Category: The Witch Nichang (Page 1 of 9)

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 86 In the Cave

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 86

In the Cave

Sometimes, I don’t know what I am to her and what place I have in her heart. Perhaps I am both family and a friend to her, but there’s certainly no concept of seniority and the corresponding respect that usually comes with it. Even so, I thought I’d at least be some kind of a sister to her, but I have never thought that one day she would be ruffling my hair, smiling and treating me like a child. 

So how does Lian’er see me?

Her aggravatingly amusing behavior left me bewildered once more. Normally, I would have pondered over it, but this time, I didn’t have the luxury to do so. Growing up, I had always treated Lian’er with compassion and reason. If reason was on her side, there was basically nothing I could do about her. In the end, all I could do was watch her white figure slowly descending into the uncertain depths of the cave. 

Before that, I had fashioned a torch with dried branches and reeds found on the ground, lit it up, and gave it to her. Perhaps because it was small, it wasn’t good enough for her. She rolled her eyes and said she didn’t need it. I wasn’t in the mood to get around her, so I said seriously, “It’s not for you to light your way. If the torch goes out without any wind after you enter the cave, you must turn back immediately even if there’s nectar or holy well in front of you. Bear that in mind!”

It was something I had to warn her, for her safety, but at the same time, I was worried about how to explain it to her. To my surprise, Lian’er didn’t ask more questions after that. She just looked at the torch, then at me, and said, raising an eyebrow, “Where did you learn this from?” When she saw me nod, she smiled blithely and took the torch. Without saying anything more, she bent down and went into the cave. 

She descended into the cave without making a sound. Even a stone would have made some noise rolling down. There was only a small soft glow quietly illuminating the narrow walls around. Everywhere it passed, the darkness temporarily gave way and reunited as the light faded, and eventually, cut it off from my sight. 

As the thick veil of darkness sealed off everything around, I felt a sense of being engulfed. I patted my face and told myself to stay calm, then sat down crossed-leg amidst the reeds by the cave, counting seconds and watching them tick away. Waiting infinitely was a torture. 

As I counted in my mind, my hands were idly plucking at the dried reeds. The soft snap of each reed was the only sound aside from my breath. The surrounding was quiet, not even the sound of wind could be heard, no insects chirping in the grass. Save for the twinkling stars in the night sky, everything in the world seemed to have frozen in time. 

As the time passed, I lost track of my counting. I messed it up. Is it nine hundred and sixty-five or six hundred and ninety-five? Had it been ten minutes or fifteen minutes? I was cold and thirsty. I had spare clothes in my bag in case my clothes were torn, but the fur coat that was buried in the sand was my only coat. I hadn’t felt cold before while I was moving. Now that I had stopped, the chill began to seep into my bones. 

Sitting with my arms folded, a sudden wave of panic swept over me. It was only when I was alone in this vast world that I clearly realized that I was in the heart of the boundless desert. With the horizon out of sight, only panic was left in me. 

This world to me was nothing more than a vast desert. Initially, I was looking for an oasis to take shelter in, but without knowing, I had redefined the very notion of an oasis. 

Life goes on. When I heard the sudden news of Master’s passing, I was gutted, but the feeling faded eventually. If anything happened to Lian’er, I…

I kneaded my forehead, trying to stop myself from spiraling. It was just torturing myself to think about the worst case scenario at moments like this. It was best to keep those thoughts away. Exhaling, I stood up, wanted to move around to warm up my body. I didn’t dare to stray too far, just pacing back and forth near the cave entrance, keeping a close eye on any movement inside.

I touched my water pouch a few times, but I decided not to drink from it. If we could find water, there would be no rush. If we couldn’t find water, all the more reason not to rush. 

Compared to whether we can find water, what I was looking forward to now was to see Lian’er leap out of the cave, or at least heard some noise from her. But reality seemed to go against my hope. The more anxiously I waited, the more I didn’t hear anything. When my thoughts scrambled, I stopped counting the seconds. Even so, it must have been almost twenty minutes by now. 

Unable to sit still anymore, I returned to the sandstone wall and crouched down. Taking a deep breath, I shouted into the black hole, “Lian’er—” My voice echoed down. I listened closely, but there was no response, so I tried again, “Lian’er, don’t force it. If you couldn’t find it, come back up. It’s not like this is the only way. There’s no need to risk it!”

A moment after I shouted that, I finally heard the long-awaited response, or more precisely, some noise. But that nearly scared the soul out of me because it was faint but clearly a scream! It made me jump reflexively, but then I immediately crouched down again, lying prone at the edge of the entrance, shouting what happened into the cave at the top of my lungs. I remembered the last time I heard a sound like this was on that snowy night when I first met her. She was intimidated by Master when she let out a terror-filled shriek like this!

No matter how loudly I shouted, there was no response from inside. It felt as if something was lurking in the dark, waiting for prey to come close. 

When I didn’t receive a response, I turned around, anxiously grabbing a handful of dried reeds and hastily coiling them in my hand. Before I could make anything out of it, I threw them aside. Without any preparations, I turned and threw myself into the unknown darkness. 

If there was something that even Lian’er couldn’t handle, then any preparation would be useless. I might as well get buried in the pit with her!

Stepping into the dark with this determined thought, I didn’t care to be careful, almost half-falling down the cave. This erosional passage turned out to be narrower and steeper than I thought. The slope beneath my feet was akin to a slide with a rough surface, and the ceiling was less than half a meter from my head. Occasionally, there were one or two stalactites grazing my head and bumping my arms that were over my head. 

With one hand protecting my head, I fumbled with the other hand on the wall to keep my balance. I couldn’t avoid a few scratches and bruises in the pitch-black darkness, but it was nothing serious. Although the steep and narrow passage was treacherous, it was consistent. As I descended, the slope and width of the cave remained pretty much the same. There were occasionally a few winding turns, but I managed to stumble through them. 

With my nerves on edge, my sense of time grew hazy, so when the slope leveled out and my feet landed on the flat ground, I wasn’t sure how long it had taken me to get down here, let alone how deep I had fallen into the cave. 

The tilting feeling was gone, but the cave still felt narrow. In the dark, the only sound was my own labored breathing. The narrow passage made the sound feel stifled. I knelt on the ground and took out a flame stick to get some light but realized I couldn’t light it. It was because of the high humidity in the air that it wouldn’t light. I could even faintly hear the sound of water. 

But where was the water? More importantly, where was she? 

I couldn’t see, so I had to rely on my hands. Carefully, I felt my surroundings. As I suspected, it was a very cramped place. There was barely enough room to stand. I could touch every wall around me just by moving around a little. 

Stones. The walls were nothing but damp, slippery stones, and what’s more crucial was that, apart from the narrow passage behind me that had led me down, there seemed to be no other way out. This place felt like an enclosed space. 

If it weren’t for an object I felt on the ground, I might have thought I missed some fork on my way down. What I found on the ground was a short, slim dry object. Holding it in my hand, I could feel it was short and smelled burnt when I held it up to my nose. This should be… the remains of the torch I had given to Lian’er before she entered the cave. 

She had been here, but then what? She couldn’t have vanished into thin air, could she? 

Filled with confusion, I once again explored every inch of this space, leaving no stone unturned. This time, I finally felt a small horizontal gap near the edge of the furthest wall. It felt like a crevice, long but rather narrow, barely wide enough for a thin person to squeeze through while lying down. If that person was slightly bigger, there was a risk of getting stuck. But when I cocked my head toward this crevice, I could clearly hear the gurgling sound of water coming from inside. 

“Lian’er—”

Despite not knowing what was going on and with all my caution, I couldn’t help but call into the crevice, “Lian’er, are you in there? Can you hear me? Can you answer me?”

At first, there was no response, just the vibrations from my voice. Based on the resonance, it seemed like there was some space on the other side, perhaps even more spacious than where I was. After a couple more calls, I heard a brief faint sound. It was hard to discern, but it was definitely a human voice!

Who else could be here besides myself? My heart leaped with joy, and I was filled with hope. Without saying anything, I lay down and squeezed into the crevice with all my force. The crevice was as tight as I anticipated. I could feel my bones groaning with pain. I had to breathe in and out and relax my body as best as I could to squirm my way through little by little. When my hips had safely squeezed through the crevice, I flipped over and tumbled into the water. 

The water wasn’t deep, just a shallow pool. It wouldn’t go over my head even if I was lying flat on the ground. In my haste to get up, I forgot to gauge the space above me. So, I almost bumped my head on a stalactite hanging down from the ceiling before I could stand up straight.  

A soft, snorting sound came from the dark, sounding like… a laugh? 

“Lian’er?” I widened my eyes in confusion and looked in that direction, “Lian’er, is that you?”

There shouldn’t be anyone else here, and even if there were, in this pitch-black darkness, they couldn’t have seen that embarrassing scene just now, let alone laughed. 

I asked but received no answer. In the pitch-black space, there was only the sound of water and breathing. 

But it wasn’t just my breathing.

Collecting myself, I lowered my body and walked towards that direction hunching. The ceiling was getting lower. Before long, I had to crawl in the water on my knees and hands, but as I went on, the gurgling sound of water was getting louder. It was the sound of water streaming down and washing against the rock wall. It was the source of this pool of water. And also the source of the other set of breathing. 

As I slowly moved closer and reached out, I finally touched a warm presence. She was at the end of the water, half-leaning against the solid rock wall behind her. The gurgling stream flowed down next to her, like a kind of light shower. “Lian’er?” Uncertainly, I called her, but still no response, only the steady sound of her breathing. Since I couldn’t get an answer, I could only find out with my hands. 

Considering the limited height in this place, I could only crawl to her while taking care not to squash her. I reached out with caution. Her sword was sitting snugly on her right, undrawn. I flipped her wrist that was in the water. Her pulse was normal. Nothing was bent weirdly. Her waist and abdomen seemed unharmed. Even as I leaned in to sniff, apart from her familiar scent, there was no unusual smell like blood or anything of the sort. The more I examined, the greater my confusion. Carefully, I continued to feel upward, and when I cradled her face and felt around, I froze. 

I froze, not because of anything bad. The place my fingers brushed felt smooth, no signs of injury. It’s just…

It’s just… the corners of her lips. She was definitely smiling. 

A realization struck me, and I blinked, slowly letting go of her face. I frowned and said, “Lian’er, are you kidding me?” Even as I said that, I was still in disbelief. But the truth was the best answer. The person beneath me suddenly stirred. A splash, and I felt a tug on my back. 

In the dark, I couldn’t see her face, but I heard her cheerful voice, tinged with amusement saying, “What? Are you worried?” In that instant, I heaved a sigh of relief. But the moment I let out that sigh, a surge of anger rose. 

I wanted to pull away, but a pair of arms tightened on my back. There was no way I could get away. I scowled, and as I was about to speak, the amused voice continued, “Getting mad already? Hmph, now you know how it feels to worry about someone. Doesn’t feel good, huh?”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 85 Desert Night

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 85

Desert Night

Beneath the starry sky, a chiseled sand ridge spanned into the distance, disappearing into the endless night.

Walking through the desert, you could choose not to go in a straight path, but it was crucial to stay on the sand ridge, preferably the ridge of the tallest sand dune because only by standing on the highest point could you overlook the whole terrain and find your direction. 

I shared this little tip with Lian’er before we set off, and she nodded and said, “Mm, I thought so too.”

Lian’er wasn’t someone who would go along with others for the sake of it. If she said so, she genuinely thought so. For most people, knowledge came from experience, but for her, it seemed to come from her innate intuition, perhaps she was what they called a gifted person. I was used to it, so I just smiled and didn’t say much more. 

Old Tie had wanted to come with us. His neigong was powerful. Although his qinggong wasn’t as good as Lian’er’s, it wouldn’t necessarily be worse than mine. He didn’t insist in the end, probably because before we set off, I had whispered to him, “Please keep an eye on the caravan.”

Old Tie might be willing to risk his life waiting for us, but the same couldn’t be said for those guides. Besides, Lian’er had terrified them earlier. If anything happened, who knew if they would take the camels and flee? It’s always wise to be cautious, and I had always followed this principle almost instinctively.

After that, it was a night-long journey. 

For most people, climbing up the steep crests of sand dunes over and over was an incredibly strenuous task. Fortunately, it wasn’t so much of a challenge for the two of us. The qinggong I had put in hours to practice when I was young came in handy tonight. With all my effort, I managed to keep up with her. 

Lian’er and I sped through the desert in tandem. To be safe, we maintained a distance of about ten feet between us and only came closer to talk when we stopped to determine our direction. It was easy to lose your way in the desert, so we made these stops every so often. 

Without any navigation tools, our orientation relied solely on my limited knowledge. Fortunately, my past experiences were still fresh in my mind. The desert night sky was full of stars. It wasn’t difficult to find a reliable anchor point. Combined with the information I got from the guides, it wasn’t too difficult to make sound choices. 

