The Witch Nichang– Chapter 48
What is going on right now?
For a moment, I was confused.
I seemed to hear a word just now, a word that only I knew, something only I should know—as long as Lian’er stayed out of jianghu.
Lian’er couldn’t have gotten into jianghu because she had promised me. That night, she had promised me with a cup of wine to stay in Mount Hua and by Master’s side. Lian’er was never a person who would renege on her promises. Without a doubt. I believed her wholeheartedly.
So it was impossible.
As if to prove me wrong, that word was brought up again and again. Amid the commotion, I heard someone say, “This is a gift for Jade Rakshasa from someone!” Then someone shouted, “You brat, trying to scare us with Jade Rakshasa?”
So I was confused. I didn’t want to doubt the girl I grew up with. But then again, would there be another Jade Rakshasa in this world?
Who was the person they were talking about?
I wasn’t confused for long because I saw Wang Zhaoxi raise the golden saddle high in the air in the melee, revealing the opposite side of it. In the candlelight, I could see a few glittering words engraved on it. The handwriting wasn’t beautiful but forceful. Its bold touches and fine strokes stood out.
The parlor wasn’t big. He did a turn while holding the saddle up. Most of the people saw those words, including me.
A line, a sentence—Miss Lian Nichang, please accept my gift.
“This isn’t something I can carve on the spot.” The young man was smiling. He was so confident as if he had the situation under control. He glanced at me when he said that, seemingly unintentional.
I knew he was looking at me, but I wanted nothing to do with him. I wanted nothing to do with anyone, so I lowered my head slightly, hiding my face under the hat and the veil. I didn’t want to look at anyone and didn’t want to be looked at either.
I didn’t want to be seen because I didn’t know what kind of expression I had on my face and what kind of look I had in my eyes now.
If I could, I wanted to wipe those three characters off the saddle.
I wasn’t the only one who fell silent. Those outlaws were all hushed. Only the chiefs gathered together and whispered, but there seemed to be some disagreements between them. The more they talked, the more impatient they became. At last, the big red-faced old man, who came in last, suddenly lifted his head, rolled his eyes, and snarled, “I’m going to take it even if it’s Jade Rakshasa’s!”
As soon as he said that, everyone around him was shocked, their faces terrified. He slammed his palm on the rosewood table, breaking a corner of the table, and roared, “I’ve had enough of that girl. Let’s go for it and fight her this time!”
The pudgy old man with the pipe was so shocked when he heard it that he took a few steps back and said, quavering, “That…that…” But the red-faced old man glared at him and snarled, “Shame on you. How could an outlaw like you be so scared! We’ve only heard rumors about how strong she is, but we’ve never actually seen it. Hey, come with me if you have the balls. I’m taking this brat’s saddle!”
As the saying goes, people die for wealth, birds die for food, but in reality, people might try their luck and risk their lives for money, but if they know they will die from the beginning, they most likely won’t do it.
That was why most of the guys here kept silent. Only a handful of them responded to him. The pipe-holding pudgy old man was hesitant. Threatened by the red-faced old man with their brotherhood, he eventually said, smiling wryly, “Since Big Brother wants to do it, I have to obey.”
The line between forces had been drawn. A roar sounded, and people started fighting again!
This time, the situation was different. The Wudang disciple was the one who stood back this time, and the bandits joined forces and went straight for the target, as though they wanted to make it quick.
Wang Zhaoxi was surrounded with the treasure in his hand. He could only dodge. It should have been a dire situation, but he didn’t seem to panic. After a dozen moves into the fight, he suddenly caught a break and jumped elegantly to the side.
“Brother Gui, you’ve fallen for my stalling trick. You should have robbed me earlier when you could. It’s too late now. Listen to the noise outside!” He said, smirking.
The air in the hall was already tense. When the fight stopped, it became so silent that you could hear a pin drop. I could hear a gong clacking and banging in the distance behind the wall. It was already three in the morning.
The young man laughed along with the time signal and said, “Do you hear it? It’s three now. Jade Rahsaksa will be here soon! Brother Gui, if you don’t cut it now, you’ll be damned!”
He said it loud and clear. I was shook, maybe even more so than before!
“Brat. You’re trying to buy time. I’ll send you to Yan Wang* first!” The red-faced old man was roused. With a roar, he slammed his palm down onto his head, but the young man snapped out his hand like lightning and waved as he laughed, snubbing out the big candles in the hall. The entire hall was plunged into darkness.
The hall wasn’t pitch black because there was light outside. It was just that it took time for the human eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness.
I had been wearing the bamboo hat and staying in its shade, so my eyes were adjusting to the darkness better than the others. I just had to close my eyes and open them again, and I could somewhat see what was happening in the hall. I could see who was hiding, who was groping around, who was lurking about, and who was standing still, nonplussed.
So was what he said just buying time? Realizing that, I didn’t know how I should feel, yet I was still thinking about whether to help that guy. Since…even though I was reluctant, that thing was indeed a gift for Lian’er from what I saw so far.
