The Witch Nichang– Chapter 83
In a way, when Lian’er was angry, she never threatened people. She liked to flaunt her strength, but she didn’t bother with throwing empty threats to do that. She was serious when she said that. Behind her every word, there was her determination to follow through when the time was right.
It was precisely because I understood her that I knew the weight of her words.
Was it worth it?
The rush of frustration and anger that had surged within me ebbed away like a tide. Amidst the howling wind, my mind cleared. I thought perhaps it had taken me aback. I didn’t know what to say, just staring at the girl who was sneering, but I couldn’t stare for long as my eyes started to sting, and I turned away frowning, eyes closed, tears rolling down my cheeks.
However, this seemed to have caused a little misunderstanding.
“Hey—” After a while, when she spoke again—maybe I had imagined it—the coldness in her tone had diminished somewhat, replaced by a hint of…awkwardness. “Why, why are you crying? Like a couple of days before, you were crying alone outside. Why do you seem to have become a child again? You weren’t like this when you were younger. If you don’t like beheading, just say so. Hey!”
The tears were a reaction to having sand in my eyes, possibly mixed with some emotions too. Regardless, her words completely disrupted whatever mood I was in. I almost burst into laughter but held it back out of fear that it might infuriate her. With my eyes closed, I turned back and said, groping for her, “Lian’er, is your sleeve clean?”
“What for? In this awful weather, there’s no such thing as clean.” Her response was peevish, but her hand gripped my groping hand.
“As long as it’s cleaner than mine,” I said with a bitter smile and my eyes closed. I raised my other hand. I didn’t need to see it to know that it was covered in sand. My entire body was probably the same. How messy. “I can’t wipe my eyes, and I can’t open them. Can you help me out?”
A snort came from next to me, sounding impatient, but right away, I felt an itchy sensation on my face.
Lian’er was a little clumsy, probably not very used to doing this. She swabbed left and right, but her touch was gentle, especially around the eyes, so gentle that I could feel her fingertips brush against my eyelashes.
My rational mind reminded me that we should hurry. We were in a life-or-death situation, both trapped in this voracious quicksand, surrounded by the relentless black wind. We didn’t know our next move, but we shouldn’t waste precious seconds like this. This intimacy came at the cost of our lives, and I shouldn’t indulge in it. But I simply lifted my face and let her swab at my face, not saying a word.
Lian’er remained silent throughout, as if entirely focused on her task. After a while, her gentle touch left my face, and I heard her say nonchalantly, “All right, try to open your eyes.”
The moment I opened my eyes, my mind snapped back to the present. No more blurriness; my vision was clear. The dire situation was right in front of me. The sandstorm was still raging. Other than the predicament I had been in, the most gut wrenching thing about this situation was the person next to me now.
Lian’er had managed to dig me out a little, but at the cost of her sinking further into the sand. Her legs were now almost entirely in the sand. She would have sunk deeper, but I didn’t know what she had done, she stopped sinking if she didn’t move. The reason she had sunk so deep was probably to rescue me.
“Lian’er, you…” I was both touched and curious. I didn’t know how she managed to keep herself from sinking deeper into the sand. Maybe that was the reason she wasn’t afraid? As I was about to ask, I noticed the spot at which she landed, and realization struck. I couldn’t help but facepalm and backtrack, “You, you… did you use that barrel as a foothold?”
Yes, she was standing on top of the wooden frame that held the water barrel, something that I had fought so hard to retrieve, the lifeline in the desert. Now, she was nonchalantly stepping on it, pushing it into the quicksand.
“Mm, when I came over earlier, I saw it just lying on the surface of the sand. I thought it might keep me from sinking, so I landed on it.” She didn’t think there was anything wrong and explained matter-of-factly, “Although it didn’t work out as well as I expected, it’s better than sinking directly into the sand, right? What’s wrong?”
Resigned, I kneaded my furrowed brow. I knew she was right. Lian’er didn’t know about the principles of buoyancy and surface tension, but what she did was undeniably clever. I couldn’t help myself feeling a little dejected. That was why after that dismissal, I spoke what was on my mind, “Actually, Lian’er… it might be more practical for you to step on me to save the water instead of the other way round.”
It meant exactly what it meant. In the grand scheme of things, it should be this way, though it was a little strange to be so cold-blooded toward myself.
Who knew as soon as I said that, the air around us seemed to grow heavier. I could even feel a chill begin to creep in.
