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    Chapter 182: Master's Little Torch Dragon

    Speculation was just that; without any conclusion, Chu Wanning didn't want to dwell on it further, lest he trouble himself unnecessarily.

    However, he still held some reservations about this sudden affection. Thus, when the flames of calamity finally subsided and the group prepared to fly away on their swords, Chu Wanning had no intention of riding Mo Ran's sword again.

    Of course, Elder Yu Heng, who could barely manage flight at twenty feet off the ground, had no plans to ride on Huai Sha either to cross the vast ocean. So, as everyone stood by the rocky shore and was lifted one by one onto the expanded sword by Mo Ran, Chu Wanning took out his Risen Dragon Talisman.

    Dropping a drop of blood from his fingertip onto the dragon scales, the noisy paper dragon suddenly came alive once more, soaring into the air and flipping several times before circling around its master and screeching loudly.

    "Oh, oh Chu Wanning! Haven't seen you in years, I've missed you so much. What do you need my help with this time?"

    "Take me across to the other side."

    "Halt! This deity is the First True Immortal Torch Dragon, born in the chaos of the universe's creation. How could I possibly perform the tasks of donkeys and mules? No, no, I won't carry you!"

    Under the watchful eyes of all, this small paper dragon, only the size of a palm, wriggled its body and squeaked loudly, its frame frail but its voice boisterous. Some children listening to its words couldn't help but burst into laughter.

    Chu Wanning's face darkened significantly. Lifting his palm, a cluster of golden flames suddenly ignited, and he said in a low voice, "If you don't carry me, I'll burn you."

    "..." Little Dragon fumed, collapsing backward onto the sandy shore. He bared his teeth, puffed up his whiskers, and glared fiercely. "How can you be so fierce, unreasonable, heartless, and shameless? No wonder every time I've seen you over the years, you've always been alone!"

    Hearing this, Mo Ran turned his head as if he wanted to say something. But after considering the crowd around them and Chu Wanning's pride, he decided against it. Instead, he simply smiled and shook his head.

    Chu Wanning snapped, "You're the one with the most to say!"

    With a wave of his palm, the flaming orb in his hand shot directly towards the little dragon on the ground. However, Chu Wanning didn't genuinely intend to burn it. The fireball made a grand display but grazed past the dragon's whiskers, landing instead on the sandy shore and rocky reefs. Startled, the little dragon let out a startled cry, skyrocketing into the sky, spinning around with an "aah aah" as it slapped at its own whiskers with its pudgy paws.

    "Where is my tail? My whiskers? And... my head! Is it still there? Is it still intact?!"

    "Enough chatter, and I won't be here anymore," Chu Wanning gritted his teeth, gathering shimmering golden light in his palm. "Enlargement."

    "...Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!" The little dragon wailed half-heartedly for a while, pitifully wiping away nonexistent tears with its claws, when its tiny bean-like eyes suddenly caught sight of Chu Wanning's icy, dagger-like gaze. It shuddered involuntarily, and the trail of its mournful whimpers abruptly ended in a comical "Burp!"

    It languidly rose from the ground, now truly resembling a paper dragon, boneless and with its whiskers hanging limply. It let out another burp, then said pitifully, "Just this once, never again."

    "According to your wishes."

    Well, it said the same thing last time I rode it anyway.

    The paper dragon stretched out its four limbs as if stretching its muscles and bones, then let out a sharp cry from its throat. A beam of golden light suddenly burst forth from its tender, fragile body, spreading outward. The golden light grew stronger and stronger until it eventually engulfed the entire paper dragon.

    "ROAR——!!!!!"

    In an instant, the sharp and shrill cry from the paper dragon's throat transformed into a deep, terrifying roar that shook the heavens and earth. Thunder crackled amidst flashes of purple lightning, while fierce winds whipped up and waves crashed violently on the shore. Blinded by the intense light, everyone either lowered their heads or shielded their faces with their sleeves.

    Chu Wanning squinted, his long ponytail and wide sleeves billowing in the strong wind. When the golden light faded, they looked around only to find that the little dragon had vanished. The beach was now eerily quiet, devoid of any sign of the creature.

    "Eh? It's gone?"

    A brave child piped up in surprise, but before their words could fully register, a deafening roar echoed above them, shaking the heavens and stirring the turbulent sea. Everyone looked up in shock and fear. After a brief silence, a magnificent dragon burst through the thick clouds. Its eyes were ablaze with fury, its claws powerful, and its whiskers as thick as ancient trees. It spiraled through the clouds, creating a gust of wind, then abruptly soared upward before diving down toward the ground!

    A gale ensued!

