To have what?
Her mind dreamy and detached from reality due to the pain racing through her body, An Fei failed to recognize the implications behind the old shopkeeper’s words.
The young girl gently rocked back and forth with an ashen countenance with her hands gripping her arms, only to be shaken awake by a concerned Shen Ming Yue.
“Little Sister, are you alright?”
The youthful girl patted at the beads of sweat laced on An Fei’s brow with a lace handkerchief, her graceful countenance full of warmth.
An Fei paused with an eerie expression plastered on her lips, though the words that ultimately departed her throat were calm and unhurried.
“Elder Sister, I’m fine – nothing is of much concern.”
“I see… the Esteemed Senior is waiting for you then, Little Sister should hurry, ah!”
Shen Ming Yue could only reply after noticing the disharmony between the young girl’s expression and her words.
Helpless, the youthful girl extended a hand to gently pat the young girl on the shoulder in encouragement.
An Fei was about to nod, when she abruptly froze in place.
“…why is the old man looking for me?”
The young girl felt genuinely confused, prompting her to glance around her surroundings.
Other than an elite few who had emerged from their enlightenment at an earlier pace including Shen Ming Yue and Cheng Yu Xuan, the remainder of the practitioner youths were still in a state of meditative repose.
From the corner of her eye, An Fei could spot the old shopkeeper seated at the farthest region of the room, silently sipping at his tea with a contented expression.
As if having noticed her probing gaze, the elderly man rose his head to nod back towards her, prompting a rush of cold sweat the drip down her spine.
The young girl promptly returned her gaze to stare deeply into Shen Ming Yue’s eyes in silence.
“This… ah,” the youthful girl twitched at the intense stare boring holes into her body.
“Little Sister, I didn’t think that the Esteemed Senior would notice…”
“What does he want me to do, then?”
An Fei pressed with a soft yet imposing voice, her countenance morphing into one tinged with frost.
The young girl’s fingers reached for the strings in her newly acquired dress that supported the qama’s position to her side, ready to draw the vicious blade in an instant.
Shen Ming Yue clearly noticed the coldness behind her voice, but before she could hurriedly console and diffuse the bubbling powder keg that was An Fei’s temper, the elderly shopkeeper’s voice cut across the room.
“Ming Yue, your guest – did you not tell her the rules of this organization?”
The elder’s voice was inviting and inquisitive, with a gentle warmth that caused the listener to pause and calm themselves from their agitation.
Her brows evening out as if she had found a lifeboat, Shen Ming Yue heaved a slight sigh in relief, bowing towards the shopkeeper in a respectful salute.
“Little Sister, sorry about not telling you,” the youthful girl earnestly apologized.
“I got too excited about the news that the Esteemed Senior had just arrived in Dong Lin City, so I dragged you here without telling you about the rules.”
“Just arrived in Dong Lin City?” An Fei’s eyebrow rose in surprise.
“The old shopkeeper doesn’t stay in one location?”
Shen Ming Yue quickly shook her head, her beautiful countenance suffused with pity and disappointment. The youthful girl sipped at her tea to calm her nerves and plan her words, parting her lips after a sufficient amount of time had passed.
“The Esteemed Senior’s status is well renowned throughout Great Yong. Thus, it’s natural that the Esteemed Senior has numerous students throughout the empire; usually, he remains in a region for less than a month each year, hence my excitement upon hearing the news that the Esteemed Senior had decided to stay by at Dong Lin City.”
The young girl murmured whilst lightly nodding her head, the degree of understanding unknown.
An Fei tapped the base of her chin with her index finger, her other hand tracing the implicit patterns inscribed onto the wooden table during its crafting.
“So… why do I have to do this – introduction?”
“Esteemed Senior, my Little Sister…”
Shen Ming Yue quickly realized the intention behind An Fei’s words, prompting her to shiver in a bout of panic. The youthful girl quickly bowed towards the old shopkeeper, her countenance apologetic.
“My Little Sister isn’t a cultivator, nor does she know any martial arts…”
The words were silent and suppressed by Shen Ming Yue’s tongue, but resounded clearly within the shopkeeper’s ears.
The old man simply raised his cup towards An Fei, placing down with a solid tap before opening his mouth to speak.