As for Lian’er, she couldn’t explain the reasoning behind her choices, but when we cross-checked our choices, hers often aligned closely with mine. Even when there were discrepancies sometimes, they were minuscule. 

Whenever this happened, she would insist I listen to her, and as long as there wasn’t any major problem, I would go along with her. 

But as the saying goes, “a minor detail can make a world of difference.” Despite Lian’er’s confidence, no one could be sure they were absolutely right. 

“Lian’er, could you—cough—wait a moment?”

When we reached the end of yet another sinuous blade-like sand ridge, I tilted my head and let out a cough. I stopped after giving her a heads-up. Except for the brief pauses to reorient ourselves, we had been traversing the desert for more than four hours without stopping. Now, the moon hung high in the sky, and the night was deep, so I said, “Judging by the distance we’ve covered, we should be… close to our destination, right? We can’t just keep going ahead blindly.” After saying that, I gasped out a few muffled coughs. The night was cold in the desert. Even though my body was steaming and not feeling cold thanks to running through the desert, the cold air that I breathed in made my throat scratchy. 

“Yeah, you’re right.” Compared to my breathless self, the girl a few steps ahead was in an entirely different state. After answering me, she leaped to the ridge’s highest point in a few jumps and looked around before coming back down and said, “All I see around here is sand, nothing else, but there’s a taller sand dune not far away. We can head over there to get a better look.”

I was catching my breath, so I couldn’t respond right away. I just nodded after looking in the direction she was pointing. Then I straightened up my back and when I was about to say “let’s go,” she continued, “Before that, let’s take a break. Tired.”

Tired? I lifted my head in confusion, but I saw Lian’er had already sat down and was reaching for her water pouch at her waist. How could she be tired? She didn’t seem to be out of breath. Unless…

When I realized what she was doing, I smiled knowingly, walked over, and sat down beside her. 

Tired indeed. She wasn’t referring to herself when she said that. 

I chuckled, but Lian’er paid me no mind and started gulping down her water. After a few hearty swigs, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and held out her pouch in front of me, “Drink up.” Well, that was straightforward. 

We were sitting quite close to each other, and when she held out the water to me, it nearly touched my lips. I had to lean back slightly to see her eyes over the leather pouch. Then I shook my head and grinned, “It’s okay. I still have plenty left in mine.”

To prove my point, I gave the water pouch at my waist a little shake as I said that. It made a swishing sound that indicated it was still half full. To my surprise, Lian’er arched her brows at the sound, brought the pouch even closer, and quipped, “I know you have plenty left. You haven’t taken a single sip since the black wind started. Of course, you have plenty left. Do you plan on dying of thirst together with that pouch? Drink up!”

I didn’t expect her to be so observant. For a moment, I was speechless. I was a little happy that she was caring for me, so I didn’t turn down her offer and took the water pouch, my lips quietly curling. 

The freshwater, carried around for days, had lost its sweetness, but it was the most precious thing right now. I brought the pouch to my lips and took a small sip, wetting my lips. Then I pretended to swallow a few times before moving the pouch away and gave it back to her, smiling.

I wasn’t sure if Lian’er noticed. She didn’t say anything when she took the pouch back and just glanced at me, her expression seemingly changing, but in the end, she just said, “Let’s go and keep looking.” With that, she stood up, twisted the cap tight, and hung it at her waist before striding off. 

I felt a sense of relief and quickly got to my feet, following her as we continued our journey. 

We set off again after a short break. Our destination was the “taller sand dune” that Lian’er had mentioned. It stood further north, its slope as steep as if sliced by a knife. Especially when viewed from the base, the peak seemed to reach the sky. If anyone were to hike it, they might have to spiral up the slope, otherwise, it would be almost impossible to reach. 

Even for martial arts practitioners who know qinggong, this place will separate the good ones from the bad ones. The slope was too steep. As soon as you stepped on it, the sand would either dip or slide. It was difficult to get a solid footing. I had to walk in zigzag to make my way up, but it was less of a hassle for Lian’er. I watched as she leaped effortlessly up the steepest side of the sand dune. In a few leaps, she vanished over the top of the sand dune. 

Because of that, by the time I reached the top of the sand ridge, she had already been standing there for quite some time.

Looking at the girl who stood facing in one direction from afar, my heart sank for a moment. I walked silently to her side. Following her gaze, I saw something peculiar at the bottom of the sand dune.

It looked like a sunken pit, oval in shape, medium size. In the bright moonlight, it seemed dark and lifeless. Surrounded by the sun bleached sand, it formed a stark contrast. 

There were some black shapeless objects around the edge of the pit, scattered around in the sand. They seemed to be some sort of reeds. There was even a small poplar tree among the things that lay toppled around the pit’s edge. Looking down from here, everything lying peacefully beneath the starry sky, it seemed exceptionally desolate. 

Sometimes, what you fear the most becomes a reality. After a moment, I sighed and said, “If this is the small lake that the guide mentioned, it seems like we’ve wasted our time.”

“Not quite…”

Surprisingly, she shook her head and voiced her disagreement, “I can smell water here.”

After that, Lian’er stomped her foot and launched into the air. Like a shooting star streaking across the sky, she landed by the dark pit in the blink of an eye. I naturally followed her, and going down was far easier than coming up. In just a couple of leaps, I was on the ground. 

The pit was about a person deep. The ground around it was firmer than the path we came from, not as loose, even with some small rocks mixed in. I crouched down, grabbed a handful of sand, and rubbed it in my hand. Shaking my head, I said, “It’s dry.”

“Let’s try another spot,” said Lian’er in a low voice. As we moved towards the center, there were more rocks, and the sand was getting grittier. After a while, I crouched down again, cleared away a few small rocks, and grabbed the sand beneath, rubbing it in my hand once more. This time, it felt a little different. 

“It’s a bit damp… it might be worth a try,” I turned to Lian’er and said, afraid to get my hopes up too early, then I drew the short sword at my waist. Using it as a shovel, I started digging into the ground. 

Although the ground here felt a bit firmer than the other places, it was still mostly sand. It was easy to dig, and the further I dug, the wetter the sand was, and the color of the sand began to darken.

But it seemed like that was it even when I continued to dig. 

Just when I was wondering if I hadn’t dug deep enough, Lian’er pulled me up. “Okay,” Lian’er said. “Even if we manage to dig until we get water, what good would that bit of mucky water do? It won’t even make up for all your hard work. Let’s stop.”

“What should we do then?” I asked her, my brows furrowed. Lian’er shook her head, not answering, and started to stroll around. The dried-up lake wasn’t huge. As I followed behind her, I noticed she seemed to be looking for something. 

Perhaps because I believe in her keen intuition, I had my hopes up on what she said about smelling water, which was why I started digging earlier. When she stopped me and I saw her searching around, not giving up, I was willing to go along with her even though I didn’t know what she was looking for. We had come this far anyway, what worse could happen to stay for a little longer?

After sauntering about for a while, the girl’s eyes suddenly lit up under the moonlight, then I heard, “Over there!” There was joy in her voice. She took my hand and ran toward that direction. 

Over there was a cluster of dried reeds by the lake, lying flat against the sandstone wall that stood about waist-high. They looked no different from the surrounding reeds. I was dragged along, confused. I couldn’t see anything unusual when we got close, not until Lian’er reached out and parted the reeds that I noticed in the bright moonlight, there seemed to be something darker beneath the sprawling, bleached, dried reeds. 

Lian’er reached out and plucked one of them. “It’s green. It’s alive.”

Reminded by her words, I bent down and grabbed a handful of the sand, but when I held them in my hand, there wasn’t a single hint of dampness. “Strange…” Unconvinced, I parted the dense reeds myself and touched the sandstone wall behind to find that beneath a thin layer of sand was a hard rock, but when I parted it further, I leaped to my feet and took a step back.

“What’s wrong?” Lian’er was looking elsewhere, but she immediately came to me when she saw me back up, her hand poised to draw her sword. 

“No, nothing,” I answered as I smiled and shook my head, getting a grip of myself. I patted her hand which held the sword and bent over to part the dense reeds again. I gestured for her to come and take a look, “It’s just that it startled me a little to see a hole like this so suddenly.”

It was a dark hole at the bottom of the sandstone wall, almost flush to the ground. The opening was quite small, and it was covered by layers of fallen, dried reeds, so it wasn’t visible without clearing them away. 

Lian’er didn’t want to get through the reeds, so she drew her sword and cleared the obstructing reeds with a few swipes. Then, she bent over to take a look and said flatly, “This is the right spot. It’s the dampest here. There should be water underneath. I’ll go take a look.”

Lian’er was a decisive person. After saying that, she stood up and lifted her robe, about to jump. I panicked and grabbed her hand, saying, “Hold on, you said you want to go down there?” When she nodded, I held on to her tighter, afraid to let her go. With my other hand, I groped for a rock on the ground and tossed it into the tight hole, which was just wide enough to fit a person.

As the rock dropped into the hole, I could hear the rock rolling down the hole in the dark, falling deeper and deeper, until eventually, there was no sound to be heard.

“Do you still want to go down there?” I asked with a serious face. She nodded and said as if there was nothing wrong, “I’m not a rock. I could move around. There might be water down there. It’s the water that you were trying to find, digging three feet into the ground just now. You can’t be giving up now? Hmm?”

I had to admit, Lian’er had a valid point. 

After hesitating for a bit, I clenched my teeth and said as I stood up, “Then, I’ll go. You stay up here and wait for me.”

The circumstances left me with no choice. I had to do it. I didn’t know how deep the hole was going to be, and how dangerous it could be. Instead of waiting and being tortured by my imagination, I might as well go down and check it out myself. 

As soon as I said that, Lian’er let out a chuckle. She narrowed her eyes and glanced at me. “You going down? Tell me, how is it better? Is your qinggong better than me? Or are you stronger than me? No way on earth. Besides, it must be pitch-black inside. You wouldn’t be able to see a thing, would you?”

I couldn’t say anything to that, and for the first time in my life, I found myself utterly incapable of arguing against this child. 

Right, I forgot again. She wasn’t a child anymore. 

Perhaps she reveled in rendering me speechless. Toward the end, Lian’er reached out and ruffled my hair. She smiled and said, “You be good and stay here. Just wait for me to come back.”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 84 Standstill

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 84

Standstill

When the night fell upon the desert, the sandstorm finally abated. 

The air grew still, and the moon looked cleansed, pieces of shining stones adorned around it. The sand haze was nowhere to be seen. 

It was exactly because of that the moonlight tonight was exceptionally bright, cascading from the sky, casting long shadows over us, playing out every movement of ours on the ground, which made me feel somewhat self-conscious when I was changing behind the camel. 

I was probably the only one who was bothered by it. A rustling sound came from behind me. Lian’er was also changing. Listening to her moving around unhesitatingly, I knew that she probably didn’t care about the shadows. 

She changed because she had been in the sand; I changed because… well, let’s just say all my clothes had been put to good use.

We returned to the group when the sandstorm was almost cleared. Lian’er had driven away the group that came to look for us and escorted me back alone. At that time, she was covered in sand, and I had nothing on but her robe. We were both a mess. She didn’t try to be subtle. As soon as we got back, she shooed the group of men away from the camel and pulled me behind the camel.

Although the sandstorm had died down a lot, I was worried she had gone overboard. Strangely, the others obeyed without much protest. Even the hot-tempered Old Tie didn’t say much and went along with it, smiling. He only seemed a little abashed when he glanced in my direction. 

Perhaps… he had caught a glimpse of me. With a touch of unease, I scratched my face. Though it was embarrassing, it didn’t bother me much. After all, I had my back turned to them, and he most likely just saw my back. I could think of it as having a sunbath on a beach at a seaside resort. 

I comforted myself with these thoughts as I changed, shivering and half-kneeling on the ground. Removing the sand from my body was quite a hassle. I thought I had shaken off most of it, but when the soft silk cloth touched my skin, I immediately felt a gritty sensation on my back. I had to take it off again, reaching behind to brush my back. 

Just then, I felt a warm touch on my back, and I flinched at the unexpected contact. A voice behind me said, “Don’t move.” So, I stayed still. 

It felt like a palm, soft, smooth, and dry, brushing back and forth on my back like a warm breeze, and then, it was gone. A voice said beside me, “Done.” With that word, a figure brushed past me and walked around the camel, going off without a backward glance. 

Ever since we escaped the quicksand, Lian’er had been in a foul mood. I pulled on my clothes and went after her. She didn’t go far, sitting against the other side of the resting camel, her elbow propping on the luggage next to her and her head resting on her hand, staring at the sky. There was no expression on her face, but there was a sense of… melancholy. 

“What’s wrong?” I moved closer and sat down next to her, cautiously breaking the silence. I received an ambiguous glance in response, and after throwing me that look, Lian’er pursed her lips, let out a nearly inaudible grunt, and gazed lazily back at the night sky without saying anything.

