However An Fei wished to remain in her relaxed position for the night, the Sanctum whisked her body away the instant the sun completed its descent into the vast horizon.
Before the little raven’s envious eyes, the young girl’s body dissolved into countless fragments of softly colored light, scattered by the awakening calls of the lake prowlers and night terrors within the Wu Ji Forest.
Scratch that, An Fei was much more comfortable in the quiet and tranquil environment of the sanctuary of sky-blue crystal, than perch herself on a precarious branch directly above the gaping, hungry maws of fierce creatures starving for the night.
It was a pity that the little raven couldn’t follow and had to remain as a displeased sentinel to guard over her nonexistent body, but alas, An Fei would never realize where exactly her ‘raven’ had resided throughout the entire time until the critical moment.
A moment too late, in her defense, but that was a fiasco in itself that could only be told at a later date.
The lonely cry of a crow struck the Wu Ji Forest and awakened its nightly slumber of bloodlust, the crimson eyes of the raven greedily observing the fierce creatures underneath slaughter one another to satiate their ravenous stomachs.
Nothing served better to take the edge of his own murderous intent than the rampant slaughtering of mortal creatures at the peak of their prime.
Although it would save the miserable, stinky lass from his claws for another night, just she wait…
The raven released an unreasonable cackle of laughter at the thought, berating itself in the next moment for nearly toppling off its perch and becoming a nearby prowling lion’s early midnight snack.
The next day, An Fei set out the bade the vine-covered region farewell for the last time.
With a single leap towards her front, and utilizing the <Steps of Underlying Shadows> to negate any damage incurred from such a fall, the young girl had departed the region of the Wu Ji Forest.
The last of the hanging vines vanished from her view, as the sea of plain and bare trees once again filled her vision.
A trip that should have taken numerous days and perhaps weeks, achieved in a day and a few hours.
“Somehow… that region reminded me of something incredible horrible…”
If anything, however, An Fei did not wish to be reminded of that creature’s presence. The young girl revealed a bizarre shiver at the thought of the grotesque bulbous head and the sea of vines laced with grey thorns…
The little raven voiced its assent, its beak parting wide to swallow whole a gingko nut.
Under An Fei’s concerned watch, the little creature choked on the large portion and its overconfidence, resulting in another iteration of a rather embarrassing endeavor enacted by both a human girl and a raven.
The raven squawked in anger and embarrassment towards An Fei, only ceasing its actions once she had promised many times under its threatening gaze to never divulge the incident.
However, the immortal sentience within was clearly cognizant of the fact that once it turned its back, the stinky lass was keeping track of the number of times such an incident had occurred thus far.
That annoying Jun Mo; only he and his spiritual imprint of a crow would perform those types of nonsensical and brainless behavior!
“Enough with the sulking, Xiao Hei, let’s go!”
An Fei called from the side, slinging the leather bag over her shoulder. Once the little raven had resentfully returned to its perch, the young girl stretched her limbs and stepped forward to continue her journey through the forest with an invigorating shout.
Somehow, as though she had expected it, the sea of trees before her seemed to be circling a large clearing.
Towards her sides, the density of the trees was greatly above that of the patch of the forest directly ahead.
With a confused expression lacing her countenance, the young girl carefully walked through the undergrowth, her eyes sweeping her surroundings numerous times.
What increased her suspicion was the unnerving fact that there didn’t seem to be any fierce creature within the vicinity, regardless of the radius her perception stretched to accommodate.
Moreover, the little raven on her shoulder remained devoid of any warning cries, a feat that usually did not occur.
“What’s… going on…”
An Fei murmured, pressing against the back of her tree for support as she stepped forward. The young girl didn’t forget to prudently grasp the hilt of a butterfly sword, her eyes narrowed in caution.
With that step, the young girl found for herself a large surprise, one that she didn’t expect.
The forest suddenly opened to reveal a large lake with a diameter of fifty meters, devoid of the usual shroud of branches and leaves that dwarfed the sunlight striking the ground.
As she squinted her eyes and utilized her free hand as a shade, An Fei discovered that the sea of trees truly parted to create the natural clearing.
The lake was clear of any impurities, the colorless and transparent water reflecting the gentle twinkle of the sun’s radiance into An Fei’s eyes.
At the fringe of the bank, hundreds of colorful flowers grew alongside the edge of where the water and earth met for a joyful reunion.
The gentle and vibrant colors dazzled the young girl’s gaze, whilst the pleasant and faint mix of herbal fragrances inevitably caused her shoulders to loosen with a sigh.
The scenic lake was as though it was cut directly from a paradise; devoid of unnecessary sound, unnecessary creatures, and reflecting a peaceful and quiet atmosphere.
An Fei didn’t realize that while she appreciated the glistening lustre of the lake and its addictingly tranquil environment, her legs had been softly propelling her towards the edge of the bank.
The little raven’s startled cry shook the young girl awake, and she looked downwards to realize the gravity of her circumstances.
Her feet were just centimeters from the lake water, and the gentle grass tickled at her legs as if to continue tantalizing her attention.
However, the young girl fiercely backpedaled until she felt secure, only reaching out towards the surface of the water with her right hand once she felt her body had stabilized on the ground.
The delicate, fair-skinned hand traversed through the air towards the pristine water, reflecting its fragility –
“Human, cease your actions.”
A booming voice abruptly reverberated throughout the clearing the instant An Fei’s right index finger tapped onto the surface of the water.
Startled, the young girl clamored backwards, clutching the hilts of the butterfly swords as her gaze fiercely swept to her sides.
The little raven leapt from the young girl’s shoulder to take flight, its crimson eyes fiercely gouging through the forest and the lake as it searched for the unknown speaker.
A faint violet aura emanated from its wings, having regained its vicious and maddened intent that reflected pure savagery and violence.
The handle-less steel sword behind An Fei soared to the skies, the scarlet radiance erupting from the inscriptions bathing the lake’s clear water with a dense hue of crimson.
Maddened screams of death and destruction swamped the clearing, stamping aside the tranquil atmosphere of the Wu Ji Forest without mercy.
“Human, cease your actions.”
From the center of the lake, a massive pillar of water exploded to thrash against the sky, scattering droplets of water in all directions as the massive shadow obscured behind it revealed itself.
The instant the shadowy figure made its presence, the young girl shot to her feet, the twin butterfly swords unsheathed and revealing their biting and cold intent.
A massive creature towered from the center of the lake, its mere presence dying the skies a darker shade of azure as thunder crackled near the clearing of the forest.
That figure, An Fei had seen in mythology, in the festivals back on the streets of Shanghai and Beijing in celebration of New Years, and on certain engravings depicting the country’s past.
However, the single glance was sufficient to confirm her guess; rather, there was no need to guess.
Looming over her head with a height that dwarfed even that of the little raven’s maximum ceiling flight, was an authentic Oriental dragon.
Perhaps, it wasn’t an actual dragon but one of its subspecies, the jiaolong.
The flood dragon soared at a monolithic height of a hundred and twenty meters, the large and austere scales of cobalt and black revealing an imposing aura that threatened to squash the young girl to the ground if she angered the creature by even the slightest amount.
The flood dragon clearly noticed An Fei’s dumbstruck and fearful countenance, but did nothing but release a puff of air.
With vibrating whiskers that shook the foundations of the Wu Ji Forest to its core, the jiaolong blinked its eyes, speaking in a refined, collected, and calm voice that terrified the young girl until she was shivering uncontrollably.
“I am the protector of the Wu Ji Forest. Speak your name and your purpose in my forest, human, lest I smite you with lightning!”