“Your Imperial Majesty!” A palace servant whined.
“Where are you going!? And why do you refuse to have any guards!?”
“Why should I need any guards?” the emperor raised an eyebrow, an incredulous expression displayed on his face.
“And why is a palace servant questioning her emperor?”
The palace servant froze, her eyes rapidly blinking as a myriad of emotions crossed them. Regaining her senses, the maidservant quickly lowered her head, her body shivering in fear as she spoke with a suppressed voice.
“Your Imperial Majesty, please pardon this servant!” she pleaded.
“Madam…Madam Qin dispatched this servant to request Your Imperial Majesty’s presence at the Blossoming Fragrance Courtyard. Madam…Madam…she-she wanted to discuss something important over a…”
“A…what?” the emperor interrogated with a glare.
“Does Qin Yingfei want me to bless her with a political tool?”
The servant fell to her knees, panic and fear splashing a deadly pale sheen over her beautiful countenance. Reaching out with shivering hands, the maidservant attempted to latch onto the emperor’s shoes in desperation.
“Madam doesn’t mean that. She didn’t mean to commit such an act last time. Your Imperial Majesty, please forgive Madam this once!”
“Forgive her this once?” the emperor repeated.
A sudden smile decorated his face as the emperor reached down to raise the palace maid to her feet. Ignoring the expression of shock and hidden glee that flashed on the young girl’s countenance, he continued to grip the maidservant’s arm.
“Forgive her this once…you’re quite the loyal servant attending to that Qin Yingfei,” he said.
“It’s a shame, that your loyalty is…quite odious in this emperor’s eyes. After all, who was the one that purchased the Jing Li Meng powder?”
With that, the emperor threw the maidservant back onto the ground before departing from the courtyard. As he passed by the gates, a sudden coughing noise caused him to pause and turn to his right, finding a man wearing an official’s robes.
Though the official’s back was turned to him, the emperor could clearly discern that the man was attempting to mask his laughter by the quivering of his shoulders and sleeve.
“Wei Xuan,” the emperor scowled.
“Is this emperor’s face so thin that you must turn around when laughing?”
“I dare not laugh in Your Imperial Majesty’s presence,” the minister responded with a slightly reddened countenance.
“It was that the palace maidservant…was quite intriguing.”
The emperor raised his right hand to swat at Wei Xuan’s official hat, his palm encased in a shroud of scarlet light. The latter quickly stepped back with his right foot, raising his left foot high towards the incoming attack.
“Wei Xuan!” the emperor grunted after discovering a rather dusty boot clenched in his hand instead of an official’s cap.
Shaking it thrice and throwing it to the ground, he withdrew a fragrant handkerchief to vigorously wipe at his fingers.
“You don’t even clean your shoes when stepping into the Imperial Palace, where did your respect for the Imperial Family and Great Yong disappear to?”
Picking up the boot and sliding his foot back into it, Wei Xuan flashed the emperor a playful grin before pointing to the Imperial Court towering in the distance.
“Your Imperial Majesty,” he said whilst fixing his attire.
“This one had just spent more than five hours kneeling on the floor of the Imperial Court. It is natural that one’s boots would become soiled after staining the surface for such a long time.”
“Are you calling my Imperial Court filthy!?” the emperor raged.
“You-you-you, you clearly don’t have any respect for me, ah! The Imperial Palace’s cleaning capabilities are far superior than that of your Flowing Winds Residence!”
“That’s certainly correct,” the minister vigorously bobbed his head in assent.
“As such, Your Imperial Majesty needs not to confine oneself in such a destitute location for the night. How about a stay at the Jingmen Pavilion?”
“Little tiger is kicking me from her study, and you, Zhang, and Luo all refuse to offer this pitiful emperor some lodging. Furthermore, why are you all directing me to a brothel? Clearly, you must have planned this all out!”
Wei Xuan raised his brows, looking at the bell ringing tower of Jiang’an.
Narrowing his eyes and calculating that the Hour of the Monkey was soon about to arrive, the minister rolled his neck twice, properly relaxing his muscles.
“Your Imperial Majesty,” he called to the fretful emperor and giving a light bow.
“This minister and the Imperial Censors merely advised Your Imperial Majesty a suitable place to stay from the memories of our past interactions. After all, how else would Your Imperial Majesty obtain the Jing Li Meng powder to sell to that palace maid years ago?”
