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    Chapter 167: Master, I Don't Want You to Be Insulted Anymore

    The illusion didn't vanish due to Nan Gongsi's agony; it relentlessly continued, exposing the bloody truth of those past events to everyone.

    By Jin Chengchi's side, Nan Gongliu crushed the piranha's face with his foot, looking at it from left and right before saying, "Beast."

    "Beasts want Lady's spirit nucleus. The Lord could have refused," Xu Shuanglin commented. "But for the Divine Martial Arts, the Lord still sold her."

    "Nonsense about selling. Don't put it that way. Senior Sister Rong was already frail. We had the best doctors from Linling Island examine her, and they all said she didn't have long to live. If she had been healthy, why would I have offered her to this vile beast?"

    Xu Shuanglin raised an eyebrow but didn't respond.

    Nan Gongliu stared at the piranha for a moment before suddenly getting angry. He grumbled indignantly, "Unfair fate."

    Seemingly surprised that someone as successful as him would blame fate, Xu Shuanglin was taken aback and chuckled. "What did you say?"

    "I said, unfair fate."

    "..."

    "Why is it that when others seek divine weapons, the tasks assigned by those auspicious beasts are merely picking flowers or singing songs, but for me, I get a malevolent beast demanding my wife's life? What can I do? What choice did I have?"

    Nan Gongliu appeared quite indignant.

    "You were there when I sought a divine weapon at Jin Chengchi. You saw how the attendants were silent and the grandmaster criticized me. That Chu Wanning... damn it, a mere teenager dared to defy me with all his talk of righteousness and morals... Hypocrites! I don't believe he would choose his dying wife over a powerful divine weapon if he were in my shoes!"

    Xu Shuanglin, however, smiled. "Who knows? Don't look at me like that; I'm being serious. You can never guess what's on the minds of such upright gentlemen."

    "What else could be on their minds? Only fame and glory. Do I not know them well enough?"

    The more Nan Gongliu thought about it, the more aggrieved he felt. He kicked the pomfret in frustration while muttering curses.

    "Ever since I became the sect leader, I've endured so much injustice. Not only curses but also having to put on a smiley face every day... It's a wonder I could swallow my pride and humiliation. Otherwise, I might have died at Chu Wanning's hands during that sword quest."

    "You're right," Xu Shuanglin said, still smiling. "I also think Chu Wanning genuinely wanted to kill you back then. But I didn't expect you to persuade him. Not only did you escape death under his Tianwen, but you also silenced him from revealing what happened at Jin Chengchi. I must admit, I admire your ability to preserve your own life, Immortal Sect Leader."

    "He knew that Confucian Wind Sect couldn't afford chaos, no matter how angry he was," Nan Gongliu replied. "Besides, I had Si'er. It's better for him to believe his mother died in battle against demons than to know the truth, which would have been too much for him to handle."

    Xu Shuanglin sighed and nodded fairly. "No wonder he left. If I were him, I'd be disgusted with you too."

    "Do you think I had a choice? I already said—" Nan Gongliu replied, "Fate is unjust."

    Upon hearing this, someone glanced discreetly at Chu Wanning and murmured, "So Master Chu actually knew about Madam Rong's matter?"

    "He helped Nan Gongliu keep it hidden even though he knew. He didn't even inform the world."

    "Probably because he was afraid of trouble. He was only fifteen back then. If he really offended the Confucian Wind Sect, he would have had to face the consequences."

    Someone spoke up in defense of Chu Wanning, "I don't think so. He just lost sight of the bigger picture. Didn't Nan Gongliu say that Master Chu didn't reveal the truth because he was afraid of making Nan Gongsi sad?"

    "But he didn't weigh his priorities properly. Is a child's life more important or the integrity of a sect leader? Sigh, if he had spoken up earlier, the Confucian Wind Sect wouldn't be in such a predicament now."

    "That's not entirely true. If he had revealed it back then, the Upper cultivation realm might have been thrown into chaos. ...In the end, everyone has their own choices. You might not have stepped forward either if you were in his shoes."

    "Hmph, that's not necessarily true. If it were me, I would have exposed Nan Gongliu's true nature immediately. To stand idly by in such a situation is equivalent to being an accomplice."

    Though their voices were soft, Mo Ran had sharp hearing. A few of their words reached his ears, provoking his anger. Just as he was about to confront them, someone tugged on his sleeve.

    "Master!"