    "Yikes——!"

    "Daddy!"

    A child, bereft of parents, was startled and instinctively cried out for his father. Mo Ran quickly scooped the child up, soothing him with gentle words.

    Chu Wanning probably didn't expect to have frightened the child again; he froze for a moment. Seeing the massive dragon diving down, he promptly said, "Slow down."

    "Ooh?"

    Upon hearing this, the colossal dragon let out an endearingly dull grumble, then landed with a thud on the rocky shore, gradually lowering its body.

    This dragon was enormous; sitting atop it felt much like being on solid ground. No wonder Chu Wanning preferred riding dragons over sword flight.

    Mo Ran, with the intention of giving Chu Wanning some space, teased the child in his arms, "Do you want to ride on that Candlesnuff Dragon with that big brother?"

    The child, however, was unwilling and buried his face in Mo Ran's shoulder, whispering softly, "I'll tell you a secret, I don't really like him..."

    Mo Ran also whispered back to him, "I'll let you in on a secret too, I do like him."

    "Ahh?" The child was momentarily stunned but, being innocent and naive, he quietly asked again, "Really?"

    "Shh, don't tell anyone," Mo Ran instructed.

    The child immediately giggled, covering their mouth and nodding repeatedly.

    "What were you guys talking about? Are we still leaving?" Chu Wanning had no intention of traveling with the group, so he glanced at them coolly before mounting his dragon and ascending into the sky, disappearing among the clouds in an instant.

    Due to carrying someone on his sword, he couldn't fly too swiftly. It wasn't until evening that they arrived at Impermanence Town in Shu. Chu Wanning landed before them, greeting several prominent families in the town. Impermanence Town was the most favored by the Peak of Life and Death; as long as the Immortal Lord spoke, they would do their best to comply.

    The refugees from Lin Yi that they had brought along were taken care of by these wealthy families. As they left, the child in Mo Ran's arms turned back, waving reluctantly.

    "Brother Hero, see you later."

    "Sure, see you later," Mo Ran smiled, standing in the afterglow of the sunset as he watched them depart.

    Chu Wanning disliked such scenes of parting. After standing there for a moment, he turned and walked away. Mo Ran hurried after him, walking back to their sect together.

    Silent, the two climbed the steps to the mountain gate, the shadows of the trees swaying and the dusk glowing brightly. Mo Ran recalled how Chu Wanning had once crawled back up the mountain peak, exhausted of spiritual energy, with the severely injured and unconscious him on his back. Seeing him now, still able to stand beside him and return together, stirred up a myriad of emotions within him.

    In the balance of bitter and sweet, he reached out and gently held Chu Wanning's fingertips.

    "...

    Despite having held hands before, Chu Wanning still appeared stiff, awkward, and ill at ease. He tried his best to maintain a calm expression, giving the impression that he was nonchalant and composed.

    Unfortunately, the person he was facing was Mo Ran.

    Someone who knew him inside out, who knew about the sensitive mole behind his ear and how his toes disliked the cold—Mo Weiyu.

    Neither of them spoke first. Instead, when Mo Ran noticed that Chu Wanning didn't withdraw his hand, he engulfed it entirely within his own palm.

    As they walked up the seemingly endless stairs, he wished for the path to be longer, so he could hold his hand just a little while longer.

    Yet, as they climbed those same distant steps, he also wished for the journey to be shorter. If only it were shorter, perhaps the suffering Chu Wanning endured while carrying him home back then would have been lessened, just a bit more.

    They continued walking until the majestic mountain gate at the summit became visible.

    Suddenly, a tall figure clad in a white silver fox cloak emerged from the swaying tree shadows. Before the two could discern the figure clearly, they heard a voice calling out.

    "Master?!"

    Chu Wanning was slightly startled, almost immediately pulling his hand free from Mo Ran's grasp and tucking it into his sleeve. He paused, lifting his head.

    Shi Mo descended from a few steps higher, his face as pure as a lotus blossom under the lingering sunset glow, radiant and dazzling, outshining even the crimson sky.

    He was truly strikingly handsome.

    Shi Mo seemed to have missed the hand-holding earlier, appearing pleasantly surprised as he smiled, saying, "That's great! You're finally back!"

    Mo Ran hadn't expected to run into him so suddenly and felt a little awkward, thus asking, "Is Shi Mo planning to go out?"

    "Mm-hm, I was just about to head down the mountain to buy something for our Lord. I didn't expect to see Master and Ah Ran first," he replied. "A few days ago, our Lord received Master's message via the peach blossom courier, but since they didn't see you, they couldn't help but worry..."

