The Witch Nichang– Chapter 58
It was supposed to be a good sleep because I had let something go, and a corner of my heart was no longer a dead end.
Lian’er was sleeping in my arms, warm and soft. It had been too long since I had the courage to touch her. It was all because I knew I still had feelings for her. I was afraid that if I let loose a little, I would go back to my former self where I couldn’t contain my feelings and couldn’t be open with her, hurting the both of us.
But after reading the letter from Master, my state of mind went through a subtle change.
Even though everything was just a guess—maybe it was just me putting two and two together and making a random guess—it seemed to lift a heavy weight off my chest at the thought that Master might know about my feelings and difficulties. Even those seemingly obscure and ambiguous words and phrases had hit home, shining a little hope in me.
Maybe it was just because I had been feeling my way forward alone in the endless dark for too long, unable to see and to speak. I was alone, holding on without knowing what to do, but suddenly, a sparkle appeared far ahead. Even if the sparkle was faint and faraway, even if it was just an illusion, it still brought warmth and strength.
Perhaps that was what Master’s letter meant to me. With the pendant and the letter, I could feel the dead corner of my heart had begun to come to life again. It was telling me that maybe beyond the simple wish of protecting Lian’er, you could do more and ask for more. You had already tried to sever your feelings for her. If you hadn’t succeeded after so many years, why not try another way?
And rationality kept flashing warnings as it did years ago, warning me that doing so was troublesome and dangerous, and there was a high chance that I would fall into damnation. Are you ready to face hell again?
The warning still worked on me, but unlike a few years ago, it could no longer gain the upper hand and direct my thoughts.
That was why I was careful to approach her, touch her, and wrap her in my arms, trying to figure out the invisible line between me and her.
If—I said if—if I decided to take a step forward, then this relationship was no longer just about me.
Lian’er, if I try to change your destiny and take your heart, will you let me? I asked silently. Of course the person sleeping next to me couldn’t answer.
But the heavens seemed to be answering me. The thunder was getting more frequent, and finally, after a loud clap, a sudden downpour ensued.
The rain was heavy. The sound of rain pattering could be heard even in the further end of the cave. Because of the noise, the girl in my arms moved a little. She wrinkled her nose unpleasantly and rolled over, moving further into my arms, as if wanting to block out the annoying noise with my body.
Something was on my mind earlier, so I wasn’t feeling sleepy. I opened my eyes as soon as she moved towards me. When I was going to cover her ears so she could have some peace, I saw a smile tugged at her lips, and she said under her breath with her eyes still closed, “Shh, quiet. There’s a stranger coming in right now.”
It was pouring outside, the sound of rain and thunder mixed together. I couldn’t hear anything, but I didn’t at all doubt what Lian’er said. I was startled when she told me that. I was going to get up and check, but as I was getting up, she grabbed me and tugged me back to bed then she whispered in my ears, “What’s the hurry? Judging from the footsteps, this person is still an amateur in martial arts. What is there to be afraid of? Since we’re bored, let’s play with him a little and see what he does first.”
Those words were said with confidence. Knowing that she was strong and daring, there was no reason for me to stop her, but I wondered why she suddenly got this excited, which was rare.
It was only later that I realized destiny worked in mysterious ways.
The footsteps were getting closer shortly after the deliberate waiting. I could hear it now. As expected, there was only one person. It was just that it felt weird that there was a stranger coming in while I was still lying on the bed. Even though I was fully clothed, the feeling was still weird.
It seemed like Lian’er thought it was weird too. I felt she shifted in my arms and thought that she had changed her mind and didn’t want to play anymore. When I was about to heave a sigh of relief, I heard her murmur, “No, I should be the one facing outside.” After that, she rolled over and passed above me to the outer side of the bed before lying down again and closing her eyes with a smile.
I had no time to react to what she did because as soon as she was done, the footsteps had taken a turn and came to the inner cave entrance.
Lian’er was lying on her side slightly facing inward, but her head was slightly tilted outward. Her arm casually rested on me, looking like a sleeping beauty, dreaming and unguarded, but from my point of view, I knew she had her hand flexed, ready to attack. Like a tiger playing a kitten, she was going to pounce on him and spill his blood as soon as he tried something, dared to come close, or do something inappropriate.
But fortunately, the person stood at the entrance and uttered a “eh.” A moment later, the person softened his footsteps instead of coming over, he turned around and tiptoed out. He just sat down cross-legged near the cave entrance and looked at the rain outside, not daring to even turn his head around.
