Jiang’an truly stood as the capital city of Great Yong.
The city of wealth, the city housing the Imperial Palace, but most importantly, it was known as the unreachable city of the empire.
The rumors of Jiang’an astounding defensibility could be confirmed with a single glance, and many envied it for the safe haven it provided for the citizens.
From within the city, Jiang’an appeared as nothing more than a prosperous, well-flourishing Imperial City of an empire.
Millions of people perpetually resided within its gates, giving rise to generation after generation of scholars, officials, warriors, and of course, cultivators.
However, Jiang’an was a completely different story when observed from outside of its perimeter.
When the three maidens had opened the windows of the carriage the instant they were permitted to do so, the first glance of the world outside was enough to terrify them to their wits.
Be it the energetic and close-to-earth Zhang Yuewen, the calm and reserved Luo Xi, or the perpetually fatigued An Fei, none of them could sit straight upon glancing outside.
Their fingers clutched tightly to the wooden rip, daring not to let go.
Jiang’an… stood atop of a massive pillar that towered for several thousand meters into the air.
The ground appeared to be ever-distant, the vast strips of land a mere smear of greenish color in their vision.
The city walls loomed over their heads akin to mighty goliaths forbidding entry to the final sanctuary, loyal guardians of the slumbering tomb of the emperor.
Not even the Imperial Palace, the highest building within Jiang’an, could be spotted from outside of the city walls.
The pillar’s surface expanded outwards for several kilometers at the very least, extending in a pattern not unlike the branches of a sturdy acacia tree.
The imperial carriage and others continued to traverse at their mighty speed, forcing An Fei to be unable to make out any clear details regarding the material of the pillar.
The green blobs of color to the left and right of the carriage… were they farms? And the white plumes soaring even higher into the sky… what were they?
The young girl’s body swayed against the blazing wind, her hair flowing in all directions from the sheer speed.
Eventually, feeling that her body would give and fall onto the ground of unknown material, An Fei pushed herself back into the safe confines of the carriage, her countenance behind the veil deathly pale.
“Heavens…” Zhang Yuewen murmured with trembling lips.
“We were living in a city several kilometers in the air… and we didn’t even notice?”
Luo Xi and An Fei remained mute whilst the belle in the begonia spring dress sought comfort from nearby blankets to forcefully quell her shivers.
With a peal of laughter, Feng Yu Xin steadily stood to close the windows of the carriage, dampening the somber atmosphere within.
“Enough moping, ah,” the empress shook her head with a wry smile.
“If this is sufficient to surprise you, what wouldn’t scare the three of you to death later on when you explore the world?”
“Who said I was… I was… going to explore the world?” the belle swung her head from side to side in consternation.
“I-I-I’m content here,” Luo Xi finally stuttered, her fingers nearly crinkling her robe from stress.
“I’ll… r-return to Jiang’an right after v-v-visiting the Taiyi Sect…”
“Oh?” Feng Yu Xin raised an eyebrow in amusement. Fixing her gaze onto the young girl, the empress rested her chin onto her palm, a lazy expression portrayed to its fullest potential on her countenance.
“…Father told me to come back the instant I visited the Taiyi Sect,” An Fei finally murmured, her eyes quickly fluttering in a silent yawn.
The empress’ eyebrow twitched at the mention of Wei Xuan’s name, her fingers clenched tight to prevent herself from reaching over and throwing the girl out of the carriage.
Forcefully releasing a heavy breath of air and shaking her head with a wry smile, Feng Yu Xin quelled her words with a piece of candied fruit.
One day, just one day! She was going to force words out from this little girl, words that did not begin with “Father’s orders”!
“Esteemed driver,” Zhang Yuewen calmed her shaking hands with a cup of tea.
“How does one usually… descend from Jiang’an?”
There was a momentary pause as the driver appeared to have fallen into contemplation. However, a rough hand knocked thrice onto the inner carriage door, and the driver’s voice rang through.
“Young Miss Zhang,” the middle-aged driver paused for a breath.
“Descending from Jiang’an can only be done from the government-mandated bridge, which we should arrive by midnight. After then… the Young Miss should experience this for herself, this old fellow, hehe, have promised not to divulge!”
A bridge connecting this massive city that stood thousands of meters in the air to… where, exactly?
The thought rang in the minds of the three young women, equally puzzled auras filling the atmosphere of the carriage. With a collective sigh, they soon returned to laze around the couches, consuming small slivers of candied fruit and nuts whilst complaining about their growing weight, or surprisingly, not returning to sleep.
