Chapter 2: An Ending, A Beginning

Watching the man’s figure disappear into the smothering darkness, the girl released a sigh of relief. Closing her eyes, she rested her head against the chilled concrete ground, falling into a restless sleep.

Drifting between the thin barrier of consciousness, several hours were spent with the girl tossing around, huddling and bringing her body together to retain warmth.

Plink.

Another drop of water fell into the raging current below, the soft splash causing the girl to jolt awake. Lightly rubbing her injured thigh and grimacing at the spike of pain, the girl revealed a bitter smile.

Looking around in all directions to be greeted by the dim lighting restraining the cold darkness’ approaches, she couldn’t help but fall into a daze, her mind drifting to a memory.

One she had deeply cherished, but didn’t know if the sentiment she had felt back then truly lingered.

An old man lay upon a bed with soft linen sheets, dressed in a grey scholar’s robe. Protruding from his wrist was a series of transparent tubes transferring various chemicals and medicines into his body, some flowing out.

The old man’s eyes were closed, his expression light and airy as if experiencing a pleasant dream. The room was a monochrome white, lacking in furnishing or decorations excluding the old man, the bed, and a metallic stand supporting fluid bags.

Perhaps, unless one looked closely, the elderly figure could merge with his plain surroundings, his demeanor inconspicuous and reserved.

“Grandfather, you called?”

Suddenly, the door warding the room slid open, a young girl intruding. Dressed in a light cotton shirt, denim jeans, and a linen coat, black hair flowing to her waist, the girl silently strode over to the bed, kneeling next to the elder.

Hearing her voice, the old man raised his eyes, countless vicissitudes flowing within before returning to a peaceful calm.

“Fei’er. You’re here.” His voice was hoarse, barely perceptible to the ear, unable to differentiate between emotions.

“Mhm. Grandfather, did you need something?”

The girl gently nodded, her soft voice complementing the elder’s whisper. Hearing her speak, the old man faintly smiled.

“You’re just like your mother, that soft voice that soothes one’s soul,” he spoke. Reaching out with his left hand to gently pat her hair, he continued.

“Don’t take to heart what your parents always declare. Never forget, you are my, An Xiang Yang’s granddaughter!”

“En.”

“Alright, alright, don’t get so emotional,” the elder consoled.

Though he remained on the bed, he continued to comfort the girl, his other hand reaching into the depths of his robe’s pockets.

“It’s your sixteenth birthday today, no?” he spoke.

His fingers grasping onto the metallic surface of a familiar object, his eyes brightened. His fingers trembling from both fatigue and emotional reminiscence, the elder felt a lifetime of memories span across a single moment as he presented the object to the girl. “Fei’er, Fei’er, don’t be sad! Grandfather has a gift for you.”

“Thank you…a mirror?”

Receiving the old man’s gift, a burst of warmth ignited within the girl’s chest, triggering forth another wave of muted tears. Looking over the object, she discovered it to be a small mirror, no bigger than the palm of her hand.

The reflective surface was of embossed platinum, the back of smooth cobalt. When she stared at her reflection on the small surface, she found her vision threaten to blur yet again.

“Hehe, don’t think of it as a plain mirror!” The old man assured.

“It will change everything for you, straight to your core. Think of it as a belayed compensation for everything you’ve suffered.”

“Change everything?” the girl questioned, bewilderment evident in her voice. “Grandfather, it’s just a mirror, ah! How will it change everything? Am I supposed to preen my vanity through it?”

“You will see,” the elder responded, adopting a mysterious tone. Firmly petting her hair, he repeated once more.

“You will see. Perhaps not now, nor in the future, but you will see.”

Finished saying his piece, the elder returned to sleep with a contented smile. Given that he refused to wake regardless of her wheedling, the girl gave up.

With a light sigh, she bowed once more, before departing from the room.

The mirror lay secure in her pocket, later recast as a pendant.

“You’ve had these days rather rough.”

An aged voice cut through her reminiscence, forcefully dragging the girl back to reality. Raising her head towards its source, she discovered an aged man standing not far away from her.

