue Zhengyong still looking worried, Chu Wanning said very decisively, "If there's any loss, I'll cover it. If there's a win, it's yours. Go ahead."

    The silk scroll was gradually filling up with names. The small sects, who initially weren't interested in betting, found themselves tempted and couldn't resist spending a little money for a chance at luck.

    Nan Gongsi found it amusing and got up to join the game. Song Qiutong called out to him, "Husband, why are you going too?"

    "I'll win some money to buy you jewelry."

    Song Qiutong fell silent, lowering her lustrous face bashfully. A few strands of black hair fell across her forehead, making her appear particularly shy and endearing. Chu Wanning glanced over casually but felt uncomfortable seeing the newlyweds' affectionate display. He quickly turned his head away and missed the vague unease on Song Qiutong's face.


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