The Witch Nichang– Chapter 37
The rattling sound of the night watch on the street came from afar, a long clack followed by three short clacks. Every clack was as if knocking on the heart.
I slept by the window, but there was no moon tonight, so it was pitch-black inside and out. I opened my eyes in the dark but maintained a slow and even breathing like I was sleeping.
Occasionally, there was a little breeze blowing through the window crack, which aptly served as a refresher.
Before going to the bed and snuffing out the light, I hesitated. My hand was resting on the window frame, but eventually, it became a little dusting motion. Although I felt apprehensive about the unknown and didn’t trust it at all, it might not be a bad thing if troubles could happen tonight, so I might have to take this risk.
After that, I kept on waiting. But until now, nothing unexpected had happened.
So should I just stick with my original plan? It is already three in the morning. It will be too late if I don’t move now. Besides, aren’t the obedience and accommodation on the way here meant to pave the way for tonight’s plan? At the thought of it, I moved a little. When I noticed my breathing got slightly faster, I stopped right away and adjusted.
Had to admit, the skill of discerning subtlety by sounds that the red flower dame had shown me today while she was meditating had a great psychological impact on me. The dark I thought was the perfect cover had turned into a mere self-deception. I constantly felt like every move I made right now could be noticed by her, plus her subtle reminder when we lodged in as if she knew what I was thinking.
But on the other hand, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe she was still not asleep by now. A fierce fight was coming up the next day. It was necessary to conserve her energy. Besides, I was confident about being light on my feet.
This confidence came from Lian’er. Though her martial arts weren’t as unfathomable as the red flower dame, she had the vigilance of an animal. I had lived with her for a long time. Sometimes, I would get up at night to have some water. In order not to disturb her sleep, I had learned how to keep my movements nearly silent.
I had to take the risk tonight. Otherwise, I would be sorry to everyone.
I was already prepared for this. When the light was out, I deliberately made the rustling sound of undressing, but I still had my clothes on. As long as I could roll out of the bed, open the window by the street, and gently drop down now, it would be the first step to success. Whatever happened after that, I could put it all behind.
I rehearsed the details in my head for the last time. When it was finally time to go for it, I controlled my breathing and wanted to get up quietly, so I propped myself up with a slight push, but halfway through, my body went limp!
My heart started to palpitate. Then I realized, at some point, I had lost my strength!
I didn’t believe what was happening now. I forced myself to push harder, but it didn’t work. My hands and legs felt limp. The feeling wasn’t as profound if I didn’t move, but once I tried to move, I felt even weaker, even my head started to spin.
Breaking out in a cold sweat, I forced my heartbeat to slow down. When it didn’t work, I forced myself to calm down and observed the room. Only then did I begin to feel there was something wrong with the air in the room. Supposedly, for inns like this, where people come and go, it was common to have a faint scent of incense in the rooms to get rid of odors. But come to think of it now, I felt the scent smelt vaguely different from the ordinary incense.
Realizing this, all kinds of familiar, unfamiliar flowers’ names flooded into my mind. I looked into the dark. Even when I stayed up all night and remained vigilant, I still fell right into it. She wasn’t as alert as I was, so she was supposed to fall deeper into it. Could it be that the bellboy was actually here to seek revenge on her?
When the bellboy came to my mind, I immediately thought of those words on his palms.
At this point, I was already feeling drowsy. I silently recited the words “Don’t move the window” and moved my head to look at the window by the bed, trying to figure out something from it. In the end, I couldn’t make out anything. Instead, in a sudden gust of breeze, I felt a lot more awake.
The breeze didn’t come from anywhere but the window gap.
Suddenly, I understood why the bellboy did that and also why I didn’t realize something was wrong with my body until I started moving. The window gap was facing directly at where I lied, bringing in fresh air from time to time. At first, I thought it was refreshing, but it turned out to be more than that.
It seemed that everything had begun since we lodged in this inn. I didn’t know if it was intentional to arrange us in the same room, but the bed placement was no doubt intentional, even the gap size of the window was calculated. If it was too small, the wind couldn’t come in; If it was too huge, the air flow would be too good. Then, the scent wouldn’t have worked as it should be.
That person—or shall I say—that bunch of people, what exactly did they want?
The reason I had time to think about this was I couldn’t move my body at all. As long as I was facing the window, the breeze would bring in some fresh air and wake me up from time to time, but that didn’t solve the actual problem. My limbs were still weak. I was lying in the dark, trying to combat the drowsiness with that bit of coolness. I couldn’t even make a sound.
If anyone rushed in and gave a slash to both of us right now, it would be perfect. It couldn’t be more convenient.
While I was thinking about it giddily, the door swooshed open as I thought. I held my breath and turned to look. I could only see two shadow figures in the candlelight, both dressed up like a bellboy, a thick cloth scarf around their mouth and nose. It was more apt to say they served as a mask rather than a cover for their face.
They rushed in bare-knuckle, ignoring the red flower dame and coming straight to me instead. They held me up hastily. One of them took the time to reach out his hand and pushed the ajar window wide open. Then holding me up one on each side, they rushed out of the room.
Actually, the moment the window was fully open, the fresh air was no longer obstructed and gushed inside like a wave of invisible tide. At that moment, my body instantly felt swifter.
It wasn’t impossible to push them away with my qi, but in the end, I decided to wait and see.
Being half-carried, half-dragged forward like this, we went down the stairs, around the backyard and the woodshed, where I thought they were bringing me to, but they ended up opening the side door at the inn’s backyard and carried me out to the woods before they finally stopped.
Could it be that I was wrong? Things weren’t that complicated, and I just happened to bump into obscene lechers?
