Category: The Witch Nichang (Page 1 of 5)

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 48 Rakshasa

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 48

Rakshasa

What is going on right now? 

For a moment, I was confused. 

I seemed to hear a word just now, a word that only I knew, something only I should know—as long as Lian’er stayed out of jianghu

Lian’er couldn’t have gotten into jianghu because she had promised me. That night, she had promised me with a cup of wine to stay in Mount Hua and by Master’s side. Lian’er was never a person who would renege on her promises. Without a doubt. I believed her wholeheartedly.

So it was impossible. 

As if to prove me wrong, that word was brought up again and again. Amid the commotion, I heard someone say, “This is a gift for Jade Rakshasa from someone!” Then someone shouted, “You brat, trying to scare us with Jade Rakshasa?”

So I was confused. I didn’t want to doubt the girl I grew up with. But then again, would there be another Jade Rakshasa in this world?

Who was the person they were talking about?

I wasn’t confused for long because I saw Wang Zhaoxi raise the golden saddle high in the air in the melee, revealing the opposite side of it. In the candlelight, I could see a few glittering words engraved on it. The handwriting wasn’t beautiful but forceful. Its bold touches and fine strokes stood out. 

The parlor wasn’t big. He did a turn while holding the saddle up. Most of the people saw those words, including me.

A line, a sentence—Miss Lian Nichang, please accept my gift. 

“This isn’t something I can carve on the spot.” The young man was smiling. He was so confident as if he had the situation under control. He glanced at me when he said that, seemingly unintentional. 

I knew he was looking at me, but I wanted nothing to do with him. I wanted nothing to do with anyone, so I lowered my head slightly, hiding my face under the hat and the veil. I didn’t want to look at anyone and didn’t want to be looked at either. 

I didn’t want to be seen because I didn’t know what kind of expression I had on my face and what kind of look I had in my eyes now. 

If I could, I wanted to wipe those three characters off the saddle. 

I wasn’t the only one who fell silent. Those outlaws were all hushed. Only the chiefs gathered together and whispered, but there seemed to be some disagreements between them. The more they talked, the more impatient they became. At last, the big red-faced old man, who came in last, suddenly lifted his head, rolled his eyes, and snarled, “I’m going to take it even if it’s Jade Rakshasa’s!”

As soon as he said that, everyone around him was shocked, their faces terrified. He slammed his palm on the rosewood table, breaking a corner of the table, and roared, “I’ve had enough of that girl. Let’s go for it and fight her this time!”

The pudgy old man with the pipe was so shocked when he heard it that he took a few steps back and said, quavering, “That…that…” But the red-faced old man glared at him and snarled, “Shame on you. How could an outlaw like you be so scared! We’ve only heard rumors about how strong she is, but we’ve never actually seen it. Hey, come with me if you have the balls. I’m taking this brat’s saddle!”

As the saying goes, people die for wealth, birds die for food, but in reality, people might try their luck and risk their lives for money, but if they know they will die from the beginning, they most likely won’t do it. 

That was why most of the guys here kept silent. Only a handful of them responded to him. The pipe-holding pudgy old man was hesitant. Threatened by the red-faced old man with their brotherhood, he eventually said, smiling wryly, “Since Big Brother wants to do it, I have to obey.”

The line between forces had been drawn. A roar sounded, and people started fighting again!

This time, the situation was different. The Wudang disciple was the one who stood back this time, and the bandits joined forces and went straight for the target, as though they wanted to make it quick.

Wang Zhaoxi was surrounded with the treasure in his hand. He could only dodge. It should have been a dire situation, but he didn’t seem to panic. After a dozen moves into the fight, he suddenly caught a break and jumped elegantly to the side. 

“Brother Gui, you’ve fallen for my stalling trick. You should have robbed me earlier when you could. It’s too late now. Listen to the noise outside!” He said, smirking.

The air in the hall was already tense. When the fight stopped, it became so silent that you could hear a pin drop. I could hear a gong clacking and banging in the distance behind the wall. It was already three in the morning. 

The young man laughed along with the time signal and said, “Do you hear it? It’s three now. Jade Rahsaksa will be here soon! Brother Gui, if you don’t cut it now, you’ll be damned!”

He said it loud and clear. I was shook, maybe even more so than before!

“Brat. You’re trying to buy time. I’ll send you to Yan Wang* first!” The red-faced old man was roused. With a roar, he slammed his palm down onto his head, but the young man snapped out his hand like lightning and waved as he laughed, snubbing out the big candles in the hall. The entire hall was plunged into darkness. 

The hall wasn’t pitch black because there was light outside. It was just that it took time for the human eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness. 

I had been wearing the bamboo hat and staying in its shade, so my eyes were adjusting to the darkness better than the others. I just had to close my eyes and open them again, and I could somewhat see what was happening in the hall. I could see who was hiding, who was groping around, who was lurking about, and who was standing still, nonplussed. 

So was what he said just buying time? Realizing that, I didn’t know how I should feel, yet I was still thinking about whether to help that guy. Since…even though I was reluctant, that thing was indeed a gift for Lian’er from what I saw so far.

I hadn’t understood what had happened, but it wouldn’t affect how I would choose and which side I would take. The answer went without saying. I didn’t even have to think. 

When I made up my mind and was about to take action, a ringing laugh came in from the outside.

The laugh sounded distant at first, but the next second, it was at the door. There was soft light pouring in from the open door. A troop of ladies came in. The four people at the forefront were carrying a blue veil lantern, and the others following behind them were standing on both sides in a line surrounding a lady with a graceful gait. In the soft light, I could see she was dressed in an apricot dress with a light-colored silk sash, red lips and white teeth, ambling over with a smile.

Everyone was standing in the hall, transfixed.

I hadn’t moved ever since the laugh started, just quietly looking at the scenes playing out before me. How long had it been since I had a good look at her and her face? Three years? Six years? Or even longer? It had been so long that my memory was hazy, even though she was someone I held dear. It seemed unreal now that we met again. 

I vaguely remembered this happened once before. A night in the moonlight, a clear pool, a moment of daze, who was that in front of me? Her brows, her eyes, and every movement of hers were so familiar, yet vaguely unfamiliar.

As I looked at her, I seemed to forget where I was. I wanted to call her out of habit. When I almost did, a cheerful holler sounded in the hall and woke me up.

Wang Zhaoxi said cheerfully, “Miss Lian! My father wants to say hello to you!”

Woken up by his words, I was back to myself. His words made me want to laugh. It was even hilarious when the young lady nodded with seeming seriousness and said loftily, “Hello to him.” 

I took a step back and pressed my hat low on my head, trying to hide the curl on my lips.

Luckily, no one noticed my little gesture. Probably no one would expect anyone to laugh at this point. The air was even graver now. All the bandits who were acting cocky just now were dumbstruck. A few of the faces even turned ashen, cowering in a corner, afraid to move. 

Apart from me, the only one who could smile was the young man who guarded the treasure. Wang Zhaoxi continued, “My father wants me to bring this to you. They…” The young lady lowered her head as she smiled and butted in, “I already know why you’re here. Are they the ones who want the saddle?” Her bright eyes swept around. The pudgy old man with the pipe explained in panic, “I didn’t know it’s yours, ma’am!”

It was still fine for a young man to call her madam, but it was comical for a pudgy old man at his age to call her madam. Aside from that, I was getting more confused. What had happened in the past three years that made her break her promise, come down from the mountain, and come to such power? 

It would be a lie if I said I wasn’t angry when I first heard people calling the name Jade Rakshasa and when I saw the three words on the saddle. After all, how could I remain calm when the promise I had always believed in was suddenly broken in such a way?

What followed anger was worry.

But I had to admit, after she showed up in person, in front of me, all the anger and worry vanished like the wind-blown smoke. All that was left was pure confusion and displeasure. 

I wanted to talk to her right away, but now was obviously not the time. 

The situation was now under Lian’er control. Her petrifying eyes swept across the room. She smiled after a moment of pause and said, “Brother Gui, you’re here too? You haven’t paid your tribute for this month. Have you forgotten it?”

When the tall red-faced old man, who was called Brother Gui and the first one to say he wasn’t afraid of Jade Rakshasa, was called out, he took a deep breath and calmed himself down. He shouted, “Jade Rakshasa, everyone’s afraid of you, but I’m not. This isn’t your territory. The saddle is mine!” With that, he lunged forward with a stride and was going to attack her! 

I stepped forward without thinking but went back into the shadow on second thought.

It was at this moment Lian’er raised her brows and asked, “Anyone else want this saddle?” All the outlaws skittered aside while saying no repeatedly. Even the pudgy old man’s face blanched, unable to say a word. Only the two who responded to the red-faced old man’s call were still following behind him. Lian’er broke into laughter and said, “Brother Gui, who wants you to be afraid?” Her body moved, and then she was in the air.

The red-faced old man had charged up to her, his fan-like hand swinging down to grab her, but she disappeared right when he was about to grab her. He quickly retreated, but it was too late. A heavy blow hit his back, and he fell to the ground. The two following behind him took a palm strike below their ribs before they could see what happened. They screamed and howled, rolling around on the ground!

In a blink of an eye, three bandits were down with three ruthless hits. The young lady was standing by the light, smiling like nothing had happened. A look of dread appeared on the outlaws’ faces. The legs of the pudgy old man, who also responded to his call earlier, turned to jelly. He kept begging for mercy, but Lian’er just sneered and said nothing. 

Since she stepped into this place, she had been smiling almost all the time, even more than when we were together. But they were smiles intended for enemies, not ones coming from the heart.

Among the three who were on the ground, two were screaming in pain and gasping. Only the red-faced old man had a distorted look on his face, his face steaming, beads of sweat dripping down his face, and his facial muscles were spasming. He was in so much pain that his face was distorted, yet we could hear no sound from him. It seemed like he couldn’t even make a sound. 

I rubbed my brows. This felt familiar to me. When I tried to recall, I realized it looked similar to the move Honghua Guimu had used against Lian’er back then.

And suddenly, I felt it was ludicrous. 

After rolling on the ground and screaming in pain for a while, the two couldn’t take it and shouted, “Please have mercy on me! Hurry up and kill me!” The eyes of the red-faced old man were bulging, but he couldn’t scream, and the young lady said, smiling, “Fang Brothers, you’re accomplices, so you’re not as guilty. I’ll spare you the suffering.” With that, she lifted her leg and gave each of them a kick. The brothers let out a shriek and fell silent. 

A muffled commotion erupted in the crowd, especially among the escorts. Fear and trepidation were written over their faces, as if they couldn’t believe that such a beautiful lady was a murderous devil. 

This was the first time I saw her kill someone. I should be horrified, but when it really happened in front of me, it barely stirred me, as if this was how it should be.

Because it was what lives had always been for her.

After killing the Fang Brothers, she waved at the pudgy old man and said, “Come here!” Hands on the wall and his body trembling, the pudgy old man came over step by step. Lian’er said softly, “You and Boss Gui have been brothers for many years. You two must be close, right?” The pudgy old man was hasty to say, “Miss, you know. I’m not a part of this this time.”

“You’ve been a bandit for so many years, yet you don’t know the rules? Why are you acting tough and trying to be the boss of the outlaws? You have absolutely no eye for people.” The young lady went on at him as her smile faded and her face turned grave.

Thus, a funny episode played out in the parlor. A pretty lady was scolding an old pudgy man. But the more she scolded him, the more relieved he was, and all the men beside him kept their heads down and their mouths shut, looking nervous. 

People who didn’t know what was going on might find it hilarious, even felt humiliated for the old man, but I knew very well—and the pudgy man obviously knew it too—what was going on, and when she was done scolding, he looked relieved. He slapped himself on each side of his face and said out loud, “I’m wrong. I’m not fit to be a bandit. I hope ma’am will teach me.”

Lian’er shouted, “I’ll forgive you if you know your fault. Come here and end your sworn brother’s life!”

I didn’t think anything was wrong with what she had done earlier, but what she just said was too much. Killing their own sworn brother might just be a way to show good faith, a way to free his friend from suffering in the eyes of Lian’er who didn’t understand human relationships. To her, there was nothing wrong with it, but she didn’t know what it meant to average people. 

Sure enough, the pudgy man’s face blanched when he heard it. It was even paler than before. He couldn’t do it, even though the red-faced old man rolled over with a pleading look in his eyes.

If this went on, I feared it would lead to outrage and wouldn’t end well. 

I took a breath in, wanting to step in, but the Wudang disciple, Geng Shaonan, couldn’t stand it first. He strode out and spoke up, “Gui Youzhang is an atrocious lone bandit. You’re getting rid of a bully for the fellow outlaws if you put him to death. No one will blame you. But to ask him to kill his own brother is indecent!”

Lian’er’s expression changed. Then she smiled and asked, “Where do you come from?”

“Wudang’s second-generation disciple!” The man seemed to be very proud of that. He would bring that up whenever he could. I didn’t notice it before, but now it felt like an eyesore.

“Oh, someone from Wudang, pardon me!” Fortunately, Lian’er didn’t give a damn about it. She turned her eyes, blinked, and said to the pudgy old man with a smile, “Shao Xuanyang, I’m trying you out. Although you’re brothers with Gui Youzhang, you’re not causing troubles like he does, and you don’t just give in and try to flatter me when I asked you to kill him. You don’t kill your friend to save yourself. Good. I’ll spare you because of these.” As she spoke, she ended the life of the red-faced old man, who was rolling on the ground, with a light kick. 