I was like talking to thin air. Forcing a smile, I looked down and scooped up a handful of sand, watching as the sand slipped through my fingers. She had truly grown up. It was becoming harder and harder to know and guess what she was thinking. Although this realization had crossed my mind before, this time, I felt it in my heart. 

If it weren’t for the inconvenient circumstances at that time, she might have actually acted on what she said. Curling up in her arms, I could feel that chilling intent flowing through her. I wasn’t sure if she would have attacked Old Tie, but those two guides would never have gotten out of it. 

Fortunately, Old Tie was quick on his feet. Sensing trouble, he pulled everyone back and walked away, and I used needing help with blocking me as an excuse to hold her back. This way, we managed to put her off. Then, Lian’er had been in a bad mood since, and I wasn’t sure what put her in that mood.

If I had to guess, the most possible reason seemed to be that they had seen my… erm… bare back when they came looking for us. Lian’er probably knew that better than me. She was facing in their direction at that time, and her eyesight was the best of us. 

But if I thought about it, it didn’t seem to make sense. Lian Nichang was no ordinary woman. Because of her unique childhood and our Master’s teachings, she had never cared about showing some skin, let alone it was another person’s. Even if she did mind, she would take her revenge. If she couldn’t do that, she wouldn’t hold a grudge for long. 

Could it be because of my reckless act of chasing after the water earlier? But that didn’t seem right either… Or maybe because I failed to retrieve the water? But that shouldn’t be something she’d sulk on… 

As I turned everything that happened in the past half-day over and over in my mind, I still couldn’t figure out what could be bothering this usually straightforward girl for so long. Could this be what they mean by “can’t see the forest for the trees?”

I sat by her side, second-guessing everything. Something just didn’t add up. In the end, I could even taste my own frustration. 

While we sat together in silence, not far off, there came the sound of commotion. There was a fire. Old Tie and the two guides had been sitting by the fire talking, probably discussing the way to deal with this turn of events, but for some reason, the discussion had grown heated, their voices getting louder, then it escalated into what sounded like an argument. 

The noise caught my attention, reminding me that I shouldn’t be only thinking about myself and should care about the situation we were in. I turned to look at Lian’er and saw that she was looking at me too. We got up almost at the same time and walked to them, one after another. 

As she approached with confidence, the two guides who were the loudest both seemed to shrink back, their voices noticeably softer. It seemed that her menacing tough talk had left a mark on them, and Lian’er shot a glare at them, apparently still holding a grudge. 

Afraid that it became too tense, I quickly stepped forward, inserting myself between them. I looked at Tie Feilong with an amiable smile and said, “Sir, what’s going on? You guys are so loud that I could hear your voices over there. Is there something you can’t agree on?”

Old Tie must have known that I was trying to defuse the situation. He grinned and promptly took over the conversation, changing the topic, and said as he stroked his beard, “Indeed, we have different opinions on the matter of water. Three brains can’t even come up with a good idea. So, as you can see, we started arguing.”

I had known that they would be worried about the water situation since it was the top priority at the moment. I didn’t join in the conversation earlier partly because of Lian’er and partly because I felt guilty. After all, I didn’t manage to retrieve the water and nearly did myself in instead. The little fresh water left in our pouches was all we had now. In the vast desert, it was an emergency. 

Naturally, the two guides were panicking about this situation. After discussing it together, they each proposed a solution. The older one suggested we doubled back to Daze Lake with the little water we had left. Doing so would undoubtedly make the three-day return journey excruciatingly difficult, having to endure the thirst, possibly even getting heatstroke, but it offered a higher chance of survival and was safer. 

The younger guide, however, had a different idea. He claimed that heading northeast for approximately a day would lead us to a small freshwater lake. The lake’s water was crisp and refreshing. With plants surrounding the lake, it was easy to spot in the vast desert, but it was slightly off the main route, so not a lot of people knew about it. If we made the detour and filled our pouches, our crisis would be averted, and also, spared ourselves the trouble of doubling back. 

“I guarantee, my friend!” The young man with facial features of a mixed-race emphasized while Old Tie was explaining, “My buddies and I dropped by there a little over a year ago. The deepest part of the lake then was over our heads. Even with the unpredictable weather in the desert, it must still be there. Why should we go through the trouble of going back again, letting all we had been through go to waste.”

When he said that, the old guide seemed furious. Exasperated, he grabbed him and started sputtering at him in the local dialect. The younger guide retorted without backing down. Even though I didn’t understand what they were saying, I knew what they were arguing about. Old Tie rubbed his hands helplessly, and eventually, shrugged with open palms, and said to me, resigned, “See, one wants to go back, the other wants to continue, and both of them make sense. I’m in a tough spot.”

Once I understood the whole situation, I began to feel conflicted as well. If we went with the old guide, we would most likely survive, but it would be extremely tough. The risks were high too, and all the effort we put in the past few days would be in vain. If we listened to the young man, venturing off the main route for a day, it would be great if we made it, but the risk of things going wrong, like not being able to find the lake or discover that the lake had dried up, was what worried me the most. 

After thinking it over, Old Tie and I fell silent, and the two guides stood their ground, the conversation coming into a standstill. Right then, a firm voice came from behind us. 

“What’s so difficult about this?”

Wheeling around in surprise, the one speaking was the girl I shielded behind me. Lian’er stepped forward with her hands behind her back. Seeing that we were all looking at her, she flashed a radiant smile as if she had forgotten her foul mood earlier and said with an arch brow, “Why are you all fussing over such a simple matter? Isn’t it just a matter of not being sure whether the lake was still there? It’s simple. If it takes a whole day to reach there on camelback, the round trip would take me about one night if I go alone at full speed. We can make the decision after I’ve checked it out. Easy peasy.”

The two guides looked bewildered at her words. They didn’t quite grasp what she meant, but Old Tie knew. His face brightened up, but after a bit of thought, frowned, and said, “No, no. Everywhere looks the same in the desert. You don’t know your way around. If you get lost, where can I find another daughter? No, no!”

“Then you don’t know me, father.” Lian’er didn’t get offended at his words but smiled and said, “I grew up on the peak of Mount Hua. Who knows how many times I’ve navigated through the dense forest. When did I ever get lost? Just think about today. Who found her faster than I did? Father, you shouldn’t underestimate me.”

The old man wasn’t giving in either. He waved his hand and said, “Hey, who would underestimate you, the Jade Rakshasa. It’s just that the forest is the forest, and the desert is the desert. They aren’t the same. So what if you found her? Can one mile and ten miles be the same?”

This time, the guides weren’t arguing, it was this father and daughter who started to argue, half-serious, half jokingly. Both refused to back down. I was used to seeing this, so I didn’t pay them much mind. While they were at it, I went to the guides and asked about the details, especially from the young man. I made a mental note of the information I got and made sure I had it all correct before returning to the bickering pair who seemed to be enjoying themselves and separated them. 

“Alright, alright, sir.” I stepped between them and said to Old Tie first, “Actually, there’s some truth to what Lian’er is saying. Instead of sitting and waiting, being indecisive, it might be better to make the most of this night and tackle the problem head-on.”

When she saw me taking her side, she suddenly perked up, as if she had forgotten what happened before. Grinning, she took my hand. Old Tie was unconvinced. He said as his eyes widened, “Zhu’er, are you seriously letting her go? You’ve always been the most protective of her, like she’s your baby. How come you’re not worried now? This is a desert. You won’t get her back if you lose her!”

Old Tie’s words, seemingly slipped out of him, made my ears warm. Thanks to the dark sky, probably no one had seen them flushed.

After getting a hold of myself and the heat had come down, I squeezed Lian’er’s hand and cleared my throat before saying seriously, “I won’t lose her. If she goes, I’ll go with her. We’ll get lost together if we are going to get lost.”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 83 Rope

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 83

Rope

In a way, when Lian’er was angry, she never threatened people. She liked to flaunt her strength, but she didn’t bother with throwing empty threats to do that. She was serious when she said that. Behind her every word, there was her determination to follow through when the time was right. 

It was precisely because I understood her that I knew the weight of her words. 

Was it worth it?

The rush of frustration and anger that had surged within me ebbed away like a tide. Amidst the howling wind, my mind cleared. I thought perhaps it had taken me aback. I didn’t know what to say, just staring at the girl who was sneering, but I couldn’t stare for long as my eyes started to sting, and I turned away frowning, eyes closed, tears rolling down my cheeks. 

However, this seemed to have caused a little misunderstanding. 

“Hey—” After a while, when she spoke again—maybe I had imagined it—the coldness in her tone had diminished somewhat, replaced by a hint of…awkwardness. “Why, why are you crying? Like a couple of days before, you were crying alone outside. Why do you seem to have become a child again? You weren’t like this when you were younger. If you don’t like beheading, just say so. Hey!”

The tears were a reaction to having sand in my eyes, possibly mixed with some emotions too. Regardless, her words completely disrupted whatever mood I was in. I almost burst into laughter but held it back out of fear that it might infuriate her. With my eyes closed, I turned back and said, groping for her, “Lian’er, is your sleeve clean?”

“What for? In this awful weather, there’s no such thing as clean.” Her response was peevish, but her hand gripped my groping hand. 

“As long as it’s cleaner than mine,” I said with a bitter smile and my eyes closed. I raised my other hand. I didn’t need to see it to know that it was covered in sand. My entire body was probably the same. How messy. “I can’t wipe my eyes, and I can’t open them. Can you help me out?”

A snort came from next to me, sounding impatient, but right away, I felt an itchy sensation on my face. 

Lian’er was a little clumsy, probably not very used to doing this. She swabbed left and right, but her touch was gentle, especially around the eyes, so gentle that I could feel her fingertips brush against my eyelashes. 

My rational mind reminded me that we should hurry. We were in a life-or-death situation, both trapped in this voracious quicksand, surrounded by the relentless black wind. We didn’t know our next move, but we shouldn’t waste precious seconds like this. This intimacy came at the cost of our lives, and I shouldn’t indulge in it. But I simply lifted my face and let her swab at my face, not saying a word. 

Lian’er remained silent throughout, as if entirely focused on her task. After a while, her gentle touch left my face, and I heard her say nonchalantly, “All right, try to open your eyes.” 

The moment I opened my eyes, my mind snapped back to the present. No more blurriness; my vision was clear. The dire situation was right in front of me. The sandstorm was still raging. Other than the predicament I had been in, the most gut wrenching thing about this situation was the person next to me now. 

Lian’er had managed to dig me out a little, but at the cost of her sinking further into the sand. Her legs were now almost entirely in the sand. She would have sunk deeper, but I didn’t know what she had done, she stopped sinking if she didn’t move. The reason she had sunk so deep was probably to rescue me. 

“Lian’er, you…” I was both touched and curious. I didn’t know how she managed to keep herself from sinking deeper into the sand. Maybe that was the reason she wasn’t afraid? As I was about to ask, I noticed the spot at which she landed, and realization struck. I couldn’t help but facepalm and backtrack, “You, you… did you use that barrel as a foothold?”

Yes, she was standing on top of the wooden frame that held the water barrel, something that I had fought so hard to retrieve, the lifeline in the desert. Now, she was nonchalantly stepping on it, pushing it into the quicksand. 

“Mm, when I came over earlier, I saw it just lying on the surface of the sand. I thought it might keep me from sinking, so I landed on it.” She didn’t think there was anything wrong and explained matter-of-factly, “Although it didn’t work out as well as I expected, it’s better than sinking directly into the sand, right? What’s wrong?”

“No, nothing.”

Resigned, I kneaded my furrowed brow. I knew she was right. Lian’er didn’t know about the principles of buoyancy and surface tension, but what she did was undeniably clever. I couldn’t help myself feeling a little dejected. That was why after that dismissal, I spoke what was on my mind, “Actually, Lian’er… it might be more practical for you to step on me to save the water instead of the other way round.”

It meant exactly what it meant. In the grand scheme of things, it should be this way, though it was a little strange to be so cold-blooded toward myself. 

Who knew as soon as I said that, the air around us seemed to grow heavier. I could even feel a chill begin to creep in. 

I twitched and realized that my words carried the implication of being ungrateful. Feeling bad, I grasped her hand and said before this little troublemaker threw a fit, “By the way, Lian’er, time is of the essence here. You came in so readily, do you have any plan to get out?”

The change of subject was gruff, but it was the most pressing matter at hand. Even though the wind had calmed down a bit, the quicksand kept pulling us down. Even the slight movement of grabbing her hand sank me back down a little. If this continued, it was just a matter of time before it swallowed me up again. 

Perhaps she too understood the situation. Though Lian’er was displeased, she didn’t throw a fit. Instead, she pulled a grim face and kept silent while she bent down and continued to scope away the sand around me, digging me out little by little. 

