Author: Slopaw (Page 1 of 5)

This is Slopaw.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 44 Swallow

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 44


I spent the next two days in a guest room at a corner of the inn. 

It was a quiet room on the inside of a corner, isolated from the crowd and the noise, a great place to rest and recover. 

The owner’s hospitality was hard to refuse. Master felt there was no need to refuse after learning the reasons. It was a time when we needed such a quiet place. Besides, the inn’s location by the town entrance made it easier for her to come and go.

The next day, I was in a stupor all day long. I almost slept through the day. It wasn’t only because of the long night of struggle and exhaustion, but also I hadn’t slept well since I started out on the road with Honghua Guimu. Although I did nothing, I couldn’t rest well because too much was on my mind.

Now that the load was off my chest, I just went out like a light. In a stupor, I remembered Master had woken me up once. I had my injury checked and took my medicine. She said I had internal injuries but nothing serious. I just had to rest well, and she asked me not to worry. I forgot what happened next. I guessed it was because I passed out again.

I felt much better the next day. Though I was still feeling a bit dizzy and lethargic, I could finally stay awake for most of the time. I didn’t dare to treat it lightly when I thought of what Master told me yesterday, so I started to meditate after getting up from the bed and did the breathing practice twice. When it was almost noon, Master flitted in and did what she always did—checked my injury, gave me my medicine, and explained the things I should avoid and take notice of before I got better. Then we chatted for a while about Honghua Guimu until dusk before she flitted out, just like how she came in. Except for me, no one would notice her come and go. 

I didn’t ask Master to stay for a meal because I knew she was worried about Lian’er. 

I knew it very well because I was even more worried about Lian’er.

It had been two whole days, but I hadn’t seen her. I slept in a stupor on the first day, so it couldn’t be helped. I thought I would see her at the same time as I saw Master on the second day, but the reality was disappointing.

And so another night passed. By the third day, Master arrived as expected, still no sign of the person I was expecting. I couldn’t wait any longer. While I was taking medicine, I looked for an appropriate time to ask, “Master, how has…Lian’er been in these two days? How come I don’t see her? Is she alright?”

Master was standing by a bronze washbowl, washing away the decoction dregs in the black pot with the clean water inside of it. She didn’t raise her head even when she heard me. “She’s fine. That kid was hurt a little, but not as bad as you. Plus, she’s strong. She’s up and about as if nothing happened after a day’s rest. Just…” She seemed to get a little pensive as she spoke.

“Just what?” I couldn’t help but get a little worried.

“Hey, what’s the hurry?” Master laid down the pot. She, who was wiping the water off her hands, laughed when she sensed my impatience. “It’s actually good news. Since Lian’er started practicing martial arts, she’s never met an opponent. It always comes to nothing no matter how many times I tell her that there’s always someone better out there, but she seems to get it now after she’d lost out. These two days, she’ll practice on her own without me urging her to, working harder than before. In fact, I owe some gratitude to Honghua Guimu.”

“Oh, I see. That’s great, great…” I went along with it. I was relieved, but at the same time, somewhat disappointed. 

Of course, it was great that she was fine. It was reassuring to know that she learned from her mistakes and put her heart into practicing. But…but how could I not be  upset that she would rather spend her day like that instead of coming down to see me?

It looked like I didn’t overthink it that night. She actually held a grudge against me.

“Then…Master, I have something to tell Lian’er. Could you pass it to her for me when you go back?” If she didn’t want to come, then I would go to her. Since I couldn’t go in person, a message was better than nothing. Otherwise, it would only get worse the longer I dragged it out, given her temper.

Who knew Master’s response after that was surprising. 

“What a coincidence.” She raised her brows as if she remembered something and said, “I almost forgot. When I came out, that kid had something she wanted me to ask you.”

I didn’t expect that from Master, but it didn’t stop me from feeling happy. “Eh, really? What does Lian’er want to say?”

“Don’t get up. Why are you so restless today? Be careful of your injury!” Master had wiped her hands dry. She took two steps over and pushed me back to the bed, then she sat down sideways on the edge of the bed before speaking unhurriedly, “Actually, about this, not only Lian’er wants to know, I’ve been meaning to ask you about your plan over the past two days.”

“Plan?” I repeated it in confusion, and suddenly, it was as if I saw the light.

“Yes, your plan.” Sure enough, what Master said next was exactly what I expected. “Xian’er, you’re finally back now, although it was because of an accident this time. Since everything is settled now, what’s your plan? Are you going to stay and go back to live with us like before, or are you going to leave again?”

Stay or leave again.

There was a moment of silence. I lowered my head, gently breathed in, and slowly breathed out. I could keep my face as calm as still water, but not my heart.

It had been years since I left. Being in a foreign place, I would miss them every day, but I could still keep myself in check. I never let myself think about coming back because I knew it wasn’t the time. It would only hurt both of us if I returned. But…

But when I was back here, when I saw Master’s face and smile and heard her voice, when I realized I was no longer separated from Lian’er by a thousand miles, I could no longer restrain myself. That secluded place deep in the woods of Mount Hua was where I belonged in this world. It was a place closer to home. 

I want to go home, back to my family. Who the heck cares about hurting ourselves? Can’t I just not think about it too much for once and leave whatever will happen in the future to the future?

The temptation was strong. The thought was screaming in my head, echoing over and over again, and my heart seemed to become willful. I clenched my teeth and raised my head. The answer, “I want to stay,” was on the tip of my tongue. I just had to release my jaw, and it would be out of my mouth.

But in the end, I made a swallowing motion. 

After that, I looked at Master and replied apologetically, “My father’s leg was injured by Honghua Guimu earlier, so…”

I could let myself be willful, even convince myself to not think too much and not care about the consequences, but even if I did so, I couldn’t stay. I wasn’t an honorable person, but if I put myself in others’ shoes, I didn’t think I could leave someone with a broken leg alone to their own devices.

He had once held my hand with sweat dripping from his head, making sure again and again, asking, “Will you be back soon?” and I said to him, “Don’t worry, dad.”

“Sorry, Master. Once I’ve settled everything, I’ll definitely…” I didn’t know why I was so eager to explain. Maybe the one I wanted to explain to wasn’t someone else, but myself. “I’ll definitely be back soon!”

“No rush, no rush.” Master had heard something about what happened when we were talking about Honghua Guimu yesterday, so I didn’t have to explain too much. She stroked my head with a calm look and said, “I’ve probably guessed it. You’re her daughter, after all. If that thought never crossed your mind, you wouldn’t have been my disciple.”

But after that, she changed the subject and said, letting out a sigh, seemingly at random, “Just that I’m afraid that kid, Lian’er, is going to be disappointed.”

“Lian’er, she…” I hesitated for a moment but still spoke carefully, “She’s hoping for me to come back?”

I hesitated because I didn’t know what kind of answer I was expecting. It would be tough no matter what kind of answer it was. I would disappoint her if she was expecting me. If she wasn’t, what should I do with my feelings?

Even so, I wanted to know the answer. The human heart was just so conflicting.

“Not that you don’t know her temper. Though she doesn’t say so, you won’t know what she might be thinking. I think the reason she won’t come with me to see you is that she’s hoping you’ll go back to see her.”

After that, the topic stopped there. What we talked about later was all trivial matters, at least to me they were.

When it was time to leave, Master left as usual. The difference was that she was bringing along a message that might be disappointing to Lian’er this time. Even though I didn’t want to, there was no stopping now. My decision was made.

That night, I was caught in a dream.

It wasn’t a pleasant dream, but luckily, it wasn’t a bad one either. It was just some memory fragments of the past. In the dream, there was night and wolves, and there was the wind echoing beside my ears, saying, “I won’t see you, and I won’t send you off until you’re back and never leave again. Keep that in mind!”

When I opened my eyes, it was bright outside the window. The darkness was fading. It was the break of dawn. I lay on the bed, eyes vacant. The voice seemed to stay in my ears, and it suddenly dawned on me. Those wordless moments didn’t occur out of anger, nor was it out of grudge. 

I forgot, and she was using silence to remind me I had yet to earn the right to see her. 

That was it.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 43 Down the Mountain

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 43

Down the Mountain

The way it ended was completely different from how I imagined it. It all went well, but vaguely, the sense of relief that came when all things were settled was lacking as if everything was merely pushed back to the unforeseeable future. 

Perhaps it was this that brought forth a strange state of mind in me, so strange that I didn’t even understand it myself, just desperately trying to grasp the whiff of strangeness, and in turn, trying to trace its root. The appearance of Honghua Guimu compelled me to believe in the existence of the story. A layer of fog seemed to have lifted off the hazy future, but more fog was shrouded on top, unsettling me.  

A wisp of inexplicable panic was lingering in me, and I didn’t know why.

I was caught in my own frustration. By the time I came to myself, there was a voice speaking beside my ears. 

“How are you, Xian’er? Feeling better?” Master had returned to my side at some point. Now a hand was resting on my wrist, seemingly checking my pulses, but it also felt like a comfort. It was comforting to have a warm hand on the skin.

I quickly gathered myself, raised my head, and summoned up a smile at where the voice came from. “I’m fine. Feeling much better…” Before I finished, I felt a light flick on my forehead.

“Do you know how bad your smile looks like now? Be honest.”

The familiar voice sounded irritated but with a hint of relief that came with solving a difficult problem, sounding like a reproach but also a joke.

I pursed my lips as I rubbed my forehead. The truth was, I didn’t feel much pain just now. For one, I grew numb to it as time passed, and second, I was distracted by all the thoughts going on in my head. It was after I was reminded that I turned my attention to my body again. I had gotten quite used to the burning sensation in my lungs. It didn’t feel as intolerable as before, but I still felt weak. I tried to move, but I accidentally stretched a part of my back, and a sharp twinge of pain ensued.

Though I managed to stifle a groan, the arm around my waist still tightened, and a concerned voice sounded at the same time. “What? What’s wrong?”

The voice belonged to Master, but the arm around my waist belonged to Lian’er. The dark didn’t seem like a hindrance to them. They could easily capture every single movement of mine, even a frown.  

I couldn’t hide it, so I had to tell the truth. I said, smiling wryly. “Nothing. Just that I took a hit on my back earlier. I didn’t feel anything before, but now it’s starting to hurt.”

A pair of hands were placed on my shoulders. They were Master’s. From the look of it, it seemed like she wanted to flip me over and check my injury but to no avail. The arm around my waist was still holding tight. It wasn’t until Master said in the dark, “Lian’er, let go of your hand, quick! Your sister’s injury is on the back. This posture isn’t going to help!” that she started to let loose.

Away from the warm embrace, feeling the familiar presence going away, I couldn’t help but feel a little empty. I reached for her hand without realizing it, but it was in vain because it was dark in front of me. From the rustling of footsteps, I knew that presence had backed up a few steps, still staying silent, as if she was angry.

Perhaps it wasn’t as simple as being angry.

Just as I was about to say something, I felt a sudden sharp pain in my back. Master was pressing on the injury. The force she applied was light and careful, but even the slightest movement would cause immense pain, not to mention pressing it without warning. I couldn’t take it, and a groan slipped out. The words gathered in my brain vanished without a trace.

Fortunately, I was never a fragile person. My mind was fairly strong, at least I could endure hardships. Otherwise, it would be too much with all I had gone through tonight.

“Maybe there’s a fracture. That woman actually did it on a junior.” As if talking to herself, Master’s voice was tinged with anger, and the next moment, I felt my body was lifted, and my legs were off the ground. I was taken into her arms like a child. 

“Master?” My body stiffened. I wasn’t a child, after all. I couldn’t be brazen about this, so I said with embarrassment, “Mas…master, don’t, let me down. I can walk by myself. It’s not like…”

“You’re hurt on your back. It could be serious. Don’t take it lightly.” Perhaps because of the dark, she didn’t notice my embarrassment. Only gravity was left in her voice. “Besides, you were poisoned earlier. Although it is cured now, it’s better to be careful…” Then she paused as if pondering for a second, and finally said with resolution, “Let’s go. I’ll take you down the mountain.”

“Down the mountain?” Before I said something, a questioning voice came, full of surprise. “Why take the long way? Why not go back to the cave instead of going down the mountain?”

“There aren’t many supplies in the cave, and we lack the necessary medication. It’s not helpful with the treatment. It’s better to go to the town down the mountain.”

