The Witch Nichang– Chapter 29
My body was falling, falling endlessly.
What I could see was my tousled hair whipped by the wind, and a ray of light above my head, getting further and further away. I reached out my hand but couldn’t catch it because that wasn’t my light.
Is that it? Am I going to die? Am I going to die? Is this the end?
Splat, a clump of mushed flesh.
Quietly, I opened my eyes. It was dark around. Underneath was a comfortable cushion. I was lying nicely on it, just a little short of breath, teeth clenched tight. I touched my forehead. It was covered in sweat.
Propping up my body, I sat up from the bed and leaned against the stone wall. I mopped my hand across my face and took a few deep breaths, letting the fresh air fill my body, clearing the stuffiness in my chest. Now I felt much better, and my heartbeat began to settle.
That was when I felt eyes on me. I lifted my hand rubbing my eyes and saw Lian’er was sleeping in her usual place, staring at me.
“…What’s wrong with you?” I asked a somewhat silly question, perhaps because I had just woken up and wasn’t thinking straight.
Surely, this question made her frown and said in displeasure: “I’m the one who wants to ask you ‘what’s wrong with you?’ You were sleeping just fine, and suddenly, you looked like you were dying, mumbling who knows what. And when I was trying to listen carefully, you woke up.”
That’s close. Sighing to myself, I was wide awake. I barely put on a smile and replied: ”Nothing. It’s just a nightmare.”
“A nightmare?” Over there, she asked with curiosity: “You do that too when you have a fever. Is nightmare a scary dream? I saw you’d been sweating as if you were terrified.”
Scary? Maybe. Terrified? Indeed. I couldn’t help raising a wry smile and said: “Well, not really…I hope Lian’er will never know what a nightmare is.” As I said, I reached out my hand without thinking and wanted to stroke her head.
“No!” This act had prompted resistance. She cocked her head to dodge it and snarled: “Don’t rub my head! I’m not a child anymore!”
I took back my hovering hand and stared dazedly at her for a moment before I nodded: “Understood.”
I knew you weren’t a kid anymore. That was why it added a lot of trouble. If I could choose, I really hoped that I didn’t know and cared for you as a child for the rest of my life. It was better for me, and for you.
Too bad things didn’t always go your way.
I tried to get on with my life in the next few days, especially when I was with Lian’er. I would talk like how I would talk, smile like how I would smile. Just that inside, I could no longer be honest. Back when the feeling was still hazy, I could shrug it off without delving into it, even if being affectionate and sometimes being moved. But now that my feeling was clear, I felt as if I was doing something wrong. When I saw a casual expression or action from her, I acted as nothing happened on the outside, but on the inside, I couldn’t help being hung up on it.
I couldn’t control this inner conflict. If I could, I really didn’t like such a self who could no longer be calm and frank.
The only thing I was glad about was I had considerably good control over this feeling. I had kept it secret from everyone. Although Master had a keen observation, she wouldn’t notice anything strange as she didn’t pay much attention to us when we were together. As for Lian’er, she had an exceptional intuition but didn’t care to read people. Thus she was even less likely to notice anything, not to mention she had something on her mind now.
After that day, she finally waited through three days and couldn’t wait any longer. She dragged me down the mountain in a hurry after finding an excuse to hunt in the morning. Of course, I couldn’t refuse her. Besides, it was impossible to let her go alone, so I could only go down the mountain with her.
This trip down the mountain was nothing like the last one. Our trip went without a hitch. Everything went surprisingly well. When we stepped into the ceramics store, the old man had been waiting for us. All three items were done. Lian’er played with them over and over again in her hands. The corners of her eyes and brows were brimming with uncontainable delight. I watched from the side and found my eyes drawn to her again, so I whisked my eyes away. I cupped my fists at the old master in gratitude and gave him many gifts that I prepared beforehand as thanks. The old man was a forthright one. He accepted them with good grace and called his apprentice to fetch a small jar from the back, saying how could we celebrate a birthday without wine? It was the good stuff he had buried in his backyard for decades. He had wanted to celebrate with it after firing a batch of the most satisfactory wares in the future. Now that he shared a jar with us, our friendship was made.