I happened to be facing that way. With a little prop, I could see everything that happened. I acknowledged his integrity, so I bent over and whispered in Lian’er’s ears, “See, that person doesn’t seem like a bad guy. There’s nothing to play with. Let’s get up, shall we? We can’t stay like this.”
Lian’er opened her eyes, a little disappointed. As if refusing to give in, she said softly, “Let’s wait a bit. The girls in the stronghold always say that most men in this world are no good. I don’t believe he can stay there forever.” After that, she reached out and pushed me back to bed. It looked like she wanted to keep playing.
The air was already wet and cold today. Now that it was raining, the cave got even colder. I nudged her and said, smiling, “You can stand the cold, but if I keep playing along with you, I’m afraid I’ll catch a cold later. I can’t be asking you to carry me into the mountain to gather medicinal herbs again, right?”
“I’ll do that. With your light body that weighs less than two taels, do you think I would be afraid?” Lian’er rolled her eyes at my words. After sassing me, she rolled over and wrapped me in her arms.
“Let’s see if you’re going to complain about the cold again,” she said smugly.
I was caught off guard. I felt I was wrapped in a warmth, a body temperature that was slightly higher. Plus she started to channel her qi, and it felt even more soothing and cozier. Not only did my body not feel cold being wrapped in warmth, even my heart was warming up. I couldn’t help but crave for this closeness, so I lay back down and stopped talking.
After cuddling for a while, the sound of footsteps came from outside again just as I almost forgot about the person sitting at the entrance.
The footsteps were soft, softer than before. The person padded into the cave. This time, he didn’t stop and came straight inside. When he almost reached the bedside, Lian’er stealthily flashed me a smile, and she had channeled some qi to her hand, but then we heard a rustle. Squinting my eyes, I saw the person take off his coat and gently drape it over us and then gingerly back off.
I didn’t like to have clothes with an unfamiliar scent on me. Besides, it would be too much if we kept going on like this. I gave Lian’er a look and cleared my throat, lifting the coat and getting up. Just as I was about to speak, Lian’er rolled over and got up before me.
“You scoundrel! How dare you take advantage of us!” She chided.
I didn’t know if she was unhappy with the coat he put on us or if she just wanted to keep playing. I was a little surprised. On the other hand, the guy was startled. He froze and was afraid of turning around.
“Miss, no offense! I felt that it’s cold inside and I was worried that you’d be cold, so I took the liberty to put some clothes on you!” He said profusely.
It was true that this guy hadn’t done anything inappropriate, so Lian’er couldn’t really be angry. She let out a sigh and said, “Then turn around.” The man turned around at her words but kept his head down, not daring to look her in the eyes. It wasn’t a good time for me to study him, so I could only tell that he was good-looking, young and had considerable poise. It was just that I felt something stuck in my heart as I looked at him, but I couldn’t tell what had been stuck there.
As I was hesitating, Lian’er had taken the coat off the bed and handed it over. “I saw what you did just now. You’re a gentleman. I haven’t seen anyone like you yet. If it were someone else, they’d probably take advantage of us.” She had always been direct. Ignoring the young man’s blushed face, she carried on, “I was just trying to intimidate you when I told you off just now. No offense.”
From my perspective, she was surprisingly courteous when she spoke to strangers like this, but for other people, it would seem like she was random and temperamental. The young man flushed at first, but then he frowned when he heard what she said. I guessed he must have felt that way too.
Lian’er could tell, so she smiled and said, “I’ve always been like this, so most people are afraid of me. You have to get used to it.” But when she saw the guy still kept his head down without saying anything, her face dropped and anger flashed across her face.
“What? Are you still angry at me?” She asked.
The young man had been pondering with his head down. It was only then he said in a hurry, “There’s no such thing. Why would I be angry with you…”
I was at the back, looking at them talking. The more harmonious they got, the stronger the bad feeling I had grew. I had no time to think about why. I stood up and chimed in, “Don’t mind her, young man. This is just how she is. Please don’t take it seriously. May I know how you found this place?”
“Oh, where are my manners? I came down the mountain a little too late after visiting an old friend and got caught in the rain halfway down, which was why I stumbled on this place.” When he saw that I was more well-mannered than Lian’er, he seemed relieved. He then turned around with cupped fists and explained, “I was just going to take shelter from the rain in your cave and didn’t intend to disturb your rest. Please forgive me.”
“You don’t have to be sorry. To be honest, this is not our home either.” I returned his salute and continued to lie with a straight face, “We’ve lost both of our parents and only have each other. We came to Mount Hua just to pay our respects to our parents. This place belongs to an old friend of an elder family relative. We know each other. That’s why we are staying here for the time being.”