Master kept her feet moving while explaining. She had lightened her body with qi as she was speaking. I could see nothing but hear the wind beside my ears getting louder. Being held in the arms like this, the darkness had blocked out everything. The embarrassment slowly dissolved, but in a trance, I felt as if I was back to the beginning. That time I was young, wandering around with her. Sometimes when the time was tight, she would carry me in her arms like this and hurried on. If my memory serves me right, that chilly night was the last time I was being held like this since we settled in Mount Hua.

That night, I was in Master’s arms, and Lian’er was in my arms, an adult and two kids, rushing our way to Yellow Dragon Cave against the northern wind.

Right, where’s Lian’er? Where is she now? Is she silently following behind us? Or she has gone back by herself in a fit of pique? 

I was worrying about her but didn’t have the strength to look back. I couldn’t see her, anyway. Even my senses weren’t working well. Too many things happened tonight. It’s hard not to feel exhausted and overwhelmed, and the arms were a feeling of comfort I had been missing. Before that, I had been holding on, and now, the drowsiness was coming back, and it seemed like I no longer had the reasons to resist it.

Right as I was about to surrender, I caught sight of the glimmering light at the mountain foot. Unlike the dazzling light common to that world, there were always only one or two spots of light in the dark night here, distant and dim, embedded in the heavy darkness of this world, insignificant but warm nonetheless.

Suddenly, a memory flashed through my mind, and I got a chill. I shook my head and struggled a little to regain some consciousness. I tugged at Master’s lapel and stumbled over my words, “Mas…master, go…to the first…inn by the…town entrance and save…”

I didn’t have much control over my worn-out body anymore. My tongue was getting stiff, and my words were slurry. I guessed Master didn’t understand the last part, so she asked, “Mm? What’s with the inn?” 

I bit my lips, forcing myself to stay awake and focused. 

“The first inn…by the town entrance. The backyard of…the one with lanterns hanging in front of the door. There are two…people who have helped me before.”

People who had helped me before, innocent people, people who Honghua Guimu said she had killed.

I once thought what she said must be true because there was absolutely no need to rile me up with this lie. She had nothing to gain by making me go mad. Not to mention, that woman’s temper was eccentric and random. It wasn’t such an odd thing even if she took the lives of two people who had offended her.

But after I calmed down, especially after seeing her chivalry in her battle with Master, I had to admit I had my doubts again.

There were all kinds of distractions before. I had no time to think it through. The lights at the mountain foot reminded me again now that I saw them. A sense of urgency couldn’t help but emerge. I just wanted to confirm it soon. Even if what that woman said was real, maybe they could still be saved. 

Master might not have fully understood my feelings, but she didn’t question me either. She didn’t ask any more questions when she heard what I said. Instead, she patted my head and said, “Got it. Shut up and rest.”  

So I kept my mouth shut. Although I could hardly say I was resting, traveling like this itself was a kind of rest. But it wasn’t a good time to let myself fall asleep, so I had to bite my lips now and then to hold on to the last bit of consciousness. Like this, we went on for a while more, and finally, came close to the town. The distant lanterns in the dark were getting closer and closer.

Before I could tell Master the way to the backyard, I saw people looming in front of the door under the hanging dim light.

“You…” I thought I could shout, but as I opened my mouth, I realized I couldn’t take a breath. Instead, it would cause a twinge on my back, choking back my words. 

Meanwhile, Master picked up her pace and landed steadily in front of the door. 

The sudden appearance scared the people at the door off the ground. When they took a closer look with the swaying light, their face immediately turned into a look of shock. “My goodness! Miss Zhu! Y—you’re back! Are you alright?”

The one yelling was the bellboy, and next to him was the big dark-skinned man whose gloomy face remained. 

“Are you guys…fine? I heard Honghua…” The truth was right in front of me. I had my doubts before, but still, I was surprised.

“Aiya, Miss Zhu! That’s our question! It scared the hell out of us!” The bellboy got more worked up when he heard me say the word Honghua, and more words were spouting out of him. “That woman jumped down from a tree as soon as you left! At first, she said she was going to kill us, then she said she would let us live seeing that we are still a man of honor, but she said she wouldn‘t let you go. Then she was gone after that. My brother and I were worried about you all night at the door! How are you? You didn’t run into her, did you?”

“I did. But she said to me that…that she…killed…”

I was in a hurry to speak, so I couldn’t smooth out the breath that was stuck in me.

But Master probably understood what I wanted to say. She butted in, “Honghua Guimu is like that, vicious with her words but not an evil person. She won’t kill innocent people.” She said it with a bit of tease in her voice, and at the same time, she stroked my back, some heat seeping into my body little by little. “So this is what you stubborn kid is worried about. Fooled by her, huh?”

I saw her as soon as I turned around. Now there was finally some light around. Though dim, I could finally see that face. Even the faint smile on her lips was visible, bristling with nostalgic familiarity.  

Like an idiot, my eyes fixed at the smile for a while before they moved on and swept around, hoping to see the other person I missed as much, to see the familiar face, even if she was pouting in anger.

In the end, I didn’t get a chance.

After that, I somehow sank deeply into slumber, just like that.

What a long night it was.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 42 Three Palm Slaps

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 42

Three Palm Slaps

I didn’t know how the duel was going and how long it lasted. I wasn’t even sure whether Lian’er paid attention to it as I told her. 

Once you endure the pain for long enough, you will lapse into a muzzy state. It blurred the pain and everything.

But I remembered well how the duel ended because I was snapped back into consciousness by a loud bawl toward the end. 

“What do you mean by that!”

The bawl, with a tinge of irritation, came from Honghua Guimu like a thunderclap in the dark.

For a long time before that, the only sounds were the clanging of weapons and the rustling of clothes, sometimes to the left, sometimes to the right, plain and unrhythmic. Then a bawl suddenly rang close to me, giving me a startle.

In Lian’er arms, I raised my head in confusion, looking into the dark with eyes wide open. I knew full well that I was awake all this time and hadn’t lost consciousness, but there was a blank in my memory, so I had no idea how long had passed, much less know what had happened in the dark that would draw such a reaction from Honghua Guimu.

My first reaction was to ask the person behind me, ask the person holding me what was happening now, but I was a little hesitant.

Ever since we reunited, Lian’er hadn’t exchanged a single word with me, not even an “mm” after hearing what I told her in all seriousness.

Actually, I could guess why she did this, but I had no energy to come up with a solution, so I could only let this strange atmosphere linger between us for now.

Luckily, I didn’t have to hesitate for long. I didn’t have to ask as the conversation in the dark kept on, the voices as clear as a bell.

“What do you mean by what I mean?” What came along with Master’s response was the rustling sound of leaves. Judging from the voice, she seemed to land on a huge tree not far away, her breathing unruffled. “You’re the one who stops all of a sudden, and you’re asking me?”

“You know what I mean!” Honghua Guimu’s voice came from the opposite side of Master, even from the same height, but compared to Master’s, her voice sounded much more impatient. “You and I are on the same level. We should do our best every time we cross to have fun. We’ve exchanged more than a hundred moves by now, but you’re always careful with your attacks, focusing on keeping yourself safe. Are you looking down on me?”

“Where does this come from? There’s no grudge between us. We’d agreed before that this is just a duel. If that’s the case, we should know how far we could go.”

“Hmph! A miss is as good as a mile in a duel between masters. Although it was a duel, you can’t hold back. How could you fight like this with your hands tied? I’ve been thinking of this for years. Turns out you’re a coward!”

Honghua Guimu’s words were blistering, with all kinds of sarcasm and acerbity. It seemed like she wanted to irritate Master. I was a lot more awake after hearing that and felt right away that it was going to be bad. Master had a fiery temper. She wouldn’t stand being pushed around, especially not being a punchbag. If her provocation worked, it would really turn into a deathmatch and that was what I feared most. There would be no way to stop it!

In a moment of distress, I didn’t know what to do, but surprisingly, things didn’t go in the direction I feared.

The air fell silent for a moment, but it wasn’t the calm before the storm that I feared. When Master spoke again, her breathing was unruffled as usual. “I’m not a coward, but you’re right about one thing. I’m not ready to die now.”

Such an answer was more staggering than an outburst of anger. I wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Even Honghua Guimu hadn’t expected it and blurted out, “what?” as if doubting if she had heard wrong.

But she didn’t.

“To be exact, I can’t die now. Someone with important promises can’t simply risk their life in a duel.” Master was still as calm and collected as ever, speaking with composure, “Otherwise, losing life isn’t a big deal, but losing trust is. It’s not something I’d like to see.”

“You…” When Honghua Guimu heard that, she was stunned, and then she countered after pulling herself together. “I think you’re making excuses. What important promises could you have? Besides, first come, first served. A few years have passed since. Don’t tell me it came before our duel!”

She didn’t get it, but hearing that took some load off my chest.

“Well said. First come, first served. That promise indeed came before our promise.” Master hesitated a little at first, her talking speed slightly slow. It was her biggest concern, after all. Lian’er and I weren’t even supposed to know. I didn’t expect she would tell an outsider straight out. “More than ten years ago, I made a promise with someone to create our own school of swordsmanship and find out who’s stronger through a duel twenty years later. I’ve lived for this all these years. Now that the promised date is coming up, how could I allow myself to get into trouble and risk my life for things other than that? For you, our duel is to go all out and have fun. For me, I could only go so far. That’s all. Sorry.”

With that, the air froze.

They were no longer talking, no sound of a battle either. Leaves were rustling, and insects were chirping in the dark as if no one was around.

I was leaning against Lian’er, unable to see what was in front of me, but I could picture a scene of two people confronting eyeball to eyeball. At this point, Master had told her everything and did everything she could from what I saw, but the other person might not appreciate it considering her eccentric temper, and there were ways for Honghua Guimu to make Master do it if she insisted.

Right now, Lian’er and I are Master’s biggest weaknesses.

I could think of the worst possibility but not a way to get out of the possibility. I could only let things run their course. It was a terrible feeling as if someone was laughing at your incompetence again and again. 

I could only wish I was merely being laughed at.

After a moment of depressing silence, Honghua Guimu finally spoke, her voice full of resentment, and thus so much less eeriness and coldness. “Tell me! How much longer is left in your 20-year promise?”

“Besides this year, four years left,” Master answered without hesitation. Obviously, it had always been on her mind.

“Alright!” As if she had made up her mind, Honghua Guimu shouted, “A soulmate is easy to get, but a rival is hard to come by. Since you have your reason, I don’t mind waiting a few more years. You have a 20-year promise with someone. Then I’ll add one more year to it and make it a 21-year promise. Do you have the guts to accept it?”

What answered her was a burst of guffaw from Master. The laughter went on for a long time. I had never heard her laugh like this, but I felt like this is how she was supposed to be, bold and unconstrained, different from her with the composure she put on before. Without having to worry, she seemed to have the carefree spirit of a jianghu traveler.

“Great!” After she finished laughing, the familiar voice replied with determination. “How could I refuse when I’ll get a rival like you? Our 21-year promise. As long as I’m still alive by that time, I’ll give my all!”

“Dare you slap your palm with me as a vow?” As if to match with Master’s reply, Honghua Guimu’s voice was no longer sombre and sharp, but gracious and passionate, like a real hero.

“Slap our palms as a sign of the oath, smear our lips with blood as a sign of the vow!”

First, there was the sound of clothes rustling in the dark, then the sound of three slaps, papapa. The crisp sound of slaps echoed in the dark woods. Unlike the meeting of palms during the duel before, they sounded so clean and exhilarating.

“Tell me your name!”

“I don’t have a nickname. My birth name is Ling Muhua!”

“Well, Ling Muhua, you already know my nickname, Honghua Guimu, and my surname is Gongsun. Don’t forget our 21-year promise. Right here, at noon. See you then!”

“See you then!”

I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. Every single word entered my ears and stayed in my heart. 

It had put my mind at rest, but confusion arose, and I was caught in a hazy apprehension. Some blurry images and words flashed through my mind, but they were like the smoke before my eyes and the sand in my hand, unable to hold, unable to keep.

But is this how the story is supposed to be?

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 41 Poison

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 41


My heart jumped with joy, then with dismay.

Joy was because I heard Master’s voice, and dismay was because of the name she called.

The name Honghua Guimu, compared to Gongsun Daniang, could better jog a certain memory that had been buried away in my mind. 

But now wasn’t a good time to brood over it. As soon as Master finished her words, a burst of laughter came from the dark not far to the left. The fine dame—or should I call her by her name—anyway, I couldn’t see her face now, but I could almost imagine her rolling up her sleeves because even her voice was brimming with excitement, “Well, well, well, you’re finally here. Let’s settle our old score from a few years ago!”   

