Category: The Witch Nichang (Page 1 of 4)

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 38 A Dark Night

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 38

A Dark Night

I wasn’t a smart person. The so-called plan couldn’t be simpler. It wasn’t even a strategy. 

I never tried to be clever and think about slipping away halfway. My obedience and submission on the road were only to exchange for a chance tonight. I just wanted to go up the mountain alone before the red flower dame.

For one, I could avoid giving away the location of Yellow Dragon Cave by doing so so that I didn’t have to worry. Second, it was because I was worried. I worried that things might not be as simple as the fine dame had said. Although she said it was a duel, and the story she told was tied in with what I knew, I couldn’t believe her entirely before checking with Master. After all, regarding jianghu affairs, you wouldn’t know what was in other people’s minds.

That is why I want to tell Master and confirm it with her first. If what she said is true, and Master feels it isn’t a big deal, I will come right back to her and look for another spot for the duel. If that is the case, that can’t be better. It will also be a win-win I’m hoping for, and everyone will be happy. But if things are different from what she said, or Master thinks it is too risky, then…

I don’t know. Maybe I would have to be selfish for once. 

On the other hand, I’m pushing my luck. After spending time with the red flower dame on the road, I feel she has integrity, though her temper is peculiar and unpredictable. Maybe she was just trying to scare me with her threat of harming the villagers. She might not actually do it. This is just wishful thinking used to comfort myself, or I might be right, but ultimately, I can’t hide my selfishness. 

If I have to choose between my neighbors or my close ones, I will face it. I‘m just afraid I ended up losing both even after thinking up all the ideas and choosing to be a bad guy.

At this moment, I didn’t feel safe, although the bellboy promised that the incense could make people sleep through the night. The red flower dame was a seasoned master in jianghu, after all. She was too mysterious. I didn’t think it could be solved that easily. I was afraid she would wake up early and catch up to me in no time.

That was why I groped my way up the mountain, afraid to even light a torch.

Even so, I still felt uneasy. The dark was as heavy as a curtain. I could see nothing beyond a few steps, which made the air seem even more gloomy and eerie. Sometimes when there was a slight movement behind me or when I heard insects or birds, it made me nervous and paranoid, feeling as if someone was tailing me. 

Because of these doubts, I was anxious to the point I felt like I was about to be torn, part of me wanted to run straight to Yellow Dragon Cave; the other part was afraid that someone was approaching in the dark. It wouldn’t be that bad if it was just me getting caught. What I was afraid of was being followed, leading the bad guy to the house, and causing more harm than good.

The anxiety was overwhelming, and finally, I was too on edge. It was too much, so I stopped.

Alone in the wild, it was as dark as ink around. I listened, and I could only hear wind swishing between the trees, sounding like whimpers. After standing still, my breathing slowed down, and my heart settled down. I stayed in silence for a while, then I shook my head and chuckled, scoffing at myself for actually having a taste of imaginary fears.

But were they imaginary fears? I couldn’t go on unless this worry was dispelled, or maybe…

After thinking for a while, I went on in a different direction.

This time, I was heading west. I sprinted for some distance as I groped along. Even though my sight was limited, I could recognize the rough location based on my experience. When I felt I got far enough, I slowed down, parting the grass and searching as I walked around, making a faint but rather high-pitched whistle.

It was a call but not for humans, a call that the little Lian’er once forced me to learn. She said I wouldn’t be qualified as her buddy if I didn’t know how to do it, so I had no choice but to learn it. I never thought it would come in handy now. 

As expected, a high-pitched response came from the dark after a few whistles. After a while, two big fellows sprang out of the grass.

When my eyes met with their fierce and wary eyes, I was a little nervous. After all, I wasn’t Lian’er. There weren’t many ways I could communicate with them. Besides, I had been away for two years. Even if I was treated as a stranger, there was no surprise. Fortunately, I wasn’t afraid of animals, so I could stand their surveying eyes. 

After being sniffed for a few rounds, one of them finally came near, sniffed my hand, and nudged my hand with its nose. I slowly crouched down and petted it with that hand. As soon as its tongue licked my hand, I knew I was accepted.

I was surprised because it had been two years, but they still remembered my scent. Although I was glad, even touched, I didn’t understand why.

Anyhow, this was already beyond my expectation.

After calming the two big wolves and letting them stay at the side, I moved three steps away, took out a flame stick, and ignited it. With the dim glow, I tore off a piece of my hem and flattened it out. Then I brought my index finger to my mouth and bit down.

What I got in return for this seemingly cool move was a pang of excruciating pain. I was gasping and hissing in pain. It was better to use a knife, I concluded to myself. But I daren’t rest my hands. I started to scribble with the oozing blood, jotting down the things that happened with the red flower dame as succinctly as possible. But I omitted the fact I was being threatened and wrote at the end that she was waiting at an inn in the town now, that Master didn’t have to worry, and it was up to her to decide whether to come.

I was relieved when I was done. I snuffed out the flame stick, patched up my finger, and then picked up the torn cloth, blowing it gently, so that the blood on it could dry faster. If I could come up with this idea earlier, I wouldn’t have to suffer the pain. Unfortunately, I only thought of this on my feet under the pressure of various concerns after I came up the mountain. I had it coming.

Ten years with Lian’er. I am well aware of her routine. I know she will come to visit the wolves in a day or two. If she sees this torn cloth, she will pass it to Master. Then I won’t have to make the trip myself. I can return to the inn now. If I’m lucky, the red flower dame won’t notice a thing. Otherwise, I can avoid the worry of being followed. It was a much better idea than the one I had earlier.

It was funny how people had to be forced. I had been thinking throughout the journey. And perhaps because I missed them, all I was thinking about was how I could meet them. That was why the ideas I could think of before weren’t as good as this one when I was desperate. 

I was mocking myself. When the torn cloth was almost dry, I wrapped it with leaves, went over, and was about to attach it to one of the wolves’ bodies.

Two steps in, the two wolves stood up almost simultaneously, the fur on their back bristling and growls coming from their throat!

I was startled. At first, I thought it was directed at me, but we were getting along well just now, so it made no sense. Then I thought, was it that the blood on my hand had aroused their animal nature? But then I realized it wasn’t me they were growling at, but something behind me!

Alarmed, I wheeled around and went into guard. I was looking around, but the surrounding remained silent. Maybe because of the presence of large animals, even the chirping of insects and birds disappeared at some point, only the darkness suffused like a tangible matter, thickening over time.

It was as if there was nothing, only the wolves kept growling. They kept turning and clawing at the ground, getting more and more anxious.

Seeing them like this, I pondered for a moment before I stood up and called out in the direction at which the growling was directed. “Ma’am, since you’ve been found out, it’s better to come out. You can hide from me but not these unwelcoming animals. There’s no point in hiding anymore, isn’t it?”

As soon as I finished, a cold snort came from the dark. It was a little farther away. I could only see a shadow figure leaped off a tree, and then there came the familiar, ghastly voice. “Humph, unwelcoming? If not for the sudden change in wind direction, putting me from the upwind to the downwind, how could these two beasts detect my presence?”

After finishing her words, she sauntered close. Only then, I could see the red flower. My heart thudded. I felt something wasn’t right. Whether it was her attitude or words, she was too calm. She looked too nonchalant. It didn’t seem like…

Repressing the premonition, I cupped my fist and went straight to the point. “May I ask…when did you notice I was gone? And when did you catch up to me?” 

Then I heard the answer I most dreaded.

Her laughter was sinister. “Catch up to you? Do you really think you can get rid of this old lady with that childish trick? That cheap stuff? Even if I was asleep, its scent would wake me up too. Say, when did I notice? Do I even need to come after you?”

Her words made my heart sink even more. I had thought she might wake up early and come after me, but I had never doubted whether she had passed out because I had experienced the potency of the incense myself. A thought gradually surfaced, bringing along an ominous feeling. I clenched my teeth and continued. “In that case, I wonder if you were hard on the two in the inn? And what did you do to them?”

I changed my mind. I couldn’t say she had caught up to me, so other things no longer mattered now, except the two who helped me. I hoped…

During this tormenting wait, a roar of laughter came from her. After she was done laughing, I heard her deriding voice. “What do you think will happen to them? You have to pay the price if you dare to mess with me. It’s just two lives.”

The surrounding air suddenly turned cold.

I didn’t know how I felt and how I should feel right now. I only knew after a moment of silence, the woman started to chuckle in the dark again.

She was laughing with delight, as if she found it fun. “Hey, what a surprise. I thought you’re an urbane and gentle person. I never thought you would have murderous intent. Hahaha, interesting, interesting.” 

Murderous intent? Maybe.

I didn’t know what murderous intent looked like. I only knew I had too much coldness in me. That coldness froze as it crawled along my body, even my breath seemed to come with frost, yet there was a swell of restless heat burning in my heart. Suppressed under the coldness, it was bubbling and seemed to be ready to spurt out at any moment. 

I always thought I was indifferent, not evil but not kind either. When it didn’t concern my interest, I could be kind but not affectionately kind either. I knew I lived in a tumultuous time where life and death were something common. I learned to save myself and not to care too much. When necessary, I was even willing to sacrifice some that were relatively less important to preserve those who I held dear.

If so, I shouldn’t be having murderous intent now, as it wouldn’t help me and could get myself killed instead.

I knew. I knew it well, but the heat and the coldness persisted. There was no use suppressing them. Even the two wolves beside me sensed something, turning from being anxious and defensive to unusually excited. Their claws were scratching the ground, and they were growling. Unable to hold back any longer, they finally roared and launched an attack!

“Stop!” I blurted out, but it was too late. I couldn’t stop them.

“Ha—Your master hasn’t moved yet. It’s not your turn, you bunch of animals!” A roar came from the dark. I tensed up and lunged forward, but I was one step behind. Then I heard their whimpers, causing my blood to boil!

All I saw was that blurry figure when I lunged forward. A blast of wind was coming toward my waist. With what was left of my rationality, I bent down and managed to dodge it, but I kept the same motion and pounced on her with the momentum, ramming into her!

She didn’t seem to expect such a reckless attack, so she took the full blow. She staggered a little before she spat. “Girl, are you crazy?”

I might be. Even I, myself, didn’t expect it. In the dark, it was as if the face of the bellboy was in front of me. It turned out I cared. And the two wolves. If anything happened to them, how could I face Lian’er? They were like family to her!

The shadow figure in front of me was swaying. My eyes were burning. I wrapped my arms around her waist after ramming into her and drove her back with all my might. 

There was a voice shouting in my head, this woman, she killed innocent people and wolves. The villagers might suffer the same fate in the future. I was wrong about her. She turned out to be peculiar and wicked. She said it was a duel, but she might want to kill Master next, even Lian’er. I couldn’t let her do that! Never!

I will kill her!

At this moment, my rationality could only stand by and watch. It was as if the one controlling my body wasn’t me. I used all my strength to hold her and drive her back because I still remembered the terrain around here.

While she wasn’t paying attention, she staggered back a few steps. When she looked back, she immediately realized what I was doing and bellowed. “Girl! What’re you doing? Get off me or I won’t have mercy on you!” When she saw I gave no response, she then lifted her dragon-head staff and smashed it down on my back. 

I could hear the swoosh of the wind with the strike. How could I not know? Under normal circumstances, I would have retreated and gotten away already, but at this moment, I bore the hit as if blinded by the devil, oblivious to anything else. A grunt left my lips, but I kept on pushing.

It was only a few steps away from the cliff. She must have gotten anxious. She no longer talked to me like she did earlier and instead stabbed her staff into the ground, spreading her legs and sinking her body. Right after that, I felt what I was pushing with my shoulders wasn’t a person but a boulder that weighed a ton. She wouldn’t budge the slightest inch, even when I had used all my strength. We stayed like this for a while, and suddenly I felt her hands tighten around my arms. A powerful force yanked away my arms that were wrapped tightly around her waist, and I heard an abrupt bawl. “Off!” At that moment, my body wasn’t mine anymore. I was sent flying far away. 

After rolling several times on the ground, I finally came to a stop on my back, looking at the dark sky. Gasping, I let out a few coughs. When I lifted my hand and rubbed it across my lips, I saw a few streaks of crimson red.

My body screamed with pain. I couldn’t move anymore. My boiling blood slowly cooled down. When my senses regained their clarity, I heard the sonorous and distant howls of the wolves. I turned my head. On the high ground not far away, the two wolves huddled together in the dark were howling with their necks stretched.

They are…still alive…, I thought to myself. A weight was lifted off my heart.

I could feel the grass on the side of my face and hear the insects chirping indistinctly. No matter how fierce a life-and-death battle had happened, in nature, everything was normal. I found it hilarious when this thought popped up in my mind.

Suddenly, a figure landed in front of me. The red flower on her hair stood out in the dark.

“Girl, I didn’t expect you to be like this when you’ve gone crazy. You almost got me killed,” she said eerily, her dragon-head staff pointing at my neck. With just a 

little force, she could take my life.

I supposed I didn’t want to die, but at this moment, I felt at peace. I even felt a sense of relief.

Until an icy voice entered my ears from afar, word by word.

“Stay away from her!”

My head was still tilted to the side. If I were to turn my eyes, I could easily see that, not far away, another figure had appeared next to the huddling wolves.  

Although I could hardly see it, tears couldn’t help welling up in my eyes because every night I would miss her.

I miss her, miss her, miss her, but I don’t want to see her at this moment.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 37 Nobody

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 37

Nobody

The rattling sound of the night watch on the street came from afar, a long clack followed by three short clacks. Every clack was as if knocking on the heart.

I slept by the window, but there was no moon tonight, so it was pitch-black inside and out. I opened my eyes in the dark but maintained a slow and even breathing like I was sleeping.

Occasionally, there was a little breeze blowing through the window crack, which aptly served as a refresher. 

Before going to the bed and snuffing out the light, I hesitated. My hand was resting on the window frame, but eventually, it became a little dusting motion. Although I felt apprehensive about the unknown and didn’t trust it at all, it might not be a bad thing if troubles could happen tonight, so I might have to take this risk. 

