The Witch Nichang– Chapter 16
Am I dreaming now? Or awake? I don’t get it.
If I was dreaming, yet my mind felt clear, my senses were sharp. The dewy dampness in the air, the scent of the cool earth, the passing wind, and the dancing shadow of the moon, all the sensations were so vivid.
But if I was awake, wasn’t it strange for a person lying on the bed in a cave with high fever to feel all that?
For a brief moment, blinking, I was really confused, but soon, my attention was drawn to something else like the bumps, the feeling, and the warmth and the breath too close beneath me.
Rarely have I been this close to people in this way, too rare and too close, so it felt oddly incongruous. I froze for a moment before I could react and realize what kind of situation I was currently in.
“Lian’er, what are you…cough…doing?” My voice was still hoarse. As the cold wind blew against my face, my words were almost choked back.
“I’m carrying you.” The sound was so close. The young girl’s voice was as matter-of-fact as ever, except her breathing was slightly uneven.
Yes, I knew the situation even without her telling me. Right now, I was resting on her back, and she was carrying me, not only carrying me but also running. More precisely, she was dashing through the night woods with me on her back. She had used her qinggong, making her very fast, which had kicked up the wind. The dewy leaves and branches swept across my arms and cheeks from time to time, which had woken me up.
“I know you’re carrying me…cough…What I meant was…cough…cough…” Speaking against the wind in this state wasn’t exactly an easy task. I had to bury my head in her collar before I could even finish my sentence. I was coughing and gasping, choking on the wind. It took me a while to get back my breath.
“You shut up!” I couldn’t see her expression from behind, but I guessed my movement must have annoyed her. After yelling at me, she gave my body a heave, then I heard the voice soften a little: “Stop it. We’re almost there.”
I was dumbstruck for a moment. ‘Stop it’ were the words I used to say to her a lot. Now that it was used back against me, it really rendered me speechless.
But it wasn’t wise to talk against the wind at this time, and I felt her breath was shaky—even though she was gifted and well-grounded in martial arts, she was still young. After all, it was tiring to walk while carrying someone a few years older than her on her back. I wanted to get down immediately, but I knew she was stubborn. Instead of wasting each other’s energy arguing, it was better to cooperate. She wouldn’t lie anyway. If she said we are almost there, we are almost there. As for other doubts like where to and why to… I would leave them until we got there.
With my mind made up, I didn’t ask any more questions, just tried to wrap my arms around her shoulders and curl up as much as possible so that she could carry me more easily. It was indeed awkward being carried by a child. But fortunately, she couldn’t see my uneasiness because of the night and the position.
Just like this, nothing more was said along the way, except for the sound of two breathing with different rhythms revolving around.
Indeed, after a short while, I felt my body shifting, and the world was turning topsy-turvy. Before I knew it, I was off her back and put down next to a huge tree. My legs were still limp. As soon as she let go, I slumped onto the ground despite myself. Fortunately, under my feet was a relatively dry patch of grass, and my back could also lean against the trunk. It turned out to be a suitable place to sit.
“Here we are.” She stood beside me, heaving a soft sigh.
Looking around, although it was late at night, and I was a little dizzy, the surroundings were more or less visible under the silver-washed moonlight. It was an open field located by the slightly slanted hillside. The trees were sparse and not dense, so all kinds of dwarf shrubs and herbs between the trees grew extremely well. Only thick patches of black could be seen in the night.
“This place is…” Although it was different from the day view, I could still recognize this place.
How could I not recognize it? I was the one who discovered this place. Because of the sunlight, the rain, the terrain, and such, it was a perfect place for growing herbs. In the last month, I often came here or the nearby area to pick herbs because of the little wolf, so the child had tagged along with me to this place a dozen times.
“Lian’er, why do you bring me here at this time?” Even though I recognized this place, I was still full of questions, looking up at the person standing beside me.
Her reply was filled with certainty: “Get herbs.” She replied, squatted and looked at me, frowning: “It’s been a day since Master’s gone, and your cold seems to have worsened. I thought about it for a long time and felt that, if so, why don’t I bring you here to pick some herbs for yourself first, it’s better than waiting in vain.”
