“Fourth Young Miss, Fourth Young Miss, take a look, ah!”
Xiao Wen eagerly tugged at An Fei’s sleeve, the maidservant’s eyes practically revealing a glint of unsuppressed euphoria. Besides her, Xiao Ying was slightly more restrained, though the girl could easily see that the highly agitated emotions within the maidservant were no different than Xiao Wen.
“What’s going on?”
An Fei asked, her thoughts partially distracted by Elder Luo’s departing words and the book secured on her bosom.
In response, the maidservants merely pulled the young girl forward, revealing thirty-odd scholars warmly gesturing towards an ashwood table.
The ashwood table was no different than previously, with a sliver of its surface gouged by a steel dagger once wielded by the Youngest Miss of the Sword Marquis.
The only exception… was a mountain of books.
Some were large and thick, others were smaller and thinner in volume. Some were bound in golden or silver threads, whilst others were wrapped in other materials including plain leather. However, what attracted An Fei’s attention the most was the faint radiance exuded from the books on the ashwood table.
If she were to verbalize what she saw, the girl could only reply as such:
A cloud of multi-colored lights akin to dust particles in a nebula, though the radiance emitted was rather bleak and faint. If she didn’t intentionally focus her gaze on the books, An Fei discovered that the radiance was negligible to the point that it could be easily overlooked.
In the end, all that mattered was that each and every single book placed on the ashwood table emitted a similar light, even if it was fainter than the one exuding from the book at her chest, and incomparably dull than the plants, weapons, and books within the mysterious palace of crystal.
“Hehe, little lass, you look lost and don’t know where to start!”
A middle-aged scholar smiled gently towards her, poking fun at her unnatural stillness. Returning to clarity, the young girl lightly shrugged in response to the joke.
“There’s far too many and far too little that I can take, where am I even supposed to begin?”
Everyone burst into laughter, but the ensuing course of events caused the two maidservants and the Fourth Young Miss of Wei unable to smile.
Forget complaining, it took their utmost effort not to fuse their face with their palm.
“I still say that the <Trailing Swift> technique is the best fit for the lass!” an aged scholar argued in an aggressive tone, not giving those nearby a chance to refute as he pressed on.
The old man’s beard swung vividly in the air as specks of spittle shot from his mouth, yet he didn’t seem to care very much for his current appearance as the scholar continued to defend his case.
“Just look at the lass’ constitution! Pure Yin bone composition, the meridians and vessels obviously lacking an attribute of Yang! For martial arts techniques that emphasize movement regarding the lass’ special physique, don’t tell me there’s anything that’s more suitable than the <Trailing Swift> technique!”
“You… may be right, Old Liu,” another elder coughed as he pointed towards the book clenched in the agitated man’s hand.
“But your <Trailing Swift> technique requires one to practice in the <Vivid Breeze> cultivation technique. Such a shoddy technique that doesn’t even guarantee a smooth advancement into the Spirit Building Realm, what’s the point even if the martial arts technique is spectacularly compatible?”
“That’s right!” Several others chorused.
“Old Liu, you may have great intentions for the little lass, but take greater consideration for future development, ah! Instant benefits will rarely triumph over a well-planned, delayed harvest!”
“You all!” Old Scholar Liu trembled with rage as he stared at his colleagues.
“What instant benefit, ah!? Who said the <Vivid Breeze> technique is lackadaisical, ah!? The cultivation technique that is the most fluid and easy to utilize as a foundation for a more powerful technique, you dare disparage its value without understanding it!? Whoever it was, stand out here for this old thing to see!”
“I-I-If this junior may add,” a youthful scholar timidly raised his hand.
“Why… can’t the Young Miss practice the <Raging Winds, Gentle Heart> cultivation technique and the <Trailing Swift> martial arts technique at the same time? Isn’t the <Raging Winds, Gentle Heart> technique apt for practicing in a versatile range of styles and forms?”
“<Raging Winds, Gentle Heart> is indeed a suitable technique in such regard,” a middle-aged man replied in a peaceful voice.
“However, you must also recall that the maximum potential of <Raging Winds, Gentle Heart> can only be attained by a sufficiently powerful martial arts technique, most preferably one attributed towards offense. <Trailing Swift> wouldn’t be the appropriate choice in such circumstance, but a good suggestion nonetheless!”
“You all don’t understand, ah,” Old Liu continued to aimlessly persist, his white, flowing beard quivering precariously as he spoke.
“The beauty of the <Trailing Swift> martial arts technique can only be understood by those who practice it!”
“Nicely said, Old Liu, but in that regard, it would be much better for the lass to practice the <Purple Jade Palm>. Excellent balance between offense and defense, and has wide utility in the majority of circumstances. Quite difficult to find fault with the technique since the gain is vast for a minor sacrifice.”
