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    Chapter 197: Master Is Not a Fox Spirit

    Due to Mo Ran's words from the previous day, Chu Wanning felt an immense sense of shame. After leaving the Wonderful Sound Pond, he refused to acknowledge Mo Ran and left without looking back.

    People need their pride, just as trees need their bark. He was furious that Mo Ran had the audacity to say such nonsense... Did Mo Ran really think he would nod in agreement?

    If he wanted to do something, he should just do it. Why ask for permission?

    The next day, an elder in charge of teaching scriptures and history fell ill, so Xue Zhengyong assigned Chu Wanning to supervise the disciples' recitation. As it was a large class with many students, he couldn't manage on his own, so he asked Mo Ran and the others to help patrol and answer questions.

    Among the four master-disciple pairs, Shi Mo and Mo Ran were the busiest. The reason was simple: Shi Mo was gentle and handsome, while Mo Ran was amiable and valiant – both were very popular among their junior peers. Especially Shi Mo, with his long legs, narrow waist, and picturesque features, he had shed his youthful innocence and transformed into a charming, elegant gentleman. With his good temper and pleasant voice, he easily won over the hearts of both male and female disciples.

    As for Mo Ran, he found himself trapped by a group of female disciples.

    "Senior Brother Mo, Senior Brother Mo, I don't understand this phrase. Can you help me?"

    "Senior Brother Mo, I'm having trouble distinguishing between these two incantations. Could you teach me?"

    "Senior Brother Mo—"

    After Mo Ran finished explaining to his ninth cheerful junior sister why the "Myriad Waves Return to the Shore Spell" had to be identical to its founder's version to work, Chu Wanning finally couldn't stand it anymore. Frowning, he glanced coldly at Mo Ran from a few rows of disciples away.

    Mo Ran had been ignored by him since the day before, and he was actually feeling a little wronged in his heart.

    In his previous life, he was accustomed to being rough, but in this life, he cherished tenderness even more. Thus, every step he took, he wanted to see if Chu Wanning was happy. He didn't know what he had done wrong. Could it be that he shouldn't have asked that question?

    Or maybe he addressed him wrongly. He shouldn't have asked, "My esteemed master, can I enter next time?" But instead, "My dear treasure, can I enter next time?"

    After being inexplicably given the cold shoulder all day, Mo Ran suddenly sensed Chu Wanning's gaze— even if it was glaring at him fiercely, Mo Ran still felt like a sprouted green vegetable rejuvenated by water, immediately brightening up and smiling radiantly at him.

    "..."

    This person simply didn't understand where these junior sisters got so many questions from.

    Didn't they understand? If they really didn't, the founder of the Myriad Waves Return to the Shore Spell was standing right here. Why didn't they ask Chu Wanning directly, but instead go around in circles to call their "Senior Brother Mo"?

    Chu Wanning was displeased, but he didn't say anything, only looking at Mo Ran coldly and silently.

    As he watched, Mo Ran realized something was off. Coincidentally, at that moment, the tenth junior sister waved at him eagerly, "Senior Brother Mo~"

    "Excuse me, I have something to attend to." Mo Ran smiled and pointed at Xue Meng. "Ask Senior Brother Xue if you have any questions."

    With that, he walked towards Chu Wanning, leaving the young junior sister with her hair in a bun looking disappointed and sighing pensively.

    "Wanning, what's wrong? You seem upset?"

    Chu Wanning pressed his lips together, not revealing the truth. After a moment of contemplation, he said, "I'm a bit tired. Let Xue Meng take over the patrol for that area. Help me keep an eye on this part."

    Mo Ran didn't suspect anything and nodded, diligently accompanying Chu Wanning as they walked around. Strangely, he noticed that there were fewer questions being directed at him when he was beside Chu Wanning. Were the disciples in this area more intelligent than those in the other?

    Without the annoying cries of "Senior Brother Mo" or even more irritating "Brother Mo," Chu Wanning's mood improved slightly. Nevertheless, he maintained a stoic expression as he strolled among the junior disciples reciting scriptures. As they walked, he suddenly overheard a conversation between two young disciples.

    "Senior Brother, Senior Brother, listen. There's a fox spirit in the Wonderful Sound Pond!"

    "Really? How do you know?"

    "I was washing up in the plum blossom pond yesterday, about to head back, when I heard... umm... that kind of noise in the distance..."

    The senior brother appeared startled, his mouth hanging open for a moment before he hesitantly suggested, "Could it be some daring fellow disciples?"

    "Who could have such audacity? Impossible. One can only do such things in secret. Going to the Wonderful Sound Pond would be asking for trouble. If Elder Yu Heng or Elder Greedy Wolf were to catch them, they'd break their legs! It couldn't possibly be a disciple from our sect!"

