The Witch Nichang– Chapter 28
Who is she
The clear water was chilly to touch. Thankfully, it was summer now, so it wasn’t unbearable.
Cleaning Lian’er’s blood-stained clothes was much easier than I imagined because the bloodstain was still fresh. I dipped that part in the water, scrubbed it a few times, and the stain soon faded away a lot. After repeating this several times, I shook it out and looked at it against the moonlight. Once I made sure the stain was barely visible, I went to the edge of the woods, snapped off a branch, strung the clothes across it, and hung it between two scrubs to let it dry.
After doing all these, I rubbed my coldish hand and went back to the pool, looking up towards the water.
When I was doing the cleaning, I only focused on the task at hand. It didn’t take too long, so I thought the kid must still be playing in the water and wanted to call her up. When I looked over to that side, I found that she wasn’t playing but was in the water near the cliff instead with her back to this side, submerged in the water from the shoulders down, maintaining an odd, motionless posture.
I said it was odd because the water wasn’t exactly shallow. If a person wants to stay afloat, the person will have to keep treading water. It felt incongruous to be motionless like this. I had no time to care about other things. In the moonlight, I strained my eyes to look at the water before I could make out there was a rock underneath Lian’er, and she hid in the water sitting cross-legged, as if being in the middle of qi circulation.
Only when I saw this that I understood what she was thinking. That palm of mine must have left a mark on her shoulder. That was why she found an excuse to get into the water. For one was to evade the check-up, and for the other, to circulate her qi to promote blood circulation while I was cleaning her stuff. I guessed she wanted to take the chance to clear out the bruise on her shoulder. That way, it didn’t matter if I insisted on checking later.
Too bad she rarely did housework. She had no idea that the clothes didn’t need to be washed entirely, but just the area with the bloodstain had to be scrubbed, which took just a little time, not nearly enough for her to circulate qi to treat the bruise.
Before, she tried to trick me, and now, she tried to avoid me. She was getting better at using her wits on me. I didn’t know if it was because she was too proud to admit it or didn’t want me to feel guilty after seeing it that she was so reluctant to show me her injury. When I thought of this, I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head with resignation. With her temper, I think it was more reliable to guess the former.
But anyhow, qi circulation and playing in the water were two completely different things. Now instead of calling her, I was worried something unexpected might disturb her, which would put her at risk of qigong deviation if she wasn’t careful.
And on the other hand…
Looking at the woods, rustled by the wind, I couldn’t help but frown. Out in such a wilderness and so uncovered, even though she was submerged in the water from the shoulders down, it was too…
This place was deep in the mountain, and it was nighttime, and not even supposed to have a single ghost, but somehow, I felt uncanny. My mind began to recall all kinds of storylines about coincidence in various stories for no reason. I always had the feeling someone would see Lian’er the next moment.
As I was imagining these kinds of scenarios in my head, I laughed at myself for being infected by too many cheesy dramas, but at the same time, it unsettled me. It became intolerable at last, so I turned around and hurried to the woods.
This secluded pool was surrounded by cliffs on three sides. Even if you looked down from above, you couldn’t see anything, not to mention they were steep and craggy. The only way left to the pool was through these woods. I entered the woods but didn’t go deeper, just snatched a few branches and leaves, and deftly set up a few mechanisms on the path where people could pass through and the scrubs were sparse. This kind of mechanism is simple and harmless. It drops when touched and lets out some noises when it hits the ground. Although the noise wasn’t too loud, in such a quiet place and at such a close range, I think it should be enough.
After setting up the defense line in a jiffy, I heaved a sigh of relief and fell silent for a moment before chuckling. I didn’t know what I was doing and actually got myself on the run by an imagination.
But anyway, I felt safe now. I was mocking myself as I walked jauntily back to the pool, squatted down to wash my hands soiled by the branches and dirt, and at the same time, reflexively glanced at the pool.
It was nothing if I didn’t look. Once I looked, it shocked me to my feet!
I was shocked not because I saw something terrifying. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I saw nothing. Over there, there was nothing in the crystal clear water! Lian’er who was quietly sitting in the water a little while ago with her shoulders above the water meditating and circulating qi was gone!
This was an urgent matter. I went to the woods just now, but I was just skirting around it. It was just a few feet away from here. If there were any noises, I wouldn’t have not noticed it. But wouldn’t it be more worrying if she disappeared without a sound? Her clothes were still hanging on the branch, so she couldn’t be running away alone and naked, could she?
