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    Chapter 215: The Remains of Dragon Mountain Burn

    For thousands of years, heroes had emerged in the cultivation world, but currently, only ten individuals were listed on the "Heaven-Stepping Lords' Register," and Nangong Changying was one of them.

    In the past, Mo Ran hadn't cared. He'd once crushed all seventy-two cities of the Confucian Wind Sect with just his little finger. He'd thought that the city was filled with hundreds of good-for-nothing cowards who started crying out in pain even before their throats were slit and begging for mercy before swords were swung.

    Just as Ye Wangxi had said before his death in his previous life, not a single man among the magnificent seventy cities of the Confucian Wind Sect was worthy of respect.

    To Mo Ran's eyes, the Confucian Wind Sect was like loose sand, and Nangong Changying, who had gathered this pile of sand, couldn't be anyone remarkable.

    Bloodstains were everywhere, and the hundred-year-old foundation had been flattened by the newcomer in an instant. Corpses littered the ground, with crows pecking at their intestines. The former Heaven-Stepping Emperor Lord had climbed the steps with no expression on his face, pushing open the door to the Hall of Ancients—

    He wore a black cloak that dragged along the floor as he walked through a long corridor adorned with portraits of the sect leaders and elders from past generations, finally stopping at the end of the hall.

    Heaven-Stepping Lord lifted his face, the hood of his cloak obscuring most of it, leaving only his pale chin visible. Its sharp angles seemed arrogant and disdainful, lifted slightly as he examined the statue that stood taller than a real person with a scrutinizing gaze.

    The statue was carved from white jade spirit stone, depicting a young lord with wide sleeves and flowing robes, standing on air with a bow in hand. The craftsman's skill was extraordinary, with fish-scale crystals embedded as the statue's eyes and wash crystal sand used to paint its attire. The bloody-scented morning sun filtered through the latticed skylight behind the statue, casting it in divine light, as if it were a celestial being descended from the heavens.

    A smile suddenly appeared on half of Heaven-Stepping Lord's face, hidden beneath the hood, revealing his stark white teeth and sweet dimples.

    He straightened his clothes and made a deep bow, then lifted his handsome face with a bright smile, saying, "Long have I heard of you, Immortal Master Nan Gong."

    The statue, naturally, could not speak. Only its black gemstone eyes shimmered, as if gazing at the visitor.

    Heaven-Stepping Lord was truly bored to the extreme. Even without anyone paying attention to him, he could still entertain himself for a long while: "Junior Mo Weiyu has the honor to meet you today. Immortal Master Nan Gong, you truly have an imposing presence."

    He chattered on, laughing and joking all by himself, acting like a madman in front of a statue.

    "I've met your great-great-great...," he counted on his fingers before sighing, "I lost count, really. Who knows which nephew or cousin it was, or which disciple from how many generations ago. They're all under my blade now."

    Then he beamed: "But alas, I didn't get to meet your great-great-great-grandson. He fled before the city fell. I don't know if he's alive or dead, which is rather regrettable."

    He cheerfully continued, engaging the statue in a seemingly affectionate conversation, "Oh, right, I heard that Immortal Master Nan Gong was a remarkable figure in your time, beloved by all. Wherever you went, people pledged their unwavering loyalty and even advocated for your ascension to the throne."

    Mo Ran smiled warmly, "Wouldn't that be just as impressive as my current situation? So, all my previous talk was pointless. I simply had a question—why did Immortal Master Nan Gong refuse the throne back then?"

    He paused and took a few more steps forward. At this point, his gaze landed on the warning tablet standing behind the statue of Nan Gong Changying. He had seen the massive tablet earlier but deliberately ignored it until now.

    The stone tablet was engraved by Nangong Changying in his ninety-sixth year, originally plain and unadorned but later embellished with golden powder and lustrous colors by his descendants. Now, it shone brilliantly, each word carrying immense value.

    Mo Ran gazed at it for a moment before smiling. "Oh, I see. 'Greed, resentment, deceit, murder, lust, theft, and plunder—these are the seven things a Confucian Wind Sect gentleman must not do?' Immortal, your moral integrity is commendable."

    He stood with his hands behind his back, continuing, "Yet you lived an impeccable life, with a reputation for righteousness and imparting wisdom to future generations until your last breath. But I'm curious, did you ever envision a day when the Confucian Wind Sect would end up in this state?"

    Pausing to find the right words, he pursed his lips before clapping his hands and laughing. "A nest of rats?"