    "That's true."

    "It must be a fox spirit draining yang to replenish her yin. Tonight, I'll gather a few fellow disciples to investigate again. If we manage to capture that little fox, it'd be considered a meritorious deed. We can't just let her seduce our fellow sect members, right?"

    "Well, you're not wrong. But did you see who she was flirting with yesterday?"

    "…The mist at the Wonderful Sound Pond is so thick, one has to get close to discern their features. I'm not going there. I'm still a virgin, and what if that fox spirit takes a fancy to me and drags me into dual cultivation?" The young disciple rambled on until he noticed his senior brother's expression turning sour. He reached out and swiped the air. "What's wrong? Why this sudden look?"

    "…"

    Finally sensing the chill behind him, the young disciple turned around to see Elder Yu Heng standing behind him with an enigmatic and icy demeanor. He yelped, "Please forgive me, Elder!"

    "Meditate on your scriptures, not on spirits and demons, much less dual cultivation," Chu Wanning said with a grim face. "Your imagination runs wild. Focus on your studies. If you continue to speak nonsense, you'll be punished." With that, he swept his sleeves and left.

    Mo Ran overheard the conversation and found it amusing but dared not laugh. His gaze followed Chu Wanning's retreating figure, wondering how such a serious person could love him, and why he would want to be with him...

    A mix of warmth and bitterness swelled within him, intermingling with a bittersweet sensation. After class, in the Green Book Pavilion where lessons were held, he couldn't resist embracing Chu Wanning, who was tidying up scrolls, and kissed him affectionately.

    Frustrated, Chu Wanning tapped Mo Ran's head with the bamboo slip, muttering, "It was all your brilliant idea, the Wonderful Sound Pond... Now look at me, what have I become?"

    Mo Ran suppressed his laughter, nuzzling the nape of Chu Wanning's neck with his nose, his voice low and gentle as he deliberately asked, "What has Master become?"

    Chu Wanning was taken aback by his shamelessness, his eyes widening in disbelief. "You—!"

    With a smile, Mo Ran kissed him again, saying, "Those junior disciples really have wild imaginations, huh? A fox spirit? Plucking... whatever... Haha, absorbing yang to replenish yin?"

    "I'll kill you if you say that again," Chu Wanning threatened, almost shoving the bamboo slip into Mo Ran's mouth.

    Mo Ran chuckled. "Hmm... Can I choose how I die? Dying from being drained by a fox spirit at the Wonderful Sound Pond would be quite an interesting way to go..."

    "Mo Weiyu!!"

    From then on, Chu Wanning refused to bathe with Mo Ran at the Wonderful Sound Pond.

    A few days later, Madame Wang summoned Mo Ran to her side and asked him a question while holding his hand.

    "Ran'er, when you were wandering outside a few years ago, did you happen to see a strange girl in the Snow Valley?"

    "What girl? How is she strange?"

    "She should be very fair-skinned, with little color in her cheeks. She likes to wear red and always carries a basket. She strikes up conversations with passersby in the Snow Valley..."

    Mo Ran smiled. "Oh, you're talking about Miss Snow, aren't you, Aunt?"

    Madame Wang was first surprised, then delighted. "You know Miss Snow? I thought you hadn't come across such a rare monster in your readings, so I was going to describe her to you... But I didn't expect..."

    "I read about her in my Master's notes," Mo Ran said. "Aunt, why were you asking about Miss Snow?"

    "Well, Young Master Nan Gong visited recently. I diagnosed his pulse and found that the Yang Fire within him isn't uncontrollable; it's just that the ingredients needed to suppress it are extremely rare. The hardest to find is the Ice Scale Fish in Miss Snow's basket." Madame Wang sighed. "Young Master Nan Gong and Meng-er are about the same age. Seeing him in such a predicament now breaks my heart. I want to help if I can, but meeting Miss Snow is incredibly difficult. Someone encountered her in the Snow Valley twenty years ago, but before that, the last record of her was a hundred years ago in the Treading Snow Palace on Kunlun Mountain. So I thought I'd ask you if you've come across her, just in case."

    Upon hearing this, Mo Ran felt a mix of joy and worry. He was happy because if Nan Gongsi's Yang Fire could be cured, he would become an ordinary person, and perhaps Ye Wangxi's deep feelings for him would lead to a happy ending. However, he was also worried, as despite spending over a year in the Snow Valley, he had never seen the legendary Miss Snow. Half-hopeful, half-desperate, he told Madame Wang, "After dealing with Xu Shuanglin's matter, I'll go to the Snow Valley myself and search from the foot of the mountain to the treacherous peaks. Maybe I'll find some clues."

