Author: Slopaw (Page 2 of 9)

This is Slopaw.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 76 Journey

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 76


The real journey began when we left the last oasis in the Gobi Desert that could serve as a rest stop.

The first day was easy. The vegetation grew thinner as we moved further away from the city. To the right, the sand dunes stretched to the horizon, and to the left, the desert grew more and more barren and vast, eventually becoming an endless expanse of nothingness. Even the occasional scattering of shrubs seemed lifeless. Only the watchtowers of the ancient Great Wall in the distance offered some comfort.

The dust wasn’t too bad today. The wind wasn’t as strong as when we passed through Guazhou a few days ago. The sky above us was blue, clear enough to be considered nice weather. Lian’er’s good mood continued after we left the city. She had dismounted a few times to dash freely across the boundless desert. Since we were heading in a general direction, she could keep going until the end of the horizon before she stopped and turned around, smiling and waiting with her hands behind her back for the slow-moving caravan to catch up. The two guides looked at her with awe and admiration.

The first time she did it, I just smiled and watched from the camel’s back. Since my qinggong wasn’t as good as hers, I didn’t feel like joining her, but it bothered me to see her standing alone on the distant horizon, so I jumped off the camel and went over to wait with her. That way I could talk to her so that she wouldn’t be lonely. 

I wondered if I was spoiling her. After that, she always took me with her as if it was a given, and after a few rounds, that day ended up being the most physically exhausting day for me. 

Because of the fatigue that followed, I didn’t have much energy left to tell Lian’er stories about Yumen Pass as we passed by the old site. I just looked at the rammed-wall city standing alone in the desolate desert on the camel’s back. Its remaining walls looked no different than they did a few centuries later.

Further north, there was a shallow pond, with reeds growing around it. There were even wild camels looming in the distance, adding a touch of life to the barren desert. We spent the night there. 

And the real torture had just begun that night. 

It was the same endless desert and sand dunes for the next few days. The dark brown desert and the barren sand dunes, it was a vast expanse of nothingness, not even a single bird to be seen, let alone a human being. It was always bleak when you looked ahead. Beyond bleakness, it was still bleakness. The excitement had long worn off, traveling in the desert with no end in sight, even the jingling of the camel bells sounded extremely dull.

On the other hand, the presence of saline-alkali became more and more obvious. Because of it, we couldn’t get excited too soon even when we occasionally came across a small oasis in the lifeless desert under the guidance of experienced guides. Even with shrubs and reeds growing around it, the pool of water might not be enough to replenish the caravan’s water supply. 

In situations where water and food were limited, Lian’er had adapted to the situation much better than I had expected. She had a resilience that matched her pride, with a touch of wildness. In some ways, she had a greater tolerance for boredom and adversity than I did. I, on the other hand, hadn’t quite gotten used to the harsh condition. 

Yes, I had been on similar journeys before, but with the help of tools. What we had to endure then was nothing like this. 

The only comfort after a day’s travel was the fire we built at night. When I gazed into the sky, the stars in the desert sky were so low that they seemed to be within reach.

A few boring days had passed. As we moved on, steep mounds started to appear in the desert. At first they stood alone, but as our journey continued, there were more and more of these otherworldly landscapes. They stood tall under the scorching heat of the desert like little islands in a sea of sand, each with its own unique shape, clustered together to form an impressive spectacle.

I wasn’t sure if others knew about it, but I knew that it was the Yardang Landforms and that this was the first time Lian’er had seen such wonders. She didn’t say it, but there was a different spark to her eyes. 

Sensing that, I thought it was a great opportunity. I pulled myself together and asked the girl leaning against me if she wanted to go higher and see the view from above. The suggestion seemed to suit her perfectly. Lian’er arched her brows and nodded excitedly. She eagerly grabbed my hand and jumped down from the camel’s back. After informing Old Tie, she headed for the highest mound.

The majesty of the Yardang Landforms could only be truly appreciated from above.

The sun was setting at the moment in the Gobi Desert. The sky closer to us was blue, but the sky above the horizon in the distance was as red as a fire. The mounds stretched far and wide, standing tall in the vast and boundless desert, either scattered around or clustered together. Like a blade, the orange sun carved out the outlines of the mounds, making them even more exquisite and beautiful. 

Facing the sun, I looked down from the top of the high mound with Lian’er. She was lost in the view before her. Her smile seemed to be a part of this magnificent painting, complementing and blending in with the view.

And I watched her in silence before looking down at my feet after a while. At the base of the jagged rock lay the tawny sand. The long shadows that Yardang cast on the ground formed shapes that looked like claws. The intense black of the shadows was even more eerie than the mounds themselves, making me feel slightly dizzy. 

As I continued to stare at them in the evening breeze, I felt as if the sky had begun to spin. I took two steps back and moved slightly further away from the edge, then slowly felt my way down and sat down cross-legged. Feeling a slight itch in my nose, I had an idea what was going on. When I touched my nose, I saw a viscous crimson on my hand.

Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot of blood, and I was facing upwind. I just had to rub the blood off on the gravel, and then pinch my nose and pretend to look at the vast sky for a while, and everything would be fine.

Fortunately, the few times this had happened before, I had managed to take care of it quietly and no one had noticed. At times like this, it was better not to worry people unnecessarily as much as possible. 

But it was only a matter of time before someone noticed it, since we spent most of our time together.

I was hoping to hide it until we reached the Lop Nur that the guides kept talking about. It was said to be a vast and misty lake, surrounded by lush forests, with water deep enough to drive boats. There were even indigenous people living there, and it was the only resting place in the boundless desert. Once we got there, I could catch my breath.

Unfortunately, things didn’t always go as planned. 

That day, we arrived at another destination that the guides had mentioned earlier—Bai Long Dui (White Dragon Mounds). I chuckled when I first heard the name back in the days, and it turned out that it had been the same name for centuries. 

Bai Long Dui consisted mostly of earth mounds, similar to the Yardang Landforms, except that it was mainly composed of sand gravel, gypsum, and saline alkali, which gave it its grayish color, reflecting glints of silver light under the sun, like scales, hence the name of this vast Yardang landform, White Dragon, given by people in the past. I vaguely remembered someone had told me this, but who? And when? I couldn’t remember. 

This was the Gobi Desert, but it wasn’t just the Gobi Desert. A thin layer of white can be seen everywhere on the yellowish brown ground, like frost on the ground but it was actually alkaline salt. The white alkaline salt had formed a fragile salt crust on the surface of the ground. Once broken through, the ground underneath felt like mud. Even the camels sank a little when they walked on it, making a crunching sound like stepping on snow. With every step they took, their hooves came out covered with salt and mud, making their steps extremely heavy and slow.

It was easy to imagine what this place would be like if a strong wind happened to sweep through here. 

The wind seemed to come out of nowhere like a phantom wind, sweeping the area in an instant and swirling between the countless mounds with its eerie howl that sounded like the wailing of ghosts. That was not all; the wind, carrying grains of sand and salt, came at us relentlessly, so much so that we could hardly open our eyes or even breathe. 

But our experienced guides didn’t stop. They shouted and told us to get out of here. Then they spurred the camels on as fast as they could, stopping only occasionally to look around as if searching for something. Old Tie couldn’t wait any longer and went to ask them. Then he came back and told us, blocking the wind with his hand, that once the wind started kicking up here, it wouldn’t stop for days, so we had to take the old route. What was called “the old route” was just a north-south trail that had been beaten out over the years. As long as we could find that route, we could easily get through Bai Long Dui. Otherwise, it was hard to say how we would fare. 

Since it had come to this, everyone did their best to find the route. The three of us jumped onto the nearby mounds, each looking in a different direction while braving the sand-carrying wind, trying to find the route. 

Visibility was extremely poor. Sand and dust shrouded the world like a tawny blizzard. I stood downwind, cupping my hand at the side of my eyes, trying to block off some of the wind and dust. Only then could I open my eyes and see.

Our search didn’t go well at first. The guides were moving forward in a general direction, and we were following close behind on the mounds, afraid that we would lose them if we weren’t careful. We looked around while keeping our eyes on the caravan. Being hit in the face and body by tiny grains that I had no idea whether they were sand or salt, my eyes and throat became so dry that it started to hurt. 

Anyone would know that it wasn’t the time to care about such things. Enduring the pain, I kept on looking. From time to time, I would look back to make sure Lian’er was safe somewhere before I continued searching. 

Finally, our hard work paid off. Just as I was about to give up, a faint trail appeared in the middle of the sandstorm, like a thin thread winding along the yellow ground in the distance, fading in and out of sight. Overjoyed, I shouted, put my hand down, and turned to call the others, but suddenly, I felt a warm wetness dripping onto the back of my hand.

I looked down without thinking, and as expected, I saw drops of crimson red. I didn’t care and just wiped it off, thinking to take care of it quickly, but when I looked up, my eyes met another.

Lian’er wasn’t far away from me, and she had good hearing. She must have heard the shout just now. 

Looking into her simmering eyes, I knew it was too late to turn around and hide it, so I forced a stiff smile, knowing that my smile was probably drier than the Gobi Desert.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 75 Journey at Dusk

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 75

Journey at Dusk

I was going to hurry back after taking a look, as I had spent too much time searching for this place. The sunset here was a magnificent sight to behold, but once the last glimmer of daylight faded, it would be too late to go back.

That was my plan before Lian’er showed up. Now, with her by my side, I no longer had to worry about staying out too late.

With her by my side, my heart was always at peace no matter where we went. 

Since she said that she wanted to find out for herself, she hadn’t asked any more questions. It made things easier for me, and since we were here, I took her down the hill and walked toward the cliff in the glow of the sunset.

