With the thought of brewing rice wine pestering her mind, the young girl finally ran towards the armory of the first corridor to extricate the black iron wok for the umpteenth time.
When An Fei hauled it back to the medicine garden, the young girl could be seen with a goofy smile on her countenance with a delighted hum escaping her throat.
Piled within the large wok of black iron was a large assortment of trays, jars, and fabrics.
The young girl clutched the wok to her body as she carefully waddled towards the designated area devoid of medicinal plants, her arms incapable of reaching across the utensil’s circumference.
An Fei heavily placed the black iron pot onto the trifold support she had utilized from her initial attempt of cooking, before emptying its contents and setting them aside.
“Then… to light it up… was it…” The young girl scratched her head, her beautiful countenance displaying a tinge of bewilderment and embarrassment.
“Oh… whatever! Nobody is watching me anyways… [Ignite].”
The ring of melodious bells tolled within the medicine garden, a thread of golden flame emerging from the young girl’s right index fingertip to glare at the atmosphere.
The golden thread drifted across space to land onto the hollowed earth, abruptly expanding into a golden ball of flames.
The end of the thread connecting to An Fei’s fingertip quickly disengaged itself, landing into the ball of fire in less than the span of a breath.
A quiet crackle of familiarity and enjoyment rang across the medicine garden, and the flames rose into a plume to gently support the bottom of the black iron wok.
“Mm… even more efficient than a gas lighter…”
The young girl nodded in appreciation, her lips curving upwards to reveal a delighted smile.
With a quick stretch, An Fei gathered the numerous jars into her hands, before rushing off towards the stream.
As the fire began the process of warming up the bottom of the black iron wok, the young girl began the numerous trips of transporting water into the wok until it was about half full.
Then followed the arduous but rewarding task of shelling the grains and extricating the plump white rice seed from its browned shell, placing it into the warmed bath of water.
An Fei inadvertently began humming to herself as she carried out the mechanical chore, her mind flowing back to her early memories as a tender child.
A young girl watching from the side with curious eyes as an elderly man bent at his waist to pluck the white rice from the browned enclosures, then bathing them in hot water for a full hour.
Two pairs of hands, one elderly and the other young, handled the grains of white rice with a tender gaze, as though it were the most priceless object in the world.
Once the rice had been soaked for the full duration, replace the water and steam for thirty minutes or until the familiar fragrance of rice struck the soul.
The elderly hands placed the perfectly cooked grains of rice onto a pair of chipped porcelain bowls, whilst the delicate and younger pair distributed them onto a tray.
The elderly hands prepared the additional condiments and side dishes, and the younger pair spread the rice evenly on the iron tray, allowing the rice to cool.
“Grandfather… to think that I would try brewing rice wine here…”
An Fei whispered to herself, her scarlet irises brimming with a nostalgic sorrow. Before she could immerse herself in her memories, the young girl slapped her wrist, rousing her mind from the past.
“Enough for now. What I need next… yeast…”
Yeast could be found anywhere, and was usually scraped from the surface of plant leaves, fruits, fungi, and the intestinal tracts of deceased animals.
However, the young girl had noticed through an arbitrarily helpful book that within the Sanctum was an herb known as the Rotwood Herb – an apt substitute of yeast, albeit its slightly inappropriate title.
The Rotwood Herb appeared in the form of a small balled mushroom, and was customarily a brown color throughout.
The young girl found a cluster of the mushrooms a few meters away from the cluster of rice, and scraped a little of the underside onto the spread and cooled rice.
An Fei poured the rice into the jars, followed by the distributed portions of the Rotwood Herb, then a few drops of an extract of Nine Leaf Purple Lotus into each jar.
The young girl continued to transfer water into the wok, causing the filled and stoppered jars to float in the warmed container.
“I… want fire… at a lowered temperature…”
The golden ball of flames released a few sparks of acquiescence towards the young girl’s request, and the flames licking the underside of the black iron wok lowered in height and intensity.
With a satisfied nod, An Fei carefully cleaned the trays and tools she had utilized, before returning to the haven demarcated by the square of fabric.
Thus, for the next few days, the rustling of pages continued to be accompanied by the muted crackle of cheerful flames.
An Fei fished an earthenware jar from the black iron wok, removing the stopper and taking in a deep breath.
The sweet and mellow fragrance of rice wine struck her nose, causing the young girl to pause in her movements and reveal a giddy smile of appreciation.
“Nine Leaf Purple Lotus… was more potent than I thought…”
The young girl murmured, removing the remaining jars from the wok filled with warmed water.
Without requiring her command, the ball of flames receded into the thin and immaculate golden thread, traversing through the air to reside within An Fei’s fingertip.
The young girl quickly prepared the unused jars of white mutton jade, and utilized the small cloths to strain the mixture.
As the torrent of fermented and distilled rice wine cascaded into the jars of jade, the medicinal garden was tinged with the customary soft and mellow fragrance.
The plants and herbs swayed in appreciation, their stalks and leaves rubbing in an imperceptible but evident manner of enjoyment. The young girl finally stoppered the last jar of jade, her beautiful countenance blooming with a wide smile.
“I thought it would take a month, but it only took three days total…” An Fei mused, her free fingers rubbing at the base of her chin.
“Just how does the Sanctum… regulate its internal passage of time? It should at least be above twofold that of the outside…?”
The young girl wistfully sighed after a few moments of pondering, shaking her head to dispel any unnecessary thoughts.
An Fei piled the porcelain and earthenware jars once filled with the fermented mixture of rice and yeast, before appropriately cleaning and discarding them without allowing herself to become too lazy.
The jars were washed in the water obtained from the stream. As for the rice and yeast sediment… An Fei burned them with the golden flame, transforming the mixture into a wisp of light.
“One must enjoy the rain with a cup of wine at hand…”
The young girl relaxed in her chair, an opened jade container of the finished wine clasped between her fragile palms.
An Fei glanced at the projection in the platinum mirror, her hands gradually bringing the jar to her lips with each passing moment.
Bypassing her chin, aligning itself with her bottom lip and tipping forth to distribute a stingily brief but delightful trickle of rice wine…
“Mhm…” the young girl smacked her lips, gazing at the jade bottle in ecstasy.
“Sweet, smooth, with a faint tinge of fruit… The fruity taste must be from the combination of the extract of the Nine Leaf Purple Lotus and the rice and yeast fermentation…”
The rice wine was as though a trickle of warmth had permeated An Fei’s entire body.
The young girl could sense her pores resonate with the atmosphere, her body relaxing and groaning in infinite comfort as the golden light gently massaged them, kneading, pinching, and pulling until her mind became fogged with drowsiness.
With the backdrop of a constant rain provided by the platinum mirror projecting the torrential scene of the Wu Ji Forest and the little raven’s miserable condition, An Fei quickly submerged herself into a dreamless sleep, her lips quirking into a pleased smile.
Ah, rain could only be accompanied with a cup of wine… although she only claimed a single sip.