    After finishing his words, Mo Ran, elated, immediately wanted to tell Nan Gongsi. Madame Wang called after him, "Hey, don't rush off like that. I've already told Young Master Nan Gong. You don't have to—"

    But Mo Ran was already too far away to hear.

    He searched around and found Nan Gongsi at the Bridge of Helplessness on the Edge of Life and Death, about to cross. But as he looked across the bridge, he saw someone approaching from the other side. Mo Ran recognized it was Ye Wangxi and, his heart stirring, decided not to call out to Nan Gongsi. Instead, he stood at a distance, watching them from afar.

    Ye Wangxi was still strikingly handsome, her face devoid of most feminine traits. The cultivation techniques she practiced and the education she received had made her indistinguishable from a man. If it weren't for her lingering secret crush on Nan Gongsi, she might have long forgotten that she was born female.

    Upon seeing her, Nan Gongsi coughed softly, his gaze drifting back to the vast river.

    "You called for me, sir?"

    "Uh... ah..." Nan Gongsi seemed slightly awkward, interlacing his fingers and resting them on the stone lion of the Bridge of Helplessness. After a moment's hesitation, he murmured, "Mm."

    "Is there something you need?"

    "No, no," Nan Gongsi replied, avoiding eye contact with Ye Wangxi. His fingers traced the coiled mane of the stone lion. "It's just... I have something I want to give you."

    Ye Wangxi looked puzzled. "What is it?"

    Nan Gongsi lowered his head and slowly unfastened an accessory from his waist. On the side hidden from Ye Wangxi, he fumbled clumsily for a while before finally detaching it. He then handed it to Ye Wangxi, clearing his throat. "Thank you for all these years... Never mind, I'm not sure how to put it. I don't have any valuable accessories now, but this has been with me for many years. It's not the finest jade, but..."

    He fell silent, his eyelids drooping, and his cheeks flushed.

    He hadn't dared to look at Ye Wangxi the entire time. After a while, seeing that Ye Wangxi didn't react, he suddenly felt regretful, awkward, and embarrassed. Hesitantly, he tried to take back the phoenix-themed jade pendant from Ye Wangxi's hand, mumbling, "I-I know this isn't pretty. If you don't like it, just... just give it back to me. It's okay, I won't mind... After reviving the Confucian Wind Sect, I'll find you the best one. I-I will..."

    Ye Wangxi was stunned for a long time before she smiled. A hint of femininity softened her clear and handsome eyes, making the corners seem tinged with a light blush she had never worn before.

    Her hand, roughened by calluses and scars, and not as delicate and pretty as those of a maiden, held onto the jade pendant. Amidst the rustling wind and the melancholic bamboo leaves, Ye Wangxi said, "This is enough, my lord. Thank you."

    Nan Gongsi's face turned even redder. He stammered, "Y-You liking it is good... I also... ah... I-I don't know what to say."

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

    Listening in the bamboo grove, he wanted to grab Nan Gongsi's head and smash it against the stone lion.

    Was this person incapable of doing anything other than raising little wolf dogs? Why did it end up being "I don't know what to say" after all that?

    Out of the blue, Nan Gongsi said, "Madame Wang told me that the violent spirit core within me can be suppressed, perhaps without needing the dual cultivation method to resolve it."

    Ye Wangxi was startled but seemed to misunderstand his meaning. She softly hummed in response and lowered her eyelashes, saying no more.

    If dual cultivation wasn't necessary, then Nan Gongsi could be with anyone. She might no longer have any reason to shamelessly stay by his side. She had pride and didn't want to beg Nan Gongsi to love or pity her. With this jade pendant as a farewell gift, she would have something to remember him by in the future.

    "Do you understand... umm... what I'm trying to say?"

    ".... Umm."

    Hearing this, Nan Gongsi's face lit up with joy, but he remained awkward. "So, if you're willing... actually... you can still call me by my childhood name in the future. I... I think that would be nice... Oh, sorry... I really don't know what else to say... Ah..."

    He sighed twice in a row, and even he couldn't bear it anymore. Covering his eyes, he sighed, "My God, what am I even saying?"

    This time, it was Ye Wangxi's turn to be at a loss. She looked up blankly, suddenly as if she understood something. Her eyes widened slightly, and a faint blush crept onto her cheeks.

    On the Bridge of Helplessness, bamboo leaves swirled around them, and her sleeves fluttered gently. Her jade pendant was warm to the touch, with a crimson tassel swaying between her fingers.

    After a moment of hesitation, Ye Wangxi tentatively and softly called out, "Si?"

    In an instant, whether it was an illusion or not, Nan Gongsi felt that her voice, which had been twisted by the Voice-Changing Spell beyond repair, seemed to regain some softness and gentleness amidst the vague wind.