    His laughter echoed through the solemn sanctuary, pure yet sinister, resonating with the fluttering portraits of past heroes. It seemed to tear at the scrolls, rending the images of the Confucian Wind Sect's illustrious ancestors...

    The laughter finally faded and died in front of Nangong Changying's cold statue.

    Mo Ran's smile vanished, replaced by a frozen expression. His dark eyes locked onto the portrait of the former sage, who, like him, once commanded the world and trampled upon all immortals.

    Time and space seemed to converge as the two era-defining Immortal Lords faced off across the ages.

    In a soft whisper, Mo Ran concluded, "Nangong Changying, your Confucian Wind Sect is a filthy pond. I don't believe you could remain untainted."

    With a sudden flick of his sleeve, he turned and strode out of the Ancestral Sage Hall. A fierce gust of wind suddenly rose, blowing off the hood of his cloak, revealing Heaven-Stepping Lord's nearly insane expression.

    Possessing unparalleled handsomeness, he was an undisputedly handsome man, but his face was marred by an unmatched ferocity and malice, like that of a carrion vulture.

    His black robe billowed like ink-stained clouds rolling down the long staircase.

    He was a vengeful ghost in the mortal world, a ruthless Asura amidst the dust of life. Everywhere he looked, there were the corpses of Confucian disciples, maimed and limbless. Heaven-Stepping Lord did not accept surrender; apart from that woman named Song, all others would be eradicated.

    In that moment, an utterly cruel satisfaction surged within Mo Ran. He gazed at the brilliant dawn sky as the sun pierced through the clouds, casting a blinding golden light upon his pale, blood-streaked face.

    He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, clenching his hands in his sleeves as he trembled slightly from the intensity of his joy and excitement.

    He had once been a man whose life was as worthless as a blade of grass. As a child, he begged for food in Lin Yi, even witnessing his mother starve to death before his eyes. He couldn't even afford a simple straw mat to wrap her body. Back then, he pleaded with a cultivator from the Confucian Wind Sect, asking if they could provide him with the cheapest, thinnest coffin. But that person mockingly told him,

    The cultivator said, "One's coffin should match their station in life. If fate only allows three feet, you cannot seek ten."

    With no other choice, he planned to bury his mother on the spot. However, Lin Yi had strict regulations, and the nearest unclaimed burial ground was beyond Tai City, accessible only after crossing two small hills.

    Carrying his mother's corpse, he endured disdainful, scornful, astonished, and sympathetic gazes along the way. Yet, nobody offered assistance. For fourteen days, he dragged a woman's body through the journey, a child walking alone for two weeks with his mother's remains.

    Fourteen days. Not a single soul was willing to help him.

    At first, he would kneel by the roadside, pleading with passersby, carriage drivers, and farmers, asking if they could take him and his mother in their wooden carts.

    But who would willingly put an unfamiliar corpse into their vehicle?

    Eventually, he stopped begging. Instead, he gritted his teeth, dragging his mother along, step by step.

    The corpse stiffened, then softened, and began to decay, emitting foul odors and bodily fluids. People passing by kept their distance, covering their noses and hurrying past.

    On the fourteenth day, he finally reached the mass burial ground.

    He no longer carried the scent of the living; the stench of death had permeated his bones.

    Without a spade, he dug a shallow pit with his bare hands in the disorderly graveyard – he lacked the strength for a deeper one. He dragged his mother, now unrecognizable from decay, into the hole and then sat beside it, numb.

    After a long while, he muttered in a wooden tone, "Mother, I need to bury you now."

    He started scooping soil, but as he poured a handful onto his mother's chest, he broke down, weeping uncontrollably.

    How peculiar, he thought he had shed all his tears long ago.

    "No, no, no. If I bury her, I'll never see her again, never see her again." He climbed back into the pit and wept bitterly against the decaying body, tears streaming down his face. When his emotions subsided slightly, he tried to scoop more soil, but the scent of the earth seemed to unlock his tear ducts once more, leaving him in disarray.

    "Why is she so decayed... so decayed..."

    "Why didn't anyone even cover her with a mat..."

    "Ai Niang... Ai Niang..."

    He pressed his face against hers, not repulsed by her filth, her stench, her status as a corpse, her broken body, her festering wounds, or the maggots crawling over her.

    He cried bitterly in her embrace, each choked sob tearing at his heart as if it were being wrenched from his throat with bloodstained hands.

    His mournful cries echoed across the burial ground, distorted, hoarse, and indistinct. At times, they sounded like the sobs of a human, but more often than not, they resembled the pitiful wails of a young creature bereaved of its mother.

    "Ai Niang... Ai Niang!!"