Afraid that I would further irritate her, I stayed quiet at first. I just bit my lip and cooperated with her. But how could I continue to cooperate when I saw myself emerging inch by inch, knowing that it was at the cost of her sinking inch by inch? I couldn’t care less if I would anger her. I grabbed onto Lian’er to stop her and spluttered, “Talk to me, what exactly is your plan? Don’t tell me you came here just to die with me. It’s not helping at all!”

It was then she raised her head and said seriously, “I’m here to get you out.”

“So?” I asked, frowning, feeling like we weren’t getting to the point. 

Despite believing that I understood her, at this moment, I didn’t know what she was thinking. I was about to keep pushing when Lian’er managed to free herself from my loose grip, and then she drew closer, slid her hands under my arms, and wrapped around me, a smirk creeping onto her grim face. 

Then she continued, “So? I don’t care about anything else.”

We were about the same height, but with half of me buried in the sand, she seemed imposing, speaking at such a close distance. I froze for a moment before I understood what she said. My chest tightened, wondering if I might have misunderstood her. When I widened my eyes and wanted to say something, it was already too late. 

“That’s right.” Her arms tightened around me, and my vision swayed. For a moment, I thought the smile on her face was mischievous. “I’m here to get you out. As for how I’m getting out next, that’s your problem to figure out!”

Suddenly, the world spun around me. I felt that an unwavering force lifted me up and tossed me out! In that instant, I wanted to grab her and give her a piece of my mind!

But before I could grab her, my swaying vision slipped further away from her face. The sound of the wind rushed in my eyes, and as I turned around, I saw a sword standing tall in the distance. In the swirling sand, it became clearer and clearer. I was tumbling towards it. The sword served as a line with the front being quicksand and the back being solid ground. Crossing the sword meant safety. She had intended to toss me all along!

Anger surged up to my chest, but I swallowed it right away and adjusted my breathing. Lian’er had done that in one breath, but pulling me out of the sand had taken up too much of her strength, so the last throw wasn’t far enough. I started to drop before the line marked by the sword. The window of opportunity was fleeting. Despite my frustration, I couldn’t let her efforts go in vain. 

Swiftly, I twisted my body mid-air to take back control of my body. Facing downward, I stretched my body, and before I touched the ground, I sent two palm strikes onto the ground. With the weak reaction force, I propelled myself forward and slid along the surface for some distance, finally landing on the other side of the sword. 

After tumbling over the sword, I rolled a couple more times before coming to a stop. Beneath me was still sand, but it no longer felt oddly soft. 

However, I didn’t feel safe at all. I staggered to my feet, and before I stood still, I turned to look back into the distance. What I saw sent shivers down my spine. 

On the other side, her throwing me had nearly sunk half of her into the sand. I saw a white figure buried in the sand, up until her chest. It was almost a replay of what happened earlier, but with our roles reversed. 

When I was the one trapped there, I felt like I had fallen into an inescapable deathtrap, but now…

I must come up with a way!

I must!

I thought I would be racking my brain, pacing around like an ant on a hot pan, but surprisingly, I didn’t. There was hardly even any hesitation, and my body just sprang into action. 

In a situation like this, the best way to rescue someone was to use a rope. This required having a sufficiently long rope, but as I had previously concluded, going back to get one wasn’t an option, and since I wasn’t Lian’er, I couldn’t be sure that I could quickly and accurately find my way back in this storm, so that was out of the question. 

So, why don’t I make do with what was available?

I was about ten meters away from Lian’er. I started by untying the belt from my waist and drew the sword to split them in half. I then made a knot and tightened it and removed the bands from my hands and feet that were used to protect against the sand and tied them together. 

Even so, it was still far from enough. The wind was too strong. I held the tied rope with my teeth, and without hesitation, I began to remove my outer garments. The fox fur short jacket meant for warmth was now useless. I took it off and threw it to the ground. I felt immensely glad that I was wearing women’s clothes. The light satin material wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do. 

I unfurled my outer garment into the wind and swung the sword to cut it into three longest pieces possible, tying it with the rope I held with my teeth. Then I repeated it with my shirt, and within moments, I had assembled a long rope. I weighed it in my hand and looked at Lian’er. I couldn’t panic. Estimating the rope’s length and the distance to Lian’er, I didn’t seem long enough, so I decisively took off my undergarment, cut it, and knotted them together. 

The strong wind, carrying fine grains of sand, slapped on my bare back. The exposed skin felt as if being sanded down. I curled my body and did my best to ignore the fiery pain. Quickly and carefully, I double-checked each knot, ensuring they wouldn’t come loose. Then, I turned to the side of quicksand and shouted, “Lian’er! Catch it!” I swung my arm with qi and threw one end of the rope to her.

I was worried that it might not reach because of the distance, but thanks to the wind, the rope sailed through the air like a silver serpent and landed just inches away from her!

I felt a surge of relief, but my relief turned to shock as I noticed that she, for some reason, didn’t move, not even extending her hand. 

“Lian’er!” I didn’t know what was happening. I watched as the wind shifted the end of the rope. Panicking, I called out, “Lian’er, what’s wrong? Grab it! Can’t you see it?”

After my second call, she finally stirred, as though waking from a trance. When I saw her grab the rope, the weight in my chest was lifted. Worried that she might not understand the severity of the situation, I shouted once more, “Take it easy! Be careful not to break it. Let’s take it slow, okay?” Seeing her nod, I began to slowly pull back the rope. 

No matter how light Lian’er was, she was still a person, and coupled with the pulling force of the quicksand, the weight was no small load. And the drawback of using clothing as a makeshift rope was the uneven distribution of material strength. If too much force were applied too abruptly, it could snap at a weak spot. That was something I couldn’t let happen. So, I proceeded with the safest way, applying gentle, calculated force, pulling her back little by little.

I was worried that the raging sandstorm would make it difficult to explain that to her, and Lian’er’s impulsive nature might not understand my intentions. Fortunately, she remained patient and continued to cooperate with me, getting out of the voracious quicksand inch by inch. 

As this continued, the makeshift rope grew tighter, and the sound of fabric straining came into my ears, instilling nerve-wracking fear in me. 

Just at that moment, as if things couldn’t get any more chaotic, there was a faint sound in the wind. 

Lian’er was the first to hear it. I noticed she seemed to flinch and was stunned for a moment. Then, her gaze shifted into the distance behind me. It was only then that I became aware of the sound carried by the wind. It sounded like a call in the distance, gradually drawing closer, and it seemed like there might be more than one person. 

Swiftly, I came to a conclusion, it must be Old Tie and the group. 

If they had arrived earlier, it would make me jump in joy. But now… the biting cold and pain on my skin reminded me of the state I was in. I bit my lips and decided to ignore all that, focusing on the task at hand since I wouldn’t lose anything if they saw me. The other end of the rope was Lian’er’s life. Nothing else mattered. 

However, this decision couldn’t be communicated to her. I was calm, but Lian’er appeared to grow agitated. She started to pull harder, and the fabric strained and creaked in protest. I became worried. Not caring about drawing attention, I kept calling out to her to slow down, but the more I shouted, the more frantic her struggling became. 

Meanwhile, the calls from behind were drawing nearer. If it weren’t for the sandstorm concealing us, they would have likely spotted us by now. 

Finally, as the voices became clear, Lian’er couldn’t stay still any longer. With a leap, she pulled herself free from the pit, and at the same time, under the strain of her force, the rope gave way, and there was a sharp snapping sound!

My heart seemed to stop at that moment, but I saw she jumped using the last boost she could get before the rope snapped. She soared into the air like a rainbow streaking across the sky, moving with astonishing speed, and in the blink of an eye, she landed safely right before me.

It all happened so quickly that I struggled to catch up. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw her safely on the ground. Just as I was about to say something, I found myself enveloped in an embrace.

Lian’er was covered in sand, but strangely, it didn’t grate on me. Perhaps I had been exposed to the wind for so long. Her body felt unusually warm. She held me in her arms, and with her other hand, she drew the sword from the sand and shouted, her voice loud and sharp, “Stay back!”

I remembered her voice was icy and bone-chilling, instilling fear and nightmare. It made the sandstorm seem pale. 

“Who dares to come close, I’ll gouge out their eyes! Cut off their tongues! Cut their fingers! You can count on that when I, Lian Nichang, say it!”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 82 Choice

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 82

Choice

There was…sound…

A sharp, lingering, and penetrating sound…

Is it…a hawk? The sight of a hawk soaring high in the sky. Such a desolate scene… 

I felt heavy and groggy. Amid the grogginess, my organs seemed to function just fine. I heard something, and my mind came to a conclusion without thinking, then after a while, I belatedly quashed it. 

I opened my eyes and blinked a few times. My first thought was that my line of sight was so low, as if I was lying prone on the ground. The sand lay just inches from my face, each grain clearly visible. I could even smell the scent of scorched earth coming from the sand. 

Inhaling the scent, I took a few labored breaths before slowly coming back to my senses. 

Because I hadn’t been moving, my outstretched arms had been buried in the sand. The sand had piled up to my chest and my collarbone. I wondered, unable to figure it out whether I was more like a prisoner in chains or a plant rooted in the ground? 

I was trying to distract myself with these thoughts, keeping myself from struggling which I nearly did a moment ago. 

I didn’t want to die, but if death were inevitable, I could only throw in the towel and hope to meet it with composure and dignity. Going through a struggling and ungainly death once was more than enough. 

As my thoughts wandered, that sound came again with the wind, a whistling sound that was sharp and resonant. Then it reminded me that it was my curiosity about the whistling sound that had brought me back to consciousness. 

When I listened closely after I was awake, it became clear that it wasn’t the cry of a hawk because the sound wasn’t coming from the sky but from the ground, from the other side of the desert separated by the hazy sandstorm. It was a whistle coming from a human, distant and lasting, effortlessly piercing through the raging wind—a feat no ordinary person could do. 

I remembered I had heard this whistle not long ago in the sandstorm at Bai Long Dui. At that time, it was Lian’er who had blown it to reach Old Tie. 

So now, hearing this sound again, was it trying to reach me? 

Still, I dared not make any hasty movement. I strained my eyes to look in the direction of the sound. The whistle was getting closer, and finally, when a white figure emerged from the gloomy chaos, my heartbeat, which had remained calm and steady since I got into danger, started to race. Each thud of my heart was palpable under restraint. 

She was searching for me, and this realization filled me with comfort and even joy. While I understood that Lian’er wouldn’t leave me behind, understanding was one thing, and witnessing her appear amidst the swirling sands was another. 

The turbulence was strong, and the wind was constantly shifting. I hadn’t even hoped that she could head in the same direction, yet she did. 

However, even with her exceptional tracking skills, it seemed like she had reached her limit at this point. I saw the white figure veer left and right in the midst of the sandstorm, as if lost and confused, unsure which direction to go. 

With it was the time between each whistle getting shorter, carrying a subtle sense of urgency. 

So should I respond?

The answer should have been a no-brainer, but I…hesitated at the last minute. 

Yes, without a doubt, Lian’er would see me if I responded, and that precious glimmer of hope might have a chance to shine. 

But along with that glimmer of hope came a myriad of possibilities that I absolutely didn’t wish to face, like letting Lian’er watch someone she cared about engulfed by the sand, or even worse… dragging her along with me!

Looking at the mound of sand slowly piling up to my neck, and thinking about the kid’s reckless nature, I had every reason to believe that, in this moment where there was hardly enough time to turn back and get the tools, the probabilities of those two ends coming true were far greater than the faint glimmer of hope. 

What to do? I don’t want to die, and I certainly don’t want to drag someone with me, especially that someone is the person you care about the most. 

I’m not a saint. Just when you almost give up, a spark of hope appears, and no one would give that up easily; I’m not a psycho either. Persisting when you know it will lead you to ruin, dragging the one you love most with you to their demise. 

So, what should I do? 

I wanted to answer her call; I wanted to live, but I ended up watching the white figure without a word. Sometimes, silence itself was a choice. 

When the figure headed in the wrong direction and vanished into the darkness, the temptation dissipated with it. Looking in the direction she disappeared, I smiled with relief, and then I gazed at the dimming sky, quietly awaiting the inevitable end. 

I’m sorry, Lian’er, the protagonist of your story… was never me. 

A faint vermilion hue colored the dim sky, and the wind seemed to have slowed. Sunlight filtered through the upper layer of drifting sand, casting a subdued glow, to be obstructed by the lower layer of turbulent sand, painting this chaotic expanse with an uneven, reddish-brown hue. 

It would be better for the caravan if the wind had eased up, wouldn’t it? I thought hazily for a moment as I looked at the flickering sky, my chin feeling the sand piling up. I looked away from the sky and shook my head. Before everything was over, I took one last look in the direction where Lian’er had disappeared. 

That look was meant only as a farewell.

But my heart clenched at the sight!

My view cleared a little, so I could see a few yards away. The white figure that had gone in another direction had turned back at some point, and this time, she seemed resolute in her movement, heading straight in my direction!