I didn’t want to accept this thing at first. For one thing, it was too precious, and for the other, what were we going to do with this murky yellow liquid? But I couldn’t resist the fervor of the old man. Besides, Lian’er next to me had never seen wine. Now that she heard him speak about it as if it was something marvelous, I figured she was curious and tempted as she hinted to me with her eyes. I was used to letting her have her way, plus I had something to hide these days, so after being looked at for a few times, I could only thank him and accept it.
When we left, it occurred to me there couldn’t be wine without food, so I took Lian’er to a restaurant to get some side dishes, wrapped them nicely in lotus leaf and oil paper, and hurried back to the mountain before dusk with packages of food.
When we appeared in front of Master in such a manner, it was hard for her not to understand what was going on, and she realized, for the past few days, we were secretly up to something behind her back. That said, it was a token of her disciples’ affection, so she couldn’t blame us. Instead, she couldn’t contain a gratified smile when Lian’er took her outside the cave and sat her down before a stone block, kneeling on the ground with reverence and presenting her handmade gift to her.
Because of this smile, I put aside the mixed feelings that had been bothering me for the past few days and immersed myself in pure joy.
Although this was said to be a birthday celebration, there was no other plan after the gift-giving session. Thinking since it was about time, I served the dishes, portioned them out, and popped open the mudcap of the wine jar. The three of us just sat at the stone table outside the cave and enjoyed today’s dinner with the breeze and the setting sun.
When I poured the wine for Master, I was still a little worried, but maybe because she was happy, she said nothing about what we had done. Once I was done pouring, she picked it up, had a sniff, and took a sip. “Good stuff!” She praised with her brows raised. After that, one shot after another, she began to drink to her heart’s content like a real jianghu hero, not a sign of a lightweight a woman usually was.
I sat on a side, boggling at the sight of it. Fearing that it wasn’t good for the body to be drinking too much on an empty stomach, I kept putting food on her plate and told her to eat more. But when I looked away amid the haste, I saw Lian’er was holding the wine jar across me, blatantly pouring herself a full cup of wine. I panicked and called out to stop her, but Master squinted and waved her hand, saying: “It’s okay. It won’t hurt to let her try.”
Once she got her word, Lian’er brightened up, looking at me as if she had won. I was speechless. I couldn’t be teaching her about the rule that minors aren’t allowed to drink, so I could only watch her picking up her cup in triumph.
Lian’er never had alcohol before, after all. Although she was acting all smug, she was wary of it without knowing when the cup came close to her lips. She first imitated Master’s movement and took a sniff, looking a little bemused, but refused to give in. She held back her hesitation and took a gulp. Then she laid the cup and frowned.
This series of actions had given away her thoughts. “See. I told you you can’t drink,” I said in delight and reached out my hand as I said, wanting to take the cup away. It was fine if I didn’t say that. Once I said that, she held the cup of wine with both hands like she was guarding her food and looked at me, taking a few sips as if to protest. Then she lifted the chopstick and started eating with a blank expression.
There was nothing I could do about her stubbornness, so I could only take away the wine jar in front of her while pouring wine for Master, hoping she would stop after that one cup.
Lian’er wasn’t much of a drinker at all. After a few sips, her face started to flush. Because of her fair skin, the flush seemed especially conspicuous, growing redder as the heat crept up. When a cup of wine was barely downed, her face had become like ripe red fruit. Her typically sharp eyes had become hazy. As she was chewing after taking two more bites of the dishes, she dropped her head at the table.
I witnessed the episode from the beginning to the end. When I saw her lower her head, I quickly leaned forward and held her. Perhaps because she sensed someone getting close, she looked up in bewilderment. When she saw it was me, she swayed her head and shone a beaming smile, mumbling something. Then she leaned on my shoulder and fell sound asleep just like that.
With that, I felt so disconcerted. Not a part of my body felt right, but I couldn’t just pull away and let her fall, so I looked at Master for help, hoping she would step in.
However, upon looking, I found that Master’s mind wasn’t here at all.
All my mind was on Lian’er just now, so I didn’t notice, at some point, the smile had melted away from Master’s face. Although she was still drinking one cup after another, looking calm, her mind had obviously drifted away. Even the cups of wine reflecting the golden setting sun weren’t in her eyes, her eyes unfocused as if she was absorbed in her thoughts.
