The Witch Nichang– Chapter 52
Gone has a lot of meanings, but when you say a person is gone, that usually means only one thing.
But maybe that wasn’t what Lian’er meant. I narrowed my eyes, looking at the person in front of me, hoping to find a hint from her face that supported what I thought. “gone” might simply mean that Master no longer stayed in Mount Hua. Besides, Lian’er would joke around sometimes. Maybe she just wanted to upset me and didn’t understand the severity of that joke.
However, her eyes were clear. There wasn’t much sadness in them, but there was no sign of joking either.
But I didn’t want to believe it. “Gone? What do you mean by that?” I asked, making it clear, afraid that it was a misunderstanding, but at the same time, hoping it was a misunderstanding. I couldn’t describe how I felt now, but my voice was steadier than I imagined, just a little lower than usual.
“I’m trying to take care of your feelings and put it mildly.” The young lady sighed and murmured, “Doesn’t ‘gone’ mean dead?”
It snuffed out the last glimmer of hope.
I closed my eyes. Feeling a little weary, I took two steps back and sat down on the bluestone beside the bamboo tree. Then I took a few deep breaths but still couldn’t get rid of the feelings of fatigue.
There was a kind of strange desolation, so empty that it took away sadness and happiness, leaving only confusion. It was a feeling that I loathed, even feared. I would rather feel grief or make a scene out of disbelief because that was how most people expressed sadness; that was the normal way to grieve.
But I couldn’t do it. My eyes were dry, and I didn’t even have the desire to move my fingers.
I was sitting, and Lian’er was standing. I could feel her eyes on me but didn’t know what kind of look she had on her face. There was a moment of silence. After that, she squatted down in front of me, holding her knees to her chest. She looked me in the eyes earnestly and said, “Why aren’t you crying? I thought you’d be crying.”
Too bad I couldn’t give her what she expected. I could only lift the corner of my lips feebly and look back into her eyes.
“Have you heard of being too sad for tears?” I said.
“Of course I have. You taught me that before when I was a kid, meaning you want to cry but can’t, so that means you wanted to cry.” She answered frankly with a nod. When she saw my feeble attempt to lean back, she reached out right away and moved her leg slightly. Her body didn’t seem to move, but she had shifted places.
“Don’t just lean back. Behind you is Moso bamboo. It can be itchy and painful if you touch the velvety hair on the culms,” she said.
My back didn’t land on the prickly hair, instead I fell into a warm embrace.
It was a familiar place. It wasn’t the first time that we leaned on each other like this. Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to care about being shy and embarrassed. I went ahead and rested my entire bodyweight on her. Sitting cross-legged and leaning my head into the crook of her neck, I closed my eyes and cleared my mind.
She was quiet too, so the air fell into tranquil silence, only interrupted by the rustling sound of bamboo leaves when the wind blew past, like whispers that no one understood, leaving a pleasant scent floating in this air.
I didn’t know how long had passed, I just knew that the empty weariness had faded while being in the pleasant scent and warmth. I felt I had pulled myself together, or rather, I was ready, but I was still afraid to open my eyes, so I just murmured dreamily, calling, “Lian’er?”
“Mm?” Her voice was clear. It was right next to my ear. I couldn’t hear much emotion.
“Tell me…” Leaning on her shoulder, I felt her body heat passing on to me. It felt like a transfer of courage to me now. “Tell me the details. What exactly happened? Why did Master…it shouldn’t be…”
I clenched my teeth with my eyes closed. It shouldn’t be; it really shouldn’t be. I’m a person who likes to think the worst of everything, but even someone like me couldn’t imagine that. Master was in her prime. She had always been healthy and energetic and hadn’t even caught a cold for years. When it came to martial arts, rarely anyone could match her, not to mention she was living deep in the mountains away from people. No matter how you looked at it, you wouldn’t have thought that she would suddenly…
“Oh—” There still wasn’t much emotion in her voice. She let out a breath and stayed quiet for a while, as if she was gathering her thoughts, then she slowly started to speak, “It happened almost a year after that lady Honghua Guimu came. Master became more focused in her martial arts after that and went into closed-door meditation more frequently. Occasionally, she would come out and spar with me, and we both improved surprisingly well, so that year of training could probably match up with a few years of progress…”
She didn’t seem to say anything important and kept beating around the bush, but apprehension suddenly struck me. I had a feeling. This feeling had never struck me until now because Master was an expert.
But what Lian’er was saying was clearly leading up to that.
