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    Chapter 173: Master, Someone Wants to Drive Us Away

    He felt like he was holding a scorching hot potato, unsure of what to do. As more and more people looked in his direction, his ears flushed red in embarrassment. At that moment, a pair of hands reached out and took the child from his arms. Chu Wanning let out a sigh of relief and turned around. "Mo Ran?"

    "Mm." Mo Ran transferred the child to one arm, cradling him, while his other hand became free to stroke Chu Wanning's hair. His face was calm, but there was a hint of melancholy in his brows, probably due to the tragic sight in Lin Yi. However, when he looked at Chu Wanning, he tried to curve the corners of his lips so as not to appear too grim.

    His half-smile was not as charming as usual, but it inexplicably gave off a warm feeling.

    "Have you talked to the islanders?"

    "Mm, I have."

    "The fire in Lin Yi might take four or five days to extinguish. We'll have to stay on Fluttering Flower Island until then. There aren't many houses here, and we've brought so many people..."

    "I asked the village chief, and he said we could squeeze in and find space for everyone."

    It was always a good idea to let Mo Ran handle such matters. He was better at communicating with people. As for appearance... considering how the village girls had stared at him during the rice harvest, Mo Ran was definitely more likable than he was.

    Chu Wanning pondered silently for a moment, unsure of the emotions he felt. He nodded and said, "Thank you for your hard work."

    "Don't talk to me about hardships," Mo Ran said, glancing at the candy in Chu Wanning's hand and understanding. He turned to comfort the child in his arms with a smile. "What about you? Why are you crying?"

    "I want Mama... I want Papa..."

    Seeing how young he was, still wobbling as he walked, yet losing both his parents in the fire, Mo Ran couldn't help feeling a pang of sorrow. He nuzzled the child's face with his forehead and whispered soothingly, "Mama and Papa... they have some things to take care of before they can come to be with you. You need to be good, so they'll be happy when they see you..."

    After holding and comforting him for a while, the child gradually calmed down. Though he was still sobbing, he no longer cried out loudly.

    Mo Ran looked down at the child with tears on his eyelashes, while Chu Wanning stood quietly beside them, holding the candy.

    This man had a very handsome profile, with sharp and clean lines. If depicted in ink and brushwork, it would be like the calligraphy style of Yan and Liang, with vigorous and powerful strokes, resulting in an upright and extraordinary appearance. His features were strong, but his eyelashes and gaze were soft, like the unfurling of spring leaves.

    Chu Wanning was somewhat lost in thought.

    So when Mo Ran leaned over to bite the candy at the end of Chu Wanning's finger, Chu Wanning abruptly withdrew his hand, staring wide-eyed in surprise. "What are you doing?"

    The small glutinous rice candy was quickly taken by the man's mouth, inevitably causing their lips to touch Chu Wanning's fingertips, and even his warm, moist tongue accidentally licked the skin of his finger. Chu Wanning felt a jolt run through his body. That brief and slight intimacy was enough to send a tingle up his spine, like a sprout breaking through a seed, piercing the silent earth and loosening the compressed soil...

    With a candy in his mouth, Mo Ran smiled at him and then winked at the child.

    He tilted his head back, swallowing the candy, his Adam's apple bobbing. Then he said to the child, "See, it's not some scary pill, it's just candy."

    Chu Wanning: "..."

    He had been lost in thought just now and hadn't paid attention to what the child and Mo Ran were talking about.

    Now, he refocused his gaze on the child, who was timid yet earnestly staring at Mo Ran for a while before whispering in surprise after a long while, "Oh, it really is candy..."

    "Yes," Mo Ran said with a smile. "How could this Immortal Master brother, who is so kind, possibly capture you to refine pills?"

    Chu Wanning again: "..."

    Given all that had happened the previous night, which was too shocking, Mo Ran wasn't sleepy. After settling down the rescued people of all ages, it was already bright outside. He walked alone to the shore of Fluttering Flower Island. In the morning, the coastline would recede far away, revealing tidal flats that were hidden during high tide.

    When alone, his numerous worries surged up, casting a lingering gloom over his eyes.