I had no idea how others felt when they saw this turn of events, but I hid my face and stepped back with a smile. When did this kid learn to be so crafty? 

After killing three bandits while talking, Lian’er waved her hand, smiled, and said to those outlaws, “You all, come with me to Mount Dingjun!” Then she pointed over here and said, “You guys too, come with me, together with that old man Zhuo and all the money and luggage. Move them all up to the mountain!”

The outlaws all listened to her. Those over this side, however, had a different look on each of their faces, some shocked, some confused, and some resigned. The prideful Wudang disciple, Geng Shaonan, seemed a little indignant, but Wang Zhaoxi stopped him from trying anything with a glance. I glanced past them calmly and saw the retired old man was upset. I couldn’t help but talk to him, assuring him that it would be fine. 

The old man was quite accepting. He said as he sighed, “Other things don’t matter as long as I can stay alive.” 

I smiled and said a few more words to him before I raised my head again and looked at the young lady at the door who was surrounded by a soft glow. 

Long time no see, Lian’er. 

Nice to meet you, Jade Rakshasa.


*Yan Wang or Yama is the god of death and the ruler of hell in Chinese Mythology.

Slopaw’s note:
Sorry for the long hiatus. A lot has been happening in my life lately. Things are getting back on track for me, so I’ll slowly get back to the usual release. (A chapter per week, hopefully. I’ll release more chapters if I can)

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 47 Money

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 47

Money

After traveling for two days, we passed by another town again, and further down the road was Yangpingguan.

I had almost figured out where these guys came from in these two days. It wasn’t as complicated as I thought. It turned out the old man was a retired government official, and it seemed like he was also a reputable high official. His name was Zhuo Zhonglian. If one could remain in office until old age, regardless of their reputation, they would have saved up some money. He was afraid that it wasn’t safe on the road, so he hired quite a few escorts and traveled in procession together with his own bodyguards to feel safe.

The slingshot-wielding young man wasn’t an escort. His name was Geng Shaonan, a close friend of the old man’s only grandson. He hardly knew the old man. It just happened that he had something to do, so he tagged along at his friend’s request, and they could look out for each other. It wasn’t until they ran into bandits at Qipanguan that they knew he was a Wudang disciple, a real jianghu person. 

The reason I stayed was because of these two characters, Wudang, so I was hoping I could talk to him. Although I didn’t know exactly what to talk about, it was always better to get some information than to know nothing.

There was a lot that I didn’t remember, but I wouldn’t forget what was destined to happen between Wudang and Lian’er. 

But things didn’t go as planned when we actually spent time together. For one thing, I wasn’t good at getting close to strangers in a short time, not to mention I couldn’t replicate my past life experience on how men and women got along in this world. Another thing was Geng Shaonan was quite haughty. Although he was polite, there was an air of arrogance in the way he spoke and behaved, probably because he prided himself on coming from a prestigious sect and was admired by a group of escorts. It made me want to avoid him when I saw him.

As a result, I had only exchanged three brief sentences with him in the last few days.

In contrast, the scholar riding the white horse was modest and mild-mannered. I later learned that he had only joined the group that day. He called himself Wang Zhaoxi. He was rushing back to his hometown alone to sit for an exam and sought protection from them along the way. The old man was kind, after all, so he graciously agreed. The scholar and I came almost at the same time. 

I didn’t know if this was why he felt close to me. He liked to talk to me. Although he treated me with respect and never crossed the boundary, he was still annoying.

My initial plan didn’t work out. Instead, I got myself into another trouble for no good reason. It was discouraging. As we continued on our journey and passed Yangpingguan, we were getting closer to our destination, and my body was feeling better, so I put aside the thought of getting any information. My urge to leave was getting stronger again. Although it was easier to travel with the group, it wasn’t as fast as traveling with qi day and night by myself. 

We arrived at Daan in the evening and lodged in the town’s largest inn.

It would be a smooth ride after passing the hill further down the road. I rested on the bed for a while, half asleep, before waking up in the middle of the night. After tossing and turning for a while, I got up resolutely and packed up. I decided to leave.

It was in the dead of night when everything was asleep. I got out of the guest room and went around the corridor, moving toward the front. When I came down the stairs and was hesitating if I should say goodbye to the old man, I noticed the only parlor in the front hall was still lit, and vaguely, there were voices coming out of it.

It was already late at night, so it was strange to hear voices. But to leave, I must pass through this place. Besides, there was only one group of people staying in this inn tonight.

Pushing open the side door of the parlor, the voices got much clearer. As expected, almost everyone was here.

A group of people was blocking in front of me. The escorts ringed around the retired old man, seemingly in a protective stance but they weren’t hostile. Everyone was looking in a direction, as if looking on, waiting.

There was a senior escort who was quite vigilant. He immediately turned around at the sound of the door. When he saw it was me, he breathed a sigh of relief and said, cupping his fist, “Miss Zhu, you’re here too. That’s great.”

I didn’t like people calling me hero, so I told them my name out of courtesy, but someone among these people misheard it as the common surname, Zhu.* Others followed and started to call me that. It didn’t matter to me, and I didn’t want to explain anything either. We were chance acquaintances, anyway. We wouldn’t see each other again once we parted. It was a name given by Master. Personally, I didn’t want just anyone to call my name.

That was why I just nodded and asked softly, “What’s going on?”

Our conversation was soft. Despite that, it still alarmed the old man who was being protected in the center. Before the senior escort answered me, the old man turned around and strode over. His gray mustache was quivering, but as expected of a veteran official, he had his emotions well under control. Only his voice sounded hasty. 

“Oh my, you came just in time, Miss Zhu. I was thinking about asking someone to get you from the rear room!” 

“Calm down, sir. Why are all of you gathered here in the middle of the night? What happened?”

With all this happening, now was obviously not the time to bring up my intention to leave. I edged my pack behind me. Good thing I had a robe to cover it. It was inconspicuous in the main hall with flickering light. 

“Hmph! What could have happened? That brat, Wang Zhaoxi, is no good. Our sir is kind enough to care for him, but he uses him as a buffer!”

The one who took up the conversation wasn’t the escort or the old man but a bodyguard near me. Although he was dressed in a commoner’s clothes, he was outspoken, spilling his guts when he talked. 

“I think this guy must be a government wanted criminal!”

As soon as he said that, the old man’s face blanched, and the old man glared at him until he lowered his head and shut up before turning back and smiled. He was about to say something when there was shouting coming from the side.

“Hey, hey. You can’t say that.” Although he was shouting, he didn’t sound exasperated. Instead, there was a hint of calmness in it. 

“I’d said before ‘thank you for your protection.’ I’m not going to lie. There have been some powerful enemies following us all the way, so something is bound to happen tonight. But the four imperial guards who came to investigate have nothing to do with me. It’s just a coincidence.”

The voice sounded close. When I turned around, I got to see what was happening in the hall through the crowd. 

When I glanced around the room, I found that the doors to the outside were all wide open in this considerably spacious parlor. A rosewood table was placed in the middle of the hall. On top of it were two large jars of wine and two large burning tallow candles with their lights wavering in the wind. 

There stood two people. I knew them both. The one with a sullen face was Geng Shaonan from Wudang, and the one shouting earlier was none other than the studious-looking Wang Zhaoxi. 

He still dressed like a scholar, only that there was less diffidence and more craftiness and shrewdness on his face and the way he behaved. When he spoke, it seemed like he wanted to come toward me, but he stopped when he saw everyone was guarding against him. He just smiled and cupped his fist at me. 

“I had no choice. I hope that Your Excellency and you don’t get me wrong.” He said.

I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things. I felt there was some meaning in it when he said the word, Miss. I didn’t know the ins and outs, so I pretended that I didn’t realize it and kept silent. The word, imperial guard, sparked some curiosity in me. I even felt unfortunate that I didn’t see them myself.

But my mind told me it was new only to me. I knew what it meant for those who lived in the present, especially for government officials. 

It was no wonder everybody looked as if they were facing a formidable enemy.

Among all the people, the Wudang disciple had the biggest reaction. He had stood up for everyone, but he felt he was being played, and it hurt his sect’s reputation, so he wasn’t looking too happy. No matter what Wang Zhaoxi said, he didn’t believe him. In the end, he couldn’t come to terms with him. After letting out a shout, he started to pick a fight with him.

When I saw him throw a palm strike, but Wang Zhaoxi was still smiling, I knew things weren’t that simple. Sure enough, not only was the seemingly frail-looking guy not losing, but he actually had the upper hand after a few exchanges of moves.

This was the so-called jianghu, plotting and scheming against each other, back-stabbing. Human hearts were unpredictable no matter when. 

Looking at what happened, a sense of weariness and desertion suddenly arose in me. I silently backed away a little. This wasn’t a place I should be in, and it wasn’t a place I wanted to be in either. 

Right at this moment, a whistling sound sounded in the distance!

I heard it. A moment later, the two who were fighting heard it too. Wang Zhaoxi pushed with his right elbow and shouted in a subdued voice, “Brother Geng, wait! The enemy is here! We’ll both be safe if we work together, or else we’ll both die!” And Geng Shaonan’s face took on a sudden change. 

“What the hell are you doing? One group goes, and another one comes?”

Wang Zhaoxi smiled frankly and said, “It’s the real bandits this time. To be honest, the five most formidable gangs of bandits around the border of Sichuan and Shanxi will be here tonight!”

Once he said that, everyone went into an uproar. The Imperial guards were scary, but there was the old man’s status as a government official. It was easier to send them off compared to the lawless, savage bandits. 

Someone couldn’t hold their anger and said, “His Excellency doesn’t have much money. Why do you have to make such a big fuss? Even teaming up with outside forces!” Wang Zhaoxi kept smiling. 

“Do you think I’m an inside man? The one they want to rob is me, not your Excellency, but you never know if they’ll want to rob you after robbing me.”

What he said sounded too questionable. This guy didn’t carry anything while we were traveling. How many valuables could he carry? But the situation now was pressing. It didn’t allow me to think much about it. Then his voice suddenly got serious.

“Quick, get back to the room and take down the lanterns with the official title. Maybe you won’t get swept up in this!”

The Wudang disciple was hesitating, but the whistling sound was getting closer, and a voice came, “Haha, too late!” Over ten men surged in through the burst open door. Tall and short, they filled the room in a second.

The air suddenly became tense. It was dead silent in the hall. The face of the senior escort nearest to me blanched, and he whispered, “This is bad. The three most formidable gangs are here. Apart from Dragon Gate Gang, there are the Fang brothers from the Daba mountains and the three heroes of the Mai family from Mount Dingjun, not to mention there are two more gangs yet to come. We’re screwed.”

After he whispered we’re screwed, everyone was even terrified. Fortunately, those guys’ target wasn’t them for now.

Two people came forth from the gang. It looked like they were the leaders. They both started to argue with Wang Zhaoxi. From what they say, they indeed came for the money, precisely this guy’s money. Wang Zhaoxi was obviously a seasoned jianghu person. He remained calm while he talked. The other party forced him to hand over his valuables, but he threatened them that they didn’t deserve the fortune if they couldn’t tell how he hid it. 

It worked, and it irritated one of the leaders. He said, “Bro, tell me about it. We’ll be friends if you can show us and let us have a look!”

Wang Zhaoxi actually stood up. He picked up the saddle that he put aside at a corner earlier and placed it on the rosewood table. I heard the table creak. Then he drew his sword and skimmed across it. The saddle was dark and unimpressive. Anyone who looked at it would think it was made of lacquered wood. No one expected the cut would reveal the golden sheen inside. Inside it was a piece of fine gold, studded with ten green cat’s-eyes, lustrous and splendid.

The way he hid it was clever. For a moment, everyone in the hall was dumbfounded and speechless, including that gang of bandits.

After he did that, he broke into laughter and picked up a stirrup. 

“We’re all comrades. I don’t have much to offer. I’ll give this stirrup to our fellow people at the Sichuan-Shanxi border. Consider it a little gift!” He said aloud.

The gang of outlaws looked at each other. Since they said it before, the leader said solemnly, “Well, you got us!” They turned around and left without taking the stirrup.

As soon as he said that, I could hear the group of escorts beside me heaved a long sigh. 

Who knew before they finished letting out their breath, a weird cackle came from the outside. A shadow flashed across, and a pudgy old man came in, smoking a big pipe and breathing out wisps of smoke. 

“Great. You guys have split the loot without me?” He said in a weird voice.

“He got us, Big Brother Shao.” The leader said. 

“Got us? I knew from the start there’s something wrong with his saddle. I heard all your conversations. I’m not a beggar. A stirrup? That won’t do!” The pudgy old man said as he pointed with his pipe.

What he said was absurd. Not only did Wang Zhaoxi’s face fall, but even Geng Shaonan couldn’t help standing out. Aside from standing up for them in outrage, he didn’t forget to state his master’s name and where he was from, looking like he intended to use the Wudang’s prestige to daunt them.

I had to admit it worked, although he seemed like he was abusing his status, especially after he mentioned there were other Wudang disciples around as if to wipe out any thought they had left. I stood by and watched. Things seemed to be looking up, but something happened.

“There are four people from Wudang, but someone has caught them. Other people aren’t afraid to lay a finger on them. Why should we? It’s just one dude. Let’s just kill him and throw him in the woods for the wolves! They can’t pin it on us even if the five Elders of Wudang find out about it. Someone will take the blame for us!” 