Was it because of the changing weather? Or had she realized something? I didn’t know, and I didn’t have the time to find out. This wasn’t what I was worried about. I was almost terrified out of my wits by her speed. Having no time to think, I wriggled and yanked off the scarf covering my face, then I gave the loudest shout I could manage, “Stop! Don’t come any closer—!”

These five words had used up all the air in my lungs, and I sank a bit further into the sand, almost getting it into my mouth, but there was no time to worry about that. I saw that she lurched as my words echoed. She seemed to have shrunk. I felt a bloodcurdling chill wash over me in the scorching sand. 

Fortunately, she only sank a little before springing back onto the ground. 

Seeing her feet landing on solid ground, my racing pulse calmed down a bit. I felt immensely relieved that I had shouted in time. I figured she only stepped on the edge of the quicksand. That was why she could get out of it so easily. Otherwise… I simply couldn’t imagine her trapped in the quicksand. 

It was more than enough for one person to be in such a predicament. 

I was several yards away from her, and we were surrounded by the swirling sand. We could hardly see each other’s faces, and we couldn’t hear each other clearly either amidst the howling wind.

The shout had been my last-ditch attempt, and the price I paid for it was the sand reaching up to my mouth. My mouth was too close to the ground, and without a face cover, every breath stirred up grains of sand. Breathing became difficult. I would be delusional to hope to say something. So, all I could do was watch her from afar, wearing a resigned smile. 

The worst-case scenario probably wasn’t going to happen, but it was still cruel. At least, the last thing she saw wouldn’t be my panicked face. 

I thought that this was the last time we were going to see each other, so every second mattered, but when I was looking at her, I felt that it was too excruciating. Perhaps I should end it quickly. 

It wasn’t hard to end it. A little bit of struggling would bury me. If that was tormenting, I still had enough strength to end myself with a palm strike. 

At this stage, there was no point dragging it out. Summoning my resolve, I was about to close my eyes when I saw that she took a step back from the edge of the quicksand and thrust her sword that had never left her side into the sand. The blade went more than half a foot into the sand, standing tall under the sky. Amid the swirling sand, it looked like a…sign. 

What was she going to do? Doubt crossed my mind, but in the next moment, I saw the white figure taking off. 

Unable to speak, unable to move, I couldn’t do anything but watch her ride the wind and dash over, coming closer and becoming clearer. Lian’er was no fool. She held nature in reverence and saw death as a natural course. It was one thing to be ignorant, but a person who knew the might of the quicksand would never have done this foolish act of sending themselves to death, or so I thought. 

But I was wrong. 

Even the last thread of wishful thought was shattered as she landed beside me, gracefully and delicately. But no matter how delicate her landing, the disturbance it caused was enough to bury me. My body was sucked into the sand in an instant. Darkness shrouded my vision, noises filled my ears, and an immense pressure pressed in from all directions. It felt like drowning but dry and warm. 

There was no fear. The only feeling I had was regret that this moment had come too late. 

My lungs held little air to begin with, and the intense pressure seemed to squeeze out the remaining air in me. Death was so close, but there was a surge of strength that forcefully dragged me out of it!

The pressure above my neck suddenly disappeared, followed by the shoulders, and the familiar sound of the desert wind whistled in my ears again. The dense and confined space was no more, and now, there was something soft and familiar by my side. 

But it wasn’t something to be rejoiced in. I went into a fit of coughing. When I could catch my breath, I fumbled for her clothes before I opened my eyes. I grabbed onto it and croaked, “Go back! It’s none of your business if I die! What are you doing here? Go back!”

I didn’t get any response. I opened my burning eyes, and in my blurred vision, I saw frost settling on her face, her expression fuming. 

When she saw my eyes open, her tightly pressed lips finally parted. She gave an icy smile first and then said, “I’ll get your body back even if you die. If I can’t get your body, I’ll chop off your head and bring it back. So tell me, why am I here?”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 81 Sand

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 81

Sand

In the desert, water is equivalent to life, whether for animals, plants, or humans.

Although our supplies were ample and were split into two, nearly half of our supplies were depleted on the fourth day. Now, apart from the little that was in our pouch, the rest was all in the two wooden barrels secured onto the frame. That was something we absolutely couldn’t afford to lose!

In the realm of sand and dust where no light could penetrate, I fixed my gaze on a distant speck of color. I didn’t dare to blink my eyes even when they were dry, afraid that the little trace would vanish in the chaos in the blink of an eye. The wind carrying sand and rocks was wreaking havoc everywhere. The wind remained as fierce as ever. Several tens of pounds was nothing to it. I watched as the wind carried the barrel further away. I nearly lost sight of them a few times with the sand obscuring my vision, let alone chasing after it and getting a hold on it. 

After chasing after it for a while, I was getting more anxious. While I hadn’t paid much attention to where I was heading, it was clear that I was straying farther from the group. If I continued like this, I would probably lose my sense of direction even if I managed to retrieve our stuff, and once I was lost in the desert alone, not only would I put myself in danger, the group would probably not be able to wait for me. Then the pursuit would become a futile endeavor. 

I couldn’t stop; I couldn’t afford to stop. The only way left was… I steeled myself, channeled my qi, and jumped with qi, trying to lighten myself amidst the raging sandstorm and moving with the wind, hoping that I could make it quick. 

It wasn’t that I hadn’t considered doing this before, but it was too risky. It was like transforming myself into a leaf in the midst of a tempest. Besides, channeling qi required steady breathing which was almost impossible in this sandy weather. 

That was why, each time after I closed some distance, I would lose my balance and get tumbled to the ground by the wind, but there was no time to worry about that. When I fell, I would fumble to my feet and continue. I couldn’t care less about my parched throat, gritty eyes, and sand-caked clothes. The body would ignore these minor discomforts when pushed to its limit. 

After repeating this cycle for a few times, I gradually got the hang of it. The time I could hold my qi was getting longer each time. There were a few times that I almost caught up to it, and right then, the heavens seemed to have a change of heart. The brown barrel that was rolling in the sand haze came to a halt, as if it had fallen into a sand pit. 

I saw it despite my stinging eyes, and I was elated. Almost out of breath, I pushed on and dashed for the barrel. When my feet touched the ground, before standing firm, I bent down to grab it. 

When I stepped and grabbed, I came to realize that the heavens weren’t having a change of heart but pulled an even greater prank on me. 

The sand beneath my feet was loose and strangely soft, as if what I stepped on wasn’t sand but something semi-liquid. My feet sank, and the sand was up to my shins. I froze, instinctively trying to pull my leg up. As I lifted my right leg, instead of pulling it out, I found my left leg sinking even deeper, the sand now up to my knees!

There was a mild and peculiar suction gripping my legs. A thought dawned on me with a chill—quicksand!

I faintly recalled an old desert veteran mentioning this term. He said that there were swamps that could ensnare people, but no quicksand could do that. If it existed, the odds of encountering it were even lower than hitting the jackpot. Well, it was an unusual way to die. I had no regrets.

Yet here I was, undoubtedly hitting the “jackpot.” Maybe the times were different, and the odds of encountering such a phenomenon were different. Even as I felt my legs gradually being consumed by the quicksand, I had the mind to think about that. Then I concluded that: How could I possibly die without regrets?

There were too many regrets that come with a sudden death.  

I racked my brain for any knowledge that could help me get out of this situation. I vaguely remembered the survival tips about swamps and frozen lakes. Applying that knowledge, I kept still. However, I didn’t realize the danger soon enough as I landed. The force of my landing and gravity had me sinking deeper. I had been knee deep in the quicksand in an instant and missed the best window of escape. 

And the sinking continued, slowly but surely at a visible pace. I could feel my body being swallowed inch by inch. It didn’t help even if I spread my arms out to increase my surface area. Every way I could think of failed. The sinking persisted slowly but steadily, almost in a gentle and methodical manner.

Closing my eyes, strangely, I wasn’t afraid, just slightly nauseous. The huge pressure enveloping me was so strong that it felt like I was being swallowed by a python. 

There was no frantic flailing that quickened the descent. This process was excruciatingly long without any way to escape, making it even agonizing. 

When the loose sand was up to my waist, the sinking seemed to have slowly come to a halt. The pressure around me was so strong that I couldn’t feel the suction anymore. I was no longer sinking. Instead, I felt like I was trapped in a plaster made of sand, and now the plaster was solidifying, so my body was suspended, the sand constricting on me so tightly that I felt my blood struggling to flow. 

Despite the situation, one would think it offered a glimmer of hope. After all, as long as I didn’t continue sinking, I wouldn’t be buried by the sand. Unfortunately, the presence of the all-encompassing sandstorm made itself glaringly obvious at this moment. 

This scouring sandstorm hadn’t stopped even for a moment. If it had helped in leading up to this, it was now adding fuel to the fire, or more accurately, it was adding sand to an already sandy situation. 

The fierce wind swept up vast amounts of dust and sand from the ground, and my immobilized body was like a natural windbreak. The sand piled up around me like snowdrifts in no time. Every time I tried to push it away, no matter how careful I was, I would sink a little deeper, yet I had to do it. 

After repeating this for a few times, only the area above my chest wasn’t in the sand. If things continued like this, it wouldn’t be long before I was either swallowed by the quicksand or be buried by the sandstorm. It seemed like both situations led to the same end. 

Coming to terms with this, my heart remained calm, perhaps because the situation was unfolding at an extremely slow pace, so my heart didn’t sense the urgency. What concerned me the most now was the water problem. 

Looking back, it was right within arm’s reach. It hadn’t sunk because it was lighter than the human body, but it was mostly buried by the sandstorm by now. If I was going to die because of this, I didn’t want to die in vain. With that thought in mind, even though I couldn’t move much, I continued to clear the sand, exposing it from the sand. However, I hesitated, unable to decide. Should I continue to clear away the sand, making it easier for Lian’er and the others to find it later, or should I let it be buried to prevent Lian’er from accidentally falling into this deadly trap? 

Lian’er… I couldn’t let her fall into this deadly trap… But what if she couldn’t find water? What then… 

But then again, she should be able to get out of this desert, shouldn’t she? She’s different from others. She’s Lian Nichang. She’s the Jade Rakshasa. Fate might hurt her, but it would also protect her. Thinking this way, I should be grateful for the existence of fate. And if she couldn’t find me in the end, would she be sad… 

I was thinking too much, my thoughts too scattered. My head was starting to hurt, perhaps because of the sandstorm, or perhaps because of a lack of oxygen. Tiny grains of sand filled the gaps around my body with each breath, and the pressure on my chest was getting stronger. I could only breathe in small and shallow breaths, feeling like a fish pulled out of the water, struggling helplessly. 
So, is this another path that leads to the same end? My mind came to a complete stop as I thought hazily.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 80 Wind

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 80

Wind

Smoke in the desert.

There was actually no smoke in the desert. It was the wavering heat rising from the sand under the scorching sun. The twisted light looked like ascending smoke, and at the same time, an invisible wall. 

In the Gobi desert, you could occasionally see glimpses of shrubs or rocks of peculiar shapes, but here, there was nothing but sand, sand, and an endless stretch of sand. The clear sky and the golden undulating land, radiant yet quiet, as if frozen in eternity. 

We had been traveling in this silence for three days now.

After these three days, I realized that the hardships in the Gobi Desert were almost nothing compared to what we experienced now. Around here, we didn’t even dare to get off the camel and step on the ground during the hours when the sun was at its fiercest because every grain of sand beneath our feet felt as if it had been baked over fire. We could feel it even through the thick soles of our boots. 

Water rations were the same as in the Gobi Desert. Each person carried a leather water pouch at their waist. It was enough, but still, our lips and throats always felt parched. As the weather took quite some toll on us, we became less talkative. Most of the time, only the bells of the lead camel and rear camel jingled in concert, echoing through the vast expanse of the sand ocean. 

The only interesting moment was when the mirage appeared. As if to compensate for never once showing up in the Gobi Desert, this spectacular sight had been showing up in this area over the past few days, adding a touch of color to this otherwise drab journey.

At first, seeing the mirage could uplift our spirits, but after seeing it many times, it became boring, especially for Lian’er. The thing that she disliked the most was deceit and falsehood, and this natural wonder was both. That was why when she figured it out after her initial confusion, she wasn’t fond of these desert mirages. Whenever she spotted one, she would turn to me and say, “Here comes another imposter.”

On the contrary, the guides were happy to see these. Initially, I thought it was just because they liked it, but I heard them explain later during our rest stops that the appearance of mirage meant there would be no wind. Those who were used to traveling in the desert would rather endure the scorching heat than face the sandstorm. If we could see the mirage every day, we could get through the desert, safe and sound. 

I must say that I had no idea whether what he said was true, but as words of experience that passed down through generations, there might be some truth to it. 

And soon enough, reality would prove that. 

