Chapter 43: Autumn’s Fragrance, A Frigid Heart of Snow (5)

“Father, you are here as well?”

Hearing the words spoken by the girl before him, Wei Xuan stood frozen, his body unwilling to move.

The warm smile as she spoke in that eroded, cracked voice, calling him ‘father‘, caused an indescribable but overwhelming warmth to sprout from the depths of his heart.

Just moments ago, he had heard shrill screams of pure agony and hatred, and the girl still found the strength to smile towards him.

He had observed her cry towards the unforgiving heavens with all of her heart and soul.

That broken, agonized countenance as she wailed and lamented, each detail was forever etched into his memory.

“Fei’er,” he finally spoke, recovering from his mental haze.

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Striding over to the girl and sitting onto the grass next to her, Wei Xuan gave a warm smile, quietly gazing towards her without saying a single word.

Suddenly, when he realized that the blanket covering An Fei was merely concealing a shivering body attempting to hide from the cold, the minister’s expression darkened.

Directing a heavy glare towards the girl next to him, Wei Xuan’s hands shot out at great speed.

“Ah!”

“Be good.” Wei Xuan intoned in a stern voice, not letting the struggling girl escape.

“You’re only wearing a thin gown in such cold temperatures. Do I need to punish you before you learn how to properly dress in cold weather?”

“…”

Ignoring the muffled demurs from the girl in his arms, the minister huffed before hoisting her into his embrace.

Balancing An Fei’s frail body against his lap, Wei Xuan willed a strand of spiritual essence to gather the blanket and wrap it around her body, before taking her deeper into his arms.

As if to seal his actions, the minister rested his chin against the top of his daughter’s head.

The two sat in silence, observing the silent and unchanging night sky for several moments as neither dared to say a word.

“…Have you been well?” Wei Xuan finally asked.

“…I’ve been well,” An Fei replied after some hesitation.

The girl stared at the bastion of stars, before sinking into Wei Xuan’s embrace. The blanket covering her body seemed to have warmed significantly, lulling An Fei into a comfortable haze.

“Father,” she mumbled in a drowsy tone. “What is my name?”

“Name?” Wei Xuan echoed in a startled tone, and he stared deeply at the girl snuggling in his arms.

However, the minister revealed a bitter smile after a moment of pondering, and reached out with his right hand to stroke An Fei’s head.

The girl seemed averse to it at first, but later pressed against his warm hand, causing bursts of warm to spark in Wei Xuan’s heart.

“Your name, ah,” he spoke in a gentle tone.

“You are called An Fei. A heart jade of peace, as a memento of your mother’s suffering whilst delivering you on that fateful night.”

“Heart jade of peace… a peaceful jade…” the girl repeated, her eyes clouded by a faint sheen of emotions.

However, the turmoil soon vanished, replaced by an unforeseen clarity and brightness. Gazing at the scarlet irises that seemed capable of piercing through the world, Wei Xuan felt happy for the girl, yet conflicted at the same time for an unknown reason.

“Father.” The girl called out, her voice hoarse.

“Hm?” The minister replied, continuing his motion of stroking the girl’s head.

“For so long… I… had a dream,” An Fei mulled, her eyes fixated onto the ground. Observing and counting each blade of grass as she deliberated how to confess to the minister, the girl refused to glance at the expectant Wei Xuan.

“A dream?”

“En. I dreamed that I… was thrust into a world where nobody cared for me. Family, friends, even the everyday passerby attempted to harm me. The first experiences of my life were to wade through a sea of pain, only to be thrust into more suffering. The surname of An, the name of Fei. A name of anger born into a family of peace. It seemed so…”

Hearing the words uttered by the girl, Wei Xuan furrowed his brows as he analyzed each word. Eventually, he just released a light sigh laden with fatherly affection, squeezing the girl into a tighter embrace.

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“Fei’er, do you see the stars?” he asked, pointing towards the teardrops of the night suspended in the sky.

“En.”

“Why do the stars seem so distant and cold, yet the light emitted from them is the warmest experience obtainable in life?” The minister inquired in a soft tone.

“In particular, why is the moon indifferent and uncaring of our emotions, but we always associate it with our sentiments and desires?”

“…The stars… Is it because starlight reflects our inner desire for warmth and sunlight but requires us to generate that warmth ourselves?” the girl replied, puzzled by the sudden question.

“For the moon, we don’t have to suppress our thoughts and desires in the night?”

“Hehe,” Wei Xuan chuckled, lightly ruffling the girl’s hair.

“The stars and the moon, they only appear during the nighttime, but they produce the same light as the sun, just without the warmth. The warmth obtained from starlight must be obtained by the heart, and only be a tranquil and content heart.”

“Unlike the piercing rays of the sun, light from the stars and moon is subtle and selective. Only a few individuals who cannot withstand the external pressures on the soul can feel the warmth of starlight. Fei’er, do not try to stand tall and weather the rays of sunlight regardless of the cost. Pursue what your heart tells you, and bath in the radiance of the stars and moon instead.”

“Follow…my heart?”

“En,” Wei Xuan nodded. “A dream may be vivid and painful, but it will pass once the night falls to the rising of the sun. If you can’t cope with it, come to your father! Don’t just go vent and lament to the stars, come seek your father’s assistance, ah! The moon and stars will only watch with indifference, but your father will help!”

An Fei looked upwards towards the minister with the clumsy smile displayed on his countenance, a similar innocent smile breaking on her face.

However, it suddenly disappeared as the latter abruptly reached for her cheeks, giving the tender skin a light pinch.

“But I remember you calling me Second Uncle, ah!” The minister cried in a tone of mock agony.

“Second Uncle this, Second Uncle that, then who was the father!? That accursed imposter, this minister shall stretch his limbs and dismember his wretched head!”

The girl struggled to pry her cheeks from his hands, her countenance tinged slightly red from Wei Xuan’s brusque treatment. Giving the minister a fierce glare of protest, An Fei played with a few strands of grass with her hands, pinching and kneading the unfortunate plants in the same manner Wei Xuan had ‘handled’ her cheeks.

“Hahaha!”

Seeing such a sight, the minister burst into laughter, his chuckles uncontrollable even after the girl slammed a feeble palm against the base of his chin.

An Fei pouted as she turned away from Wei Xuan, her hands curled into fists in embarrassment and anger. However, those emotions quickly dispersed as she reached towards the sky, an astonished expression on her countenance.

“Snow…?”

A tiny snowflake drifted in the air to land on her palm, quickly melting into a small puddle of water. As she gaped in wonder, the falling snowflakes began to scatter amongst the night sky, aligning perfectly with the rays of starlight.

“The last vestiges of autumn are fully dispersed with the first snowfall,” Wei Xuan spoke as he retracted An Fei’s outstretched arm under the safety of the blanket. Wrapping her body securely within the blanket, the minister picked up the girl with both hands before walking towards the study.

“Let’s head inside. The first snowfall will always be quite heavy, and you won’t be able to resist it with your constitution.”

Carried within Wei Xuan’s warm embrace, An Fei closed her mouth with a soft pop, her eyes focused onto the falling snow rapidly increase in density and frequency.

By the time they had entered the study of the Flowing Wind Residence, the blanket, Wei Xuan, and her hair were covered in a sheen of snowflakes.

“Father, can you teach me how to write?”

As he was busy brushing the snowflakes from her hair to ensure she wouldn’t get a cold, he was hit by this question…

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