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    Chapter 207: Master, There's Something I Want to Tell You

    Mo Ran opened the door.

    Not fully, just a narrow crack, through which he saw Xue Meng basking in sunlight, accompanied by Shi Mo in his green robe.

    Xue Meng said, "We brought some medicine for your injuries… What are you doing? Open the door and let us in."

    After a moment of silence, Mo Ran released his grip on the door frame. The two entered the room. Xue Meng walked to the window, peered outside at the glow of Xi Zi's sunset, then withdrew and commented, "Your room has a great view. From my room, there are a few big camphor trees that block everything. I can't see anything."

    Mo Ran, distracted, replied, "If you like it, we can switch rooms."

    "No need, I've already put the things down. It was just a casual remark." Xue Meng waved his hand and walked to the table. "Let Shi Mo tend to your wounds. That cut on your shoulder from the vine needs to be treated before it gets infected."

    Mo Ran's dark brown eyes gazed at Xue Meng—would Xue Meng still smile at him so brightly and bring him medicine if he knew about Mo Ran's past life, and the soul hidden beneath his cousin's shell?

    Feeling somewhat uneasy under Mo Ran's stare, Xue Meng asked, "What's wrong? Is there something on my face?"

    Mo Ran shook his head and sat down at the table, lowering his gaze.

    Shi Mo stood aside and told him, "Take off your shirt. Let me examine your wound."

    Mo Ran, burdened with pent-up emotions, didn't think much and lifted his hand to undo his shirt. He said, "Trouble you."

    Shi Mo shook his head and sighed. "You, always so careless. You don't learn from your Master's good examples but instead rush into danger ahead of everyone else, ending up injured all over, making others feel distressed just by looking at you."

    As he spoke, he took out items from the medicine box and carefully cleaned Mo Ran's wound, applied medicine, and wrapped it in gauze.

    After finishing, Shi Mo said, "Don't get water on it for now, and avoid any strenuous movements. That vine was poisonous; the wound won't heal easily. Also, extend your arm, let me take your pulse."

    Mo Ran extended his arm to him.

    Shi Mo's slender fingers, as delicate and white as soft jade, rested on Mo Ran's pulse point for a while. A fleeting look of concern flickered across his eyes.

    Though the expression was brief, it caught Mo Ran's unintended attention. "What is it?"

    Shi Mo came back to his senses and replied, "Nothing."

    "Is the poisoning severe?"

    Shi Mo shook his head, hesitated for a moment, then gave him a faint smile. "Just a little. Remember to take care of yourself; otherwise, it could lead to lingering issues."

    As he spoke, he bent down to tidy up the medicine chest and continued, "I still have some medicinal ointments to sort out. I'll be going now. You two chat."

    The door closed behind him.

    Xue Meng watched him disappear and frowned slightly. "Why do I feel like he's been in a bad mood lately? He seems strange, as if he's preoccupied with something."

    Mo Ran was also in a foul mood. "Perhaps he found out about my impending death after checking my pulse and is grieving for me?"

    "Blah, blah, blah. You've got a cursed tongue." Xue Meng glared at him. "Who talks like that about themselves? Besides, I'm being serious. Shi Mo has been unusually low these past few days."

    Only then did Mo Ran start to pay attention. He paused what he was doing and asked, "Really?"

    "Definitely," Xue Meng said with certainty. "Let me tell you, he's been lost in thought several times. It takes him two or three calls before he responds. Do you think he might be…"

    "What?"

    "Fond of someone?"

    Mo Ran: "..."

    If someone had told Shi Mo that he was interested in someone eight years ago, Mo Ran might have erupted in jealousy and scolded them. But now, he was only surprised. He tried to recall any clues but realized he hadn't paid much attention to Shi Mo over the years, leaving him with no traces to follow.

    "Don't ask me; anyway, it can't possibly be me," Mo Ran said as he pulled his open robe together, dressing himself properly. "Besides, why do you care so much about other people's feelings?"

    Feeling embarrassed, Xue Meng blushed and coughed. "I wasn't interfering! I was just making a casual remark!"

    He glared at Mo Ran fiercely, watching the handsome figure dress. As he stared, he suddenly felt something was off.

    Upon closer inspection, his gaze lingered on Mo Ran's toned chest, pausing there—

    Mo Ran didn't seem to mind and casually asked, "Why are you staring at me? Do you like me?"

    "..." Xue Meng remained silent.

    Still with his indifferent tone, Mo Ran continued, "Stop looking. It's impossible between us."

    Only then did Xue Meng turn his head away with a pale face, pretending to be composed. "Pfft, wishful thinking on your part."