Dressed in a greyed scholar’s robe, the color mostly faded, the old man sported a long beard, a plain wooden cane clasped in his hands.

“Grand…father?” The girl softly whispered.

“How can you still be alive? Didn’t you…have a funeral a few years ago?”

“Haha, this old man has some longevity left,” the old man replied. Though he didn’t move from his original position, his eyes radiated an unmatched warmth as he gazed at the girl.

“Running from family, government, even the world. It must have been tough on you.”

“…was this the change you told me, Grandfather?”

The girl spoke rapidly, her anger and resentment pouring out like a burst dam.

“To be chased each day without permission to obtain a single breath of rest, to have to sleep on the streets without a single source of warmth. To be treated as the world’s most wanted criminal, was my miserable self as a biological daughter treated as an illegitimate one, not enough for you!? Was your love and concern for me -“

“No.” the elder interrupted the girl’s speech.

His voice imposing and authoritative, the girl quietened, yet her eyes continued to radiate her grief and wronged feelings.

“The change I mentioned back then, does not refer to the agglomeration of human greed.”

Looking at the girl, his gaze deepened. “What I referred back then, will only start today.”

“…today?” the girl mumbled.

“What will begin today? Another wave of suffering?”

“…perhaps you will indeed suffer a little. However, at the least, you will not have to face this wretched family anymore.” An Xiang Yang replied.

Closing his eyes, the cane lightly tapped onto the floor in a unique rhythm, the gentle pulses ringing in her ears. Nonplussed, the girl stared at him.

“…what are you doing?”

“Just displaying something special,” the old man replied, continuing to strike the cane against the ground at irregular intervals.

“Didn’t you wonder at that time, what the mirror did, and how I am still standing before you today?”

“…”

An Xiang Yang suddenly paused his actions, gazing into the distance towards the water channel’s ceiling. Her vision gradually blurring even more, the girl struggled to keep her eyes open, the elder’s figure merging into the surrounding darkness.

The instant before her consciousness plummeted into the dark void, an aged sigh could be heard.

“Well, this should be the last breath I take. An Fei, my granddaughter, this old man shall pass on the <Eternal Sanctum> to you.”

With a start, An Fei awoke, her arms lashing out to her sides. A moment later, the girl released a yowl of pain, clutching her arms as she lightly blew on the sore limbs.

Once the pain had receded to a dull throb, she attempted to stand, only to freeze afterwards.

“Huh?”

As she moved, she could feel a coarse fabric rubbing against her body, causing numerous itches to swarm all over. Frowning in discomfort, she carefully inspected her body, gaping in astonishment.

Her body…was a little too small.

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Too frail and lacking in strength, and she definitely didn’t remember finding such pale and malnourished skin. And what were these clothes!?

A pale, discolored yellow dress that was a size large for her, and though it was made of silk, when had silken cloth become so rough in texture!?

“What’s going on…ah!?”

Instinctively grumbling, An Fei suddenly released a muffled cry, hands covering her throat. Her voice, instead of the soft and mellow tone she was far accustomed to, now resembled more of a muted nightingale’s call; quiet as a mosquito, scratching at the heartstrings of the listener.

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When she tried to project further, all that could be heard was nothing more than a muffled squawk. Shaking her head with a helpless expression, An Fei rested her hands on her knees as she observed her room.

It was rather antique. Though luxurious, it seemed as though she had been thrown into a historical play?

She was sitting on a bed of a luxurious fox fur, silken blankets gently covering her body. The bed was elevated from the ground by a few centimeters, surrounded by all sides by a thin curtain, the fabric nearly transparent.

Several drawers of mahogany wood were stationed nearby. At the far end of the room was an oak door without a handle. The walls were of some paper material inscribed with a complex, flowing pattern, and the roof comprised of a black tile An Fei could only guess was charred clay.

As she continued to gaze at the walls in interest, tracing each pattern in her mind, a scraping sound could be heard from outside the room, one of metal rubbing against each other. Shifting her attention towards the source of the noise, she could see the large oaken door open before her, the figure of a woman entering.

Once the woman’s features became clear, An Fei’s vision submerged into a scarlet haze, multiple memories swamping her consciousness.

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