“And thus, the two of you are already intertwined in the delicate and omnipotent strings of destiny!”
Tian Mu revealed an apologetic smile towards the silent An Fei as he finished speaking.
The clearly devastated expression on her countenance was perceivable through the veil that aptly concealed her appearance from even his perception, causing a sore twinge of guilt to strike his heart.
Seeing how the girl refused to speak another word even after the full length of a cup of tea’s time had passed, the Grand Elder couldn’t help but visibly palpitate in panic.
The old man wished to rush over and confirm with his eyes, yet his conscience finally grasped ahold of his mind, keeping him firmly rooted in place.
He… he didn’t scare the young lass to death with his words… right?
She… she wouldn’t hate Ming Xia for this… would she?
“Little lass… Little lass?” Tian Mu waved his hand before An Fei’s dull countenance in worry.
“Are you alright? Can you hear this elderly thing’s words?”
The lack of a response thoroughly terrified the elder man, and the Grand Elder couldn’t restrain himself from berating his age-old habit of shamelessness.
If the young girl before him received far too much of a shock because of his words, then his plans would have been ruined…
…An Fei had truly and visibly lost consciousness from last statement uttered from the Grand Elder’s mouth.
The finishing attack dealt by Tian Mu’s shameless habit possessed an overwhelming fatal property, causing the young girl’s consciousness to immediately flee into the Sanctum without a single breath of hesitation.
Unfortunately for both the young girl and the Grand Elder of the Heavenly Sword Sect, the Sanctum seemed to have become enraged by the old fool’s brash words.
However, it was not the notion of arranging a marriage, but a different field of interest…
The young girl’s body suddenly jerked, a short burst of soulful bells ringing in the distance as the girl parted her mouth by the slightest amount.
The release of the bells caused an invisible fluctuation to ravage the young girl’s immediate surroundings, and the faint intricacies of the atmospheric spiritual qi began to distort under its influence.
“Little lass, did you say something?”
Tian Mu frowned, his eyes gazing towards the young girl with an inquiring expression.
The Grand Elder knit his brows in thought, faintly realizing that a subtle but drastic change had occurred to the atmosphere’s boundless spiritual qi.
The spiritual qi seemed exceptionally sluggish and unresponsive, and didn’t resonate with the pulse of spiritual essence confined within his Nascent Soul.
Nonetheless, the elderly man didn’t get another opportunity to inspect the changes to the atmosphere.
“[You attempt to tie my destiny]?”
Another slew of melodic bells escaped the young girl’s mouth, and the world vibrated in an unnatural but beautiful harmony.
The gentle breeze that had playfully cajoled and flirted with the blooming trees, plants, and grasses stilled, nearby life slowing to a tranquil cessation of existence and movement.
The world had inadvertently frozen to a halt by the sounds of the bells, yet Tian Mu was blissfully unaware of such phenomena.
“[You attempt to tie my destiny]?”
“Little lass, are you alright!?”
The Grand Elder panicked as the salvo of melodious bell sounds erupted from the young girl’s throat for a second time.
The old man ignored all warnings of his consciousness’ screams of terror and absolute fear, placing two fingers against a major vein of the young girl’s neck.
The young girl remained standing in position, her appearance no different than the frozen world.
Her mouth moved a third time, yet nothing but frigid air escaped from her body.
“Ah Mu, are you alright?”
A gentle voice broke past Tian Mu’s concentration, a heavy hammer slamming against the delicate intricacies of his mind without mercy.
Trapped in a dazed state of mind, the Grand Elder’s fingers slipped from the young girl’s neck to return and hang listlessly at his side.
He had completely forgotten that in the bare minimum time that he had managed to read the young girl’s pulse, he had obtained absolutely nothing.
The veins remained cold and unmoving, the blood frozen within the vessels as the suffused vitality ground to a halt.
Nor was he cognizant of the fact that grass underneath his sandaled feet no longer swayed against his skin, brushing his legs in the constantly affectionate caress he had received from the world.
The Grand Elder similarly froze in place as the young girl had, his eyes opened wide in disbelief and astonishment.
That voice… he knew far too well.
That voice… he had never obtained the opportunity to receive and nuzzle his ear against for hundreds of years.
That voice… he had not heard in hundreds of years, but that single call was sufficient to trigger the deepest sentiments within his shameless heart, causing a torrential flood of emotions to wrack his soul and body.
“Ah Mu! Are you alright!?”
“Yes! Yes, I am alright!”
Tian Mu snapped into action as if doused in boiling oil, his movements no longer restrained by the mysterious phenomena.
The Grand Elder whirled towards his right with the fastest speed his cultivation could muster, his aged joints creaking from the effort.
The forest had vanished from his gaze.
