A light, long sigh drew itself against the frozen backdrop of the night sky, replacing the stars concealed beneath the cold and furious visage of the world.
Tian Mu’s gaze softened as he stared at the dense forest before him. The world vented its wrath as the stars concealed within the sky revealed their brilliance, the cosmic rays of light fully prepared to claim the elder’s life.
The Grand Elder remained calm in the face of the besotted sky and the grievous earth, his experienced visage reflecting nothing but a serene contentedness.
The grey mist had vanished into a slumbering state of nihility, only to be replaced by the flesh and blood of a young woman.
The young woman’s hand was firmly grasped within his, her warmth coursing through his body, and vice versa.
“[You attempt to tie my destiny]?”
The world thawed in the strange manner it had frozen, and the slew of melodious bells struck the world for the third time.
Tian Mu flinched backwards at the sound, before clarity shone within his eyes that had experienced the world for hundreds of years.
The Grand Elder of the Heavenly Sword Sect revealed a wry smile, his aged countenance displaying a smile contained with mirth and helplessness.
“The Protector accepts the Sanctum’s decree!”
With a bow, an elder and a young woman grasped hands as they walked into the depths of the forest towards the southwest.
The young girl slid down the back to rest at the base of the tree, her countenance listless and devoid of strength.
A grand furor would rise not only at the Heavenly Sword Sect, but also the entire Shattered Star Continent.
When An Fei finally returned to her body, she found herself slumped against the bark of a large towering tree. A pile of leaves had covered her body and the leather bag overnight, providing suitable protection against the night breeze.
…the Grand Elder unexpectedly didn’t take her away by force, and had left her here in the forest?
The young girl released a massive yawn as she stood into a shaky position, her arms stretching towards the sky.
The delicate hand reached upwards towards her face before retracting back into the folds of the linen coat, a large sheet of silken fabric trailing behind her fingertips.
The stunning countenance that was impossible for a human to possess, was finally exposed to the atmosphere.
“That geezer isn’t here…” An Fei murmured to herself, her eyes scanning her surroundings with a hint of anxiety.
“The others may be worried about my disappearance, but definitely not the Empress… I suppose she believes that I followed the elderly man to the Heavenly Sword Sect?”
The fingers of her right hand scratched at the base of her chin in thought, but suddenly stiffened as an uncontrollable heat surged through her body.
The young girl clenched her fists as tight as she could, anger threatening to cloud her conscience.
…she had nearly forgotten that over the span of an incense stick’s worth of time, she had been drawn into an arranged marriage.
Obtained without her consent or opinion, and most definitely enforced without her approval.
Perhaps the only purpose of that shameless Grand Elder chasing after her last night was to inform her of the circumstance?
…then dust off his hands and proudly leave?
“…this can’t do, I have to return.” An Fei stomped her feet in frustration.
“Return and inform Father about this incident. Only then can I…”
The young girl’s voice trailed off into an uncomfortable silence, her countenance frozen with a queer expression. The chirping of birds and the rustle of grasses soon overwhelmed her presence, drowning the forest in their song of life.
A Third-Ranked Imperial Minister treasured by the Emperor pitted against the Empress treasured by the nation for a trivial matter as the arranged marriage of an official’s daughter.
Regardless of how An Fei pieced the articles of information, the result did not appear to be relatively satisfactory.
…or safe for the regard, it was unsure whether the Emperor would support Wei Xuan retaliating against his imperial wife…
The young girl struck the tree with her right fist in a backward swing through the linen sleeve to calm herself down.
The dull thud shattered the momentary haze trapping her mind, allowing An Fei to properly focus without becoming sidetracked by her thoughts.
“Forget the consequences of a fight between Father and the Empress,” the young girl bitterly remarked, shaking her head in disapproval.
“Right now, I don’t even have a method of survival, much less a means of transportation to Jiang’an.”
The meagre arsenal of her possessions amounted to a leather bag drooping against the roots of an oak tree besides her feet.
As for the contents inside, An Fei couldn’t confirm that she was certain, for the young girl had never checked since Sheng Miaolan had packed it for her.
…a few changes of clothes, ointment, and several cosmetics?
An Fei sat onto the ground utilizing the dense knot of tree roots as a stool, her hands reaching for the mouth of the leather pouch towards her right. Loosening the drawstring, the young girl began to extract the contents one by one.