“<Purple Jade Palm> is indeed formidable, but what about <Coiling Jade Dagger>?”
“Who cares about your snot-covered dagger!? What <Coiling Jade Dagger>, just call it <Toxic Mucous>, that serves that shoddy excuse of a technique better than some undeserving, flashy title.”
Watching the thirty-odd scholars, young and old, argue amongst another over which technique was suitable for An Fei, Xiao Wen, and Xiao Ying, the two maidservants and a Young Miss couldn’t help but want to cover their eyes in exasperation.
This was going on for far too long, ah!
There was only an incense stick’s amount of time remaining, and that was a generous estimate!
Though remarkably quiet compared to the scholars’ boisterous bellows, everyone stopped arguing the instant An Fei’s mouth opened. Faced with thirty-three pairs of eyes fixated on her veil, the girl helplessly shrugged before speaking in an exhausted voice.
“…there’s only roughly thirty minutes before the assigned time…”
The scholars shrugged in unison, directing a deep, silent glance at each other for several moments. Before the three young women could say another word, they were gently chased out of the tenth platform of the Pagoda of Sun and Moon.
Gifts were forced into their hands with every step, and soon, Xiao Wen and Xiao Ying were struggling to keep up with An Fei and the leading, elderly scholars.
The two maidservants, though they appeared fatigued and noticeably thicker, especially their legs, still retained pleased expressions on their faces.
“Hm? Little lass, something wrong?”
When Old Scholar Liu opened an adjacent door near the deeper recesses of the platform to reveal a circular platform and explaining its general principle, he noticed the young girl beside him appearing to be in a foul mood.
The word was spat out through clenched teeth, startling the old elder for a brief moment.
However, though not a single one of them made a sound, An Fei easily noticed their facial muscles quivering in an uncontrollable manner.
Once the three young girls had stepped onto the center of the disk, Old Liu waved his hand, a dull violet light emitting from his body as he stepped backwards.
Before An Fei’s astonished gaze, the violet light gathered into the old scholar’s right palm, condensing onto the surface of the skin as an aged palm slammed against the disk.
The light spreading throughout the circular platform, the platform groaned, and the disk hurtled downwards at a swift velocity.
Though she couldn’t determine the exact rate of which they descended, An Fei was currently busy bemoaning over the feeling that she had wasted nearly an hour of continuous climbing, only to travel the same distance within a matter of seconds.
…not to mention the two books clutched to her chest, and the slightly worn tome hidden within the coat’s expansive folds.
The maidservants didn’t look much better. Not only were Xiao Wen and Xiao Ying similarly clutching a pair of books to their bosom, An Fei wasn’t exactly certain on the number of manuals hidden underneath their clothes.
The elderly scholars had all assured them that it would be fine since the bulges were hardly noticeable, but was that truly the case…?
“We’re here,” Old Liu’s raspy voice brought the girl out of her thoughts, the platform slowing to a halt to reveal a plain oaken door.
“Once we’re past here, our karmic fate will most likely come to an end. Little lass, you must cultivate well, and treasure every opportunity you receive!”
Giving a respectful bow that brought a smile to the elderly scholar’s aged countenance, An Fei and the two maidservants were escorted to the ground platform of the Pagoda of Sun and Moon by Old Scholar Liu. As they received countless looks of envy and admiration, the crowd of people and An Fei were transported back into the plaza.
An instant later, Wei Chang Luo’s voice rang from directly behind her, full of satisfaction and merriment.
“Fourth Little Sister, ah, it seems you’ve obtained a satisfactory gain, even having the time to find the maidservants a full set as well!”
An Fei paused upon hearing the Second Young Master of Wei’s words, unsure of how to reply. After dismissing several thoughts from her mind, the girl opened her mouth to reply in greeting.
“Second Brother, your friend’s little sister is quite domineering, ah.”
“…now you understand why I don’t like that so-called Junior Brother of mine?”
Walking side by side with a handsome, youthful sibling exuding a warm, blinding yet comfortable aura, An Fei truly felt a sensation of tranquility arise in her weary heart.
Though she wasn’t exactly certain regarding her thoughts, the concept of a tenderhearted family had birthed in her mind.
Perhaps the broken, torn heart could finally recover and gain some rest.
However… as the girl walked home, teased by a young man and two maidservants, she was completely clueless about the shifting winds of time destiny.
Nor did she know that not only was she running headlong into a major scam, one that implicated not only the world around her, but even the infinitesimal constructs of her existence.
And most definitely did she not know what exactly it entailed to be named ‘An Fei’, a heart-protecting jade of peace.
Bring peace into the world, fulfill the destiny of the Sanctum’s embodiment and bestow divine protection.
…but protect from what?