The Witch Nichang- Chapter 4

Wolves

It was a winter night with a bleak moon up high.

The torch couldn’t shine far in the rocky heaps, and the branches covered in snow were in the way. I hadn’t been to this valley with complex terrain since winter began, and now, it’s covered in a thick layer of snow, making it even harder to see. I was groping in the dark. With my memory and eyesight, I took every step with caution.

The sobs drifting in the wind at this time added a little more eeriness to this place.

The only thing that could comfort me who was fumbling around alone was the few wolf carcasses that I could see along the way. Their death was horrible, but at least the same one-strike-kill wounds indicated that Master had been here before, and probably heading in the same direction. I figured she might be attracted by the same sound too, or she might be just ahead.

This guess had lifted my spirit, and I sped up my pace.

But, it wasn’t too far until a forked road unexpectedly appeared before me. I wouldn’t say there were actually roads; it was only a broken wall that had forcefully parted the way ahead into two. And, here happened to be a wind gap. The wind hovered and echoed here, interfering with the cries’ direction—sometimes it’s coming from the left, and sometimes it’s from the right—causing it difficult to differentiate. I frowned while trying to recall, vaguely remembering that I had been to this place when I was picking fruits during autumn. This fork to the left should lead to a bare mountain crest, and taking two turns on the right would lead to the bottom of the cliff. After much consideration, I decided to go right. 

I came to the bottom of the cliff after a while. Since the fork, I hadn’t seen a single wolf carcass. Fortunately, I hadn’t encountered any wolves either. Rather, the cries were becoming louder, proving that I had made the right choice. I was slightly relieved. Shortly after following the sound, I found a cave beneath the cliff. 

The cave was deep inside, but it was not as refined as Yellow Dragon Cave, reeking with a distinct stench of beasts from the inside. I glanced around at the cave entrance, hesitant, afraid that there was something I couldn’t mess with in the cave.

But the cries were clearly coming from the inside. 

I looked at the torch in my hand. The fire was burning briskly. It seemed I have taken a long time on this journey, but in fact, it was only ten minutes at most. I had come this far. There was no reason to turn back now. Thinking about it again, since a child was crying inside, then at least that deadly thing shouldn’t be around right now. Unless…

Holding a torch and a short sword, murmuring ‘Materialism, I don’t believe in ghosts and monsters,’ I crept into the cave. 

Inside the cave was lower than I imagined. If adults were to come in, I was afraid they had to watch their heads all the time. What I hated the most was the stench was even worse than outside, forcing me to pinch my nose with the hand that wasn’t holding the short sword. The only thing that I was thankful for was the cave wasn’t too deep. After a short walk, I had reached the cave’s end. 

Then, when the torch shined across, I’d seen a scene I’d never forget in my life. 

At the cave’s end, piles of messy straws and pieces of animals’ bones were scattered all around. This was still nothing; what was odd was, an enormous white wolf was lying on the straws. Its eyes were bulging with ferocity, and its menacing glare remained, but the eyes were dull and unfocused—clearly, it had been long dead. Two wolf pups were lying on its side, whining. 

Next to the wolf pups, there’s a third being whining together, but it wasn’t a wolf pup.

The one bending over, weeping, was a naked human child!

The situation was peculiar. While I was bewildered, the fire in my hand had already alarmed them. The two wolf pups reacted first, stood up in my direction, and stopped whining. Instead, they let out low growls full of threats and resentment. Following that, the young child also raised the head with tears on the face. The child’s expression and action were the same as those wolf pups, with eyes brimmed with cruelty.

They were closing in slowly. If it were two adult wolves that surrounded me now, I would have panicked. But, these two wolf pups looked more like three to four months old puppies, adorable but not as threatening, so I wasn’t scared. Instead, I took advantage of them nearing to size up the child more closely. 

As I got closer, I noticed this child was about three to four years old. Although the child was mucky with long hair covering the face, there’s no injury on the body. In contrast, the child was vigorous and agile, with all fours on the ground, moving from one place to another, looking exactly like a young wolf waiting for the right moment to ambush. My eyes followed the child for a few jumps, and finally, I could see clearly that the child was a girl. 

Out of the blue, I remembered those folktales I’d heard before.

The two pups had probably seen me distracted. Right at this moment, they abruptly launched an attack. They were well-coordinated, both quietly turned to my blind spot. Then, with a low howl, they lunged toward me at the same time, one from the left and one from the right. With the swift speed and the fierce impetus, they had quite the demeanor of adult wolves. 

Unfortunately for them, although I was pondering over something, I was still watching their movements with the corners of my eyes. As soon as the howls arose, I took a step to the side and dodged right away. With more than a year of hard work and training, although the progress of my internal martial arts was slow, there were significant improvements in my strength and speed, and my reaction was much faster, which was why, even when the wolf pups came charging over, they weren’t so fast in my eyes. With a slight lean to the side, I easily evaded the first pup’s attack and gave it a kick in passing. Meanwhile, I raised my sword, faced the second one that had simultaneously lunged forward, fended off its sharp claws, and gave it a hard tap on its forehead with the sword’s ridge.

After getting kicked and tapped, the two young pups were knocked far off into the distance, whimpering, and couldn’t get up any sooner. 

Out of pity for them being young and cute, I’d only used half of my strength. I didn’t expect it to be so effective, even myself was a little astonished. 

While I was stupefied, a gust of strong wind suddenly came from behind. 