“…Master?” As I called her with worry, she looked over here as if she just woke up, took a look around, and said with a smile: “Is Lian’er drunk? It’s good she behaves like this after getting drunk. It’s getting dark, and the wind’s strong outside. You’d better take her to rest inside…”
When I saw her slowly stand up as she spoke, dusted the hem of her robe, and took a stride, as if to go somewhere, I asked in a hurry: “Master, what’re you…?” She halted without turning around, just staring into the distance, and said with nonchalance: “It’s been a long time since I drink like this. I’m feeling a bit tipsy. While the sun’s still up, I want to take a walk to clear my head. Don’t worry. You just have to take care of your sister.”
After saying that, she let out a long sigh and left with a sway.
I looked at the direction she had gone. After a long time, I looked away without a word. Everyone says that wine eases sorrow, but who knows it will hurt more later. After exploring the stone chamber, I knew what was troubling Master. But what good is it to know?
The word, love; Impossible to sunder, chaotic to disentangle, only oneself knows its joys and sorrows, others could never intervene.
I looked at the person sleeping tight in my arms. What shall I do with my love?
As the sun set, the wind outside indeed kicked up. Our hair was riffled in the wind. A strand of hair brushed her nose, and her face crinkled together, letting out a tiny sneeze.
I knew she wasn’t catching a cold, but I still wrapped my arms around her and went inside. Luckily, Lian’er was young and not that heavy, plus my persistent practice over the years, so I was still capable of carrying her back into the inner cave without breaking a sweat and laid her down on the padded stone bed she usually slept in.
Lian’er was usually highly vigilant. A little noise would wake her up. But now when she was drunk, she gave no response even after being tossed around, just reflexively emitting hums in comfort when her body touched the soft bed. She rolled over. Seemingly unsatisfied, she rolled back over and grabbed my arm, nuzzling against it like hugging a pillow, and snuggled down.
Being grabbed like this, I couldn’t pull off her hand, and I also didn’t want to. I sat beside the bed and looked at her, entranced.
I seldom looked at her this closely. At first, because of her being haughty towards me, she didn’t allow me to look at her. By the time we got along, I had used to not look straight at her.
She was sleeping so comfortably now, her nose quivering with her breaths. The light cast a faint shadow under her pretty lashes. Her face was flushed red from drinking, even her ears were red, yet they looked moisturized and plump. The white hue in the red gave it a natural glow.
I totally forgot about everything, only drawn to the sight in front of me. I wanted to get closer, a little closer. I closed my eyes, the tip of my nose and my lips could feel the delicacy and softness, stinging temperature yet so pleasant that it paralyzed me. There was a subtle scent of wine as she breathed, but it was more like the scent of woods, like the fresh leaves, the flowing water, the flower that bloomed for the first time, imbued with a unique innocence of a child, which formed a unique scent belonged to Lian’er.
Taking in such a scent and being close to such warmth, I felt tiddly even though I didn’t touch a drop.
It wasn’t until she felt disturbed in her sleep, raised her hand, and scratched the part of the skin that was touched, like scratching an itch, that I realized how close I was to her. I leaped to my feet in a panic, the arm being held broke loose with the jerk, and I backed away to a side in a few steps.
That was when my heart started racing, and compunction set in.
The thing I hated the most was losing control, yet I had lost control of myself twice in just a few days. My mind went blank, and I did silly stuff, especially what happened just now. I actually…actually lost my head and let myself lean over and kissed her cheek!
Not daring to look at the sleeping person on the bed, I turned around and ran straight to the water reservoir outside the cave, scooped a ladle of water, and poured it over my face to cool my head off. But it wasn’t enough, so I scooped a few more times with my hands. After a few more splashes, I finally calmed down.
My chin and hair were dripping water, and the water in the tank was rocking. Amid the rocking water vaguely mirrored a blurry face.
I stared blankly at that face. After a moment, I began to sneer.
“Wu Ying…” Between my teeth, I spat out a name, a name that should have been dead, a name that I never wanted to hear again.
“Wu Ying, do you want to die again?”
I still owe you guys a chapter for reaching my Kofi goal. Will update 2 chapters in the next release.