“Then that was the time of White Dew, and the days were getting colder…” The voice next to me continued steadily, “One day, Master was doing her meditation, and when she woke up the next day, she suddenly couldn’t move.”
“Couldn’t move?” I repeated her words in bewilderment, not quite understanding her meaning.
“Yeah, couldn’t move.” Lian’er wasn’t exactly a good storyteller. She wasn’t very good at forming her words, but she was using her own way to describe the scenario to me. “She couldn’t move her legs and couldn’t even feel anything on her legs. She didn’t even realize it when she cut her legs. Master said that because she had been cutting corners trying to speed up her progress, her practice became tainted, and that led her into Qi Deviation. She said it’s her own fault.”
She was telling the story in plain words, just that few sentences. My eyes were closed, but it was as if a painting was unfolding before my eyes. It was so vivid. Master was such a prideful person, and suddenly, a mishap happened, but she still held her head high and refused to give in. Instead, she explained to Lian’er calmly what happened. How did she feel when she did that?
“She refused to go to the doctor, so I went down the mountain and abducted a few doctors to treat her, but she wasn’t getting any better. After a few days, her hands became less nimble, so Master stopped her practice entirely and just focused on training me. In her spare time, she would tell me things about jianghu. Until that winter when I’d learned everything, Master…she…”
At this point, Lian’er stopped. Actually, there was no need to say more.
This was it. All kinds of promises and wishes came to naught. The person I could fall back on was gone. I guessed the day Lian’er was ready to go on her own was the day when there was nothing holding Master back in this world.
My heart ached. It was as if the promises I made to her were still ringing in my ears. I toasted her that night, certain that we still had years ahead, that it was just a temporary farewell, that we would have decades to go for me to be by her side and fulfill my filial duties. It was moving to hear when I said it and made her shed her tears, but in the end, it turned out to be all talk, easier said than done.
Why hadn’t I thought about it? Lian’er was fated to get into jianghu and make her name. Why would Master, who was equally prideful, hide her edge and remain unknown to the world, leaving no impression and no trace in the story?
It turned out it wasn’t that she didn’t leave any trace, but her life flew by and vanished in the blink of an eye, leaving only her footprints in the snow.
I covered my face and rubbed my eyes violently. They were still dry, but I could smile now, though bitterly. The person behind me let me lean on her silently, neither trying to comfort me nor blame me. Then it occurred to me that she had to face all these all by herself. Even if she saw life and death as the natural course of life, it must still be hard for her.
The funniest thing was the only person who could go through these with her was miles away living her life in peace and having sweet dreams.
“Lian’er…” When I spoke again, my voice was husky, as if coated with a layer of wax. “…do you…hate me?”
With my back against her, I couldn’t see her face. I could only see the hands around my waist. Her slender fingers were playing with my sash, looking bored, and I could only wait.
She stayed silent for a while, and finally, I heard her take a breath and say dejectedly, “Not really hate, but it’s true that I was angry. At that time, Master was gone and I was left alone on the mountain. I was lost and didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t in the mood to play with wolves. The days were boring as hell. I wanted to go down the mountain and look for you, but I didn’t know where to look. At that time, I was so angry when I thought about how you were eating and drinking well, living carefree. I really wanted to bite you, and only that could ease my anger.”
“You should hate me.” I nodded, feeling that I deserved it.
“I was being an asshole. I’m sorry for Master, and I’m sorry for you,” I said.
“Oh…” She replied but said nothing more.
The air fell silent again. I had said what I had to say. What remained was our own thoughts. The wind was kicking up, the bamboo leaves were swaying, the sunlight was wavering, and the shadows were flickering. The rustling sound filled the air. Even the fallen leaves on the ground were carried up, fluttering, looking like withered butterflies dancing in the sky.
I sat quietly. My body was chilly, but my neck was warm. There was a breath against it, and then a sharp pain.
Lian’er always acted with her thoughts. She would do what she said. I had never doubted that.
She bit hard, showing no mercy, as if she wanted to vent out all her pent-up anger until she tasted blood– only then would she be satisfied. I raised my head in pain but stayed leaning against her, unmoving, simply because it was a punishment I deserved.
While something warm was trickling down my neck, something warm was finally welling up in my eyes.
And eventually, tears were streaming down my face.
 The traditional Chinese Lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. White Dew is the 15th solar term of the year. It begins on Sept 8 and ends on Sept 23.
 In short, Qi Deviation is martial arts training/cultivation gone wrong and messes up the flow of qi, causing internal damage to the body, or even death. It was mostly due to improper practice and techniques.