After that, I kept on waiting. But until now, nothing unexpected had happened. 

So should I just stick with my original plan? It is already three in the morning. It will be too late if I don’t move now. Besides, aren’t the obedience and accommodation on the way here meant to pave the way for tonight’s plan? At the thought of it, I moved a little. When I noticed my breathing got slightly faster, I stopped right away and adjusted.

Had to admit, the skill of discerning subtlety by sounds that the red flower dame had shown me today while she was meditating had a great psychological impact on me. The dark I thought was the perfect cover had turned into a mere self-deception. I constantly felt like every move I made right now could be noticed by her, plus her subtle reminder when we lodged in as if she knew what I was thinking. 

But on the other hand, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe she was still not asleep by now. A fierce fight was coming up the next day. It was necessary to conserve her energy. Besides, I was confident about being light on my feet. 

This confidence came from Lian’er. Though her martial arts weren’t as unfathomable as the red flower dame, she had the vigilance of an animal. I had lived with her for a long time. Sometimes, I would get up at night to have some water. In order not to disturb her sleep, I had learned how to keep my movements nearly silent.

I had to take the risk tonight. Otherwise, I would be sorry to everyone. 

I was already prepared for this. When the light was out, I deliberately made the rustling sound of undressing, but I still had my clothes on. As long as I could roll out of the bed, open the window by the street, and gently drop down now, it would be the first step to success. Whatever happened after that, I could put it all behind.

I rehearsed the details in my head for the last time. When it was finally time to go for it, I controlled my breathing and wanted to get up quietly, so I propped myself up with a slight push, but halfway through, my body went limp!

My heart started to palpitate. Then I realized, at some point, I had lost my strength!

I didn’t believe what was happening now. I forced myself to push harder, but it didn’t work. My hands and legs felt limp. The feeling wasn’t as profound if I didn’t move, but once I tried to move, I felt even weaker, even my head started to spin.

Breaking out in a cold sweat, I forced my heartbeat to slow down. When it didn’t work, I forced myself to calm down and observed the room. Only then did I begin to feel there was something wrong with the air in the room. Supposedly, for inns like this, where people come and go, it was common to have a faint scent of incense in the rooms to get rid of odors. But come to think of it now, I felt the scent smelt vaguely different from the ordinary incense. 

Realizing this, all kinds of familiar, unfamiliar flowers’ names flooded into my mind. I looked into the dark. Even when I stayed up all night and remained vigilant, I still fell right into it. She wasn’t as alert as I was, so she was supposed to fall deeper into it. Could it be that the bellboy was actually here to seek revenge on her?

When the bellboy came to my mind, I immediately thought of those words on his palms. 

At this point, I was already feeling drowsy. I silently recited the words “Don’t move the window” and moved my head to look at the window by the bed, trying to figure out something from it. In the end, I couldn’t make out anything. Instead, in a sudden gust of breeze, I felt a lot more awake.

The breeze didn’t come from anywhere but the window gap.

Suddenly, I understood why the bellboy did that and also why I didn’t realize something was wrong with my body until I started moving. The window gap was facing directly at where I lied, bringing in fresh air from time to time. At first, I thought it was refreshing, but it turned out to be more than that. 

It seemed that everything had begun since we lodged in this inn. I didn’t know if it was intentional to arrange us in the same room, but the bed placement was no doubt intentional, even the gap size of the window was calculated. If it was too small, the wind couldn’t come in; If it was too huge, the air flow would be too good. Then, the scent wouldn’t have worked as it should be.

That person—or shall I say—that bunch of people, what exactly did they want?

The reason I had time to think about this was I couldn’t move my body at all. As long as I was facing the window, the breeze would bring in some fresh air and wake me up from time to time, but that didn’t solve the actual problem. My limbs were still weak. I was lying in the dark, trying to combat the drowsiness with that bit of coolness. I couldn’t even make a sound.

If anyone rushed in and gave a slash to both of us right now, it would be perfect. It couldn’t be more convenient. 

While I was thinking about it giddily, the door swooshed open as I thought. I held my breath and turned to look. I could only see two shadow figures in the candlelight, both dressed up like a bellboy, a thick cloth scarf around their mouth and nose. It was more apt to say they served as a mask rather than a cover for their face.

They rushed in bare-knuckle, ignoring the red flower dame and coming straight to me instead. They held me up hastily. One of them took the time to reach out his hand and pushed the ajar window wide open. Then holding me up one on each side, they rushed out of the room.

Actually, the moment the window was fully open, the fresh air was no longer obstructed and gushed inside like a wave of invisible tide. At that moment, my body instantly felt swifter.

It wasn’t impossible to push them away with my qi, but in the end, I decided to wait and see. 

Being half-carried, half-dragged forward like this, we went down the stairs, around the backyard and the woodshed, where I thought they were bringing me to, but they ended up opening the side door at the inn’s backyard and carried me out to the woods before they finally stopped. 

Could it be that I was wrong? Things weren’t that complicated, and I just happened to bump into obscene lechers?

With that in mind, I started to move my qi around my body to protect myself. Away from the dense incense in the room, the air outside was cool and invigorating and coupled with being dragged all the way here, my limbs were regaining feeling. The foul air in me was mostly replaced after several rounds of breathing. Dealing with a couple of malicious scumbags shouldn’t be a problem at all.

If they dared to land their hands on me, I would make them regret it!

Fortunately, things didn’t seem to go the way I thought. Once I was laid on the grass in the woods, one of the men backed up a few steps, leaving the shorter one to hold my shoulders. They did nothing inappropriate, just shaking and calling me repeatedly to wake me up.

Seeing them like this, I stopped pretending. I looked up after opening my eyes and stood up.

The two seemed relieved to see me get up, but immediately seemed constrained and unconsciously took two steps back. At the moment, the cloth scarf on their face was already taken off. The shorter one was the bellboy who left the message, and the big fellow behind him looked unfamiliar to me. I never seemed to have seen him before.

I eyed them for a moment before I cupped my fist in puzzlement and said cautiously, “I wonder…”

When they heard me asking, the two of them exchanged a look. I had no idea what they were exchanging with their eyes, and finally, the big fellow gave the bellboy a kick. Taking a kick from him, the bellboy stumbled a few steps to me and scratched his head coyly, stammering, “Miss..uh…do you still remember us?”

Of course, I didn’t know them, so for a while, I couldn’t answer them. He might have guessed it from my look. He smiled. “Right…it’s fine if Miss doesn’t remember us. We weren’t going to actually see you at first, but you remember this, right?” After saying that, he turned around and called the big fellow. “Heizi.”

When the big fellow got the cue, he stepped forward and rolled up his left sleeve without demur. The cuffs of the bellboy’s attire were already loose. With a stroke, the sleeve was rolled up to his shoulder, revealing the visible old scar on his arm. 

The bellboy pointed to the scar. “This. Is this familiar to you?”

Since he said so, it must have meant something. With the candlelight in their hands, I took a closer look at the scar as they asked. Suddenly, some memories flashed across my mind. 

Right, how could I forget? Those memories from a certain night. That bloodshed. If not for that, perhaps there wouldn’t be the blood-stained clothes after that, the waterplay in the lake, and the heart-pounding moment.

“You’re..that group of…” I looked up, no longer puzzled, but couldn’t help but be a little warier.

“Don’t worry, Miss!” The bellboy probably saw my wariness. He continued, “This time we’re not here to revenge but return the favor!”

It turned out after losing out big time that night, they helped each other down the mountain. Thanks to the money I gave them, they could get treated in time, so not only no one died, most of them kept their arms too. Most of these people came from the underclass. From a young age, all they learned were some petty street skills, thinking if they had numbers and were not afraid of death, they would be a heroic outlaw. That night, they were at the death’s door. After witnessing the real jianghu skills, everyone was horrified and discouraged, especially the leader. He disbanded the gang on the spot, split their loot, and went on his way. 

“After splitting up, each of our brothers went their separate ways. Ole Hei and I, one of us knows how to entertain customers, the other knows how to make good food, so the two of us came together and forked out some money to set up shop here, trying to be honest businessmen. Unexpectedly, it turned out pretty good. A year ago, our business grew, and we started an inn.” At the last word, he bowed. “So you’ve done us a favor, a great one! Without what you said back then, we wouldn’t be here now; Without your money, ole Hei wouldn’t have kept his arm. Although we are some yokels, we still know this much!”

I remembered, at that time, I said I was willing to give others a chance to change themselves, but honestly, I didn’t think I would see that change happen myself. Now listening to him tell his stories, I was a little overwhelmed for a moment.

I hesitated for some time before suddenly remembering our business, so I couldn’t help but ask, “Then…then how did you guys recognize me? And how did you know I was in trouble?”

When the bellboy heard me ask that, he smiled proudly. “I have no other skills, but I know how to trim my sails and I also have an excellent memory. Although you wore a bamboo hat at that time, I will never forget your voice! As soon as you spoke when you came in yesterday, I recognized you. Then after paying attention to your conversation, I figured you were in trouble, and when I heard something while setting up your bed, I was more certain of it.” Speaking of the part where he was proud of, he brought his thumb up. “Then an idea hit me. I thought of the drug in the black market that we’ve left from the old days and came up with this idea. Although it’s a little dirty, it works, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it works. Thanks.” I nodded but spoke my mind. “But do you know who you’re messing with? She’s a master.”

The bellboy shook his hand without worry. “Afraid of what? Once the wind flows in after opening the window, the scent is gone. After helping you, ole Hei and I will just go back to sleep and pretend we know nothing tomorrow. She won’t tear down our inn, right? Don’t worry, Miss!”

The two in front of me were just some nobodies in the world. They were once violent bandits who gathered together and caused trouble. But at this moment, I sincerely respected them just because I, myself, was also just a common nobody, so I knew it was easy to say what they had done, but for a bunch of people who just settled down, it wasn’t easy.

“In that case, Zhu Xian sincerely thanks you!”

Out of the range of the inn’s lights, the night sky was as dark as ink, starless and moonless. 

For certain considerations, I didn’t dare to carry a torch. I just relied on my ten-year familiarity with the mountain, groping and stumbling up the mountain peak.

Although the course of events was unexpected, the situation now was indeed moving in a direction I wished.

Thinking about the person I could soon meet, my heart was pounding.


Slopaw’s note:
My website’s old theme broke yesterday just before I was going to upload this chapter, thus this new interface. I’m going to use this theme for now until I figure out what to do next. Hopefully, it doesn’t affect your reading experience much.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 36 Inn

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 36

Inn

After the departure, the journey went smoothly, except Gongsun Lei, with indignation and dejection on his face, parted with us at the border of the two provinces. After some time of traveling day and night, I finally saw the familiar mountain range from afar.

At the start of the journey, I could see the red flower dame was still a little cautious of me, but my good behaviors and attentiveness along the way were probably to her satisfaction, especially I was consciously being respectful and looking after her throughout our journey, which she appreciated despite her peculiar temper, so slowly we were getting along well. 

Therefore, she agreed when I suggested we should stay for the night before going up the mountain tomorrow since it was getting a little late.

We came to the town where I used to pick up stuff. It had been two years since I last visited here, and it had gotten busier. The once remote areas on the outskirts had expanded to become a part of the main street. Many stores that were not there before had sprung up. For certain reasons, I had chosen a new inn by the outskirts, but I didn’t expect it would get in my way instead.

“Sorry—” The bellboy was nodding and bowing as he looked at the book, a pair of small eyes darting back and forth. “There are many travelers lately. Our humble inn is full. There’s only one room left. How about—”

After hearing the usual line I was somewhat tired of hearing, I heard an answer that went with it before I could say anything. “Nevermind. We’ll take that.”

This isn’t good, I said to myself, but I couldn’t appear to be too hasty, so I just crinkled my brows and said to the fine dame: “Why don’t we go to another inn. There’s no need for us to cram in one room.”

She threw a frosty glance at me and said: “What? You don’t like this old lady?”

“Not at all.” I quickly answered. “I’ve explained it to you on the road. It’s because I’m not used to sleeping with other people. It’s hard for me to fall asleep when there’s someone beside me, so I hope it can be two rooms. Otherwise, I’m afraid that you can’t get rest when I’m tossing and turning.”

“Girl, I saw you’re being deferential to me on the way here, so I’m going to be honest with you.” The corners of the fine dame’s lips curled. “The more deferential you are, though I like it, the more worried I am. Since Heaven has left this place with one room, you and I should stay together for the last night, even if that means being wronged as a wretch. Unless you have something to hide.”

“That’s a strong word. I was just thinking that we’re going up the mountain tomorrow, so I don’t want to disturb your rest. If you say so, then I’d be glad to.” I cupped my fist and replied calmly, controlling myself not to give away anything. The older, the wiser. I thought I had somewhat gained her trust, but it all came to naught in the end.

Even so, it didn’t mean there would be no chance anymore.

The bellboy was shrewd. When we started talking, he didn’t interfere, and now when he saw our conversation had come to an end, he was quick to pick up and smooth things over. “Ladies, no worries. Although it’s just a room, its inside was spacious. I’ll take a few men to put up another bed. I’ll make sure you won’t disturb each other at night and have a good night’s sleep.”

With such attentive hospitality, the matter was settled. We followed the bellboy to a room on the left side of the second floor, and he pushed open the door. The room was indeed clean and spacious. The bellboy didn’t lie. He left after making the tea but returned again before long with another two men and some stuff. First, they moved the small cabinet beside the window to make some room. Then they started to get busy, putting together the bed frame and laying cushions on it, looking like they were giving their all. 

While they were busy with their work, we stayed on the other side of the room. Perhaps thinking there would be a fierce fight tomorrow, the red flower dame sat on the bed cross-legged to meditate and rest without saying much. In this case, I couldn’t do anything on my own either, so I sat at the wooden table beside the bed with her and went over tonight’s plan twice in my head but daren’t think about it too much. Afraid that my face would give away something, I let my mind wander off. 

Though I said I let my mind wander off, all I was thinking was what was in front of me.

