Chapter 324 – Was he really?

The night hung over the entire world like a shadow, yet when this vermillion gate appeared, the world within it seemed like survivors sheltered from the night; instead of being touched by darkness, it shone as brightly as daylight.

The sudden shift between light and darkness made Chen Yunlan’s eyes struggle to adapt. He blinked, trying to focus on what lay beyond the vermillion gate. His pupils shrank as he couldn’t look away. It felt like something buried deep in his memories was emerging, something uncontrollably surging forth.

Chen Yunlan’s legs weakened, almost stumbling, caught by Xie Chunsheng’s quick hand. Concern filled Xie Chunsheng’s face. “Yunlan, are you okay?”

Chen Yunlan didn’t respond but uncontrollably tears streamed down his face. Memories rushed forth from his mind, enveloping all his thoughts, pulling him involuntarily into a world of past sweetness or pain.

Spring had just arrived, the time for everything to revive. It seemed like this world was shedding its old skin and adorning itself anew.

The spring sunlight, a pale golden hue, warm and gentle, bathed everything, adding a lazy touch to the afternoon.

Chen Yunlan sat under a tree with his sketchbook, basking in the sunlight. The new leaves on the tree were tender green, swaying gently in the spring breeze. With a paintbrush in hand, he immersed himself in his artistic world. His paintings were the most beautiful scenes, yet unbeknownst to him, he had become the most captivating sight in someone else’s eyes.

Qu Ran stood not far away. Even though he was the only one around, his eyes were still full of wariness. However, when his gaze fell upon the picturesque figure not far away, it softened gradually. Wariness vanished, replaced by trust.

Qu Ran didn’t approach to disturb Chen Yunlan’s painting but his presence was felt. Chen Yunlan stopped painting, turned, and greeted Qu Ran with a broad smile. “Qu Ran, you’re here? Come over.”

Only then did Qu Ran walk over to Chen Yunlan. His eyes gleamed as he looked at Chen Yunlan’s painting. Chen Yunlan was painting landscapes, a fusion of Western oil painting and traditional Chinese painting, a new form he had been experimenting with, combining the two art forms.

Chen Yunlan not only possessed exceptional talent but also harbored his own ambitions in this field. Both Western oil painting and traditional Chinese painting had established techniques and styles. Becoming a renowned artist within these boundaries wasn’t very challenging for Chen Yunlan’s talent. However, this lack of challenge failed to satisfy his ambitions.

Therefore, even before becoming a student of Master Sun, Chen Yunlan had a daring idea in mind—to combine Western oil painting with traditional Chinese painting and create an entirely new artistic style.

He had never mentioned this to anyone, not even Master Sun.

As Chen Yunlan made the final stroke on the canvas, he glanced sideways at Qu Ran, who sat quietly beside him…

If anyone in this world, apart from himself, knew of his ambitions, it was only Qu Ran.

Although Qu Ran didn’t say much, he silently encouraged Chen Yunlan. Creating a new art style was never an easy task, especially when attempting to merge the techniques and materials of Chinese ink painting with Western oil painting. The differences between the two were significant, not only in materials but also in their fundamental characteristics. Merging them was no simple feat.

The path of creation was undoubtedly lonely, and Chen Yunlan had mentally prepared for it. Yet, he wasn’t someone who could endure loneliness easily. Whenever faced with difficulties, he felt the urge to give up. Fortunately, Qu Ran appeared later on, staying by his side. Even though there were no words, Qu Ran’s gaze was filled with admiration and encouragement.

Qu Ran’s presence made him feel less lonely. Every time he practiced, with Qu Ran standing beside him, he could sense tranquility emanating from Qu Ran, calming his restless heart.

When Master Sun first took Chen Yunlan as his disciple, he mentioned that Chen Yunlan had an abundance of talent but lacked patience.

However, later on, Master Sun was surprised to discover that Chen Yunlan’s impatience gradually disappeared. Master Sun didn’t inquire about the reason, but Chen Yunlan knew it was because of Qu Ran.

Chen Yunlan remembered the time when he initially learned traditional Chinese painting under Master Sun; he struggled to grasp the essence of Chinese painting. One afternoon, Chen Yunlan vividly recalled being severely criticized by Master Sun.

The individual worthy of being called a master in traditional Chinese painting, Master Sun, was not only skilled in painting but also possessed remarkable insight. At a glance, he noticed Chen Yunlan’s recent state of fluctuation between the essence of Chinese painting and the realism of oil painting, causing a decline in the quality of Chen Yunlan’s Chinese painting.

Chen Yunlan wasn’t angry. After finishing a painting, he couldn’t help but grumble to Qu Ran. At seventeen or eighteen, he was naturally a bit restless. “Qu Ran, do you think I really haven’t grasped the essence in my paintings? I personally feel it’s okay, but the teacher always criticizes my lack of essence. But what can I do? I paint indoors and rely on feelings. My mind only holds so much, and my paintings reflect that.

If I ever have money, I’ll buy a whole hilltop and build a palace there, arrange it in ancient style, and create some lakes and landscapes. Do you think, after that, I’ll be able to paint many Chinese paintings with profound essence? Let’s see if the teacher will still criticize me then.”