    "Someone, please... Is there anyone... Bury me too... Bury me too..."

    In the blink of an eye, twenty years had passed.

    Mo Ran returned to Lin Yi, standing atop the green-tiled, vermilion-roofed pavilions of the Confucian Wind Sect on a mountain peak overlooking a sea of corpses and blood. The once stench-ridden cub had transformed into a magnificent creature with lustrous fur and sharp fangs. As he opened his eyes once more, a wild and fervent gleam shimmered within his irises.

    Today, who would dare to tell him that if fate measures three feet, he could only aspire for one? Nonsense! He wanted ten feet, a hundred feet, thousands upon thousands of feet!

    He wanted them all, every single person in this mortal world, to kneel before him, scraping their knees on the ground as they presented him with those millions of feet in obeisance—

    Trample all Immortals, to reign supreme over the world!!

    He had visited the Hall of Ancients and encountered Nan Gong Changying. His desires and ambitions grew stronger, yes, trample all Immortals, to reign supreme over the world— everything could be held within his grasp, nothing would escape his control.

    He was no longer that child who wept bitterly over a corpse. He would never again witness someone he loved perish before him, rotting away until their flesh turned to bone and their former beauty degraded into dust.

    Never again.

    In a hundred years, he too would become a divine deity like Nan Gong Changying, revered and admired, with a body of white jade and golden inscriptions adorning him.

    No, he would surpass Nan Gong Changying. His peak of life and death would far excel the Confucian Wind Sect of old, and as the first king in the cultivation world, he would be more admirable and lauded than that hypocritical Nan Gong Changying who couldn't let go.

    Sin?

    He didn't believe Nan Gong Changying was without sin. How could the creator of such a monstrous sect as the Confucian Wind Sect be an upright and righteous hero willing to sacrifice his life for justice?

    Didn't they say, "Greed, resentment, deceit, murder, lust, theft, and plunder—these are seven things a Confucian gentleman must never do?" Anyone could spout pretty words. Before his death, Mo Weiyu could have found someone to come up with brilliant proverbs that would earn him universal praise. He could have hired sycophants to write history books, erasing his dark past and portraying him as a benevolent ruler with grand ambitions for the sake of the people.

    Absolutely perfect.

    There could be no better ending than this.

    "Greed, resentment, deceit, murder, lust, theft, and plunder… these are… seven… things a… Confucian gentleman… must never do…"

    A faint whisper echoed like a thunderbolt in his ears.

    Mo Ran abruptly tore himself out of his reverie, but the stars before his eyes were still in disarray. He looked up at the barrier and saw Nan Gong Changying, pierced through the chest by Nan Gongsi's arrow.

    An identical face to that of the jade sculpture from years past.

    Someone gasped, "Nan Gongsi is so severely injured, how can he possibly draw the Cloud-Piercing Bow?!"

    "Was that bow prepared beforehand?!"

    "Look, there's spirit energy attached to the bow... It's not Nan Gongsi's! It's, it's..."

    No one continued their sentence.

    But everyone understood in their hearts.

    It belonged to Nan Gong Changying.

    The only one capable of controlling the Cloud-Piercing Divine Bow was Nan Gong Changying.

    On that arrow, there was the last trace of spirit flow that Nan Gong Changying had left behind before his death.

    Flames rapidly engulfed Nan Gong Changying's chest, and the Cloud-Piercing Arrow pierced his heart. The fire instantly spread throughout his entire body—

    But corpses feel no pain. In the midst of the flames, Nangong Changying's figure stood tall and serene, his expression tranquil, even composed.

    Mo Ran heard Xue Zhengyong muttering beside him, "He foresaw this?... He... Did he really anticipate such a day?"

    No...

    It couldn't be that he foresaw it. It was just a coincidence.

    Mo Ran trembled, his pupils constricting into narrow slits—

    It was merely a coincidence!

    But how could he convince himself? How could one break free from the control of the Precious Chess Pieces, mend severed meridians, and even uncover the divine weapon, Cloud-Piercing Halberd, buried within Dragon Mountain without proper burial, along with its spirit-infused arrows?

    None of this could have happened without careful planning.

    He stumbled backward.

    He had once believed they were alike. He had thought that all legendary heroes in this world possessed hands capable of covering the sky, erasing all stains in their lives, and donning a clean shroud, leaving behind an unblemished legacy. He had assumed that Nangong Changying was no different from the Confucian Wind Sect he had seen—just a hollow facade, a monstrous beast hiding behind a human mask!

    Had he been wrong?