A strange feeling streaked across my heart upon hearing that. It was indeed not a bad idea, but it never occurred to me, because I never expected that she would be willing to do this for me. However, despite being moved, looking at the surroundings blanketed by the night sky, I could only sigh. “Lian’er, it’s a good idea, but as I said before, not everyone can…”
“I know. Not everyone can see in the dark like me.” She broke in, standing up with a wave of her hand. “Then just tell me what kind of herb to look for, and I’ll find it in the bushes and bring it back for you to check. Simple.”
This time, I was really dumbfounded.
I supposed this reaction of mine was satisfying to her as I saw the corner of her eyes crinkled slightly, and a smug smile overtly appeared on her face.
And what would happen next naturally fell into the child’s hands.
Perhaps she was happy with the idea of surprising me, she was all pumped up, asking pressingly for the shape of herbs needed to be gathered without stopping for a rest. I thought about it and picked out a few simple, easily identifiable plants, describing them to her as succinctly as I could. Then she turned around and searched for them carefully in the nearby area.
Instead, I was left with nothing to do, just have to sit under the tree and rest.
The temperature at night was rather low, and the air was chilly. I felt much relaxed as the air filled my body between breaths. Although I was sick, I rarely sat down idly to watch people bustling about, so I felt somewhat at a loss. My eyes swept around aimlessly and eventually landed on the little figure not far away who was engrossed in the search.
How many times has it been? Every time, this child would always make me wonder, even introspect, about myself with her unexpected words and actions.
Just like tonight, her idea was good, really good, but it wasn’t something hard to think of. I had always treasured my own life, yet this idea never crossed my mind… why? Could it have simply slipped through my mind? I’m afraid…not quite.
I tried to make sense of it. Maybe it was the self-esteem of an adult that didn’t want a child to work hard for me, but then, I quirked my lips in self-irony and shook off this idea.
The answer was actually in my heart, plain and clear.
“How about this?” A long stalk of grass unexpectedly popped up in front of me, with dew still hanging on it.
Taking it on my hand, I looked at the pair of eager eyes and then tried to identify the plant by the moonlight for a while before smiling and shaking my head at her.
Undeterred, and knowing that wasn’t the one, she turned and walked away, carrying on her search.
My body felt better, and the dizziness waned a bit, but I was still exhausted. I leaned against the trunk and closed my eyes, forcing my gaze to stop following the busy little figure.
When you close your eyes in silence, you are dulled to the passage of time. Even when you know you are awake, your senses become blurred.
It seemed like a long time, but it shouldn’t have been long because the child hadn’t found anything for me to look at. It was difficult for those who were inexperienced to search for a few specific plants among the thick, lush bushes, but you were bound to find something given some time.
As I was thinking fuzzily, I suddenly noticed a strange feeling.
I opened my eyes and looked to my right hand without moving. Because my back was resting against the tree, my hand was casually placed on the grass beside my body, just like how everyone sat when they were relaxed, usual and chill.
However, it was this hand that something was clearly next to it, showing up unknowingly. Under the night sky, it seemed like a twisty, dappled belt.
Of course, that wouldn’t be a belt. Anyone with a modicum of common sense would know!
Holding my breath in concentration, I stared at it, restraining myself from shrieking or moving. Thanks to my previous experience, I had done mental precautions similar to this more than once before, as I would sometimes encounter unexpected situations being in the wild. I didn’t expect nothing had happened then, but it really came in handy in this life.
It was crawling up slowly along my palm. Fortunately, the cuff wasn’t wide enough for it to get in, so it just wrapped itself loosely around my hand, circling my arms. Even so, I could still clearly feel the cold presence through the thin garment.
I endured the discomfort, knowing that this was the worst time to be rash. It wasn’t aggressive at the moment. It was just the cold-blooded animals’ natural inclination toward warmth that made it come closer to me. If I could keep calm and steady, we could both be fine for the time being. If I made a reckless move out of fright, I would startle it instead, then a snake bite would be inevitable.
I would never want to be bitten by this thing. Although I could hardly see the dappled pattern in the haze of night, the head was, heck, a distinct triangular shape.
While slowly calming my breath as best as I could, I secretly exerted force to my left hand on the other side. As the saying goes, hit a snake on its seven inches, grab a snake on its three inches. If I couldn’t grab its neck accurately in one strike, I would have one hell of a time with it.
There was only one chance, but my hand was shaking, my body was weak, somewhat shy of a little energy.