    Yet his heart pounded like a drum—on Mo Ran's neck, nestled against his skin, hung a crimson crystal pendant that looked eerily familiar. He seemed to have seen an identical one somewhere before, but he couldn't quite place where. Suddenly, inexplicably, goosebumps prickled across his body, and his mind buzzed with confusion.

    Where had he seen it before?

    Dressed, Mo Ran noticed stains of medicine on the table. He asked Xue Meng, "Do you have a handkerchief?"

    "Hmm?... Oh, right, I do." Xue Meng snapped back to reality, found one, and handed it over. "You never remember to bring one yourself."

    "I'm not used to it," Mo Ran replied.

    Xue Meng's face remained stern. "You were saying last time that Shifu was going to give you one. Bragging isn't done this way."

    Only then did Mo Ran recall how he had begged Chu Wanning for a peach blossom handkerchief, but either Chu Wanning had forgotten or been too lazy to give him one. He felt a bit awkward, clearing his throat before continuing, "It's just that things have been busy lately, and Shifu hasn't had the time..."

    "Even if Shifu had free time, he wouldn't make one only for you," Xue Meng sneered. "I'd definitely get one too. Maybe... even that Nan Gongsi might have one."

    At the mention of Nan Gongsi, Mo Ran's already grim mood darkened further.

    "Did you go see him?"

    "No, why would I go see him?" Xue Meng said. "He and Ye Wangxi live next to that old ghost Jiang Xi. I'd rather be a million miles away from there; I have no intention of going over."

    Mo Ran nodded. "It's good that they're there. Although Jiang Xi has a terrible temper and plenty of quirks, he's still someone who understands the world and its ways. He shouldn't give them too much trouble."

    Xue Meng huffed. "Him? If that dog of a thing can understand reason, then I'll take his surname and call myself Jiang Meng instead of Xue Meng!"

    Mo Ran: "…."

    Xue Meng had this ability to be rowdy and cynical, lashing out at others with his sharp tongue. Perhaps because of his noisy presence, Mo Ran felt that the room was imbued with a touch of the warmth of humanity.

    The terrifying nightmare of his past life began to fade slightly.

    Xue Meng said, "Speaking of which, do you think Shifu is really considering taking Nan Gongsi as a disciple?"

    "Shifu definitely wouldn't have wanted to before," Mo Ran replied. "But now, neither you nor I can stop him."

    Xue Meng was taken aback. "Why?"

    Mo Ran sighed. "Tell me, why did Li Wuxin, who clearly regards Nan Gongsi as an elder, never dare to speak back to him?"

    "Because his father is powerful, the head of the top cultivation sect in the realm. Isn't that obvious?"

    "Alright then, let me ask you this: why do people like Huang Xiaoyue and those who aren't even worth mentioning dare to bully him now?"

    "...Is it because of a grudge?"

    Mo Ran was speechless for a moment. He thought to himself that only Xue Meng could say something like that.

    Suddenly, he felt envious. He believed that despite being over twenty years old, Xue Meng still had a childlike simplicity in his thoughts at times. "Childlike" was a delicate description, as children were known for their innocence, straightforwardness, and naivety, but it also implied immaturity and recklessness.

    But to Mo Ran, it was a miracle that after living for two decades, he still saw the world with such purity in his eyes.

    He looked at this miracle before him and said with a bitter smile, "Where do all these grudges come from?"

    "The Confucian Wind Sect exposed so many secrets of the Upper Cultivation Realm..."

    "That was Xu Shuanglin's doing, how could it have much to do with Nan Gongsi?" Mo Ran replied. "Moreover, wasn't Nan Gongsi one of the most hurt by those revelations? He found out that his mother was actually destroyed by his own father. He wasn't the culprit but a victim, a sacrifice."

    Xue Meng opened his mouth, as if to speak, but Mo Ran remained silent, waiting for him to continue. In the end, Xue Meng simply gaped for a while before reluctantly closing it again.

    He was at a loss for how to refute Mo Ran's words.

    After a moment, he asked begrudgingly, "Then what do you think is the reason?"

    "Firstly, it's because people love a spectacle," Mo Ran replied. "Everyone is thrilled by the chaos surrounding the Confucian Wind Sect. Bullying a fallen noble is far more satisfying than picking on a beggar."

    This was just like Xue Meng in his previous life. After the young phoenix had fallen on hard times, what kind of ostracism did he face?

    Xue Meng didn't know, but Mo Ran did.