A roar came along with a strong gust of wind. The candlelight in the hall was wavering in the wind. A big, tall, red-faced old man flew in from outside and landed.

His words shocked everyone, even the pudgy old man. He called, “Hold on, Big Brother Gui. You mean the witch had made a move? But this place is not in her territory.” The red-faced old man who was being called Big Brother said, “How can you be such a coward. We’re the outlaws of the Sichuan-Shanxi border. We can’t be beaten by a girl.”

Although that guy was speaking, he didn’t slow down with what he was doing. With a shake of his shoulders, he charged toward the Wudang disciple.

The hall was in chaos. Those outlaws might have their concerns, or maybe they were confident in the red-faced old man. They stayed in line and just watched, but it stirred up the escorts since Geng Shaonan was on their side. They got a little restless seeing that he was backing up as if he couldn’t hold out against him. 

I stood at a corner behind these agitated people, watching Geng Shaonan being backed into a corner, and the real culprit, Wang Zhaoxi, didn’t go to his aid. I felt even more disheartened.

I didn’t like this place, not a bit. The light in the parlor was wavering. People were everywhere, voices buzzing around me. It should be noisy and tense, but they seemed so distant to me, as if there was an invisible screen between us. They were actors on the stage, and I was the audience. Everything I saw was gray.

Good and evil, black and white, they were just a gray mess.

Maybe the blood of someone from a prestigious sect will be spilled the next second. Maybe there would be innocent people getting caught in the crossfire tonight. Even so, I just wanted to leave at this moment. 

And I did. I turned around and backed to the window, making no noise. A push was all it took next.

Suddenly, I heard a voice saying coldly, “It’s easy to take my saddle, but have you asked Jade Rakshasa?”

My fingers stiffened. I wheeled my head around and saw Wang Zhaoxi standing and shouting, “Outlaws would rather rob a thousand families than snatch a gift. This is a gift for Jade Rakshasa from someone. Do you guys want to take it for yourselves!”

The expression on all the outlaws’ faces changed with his words.

I didn’t know if my face was the same as theirs at this moment or maybe even worse.


* This Zhu 朱 is different from the MC’s surname, Zhu 竹. They are pronounced almost the same but in a different tone.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 46 Journey

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 46

Journey

The carriage was shaking. Its frame was probably long rusted, and its axles were squeaking. I flinched when I first heard it, but after a while, the rhythm became soporific. 

Once you got used to the bumps on the rugged mountain roads, they became as soporific as a cradle.

I lay relaxedly on a fairly clean mat, coughing. I was a little tired, but I didn’t feel like sleeping at all.

Since several days ago, I had been excited.

The wedding a few days ago felt as if it was before my eyes, simple yet ceremonious. Most of the villagers we knew from the neighborhood came to give their congrats. Red and noise were everywhere. Amidst the clacking and banging, a couple was performing the wedding ceremony. The man with red silk draped over his shoulders was in his early 50s, and his wife was hidden behind the red veil, but it couldn’t hide her plump body. 

They were happy, however. From then on, they were family and would stay by each other’s side for the rest of their life.

I had waited too long for this moment.

I met my dad who was staying in the village when I hurried back from Mount Hua. The villagers were simple folks. Plus, considering what he had done earlier, they treated him well. They took good care of him, especially Wu Liu and Shitou who got his help, but he still looked haggard, probably because of his worry for me. When I showed up, he was so excited his eyes were welling with tears.

Like they say, it takes a hundred days for the bone to heal, not to mention this place was in the middle of nowhere. It took him almost half a year for his leg to recover without leaving any permanent injury. Before he could celebrate, a serious illness hit him. Although it wasn’t life-threatening, his condition went back and forth and was difficult to cure. Like this, more than a year had passed. 

Finally, spring came. The day was getting warmer, and his condition was improving, but he looked much older now. I took the chance to persuade him and finally got him to agree to give up the mountain hut he had lived in for so long and his hunting life and move to the village and settle down there.

But that wasn’t all. There were still a bunch of problems, like his livelihood.

The idea I had when I was young came in handy now. I talked to the lady from the herbal tea store, borrowed a small space in front of her store, and set up a stall to sell some snacks.

It was impractical to sell those snacks that would take a lot of effort and cost in a countryside like this. It was pointless, and I didn’t want it to look too outlandish and flashy, so I decided to make the simplest egg cake. I taught it to my dad step by step and asked him to keep the recipe to himself. Fortunately, people in the ancient world had the tradition of keeping their skills to themselves, like the saying, the master would starve to death once their disciple learned their skills. My dad understood that too, so he promised me at once.

The egg cake was square in shape, plain and simple. They didn’t stand out when placed on a stall, like tofu, but it had its own charm, especially the way it melted in your mouth when having it with tea, so it had gained its popularity over time. When the villagers were free, they liked to gather around here to enjoy some tea and cakes and chat away.

That was why we, to be exact, my old man was able to get closer to the widowed teahouse owner, Madam Wang. 

I was aware of it and was just waiting for the moment to come, but what was weird was as the days went by, nothing happened. I thought it was because it was difficult for Madam Wang since remarriage was a disgrace, though not a taboo, in a countryside like this, but after sounding them out a few times, I found out it was my dad’s problem. 

Somehow, my dad had noticed the reason I did that and my wish to leave. That was why he dragged it out.

But what couldn’t be kept couldn’t be kept. After that, I hardened my heart and talked it out with him. Although I didn’t go into the details, I made it clear that my heart to learn the art from Master was sincere, so I was going to leave, eventually. I told him not to worry about me and cherished the one next to him.

My dad had been down after the conversation, but with Madam Wang and the villager’s comfort, he gradually got over it. 

And there it was, a simple yet ceremonious wedding half a month later.

At this moment, over three years had passed since I returned to this place for the second time.

I did all I could at this point. On their wedding night, I packed up everything and left a letter I had written beforehand. Then I went out through the window and left with nothing more to worry about.

Time flew by. I had never stopped missing her. I was thrilled at the thought that we would see each other again soon. 

Humans are weird. We can live through years, yet we get so impatient for the last bit of time on the road, wishing that the road will shrink into inches or that we can fly.

It was September when the autumn arrived, and the weather turned cool. I was on the road almost day and night. When I finally arrived at the border of Sichuan and Shanxi—as the old saying goes, haste makes waste—I caught a cold. Although it wasn’t serious, I felt sluggish, and that held things back. 

Even so, I didn’t want to waste my time staying in a foreign place. I went around the town’s entrance and hired a reasonably priced mule carriage with a green curtain. It was a little shabby, but at least it was clean. The coachman looked honest. He promised he would drive me to the next border. Even though I wasn’t feeling too well, I wasn’t afraid he would harm me.

So that was why there was the rocking and squeaking now. 

We were traveling west along the Daba mountains. When it was almost dawn, we arrived at the border of Qipanguan. The mountain roads here were narrow. I could hear the loud whipping sound coming from the coachman and his constant shout, but the carriage was slowing down, rocking more and more. You could know how bumpy the road was from that.

It wasn’t new to me as I was used to traveling, but I wasn’t feeling too well now, so it was making me a little uncomfortable. I got up and slightly lifted the corner of the curtain, taking in two deep breaths of fresh air outside and enjoying the roadside scenery. This place was surrounded by the mountain and the river, the cliff on one side, and the rapid on the other. Although the scenery was beautiful, the journey was perilous.

I wasn’t aware of it while I was hurrying on my way. Now that we had slowed down, I was in the mood to enjoy the scenery. When I thought of how I had to spend money and the effort to get to places with magnificent scenery in my distant past life, yet such scenery was everywhere now, I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings. 

As I was immersed in my emotion, I heard a sudden woah from the coachman, and the wheels stopped, together with the rocking. 

It shouldn’t have stopped here. I frowned, thoughts flashing through my mind, but first, I put on my veil and touched the short sword by my waist under my robe before calling out, asking, “What’s wrong? What’s with the sudden stop?”

“Miss…Miss, this…this…this is bad!” Outside, the coachman was stuttering, as if he was in shock, and said, cowering, “Ther…ther…there are…strongmen[1] fighting ahead!”

The so-called strongman in a commoner’s eyes was most likely bad news. It wasn’t uncommon for a poverty-stricken place to have some bullies and bandits. I put on my bamboo hat, lifted the curtain, and leaped off the carriage. The first thing I saw was the shivering coachman curled up behind the shafts, then two groups of people facing off against each other at the mouth of the mountain pass not far away. 

They weren’t facing off, to be exact, because they were already fighting. 

Luckily, the situation wasn’t chaotic and out of control. 

The group blocking the mouth of the mountain pass was a mounted troop. There were more than ten horses. The people riding on them were all sturdy men, looking menacing. The group of people who was stopped before us was a lot more diverse. There were caravans and horses, armed men, and an old man who appeared to be over seventy years old. 

Looking at the situation, it seemed obvious, distinguishable at first glance, who was the bad guy and the good guy and who was the strong one and the weak one.

But the truth was, it was too early to say who was at a disadvantage. People were fighting between the two troops. It was a courteous one-on-one fight. A young man with straight brows and large, round eyes was riding on the horse. There was a slingshot in his hand, the pellets flying like shooting stars, raining down like a hailstorm. Opposite him, a man with a curly beard was blocking his shots, brandishing a thick-backed red bronze saber to where not a single drop of water could get through, deflecting all the raining metal pellets. He wasn’t at a disadvantage, but he couldn’t attack either. 

Occasionally, I couldn’t stop myself from minding others’ business, but this was certainly not one of them. I creased my brows and said right away at the sight of it, “We’re too close. Step back a bit.” 

“Wha…what?” The coachman’s face blanched, teeth chattering, as if he didn’t understand a thing I said. 

I glanced at him and said patiently, “They won’t be done anytime soon. It won’t do us any good to stay too close. Let’s back up while we can so that we won’t get swept up in this.”

Only then did the person seem to get it. He agreed profusely, grabbed the whip, and whipped the mule to drive the carriage, his hands shaking. With all these years I had lived, how could I not know that jianghu was just a myth for the commoner. It was unusual for commoners to encounter such a situation, so I could understand his terror. Seeing that he was shaking, I tried to help him reverse the carriage from the side.

But the road here was narrow. There was no way out on both sides. It was already difficult for a carriage to pass, let alone reversing. As we were urging the mule, the fight was getting intense judging from the sounds, and suddenly, a person shouted, “It’s rude not to greet!” followed by a few swishes, and there was wind gushing toward here!

I raised my head with a shudder. A dark blue flame was flying over. Before I could think, I moved out of instinct and leaped. Then I drew the weapon on my waist and deflected it.

I was confused, so I didn’t want to try anything rash. I just wanted to get out of trouble. Who knew my control was a little off because I wasn’t feeling too well. I gave it all in that move, Whirling Crescent. When the fire pellet got hit, it went back the same way it came, charging straight toward the mounted troop at lightning speed. With a thump, it hit the slingshot-holding hand of the man with thick brows and large eyes.

The man was caught off guard when he took the hit. He looked over and said, glaring at me, “Oh well. Looks like you’ve got help! Let’s see who’s she!” With that, he drew his weapon and dashed over.

I closed my eyes ruefully, smiling and saying to myself, nothing could be done now. It didn’t seem like a good idea to explain it now, so I could only face up to it and take his attack first. 

This person was also wielding a bronze saber. I could only fight it with a short sword. At first, I was cautious, and I was only defending. For one, I didn’t want to make things worse, and second, this was the third time I fought against other people over the ten years in learning martial arts, even including that time with Honghua Guimu and her foolish son. I wasn’t exactly experienced, so I daren’t lower my guard. 

After a few rounds, I noticed this guy wasn’t that much stronger than Honghua Guimu’s useless son. He was quick, but because of his limited moves, he wasn’t someone I would consider a master, so I slowly let my guard down. While dealing with his attacks, I started to think about how I could end it properly so that I could get myself out of it in time.

Before I could figure it out, the guy over there suddenly withdrew his move and leaped away in a huge stride.

“You’re…” When I looked at his face, his expression had become a little weird as if he was hesitating and a little scared. He immediately cupped his fist and said, “My brother and I are ignorant. Had we known this place was under Mount Dingjun’s wing, we wouldn’t have meddled in this business. Please forgive us!”

After that, he waved his hand. The curly bearded man waited for the right time to leap away. He shouted at the young man with straight brows and large eyes, “Great shooting skills. Wudang’s shooting skills truly live up to its name!” Then the two got on the horse at the same time and said, “Please give our regards to Taoist Ziyang. Just say that Huolingyuan* and Fanshanhu* thank him for not killing us back then!”

He let out a whistle as soon as he finished. As if getting an order, the mounted troop reined in and turned around together, retreating from the valley and galloping away.

This turn of events was sudden. I stood in place, perplexed. It wasn’t until I heard someone praising, “Nice shots!” that I snapped back to myself. A studious-looking man got off a white horse and came over to the group, talking to the young man who wielded the slingshot. I realized afterward that I had nothing to do here, so I sheathed my sword and turned around, ready to leave. 

But I heard a voice saying, “Hold on, hero.”

The word hero gave me the willies. I didn’t think he was calling me, but I knew there was no one else.

I stopped and turned around. The old man I saw earlier got out of the carriage and jostled through the crowd. He came over with a smile on his face and saluted me. 

“We ran into bandits on our way. Thanks for saving us, hero. I’m grateful to you!” He said. 