Apart from thinking of a plan, I had tried hard to jog my memories while we were on our way here. I couldn’t be sure if this world was the same as the world in the book, but when it came to the crunch, I wanted to grab on to something, so I couldn’t help but try to dig something out, hoping I could remember snippets of the story to get rid of the adverse situation. At least, I wanted to find out what was happening now or who I was dealing with.

But after mulling over it on our way here, I couldn’t remember there was such a character. I had tried every means to dig into her. For example, I asked for her name in the name of courtesy. When she was finally willing to tell me, she just blinked and said: “You either call me madam or Gongsun Daniang.”

Fine, I remember there was this name “Gongsun Daniang.” But unfortunately, she clearly wasn’t the lady of the Tang Dynasty, the beauty by the name of Gongsun, who caused a great sensation with her sword dance. So I could only sit down in frustration. My brain was turning into mush.

Even so, I wasn’t going to give up so easily because this concerned the safety of Master, even Lian’er’s.

So as the time passed while I was sitting, my mind started to drift again. My eyes floated to the person meditating on the bed, especially that red flower sitting on her temple. Somehow, I felt the flower was hinting at something. It wasn’t uncommon for women to be gaily dressed in this world. Although she wasn’t young, she was youthful-looking and glamorous. There was nothing odd about wearing a flower, but maybe because it was too conspicuous, so the longer I looked at it, the odder I felt.

Holding up my head, I was iterating “red flower…red flower…red flower” to myself, hoping to use it as an opening. As I was doing so, “Red Flower Society” popped up in my head, unbidden, making me shake my head and tap myself in the head wryly. 

I never thought such a tiny movement would prompt the person meditating on the bed with her eyes closed to speak.

“Girl, why are you tapping your head?”

I was startled when I heard these obscure words. I looked up at the woman. She never opened her eyes. How could she tell what I was doing so clearly? I hesitated for a moment before deciding to be frank and express my doubts. 

“How…how can you see me without opening your eyes?”

“Duh!” She was still in her meditation posture, sneering with her eyes closed. “You’re still a newbie. Of course, you don’t know this. If you rely only on your eyes to see everything in the world, can you really see it all?” She paused, seemingly reluctant to 

go further into it, and was back again to the question. “You still haven’t answered my question. Why are you tapping your head?”

When dealing with these seasoned masters, you should never lie when you can. I answered honestly, holding nothing back. “I was just guessing who you are just now. I couldn’t figure it out, no matter how much I tried. That’s why I was tapping my head. Nothing more.”

She cackled for a while. “Consider yourself lucky that you’re being honest. Your eyes had stayed on me for a long time. I don’t believe it if you say what you were thinking has nothing to do with me. Just what is there to guess about me. Didn’t I tell you my name?”

“I’m slow and out of touch. Although I got your name, I was still clueless and didn’t dare to keep asking. That’s why I let my mind run wild. Hope you wouldn’t mind.”

“Oh? What have you thought of? Tell me.”

“I was just thinking…” I hesitated for a while. Feeling that it should be fine to tell, I said: “I was just thinking the red flower on your temple seems to have some special…”

Once the words were out, her eyes flicked open, a pair of sharp eyes looking straight over, so stinging my heart shuddered! I wondered if I had said something wrong, but she didn’t look like she was angry, so I gradually calmed down and let her stare at me frankly. 

After a moment, the sharpness in her eyes dissolved, and she burst into laughter. “Not bad, not bad. Girl, though you know little and your martial arts are lacking too, your judgment is spot-on. Not bad!” She laughed for a while before she stopped and said: “As for who I am, I’ll introduce myself when I see your master. You just have to bring me to her, and you’ll know by then. Why make blind guesses now? Huh?”

I didn’t say much and went along to agree with her. At this moment, that bellboy and his men had done setting up the makeshift bed. He was showing it to me proudly. There was an overtone of asking for tips in his words. 

I went over to have a look. It was indeed neat and clean, so I took out some silver bits and gave them to the bellboy while praising him. He was already beaming when he saw that. He quickly stretched out both his hands to take it. As soon as his hands came close, he flipped his hands, and I saw a few charcoal black words on top of them.

Don’t move the windows!

My movement was slightly delayed when I focused my attention, while that bellboy took the tips in a flowing movement and shouted thanks. As he put the money into his waist, he rubbed his hands against his clothes. A little stain was left on the hem, and nothing was on his hands anymore. After that, he left the room as he nodded and bowed.

Because of his excellent show, the red flower dame on the bed didn’t notice anything strange. With this lapse of time, I regained my composure. I walked to the makeshift bed to have a closer look, pretending that I wanted to make the bed. The window on the wall was ajar, just a finger-wide gap, no more, no less.

I was mystified. What does it mean? What is going on? This bellboy’s behaviors are weird. Could it be that this is an inn run by brigands? Even so, that doesn’t explain his behaviors. Could it be he wants to help me? That’s impossible too. These people are all new to me. I don’t know them. Besides, they don’t know what is happening to me. Lodging in this inn was a coincidence. Where do I even begin with so-called help? Or…could they be here to cause trouble for the red flower dame? If so, they should be cautious of me too when they see me talking and laughing with her. 

While my brain was running at full speed, my hands didn’t stay idle either. I was touching and tucking the bed as if I was really nitpicking and adjusting the sheet touched by others. When I was done, I turned around, keeping a calm face.

I can’t figure it out. Regardless, something will happen tonight.

I just hope everything will go as I wish.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 35 An Old Affair

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 35

An Old Affair

Despite having a bad feeling about it, I still cupped my fist after pulling myself together and said politely: “My teacher indeed settled in that area, but I don’t know if she’s the person you’re referring to.”

The woman rolled her eyes and spoke dryly: “What? Do you have another master?”

The way she spoke was dripping with sarcasm, contrary to her righteousness when she lectured her son, but considering how common it was for so-called masters to have a peculiar temper, I made nothing of it and spoke my mind: “I’m slow. I’m grateful to Master for not giving up on me. How dare I divide my attention when I can’t even keep up with what I’m being taught?”

“Then that’s it.” Perhaps because I was being polite throughout, her face lightened up a little, the corner of her lips lifted a little, and she said: “Although your skills aren’t quite there yet, your style and moves are the same as your Master. Do you think I’d miss those?”

“I dare not think so.” I bowed, keeping my fist cupped, and suggested: “Since you recognized these, are you perhaps…an old friend of my master?”

Though I asked her that, I didn’t really think she was Master’s friend. If I didn’t know Master’s secret, there was still a possibility that she might be. Since I knew Master was avoiding her husband, she would never tell anyone about her hideout, and the fact that no one had ever come up the mountain to visit Master proved that.  

So I just wanted to ask her that before making judgments and guesses based on her answer.

“Not really. I’ve only seen her once.” She didn’t lie to me. Even though her voice was sarcastic and arrogant, her answer was honest. “That was a few years ago. I missed the lodge for the night when I passed through Mount Hua, so I was camping out in the wild. Who knew I came across a master. I saw she and I were of the same age. For once, I wanted to know her out of a fellow feeling. Who knew she didn’t appreciate it, saying that she was in a rush down the mountain and refused my kindness. It’s intolerable. After exchanging a few words, we got into a fight, a fierce one. Both of us came out even after a hundred rounds. Now that I think of it, that was fun, hahaha!”

She seemed to have thought of the fun part. She cracked up as she spoke. I seemed to be listening, but on the inside, I was caught in indecision. 

What she said doesn’t sound like a lie, but Master rarely goes down the mountain, not to mention going down overnight. If there is one time I can remember, that is…

As if to prove my guess, the woman resumed after she was done laughing. “Unfortunately, she called a halt in the middle of the fight, saying that her disciple was sick and was waiting for her to get the medicine, that she couldn’t stop for too long and promised to fight again another day. I reckoned she was a person of character because she valued her disciple, so I agreed. Who knew…” At that, her face fell, and she was staring at me with her icy eyes, saying eerily: “Who knew after that, I’d waited for her for several days and never seen her again! Girl, what’d you say? Isn’t your master a little untrustworthy?”

Since she had said that, it had proven what she said was true. I gave a full bow and said sincerely: “What you said was right. To tell you the truth, I’m the disciple Master talked about. I was very ill at that time. After my teacher brought the medicine back, she had stayed by my side for a few days before I got better. Maybe that’s why she had missed the date. I hope you understand and don’t blame Master for that.”

While I was sincerely asking her, she stamped her staff on the ground and snorted: “It’s useless now whether I understand her. It’s a fact she shirked from our fight. I‘d wanted to seek this dishonest person out after that, but Mount Hua’s too big, so everything was in vain. Instead, it became an issue for me. But nobody escapes the divine judgment. I didn’t expect I’d come across her disciple a few years later. I don’t know where she’s hiding, but you do, right?”

“What’re you going to do?” I couldn’t just answer her, so I threw a question back at her.

“Isn’t it obvious? I want you to take me there and let your master carry out what she had promised back then and have a good fight. Not too much to ask, is it?”

“What you said is reasonable…” I looked down and continued, neither servilely nor overbearingly: “But as a disciple, how can I reveal her hideout without her permission? I hope you can understand.”

When she heard my answer, she began to cackle wickedly, her phoenix eyes exuding eerie coldness, and she muttered: “At this point, do you think you have any choice?” As soon as she finished her words, she swept her staff on the ground, sending a few small stones shooting over at lightning speed like arrows!

When I heard the familiar, sharp, air-piercing sound, I daren’t slow down, but this time, she meant to catch me cold, so they came in full fury, faster than before. Although I had been on guard, it was too late for me to dodge them, so I could only grit my teeth and withstand the attack. I gathered my qi to my arms to block. When I finally blocked all the flying stones and my arms were aching, I saw a shadow flying close like a ghost from the corner of my eyes, stretching out its hand, and was about to seize me. My heart shivered. From the stones flying over to me blocking all of them, it all happened in a split second. A second before, my opponent was obviously dozens of feet away, and before I knew, she was right next to me. I couldn’t help but be petrified. It was too late for me to react, so I just blocked out of instinct, then I felt a grip on my wrist, my pulse being taken hold of, and I lost all my strength right after that.

Such an instant defeat was expected. It couldn’t be helped. From the outset, I didn’t have the confidence to beat her, a person who could stand against a hundred rounds with Master. I resisted because I had to.

I accepted my defeat in peace, and she caught me with ease. Things had come to this without a ripple, but right about this time, a shout rang out: “You dirty old bitch! Let go of Miss San’er!” I turned around in shock and saw Wu Liu swinging his arms and charging over bare-knuckle. 

I knew the crowd had mostly cleared out, but some were still watching the situation here. Among those, there were three who came along with me. I just didn’t expect him to be so bold at such a moment. It was too late for me to stop him. Before he charged near, the man at a slight distance who was dejected and fell silent after being lectured just now suddenly brisked up and yelled: “How dare you insult my mom!” He went up to Wu Liu with a kick, sending him flying to a side. 

Although Wu Liu was thrown to the ground, he didn’t suffer any injury. The man obviously showed more mercy after being lectured. Who knew a person turned up behind Wu Liu, carrying a yoke from God knows where, hollering: “Back off, scoundrel! Don’t touch my daughter!” The yoke was brought down as he yelled and bashed on the man’s leg that had yet to pull back after kicking someone.

Even the red flower dame was shocked at the turn of events, let alone me. When I saw who was coming, I blurted out: “Stop!” But how could I stop the man who went berserk after taking a beating. He was trained in martial arts, after all. The hit was painful for him, but nothing serious. He whirled around and kicked with another leg, sending the person who came at him flying far off into the distance and hit the ground.

“Dad!” I shouted without thinking and ran over right after breaking away. The woman didn’t stop me when she heard what I called him and came along with me instead. I helped my dad up, who fell on the ground and couldn’t get up while the woman probed his body from head to toe with great speed. When she was done, she said to me: “Don’t worry. No internal injury, just a broken bone in his left leg. Find him a good doctor, and he’ll be fine in a few months.”

Seeing such an act from her, I didn’t know whether I should be mad or thankful, so I just nodded and called my dad. Then he slowly regained consciousness. When he saw the woman beside me as soon as he opened his eyes, he glared at her right away with his eyes ablaze with anger and snarled: “Scram! As long as I have a breath left in me, I’ll never let you hurt my daughter!”

While I worried his words would anger the woman, the red flower dame rolled her eyes indifferently and said coldly: “You ungrateful old man. I’m just borrowing your daughter to lead the way. Do I look like I’m going to hurt her? If I wanted to hurt her, how could she be looking after you right now?”

My dad was startled when he heard that. He turned around to look at me while trembling. “Is it true, San’er? Don’t…don’t be afraid!” He asked. Since things had come to this, I could only nod and say: “It’s true. She was my master’s old…old friend. She was testing me on what I’ve learned so far when she attacked me. She’s looking for Master. Wants me to lead the way. I’m just going to take a trip. About half a month, or over a month at most. Nothing dangerous.”

Dad was still worried after he heard that. He had been sweating profusely because his leg injury had acted up, but still holding on to my hand and making sure again and again. “Will…will you really be right back?”

I fell silent for a moment but quickly snapped back and smiled at him, saying: “I’ll be right back. Just take care of yourself. I’ll ask the villagers to take care of you for now until I’m back again to look after you. Don’t worry, dad.”

I had called him dad countless times, mostly perfunctory. Even the reason I stayed back two years ago was mostly out of pity and obligation, but in the past two years, he had been treating me with care, plus he had risked his life for me just now. His desire to care for his child was palpable, so this “dad”—whether he understood or not—was the first time I had ever said from the bottom of my heart.  

Though I didn’t know if I could keep the promise. 

After that, I took some time to briefly explain to the concerned villagers around and particularly asked Wu Liu and Madam Wang, who came with me, to look after my dad. After getting their assurances, I told them the things that needed attention and watched them carrying my dad away before I turned back and walked over to the mother and son waiting at a distance. 

Seeing that I came over by myself, the red flower dame nodded with satisfaction and said: “Not bad, not bad. Know to swim with the tide, unflustered by changes. Girl, it’s commendable that you understand these at this age. You’ll be somebody in the future.”

