“Your Imperial Highness, when will we exit from the forest?”
Luo Xi raised the question that had tore at her mind in anxiety whilst Feng Yu Xin was wolfing down a large piece of venison.
The empress paused to give the young maiden a spiteful glare, for in her surprise, the rest of the meat on the stick had fallen onto the ground.
…as a result, An Fei was the unfortunate victim selected to fetch the woman another stick spearing a large collection of venison.
“Leaving the forest… at our pace, it should take no longer than three more days…”
Having obtained her trophy, Feng Yu Xin spoke between bites, her demeanor completely unlike that of an Imperial Empress of Great Yong.
The empress seemed not to care about the ogling gazes from the onlooking Young Misses of Jiang’an, cheerfully conversing with Luo Xi whilst commanding An Fei to obtain more venison.
“Three days?” Luo Xi repeated in an astounded voice.
“Then… are we centered around the outskirts of the forest?”
“Not quite, albeit after three days, we should indeed have reached the outskirts of the forest.” The empress chuckled.
“Then… the transference array launched us into the depths of the forest?” Zhang Yuewen thanked An Fei for the meat before turning around in confusion.
“What about the creatures Your Imperial Highness mentioned? Those…”
“Oh? You mean those spiritual beasts capable of slaughtering a cultivator of the Core Formation Realm?”
Feng Yu Xin revealed a thin sneer, the beautiful countenance lighting up the expressions of those near the bonfire.
“Those spiritual beasts only reside within the central regions of the forest due to the higher concentration of spiritual qi in the atmosphere. Unless they were hunting for food for a cub or youngling, those creatures would usually disdain to even emerge into the outer regions.”
The young maidens revealed an expression of understanding at the empress’ concise explanation, though they harbored the hope that the current journey would remain peaceful until they exited from the forest.
Zhang Yuewen revealed her hopeful look without a single care, yet Luo Xi noted that it was ever-increasingly difficult to fathom what other chaos the belle was likely to incur.
It was at that time that An Fei returned once more, her hands empty unlike the usual trips Feng Yu Xin forced her to undergo.
Similarly, the young girl revealed a dark expression easily noticeable through the veil, a faint aura of gloominess emanating from her body.
“Hm?” Feng Yu Xin frowned, her left hand absentmindedly rubbing her stomach.
“You didn’t bring any back?”
“…there was no more.”
The young girl replied with a flat tone.
Just seconds later, a suppressed growl escaped her stomach, causing the An Fei’s expression to darken even further.
“Ah…” Zhang Yuewen sighed with an apologetic expression on her attractive countenance.
“Sorry about that. Sister Fei, you can have mine, no need to starve yourself.”
In her preoccupied state of conversing with the empress, the belle had forgotten that the stick of speared venison was clutched in her hand.
Although An Fei received a stick of venison that was untouched, the meat had gotten rather stale, the delicious fats having dripped onto the ground over time.
The young girl puffed her cheeks in annoyance, turning away from the rest to consume the ruined meat in silence.
“Ah…” Feng Yu Xin scratched her head with an awkward expression, gazing at the young girl with a look of pity.
However, the thought of an angered Wei Xuan blaspheming her name and accusing her of mistreating his daughter was sufficient for the empress to offer a token of compensation.
“Xiao An Fei, sorry for making you starve whilst we ate, ah. When we get back to the carriage, let bengong treat you with some of bengong’s treasured yuebing– eat to your heart’s content!”
After all, a promise guaranteed by a Faceless coin was a little too stringent and harsh… she definitely couldn’t be lax and laid-back as she wanted too…
Hearing the exorbitant compensation offered by the apologetic empress, An Fei didn’t hesitate for a moment as she grasped the olive branch with earnest.
The young girl turned back around to face the rest of the group, her small, adorable mouth chewing on cooled venison with a surprising amount of vigor.
The looks of apology and pity from the Young Misses of the Zhang and Luo families instantly transformed into those of envy, an underlying intent in their eyes as they directed a deep gaze towards An Fei.
The target in question continued to savor the vestiges of what used to be succulent venison, ignoring the pleas from Zhang Yuewen and Luo Xi.
You merely sat by as I had to run back and forth delivering meat for the three of you, thus you won’t get any mooncake!