As the words fell, Chen Yunlan looked at Qu Ran, hoping for an affirmative answer from him.

Qu Ran looked at Chen Yunlan, smiled, and nodded.

Young people often have grandiose ideas, and their boasting can reach the sky unintentionally. However, unintentional as it may be, the words firmly etched into Qu Ran’s heart.

At that time, it was just talk, and Chen Yunlan quickly forgot about it.

Yes, Chen Yunlan forgot, or at least he thought he did…

When he saw the hotel shaped like a palace, Chen Yunlan hadn’t recalled anything. But when the vermillion gate opened and the specially designed lakes and landscapes lay before him, distant memories he believed he had completely forgotten resurfaced in front of him. It felt like it had happened just yesterday. He could even recall Qu Ran’s expression at the time and feel the warmth of the spring sun on that lazy afternoon.

But what was the use of remembering? Qu Ran was no more; he was already dead!

Chen Yunlan covered his mouth, feeling a pain emanating from somewhere that seemed to numb him. Cold sweat drenched his body as memories of the past burst forth like a flood because of this incident.

Chen Yunlan’s face contorted, his pupils dilated, his gaze scattered. He didn’t even know where he was. Tears or sweat streamed down his face, finally merging into a drop and falling to the ground.

Xie Chunsheng didn’t expect such a strong reaction from Chen Yunlan. He crouched down and reached out to help, but as soon as his hand touched Chen Yunlan, it was forcefully pushed away.

“Don’t touch me!” Chen Yunlan roared with eyes full of rage.

However, in the next moment, something seemed to flash through Chen Yunlan’s mind. He suddenly jumped up from the ground, grabbing Xie Chunsheng’s collar tightly.

“Who are you? Who the hell are you?” Chen Yunlan was half a head shorter than Xie Chunsheng. Despite holding Xie Chunsheng’s collar tightly, he didn’t cause any harm. Instead, he slightly tiptoed himself.

But Chen Yunlan had no attention to spare for his posture at the moment. He stared fixedly at Xie Chunsheng, his eyes showing a mixture of complex emotions, seemingly expecting something. Yet, as soon as this hope arose, he vehemently denied it.

How could it be possible? Qu Ran was already dead. How could a dead person come back to life?

Moreover, Xie Chunsheng’s character was different from Qu Ran’s, and their facial features bore no resemblance whatsoever!

In just a few moments, Chen Yunlan had self-denied multiple times. Yet, none of those denials could extinguish the glimmer of hope in his eyes.

Did Qu Ran come back to life? In some other form?

Chen Yunlan felt like this was the answer, but how could such a bizarre thing be possible in this world? How?

His grip on Xie Chunsheng’s collar tightened involuntarily. Almost pleading, Chen Yunlan asked again, “Who are you? Who are you really? How do you know these things?”

Chen Yunlan knew he had only said those words to Qu Ran, and it was an unconscious, random remark. After saying it, he had forgotten it himself. The only person who would know about that conversation was Qu Ran!

But Qu Ran was already dead!

How did Xie Chunsheng know these things? And how did he create a palace and gather scenic landscapes for himself?

Faced with Chen Yunlan’s questioning, Xie Chunsheng closed his eyes and reached out to embrace Chen Yunlan without saying a word.

In that instant, a long-forgotten familiarity swept over him. This feeling… it was so familiar… inexplicably comforting, calming his entire being.

But was he really Qu Ran?

Was he really?

At this moment, Chen Yunlan dared not ask that question again. Not just because of the strangeness of the question but more because he was afraid—terrified, in fact.

Chen Yunlan was afraid of a negative answer, that Xie Chunsheng was just Xie Chunsheng and Qu Ran was simply Qu Ran. There was no connection between them; everything was merely coincidental.

Yes, Chen Yunlan lacked the courage for this.

When it came to the issue of Qu Ran, Chen Yunlan had always been a coward!

Chen Yunlan despised himself a bit for it in his heart but gradually calmed down.

“I’m sorry, I lost control,” Chen Yunlan pushed away from Xie Chunsheng, standing on his own.

With eyes reddened from crying, it was hard to imagine that the calm person in front of him was the same Chen Yunlan who was just in hysterics.

“Yunlan… I…” Xie Chunsheng reached out to wipe the tears from Chen Yunlan’s face but didn’t know what to say.

Chen Yunlan wanted to brush off Xie Chunsheng’s hand, hesitated for a moment with his hand halfway up, and eventually let it drop.

“Mr. Xie, I want to leave the mountain,” Chen Yunlan said.

The next moment, Xie Chunsheng’s warm fingers gently traced on his face, and a low, slightly hoarse voice followed, “Alright, I’ll escort you down the mountain.”

“Thank you.” Chen Yunlan turned his head, avoiding Xie Chunsheng’s hand, leaving Xie Chunsheng’s palm awkwardly hanging in the air.

Xie Chunsheng pretended everything was fine and withdrew his hand, saying, “Let’s go, I’ll take you down.”

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