    Chu Wanning said, "Both Mo Ran and I are unharmed. How about the others in the sect?"

    "Nothing serious," Shi Mo assured. "Although Young Master fell under Blackie's control, fortunately, it wasn't for long and didn't damage their heart channels. Elder Greedy Wolf has been attending to them diligently, and they were able to get out of bed and walk around this morning."

    Chu Wanning sighed in relief. "That's good to hear."

    Shi Mo smiled, casting a glance at Mo Ran before gently lowering his gaze, bowing and saying, "Although I'd love to chat more, if I don't retrieve the medicinal herbs from Solitary Moon Night soon, the person delivering them will be waiting for too long. I must take my leave first. Master, Ah Ran, see you tonight."

    "Alright, go ahead," Chu Wanning said. "We can talk later."

    As Shi Mo's robes billowed and his figure faded into the distance, Chu Wanning turned around. Although he knew that Mo Ran hadn't released their hold first, he inexplicably felt resentment. His sharp gaze, like a blade, glared at Mo Ran before he swept his sleeves and left.

    Mo Ran: "..............."

    The two arrived at the entrance of the Heart of Dan Temple one after the other. Pushing the door open, they were both stunned by the scene before them, rendered speechless.

    In the main hall of the Summit of Life and Death, an abundance of gold and silver fabrics, treasures, coral trees, magical artifacts, and spirit stones filled the space, stretching from the high seat at the end to the entrance. As a result, Chu Wanning could only push the door halfway open; the other half was blocked by a pile of shimmering crystal stones used for refining weapons, leaving it immovable. Apart from these items, there was another strange occurrence – over thirty beautiful women, all fraught with anxiety, stood in the hall.

    As for Xue Zhengyong, he was attempting to reason with a Phoenix Pavilion disciple dressed in a light pink robe, looking both amused and exasperated.

    "No, that's really not acceptable. I can take the rest, but please take these courtesans back and return them to the Pavilion Lord. We truly have no interest in listening to light music or watching dances here. Thank you for your understanding."

    Mo Ran followed Chu Wanning inside. The thirty girls were standing by the door, and a strong scent of perfumes and powders assaulted his nose. Being sensitive to such fragrances, he couldn't help but sneeze violently, letting out four or five sneezes in a row.

    Xue Zhengyong quickly turned around, his face lighting up when he saw the two of them.

    "Aran, Yu Heng! You're finally back! Quickly, help me persuade this... uh... this envoy."

    Chu Wanning raised an eyebrow slightly. "What envoy?"

    Before Xue Zhengyong could respond, the disciple beamed and turned around, eagerly saying, "I am the senior disciple of the Crimson Phoenix Pavilion, sent by our Pavilion Lord to form an alliance with the Peak of Life and Death."

    Chu Wanning: "…."

    Of course, forming an alliance wasn't something to be taken lightly. The three of them spent a long time persuading the disciple before finally sending him away. Watching the envoy's departing figure, Xue Zhengyong let out a deep sigh and wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Do you know? Many sects and factions from the Heavenly cultivation realm have come, all wanting to establish friendly relations with the Peak of Life and Death. I haven't had much interaction with them over the years. In the past, only Kunlun's Treading Snow Palace was willing to acknowledge us. Now, they're all flocking here to present gifts and suddenly become so enthusiastic. I don't even know how to react."

    Upon hearing this, Chu Wanning frowned and asked, "What's been happening in the Heavenly cultivation realm lately?"

    Xue Zhengyong sighed. "Times have changed."

    "How so?"

    "It's chaos," Xue Zhengyong said. "That madman Xu Shuanglin has exposed so many grudges and grievances through the Memory Scroll. Even if we know it's his desire for revenge driving him, what can that change? The Confucian Wind Sect doesn't need mentioning. The Jiangdong Sect is now divided into factions, Solitary Moon Night and Treading Snow Palace have completely fallen out, and now they're enemies. As for Wu Bi Temple..."

    He abruptly remembered that Master Huai Zui was Chu Wanning's master and immediately stopped speaking.

    But Chu Wanning remained calm. "Wu Bi Temple, a place of solitude, was dragged into the succession dispute of the Confucian Wind Sect with malicious intentions. Naturally, its reputation has been ruined."

    "Ah…"

    Hearing him speak so bluntly about their own sect, both Xue Zhengyong and Mo Ran looked at Chu Wanning in confusion.

    Chu Wanning pursed his lips, saying no more. After a while, he asked again, "What about Nan Gongsi?"

    "I don't know. After the inferno subsided, there were no more reports about him or Miss Ye… Miss Ye."