I cut the crap and said calmly: “I can do as you say, but I have a condition.”

The woman raised her head and said: “Go on.”

“I don’t want to go with him.” I lifted my hand, pointing to the man next to her who called himself Gongsun Lei, and said: “Due to the various events before, I trust you but not him. Besides, he’s hurt my father just now. According to filial piety, I can’t be together with him in peace. Hope you understand and grant me my wish.”

When that was said, the red flower dame sank into reflection, and before she said anything, the man flipped and roared at me: “You bitch! You bitch! How can you do this! What have I done to you!” After saying that, he thought for a while and thought he might have done something to me, so he went to beg the woman again. “Mom, mom, you can’t do this. I finally got out. It’s been only a few days. You can’t send me back!”

It would have been better if he didn’t say that. Once he said that, the pondering fine dame snapped: “How dare you bring it up! You’ve broken every single rule you promised before you got out! Forget it. Now I have a serious business to attend to. No time to bother about you. You return to the house at Tannan right now. Stay in and reflect. You aren’t allowed to leave the house. I’ll be back once I’m done. If you disobey, you’ll be punished for unfiliality!”

The man was a bastard, but he seemed to be afraid of being called unfilial. His body shivered when he heard it, but he wasn’t happy about it and protested: “Mom, don’t fall for her trick. After she sends me off, there’ll only be you and her on this trip. It’s such a long way. Maybe she’ll catch a break and slip away, and you won’t be able to find her!”

Fortune favors the fools. Although what he said was inaccurate, he was somewhat right about my intention. 

However, when the red flower dame heard it, she just sneered unaffectedly and said: “What a joke. I’ve crossed more bridges than all the roads you’ve walked. Slipping away? The girl can try if she dares. See how easy it was. Besides…” At that, she stared at me again, smiling even more wickedly: “She can run, but she can’t hide. The girl seems to be really close to the people in the village, right? If she dares to play tricks, she can’t blame me if they take the hit.”

I kept calm and let her stare at me, head staying low, eyes looking obedient, not saying a word, trying to look docile, as if I had acquiesced in what she said.

If possible, I wanted it to be a win-win situation for both sides and would do my best to seek a satisfactory result for both sides.

But among the two, the priority was undoubtedly Master and Lian’er. 


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 34 Gongsun

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 34

Gongsun

By the time I got there, the place was already a shambles. A few young, buff fellows were lying around, unable to get up. The other villagers surrounded them in a big circle. They were constantly shouting curses, but none of them dared to come forth.

In the middle of the circle stood a man. Judging from his face, he was in his early twenties, well-dressed, decent-looking, but unfortunately, conceit and arrogance were written all over his face, ruining everything. Now he was grasping a woman and looking asquint at the people around while sneering: “It’s her blessing that I, Gongsun Lei, want to take her as my wife. It’s not like I want to take advantage of her for nothing. You bunch of ingrates. I was being merciful just now. If you dare to stop me again, don’t blame me for not showing mercy no more!”

I just got here, and when I heard what he said from a distance away, a thought fleeted through my mind, could there be something more to it? But when I saw the woman beside him looking humiliated and anxious with tears all over her face, her eyes glancing at one of the young fellows on the ground all the time and her concern for him was clear, I knew I had worried too much. 

As these thoughts passed through my mind, I had made it to the edge of the crowd. Before I said anything, Wu Liu next to me couldn’t wait and shouted: “Move, move! Coming through, I’ve got Miss San’er! Coming through!”

The shout did nothing but drew all the eyes of the people around to me in a swoosh. In an instant, I felt the pressure on me, making me feel very uncomfortable, but I could only brace myself and assumed a calm composure, pushing my way through the crowd, walking step by step into the circle, and faced off with the man. 

The man was confused, but when he saw how the crowd reacted, he looked me up and down and asked: “What? Are you in charge here?”

I shook my head and said: “I’m not in charge here. Only one person is.” 

“Oh? Who’s it?” He asked, smiling a little disdainfully.

“It’s the person beside you,” I said as I raised my hand and pointed to the woman he was holding. When I saw him looking baffled, I added: “If you sincerely want to marry her and treat her well for the rest of your life, you should know to ask her to marry you with all sincerity. As long as the feelings are mutual, I won’t stop you, even if everyone on this earth is against it.”

When the woman heard it, she looked even more alarmed. Although she was cringing in fear and afraid to speak, she shook her hands and head at me repeatedly and struggled a few times to break free, looking frightened and eager to break away from his hold. Anyone with common sense could see how reluctant she was.

Of course, the man had seen everything. He probably felt that there was no hope of getting her to agree, so he didn’t ask but said arrogantly: “She should just get married to me if I want to marry her. She’ll have her own perks in the future. It’s not something she can understand now. Humph!”

When I heard that, I couldn’t help but shake my head to myself. If these were excuses for snatching a girl, so be it. If he really thought so, he was indeed one exceptional oddball among the dum-dums.

“If I can’t convince you, then I have no choice but to ask you to let go of her.” The immediate problem was to save the girl from the hands of this oddball. When reasoning didn’t work, the only way was to adopt a harder tone.

Who knew this dum-dum, standing there and holding the girl, suddenly grinned and broke into laughter after inspecting me. “Or what? I can let go of her. You’re good-looking too. Why don’t you take her place instead?”

When he said that, the crowd burst into an uproar. My eyes darkened. Before I could say anything, Wu Liu beside me, emboldened by my presence, immediately leaped to my defense, reviling: “Bah! A toad like you who dreams of eating swan meat. When you take a fancy to Shitou’s wife, it’s already like pairing a flower with cow dung, and now you have the balls to take a fancy to Miss San. How can you be worthy of Miss San? You son of a bitch that comes from God knows which grave! You ignorant, blind bastard who doesn’t have a father to teach you manners!”

The way mountain people cursed was vulgar enough, and now he seemed particularly worked up, probably because Wu Liu saw his brother got beaten. Words that escaped his lips were nasty. I didn’t know which sentence had touched the man’s sore spot. I saw a sudden change on the man’s face, followed by a bawl from him, “You asked for it!” and his body dilated, swooping over like an enormous bird. 

I had been on my guard against his attack. Now when I saw him pouncing on us, I leaped up almost at the same time to intercept him in the air before he hit Wu Liu. In our brief crossing, we had exchanged a few moves. He was so confident that he was still carrying the woman in his arm when he swooped over, so he could only strike with one hand. The two palm strikes he took in a row aside, I had jabbed him in the Quze acupoint of that arm holding the girl with my finger, and his arm spasmed, then he let go of the girl. 

I was still in the air. I didn’t dare to slow down, quickly let go of my opponent to catch the girl, turned to land on the ground, and laid the girl aside. The villagers gathered around at once when they saw it, applauding and comforting her all at once. The girl couldn’t care about anything else. After letting out a whimper, she bowed and thanked me before she pushed her way through the crowd and rushed to the young fellow to check on his injury. 

She was saved, but it wasn’t over yet. That man wouldn’t be willing to let it go after taking a beating. As soon as he landed, he unsheathed his sabre with a bellow and struck again. I would have a hard time confronting him unarmed. After a few dodges, an idea came to me. I grabbed the scabbard he had thrown aside, confronting the sabre with the scabbard. I wasn’t much at a disadvantage.

After exchanging a dozen moves like this, I slowly noticed something. The man’s sabre’s skills and moves were impressive, supposedly taught by a master. Too bad I don’t live up to the expectations. My foundation is flimsy, and my movements are slow. It is more than enough to deal with most people, but I will only humiliate myself if I come across a master. I don’t claim to be a master, but because I’m used to sparring with Master and Lian’er, I can feel his movements are slow and weak when I come face to face with him now. His skills with his sabre, no matter how impressive they are, pose no threat to me. 

Once I knew what to expect, I was much more confident. After a few more moves, I straightened the scabbard and met his sabre with the scabbard’s mouth pointing toward him as he thrust forward. The cold, gleaming blade slotted right into it, returning the sabre to its scabbard, fitting together perfectly.

He was stupefied as he hadn’t expected there was such a move. I took the chance to twirl and twist the scabbard, bringing the scabbard round with the blade. He couldn’t hold on to the grip and let loose, but he hadn’t given up and stepped forward, wanting to get it back. I didn’t dodge but bent three of my fingers, and with a spin, turned the sabre in my hand around and thrust its pommel at him. 

Though it was just the pommel, the thrust was delivered at a blistering speed. If it landed on the right spot, it might break one of his ribs. I intended to teach him a lesson. Wielding a sabre in place of a sword, I was using the unique sword technique created by Master. 

At this critical moment, I suddenly caught a faint whistle of something piercing through the air!

My heart jolted, and I had a bad feeling about it, so I quickly halted my strike and drew back to protect myself, but I was still one step slower. I felt a coldness, immediately followed by numbness on my wrist of the hand holding the sabre, and the sabre dropped on the ground with a clang. The sound of something piercing through the air was still coming one after another. I went all out weaving and exhausting all the body techniques Master taught me to be able to dodge them just in time and was sent a few steps back before I regained my balance. 

It all happened in a flash. The villagers didn’t know what was going on, but I knew how ruffled I was. While I was in shock, I heard the man call in excitement: “Momma, you’re here! Just in time, these people are bullying me!”

It was strange enough for a big man to call his mother “momma.” What was even more strange was, as he called, a person popped up out of nowhere in the middle of the circle mobbed by a crowd of people. 

It was a fine dame with a red flower perched on her temple and a staff in her hand. 

From her appearance, she aged well and still kept her charm, her long caramel hair gleaming in the sun. If not for the wrong time and space, I would have thought it was dyed. These features looked out of place, contradicting each other, but putting them all together on her, they blended together harmoniously as if she was born this way. Now when she stood there in serenity, she looked like a spirit in its true form. 

Her entrance had stirred up the crowd. The villagers had never seen anything like this. For a second, they were all talking about her, thinking she was a ghost, looking shocked and scared and peeking at my reaction. I knew she wasn’t a ghost, but I also knew she was an outstanding master and was close with this man. I’m afraid it will be tricky. I didn’t dare to do anything rash, so I simply prepared for the unexpected and began to observe her.

When the man saw the fine dame had shown up, his face lit up with glee. He ran over and said: “Momma, you came just in time. If you came a bit later, that bitch was going to…Ah!” Before he could finish, the fine dame slapped him, and a crisp sound resounded.

When I saw the slap, aside from being surprised, I felt slightly relieved.

The man was surprised by this sudden change. He drew a long face and wanted to say something, but the fine dame asked him in a ghastly tone: “Tell me, what did you promise me before you went out?” Her voice was a little sharp with a note of coldness. 

“Don’t…don’t cause trouble, don’t go looking for trouble…” This man covered his face and said obsequiously. He seemed to fear the woman he called momma. Halfway through his sentence, he seemed grudging and turned around again.

“…But dad said if you don’t know the taste of women, you’re not a man. You usually forbid me to leave the house, and now I can finally come out. How am I causing trouble if I’m finding a wife for myself?” He said.

“You shut up! How dare you bring up your useless dad!” Upon hearing it, she raised her eyebrows in anger as if in extreme anger. “He does all sorts of evil. Do you want to follow him? Don’t forget! Your last name is Gongsun! Not Jin!” 

He quailed at her roar, standing aside with his head drooped, looking like he was too scared to argue with her, yet his mouth mumbling: “You’re my momma, he’s my dad. Disowning either is disloyal and ungrateful…I don’t want to be that…”

He said it in an extremely soft voice. Probably no one else around here had heard it except for me, so the fine dame ignored him and just glared at him before turning around to look at me and say: “You, the girl over there, come here.” 

With what happened just now, I had some idea of how she conducted herself. Now when I heard her yell, I didn’t have much hostility and defensiveness towards her. I just took a few steps forward with respect as she instructed, saluted with a cupped fist, and asked: “How can I help you?” But I saw her take out some silver bits and said to me: “I saw how this all happened. I know it’s my son’s fault. Take the money and bring the injured to the doctor, and let’s just let it go.”

With that, I saw her hand twitch, and a few silver streaks were flying through the air to me. I perked up and swept both my hands in the air, and I managed to catch them all. Then I bowed to thank her, turned around, and asked Wu Liu to hand out the money. The villagers were relieved when they saw how things had gone. The crowd gradually dispersed, some went to take care of the injured, some went to comfort the girl, and some were clamoring about getting a doctor. 

I was about to leave when I saw it was over and everything had been taken care of, but I suddenly heard a voice coming from behind: “Hold on!” 

I looked back and saw the red flower dame, with her dragon head staff, was staring at me like I was her prey. She sneered grimly like before: “Girl, I was watching you earlier. If I’m not mistaken, your master should be living around Mount Hua, am I right?”

All of a sudden, a chill ran up my spine.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 33 San’er

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 33

San’er

“San yatou[1], down here again, huh? Looks like you’ve traded a lot today.”

“Xiao San’er, Dr. Zhou always has something good to say about your goods. Where do you get them? Tell us too.”

“Hey, Miss San’er, just in time. Come have a look. Taken fresh out of the ground this morning, fresh and crisp. Take some home.”

There would always be someone greeting me walking down the road. All these years had passed, but it was still those same old familiar faces. Everything was the same, even the way they called me hadn’t changed. If not for the traces left by time on those faces, you would feel as if time was frozen here.

I was young back then—actually, it wasn’t a matter of being young. Back then, something was occupying my thoughts. I spent all my time thinking about how to escape an unfavorable fate and simply didn’t have time to care about anything else. Even though I often went to this village, I subconsciously detested everything here, whether it was good or bad, young or old, thinking those were the things I should leave behind together with fate, so apart from maintaining the proper manner, I also kept my distance. 

Now that I was back with nothing to fear, I started to get more accepting, slowly getting acquainted with the people, and the sense of distance was far weaker now.

But after I got too close, it would sometimes get troublesome.

“Come, come here, Miss San’er. You must be thirsty, having come all the way here. Come have some tea. I’ve added some heal-all in it. It clears heat and improves eyesight, stimulates saliva and quenches thirst. Come, it’s my treat.” The woman from the herbal tea house next-door grabbed me before I was two steps out of the pharmacy. She dragged me inside fervently and sat me down, leaving me little room to refuse. 

