The Witch Nichang- Chapter 12
The next day, at the crack of dawn, Lian’er dragged me into the mountain to find medicine.
Actually, she wanted to do so already when she woke up in the middle of the night. But, after listening to my resigned explanation that not everyone could see in the dark like her, she just squinted at me, scoffed a ‘dumb’ mumbly from her throat, and said nothing more. She did not insist either. It made me feel rather surprised.
I felt it was not so much that our relationship grew substantially as she finally realized there was something she could not do by herself, but the other could. Thus, her unruly demeanor had imperceptibly subsided a lot.
In this regard, she had always been a pretty simple child. Deference was deference; defiance was defiance, regardless.
On the contrary, I was not sure if I could live up to her expectations.
I soon found the herbs. As long as I sorted out their exact shapes and scents, they were all actually herbs that were commonly seen in the mountain’s depths. The wolf pup’s injury did not further worsen, although he was still listless. However, looking at him being such feeble while holding the herbal paste in my hand that was finally mixed and mashed, I was a little hesitant for a moment as I was not sure if it would work—both the remedy and dosage. I was even worried about what to do if I picked the wrong herbs. After thinking about it, I told her my misgivings truthfully, though I did not know why I would seek advice from this child.
“You’re weird.” As a result, she looked at me, and her eyes seemed to say that it was odd to have such concerns. “Because it has to be treated, that’s why we went looking for medicine, isn’t it?”
I broke into laughter.
I carefully unswathed the wolf pup’s bandage, not touching the fixed splints, gently applied the herbal medicine onto the wound from the gap, and wrapped the bandage again. Maybe it was merely because of the refreshing sensation of the fresh herbal paste, but seeing the pup nudged Lian’er’s hand affectionately and seemed to be feeling much better, I still felt comforted.
Humans were like so; hunting other animals for food and survival on the one hand, but developing feelings for some animals around them on the other. I am afraid I would be told weird again if I let this thought of mine known to this child beside me who is cheering the wolf pup up.
In her eyes, maybe everything was normal and natural.
Life was, death was.
In the days to come, although no one said anything, changes had still started to take place tacitly. Every day, we would go out and into the mountain together, then we would go to where the wolf pack was hand in hand. Lian’er was perfectly justifiable to hunt and feed them, whereas I went about in secret to collect herbs and treat the injury—of course, when I said in secret, I meant in front of Master.
Actually, I had fear about this. After all, I was someone who seldom went out. Even if I went out, I would mostly stay near the cave entrance to practice my swordsmanship or do my tasks. I was easy to find. But now, I would disappear for two to four hours every day. Although Master often stayed in retreat, she would notice it, sooner or later, given some time. I had thought of teaching Lian’er to identify the herbs and let her do both things together. But on second thought, I still needed to go to the wolf pup to concoct the medicine and change the dressing anyway, so I just put that thought aside.
A few days later, Master came out from her retreat, and she indeed asked about it over the dinner table. Before I could think of how to answer, someone unexpectedly interjected the conversation from aside.
“She accompanies me to practice martial arts.” That child so interjected. Thinking about it, she shook her head again: “No, it’s me who accompanies her to practice martial arts. Her martial art skills suck.”
This had successfully made Master frown, and then she lectured her on respect for teachers. Seeing that she lowered her head and continued eating without uttering a word, she turned to me and asked me. The excuse I had prepared beforehand was totally useless now. I had to continue on with her story. Luckily, it was a near miss. I managed to forcibly mend the lie.
“That’s good too.” Master’s brows had yet to unfurl: “Your junior martial sister’s qinggong is indeed not bad. It’s good that you two compete and encourage each other, but remember, do not go too far, and more so do not pamper her too much.”
I nodded in agreement. It had me sweating inwardly, and my knowledge of that child had once again stepped up a level.
I could not say that Lian’er had done a disservice. Based on her character, these words must have been spontaneous. Her quick reaction was already beyond my expectation. I had never even thought she would take the trouble to speak for me. But from that day, I did have one more task, that was, to hone my qinggong for Master’s inspection in the future.
