The Witch Nichang– Chapter 81
In the desert, water is equivalent to life, whether for animals, plants, or humans.
Although our supplies were ample and were split into two, nearly half of our supplies were depleted on the fourth day. Now, apart from the little that was in our pouch, the rest was all in the two wooden barrels secured onto the frame. That was something we absolutely couldn’t afford to lose!
In the realm of sand and dust where no light could penetrate, I fixed my gaze on a distant speck of color. I didn’t dare to blink my eyes even when they were dry, afraid that the little trace would vanish in the chaos in the blink of an eye. The wind carrying sand and rocks was wreaking havoc everywhere. The wind remained as fierce as ever. Several tens of pounds was nothing to it. I watched as the wind carried the barrel further away. I nearly lost sight of them a few times with the sand obscuring my vision, let alone chasing after it and getting a hold on it.
After chasing after it for a while, I was getting more anxious. While I hadn’t paid much attention to where I was heading, it was clear that I was straying farther from the group. If I continued like this, I would probably lose my sense of direction even if I managed to retrieve our stuff, and once I was lost in the desert alone, not only would I put myself in danger, the group would probably not be able to wait for me. Then the pursuit would become a futile endeavor.
I couldn’t stop; I couldn’t afford to stop. The only way left was… I steeled myself, channeled my qi, and jumped with qi, trying to lighten myself amidst the raging sandstorm and moving with the wind, hoping that I could make it quick.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t considered doing this before, but it was too risky. It was like transforming myself into a leaf in the midst of a tempest. Besides, channeling qi required steady breathing which was almost impossible in this sandy weather.
That was why, each time after I closed some distance, I would lose my balance and get tumbled to the ground by the wind, but there was no time to worry about that. When I fell, I would fumble to my feet and continue. I couldn’t care less about my parched throat, gritty eyes, and sand-caked clothes. The body would ignore these minor discomforts when pushed to its limit.
After repeating this cycle for a few times, I gradually got the hang of it. The time I could hold my qi was getting longer each time. There were a few times that I almost caught up to it, and right then, the heavens seemed to have a change of heart. The brown barrel that was rolling in the sand haze came to a halt, as if it had fallen into a sand pit.
I saw it despite my stinging eyes, and I was elated. Almost out of breath, I pushed on and dashed for the barrel. When my feet touched the ground, before standing firm, I bent down to grab it.
When I stepped and grabbed, I came to realize that the heavens weren’t having a change of heart but pulled an even greater prank on me.
The sand beneath my feet was loose and strangely soft, as if what I stepped on wasn’t sand but something semi-liquid. My feet sank, and the sand was up to my shins. I froze, instinctively trying to pull my leg up. As I lifted my right leg, instead of pulling it out, I found my left leg sinking even deeper, the sand now up to my knees!
There was a mild and peculiar suction gripping my legs. A thought dawned on me with a chill—quicksand!
I faintly recalled an old desert veteran mentioning this term. He said that there were swamps that could ensnare people, but no quicksand could do that. If it existed, the odds of encountering it were even lower than hitting the jackpot. Well, it was an unusual way to die. I had no regrets.
Yet here I was, undoubtedly hitting the “jackpot.” Maybe the times were different, and the odds of encountering such a phenomenon were different. Even as I felt my legs gradually being consumed by the quicksand, I had the mind to think about that. Then I concluded that: How could I possibly die without regrets?
There were too many regrets that come with a sudden death.
I racked my brain for any knowledge that could help me get out of this situation. I vaguely remembered the survival tips about swamps and frozen lakes. Applying that knowledge, I kept still. However, I didn’t realize the danger soon enough as I landed. The force of my landing and gravity had me sinking deeper. I had been knee deep in the quicksand in an instant and missed the best window of escape.
And the sinking continued, slowly but surely at a visible pace. I could feel my body being swallowed inch by inch. It didn’t help even if I spread my arms out to increase my surface area. Every way I could think of failed. The sinking persisted slowly but steadily, almost in a gentle and methodical manner.
Closing my eyes, strangely, I wasn’t afraid, just slightly nauseous. The huge pressure enveloping me was so strong that it felt like I was being swallowed by a python.
There was no frantic flailing that quickened the descent. This process was excruciatingly long without any way to escape, making it even agonizing.
When the loose sand was up to my waist, the sinking seemed to have slowly come to a halt. The pressure around me was so strong that I couldn’t feel the suction anymore. I was no longer sinking. Instead, I felt like I was trapped in a plaster made of sand, and now the plaster was solidifying, so my body was suspended, the sand constricting on me so tightly that I felt my blood struggling to flow.
Despite the situation, one would think it offered a glimmer of hope. After all, as long as I didn’t continue sinking, I wouldn’t be buried by the sand. Unfortunately, the presence of the all-encompassing sandstorm made itself glaringly obvious at this moment.
This scouring sandstorm hadn’t stopped even for a moment. If it had helped in leading up to this, it was now adding fuel to the fire, or more accurately, it was adding sand to an already sandy situation.
The fierce wind swept up vast amounts of dust and sand from the ground, and my immobilized body was like a natural windbreak. The sand piled up around me like snowdrifts in no time. Every time I tried to push it away, no matter how careful I was, I would sink a little deeper, yet I had to do it.
After repeating this for a few times, only the area above my chest wasn’t in the sand. If things continued like this, it wouldn’t be long before I was either swallowed by the quicksand or be buried by the sandstorm. It seemed like both situations led to the same end.
Coming to terms with this, my heart remained calm, perhaps because the situation was unfolding at an extremely slow pace, so my heart didn’t sense the urgency. What concerned me the most now was the water problem.
Looking back, it was right within arm’s reach. It hadn’t sunk because it was lighter than the human body, but it was mostly buried by the sandstorm by now. If I was going to die because of this, I didn’t want to die in vain. With that thought in mind, even though I couldn’t move much, I continued to clear the sand, exposing it from the sand. However, I hesitated, unable to decide. Should I continue to clear away the sand, making it easier for Lian’er and the others to find it later, or should I let it be buried to prevent Lian’er from accidentally falling into this deadly trap?
Lian’er… I couldn’t let her fall into this deadly trap… But what if she couldn’t find water? What then…
But then again, she should be able to get out of this desert, shouldn’t she? She’s different from others. She’s Lian Nichang. She’s the Jade Rakshasa. Fate might hurt her, but it would also protect her. Thinking this way, I should be grateful for the existence of fate. And if she couldn’t find me in the end, would she be sad…
I was thinking too much, my thoughts too scattered. My head was starting to hurt, perhaps because of the sandstorm, or perhaps because of a lack of oxygen. Tiny grains of sand filled the gaps around my body with each breath, and the pressure on my chest was getting stronger. I could only breathe in small and shallow breaths, feeling like a fish pulled out of the water, struggling helplessly.
So, is this another path that leads to the same end? My mind came to a complete stop as I thought hazily.