    None of the sects wanted to offend the Immortal Emperor, so none were willing to take him in or cooperate with him. He wandered tirelessly across the five lakes and four seas, appealing to great and small sect leaders, hoping that they would join forces to overthrow Mo Ran's tyrannical rule before he could cause even greater havoc.

    That had been the first year of Mo Ran's reign.

    Xue Meng had spent nine years traveling and pleading, but no one listened. In the end, only Kunlun's Treading Snow Palace reluctantly offered him refuge, and only Mei Hanxue was willing to lend him her full support.

    Mo Ran was grateful that this life's Xue Meng wouldn't have to endure such humiliation.

    Xue Meng was oblivious and asked, "What about the second one?"

    "The second is to believe that you're acting on behalf of heaven."

    "How do you mean?"

    "Do you know what the divine descendants of the Heavenly Sound Pavilion do when dealing with major criminals in the cultivation world?"

    "Publicly execute them, hang them for three days and nights," Xue Meng mumbled. "Why are you asking me this? You've seen it before. When you first arrived at the Summit of Life and Death, there was a death sentence for a major criminal, and Father had to participate in the public trial. Didn't you and I follow along? You watched the execution too, but you were so scared back then that you got a high fever that lasted for four or five days."

    Mo Ran smiled and said after a moment, "There was nothing I could do. It was my first time seeing someone's spirit core being dug out."

    "What are you afraid of? No one's going to dig out your spirit core."

    Mo Ran replied, "You never know what life will bring."

    Xue Meng was taken aback and reached out to touch Mo Ran's forehead. "You don't have a fever. Why are you saying such silly things?"

    "I only dreamed about it. I dreamt that someone's sword pierced through my chest. If it had been a few inches off, both my heart and spirit core would have been destroyed."

    "..." Xue Meng was speechless and waved his hand. "Forget it. Although you're quite annoying, you are still my cousin. If anyone tries to extract your spirit core, I'll be the first to confront them."

    Mo Ran smiled, his dark eyes bottomless, filled with light and shadow that danced, reflecting a myriad of thoughts.

    Why had he brought up that incident from the Heavenly Sound Pavilion in front of Xue Meng?

    Perhaps Xue Meng hadn't even noticed, but those faces had left a vivid impression on Mo Ran's heart back then.

    He still remembered that the defendant was a woman, in her twenties, very young.

    A large crowd had gathered in front of the Heavenly Sound Pavilion square, consisting of men, women, elders, children, cultivators, and common folk, all looking up at the woman bound by Immortal Binding Rope, Soul Anchoring Lock, and Demon Subduing Chain on the platform, whispering among themselves.

    "Isn't that Lady Lin?"

    "She just married into a prestigious family. What crime did she commit to have the Heavenly Sound Pavilion involved?"

    "Didn't you hear? The great fire at the Zhao residence was set by her! She killed her own husband!"

    "Ahh..." Those around them gasped upon hearing this. Someone asked, "Why would she do such a thing? I heard her husband treated her very well."

    Amidst hushed whispers, the Master of the Heavenly Sound Pavilion gracefully ascended the platform, holding the scroll. He first acknowledged the audience below before leisurely unfolding it to begin reading the charges against this woman named Lin.

    The list of offenses was extensive, taking nearly half an hour to recite.

    At its core, the accusation claimed that this woman named Lin was not the esteemed lady from the family the Zhao clan intended to wed. She was but an impostor, a puppet wearing a human skin mask, whose true motive in getting close to Young Master Zhao was to orchestrate a murder rooted in personal vendetta. The genuine noble lady who was supposed to marry into the Zhao family had, alas, long become a vengeful spirit under the blade of this Miss Lin.

    "A fine tale of a substitute cat for a prince," the Master of the Heavenly Sound Pavilion declared solemnly, "but, as they say, the heavens' net is wide yet does not miss a single thing. Miss Lin, it's time to shed your false facade and let everyone witness your true appearance."

    The human skin mask was publicly removed and discarded like a snake's shed skin on the ground.

    Beneath the disheveled hair of the woman on the platform, another pale and enchanting face emerged, held up by a disciple of the Heavenly Sound Pavilion for all to see.

    The crowd below immediately erupted in an uproar. "What a vicious woman!"

    "She killed an innocent young miss and brought ruin to the Rong family, all for her own personal vendetta?"

    "Kill her!"

    "Blind her!"

    "Flay her alive! Peel her skin bit by bit!"

    The crowd, though composed of individual persons, had grown a single, monstrous mind, drooling and roaring like a sluggish behemoth with an outsized tail.

    This grotesque creature must have fancied itself as a symbol of fortune, embodying the heavens above and the earth below, standing for righteousness and justice in the mortal world.