I daren’t take any reckless move, even more so when I am worried. My mind ran through every possibility, eyes kept searching the water. The best guess now was Lian’er was still in the water. But why would she go underwater? Did she finish with her meditation and dive into the water to play, or did she run into something? The worst of all thoughts was she somehow slipped into the water while she was still in the middle of the qi circulation. If so, I’m afraid…
I got more and more anxious when I thought of it. Then I decided to count to ten. If she didn’t show up by then, I would jump into the water to look for her myself. But I just counted to five, and I couldn’t wait anymore. I lifted the hem of my shirt and was about to jump into the water.
But after taking two quick steps and the coolness was up over my ankles, the sound of someone getting out of the water suddenly came to my ears!
I looked up and stared. In the moonlight, a figure broke through the water, whipping off splashes of water, and then the figure whirled a round in the air, and landed, standing firmly on that rock in the pool, looking tall and upright. The translucent water droplets reflecting the moonlight trickled down the body, dripping off like little pieces of jade. But she paid no heed to it, just brushed the wet wisp of hair off her forehead, and inspected the small bright yellow freshwater snail in her hand, eyes sparkling with joy.
She took no notice of me, but I was looking at her. Not that I hadn’t seen Lian’er like this before, it was just that I hadn’t really looked at her. So now, staring at the white jade-like figure in the water, I was actually entranced for a second.
Who is she?
It was quiet around, the wind rattling the tree leaves, and the rhythm was like nature’s music sheet, crooning, giving rise to the sense of weightlessness like dreams. I was there, forgotten about the damp coldness on my feet and the worries I had a second ago, just looking at the blue water. The secluded pool was like a mirror, reflecting the shadow of the cliffs and a fair lady. She stood in the water. The moonlight gently shrouded her with a layer of tulle, wavering and faint, like a shimmer radiated from the smooth and flawless skin.
Who is she? She is my Lian’er, but she isn’t my Lian’er either. In this moment, she is more like a complete stranger. She is a girl, a lady, but the one thing she isn’t is a child. She is no longer the child she once was.
My mind was blank. Lost, I stood there for a long time, or at least I thought it was a long time. It wasn’t until the person in the water noticed my gaze and looked over, flourishing the bright yellow in her hand at me, and grinned that I gulped, snapped back to myself, stepped away from the water, and back to the dry ground, but then I slipped. If I hadn’t held on to a rock in time, I would have almost fallen.
With this slip and hold, my brain completely went back to normal. I felt my heart palpitating, the arteries in my neck throbbing, and a light film of sweat on my palms, as if waking up from a dripping dream.
What is wrong with me?
I was shocked and doubtful.
This feeling isn’t…it’s impossible…
I was rubbing my temples. Before I could sort out all kinds of jumbled thoughts in my head, a cascade of faint tumbling sound abruptly came from the woods over that side.
Almost at the same time, I sprang and rushed towards the woods without even thinking!
Who’s it? Who triggers those mechanisms? Who’s coming this way? Absolutely no. Lian’er is standing in the water now, standing in the water just like that. Absolutely no. I can never let other people see her. She’s…she’s…
The answer was on the tip of my tongue. I deliberately suppressed it, single-mindedly going forward, and rushed to that place in the woods almost instantly. As expected, a mechanism I set earlier had fallen down, branches and gravel scattered on one side, but the surrounding remained quiet. I couldn’t see anything strange, and the other mechanisms were also intact.
Panting, I pursed my lips, perked up my ears and looked around, not letting go of a single trail, but there was really no one around. However, the branches and gravel at my feet moved at this moment, and as I watched, a tiny hedgehog struggled out of it and waddled into the grass on the side.
Without moving, I watched this little guy disappear from my sight. I just stood still in silence. After a long time, I suddenly felt like all the strength had been sucked out of me. Unable to help myself, I crumpled to my knees, covering my mouth.
When did this start?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. It was just that the accumulated quantitative changes eventually turned into qualitative changes. As is now, here and now, I could no longer ignore it, no longer hide it, no longer able to find any other excuses. This feeling, for the first time, surfaced so vividly, so strongly that it alarmed me.
Even for that moment just now, only one thought was in my mind, that was, I could never let other people see that Lian’er. She’s…she’s…
She is, mine.