He was a senior, after all. I coughed uneasily and said as I held him, “There’s nothing heroic about it. I…I was just passing by here on my way to the west and happened to get swept up in this. You don’t have to thank me.”

“What a coincidence?” The old man’s eyes lit up and said in delight, “I’m traveling west to my hometown too. If you don’t mind, why don’t we travel together? For one thing, I can get a chance to thank you for your help, and for another, we can look out for each other on our way. It’s better than traveling alone and facing all the inconvenience, right?”

He said it with courtesy and sincerity, but his intention was obvious.

A person who looked nice and polite on the outside wasn’t necessarily so on the inside. I had no interest in the so-called jianghu affairs.

When I was about to refuse, people had gathered around me. I supposed the old man was their leader. Other people started to persuade me, going along with him. I didn’t say anything. When I looked around, my eyes came upon the slingshot-wielding young man standing outside the crowd, looking a little high and mighty. Suddenly, I remembered what the person from the mounted troop said before leaving. 

I didn’t understand what they said to me, but I remembered every word they said to the young man. The curly-bearded man said, Great shooting skills. Wudang’s shooting skills truly live up to its name!

Wudang, these two characters stuck out. Then something came to my mind, and I had a second thought.

I raised my head and said, cupping my fist at the old man with a smile, “Well, if you insist.”


[1]Strongmen refer to bandits in the ancient times.

*These are the characters’ nickname, Huolingyuan (Fire Spirit Ape) and Fanshanhu (Mountain Flipping Tiger)
Which do you guys prefer, translate it into English or keep it as it is?

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 45 Moonlight Feast

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 45

Moonlight Feast

After that dawn, I hadn’t tried to ask Master to deliver any message. I only occasionally learned about how Lian’er was doing through her words. They were all stuff like practicing martial arts, hunting, and roaming around the woods, like she was the same as before, only she was more hardworking.

Meanwhile, Master came almost every day, rain or shine, picking up the medicine and preparing it. I felt bad about it, so I forced myself to get up after lying in bed for a few days. Even though I didn’t know the prescription, at least I knew how to prepare the herbs. At first, Master told me off about this, but she couldn’t do anything about me because it was impossible for her to watch after me all the time, and my injury was healing well, so gradually, she didn’t bother about me anymore. But she would still come every one or two days. Apart from visiting me, she would teach me some sword techniques and cultivation methods that I had missed out on in the past two years. As such, we spent more time together compared to those years in Mount Hua.

It was a pity that days like these wouldn’t last.

Half a month later, the injuries on my body were basically healed under her meticulous care. I no longer felt any discomfort, even on that part of my back. Master warned me that I still needed a long period of meditation and breathing regulation to eradicate any health problems, but at least I didn’t feel any discomfort while meditating.

At this rate, I no longer had the reasons to stay. Although I never talked about it with Master, we both knew that farewell was around the corner. 

That day, she came as usual with some tonic, dictated two sword techniques she just created, and asked me to remember them. Then she hung around for a while. When she was about to leave, I spoke, smiling, “Master, you haven’t had my cooking for a long time, right?” 

She had already stood up at that time and was about to go. She stopped at my words and turned around, looking at me before answering, “Yeah, it’s been over two years.”

“Then I’d like to make some food later tomorrow. I don’t know if you…guys will do me the honor of coming then?” I kept smiling, trying to sound as lighthearted as possible as if I was saying it on a whim. 

What I got in return was Master’s deep, surveying eyes, and then a nod. “Sure—” she said it as if she just agreed without thinking. “Since you have such filial piety, why not?”

I nodded, aware that she understood.

I got up early the next day. After declining the bellboy’s warm offer of help, I went to the market to pick up some groceries and took care of them one by one—stewed those that needed stewing and washed those that needed washing. Luckily, it was convenient to cook in an inn. There were all kinds of kitchen utensils available which saved a lot of trouble.

Like so, I worked until noon. The preparation was done. What was next would be much easier. When the sun set, I had finished making the dishes as planned and setting them out in the room. 

The feast wasn’t a grand one. I couldn’t do it either if it was an actual feast. They were just the usual home-cooked dishes that Master and Lian’er liked. Only a few of them required some extra work and time. I thought they wouldn’t bother to make it themself in the past two years. 

The next step was to wait.

I lit the candles and waited for a while more, seeing that the sun was setting, and the last trace of light waned, the sky looking out from a corner of the window slowly fading from warm golden to pale blue and eventually overtaken by the darkness. While the day hadn’t entirely turned dark, I got up and took the two dishes that wouldn’t taste as good when cold and went to the stove to reheat them.

When I came out of the kitchen, the only light left was the one swaying in the lanterns. Fortunately, the sky was clear tonight. I hurried up the stairs by the moonlight. As I turned around at a corner, I saw silhouettes standing in the hallway. It seemed like they just arrived, standing at the door, ready to knock it.

“Master.” I could wait patiently, but the anticipation was killing me, so I couldn’t help but call out happily and took two steps forward. Then I saw the person standing at a corner beside Master. Although I had expected it, I still felt a wrench in my heart. 

“Lian’er,” I called.

They turned around together at my call. Master asked as usual, “Where did you go?” The person behind her, however, went further and further into the corner without a word.

I smiled resignedly. I couldn’t stay for much longer with the hot dishes in my hands. I nodded to them as I pushed the door open and put the dishes down on the table before turning around and answering, “I was cooking just now. I just came over after heating these two dishes.” But I saw they were still standing at the door, so I asked, puzzled, “Master? Why aren’t you coming in?”

Master said with a smile, “Coming.” But right after that, she darted a glare to the side. A hint of sternness fleeted across her collected face. I didn’t miss it, although that movement was quick, and I understood right away when I saw where her eyes glared. After sighing to myself, I turned to the other side of the table, leaning over and blowing out the candle on the table that was burning perfectly fine. 

The candlelight was out, and the room fell dark but not to the point we couldn’t see our hands because the moonlight was shining through the window, as bright as the clear sky, quietly cascading down into the room. 

“You can come in now, right? Lian’er?” I said, standing in the moonlight, looking at the stubborn figure outside the room with a smile.

It was a quiet feast. Though quiet, it wasn’t tense, just like how we had been together for a long time. No one had touched the wine on the side I had prepared. That was just for Master. She was a drinker, but she didn’t feel like drinking now, and her disciples weren’t too crazy about that liquid. Luckily, I had also prepared some tea, and the food was something everyone liked.

Master was sitting in the main seat by the window, the soft moonlight sprinkling on her, adding an air of lustrous elegance to her as the breeze blew past outside the window. She wasn’t aware of it, taking her time to taste the food like she always did. Though not in a jovial mood, she seemed at home when she sometimes spoke to me.

As for Lian’er, she chose to settle in a seat in the shadows opposite Master. The bright moonlight barely reached her chest. Only the rough outline of her face could be seen. 

I wasn’t trying to gaze at her, not even trying to talk much, just helping her with the food, like how I treated Master, picking all her favorites and putting them in her bowl. She wasn’t shy about this. Although she said nothing, she didn’t seem to have the slightest intention of refusing. She would eat what she loved regardless, not feeling the slightest uncomfortable. 

I was sitting in the side seat between the light and the shadows, much like my feelings now.

We were almost done with the food before we even touched the wine. It was getting late. No matter how slowly we ate, the feast was coming to an end, though no one mentioned it.

What would come would come. I got up, took the untouched wine on the pearwood table beside me, flipped over two small cups, and filled them up. One was served reverently to the one sitting in the main seat by the window, another was picked up by myself.

“Master, although you said there’s no need for wine to cheer things up today, I still want to drink a toast to you,” I said as I raised my cup. 

I didn’t return to my seat, just standing politely beside the table. As I bent over slightly, the translucent liquid in my cup was glittering. 

“I didn’t get a chance to say anything the last time we parted. It’s just you giving me advice. At least this time, I want to express my gratitude with this toast. All these years of teaching and raising me. I’m ashamed as I feel that I’ve let you down. I hope you take care of yourself this time we part. When I return after I’m done with my family affairs, I’ll definitely stay by your side, and fulfill my filial duty, and never leave again.”

I finished my words in one breath. Then I raised my head and swigged down the wine in the cup. 

Although Master’s face was calm as usual in the moonlight, there was glitter in the corner of her eyes. 

“Good, good, don’t mention it. I accept your gratitude.” She said, swigging down the wine with a tilt like I did and laying the cup upside down on the table.

After toasting to Master, I filled up my cup again and flipped over another clean cup. I hesitated for a while. I didn’t fill it with wine but took the tea and filled it up. Then I pushed it in front of the other person.

“Lian’er, you’re not good with wine, so I replaced it with tea.” I raised the wine cup like I did before and said, “Can I ask you for a favor if I drink to you?”

For a long while, I received no answer from the person in the shadows. It wasn’t until Master gave a cough that she reluctantly picked up the cup. I didn’t mind it as I knew her. I just said what I wanted to say, a conclusion I came to after a few days of careful consideration. If she didn’t agree, I wouldn’t be at peace when I left.

“Lian’er, I beg you, no matter what happens, don’t go anywhere, just stay in Mount Hua, stay by Master’s side, at least until I’m back. Heed my words.”

This came out of nowhere. I guessed the person listening to this might be confused, but I had to say.

Since Honghua Guimu came into the picture, I became less unsure of the path ahead but grew more uneasy. I had been thinking about it, but I couldn’t figure it out. I only knew there must be all kinds of feuds and troubles waiting in the distant future.

But that was all after Lian’er became Jade Rakshasa. If she didn’t get into jianghu, everything would never have started.

“I know I was in no place to ask you for anything. Just…” The person in the shadows remained silent. Unable to get an answer, I had to carry on, “Just that the world is so huge. Once you leave Mount Hua, I’m afraid…afraid that I’d never find you.”

If I couldn’t find you, I couldn’t help you. If so, I didn’t know what was the point of getting into all these.

This was your story, my deviation. 

I picked up the wine cup. As I was about to down its contents, I heard a sudden bang, especially jarring in the silence.

I was stunned. When I looked over, Lian’er had slammed the cup on the table, and the next moment, she leaped to her feet in the shadows, snatched the wine cup in my hand, threw her head back, and downed it.

After finishing it, she turned around with a snort and left without hesitation.

It all happened so fast, as if in the blink of an eye. In that blink of an eye, it felt as if I had seen her, or not. Only the pair of eyes glittering with moonlight shone on my heart. 

“This kid. She’s getting more and more willful!”

Master’s slightly displeased voice brought me back to myself. I answered, shaking my head with a smile, “It’s okay. That means she agrees. I can put my mind at rest now.”

“You’re just spoiling her.” Master sighed, seemingly reluctant to continue the topic. Then she moved on and said seriously, “When are you leaving tomorrow?”

“I’m leaving early tomorrow morning, so Master doesn’t have to send me off. You can go home tonight and get a good night’s rest.” I lowered my head and replied frankly, just afraid to look at her.

This was a farewell dinner. Everyone knew it. 

Except that I would still feel sad when saying it out loud.

For the rest of that night, I sat by the window, enjoying the moon and slowly finishing the jar of wine I was holding by myself. The wine was mild, not intoxicating to me but to my heart. Without it, I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. 

The next morning, I didn’t wake anyone up and left some money as a token of my gratitude before leaving Mount Hua for the second time.

Although it was sad to leave, I was relieved because Lian’er had drunk that cup of wine, so everything wouldn’t happen so quickly.

Or so I thought at that time. 


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 44 Swallow

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 44

Swallow

I spent the next two days in a guest room at a corner of the inn. 

It was a quiet room on the inside of a corner, isolated from the crowd and the noise, a great place to rest and recover. 

The owner’s hospitality was hard to refuse. Master felt there was no need to refuse after learning the reasons. It was a time when we needed such a quiet place. Besides, the inn’s location by the town entrance made it easier for her to come and go.

The next day, I was in a stupor all day long. I almost slept through the day. It wasn’t only because of the long night of struggle and exhaustion, but also I hadn’t slept well since I started out on the road with Honghua Guimu. Although I did nothing, I couldn’t rest well because too much was on my mind.

Now that the load was off my chest, I just went out like a light. In a stupor, I remembered Master had woken me up once. I had my injury checked and took my medicine. She said I had internal injuries but nothing serious. I just had to rest well, and she asked me not to worry. I forgot what happened next. I guessed it was because I passed out again.

I felt much better the next day. Though I was still feeling a bit dizzy and lethargic, I could finally stay awake for most of the time. I didn’t dare to treat it lightly when I thought of what Master told me yesterday, so I started to meditate after getting up from the bed and did the breathing practice twice. When it was almost noon, Master flitted in and did what she always did—checked my injury, gave me my medicine, and explained the things I should avoid and take notice of before I got better. Then we chatted for a while about Honghua Guimu until dusk before she flitted out, just like how she came in. Except for me, no one would notice her come and go. 

I didn’t ask Master to stay for a meal because I knew she was worried about Lian’er. 

I knew it very well because I was even more worried about Lian’er.

It had been two whole days, but I hadn’t seen her. I slept in a stupor on the first day, so it couldn’t be helped. I thought I would see her at the same time as I saw Master on the second day, but the reality was disappointing.

And so another night passed. By the third day, Master arrived as expected, still no sign of the person I was expecting. I couldn’t wait any longer. While I was taking medicine, I looked for an appropriate time to ask, “Master, how has…Lian’er been in these two days? How come I don’t see her? Is she alright?”