I hadn’t understood what had happened, but it wouldn’t affect how I would choose and which side I would take. The answer went without saying. I didn’t even have to think.
When I made up my mind and was about to take action, a ringing laugh came in from the outside.
The laugh sounded distant at first, but the next second, it was at the door. There was soft light pouring in from the open door. A troop of ladies came in. The four people at the forefront were carrying a blue veil lantern, and the others following behind them were standing on both sides in a line surrounding a lady with a graceful gait. In the soft light, I could see she was dressed in an apricot dress with a light-colored silk sash, red lips and white teeth, ambling over with a smile.
Everyone was standing in the hall, transfixed.
I hadn’t moved ever since the laugh started, just quietly looking at the scenes playing out before me. How long had it been since I had a good look at her and her face? Three years? Six years? Or even longer? It had been so long that my memory was hazy, even though she was someone I held dear. It seemed unreal now that we met again.
I vaguely remembered this happened once before. A night in the moonlight, a clear pool, a moment of daze, who was that in front of me? Her brows, her eyes, and every movement of hers were so familiar, yet vaguely unfamiliar.
As I looked at her, I seemed to forget where I was. I wanted to call her out of habit. When I almost did, a cheerful holler sounded in the hall and woke me up.
Wang Zhaoxi said cheerfully, “Miss Lian! My father wants to say hello to you!”
Woken up by his words, I was back to myself. His words made me want to laugh. It was even hilarious when the young lady nodded with seeming seriousness and said loftily, “Hello to him.”
I took a step back and pressed my hat low on my head, trying to hide the curl on my lips.
Luckily, no one noticed my little gesture. Probably no one would expect anyone to laugh at this point. The air was even graver now. All the bandits who were acting cocky just now were dumbstruck. A few of the faces even turned ashen, cowering in a corner, afraid to move.
Apart from me, the only one who could smile was the young man who guarded the treasure. Wang Zhaoxi continued, “My father wants me to bring this to you. They…” The young lady lowered her head as she smiled and butted in, “I already know why you’re here. Are they the ones who want the saddle?” Her bright eyes swept around. The pudgy old man with the pipe explained in panic, “I didn’t know it’s yours, ma’am!”
It was still fine for a young man to call her madam, but it was comical for a pudgy old man at his age to call her madam. Aside from that, I was getting more confused. What had happened in the past three years that made her break her promise, come down from the mountain, and come to such power?
It would be a lie if I said I wasn’t angry when I first heard people calling the name Jade Rakshasa and when I saw the three words on the saddle. After all, how could I remain calm when the promise I had always believed in was suddenly broken in such a way?
What followed anger was worry.
But I had to admit, after she showed up in person, in front of me, all the anger and worry vanished like the wind-blown smoke. All that was left was pure confusion and displeasure.
I wanted to talk to her right away, but now was obviously not the time.
The situation was now under Lian’er control. Her petrifying eyes swept across the room. She smiled after a moment of pause and said, “Brother Gui, you’re here too? You haven’t paid your tribute for this month. Have you forgotten it?”
When the tall red-faced old man, who was called Brother Gui and the first one to say he wasn’t afraid of Jade Rakshasa, was called out, he took a deep breath and calmed himself down. He shouted, “Jade Rakshasa, everyone’s afraid of you, but I’m not. This isn’t your territory. The saddle is mine!” With that, he lunged forward with a stride and was going to attack her!
I stepped forward without thinking but went back into the shadow on second thought.
It was at this moment Lian’er raised her brows and asked, “Anyone else want this saddle?” All the outlaws skittered aside while saying no repeatedly. Even the pudgy old man’s face blanched, unable to say a word. Only the two who responded to the red-faced old man’s call were still following behind him. Lian’er broke into laughter and said, “Brother Gui, who wants you to be afraid?” Her body moved, and then she was in the air.
The red-faced old man had charged up to her, his fan-like hand swinging down to grab her, but she disappeared right when he was about to grab her. He quickly retreated, but it was too late. A heavy blow hit his back, and he fell to the ground. The two following behind him took a palm strike below their ribs before they could see what happened. They screamed and howled, rolling around on the ground!
In a blink of an eye, three bandits were down with three ruthless hits. The young lady was standing by the light, smiling like nothing had happened. A look of dread appeared on the outlaws’ faces. The legs of the pudgy old man, who also responded to his call earlier, turned to jelly. He kept begging for mercy, but Lian’er just sneered and said nothing.
Since she stepped into this place, she had been smiling almost all the time, even more than when we were together. But they were smiles intended for enemies, not ones coming from the heart.
Among the three who were on the ground, two were screaming in pain and gasping. Only the red-faced old man had a distorted look on his face, his face steaming, beads of sweat dripping down his face, and his facial muscles were spasming. He was in so much pain that his face was distorted, yet we could hear no sound from him. It seemed like he couldn’t even make a sound.
I rubbed my brows. This felt familiar to me. When I tried to recall, I realized it looked similar to the move Honghua Guimu had used against Lian’er back then.