    Chu Wanning's expression was indifferent as he shook his head. "There's no need to say more."

    "But that's not how it is at all! Didn't they understand? How could you make it public in such a situation? Who can't distinguish between priorities here? Clearly—"

    Chu Wanning said coolly, "Are you angry?"

    Mo Ran nodded.

    Chu Wanning continued, "Do you feel the need to do something about it?"

    Mo Ran nodded again.

    Chu Wanning said, "Alright, then help me cover my ears."

    "..."

    "I have no intention of arguing with them, but I don't wish to listen either. Help me cover them, and when they stop talking, you can let go."

    Mo Ran really walked behind Chu Wanning, raised his hands, and covered his ears, one on each side. Lowering his gaze, he looked at the person before him and felt both frustration and heartache. He simply couldn't comprehend why, despite Chu Wanning doing everything so well, there were still people dissatisfied. It seemed like this person had lived for others in both his lifetimes, never acting selfishly even for a single day. Why did he receive so much criticism whenever there was a controversial matter or an issue that wasn't clearly black and white?

    It seemed that things often unfolded in this manner: people tended to be deeply grateful for a single act of kindness from a villain, yet relentlessly nitpick at the slightest mistake made by a good person.

    In his previous life, Heaven-Stepping Lord had slaughtered countless lives. One day, due to some mishap, he bestowed each monk at the Weeping Buddha Temple with ten thousand taels of gold. As a result, he was praised extravagantly; people said that Heaven-Stepping Lord had put down his butcher's knife and immediately became enlightened. During that period, because of this small act of benevolence, the image of Heaven-Stepping Lord in people's mouths shone with resplendent light.

    But what about Chu Wanning? Chu Wanning was an uncontested grandmaster, the most virtuous and benevolent Immortal Venerated across the world. Thus, any slight misstep on his part would be met with boundless malevolence from others.

    This had happened time and again.

    When Chu Wanning was ruthless in his actions, there were those who cursed him as cold-blooded.

    And when he was lenient, people doubted that he was afraid of trouble.

    Even during Mo Ran's five-year wandering journey, he had heard someone discussing the incident involving Scholar Chen in Butterfly Town years ago. There were voices pointing out that Chu Wanning had whipped his employer merely to gain popularity, thus harming innocent mortals—

    "He's just a heartless wooden man, isn't he? Otherwise, tell me, would a normal person not have three or five close friends? Look at Chu Wanning; he defied Master Huaiwei at fifteen and has been alone ever since. Who in this vast world would want to be his friend?"

    "Yes, that Scholar Chen in Butterfly Town back then—no matter how wrong he was, he was still an employer. For Chu Wanning to be so heavy-handed, to disregard the reputation of his sect and the rules of the immortal realm... I think he's been alone for too long, and it's distorted his mind."

    Distorted mind?

    Who, exactly, was the one twisting things?

    Hadn't this person given enough?

    Was it only right and good, worthy of the heavens and earth, to squeeze out his blood, grind his flesh, and even offer up his bones as sacrifice, to truly live up to the title of Master Chu?

    Mo Ran covered his ears. Chu Wanning was tall and slender, but standing before the current Mo Ran, his head only reached the other's chin. Chu Wanning wasn't weak or powerless, but as Mo Ran looked down at him with lowered lashes, he suddenly felt sorry for him, an infinite tenderness and softness welling up within him.

    He wanted to hold this person more than ever before.

    Not with desire, just a simple wish to embrace him, to offer a bit of warmth amidst this hard world with his own flesh and blood, nothing more.

    In response to these thoughtless questions and "If I were in your shoes, I would definitely do such-and-such," Chu Wanning was much more accustomed than Mo Ran, reacting with a calm detachment.

    At that moment, Jin Chengchi's memories faded away, and the fragments reassembled. Chu Wanning shifted his gaze to Nan Gongsi.

    Nan Gongsi knelt with his back to Chu Wanning, never rising to his feet.

    Chu Wanning let out a soft sigh.

    Between Chu Wanning and Nan Gongsi, though they lacked the formal title of master and disciple, their relationship held the essence of one. If possible, Wanning truly wished that Nan Gongsi would forever believe Rong Yan had tragically perished while slaying a demonic beast. But fate had other plans, and after so many years, the secrets hidden within the pages were exposed by the flames, turning to dust.

    In Chu Wanning's eyes, the Nan Gongsi kneeling before him now eerily overlapped with the child who once knelt in the memorial hall of his memory.