As we got closer, we noticed that several monks were living at the bottom of the cliff. Although their clothes were ragged and they looked emaciated, their faces exuded the unwavering determination of devout Buddhists.

When they learned that we had come specifically to visit the Buddha cave, the monks were a little surprised, but they were calm about it. The wood carvings and clay sculptures in this unknown cave were still worthless. It wouldn’t attract thieves who coveted them, so they had nothing to worry about. They handed us a torch and said, “Feel free to look around, and remember the way out.” Then they went back to their business.

I was a little hesitant when I first took the torch, fearing that I might damage the objects in the cave. But then I thought that since it would be a long time before it became an attraction, there was no need to worry about such things. The desire to explore eventually overcame my concerns, and I lit the fuel-soaked tip of the torch. Illuminated by its light, I entered the deep, dark labyrinth of caves with Lian’er.

Entering the dimly lit cave was like stepping into another world. Everywhere the torchlight touched, from the walls to the ceiling, it reflected a dazzling array of colors and graceful lines. We looked as we walked along. Each drawing told a story. I didn’t know much about the stories, but I couldn’t resist the urge to share them with Lian’er.

Since she made that statement, I somehow felt like I had gotten off easy and had let go of a lot of baggage. I was less careful with my words, no more deliberate silences or evasions. Looking at those drawings of various imaginary worlds, I talked softly to Lian’er about those strange myths and legends, playing the pipa behind the back, the transformation of Avalokiteshvara, clothes growing out of trees and so on.

Neither of us believed in ghosts or gods. I told it as a story, and she listened to it as a story. The storyteller told a coherent story, and the listener asked no questions. We both enjoyed it. Lian’er was particularly interested in the Flying Apsara paintings. At first, she compared them to qinggong, but later when she found out they were celestial beings, she stopped saying that.

We explored the cave for some time until the flame of the torch began to die down, and we made our way back out of the cave. It was already dark by then. Only a faint glow of the sunset remained on the horizon. Our rare moment of indulgence and willfulness had come to an end.

After leaving some money for the monks, we were going to leave. As I looked up at the towering cliff one last time, a sudden impulse took hold of me. I jumped up to the highest point I could reach, clung to the cliff wall, drew the short sword at my waist, and carved a few small words. Then I dropped down and smiled at Lian’er. We didn’t speak and flew into the air with qinggong, making our way back home.

I wasn’t sure if all that happened today meant anything to her, but for me, something had changed. 

I wondered if those little word carvings would survive after a few centuries. If they did, I wondered who would see them and whether they would mistake these three words for tourist vandalism.

Three words that made up a simple message.

I am here.

The person beside me didn’t ask much about what I was doing. Even though we were dashing at full speed, Lian’er’s smile remained as carefree as ever. In the dim twilight, as some of her hair that had escaped the grip of the golden hair ring fluttered in the wind, she seemed more alive and captivating than any of the flying goddesses we had just seen in the murals.

I stole a glance at her from time to time, not only because she looked gorgeous, but also to think about the way she acted today. Lian’er was somewhat different from before. She didn’t get angry or question me for going off on my own, and even went exploring with me. She showed an almost indulgent…tolerance.

Yes, tolerance. I never thought that one day I would associate that word with the wild and unruly person in front of me. And even more surprisingly, it was I who was being tolerated.

So did it mean anything? I dare not think about it any further.

Up until now, I had always had hope on the one hand, but on the other hand, I had been afraid of hoping too much, for fear of reading too much into her actions.

As I dashed on unconsciously, I turned my head to look at her and lowered my head, lost in thought. Nothing would jump in front of us on the desert road anyway. I let myself sink into my thoughts. But I became so absorbed that I almost screamed when I was suddenly yanked to a stop.

There was no one else who would grab me. My first reaction was to look up at Lian’er in confusion. She looked ahead with a smile, though it was cold and even had a hint of hostility.

It turned out that something could actually jump in front of us on the desert road when I looked ahead as I followed her smiling gaze.

Several people were standing under the darkening sky. While it was nothing unusual to see people on the road, what was alarming was their menacing looks and the weapons in their hands.

“Hey…” One of the knife-wielding men looked over, then turned to another, and said, “Wasn’t there only a foreign boy? Why is there another woman?” He lowered his voice as he spoke, as if he thought that we couldn’t hear him.

“I don’t—don’t know. So what if there’s another woman? We can take care of them together. They’re staying at the best inn in town, and just look at their clothes, we might have a big one here!” The one being asked stammered in a similarly low voice, but it was all for nothing.

Looking at them and listening to their conversation, it was hard not to know what they were planning. Standing still, I smiled wryly and shook my head. Lian’er crossed her arms, as if she was enjoying the show, and waited calmly for them. After a while, when she saw that they were still whispering to each other, she called out impatiently, “Hey guys, are you guys selling knives or are you bandits? Hurry up, you’re wasting time.”

