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    Chapter 184: Master, I've Kept You Waiting So Long

    He returned quickly, not only carrying a full bowl of rice for himself but also a food box. He sat down next to Chu Wanning.

    Chu Wanning was slightly surprised and hesitated, "You... aren't you going to sit with Shi Mo?"

    Mo Ran was taken aback, "Why would I go there?"

    Upon hearing this, Chu Wanning's heart leapt with joy. Lowering his gaze, he coughed softly, "I thought the dishes there suited your taste."

    Mo Ran noticed the slight pink tinge on Chu Wanning's ears and suddenly realized that his master might be feeling jealous. His heart fluttered, and he smiled, whispering in Chu Wanning's ear, "Wherever you are is where my taste lies."

    This time, Chu Wanning's entire ear turned red.

    His knee had been touching Mo Ran's, and now it felt extremely sensitive. He wanted to move away, but Mo Ran wouldn't allow it. Taking advantage of the table as a cover, he reached out to touch Chu Wanning's leg.


    This outburst caught the attention of others nearby. "What's wrong, Immortal Lord?"

    Chu Wanning realized his slip of the tongue and tried to compose himself, saying, "It's nothing."

    Mo Ran suppressed his laughter, finding Chu Wanning genuinely amusing.

    He hadn't actually intended to do anything inappropriate or lustful; after all, such actions would only harm both parties. He merely didn't want Chu Wanning to be so distant from him.

    So he tugged at Chu Wanning's leg, childishly pulling him back to lean against him.

    Each time Chu Wanning tried to move away, Mo Ran pulled him back again.

    Eventually, Chu Wanning couldn't take it anymore and kicked him under the table, though he didn't attempt to escape further.

    Mo Ran chuckled.

    Chu Wanning remarked, "You're utterly insane."

    The two began their meal.

    Mo Ran glanced at Chu Wanning's bowl, confirming that it contained only a few simple vegetables and a piece of tofu, while the steamed dumplings had long been devoured by the other, less discerning children at the table.

    Mo Ran handed him the bamboo food container.

    "What's this?"

    In a hushed voice, Mo Ran replied, "Steamed buns, six with crab roe, six with shrimp. I made them especially for you... Shh, don't make a sound. Eat quickly, I knew you'd never be able to snatch any on the dining table."


    Sitting at the table and eating privately, Chu Wanning felt it was too obvious and somewhat embarrassing. He hesitated to move, but seeing Mo Ran's earnest black eyes gazing at him, with flour dust still clinging to his cheeks, he couldn't bring himself to refuse.

    Moreover, the words 'made especially for you' sounded truly touching.

    Chu Wanning didn't say anything. After a while, he silently opened the food box and lifted the bamboo lid. He began to savor the steaming, fragrant, and hot crab meat dumplings as if they were a hidden treasure, the rich broth oozing from the delicate skin, warming his heart.

    "Is it good?" The man looked at him eagerly, hoping for an approving glance.

    Chu Wanning bit the chopsticks lightly and said, "Not bad, you should try one too."

    "I'm not eating, they're all for you," Mo Ran smiled, his dark eyes glowing with warmth. "I'm glad you like them. How about another shrimp one?"

    The man was utterly focused, the flour on his cheeks accentuating his dark, sparkling eyes, making him appear both pitiful and adorable.

    Though Chu Wanning was still somewhat perplexed by Mo Ran's choice, not understanding why he would abandon Shi Mo in favor of him, at that moment, Mo Ran's gaze was so pure and resolute, leaving no room for anything else. It was enough to reassure anyone who was being looked at in such a manner.

    After dinner, the village chief invited everyone to watch a performance outside the ancestral hall. The stage was set up by the riverbank. As the cymbals clashed and the stringed instruments played, actors in various roles—scholars, female impersonators, heroes, painted faces, and clowns—appeared one after another. When the performance reached its climax, the flowing sleeves danced, the masks transformed, and the performers manipulated fire locks, their mouths holding tubes filled with resin. With a sudden spray, flames burst forth, illuminating the glittering jewelry on their heads, eliciting cheers and applause from the audience.

    Chu Wanning originally had no interest in watching such performances. On the one hand, he found mortal tricks too crude; he could see through them at a glance, robbing him of the thrill and excitement. On the other hand, the crowded scene, with people jostling against each other, was too overwhelming for his liking.

    Neither he nor Shi Mo were interested, and they both intended to leave. Mo Ran, without a word, walked alongside them, turning back for one last look at the stage.

    In a gentle tone, Shi Mo said, "Let's go. If we're too late, the Lord will worry."


    Mo Ran didn't say much, simply lowering his head and following along. But after only a few steps, he heard Chu Wanning ask softly, "Do you want to watch?"

    "It's about Wang Kai and Shi Chong competing in extravagance—it's quite interesting."