With that, the wind stirred, and a shadow flew by before me. Knowing Master had charged towards her, I instinctively got worried, wanting to get up and go in that direction. Who knew as soon as I moved, before I could even stand up, my body lost its coordination, as if I was frozen stiff, and slowly tumbled to the side like losing balance.

This is bad, I thought. It wasn’t because I was about to fall, but the chill seemed weirder than I imagined. It wasn’t as simple as the day getting cold, which I’d believed earlier. 

It all happened in a split second. Thoughts flashed through my mind. My body tensed up, ready for the impact. Who knew there was someone faster than a split second. As I was falling down halfway, something tightened around my waist. I felt a force in reverse and I was pulled back up, but because of the momentum, I was falling again to the other side.

The next moment, I felt warmth on my back, leaning into something, a body temperature higher than average, so familiar that it was comforting.

A while ago, it was me who had her in my arms, and now I was in her arms, just like those days we were together. At the end of the day, we wouldn’t know who was the one being protected. 

All of a sudden, I wanted to see her so badly. 

I had no time for anything else, given how intense the situation was before. Now this urge arose. Has her face changed in these two years? She’s at an age where her body is growing. How much taller has she grown? I really wanted to light a fire and take a closer look at her, but I couldn’t even pull out the flame stick and light it.

The chill was seeping out through my bones, a chill from within. A chilly night in the mountains could never have caused that. I had overlooked it earlier because of all the discomfort in my body. It wasn’t until I wanted to move that I realized I couldn’t move. The desire to sleep grew stronger. The drowsiness that was offset by a moment of energy spike because of Master’s appearance seemed to be coming back.

As I was feeling drowsy, I heard a shout, a somewhat nervous voice, but it wasn’t speaking to me. “Master!” Her arms tightened a little, so tight I could feel the vibration of her body when she shouted. “Master, get the antidote first!”

My sense of consciousness had returned a little. It was then I remembered I had taken poison. But I didn’t feel nervous at all and started to humor myself instead, thinking to myself, so this is how it feels like when the poison kicks in. Except for feeling cold, the effect is comparable to a strong sleeping pill.

If a person isn’t worried about themselves at a critical moment, it is mostly because of trust, trusting that there are people around them who will be more worried, even if subconsciously.

I didn’t realize that at that moment. I only knew Lian’er’s anxious shout and the response coming from the dark calmed me down and I heard Master’s voice shouting, “Right, Honghua Guimu, since I’m here, hand over the antidote, quick! Don’t make my disciple suffer!”

However, things didn’t go so well. The answer from the other side was, “Want the antidote? Get it yourself, or you can have it when we’re done.” 

After getting such an answer, I heard a low grunt of indignation and agitation next to me. I brought myself to reach out my hand and press on the slender arm that was holding me, telling her to stay calm, but the next second, she shook off my hand, but her arms held me tighter, to where it was hurting but also seemed to be warmer.

Now I could set my mind at rest. Deep down, I guessed we both believed in Master, so she didn’t just butt in, and I begged her not to.

Without a doubt, when Master heard the answer, she immediately countered, “Our fight is between us. It’s what I owe you. We know how strong each other is, so I’m afraid it’ll last at least a few hundred rounds before a winner is decided. And look at how much time is left in the 30-minute. If you want my disciple dead, just do it. Why be pretentious? To torture a junior to death in such a way. Aren’t you afraid that you’ll be a joke to the people in jianghu!”

“Nonsense! Why’d I ever want that!” These words had burned Honghua Guimu up. She was no longer being cynical and said, “If I give you the antidote now, who knows what tricks you’ll play again? Don’t forget about the Cicada Skin Shed* trick you pulled off last time!”

“I was worried about my disciple last time. Now she’s here. Why would I run away?” Master retorted right off, “Even if I can run away and get rid of you, can my two disciples get rid of you too? And I won’t fight with you if you don’t give me the antidote now. Even if we do, with something on my mind, your victory will be unjust if you win!”

I heard the entire conversation, and I was a little relieved, certain that Honghua Guimu wasn’t lying to me. I realized there was a moment of silence in the middle of the conversation, as if the other person was thinking about something. Then an idea hit me. I intentionally made my breathing sound heavier as I gasped for air. The heavy breathing sounded obvious in the silent darkness, along with a tad of feebleness, as if I was in pain.

This was intended to suit what Master had said and pose some pressure on Honghua Guimu. Who knew I almost messed things up. Before this tactic affected its target, it had rattled the person behind me.

I felt the arms that were holding me tensed up, then I realized this wasn’t going well. Before I could hint at her, her arms let go of me. It seemed like Lian’er couldn’t sit back anymore. She gently laid me down on the ground and bellowed, “Old hag! Give us the antidote!” And she was about to lunge forward.

I got anxious. With no time to think, I held her hand, struggling to explain to her. Just as I was about to stop her, I heard a sigh. “Forget it!” In the dark, Honghua Guimu’s voice came from afar, “I’ll trust you people one more time, so that other people won’t say I don’t keep my words and bully the juniors later!”

After that, I heard a shout from her. “The kid over there, catch!”

I was lying on my side, unable to feel anything, not even hearing something flying through the air, only feeling a slight jerk from the person beside me and hearing a slight movement like something fell into a palm, then a soft pop of uncorking a bottle. The person I was holding broke away from my feeble hand and turned to hold my shoulders and gripped my chin. I didn’t know what she was thinking. She didn’t say a word, just brought the bottle-like thing close to me, with care and caution.

The small bottle was brought to my lips. A strong and pungent smell of medicine wafted against my face from inside. My stomach was churning, but I knew I had to drink it. It wasn’t a time to be weak, so I braced myself and held my breath. With my lips against the rim, I downed it in one gulp. 

When the liquid passed through my throat, it felt as if I had drunk some chemical. I felt a burning sensation in my throat. The freezing chill had faded a lot and was replaced by a burning sensation in my body. I told myself to endure it, but in the end, I still couldn’t take it and let out a low groan.

The groan again rattled the person beside me. She jumped to her feet and spluttered, “Old hag, what did you give me? She looks even worse!”

I was afraid Lian’er’s disrespect would offend her and lay up trouble for herself, so I forced myself to reach out my hand and tugged at her hem as soon as I grabbed it, but how could I have stopped her. Seeing that I was about to lose my grip, a gust of breeze suddenly swirled in. Then there was another person next to me. The person’s body was slimmer than Lian’er, and her presence, too, was familiar.

“Xian’er, how’s your body feeling? How do you feel? Tell me.” I was helped up and into her arms. It was a totally different kind of closeness from that of Lian’er. It was more reassuring in her presence, especially at this time and this place, as if a load was lifted off my chest.

“I’m fine…” I replied, exerting myself. I noticed Lian’er had also crouched down on the other side. Although she said nothing, I could feel her gaze. It was a long-awaited relief to be surrounded by the two people I trusted most in this life. Although my body was in pain, I felt immensely at peace, so I didn’t want them to be worried. “It was freezing cold just now, and I couldn’t move at all…though my lung is burning after taking the antidote, the chill has faded a lot. Should…should be fine. Don’t worry…”

Perhaps because Master was here, Lian’er didn’t say anything this time. I could only hear Master asking with a raised voice, “Honghua Guimu! The poison belongs to you, and so does the antidote. What’s this about? You’re the one to ask, right?”

“There’s nothing weird about it.” That voice came from the distant dark. Although the voice sounded less ambiguous now, it wasn’t warm either. “The poison is harmful to the body, to begin with. The way to cure it is to fight fire with fire. She was suffering from internal injuries before this. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable when curing it. Anyway, it won’t kill her. She asked for it herself. Can’t blame anyone. You, on the other hand, how long do you want to drag this out? Are you going to play some tricks again?”

She explained it well. I smiled wryly to myself. I knew stories were unreliable. People who took the antidote in the stories always seemed relieved right away, at least it would take the edge off. Unlike now, I felt even worse than when the poison took effect.

However, if there was anything better, it was that my body was no longer stiff, and I could speak a few words. I tugged at the hand of Master who seemed like she still wanted to argue and said softly, “Master, it’s okay…you don’t have to worry about us. It’s just a little uncomfortable. Nothing serious. You just do what you think best. It’s better to…get this out of the way sooner…just…be careful.”

If possible, I really wanted to tell her not to force herself and get herself out of it if the situation wasn’t looking good, but because of my place, I couldn’t say those. After I managed to finish, the air fell silent for a moment. Then a hand patted my head, and I heard Master’s resigned voice. “You stubborn girl. Worry more about yourself. Look at what you’ve got yourself into…”

She stood up after finishing her words. As if she had made up her mind, she commanded, “Lian’er! Take care of your sister!” Then a flash fleeted across the dark sky. A glimmering ray of light charged toward the dark. 

And I could hear an excited voice over there, saying, “Good!” followed by a sharp and resonant clang of metals.

This would be a spectacular duel. The two of them were one of a kind in their generation. Unfortunately, everything was covered behind the pitch-black night. People around could see nothing, at least it was so for me. Then again, I had already used up all my energy to endure the pain in my body. I couldn’t focus even if I could see it.

However, there was another person here. She was different from me. She had an exceptional constitution, and a pair of eyes that could see in the dark.

I thought her mind might not be on that, so I propped myself up and got closer to her, using up the last bit of my strength, I lowered my voice and said to her, “Lian’er, focus and look carefully. Look at their moves. Remember as much as you can. Believe me. It’ll be of great help to you in the future.”

*A skill to get away like a cicada shedding its skin. Here’s a picture. Warning: if you hate insects, don’t click on it.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 40 Wait

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 40


Waiting was a torment, especially one without certainty.

A long time like 30-minute couldn’t be measured with the seconds I was used to. At a time like this, I would miss the days when we had timekeeping devices.

The air became a little heavy after Lian’er had left. Even the two wolves had either left or lain low. Anyway, they disappeared, leaving me and the red flower dame behind in the dark and windy night. A moment ago, we were at war like fire and water, and now we suddenly fell into silence. I didn’t know how she felt, but I felt a little uncomfortable.

And now the perk of a dark night showed. I couldn’t see anything beyond three steps, anyway. It saved us the embarrassment of looking at each other. 

I groped for a relatively flat rock in the grass and sat down, tugging my knees into my chest, waiting in silence for the time to pass. After waiting dully for a while, I felt my body getting more and more uncomfortable, along with fits of shivering cold. It can’t go on like this, I thought, so I wanted to get some twigs and start a fire to keep warm. But when I got up and just took a step, I heard a faint, tepid voice coming from not far to my left, “Girl…what’re you up to?”

I couldn’t see her in the dark. After hesitating for a while, I replied, “It’s late and getting cold. I’m looking for something to start a fire.”

After friction had developed between us, I had lost much of my respect for her when I spoke. I no longer addressed her as a senior. I didn’t know what she was thinking. She replied with a “hmm,” as if she didn’t care much, but then said gloomily, “I advise you to meditate and chill. If you move around like this and start a fire, it’ll stimulate your blood circulation and cause the poison to kick in before time. By that time, you’ll really die for nothing.” 

What she said sounded both true and false. I couldn’t tell if it was a threat or a fact. After a moment of hesitation, I sat down again, thinking it was better to believe it was true, but I couldn’t resist the swelling emotions in me and lashed out, “If that’s the case, why did you let her take that earlier? Lian’er was going to use her qi on her way, and that would boost her blood circulation. Luckily, I‘d stopped her before that. Otherwise, if she collapses on her way, what’re you going to do?”

She didn’t answer, only her usual bizarre giggle coming from the dark, and after she finished laughing, I heard her saying, “Weird. You’ve been defending that kid the entire time. And now you’re feeling glad for her instead of worried about yourself. Who’s she to you?”

“Wha…what’s weird about it?” What she said had struck a nerve. I had nothing to hide, actually. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t feel confident enough. I answered, trying to sound nonchalant, “I’d seen her growing up, and I’m her only sister. Who should I defend otherwise? It’s something I should do.”

“Hmph, seen her growing up? You sound like an old man for your age. How weird. Tsk.” Then she continued, “From what I’ve seen, you love that kid as your sister, yet she didn’t talk to you even once the entire time. She said nothing even when you swallowed the pill for her. Obviously, she doesn’t respect you as her sister.”

I didn’t expect her to say that. I was startled, my hand unconsciously stroking the wound on my fingertip. It had been bandaged just a moment ago, as if someone else’s warmth was still there.

“She…she was just angry with me…” I murmured, trying to explain. What happened before inadvertently came up in my mind.