On the fourth day, the mirage had never once appeared, but the weather remained calm, with a clear sky and no sign of wind. Traveling in the desert, the scorching heat was much like the previous days, so none of us thought much about it.

Shortly after noon, as Lian’er and I were leaning against each other on the camel’s back, wrapped in blankets and drifting off to sleep, we suddenly heard a thunderous shout. The shout came with such force that it nearly startled the camels beneath us. 

“Blackwind!” The voice shouted, “Blackwind is coming!”

We both jolted awake. Lian’er reacted faster than me. By the time I lifted the blanket and looked out, the first thing I saw was the bewildered expression with her lips pressed together. As she grew older, this expression had rarely appeared on her face these days. My eyes stayed on her a while longer before turning to look where she was looking. And over the horizon, I saw a massive black wall that reached the sky, as if an army of demons were marching. 

Of course, it was neither demons or a wall; it was a natural phenomenon, a sandstorm. The locals called it the “blackwind,” but out of habit I still called it a sandstorm. 

Whether it was called “blackwind” or “sandstorm,” it was the same wall, rolling over with visible speed. Everywhere it passed, the blue sky and yellow sand were swallowed by darkness, as if being devoured by a monster, vanishing without a trace. 

I remained calm at first because I knew that things weren’t as bad as they seemed despite the dark menace. It might not be much more dangerous than the fierce wind we encountered at the Bai Long Dui. Instead of worrying about being swept away by the strong gusts, we should worry about inhaling the sand dust. That was why my first reaction was to take another scarf, wrap it around my face, and tighten it, making sure that it covered my mouth and nose while reminding Lian’er to do the same. 

The two guides, however, were terrified. Perhaps there were too many legends and tales about this kind of sandstorm. They were shouting, “Take cover, quick, take cover!” while hastily spurring the camels towards a nearby large sand dune, seemingly wanting to use the sand dune as a natural barrier. We went behind it to shield against the brunt of the storm and give ourselves a break. 

But the sandstorm was moving faster than expected. Before we could get behind the sand dune, the wall of darkness was just a few yards away. As it approached closer, its force became even more immense, engulfing the sky in an oppressive darkness. Cries and howls came from the gusts, like the wails of ghosts and the howls of wolves. 

The guides wanted to push on, but in just an instant, the wall of wind towered over us, engulfing the entire camel caravan with the force of Mount Tai crashing down. 

In the moment when the light around was swallowed up, someone wrapped me in their arms. 

It felt completely different to be swathed within the vortex of wind. All I could hear was the piercing howl of the wind, and when I opened my eyes, they felt dry, and it was as dark as night around. I looked up at the person who was shielding me. She wasn’t looking at me but looking around with frowned brows, her eyes as sharp as knives. 

It was hard to see anything beyond a few steps, so it was impossible to move any further. After a while, the guides followed the caravan of camels and slowly groped their way towards us. They shouted, “We can’t move forward! Off the camels! Off the camels! Make walls!” Their hoarse voices swayed in the wind. 

I exchanged a glance with Lian’er. Despite not understanding what he was saying, we followed his instructions and jumped off the camel. Indeed, it felt safer to be on the ground. The camels, despite their massive size, wobbled in the strong wind, adding to our worry.

When the guide saw us get off the camels, he slogged forward to take the camels, but he stopped after a few steps and waved his hand at us, gesturing for us to stay with him. Meanwhile, another guide and Old Tie emerged from the dark, holding the leash to the rest of the camels. Then they worked together against the wind and managed to make the four camels to lie down in each direction, forming a tight square formation. We stayed in the middle of the formation, or more precisely, surrounded by it. 

When I saw what they were doing, I finally understood what they meant by making walls. I pulled Lian’er close and crouched down next to the sturdiest camel. The relentless onslaught of sand and wind died down. The others followed suit, seeking refuge behind the temporary shield formed by the towering animals, providing us with a brief respite. 

The time we waited for the danger to pass was excruciatingly long. 

With the protection provided by the camels’ sturdy bodies, the force of the sandstorm was weakened, but the reminding force was still plentiful to deal with. Fine grains of sand found their way into every crevice. Even though we were prepared for it, it became harder and harder to breathe. Assuming Lian’er felt the same way as I did, I wanted to take her into my arms and shield her. Just as I reached out my hand, the person beside me made the same move before I could, and it was me who ended up in her arms instead. 

“I’ve already told you, stop trying to be tough in front of me. Your body is clearly weaker than me,” she lowered her head and said. We were already crouching close to each other, and with her head lowered like this, her voice was right next to my ears. Even the usual assertiveness in her tone was unmistakable. 

Letting out a sigh, I didn’t try to argue. I snuggled into her arms and wrapped my arms around her lowered head, so her mouth and nose rested snugly against my nape before I whispered, “This way, we both can cover our mouth and nose.” 

Lian’er seemed to have smiled. I couldn’t see it in my position, but I could feel the warmth of her breath against my neck. 

After that, we fell silent. It wasn’t the place to talk. We just had to hide in the small space that we created for each other and breathe quietly amidst the raging storm as we waited for the extreme weather to pass. 

If we were to say what was the most intimidating part of this weather, it would be its length. A sandstorm might not be as destructive as a tornado, but it lasted longer. It could last for hours, even days, making it nearly impossible to walk. It even changed the surrounding landscape, leaving inexperienced travelers disoriented and lost. If it were to get to that point, it would be a true catastrophe. 

Fortunately, we had two experienced guides by our side, so we didn’t have to worry about getting lost. The only problem was when would this storm be over? Time flew in this dark space. The sand started to accumulate against the camels, piling higher and higher. No matter how sturdy the creatures were, they were starting to struggle under the weight. Thankfully, Old Tie was great with his palms. Every time the sand piled too tall, he went out the cover braving the wind and sent a few palms to clear away or knock down the sand piles. After a few rounds, the old man was covered in sand, looking like a dull yellowish sand-man.

I had no idea how much time had passed, but the sandstorm showed no sign of abating; it didn’t even seem to be letting up. 

It would be a lie if I said that I wasn’t worried at all, but there was nothing we could do. Humans have always been small and insignificant in the face of nature. Since we were leaving it to fate, there was no need to worry too much. Besides, the formidable Jade Rakshasa wouldn’t be buried in these yellow sands. Once I was sure of that, I felt there was nothing to worry about. I just had to stay in her arms. 

However, as if to burst my naive bubble, fate decided to play a little joke on us. 

As I lay in her arms, I started to hear something out of the ordinary. It was faint, and it came and went, but it was there.

I didn’t pay much mind to it at first since it was hardly surprising to hear some eerie sounds amidst this howling tempest, but slowly, it caught my attention. It wasn’t just because the sound kept coming, but it sounded… very close, like it was right next to my ears. 

Because of this subconscious unease, I started to look for the sound. I started off by looking around, but then my gestures became larger, and finally, it alerted Lian’er. She lifted her head off my neck and said with annoyance, “What’s wrong? Why are you moving about so much?”

I couldn’t answer, or rather, I didn’t have the time to answer because as she lifted her head, I saw the source of the faint sound over her shoulder. 

In almost the same instant, the thing that made the sound reached its limit. Amid the howling wind came an insignificant snap, then a snake-like shadow whipped upward, cut through the air, and swooped towards us!

“Watch out!” I was the one who had the clearest view. I quickly gave Lian’er a shove, but I couldn’t get a good shove because of my position. However, Lian’er was no ordinary person. Even without me pushing, she could sense the danger behind her. She got up with my push and even had the time to push me in another direction, getting me out of the danger. 

The snake-like shadow struck the ground between us, leaving behind a deep welt. When we took a closer look, it turned out that it wasn’t a whip but a rope used to secure the baggage on the wooden frame that was attached to the camel. 

Because we were in a rush earlier, no one had removed the baggage from the camel’s back. Besides, the added weight on the camels was good for withstanding the strong wind, so there was no need to remove it. 

But no one had expected that the rope used to secure them would snap, and what was worse, it was the main rope that snapped. 

While Lian’er dodged the rope, I watched the strong wind sweep away the now detached wooden frame like a toy. Without a second thought, I immediately got up and chased after it. 

Because what it carried was the most vital thing for our journey through the desert—water.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 79 Unsure

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 79

Unsure

How do you know that person?

Know? Know who? These words came into my ears and spun around in my head before I fully grasped what they meant.

What Lian’er said wasn’t that hard to understand. What made me hesitate was why she asked that question. If I wasn’t overthinking, it sounded like… I blinked, trying to sort out the whirlwind of thoughts in my head while stalling for time by asking, “What?” to see her response. 

Lian’er let out a humph and said, raising her brows, “You just sang a song praising her, and now you don’t remember?” Her expression turned serious, and the warmth in her smile faded away. 

Anyone who knew her would understand that this was a sign of her getting angry. I didn’t dare to ignore it. With no time to sort out the jumble of thoughts in my head, I forced a smile and replied honestly, “I know no one called Alamuhan. I only know the song, and I heard it back then from somewhere else. There’s no way I know her.”

“Really? Back then?” Lian’er rarely doubted me, but this time she just didn’t believe me, or at least she seemed rather skeptical. Her bright eyes narrowed a little, looking at me sideways, and she said, “That song clearly comes from this area. How could you have heard it in the Central Plains? Don’t think I don’t know, and don’t try to bluff me. That won’t do.”

She wasn’t as easily convinced as she had been when she was little. I scratched my face awkwardly and explained with an apologetic smile, “Really, a few years ago, when I was away from Mount Hua, I heard it from… a wandering physician. He stayed in our village for a few days when he was passing through. He usually just took care of his patients, but when he got drunk, he liked to sing some random songs. Maybe he’d been to the Western Regions before. I just happened to remember some songs after listening to him so many times.”

It had been a while since I last lied off the cuff. I had no other choice this time. I couldn’t tell her that I learned it from some TV show, could I? I spoke without turning a hair. She heard it, and it probably made sense to her, so she lightened up quite a bit and even gave a slight nod. I saw that and thought that I had gotten away with it. I was about to sort out the thoughts that I had swept aside earlier when suddenly, I heard her voice again, “Then… how about singing another one for me?”

“Huh?” This time I was truly caught off guard and stood there frozen. 

“I’m asking you to sing another one for me,” the girl in front of me repeated, this time with a commanding tone, as if she were one of those old men in the tavern asking for a song. Even her mischievous smile was similar to theirs. “You said you remembered some songs. If so, it shouldn’t be difficult to sing another one, right? Or you’re just trying to bluff me? If that’s the case, I won’t let you get away so easily.”

I was left speechless, choking on my words. Seriously… she wasn’t as easily convinced as she was when she was little…

Standing among the sand dunes, the wind had picked up at some point, carrying with it the distant echoes of drums and revelry. Looking back, the few heaps of fires stood out in the dark. The shadows of people mingled together by the fire, engrossed in mirth and laughter, oblivious to the trouble they had inadvertently caused me.

Because of the interruption of this thought, I drifted off for a moment, and Lian’er caught this brief moment of silence. She seemed to have misunderstood it because her expression immediately changed, and she said angrily, “So? You can’t? So you were actually just playing me for a fool!”

She startled me, and I thought to myself, shit. I quickly turned to look at her and tried to explain, “No, Lian’er. It’s just that… I’m not familiar with those songs. I can’t just sing whenever I want. Earlier, I remembered that song because of the music they were playing. You have to give me some time to remember it, right?”

“Then how come you could sing right away when that little girl asked you to, but you have to think when I ask you? Hmph… ” She didn’t throw a fit but flung her hand, turned her head away, and ignored me.

Since a moment ago, I wasn’t sure what she was thinking and what her actions meant anymore. Is it merely out of curiosity that she asked that question? Or is it because she cares? If that’s the reason, what is it that she cares about? Is it the person praised in the song? But judging by her last sentence, it seems to be directed at the little girl…

Apart from that, what is even more important is where this strange concern comes from? Is it from her competitive nature? Or is it…

I didn’t dare to dream, but there was a glimmer of hope, and it had become a bother. These days, I truly experienced its joy and sorrow. If… if this was what they called “jealousy,” then even if it was an unintentional act on her part, even if it could be interpreted in many different ways, it was enough for me to secretly rejoice in it. 

Under the influence of this train of thought, a smile crept up my lips. Meanwhile, beside me, Lian’er was still sulking, her slightly pouty face as adorable as ever in the moonlight. My mood brightened, and I said cheerfully, “Alright, I remember a song. Lian’er, do you really want to hear?” As expected, she gave me a glare, as if I was saying the obvious. 

So, I took a deep breath of the night air. Next to my ears were the distant sounds of the musical instruments. With the faint music, I slowly breathed out the air that I had taken in and with it came the melody of a lighthearted and bouncy song.