And suddenly, I felt it was ludicrous.
After rolling on the ground and screaming in pain for a while, the two couldn’t take it and shouted, “Please have mercy on me! Hurry up and kill me!” The eyes of the red-faced old man were bulging, but he couldn’t scream, and the young lady said, smiling, “Fang Brothers, you’re accomplices, so you’re not as guilty. I’ll spare you the suffering.” With that, she lifted her leg and gave each of them a kick. The brothers let out a shriek and fell silent.
A muffled commotion erupted in the crowd, especially among the escorts. Fear and trepidation were written over their faces, as if they couldn’t believe that such a beautiful lady was a murderous devil.
This was the first time I saw her kill someone. I should be horrified, but when it really happened in front of me, it barely stirred me, as if this was how it should be.
Because it was what lives had always been for her.
After killing the Fang Brothers, she waved at the pudgy old man and said, “Come here!” Hands on the wall and his body trembling, the pudgy old man came over step by step. Lian’er said softly, “You and Boss Gui have been brothers for many years. You two must be close, right?” The pudgy old man was hasty to say, “Miss, you know. I’m not a part of this this time.”
“You’ve been a bandit for so many years, yet you don’t know the rules? Why are you acting tough and trying to be the boss of the outlaws? You have absolutely no eye for people.” The young lady went on at him as her smile faded and her face turned grave.
Thus, a funny episode played out in the parlor. A pretty lady was scolding an old pudgy man. But the more she scolded him, the more relieved he was, and all the men beside him kept their heads down and their mouths shut, looking nervous.
People who didn’t know what was going on might find it hilarious, even felt humiliated for the old man, but I knew very well—and the pudgy man obviously knew it too—what was going on, and when she was done scolding, he looked relieved. He slapped himself on each side of his face and said out loud, “I’m wrong. I’m not fit to be a bandit. I hope ma’am will teach me.”
Lian’er shouted, “I’ll forgive you if you know your fault. Come here and end your sworn brother’s life!”
I didn’t think anything was wrong with what she had done earlier, but what she just said was too much. Killing their own sworn brother might just be a way to show good faith, a way to free his friend from suffering in the eyes of Lian’er who didn’t understand human relationships. To her, there was nothing wrong with it, but she didn’t know what it meant to average people.
Sure enough, the pudgy man’s face blanched when he heard it. It was even paler than before. He couldn’t do it, even though the red-faced old man rolled over with a pleading look in his eyes.
If this went on, I feared it would lead to outrage and wouldn’t end well.
I took a breath in, wanting to step in, but the Wudang disciple, Geng Shaonan, couldn’t stand it first. He strode out and spoke up, “Gui Youzhang is an atrocious lone bandit. You’re getting rid of a bully for the fellow outlaws if you put him to death. No one will blame you. But to ask him to kill his own brother is indecent!”
Lian’er’s expression changed. Then she smiled and asked, “Where do you come from?”
“Wudang’s second-generation disciple!” The man seemed to be very proud of that. He would bring that up whenever he could. I didn’t notice it before, but now it felt like an eyesore.
“Oh, someone from Wudang, pardon me!” Fortunately, Lian’er didn’t give a damn about it. She turned her eyes, blinked, and said to the pudgy old man with a smile, “Shao Xuanyang, I’m trying you out. Although you’re brothers with Gui Youzhang, you’re not causing troubles like he does, and you don’t just give in and try to flatter me when I asked you to kill him. You don’t kill your friend to save yourself. Good. I’ll spare you because of these.” As she spoke, she ended the life of the red-faced old man, who was rolling on the ground, with a light kick.
I had no idea how others felt when they saw this turn of events, but I hid my face and stepped back with a smile. When did this kid learn to be so crafty?
After killing three bandits while talking, Lian’er waved her hand, smiled, and said to those outlaws, “You all, come with me to Mount Dingjun!” Then she pointed over here and said, “You guys too, come with me, together with that old man Zhuo and all the money and luggage. Move them all up to the mountain!”
The outlaws all listened to her. Those over this side, however, had a different look on each of their faces, some shocked, some confused, and some resigned. The prideful Wudang disciple, Geng Shaonan, seemed a little indignant, but Wang Zhaoxi stopped him from trying anything with a glance. I glanced past them calmly and saw the retired old man was upset. I couldn’t help but talk to him, assuring him that it would be fine.
The old man was quite accepting. He said as he sighed, “Other things don’t matter as long as I can stay alive.”
I smiled and said a few more words to him before I raised my head again and looked at the young lady at the door who was surrounded by a soft glow.
Long time no see, Lian’er.
Nice to meet you, Jade Rakshasa.
*Yan Wang or Yama is the god of death and the ruler of hell in Chinese Mythology.
Sorry for the long hiatus. A lot has been happening in my life lately. Things are getting back on track for me, so I’ll slowly get back to the usual release. (A chapter per week, hopefully. I’ll release more chapters if I can)