For that single moment, that single moment only, the Wu Ji Forest feared for its survival from an unforeseen and unstoppable threat.
Be it the trees, plants, or animals trekking across the earth, all inhabitants visible froze as their souls quivered from the immense pressure forcing them to prostrate onto the ground and beg for the slightest hint for mercy.
The fiercer creatures dove into their burrow with their claws clutching their body in fear, and the weaker-minded were directly executed without being granted the chance of appeal.
The forest hummed with a disconcerted and genuinely concerned atmosphere, its core throbbing with the anxious intent of uprooting its settlement and fleeing to the corner of the earth.
Of course, the threat’s source was not the numerous transference arrays that besotted the earth; the humans of Great Yong had achieved a successful negotiation with the Wu Ji Forest prior to constructing their effective transportation system exclusive to Jiang’an.
It neither originated from an external entity separate from the forest.
A rouge cultivator did not threaten to exterminate the Wu Ji Forest, nor had a past enemy knocked on its doorstep demanding vindication from the heavens.
“Dear heavens, what is that batty old dragon thinking!?”
The Wu Ji Forest seethed as its inhabitants suffered to the completely unleashed and condensed aura of its own guardian beast, the core running amok from tree to tree as it attempted to discern the circumstance.
Each perished carcass that it witnessed alongside its journey was mutilated and pummeled into a pool of blood and mangled flesh; a direct circumstance of a Mortal Tribulation Realm cultivator’s aura.
As for the grumpy old dragon responsible for the forest’s greatest genocide as to date…
“You still haven’t told me your name, little human girl.”
The flood dragon coiled its body and sunk back into the lake’s immeasurable depths, leaving behind a spectacularly large dragon head to float atop and stare at the young girl.
With An Fei directly before its sights, the old vengeful dragon decided to determine itself on the age-old path of vindication, musing with delightful satisfaction at the young girl squirming under its eyes.
“You’re still really unpleasant.”
Being stared at by two suns of golden light brimming with a petty malice… was nowhere near acceptable or comfortable.
An Fei shot back at the prideful dragon with an equal bemusement, her eyebrow shooting towards the heavens at the dragon’s noticeable scowl of discontent.
“Name!” the jiaolong growled, the deafening rumble of thunder nearly shaking the young girl into blissful realm of unconsciousness.
An Fei snorted at the rude behavior of the protector of the Wu Ji Forest, before revealing an unpleasant expression as she clutched at her stomach with both hands.
The young girl desperately stopped herself from retching, the squirming of her insides manifesting an immeasurable torment to strike her consciousness.
“My name -urgh! – is An… An Fei.”
The young girl gasped between clenched teeth, beads of sweat gracing her brow to drip onto the suffering grass below her body.
A moment later, An Fei released a long sigh of relief, her inner organs singing with joy at the reduced suppression imposed on her body.
Her internals were still being jostled by the vibrations in the air when the dragon’s throat undulated, but it had subsided to a tolerable extent.
“…that’s an interesting name.”
The flood dragon’s whiskers brushed across the young girl’s head with a surprisingly gentle arc, the anticipated pain replaced by an unusual warmth.
The completely unaccounted for sensation thoroughly roused An Fei’s downed consciousness, and she glanced at the jiaolong with befuddlement in her gaze.
“What are you doing?”
The guardian beast of the Wu Ji Forest blinked in surprise, before pinching his side with his claws underneath the surface of the lake.
As the sear of pain flashing through his nerves sobered his unusually intoxicated soul, the flood dragon berated itself with a sufficiently deadly quantity of curses before returning its gaze onto the young girl.
“Why have you come to my forest, human girl?”
An Fei bristled at the nonexistent use of her name that had been coerced from her body, temporarily managing to quell her disgruntled anger.
Puffing her cheeks, the young girl glared at the exquisite surface of the lake, her hand raised to the sky to brush off the annoying flood dragon’s whisker laid on her head.
“I came with a group of people through a… a transference array.”
The young girl racked her mind in an effort to recall Luo Xi’s description of the fearful gate that night, the scarlet irises reflecting a glum mood at the thought.