“Even if your younger sister is not a cultivator, that is simply because her age is too young to be suitable for the arduous path of cultivation,” the elderly shopkeeper sighed.
“Since you were capable of attending this organization with your Elder Sister, that means that you must have some fate with us in this room. Come, introduce yourself to everyone present!”
An Fei’s lips twitched at the shopkeeper’s persistence, and glanced around to realize that at some point of time, everyone within the room had emerged from their moment of stupor.
The young girl’s expression soured instantly, a heavy sigh leaving her lips.
“To the Esteemed Senior here, this junior’s name is Xu Lingxue.”
Hushed discussions emerged as the youths remarked about An Fei’s figure and appearance amongst one another, their lips breaking into a smile as the invincible authority of gossip overtook their diligence. The old man leaned back in his chair, his finger tracing the edge of the porcelain cup before him.
“Xu Lingxue… Xu Lingxue, a name that resounds within the ears like the falling snow, ah?” the shopkeeper nodded with appreciation.
An Fei remained silent as she calmly gazed at the old man, unsure of how to plan her next actions.
The young girl’s mind fluttered into an agitated state as numerous patterns of words to throw off the old man’s intentions of investigating her identity flashed before her, her fingers gently curling into fists underneath her wide sleeves.
However, the old shopkeeper’s next words threw her preparation into disarray.
“Lingxue, new students in this organization must introduce themselves, as well as conduct an introductory assessment,” the old man lightly coughed.
“Of course, the area of assessment is free to the student’s choice amongst the five categories – weiqi, painting, calligraphy, musical instruments, and of course, martial combat.”
Why was she… being considered a new student?
When did she agree to joining this so-called organization in the first place!?
An Fei earnestly gazed towards Shen Ming Yue as she implored for an answer, only to discover that the youthful girl’s expression was displaying a large indicator of innocence on her forehead.
The young girl deflated in her seat, her listless countenance clearly captured in the eyes of the other youths.
She didn’t know whether the weiqi mentioned by the old shopkeeper was the same weiqi in her recollection.
The Shattered Star Continent was bound not to know the existence of a piano, and An Fei didn’t know how to play any musical instruments of ancient lineage.
She definitely didn’t know how to paint, and even Wei Xuan – her impossible, doting father of this world – couldn’t make heads over heels regarding the peculiarities of her handwriting!
Thus, she didn’t have a choice!
“This… the Esteemed Senior here, junior has an important question – when did this junior apply for this… organization?”
The jumbled words spewing rapidly from An Fei’s lips caused many to giggle in laughter, some of the youths attempting to conceal an understanding expression.
The male students chuckled heartily with amusement, whilst the female youths hid their countenances with sympathy and embarrassment.
The old shopkeeper nodded his head in agreement, though An Fei thought that she observed a cunning glint flash across his countenance.
“Lingxue, since you don’t feel confident in the four arts, we can resort to the martial arts assessment,” the elderly man smiled.
“As for your question – why, everyone who steps through these doors and orders any specific type of meal is tantamount to applying to the organization. After all, who would dare eat a meal at such a decrepit restaurant in this city of such fine standards?”
The words took a while to sink into the young girl’s mind; when they did, however, her eyes widened in surprise and aghast, eliciting another round of entertained and sympathetic sighs and laughter.
An Fei’s lower lip trembled as she whirled onto Shen Ming Yue, only to discover a countenance suffused with a teasing smile.
She was set up!?!?
“Little Sister, to enter Jiang’an with ease, you need a reasonable amount of connections,” the youthful girl cheerily explained whilst patting An Fei’s shoulders.
“This is Elder Sister’s method of introducing Little Sister to the resources that you might require later on – ahah, ehehe…”
The pair of narrowed eyes caused Shen Ming Yue’s consoling words and explanation to trail off into a wry laughter, and An Fei was forced to heave another sigh of exasperation in the morning.
The young girl’s gaze lowered onto the table to carefully inspect the grains of the wood as well as conceal her thoughts, when she heard the old shopkeeper stand and speak towards the rest of the youths.
“Now, who wishes to be the instructor assessing your newest Junior Sister’s prowess in martial arts combat?”