Tensed up, I instinctively thrust my sword as I turned over. In a glance, I quickly retracted my sword—right in front of me was a young face. Though her bright eyes were full of beast’s brutality, I couldn’t treat her like a beast—I flinched my wrist, and the blade shifted away by a slight inch from her skin. But, she didn’t seem to be aware of it. Instead, she used this advantage to bite down on me without mercy. 

An excruciating pain came from my forearm at once, hurting me so much that I almost dropped my sword.

Although she was young, her bite force was impressive. I had only a child’s physique at the moment. And now, my forearm was tied down by her, but she just wouldn’t unclench her jaw after biting it hard, seeming as if she would never let loose until she tore a piece of flesh off me. My right hand had been bitten, the pain was such that tears were on the verge of bursting out, yet I couldn’t hit her too hard. I was agitated. I stuck the torch into the crevice in a hurry, freeing my other hand to pry her jaw open. She was kicking and scratching madly, so I pressed her down with all my weight. For a moment, we were in a scuffle, rolling around in one place. It was a critical moment, but when the fire cast elongated shadows on the cave wall beside, it looked more like two kids fighting and messing around. I caught a glimpse of it in haste. It was somewhat funny and ironic. 

I managed to force her to loosen her jaw with some difficulty. Bloody tooth marks were long left on my right arm. I gasped in pain, only wishing to get a chance to take care of this wound sooner. 

But the present circumstances didn’t allow me this chance. The girl was forced back, but she wasn’t hurt, still moving slowly and recollecting herself to strike again. The two wolf pups had had their respite, staggering to their feet, looking as if they were going to regroup and join the fight. In contrast, on my side, my sword-holding dominant hand was aching horribly, and the most crucial torch was out of my control—though it’s still burning fine in the crevice at the moment, I worried that if the fight later snubbed the fire out by accident, then it would be ‘exciting’ in the dark. 

Do I have to hit her without mercy?  I unknowingly clench my fist. That’s fine with the two wolf pups, but that…

While I was in a dilemma, there seemed to be a gust of light breeze coming from behind. I saw the three that surrounded me in a fan shape eyeing me, looking behind me abruptly in unison. The ferocity in their eyes earlier turned into dread.  

“Xian’er,” came a familiar voice. I turned over and saw a figure. 

I was surprised and delighted at the same time. A load was promptly taken off my mind. I wanted to jump forward and give her a good hug. But when I saw that usual impassive face, I held back my emotions in time, just calling her softly: “Master.”  

But even such impassive Master couldn’t help but be surprised at the sight of the child not far away, who was on all fours with her long hair covering her face. She looked at her, then looked down at me and said softly: “Isn’t that…you?”

I startled, then came to understand and replied: “Disciple was here following the sound as well…” I felt warm in my heart. Out in this wilderness, I would only wonder when I heard a child crying, but when she heard a child crying while she was killing the wolves out there, she would think of me, thinking that something had happened to her disciple, that was why there was this question. 

I was secretly moved here, but over there, it’s already a mess. After getting the answer, Master stopped asking any more questions, walking straight over there with her sword. She was moving at a slow and relaxed pace, yet the other side was frightened to death. Perhaps it’s the murderous aura she had. Unlike the aggressive attitude when facing me, they seemed terrified while facing Master. The two young pups that had finally gotten to their feet fell again and huddled together, shivering. The girl was leaping between rocks, evading. The look of her hoping to get far away was frantic. 

Master completely ignored the young pups but seemed to be very interested in the girl. I saw her looking at the girl for some time, musing. Suddenly, she flicked her fingers in the air, the girl who was hiding slumped on the ground at once. 

I rushed forward to catch her, only to find that she merely passed out. I was somewhat relieved. 

After knocking her unconscious, Master started to search around the wolf den. I didn’t know what she was looking for. Carrying the child, I felt a sharp pain on my right arm. I quickly put her down on my lap to free my hand and pulled out my waist strap to take care of my wound. The tooth marks were deeper than I expected. I frowned upon looking at it, desiring to get two doses of rabies vaccine so I could have peace of mind. 

When I had temporarily treated the wound, Master had also done searching around the wolf den. I saw her holding some scraps she found from somewhere. Taking a closer look at it, it seemed to be a tattered rag. I was about to ask, but Master opened her mouth first.

“We cannot stay here for long,” said Master, grabbing the torch that was stuck in the ground. The flame was swaying and seemed like it was about to burn out. “Take her. We’ll talk about it later.” 

“Mmm,” I answered. Thought of the snow outside, I took off my coat and wrapped the little girl on my lap nicely and carried her as I stood up. “Master, you have so many things in your hands. Let me take this child.” Now that I carried her when she had quieted down, the agile and fierce person earlier was much lighter than I imagined. I honestly didn’t know where her strength came from just now. 

Who knew the corners of Master’s lips would curve up a bit upon hearing these words. 

“With your temperament of overthinking and worrying, are you waiting for yourself to dally back?” She smiled faintly and passed the long sword to the torch-holding hand. The next moment, I felt my body lifted, fallen into the familiar arm. 

Just like this, Master carried me, I took the child, and we hurried our way back. It’s already late night outside where the dribbles of water froze into ice, and Master was moving fast, I could feel gusts of winter wind slicing at my face even when I was hiding beneath her robe. Unwittingly, I helped the child in my arms wrap her clothes tighter.

She twitched but didn’t wake up.

Looking over her closely under the faint moonlight, the more I felt her facial feature proportions underneath the unkempt and dirty appearance were actually exquisite. Thinking back to the scene where Master was musing in the cave, a premonition vaguely arose in my heart.

It seemed like something was about to change in these peaceful days in the mountains.        

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