    He took off his shoes and slowly walked along the wet shoreline, leaving a crooked trail of footprints in the moist sand behind him.

    In fact, there were still many things about Xu Shuanglin that he couldn't comprehend. For example, why did the man dislike wearing shoes in the cold, preferring to walk barefoot everywhere he went.

    Mo Ran was someone with a multitude of secrets from his past, a person who had never been treated kindly.

    Perhaps because of this, he could clearly understand Xu Shuanglin's relentless desire to destroy the Confucian Wind Sect and the Jiangdong Sect, even stirring chaos throughout the entire Upper Realm.

    Being suppressed and ostracized was not the worst pain.

    The worst was being betrayed by those close to him, and the agony of having done nothing wrong, of once harboring a passionate desire to improve and become a great master, only to be condemned at the most significant event in the cultivation world, the "Spirit Mountain Gathering," accused of stealing his brother's techniques...

    Enduring endless ridicule and disdain, with no chance of redemption.

    Mo Ran knew that after this catastrophe, the cultivation world would inevitably undergo a reshuffle. To those sects that had suffered both humiliation and physical wounds, they would all think: Xu Shuanglin was truly a madman.

    Perhaps only Mo Weiyu, who had once been a ruthless killer, would stroll alone along the serene and endless coastline, unable to resist pondering.

    What kind of person was Xu Shuanglin, really?

    Did this madman, in his youth, also have his head held high with ambition, practicing sword techniques tirelessly in an orange grove until nightfall, when he would return with exhaustion but satisfaction, a sweet orange tucked into his sleeve, meant for his lazy elder brother?

    Back then, he was unaware that his brother, despite his lack of achievements, could use the power of his words to strip him of any standing in the cultivation world.

    Did this madman also once bury himself in scrolls of magic, pondering deeply and diligently dipping his quill into ink, writing down his somewhat immature insights, only to become dissatisfied, biting the end of the pen, and sinking back into contemplation?

    At that time, he had no knowledge that no matter how hard he tried, the ultimate outcome would be a tainted reputation, with no hope for redemption.

    Mo Ran closed his eyes, feeling the sea breeze brush against his face as sunlight fell upon his eyelashes, gilding them with a golden hue.

    He thought of the Three Lives Courtyard, where one drinks the Netherworld Lady's potion to forget all past lives. Was Xu Shuanglin's choice of this name for his residence just a casual whim?

    And in his previous life, when Xu Shuanglin had hidden within the Confucian Wind Sect, his motive must have been the same as in this life. Yet, in that life, he had died in battle for Ye Wangxi amidst the flames...

    Ye Wangxi.

    This name was also given to him by Xu Shuanglin.

    What was it that he sought to forget? Was it those unjust and unfair years, the hatred and glory of the past, or the ugly faces of his adversaries?

    There was also Xu Shuanglin's relentless effort to retrieve the corpse from the Abyss of No Return – Luo Fenghua's corpse.

    What did he want with that body?

    In the illusion, Xu Shuanglin had told Nan Gongliu that only by obtaining the soul nucleus of the spellcaster could the curse on the ring be completely broken. But looking at the final outcome, Xu Shuanglin's true purpose was certainly not to help Nan Gongliu lift the curse.

    Spatial rifts, the Jiu Zun Chess Game, the art of reincarnation...

    And that hand that reached out from the rift in the end.

    Mo Ran felt that something was profoundly amiss, his brows knitted together as he pondered.

    Suddenly, he opened his eyes wide.

    He recalled something.

    Back then, when Old Dragon Gazing at the Moon died by Jin Chengchi, it had said, "That mysterious person was cultivating two secret arts using the power of the Heart-Plucking Willows in Jin Chengchi – one was the Art of Reincarnation, and the other was the Jiu Zun Chess Game."

    It had not mentioned the "Door of Time, Life, and Death."

    In other words, for Xu Shuanglin, what mattered were the Rebirth and Zhenglou spells. The reason for Zhenglou was obvious – it facilitated his manipulation of pawns for his schemes.

    As for Rebirth?

    Whom did he wish to resurrect?

    Mo Ran pondered and believed there were two possibilities: Rong Yan and Luo Fenghua.