Just as what the red flower dame had said, Lian’er didn’t talk to me the whole time until she left, even when she saw me swallow the pill. Of course, that didn’t mean I thought taking the pill was a big deal. I didn’t even think I was taking poison the moment I swallowed it. It was curable, anyway. I had confidence in Lian’er’s qinggong, and I knew she wouldn’t leave me behind, so there was nothing to fear.

But what I did seemed to have irritated Lian’er. The reason she didn’t talk to me before might be because of her injury due to her hasty attack, but she still didn’t say a word when she was leaving, even her blazing gaze was no more.

I guess she is throwing a tantrum again since she has always been most annoyed with me making decisions for her, especially since she got hurt this time. She is definitely angry.

As I was thinking, my mind started to wander, all kinds of thought emerging in my mind. I was so immersed in my own world that I almost forgot the discomfort on my body and the situation I was in until a snort snapped me out of it. 

Clearly, the snort came from the red flower dame. I heard her sneer, “No offense, girl, people’s hearts are the most unpredictable thing in the world. People like you, are bound to get hurt.”

Her tone was still ambiguous. Maybe I was wrong. I could hear a hint of concern in it. “Just like that pill. That kid might seem to be hurt, but actually, she isn’t hurt as bad as you are. The pill won’t do any harm to her. It’s you who will get hurt taking that, but you just had to be the hero. Do you think I’d do things without reason? Next time, know your place, or else, you won’t know what hit you.”

“That just means I’m being dumb. What does it have to do with people’s hearts being unpredictable?” I said, shaking my head slightly, “In the end, I didn’t do it for her. It’s for my own peace of mind that I played the hero. If she were the one who took the pill, I’d be sitting on pins and needles now. Instead of going through mental torture, I would rather it to be my body that suffers.”

“Girl, you don’t seem like a diehard. [1]Heaven, earth, sovereign, ancestors, masters. Does she deserve you doing that?” Her voice was a little dismissive, perhaps she was also shaking her head. 

“If being sisters isn’t enough, then soulmates will do, right? Don’t people die for their soulmate?” I certainly couldn’t tell her the truth, so I had to find an excuse to brush her off. 

“Soulmate?” Her tone turned to one of disbelief this time. “What do you know about soulmates at your age, girl? People’s hearts are ever changing. How can you call someone a soulmate so lightly? Can you know what the other person is thinking? If you can’t, how can you say someone’s your soulmate?”

Too bad I wasn’t actually a young girl on the inside. What I said just now was just an excuse, not to mention I had no desire to go into details with anyone, but when I heard what she said, I retorted, smiling without knowing, “When Ziqi died, Boya broke his guqin.[2] You don’t have to know everything about someone to call them a soulmate. Just like you and Master. You’ve longed for a duel with her for years. Doesn’t that mean soulmates are hard to get?” 

After a moment, there was no more sound coming from the dark.

I didn’t know why the red flower dame fell silent. I didn’t dare to think I had convinced her. After thinking about it, I felt I should bring up Master to remind her of the duel to come so that she no longer cared to chatter with me. By now, she should be meditating.

I was worried about showing my emotions. I didn’t want to talk to her too much to begin with, so I was happy to go back to silence, sitting there, silently returning to my own world, thereby ignoring the pain and coldness in my body. 

In the dark, time wore on. Maybe because I had sat for too long, I felt the coldness in my body grow colder, so cold that I could no longer concentrate on my thoughts. I could only curl up tighter and tighter. My body couldn’t help but shiver, even my mind was getting drowsy.

Just as I was about to fall asleep, a bawl came into my ears.

“Honghua Guimu![3] What’ve you done to my disciples?”

[1]The belief and worship of five cosmological entities in Confucianism.

[2]It’s an excerpt from a Chinese classic story, talking about a Chinese musician, Yu Boya, broke his guqin (a Chinese instrument similar to zither) and vowed never to play it again when a woodcutter, Zhong Ziqi, who he met on his tour and called him his bosom friend because he understood his music, died. It’s a story that exemplifies friendship and where the term Zhiyin (知音, meaning soulmate/bosom friend, literally “to know the tone”) came about. You can look up the story of Boya and Zhong Ziqi if you like to know the full story.

[3]红花鬼母, Gongsun Daniang’s nickname, literally Red Flower Devil Mother.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 39 Silent Rivalry

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 39

Silent Rivalry

Ever since I got a new life, the only thing I wished for in this life was peace, so for over ten years I had lived, I had been controlling my emotions—consciously and unconsciously—and I rarely let myself mess around.

It felt like a long time since I acted out of impulse. My emotions took a roller-coaster ride. Although all my emotions were released as they rose and fell, I felt as if I was hollowed out. When I fell on the ground, my body cooled down, leaving only emptiness and silence. For a moment, I felt nothing mattered anymore as I lay there. I’m a speck of dust in the universe. What joy is in life, what pain is in death?

Until she came along.

Hearing that voice and looking at that figure, the sense of reality snapped back into my body.

But I felt no relief from being saved, even the heartwarming feeling of a reunion was just momentary, and anxiety and worry took over right after that.

I didn’t have to think to know how untimely Lian’er’s appearance was at that moment. With her temper…I didn’t dare to imagine. I turned to keep an eye on the reaction of the red flower dame next to me. When I caught a faint “eh,” my nerves tightened. I leaned forward and grabbed the dragon-head staff that was against my neck, speaking under my breath, “This is between you and me. Leave others out of it!”

“Oh? Who’s she? When you talk like this, she isn’t entirely irrelevant to you, is she?” The fine dame knew how strong I was, so she wasn’t concerned even when she saw me grabbing her staff. She didn’t even change her stance and scoffed, “You have a lot of friends, huh. It’s only been one night, but you’ve been getting help everywhere.”

“This isn’t a coincidence. She’s…she’s the real master of those two wolves,” I strained to answer as I endured my qi rolling in my body. Although my body was suffering, I didn’t bump my head. I knew what I should say and what not to say.

But I was afraid someone didn’t. 

After giving a brief answer to the red flower dame, I didn’t dare to dally much. I forced myself to hold half of my body up from the ground and shouted at the other side, “Lian…Miss Lian’er! I appreciate your kindness, but this person here…this person here is coming after me and Master. It has noth…nothing to do with you. I’m sorry that the wolves are hurt, but she’s too strong. You better not get invol…involved in this. The first thing is to take care of the wolves!”

This was all I could think of saying at the moment. It was meant for the red flower dame, as well as Lian’er, literally and figuratively. If I was lucky, I could keep her out of this and get the message to Master, killing two birds with one stone.

Unfortunately, man proposes, God disposes. I knew I had never been a lucky person.

Besides, Lian’er’s temper was there.

The implications in these words were clear enough. I didn’t believe she didn’t get it. But the truth was she just stood there, as if she didn’t hear it, and repeated, “I said stay away from her!”

That was when I knew we were in big trouble.

“Haha, Interesting.” It seemed to have sparked the red flower dame’s interest. She jerked her wrist, and the staff against my neck sank down a little more. Although my hand was grasping the staff, I felt my breath suddenly being choked off, uncontrollable groans escaping my throat. The red flower dame asserted, “I do what I want. Now I don’t want to stay away from her. What’re you going to do?”

As soon as she said that, I tried hard to take a breath under the weight and screamed, “Lian’er! Don’t!” But I couldn’t stop anything. She didn’t listen to me at all like the two wolves earlier. I saw the figure flicker, and there was wind storming over!

The wind swished by me, and the weight on my neck was suddenly lifted. I could hear the dame say with a little approval in her voice, “Your qinggong is good.” But her voice was already dozens of feet away.

I struggled to my feet, anxiously looking at the dark, but there was nothing I could help. I couldn’t even see clearly, let alone intervene in this fight. The heavy darkness lingered around as if it were dark fog. Coupled with the dizziness caused by my erratic qi flow, I could only see two shadows moving and crossing each other between the trees, no matter how much I focused. Sometimes it seemed unreal and sometimes real, hazy and indistinct.

My chest was burning. Even though I couldn’t see how the situation was, I knew very well that no matter how fast Lian’er martial arts had improved over the past two years, she could never compete with a person who could tie with Master. She might be able to hang on for a little while longer, but the ending was doomed. I wanted to tell her to run, but I was afraid not only that it wouldn’t work, but it would also distract her and lead to her defeat. 

It was at this moment I hated myself for being so powerless. I knew what would happen, but I could only watch it happen. 

After waiting helplessly and anxiously for a while, a muffled grunt came from the other side as expected, followed by the sound of branches cracking, and then a thud. 

“Lian’er!” Although I was expecting it, I was still shocked. I called her name as I stumbled towards where the sound came from.

Only when I came closer did I see a person lying in the grass. She kept holding up her body, trying to get up but to no avail. When I heard heavy breathing, almost to the point of being abnormal, I got worried. I rushed over and held her in my arms from the back. Then I knelt on the grass and got her up so that she could lean properly in my arms.

A long-awaited hug, yet it was in this way. I had no time to be sentimental. Even though she was so close that I could smell her familiar scent, I still couldn’t see clearly. The person in front of me was hazed by a veil of darkness, so blurry that I couldn’t even see her expression, let alone check on her. Holding her, all I knew was the body in my arms was trembling and twitching slightly, looking very uncomfortable.

“Lian’er! What’s wrong with you, Lian’er? What’s wrong? Tell me!” Panic flared up. I knew she would lose the fight but didn’t expect her to get hurt like this. I kept calling her, and what I heard was heavier and heavier breathing, as if she couldn’t spare the time to speak at all.

“Gongsun Daniang! What’ve you done to her!” I couldn’t get an answer from her, so I could only ask the one who did it.

Before Lian’er was injured and fell, the red flower dame had already landed calmly not far away. First, she was standing aside, watching casually as if enjoying a show.  When she heard me, she said with a snort, “Hmph, you ask me? I want to ask you too. You seem honest. I never expected you to be full of nonsense. You said she has nothing to do with you, but her martial arts style is clearly the same as yours!”

“She’d just been taught by Master before and learned a few moves,” I said, gritting my teeth. I knew the possibility of getting caught lying was high, but as long as there was a slight possibility, I wanted to keep her out of this. 

Sure enough, it didn’t work.

“Stop making excuses! Do you really think I’m an idiot? Her martial skills are obviously better than yours. That isn’t a level you can achieve with learning a few moves. How much longer do you want to cover for her?”

“Old hag!” At this moment, the person in my arms started to flail about, ignoring her heavy breathing that sounded like bellows, and rasped, “Do it if you dare! Do it now! Or else I won’t spare you next time!”

“Shut up!” I rapped out at Lian’er before the red flower dame blew up. I knew she wouldn’t listen, so I quickly reached out my hand and covered her mouth.

Lian’er was pissed off now. She couldn’t take it when I treated her this way. As soon as my hand covered her mouth, she opened her mouth and bit down without hesitation, and coincidentally, on that finger I used to write the message earlier. I just felt a sense of pressure, immediately followed by a pang of excruciating pain. I knew the wound was open again, but I had no time to care about it. I was still clasping her mouth, afraid that she would anger that woman.

Even so, it seemed like it was too late. 

When the red flower dame heard Lian’er’s bawl, she sniggered. After she was done, she said, “Haha, since you’ve said it, I feel like I should finish you off for good to save myself from future problems, right?”

As soon as she said that, I got a shiver and thought, I’m afraid this woman really wants to kill Lian’er given her peculiarity and wickedness. With our state like this, aren’t we just fishes on the chopping board? I was dismayed and said, “If you do that, I assure you, you’re never going to find out where my master is!”

“Oh?” She smiled, not affected by my intimidation. “One dead, there’s still one more, isn’t it? Or you wish to die with her?”

In the face of being pressed, I remained silent, looking as if I was hesitating, however, I was holding Lian’er and backing up little by little. I was sure the red flower dame had noticed it, but thanks to the darkness, she still had no idea what I was doing and just took it as a sign of fear. 

“You’re right!” When I finally came to the target place, the edge of the cliff where I had desperately tried to push her down, I replied seriously, hands tightly guarding the person who kept trembling in my arms, “If you do anything to Lian’er, I’ll leap off the cliff with her now, and I guarantee you won’t find our bodies! By that time, no one else in this world knows where our master lives, and you can take your unresolved feelings to the grave!”

“Hmph!” As if she felt she got played, she said sinisterly, her tone turning harsher, “Alright, if you dare to do so, I’ll go back and kill everyone in that village! Down to the very last of them!”

How ironic. I was wrong about her. She was wrong about me too. It turned out none of us were kind. 

