As it turned out, the mysterious humanoid figure that had captured An Fei’s attention since the beginning of the day was no more than a simple farmer.
When An Fei silently followed its movements and closed the gap of distance, she noticed a rough tunic of fabric and a common iron hoe attached to the back.
Clutched around both arms was a cluster of grass, with a rope of twine coiled around the center of the strands.
The farmer appeared to be a youth in his late teenage years, the aura exuding from its body clearly revealing the naivety, ambition, and rampant emotions of a budding youth of his generation.
His steps were careless and unrestrained, and his frame revealed the back of a youth no more than the age of seventeen.
Wherever the lad stepped, the young girl would follow from a distance of a hundred meters.
The youth’s feet pounded on the sea of grass with heavy, rhythmic stomps filled with a powerful but unrefined strength, dispatching a clear imprint onto the soft earth of the fertile plains.
The young girl’s pace, on the other hand, was light-footed and silent, the only audible disturbance being a muffled rustling of grass.
The youth didn’t realize that he was being tailed, instead whistling as he marched on his path with extreme confidence.
Thus, the misshapen group traversed through the plains towards a major clearing, one that replaced the sea of grass with a large wall of grey stone.
The stone walls stretched a total length of five hundred meters long, and towered fifteen meters into the air.
In an environment as the fertile plains, such a construction was of mentionable feat, but to the young girl who had been desensitized to the forest whose trees towered dozens if not hundreds of meters into the air… the walls were nothing more than stubs on the ground.
Roughly crafted stubs, for as the youth drew near, An Fei noticed numerous cracks running through several of the stones, some at critical areas of the walls.
At several points of the wall near the ground, were gates of iron and copper bars, with numerous men standing on either side of the opening.
Though she couldn’t see the circumstance regarding the other walls that formed the perimeter, the wall before her sported several streams of men not unlike that of the youth fifty meters ahead of her.
“A medieval castle?”
An Fei murmured, the pair of scarlet irises twinkling with an interested gleam. The young girl ducked into a nearby shroud of grass to obscure her presence, her heart beating quickly with a tinge of anticipation.
“Xiao Hei, how do you presume we get past the guards of the gate? Do you think that following the youth will do?”
A muted croak escaped the beak of the little raven, its crimson eyes flickering with a crafty gleam.
There, before An Fei’s inquisitive glance, the little raven braced itself on its claws, and a violet bead of spiritual essence began to coalesce at the tip of it’s beak.
“Xiao Hei?” The young girl raised an eyebrow in confusion, her eyes narrowing at the odd phenomenon occurring directly atop her shoulder.
The violet bead was no bigger than a mung bean, seeming inconsequential amongst the large sea of grass that encircled them on all sides.
However, An Fei could discern a threatening sensation throbbing at the base of her heart with each fluctuation of the small bead, as though a cold hand had gripped her soul.
It was cold.
The girl clutched at her heart with her left hand, her eyes twitching at the uncomfortable sensation that surged through her body.
She consoled the trembling fox with her other hand, her fingers running through the seven fluffy tails.
“Xiao Hei…” the young girl whispered in concern.
“Is this going to be –“
The bead erupted into a storm of invisible light, the strands of spiritual essence compressed into the form of a tiny bead allowed to break free and rampage throughout the atmosphere.
As the violet bead exploded into numerous streams of light, a beast’s roar erupted from the farther regions of the plains.
From the species, An Fei couldn’t discern what creature was responsible for such a cry.
Nonetheless, the sudden roar was enough to paralyze her body for a brief moment, the storm of numbness descending onto her limbs and abdomen with an uncontrollable might.
…and if she was affected by the little raven’s special trick, of which she wasn’t even the intended target, then the others in the vicinity…
“Run! Call the garrison!”
“Guards! Guards! Quick!”
“Dear lord, a beast so sudden!? It’s not even the Tide of Demons yet!?”
Numerous cries of panic and fear rushed throughout the throng of the clearing, causing many to collapse onto their knees.
The guards responsible for securing the gates trembled in their boots, and those protecting the second gate from the right even collapsed onto their knees, their heads blank and devoid of any thoughts.
In their fright and panic, they had snapped the shafts of their spears, rendering the flashy weapons… useless.
Similarly, a puddle of obscure liquid waved its greetings towards the world between their legs.
The youth that she had followed was not excluded from the little raven’s shock and awe strategy, and the poor lad collapsed onto his bottom in fright, the bales of grass thrown to the sides.
An Fei thought that she heard a few sniffles, but she attuned them to a delusion.
“Xiao Hei, you’re quite… awestriking, ah?”
The young girl rubbed the little raven’s head in excitement, her countenance beaming with a delighted smile.
Rolling her head to loosen the tension in her neck, An Fei willed the spiritual essence in her heart to wake, her body crouched and prepared for action.
With a quick inhale, the young girl sprang from her obscured position within the sea of grass, leaping forward towards the now unguarded gate that was the second from the right.
As she ran, An Fei ordered the spiritual essence to not only seep into the muscles and tendons of her legs, but also her feet.
The strands of spiritual essence merged with her flesh, causing her speed and agility to bypass the restrictions of the cruel world and triple.
Even then, her condition was a far cry from her original state within the Sanctum. An Fei grit her teeth at the partiality of the world, but remained silent as she propelled herself even further.
Unknowingly, wisps of black light surrounded her body, shrouding her from any watching gazes.
The young girl effortlessly dashed the remaining seventy-three meters to the gates embedded into the stone walls, bypassing the shell-shocked guards without triggering their broken awareness.
An Fei even grasped the upper half of a spear in interest, claiming it her spoils of war.
Three steps further, and she stood at the border of a town.
The settlement behind the stone walls was indeed designed in a format not unlike that of the medieval era; houses constructed out of wooden materials greeted her eyes in every direction, the roofs of clay tile waving their cheerful and droll greetings towards the inadvertent newcomer.
Lampposts of iron were stabbed into the ground, serving as the sign-markers for what An Fei could call the basic foundations of a street.
On those streets, numerous carriages of low-quality wood racketed along with their creaking wheels, droves of people traversing at the edges of the road.
On either extremity of the streets stood a line of wooden stalls and stores, people shouting at the top of their lungs to attain an additional customer.
“Youtiao! Freshly fried youtiao for those hungry – only three coppers!”
“Cong you bing! Old Lady Mao’s cong you bing for only five coppers!”
“Anyone seeking a new dress or tunic? Laozi has some for you, only a silver coin!”
The young girl whispered towards the little raven perched on her shoulder, her mind abuzz with surprise.
The small fox in her arms quivered at the unexpected blast of sound, urging another round of nursing from the young girl as compensation.
Unable to contain herself, An Fei’s feet led her towards the street directly before her, her ears soaking in the violent hubbub of the stall owners and the chattering inhabitants of the town.
Trapped in her daze, the young girl had unknowingly stopped before a polished wooden stall of birch, the owner a powerful man in his thirties with a radiant smile.
“Young Lady, do you want a candied hawthorn to take for an evening snack? It’s only three coppers!”
“Huh?” the young girl blinked, the fog in her eyes quickly vanished at her realization.
“Owner, did you say something?”
“Hm? Young Lady, are you alright?”
The man rubbed his head in surprise, slightly flabbergasted at how easily the young girl fell into her thoughts.
At the young girl’s curt nod, the man beamed once more, waving his hand towards the fabulous display on either side of the counter.
“Young Lady, would you like candied hawthorn? It’s three coppers a stick, perfect at this time to take home and enjoy!”