    From Xu Shuanglin's words, it seemed that Rong Yan had once been in love with him. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, she eventually severed ties with Xu Shuanglin and married his brother instead.

    But upon closer scrutiny, Mo Ran felt that it couldn't have been her.

    If Xu Shuanglin truly loved Rong Yan so much that he would go to any lengths to bring her back to life, why had he killed her only son in their previous life?

    More importantly, this man had long been lurking in Nan Gongliu's shadow as "Elder Shuanglin." If his intention was to use the Rebirth spell on Rong Yan, then why hadn't he stopped her from being sacrificed at Jin Chengchi's pond?

    It wasn't Rong Yan.

    Mo Ran turned his head, gazing at the sea tinged red by the rising sun. The shimmering ripples spread continuously, and the tide visibly rose with the ascent of the sun, bathing the world in a golden glow.

    It was Luo Fenghua.

    Mo Ran was almost certain that Nan Gongxu intended to revive Luo Fenghua.

    The matters at the Confucian Wind Sect were far from as straightforward as they seemed on the surface, just like the ebb and flow of the tides that concealed broken seashells and perilously vibrant starfish beneath its surging waves at dawn.

    The sea rose swiftly, and the fine sand beneath his feet was swept away by the waves, spreading across the beach where he walked.

    Suddenly, his feet grew cold. Mo Ran looked down to see the waves lapping at his ankles.

    "Whoosh—"

    He flexed his well-proportioned toes, feeling a chill. Turning to return to the shore and retrieve his shoes, he saw Chu Wanning approaching him from the crimson sky, his expression indifferent as he held the shoes and socks he had carelessly discarded in the sand.

    "Why are you walking barefoot? It's so cold."

    Mo Ran followed him up the sandy slope and sat down by the rocky shore, shaking the mud off his feet before putting his shoes back on. He felt a sudden sense of comfort. Even though he would never receive the love he desired from Chu Wanning in this lifetime, Chu Wanning remained the best master in the world, one who cared for and took care of him.

    Seeing him wander about without shoes, Chu Wanning would worry about him catching a cold.

    "What's your take on the situation with the Confucian Wind Sect?"

    "It's not as straightforward as it seems."

    "I suspected as much." Chu Wanning's brows had been knitted tightly since the previous night, even in this brief moment of tranquility. A shadow still lingered between them as he watched Mo Ran put on his shoes and socks, then turned his gaze back to the vast ocean.

    The rising sun on the horizon blazed a brilliant scarlet, intertwining with the smoldering flames of Lin Yi in the distant horizon, indistinguishable from one another.

    "It's challenging to determine where Xu Shuanglin was pulled by the spatial rift," Chu Wanning said. "If he intentionally wants to evade detection, he could remain hidden for a decade or even longer without being caught."

    Mo Ran shook his head. "He won't be able to hold out that long. Once his strength is restored, he'll make a move."

    "How so?"

    Mo Ran shared his conjecture with Chu Wanning, adding, "Luo Fenghua's corpse isn't a true physical body; it's an 'artificial limb' reconstructed in the Realm of Hell. Without the nourishment of Yin energy outside the Netherworld, it will soon decay. I suspect that within a year, even if he's unprepared, there will be new developments."

    Chu Wanning remained silent.

    He was always cautious in his actions and contemplations. He wouldn't make bold assumptions like Mo Ran when faced with uncertainty. Nevertheless, listening to Mo Ran's hypotheses held no harm.

    "What about that hand?" Chu Wanning asked. "Do you have any guesses about the one that took Nan Gongxu away in the end?"

    "..." Mo Ran shook his head. "I know too little about the First Taboo. It's hard to say, I don't know."

    This, however, wasn't entirely true. Although Mo Ran didn't want to lie to Chu Wanning anymore, there were some things he couldn't reveal to him.

    He dared not speak of them.

    Really, since he could remember, he had precious few peaceful days. Across both lifetimes, they probably wouldn't add up to a year.

    A person who had wandered for decades suddenly being offered a warm cup of tea and a cozy bonfire—how could he bear to get up and leave, how could he bear to shatter this beautiful dream?