    Upon hearing this, Mo Ran couldn't help but let out a low "ah," his face clouded with concern.

    Could it be that even after two lifetimes, these two pure and noble gentlemen still couldn't find a happy ending?

    Noticing his unusual expression and the ambiguity in his eyes, Xue Zhengyong turned to look at him. "What's wrong, Ran'er?"

    Unable to tell the truth, Mo Ran could only say, "I'm just thinking that Xu Shuanglin's whereabouts are still unknown. They have a deep connection with him, so I'm worried they might be implicated."

    "You don't have to worry too much," Xue Zhengyong replied. "All sects have already dispatched people to investigate any unusual sources of magic in the cultivation world. Unless Nan Gongxu doesn't make any big moves, he will inevitably be found. Perhaps Young Master Nan Gong and Miss Ye are just temporarily trapped in the mountains, unable to communicate with the outside world."

    Mo Ran nodded. "Yes, I hope that's the case."

    They continued to inquire about the changes that had occurred in the past few days. Although Xue Zhengyong had received messages from the Chinese flowering cherry, he was still unclear about some of the subsequent events, so he asked them about their recent experiences. Chu Wanning answered truthfully, except when the conversation turned to matters involving Mo Ran, where he would pause, deliberately avoiding the topic.

    As for Xue Zhengyong, he would never in his wildest dreams have imagined that anything could happen between Chu Wanning and Mo Ran.

    For these two individuals seemed to be mismatched in every aspect except for their appearance.

    Their age, status, and personalities were entirely incompatible.

    Even the tone of their skin, their preferences in food, and their sleeping positions — none of it aligned.

    For so many years, Yu Heng, the embodiment of purity, and Beidou Zhenzun, the symbol of detachment, had stood tall. Master Chu was known for his cold demeanor and aloofness, cherishing nothing more than his own reputation. How could he possibly become involved with his own disciple?

    No daring or absurd storybook would dare pen such a tale. If any storyteller were to narrate such a narrative, they'd likely be pelted with sunflower seeds and splashed with large bowls of tea before being beaten down to the bottom of a elmwood table.

    Yet, love found a way to flourish.

    In the dimly lit, neglected corners, a delicate flower secretly bloomed. Though not yet in full bloom, its fragrance already captivated.

    Upon returning to the Summit of Life and Death, Chu Wanning went to dine at the Hall of Mother Meng that very evening.

    Pushing open the door to the Red Lotus Water Pavilion, he suddenly spotted a tranquil figure standing on a bamboo-lined mountain path, atop a long flight of stone steps.

    Hearing the sound, the person turned around. Behind him, vibrant hues of dawn brushed across the sky like unchecked ink, outlining his handsome face with a golden glow.

    Mo Ran smiled at Chu Wanning and said, "Shifu."

    Chu Wanning's white silk shoes paused for a moment. Memories overlapped, as if he had seen Mo Ran again in his first year on the Summit of Life and Death, standing by his door each day, watching him leave and waiting for his return.

    Only, that young man was no more, and Elder Yu Heng of those days had long since become the Shifu whom he addressed countless times with reverence.

    Within the respect, there lingered a restrained eagerness, along with a less concealed tenderness.

    "What are you doing here?"

    "I'm waiting to have dinner with you."

    Chu Wanning's gaze fell on the food box in his hand. "I want to go to Meng Po's Hall today. It's been a while since I've been there, and I don't feel like eating in the pavilion by the water."

    Mo Ran was slightly taken aback before he understood. He smiled. "Master misunderstood. This food box is empty. I just brought some food to Xue Meng. His appetite isn't good, so I borrowed a small kitchen to cook him a bowl of noodles."

    It was unexpected that Mo Ran would bring food to Xue Meng. In Chu Wanning's memory, the two had never gotten along. Though they were cousins, they could fight fiercely within the time it took for a stick of incense to burn.

    It was unclear when it started, perhaps due to the five years Chu Wanning had spent in slumber, or maybe because Mo Ran and Xue Meng were growing older. In any case, before their master realized it, the tension between these two had begun to thaw and gradually improve.

    Though they were still far from being affectionate siblings, at least Xue Meng would now remember to create an ugly clay figure of Mo Ran while playing with clay, and Mo Ran would cook a bowl of noodles himself when Xue Meng fell ill, delivering it to his bedside.

    Chu Wanning sighed. "How is he? When I visited him earlier, he was still sleeping."

    "He's woken up now. He had the noodles and wanted to go for a walk, but I managed to convince him to rest instead," Mo Ran replied. "The Zhenlong Chess Game is no ordinary match. Even if one wasn't deeply affected by the black pieces, they should still take time to recover."