    The screams from the audience grew louder, piercing through Mo Ran's eardrums. He was astonished by their fury, as if the woman unjustly killed or the unknown Lord Zhao were now their kin, friends, sons, or mistresses. They yearned to avenge their loved ones personally, to tear that criminal Lin limb from limb.

    Mo Ran's eyes widened in confusion. "Isn't it the Heavenly Sound Pavilion's duty to pronounce the verdict?"

    Xue Zhengyong reassured him, "Don't be afraid, Yan-er. The Pavilion will decide, but people just can't bear to watch. They're only venting. In the end, the Pavilion will follow the divine guidance to mete out justice. It'll be fair, so don't worry."

    However, events unfolded differently than Xue Zhengyong predicted. The crowd's cries became more frenzied, more exaggerated.

    "This harlot! A wanton murderer! How can she be let off easily? Chief Mu! You're the arbiter of justice in the cultivation world. You must thoroughly judge her and make her suffer a hundredfold! Give her a taste of her own medicine! Punish her accordingly!"

    "First, tear her mouth apart, pull out her teeth one by one, and slice her tongue into countless strips!"

    "Cover her in mud! When it dries, rip it off along with a layer of skin! Then pour chili water all over her to make her scream in agony! Make her suffer!"

    Even the madam of a brothel had come to watch the spectacle, munching on sunflower seeds as she cooed with a giggle, "Oh my, tear off her clothes! Shouldn't she be naked? Stuff snakes and eels into her lower body, and get a hundred men to take turns with her. That would truly be a punishment fit for her crimes."

    Was all this outrage from these people truly rooted in their righteousness?

    Mo Ran, seated beside Xue Meng, was even more affected. He trembled slightly, so much so that even Xue Zhengyong noticed his distress and was about to lead him away from the stands. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion on the platform. Someone in the crowd must have thrown an explosive charm, landing right at the woman's feet. It was against the rules, but either the Heavenly Sound Pavilion disciples failed to react in time or chose not to intervene; either way, the explosive charm detonated swiftly, leaving the woman's legs and feet mangled in a bloody mess.

    "Uncle—!"

    Mo Ran clutched tightly at the hem of Xue Zhengyong's robe. He was shaking violently, too violently...

    "Bravo!!"

    A deafening chorus of applause erupted from below, as the crowd of heroes cheered and clapped with delight.

    "Well done! Punish the wicked and uphold justice! Do it again!"

    "Who threw that? Don't throw anything!" The Heavenly Sound Pavilion disciple on stage shouted twice before giving in to the crowd. Various objects were hurled up: vegetable leaves, stones, eggs, knives. The onlookers had cast a protective barrier around themselves, standing by to watch. As long as nothing could immediately end her life, they wouldn't intervene.

    The Heavenly Sound Pavilion was always renowned for its valor, never opposing the righteous masses seeking justice.

    As Mo Ran recalled this, he felt a heavy weight in his chest, unwilling to continue the thought. He closed his eyes briefly before opening them again.

    "You'll see, Xue Meng. If Nan Gongsi insists on not acknowledging his status as Shifu's disciple, then he'll lose all protection in the cultivation world. Once the Dragon Mountain trip is over, if they really take him to the Heavenly Sound Pavilion for interrogation, you'll witness the same scene as back then."

    Xue Meng said, "But back then, everyone was so furious at the Heavenly Sound Pavilion because that woman had killed someone, so..."

    "So it's like having a knife in your hand—people can stab however they want, right?" Mo Ran's mood grew heavier. There was more to what he wanted to say, but he kept it unsaid.

    How many people in this world used the excuse of "upholding justice" to commit wicked deeds, venting their dissatisfaction with life, their inner savagery, madness, and astonishing killing intent in such situations?

    After finishing their tea and chatting a while longer, Xue Meng left as the sun began to set.

    Mo Ran walked to the window and took out the precious chess game he had stowed in his sleeve. After a moment of staring, he infused it with spirit energy and crushed it into dust with a fierce twist of his fingers.

    A breeze picked up, making all the leaves tremble. The person by the window also trembled as he slowly raised his hand to cover his face. Almost exhausted, he leaned against the window frame for a long time before finally turning away, retreating into the depths of the house, swallowed by darkness.

    Sitting in the pitch-black room for hours, his thoughts drifted, fragmenting him until he was on the brink of collapse. He truly didn't know what to do. He felt that perhaps he should speak up about certain matters, but doing so might only make things worse, even more unmanageable.

    What should he do?

    He didn't know...

    The more he thought about it, the more unwilling he felt, the more confused he became. He was anxious, tormented.