Master was standing by a bronze washbowl, washing away the decoction dregs in the black pot with the clean water inside of it. She didn’t raise her head even when she heard me. “She’s fine. That kid was hurt a little, but not as bad as you. Plus, she’s strong. She’s up and about as if nothing happened after a day’s rest. Just…” She seemed to get a little pensive as she spoke.

“Just what?” I couldn’t help but get a little worried.

“Hey, what’s the hurry?” Master laid down the pot. She, who was wiping the water off her hands, laughed when she sensed my impatience. “It’s actually good news. Since Lian’er started practicing martial arts, she’s never met an opponent. It always comes to nothing no matter how many times I tell her that there’s always someone better out there, but she seems to get it now after she’d lost out. These two days, she’ll practice on her own without me urging her to, working harder than before. In fact, I owe some gratitude to Honghua Guimu.”

“Oh, I see. That’s great, great…” I went along with it. I was relieved, but at the same time, somewhat disappointed. 

Of course, it was great that she was fine. It was reassuring to know that she learned from her mistakes and put her heart into practicing. But…but how could I not be  upset that she would rather spend her day like that instead of coming down to see me?

It looked like I didn’t overthink it that night. She actually held a grudge against me.

“Then…Master, I have something to tell Lian’er. Could you pass it to her for me when you go back?” If she didn’t want to come, then I would go to her. Since I couldn’t go in person, a message was better than nothing. Otherwise, it would only get worse the longer I dragged it out, given her temper.

Who knew Master’s response after that was surprising. 

“What a coincidence.” She raised her brows as if she remembered something and said, “I almost forgot. When I came out, that kid had something she wanted me to ask you.”

I didn’t expect that from Master, but it didn’t stop me from feeling happy. “Eh, really? What does Lian’er want to say?”

“Don’t get up. Why are you so restless today? Be careful of your injury!” Master had wiped her hands dry. She took two steps over and pushed me back to the bed, then she sat down sideways on the edge of the bed before speaking unhurriedly, “Actually, about this, not only Lian’er wants to know, I’ve been meaning to ask you about your plan over the past two days.”

“Plan?” I repeated it in confusion, and suddenly, it was as if I saw the light.

“Yes, your plan.” Sure enough, what Master said next was exactly what I expected. “Xian’er, you’re finally back now, although it was because of an accident this time. Since everything is settled now, what’s your plan? Are you going to stay and go back to live with us like before, or are you going to leave again?”

Stay or leave again.

There was a moment of silence. I lowered my head, gently breathed in, and slowly breathed out. I could keep my face as calm as still water, but not my heart.

It had been years since I left. Being in a foreign place, I would miss them every day, but I could still keep myself in check. I never let myself think about coming back because I knew it wasn’t the time. It would only hurt both of us if I returned. But…

But when I was back here, when I saw Master’s face and smile and heard her voice, when I realized I was no longer separated from Lian’er by a thousand miles, I could no longer restrain myself. That secluded place deep in the woods of Mount Hua was where I belonged in this world. It was a place closer to home. 

I want to go home, back to my family. Who the heck cares about hurting ourselves? Can’t I just not think about it too much for once and leave whatever will happen in the future to the future?

The temptation was strong. The thought was screaming in my head, echoing over and over again, and my heart seemed to become willful. I clenched my teeth and raised my head. The answer, “I want to stay,” was on the tip of my tongue. I just had to release my jaw, and it would be out of my mouth.

But in the end, I made a swallowing motion. 

After that, I looked at Master and replied apologetically, “My father’s leg was injured by Honghua Guimu earlier, so…”

I could let myself be willful, even convince myself to not think too much and not care about the consequences, but even if I did so, I couldn’t stay. I wasn’t an honorable person, but if I put myself in others’ shoes, I didn’t think I could leave someone with a broken leg alone to their own devices.

He had once held my hand with sweat dripping from his head, making sure again and again, asking, “Will you be back soon?” and I said to him, “Don’t worry, dad.”

“Sorry, Master. Once I’ve settled everything, I’ll definitely…” I didn’t know why I was so eager to explain. Maybe the one I wanted to explain to wasn’t someone else, but myself. “I’ll definitely be back soon!”

“No rush, no rush.” Master had heard something about what happened when we were talking about Honghua Guimu yesterday, so I didn’t have to explain too much. She stroked my head with a calm look and said, “I’ve probably guessed it. You’re her daughter, after all. If that thought never crossed your mind, you wouldn’t have been my disciple.”

But after that, she changed the subject and said, letting out a sigh, seemingly at random, “Just that I’m afraid that kid, Lian’er, is going to be disappointed.”

“Lian’er, she…” I hesitated for a moment but still spoke carefully, “She’s hoping for me to come back?”

I hesitated because I didn’t know what kind of answer I was expecting. It would be tough no matter what kind of answer it was. I would disappoint her if she was expecting me. If she wasn’t, what should I do with my feelings?

Even so, I wanted to know the answer. The human heart was just so conflicting.

“Not that you don’t know her temper. Though she doesn’t say so, you won’t know what she might be thinking. I think the reason she won’t come with me to see you is that she’s hoping you’ll go back to see her.”

After that, the topic stopped there. What we talked about later was all trivial matters, at least to me they were.

When it was time to leave, Master left as usual. The difference was that she was bringing along a message that might be disappointing to Lian’er this time. Even though I didn’t want to, there was no stopping now. My decision was made.

That night, I was caught in a dream.

It wasn’t a pleasant dream, but luckily, it wasn’t a bad one either. It was just some memory fragments of the past. In the dream, there was night and wolves, and there was the wind echoing beside my ears, saying, “I won’t see you, and I won’t send you off until you’re back and never leave again. Keep that in mind!”

When I opened my eyes, it was bright outside the window. The darkness was fading. It was the break of dawn. I lay on the bed, eyes vacant. The voice seemed to stay in my ears, and it suddenly dawned on me. Those wordless moments didn’t occur out of anger, nor was it out of grudge. 

I forgot, and she was using silence to remind me I had yet to earn the right to see her. 

That was it.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 43 Down the Mountain

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 43

Down the Mountain

The way it ended was completely different from how I imagined it. It all went well, but vaguely, the sense of relief that came when all things were settled was lacking as if everything was merely pushed back to the unforeseeable future. 

Perhaps it was this that brought forth a strange state of mind in me, so strange that I didn’t even understand it myself, just desperately trying to grasp the whiff of strangeness, and in turn, trying to trace its root. The appearance of Honghua Guimu compelled me to believe in the existence of the story. A layer of fog seemed to have lifted off the hazy future, but more fog was shrouded on top, unsettling me.  

A wisp of inexplicable panic was lingering in me, and I didn’t know why.

I was caught in my own frustration. By the time I came to myself, there was a voice speaking beside my ears. 

“How are you, Xian’er? Feeling better?” Master had returned to my side at some point. Now a hand was resting on my wrist, seemingly checking my pulses, but it also felt like a comfort. It was comforting to have a warm hand on the skin.

I quickly gathered myself, raised my head, and summoned up a smile at where the voice came from. “I’m fine. Feeling much better…” Before I finished, I felt a light flick on my forehead.

“Do you know how bad your smile looks like now? Be honest.”

The familiar voice sounded irritated but with a hint of relief that came with solving a difficult problem, sounding like a reproach but also a joke.

I pursed my lips as I rubbed my forehead. The truth was, I didn’t feel much pain just now. For one, I grew numb to it as time passed, and second, I was distracted by all the thoughts going on in my head. It was after I was reminded that I turned my attention to my body again. I had gotten quite used to the burning sensation in my lungs. It didn’t feel as intolerable as before, but I still felt weak. I tried to move, but I accidentally stretched a part of my back, and a sharp twinge of pain ensued.

Though I managed to stifle a groan, the arm around my waist still tightened, and a concerned voice sounded at the same time. “What? What’s wrong?”

The voice belonged to Master, but the arm around my waist belonged to Lian’er. The dark didn’t seem like a hindrance to them. They could easily capture every single movement of mine, even a frown.  

I couldn’t hide it, so I had to tell the truth. I said, smiling wryly. “Nothing. Just that I took a hit on my back earlier. I didn’t feel anything before, but now it’s starting to hurt.”

A pair of hands were placed on my shoulders. They were Master’s. From the look of it, it seemed like she wanted to flip me over and check my injury but to no avail. The arm around my waist was still holding tight. It wasn’t until Master said in the dark, “Lian’er, let go of your hand, quick! Your sister’s injury is on the back. This posture isn’t going to help!” that she started to let loose.

Away from the warm embrace, feeling the familiar presence going away, I couldn’t help but feel a little empty. I reached for her hand without realizing it, but it was in vain because it was dark in front of me. From the rustling of footsteps, I knew that presence had backed up a few steps, still staying silent, as if she was angry.

Perhaps it wasn’t as simple as being angry.

Just as I was about to say something, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my back. Master was pressing on the injury. The force she applied was light and careful, but even the slightest movement would cause immense pain, not to mention pressing it without warning. I couldn’t take it, and a groan slipped out. The words gathered in my brain vanished without a trace.

Fortunately, I was never a fragile person. My mind was fairly strong, at least I could endure hardships. Otherwise, it would be too much with all I had gone through tonight.

“Maybe there’s a fracture. That woman actually did it on a junior.” As if talking to herself, Master’s voice was tinged with anger, and the next moment, I felt my body was lifted, and my legs were off the ground. I was taken into her arms like a child. 

“Master?” My body stiffened. I wasn’t a child, after all. I couldn’t be brazen about this, so I said with embarrassment, “Mas…master, don’t, let me down. I can walk by myself. It’s not like…”

“You’re hurt on your back. It could be serious. Don’t take it lightly.” Perhaps because of the dark, she didn’t notice my embarrassment. Only gravity was left in her voice. “Besides, you were poisoned earlier. Although it is cured now, it’s better to be careful…” Then she paused as if pondering for a second, and finally said with resolution, “Let’s go. I’ll take you down the mountain.”

“Down the mountain?” Before I said something, a questioning voice came, full of surprise. “Why take the long way? Why not go back to the cave instead of going down the mountain?”

“There aren’t many supplies in the cave, and we lack the necessary medication. It’s not helpful with the treatment. It’s better to go to the town down the mountain.”

Master kept her feet moving while explaining. She had lightened her body with qi as she was speaking. I could see nothing but hear the wind beside my ears getting louder. Being held in the arms like this, the darkness had blocked out everything. The embarrassment slowly dissolved, but in a trance, I felt as if I was back to the beginning. That time I was young, wandering around with her. Sometimes when the time was tight, she would carry me in her arms like this and hurried on. If my memory serves me right, that chilly night was the last time I was being held like this since we settled in Mount Hua.

That night, I was in Master’s arms, and Lian’er was in my arms, an adult and two kids, rushing our way to Yellow Dragon Cave against the northern wind.

Right, where’s Lian’er? Where is she now? Is she silently following behind us? Or she has gone back by herself in a fit of pique? 

I was worrying about her but didn’t have the strength to look back. I couldn’t see her, anyway. Even my senses weren’t working well. Too many things happened tonight. It’s hard not to feel exhausted and overwhelmed, and the arms were a feeling of comfort I had been missing. Before that, I had been holding on, and now, the drowsiness was coming back, and it seemed like I no longer had the reasons to resist it.

Right as I was about to surrender, I caught sight of the glimmering light at the mountain foot. Unlike the dazzling light common to that world, there were always only one or two spots of light in the dark night here, distant and dim, embedded in the heavy darkness of this world, insignificant but warm nonetheless.

Suddenly, a memory flashed through my mind, and I got a chill. I shook my head and struggled a little to regain some consciousness. I tugged at Master’s lapel and stumbled over my words, “Mas…master, go…to the first…inn by the…town entrance and save…”

I didn’t have much control over my worn-out body anymore. My tongue was getting stiff, and my words were slurry. I guessed Master didn’t understand the last part, so she asked, “Mm? What’s with the inn?” 

I bit my lips, forcing myself to stay awake and focused. 

“The first inn…by the town entrance. The backyard of…the one with lanterns hanging in front of the door. There are two…people who have helped me before.”

People who had helped me before, innocent people, people who Honghua Guimu said she had killed.

I once thought what she said must be true because there was absolutely no need to rile me up with this lie. She had nothing to gain by making me go mad. Not to mention, that woman’s temper was eccentric and random. It wasn’t such an odd thing even if she took the lives of two people who had offended her.

But after I calmed down, especially after seeing her chivalry in her battle with Master, I had to admit I had my doubts again.

There were all kinds of distractions before. I had no time to think it through. The lights at the mountain foot reminded me again now that I saw them. A sense of urgency couldn’t help but emerge. I just wanted to confirm it soon. Even if what that woman said was real, maybe they could still be saved. 

Master might not have fully understood my feelings, but she didn’t question me either. She didn’t ask any more questions when she heard what I said. Instead, she patted my head and said, “Got it. Shut up and rest.”  

So I kept my mouth shut. Although I could hardly say I was resting, traveling like this itself was a kind of rest. But it wasn’t a good time to let myself fall asleep, so I had to bite my lips now and then to hold on to the last bit of consciousness. Like this, we went on for a while more, and finally, came close to the town. The distant lanterns in the dark were getting closer and closer.

Before I could tell Master the way to the backyard, I saw people looming in front of the door under the hanging dim light.