Lian’er was very calm about this. She said if worse came to worse, she would just accompany me to practice. It was good to know that even though we were closer now, she was still quite proud of her martial art skills. Of course, this pride came from the fact, and I also did not mind. However, because of what Master had said earlier and also out of my own interest, I coaxed her to make a promise with me, that was, if I caught up to her once during this practice period, she had to politely call me senior martial sister from that time on.
After all, she was still a straightforward child, so she agreed without thinking and was not even aware she actually had nothing to gain.
The next two weeks were even busier. It was hectic but contented.
But one thing in my heart had been giving me a sense of faint uneasiness. This uneasiness had become more and more evident over time. It was not because of the qinggong challenge. Although I had not won in the past two weeks, my qinggong had improved a lot. Sometimes, I could come close to her in full force by using some tricks stealthily. For me, that was enough. It was also not because of prey sharing. Right after I had asked about the whole story, I had set the trap outside of the wolf pack’s home range, not interfering with each other.
What disturbed me was the little pup’s injury.
His injury had not worsened, at least every time I cleaned the wound, I saw no sign of infection or suppuration. It had been nearly a month since the beginning. The regeneration ability of animals was supposed to be better than the average human. But somehow, the wound healed awfully slowly, even his spirit was low all the time. Regarding this, I was not sure whether Lian’er did not notice it or did not voice it out. Anyway, she said nothing. But I was uncertain and often worried about if the herbs I picked actually worked.
What I had never thought was, soon, I could not use even these types of medicinal herbs on him.
Late summer should not have been the rain season in Mount Hua, but the rain had indeed been pattering for three days.
The rain was not heavy, but it was not light either. Anyway, it was not the kind of rain people could walk through like it was nothing. Even so, it should not have affected me and Lian’er too much. We would do things that needed to be done even if it was raining or snowing, unless…Master was at the side.
But it was just such a coincidence that she had just completed a phase of closed-door meditation, and these few days were the time for her to rest and recuperate.
Therefore, in the face of the rain, which was not a big deal, the excuses we made before had become useless. Even the hunting that Lian’er had been doing all the while was also temporarily put on hold with an impassive remark from Master: “With such heavy rain, you don’t have to go out purposely. There are enough grains stored in the cave and also plenty of smoked meats. We won’t run out of food for a few days.”
For the first time in my life, I had regretted being too proactive that I kept too many reserves.
The days being grounded in disguise were tough, especially when you had something to worry about. Except for doing the chores, meditating, and circulating qi every day, I was looking at the trees in the rain outside the cave, dazing, hoping that the sky would clear up the next day. The situation of Lian’er was much worse. Although she kept herself quite in check in front of Master, she could not even calm herself down when meditating, and there was a hint of rage in her eyes.
In this way, the days continued until the fourth day. At last, that child could no longer hold in and had gone missing early in the morning.
Yellow Dragon cave was just so big of a place. I could not hide it for her even if I wanted to. Master soon found out that she was gone. She could not get any answer out of me, so naturally, she flushed up with anger, sat down facing at the cave entrance with a straight face and fell silent. I stood at the side with hands hanging by the sides of my body, knowing that things were going to be bad. I quietly took two steps nearer to the cave entrance in the hope that when Lian’er came back, she could look at my eyes first and make up a good excuse.
We stayed like this for a long time. The rain outside was getting heavier, and there was even thunder in the distance.
I got really anxious from waiting, and when I was about to implore Master to let me look for her, the cave entrance suddenly turned dark, and a little, dripping wet figure flashed in.
She was drenched and wretched, even her hair was dripping water, and her face was a little paler than usual. She came into the cave as if she did not see the master nearby, rushing straight to me, and grabbed my hand.
“Follow me!” She said, her eyes filled with anxiety, her fingertips were ice cold.
“Xian’er!” A grating roar came from behind me. She did not call Lian’er, but me; her meaning went without saying.
For a moment, I was caught in a dilemma. But, the cold on my hand was too piercing, it did not allow me to hesitate. I turned around decisively, cupped my fists, and bowed deeply to Master: “There is no time to explain now. I’ll make a trip. I hope Master can trust me and also Lian’er!”
After finishing my sentence, I could not think about anything else. I turned around and rushed into the hazy rain hand in hand with the child.