As soon as she said that, the group of bandits straightened up and strode in front of us like a pack of wolves, brandishing their machetes. One of them glared at us and said, “You little brat! Stop trying to act tough! It’s good that you know we’re bandits. Want us to hurry up? Then just come with us! And tell the old man who came with you to hand over all the silver and goods, or else… hmph! Don’t think you can scare us with that one stick! Look at how slender your wrist is. Laozi[1] has been in jianghu for years!”

This “Laozi” who had been in jianghu for years looked menacing enough. From their conversation, it seemed that they had been watching us for a long time, probably since we checked in at the inn. It confirmed what Old Tie had told us about being careful.

Lian’er waited patiently for them to finish, then she looked at me, the corners of her lips curled innocently, and asked, “What should we do?” I thought for a moment and replied with a smile, “Whatever works, as long as no one dies.”

“Hmph, smart choice!” When they overheard our conversation, they seemed to have misunderstood us. That “Laozi” raised his machete smugly and said, “Even though we’ve got blood on our hands, we’re only after your money. As long as you obey us, we won’t hurt you!”

Lian’er and I exchanged a look. I laughed and turned around. She stepped forward with a smile and spoke calmly, “Mr. Bandit ‘Laozi,’ it seems that you’ve misunderstood us. When she said ‘no one dies,’ she was talking to me so that I wouldn’t kill you!”

As the last word landed, the look on her face changed from that of a young lady to that of Jade Rakshasa. 

The Rakshasa was breathtakingly beautiful, with the power to bewitch humans, and fed on human flesh and blood. She could fly or walk, with terrifying speed. Even the gods would find her difficult to subdue.

As I watched her play with them like a cat with a mouse, I couldn’t help but think that her nickname described her well. Then I remembered that when she first encountered a group of half-baked “outlaws” on Mount Hua, she had toyed with them just like this. It was just a minor episode back then that left no trace, but who knew that its impact would far exceed my expectations.

If it hadn’t been for that incident, would Lian’er have come down the mountain alone and chosen to be an outlaw?

Despite these thoughts, I kept my eyes on them this time to avoid having a machete fly at me like before. I watched the fight with my hands behind my back. It was as chaotic as expected with people running around in panic. Lian’er only toyed with them for a short while and seemed to have grown bored. She then shouted, “Hmph, how do you have the balls to show off with such petty skills? How can you even be bandits? Don’t you know you’re messing with the queen of bandits!”

With a shout from this little queen, these burly men were thrown several feet away, their faces bruised and swollen, and their right pinky fingers severed. Knowing their limitations and not wanting to risk their lives, they scrambled to their feet and ran.

That was enough of a lesson, but I saw that Lian’er was still holding on to one of them. That person had dropped his weapon. Lian’er didn’t draw her sword, but trapped him with her palm strikes and kicks, preventing him from escaping.

By the look of the sky, it was already late. It was fine to let her fool around for a while longer, but once the sky got completely dark, the temperature would drop rapidly, and it would be a nuisance to rush back. I took a step forward, about to tell her to stop, but I noticed that amidst the flurry of punches and kicks, there seemed to be some semblance of martial skill in the way the man moved. The man who called himself “Laozi” wasn’t entirely bluffing.

Of course, the so-called “semblance of skill” was only because his opponent was holding back. After exchanging about ten moves with him, Lian’er suddenly let out a laugh, and her hand quickened. Even I had a hard time keeping up with her speed, let alone anyone else. The man screamed in pain before he could run away and collapsed to the ground, unable to move.

“Speak! What’s your relationship with Jin Duyi?” I thought that would be the end of it, so I walked over to Lian’er. Before I could take the second step, she stepped on the man and questioned him in a harsh tone, “Where is that cowardly old turtle hiding?”

The man was startled when he heard that, then he scurried over, trembling, and said, “Spare… spare me! I don’t know what you’re talking about!” He looked frightened, but unfortunately, he couldn’t hide the cunning look in his eyes as they darted around.

“How do you know he’s with the sword manual thief, Jin Duyi?” I didn’t believe him, but just to be careful, I asked Lian’er. Lian’er didn’t waste any words and stepped on the man’s right hand. When he screamed in pain, she showed me his hand and said, “Look at his palm, especially the color of his palm.”

I looked down and carefully examined the man’s hand with the last bit of the dim light. I noticed that there was something strange about his hand, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. At that moment, Lian’er explained, “I’ve heard about this in the years I’ve been in jianghu. I’ve asked Godfather about it later. It’s a characteristic of Yin Feng Du Sha Zhang. But he is still an amateur. He’s only learned a little of the skill. Still, he must be connected to that cowardly old turtle!”

After explaining, she snorted and smiled at the man before saying, “You can try to talk your way out of this. I have plenty of ways to deal with someone like you!”

I had seen how Lian’er dealt with people like them. The “Laozi” didn’t last for long before he confessed everything. It turned out that he was the mediocre one among the many disciples of Jin Duyi. Jin Duyi was taking in disciples from all over the Western Regions for money and power. He didn’t put in much effort into teaching them. Only a few of his disciples were exceptional, but they were all evil. They paid to learn the skill. Once they learned it, they wanted to get their money back. So most of them became bandits, robbing houses and wreaking havoc.