“You…” I thought I could shout, but as I opened my mouth, I realized I couldn’t take a breath. Instead, it would cause a twinge on my back, choking back my words. 

Meanwhile, Master picked up her pace and landed steadily in front of the door. 

The sudden appearance scared the people at the door off the ground. When they took a closer look with the swaying light, their face immediately turned into a look of shock. “My goodness! Miss Zhu! Y—you’re back! Are you alright?”

The one yelling was the bellboy, and next to him was the big dark-skinned man whose gloomy face remained. 

“Are you guys…fine? I heard Honghua…” The truth was right in front of me. I had my doubts before, but still, I was surprised.

“Aiya, Miss Zhu! That’s our question! It scared the hell out of us!” The bellboy got more worked up when he heard me say the word Honghua, and more words were spouting out of him. “That woman jumped down from a tree as soon as you left! At first, she said she was going to kill us, then she said she would let us live seeing that we are still a man of honor, but she said she wouldn‘t let you go. Then she was gone after that. My brother and I were worried about you all night at the door! How are you? You didn’t run into her, did you?”

“I did. But she said to me that…that she…killed…”

I was in a hurry to speak, so I couldn’t smooth out the breath that was stuck in me.

But Master probably understood what I wanted to say. She butted in, “Honghua Guimu is like that, vicious with her words but not an evil person. She won’t kill innocent people.” She said it with a bit of tease in her voice, and at the same time, she stroked my back, some heat seeping into my body little by little. “So this is what you stubborn kid is worried about. Fooled by her, huh?”

I saw her as soon as I turned around. Now there was finally some light around. Though dim, I could finally see that face. Even the faint smile on her lips was visible, bristling with nostalgic familiarity.  

Like an idiot, my eyes fixed at the smile for a while before they moved on and swept around, hoping to see the other person I missed as much, to see the familiar face, even if she was pouting in anger.

In the end, I didn’t get a chance.

After that, I somehow sank deeply into slumber, just like that.

What a long night it was.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 42 Three Palm Slaps

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 42

Three Palm Slaps

I didn’t know how the duel was going and how long it lasted. I wasn’t even sure whether Lian’er paid attention to it as I told her. 

Once you endure the pain for long enough, you will lapse into a muzzy state. It blurred the pain and everything.

But I remembered well how the duel ended because I was snapped back into consciousness by a loud bawl toward the end. 

“What do you mean by that!”

The bawl, with a tinge of irritation, came from Honghua Guimu like a thunderclap in the dark.

For a long time before that, the only sounds were the clanging of weapons and the rustling of clothes, sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, plain and unrhythmic. Then a bawl suddenly rang close to me, giving me a startle.

In Lian’er arms, I raised my head in confusion, looking into the dark with eyes wide open. I knew full well that I was awake all this time and hadn’t lost consciousness, but there was a blank in my memory, so I had no idea how long had passed, much less know what had happened in the dark that would draw such a reaction from Honghua Guimu.

My first reaction was to ask the person behind me, ask the person holding me what was happening now, but I was a little hesitant.

Ever since we reunited, Lian’er hadn’t exchanged a single word with me, not even an “mm” after hearing what I told her in all seriousness.

Actually, I could guess why she did this, but I had no energy to come up with a solution, so I could only let this strange atmosphere linger between us for now.

Luckily, I didn’t have to hesitate for long. I didn’t have to ask as the conversation in the dark kept on, the voices as clear as a bell.

“What do you mean by what I mean?” What came along with Master’s response was the rustling sound of leaves. Judging from the voice, she seemed to land on a huge tree not far away, her breathing unruffled. “You’re the one who stops all of a sudden, and you’re asking me?”

“You know what I mean!” Honghua Guimu’s voice came from the opposite side of Master, even from the same height, but compared to Master’s, her voice sounded much more impatient. “You and I are on the same level. We should do our best every time we cross to have fun. We’ve exchanged more than a hundred moves by now, but you’re always careful with your attacks, focusing on keeping yourself safe. Are you looking down on me?”

“Where does this come from? There’s no grudge between us. We’d agreed before that this is just a duel. If that’s the case, we should know how far we could go.”

“Hmph! A miss is as good as a mile in a duel between masters. Although it was a duel, you can’t hold back. How could you fight like this with your hands tied? I’ve been thinking of this for years. Turns out you’re a coward!”

Honghua Guimu’s words were blistering, with all kinds of sarcasm and acerbity. It seemed like she wanted to irritate Master. I was a lot more awake after hearing that and felt right away that it was going to be bad. Master had a fiery temper. She wouldn’t stand being pushed around, especially not being a punchbag. If her provocation worked, it would really turn into a deathmatch and that was what I feared most. There would be no way to stop it!

In a moment of distress, I didn’t know what to do, but surprisingly, things didn’t go in the direction I feared.

The air fell silent for a moment, but it wasn’t the calm before the storm that I feared. When Master spoke again, her breathing was unruffled as usual. “I’m not a coward, but you’re right about one thing. I’m not ready to die now.”

Such an answer was more staggering than an outburst of anger. I wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Even Honghua Guimu hadn’t expected it and blurted out, “what?” as if doubting if she had heard wrong.

But she didn’t.

“To be exact, I can’t die now. Someone with important promises can’t simply risk their life in a duel.” Master was still as calm and collected as ever, speaking with composure, “Otherwise, losing life isn’t a big deal, but losing trust is. It’s not something I’d like to see.”

“You…” When Honghua Guimu heard that, she was stunned, and then she countered after pulling herself together. “I think you’re making excuses. What important promises could you have? Besides, first come, first served. A few years have passed since. Don’t tell me it came before our duel!”

She didn’t get it, but hearing that took some load off my chest.

“Well said. First come, first served. That promise indeed came before our promise.” Master hesitated a little at first, her talking speed slightly slow. It was her biggest concern, after all. Lian’er and I weren’t even supposed to know. I didn’t expect she would tell an outsider straight out. “More than ten years ago, I made a promise with someone to create our own school of swordsmanship and find out who’s stronger through a duel twenty years later. I’ve lived for this all these years. Now that the promised date is coming up, how could I allow myself to get into trouble and risk my life for things other than that? For you, our duel is to go all out and have fun. For me, I could only go so far. That’s all. Sorry.”

With that, the air froze.

They were no longer talking, no sound of a battle either. Leaves were rustling, and insects were chirping in the dark as if no one was around.

I was leaning against Lian’er, unable to see what was in front of me, but I could picture a scene of two people confronting eyeball to eyeball. At this point, Master had told her everything and did everything she could from what I saw, but the other person might not appreciate it considering her eccentric temper, and there were ways for Honghua Guimu to make Master do it if she insisted.

Right now, Lian’er and I are Master’s biggest weaknesses.

I could think of the worst possibility but not a way to get out of the possibility. I could only let things run their course. It was a terrible feeling as if someone was laughing at your incompetence again and again. 

I could only wish I was merely being laughed at.

After a moment of depressing silence, Honghua Guimu finally spoke, her voice full of resentment, and thus so much less eeriness and coldness. “Tell me! How much longer is left in your 20-year promise?”

“Besides this year, four years left,” Master answered without hesitation. Obviously, it had always been on her mind.

“Alright!” As if she had made up her mind, Honghua Guimu shouted, “A soulmate is easy to get, but a rival is hard to come by. Since you have your reason, I don’t mind waiting a few more years. You have a 20-year promise with someone. Then I’ll add one more year to it and make it a 21-year promise. Do you have the guts to accept it?”

What answered her was a burst of guffaw from Master. The laughter went on for a long time. I had never heard her laugh like this, but I felt like this is how she was supposed to be, bold and unconstrained, different from her with the composure she put on before. Without having to worry, she seemed to have the carefree spirit of a jianghu traveler.

“Great!” After she finished laughing, the familiar voice replied with determination. “How could I refuse when I’ll get a rival like you? Our 21-year promise. As long as I’m still alive by that time, I’ll give my all!”

“Dare you slap your palm with me as a vow?” As if to match with Master’s reply, Honghua Guimu’s voice was no longer sombre and sharp, but gracious and passionate, like a real hero.

“Slap our palms as a sign of the oath, smear our lips with blood as a sign of the vow!”

First, there was the sound of clothes rustling in the dark, then the sound of three slaps, papapa. The crisp sound of slaps echoed in the dark woods. Unlike the meeting of palms during the duel before, they sounded so clean and exhilarating.

“Tell me your name!”

“I don’t have a nickname. My birth name is Ling Muhua!”

“Well, Ling Muhua, you already know my nickname, Honghua Guimu, and my surname is Gongsun. Don’t forget our 21-year promise. Right here, at noon. See you then!”

“See you then!”

I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. Every single word entered my ears and stayed in my heart. 

It had put my mind at rest, but confusion arose, and I was caught in a hazy apprehension. Some blurry images and words flashed through my mind, but they were like the smoke before my eyes and the sand in my hand, unable to hold, unable to keep.

But is this how the story is supposed to be?


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 41 Poison

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 41

Poison

My heart jumped with joy, then with dismay.

Joy was because I heard Master’s voice, and dismay was because of the name she called.

The name Honghua Guimu, compared to Gongsun Daniang, could better jog a certain memory that had been buried away in my mind. 

But now wasn’t a good time to brood over it. As soon as Master finished her words, a burst of laughter came from the dark not far to the left. The fine dame—or should I call her by her name—anyway, I couldn’t see her face now, but I could almost imagine her rolling up her sleeves because even her voice was brimming with excitement, “Well, well, well, you’re finally here. Let’s settle our old score from a few years ago!”   

With that, the wind stirred, and a shadow flew by before me. Knowing Master had charged towards her, I instinctively got worried, wanting to get up and go in that direction. Who knew as soon as I moved, before I could even stand up, my body lost its coordination, as if I was frozen stiff, and slowly tumbled to the side like losing balance.

This is bad, I thought. It wasn’t because I was about to fall, but the chill seemed weirder than I imagined. It wasn’t as simple as the day getting cold, which I’d believed earlier. 

It all happened in a split second. Thoughts flashed through my mind. My body tensed up, ready for the impact. Who knew there was someone faster than a split second. As I was falling down halfway, something tightened around my waist. I felt a force in reverse and I was pulled back up, but because of the momentum, I was falling again to the other side.

The next moment, I felt warmth on my back, leaning into something, a body temperature higher than average, so familiar that it was comforting.

A while ago, it was me who had her in my arms, and now I was in her arms, just like those days we were together. At the end of the day, we wouldn’t know who was the one being protected. 

All of a sudden, I wanted to see her so badly. 

I had no time for anything else, given how intense the situation was before. Now this urge arose. Has her face changed in these two years? She’s at an age where her body is growing. How much taller has she grown? I really wanted to light a fire and take a closer look at her, but I couldn’t even pull out the flame stick and light it.

The chill was seeping out through my bones, a chill from within. A chilly night in the mountains could never have caused that. I had overlooked it earlier because of all the discomfort in my body. It wasn’t until I wanted to move that I realized I couldn’t move. The desire to sleep grew stronger. The drowsiness that was offset by a moment of energy spike because of Master’s appearance seemed to be coming back.

As I was feeling drowsy, I heard a shout, a somewhat nervous voice, but it wasn’t speaking to me. “Master!” Her arms tightened a little, so tight I could feel the vibration of her body when she shouted. “Master, get the antidote first!”

My sense of consciousness had returned a little. It was then I remembered I had taken poison. But I didn’t feel nervous at all and started to humor myself instead, thinking to myself, so this is how it feels like when the poison kicks in. Except for feeling cold, the effect is comparable to a strong sleeping pill.

If a person isn’t worried about themselves at a critical moment, it is mostly because of trust, trusting that there are people around them who will be more worried, even if subconsciously.

I didn’t realize that at that moment. I only knew Lian’er’s anxious shout and the response coming from the dark calmed me down and I heard Master’s voice shouting, “Right, Honghua Guimu, since I’m here, hand over the antidote, quick! Don’t make my disciple suffer!”

However, things didn’t go so well. The answer from the other side was, “Want the antidote? Get it yourself, or you can have it when we’re done.” 

After getting such an answer, I heard a low grunt of indignation and agitation next to me. I brought myself to reach out my hand and press on the slender arm that was holding me, telling her to stay calm, but the next second, she shook off my hand, but her arms held me tighter, to where it was hurting but also seemed to be warmer.

Now I could set my mind at rest. Deep down, I guessed we both believed in Master, so she didn’t just butt in, and I begged her not to.

Without a doubt, when Master heard the answer, she immediately countered, “Our fight is between us. It’s what I owe you. We know how strong each other is, so I’m afraid it’ll last at least a few hundred rounds before a winner is decided. And look at how much time is left in the 30-minute. If you want my disciple dead, just do it. Why be pretentious? To torture a junior to death in such a way. Aren’t you afraid that you’ll be a joke to the people in jianghu!”

“Nonsense! Why’d I ever want that!” These words had burned Honghua Guimu up. She was no longer being cynical and said, “If I give you the antidote now, who knows what tricks you’ll play again? Don’t forget about the Cicada Skin Shed* trick you pulled off last time!”

“I was worried about my disciple last time. Now she’s here. Why would I run away?” Master retorted right off, “Even if I can run away and get rid of you, can my two disciples get rid of you too? And I won’t fight with you if you don’t give me the antidote now. Even if we do, with something on my mind, your victory will be unjust if you win!”

