The Witch Nichang– Chapter 66
Yin and Yang
I thought we were heading back to Yellow Dragon Cave. Who knew she would bring me straight down the mountain. If Lian’er was imitating what Master did that year, she was thorough with her imitation, even the place we were staying was the same. It was the same inn and the same quiet room around the corner.
I only found out later that it was the usual place her people stayed every time they came to her. It was sort of a meeting point. Although the two innkeepers who were also the bellboys had quit being a bandit long ago, their outlaw sentiments still remained. Their admiration for Lian’er had grown deeper now and were closer to her than me.
Coming back to an old place, the place was still the same place, but everything else changed. It was supposed to feel different, but my injuries had washed away any kind of nostalgia I had. The broken bone was killing me. In retrospect, the internal injury I had that year wasn’t too bad. I had had this kind of injury before, so I thought it would be like a familiar old friend. It was while I was getting treated that I realized how different it was without painkillers, especially when the old doctor was repositioning my right arm. I felt how the wolf pup had felt that year. I could only comfort myself by mocking myself that it was karma and brave through it.
Once my arm was repositioned and fixed with splints, the torment of swelling and blood stasis began. Lian’er only let the old doctor attend to my bone injury but not the injury on my chest. She insisted that common people couldn’t treat internal injuries and wanted to do it herself. I was thinking it would be quite awkward to get the injury examined considering where it was, so I was more than happy that she thought of that. Anyway, she could do anything she wanted, and I would just drink up every concoction she served me. Sometimes, I downed seven or eight bowls of it. Even the plain porridge tasted bitter after that, so I just pretended what I was having was a medicated meal.
Three days went by like this, and it was calm and peaceful, but on the fourth day, an unexpected guest came.
“It’s been a few days. Are you feeling better?” Looking at the smiling man the bellboy brought in, Lian’er and I were startled. It didn’t bother me so much, but next to me, Lian’er’s face turned dark. She said angrily, “Yue! How did you find your way here?” She looked askance at the bellboy. The bellboy’s once smiling face turned gloomy after getting a look from her, and he said, “It’s because he could describe how you ladies look in great detail, and he sounded like he knows you, so I thought…What? Did I get it wrong?”
Looking at Lian’er getting worked up, I waved my hand with resignation and replied to the bellboy apologetically, “It’s fine. We do know each other. You can say we share similar interests. Can you please leave us alone? And close the door when you leave and don’t let anyone come close.”
The bellboy was relieved to hear that. He left with a nod. Lian’er threw me a glare but said nothing. She just put her hand behind her back and kept her eyes on the man.
But as if he didn’t notice it, Yue Mingke pulled out a stool, unperturbed, and sat down with his sword in front of him, then he said with a smile, “Miss, you’re so calm. From your look, why do I feel like you already know that I’m coming?” Then he thought of something as he said that and continued, “Right, I haven’t had the chance to ask for your name last night. I wonder…”
“Let’s get straight to the point. My name is Zhu Xian. Zhu of qingzhu (bamboo) and Xian of xianxi (slender).” I waved my hand and said, staring at him, “This name, like the name Nichang, was given to me by our master, your master’s wife.”
Maybe because of my injuries, I felt a little weary these days, so I didn’t feel like beating around the bush. When I made that clear, I received two pairs of eyes that were filled with surprise and questions in return. The surprise in both of their eyes was the same, but the question in Lian’er’s eyes was doubt, and Yue Mingke was obviously wondering how did I know about that and was so sure of it.
Sure enough, the next thing he said after the initial surprise was, “Miss Zhu Xian, I didn’t remember showing my martial skills. May I ask how do you know who’s my master?”
“Master had a 20-year-promise with her husband. It’s going to be due this year, and there’s a young lady who made a name for herself in jianghu with her unparalleled sword skills and a mysterious background. It’s pretty obvious that Master’s husband would try to find out for himself or send his disciple to find it out when he heard about it.” I took a sip of tea and said, looking down, “As for why I’m so sure it’s because…you can take it as a dream from Master.”
This explanation was the same as no explanation, so surely, the man wasn’t happy about it. He frowned and was about to say something, but his face changed when he heard the last few words, and he said with a heavy look, “A dream…from your master? What does that mean?!”
I ignored him and turned to look at the girl next to me. Lian’er was putting on an angry front and not saying anything, but she didn’t look like she was against me carrying on, so I turned back around and resumed seriously, “I’m afraid that the 20-year-promise has to be void. Our master, your master’s wife, was…gone three years ago.”
The deceased goes. It all depends on how the other person understands it.