When we asked him about the most important thing—the whereabouts of Jin Duyi, he claimed not to know. When we pushed harder, he finally confessed that while he didn’t know where Jin Duyi was now, he had seen his nephew pass through here a month ago. He was probably on his way back to his old lair near Turpan. That person was also a trusted confidant of Jin Duyi, so he might know his whereabouts.

After the interrogation, Lian’er initially wanted to finish him off, but I convinced her otherwise, so she decided to sever his hand tendon and destroy his martial arts, sparing his life.

By the time we finished, it was already late at night. Thanks to Lian’er’s excellent night vision, we didn’t get lost on our way back to the inn. Old Tie was anxiously waiting for us at the inn. He was furious at first, but when Lian’er complacently told him the information she had learned on the way back, his anger turned to joy. Everyone became even more determined to leave for the Western Regions the next day.

As we swayed with the camel and passed through the almost non-existent city gate of Shazhou after leaving early in the next morning, I didn’t turn back, but Lian’er did, and I had no idea what the look on her face meant when she turned back.

“Do you like it here?” I whispered close to Lian’er’s ear.

She pressed her lips together without giving a clear answer and said, “Will come back again if that’s possible.”

It wasn’t until later that it suddenly occurred to me that she had forgotten to include the subject in that sentence—we.

[1] It’s a cocky or arrogant way to refer to oneself, which basically means I, your father in a condescending way.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 74 Old Place

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 74

Old Place

Just moments ago, I was thinking about how I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this relaxed. 

Then I heard her say, “You haven’t been this happy since the year we celebrated Master’s birthday.”

It was strange to hear someone close to you mention something about yourself that you couldn’t quite remember, especially when that someone was a person you cared about the most who usually acted like she didn’t care about anything at all. 

It was so strange that, for a moment, I couldn’t tell whether I was more moved or panicked.

I shouldn’t panic at all. Lian’er wasn’t “other people.” She remembered things about me and cared more about me than I expected. That was a pleasant surprise for me. Things were different now. The time when I was afraid of being understood was long gone. Now, I hoped she could understand… understand my feelings, didn’t I?

If I couldn’t convey this feeling, then the act of treating Zhuo as a rival and the bet I made with myself would be meaningless.

This had been one of my biggest concerns lately.

When it came to relationships, every bit of progress made was obvious and gratifying when starting from zero. The footprints left behind were apparent, and they helped us to determine where to take the next step, but this didn’t apply to me and Lian’er. We were too close and intimate. We were so used to relying on each other that it made it difficult to know how to take the next step.

I had to admit, when I came to think about it, I lacked…this kind of experience.

And now, just when I was at my wit’s end, to my surprise, she brought up a topic that I thought would never be mentioned again. The truth was since our reunion, this topic had never been brought up as it involved an unpleasant and prolonged separation.

After all these years, Lian’er still remembered how I felt at that time. Her sensitivity and memory were unexpected. No matter how sensitive she was, she could only know how I felt, but not why I felt that way. 

So… should I make it clear?

My mind was reminding me what I was supposed to say in such a situation. Even if I decided not to make it clear, I could drop some hints, like why things started to change from then on and what kind of feelings led to that change. But maybe it was all too sudden. I moved my lips, but I just stared at her and couldn’t react other than being shocked.

And the girl in my arms didn’t give me much time to gather my thoughts either. 

Lian’er said what she wanted to say and just looked at me casually. She seemed a little serious, but then she suddenly started giggling. After giggling for a while, she said, “Why are you so nervous? It’s good to be happy. I like it. Although the tune you hummed is a little strange, it sounds nice. Hum it again.” With that, she turned around, back to sitting like before, leaning against me as if nothing had happened. 

This topic came and went like that. Everything seemed so casual that I didn’t even have time to sort it out. I closed my mouth and smiled bitterly, swallowing the words that I hadn’t had a chance to say. To the sound of the camel bell, I hummed the melody I had hummed earlier for her, as she asked for. 

Looking at the vast expanse of the clear sky, nothing seemed to matter. Now, far away from the hustle and bustle, there was still plenty of time. 

At noon, we rested under a large tree. Where there were trees, there was always water, so a lot of bushes grew around it. The midday sun was blazing, making the shade under the tree seem unusually cool. A cool wind breezed past. The camels lying in the shade were also resting, chewing blithely on the wet beans the guide was feeding them, and Lian’er was watching them keenly with a smile. Her disgust from earlier was nowhere to be seen. 

I leaned against the trunk, taking a nap. Occasionally when I opened my eyes to look,  I felt that the world was so vast. My eyes had nowhere to land but on one person.