I twitched and realized that my words carried the implication of being ungrateful. Feeling bad, I grasped her hand and said before this little troublemaker threw a fit, “By the way, Lian’er, time is of the essence here. You came in so readily, do you have any plan to get out?”
The change of subject was gruff, but it was the most pressing matter at hand. Even though the wind had calmed down a bit, the quicksand kept pulling us down. Even the slight movement of grabbing her hand sank me back down a little. If this continued, it was just a matter of time before it swallowed me up again.
Perhaps she too understood the situation. Though Lian’er was displeased, she didn’t throw a fit. Instead, she pulled a grim face and kept silent while she bent down and continued to scope away the sand around me, digging me out little by little.
Afraid that I would further irritate her, I stayed quiet at first. I just bit my lip and cooperated with her. But how could I continue to cooperate when I saw myself emerging inch by inch, knowing that it was at the cost of her sinking inch by inch? I couldn’t care less if I would anger her. I grabbed onto Lian’er to stop her and spluttered, “Talk to me, what exactly is your plan? Don’t tell me you came here just to die with me. It’s not helping at all!”
It was then she raised her head and said seriously, “I’m here to get you out.”
“So?” I asked, frowning, feeling like we weren’t getting to the point.
Despite believing that I understood her, at this moment, I didn’t know what she was thinking. I was about to keep pushing when Lian’er managed to free herself from my loose grip, and then she drew closer, slid her hands under my arms, and wrapped around me, a smirk creeping onto her grim face.
Then she continued, “So? I don’t care about anything else.”
We were about the same height, but with half of me buried in the sand, she seemed imposing, speaking at such a close distance. I froze for a moment before I understood what she said. My chest tightened, wondering if I might have misunderstood her. When I widened my eyes and wanted to say something, it was already too late.
“That’s right.” Her arms tightened around me, and my vision swayed. For a moment, I thought the smile on her face was mischievous. “I’m here to get you out. As for how I’m getting out next, that’s your problem to figure out!”
Suddenly, the world spun around me. I felt that an unwavering force lifted me up and tossed me out! In that instant, I wanted to grab her and give her a piece of my mind!
But before I could grab her, my swaying vision slipped further away from her face. The sound of the wind rushed in my eyes, and as I turned around, I saw a sword standing tall in the distance. In the swirling sand, it became clearer and clearer. I was tumbling towards it. The sword served as a line with the front being quicksand and the back being solid ground. Crossing the sword meant safety. She had intended to toss me all along!
Anger surged up to my chest, but I swallowed it right away and adjusted my breathing. Lian’er had done that in one breath, but pulling me out of the sand had taken up too much of her strength, so the last throw wasn’t far enough. I started to drop before the line marked by the sword. The window of opportunity was fleeting. Despite my frustration, I couldn’t let her efforts go in vain.
Swiftly, I twisted my body mid-air to take back control of my body. Facing downward, I stretched my body, and before I touched the ground, I sent two palm strikes onto the ground. With the weak reaction force, I propelled myself forward and slid along the surface for some distance, finally landing on the other side of the sword.
After tumbling over the sword, I rolled a couple more times before coming to a stop. Beneath me was still sand, but it no longer felt oddly soft.
However, I didn’t feel safe at all. I staggered to my feet, and before I stood still, I turned to look back into the distance. What I saw sent shivers down my spine.
On the other side, her throwing me had nearly sunk half of her into the sand. I saw a white figure buried in the sand, up until her chest. It was almost a replay of what happened earlier, but with our roles reversed.
When I was the one trapped there, I felt like I had fallen into an inescapable deathtrap, but now…
I must come up with a way!
I thought I would be racking my brain, pacing around like an ant on a hot pan, but surprisingly, I didn’t. There was hardly even any hesitation, and my body just sprang into action.
In a situation like this, the best way to rescue someone was to use a rope. This required having a sufficiently long rope, but as I had previously concluded, going back to get one wasn’t an option, and since I wasn’t Lian’er, I couldn’t be sure that I could quickly and accurately find my way back in this storm, so that was out of the question.
So, why don’t I make do with what was available?
I was about ten meters away from Lian’er. I started by untying the belt from my waist and drew the sword to split them in half. I then made a knot and tightened it and removed the bands from my hands and feet that were used to protect against the sand and tied them together.
Even so, it was still far from enough. The wind was too strong. I held the tied rope with my teeth, and without hesitation, I began to remove my outer garments. The fox fur short jacket meant for warmth was now useless. I took it off and threw it to the ground. I felt immensely glad that I was wearing women’s clothes. The light satin material wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do.