Obviously, this man understood it differently than I did. Yue Mingke slammed his hand on the table as he sprang to his feet when he heard that and exclaimed, “What? Who has killed her!?” The cup on the table jumped. If the pearwood table wasn’t sturdy enough, he would have broken it.
“Hmph, she went into Qi Deviation herself and passed away. It has nothing to do with anyone.” I didn’t say anything. It was Lian’er who answered him with a grunt. Even though she answered him, she still looked angry.
Yue Mingke clenched his fists a few times. After a while, he sighed and sat down. He said as he shook his head, “Who would have thought…even for a master like her…” Then he looked up again and said, “Then where’s her body and the sword manual?” I was about to answer, but Lian’er suddenly curled the corners of her lips and scooped up her sword from the small table. She slammed her sword together with its sheath on the table. The frost on her face seemed to clear, and she said with a smile, “If you want to know about what’s next, you’d have to prove yourself first.”
The man looked at the sheath calmly, then traced his gaze along the sword and up to the young lady. He smiled and said, “What, are you doubting my identity? Does that mean you don’t believe what your martial sister said?”
For some reason, this person kept finding fault with Lian’er and provoked her with words. If I didn’t trust his integrity, I almost thought he was driving a wedge between us on purpose. I frowned and was about to speak, but Lian’er took a quick glance at me before turning back and said angrily, “I believe whatever she says! I just don’t like you. How about that? Anyway, you won’t get to know what’s next if you don’t get past me first!”
Although her words were commanding, it was also tinged with anxiousness, unlike her usual self. I guessed what she said was meant for me rather than him. Lian’er usually wouldn’t bother explaining; she wasn’t good at it either. It was rare for her to be so eager to explain. How would I not know her? At that moment, my brows smoothed out. I didn’t argue with that guy and gave her a silent smile, telling her that I understood.
Just as I thought, the anxiousness in her eyes dissipated at my response. I looked away with a proud smile on my face and waited for the answer from the other person.
Yue Mingke probably recognized her resolve, so he didn’t say much. He just flicked his sword and said with a smile, “But I reckon you didn’t get enough rest these days, right?” Lian’er said, sneering, “I can easily fight with you for three to five days!” The guy stood up and laughed. “Alright! I wouldn’t have come to Mount Hua if I hadn’t wanted to have a taste of your martial arts! I can’t help but want to try my skills when I meet a worthy opponent. Our masters can never have a duel anymore. It’ll do too if their disciples fight it out on behalf of them!” He said.
As soon as he said that, the girl pushed open the window to the side and jumped out. The room was facing the inn’s backyard. It was a place for storing things. Almost no one would be around there during the day. I helped myself up while carefully cradling my right arm, leaned against the wall, and looked out. I saw Lian’er standing in the middle with her sword drawn and lifted to her chest. She looked over here and said, “After you!”
Yue Mingke had come to the window side by that time, but he wasn’t in a rush to jump out. Instead, he lowered his voice and said softly, “Don’t worry. Think of it as watching a game of chess.” I was startled for a moment before I realized he was talking to me. Before I could respond, he took a breath and jumped out, landing on the backyard’s ground.
In the small open ground, the two of them were facing each other and focusing on each other. No one moved for a long time. Suddenly, Yue Mingke’s sword shivered, and he shouted, “Watch out!” Emanating a cold glow, the tip of the sword was thrusted toward the girl’s shoulder!
Lian’er extended her sword, striking slightly to the left, but it swerved midway and slashed to the right instead. At the same time, she lowered her body, defending while attacking, sending out a move as she deflected a move. Yue Mingke changed his move right away and warded off the incoming attack. Attacking and defending all happened within millimeter change of movement. They were moving as fast as lightning. The exchange of swords were smooth like the flowing water, deft and fluid. A few dozens of moves had been sent out in a second. They were going neck and neck!
I was watching upstairs, holding my arm and leaning against the window. After a while, I felt the swords were dazzling, and everything was a blur. I felt like my eyes couldn’t keep up. They both had a complex variation of sword style. I was familiar with Lian’er’s sword style, but Yue Mingke’s sword style looked familiar to me too. It was a good thing that I had read Master’s blood-written note before and knew that our sword style was derived from the same sword manual. It was just a different variation, one yin and one yang. That was why I wasn’t too surprised. I was just worried that Lian’er would get too excited, and it sparked her competitiveness.
With that worry, I stared at the fight below, my eyes fixed on them. I saw two figures going faster and faster. The Seven Master’s formation was a child’s play compared to this. The girl’s sword moves were sharp and peculiar, light and fast. The man’s sword style was graceful and calm. The gleams of swords were crossing each other and changing. They were already three hundred moves in. Even though the fight was intense, neither was giving way.