Having avoided the fiercest midday sun, we continued on our journey without much conversation. The wind was kicking up, and the temperature plummeted after sunset. We picked up the pace to cover more distance. I could see that the shadows of the plants along the way were getting denser and denser. Then we spotted a few scattered houses in the desert, vaguely resembling a town, but they looked dilapidated and deserted. 

While I was wondering, Old Tie turned around and announced loudly that this was the place where we would rest for the night. It used to be the border trading post in Guazhou before it was abandoned, but now only a small number of people remained, relying solely on business with the passing travelers to make a living. It couldn’t even be called a village. This place was a transport hub that spanned the past and the present, an oasis in the Gobi Desert, but at some point in history, it looked like this. There was no trace of the melon village that I remembered in the scene before us. I stood there in the darkness of night and looked around, a feeling of lostness sweeping over me. 

But the feeling was only temporary. Our stay here was very short. We just settled down for the night, and as soon as dawn broke, we were on our way again. We only rested for less than six hours, but fortunately, as people who practiced martial arts, we had the energy to spare. Looking at the ruins in the dim light of dawn, I had no desire to look back one last time. 

But Lian’er calmed my nerves. I thought we would have gone through a lot of trouble to getting back on the camel, but she either got used to it or forgot about it. She jumped on the camel without any hesitation. It made me realize that I had been worrying too much. 

Still, as we swayed with the sound of the camel bells, I couldn’t help but wonder if our next destination, our last rest stop, would be as dilapidated as the one in Guazhou?

The last rest stop, Dunhuang.

This place was…special to me. It made a strong impression on me. If we thought of my experience in the two lifetimes as a butterfly effect, then the first flap of the wings that set everything in motion happened here. 

I was young back then. Faced with a new beginning in life and the last trip with my old friends who were to go our separate ways, we headed west and landed in this place, where we experienced the bleakness of a faraway place, the magnificence of nature’s creations, and the grandeur of history. It cleansed my anxious mind and sowed the seed for my love of travel later.

So when I knew that we were going to pass by this place, I felt an inexplicable joy, as if I were revisiting an old place. I even thought of taking Lina’er to see the Crescent Moon Spring and climb the Mingsha Mountain during our free time while we were there and let her experience how it felt like to be in the timeless Mingsha and Crescent Moon, a whole new world of mountains and water, hoping to pass on to her the joy I had experienced before. 

However, reality was always different from the imagination. When I actually set foot on the place, I realized that it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. 

After crossing the brownish desert, more and more greenery started to appear. As the day grew darker, we finally arrived at this “old place” that I had been looking forward to. It was better than Guazhou, at least it looked like a normal town and didn’t seem all that desolate. There were only a few people walking listlessly on the street, giving off a feeling of lifelessness. 

“Aside from the elderly, women, and children who couldn’t leave their hometown behind, the rest stayed behind mostly for money, to do business, or to work as guides. Otherwise, who would want to stay in a deserted town? I heard that the town has been affected by the war recently, and there are fewer merchants. We must be careful.” Old Tie reminded us when we stopped at the inn as he jumped down from his mount, turned to us, and pointed his whip in the direction of the street. Then, with a grin, he added nonchalantly, “But then again, who are the three of us afraid of? Anyone who chooses to stay in a place like this has to have some wits about them. We don’t have to worry about it too much.” With that, he laughed and took the camel to the stable behind the inn together with the guides.

I realized this only after being reminded. A spark of spirit lit up in the dull eyes of those listless townspeople only when they looked at us, the visitors. In the spark was hope, flattery, and even greed. 

Their gaze was too direct, and their intent was obvious. It made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t help but frown, but at that moment, I felt a warm touch on my left hand. Even in the scorching heat, Lian’er’s hand was dry and soft. It was nice to hold. Standing next to me, she turned to look at me before slowly scanning the surroundings. I was half a step behind her, so I couldn’t see her face, but I saw that wherever her eyes had been, people who had been looking at us quickly looked away. Some who weren’t as bold even walked away. 

Lian’er seemed quite pleased with the result. After looking around the place, she lifted her chin and gave a disdainful snort before taking my hand and walking towards the inn.

As the old man had said, the people here had some wits about them. Even though I was the one dressed as a man, Lian’er in her usual clothes was more intimidating. It couldn’t be that she had a sword at her waist, right? The fact was plain to see, and there was nothing that I could say. I laughed self-mockingly and let her take me through the door.

For the next two days, we hardly left the inn. First, the sandstorms were too strong, and second, there wasn’t much to do outside. We left everything to Old Tie to deal with. The rest of the journey was too risky for the two local guides, so they were only willing to go so far with us. The camels were still ours to ride since we had paid the deposit. We only had to find a suitable replacement for the guide. Many people here made a living as guides, but we had to be careful when choosing our guide since we didn’t know where they were from and our lives were at stake. 

I felt bad seeing the old man come back covered in dust every day, so I would ask for the innkeeper’s permission to use the kitchen and prepare two nice meals as a token of appreciation and also to take care of our bodies in preparation for the hardships ahead.