This time, it was still a Xinjiang folk song, once familiar to most people in another era. My lips sang while my eyes looked intently at the person beside me. Lian’er didn’t look at me, her head turned to the side, sulking, but she was listening. She looked fine during the first line, but as I sang the second line, praising the beauty of women, a hint of displeasure flickered in her eyes, which were looking elsewhere. 

Lian’er was proud, but what she didn’t realize was that I was looking into her eyes as I sang that line. 

I couldn’t tell her that I had seen far more beauties of women than she could imagine. Among those with all kinds of appearances, some might be able to match up to her, but none of them possessed an air similar to hers. It was the vitality and wildness in her, an invisible radiance. Anyone who had seen her could never take their eyes off again. 

But what truly captivated me wasn’t any of those things. 

It wasn’t those things; I couldn’t quite explain what was. All I knew was that I could no longer take my eyes off. 

It felt like a lot of thoughts were going through my mind at that moment, but it was just a fleeting thought in my mind. My lips continued to sing the song, almost a subconscious act separate from my thoughts.

“If you were to get married, don’t marry someone else, marry me”—With nothing else in my eyes, I didn’t know what expression I was wearing or how my voice sounded when I sang that line, but I saw that she suddenly turned her head around and looked straight at me. 

My heart skipped, and my voice choked. I forgot how the song was supposed to go, so I closed my mouth and looked at her. 

The distant bustle kept on, but here the air fell into silence. Only the gentle breeze and the bright moon remained, the night sky soft as water. 

After a while, Lian’er tilted her head and said, “The lyrics are so weird. Good that you didn’t sing this earlier. People would have laughed if they heard it. You’re wearing women’s clothes tonight, not Hu clothes. Not appropriate.”

I smiled lightheartedly and asked, “If I wore men’s clothes, would you think it’s appropriate?”

She raised her head, pondered for a moment, and finally said, “No, it still wouldn’t be appropriate.”

After that, we didn’t continue the conversation. I steered it in a different direction, engaging in random chatter for a while before convincing her to go back to the shack to rest. 

What would happen if I mustered the courage to continue? Sometimes, when I think back, I can’t help but feel a sense of regret for not doing so. 

But I was glad that I didn’t, for I would soon understand the true meaning behind her words. 

Though the gathering lasted late into the night, the caravan made up of four camels and five people set off at dawn as scheduled. 

Before we left, the friendly locals provided us with ample supplies. The experienced and sturdy camels led the way with light loads, while water and provisions were evenly distributed between the two camels in the middle, and the last camel carried our luggage. 

Things were meticulously arranged because the journey ahead would be the most treacherous part. Even the most experienced local guide wouldn’t dare to take it lightly. 

That was a vast stretch of desert with no end in sight.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 78 Song

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 78

Song

While I was drinking the medicine… um, tea, the three of us stood there and talked about what happened during the time I was out. Old Tie did most of the talking because he was quite pleased with himself for making a wise decision. That was why he was a little more talkative. 

“You know, it’s because they were familiar with this area and could speak the local dialect that I decided to hire them!”

When the old man got to the exciting part, he clapped his hands together with a pop as if he had sealed a deal, “This place is too remote. If you don’t speak the local dialect, it’s difficult to get anything done. Even if someone is willing to help you, they will only go so far. They wouldn’t have let us stay in their houses like they did now.” 

Because he was proud of himself, Old Tie was rambling a little, but it was still understandable. This place wasn’t just anywhere in the desert; it was the Lop Nur that the guides kept talking about over the past few days, a lake located between the Gobi Desert and the Great Desert. In a sense, it was like a wonderland on earth. 

Once we left Bai Long Dui, we weren’t that far away from this place, and I had been unconscious. They were worried about me although my pulse was normal, so after discussing among themselves, they decided to travel overnight. After traveling almost all night, they finally arrived here before dawn. Thanks to our guides’ familiarity with the locals, we received their friendly help and were able to get a good rest.  

When the old man was almost done with his exciting story, I was almost done with my tea. 

Since I had never heard of such a place, I had always been curious about this legendary place. Now that I was standing at the door, and the view was just outside, I couldn’t wait to see it. I tilted my head back and downed the last gulp of the strong tea, then said hurriedly, “Let’s go and have a look!” Without even putting down the bowl, I swiftly maneuvered around the towering figure of the old man and stepped out of the door. 

When I stepped out of the door, the first thing that came into view was a dazzling yolk-yellow sun. By that time, twilight had set in. The setting sun was on the horizon, reflecting off the shimmering ripples of the water. 

To say the water was rippling would be inaccurate, for the water was very calm, so calm that it looked more like a mirror reflecting the clear sky. The ripples were caused by a large flock of wild ducks playing on the water. Further away, there were other waterfowl circling over the water from time to time, letting out crisp chirps. Looking into the distance, the sky and the water merged into one, like the horizon of the sea.

The guides said that this was Big Lake or Peacock Sea. I thought at first that the former name was closer to reality, but who knew the latter was a more vivid description of it. 

I gazed at the view in front of me for a while before turning my head to look around. The house sat by the water, about ten steps away from the shallow waters. Around it were a few similar buildings. All of them were simple low shacks mostly made out of mud bricks and branches, surrounded by a fence made of thin branches. 

The sand dunes around these shacks were covered with red willows and reeds, with numerous tall poplar trees of varying shapes, like a barrier that protected this place and isolated it from the desolation beyond into two different worlds. 

“How is it? Surprised? Haha.” There were footsteps rustling behind me, and the person in the house came out with me. Old Tie guffawed and said, “Even I was surprised when I first saw it. Who would have thought that there could be such a gem in the barren Gobi Desert! This must be what a hidden paradise looks like!”

“What did those two guides call this place?” I asked without looking back, gazing at the view in front of me. Then the old man replied, “Uh, I think it’s called Lop… Lop Nur? The local dialect is difficult to pronounce, and I don’t know what it means. Why do you ask?”

Lop Nur… Lop… Nur…

I silently repeated it a couple of times, and suddenly, something dawned on me. It all became clear to me. It was hard to describe the feeling. I pressed my lips together and chuckled softly to myself.

“What? Do you know this place too?” Lian’er walked up from behind, turned her head to the side, and looked at me.

“No, I don’t know this place.” Smiling, I shook my head and said, “The place I know is a dried-up salt lake, the Sea of Death with no one within a thousand miles. It’s called Lop Nor, not Lop Nur.”

This place had plenty of clean water and dry firewood for boiling water. It was great news for people who had been traveling through the desert for days, especially for women. When I woke up, Lian’er had obviously just taken a bath. I didn’t know what she had thought of. Seeing that I was feeling better, she abruptly changed the subject and hurried me. 

“Who cares if it’s called Lop or whatnot. You go wash up first,” she said as she took the tea bowl from me and pushed me towards another shack. “There’s still hot water so hurry up! Food should be ready when you’re done.”

As she pushed me forward, it occurred to me that when I woke up… I turned around to ask her as I let her push me forward, “By the way, Lian’er, was it you who changed my clothes while I was asleep?”

She wouldn’t just let someone else do it for me. I was pretty sure of that. 

The response I got was a grunt. It seemed like Lian’er couldn’t even be bothered to give me a direct answer. She replied, “The Hu clothes have been covered in sand and dust for several days. I couldn’t stand it even if you could. How could I sleep with someone who’s dirty?” With that, she pushed me into the shack. 

Although what she said was true, as a lady, it felt a bit uncomfortable to hear someone saying that you were dirty, especially when that someone was… Just as I was about to say something, the door creaked shut in front of me. I knew that Lian’er didn’t mean what she said. I sighed and smiled, then turned around to look at the house. 

Inside, it was still a small room, with simple wooden frames and a simple barrel filled with clear water with a simple ladle floating on top. In a scorching hot place, the heat dissipated slowly, so the water was still warm. The temperature was pleasant. It was just that… the walls were riddled with gaps. I couldn’t help but frown at it. Just then, a voice came from outside, “Hurry up! I’ll wait for you outside.”

Her tone was impatient, but it was her unique way of expression. Smiling, I wanted to ask who had been on the lookout for her but thought better of it. 

If I asked, she would probably give me an haughty answer like “How could I have not noticed if someone was sneaking around.” I could imagine her saying that. 

When a person had something to be proud of, being proud of it was a straightforward way to express it, although this kind of frankness often went against the social norms, was disliked by most people, and some even condemned it as evil. 

But I didn’t know when it started. Everything Lian’er said and did was right and… adorable, at least in my eyes. 

The sun was setting while I was taking a bath. After a relaxing hot bath, the moon and stars were already hanging high in the sky. When I walked outside, a cool breeze was blowing. In the distance, several piles of poplar tree branches were lit into bonfires by the water. A group of people were sitting around the fire, talking and laughing. The wind carried wafts of fragrant smell over, stirring my appetite. 

“You took so long.” Lian’er was leaning lazily against a poplar tree, her hand idly fiddling with a yellowish twig. She hadn’t said anything earlier to hurry me, but now that she saw me, she felt the need to complain. Then she walked over to me and said with a smile, “Come on, let’s go eat.” Without another word, she took my hand and headed towards the bonfire.

As we approached the bonfire, the noise grew louder and the smell stronger. Skewers of fatty fish were crackling over the fire. About ten plainly dressed men, women, and children sat around the fire chatting away with the old man and the two guides. From their high cheekbones, deep eyes, and their slightly curly hair, it was obvious that they were people of a different ethnicity. They were no doubt the local natives. 

Fortunately, Lian’er had gotten used to seeing them travel all this way, even more so for me. As soon as they saw us, they waved and called out to us enthusiastically. Although we couldn’t quite communicate with words, their smiles and body language were expressive. 

So we joined in, enjoying the food and drinks together. The fish were caught from the lake, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. They were fresh and tasty. We drank some of the good wine that we had brought as a gift. For these locals who rarely went out, it was a nice gift. They were more than happy to share their joy and the good stuff with their guests. 

After days of arduous traveling, we were finally able to have a freshly made hot meal. Everyone was happy. The guides were getting along with the locals, and even Lian’er had a lazy and contented smile on her face. Old Tie challenged the others to a drink, enjoying himself to the fullest.

The moon was soft, and the wind was gentle as we chatted over drinks.

Our stomachs were full of food and drink, but we still hadn’t had enough. Those who could sing or dance had put down their plates, picked up their musical instruments, and began singing and dancing around the bonfire. The ethnic groups of the western regions had a unique style of art, from musical instruments to dances. It had a special charm. As the strings were strummed, and the drums trembled, cheerful rhythms flowed out like water. Others joined in with singing and dancing as the performance reached its climax. They were natural-born singers and dancers. The atmosphere was filled with excitement and joy. 

As the atmosphere reached its peak, a girl of about ten suddenly came out of the crowd and pattered over here. She must have figured out who the easy target was because she timidly glanced at Lian’er before grabbing my arm and pulling me toward the center. Then with a joyful expression, she blabbered some words.

She was loud, but no matter how loud she was, I couldn’t understand a thing she said. While I was confused, with a smile on my face, a guide who was chatting animatedly with the locals chimed in. He laughed and shouted, “The girl wants you to sing a song or dance. Dear guest, everyone is having fun now. Do you really want to turn her down now? She will think that the guest is not happy.”

The crowd erupted into a chorus of cheers at his call, even Old Tie had joined in the cheering. I was caught in the middle of the clamor. I knew that they wouldn’t let me go if I didn’t perform something and I also felt that I shouldn’t shy away from this. As I was thinking, the music that the instruments were playing triggered a memory. I cleared my throat and began to sing a well-known Xinjiang folk song:

What does Alamuhan look like? Neither fat nor thin.

What does Alamuhan look like? Neither fat nor thin.

Her brows curved like crescent moons,

Her waist like weeping willows,

Her lips speak of love untold,

And her eyes can send shivers down your spine.

Where does Alamuhan live? Three hundred and sixty miles west of Turpan.

Where does Alamuhan live? Three hundred and sixty miles west of Turpan.

I only vaguely remembered the lyrics and melody, but luckily the melody was simple and the lyrics were repetitive. I could improvise any parts that I couldn’t remember. It wasn’t too difficult. The point was that this song matched well with the instruments. Although I sang in Chinese, which the locals didn’t understand, the response was still great when I finished. It even stirred up a louder round of cheers than before. 

I couldn’t handle this kind of overwhelmingly direct enthusiasm from the crowd, but as a guest, I had to smile and nod along, my eyes instinctively looking for someone, only to be surprised to find that she was no longer in her original spot. 

With no time left for pleasantries, I politely declined the guide’s invitation for another song and squeezed my way through the crowd to get to Old Tie. He was holding a wine bowl, stumbling his way back from where Lian’er had been. 

“Old man, where’s Lian’er? Where did she go? Did you see her?” I grabbed his arm and asked loudly, the sound of the music now becoming a bit of a nuisance. 