    That child was clumsily reciting the "Voyage of Freedom," but his recitation was stunted, never quite flowing smoothly. With tears streaming down his face, he slowly recited it for his mother.

    "In the Northern Sea, there is a fish named Kun. Its size is unknown, stretching possibly thousands of miles. When it transforms into a bird, it is called Peng... ...Though the world...praises it...it does not become more diligent, and though the world...condemns it...it does not become discouraged. It remains steadfast...in the distinction between inner and outer, discerning..."

    The child's soft voice came to an abrupt halt. He couldn't continue, his small body trembling delicately, like a willow in the wind. Finally, he covered his face, unable to hold back his grief any longer, and wept loudly.

    "Mother... I was wrong, Si'er was wrong... Please wake up, Mother... I promise I won't be playful again. Just wake up and teach me once more, please?"

    Later, "Voyage of Carefree Wandering" became a text that Nan Gongsi copied and recited in every morning class, accompanying him from a young boy with a head full of braids to a spirited and scholarly gentleman.

    Madam Rong has departed, and can no longer teach him.

    Shortly after, Chu Wanning also left, not looking back even once.

    Nan Gongsi had never taken on a master. With nothing but his patched old quiver and the guiding principle of "avarice, resentment, deception, murder, lust, theft, and plunder—these are seven things a Confucian scholar and gentleman must never do," he had grown into an upright hero in this world's preeminent sect, a man entirely distinct from his father.

    Fifteen years had nearly passed since Madam Liurong’s passing.

    The illusion formed once more, this time presenting everyone with Nan Gongliu’s chamber on a full moon night. Nan Gongliu was huddled in his bed, the surface covered with a cool mat and a bamboo pillow, indicating it was summer. Yet, he was wrapped in several thick blankets, shivering violently, his lips a shade of blue.

    Chu Wanning patted Mo Ran's hand. "Loosen your grip, I want to keep watching."

    Mo Ran replied, "You don't have to watch if you don't want to. I can describe it to you." He still didn't want to remove his hand from Chu Wanning's ear, but after Chu Wanning patted his hand twice more, he knew he couldn't resist and reluctantly let go. He glared around darkly, vowing to secretly remember anyone who criticized Chu Wanning, so he could confront them later.

    In the illusion, Xu Shuanglin entered through the door, stumbling as he bowed awkwardly, showing a lack of manners. However, Nan Gongliu seemed used to it and paid no attention. His eyes were bloodshot as he trembled, asking, "Shuanglin, where's the medicine? Where is it?"

    "It's been prepared, but it failed."

    Nan Gongliu cried out, "Ah!" in terror, tears and snot flowing together. "How... how could this be... You said it would work... I can't endure it anymore, it feels like thorns are piercing my bones! You, quickly close all the windows tightly, not even a sliver of light should enter... not a single bit..."

    "All the windows are already shut tight. It's a full moon tonight, you'd feel the pain even if you didn't step outside," Xu Shuanglin said. "It's useless, you can't escape it."

    "No! No! Where's the medicine?" Nan Gongliu was losing his mind. "Where, where, where is it?! You said you could prepare it! I trusted you! Where is the medicine!!!"

    "I've reread the scrolls. I can't formulate it. The curse on your body is too vicious; only one thing can lift it," Xu Shuanglin explained.

    "What?! I'll give you anything you want!!! Just give me the medicine! Give me the medicine!!"

    Xu Shuanglin replied, "I need the spirit nucleus of the one who cast the curse."

    "!"

    Nan Gongliu's face turned ashen in an instant.

    "Spirit nucleus... You want... You want his spirit nucleus?"

    "Is there any possibility?"

    "How could there be?!" Nan Gongliu roared, his hair disheveled and saliva dripping from the corners of his mouth. "You know who cursed me! My esteemed Master, that good-for-nothing, pusillanimous... gentleman, Luo Fenghua! He stole my position, and when I dethroned him, I shattered his body into a million pieces! I even crushed his ashes in a blood pool with a treacherous feng shui, sending his soul to the depths of hell where he can never reincarnate! His bones have long since decayed! How am I supposed to find his spirit nucleus? How? How?!?"

    Xu Shuanglin remained silent for a moment, waiting for Nan Gongliu's rage to subside and his despair to grow before he spoke softly, "I have another method, but it's incredibly difficult to achieve. Do you want to hear it?"

    "Say... Say it, tell me quickly!"

