Following Feng Yu Xin’s instructions, An Fei twisted the incense burner at the center of the wooden table one revolution towards the right.
With a sharp clench, the incense burner actually disengaged from the surface of the table, and the young girl could see a series of engraved channels spiraling down its length.
Surprisingly, the incense burner had been screwed into the wooden table from the start, and did not serve as a decoration.
Where the incense burner once guarded with ardor, was a cylindrical channel that lead to a hidden compartment.
When An Fei stared down into the cavity, she could only see a permeating darkness, unable to gauge its depth or dimensions.
“Blue silken pouch… blue silken pouch,” the young girl murmured to herself, the fingers of her right hand curling and straightening in uncertainty.
With a deep breath, An Fei inserted her hand into the cylindrical channel, before rotating her arm around.
Hopefully, the empress was not aiming a malicious intent towards her…
Her hand didn’t manage to make contact with the end of the hidden compartment.
Rather, regardless of where she angled her arm, An Fei could not do anything more than flounder her hand around in a thin airy substance.
It seemed that if she focused on the sensations of her fingertips, she could faintly discern a series of objects gently brushing by her hand… as if it were an interconnected web of threads?
An Fei groaned to herself, her left hand rubbing her hollowed stomach.
Pursing her lips with a hint of resigned listlessness, the young girl closed her eyes in anticipation, her fingers searching for the threads once more.
Nothing but that unusual airy substance that floated within the hidden compartment… but there were indeed a few fluctuations of throbbing sensations when she angled her fingers towards her right.
With a fluid motion, the young girl jerked her arm out of the cylindrical sheath… only to reveal a pair of satchels clenched securely within her palm.
One appeared to be covered in a blue silken covering as the empress had described, whilst the other was of a scarlet fabric.
“Do I… return the red one?” An Fei mused to herself, her countenance behind the veil puckering with indecision.
Placing the red sachet on a random spot of the table, the young girl began to unwind the drawstring of the blue, silken pouch, her eyes reflecting a sense of anticipation.
Her index finger hesitantly stretched over the mouth of the pouch, before creeping into the interior with a trepid movement.
An instant later, An Fei’s countenance displayed a delighted expression, the pair of scarlet irises revealing a hint of indulged satisfaction.
Within the blue colored pouch that was even smaller than her own palm, she could feel a large quantity of mooncakes stored within, perfectly preserved and freshened.
They were plump and exceedingly soft to the touch, and upon extracting one to inspect it herself, the young girl nearly visually salivated at the aromatic fragrance.
The circular shape with protruding arcs as well as the intricate pattern inscribed on top, these were truly mooncakes from the Pavilion of Everlasting Feasts, the lotus seed yuebing that she could only see and be tormented by its fragrance the only time she had left the study of the Flowing Wind Residence…
Without another thought, An Fei broke off a piece of the pastry with her index finger and thumb, fully intending on savoring the delicious treasure before her.
Unlike before, she had sufficient time to herself to maximize her enjoyment, and a large quantity to engorge herself if she desired.
There were several mountains of yuebing contained within this small pouch from what she could feel with a cursory sweep; Feng Yu Xin was never getting this pouch from An Fei, not until she had helped herself to all of them!
“…Yu Xin, ah, you really won’t help this old one with a favor?”
The voice of an old man drifted from the slightly ajar window of the imperial carriage, causing the young girl within to pause her swaying motion and perk her ears in interest.
A breath later, the creaking of wood could be heard as a person leaned against the wall of the blackwood carriage, and a heavy sigh suffused the atmosphere of the forest.
“I truly can’t grant you a favor for this, ah.”
Feng Yu Xin’s exasperated voice filtered through the window, causing An Fei to lick her thumb to clean off the remaining caramelized sugar to remain silent.
The creaking of wood sang once more, followed by a bemused grunt.
“You haven’t even heard my request, and you’ve already denied it?”
The mysterious elder shot back with a sigh. In response, the empress released an audible snort of disdain, her countenance displaying an unhappy expression on the opposite side of the carriage’s wall.
“I can’t see how you wouldn’t be issuing such a heavy request with that expression of yours,” Feng Yu Xin slowly elaborated.
“In the years that we have known each other, you only display this sort of behavior and gloomy expression when you’re about to spell ominous tasks or circumstances. I have a task to complete this time, and it’s of an extent that an Empress of Great Yong must divert significant regard to.”
“I know that you have great responsibility on your hands, ah,” the old man consoled with a gentle tone.
“You’re the sitting empress of one of the Three Great Empires of the continent, and such a task as this one is of utmost importance to even someone like you. However, while all you will garner from failure is a heavy admonishment from the public, if I fail my task, it will spell downfall towards my family and perhaps even the entire Heavenly Sword Sect!”
“Oh? What could cause the great Tian Mu to become so flustered?”
Feng Yu Xin raised an eyebrow, her bewitching eyes displaying a hint of solemnness and gravity.
The elderly man sighed, propping his seated figure with his wooden staff in a sense of fatigue.
“This matter… my third great-grandson has finally reached the age of adulthood,” Tian Mu finally spoke after hemming and hawing for several long moments.
The old man gazed at the empress in silence for a long period of time, the pair of astute and experienced eyes conveying hidden information of the highest secrecy.
“You know the condition with my grandson. Three hundred years had to pass before he finally was able to get a woman pregnant. It is just that his eight son, Ming Xia, possesses an extraordinary circumstance.”
“Extraordinary circumstance?” the empress frowned, confusion beginning to bite deeply and gnaw at her soul.
“Are you talking about the lad’s circumstances with his cultivation, or…”
“Everything,” Tian Mu interrupted with a decisive tone, his voice hardened with an undying hint of stern gravity.
“His physique is completely unknown from the records within the entire Shattered Star Continent, and we could only determine that he was unable to cultivate. However, what startled us to no bitter end was that with mere words, the lad could manipulate the nearby elements of the world, even the atmospheric spiritual qi itself.”
“Manipulating the spiritual qi within the atmosphere with just his words!?”
Feng Yu Xin gawked, her countenance firmly displaying a deep-rooted terror.
The empress directed a stern glare towards the elderly man, the pair of charming eyes refusing any hint of deception.
“Manipulation of the nearby elements without the use of an extensive martial arts technique or a mutant phenomenon is reserved only for cultivators of the Peak Nascent Soul Realm; unfortunately, even then, such a phenomenon is far too inefficient. Tian Mu, do not lie to bengong!”
“Surely you know that regarding matters such as this, I am unwilling to, and am completely unable to deceive?”
Tian Mu revealed a bitter, self-condescending sneer.
“You should now be aware of why I seek you help. Ming Xia is soon to be of age, and by Shattered Star Continent’s culture, he should take a wife to propagate his descendants, and assist in his cultivation. Surely… I don’t need to explain any further?”
The young girl at the other side of the wall peered at the blackwood surface through the corner of her vision, almost as if she were capable of piercing through to observe the presence of the two sighing figures of authority.
Crumbs of mooncake nestled above her bottom lip, the flakes of sweet lotus seed filling begging to be consumed.
“His first wife… this is truly a serious matter.”
Feng Yu Xin finally conceded.
The empress gazed at the desolate sky devoid of stars, the solitary moonlight illuminating the solemn expression on her countenance.
“If you had only asked of this request whilst I was still at the Imperial Palace…” the woman mused after a long moment of contemplation.
“Back then, I could easily provide you a list of suitable candidates who are not only faithful, pure, and virtuous, but now…”
“I know. Such is the cruel laugh destiny imposes upon us mortals who reside underneath the sky,” Tian Mu barked with a sobering laugh.