    He didn't say outright that he wanted to watch, nor did he say he didn't. However, after listening quietly to Mo Ran's explanation, Chu Wanning said, "Then let's stay and finish watching before we go."

    Shi Mo hesitated slightly, "Master, staying for dinner has already delayed the time for fulfilling my assigned task. If I stay to watch the performance as well..."

    Chu Wanning said, "We'll just watch this performance, and then we'll leave."

    Shi Mo smiled gently and replied, "Very well, I'll follow your guidance, Master."

    The three of them returned to the stage, squeezing into the lively and bustling crowd. Many of Lin Yi's displaced people had never been to Sichuan before and had never seen Sichuan opera. They were amazed by the fluttering sleeves and the chaotic face-changing, exclaiming in awe. The shorter children couldn't see the stage, so some were lifted up by adults to sit on their shoulders, while others climbed onto the stage to stand on tiptoe and peer over.

    "Prince Wang bestowed upon me that coral jade tree, resplendent with precious radiance and luster—"

    On stage, "Wang Kai" and "Shi Chong" were fiercely competing for glory and prosperity, their faces flushed and necks bulging as they tried to outdo one another.

    "Who can withstand a fifty-mile path paved with purple silk?"

    "Bravo! Hahaha, another round!"

    The audience's eyes gleamed with excitement. Children stuffed with pastries freed their hands to applaud alongside the adults.

    This was not the refined Upper Realm where people sat elegantly sipping jasmine tea, with servants massaging their backs and maidens fanning them. The chilly atmosphere beneath the stage drained the enthusiasm from the actors, leaving their performances tasteless. Even a performance of Farewell My Concubine sounded like a turtle bidding farewell to a cricket.

    These people were unrefined and enthusiastic, standing and cheering, stomping their feet and shouting, crude but lively. Chu Wanning stood amidst this sea of bodies, at a loss for how to react. For someone as uninteresting as him, he'd rather listen to turtles mating in the Upper Realm than be caught up in this crowd watching Wang Kai compete with Shi Chong.

    Another person shared his distaste for such fervor.

    Shi Mo stood for a moment, seemingly suffering from a headache caused by the blaring sound of the suona and cymbals. Nevertheless, he remained patient until a burly man beside him, excited by the scene of "smashing coral trees," jumped up and clapped loudly, accidentally bumping into another man's teacup, spilling its scalding contents onto Shi Mo.

    "Oh no! I'm so sorry! So sorry!"

    "Immortal Lord, please forgive my clumsiness. Look at these big hands and feet of mine."

    Shi Mo hurriedly reassured him, "It's alright, no problem."

    But his clothes were now stained and wet. He sighed, helplessly addressing Chu Wanning, "Master, perhaps I should return first. I'll change my clothes and then report the outcome of my assignment to the Lord."

    Chu Wanning replied, "Alright, be careful on your way back."

    Shi Mo smiled, greeted Mo Ran, and left. Chu Wanning admired his escape technique and wondered if he should do the same, find someone to accidentally collide with, allowing him to slip away from the enthusiastic crowd. As he pondered this, another round of cheers erupted around him. He looked up at the stage to see the actor portraying Wang Kai, in a fit of rage, his whiskers quivering, mouth filled with fire, suddenly spewing a massive flame into the river.


    The river shimmered, its ripples tinged with a brilliant orange-red glow.

    "Wow! Amazing!"

    "Again! Do it again!"

    "..." Chu Wanning was somewhat perplexed. What was so fascinating about this... If he had asked Xue Meng to come over, they wouldn't even need firecrackers to ignite a hundred or a thousand repetitions.

    As he felt disinterested, he caught sight of Mo Ran's smile beside him. The tall man didn't need to stand on tiptoe; he calmly remained in his spot, unobstructed by anyone. His handsome face was illuminated by the firelight, his dimples deep, and his gaze gentle yet profound, as if hiding secrets that no one could decipher.

    Noticing Chu Wanning's gaze, Mo Ran turned back, his smile growing brighter. His dark eyes seemed to glisten with moisture, or perhaps nothing at all – it was just an illusion Chu Wanning perceived.

    "When I was young, I often listened to this performance from outside the opera house. Every time, I couldn't finish watching before being chased away by the old caretaker," Mo Ran spoke casually and calmly. "This is the first time I've heard the entire show... Does Shifu like it?"


    Chu Wanning looked into his eyes and finally replied, "Mm, it's not bad."

    Mo Ran's smile blossomed, illuminating the night as if it were daylight. A haunting melody suddenly filled the air as one performance ended and another began. Dark eyebrows like mist, indigo feathers quivering—when the king's spirit is broken, how can his concubine live on?

    "Oh, Farewell My Concubine," Mo Ran turned to look, smiling. "Well, we've had our fill of watching the wealthy compete. Let's go home."