The dense ocean of towering trees and proliferating plantlife had been replaced by the edge of a tranquil plains, divided by a small river bubbling with innocent happiness and affection.
The old man could hear the chirping of birds, the rustling of grass by a gentle, calming breeze… and a wooden cottage standing near the riverside.
The cottage was exceptionally modest, taking up a maximum area of twenty-five square meters.
The exterior had been constructed with a mottled mixture of logs obtained from the other side of the river, halved and stacked to form a natural and study partition.
A young woman in her early twenties stood against the entrance of the door, dressed in a plain green dress restricted to that of a villager.
She was of ordinary appearance, possessing little qualities that struck the onlooker as attractive or strikingly beautiful.
Average, plain, poor, and of common existence. Everything regarding the young woman radiated a powerful aura of humility and yet, a shred of discontent could not be found on her countenance.
The young woman called towards Tian Mu, her countenance blooming into an exquisite smile. The smile radiated an innocent happiness and affection, as well as undisguised joy.
A simple smile that wasn’t reserved for special occasions, and was a commonality that he had witnessed each day…
A smile that remained with supreme clarity despite the cruel grinding of time…
The hoarse whisper escaped from Tian Mu’s throat, accompanied by two tears that splattered against the ground.
The elderly man lurched a step forward, a burning sensation threatening to boil his heart alive.
The young woman appeared so distant, so illusionary, that the Grand Elder feared that a single mishap, a single gust of air that was misappropriated, was capable of ruining the scenery before him for all eternity.
He feared that should a case occur, he would lose the young woman before his gaze not only in reality, but in the sacred remnants of his memory.
Thus, Tian Mu could only take a step forward, and no more.
“Ah Mu, come quickly, ah!” the young woman encouraged with her charming smile.
“Come, lunch is about ready to be served, and you don’t want to miss my specially grilled salmon, do you?”
“I… I would love to have your grilled salmon again…” the old man whispered in a halting voice, before shaking his head with a despair-filled expression.
“But… I can’t. I can’t come over.”
“Ah Mu, come quickly!” the young woman extended both arms towards the elderly man.
“There’s no need to coop yourself in sadness. Come, and we can have lunch!”
“Xi’er, I can’t,” Tian Mu shook his head fiercely, the tears streaming from his countenance as his lips fought to remain steady.
“Xi’er, it is already approaching four…four hundred years… since your… your… funeral. I can’t join you now… I’ve fallen too far.”
The young woman paused for a brief instant at the Grand Elder’s words.
Just as she began to speak, the scenery misted over with a fine, dense haze of monochromic gray.
The scenery of the riverside, the plain little cottage of mixed wood, the bubbling river, and the young woman; all became surreal within an instant before the Grand Elder’s eyes.
“Ah Mu…” the voice of the young woman distorted as if doused in acrylic as the mist contracted and expanded in a cyclic motion, as if she were in great pain.
“For hundreds of years… I have stood by your side as the single solitary flower… to ease your sadness, the tiny flickering spark of heat… to keep you warm during the winter, and have… have smiled at you through the grass in the spring. One step… one step, and I –“
The young woman’s voice was quelled to nothing as the mist constricted into a compact ball before the Grand Elder’s eyes.
Before the elderly man could react, the mist dissipated into the atmosphere, hundreds of grey threads of light soaring towards the frozen midnight sky.
Tian Mu looked towards his feet whilst repeating the young woman’s words in a muted breath.
A moment later, the Grand Elder of the Heavenly Sword Sect couldn’t help but stiffen, a myriad of emotions coursing through his body in an unstoppable torrent.
There, besides his feet, lay a thin strip of the gray mist; the same mist that had enveloped the scenery of the young woman and the riverside cottage.
Happiness, relief, grief, sorrow… the emotions crashed against his heart and mind, bestowing a permanent itch that pleaded towards the heartless consciousness.
His mind told him that it was nothing but a complex and impressively potent illusion, yet his heart persistently affirmed the presence of the young woman without a single doubt.
A clash between reason and hope, the cold reality of the mortal world and a fleeting hope brought by the faint allure of a tender dream of the soul.
The Grand Elder murmured through gritted teeth.
His body trembled fiercely, reason and emotions engaged in a bitter struggle that threatened to capsize his soul.
The world itself froze for the slightest of moments; all life halted their fluctuation of vitality to display their respect towards the sole man who had chosen to exile himself from his patron existence, the world that had birthed him, reared him, and sought to terminate his life.
The Grand Elder of the Heavenly Sword Sect took a single step forward, his right foot immersing itself within the affectionate gray mist.
As the single foot traversed through the air, time stretched to accommodate an eternity of sentiments and desires, emotions and a silent tranquility.