    He gazed at Nan Gong Changying, enclosed within blazing flames. Centuries ago, the immortal master who had possessed powers that reached the heavens and earth, just like him.

    Had he been wrong?!!

    Nothing could drown out guilt. Even the most glorious records in history would bear inconsistencies. The whispers of the world could never be silenced.

    Nan Gong Changying was an embodiment of virtue, refusing to dominate and declining ascension. He had once believed it was merely a facade for someone at the pinnacle of power.

    Had he been wrong...

    Nothing could conceal the truth. Like snow melting after a long winter, revealing the scarred face of the earth with its deep grooves and hidden dirt that could no longer escape the light of the sun, screaming in the daylight.

    Had he... been wrong...

    Mo Ran slowly shook his head, fixating on Nan Gong Changying. Nan Gong Changying had also lifted his face. He still wore the black silk band adorned with dragon patterns, concealing his eyes from everyone, including Mo Ran.

    But was it just an illusion? Mo Ran sensed a smile beneath that black cloth. Laughter lines spread despite the fire, unscathed by flames or water. Nothing could hide that faint trace of a smile. Amidst the sea of flames and radiant glow, he stood quietly.

    If possible, he also wished to be selfish just once, leaving behind this broken body to perpetually accompany the verdant mountains and towering cypresses, to be remembered by future generations of heroes.

    The mortal world is so beautiful that nobody wishes to depart.

    Yet he was also acutely aware that there were times when not moving forward was not an option, and so he had long since made calculations and plans. He chose to seclude himself, hiding his skills like a bow stored away, lest his body be exploited by others in the future, turning him into a pawn for villainy.

    The mortal world is too beautiful, with flowers being more than enough to enhance its charm. It shouldn't be tainted with blood.

    "Grand Sect Master..." Nan Gongsi held the Cloud Piercing Divine Bow, kneeling on the ground. The flames illuminated his youthful face, as well as the trails of tears upon it. "This junior is unworthy..."

    The Cloud-Piercing Fire consumed the precious black chess piece within Nan Gong Changying's body, burning him to the verge of ashes. His entire form grew increasingly ethereal amidst the flames.

    With his newfound liberation, Nan Gong Changying, now but a lifeless body, posed a question to Nan Gongsi, "How many years has it been since the founding of the Confucian Wind Sect?"

    His soul had long departed, leaving only a shell behind.

    The memories and consciousness retained within his mortal form were scarce, hence the simplicity of his inquiry.

    Nan Gongsi answered with reverence, his voice trembling, "It has been four hundred twenty-one years since the establishment of the Confucian Wind Sect."

    Nan Gongsi tilted his head with a faint smile now playing on his lips.

    He said, "For a long time."

    His voice echoed softly, like a breeze rustling through the forest, disappearing without a trace.

    "I once thought it would end in two hundred years," Nan Gongsi's voice was gentle and deep, flowing over the grass and leaves of Dragon Mountain. "All things in this world have their lifespan, and when it's up, no human effort can prolong it. Eventually, old age will be replaced by youth, and decay will give way to novelty. Anything used for too long will become worn and outdated. Some will discard or overthrow them, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You, my son, should not blame yourself."

    Nan Gongsi looked up abruptly. His face was already as pale as paper due to excessive blood loss. His voice trembled slightly, "Grand Supreme Leader!"

    "In truth, the longevity of Confucian Wind Sect does not depend on how many years it has stood or how many disciples it has preserved," Nan Gongsi's figure had almost faded into invisibility, and his voice grew increasingly distant. "It lies in the fact that there are still people in this world who remember: greed, resentment, deception, murder, lust, theft, and plunder – these are seven things our Confucian gentlemen must never do."

    As he spoke, his sleeves brushed gently, and in an instant, the grass and trees of Dragon Mountain trembled. Vines sprang up, burying those corpses that were about to break free deep within the earth.

    "Remember and act upon them, and the flame will be passed on."

    With those words, Nan Gongsi's body disintegrated abruptly in the blazing fire, turning into shimmering dust and golden starlight, scattering amidst the vast mountain forest.

    His body was gone, but his words lingered on.

    Within the barrier, Nan Gongsi was already weeping uncontrollably. Outside, Ye Wangxi knelt down. As she did, others followed suit, one after another. A hero in life and death, Immortal Master Nangong —

    In life and beyond, both were legends.

    The author has something to say: It's hard to escape one's destined fate, no matter how high one may soar. This is not a commonly known reference, so I'll explain. I couldn't find the original source of this phrase, so I can only say that it's a quote from an unknown ancestor, not my own creation. Scratching my head.

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