    "Let's watch for a bit longer."


    "It's not boring. There's no harm in seeing a few more acts."

    Mo Ran raised his eyebrows slightly, surprised but then beaming. "Alright then."

    Farewell My Concubine, The Golden Mountain Temple, The Double Nails Sentence, Killing Xixi on the Balcony.

    One play followed another, and no one left. As the night grew later, the crowd only became more enthusiastic and lively.

    Even an old man was reciting along with Madam Yan on stage: "A kind word warms three winters, while harsh words chill even June."

    During the climax, when Song Jiang rose up to kill, the audience burst into cheers, applause drowning out the actors' voices. Chu Wanning, surrounded by the tipsy villagers laughing and patting his shoulders, found himself trapped with nowhere to retreat and unable to react without causing a scene. Just as he was in a dilemma, a pair of warm hands landed on his shoulders.

    He turned his head, meeting Mo Ran's eyes. The man had somehow moved behind him without notice, smiling as he pulled Chu Wanning close, allowing him to lean against him, sheltered from the surrounding crowd.

    For a moment, the laughter and the drumming faded into the distance. Chu Wanning's ears tingled slightly as he gazed into Mo Ran's eyes, before turning away, unwilling to look at him any longer.

    But the warmth from behind was so intense, the breath so scorching, and their solid chests pressed together. A hand with well-defined knuckles rested on his shoulder. As the drumming intensified and the fire-breathing act resumed, the audience's attention was captivated, their cheers and applause filling the air.

    Chu Wanning tried, with great effort, to clap along casually, pretending to be unperturbed.

    However, before he could lift his hands, Mo Ran wrapped his arms around him from behind. Perhaps because he believed no one would notice, or due to the pressing proximity of the crowd, or simply because in the midst of such grand festivity, one longed to be closer, even closer, to their loved one, desiring an inseparable unity, bones blending with blood.

    In any case, Mo Ran lowered his gaze and embraced him from behind, holding him tightly in his arms. He tilted his face and, as the flames illuminated the night sky during the performance, kissed the nape of Chu Wanning's neck.

    Suddenly, the flames burst forth, illuminating the actor's face and igniting the hearts of the spectators.

    "Thank you for being here with me," Mo Ran whispered into his ear, his voice low and slightly hoarse, yet gentle. "I know you don't actually enjoy it."

    "...You're thinking too much. I do like it."

    Mo Ran chuckled softly, saying nothing more as he held him tighter, his chin resting on Chu Wanning's neck.

    Flames flickered, and Chu Wanning suddenly found himself wanting to ask a question. He opened his lips. "Mo Ran, why did you...?"

    "Ha ha ha, great!"

    His voice was faint, immediately drowned out by the clamor of the crowd.

    Mo Ran asked, "What?"

    "... Nothing." Chu Wanning's face flushed slightly, then was veiled by a thin veil of anger. He didn't want to ask that question again; it had drained all his strength in just one attempt. At this moment, he felt nothing but embarrassment and didn't wish to speak further.

    Mo Ran fell silent for a moment. He hadn't actually caught what Wanning had said, but abruptly declared, "The person I've always liked is you."


    His heartbeat quickened abruptly.

    "It's always been you. I was just too foolish, unable to discern my own feelings before."

    Thump, thump, thump – his heart pounded like a drum, drowning out the cymbals and gongs on stage with the echoes reverberating within his chest.

    "I'm sorry."


    "I've made you wait for so long."

    Before him, fireworks burst in a dazzling display, and his ears buzzed with a relentless ringing, muffling all other sounds. The world spun, leaving him uncertain whether his feet trod upon solid earth or drifted amidst the clouds. Amidst this chaos, only the presence behind him felt truly real. The wind, once devoid of color and trace, now carried the discernible scent of Mo Ran, lingering at the tip of his nose.

    Actually, Chu Wanning didn't crave too much explanation; all he longed for was a single affirmation from the one he loved. Now that he had abruptly received that confirmation, his surroundings blurred, and everything seemed to shimmer with a myriad of colors. Dazed and disoriented, he was unable to think or move, immersed in this tumultuous ocean of vibrant hues, eventually losing touch with his senses.

    Author's Note: Don't mind the random opera references, it's all set in a fictional world, hehehe.

    Mini Scene: "Yuling Village's Supporting Role"

    Junior Sister: Sigh, I feel like this village is full of malice towards me.

    Doggy: How do you come to that conclusion?

    Junior Sister: I won't even mention Ling'er, that top-notch supporter, since it's all in the past. But why would someone throw tea at me just for watching a performance? It's been so long since I last appeared, can't the NPCs be a bit more friendly when I make a cameo?

    Dog: Hmm... Perhaps the villagers here are all part-time extras recruited from the Cat-Dog Forced Headlock Squad (laughs while crying).


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