    "Mm."

    Although Chu Wanning acknowledged this, he felt a sense of unease.

    ...This casual remark, spoken without intent, yet heard with concern. He suddenly felt a vague discomfort, as if Mo Ran was too aware and indifferent to the consequences of the Zhenlong Chess Game.

    "Shifu?"

    Chu Wanning snapped back to reality, and Mo Ran smiled, asking, "What are you thinking about?"

    "…Nothing." Perhaps he was overthinking it. After all, Mo Ran was now a grandmaster and had some understanding of forbidden techniques, which was not unusual.

    He changed the subject. "Where do you want to eat? I don't feel like going outside."

    "I don't want to eat out either," Mo Ran rubbed his nose and chuckled softly, his voice gentle. "I just want to be with you, anywhere is fine."

    Chu Wanning wouldn't admit that his heart had stirred, but he couldn't help gazing a little longer into those dark, warm eyes.

    Those eyes were sincere, bright, reflecting the glow of the sunset and his own reflection.

    They were simple and pure.

    He could think of no reason to refuse such a pair of eyes, so in the end, he joined Mo Ran at the bustling cafeteria.

    Perhaps it was because the thin veil between them had finally been breached. In the past, Mo Ran would unselfconsciously pick food for him, even wiping Chu Wanning's lips with a smile when he noticed soup stains. But now, both of them were suddenly serious, bashful even under the watchful eyes of others, their gazes too timid to linger.

    Throughout the meal, they remained polite until the end. Chu Wanning got up to collect their trays, but Mo Ran called out to him, "Shifu, wait a moment."

    "What is it?"

    Mo Ran reached out, but just as his fingertips were about to touch Chu Wanning's cheek, he hesitated and stopped.

    He retracted his finger, gently tapping his own lips with it as he smiled. "There's a grain of rice here."

    "..."

    Chu Wanning stood frozen for a moment before setting down the tray. He calmly used a handkerchief to wipe away the rice, then pursed his lips and whispered, "Is that all?"

    Mo Ran replied with a smile, "That's it, it's very clean now."

    Only then did Chu Wanning pick up the tray again and walk away. He felt a mix of shame, frustration, and embarrassment, but also a vague sense of loss that he was reluctant to acknowledge—

    In the past, Mo Ran would have simply reached out without hesitation. This sudden adherence to propriety left him feeling uneasy.

    The following days were no different.

    Despite once being so uninhibited, Mo Ran now treated Chu Wanning with the tenderness and care of a young man experiencing his first flush of love, refraining from any overly aggressive actions. It was as if Mo Ran was afraid of startling him, every step taken with caution. Sometimes, Chu Wanning could see the blazing desire burning in Mo Ran's eyes, but the man's long eyelashes would lower, and then his broad palm would wrap around Chu Wanning's fingers.

    When Mo Ran lifted his eyelids again, the desire in his gaze had been entirely concealed by gentleness.

    But there was too much gentleness, and at times Chu Wanning would experience a vague, uncertain illusion.

    It was as if Mo Ran were handling a fragmented clay figurine, painstakingly pieced together, and feared that the slightest rough movement would crumble it into dust.

    Chu Wanning thought that this was rather good too. Calm and unhurried, the fiery passion in his dreams might be thrilling, but such things were best left to dreams. If they became reality, he doubted he could endure it.

    However, no matter how much he held back or followed the rules of love step by step, there would still come an end to it all.

    On this day, after finishing dinner as usual, he took a peach and prepared to leave. Before he could take two bites, his hand was suddenly caught. Chu Wanning startled and looked up to see Mo Ran, then whispered sternly,

    "What are you doing—"

    Author's Note:

    Short Scene: "In Various Modern BL Stories, What Are You Doing!"

    Chu Wanning: What are you doing—?

    Mo Ran: Robbery.

    Chu Wanning: What are you doing—?

    Mo Ran: Young brother is quite spicy, do you have a lighter? I need a light.

    Chu Wanning: What are you doing—

    Mo Ran: Teacher, you were quite the showstopper in class today, even mentioning calling my parents? Hmm? Come on, swallow it. I think it's better for you to meet my son before you see my father.

    Chu Wanning: What are you doing—

    Mo Ran: Detective Chu, I warned you about this case, told you not to interfere or investigate further, but you didn't listen. You brought this upon yourself, so don't blame me for restricting your freedom. You left me no choice.

    Chu Wanning: What are you doing—

    Mo Ran: Brother, with your excellence, everything you do is right. How am I supposed to fit in this family? Don't move, and don't shout. Do you want others to witness this shameful state of yours?

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