From the next day onwards, An Fei did not catch a hint of the white nine-tailed fox regardless of where her gaze roamed the undergrowth of the forest.
The little raven was similarly incapable of determining any inclination of a creature hidden within the background that possessed a sufficiently severe threat towards the young girl.
Thus, from sunrise to sunset, the young girl continued to march forth, heading directly towards the core of the Wu Ji Forest’s core without her knowledge.
As she walked utilizing the trees as increments representing the distance she had traveled, An Fei was musing her luck in not encountering any other creature as fierce nor scary as the nine-tailed fox.
After the forced stalemate generated by the sudden repair of the nearly shattered steel sword, the fox had retreated, never to be spotted again.
Five days had passed, and just as usual, she only spotted rabbits and other miniscule creatures roaming throughout the grass, their innocent souls attempting to pursue their daily lives.
…and for An Fei, the current laid-back and tranquil circumstance was not terribly bad either.
The young girl was still considerable strife due to the harrowing experience with the white fox, her mind barely recovered from the wide differentiation between play and actual combat.
Occasionally, An Fei’s voice soothed the swaying grasses and creatures, accompanied by the indecipherable but encouraging calls of an unusual raven.
She had clearly noticed the difference between the experience regarding the eerie vine-wielding monster and the nine-tailed fox with the pristine white fur.
The creature that wielded an innumerable amount of vines, An Fei did not notice anything that terrified her soul except for the imposing pressure that tightly squeezed at every iota of her body.
Otherwise, the passive but absolute assistance of the <Steps of Underlying Shadows> had ensured that the vines could not harm her in any form, and when armed with the twin butterfly swords, she could easily wade through the sea of terror and thorny death.
Thus, the entire event, through startling as it may be, was nothing more than a trivial gasp of grotesque amazement. From the surface, the experience with the nine-tailed fox was the same.
However, An Fei was clearly able to obtain a hint of how dreadful an actual fight would have been, even if she, as usual, had not received a single scratch from the entire ordeal.
The steel blade had nearly been shattered from a single exchange, and had it not been for the abrupt repair, it would have been completely scrapped by the next blow.
She could consistently evade and ignore any incoming physical damage, but what then?
“Without the handle-less sword, I really can’t pose a threat towards these creatures, ah.”
The young girl hummed in discontent towards the little raven perched on her shoulder, her beautiful countenance flickering with a disgruntled resignation.
The little creature directed an eyeful of a crimson glare of impasse and disbelief, but deigned not to speak any further.
An Fei shrugged her shoulders towards the silent reply of the little raven, the fingers of her right hand grabbing at the empty air as though stroking the fur of an imaginary white fox with nine tails.
“Just you wait, I’ll obtain your fur and play in it all day long!”
The young girl had assured herself to regain her rationale when in a circumstance regarding combat.
Appearing invulnerable as she may, An Fei wasn’t entirely certain regarding the protection offered by the <Steps of Underlying Shadows>, and strived to increase her vigilance.
…outside of fighting… she would dream of stroking that white and heavenly fur to her heart’s content.
Play with it, rub her cheek against the smooth and silky surface of the fur…
The steel blade without a handle trailed behind the young girl as though a silent and pensive sentinel, the inscriptions flickering with a scarlet light in response to the young girl’s intimate affair with the comfortable white fur of a nine-tailed fox.
In an unknown region of the forest not far from An Fei, a certain nine-tailed fox couldn’t help but cower into the ground and tremble with an unprecedented fear, its heart suddenly praying for its continued life.
Who knew, perhaps that human devil would return for a rematch?
Months ago, in the Wu Ji Forest.
“Your Imperial Highness, the end of the forest is in sight!”
The refined and respectful voice of the carriage driver resounded from outside of the carriage, rousing Feng Yu Xin from her afternoon nap.
The Empress of Great Yong stretched her limbs with a large rippling yawn, her slightly fatigued voice replying back to the carriage driver.
“Once we depart from the Wu Ji Forest, do ensure to rest at a nearby village.”