I heard the entire conversation, and I was a little relieved, certain that Honghua Guimu wasn’t lying to me. I realized there was a moment of silence in the middle of the conversation, as if the other person was thinking about something. Then an idea hit me. I intentionally made my breathing sound heavier as I gasped for air. The heavy breathing sounded obvious in the silent darkness, along with a tad of feebleness, as if I was in pain.

This was intended to suit what Master had said and pose some pressure on Honghua Guimu. Who knew I almost messed things up. Before this tactic affected its target, it had rattled the person behind me.

I felt the arms that were holding me tensed up, then I realized this wasn’t going well. Before I could hint at her, her arms let go of me. It seemed like Lian’er couldn’t sit back anymore. She gently laid me down on the ground and bellowed, “Old hag! Give us the antidote!” And she was about to lunge forward.

I got anxious. With no time to think, I held her hand, struggling to explain to her. Just as I was about to stop her, I heard a sigh. “Forget it!” In the dark, Honghua Guimu’s voice came from afar, “I’ll trust you people one more time, so that other people won’t say I don’t keep my words and bully the juniors later!”

After that, I heard a shout from her. “The kid over there, catch!”

I was lying on my side, unable to feel anything, not even hearing something flying through the air, only feeling a slight jerk from the person beside me and hearing a slight movement like something fell into a palm, then a soft pop of uncorking a bottle. The person I was holding broke away from my feeble hand and turned to hold my shoulders and gripped my chin. I didn’t know what she was thinking. She didn’t say a word, just brought the bottle-like thing close to me, with care and caution.

The small bottle was brought to my lips. A strong and pungent smell of medicine wafted against my face from inside. My stomach was churning, but I knew I had to drink it. It wasn’t a time to be weak, so I braced myself and held my breath. With my lips against the rim, I downed it in one gulp. 

When the liquid passed through my throat, it felt as if I had drunk some chemical. I felt a burning sensation in my throat. The freezing chill had faded a lot and was replaced by a burning sensation in my body. I told myself to endure it, but in the end, I still couldn’t take it and let out a low groan.

The groan again rattled the person beside me. She jumped to her feet and spluttered, “Old hag, what did you give me? She looks even worse!”

I was afraid Lian’er’s disrespect would offend her and lay up trouble for herself, so I forced myself to reach out my hand and tugged at her hem as soon as I grabbed it, but how could I have stopped her. Seeing that I was about to lose my grip, a gust of breeze suddenly swirled in. Then there was another person next to me. The person’s body was slimmer than Lian’er, and her presence, too, was familiar.

“Xian’er, how’s your body feeling? How do you feel? Tell me.” I was helped up and into her arms. It was a totally different kind of closeness from that of Lian’er. It was more reassuring in her presence, especially at this time and this place, as if a load was lifted off my chest.

“I’m fine…” I replied, exerting myself. I noticed Lian’er had also crouched down on the other side. Although she said nothing, I could feel her gaze. It was a long-awaited relief to be surrounded by the two people I trusted most in this life. Although my body was in pain, I felt immensely at peace, so I didn’t want them to be worried. “It was freezing cold just now, and I couldn’t move at all…though my lung is burning after taking the antidote, the chill has faded a lot. Should…should be fine. Don’t worry…”

Perhaps because Master was here, Lian’er didn’t say anything this time. I could only hear Master asking with a raised voice, “Honghua Guimu! The poison belongs to you, and so does the antidote. What’s this about? You’re the one to ask, right?”

“There’s nothing weird about it.” That voice came from the distant dark. Although the voice sounded less ambiguous now, it wasn’t warm either. “The poison is harmful to the body, to begin with. The way to cure it is to fight fire with fire. She was suffering from internal injuries before this. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable when curing it. Anyway, it won’t kill her. She asked for it herself. Can’t blame anyone. You, on the other hand, how long do you want to drag this out? Are you going to play some tricks again?”

She explained it well. I smiled wryly to myself. I knew stories were unreliable. People who took the antidote in the stories always seemed relieved right away, at least it would take the edge off. Unlike now, I felt even worse than when the poison took effect.

However, if there was anything better, it was that my body was no longer stiff, and I could speak a few words. I tugged at the hand of Master who seemed like she still wanted to argue and said softly, “Master, it’s okay…you don’t have to worry about us. It’s just a little uncomfortable. Nothing serious. You just do what you think best. It’s better to…get this out of the way sooner…just…be careful.”

If possible, I really wanted to tell her not to force herself and get herself out of it if the situation wasn’t looking good, but because of my place, I couldn’t say those. After I managed to finish, the air fell silent for a moment. Then a hand patted my head, and I heard Master’s resigned voice. “You stubborn girl. Worry more about yourself. Look at what you’ve got yourself into…”

She stood up after finishing her words. As if she had made up her mind, she commanded, “Lian’er! Take care of your sister!” Then a flash fleeted across the dark sky. A glimmering ray of light charged toward the dark. 

And I could hear an excited voice over there, saying, “Good!” followed by a sharp and resonant clang of metals.

This would be a spectacular duel. The two of them were one of a kind in their generation. Unfortunately, everything was covered behind the pitch-black night. People around could see nothing, at least it was so for me. Then again, I had already used up all my energy to endure the pain in my body. I couldn’t focus even if I could see it.

However, there was another person here. She was different from me. She had an exceptional constitution, and a pair of eyes that could see in the dark.

I thought her mind might not be on that, so I propped myself up and got closer to her, using up the last bit of my strength, I lowered my voice and said to her, “Lian’er, focus and look carefully. Look at their moves. Remember as much as you can. Believe me. It’ll be of great help to you in the future.”


*A skill to get away like a cicada shedding its skin. Here’s a picture. Warning: if you hate insects, don’t click on it.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 40 Wait

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 40

Wait

Waiting was a torment, especially one without certainty.

A long time like 30-minute couldn’t be measured with the seconds I was used to. At a time like this, I would miss the days when we had timekeeping devices.

The air became a little heavy after Lian’er had left. Even the two wolves had either left or lain low. Anyway, they disappeared, leaving me and the red flower dame behind in the dark and windy night. A moment ago, we were at war like fire and water, and now we suddenly fell into silence. I didn’t know how she felt, but I felt a little uncomfortable.

And now the perk of a dark night showed. I couldn’t see anything beyond three steps, anyway. It saved us the embarrassment of looking at each other. 

I groped for a relatively flat rock in the grass and sat down, tugging my knees into my chest, waiting in silence for the time to pass. After waiting dully for a while, I felt my body getting more and more uncomfortable, along with fits of shivering cold. It can’t go on like this, I thought, so I wanted to get some twigs and start a fire to keep warm. But when I got up and just took a step, I heard a faint, tepid voice coming from not far to my left, “Girl…what’re you up to?”

I couldn’t see her in the dark. After hesitating for a while, I replied, “It’s late and getting cold. I’m looking for something to start a fire.”

After friction had developed between us, I had lost much of my respect for her when I spoke. I no longer addressed her as a senior. I didn’t know what she was thinking. She replied with a “hmm,” as if she didn’t care much, but then said gloomily, “I advise you to meditate and chill. If you move around like this and start a fire, it’ll stimulate your blood circulation and cause the poison to kick in before time. By that time, you’ll really die for nothing.” 

What she said sounded both true and false. I couldn’t tell if it was a threat or a fact. After a moment of hesitation, I sat down again, thinking it was better to believe it was true, but I couldn’t resist the swelling emotions in me and lashed out, “If that’s the case, why did you let her take that earlier? Lian’er was going to use her qi on her way, and that would boost her blood circulation. Luckily, I‘d stopped her before that. Otherwise, if she collapses on her way, what’re you going to do?”

She didn’t answer, only her usual bizarre giggle coming from the dark, and after she finished laughing, I heard her saying, “Weird. You’ve been defending that kid the entire time. And now you’re feeling glad for her instead of worried about yourself. Who’s she to you?”

“Wha…what’s weird about it?” What she said had struck a nerve. I had nothing to hide, actually. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t feel confident enough. I answered, trying to sound nonchalant, “I’d seen her growing up, and I’m her only sister. Who should I defend otherwise? It’s something I should do.”

“Hmph, seen her growing up? You sound like an old man for your age. How weird. Tsk.” Then she continued, “From what I’ve seen, you love that kid as your sister, yet she didn’t talk to you even once the entire time. She said nothing even when you swallowed the pill for her. Obviously, she doesn’t respect you as her sister.”

I didn’t expect her to say that. I was startled, my hand unconsciously stroking the wound on my fingertip. It had been bandaged just a moment ago, as if someone else’s warmth was still there.

“She…she was just angry with me…” I murmured, trying to explain. What happened before inadvertently came up in my mind.

Just as what the red flower dame had said, Lian’er didn’t talk to me the whole time until she left, even when she saw me swallow the pill. Of course, that didn’t mean I thought taking the pill was a big deal. I didn’t even think I was taking poison the moment I swallowed it. It was curable, anyway. I had confidence in Lian’er’s qinggong, and I knew she wouldn’t leave me behind, so there was nothing to fear.

But what I did seemed to have irritated Lian’er. The reason she didn’t talk to me before might be because of her injury due to her hasty attack, but she still didn’t say a word when she was leaving, even her blazing gaze was no more.

I guess she is throwing a tantrum again since she has always been most annoyed with me making decisions for her, especially since she got hurt this time. She is definitely angry.

As I was thinking, my mind started to wander, all kinds of thought emerging in my mind. I was so immersed in my own world that I almost forgot the discomfort on my body and the situation I was in until a snort snapped me out of it. 

Clearly, the snort came from the red flower dame. I heard her sneer, “No offense, girl, people’s hearts are the most unpredictable thing in the world. People like you, are bound to get hurt.”

Her tone was still ambiguous. Maybe I was wrong. I could hear a hint of concern in it. “Just like that pill. That kid might seem to be hurt, but actually, she isn’t hurt as bad as you are. The pill won’t do any harm to her. It’s you who will get hurt taking that, but you just had to be the hero. Do you think I’d do things without reason? Next time, know your place, or else, you won’t know what hit you.”

“That just means I’m being dumb. What does it have to do with people’s hearts being unpredictable?” I said, shaking my head slightly, “In the end, I didn’t do it for her. It’s for my own peace of mind that I played the hero. If she were the one who took the pill, I’d be sitting on pins and needles now. Instead of going through mental torture, I would rather it to be my body that suffers.”

“Girl, you don’t seem like a diehard. [1]Heaven, earth, sovereign, ancestors, masters. Does she deserve you doing that?” Her voice was a little dismissive, perhaps she was also shaking her head. 

“If being sisters isn’t enough, then soulmates will do, right? Don’t people die for their soulmate?” I certainly couldn’t tell her the truth, so I had to find an excuse to brush her off. 

“Soulmate?” Her tone turned to one of disbelief this time. “What do you know about soulmates at your age, girl? People’s hearts are ever changing. How can you call someone a soulmate so lightly? Can you know what the other person is thinking? If you can’t, how can you say someone’s your soulmate?”

Too bad I wasn’t actually a young girl on the inside. What I said just now was just an excuse, not to mention I had no desire to go into details with anyone, but when I heard what she said, I retorted, smiling without knowing, “When Ziqi died, Boya broke his guqin.[2] You don’t have to know everything about someone to call them a soulmate. Just like you and Master. You’ve longed for a duel with her for years. Doesn’t that mean soulmates are hard to get?” 

After a moment, there was no more sound coming from the dark.

I didn’t know why the red flower dame fell silent. I didn’t dare to think I had convinced her. After thinking about it, I felt I should bring up Master to remind her of the duel to come so that she no longer cared to chatter with me. By now, she should be meditating.

I was worried about showing my emotions. I didn’t want to talk to her too much to begin with, so I was happy to go back to silence, sitting there, silently returning to my own world, thereby ignoring the pain and coldness in my body. 

In the dark, time wore on. Maybe because I had sat for too long, I felt the coldness in my body grow colder, so cold that I could no longer concentrate on my thoughts. I could only curl up tighter and tighter. My body couldn’t help but shiver, even my mind was getting drowsy.

Just as I was about to fall asleep, a bawl came into my ears.

“Honghua Guimu![3] What’ve you done to my disciples?”


[1]The belief and worship of five cosmological entities in Confucianism.

[2]It’s an excerpt from a Chinese classic story, talking about a Chinese musician, Yu Boya, broke his guqin (a Chinese instrument similar to zither) and vowed never to play it again when a woodcutter, Zhong Ziqi, who he met on his tour and called him his bosom friend because he understood his music, died. It’s a story that exemplifies friendship and where the term Zhiyin (知音, meaning soulmate/bosom friend, literally “to know the tone”) came about. You can look up the story of Boya and Zhong Ziqi if you like to know the full story.

[3]红花鬼母, Gongsun Daniang’s nickname, literally Red Flower Devil Mother.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 39 Silent Rivalry

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 39

Silent Rivalry

Ever since I got a new life, the only thing I wished for in this life was peace, so for over ten years I had lived, I had been controlling my emotions—consciously and unconsciously—and I rarely let myself mess around.

It felt like a long time since I acted out of impulse. My emotions took a roller-coaster ride. Although all my emotions were released as they rose and fell, I felt as if I was hollowed out. When I fell on the ground, my body cooled down, leaving only emptiness and silence. For a moment, I felt nothing mattered anymore as I lay there. I’m a speck of dust in the universe. What joy is in life, what pain is in death?

Until she came along.

Hearing that voice and looking at that figure, the sense of reality snapped back into my body.