Facing her threat, I smiled ruefully and said, “Haha, as you wish. I couldn’t even protect the most important person to me. I’m even about to give up my own life. Why do I even care now? Go ahead and do what you like. At the worst, I’ll wait for you in hell!”

The last sentence was like a curse before death. When I was done, I held Lian’er and kept a close eye on the shadowy figure in the dark. She was quick-tempered, so she would most likely go ballistic. I was thinking as soon as she moved, I would do what I said!

But after that, the air seemed to freeze.

The red flower dame didn’t blow up as I thought she would, and she didn’t come any closer either. After a moment of silence—I didn’t know if my response had caught her off guard or if she was playing some kind of game—she started to giggle. 

“Boring, boring indeed.” When she finally spoke, she said it frigidly, as if it was really boring. “Alright, alright. It’s getting late. I’ll stop teasing you two youngsters. I’m magnanimous. I’ll compromise a little. As if anyone cares about where she lives. One of you go get your master to come here and fulfill my wish, good enough?”

Such an answer was unexpected. I suspected there was something going on. “Do you think I still believe you after all this?” I said seriously, not daring to let down my guard for a moment. 

“What? You don’t have confidence in me, fine. But you don’t even have confidence in your own master? Or you think that master of yours will lose even when she comes? Instead of three people dying, it’s better just the two of you die together?”

When she mentioned that, I was a little tempted. Although I couldn’t fathom how strong this person in front of me was, I was still confident in Master’s martial skills. Even if what she said before was true, the two of them could fight for more than a hundred rounds neck and neck, that didn’t mean that Master would definitely lose to her, right?

I looked at Lian’er in my arms. Although I couldn’t see her face and injury, seeing her in such pain, I was afraid… If something happened to her, why bother alarming Master? Might as well…

Perhaps I had too much shock tonight, I didn’t know what to do. For a moment, negative emotions and thoughts flooded me and almost made me forget about the moment I was tempted. 

It was then the red flower dame sneered, probably because she saw my worry, “What? Are you worried about her? Don’t worry. It looks serious, but I just messed up her qi, and now her neigong[1] and the flow of her qi is disrupted. Of course, she has trouble breathing. It’s nothing serious. If you promise me, I can fix her right away.”

Now I could see some hope. Almost without thinking, I raised my head and said firmly, “Okay! You fix her. I’ll stay here with you, and she’ll go get Master. I’ll give you my word!”

I wasn’t sure if this person was still trustworthy or not. Maybe making promises with her was just like making a pact with the devil, but now, relieving Lian’er’s pain was the priority. I personally felt it wasn’t a loss to make that deal. I wasn’t afraid of death, what else was there to fear? 

She didn’t say much. Seeing that I agreed, she sauntered over and crouched down. Pa, pa, pa, speedily, she jabbed on Lian’er body a few times. Then she stood up and said as she clapped her hands, “Done.”

I felt the person in my arms spasm a few times, and the twitching abated. After a while, she seemed to be struggling, trying to stand up. I didn’t dare to let her move by herself, so I stood up together with her, half carrying, half holding her up. When she caught her breath, she snarled, “I’m going to kill you!” She was about to lunge at her as she said that. 

Fortunately, I was quick this time. I held her and burst out, “Lian’er! Lian’er! Wait a minute!” When I saw she ignored me, I was angry and worried, as if a fire was burning in me. I couldn’t help but hoot, “Lian’er! Do you wish me dead!”

With this hoot, the person beside me jolted and stopped, standing right there without a word.

I couldn’t see her face. I was afraid it would evoke an even stronger emotional backlash from her after a moment of silence, so I quickly softened up and held her hand, crooning, “If you know you can’t win and still want to fight, fine. I’ll die with you. No big deal. But if you don’t want us to die for no reason, then go see Master, tell her everything, and let her decide, okay?”

Still no response. I stood there, holding her. I couldn’t see her reaction because of the dark, and I knew the woman must be watching from the side. While I was thinking about what to do, fearing that something might happen, the person in front of me moved. 

This time, Lian’er didn’t do anything reckless. She just turned around slowly and looked at me. In the dark, it was as if looking at a flower in the fog when I looked at her. I couldn’t even meet her eyes, yet I could clearly feel her blazing gaze. Suddenly, there was the sound of cloth tearing, and my hand was lifted. Something was wrapping around my index finger, bandaging the wound on it. When everything was done, she remained silent, dropped my hand, turned around, and was about to walk away. 

That was when the red flower dame who had been watching at a side chimed in. 

“Hold on!” She shouted and strolled over. “On second thought, I still don’t think I can trust you guys. I’m not at an advantage by doing that. What if this kid never returns, and you won’t budge, won’t I be in trouble by that time?”

“What exactly do you want?” I asked, frowning. I knew she wouldn’t let us go so easily, but I didn’t know what she was trying to pull.

Then I saw a hand reaching out from the dark, and when it reached Lian’er, it opened up. A small white pill was on top, glimmering in the dark. 

“Take this,” The woman said casually as if what she asked someone to take was just candy. “This white pill won’t kill you right away, but if you don’t return in 30 minutes, you’ll die of poison. Only the antidote I have can save you. That’s enough time for you to get someone, right?”

Lian’er gave no response. She just snorted and reached out her hand, wanting to grab it.

At this moment, I should be glad that we were close to each other and even gladder that the pill was white, so I could see where it precisely was. These two points made things easy for me. 

That was why I could step forward, grab the pill, and swallow it before Lian’er could. 

“She just got hurt, and she has to use her qi on her way. I don’t want her to take this kind of thing. You don’t believe her, I do. If she doesn’t return in 30 minutes, I’ll give you my life.”

[1]Neigong- The cultivated energy within a martial artist’s body. Martial artists use this energy to attain skills such as superhuman strength, speed, stamina, durability and healing. Reference: Wikipedia

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 38 A Dark Night

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 38

A Dark Night

I wasn’t a smart person. The so-called plan couldn’t be simpler. It wasn’t even a strategy. 

I never tried to be clever and think about slipping away halfway. My obedience and submission on the road were only to exchange for a chance tonight. I just wanted to go up the mountain alone before the red flower dame.

For one, I could avoid giving away the location of Yellow Dragon Cave by doing so so that I didn’t have to worry. Second, it was because I was worried. I worried that things might not be as simple as the fine dame had said. Although she said it was a duel, and the story she told was tied in with what I knew, I couldn’t believe her entirely before checking with Master. After all, regarding jianghu affairs, you wouldn’t know what was in other people’s minds.

That is why I want to tell Master and confirm it with her first. If what she said is true, and Master feels it isn’t a big deal, I will come right back to her and look for another spot for the duel. If that is the case, that can’t be better. It will also be a win-win I’m hoping for, and everyone will be happy. But if things are different from what she said, or Master thinks it is too risky, then…

I don’t know. Maybe I would have to be selfish for once. 

On the other hand, I’m pushing my luck. After spending time with the red flower dame on the road, I feel she has integrity, though her temper is peculiar and unpredictable. Maybe she was just trying to scare me with her threat of harming the villagers. She might not actually do it. This is just wishful thinking used to comfort myself, or I might be right, but ultimately, I can’t hide my selfishness. 

If I have to choose between my neighbors or my close ones, I will face it. I‘m just afraid I ended up losing both even after thinking up all the ideas and choosing to be a bad guy.

At this moment, I didn’t feel safe, although the bellboy promised that the incense could make people sleep through the night. The red flower dame was a seasoned master in jianghu, after all. She was too mysterious. I didn’t think it could be solved that easily. I was afraid she would wake up early and catch up to me in no time.

That was why I groped my way up the mountain, afraid to even light a torch.

Even so, I still felt uneasy. The dark was as heavy as a curtain. I could see nothing beyond a few steps, which made the air seem even more gloomy and eerie. Sometimes when there was a slight movement behind me or when I heard insects or birds, it made me nervous and paranoid, feeling as if someone was tailing me. 

Because of these doubts, I was anxious to the point I felt like I was about to be torn, part of me wanted to run straight to Yellow Dragon Cave; the other part was afraid that someone was approaching in the dark. It wouldn’t be that bad if it was just me getting caught. What I was afraid of was being followed, leading the bad guy to the house, and causing more harm than good.

The anxiety was overwhelming, and finally, I was too on edge. It was too much, so I stopped.

Alone in the wild, it was as dark as ink around. I listened, and I could only hear wind swishing between the trees, sounding like whimpers. After standing still, my breathing slowed down, and my heart settled down. I stayed in silence for a while, then I shook my head and chuckled, scoffing at myself for actually having a taste of imaginary fears.

But were they imaginary fears? I couldn’t go on unless this worry was dispelled, or maybe…

After thinking for a while, I went on in a different direction.

This time, I was heading west. I sprinted for some distance as I groped along. Even though my sight was limited, I could recognize the rough location based on my experience. When I felt I got far enough, I slowed down, parting the grass and searching as I walked around, making a faint but rather high-pitched whistle.

It was a call but not for humans, a call that the little Lian’er once forced me to learn. She said I wouldn’t be qualified as her buddy if I didn’t know how to do it, so I had no choice but to learn it. I never thought it would come in handy now. 

As expected, a high-pitched response came from the dark after a few whistles. After a while, two big fellows sprang out of the grass.

When my eyes met with their fierce and wary eyes, I was a little nervous. After all, I wasn’t Lian’er. There weren’t many ways I could communicate with them. Besides, I had been away for two years. Even if I was treated as a stranger, there was no surprise. Fortunately, I wasn’t afraid of animals, so I could stand their surveying eyes. 

After being sniffed for a few rounds, one of them finally came near, sniffed my hand, and nudged my hand with its nose. I slowly crouched down and petted it with that hand. As soon as its tongue licked my hand, I knew I was accepted.

I was surprised because it had been two years, but they still remembered my scent. Although I was glad, even touched, I didn’t understand why.

Anyhow, this was already beyond my expectation.

After calming the two big wolves and letting them stay at the side, I moved three steps away, took out a flame stick, and ignited it. With the dim glow, I tore off a piece of my hem and flattened it out. Then I brought my index finger to my mouth and bit down.

What I got in return for this seemingly cool move was a pang of excruciating pain. I was gasping and hissing in pain. It was better to use a knife, I concluded to myself. But I daren’t rest my hands. I started to scribble with the oozing blood, jotting down the things that happened with the red flower dame as succinctly as possible. But I omitted the fact I was being threatened and wrote at the end that she was waiting at an inn in the town now, that Master didn’t have to worry, and it was up to her to decide whether to come.

I was relieved when I was done. I snuffed out the flame stick, patched up my finger, and then picked up the torn cloth, blowing it gently, so that the blood on it could dry faster. If I could come up with this idea earlier, I wouldn’t have to suffer the pain. Unfortunately, I only thought of this on my feet under the pressure of various concerns after I came up the mountain. I had it coming.

Ten years with Lian’er. I am well aware of her routine. I know she will come to visit the wolves in a day or two. If she sees this torn cloth, she will pass it to Master. Then I won’t have to make the trip myself. I can return to the inn now. If I’m lucky, the red flower dame won’t notice a thing. Otherwise, I can avoid the worry of being followed. It was a much better idea than the one I had earlier.

It was funny how people had to be forced. I had been thinking throughout the journey. And perhaps because I missed them, all I was thinking about was how I could meet them. That was why the ideas I could think of before weren’t as good as this one when I was desperate. 

I was mocking myself. When the torn cloth was almost dry, I wrapped it with leaves, went over, and was about to attach it to one of the wolves’ bodies.

Two steps in, the two wolves stood up almost simultaneously, the fur on their back bristling and growls coming from their throat!

I was startled. At first, I thought it was directed at me, but we were getting along well just now, so it made no sense. Then I thought, was it that the blood on my hand had aroused their animal nature? But then I realized it wasn’t me they were growling at, but something behind me!

Alarmed, I wheeled around and went into guard. I was looking around, but the surrounding remained silent. Maybe because of the presence of large animals, even the chirping of insects and birds disappeared at some point, only the darkness suffused like a tangible matter, thickening over time.

It was as if there was nothing, only the wolves kept growling. They kept turning and clawing at the ground, getting more and more anxious.

Seeing them like this, I pondered for a moment before I stood up and called out in the direction at which the growling was directed. “Ma’am, since you’ve been found out, it’s better to come out. You can hide from me but not these unwelcoming animals. There’s no point in hiding anymore, isn’t it?”