With that in mind, I started to move my qi around my body to protect myself. Away from the dense incense in the room, the air outside was cool and invigorating and coupled with being dragged all the way here, my limbs were regaining feeling. The foul air in me was mostly replaced after several rounds of breathing. Dealing with a couple of malicious scumbags shouldn’t be a problem at all.
If they dared to land their hands on me, I would make them regret it!
Fortunately, things didn’t seem to go the way I thought. Once I was laid on the grass in the woods, one of the men backed up a few steps, leaving the shorter one to hold my shoulders. They did nothing inappropriate, just shaking and calling me repeatedly to wake me up.
Seeing them like this, I stopped pretending. I looked up after opening my eyes and stood up.
The two seemed relieved to see me get up, but immediately seemed constrained and unconsciously took two steps back. At the moment, the cloth scarf on their face was already taken off. The shorter one was the bellboy who left the message, and the big fellow behind him looked unfamiliar to me. I never seemed to have seen him before.
I eyed them for a moment before I cupped my fist in puzzlement and said cautiously, “I wonder…”
When they heard me asking, the two of them exchanged a look. I had no idea what they were exchanging with their eyes, and finally, the big fellow gave the bellboy a kick. Taking a kick from him, the bellboy stumbled a few steps to me and scratched his head coyly, stammering, “Miss..uh…do you still remember us?”
Of course, I didn’t know them, so for a while, I couldn’t answer them. He might have guessed it from my look. He smiled. “Right…it’s fine if Miss doesn’t remember us. We weren’t going to actually see you at first, but you remember this, right?” After saying that, he turned around and called the big fellow. “Heizi.”
When the big fellow got the cue, he stepped forward and rolled up his left sleeve without demur. The cuffs of the bellboy’s attire were already loose. With a stroke, the sleeve was rolled up to his shoulder, revealing the visible old scar on his arm.
The bellboy pointed to the scar. “This. Is this familiar to you?”
Since he said so, it must have meant something. With the candlelight in their hands, I took a closer look at the scar as they asked. Suddenly, some memories flashed across my mind.
Right, how could I forget? Those memories from a certain night. That bloodshed. If not for that, perhaps there wouldn’t be the blood-stained clothes after that, the waterplay in the lake, and the heart-pounding moment.
“You’re..that group of…” I looked up, no longer puzzled, but couldn’t help but be a little warier.
“Don’t worry, Miss!” The bellboy probably saw my wariness. He continued, “This time we’re not here to revenge but return the favor!”
It turned out after losing out big time that night, they helped each other down the mountain. Thanks to the money I gave them, they could get treated in time, so not only no one died, most of them kept their arms too. Most of these people came from the underclass. From a young age, all they learned were some petty street skills, thinking if they had numbers and were not afraid of death, they would be a heroic outlaw. That night, they were at the death’s door. After witnessing the real jianghu skills, everyone was horrified and discouraged, especially the leader. He disbanded the gang on the spot, split their loot, and went on his way.
“After splitting up, each of our brothers went their separate ways. Ole Hei and I, one of us knows how to entertain customers, the other knows how to make good food, so the two of us came together and forked out some money to set up shop here, trying to be honest businessmen. Unexpectedly, it turned out pretty good. A year ago, our business grew, and we started an inn.” At the last word, he bowed. “So you’ve done us a favor, a great one! Without what you said back then, we wouldn’t be here now; Without your money, ole Hei wouldn’t have kept his arm. Although we are some yokels, we still know this much!”
I remembered, at that time, I said I was willing to give others a chance to change themselves, but honestly, I didn’t think I would see that change happen myself. Now listening to him tell his stories, I was a little overwhelmed for a moment.
I hesitated for some time before suddenly remembering our business, so I couldn’t help but ask, “Then…then how did you guys recognize me? And how did you know I was in trouble?”
When the bellboy heard me ask that, he smiled proudly. “I have no other skills, but I know how to trim my sails and I also have an excellent memory. Although you wore a bamboo hat at that time, I will never forget your voice! As soon as you spoke when you came in yesterday, I recognized you. Then after paying attention to your conversation, I figured you were in trouble, and when I heard something while setting up your bed, I was more certain of it.” Speaking of the part where he was proud of, he brought his thumb up. “Then an idea hit me. I thought of the drug in the black market that we’ve left from the old days and came up with this idea. Although it’s a little dirty, it works, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it works. Thanks.” I nodded but spoke my mind. “But do you know who you’re messing with? She’s a master.”
The bellboy shook his hand without worry. “Afraid of what? Once the wind flows in after opening the window, the scent is gone. After helping you, ole Hei and I will just go back to sleep and pretend we know nothing tomorrow. She won’t tear down our inn, right? Don’t worry, Miss!”
The two in front of me were just some nobodies in the world. They were once violent bandits who gathered together and caused trouble. But at this moment, I sincerely respected them just because I, myself, was also just a common nobody, so I knew it was easy to say what they had done, but for a bunch of people who just settled down, it wasn’t easy.
“In that case, Zhu Xian sincerely thanks you!”
Out of the range of the inn’s lights, the night sky was as dark as ink, starless and moonless.
For certain considerations, I didn’t dare to carry a torch. I just relied on my ten-year familiarity with the mountain, groping and stumbling up the mountain peak.
Although the course of events was unexpected, the situation now was indeed moving in a direction I wished.
Thinking about the person I could soon meet, my heart was pounding.
My website’s old theme broke yesterday just before I was going to upload this chapter, thus this new interface. I’m going to use this theme for now until I figure out what to do next. Hopefully, it doesn’t affect your reading experience much.