I unfurled my outer garment into the wind and swung the sword to cut it into three longest pieces possible, tying it with the rope I held with my teeth. Then I repeated it with my shirt, and within moments, I had assembled a long rope. I weighed it in my hand and looked at Lian’er. I couldn’t panic. Estimating the rope’s length and the distance to Lian’er, I didn’t seem long enough, so I decisively took off my undergarment, cut it, and knotted them together.
The strong wind, carrying fine grains of sand, slapped on my bare back. The exposed skin felt as if being sanded down. I curled my body and did my best to ignore the fiery pain. Quickly and carefully, I double-checked each knot, ensuring they wouldn’t come loose. Then, I turned to the side of quicksand and shouted, “Lian’er! Catch it!” I swung my arm with qi and threw one end of the rope to her.
I was worried that it might not reach because of the distance, but thanks to the wind, the rope sailed through the air like a silver serpent and landed just inches away from her!
I felt a surge of relief, but my relief turned to shock as I noticed that she, for some reason, didn’t move, not even extending her hand.
“Lian’er!” I didn’t know what was happening. I watched as the wind shifted the end of the rope. Panicking, I called out, “Lian’er, what’s wrong? Grab it! Can’t you see it?”
After my second call, she finally stirred, as though waking from a trance. When I saw her grab the rope, the weight in my chest was lifted. Worried that she might not understand the severity of the situation, I shouted once more, “Take it easy! Be careful not to break it. Let’s take it slow, okay?” Seeing her nod, I began to slowly pull back the rope.
No matter how light Lian’er was, she was still a person, and coupled with the pulling force of the quicksand, the weight was no small load. And the drawback of using clothing as a makeshift rope was the uneven distribution of material strength. If too much force were applied too abruptly, it could snap at a weak spot. That was something I couldn’t let happen. So, I proceeded with the safest way, applying gentle, calculated force, pulling her back little by little.
I was worried that the raging sandstorm would make it difficult to explain that to her, and Lian’er’s impulsive nature might not understand my intentions. Fortunately, she remained patient and continued to cooperate with me, getting out of the voracious quicksand inch by inch.
As this continued, the makeshift rope grew tighter, and the sound of fabric straining came into my ears, instilling nerve-wracking fear in me.
Just at that moment, as if things couldn’t get any more chaotic, there was a faint sound in the wind.
Lian’er was the first to hear it. I noticed she seemed to flinch and was stunned for a moment. Then, her gaze shifted into the distance behind me. It was only then that I became aware of the sound carried by the wind. It sounded like a call in the distance, gradually drawing closer, and it seemed like there might be more than one person.
Swiftly, I came to a conclusion, it must be Old Tie and the group.
If they had arrived earlier, it would make me jump in joy. But now… the biting cold and pain on my skin reminded me of the state I was in. I bit my lips and decided to ignore all that, focusing on the task at hand since I wouldn’t lose anything if they saw me. The other end of the rope was Lian’er’s life. Nothing else mattered.
However, this decision couldn’t be communicated to her. I was calm, but Lian’er appeared to grow agitated. She started to pull harder, and the fabric strained and creaked in protest. I became worried. Not caring about drawing attention, I kept calling out to her to slow down, but the more I shouted, the more frantic her struggling became.
Meanwhile, the calls from behind were drawing nearer. If it weren’t for the sandstorm concealing us, they would have likely spotted us by now.
Finally, as the voices became clear, Lian’er couldn’t stay still any longer. With a leap, she pulled herself free from the pit, and at the same time, under the strain of her force, the rope gave way, and there was a sharp snapping sound!
My heart seemed to stop at that moment, but I saw she jumped using the last boost she could get before the rope snapped. She soared into the air like a rainbow streaking across the sky, moving with astonishing speed, and in the blink of an eye, she landed safely right before me.
It all happened so quickly that I struggled to catch up. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw her safely on the ground. Just as I was about to say something, I found myself enveloped in an embrace.
Lian’er was covered in sand, but strangely, it didn’t grate on me. Perhaps I had been exposed to the wind for so long. Her body felt unusually warm. She held me in her arms, and with her other hand, she drew the sword from the sand and shouted, her voice loud and sharp, “Stay back!”
I remembered her voice was icy and bone-chilling, instilling fear and nightmare. It made the sandstorm seem pale.
“Who dares to come close, I’ll gouge out their eyes! Cut off their tongues! Cut their fingers! You can count on that when I, Lian Nichang, say it!”