“Understood, Your Imperial Highness!”
The muted sound of a whip tapping against the back of a warhorse rang from outside the imperial carriage, and the empress sat upright to massage her sore neck.
Zhang Yuewen and Luo Xi similarly roused themselves from their momentary dazes of boredom, their eyelashes fluttering before resting onto Feng Yu Xin’s figure.
The atmosphere of the imperial carriage had significantly cooled since An Fei’s abrupt departure after a certain evening feast, and the young maidens had remained in a perpetual state of dull confusion and fear.
“Your… Imperial Highness, how was your… nap?” Zhang Yuewen took the initiative to speak, her lips hesitant and suppressed.
“Did you enjoy the ride so far?”
Feng Yu Xin raised an eyebrow as she glanced at the young belle, her countenance remaining still and calm.
The empress tapped her finger against the inside of her palm, her mind inadvertently flitting back to the exchange with the Grand Elder of the Heavenly Sword Sect.
“Yes, I… I did…” the young belle murmured, her eyes still revealing a deeply rooted unease.
“Your Imperial Highness… are you… sure that Sister Wei truly left with the Grand Elder of the Heavenly Sword Sect?”
Luo Xi took a deep breath at Zhang Yuewen’s statement, her brows furrowing deeply as her mind whirled to ponder the possible implications of the young girl’s circumstance.
Helpless and unable to come to a conclusion, the young maiden reached to grab the young belle’s arm in support.
The empress glanced at the two young girls radiating a tinge of fear and apprehension as they maintained their respectful gaze, and Feng Yu Xin’s lips parted to release a wistful sigh.
“Bengong is certain, the Wei girl left with the Grand Elder of the Heavenly Sword Sect.”
Zhang Yuewen’s frown sank, her teeth reaching forward to nibble on her bottom lip. Suddenly, the young belle’s head abruptly raised, her eyes flashing with an indeterminate light.
“Your Imperial Highness, wasn’t the point of us embarking on this trip to accumulate experience regarding cultivation at the Taiyi Sect? How did Sister Wei become traded off to the Heavenly Sword Sect…”
“Traded?” Feng Yu Xin narrowed her eyes, her voice laced with a tint of warning.
“Zhang girl, do be careful with your words, ah. Bengong did not trade off Wei An Fei for a measly benefit.”
“Then… why did Sister Wei leave?”
Luo Xi rubbed the base of her chin with her fingers, her eyes downcast as they traced the patterns weaved into the rug. The young maiden murmured to herself in a quiet voice, her eyes flashing with a perplexed light.
“Sister Wei was to embark on this excursion for a similar reason as I and Sister Zhang… and she didn’t express any interest in either the Taiyi Sect or the Heavenly Sword Sect – no, we didn’t even discuss such a topic, so I don’t have any conclusive evidence whether she had any prior knowledge of it in the first place. Furthermore, her appearance is obscured… so why would she leave with the Heavenly Sword Sect?”
The empress closed her eyes to ward off any intrusive questions brimming at the tip of Zhang Yuewen’s tongue, deigning to return to the paradise of her thoughts.
Feng Yu Xin’s fingers inadvertently tightened and relaxed their grip on corners of her dress, the repetitive motion thoroughly stoking the flames driving the young maidens’ fear.
Tying up that disgraceful and irresponsible Qin Yingfei, then having Lu Jing Yi proclaim her as guilty for all seven of the disgraces pertaining to a divorce…
As Feng Yu Xin’s lips continually twitched whilst roaming throughout their dreams, Zhang Yuewen and Luo Xi directed worried glances towards the other in silence. Their eyes, though containing different thoughts, reflected the same unease and trepidation that chilled their hearts.
The trip to the Taiyi Sect had suddenly become strife with incomparable danger ever since Wei An Fei had mysteriously vanished.
Perhaps she had left with the Grand Elder of the Heavenly Sword Sect as the empress mentioned, but for what cause?
And will they be the next in line for such unusual but definitely unwanted situations?