The woman was quite famous in the neighborhood, so I knew what she wanted to do. I smiled a little, not saying much, and drank my tea as I listened to her rambling about how good this guy from this family was and how great that guy from that family was, and it always ended with the same old cliché: “Miss San’er, say, you’re not that young anymore. It’s no good to be a maiden lady. You still have to get married no matter how good-looking you are, right? For women, it’s only right to have a family.”

When I saw her almost done talking, I smiled and replied with my most commonly used excuse: “I don’t dare to make any decision about my marriage without Master’s approval. Master’s got a big temper. If anyone is to be found guilty of deception, no one will be able to take it by then.”

I only found out after I came back that my parents had explained my disappearance as I had taken a master as my teacher by chance and had gone to learn the art in the mountains of immortals. The villagers were skeptical when they first heard it and seemed to have suspected in private that my parents had sold me, but it was someone else’s family business, anyway and far away from them, so it wasn’t long before they put it behind them. 

Hence, when I returned ten years later, it caused quite a stir in the village. All the doubts were gone right away and replaced by infinite awe and admiration for the legendary immortal fate and teacher.

Sure enough, as soon as I said that, the woman over there started to look uneasy and didn’t know how to go on. She first complained a little: “Ay, this master of yours…you said she travels around, but how can she…” She broke off in the middle of her sentence, seemingly not daring to go on, then it turned into a sigh: “…This is going to hold you up. You said you want to wait for her to decide. How long do you have to wait? You don’t even know when she’ll come to visit you. Those immortals are unworldly, unlike us laities who’ll miss someone and don’t feel right if we don’t see them.” 

I was using this as a reason to excuse myself, so these words were supposed to go in one ear and out the other, but somehow, the last part about missing someone stirred me up. For a moment, I fell into silence as I was holding the tea bowl.

I don’t miss her during the daytime, not a bit. Every day, I would only go outside and look at the stars alone when the night falls and silence prevails, like when I was a child, opening up myself, even allowing myself to miss her, to look back on the moments we were together from the start of our encounter, every detail of it, and every feeling that comes along with those details. 

I told myself, when there is only concern and no bitterness every time I miss her, only warmth and no sweetness every time I look back on our memories, that is the day I can return.

Concern and warmth are affection, bitterness and sweetness are love. The former is something I want to give her, but the latter is unacceptable. 

But time was ticking away, and two years had gone by in a blink of an eye. The sweetness could fade, but every time I missed her, the bitterness in my heart permeated and thickened, which threw me off and stressed me out. The time left for me wasn’t infinite. Aside from Lian’er’s resentment, I was counting on the fact that Lian’er wouldn’t get into trouble because she was young to allow myself to be headstrong once, but if I had mistaken something or something happened to her when I was away, then… 

Uncertainty was wearing away my confidence day by day. If this went on, when would I be able to return to those two, to go back to being their Zhu Xian?

Unknowingly, I was caught up in my own emotions, which probably made me look not too friendly. Seeing this, the woman beside me quickly laughed and patted on my shoulder, appearing to be considerate, and said: “Don’t worry, don’t worry. Our Xiao San’er is so beautiful and has a master like an immortal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little late. Ah—” Suddenly, her eyes lit up. “Look, your pop is here. Heh, you really are the apple of his eyes. He gets worried every time you’re away.” She said, pointing in a direction as she smiled.

Looking up in the direction she pointed, I saw the man walking into the store with a simper on his face. 

Putting aside my mind full of thoughts and getting a grip of my emotions, I stood up, walked to him, and asked plainly: “What brought you here?”

“Heh, heh, there was no one home when I got home after work. Then I remembered you said you were going to come down today…” The man was simpering, his hand fiddling with a few strands of white hair in his sideburn. “I’ve nothing to do anyway, so I thought I’d pick you up.”

“Oh…” I nodded and replied: “I’m also done with my business. Madam Wang treated me to some tea while I’m on my way back. Since you’re here, why don’t you sit down and have a bowl too.” With that, I brought him to the table. Without having to ask the artful woman, she already had a fresh bowl of tea ready on the table and brought along some melon seeds and snacks. As soon as she saw us sitting down, she jumped right into a conversation with my dad, like she was used to.

I sat at a side and didn’t butt in, quietly having my tea and listening to their conversation, getting lost in my own thoughts. 

To be honest, I had never thought of coming back here. That time when I went down the mountain, coming back wasn’t even an option for me. My only impression of that house was cold and toil. By comparison, I would rather find a remote place, set up home, and lived alone, but since I had used this as an excuse to come down, it was better to pay a visit, so that it wasn’t a complete lie. With that self-comforting thought, I took a trip there. I was going to leave after taking a look, but I didn’t expect the situation would turn out to be a surprise. 

The shabby house before me was shabbier than it was ten years ago. The man who I once called dad was all alone. He trembled the moment he saw me, and cloudy tears streamed down his face. 

Only later did I learn that a turn of events had happened when I left. The nugget of silver that Master left as recompense was the trigger. After receiving that nugget of silver that could cover the household expenses of an ordinary family for a few years, coupled with a bit of savings, the woman wanted to move to a town outside the mountains. After all, not everyone wanted to live a destitute life in the mountains, but the man’s family had been hunters for generations. They had been living off the mountains. Naturally, he wouldn’t allow it. By the end, when the couple was at loggerheads with each other, the man gave the woman a punch. The next morning when he woke up, he found out his wife had disregarded their marriage and vanished with all the valuables in the house and never returned. 

After hearing all these, I couldn’t think of much else other than lamenting the unpredictability of humans and that it was a mixed blessing. This man had lost his wife and daughters back to back and was too broke to afford remarriage, so from then on, he had lived alone for ten years. Now that he suddenly saw me return, the missing kinship had spurted in him, and he, a seven-footer, actually cried his eyes out and kept begging me to stay.

I didn’t actually dislike this hunter dad just because he wasn’t too bad to me then, and it was understandable in this era that he wanted a boy to carry on the family name. Seeing him all alone now, I had sympathy for him, so I stayed, thinking that I wouldn’t stay with him for long, and I would fulfill my duty if I helped him sort out his life over the next few years.

In the days that followed, I’d spent a little of my valuables to hire someone to repair the house and pick up some furniture. Once dad had regained his spirit, the kills he got every day from hunting were growing, and life was slowly getting better. 

Honestly, the number of kills could be a few folds more if it was me who did the hunting, but humans all needed a purpose in life. I didn’t want to ruin the only confidence he had to be proud of. That was why I never went hunting. I would just go into the mountain off the beaten track from time to time to pick some high-quality herbs and sell them to the pharmacy to help support the house.

Living life like this was more peaceful than I expected, not at all as difficult as it was during my childhood.

But for some reason, I always felt a little uneasy about this peace.

Maybe it’s just me missing her too much, I thought as I shook my head and drank the last sip of the tea. I stood up, took out some coins for the tea, and hinted at my dad that it was getting late and I wished to get going soon. My dad quickly stood up when he heard it. The woman said a few words of courtesy to me. When she knew she couldn’t decline my payment, she was happy to accept it. Then she warmly escorted us out of the store while saying we should come here more often. 

I was about to leave when a guy scrambled in and ran into my dad, like a headless fly, his mouth yapping: “Bad news! Bad news!” 

Before we could say anything, the woman scowled as she saw the guy had bumped into her customers. She twisted the guy’s ear with arms akimbo and hooted: “Wu Liu, what a guy. What’s the bad news? Can you afford to pay if you hurt my customers?”

I recognized Wu Liu. He was the village’s well-known fleet-footer. Though he was grimacing and hollering in pain, having his ear twisted, his eyes didn’t stop scanning around. When his eyes landed on me, he quickly broke away from the claws as if seeing a savior and came over in a few hops, and said urgently: “Good Lord, you’re really here, Miss San’er. I’ve been looking for you. Quick, follow me. Something‘s happened!”

When I heard it, I furrowed my brows and asked: “What? I’ve told you many times, if anyone has an argument with someone, go to the local police or the village chief. There’s no use coming to me.” Because I had shown a little of my skills a few times in the two years I had been back, plus the previous rumor, the people in this small town had seen me as an unfathomable master. They liked to come to me for resolution whenever there were any disputes, fights, or brawls, which was downright annoying.

“No, no, no, this is something big. A girl was being snatched!” Wu Liu said as he repeatedly waved his hand. After taking a breath, he quickly carried on: “I don’t know where the foreigner came from. When he saw Shitou’s childhood friend who was betrothed to him since she was a child, the one who lived in the neighboring village, he said he wanted to make her his wife! Shitou and his brothers fought with him, but they were knocked down in minutes. I was thinking you seem to be in town today, so I ran all the way here to find you! This is something huge!”

He finished his words in one breath and crouched down, puffing and panting, leaving the three of us looking at each other. 

I wasn’t a nosy person who liked to poke my nose into other people’s business. As long as it didn’t concern me, it was better to be an invisible person in those disputes. Only for one thing: it bothered me a little to see a vulnerable woman in this world suffer.

So after a moment of hesitation, I replied firmly: “Let’s go have a look.”

I who decided to meddle in others’ affairs at that time didn’t expect this seemingly minor incident would later get myself, even Master and Lian’er who were at Mount Hua, miles away from here, involved in a dangerous situation.


[1]yatou means “young girl” or “servant girl.” It’s a term of endearment or a derogatory term, depending on the context. In this case, it’s a term of endearment.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 32 Leaving

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 32

Leaving

It was Master who told Lian’er this news, and it was me who asked Master to tell her. 

Actually, I knew it was futile to do so because eventually, I would still have to face all kinds of questions from her. But anyway, I didn’t think I had the courage to say it in front of her that I was leaving.

So I would rather ask Master to break the news while I myself was packing my things and anxiously waiting for the inevitable arrival of an interrogation.

I wouldn’t say I held an important place in her heart, but I knew I had a place in her heart. Not to mention that Lian’er had shown a strong desire to control since young, even treated me as a target of subjugation and control before. The way we interacted got much better later on, but once something major like this happened, I couldn’t be too hopeful with that temper of hers.

As expected, it wasn’t long before a noise came from behind. I turned around, and what came into my view was a frosty face. She didn’t come storming in but quietly looking at me instead. Even when she saw me turn around, she didn’t say a thing.

Things aren’t looking good, I thought. Lian’er wouldn’t be mad but smile instead when Lian’er was in extreme anger, and what was worse than that was this placid coldness. I would rather face her usual aggression or even her punches and kicks when angry. That, at least, was a way for her to vent her anger.

How she behaved now was the opposite of her willful nature, too suppressed. I felt terrible for her, though she didn’t say so. 

Because of this terrible feeling, it made me forget about the apprehension I had earlier and put aside all my feelings for the time being. If she wouldn’t come over, then I would walk over. Without saying a word, I took her hand, but she shook my hand off the next second. I wasn’t surprised. She kept shaking off my hand, and I kept taking back her hand. After repeating it several times in silence, she finally couldn’t stand it. After giving my hand a hard fling, she hissed: “Aren’t you going to leave? Just go! Why care about me now!” 

There was anger, bitterness, and a lot of grievances in her tone. My heart stung hearing it. I thought she might blow up or even forcefully stop me when she knew I was leaving, but I didn’t expect her to react like this. For all these years, when had I not treated her with love and care? Yet now, I made her sad.

That was why I grew more determined to leave. The bud of hurting myself and others had to be nipped. There was no room for it to survive. 

Choking back the pain in my heart, I reached out my hand and took Lian’er’s hand once again. She didn’t shake it off this time, and I managed to hold her hand. With my mind made up, I pulled her closer and embraced her.

Perhaps because the farewell was imminent, I needed such a hug for security and certainty. I let myself play with fire, and for once, the person in my arms wasn’t being difficult and resisting. The way she let me hug her could even be said as meek. Only her pair of lucent eyes was staring straight at me with all kinds of emotions written all over them.

“Since Master’s told you, you should know I’m leaving to visit my parents and fulfill my filial duty…” Deliberating my words, I spoke with care, just wanting to calm her nerves sooner: “So how come I don’t care about you? Lian’er is always very important to me.”

Lian’er’s eyes were flashing with doubt: “Very important?”

“Very!” An affirmative answer. I nodded slowly and firmly. In fact, your importance had long exceeded your expectations and had even exceeded my own expectations. 

Even when Lian’er got this answer, she was still unsure and added: “Then which is more important? Master and I or your parents?”

I kept silent for a moment. To answer this question wasn’t hard. There were ways to fudge it or be ambiguous. My rationality told me it was best to do so because that way, I could take account of Lian’er’s feelings and make my excuse to leave sound more natural and justified.

But in the end, when words were about to leave my lips, I still told the truth under the gaze of those eyes: “To me, no one in this world can beat Master and you.”

I didn’t want to lie about it or hide the truth from her. More importantly, I knew Lian’er cared a lot about my answer. I still remembered she had once asked a similar question. That time, she asked me: “Master like someone else too? Does she love that man? More than us?” 

Lian’er only had us in this world. There was nothing wrong with Master having someone else she loved, but at least, I couldn’t let her down again, even if it would put the conversion later in an unfavorable situation with this answer. 

Sure enough, while the girl in my arms couldn’t help but show her satisfaction and joy after hearing this answer, she started to bombard me with questions: “If so, why do you still want to go? You said Master and I are the most important, yet why do you want to leave us and go to your parents? Isn’t that weird?”

“They’re the ones who gave birth to me and raised me. Even if they aren’t that important. It’s inevitable to worry about them.” Saying the excuse I had prepared, I tried my best not to let my eyes give away my guilt. “After all, it’s been ten years since I left. It’s normal to want to see how they’re doing now, isn’t it?”

It was quite convincing. Lian’er still looked reluctant, but after she looked down and gave it a thought, she showed signs of accepting it, then she raised her head and asked: “Then, then when are you coming back?”

Of all the questions, this was the one I was most afraid of.