In the gathering, the carriage drivers proceeded to stomp out the fire, leaving the embers smoldering underneath a warm bed of charred wood.
Night had unknowingly crept up from behind whilst they were enjoying dinner, and the horses required some rest and grazing.
Travelling continuously for several hours each day without pause, that level of exertion and fatigue was sufficient to topple even the empress’ eight horses of superior breed.
If not for their sublime abilities, the eight horses would have long fallen to the ground with foam leaking from their mouths.
Traversing a distance of ninety to a hundred kilometers a day was not… exactly enjoyable or rewarding, be it horse or human.
Taking one last longing look towards the blackwood Imperial carriage, the Young Misses of Jiang’an proceeded to clamber into their respective carriages to rest for another night.
Just as the first maiden placed her foot onto the wooden steps leading into the depths of the carriage, a sharp whistle pierced through the gathering.
Feng Yu Xin roared as a dazzling scarlet light exploded from her body, the atmosphere directly enveloping her body drastically increasing in temperature.
The empress quickly stood, her right hand grasping onto a sharp spear formed from scarlet flames.
Zhang Yuewen and Luo Xi fled towards An Fei’s position, their countenances tinged with apprehension at the circle of flames emanating from Feng Yu Xin’s body.
The belle had to pat out several sparks that threatened to latch onto the spring dress clinging to her body, causing her expression to turn glum.
“Halt! We don’t mean any harm, may Fellow Practitioner please remain calm!”
The source of the whistle rushed into the gathering, revealing themselves to be a group of youths led by an elderly man with a thin, trailing beard.
The intruders wore an unadorned robe of clean, white linen, and supported a sheathed sword, a jian, on their back.
The elder did not possess a sword, but instead grasped an oaken staff in his right hand. Approaching the remnants of the bonfire, the elderly man’s countenance bloomed into a happy smile upon noticing the empress’ presence.
“Yu Xin!” he exclaimed with joy.
“I was on my way leading these few disciples to Great Yong to partake in the upcoming martial arts competition, it’s truly heaven’s blessing that I meet you here! Come, put that spear down, ah, don’t tell me you’re going to skewer your old friend upon first glance?”
Feng Yu Xin repeated with a dumbstruck countenance.
With a wave of her hand, the scarlet flames and the spear dissipated into strands of colored light, revealing a dense ring of scorch marks decorating the earth where the spear had singed the grass.
“What are you doing here?” the empress raised an eyebrow as she walked towards the elderly man with the long beard, offering a powerful hug.
“Shouldn’t you be sitting in your lonely pavilion, fiddling your thumbs as you try to break through in your cultivation?”
“Hey! Don’t slander me with such words in front of my disciples!”
The old man protested with an indignant tone, albeit his countenance remained beaming with joy.
“This old thing decided to take a breath of fresh air, and you, whom I have not seen for countless years, decide to slander my reputation the first time we meet!? Aiyo, my heart, ah!”
“Enough faking an illness, perhaps you might beget a real one soon,” the empress laughed, sweeping a scrutinizing glance over the plethora of disciples trailing behind the elderly man.
“However… you could have assigned an elder to escort some disciples to Jiang’an, or simply have them travel by themselves, garnering experience. Why did you have to come in person?”
“This…” Tian Mu stroked his beard with an awkward expression.
Gesturing towards the gaggle of Young Misses spectating from besides their carriages, the elderly man directed a questioning glance towards the empress.
Feng Yu Xin couldn’t help but sigh.
“Alright then, come with me. We’ll have a good chat over some wine as usual.”
The empress shrugged, striding towards the blackwood carriage that was detached from its customary eight horses.
Vividly remembering the promised compensation of mooncake, the young girl quickly followed the empress and elderly man to the imperial carriage.
Watching their elder walk off towards the fringes of the gathering without leaving behind a single instruction, the youths dressed in the white robes looked at each other with confused expressions.
Ultimately, they began to construct a large camping establishment surrounding the smoldering embers of the dying bonfire, helpless expressions decorating their countenance as they separated into two large tents, one for male, the other for females.
Grand Elder, you’re just going to leave your pitiful disciples like that to chat with some beautiful woman?
As the ancients said, men are easily bewitched by a beautiful countenance, ah!