The Witch Nichang– Chapter 41
My heart jumped with joy, then with dismay.
Joy was because I heard Master’s voice, and dismay was because of the name she called.
The name Honghua Guimu, compared to Gongsun Daniang, could better jog a certain memory that had been buried away in my mind.
But now wasn’t a good time to brood over it. As soon as Master finished her words, a burst of laughter came from the dark not far to the left. The fine dame—or should I call her by her name—anyway, I couldn’t see her face now, but I could almost imagine her rolling up her sleeves because even her voice was brimming with excitement, “Well, well, well, you’re finally here. Let’s settle our old score from a few years ago!”
With that, the wind stirred, and a shadow flew by before me. Knowing Master had charged towards her, I instinctively got worried, wanting to get up and go in that direction. Who knew as soon as I moved, before I could even stand up, my body lost its coordination, as if I was frozen stiff, and slowly tumbled to the side like losing balance.
This is bad, I thought. It wasn’t because I was about to fall, but the chill seemed weirder than I imagined. It wasn’t as simple as the day getting cold, which I’d believed earlier.
It all happened in a split second. Thoughts flashed through my mind. My body tensed up, ready for the impact. Who knew there was someone faster than a split second. As I was falling down halfway, something tightened around my waist. I felt a force in reverse and I was pulled back up, but because of the momentum, I was falling again to the other side.
The next moment, I felt warmth on my back, leaning into something, a body temperature higher than average, so familiar that it was comforting.
A while ago, it was me who had her in my arms, and now I was in her arms, just like those days we were together. At the end of the day, we wouldn’t know who was the one being protected.
All of a sudden, I wanted to see her so badly.
I had no time for anything else, given how intense the situation was before. Now this urge arose. Has her face changed in these two years? She’s at an age where her body is growing. How much taller has she grown? I really wanted to light a fire and take a closer look at her, but I couldn’t even pull out the flame stick and light it.
The chill was seeping out through my bones, a chill from within. A chilly night in the mountains could never have caused that. I had overlooked it earlier because of all the discomfort in my body. It wasn’t until I wanted to move that I realized I couldn’t move. The desire to sleep grew stronger. The drowsiness that was offset by a moment of energy spike because of Master’s appearance seemed to be coming back.
As I was feeling drowsy, I heard a shout, a somewhat nervous voice, but it wasn’t speaking to me. “Master!” Her arms tightened a little, so tight I could feel the vibration of her body when she shouted. “Master, get the antidote first!”
My sense of consciousness had returned a little. It was then I remembered I had taken poison. But I didn’t feel nervous at all and started to humor myself instead, thinking to myself, so this is how it feels like when the poison kicks in. Except for feeling cold, the effect is comparable to a strong sleeping pill.
If a person isn’t worried about themselves at a critical moment, it is mostly because of trust, trusting that there are people around them who will be more worried, even if subconsciously.
I didn’t realize that at that moment. I only knew Lian’er’s anxious shout and the response coming from the dark calmed me down and I heard Master’s voice shouting, “Right, Honghua Guimu, since I’m here, hand over the antidote, quick! Don’t make my disciple suffer!”
However, things didn’t go so well. The answer from the other side was, “Want the antidote? Get it yourself, or you can have it when we’re done.”
After getting such an answer, I heard a low grunt of indignation and agitation next to me. I brought myself to reach out my hand and press on the slender arm that was holding me, telling her to stay calm, but the next second, she shook off my hand, but her arms held me tighter, to where it was hurting but also seemed to be warmer.
Now I could set my mind at rest. Deep down, I guessed we both believed in Master, so she didn’t just butt in, and I begged her not to.
Without a doubt, when Master heard the answer, she immediately countered, “Our fight is between us. It’s what I owe you. We know how strong each other is, so I’m afraid it’ll last at least a few hundred rounds before a winner is decided. And look at how much time is left in the 30-minute. If you want my disciple dead, just do it. Why be pretentious? To torture a junior to death in such a way. Aren’t you afraid that you’ll be a joke to the people in jianghu!”
“Nonsense! Why’d I ever want that!” These words had burned Honghua Guimu up. She was no longer being cynical and said, “If I give you the antidote now, who knows what tricks you’ll play again? Don’t forget about the Cicada Skin Shed* trick you pulled off last time!”
“I was worried about my disciple last time. Now she’s here. Why would I run away?” Master retorted right off, “Even if I can run away and get rid of you, can my two disciples get rid of you too? And I won’t fight with you if you don’t give me the antidote now. Even if we do, with something on my mind, your victory will be unjust if you win!”
I heard the entire conversation, and I was a little relieved, certain that Honghua Guimu wasn’t lying to me. I realized there was a moment of silence in the middle of the conversation, as if the other person was thinking about something. Then an idea hit me. I intentionally made my breathing sound heavier as I gasped for air. The heavy breathing sounded obvious in the silent darkness, along with a tad of feebleness, as if I was in pain.
This was intended to suit what Master had said and pose some pressure on Honghua Guimu. Who knew I almost messed things up. Before this tactic affected its target, it had rattled the person behind me.