As soon as I finished, a cold snort came from the dark. It was a little farther away. I could only see a shadow figure leaped off a tree, and then there came the familiar, ghastly voice. “Humph, unwelcoming? If not for the sudden change in wind direction, putting me from the upwind to the downwind, how could these two beasts detect my presence?”

After finishing her words, she sauntered close. Only then, I could see the red flower. My heart thudded. I felt something wasn’t right. Whether it was her attitude or words, she was too calm. She looked too nonchalant. It didn’t seem like…

Repressing the premonition, I cupped my fist and went straight to the point. “May I ask…when did you notice I was gone? And when did you catch up to me?” 

Then I heard the answer I most dreaded.

Her laughter was sinister. “Catch up to you? Do you really think you can get rid of this old lady with that childish trick? That cheap stuff? Even if I was asleep, its scent would wake me up too. Say, when did I notice? Do I even need to come after you?”

Her words made my heart sink even more. I had thought she might wake up early and come after me, but I had never doubted whether she had passed out because I had experienced the potency of the incense myself. A thought gradually surfaced, bringing along an ominous feeling. I clenched my teeth and continued. “In that case, I wonder if you were hard on the two in the inn? And what did you do to them?”

I changed my mind. I couldn’t say she had caught up to me, so other things no longer mattered now, except the two who helped me. I hoped…

During this tormenting wait, a roar of laughter came from her. After she was done laughing, I heard her deriding voice. “What do you think will happen to them? You have to pay the price if you dare to mess with me. It’s just two lives.”

The surrounding air suddenly turned cold.

I didn’t know how I felt and how I should feel right now. I only knew after a moment of silence, the woman started to chuckle in the dark again.

She was laughing with delight, as if she found it fun. “Hey, what a surprise. I thought you’re an urbane and gentle person. I never thought you would have murderous intent. Hahaha, interesting, interesting.” 

Murderous intent? Maybe.

I didn’t know what murderous intent looked like. I only knew I had too much coldness in me. That coldness froze as it crawled along my body, even my breath seemed to come with frost, yet there was a swell of restless heat burning in my heart. Suppressed under the coldness, it was bubbling and seemed to be ready to spurt out at any moment. 

I always thought I was indifferent, not evil but not kind either. When it didn’t concern my interest, I could be kind but not affectionately kind either. I knew I lived in a tumultuous time where life and death were something common. I learned to save myself and not to care too much. When necessary, I was even willing to sacrifice some that were relatively less important to preserve those who I held dear.

If so, I shouldn’t be having murderous intent now, as it wouldn’t help me and could get myself killed instead.

I knew. I knew it well, but the heat and the coldness persisted. There was no use suppressing them. Even the two wolves beside me sensed something, turning from being anxious and defensive to unusually excited. Their claws were scratching the ground, and they were growling. Unable to hold back any longer, they finally roared and launched an attack!

“Stop!” I blurted out, but it was too late. I couldn’t stop them.

“Ha—Your master hasn’t moved yet. It’s not your turn, you bunch of animals!” A roar came from the dark. I tensed up and lunged forward, but I was one step behind. Then I heard their whimpers, causing my blood to boil!

All I saw was that blurry figure when I lunged forward. A blast of wind was coming toward my waist. With what was left of my rationality, I bent down and managed to dodge it, but I kept the same motion and pounced on her with the momentum, ramming into her!

She didn’t seem to expect such a reckless attack, so she took the full blow. She staggered a little before she spat. “Girl, are you crazy?”

I might be. Even I, myself, didn’t expect it. In the dark, it was as if the face of the bellboy was in front of me. It turned out I cared. And the two wolves. If anything happened to them, how could I face Lian’er? They were like family to her!

The shadow figure in front of me was swaying. My eyes were burning. I wrapped my arms around her waist after ramming into her and drove her back with all my might. 

There was a voice shouting in my head, this woman, she killed innocent people and wolves. The villagers might suffer the same fate in the future. I was wrong about her. She turned out to be peculiar and wicked. She said it was a duel, but she might want to kill Master next, even Lian’er. I couldn’t let her do that! Never!

I will kill her!

At this moment, my rationality could only stand by and watch. It was as if the one controlling my body wasn’t me. I used all my strength to hold her and drive her back because I still remembered the terrain around here.

While she wasn’t paying attention, she staggered back a few steps. When she looked back, she immediately realized what I was doing and bellowed. “Girl! What’re you doing? Get off me or I won’t have mercy on you!” When she saw I gave no response, she then lifted her dragon-head staff and smashed it down on my back. 

I could hear the swoosh of the wind with the strike. How could I not know? Under normal circumstances, I would have retreated and gotten away already, but at this moment, I bore the hit as if blinded by the devil, oblivious to anything else. A grunt left my lips, but I kept on pushing.

It was only a few steps away from the cliff. She must have gotten anxious. She no longer talked to me like she did earlier and instead stabbed her staff into the ground, spreading her legs and sinking her body. Right after that, I felt what I was pushing with my shoulders wasn’t a person but a boulder that weighed a ton. She wouldn’t budge the slightest inch, even when I had used all my strength. We stayed like this for a while, and suddenly I felt her hands tighten around my arms. A powerful force yanked away my arms that were wrapped tightly around her waist, and I heard an abrupt bawl. “Off!” At that moment, my body wasn’t mine anymore. I was sent flying far away. 

After rolling several times on the ground, I finally came to a stop on my back, looking at the dark sky. Gasping, I let out a few coughs. When I lifted my hand and rubbed it across my lips, I saw a few streaks of crimson red.

My body screamed with pain. I couldn’t move anymore. My boiling blood slowly cooled down. When my senses regained their clarity, I heard the sonorous and distant howls of the wolves. I turned my head. On the high ground not far away, the two wolves huddled together in the dark were howling with their necks stretched.

They are…still alive…, I thought to myself. A weight was lifted off my heart.

I could feel the grass on the side of my face and hear the insects chirping indistinctly. No matter how fierce a life-and-death battle had happened, in nature, everything was normal. I found it hilarious when this thought popped up in my mind.

Suddenly, a figure landed in front of me. The red flower on her hair stood out in the dark.

“Girl, I didn’t expect you to be like this when you’ve gone crazy. You almost got me killed,” she said eerily, her dragon-head staff pointing at my neck. With just a 

little force, she could take my life.

I supposed I didn’t want to die, but at this moment, I felt at peace. I even felt a sense of relief.

Until an icy voice entered my ears from afar, word by word.

“Stay away from her!”

My head was still tilted to the side. If I were to turn my eyes, I could easily see that, not far away, another figure had appeared next to the huddling wolves.  

Although I could hardly see it, tears couldn’t help welling up in my eyes because every night I would miss her.

I miss her, miss her, miss her, but I don’t want to see her at this moment.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 37 Nobody

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 37


The rattling sound of the night watch on the street came from afar, a long clack followed by three short clacks. Every clack was as if knocking on the heart.

I slept by the window, but there was no moon tonight, so it was pitch-black inside and out. I opened my eyes in the dark but maintained a slow and even breathing like I was sleeping.

Occasionally, there was a little breeze blowing through the window crack, which aptly served as a refresher. 

Before going to the bed and snuffing out the light, I hesitated. My hand was resting on the window frame, but eventually, it became a little dusting motion. Although I felt apprehensive about the unknown and didn’t trust it at all, it might not be a bad thing if troubles could happen tonight, so I might have to take this risk. 

After that, I kept on waiting. But until now, nothing unexpected had happened. 

So should I just stick with my original plan? It is already three in the morning. It will be too late if I don’t move now. Besides, aren’t the obedience and accommodation on the way here meant to pave the way for tonight’s plan? At the thought of it, I moved a little. When I noticed my breathing got slightly faster, I stopped right away and adjusted.

Had to admit, the skill of discerning subtlety by sounds that the red flower dame had shown me today while she was meditating had a great psychological impact on me. The dark I thought was the perfect cover had turned into a mere self-deception. I constantly felt like every move I made right now could be noticed by her, plus her subtle reminder when we lodged in as if she knew what I was thinking. 

But on the other hand, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe she was still not asleep by now. A fierce fight was coming up the next day. It was necessary to conserve her energy. Besides, I was confident about being light on my feet. 

This confidence came from Lian’er. Though her martial arts weren’t as unfathomable as the red flower dame, she had the vigilance of an animal. I had lived with her for a long time. Sometimes, I would get up at night to have some water. In order not to disturb her sleep, I had learned how to keep my movements nearly silent.

I had to take the risk tonight. Otherwise, I would be sorry to everyone. 

I was already prepared for this. When the light was out, I deliberately made the rustling sound of undressing, but I still had my clothes on. As long as I could roll out of the bed, open the window by the street, and gently drop down now, it would be the first step to success. Whatever happened after that, I could put it all behind.

I rehearsed the details in my head for the last time. When it was finally time to go for it, I controlled my breathing and wanted to get up quietly, so I propped myself up with a slight push, but halfway through, my body went limp!

My heart started to palpitate. Then I realized, at some point, I had lost my strength!

I didn’t believe what was happening now. I forced myself to push harder, but it didn’t work. My hands and legs felt limp. The feeling wasn’t as profound if I didn’t move, but once I tried to move, I felt even weaker, even my head started to spin.

Breaking out in a cold sweat, I forced my heartbeat to slow down. When it didn’t work, I forced myself to calm down and observed the room. Only then did I begin to feel there was something wrong with the air in the room. Supposedly, for inns like this, where people come and go, it was common to have a faint scent of incense in the rooms to get rid of odors. But come to think of it now, I felt the scent smelt vaguely different from the ordinary incense. 

Realizing this, all kinds of familiar, unfamiliar flowers’ names flooded into my mind. I looked into the dark. Even when I stayed up all night and remained vigilant, I still fell right into it. She wasn’t as alert as I was, so she was supposed to fall deeper into it. Could it be that the bellboy was actually here to seek revenge on her?

When the bellboy came to my mind, I immediately thought of those words on his palms. 

At this point, I was already feeling drowsy. I silently recited the words “Don’t move the window” and moved my head to look at the window by the bed, trying to figure out something from it. In the end, I couldn’t make out anything. Instead, in a sudden gust of breeze, I felt a lot more awake.

The breeze didn’t come from anywhere but the window gap.

Suddenly, I understood why the bellboy did that and also why I didn’t realize something was wrong with my body until I started moving. The window gap was facing directly at where I lied, bringing in fresh air from time to time. At first, I thought it was refreshing, but it turned out to be more than that. 

It seemed that everything had begun since we lodged in this inn. I didn’t know if it was intentional to arrange us in the same room, but the bed placement was no doubt intentional, even the gap size of the window was calculated. If it was too small, the wind couldn’t come in; If it was too huge, the air flow would be too good. Then, the scent wouldn’t have worked as it should be.

That person—or shall I say—that bunch of people, what exactly did they want?

The reason I had time to think about this was I couldn’t move my body at all. As long as I was facing the window, the breeze would bring in some fresh air and wake me up from time to time, but that didn’t solve the actual problem. My limbs were still weak. I was lying in the dark, trying to combat the drowsiness with that bit of coolness. I couldn’t even make a sound.

If anyone rushed in and gave a slash to both of us right now, it would be perfect. It couldn’t be more convenient. 

While I was thinking about it giddily, the door swooshed open as I thought. I held my breath and turned to look. I could only see two shadow figures in the candlelight, both dressed up like a bellboy, a thick cloth scarf around their mouth and nose. It was more apt to say they served as a mask rather than a cover for their face.

They rushed in bare-knuckle, ignoring the red flower dame and coming straight to me instead. They held me up hastily. One of them took the time to reach out his hand and pushed the ajar window wide open. Then holding me up one on each side, they rushed out of the room.

Actually, the moment the window was fully open, the fresh air was no longer obstructed and gushed inside like a wave of invisible tide. At that moment, my body instantly felt swifter.

It wasn’t impossible to push them away with my qi, but in the end, I decided to wait and see. 

Being half-carried, half-dragged forward like this, we went down the stairs, around the backyard and the woodshed, where I thought they were bringing me to, but they ended up opening the side door at the inn’s backyard and carried me out to the woods before they finally stopped. 

Could it be that I was wrong? Things weren’t that complicated, and I just happened to bump into obscene lechers?

With that in mind, I started to move my qi around my body to protect myself. Away from the dense incense in the room, the air outside was cool and invigorating and coupled with being dragged all the way here, my limbs were regaining feeling. The foul air in me was mostly replaced after several rounds of breathing. Dealing with a couple of malicious scumbags shouldn’t be a problem at all.

If they dared to land their hands on me, I would make them regret it!