I kept silent. I had been thinking about how to answer this question since earlier and had thought of many answers, but when she really did ask, I felt that all the answers were bad. I didn’t know when I would be back because I didn’t know when I could nip the bud that wasn’t supposed to exist and get our relationship back on track where we could be open and natural with each other.

But I couldn’t say words like “date of return is uncertain” either, no matter how. That would let Lian’er down greatly, and if possible, I didn’t want to let her down.

Maybe this hesitation was misleading, Lian’er’s countenance tensed and fell suddenly: “You’re not coming back?!”

I never expected she would imagine it to be that bad. I quickly denied it, but because I hadn’t thought about how to put it, my defense was a bit haphazard: “No, no, what makes you think so, Lian’er? Why would I not return? You see, Master and you are here. This is where I belong, and…and, yeah, you know, right? Master and her husband had a 20-year promise. No matter how much of a jerk I am, I couldn’t have ignored something so important, right?”

I was just hoping she wouldn’t assume the worst when I repeatedly denied it. But to my surprise, these words didn’t comfort Lian’er but made her face look even worse: “20-year promise! You’re not coming back until then?” She jerked away from me, taking two steps back, and said in exasperation: “I remembered it crystal clear. There’re still…still…” She counted on her fingers, but maybe because she couldn’t work out the number while she was all worked up, she gave up, flung her hand, and said: “…there’re still so many years to go! If you’ll only come back by then. What’s the difference with not coming back!”

After yelling that last sentence, she turned around in a fit of pique and left like a gust of wind.

I wanted to go after her and explain to her that that wasn’t what I meant. The 20-year promise was just a figurative bottom line. It didn’t mean that I would wait until then to come back. Looking at the fading figure, I froze for a while, and in the end, I didn’t go after her. 

Even though I wasn’t going to come back that much later, when would I be back? This was indeed a question I couldn’t answer. 

So, I was in no position to go after her… 

Not before long, I regretted my decision of not going after her at that time. 

Because later, when I thought about it after I had calmed down, I felt I should make it clear to Lian’er, at least I shouldn’t have let her have the wrong idea. Our last conversation shouldn’t have ended with a misunderstanding, but she kept avoiding me for the next two days.

This situation rendered me helpless as if our role had reversed. Before, it was me who was avoiding her, and now when I wanted to talk to her, it was her who was avoiding me. She was nowhere to be found for most of the day, and at night, she would only be back when she was dog-tired and fell right asleep. The only time I could talk to her was during mealtime. Even at that hour, she would gobble up her food in a jiffy, push her bowl, and leave without saying a word for the entire time, and she wouldn’t bother with me either.

I had waited for two days but hadn’t had a chance to talk to her. Master saw I had everything packed up but was yet to make my move. So she finally asked. I didn’t dare to lie about it, so I repeated the whole story as it was, except for my thoughts.

After hearing it, Master nodded and said that the girl is like that. If you keep waiting, you wouldn’t know she might think she could hold you back like this and keep getting worse. Why not Xian’er goes according to the plan? I will look for a chance to clear up the misunderstanding and don’t worry about this.  

Since Master said so, I could only nod and agree, no matter how worried or how hesitant I was.

Thus and thus, by the early morning of the third day, I finally firmed my heart and took my already prepared baggage. After lingering for a moment in this abode where I lived for nearly ten years, I bid farewell to Master and left the Yellow Dragon cave. 

On this day, Master was the only one who saw me off. She had told me a lot of things, but Lian’er was still nowhere to be seen. As usual, she was gone as soon as she got up early this morning. She probably didn’t know that this was the day we parted.  

Imagining how she would react when she didn’t see me after returning at night, the sorrow and ache grew more and more intense. I was trailing, looking back almost every three steps, hoping to see the person one last time, talk to her, tell her not to worry, and take care of herself. There were so many things to tell her, but I was getting further and further away. When I reached the end and took one last glimpse, there was only Master standing there alone. 

Finally, after taking two turns, everything was out of my sight.

Dawdling in the woods, walking down the mountain bit by bit, every step brought me a little further away from the people I cared about. The feelings of parting waned, and gradually, I felt myself falling into a kind of numbness, unaware of how I felt at present, no sadness or joy, just drifting and lacking a sense of reality, as if a few wisps of soul had been sucked out of me, and I was just mechanically moving my legs. 

I left, after all. Everything on earth comes and goes. Ten years was like a dream.

Moving forward numbly like this, I had walked for a long time, but the wood scenery didn’t change much, reminding me I hadn’t gone very far. At least, it was a tortoise’s pace compared to the speed we used to go down the mountain.

Not that I deliberately dallied, it was just that in the past, we would lighten our body with qi and walk however fast we could. This time, I didn’t feel like leaving, so I didn’t pick up the pace with qi, but I walked step by step instead, wanting to fix the scenery that I used to pass by but never cared about in my mind.

As I walked and looked around, suddenly, I stopped after taking a sniff of the air.

There was a distinct smell floating in the air. 

It was one that of beasts.

Coming to a halt, I didn’t panic, simply because there was a vague familiarity in this smell. If I wasn’t mistaken, they should be a group of friends I knew. 

As expected, not long after I stood still, many four-legged creatures came out from the surrounding bushes one after another.

They obviously meant no harm, just gathering in twos or threes on both sides. Most of them were just staring at me and nothing else. Among them, there were a few with distinctive features, something I could recognize. After years of mingling with them, I had some trust in them. So what I felt was more like doubt than caution. 

It was still early in the morning, which was supposedly the rest time for the wolves after a night of activity, and this place was near the bottom of the mountain, far away from their territory that I knew. How could these wolves somehow appear here at this time?

I thought for a while in bewilderment, and suddenly, a thought crossed my mind, and I straightened up.

“Lian’er!” Looking around, I called out this name. The wolves wouldn’t break their routine for no reason. Without having to think, there was no one else who could lead this pack of beasts.

“Lian’er! Why’re you hiding? I know you’re here. Come on out, okay?”

After several calls, I quieted down and listened, but there was only the sound of the wind rustling the leaves. Aside from the bustle of the wolves, it was quiet around, as if there was nothing around.

But I was sure she was here.

“Lian’er, since you’re here, why don’t you come out? If you don’t come out, why did you come?” I stopped shouting, and for this one, I spoke with my usual voice. The question was for her, and also for myself.

This time, a response came after a moment of silence.

A familiar voice, but I couldn’t pinpoint its exact location. It was just hovering around in the air, like a gust of erratic wind. 

The wind sounded like this: “I don’t come out because it isn’t me who wants to see you off, it’s them. I’m just leading the way for them.”

“See me off?” I repeated in puzzlement. Then I looked at the wolves in front of me and found that there was indeed something strange. Although they seemed to be blocking in front of me in twos or threes, none of them was really blocking the middle of the road. They were all scattered on both sides of the road. 

In the midst of amazement, the wind sounded again next to my ears.

“So don’t get me wrong. I won’t see you, and I won’t send you off until you’re back and never leave again. Keep that in mind, Zhu Xian!”

So that day, among the few who saw me off, there was no Lian’er. 

As I turned around to leave, the wolves started to howl, a howl I remembered hearing before. That time, they had lost a young member, and now they howled again as if they had once again lost another member.

Amid the howls, I gritted my teeth, lightened my body with qi, and flew off without stopping. I held back from turning around, but I didn’t hold back my tears.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 31 A Thought

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 31

A Thought

The wind carried a biting chill and stopped right before my left shoulder. 

The turbulence around me swerved from a rapid surge to a slow flow. The storm of attacks stopped without a warning as if someone had cast a fixation spell.

It was all black in front of me. Only my sense of touch and hearing were sharp. Lian’er’s breathing was right above my head, a reminder that time was still ticking.

Her breathing was slightly messed up, unlike her who could keep her composure even after two to four hours of practice. Her slightly disrupted breathing went on for a while. Then I heard a voice deeper than usual saying: “You, open your eyes.” After a pause, she got more impatient when she received no response and blared: “Open your eyes and lift your head!”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t do as she wished because it would surely be the start of our confrontation once I did that. I feared I couldn’t control the emotions in my eyes and also my mouth. The sudden spurt of emotions was like the fermentation gas choking in my chest, which would blow up upon the slightest contact. I just had to not see, not speak, and not move, pretending to be a cold corpse to keep it in check.

But in the next moment, my collar tightened, and I was dragged to my knees, the pissed-off voice shouting beside my ears: “What’re you doing? Can’t you look at me and talk properly? Acting all weird, you weren’t like this before!” 

She was right. It was all because of me. This must be too much for her. But the reproachful voice at this moment was like adding fuel to the fire, cracking my last line of restraint. I appeared the same on the surface, but my breathing became heavier, hands clenched into fists, and I was about to lose control.

In the nick of time, it was the sudden words of Master that saved the day. 

“Lian’er, that’s enough.” I heard her voice coming from the other side. It was far off at first, but by the next sentence, it was next to me. “Stand down. Let me talk to your sister.”

This unexpected intervention loosened the tense string in my mind that was about to snap.

Regarding Master’s order, Lian’er, who was in a rage, was reluctant to obey. She had been making a fuss for a while now. I kept quiet and listened to her the whole time. But eventually, she still gave in, let go of my collar with reluctance, and with a stomp, walked away in anger. 

“Xian’er…” Master spoke again after the sound of footsteps faded. “Alright, can you open your eyes now?”

This was a phrase for discussion but not a tone for one. I could be stubborn with Lian’er but not with Master, no matter how angry I was. Besides, during that time just now, I had regained control of those unexplainable emotions. Now that Master said so, I slowly opened my eyes. 

Still, I was feeling a little guilty, so I daren’t look Master in the eye, just looking at the ground, stooping down to hide my face: “Your disciple…is ashamed…”

“Alright, stop hiding. You have emotions. Lian’er doesn’t understand. Do you think I don’t?” I was flicked twice on the forehead, and I heard Master laugh: “It’s just that I didn’t expect there’s time Xian’er was so stubborn. I thought you’d be willing to talk to Lian’er once given a chance. I didn’t expect you to suffer for nothing.”

My lips fluttered. I had no idea what to say, and by the next line, Master’s smile dissolved. “Tell me, what’s on your mind? Lian’er didn’t know any better. You can always talk to your teacher, right?”

Once, I hoped there was such a person in this world to whom I could open my heart. Once, I thought Master and Lian’er were such a person. But now I knew I couldn’t talk about these feelings to anyone, no way. Other than heaven and the earth, gods and spirits, it could only forever rot in my belly.

But on the other hand, I genuinely didn’t want to lie to Master and knew lying to her wasn’t easy. When both were in conflict, I hesitated for some time. I had nothing to say, other than murmuring: “Master…”

“Fine.” When Master saw I wasn’t talking after a long wait, she didn’t get angry but just heaved a long sigh and patted my head, saying: “Actually, even if you don’t spill out your thoughts, I could somewhat tell. Something was off about you since that day. Why do you have to keep it to yourself?”

My heart was thumping when I heard that. 

I lifted my head. Apart from incredulity, there was unconcealable panic on my face. But in front of me, Master’s expressions that came into view were amiable and serene, even wearing a sweet, loving smile on her face.

Seeing such expressions on her, the unbidden panic in me subsided.

I knew Master was sharp, but I didn’t think she was that sharp since these feelings of mine were too mind-boggling in this era. How could someone, however wise they are, guess it so easily? I’m afraid Master misunderstood me and got the wrong idea. If that is the case, it actually isn’t a bad thing. As I was pondering, I stopped talking and lowered my head again. 

Master saw I was surprised just now. Thinking she might be right, she couldn’t help but feel a little upset. “You’ve followed me for almost 10 years, right?” She asked. 

Not knowing why she asked this, I answered honestly: “Yes, I’ve been following Master since I was six. It’s been more than 10 years now.” After a while, she sighed: “…Yeah, you’ll miss your family all the more on festive days. No matter how at odds you are with them, the bond can’t be severed.”

Her sigh came out of nowhere. It was more of talking to herself rather than me. I confusedly stole a peek at Master. Seeing Master rapt in her thoughts like the dusk of that day when she was drinking, I started to wonder, could there be another occasion a few days ago other than Master’s birthday? If so, then Master just pretended there was none, whereas Lian’er and I really had no idea but somehow reminded Master of something, thus those words? 

But what did that have to do with me?

Before I could make sense of it, Master slowly turned around, facing me, and said earnestly: “Do you remember I once said, from now on, whether or not you return, accept your parents, or get married, it’s up to you to decide, and no one in this world can put you at their mercy?”

Though confused, I still nodded hard. For me, this sentence rewrote my life. The memory of it was definitely still fresh in my mind like it was yesterday.

Master smiled as she saw me nod and continued: “Since you remember, then you should know I always kept my words, and since I’d said no one in this world can put you at their mercy, naturally, that includes me.” She paused, looked at me in the eyes, and said solemnly: “So, you don’t have to hesitate. Do whatever you want. You don’t have to worry about me, much less Lian’er.”

If I hadn’t guessed her thoughts before, I would have thought she was hinting at something at this moment.

But because of the guessing, my rationality told me there must be another reason—A few days ago, we celebrated Master’s birthday. Whether or not we forgot any special occasion, we had evoked something in Master’s mind that made her miss her family faraway. She was so and seeing me looking troubled since that day, it was easy for her to misunderstand that I was in the same situation as her. And associating what I had said before, she clearly thought I…

I heaved a sigh of relief once I figured it out. Just as I was about to explain to Master to ease her mind, a thought came to me on second thought. 

This thought was so huge that I myself was staggered. 

That night, the day was calm. Lian’er was tinkering with something outside. Master was busy with her big thing in the stone chamber as usual. And I was holding a book and looking at it absent-mindedly by the oil lamp on the table.

Shortly after, someone came in from outside.

Without having to look, I knew who came in just by the footsteps. It was boring to stay in the cave. Plus, she didn’t like to read, so she always preferred to play outside when she had nothing to do. When she had enough and came back, it was time to rest.

So I stood up out of habit and set down the book in my hand. When I was about to blow out the lamp, a hand stopped me.