I felt the arms that were holding me tensed up, then I realized this wasn’t going well. Before I could hint at her, her arms let go of me. It seemed like Lian’er couldn’t sit back anymore. She gently laid me down on the ground and bellowed, “Old hag! Give us the antidote!” And she was about to lunge forward.
I got anxious. With no time to think, I held her hand, struggling to explain to her. Just as I was about to stop her, I heard a sigh. “Forget it!” In the dark, Honghua Guimu’s voice came from afar, “I’ll trust you people one more time, so that other people won’t say I don’t keep my words and bully the juniors later!”
After that, I heard a shout from her. “The kid over there, catch!”
I was lying on my side, unable to feel anything, not even hearing something flying through the air, only feeling a slight jerk from the person beside me and hearing a slight movement like something fell into a palm, then a soft pop of uncorking a bottle. The person I was holding broke away from my feeble hand and turned to hold my shoulders and gripped my chin. I didn’t know what she was thinking. She didn’t say a word, just brought the bottle-like thing close to me, with care and caution.
The small bottle was brought to my lips. A strong and pungent smell of medicine wafted against my face from inside. My stomach was churning, but I knew I had to drink it. It wasn’t a time to be weak, so I braced myself and held my breath. With my lips against the rim, I downed it in one gulp.
When the liquid passed through my throat, it felt as if I had drunk some chemical. I felt a burning sensation in my throat. The freezing chill had faded a lot and was replaced by a burning sensation in my body. I told myself to endure it, but in the end, I still couldn’t take it and let out a low groan.
The groan again rattled the person beside me. She jumped to her feet and spluttered, “Old hag, what did you give me? She looks even worse!”
I was afraid Lian’er’s disrespect would offend her and lay up trouble for herself, so I forced myself to reach out my hand and tugged at her hem as soon as I grabbed it, but how could I have stopped her. Seeing that I was about to lose my grip, a gust of breeze suddenly swirled in. Then there was another person next to me. The person’s body was slimmer than Lian’er, and her presence, too, was familiar.
“Xian’er, how’s your body feeling? How do you feel? Tell me.” I was helped up and into her arms. It was a totally different kind of closeness from that of Lian’er. It was more reassuring in her presence, especially at this time and this place, as if a load was lifted off my chest.
“I’m fine…” I replied, exerting myself. I noticed Lian’er had also crouched down on the other side. Although she said nothing, I could feel her gaze. It was a long-awaited relief to be surrounded by the two people I trusted most in this life. Although my body was in pain, I felt immensely at peace, so I didn’t want them to be worried. “It was freezing cold just now, and I couldn’t move at all…though my lung is burning after taking the antidote, the chill has faded a lot. Should…should be fine. Don’t worry…”
Perhaps because Master was here, Lian’er didn’t say anything this time. I could only hear Master asking with a raised voice, “Honghua Guimu! The poison belongs to you, and so does the antidote. What’s this about? You’re the one to ask, right?”
“There’s nothing weird about it.” That voice came from the distant dark. Although the voice sounded less ambiguous now, it wasn’t warm either. “The poison is harmful to the body, to begin with. The way to cure it is to fight fire with fire. She was suffering from internal injuries before this. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable when curing it. Anyway, it won’t kill her. She asked for it herself. Can’t blame anyone. You, on the other hand, how long do you want to drag this out? Are you going to play some tricks again?”
She explained it well. I smiled wryly to myself. I knew stories were unreliable. People who took the antidote in the stories always seemed relieved right away, at least it would take the edge off. Unlike now, I felt even worse than when the poison took effect.
However, if there was anything better, it was that my body was no longer stiff, and I could speak a few words. I tugged at the hand of Master who seemed like she still wanted to argue and said softly, “Master, it’s okay…you don’t have to worry about us. It’s just a little uncomfortable. Nothing serious. You just do what you think best. It’s better to…get this out of the way sooner…just…be careful.”
If possible, I really wanted to tell her not to force herself and get herself out of it if the situation wasn’t looking good, but because of my place, I couldn’t say those. After I managed to finish, the air fell silent for a moment. Then a hand patted my head, and I heard Master’s resigned voice. “You stubborn girl. Worry more about yourself. Look at what you’ve got yourself into…”
She stood up after finishing her words. As if she had made up her mind, she commanded, “Lian’er! Take care of your sister!” Then a flash fleeted across the dark sky. A glimmering ray of light charged toward the dark.
And I could hear an excited voice over there, saying, “Good!” followed by a sharp and resonant clang of metals.
This would be a spectacular duel. The two of them were one of a kind in their generation. Unfortunately, everything was covered behind the pitch-black night. People around could see nothing, at least it was so for me. Then again, I had already used up all my energy to endure the pain in my body. I couldn’t focus even if I could see it.
However, there was another person here. She was different from me. She had an exceptional constitution, and a pair of eyes that could see in the dark.
I thought her mind might not be on that, so I propped myself up and got closer to her, using up the last bit of my strength, I lowered my voice and said to her, “Lian’er, focus and look carefully. Look at their moves. Remember as much as you can. Believe me. It’ll be of great help to you in the future.”