    So all he could say was that he didn't know.

    But inwardly, he was restless. He was almost certain that the owner of that hand wouldn't be so simple. Otherwise, why hadn't Xu Shuanglin acted so swiftly to gather the Five Spirit Bodies and kill recklessly in his previous life? If not for instructions or enticements from someone who had returned from the dead, Xu Shuanglin should not have decided on how to revive Luo Fenghua at this point in time...

    Not to mention, Jin Chengchi, under Xu Shuanglin's control, had once said to Chu Wanning, "If you think there's only one person in this world who knows the three forbidden techniques, then you probably won't live much longer."

    Mo Ran felt that Xu Shuanglin must be aware that some people who shouldn't have existed in this world had come to it. But at the same time, he sensed that Xu Shuanglin knew of others who had been reborn but was unaware that Mo Ran himself was one of them.

    Why didn't he expose Chu Wanning's true identity during their conflict at the Confucian Wind Sect? With that memory scroll, he could have extracted some of Mo Ran's memories and cast them into the flames of calamity. Even if Chu Wanning had treated him well, he probably wouldn't want such a disciple anymore. Then everything would be over, and Mo Weiyu would never regain his footing.

    Why didn't Xu Shuanglin do this?

    There were two possibilities:

    First, there was a reason he couldn't.

    Second, he might not yet know about his own trump card.

    Regardless of the situation, Mo Ran was now at a disadvantage. The clues he held were too few, and if the other party remained cautious and left no traces, he would have to wait in plain sight for the cold blade that might stab him in the back at any moment.

    Mo Ran pressed his lips together, his thick lashes drooping and quivering slightly.

    He couldn't afford to think too much. In his previous life, he had lived in hatred, acting selfishly and doing insane things. This time around, regardless of the outcome, he wanted to live each day to the fullest, trying his best to make amends for those he'd wronged, protecting his Master, Shi Mo, Xue Meng, and the Peak of Life and Death with all his might.

    Trying his best to hold onto the fleeting warmth he had once longed for but never obtained.

    Lost in thought, a fisherman suddenly rushed over, shouting at Mo Ran and his companions, "Something terrible has happened, Immortals!"

    Mo Ran startled, pushing off the ground with his arm and immediately leaping to his feet. "What's going on?"

    "The main family of the island went out to sea some days ago and only returned this morning. She—she heard the village chief recount the events and is very dissatisfied with his handling of the situation. She's thrown a tantrum and refuses to let those elders and children stay in the empty houses. Right now, she's already chased everyone out. The people you brought are all… standing outside."

    The fisherman had a kind heart, and as he spoke, his eyes began to well up with tears.

    "How pitiful. It's so cold, and she won't even give them clothes or blankets… The main family also said…"

    Chu Wanning also stood, his expression dark. "What else did she say?"

    "She also said… that these people from Lin Yi who just ate the food and drank the water of Flower Petal Island must… must settle their debts. If they don't pay, they'll… they'll be captured and made into slaves… kept on the island for labor…"

    Before he could finish his sentence, Chu Wanning was already furious. His moon-white robe billowed behind him as he sped towards the village at the heart of the island.

    Author has something to say:

    Today, I was chatting with my friend, and she complained about the story title. So here's a mini-drama featuring her alternative, colorful title:

    "The Emperor's Little Reckless Wife"

    "The Tyrant Ruler's Overbearing Wife"

    "Cold-Hearted Tender Wife: Master, Nowhere to Run!"

    "After finishing, I felt the world was filled with Mary Sue's rainbow auspicious clouds floating around, lol (23333333)"

    Here's my contribution, a twist in the style of "Zhi Yin" magazine titles:

    "After Marriage, Discovering My Husband's Love Was for Another Man — The Blood and Tears Secret History of Empress Song"

    "A Misdirected True Love, Parting Ways with the Beloved Forever"

    "A Devoted Man, Why Do You Willingly Become a Fallen Flower Drifting with the Water?"

    "Kind Daoist, Ah, How Could You Know the Brother Who Kindly Washed Your Clothes Turned Out to Be a Heartless Wolf?"

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