Fortunately, although his face was red from drinking, his eyes were still clear. When he heard my question, he let out a hearty laugh and said, “You are asking about Jadey? Haha, she was here just now. I wanted to challenge her to a drink, but she refused to drink no matter what. When I pushed her too far, she just turned and left. Such a stubborn child. Ha! But I like it!”

I didn’t have time for the old man who was already slurring his words. It didn’t seem like he had anything important to say, so I headed in the direction he had mentioned. Lian’er could be a little unpredictable. From what he said, it sounded like she wasn’t in a good mood. I didn’t know exactly what the old man had said to her, or if he had done something to upset her. 

Although this was an oasis, once we left the poplar forest, we would be in the Gobi Desert. That worried me.

Not far ahead was a large expanse of sand dunes. The only difference between here and the sand dunes outside of the forest was that this place was covered with red willows and other low shrubs that I couldn’t recognize. It seemed vibrant and full of life. 

Lian’er stood among the sand dunes, looking up at the moon or perhaps the stars. The hue of white was obvious in the dark. I had seen her from a distance, which was reassuring. I walked over and stood beside her, asking, “What’s wrong? What are you doing being so far away from everyone?”

Even when Lian’er was angry, she wouldn’t take her anger out on anyone. She turned to look at me and replied with a frown, “It’s too noisy. It was fun at first, but it gets annoying after a while. Godfather even asked me to have a drink with him. I don’t like it, so it’s better for me to leave.”

“If so, I’ll stay with you,” I nodded and took her hand. “Let them have their fun. We can go to bed early. We might be on the road again tomorrow. We should rest. Let’s go.”

With that, I grabbed her and turned around to leave, but to my surprise, she didn’t move a step. 

“Are you okay? How can you still feel like sleeping after such a long sleep?” A familiar voice asked beside me. I turned around and saw Lian’er looking at me seriously. Because of the moonlight, her eyelashes cast a faint shadow under her eyelids. 

My heart warmed, and I chuckled, “This time, it’s to make up for the lack of sleep I had a few days ago. Besides, even if I can’t sleep, I can keep you company.”

“Hm, that’s true…” Her bright eyes flickered for a moment, and then she nodded. “You can talk to me or hum a song. Your songs may sound strange but you sing well.”

As she spoke, her expression remained serious and calm, her lips curving slightly upward out of habit. Then, seemingly curious, she threw out a question, “By the way, how did you know the person named Alamuhan?”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 77 As She Said

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 77

As She Said

Lian’er had a bad temper. She had gotten angry at me many times since she was a child. The way she vented her anger had changed as she grew older, from direct attacks when she was a child to verbal attacks, and recently, she had been giving me the silent treatment quite often. Regardless of how she vented, I could still handle it, so I wasn’t that afraid of making her angry. 

But I was afraid of making her worry. 

Unlike most of the time when her emotions were straightforward, Lian’er tended to bottle up her feelings when she was worried, as if she didn’t know how to express them, like the last time I got hurt. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell that it had bothered her.

Her expression then was similar to the one now. 

“Lian’er…cough… ” Although I wanted to reassure her, it wasn’t exactly an ideal situation to talk. As soon as I opened my mouth, I choked on my own blood and the sand dust that gushed into my mouth. I turned my head to the side and coughed, trying to block the wind with one hand and stop the bleeding with the other, and at the same time, I wanted to get to her quickly, so I found myself in a difficult situation. Everything was a mess.

But in the next moment, the raging wind died down a little because someone had stood in front of me, her clothes flapping in the wind.

I could barely open my eyes because of the wind, but even so, I knew who was standing in front of me. I didn’t care about blocking the wind. With one hand pressing on my bleeding nose, I grabbed the person in front of me with the other hand and said loudly, “It’s okay! It’s just that the air has been too dry and hot these past few days, and I’m a little overheated. Don’t worry about it!”

The howling of the wind was so loud that it almost drowned out my shouts. After that, I squinted, but I couldn’t see her expression, nor did I get any response. There was nothing I could do at the moment, so I had to focus on the important thing first. I turned her around with a jerk and freed my hand that was stopping the bleeding to point in the direction where I had found the old path, gesturing for her to look into the distance. 

As soon as I moved my hand away from my nose, the blood came gushing out again, and even tilting my head back didn’t help. Maybe because of the sandstorm, this time happened to be the worst of all the times it had happened. I was annoyed with myself and even blamed my body a little, but there was nothing else I could do, except to put pressure on my nose again to stop the bleeding. Just as I was about to pull my hand back, someone pressed down on the side where my nose was bleeding before I did.

“Lower your head.” I was patted on the back, then I heard Lian’er voice. We were close to each other, so her voice was moderate, “Tilting your head back will only make your blood flow backwards. Since there’s heat in the blood, it’s better not to swallow it.”

I lowered my head slightly as she said, and then she whistled. The sharp whistle managed to break through the wind and traveled beyond. After a while, a tall figure came over against the wind. His voice came before his body. He called out, “What’s wrong? Have you found…” He was in front of us before he finished, but he stopped abruptly, and his voice changed to a strange tone, “Huh? What’s going on here? What are you doing, lowering your head like that, Zhu’er? And why do you need someone to hold you? Are you hurt?” 

I couldn’t answer him or shake my head, so I just waved my hand. Lian’er took over and said “She’s feeling a little sick. I want to take her back to the camel and let her rest. We’ve found the path. Godfather, you can help us navigate the way together with the guides.”

When the old man heard that we had found the way, he was so happy that he forgot about everything else and kept asking where it was. Since I couldn’t speak, I pointed in the direction I had shown Lian’er earlier. The old man strode over before I had even put my hand down, and at that moment, I felt an arm tighten around my waist. Before I could react, I was lifted up and brought to the ground.

Lian’er brought me down from a high place. Although her movements were gentle, the fact that she didn’t warn me showed that she was angry. I stumbled a bit before steadying myself, but I didn’t say much else.

The posture of looking down with my nose covered while being supported looked strange. When I braced against the wind and sand and returned to the caravan, I could feel the surprised gazes of the guides on me, and it was also uncomfortable to be held like this. When we reached our camel, I couldn’t help but put my hand on Lian’er’s fingers, which were pressing against the side of my nose. I looked up, shook my head slightly, and said softly, “I’m fine, Lian’er. Try letting go of your hand? The bleeding should have stopped by now. Don’t worry.”

She shot me a look but didn’t seem to be against it, allowing me to hold her hand, tug it a little, and gently pull it away. Probably because she had kept pressure on it for a while, it didn’t bleed again this time. I let out a long sigh of relief. Rubbing the bridge of my nose, I wanted to say something, but the people at the front of the caravan were urging us on.

“Lian’er…” I only had time for a word, so I pleaded, “Don’t get angry just yet, okay? We have to get out of here first. Let’s get on the camel first, shall we?” After that, I looked at her, afraid that she would throw a fit regardless of time and place. Given her willful personality, it wouldn’t matter to her even if there was an army charging at us, let alone a sandstorm.

Our eyes met just for a brief moment. Who would have thought that she just blinked, nodded readily, and said, “Okay.”

Lian’er reached for the saddle as she replied, her expression and behavior seeming normal. I was relieved, but she didn’t get on the camel after holding onto the edge of the saddle. Instead, she turned back to look at me after she had steadied the camel. Familiar words came out of her mouth, “You go first and sit in front.”

Startled, I looked to the girl beside me and saw that she was also looking at me with a slight curl on her lip. Her expression was one of knowing, but her pupils were slightly narrowed in a way that allowed no question. 

Coughing awkwardly for a few times, I looked away and got on the camel as she said without a word of protest. 

The group set off again into the strong wind, this time with a clearer sense of direction. Old Tie led us from high above while the two guides expertly maneuvered the camels forward against the wind. Everything was going smoothly, so much so that there was nothing left for the two passengers on the last camel to do. 

But I couldn’t let my guard down, nervously keeping an eye on them. Lian’er pulled a Persian rug out of the luggage behind our camel’s hump. With a wave of her hand, she covered me and herself under the rug. 

I didn’t notice what she was doing at first, so all I felt was that everything around me suddenly went dark, and I found myself in a small dark space, the endless desert blocked from my sight. The gusting air suddenly stopped, and even the sharp whistling of the wind weakened immediately, sounding somewhat muffled.

“Rest if you’re tired.” A familiar voice rang out in the darkness. Because the whistling wind was muffled, Lian’er’s voice sounded especially clear, “Godfather and I are here. What are you trying to prove by acting tough? Stop trying to act tough in front of me.” Even though her tone wasn’t exactly friendly, I felt a hand reach over to my waist, and with a wrap and a pull, I was pulled back against her, just like what I had been doing to her these days. Even the gentle movements were perfectly imitated.

I took a deep breath and slowly closed my eyes. 

I didn’t do what she said because I wanted to please her or because I didn’t want to push her away. It was because I was exhausted. The small space had kept out the raging wind and dust. It felt quiet and safe here. My strained nerves gradually relaxed in the dark. She was right. I was trying to act tough. 

I was aware that I wasn’t the same person I used to be, and I knew my own body, but over the past few days of travel, I had been comparing myself to the past me, both consciously and unconsciously, trying to force the standards from back then on this body. When I realized that I couldn’t meet those standards, I got frustrated and pushed myself too hard. That was why my body couldn’t take it anymore.

At this moment, my agitated dignity finally calmed down. I stopped pushing myself. The fatigue that had been building up hit me all at once. Drowsily, I leaned all my weight on the person behind me and closed my eyes heavily. 

The danger wasn’t over yet. The sandstorm was still raging outside, and I, enclosed in this small space, fell into a dreamless sleep. 

When I woke up from the sleep, it felt like a world away. It wasn’t an exaggeration. As I stretched lazily and sat up slowly, I felt a sense of disorientation as if a lifetime had passed. 

Where was the…desert, sand, dust, and camels? 

I was no longer swaying. I stamped my foot; it was solid ground. When I looked up, there was no desert. Around me were walls made out of mud and a roof made out of thatch. Yes, I was in an ordinary room. The thing that creaked under me when I moved, though unstable, was undoubtedly a bed. 

But that wasn’t the main point. The main point was that I had changed into different clothes. The men’s Hu clothes were gone, and my body felt fresh. I supposed someone had wiped me down. But who? 

Who is it? Where is this place? What happened!

A sudden panic arose. I quickly rolled over and sprang to my feet. The room wasn’t big. A few steps and I was in front of the old wooden door. As I reached out to push the door, it suddenly opened outward by itself. A tall figure came in and almost ran into me head-on!

“Hey! Be careful!” The person was quite strong. He only shook a little after the bump and was standing firm again. He even reached out to help me. “Hey, how come you’re so reckless and clumsy right after waking up? That’s not like you! It’s not a big deal that you bump into me, but if you fall down because of it, I’m afraid Jadey would blame me until hell freezes over!”

It calmed me down a lot to hear his sonorous voice. As expected, when I looked up, I saw Old Tie. My heart, which had been hanging in suspense, was finally released. While feeling embarrassed about my loss of composure, my doubt remained. When I regained my composure, I asked confusedly, “Old man, what’s this place? How come everything has changed after I woke up from a sleep? Where’s the caravan? Where’s Lian’er?”

“A sleep? Zhu’er, that’s a long sleep!” Old Tie stroked his short beard and said, “You’ve been sleeping since we left Bai Long Dui yesterday afternoon. You slept from day to night and then from night to day, and it’s almost evening now. You’ve been sleeping for nearly 24 hours! If your pulse hadn’t been normal and we hadn’t arrived at a place where we could rest, Jadey and I would have been worried sick about you!”

I was speechless after listening to what the old man had said. I was stunned for a while before remembering to respond. As I was about to speak, a voice came from behind the old man, “You’re the one who is worried sick, Godfather. Don’t drag me into this! There were times when she had a high fever as a child and slept longer than this. I’m not worried at all!”

With that voice came someone we were all familiar with. Lian’er walked in with her usual smile. She had changed into a fresh set of clothes, her hair still damp, her hand holding an old clay bowl. She casually handed the bowl over to me after looking at me and said, “You’re awake? Then drink this.”

“What’s this?” I asked, but I had already taken the bowl. The liquid in the bowl was almost dark brown, with dried leaves floating on it. It looked like tea, but when I took a sniff, it had a pungent smell of dried grass. “It’s tea, made from a wild hemp plant that grows around here. It’s a little salty, but it’s not bad,” Old Tie explained when he heard my question. 

Since the old man had said so, I stopped worrying about it, and I was a little thirsty too. Although I still had questions, I decided to drink it first, so I took a big gulp, but it made me frown.

“So bitter…” After all, she had brought it to me herself. I couldn’t spit it out no matter how bad it tasted. Besides, the tea was good for me. I forced it down. Chuckling bitterly, I complained to the girl in front of me, “Lian’er…isn’t this a little too strong?”

“Don’t even think about not drinking it.” Lian’er glared at me. “It’s to cool down your body!”

There was nothing else I could say but to finish every last drop.


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