The Witch Nichang- Chapter 7
When I first opened my eyes in this world, I thought I was dreaming.
If one day those cliché plots actually happened to oneself, regardless of how banal they were, anyone would feel as absurd as a dream.
In my dream, I saw a crude straw house, a dim oil lamp, a stalwart man, and a woman crying and complaining about having given birth to a girl again. Unfortunately, I slept, woke up, and slept again; countless days and nights had passed, but I still didn’t wake up from this nightmare. So, I finally accepted the truth that I would never wake up.
If one couldn’t wake up from the dream, the dream became a reality.
I was a practical person.
Since I was alive, as a practical person, I would want to live a better life.
Thus after that, I kept myself busy all the time, for survival and the future, struggling while taking the trouble to ask around and make all kinds of plans, only to achieve this simple goal.
But thanks to that, I gradually had the reality of living in the present.
I thought I had accepted the fact of living in obscurity in the corner of history. The history was real, therefore so was I. It was just time and space separating me from the world of sleepless nights filled with debauchery and revelry.
I really thought so.
Who was Lian Nichang?
Like most people, living in a fast-paced life, I was not a keen fan of books at that time. Although I had some exposure to those kinds of literature, I had only scratched the surface for most of them, only vaguely remembering a fraction of them at most.
Even so, I would never be unfamiliar with this name.
Not only was it familiar, I literally heard a lot about it—a well-known yet fictional existence.
In a daze, I was back in the mountains.
I didn’t even remember how I got back, or maybe I was merely following Master without thinking.
I was not a child, after all, so, over the years, I had made my own decision about everything, rarely needing someone to talk to. Besides, there were many things I couldn’t talk about. Especially after following Master, neither of us liked to talk much. Gradually, we had come to a kind of tacit understanding—if I didn’t want to say it, she wouldn’t ask either.
However, this time, she had looked at me several times on the way back from the store. And now, she finally called me, hesitantly: “Xian’er…”
Upon hearing her, I looked up and saw her brows knitted. Her expression was as usual, but her eyes clearly flashed with worries.
I must have looked pale, but I also know she might have misunderstood me because of this. Master was a person with great pride who kept her words and honored her promises. Though she had never promised me herself, the time when we settled down in Mount Hua, she had made her attitude of recognizing me as her successor clear, which was why she had given me those words of encouragement. But now, she had accepted another disciple again, someone with an exceptional physique. Although her life’s wish had been fulfilled, she was a little troubled for breaking her own words. I understood the feelings she had even before this, so I had been acting considerate to make her feel relieved. Yet, when she actually accepted another disciple, my expression didn’t look so good, so it must have made her think that I still cared.
But how would she have known? And how could I tell her that what was bothering me was just a name she had given at random?
This name had once again sent me back to the confused state at birth.
I couldn’t explain; I could only smile at her. Fortunately, Master wasn’t a person who liked to get to the bottom of things. She would give me time to think it over.
And that was what I needed most now.
That night, I had lost sleep for the first time.
I rolled over, got up, and draped a coat over my shoulders, wanting to have a walk outside the cave. Who knew this small movement would alarm that child who had always been pretty alert. She reared her head cautiously on the bench beside, and her eyes stared straight at me in the dark.
I looked at her in silence—though I couldn’t see her clearly in the dark.
After a while, I withdrew my gaze, turned around, and headed out of the cave.
The air outside the cave was brisk. It was always chilly at night in the mountains, regardless of the season. Tonight was a lovely night with speckles of stars and a bright moon hanging high in the sky, seemingly the same as the sky I’d seen every night in the hunter’s house.
I couldn’t read the stars, but every time I looked up into the sky, I felt my heart had been comforted, gaining a moment of peace.
Peace was vital because only with a peace of mind that I could think, calmly and rationally.
In the night wind, my mind gradually unclouded. I began to wonder.
Could it be just a coincidence? The world is so vast that even in a small part of the world, many people share the same name. Couldn’t someone be allowed to have the same name just so coincidence as a character in a book hundreds of years later?
However, deep inside, a voice retorted.
How could it be so coincident? The name, checked; the world, checked; even the era, checked—when I think back now, it should be by the late Ming dynasty, troubled times when the eunuchs were in power. Although I almost can’t remember the story, this bit of knowledge was still in my brain.
If…if this is not a coincidence, where am I now? Am I in actual history? Or am I in an imaginary story?
Looking up, I saw the vast rivers of stars.
Are they the same as those I’ve seen countless times from inside the buildings or amid the wilderness hundreds of years later?
What is this place? What day is today?
I once thought I found the answer, but now it was all blurred again.
I sat still for a long time; perplexity and confusion remained. There was still no answer to everything. But at least, after sorting out my thoughts, they were not as complicated as before turning my mind into a mess.
After regaining my senses, I finally felt cold. I tugged my clothes wryly before getting up and left.
My view was getting darker returning into the cave from under the bright night sky. Relying on my memories, I felt my way to the stone bed. As I sat down on the bed, about to take off my shoes and socks, I suddenly felt a gaze on me.
I opened my eyes wide and focused, straining my eyes to their fullest. Finally, I saw a blurry figure—it was still that kid. She kept the same posture as before I was out. It seemed like she hadn’t moved much. Only a pair of bright eyes were gleaming in the dark. Now, seeing that I sensed her, she yawned out of boredom, and turned to lie down on the bench, and continued to rest.
I wasn’t sure why. My heart shivered. It struck me that she was expressly waiting for me to come back.
I didn’t know how long I had been sitting there, only noticing her shallow breathing in the dark becoming more distinct. Finally, I couldn’t hold back and spoke softly, trying to call her: “Lian…” The last two words lingered in my throat: “…Nichang?”
The moment I voiced the name, it didn’t feel like a dream; it felt like a show.
But when my voice came out, she just twitched her ears and didn’t respond to the name.
Right, she just had her name this morning. Generally, children wouldn’t remember it so quickly, let alone her.
After a pause, I tried to call her again: “…Lian’er?”
This time, she turned half her face around and looked over here with her eyes squinting, as if she had concluded that I was teasing her. She puckered her nose with dissatisfaction and let out a ferocious grunt of protest from her throat before turning her back on me.
I pursed my lips and smiled silently.