    He abruptly lifted his head to look at Ye Wangxi's face. The dawn sky was like a tapestry of colors, illuminating her features. She smiled, still with that familiar, upright appearance, but her slightly narrowed eyes shimmered with tiny glimmers. Unable to hold back, tears rolled down her smiling face, trickling from her radiant expression.

    Nan Gongsi gazed at her, at this face, and a vague memory from their childhood suddenly came flooding back.

    It was a young girl, innocent and tender, with rosy cheeks and long, delicate eyelashes that gave her an endearing sweetness.

    Back then, Ye Wangxi hadn't yet been sent by Nan Gongliu to Dark City to cultivate her techniques. She had only recently been taken in by Xu Shuanglin and spent her days following Nan Gongsi, learning basic spells.

    On that day, Nan Gongliu had tasked them with entering the simplest illusionary realm of the Confucian Wind Sect as a training exercise. The realm wasn't difficult, but it was somewhat terrifying, filled with wandering ghosts who refused to leave, their hair matted, emitting eerie sobs.

    Initially, Nan Gongsi didn't intend to pay attention to Ye Wangxi, focusing solely on exorcising demons. However, as they walked, he noticed she wasn't keeping up. The young girl was huddled in a dilapidated temple within the illusion, too afraid to move.

    He glanced back at her, scoffed, and was about to leave when he suddenly spotted a hanging ghost floating behind her, its crimson tongue reaching for her throat.

    "Ahh—!"

    By the time the little girl realized the danger, it was too late. Terrified, she could only scream, unable to do anything but turn her head away, clutching the sword in her arms.

    But nothing happened.

    When she cautiously opened her eyes, she found Nan Gongsi standing before her. He had repelled the hanging ghost with a sword strike, affixing a lightning talisman to it. Amidst the flickering sparks, he turned his head slightly, gazing down at her. He had intended to scold her, but the expression on the girl's face was so pitiful, like a frightened kitten with wide, round eyes. Unable to hold back, tears streamed down her face.

    Nan Gongsi froze, taken aback. After a moment, he said, "You... How can you be so useless, even afraid of ghosts..."

    "But that's a ghost!" Ye Wangxi wailed. "If I'm not afraid of ghosts, what else would I fear?"

    Nan Gongsi: "…Why are all you girls so useless?"

    "I wish I could be useful too!" the pretty young girl cried, her nose running with sorrow. "Who wants to hold you back? I want to help, but you go so fast, you don't even wait for me… I… I'm just scared of ghosts…"

    "Uh..."

    In the end, Nan Gongsi had no choice but to crouch beside her. Not knowing how to comfort her, he simply stared at her as she wept. The inexperienced Ye Wangxi, like any ordinary girl, had tears streaming down her face.

    Crying and sobbing, she choked out, "What are you looking at?"

    "I'm just waiting to see when you'll stop crying."

    "..."

    "When you're done crying, let's go together. Who asked you to be so weak?" Nan Gongsi sighed, lifting his hand to tap the little girl's fair forehead. "Follow me, I'll protect you."

    Amidst the ethereal mist and golden glow of the sky, as he reminisced about that past event, Nan Gongsi suddenly realized that in that illusory realm, it was the only time he had seen Ye Wangxi, as a girl, cry out of fear.

    Later, she became as hard as iron, frozen, concealing all her emotions beneath her composed facade.

    Buried so deeply, not only did Nan Gongsi forget who she originally was, but even she herself lost touch with her true self. All that remained was the memory of following the young master of the Confucian Wind Sect, from childhood to adolescence, to his maturity as a noble gentleman, while her beauty faded with time.

    In this manner, she neither shed tears nor hindered him, silently trailing behind him for two decades without complaint.

    Author's Note:

    Mini-drama: "How to Change Ye Wangxi's Fate – It's Simple, Just Give Nan Gongsi a Different Personality"

    Severe Character Out-of-Character (OCC) Alert! Proceed with Caution!

    Phantom in the Illusion: Give me~~ my life back~~~~

    Nan Gongsi: Oh my god, there's a ghost! Damn it, run away!!! (He instantly takes off, leaving everyone else in the dust)

    Ye Wangxi: .............

    Phantom in the Illusion: Give me~~ my life back~~

    Nan Gongsi: Take this!!! An inherited masterpiece! The Scholarly Wind Grasping Teat Technique!

    Ye Wangxi: .....................

    Phantom Realm Ghost: Give me~~~ my~~~ life~~~

    Nan Gongsi: Bu~~~

    Ye Wangxi: What... what's that awful smell?

    Nan Gongsi: It's my family's inherited fart. It can repel ghosts with its stench.

    Ye Wangxi: .........................................

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