“Five bottles of cosmetics, five jars of… ointments, and a folded spring dress of blue fabric?”
Four of the five bottles of cosmetics were naturally the spoils of the maddened shopping nightmare in the form of a First Madam; from her memories of the jar’s designs and inscriptions, the cosmetics before her constituted of rouge, moisturizing cream, concealer, and… a cleansing cream.
The fifth bottle was no bigger than her palm, the blackened clay sealed by a wooden cork.
…it appeared curious and An Fei was honestly tempted to open the mysterious bottle to inspect its contents, but could only refrain due to the absolute minimum assistance to her current situation.
The jars of ointments diffused a faint fragrance of processed medicine through the sealed lids, allowing An Fei to easily discern the basic properties.
The girl palmed the jars one by one, tapping its sides with her index finger to check for its contents, revealing a satisfied smile as she placed the last jar onto the ground.
“One for burns, blemishes, and scars,” the young girl murmured underneath her breath.
“The jar with the inscribed eagle is a general ointment for wounds, and the other three are for deeper injuries…”
As for the dress… she could wear it later?
Shaking her head with a rueful smile on her dazzling countenance, An Fei collected the array of jars, bottles, and a dress before her, intending on storing them within the leather bag once again.
However, just as she reached in to plump the bag to make the storing process easier, her fingers stroked the surface of a cotton pouch.
Closing her fist around the odd sensation, the young girl retrieved her arm to discover three satchels dangling from her right fist, the drawstrings locked between her fingers.
Three satchels of a dull grey, a pale blue, and a flaming scarlet fabric. One had been gifted from Wei Xuan at the last instant before she climbed into the carriage, and two had been looted from the imperial carriage’s hidden compartment.
“Father said this was a gift…”
The young girl breathed as she palmed the grey satchel in her right hand.
Tugging on the drawstring of the pouch with trembling fingers and exploring its contents with her index finger, An Fei couldn’t help but freeze with an unnatural expression on her countenance.
The next moment, she overturned the pouch above her right hand without a single shred of hesitation.
A gold coin stamped with an oblique number and an archaic symbol landed delicately in the center of her palm, the golden surface brilliantly reflecting the morning rays of sunlight with a cheerful smile.
The young girl fixated her gaze at the grey pouch suspended upside down and pinched by her index finger and thumb, patiently waiting.
A waterfall of coins cascaded over her right arm, bathing the forest ground with a miniature sea of metal. Golden, silver, and copper lights dazzled and blinded An Fei’s eyes, their happy countenances gleaming with the desire to be spent.
When An Fei had finished clearing her vision with her fingers, the young girl found a mountain of wealth staring back at her.
A final coin slapped the backside of her right hand, falling neatly to finish the capstone of the pyramid of coins.
A small mountain of gold, silver, and copper coins that formed a base of fifty centimeters in width, length, and height.
The mountain of wealth proudly stood level with the seated young girl’s stomach, the blistering lights blinding the sea of grass underneath.
A peal of amused laughter struck the arousing forest, the lazy birds attempting to deny the passing of the day startled brilliantly awake by the joyous cry.
“Truly my Father, ah,” An Fei wiped away the tears in her eyes with her fingers, displaying a happy smile towards the pile of wealth besides her feet.
“You’re always so greedy and stingy with your money, did you know that?”
Shaking her head, the young girl began the tedious but pleasing task of scooping the coins into her palms and depositing them into the grey satchel.
Watching the mountain of wealth pour into an astonishingly small fabric pouch, An Fei ensured that none of the coins remained within the forest, even running her hands alongside of the grass in caution.
The grass couldn’t spend money; it would be a waste to casually lose coins in such a location!
The young girl neatly organized the display of jars, bottles, and silken pouches, utilizing the cloth wrapping the dress as a cushioning barrier to protect the ceramic, clay, and porcelain surfaces.
Slinging the leather bag over her shoulder, An Fei took one last look towards the tree and leaves that had protected her throughout the night, before trudging into the depths of the forest.
Seven months of blissful paradise of laziness and slumber, and she had in some inexplicable measure, returned to the wild and vicious filter of the world, to walk the path of painful survival on her lonesome.
“…but how did those tiny pouches carry that many objects within them? A mountain containing hundreds if not thousands of mooncakes, a mountain of wealth enough to drown any wealthy family… this is truly a different world, ah.”