    He thought of the puppet master standing behind him.

    He recalled the Cultivation world's godlike worship and superstition towards the Heavenly Sound Pavilion.

    He remembered the woman under interrogation, her legs a bloody mess.

    Mo Ran paced the room like a caged beast, like a madman, as the shadows of Heaven-Stepping Lord and Grandmaster Mo alternated across his handsome face, one devouring the other.

    In the end, he couldn't bear it anymore. He stood up.

    Pushed open the door and walked out.

    It was late at night.

    Chu Wanning was preparing to sleep when he heard someone knocking on the door. He opened it to find Mo Ran standing outside, and was slightly taken aback.

    "Why are you here?"

    Mo Ran felt like he was going insane, driven to the brink by the impending calamity that could strike at any moment. Summoning all his courage, he had intended to explain the absurd situation. But when he saw Chu Wanning's face, his bravery crumbled into dust, turning into selfishness and weakness.

    "…Master…" Mo Ran paused, his voice heavy with emotion, "I can't sleep. Can I come in and sit for a while?"

    Chu Wanning stepped aside, allowing Mo Ran to enter the room, who then closed the door behind him. Perhaps it was because his unease was too palpable, even without a word, Chu Wanning could sense the turmoil within him. He asked, "Is something wrong?"

    Mo Ran remained silent, gazing at him quietly for a moment before suddenly walking to the window and clasping his hands together to shut the only window tightly.

    "I…" Mo Ran's voice was rough as he spoke, a surge of emotions fueling his reckless impulse, "There's something I need to tell you."

    "About Xu Shuanglin?"

    Mo Ran shook his head, hesitated for a moment, then nodded, only to shake his head again.

    The flickering candlelight reflected in his eyes like venomous snakes extending their tongues, twisted and coiled, his expression was a mess, and the light in his eyes was fragmented. Chu Wanning was taken aback for a moment, then raised his hand, wanting to touch his face.

    But as soon as his fingertips grazed Mo Ran's cheek, the younger man abruptly closed his eyes, his eyelashes quivering, and his Adam's apple bobbing. It was as if he had been stung by a scorpion, and he turned away, muttering, "I'm sorry."

    "..."

    "Could you please extinguish the lamp?" Mo Ran requested. "I... I can't bring myself to say it with you in sight."

    Though Chu Wanning was unsure of what was happening, he had never seen Mo Ran like this before. It sent shivers down his spine, as if an apocalyptic force was about to crash down and crush everyone standing beneath it.

    Silent, Chu Wanning stood for a moment before nodding. Mo Ran then approached the candlestand, gazing at the flame intently. After a while, he raised his hand and snuffed out the last flicker of light.

    The room was instantly plunged into darkness.

    But Mo Ran had stared for too long, and now candlelight phantoms danced before his eyes, shifting from orange-yellow to a spectrum of colors, from distinct to vague.

    He stood still, his back to Chu Wanning. Chu Wanning did not rush him, waiting for him to speak.

    Author's Note: Actually, the woman being interrogated in Mo Ran's memory was initially meant to be the female lead from a previous romance novel.

    Then I realized the timeline didn't match. When that female lead appeared, Solitary Moon Night had already developed an elixir that allowed people to live up to three or five hundred years, which was in the later era of this cultivation world. But Doggie and his friends were still in the early to middle stages. Haha~ So I gave up on that idea and replaced her with another girl.

    Short Scene: "Can We Turn Off the Lights or Not?"

    "Could you please turn off the lights?" Mo Ran asked, "I... can't bring myself to say it with you in sight."

    Chu Wanning: ... Are you implying that I'm unattractive?

    "Could you please turn off the lights?" Mo Ran said, "I... can't find the words when I see you."

    Xue Meng: Then close your eyes and speak. Why should I turn off the lights for you?

    "Could you please turn off the lights?" Mo Ran said, "I... can't speak with you in front of me."

    Shi Mo: Forget it. I'm not staying in a dark room with you. I've had enough of being the subject of comments.

    "Could you please turn off the lights?" Mo Ran said, "I... can't express myself with you looking at me."

    Ye Wangxi: ...Ruffian.

    "Could you please turn off the lights?" Mo Ran said, "I... can't do it with you watching."

    Nan Gongsi: Then hold it in.

    "Could we perhaps extinguish the lights?" Mo Ran asked. "I... find it difficult to express myself with you in sight."

    Mei Hanxue replied, "Are you trying to pull off a moonlit script with me? Not a good idea, darling. I'm worried we might get caught on camera by reporters. Smile~"

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