“Who asked you to blow out the lamp? I still have things to do, with you.” Her temper came and went quickly for most of the time. Though I didn’t think her gloom had dissipated, I couldn’t hear much negativity in her voice just from this sentence alone. At least she was way calmer than she was in the daytime. 

After a moment of hesitation, I looked up, this time looking right into her eyes, and asked softly: “What’s it?”

I knew, from having that thought onward, there was a subtle change in my attitude that made me not want to avoid her anymore, to disappoint her, or to upset her. 

Lian’er was stunned, probably didn’t expect to get such a direct response. A look of surprise flashed across her face first, and then I could see her cheering up, her face breaking into a smile of pure happiness. She shook the little bottle in her hand at me, and said: “Just listen to me, go go, go to the bed and lie down. Oh, right! Take off your clothes too.”

I was being shoved towards the bed, and when I heard that, I was shocked and said nervously: “You, wait, what do you want to do, Lian’er?”

“Put on some tincture.” She didn’t stop and continued to push me as she answered, driving me to the bed like driving something off, and in the meantime, flashing me the little bottle again. “I’m very strong, so don’t tell me your body doesn’t hurt.”

I only recognized the use of that little bottle when she said so. It was a kind of tincture for bruises we brought from a doctor down the mountain. Since we lived in the mountains and practiced martial arts a lot, bumps and falls were inevitable. We usually had this kind of stuff ready. I just didn’t expect Lian’er to dig it out from the storage outside the cave so late at night.

My heart softened when I knew what she wanted to do, but the feeling of being in a quandary ensued. By now, I had to sit down as I had been pushed to the edge of the bed. I couldn’t care about anything else but implored her softly: “Wait, wait a second, Lian’er. I can take care of those bruises myself. You…let me do it myself, okay?” With that, I reached out my hand, wanting to grab the bottle she was holding. 

Who knew she realized my intention when my hand was stretched halfway. With a swift turn, she dodged my hand and said with a straight face: “Let you do it yourself? Can you? I remember where I hit. Those on the back, try doing it yourself?” Then she rolled her eyes and said: “Could it be…you couldn’t be afraid of pain that you don’t dare to let me help you?”

This girl, when did she learn how to goad someone? And did it in such an obvious way? I burst into laughter. It was fine if she didn’t mention it. Now that she mentioned it, my body was indeed stinging for the whole day now. Besides, if I kept refusing, she might be upset, and it would seem like…I’m a bit guilty…

At the thought of this, I stopped refusing. I gritted my teeth and took off my robe gently, pretending to be frank. I hesitated for a while, but still, I couldn’t do it in the end and just untie the inner garment a little, lifted it, and revealed my back. Then I sat at the bed and turned around, stammering a little: “That’s, um, that’s all right, right?”

It was quiet behind me, no sound. After a while, a hand gently landed on my skin. The body temperature that was slightly higher than average formed a stark contrast to the cold tincture, triggering a shiver. 

The sensation of heat and cold blended together was sliding on my back and slowly, getting heavier. When her hand rubbed on the bruise, it was so painful my body tensed up, and when it left, my body relaxed. I was caught in the cycle of tension and relaxation. The coldness was no more, and the tincture turned scalding. The hand was even warmer. Everywhere it went was painful and burning. Gradually, the burning sensation overtook the pain. The pain was no longer intense, but a tickling sensation set in with the burning heat, sore and prickly. It was faint at first, but then it built up. Mixed with the heat, it crushed into my body. I felt sore and weary, like my bones and tenders being ground, yet it was strangely pleasant. 

In this strange comfort, it was as if I had entered a dream. Something was stirred in my brain and started floating. The beach was bustling with people. The white sand carried the warmth of the sun, and it felt as pleasant as earlier. The shade of the parasol was just right, the waves were swashing not far away with a rhythm, and a hand was stroking on my back along with the rhythm. The coldness of the sunscreen was blended with a strange warmth, and I heard beside my ears: “How’s it? Wanna put some more on? Xiao Ying[1]?”

And I roused with a shudder!

“Are you dreaming again? What’re you afraid of?” The voice behind me wasn’t someone’s; it was Lian’er’s.

Realizing this, it didn’t lighten up my mood. I forgot I was half-dressed and turned around to look at her face to face, listening to her continue: “You’re not happy. There’s something you fear inside you. I know. It’s fine if you don’t tell me. I’ll find it out myself.”

She said she would find it out herself. My Lian’er, always growing without me realizing it. Now, she began to understand how to figure out people’s minds. At least, she tried to figure me out. 

This didn’t make me happy. Instead, a wave of panic surged up in me. 

Deep into the night, everything returned to silence.

Lian’er was sleeping well—probably the best one she had in the past few days—because she had made up her mind to figure out others’ minds and what they were thinking on her own to solve her doubts. 

I got up silently, walked around her holding my breath, and tiptoed to the end of the cave, in front of Master’s room.

Through the gap between the rocks that acted as screens, I could see the light inside was still on. I stood there for a long time, oblivious of how much time had passed, and at last, I flipped the hem of my robe, kneeled down, and kowtowed.

At the end of that conversion, Master said: “No rush. Come again and tell me when you’ve thought this through.”

“Zhu Xian pleads Master to grant me return.”


[1]xiao is a term of endearment commonly used in Chinese, which means “small” or “young” or “little.” Zhu Xian’s name in her past life was Wu Ying, thus Xiao Ying, which literally translates to little Ying.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 30 Distance

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 30

Distance

I could make myself look as usual. Only heaven and the earth know my heart, anyway.

But if pretending nothing was wrong and getting along as usual meant that from now on, I would lose control of my words and actions from time to time, then I had no other choice. 

After dusk of that day, I cleaned up the dishes without a word and then continued with what I had to do. Except that a cordon was raised inside of me, virtually marking out a self-measured safety distance and carefully sticking to it at all times, trying my best not to cross over, meanwhile, keeping an eye on Lian’er to prevent her from crossing over.

I knew this was a dick move, but I couldn’t think of any other ways. I was merely grasping at straws. In this life, all I wanted was peace, yet I couldn’t get it. Worse still, it was ruined by my own hands. How ludicrous, but I couldn’t laugh.

Even if it was poison, I had to drink it.

Lian’er didn’t sense anything about my approach at first. She is independent, doesn’t like to cling to anyone, and loves to run around all day. Every time she thought of something to do, the most she would do was ask me whether I wanted to tag along. If the answer was negative, she wouldn’t push it either. She would just go: “Oh” and continue to do her thing.

But no matter how heedless she was of trifles, slowly but surely, she would sense something was off as the days went by. 

I wasn’t sure when Lian’er started to sense it, I only knew she looked strange that day when the three of us were sitting together having dinner.

Lian’er had a bad habit when she ate. Although the way she ate wasn’t exactly rude, it wasn’t controlled and civil either like a lady. She would gobble up her food every time. Sometimes, Master and I would correct her, but it rarely worked. Not to mention the guilt of avoiding her of late, all that was on my mind was to compensate her elsewhere, so I had been making her favourite dishes these days, and now she was devouring her food across the table like the wind sweeping up the clouds. After she was done, a bowl was held out in front of me. 

“More rice.” It was the familiar, assertive voice.

Surprise flashed across my mind. I was used to helping Master with another serving of rice. Back when I pampered her as a child, I would love to help her with that, but she was the one who always spurned my help. She would roll her eyes at me every time, slid out of her seat with her empty bowl, and went to the stove to help herself.

And now she suddenly asked for help herself, even though I said nothing. It was hard not to be surprised. 

But surprise aside, I looked down at the empty bowl, then at the clean, slender fingers around the brim of the bowl, and my eyes went all the way to her forearm, and I didn’t want to go up anymore. I murmured an “Oh,” took the bowl and left my seat, calmly went to the outer cave, opened the barrel steamer, filled up the bowl, came back, and gently put it back in front of her.

Who knew after staying silent for a while, she pushed the bowl and acted out: ”It’s too much. I can’t finish it!” I didn’t know if it was an illusion. There was a tinge of agitation in her tone and action.

By that time, I had already sat down. Not knowing what she wanted, I reached out my hand, took it over without a word, and scooped some over to my bowl, then pushed the rest back to her.

But I didn’t expect that would anger her. 

“What’re you doing? I just said it’s too much. I didn’t ask you to take some over. Why do you act on your own without saying anything!” She really seemed to be getting irritated. Her voice was louder than when she usually acted out. Her tone was harsher too. I didn’t raise my head to look at her. But given her tone, I guessed her expression must have been furious.

“Lian’er…” Meanwhile, Master, who saw how things unfolded, said flatly. Her meaning was clear. 

But the person beside me seemed to ignore Master’s attitude and kept on stubbornly. I was looking at the tabletop and could even feel her sharp and emotional gaze. She glared at me and snarled: “Looking down again! You always keep your head down lately! What’s wrong? Can’t you just look at me and talk!”

“Lian’er! What’s with your manner of talking to your sister!” Master’s tone suddenly hardened. 

Although Lian’er was willful, she had always been respectful of Master. Her disregard earlier might just be a momentary outburst of emotion, and she couldn’t control herself. I knew Master got angry when I heard her raise her voice. Although Lian’er still looked a little indignant, she meekly hushed up, holding back her emotion, and sat down, picked up her bowl and chopsticks, starting to eat listlessly. 

Looking at that pair of chopsticks sluggishly poking between those few dishes as if they were tasteless, I finally couldn’t stand it and took a quick peek. Who knew she was also staring at me, and both our eyes met. I froze and quickly averted my eyes.

I had averted my eyes but couldn’t turn away from the impression left in my head in that split second. The emotion exuding from those eyes wasn’t so much anger but aggrieved with a trace of bewilderment.

I sighed to myself, thinking she had felt something after all. She felt the existence of the line. Maybe because our relationship since young was me humoring her and taking care of her, so she didn’t quite know how to approach me and interact with me on her own. Besides, this action of pushing her away was ambiguous and vague. For Lian’er, who liked to keep things clean and simple, she was indeed lost. That was why she would find such a poor excuse to talk to me and got anxious and flipped out when she didn’t get the response she wanted.

How innocent she was to be affected by my emotion and have her mood ruined for no reason. 

But what shall I do? Neither could I get closer nor stay away. It would hurt the other person when far away, hurt myself when close. It was a dilemma.

I wasn’t a selfless person with great love, after all. The reason I treated her well, accommodated her, took meticulous care of her, rarely went against her on anything was simply because I knew it wouldn’t hurt me. Even if she were a fierce little wolf, being bitten once or twice was still acceptable for me. I didn’t really care. 

But now she was no longer a little wolf but a soaring fire of karma. If I get any closer, the price is to burn to ashes.

It was a price I couldn’t afford and daren’t afford. Once I touched the truly untouchable, like all ordinary people, my first reaction was to retreat and protect myself.

Such a situation had lasted for three days. Three days later, Master wanted us to spar sword-to-sword. 

Master’s order came at short notice, but I wasn’t surprised. The feeling that something was wrong between Lian’er and me these days, especially the episode at the dinner table. Since she had seen them all, it was only a matter of time before she would do something about it. In a way, I even thought Master’s response came a little late, though I didn’t yet understand what the purpose of doing so was.

And Lian’er didn’t seem surprised about it either. But her nonchalance and mine were different. As Master kept strict supervision over her martial arts training, it was common for her to sword spar. Only this time, she snorted when she heard her opponent was me and passed by in front of me with her chin lifted, taking the lead to go out of the cave first. 

Scratching my face with resignation, I stood up and followed her.

The large flat land not far away from the cave where I loved to lay in the sun was the usual sword training ground whose surface was made up of hard rocks. With the rain washing all year round, almost no loose soil remained on the surface, and lush vegetation couldn’t thrive, but not far from there, there were canopies of green. Thus, it was an ideal place for martial arts practice.  

When I arrived, Lian’er had been waiting for me. She was holding a black bamboo commonly used for sparring, left hand forming into sword fingers, standing tall and spirited in the middle of the training ground, her robe rippling in the wind, emanating an imposing air.

I didn’t dare to keep my eyes on her for too long. My eyes quickly swept past her, and I looked at Master at the side in confusion, wanting to get a hint from her, but all I got was a black bamboo same as Lian’er’s and a word from her: “Go.”

So I was forced to walk into the field until I stopped ten feet away from her. Under her burning gaze, I braced myself, spun my sword, and got into a pose. Then I bit the bullet and raised my head. Suddenly, I understood why Master did this. 

Scholars make friends through literature, martial artists connect through martial arts. The person who knows you best is always your opponent. Even if it is only sparring, standing against each other like this, waiting for an opportunity to strike, our eyes were bound to meet. It is only through guessing each other’s minds, emotions, even characters that you know what you will face next.

Master had used the simplest method—force us to communicate. I didn’t know if Lian’er understood her intention. But when I forced myself to raise my head and looked into her eyes, the aggressive yet eager eyes I saw were no lie. 

That gaze was too intense. Reciting the cultivation incantations, I forced myself to focus, trying to tune myself to a state of non-self ready for combat. But in the end, I still subconsciously closed my eyes.

I couldn’t face the enemy because it was impossible to treat the person in front of me as an enemy.

That moment I closed my eyes was undoubtedly a great opening, and surely, it brought about Lian’er’s attack. At that instant, I felt the wind gusting against my face, and I ducked out of instinct and used footwork. With a few dodges, I avoided the onslaught of wind gusts just in time, and finally, only after backing up a few steps did I have the chance to look back, and I saw a purple streak pursuing me like a living thing and thrusting towards my shoulder blade.

It was too late for me to retreat or to block now. I could only grit my teeth and mustered my qi to bear this strike. The next moment, my eyes went blurry, and one side of my body got the taste of the ground.

But Lian’er’s attacks were still raining down on me. I lay on the ground, wielding the black bamboo in my hand to defend myself, trying to break out to the left while blocking her attacks on the right. I barely held on by relying on my familiarity with her moves while being held down, unable to get a break to get up. The hits were harder than I expected when they landed on me sometimes.

