The Witch Nichang– Chapter 42
Three Palm Slaps
I didn’t know how the duel was going and how long it lasted. I wasn’t even sure whether Lian’er paid attention to it as I told her.
Once you endure the pain for long enough, you will lapse into a muzzy state. It blurred the pain and everything.
But I remembered well how the duel ended because I was snapped back into consciousness by a loud bawl toward the end.
“What do you mean by that!”
The bawl, with a tinge of irritation, came from Honghua Guimu like a thunderclap in the dark.
For a long time before that, the only sounds were the clanging of weapons and the rustling of clothes, sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, plain and unrhythmic. Then a bawl suddenly rang close to me, giving me a startle.
In Lian’er arms, I raised my head in confusion, looking into the dark with eyes wide open. I knew full well that I was awake all this time and hadn’t lost consciousness, but there was a blank in my memory, so I had no idea how long had passed, much less know what had happened in the dark that would draw such a reaction from Honghua Guimu.
My first reaction was to ask the person behind me, ask the person holding me what was happening now, but I was a little hesitant.
Ever since we reunited, Lian’er hadn’t exchanged a single word with me, not even an “mm” after hearing what I told her in all seriousness.
Actually, I could guess why she did this, but I had no energy to come up with a solution, so I could only let this strange atmosphere linger between us for now.
Luckily, I didn’t have to hesitate for long. I didn’t have to ask as the conversation in the dark kept on, the voices as clear as a bell.
“What do you mean by what I mean?” What came along with Master’s response was the rustling sound of leaves. Judging from the voice, she seemed to land on a huge tree not far away, her breathing unruffled. “You’re the one who stops all of a sudden, and you’re asking me?”
“You know what I mean!” Honghua Guimu’s voice came from the opposite side of Master, even from the same height, but compared to Master’s, her voice sounded much more impatient. “You and I are on the same level. We should do our best every time we cross to have fun. We’ve exchanged more than a hundred moves by now, but you’re always careful with your attacks, focusing on keeping yourself safe. Are you looking down on me?”
“Where does this come from? There’s no grudge between us. We’d agreed before that this is just a duel. If that’s the case, we should know how far we could go.”
“Hmph! A miss is as good as a mile in a duel between masters. Although it was a duel, you can’t hold back. How could you fight like this with your hands tied? I’ve been thinking of this for years. Turns out you’re a coward!”
Honghua Guimu’s words were blistering, with all kinds of sarcasm and acerbity. It seemed like she wanted to irritate Master. I was a lot more awake after hearing that and felt right away that it was going to be bad. Master had a fiery temper. She wouldn’t stand being pushed around, especially not being a punchbag. If her provocation worked, it would really turn into a deathmatch and that was what I feared most. There would be no way to stop it!
In a moment of distress, I didn’t know what to do, but surprisingly, things didn’t go in the direction I feared.
The air fell silent for a moment, but it wasn’t the calm before the storm that I feared. When Master spoke again, her breathing was unruffled as usual. “I’m not a coward, but you’re right about one thing. I’m not ready to die now.”
Such an answer was more staggering than an outburst of anger. I wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Even Honghua Guimu hadn’t expected it and blurted out, “what?” as if doubting if she had heard wrong.
But she didn’t.
“To be exact, I can’t die now. Someone with important promises can’t simply risk their life in a duel.” Master was still as calm and collected as ever, speaking with composure, “Otherwise, losing life isn’t a big deal, but losing trust is. It’s not something I’d like to see.”
“You…” When Honghua Guimu heard that, she was stunned, and then she countered after pulling herself together. “I think you’re making excuses. What important promises could you have? Besides, first come, first served. A few years have passed since. Don’t tell me it came before our duel!”
She didn’t get it, but hearing that took some load off my chest.
“Well said. First come, first served. That promise indeed came before our promise.” Master hesitated a little at first, her talking speed slightly slow. It was her biggest concern, after all. Lian’er and I weren’t even supposed to know. I didn’t expect she would tell an outsider straight out. “More than ten years ago, I made a promise with someone to create our own school of swordsmanship and find out who’s stronger through a duel twenty years later. I’ve lived for this all these years. Now that the promised date is coming up, how could I allow myself to get into trouble and risk my life for things other than that? For you, our duel is to go all out and have fun. For me, I could only go so far. That’s all. Sorry.”
With that, the air froze.
They were no longer talking, no sound of a battle either. Leaves were rustling, and insects were chirping in the dark as if no one was around.
I was leaning against Lian’er, unable to see what was in front of me, but I could picture a scene of two people confronting eyeball to eyeball. At this point, Master had told her everything and did everything she could from what I saw, but the other person might not appreciate it considering her eccentric temper, and there were ways for Honghua Guimu to make Master do it if she insisted.
Right now, Lian’er and I are Master’s biggest weaknesses.
I could think of the worst possibility but not a way to get out of the possibility. I could only let things run their course. It was a terrible feeling as if someone was laughing at your incompetence again and again.
I could only wish I was merely being laughed at.
After a moment of depressing silence, Honghua Guimu finally spoke, her voice full of resentment, and thus so much less eeriness and coldness. “Tell me! How much longer is left in your 20-year promise?”
“Besides this year, four years left,” Master answered without hesitation. Obviously, it had always been on her mind.
“Alright!” As if she had made up her mind, Honghua Guimu shouted, “A soulmate is easy to get, but a rival is hard to come by. Since you have your reason, I don’t mind waiting a few more years. You have a 20-year promise with someone. Then I’ll add one more year to it and make it a 21-year promise. Do you have the guts to accept it?”
What answered her was a burst of guffaw from Master. The laughter went on for a long time. I had never heard her laugh like this, but I felt like this is how she was supposed to be, bold and unconstrained, different from her with the composure she put on before. Without having to worry, she seemed to have the carefree spirit of a jianghu traveler.
“Great!” After she finished laughing, the familiar voice replied with determination. “How could I refuse when I’ll get a rival like you? Our 21-year promise. As long as I’m still alive by that time, I’ll give my all!”
“Dare you slap your palm with me as a vow?” As if to match with Master’s reply, Honghua Guimu’s voice was no longer sombre and sharp, but gracious and passionate, like a real hero.
“Slap our palms as a sign of the oath, smear our lips with blood as a sign of the vow!”
First, there was the sound of clothes rustling in the dark, then the sound of three slaps, papapa. The crisp sound of slaps echoed in the dark woods. Unlike the meeting of palms during the duel before, they sounded so clean and exhilarating.
“Tell me your name!”
“I don’t have a nickname. My birth name is Ling Muhua!”
“Well, Ling Muhua, you already know my nickname, Honghua Guimu, and my surname is Gongsun. Don’t forget our 21-year promise. Right here, at noon. See you then!”
“See you then!”
I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. Every single word entered my ears and stayed in my heart.
It had put my mind at rest, but confusion arose, and I was caught in a hazy apprehension. Some blurry images and words flashed through my mind, but they were like the smoke before my eyes and the sand in my hand, unable to hold, unable to keep.
But is this how the story is supposed to be?