Fortunately, things didn’t seem to go the way I thought. Once I was laid on the grass in the woods, one of the men backed up a few steps, leaving the shorter one to hold my shoulders. They did nothing inappropriate, just shaking and calling me repeatedly to wake me up.

Seeing them like this, I stopped pretending. I looked up after opening my eyes and stood up.

The two seemed relieved to see me get up, but immediately seemed constrained and unconsciously took two steps back. At the moment, the cloth scarf on their face was already taken off. The shorter one was the bellboy who left the message, and the big fellow behind him looked unfamiliar to me. I never seemed to have seen him before.

I eyed them for a moment before I cupped my fist in puzzlement and said cautiously, “I wonder…”

When they heard me asking, the two of them exchanged a look. I had no idea what they were exchanging with their eyes, and finally, the big fellow gave the bellboy a kick. Taking a kick from him, the bellboy stumbled a few steps to me and scratched his head coyly, stammering, “Miss..uh…do you still remember us?”

Of course, I didn’t know them, so for a while, I couldn’t answer them. He might have guessed it from my look. He smiled. “Right…it’s fine if Miss doesn’t remember us. We weren’t going to actually see you at first, but you remember this, right?” After saying that, he turned around and called the big fellow. “Heizi.”

When the big fellow got the cue, he stepped forward and rolled up his left sleeve without demur. The cuffs of the bellboy’s attire were already loose. With a stroke, the sleeve was rolled up to his shoulder, revealing the visible old scar on his arm. 

The bellboy pointed to the scar. “This. Is this familiar to you?”

Since he said so, it must have meant something. With the candlelight in their hands, I took a closer look at the scar as they asked. Suddenly, some memories flashed across my mind. 

Right, how could I forget? Those memories from a certain night. That bloodshed. If not for that, perhaps there wouldn’t be the blood-stained clothes after that, the waterplay in the lake, and the heart-pounding moment.

“You’re..that group of…” I looked up, no longer puzzled, but couldn’t help but be a little warier.

“Don’t worry, Miss!” The bellboy probably saw my wariness. He continued, “This time we’re not here to revenge but return the favor!”

It turned out after losing out big time that night, they helped each other down the mountain. Thanks to the money I gave them, they could get treated in time, so not only no one died, most of them kept their arms too. Most of these people came from the underclass. From a young age, all they learned were some petty street skills, thinking if they had numbers and were not afraid of death, they would be a heroic outlaw. That night, they were at the death’s door. After witnessing the real jianghu skills, everyone was horrified and discouraged, especially the leader. He disbanded the gang on the spot, split their loot, and went on his way. 

“After splitting up, each of our brothers went their separate ways. Ole Hei and I, one of us knows how to entertain customers, the other knows how to make good food, so the two of us came together and forked out some money to set up shop here, trying to be honest businessmen. Unexpectedly, it turned out pretty good. A year ago, our business grew, and we started an inn.” At the last word, he bowed. “So you’ve done us a favor, a great one! Without what you said back then, we wouldn’t be here now; Without your money, ole Hei wouldn’t have kept his arm. Although we are some yokels, we still know this much!”

I remembered, at that time, I said I was willing to give others a chance to change themselves, but honestly, I didn’t think I would see that change happen myself. Now listening to him tell his stories, I was a little overwhelmed for a moment.

I hesitated for some time before suddenly remembering our business, so I couldn’t help but ask, “Then…then how did you guys recognize me? And how did you know I was in trouble?”

When the bellboy heard me ask that, he smiled proudly. “I have no other skills, but I know how to trim my sails and I also have an excellent memory. Although you wore a bamboo hat at that time, I will never forget your voice! As soon as you spoke when you came in yesterday, I recognized you. Then after paying attention to your conversation, I figured you were in trouble, and when I heard something while setting up your bed, I was more certain of it.” Speaking of the part where he was proud of, he brought his thumb up. “Then an idea hit me. I thought of the drug in the black market that we’ve left from the old days and came up with this idea. Although it’s a little dirty, it works, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it works. Thanks.” I nodded but spoke my mind. “But do you know who you’re messing with? She’s a master.”

The bellboy shook his hand without worry. “Afraid of what? Once the wind flows in after opening the window, the scent is gone. After helping you, ole Hei and I will just go back to sleep and pretend we know nothing tomorrow. She won’t tear down our inn, right? Don’t worry, Miss!”

The two in front of me were just some nobodies in the world. They were once violent bandits who gathered together and caused trouble. But at this moment, I sincerely respected them just because I, myself, was also just a common nobody, so I knew it was easy to say what they had done, but for a bunch of people who just settled down, it wasn’t easy.

“In that case, Zhu Xian sincerely thanks you!”

Out of the range of the inn’s lights, the night sky was as dark as ink, starless and moonless. 

For certain considerations, I didn’t dare to carry a torch. I just relied on my ten-year familiarity with the mountain, groping and stumbling up the mountain peak.

Although the course of events was unexpected, the situation now was indeed moving in a direction I wished.

Thinking about the person I could soon meet, my heart was pounding.

Slopaw’s note:
My website’s old theme broke yesterday just before I was going to upload this chapter, thus this new interface. I’m going to use this theme for now until I figure out what to do next. Hopefully, it doesn’t affect your reading experience much.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 36 Inn

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 36


After the departure, the journey went smoothly, except Gongsun Lei, with indignation and dejection on his face, parted with us at the border of the two provinces. After some time of traveling day and night, I finally saw the familiar mountain range from afar.

At the start of the journey, I could see the red flower dame was still a little cautious of me, but my good behaviors and attentiveness along the way were probably to her satisfaction, especially I was consciously being respectful and looking after her throughout our journey, which she appreciated despite her peculiar temper, so slowly we were getting along well. 

Therefore, she agreed when I suggested we should stay for the night before going up the mountain tomorrow since it was getting a little late.

We came to the town where I used to pick up stuff. It had been two years since I last visited here, and it had gotten busier. The once remote areas on the outskirts had expanded to become a part of the main street. Many stores that were not there before had sprung up. For certain reasons, I had chosen a new inn by the outskirts, but I didn’t expect it would get in my way instead.

“Sorry—” The bellboy was nodding and bowing as he looked at the book, a pair of small eyes darting back and forth. “There are many travelers lately. Our humble inn is full. There’s only one room left. How about—”

After hearing the usual line I was somewhat tired of hearing, I heard an answer that went with it before I could say anything. “Nevermind. We’ll take that.”

This isn’t good, I said to myself, but I couldn’t appear to be too hasty, so I just crinkled my brows and said to the fine dame: “Why don’t we go to another inn. There’s no need for us to cram in one room.”

She threw a frosty glance at me and said: “What? You don’t like this old lady?”

“Not at all.” I quickly answered. “I’ve explained it to you on the road. It’s because I’m not used to sleeping with other people. It’s hard for me to fall asleep when there’s someone beside me, so I hope it can be two rooms. Otherwise, I’m afraid that you can’t get rest when I’m tossing and turning.”

“Girl, I saw you’re being deferential to me on the way here, so I’m going to be honest with you.” The corners of the fine dame’s lips curled. “The more deferential you are, though I like it, the more worried I am. Since Heaven has left this place with one room, you and I should stay together for the last night, even if that means being wronged as a wretch. Unless you have something to hide.”

“That’s a strong word. I was just thinking that we’re going up the mountain tomorrow, so I don’t want to disturb your rest. If you say so, then I’d be glad to.” I cupped my fist and replied calmly, controlling myself not to give away anything. The older, the wiser. I thought I had somewhat gained her trust, but it all came to naught in the end.

Even so, it didn’t mean there would be no chance anymore.

The bellboy was shrewd. When we started talking, he didn’t interfere, and now when he saw our conversation had come to an end, he was quick to pick up and smooth things over. “Ladies, no worries. Although it’s just a room, its inside was spacious. I’ll take a few men to put up another bed. I’ll make sure you won’t disturb each other at night and have a good night’s sleep.”

With such attentive hospitality, the matter was settled. We followed the bellboy to a room on the left side of the second floor, and he pushed open the door. The room was indeed clean and spacious. The bellboy didn’t lie. He left after making the tea but returned again before long with another two men and some stuff. First, they moved the small cabinet beside the window to make some room. Then they started to get busy, putting together the bed frame and laying cushions on it, looking like they were giving their all. 

While they were busy with their work, we stayed on the other side of the room. Perhaps thinking there would be a fierce fight tomorrow, the red flower dame sat on the bed cross-legged to meditate and rest without saying much. In this case, I couldn’t do anything on my own either, so I sat at the wooden table beside the bed with her and went over tonight’s plan twice in my head but daren’t think about it too much. Afraid that my face would give away something, I let my mind wander off. 

Though I said I let my mind wander off, all I was thinking was what was in front of me.

Apart from thinking of a plan, I had tried hard to jog my memories while we were on our way here. I couldn’t be sure if this world was the same as the world in the book, but when it came to the crunch, I wanted to grab on to something, so I couldn’t help but try to dig something out, hoping I could remember snippets of the story to get rid of the adverse situation. At least, I wanted to find out what was happening now or who I was dealing with.

But after mulling over it on our way here, I couldn’t remember there was such a character. I had tried every means to dig into her. For example, I asked for her name in the name of courtesy. When she was finally willing to tell me, she just blinked and said: “You either call me madam or Gongsun Daniang.”

Fine, I remember there was this name “Gongsun Daniang.” But unfortunately, she clearly wasn’t the lady of the Tang Dynasty, the beauty by the name of Gongsun, who caused a great sensation with her sword dance. So I could only sit down in frustration. My brain was turning into mush.

Even so, I wasn’t going to give up so easily because this concerned the safety of Master, even Lian’er’s.

So as the time passed while I was sitting, my mind started to drift again. My eyes floated to the person meditating on the bed, especially that red flower sitting on her temple. Somehow, I felt the flower was hinting at something. It wasn’t uncommon for women to be gaily dressed in this world. Although she wasn’t young, she was youthful-looking and glamorous. There was nothing odd about wearing a flower, but maybe because it was too conspicuous, so the longer I looked at it, the odder I felt.

Holding up my head, I was iterating “red flower…red flower…red flower” to myself, hoping to use it as an opening. As I was doing so, “Red Flower Society” popped up in my head, unbidden, making me shake my head and tap myself in the head wryly. 

I never thought such a tiny movement would prompt the person meditating on the bed with her eyes closed to speak.

“Girl, why are you tapping your head?”

I was startled when I heard these obscure words. I looked up at the woman. She never opened her eyes. How could she tell what I was doing so clearly? I hesitated for a moment before deciding to be frank and express my doubts. 

“How…how can you see me without opening your eyes?”

“Duh!” She was still in her meditation posture, sneering with her eyes closed. “You’re still a newbie. Of course, you don’t know this. If you rely only on your eyes to see everything in the world, can you really see it all?” She paused, seemingly reluctant to 

go further into it, and was back again to the question. “You still haven’t answered my question. Why are you tapping your head?”

When dealing with these seasoned masters, you should never lie when you can. I answered honestly, holding nothing back. “I was just guessing who you are just now. I couldn’t figure it out, no matter how much I tried. That’s why I was tapping my head. Nothing more.”

She cackled for a while. “Consider yourself lucky that you’re being honest. Your eyes had stayed on me for a long time. I don’t believe it if you say what you were thinking has nothing to do with me. Just what is there to guess about me. Didn’t I tell you my name?”

“I’m slow and out of touch. Although I got your name, I was still clueless and didn’t dare to keep asking. That’s why I let my mind run wild. Hope you wouldn’t mind.”

“Oh? What have you thought of? Tell me.”

“I was just thinking…” I hesitated for a while. Feeling that it should be fine to tell, I said: “I was just thinking the red flower on your temple seems to have some special…”

Once the words were out, her eyes flicked open, a pair of sharp eyes looking straight over, so stinging my heart shuddered! I wondered if I had said something wrong, but she didn’t look like she was angry, so I gradually calmed down and let her stare at me frankly. 

After a moment, the sharpness in her eyes dissolved, and she burst into laughter. “Not bad, not bad. Girl, though you know little and your martial arts are lacking too, your judgment is spot-on. Not bad!” She laughed for a while before she stopped and said: “As for who I am, I’ll introduce myself when I see your master. You just have to bring me to her, and you’ll know by then. Why make blind guesses now? Huh?”

I didn’t say much and went along to agree with her. At this moment, that bellboy and his men had done setting up the makeshift bed. He was showing it to me proudly. There was an overtone of asking for tips in his words. 