Or…a thought suddenly flashed across my mind. I relaxed my trembling left hand and cast my gaze on the little figure not far away.
I guessed she hadn’t found what she was looking for nearby. She had gone a little farther than before in the grass field, but she still stayed well within my sight, and I could easily spot that moving silhouette with a quick glance.
It was risky to cry out for help at this distance, but as long as it was well-controlled, the risk was no higher than catching the snake with my bare hand.
The question was…
I dared not curl my lips and could only smile wryly in my heart. I couldn’t believe the question came so fast. One second ago, I just figured out some answers, and the next, I was forced to make a decision?
Perhaps, deep down, I had never trusted that child.
Yes, I believed in her, but I didn’t trust her. I cared for and tolerated her as a child, even disobeyed Master for her words. But on the other hand, it was true that I had never really wanted to rely on her for anything—that was why I never thought of her at all, never thought of cooperating with her, even though I was very sick—not wanting to trouble a child was just an excuse.
No trust, why? Just because she was too young to be trusted? Or did those unruly, aggressive behaviors then leave a mark on me after all? Or simply, my own problem.
I used to have friends and buddies, at the very least, I still had my parents and blood relatives. After I came to this world, I didn’t think my personality had changed, but it was true that I had never trusted anyone again. There were no family or friends in my heart, and I relied only on myself. Even after I followed Master, I had thought about more than once what to do if she didn’t want me one day.
Before today, I had never realized I had changed this way, cold and distant as if I was isolated from the world.
However…taking one last look at the person in the distance, I took a shallow breath and closed my eyes, trying to return my attention to the unbearably cold presence on my arm.
So what if I do realize it after today? Having died once, I was no longer willing to place my life in the hands of others anymore, nor was my fate.
After gently getting my blood flowing again, my left hand stopped shaking so much. I tried to exert force again while keeping my eyes on my right arm. Fortunately or unfortunately, the thing remained where it was, not moving further up, but wound a little tighter, a dark triangular snake’s head swaying slightly from time to time.
After envisioning the move I should make a million times in my head, I finally felt the time was right. I gritted my teeth and bent over, as softly and carefully as I could, easing from a calm, relaxed resting state to one that was ready to strike.
My left hand lifted gently. Success or failure, it all ends here. I couldn’t help feeling nervous.
It was at this juncture that an unexpected turn of events took place!
“Hey! Come take a look, this must be it. This time, I’ve looked at it very carefully. It should…” A familiar voice abruptly sounded from the other side. There was pure joy in her tone, but then it suddenly broke off.
Startled, I looked up at her and saw her staring straight in my direction. There was some distance between us, so I couldn’t see her clearly in the night, but I could clearly feel her gaze unblinkingly locked on my right hand. Well, her pair of eyes could differentiate various plants in bushes at night that mingled and blended together, how could she not see the creature coiled around my arm now.
After getting a good look, she said no word, just approaching this side one step at a time, even her footsteps were hushed, only her eyes were sparkling, penetrating and sharp.
I knew what she wanted to do, and there was still time to stop her. That child was always like this, acting at her will. She did as she thought, wouldn’t hesitate, and never cared what others thought.
At this moment, I didn’t think I wanted her to come over, so I should just tell her: Lian’er, don’t move. It’s alright. Let me deal with it myself.
But still, until she got closer, nothing came out of my mouth.
Two steps away, she stopped. Her sharp gaze that locked on my right arm shifted, making contact with my eyes, and blinked, turning a little softer.
Eyes are the mirror of the soul. I didn’t know if she saw my hesitation, but I had already understood the determination and persistence in her eyes.
My tense body gradually relaxed.
Maybe I wasn’t willing to trust her; I didn’t even trust Master. The most others could do was to lend a helping hand. When it came to a critical moment, no one could be relied upon other than yourself. Even if the decision went wrong, you could only face the consequences of your own making, not blaming God or others. If not for holding this belief, I wouldn’t have survived to this day.
Would there be any different in the future?
The child bent over, quietly picking up a branch and weighing it in her hand. Then she looked to my eyes again and nodded in silence, and I, at last, in that gaze, eased off the force on my left hand and slowly closed my eyes.
Because she is more stubborn than you are, a voice in my heart said so.
Sorry for the late release. I’ll see if I can upload one more chapter next week to make it up to you guys!