Lian’er was being serious. Never had she been so serious, almost no mercy. 

Even so, I still didn’t really look into those serious eyes.

Facing a lopsided situation, Master didn’t call a halt. I knew she wouldn’t, and I didn’t have time to look over and ask her to call a halt. After blocking for a while, the places where I got hit were increasing, and my movements were getting slower. Several parts of my body were so painful and numb that they couldn’t summon up any strength, and my shoulder blade was burning.

Slowly, my emotion began to change.

I rarely get angry at Lian’er. Even when I did, it wouldn’t last for long, and I had never vented my anger at her. But right now, there was a fire of rage burning inside of me, slowly yet vividly.

Why? Why? I just want to stay a little further away from you. I’ll still protect you, pamper you, just from a little further away. Why do you have to force me like this?

You don’t understand at all. You don’t understand what you mean to me. I don’t want you to understand. Isn’t that better? You have your future, and I want to protect you, but that doesn’t mean I have to lose my heart to you, does it?

You’ll fall for someone, a man. You’re destined to be crazy for him. Why do I have to fall for someone like you!

My body started to turn cold little by little. It had nothing to do with physical pain. It was a chill that arose from the bottom of my heart. What was burning was obviously a fire, but it felt cold to the bone. 

I stopped all my movements, no longer resisting nor paying any mind to Lian’er attacks, and just closed my eyes.

I didn’t dare to open my eyes, didn’t dare to look at her because my last thread of rationality kept me worried, worried that if I opened my eyes ever so slightly at this moment, it would reveal the hatred that filled my eyes.


Slopaw’s note:
I promised 2 chapters in this release last time, but I still have a little editing left to do for the next chapter, so I’ll upload it tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed this chapter!

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 29 After

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 29

After

My body was falling, falling endlessly. 

What I could see was my tousled hair whipped by the wind, and a ray of light above my head, getting further and further away. I reached out my hand but couldn’t catch it because that wasn’t my light. 

Is that it? Am I going to die? Am I going to die? Is this the end?

Splat, a clump of mushed flesh.

Quietly, I opened my eyes. It was dark around. Underneath was a comfortable cushion. I was lying nicely on it, just a little short of breath, teeth clenched tight. I touched my forehead. It was covered in sweat. 

Propping up my body, I sat up from the bed and leaned against the stone wall. I mopped my hand across my face and took a few deep breaths, letting the fresh air fill my body, clearing the stuffiness in my chest. Now I felt much better, and my heartbeat began to settle.

That was when I felt eyes on me. I lifted my hand rubbing my eyes and saw Lian’er was sleeping in her usual place, staring at me.

“…What’s wrong with you?” I asked a somewhat silly question, perhaps because I had just woken up and wasn’t thinking straight. 

Surely, this question made her frown and said in displeasure: “I’m the one who wants to ask you ‘what’s wrong with you?’ You were sleeping just fine, and suddenly, you looked like you were dying, mumbling who knows what. And when I was trying to listen carefully, you woke up.”

That’s close. Sighing to myself, I was wide awake. I barely put on a smile and replied: ”Nothing. It’s just a nightmare.”

“A nightmare?” Over there, she asked with curiosity: “You do that too when you have a fever. Is nightmare a scary dream? I saw you’d been sweating as if you were terrified.”

Scary? Maybe. Terrified? Indeed. I couldn’t help raising a wry smile and said: “Well, not really…I hope Lian’er will never know what a nightmare is.” As I said, I reached out my hand without thinking and wanted to stroke her head.

“No!” This act had prompted resistance. She cocked her head to dodge it and snarled: “Don’t rub my head! I’m not a child anymore!”

I took back my hovering hand and stared dazedly at her for a moment before I nodded: “Understood.”

I knew you weren’t a kid anymore. That was why it added a lot of trouble. If I could choose, I really hoped that I didn’t know and cared for you as a child for the rest of my life. It was better for me, and for you.

Too bad things didn’t always go your way.

I tried to get on with my life in the next few days, especially when I was with Lian’er. I would talk like how I would talk, smile like how I would smile. Just that inside, I could no longer be honest. Back when the feeling was still hazy, I could shrug it off without delving into it, even if being affectionate and sometimes being moved. But now that my feeling was clear, I felt as if I was doing something wrong. When I saw a casual expression or action from her, I acted as nothing happened on the outside, but on the inside, I couldn’t help being hung up on it.

I couldn’t control this inner conflict. If I could, I really didn’t like such a self who could no longer be calm and frank. 

The only thing I was glad about was I had considerably good control over this feeling. I had kept it secret from everyone. Although Master had a keen observation, she wouldn’t notice anything strange as she didn’t pay much attention to us when we were together. As for Lian’er, she had an exceptional intuition but didn’t care to read people. Thus she was even less likely to notice anything, not to mention she had something on her mind now.

After that day, she finally waited through three days and couldn’t wait any longer. She dragged me down the mountain in a hurry after finding an excuse to hunt in the morning. Of course, I couldn’t refuse her. Besides, it was impossible to let her go alone, so I could only go down the mountain with her.

This trip down the mountain was nothing like the last one. Our trip went without a hitch. Everything went surprisingly well. When we stepped into the ceramics store, the old man had been waiting for us. All three items were done. Lian’er played with them over and over again in her hands. The corners of her eyes and brows were brimming with uncontainable delight. I watched from the side and found my eyes drawn to her again, so I whisked my eyes away. I cupped my fists at the old master in gratitude and gave him many gifts that I prepared beforehand as thanks. The old man was a forthright one. He accepted them with good grace and called his apprentice to fetch a small jar from the back, saying how could we celebrate a birthday without wine? It was the good stuff he had buried in his backyard for decades. He had wanted to celebrate with it after firing a batch of the most satisfactory wares in the future. Now that he shared a jar with us, our friendship was made. 

I didn’t want to accept this thing at first. For one thing, it was too precious, and for the other, what were we going to do with this murky yellow liquid? But I couldn’t resist the fervor of the old man. Besides, Lian’er next to me had never seen wine. Now that she heard him speak about it as if it was something marvelous, I figured she was curious and tempted as she hinted to me with her eyes. I was used to letting her have her way, plus I had something to hide these days, so after being looked at for a few times, I could only thank him and accept it. 

When we left, it occurred to me there couldn’t be wine without food, so I took Lian’er to a restaurant to get some side dishes, wrapped them nicely in lotus leaf and oil paper, and hurried back to the mountain before dusk with packages of food.

When we appeared in front of Master in such a manner, it was hard for her not to understand what was going on, and she realized, for the past few days, we were secretly up to something behind her back. That said, it was a token of her disciples’ affection, so she couldn’t blame us. Instead, she couldn’t contain a gratified smile when Lian’er took her outside the cave and sat her down before a stone block, kneeling on the ground with reverence and presenting her handmade gift to her. 

Because of this smile, I put aside the mixed feelings that had been bothering me for the past few days and immersed myself in pure joy.

Although this was said to be a birthday celebration, there was no other plan after the gift-giving session. Thinking since it was about time, I served the dishes, portioned them out, and popped open the mudcap of the wine jar. The three of us just sat at the stone table outside the cave and enjoyed today’s dinner with the breeze and the setting sun.

When I poured the wine for Master, I was still a little worried, but maybe because she was happy, she said nothing about what we had done. Once I was done pouring, she picked it up, had a sniff, and took a sip. “Good stuff!” She praised with her brows raised. After that, one shot after another, she began to drink to her heart’s content like a real jianghu hero, not a sign of a lightweight a woman usually was.

I sat on a side, boggling at the sight of it. Fearing that it wasn’t good for the body to be drinking too much on an empty stomach, I kept putting food on her plate and told her to eat more. But when I looked away amid the haste, I saw Lian’er was holding the wine jar across me, blatantly pouring herself a full cup of wine. I panicked and called out to stop her, but Master squinted and waved her hand, saying: “It’s okay. It won’t hurt to let her try.”

Once she got her word, Lian’er brightened up, looking at me as if she had won. I was speechless. I couldn’t be teaching her about the rule that minors aren’t allowed to drink, so I could only watch her picking up her cup in triumph.

Lian’er never had alcohol before, after all. Although she was acting all smug, she was wary of it without knowing when the cup came close to her lips. She first imitated Master’s movement and took a sniff, looking a little bemused, but refused to give in. She held back her hesitation and took a gulp. Then she laid the cup and frowned. 

This series of actions had given away her thoughts. “See. I told you you can’t drink,” I said in delight and reached out my hand as I said, wanting to take the cup away. It was fine if I didn’t say that. Once I said that, she held the cup of wine with both hands like she was guarding her food and looked at me, taking a few sips as if to protest. Then she lifted the chopstick and started eating with a blank expression.

There was nothing I could do about her stubbornness, so I could only take away the wine jar in front of her while pouring wine for Master, hoping she would stop after that one cup.

Lian’er wasn’t much of a drinker at all. After a few sips, her face started to flush. Because of her fair skin, the flush seemed especially conspicuous, growing redder as the heat crept up. When a cup of wine was barely downed, her face had become like ripe red fruit. Her typically sharp eyes had become hazy. As she was chewing after taking two more bites of the dishes, she dropped her head at the table.

I witnessed the episode from the beginning to the end. When I saw her lower her head, I quickly leaned forward and held her. Perhaps because she sensed someone getting close, she looked up in bewilderment. When she saw it was me, she swayed her head and shone a beaming smile, mumbling something. Then she leaned on my shoulder and fell sound asleep just like that. 

With that, I felt so disconcerted. Not a part of my body felt right, but I couldn’t just pull away and let her fall, so I looked at Master for help, hoping she would step in. 

However, upon looking, I found that Master’s mind wasn’t here at all.

All my mind was on Lian’er just now, so I didn’t notice, at some point, the smile had melted away from Master’s face. Although she was still drinking one cup after another, looking calm, her mind had obviously drifted away. Even the cups of wine reflecting the golden setting sun weren’t in her eyes, her eyes unfocused as if she was absorbed in her thoughts.

“…Master?” As I called her with worry, she looked over here as if she just woke up, took a look around, and said with a smile: “Is Lian’er drunk? It’s good she behaves like this after getting drunk. It’s getting dark, and the wind’s strong outside. You’d better take her to rest inside…”

When I saw her slowly stand up as she spoke, dusted the hem of her robe, and took a stride, as if to go somewhere, I asked in a hurry: “Master, what’re you…?” She halted without turning around, just staring into the distance, and said with nonchalance: “It’s been a long time since I drink like this. I’m feeling a bit tipsy. While the sun’s still up, I want to take a walk to clear my head. Don’t worry. You just have to take care of your sister.”

After saying that, she let out a long sigh and left with a sway.

I looked at the direction she had gone. After a long time, I looked away without a word. Everyone says that wine eases sorrow, but who knows it will hurt more later. After exploring the stone chamber, I knew what was troubling Master. But what good is it to know? 

The word, love; Impossible to sunder, chaotic to disentangle, only oneself knows its joys and sorrows, others could never intervene. 

I looked at the person sleeping tight in my arms. What shall I do with my love? 

As the sun set, the wind outside indeed kicked up. Our hair was riffled in the wind. A strand of hair brushed her nose, and her face crinkled together, letting out a tiny sneeze.

I knew she wasn’t catching a cold, but I still wrapped my arms around her and went inside. Luckily, Lian’er was young and not that heavy, plus my persistent practice over the years, so I was still capable of carrying her back into the inner cave without breaking a sweat and laid her down on the padded stone bed she usually slept in. 

Lian’er was usually highly vigilant. A little noise would wake her up. But now when she was drunk, she gave no response even after being tossed around, just reflexively emitting hums in comfort when her body touched the soft bed. She rolled over. Seemingly unsatisfied, she rolled back over and grabbed my arm, nuzzling against it like hugging a pillow, and snuggled down. 

Being grabbed like this, I couldn’t pull off her hand, and I also didn’t want to. I sat beside the bed and looked at her, entranced. 

I seldom looked at her this closely. At first, because of her being haughty towards me, she didn’t allow me to look at her. By the time we got along, I had used to not look straight at her. 

She was sleeping so comfortably now, her nose quivering with her breaths. The light cast a faint shadow under her pretty lashes. Her face was flushed red from drinking, even her ears were red, yet they looked moisturized and plump. The white hue in the red gave it a natural glow.

I totally forgot about everything, only drawn to the sight in front of me. I wanted to get closer, a little closer. I closed my eyes, the tip of my nose and my lips could feel the delicacy and softness, stinging temperature yet so pleasant that it paralyzed me. There was a subtle scent of wine as she breathed, but it was more like the scent of woods, like the fresh leaves, the flowing water, the flower that bloomed for the first time, imbued with a unique innocence of a child, which formed a unique scent belonged to Lian’er. 

Taking in such a scent and being close to such warmth, I felt tiddly even though I didn’t touch a drop.

It wasn’t until she felt disturbed in her sleep, raised her hand, and scratched the part of the skin that was touched, like scratching an itch, that I realized how close I was to her. I leaped to my feet in a panic, the arm being held broke loose with the jerk, and I backed away to a side in a few steps. 

That was when my heart started racing, and compunction set in. 

The thing I hated the most was losing control, yet I had lost control of myself twice in just a few days. My mind went blank, and I did silly stuff, especially what happened just now. I actually…actually lost my head and let myself lean over and kissed her cheek! 

Not daring to look at the sleeping person on the bed, I turned around and ran straight to the water reservoir outside the cave, scooped a ladle of water, and poured it over my face to cool my head off. But it wasn’t enough, so I scooped a few more times with my hands. After a few more splashes, I finally calmed down.

My chin and hair were dripping water, and the water in the tank was rocking. Amid the rocking water vaguely mirrored a blurry face.

I stared blankly at that face. After a moment, I began to sneer.

“Wu Ying…” Between my teeth, I spat out a name, a name that should have been dead, a name that I never wanted to hear again.

“Wu Ying, do you want to die again?”


Slopaw’s note:
I still owe you guys a chapter for reaching my Kofi goal. Will update 2 chapters in the next release.

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