The young girl could only continue to direct glance after glance towards the blocked view that portrayed an astounding Jiang’an.
The fleeting glance that displayed an unbreakable city that soared kilometers into the sky, one impregnable regardless of the attacker, would remain in her memory long after the city had crumbled to nothing but dust.
“Your Imperial Highness, we have arrived!”
The driver’s shout startled the four occupants of the carriage awake, and each of them blearily rubbed at their eyes in drowsiness.
Shaking her head numerous times to clear the fogginess in her consciousness, An Fei raised her hands to slide the wooden covers to peer out of the carriage…
Just as the carriage driver had mentioned, it was completely pitch black, the moon unable to be seen from their position.
Row upon row of torches illuminated their surroundings, the tiny tongues of orange-scarlet flames lapping at the heels of midnight.
Gazing towards the back of the carriage, the young girl could faintly spot the silhouette of a massive behemoth, and a rather long line of carriages.
It seemed… that they had arrived at a waypoint?
“Your Imperial Highness!”
A soldier dressed in steel armor strode towards the reverse end of the carriage, dipping his body into a full kneeling position below the windowsill as he called in a powerful but deferential voice.
Directly above the carriage, An Fei gazed at the kneeling soldier in interest, the pair of scarlet irises flickering with amusement.
Feng Yu Xin’s exhausted voice rang from within the carriage, startling both the soldier and the young girl poking her head out of the window.
Quickly recovering his consciousness, the soldier resumed his kneel, whilst An Fei slowly drew her head back into the carriage, her hands gently pushing away the countenances of Zhang Yuewen and Luo Xi.
“Soldier, is the array fully prepared?” the empress released a rippling yawn, patting her parted lips with her elegant hand.
“Answering Your Imperial Highness, the transportation array is currently operating at optimal strength. Your Imperial Highness may depart whenever!”
The soldier reported in a respectful manner, his right hand clasped against his heart. Feng Yu Xin frowned for a moment, looking at the long-cleared table of refreshments without a single break in her expression.
“Before we depart, do stock bengong’s carriage with some consumable supplies,” the empress finally remarked in a dry tone.
“Understood! This soldier shall carry out Your Imperial Highness’ order immediately!”
With a clash of steel gauntlets on steel breastplate, the soldier immediately strode away from the imperial carriage, headed towards his superior. An Fei took the chance to jut her head out of the windowsill once more, this time gazing towards the front of the carriage.
The darkness of the night prevented her from accurately observing anything in detail, but… was that a disproportionately large gate?
“What… is that?”
The young girl murmured to herself, her countenance displaying an expression of confusion.
The structure that appeared to form a gate seemed to be made of the same material as the base of the platform that supported the city, and numerous etched symbols seemed to circumvent the gaping maw at the center.
Was this… the bridge the carriage driver had talked about?
“What is that, a gate?” Zhang Yuewen’s voice rang directly behind An Fei’s ear, the belle reaching forward to stare at the gate.
“But it’s so dark, and I don’t see a bridge of some sort… how do we get down onto the ground then?”
“A transference array?” Luo Xi’s voice questioned from within the carriage, her fingers massaging the other to stave off any future anxiety.
“However… a transference array that transports people for several kilometers at a single usage will consume a vast quantity of resources per trip, and there’s at least a thousand carriages…”
At the Young Miss of the Luo Family’s statement, Feng Yu Xin revealed a faint knowing smile, but deigned not to speak any further.
The empress stifled another mighty yawn with her fingertips, observing the three young maidens before her with an expectant gaze.
“Your Imperial Highness, the supplies have been loaded.”
The carriage driver’s voice could be heard through the wooden walls of the inner cabin. Revealing a smile, Feng Yu Xin parted her lips, a single word escaping her throat towards the soldiers waiting nearby.
“Begin!” the soldier cried, the torch in his hand beginning a strange dance as it arced around his body, sweeping above his head and winding between his limbs in a frenzied manner.
Unknown to An Fei, the same phenomenon occurred just a few meters away, another soldier recognizing and mimicking the bizarre dance of fire.
The dance of the torch traversed throughout the entire outpost shrouded in night, reaching a group of people who stood besides a stone pillar in a matter of minutes.
A roar escaped from the throats of the soldiers stationed at the outpost, the massive shockwave of sound rampaging throughout the area without mercy.
Before the young girl and belle could retract their heads into the safety of the carriage, the somber symbols etched into the gate burst with an uncanny light, transforming night into a green, ghoulish day of a specter’s sun.