    "Luo Fenghua may be dead, but you should be aware that the 'Book of the Departed' records that souls trapped in the realm of eternal suffering can gather their three souls and seven spirits to form flesh and bone akin to their living state, creating a ghost fetus. The more tragic the death, the stronger the ghost fetus. Some even develop a giant skull outside of the ghost fetus to protect the soul from dispersing."

    "So what? I can't exactly dig up his corpse from the Realm of Eternal Torment, can I?"

    "You can't go, but he could come," Xu Shuanglin smiled gently. His expression in the candlelight was serene, as if discussing a casual visit to a friend's house for tea. "The spirit world and the mortal realm are separated by a barrier. As long as we gather the purest essences of the five elements, we can create an opening in the Realm of Eternal Torment."

    "Create an... opening in the Realm of Eternal Torment?"

    Xu Shuanglin chuckled. "Indeed. Open the breach, lure out Luo Fenghua's ghostly fetus, which is identical to his physical body and possesses a spirit core. If you consume his flesh and extract his spirit core, the curse should be broken."

    He paused before continuing, "Gathering the five elemental essences might be challenging, ideally requiring an exquisite spirit body... Don't rush it. Let me think of another solution."

    Nan Gongliu opened his mouth to speak but instead let out a horrifying wail. Tears streaming down his face, he trembled violently on the bed.

    "Is it really that painful?" Xu Shuanglin sighed. "Your master must have despised your act of killing him, to cast such a ruthless curse on the ring. It's pitiful, really."

    "Ugh..."

    "Alright, bear with it. The pain will subside when dawn comes." Xu Shuanglin sat on the edge of the bed, crossing his legs and propping his cheek in one hand while scratching his foot with the other. "I'll stay with you, talk to you, and distract you. That way, the pain won't be so unbearable."

    Nan Gongliu curled up deeper under the covers, gasping for breath.

    Xu Shuanglin sighed, "Well, what should we talk about? ... How about Si'er? He's also a child with challenges. His innate spiritual core is violent, making it easy for him to lose control and fall into demonic cultivation. It seems to be a chronic issue in the Nan Gong family, I heard his great-grandfather had the same problem?"

    Nan Gongliu shrank under the blankets, swallowing hard, "Mm."

    "What do you plan on doing about it?"

    "What can I do?" Nan Gongliu's voice trembled, "His condition is easier to handle than mine. Once he gets married... he'll, he'll be able to suppress his spiritual flow through dual cultivation. You should... still focus more on my curse..."

    "I've always been concerned about your curse. But the more you think about it, the more pain you endure." Xu Shuanglin changed the subject, scratching between his toes with a smile, "But won't this kind of dual cultivation be too beneficial for the partner? I heard Si'er's great-grandmother passed away at a young age due to it."

    "Ridiculous nonsense."

    "Oh, I was just casually asking. I didn't expect that she really did die young because of dual cultivation." Xu Shuanglin lamented, "The Confucian Wind Sect truly has deep waters. The sect leader actually used his wife's life to aid himself in overcoming tribulations."

    "A woman's life... is... worthless."

    Xu Shuanglin chuckled, "You seem to have such a low opinion of women."

    "You know well enough the teachings of the Grand Sect Leader."

    "I don't understand. What did Headmaster Tai say?"

    "The Confucian Wind Sect should be led by gentlemen."

    "That's right."

    "What's a gentleman? It's a man, do you get it now?"

    "Pfft, forgive me for being disrespectful. But with your interpretation of that statement, Headmaster, I'm afraid you'd rouse Tai Headmaster from his grave in anger."

    Nan Gongliu shuddered. "You've never married, so you wouldn't understand. Women... They're not much use except for carrying on the family line. It's... their responsibility. Your grandmother was willing to sacrifice herself for your grandfather..."

    "Willingly?" Xu Shuanglin chuckled. "So, aren't you supposed to find someone who's willing to cultivate with Si'er and give their life for him?"

    "...I already have someone in mind..."

    Xu Shuanglin was taken aback. "What? Who? Who is it?" He appeared quite nosy as he scooted further into the bed, almost pulling Nan Gongliu out from under the covers. "Well then, you actually have a candidate for the young master's wife in the Confucian Wind Sect. Tell me all about it."

    Nan Gongliu wriggled deeper into the bedding, enduring the pain for a moment before he croaked, "Your adopted daughter, Ye Wangxi."

    "!"

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