Finishing his piece, Wei Xuan exerted the spiritual essence within his body to explode with the greatest vigor he could achieve. Encasing his body with a thick layer of silvery light, the minister quickly fled from the scene, heading towards the direction of the Imperial Court with a fearful expression on his handsome countenance.
No sooner than a cup of tea’s time had passed, a terrifying shockwave of spiritual essence stormed the western courtyards of the Imperial Palace as a massive phoenix of fire screamed in anger.
Wreathed in a blazing sea of scarlet flame, the phoenix hunted for the flowing silver river with bitter ardor.
The Imperial Palace was in for another fierce storm this afternoon.
Bolting upright from the bed, An Fei sluggishly threw the comfortable blankets off of her body. Staggering onto the floor to dazedly examine her surroundings, a question that had bugged her for continuous hours burned at her mind.
How did she get here? More importantly, what had happened to her after she ate the celery in one of the gardens?
Abusing her already exhausted mind to flit through her memories once more, An Fei sat on the edge of the bed, hugging one of the pillows to her chest.
Resting her chin onto the endlessly soft material, the girl used her fingers to count the events that had transpired since she had first encountered this location.
Within the fire, she had suddenly discovered the long-lost pendant from her previous world hanging on her neck.
Reciting the phrase on the mirror’s back, she had mysteriously appeared in the crystal throne room.
The last thing she had done in the palace of sky-blue crystal was to admire her appearance whilst munching on a delicious but mysterious stalk of celery.
Before falling unconscious, the last thing that appeared in her memory was a flash of scarlet light from the mirror and a distorted reflection of Wei Xuan’s countenance stained with worry, and a horrid pain.
Other than the sensation of her cells being burnt to ash, An Fei had vaguely sensed a paste-like substance sticking to her skin. Waking up, she was in the study of the Flowing Winds Residence.
And this time, she had reappeared in the crystal palace after falling asleep in said study.
Falling asleep on a wooden chair in the study, waking in the crystal throne room slumped against the throne.
Collapsing in the medicinal garden, waking to find herself asleep in the bed of the study.
…were the two locations linked in a profound connection?
Shaking her head to disperse the random thoughts that had begun to arise, the girl turned to crawl into the centermost location of the bed. Her hands contacting the worn book’s weathered surface, An Fei raised the book before her eyes.
“What kind of secrets do you hold?” the girl murmured.
“Why did grandfather leave behind…such an odd object…?”
Flipping open the book to continue where she had left off, An Fei slowly clambered out of the bed to sit cross-legged onto the floor, using the soft golden light emitted from the crystal to assist her reading.
“Xia above, Heavens below. Shatter the crest of Jing and sunder the Palace of Divine to enter the Sanctum,” she read. “The mirrors of truth reveal falsehood, and the mirrors of falsehood reveal truth. Layer illusion with real, and merge to constitute illusion once more…”
The mirrors of truth reveal falsehood, and the mirrors of falsehood reveal truth?
An Fei could not think of a single explanation from reading the passage.
Nonetheless, she could only close the book, the similar fog threatening to encroach onto her mind the instant she attempted to read further. Revealing an adorable, blank expression on her countenance, the girl blinked as her head suddenly turned to gaze at the two mirrors haphazardly tossed onto the bed.
An Fei rushed to the bed to pick one of the mirrors up, directly exposing the reinforcing material where she had once found the faded inscriptions.
Furrowing her brows, the girl opened her mouth to speak, her voice steady and unhurried despite the mild anxiousness displayed within her scarlet irises.
“The mirrors of truth reveal falsehood, and the mirrors of falsehood reveal truth.”
The mirror clenched within her hand suddenly vibrated, a multicolored light exploding from its reflective surface. Startled, she raised her other arm to shield her eyes on reflex.
An Fei desperately held onto the vibrating mirror until the vibration had quelled, the multicolored light invading her vision despite her closed eyelids.
Lowering her arm and opening her eyes in trepidation, the girl blinked several times to disperse her blurred vision, then looked down onto the mirror in her hand.
Though the mirror had not changed, the inscriptions on its back were much more discernible than previously.
“The eyes of the mortal soul reveal the gateway to Heaven’s courts,” she read. “Wrap illusion around reality, falsehood amongst truth, and the Forefather’s lament descends onto the world.”
Forefather’s lament? Wrap illusion around reality?
Before An Fei could voice her questions, her vision darkened for the third time. Her eyes snapping open without warning, she found herself sitting in a wooden chair in the study of the Flowing Winds Residence, her head leaning against a soft and warm surface.