I went over to have a look. It was indeed neat and clean, so I took out some silver bits and gave them to the bellboy while praising him. He was already beaming when he saw that. He quickly stretched out both his hands to take it. As soon as his hands came close, he flipped his hands, and I saw a few charcoal black words on top of them.

Don’t move the windows!

My movement was slightly delayed when I focused my attention, while that bellboy took the tips in a flowing movement and shouted thanks. As he put the money into his waist, he rubbed his hands against his clothes. A little stain was left on the hem, and nothing was on his hands anymore. After that, he left the room as he nodded and bowed.

Because of his excellent show, the red flower dame on the bed didn’t notice anything strange. With this lapse of time, I regained my composure. I walked to the makeshift bed to have a closer look, pretending that I wanted to make the bed. The window on the wall was ajar, just a finger-wide gap, no more, no less.

I was mystified. What does it mean? What is going on? This bellboy’s behaviors are weird. Could it be that this is an inn run by brigands? Even so, that doesn’t explain his behaviors. Could it be he wants to help me? That’s impossible too. These people are all new to me. I don’t know them. Besides, they don’t know what is happening to me. Lodging in this inn was a coincidence. Where do I even begin with so-called help? Or…could they be here to cause trouble for the red flower dame? If so, they should be cautious of me too when they see me talking and laughing with her. 

While my brain was running at full speed, my hands didn’t stay idle either. I was touching and tucking the bed as if I was really nitpicking and adjusting the sheet touched by others. When I was done, I turned around, keeping a calm face.

I can’t figure it out. Regardless, something will happen tonight.

I just hope everything will go as I wish.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 35 An Old Affair

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 35

An Old Affair

Despite having a bad feeling about it, I still cupped my fist after pulling myself together and said politely: “My teacher indeed settled in that area, but I don’t know if she’s the person you’re referring to.”

The woman rolled her eyes and spoke dryly: “What? Do you have another master?”

The way she spoke was dripping with sarcasm, contrary to her righteousness when she lectured her son, but considering how common it was for so-called masters to have a peculiar temper, I made nothing of it and spoke my mind: “I’m slow. I’m grateful to Master for not giving up on me. How dare I divide my attention when I can’t even keep up with what I’m being taught?”

“Then that’s it.” Perhaps because I was being polite throughout, her face lightened up a little, the corner of her lips lifted a little, and she said: “Although your skills aren’t quite there yet, your style and moves are the same as your Master. Do you think I’d miss those?”

“I dare not think so.” I bowed, keeping my fist cupped, and suggested: “Since you recognized these, are you perhaps…an old friend of my master?”

Though I asked her that, I didn’t really think she was Master’s friend. If I didn’t know Master’s secret, there was still a possibility that she might be. Since I knew Master was avoiding her husband, she would never tell anyone about her hideout, and the fact that no one had ever come up the mountain to visit Master proved that.  

So I just wanted to ask her that before making judgments and guesses based on her answer.

“Not really. I’ve only seen her once.” She didn’t lie to me. Even though her voice was sarcastic and arrogant, her answer was honest. “That was a few years ago. I missed the lodge for the night when I passed through Mount Hua, so I was camping out in the wild. Who knew I came across a master. I saw she and I were of the same age. For once, I wanted to know her out of a fellow feeling. Who knew she didn’t appreciate it, saying that she was in a rush down the mountain and refused my kindness. It’s intolerable. After exchanging a few words, we got into a fight, a fierce one. Both of us came out even after a hundred rounds. Now that I think of it, that was fun, hahaha!”

She seemed to have thought of the fun part. She cracked up as she spoke. I seemed to be listening, but on the inside, I was caught in indecision. 

What she said doesn’t sound like a lie, but Master rarely goes down the mountain, not to mention going down overnight. If there is one time I can remember, that is…

As if to prove my guess, the woman resumed after she was done laughing. “Unfortunately, she called a halt in the middle of the fight, saying that her disciple was sick and was waiting for her to get the medicine, that she couldn’t stop for too long and promised to fight again another day. I reckoned she was a person of character because she valued her disciple, so I agreed. Who knew…” At that, her face fell, and she was staring at me with her icy eyes, saying eerily: “Who knew after that, I’d waited for her for several days and never seen her again! Girl, what’d you say? Isn’t your master a little untrustworthy?”

Since she had said that, it had proven what she said was true. I gave a full bow and said sincerely: “What you said was right. To tell you the truth, I’m the disciple Master talked about. I was very ill at that time. After my teacher brought the medicine back, she had stayed by my side for a few days before I got better. Maybe that’s why she had missed the date. I hope you understand and don’t blame Master for that.”

While I was sincerely asking her, she stamped her staff on the ground and snorted: “It’s useless now whether I understand her. It’s a fact she shirked from our fight. I‘d wanted to seek this dishonest person out after that, but Mount Hua’s too big, so everything was in vain. Instead, it became an issue for me. But nobody escapes the divine judgment. I didn’t expect I’d come across her disciple a few years later. I don’t know where she’s hiding, but you do, right?”

“What’re you going to do?” I couldn’t just answer her, so I threw a question back at her.

“Isn’t it obvious? I want you to take me there and let your master carry out what she had promised back then and have a good fight. Not too much to ask, is it?”

“What you said is reasonable…” I looked down and continued, neither servilely nor overbearingly: “But as a disciple, how can I reveal her hideout without her permission? I hope you can understand.”

When she heard my answer, she began to cackle wickedly, her phoenix eyes exuding eerie coldness, and she muttered: “At this point, do you think you have any choice?” As soon as she finished her words, she swept her staff on the ground, sending a few small stones shooting over at lightning speed like arrows!

When I heard the familiar, sharp, air-piercing sound, I daren’t slow down, but this time, she meant to catch me cold, so they came in full fury, faster than before. Although I had been on guard, it was too late for me to dodge them, so I could only grit my teeth and withstand the attack. I gathered my qi to my arms to block. When I finally blocked all the flying stones and my arms were aching, I saw a shadow flying close like a ghost from the corner of my eyes, stretching out its hand, and was about to seize me. My heart shivered. From the stones flying over to me blocking all of them, it all happened in a split second. A second before, my opponent was obviously dozens of feet away, and before I knew, she was right next to me. I couldn’t help but be petrified. It was too late for me to react, so I just blocked out of instinct, then I felt a grip on my wrist, my pulse being taken hold of, and I lost all my strength right after that.

Such an instant defeat was expected. It couldn’t be helped. From the outset, I didn’t have the confidence to beat her, a person who could stand against a hundred rounds with Master. I resisted because I had to.

I accepted my defeat in peace, and she caught me with ease. Things had come to this without a ripple, but right about this time, a shout rang out: “You dirty old bitch! Let go of Miss San’er!” I turned around in shock and saw Wu Liu swinging his arms and charging over bare-knuckle. 

I knew the crowd had mostly cleared out, but some were still watching the situation here. Among those, there were three who came along with me. I just didn’t expect him to be so bold at such a moment. It was too late for me to stop him. Before he charged near, the man at a slight distance who was dejected and fell silent after being lectured just now suddenly brisked up and yelled: “How dare you insult my mom!” He went up to Wu Liu with a kick, sending him flying to a side. 

Although Wu Liu was thrown to the ground, he didn’t suffer any injury. The man obviously showed more mercy after being lectured. Who knew a person turned up behind Wu Liu, carrying a yoke from God knows where, hollering: “Back off, scoundrel! Don’t touch my daughter!” The yoke was brought down as he yelled and bashed on the man’s leg that had yet to pull back after kicking someone.

Even the red flower dame was shocked at the turn of events, let alone me. When I saw who was coming, I blurted out: “Stop!” But how could I stop the man who went berserk after taking a beating. He was trained in martial arts, after all. The hit was painful for him, but nothing serious. He whirled around and kicked with another leg, sending the person who came at him flying far off into the distance and hit the ground.

“Dad!” I shouted without thinking and ran over right after breaking away. The woman didn’t stop me when she heard what I called him and came along with me instead. I helped my dad up, who fell on the ground and couldn’t get up while the woman probed his body from head to toe with great speed. When she was done, she said to me: “Don’t worry. No internal injury, just a broken bone in his left leg. Find him a good doctor, and he’ll be fine in a few months.”

Seeing such an act from her, I didn’t know whether I should be mad or thankful, so I just nodded and called my dad. Then he slowly regained consciousness. When he saw the woman beside me as soon as he opened his eyes, he glared at her right away with his eyes ablaze with anger and snarled: “Scram! As long as I have a breath left in me, I’ll never let you hurt my daughter!”

While I worried his words would anger the woman, the red flower dame rolled her eyes indifferently and said coldly: “You ungrateful old man. I’m just borrowing your daughter to lead the way. Do I look like I’m going to hurt her? If I wanted to hurt her, how could she be looking after you right now?”

My dad was startled when he heard that. He turned around to look at me while trembling. “Is it true, San’er? Don’t…don’t be afraid!” He asked. Since things had come to this, I could only nod and say: “It’s true. She was my master’s old…old friend. She was testing me on what I’ve learned so far when she attacked me. She’s looking for Master. Wants me to lead the way. I’m just going to take a trip. About half a month, or over a month at most. Nothing dangerous.”

Dad was still worried after he heard that. He had been sweating profusely because his leg injury had acted up, but still holding on to my hand and making sure again and again. “Will…will you really be right back?”

I fell silent for a moment but quickly snapped back and smiled at him, saying: “I’ll be right back. Just take care of yourself. I’ll ask the villagers to take care of you for now until I’m back again to look after you. Don’t worry, dad.”

I had called him dad countless times, mostly perfunctory. Even the reason I stayed back two years ago was mostly out of pity and obligation, but in the past two years, he had been treating me with care, plus he had risked his life for me just now. His desire to care for his child was palpable, so this “dad”—whether he understood or not—was the first time I had ever said from the bottom of my heart.  

Though I didn’t know if I could keep the promise. 

After that, I took some time to briefly explain to the concerned villagers around and particularly asked Wu Liu and Madam Wang, who came with me, to look after my dad. After getting their assurances, I told them the things that needed attention and watched them carrying my dad away before I turned back and walked over to the mother and son waiting at a distance. 

Seeing that I came over by myself, the red flower dame nodded with satisfaction and said: “Not bad, not bad. Know to swim with the tide, unflustered by changes. Girl, it’s commendable that you understand these at this age. You’ll be somebody in the future.”

I cut the crap and said calmly: “I can do as you say, but I have a condition.”

The woman raised her head and said: “Go on.”

“I don’t want to go with him.” I lifted my hand, pointing to the man next to her who called himself Gongsun Lei, and said: “Due to the various events before, I trust you but not him. Besides, he’s hurt my father just now. According to filial piety, I can’t be together with him in peace. Hope you understand and grant me my wish.”

When that was said, the red flower dame sank into reflection, and before she said anything, the man flipped and roared at me: “You bitch! You bitch! How can you do this! What have I done to you!” After saying that, he thought for a while and thought he might have done something to me, so he went to beg the woman again. “Mom, mom, you can’t do this. I finally got out. It’s been only a few days. You can’t send me back!”

It would have been better if he didn’t say that. Once he said that, the pondering fine dame snapped: “How dare you bring it up! You’ve broken every single rule you promised before you got out! Forget it. Now I have a serious business to attend to. No time to bother about you. You return to the house at Tannan right now. Stay in and reflect. You aren’t allowed to leave the house. I’ll be back once I’m done. If you disobey, you’ll be punished for unfiliality!”

The man was a bastard, but he seemed to be afraid of being called unfilial. His body shivered when he heard it, but he wasn’t happy about it and protested: “Mom, don’t fall for her trick. After she sends me off, there’ll only be you and her on this trip. It’s such a long way. Maybe she’ll catch a break and slip away, and you won’t be able to find her!”

Fortune favors the fools. Although what he said was inaccurate, he was somewhat right about my intention. 

However, when the red flower dame heard it, she just sneered unaffectedly and said: “What a joke. I’ve crossed more bridges than all the roads you’ve walked. Slipping away? The girl can try if she dares. See how easy it was. Besides…” At that, she stared at me again, smiling even more wickedly: “She can run, but she can’t hide. The girl seems to be really close to the people in the village, right? If she dares to play tricks, she can’t blame me if they take the hit.”

I kept calm and let her stare at me, head staying low, eyes looking obedient, not saying a word, trying to look docile, as if I had acquiesced in what she said.

If possible, I wanted it to be a win-win situation for both sides and would do my best to seek a satisfactory result for both sides.

But among the two, the priority was undoubtedly Master and Lian’er. 

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