As I was getting restless and thinking whether I should pull them apart, I suddenly heard the man shout, “Away!” The girl jumped a few feet away from the battleground. She turned around between the trees, as if wanting to fight again, but the man had sheathed his sword and shouted, “We’re at the same level. It won’t do us any good if we continue fighting. Now can you tell me where your master was buried and where the sword manual is? I’m in a hurry to get back to my master!”
Lian’er sheathed her sword and replied, “The sword manual is in the stone chamber at the further end of the cave. Just move the two stone covers. I carried out Master’s last wish and informed her death to Taoist Zhenqian at Luoyan Peak three years after her death. I was going to ask Taoist Zhenqian to inform your master. Since you’re here, you go find it yourself. As for her body, I don’t know. You ask whoever knows it!” After that, she jumped in through the window without looking back and came to the table to pour herself some tea, not looking back at the backyard at all.
Besides finding it funny, it was a relief to see her drink in a huff. I turned around and said calmly to the person outside the window, “Everything she said just now is true. Sorry that we couldn’t tell you where Master’s body is. Please tell that to your master, everything in the past died in the past. Why cling on to a dead body? Besides, she wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see her body given her prideful nature. Just keep how each other looked when they were young in memory.”
The man in the backyard pondered for a while. He seemed to agree and said, cupping his fist, “In that case, please lead the way.” Lian’er sneered beside the table when she heard that and replied loudly, “Equal rivals can’t stay together! Or do you have the nerve to ask a wounded lady to lead the way for you?”
I looked at her again and shook my head as I smiled, then I spoke towards the backyard, “You heard that. Sorry, I can’t help you. I think Taoist Zhenqian at Luoyan Peak and Zhuo Yihang should know about it. If you haven’t parted ways with him, he should remember the way. As for us, we’ll part here. Until next time.”
After I finished, I reached over, ignoring whether he still wanted to say something, and closed both window shutters and slipped the pin in, shutting all the noises out.
The room was quiet. It had returned to its peaceful state earlier—maybe it was a little too peaceful. Lian’er didn’t care about what I did. She kept pouring herself tea at the table, as if she was very thirsty, but when I took a closer look, she was sipping the tea idly, dragging the time out.
I chuckled with my lips pressed and strolled over step by step while holding my arm. I didn’t speak when I came behind her. When I saw that her cup was half-empty, I reached over to take the teapot, wanting to fill her cup for her, but this act seemed to alarm her. She wheeled around and looked at me with her brows frowned, then she said, “Go and lie down on the bed! Why are you standing here?”
“I’ve been in bed for a few days. It’s good for me to get up for a bit.” I replied with a smile. Holding the teapot, I was about to fill her cup, but the next moment, my hand was empty and the teapot was in the girl’s hand. Lian’er snatched the teapot and laid it down on the table. She said angrily, “Who has asked you to do that? No matter how insensitive I’m, I know not to let a wounded person serve me!”
Her anger came all of a sudden. At first, I thought it was because of the sword fight, but on second thought, she rarely took it out on others even though she had a bad temper. Then when I thought about what she said, what she was trying to say slowly dawned on me. I couldn’t tell her that directly, so I nodded, playing along with her, and said with a smile, “Mm, I’ll go lie down. Don’t be angry.”
I turned around but didn’t manage to move. I felt something was pulling at a corner of my shirt. When I turned back again, my shirt was clutched in her hand.
Lian’er tugged at my hem. When she saw me looking at her with a confused look, she blinked uneasily and looked away to the side. She cleared her throat and said, “…I…just now…I wasn’t angry at you just now…”
I couldn’t help but titter. I knew she might get angry, so I said before she could, “I know it’s tiring to look after me for a few days straight and you just had an intense fight. You’re tired, right? Besides, there’s no hard feelings between us. Don’t worry about it.”
Lian’er had been sulky for a few days since the night I got hurt. I could tell although she pretended to be indifferent. I had an idea what the reasons were, but I couldn’t be sure. Besides, she was stubborn and prideful ever since she was little. Since she tried to hide it, it wasn’t a good idea to bring that out in the open, so I could only let her know in both a direct and an indirect way, hoping that she would listen.
“I…” But she didn’t let go after hearing what I said. Her eyes wavered, and she was pondering, looking as if she had something to say.
This was not like the Lian’er I knew. Sure enough, she hesitated for a while and got frustrated before I even said anything. Her head shot up. As if she had made up her mind, she said proudly, “If anything happens again in the future, I’ll never forget. I’ll definitely put you first. Don’t worry!”
Her eyes were sparkling when she spoke. After locking with the burning eyes for a while, I dropped my eyes, nodded, and said with a smile, “Alright, I’ll remember that.”