“Only… the group later ditched me behind in the forest. I just want to leave, ah.”
“Human lass, this is the wrong direction of travel if you wished to leave the forest,” the flood dragon curled its trailing whiskers as though to searching an apt manner to express its bemusement.
“Clearly, I just realized that!”
An Fei scowled in annoyance, pinching herself on the arm through the linen coat in an afterthought.
The young girl directed a furtive glance towards the flood dragon, only to discover that the aged jiaolong was doing the exact same action.
Both of them cherished the peace that they had acquired for the moment, thus creating a rather awkward atmosphere that nearly strangled the entirety of the lake’s vicinity.
The young girl and the massive flood dragon both stared at their reflections in the lake, musing in their thoughts in uninterrupted silence.
The comforting silence that pulsed through their veins and calmed their hearts… neither wished to even think of the process required to attain such a result.
All An Fei would admit in her mind was that it had taken a handle-less sword and a dislodged inverse scale, along with a few hundred thousand innocent inhabitants of the forest slaughtered throughout the entire ordeal due to the dragon’s rampant cultivation immobilizing and embalming those below its strength.
As for the fact that more innocent creatures were perishing as the jiaolong had forgotten to withdraw its aura beyond the lake… the young girl was blissfully unaware.
Finalizing her thoughts as she glanced at the pair of cracked scarlet irises and the confoundment and unsettled emotions seeping through the unsightly cracks, An Fei took it upon herself to break the delicate treaty of silence.
“Big dragon, can I ask you a question?”
The flood dragon raised an eyebrow at the young girl’s flagrant decorum, releasing a disgruntled huff of air in an affirmative. Unknowingly encouraged by the dragon’s nonplussed mood, the young girl pressed on, her throat anxiously gulping down a breath of sweet air.
“How… would you obtain revenge?”
The massive flood dragon blinked in surprise at the sudden question uttered from the seemingly delicate and fragile human doll on the bank of the lake, its golden eyes revealing a trace of incomprehension.
Nonetheless, the protector of the Wu Ji Forest drew in a deep breath, glancing at the young girl with a solemn aura.
“Revenge… depending on the circumstances and specifics, this protector would either slaughter the perpetrator’s family in retaliation, challenge them to a life or death duel, or assault them during a critical period in their cultivation to trigger a severe backlash,” the dragon mused, its whiskers brushing against the underside of its chin.
“However, revenge must not be made the crucial component of your life. Since you are at the middle stages of Foundation Establishment, the dedication of revenge would surely distort the long and extensive road of cultivation before you, human girl.”
“Revenge must not be made the crucial component of my life…”
An Fei contemplated in silence, her eyes narrowing towards her reflection. Ignoring the dragon who continued to glance at her with interest, the young girl stared at the lake as her mind submerged itself in her thoughts.
From the depths of her heart, An Fei felt that the Empress of Great Yong was truly despicable.
Her calculating and cold actions crippled not only the future aspirations of a young girl, but also any emotional attachment or trust towards another person.
However, the young girl couldn’t help but admit that when applying the cold and truthful logical reasoning behind the human consciousness, Feng Yu Xin’s actions were not necessarily despotic.
To assist a lifelong friend in his moment of dire trouble, An Fei would probably not hesitate to resort to unscrupulous means.
Even as she criticized the Empress’s actions towards her life, the young girl found herself capable of committing a similar act had she been in the same circumstances.
-if only she could trust such a ‘friend’, that was.
“I… want revenge. But I have to first survive and return to Jiang’an.”
The young girl whispered to herself, her delicate fingers playing with the pitiful strands of grass below her body.
“When I return, Father can thus complete my revenge; since it started without me, it should probably end without me to reduce the unnecessary risks…”
The concept seemed laughable to the young girl, yet her heart pined for the words on An Xiang Yang’s final letter. The heart pined for what the mind shunned, passionate emotion pleading against the cold and despicable reasoning of the consciousness.
To survive, regardless of the circumstance. To enjoy life filled with the pleasures and happiness that she had missed out on her previous attempt.
“Big dragon,” the young girl finally uttered to her unwilling acquaintance in the lake.
“How do I leave this forest?”