But the longer we stayed and the more we interacted with the locals, the more a certain idea began to stir in my mind. 

On the third day, just before noon, Old Tie returned with two men, an old man and a young man. He happily pointed to them and said that they would be our next guides. He said that we would leave before dawn the next day, as usual. At that moment, the thought in my mind grew so strong that I couldn’t hold it back. 

I wanted to go to a place. I wanted to go to a place before we left. 

There was no reason, I just wanted to see.

Since it had been decided that we were leaving the next day, there was no room for hesitation. Without thinking twice, I immediately got up from the table, informed the person at the door, and walked out. This confused the old man, and he shouted, “Hey, where are you going by yourself? Why isn’t Jadey with you?”

I spun around and replied, “She just went into the room, probably taking a bath or resting now. Don’t disturb her. I’m going somewhere, and I’ll be back before sundown, don’t worry.” Afraid that the old man would ask more questions, I stepped out of the inn as I said that.

It wasn’t because I was hiding anything that I was afraid of being questioned, but because this impulse of mine was hard to explain. Besides, if the conversation dragged on for too long, I was afraid that the one in the room would come out.

I didn’t want to bring her along on this trip.

I could share everything with Lian’er. Zhuxian was willing to share everything with Lian’er. It was just that this impulse didn’t belong to Zhuxian. 

I was running alone on the wide dirt road. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry too much because I was wearing men’s clothes. Sometimes when I came across some looks that made me feel uncomfortable, I would show off my qinggong a little. It would speed up my pace, and at the same time, act as a warning or intimidation to any potential threats. After all, strength was more useful than anything else in this lawless melting pot.

It was in the southwest. Although this place was a deserted and unknown place at the moment, at least the locals knew about it. I got a rough idea of the route from talking to the innkeeper over the past two days. Whenever I got a little lost, all I had to do was ask the people living next to the mud wall, and they could usually point me in the right direction.

It wasn’t too far. At least, a half-marathon distance was relatively easy for me now, but stopping now and then took more time than expected, so much so that the sun began to set.

As dusk fell, I finally arrived at the destination of this trip at the foot of the eastern side of Mingsha Mountain. 

Not far away stood a towering sandstone cliff, with row upon row of caves carved into its surface at various heights. From a distance, it looked like a majestic palace with a unique style. This place was known by the locals as the Thousand Buddha Caves. I remembered that it also had another name, the Mogao Caves.

Looking at it, it was as if I could hear the story told by the tour guide back then. She said that a Buddhist monk from the Former Qin Dynasty had once traveled to this very place and saw that golden light emanating from the Mingsha Mountain, as if there were a thousand Buddhas, so it inspired him to start digging, and later, he continued to carve and build, and eventually, it became this sacred site. 

It was at that moment the sun was setting. The setting sun was golden and so was the yellow sand, so it seemed as if the whole world was coated in gold. As I stood in the midst of the golden glow, the story of Gandharva dancing in the light appeared before my eyes, pure, magnificent, and indescribable.

Even more indescribable was my feeling.

Before I reached this place, I wasn’t sure why I felt so compelled to come here. It was a vague feeling that I couldn’t explain stirring inside me. And now, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my chest when I saw the sandstone cliff. It was a feeling that came from the deepest part of my heart.

Here it stood, desolate and forgotten, yet still standing tall. It had weathered a thousand years of wind and sand. A few centuries later, the world would one day be shocked by its presence.

I met it twice, once hundreds of years later, and once hundreds of years ago. The time gap between the two encounters was unimaginable, yet here it was, and here I was. All of it…was real.

I stood there for a long time, feeling my eyes grow warmer. It was an inexplicable feeling that had been building up since the beginning of this lifetime, and it finally found release in this moment. I didn’t try to stop it, nor did I want to. I just stood there looking, feeling my cheeks gradually become moist and then slowly dry in the wind.

There was nothing else around, only the sound of the wind and the presence of the cliff. It would take a very, very long time for this place to become lively again.

Suddenly, there seemed to be another sound in the evening breeze. It was extremely faint, muffled by the sand. What made me notice this other presence was a slender shadow on the ground, stretched out by the setting sun.

When I turned around and saw her, my face was still wet.

Lian’er stepped towards me. Like everything else in this place, she was tinted with a soft golden hue. Under the effects of light and shadow, her already exquisite features seemed even more profound, even imbued with a touch of maturity.

Or perhaps she had matured more than I had realized, because when she came to me, she didn’t blame me for going alone without telling her. In fact, she showed no sign of anger on her face and just looked at me with piercing eyes, her face as calm as still water.

Under her unwavering gaze, I remembered that she might have seen everything that had just happened. Embarrassment flared up in me. I quickly wiped my face and attempted to explain, but at that moment, I found myself at a loss for words. Lian’er was too calm. It threw me off. I could only wait for her to speak first.

But as soon as she spoke, it felt surreal.