I lied because I didn’t know where this person came from. Yellow Dragon Cave was secluded and remote. People rarely stumbled on here. Even though he sounded genuine, I remained a little wary. That was why I said that the house owner wasn’t around, setting up a situation where we knew nothing to avoid creating any more problems.
Besides, I had some odd feelings about this guy. It wasn’t dislike but certainly not fondness.
Lian’er didn’t know what I was thinking. When she heard that, she turned around and raised her eyebrows, looking confused but it wasn’t the right time to question me either. Fortunately, the man didn’t notice her expression. He apologized after that, “I see. Forgive me for being inconsiderate and stirring up your grief.”
“Not at all. It’s just a thing of the past.” I replied with a chuckle, but my mind was thinking about how to get rid of him.
“From the look on your face, are you feeling sorry for us?” I asked.
The change of topic was actually a little abrupt. I even intentionally injected some displeasure in my words, hoping that it would unsettle him and he could take the hint and leave. However, in strange ways fortune favors the honest. I didn’t know if he picked that up, but he saluted sincerely with cupped fists and explained, “Not sorry but admirable. You two have lost the ones you depend on but still support each other through it all, even braving the hardships to come up Mount Hua to pay respects. You couldn’t have done it without great courage. I sincerely admire you two.”
I frowned when I heard that. I couldn’t continue with something mean, so I could only respond nicely. After a few moments, Lian’er was getting impatient. She laid her hand on my shoulder and said, head high, “Why are you guys talking like you’re friends now? Hey, what’s your name? I haven’t asked you yet.”
The latter part of what she said was of course directed to the stranger. The young man lifted his head at her question and as he looked at her, his face slightly blushed. He quickly cupped his fists and bowed before saying politely, “My surname is Zhuo, first name Yihang. May I know both of your sur—” But he thought better of it, thinking that it might be inappropriate and said immediately, “It’s fine if you couldn’t tell me. That’s rude of me.”
An idea struck the girl, and she said gracefully, “My surname was Lian. My parents didn’t give me a name. What name do you think would sound nice on me? Why don’t you think of one for me?”
The man was stunned at first. Then it seemed to stir up some emotions in him, and sympathy washed over his face. The sound of rain was fading, but the wind kept blasting, blowing into the cave gust after gust, flapping everyone’s clothes. Among us, only the girl in white wasn’t wearing much. Her sleeve was moving with the wind, looking remarkably flowy. His eyes fell on that. As if something dawned on him, he parted his lips and was about to speak.
In the end, the one who blurted out the name wasn’t him.
My heart was pounding. Only after forcing the word out of my mouth did I feel my heart pounding, and as my heartbeat returned to normal, my blood started to flow again, sending the heat all over my body.
Her lie was exposed, and her fun got spoiled. The girl being called turned around, displeased. As soon as they met my eyes, her eyes that were filled with dissatisfaction turned serious.
“What’s wrong with you?” She turned around and walked towards me, her brows furrowed. Grabbing my arm, she said, “You don’t look so good. Your lips are really pale. Did you actually catch a cold?” She halted in the middle of her words. Her frown grew deeper after sniffing the air.
“Where does the smell of blood come from?” She asked.
I lifted the corners of my lips at her. While she was watching, I extended my right hand and slowly pressed a finger to my lower lip, flipped it, and said with a smile, “Here, I wasn’t paying attention when I was talking just now, so I accidentally bit my lip.” Then I let go of my hand and patted her head.
“My Lian…um, Nichang’s nose is sensitive, like a dog,” I said, giggling.
“What are you talking about? How old are you? How could you bite your lip when talking? And you always complain about me!” She puffed out her cheeks and dodged my hand indignantly, but then she tugged on my sleeve and said, “Are you really okay? Your body feels cold.”
I smiled as I shook my head, furtively putting my hands behind my back. Fortunately, Lian’er didn’t tug on my hand. It felt even colder there, so cold that I could feel nothing. Same went to my feet. Only the piercing chill kept surging. It felt as if my body was no longer flesh and blood but made of ice. The human body was weird. The body temperature could drop in an instant, giving people a sense of bone-chilling cold.
If I hadn’t bitten my lip in time, I might have gone rigid there, unable to even force any words out of my mouth.
If it had come to that, I would have really regretted it and kicked myself.
But now, I had broken free of the shackles and was no longer stiff. The taste of blood and the slight pain calmed me down. I looked at the worried girl next to me before turning my eyes to the confused man and said, smiling, “Ah, so you’re Zhuo Yihang? The Wudang disciple, Zhuo Yihang? Well, I’ve heard a lot about you.”