But I felt no relief from being saved, even the heartwarming feeling of a reunion was just momentary, and anxiety and worry took over right after that.

I didn’t have to think to know how untimely Lian’er’s appearance was at that moment. With her temper…I didn’t dare to imagine. I turned to keep an eye on the reaction of the red flower dame next to me. When I caught a faint “eh,” my nerves tightened. I leaned forward and grabbed the dragon-head staff that was against my neck, speaking under my breath, “This is between you and me. Leave others out of it!”

“Oh? Who’s she? When you talk like this, she isn’t entirely irrelevant to you, is she?” The fine dame knew how strong I was, so she wasn’t concerned even when she saw me grabbing her staff. She didn’t even change her stance and scoffed, “You have a lot of friends, huh. It’s only been one night, but you’ve been getting help everywhere.”

“This isn’t a coincidence. She’s…she’s the real master of those two wolves,” I strained to answer as I endured my qi rolling in my body. Although my body was suffering, I didn’t bump my head. I knew what I should say and what not to say.

But I was afraid someone didn’t. 

After giving a brief answer to the red flower dame, I didn’t dare to dally much. I forced myself to hold half of my body up from the ground and shouted at the other side, “Lian…Miss Lian’er! I appreciate your kindness, but this person here…this person here is coming after me and Master. It has noth…nothing to do with you. I’m sorry that the wolves are hurt, but she’s too strong. You better not get invol…involved in this. The first thing is to take care of the wolves!”

This was all I could think of saying at the moment. It was meant for the red flower dame, as well as Lian’er, literally and figuratively. If I was lucky, I could keep her out of this and get the message to Master, killing two birds with one stone.

Unfortunately, man proposes, God disposes. I knew I had never been a lucky person.

Besides, Lian’er’s temper was there.

The implications in these words were clear enough. I didn’t believe she didn’t get it. But the truth was she just stood there, as if she didn’t hear it, and repeated, “I said stay away from her!”

That was when I knew we were in big trouble.

“Haha, Interesting.” It seemed to have sparked the red flower dame’s interest. She jerked her wrist, and the staff against my neck sank down a little more. Although my hand was grasping the staff, I felt my breath suddenly being choked off, uncontrollable groans escaping my throat. The red flower dame asserted, “I do what I want. Now I don’t want to stay away from her. What’re you going to do?”

As soon as she said that, I tried hard to take a breath under the weight and screamed, “Lian’er! Don’t!” But I couldn’t stop anything. She didn’t listen to me at all like the two wolves earlier. I saw the figure flicker, and there was wind storming over!

The wind swished by me, and the weight on my neck was suddenly lifted. I could hear the dame say with a little approval in her voice, “Your qinggong is good.” But her voice was already dozens of feet away.

I struggled to my feet, anxiously looking at the dark, but there was nothing I could help. I couldn’t even see clearly, let alone intervene in this fight. The heavy darkness lingered around as if it were dark fog. Coupled with the dizziness caused by my erratic qi flow, I could only see two shadows moving and crossing each other between the trees, no matter how much I focused. Sometimes it seemed unreal and sometimes real, hazy and indistinct.

My chest was burning. Even though I couldn’t see how the situation was, I knew very well that no matter how fast Lian’er martial arts had improved over the past two years, she could never compete with a person who could tie with Master. She might be able to hang on for a little while longer, but the ending was doomed. I wanted to tell her to run, but I was afraid not only that it wouldn’t work, but it would also distract her and lead to her defeat. 

It was at this moment I hated myself for being so powerless. I knew what would happen, but I could only watch it happen. 

After waiting helplessly and anxiously for a while, a muffled grunt came from the other side as expected, followed by the sound of branches cracking, and then a thud. 

“Lian’er!” Although I was expecting it, I was still shocked. I called her name as I stumbled towards where the sound came from.

Only when I came closer did I see a person lying in the grass. She kept holding up her body, trying to get up but to no avail. When I heard heavy breathing, almost to the point of being abnormal, I got worried. I rushed over and held her in my arms from the back. Then I knelt on the grass and got her up so that she could lean properly in my arms.

A long-awaited hug, yet it was in this way. I had no time to be sentimental. Even though she was so close that I could smell her familiar scent, I still couldn’t see clearly. The person in front of me was hazed by a veil of darkness, so blurry that I couldn’t even see her expression, let alone check on her. Holding her, all I knew was the body in my arms was trembling and twitching slightly, looking very uncomfortable.

“Lian’er! What’s wrong with you, Lian’er? What’s wrong? Tell me!” Panic flared up. I knew she would lose the fight but didn’t expect her to get hurt like this. I kept calling her, and what I heard was heavier and heavier breathing, as if she couldn’t spare the time to speak at all.

“Gongsun Daniang! What’ve you done to her!” I couldn’t get an answer from her, so I could only ask the one who did it.

Before Lian’er was injured and fell, the red flower dame had already landed calmly not far away. First, she was standing aside, watching casually as if enjoying a show.  When she heard me, she said with a snort, “Hmph, you ask me? I want to ask you too. You seem honest. I never expected you to be full of nonsense. You said she has nothing to do with you, but her martial arts style is clearly the same as yours!”

“She’d just been taught by Master before and learned a few moves,” I said, gritting my teeth. I knew the possibility of getting caught lying was high, but as long as there was a slight possibility, I wanted to keep her out of this. 

Sure enough, it didn’t work.

“Stop making excuses! Do you really think I’m an idiot? Her martial skills are obviously better than yours. That isn’t a level you can achieve with learning a few moves. How much longer do you want to cover for her?”

“Old hag!” At this moment, the person in my arms started to flail about, ignoring her heavy breathing that sounded like bellows, and rasped, “Do it if you dare! Do it now! Or else I won’t spare you next time!”

“Shut up!” I rapped out at Lian’er before the red flower dame blew up. I knew she wouldn’t listen, so I quickly reached out my hand and covered her mouth.

Lian’er was pissed off now. She couldn’t take it when I treated her this way. As soon as my hand covered her mouth, she opened her mouth and bit down without hesitation, and coincidentally, on that finger I used to write the message earlier. I just felt a sense of pressure, immediately followed by a pang of excruciating pain. I knew the wound was open again, but I had no time to care about it. I was still clasping her mouth, afraid that she would anger that woman.

Even so, it seemed like it was too late. 

When the red flower dame heard Lian’er’s bawl, she sniggered. After she was done, she said, “Haha, since you’ve said it, I feel like I should finish you off for good to save myself from future problems, right?”

As soon as she said that, I got a shiver and thought, I’m afraid this woman really wants to kill Lian’er given her peculiarity and wickedness. With our state like this, aren’t we just fishes on the chopping board? I was dismayed and said, “If you do that, I assure you, you’re never going to find out where my master is!”

“Oh?” She smiled, not affected by my intimidation. “One dead, there’s still one more, isn’t it? Or you wish to die with her?”

In the face of being pressed, I remained silent, looking as if I was hesitating, however, I was holding Lian’er and backing up little by little. I was sure the red flower dame had noticed it, but thanks to the darkness, she still had no idea what I was doing and just took it as a sign of fear. 

“You’re right!” When I finally came to the target place, the edge of the cliff where I had desperately tried to push her down, I replied seriously, hands tightly guarding the person who kept trembling in my arms, “If you do anything to Lian’er, I’ll leap off the cliff with her now, and I guarantee you won’t find our bodies! By that time, no one else in this world knows where our master lives, and you can take your unresolved feelings to the grave!”

“Hmph!” As if she felt she got played, she said sinisterly, her tone turning harsher, “Alright, if you dare to do so, I’ll go back and kill everyone in that village! Down to the very last of them!”

How ironic. I was wrong about her. She was wrong about me too. It turned out none of us were kind. 

Facing her threat, I smiled ruefully and said, “Haha, as you wish. I couldn’t even protect the most important person to me. I’m even about to give up my own life. Why do I even care now? Go ahead and do what you like. At the worst, I’ll wait for you in hell!”

The last sentence was like a curse before death. When I was done, I held Lian’er and kept a close eye on the shadowy figure in the dark. She was quick-tempered, so she would most likely go ballistic. I was thinking as soon as she moved, I would do what I said!

But after that, the air seemed to freeze.

The red flower dame didn’t blow up as I thought she would, and she didn’t come any closer either. After a moment of silence—I didn’t know if my response had caught her off guard or if she was playing some kind of game—she started to giggle. 

“Boring, boring indeed.” When she finally spoke, she said it frigidly, as if it was really boring. “Alright, alright. It’s getting late. I’ll stop teasing you two youngsters. I’m magnanimous. I’ll compromise a little. As if anyone cares about where she lives. One of you go get your master to come here and fulfill my wish, good enough?”

Such an answer was unexpected. I suspected there was something going on. “Do you think I still believe you after all this?” I said seriously, not daring to let down my guard for a moment. 

“What? You don’t have confidence in me, fine. But you don’t even have confidence in your own master? Or you think that master of yours will lose even when she comes? Instead of three people dying, it’s better just the two of you die together?”

When she mentioned that, I was a little tempted. Although I couldn’t fathom how strong this person in front of me was, I was still confident in Master’s martial skills. Even if what she said before was true, the two of them could fight for more than a hundred rounds neck and neck, that didn’t mean that Master would definitely lose to her, right?

I looked at Lian’er in my arms. Although I couldn’t see her face and injury, seeing her in such pain, I was afraid… If something happened to her, why bother alarming Master? Might as well…

Perhaps I had too much shock tonight, I didn’t know what to do. For a moment, negative emotions and thoughts flooded me and almost made me forget about the moment I was tempted. 

It was then the red flower dame sneered, probably because she saw my worry, “What? Are you worried about her? Don’t worry. It looks serious, but I just messed up her qi, and now her neigong[1] and the flow of her qi is disrupted. Of course, she has trouble breathing. It’s nothing serious. If you promise me, I can fix her right away.”

Now I could see some hope. Almost without thinking, I raised my head and said firmly, “Okay! You fix her. I’ll stay here with you, and she’ll go get Master. I’ll give you my word!”

I wasn’t sure if this person was still trustworthy or not. Maybe making promises with her was just like making a pact with the devil, but now, relieving Lian’er’s pain was the priority. I personally felt it wasn’t a loss to make that deal. I wasn’t afraid of death, what else was there to fear? 

She didn’t say much. Seeing that I agreed, she sauntered over and crouched down. Pa, pa, pa, speedily, she jabbed on Lian’er body a few times. Then she stood up and said as she clapped her hands, “Done.”

I felt the person in my arms spasm a few times, and the twitching abated. After a while, she seemed to be struggling, trying to stand up. I didn’t dare to let her move by herself, so I stood up together with her, half carrying, half holding her up. When she caught her breath, she snarled, “I’m going to kill you!” She was about to lunge at her as she said that. 

Fortunately, I was quick this time. I held her and burst out, “Lian’er! Lian’er! Wait a minute!” When I saw she ignored me, I was angry and worried, as if a fire was burning in me. I couldn’t help but hoot, “Lian’er! Do you wish me dead!”

With this hoot, the person beside me jolted and stopped, standing right there without a word.

I couldn’t see her face. I was afraid it would evoke an even stronger emotional backlash from her after a moment of silence, so I quickly softened up and held her hand, crooning, “If you know you can’t win and still want to fight, fine. I’ll die with you. No big deal. But if you don’t want us to die for no reason, then go see Master, tell her everything, and let her decide, okay?”

Still no response. I stood there, holding her. I couldn’t see her reaction because of the dark, and I knew the woman must be watching from the side. While I was thinking about what to do, fearing that something might happen, the person in front of me moved. 

This time, Lian’er didn’t do anything reckless. She just turned around slowly and looked at me. In the dark, it was as if looking at a flower in the fog when I looked at her. I couldn’t even meet her eyes, yet I could clearly feel her blazing gaze. Suddenly, there was the sound of cloth tearing, and my hand was lifted. Something was wrapping around my index finger, bandaging the wound on it. When everything was done, she remained silent, dropped my hand, turned around, and was about to walk away. 

That was when the red flower dame who had been watching at a side chimed in. 

“Hold on!” She shouted and strolled over. “On second thought, I still don’t think I can trust you guys. I’m not at an advantage by doing that. What if this kid never returns, and you won’t budge, won’t I be in trouble by that time?”

“What exactly do you want?” I asked, frowning. I knew she wouldn’t let us go so easily, but I didn’t know what she was trying to pull.

Then I saw a hand reaching out from the dark, and when it reached Lian’er, it opened up. A small white pill was on top, glimmering in the dark. 

“Take this,” The woman said casually as if what she asked someone to take was just candy. “This white pill won’t kill you right away, but if you don’t return in 30 minutes, you’ll die of poison. Only the antidote I have can save you. That’s enough time for you to get someone, right?”

Lian’er gave no response. She just snorted and reached out her hand, wanting to grab it.

At this moment, I should be glad that we were close to each other and even gladder that the pill was white, so I could see where it precisely was. These two points made things easy for me. 

That was why I could step forward, grab the pill, and swallow it before Lian’er could. 

“She just got hurt, and she has to use her qi on her way. I don’t want her to take this kind of thing. You don’t believe her, I do. If she doesn’t return in 30 minutes, I’ll give you my life.”


[1]Neigong- The cultivated energy within a martial artist’s body. Martial artists use this energy to attain skills such as superhuman strength, speed, stamina, durability and healing. Reference: Wikipedia

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