“There’s something bothering you. I know it.” The girl stared at me intently, her voice unusually calm. As if she was stating a fact, “It’s okay even if you don’t want to tell me. I’ll figure it out myself.”

I had heard that before, years ago. A girl had said that. She said, “Are you dreaming again? What are you afraid of?” She then said, “There’s something inside you that you’re afraid of. I know it. It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me. I’ll figure it out myself.”

At that time, hearing those words filled me with fear, the fear of being understood, of being scrutinized, of being seen through.

But now…

“You’re not thinking about running away from me again, are you? Don’t forget, you made a promise when you came back!” Lian’er reminded me warily and raised her eyebrows when she saw that I remained silent. She accentuated her tone on the word “promise,” and only then did she seem like a child.

I burst out laughing, the two lingering tears falling from my eyes, but I couldn’t care less. I shook my head and said, “I’m not running away from you. But there’s more than one thing in me. I wonder which one you want to figure out?”

She lifted her chin unapologetically and replied proudly, “All of them!”

“Okay.” I nodded, then I smiled as I looked down and said, “Then, I’ll wait.”

Thawing the Glacier- Chapter 1

Thawing the Glacier- Chapter 1

“How long are you going to stay?”

“I’ll leave before 12. Wait for me”


Carefully avoiding the crowd, Lin Zhiyang stood in the corner where the gifts were stacked and replied to her message on WeChat. 

The nickname she gave to the person she was messaging was a string of numbers—226234. The cold digits matched the person’s profile picture perfectly, a dark blue solid background with a white handwritten “y” in the lower left corner, the initial of her family name. Even her tone in the message lacked warmth.

Still, Lin Zhiyang had read the message many times, imagining her expression when she typed those words and her voice if she was saying it to her in person, although she most likely wouldn’t have any expression, and her voice would be flat. 

Lin Zhiyang was surrounded by colorful and exaggeratedly shaped balloons. Flowers and champagne flooded the hall. Men and women dressed in extravagant clothes were bouncing around the dance floor, exuberant and noisy. 

Fortunately, the villas in the area were far apart and well soundproofed. Otherwise, they would have been reported long ago.

Lin Zhiyang put down her phone, feeling a dull ache from her temples to her toes. As a homebody who could sit at home for days on end, Lin Zhiyang was sure to feel out of place here.

Her college classmate, Ming Xiaojiao, sashayed over, clad in a low-cut dress, her skin fair and her dress tight. It seemed like her towering peaks were going to bounce out of dress. She was known as the “Princess.” But this princess was different from the others; the name was given to her because of her wealthy family, not as a mockery. The Princess was outgoing and generous. She didn’t try to hide her family or use it to boss people around. She made friends everywhere, and everyone loved her.

When Ming Xiaojiao saw Lin Zhiyang’s eyes sweeping over her, she not only didn’t feel embarrassed, but also puffed out her chest and asked proudly, “How’s that? I’m in good shape, right?”

Lin Zhiyang nodded with a smile and replied sincerely, “Not bad”

Ming Xiaoqiao thought her answer was lackluster and clicked her tongue. Then her mood changed, and she excitedly grabbed Lin Zhiyang’s arm and started gossiping, “Tell me, is our famous writer still single?”

Surprised by the question, Lin Zhiyang took a sip of her drink and pretended to be calm, hiding her emotions behind her smile, and lamented ruefully, “Are you trying to set me up again?”

Lin Zhiyang looked charming in the off-the-shoulder dress. Her peach blossom eyes looked like rainbows in the sky as they curved.

To be honest, if Ming Xiaoqiao hadn’t stopped them, all the men and women would have swarmed around Lin Zhiyang with her fatally attractive face. 

Ming Xiaoqiao was very perceptive. She wanted to introduce someone to her, but when she saw the look on Lin Zhiyang’s face, she knew that Lin Zhiyang didn’t like it. So she changed the subject, “I’m just asking to see how you are. It’s been a few years since your last breakup, and you’re still single. You can’t still be hung up on her, right? Lin, just say the word and I can set you up with anyone, male or female.”

Lin Zhiyang chuckled and said, feigning gratitude, “Thank you for your kindness, Princess, but I’m good.” As soon as she finished, the double doors of the hall opened from the outside.

Guests had been coming and going all night. Everyone was busy with their own activities, so no one paid attention to who came in. 

But Lin Zhiyang intuitively turned around, and her eyes were fixed on the person who walked through the door. With her long, wavy hair tied up into a bun, dressed in a black velvet dress with a cinched waist and matching thin high heels, that person looked like she was there for a business meeting in the midst of a flamboyant crowd. 

Her expression seemed even more so. Her face was so impassive, and her eyes were cold and distant.

She seemed to be unaffected by the noise around her, her posture graceful and elegant, looking like a goddess from another world entering the world of monsters. Dazzled by the iridescent lights, she just tilted her head, not even a frown on her brow. Her calm gaze swept over the crowd, and then she walked straight towards Lin Zhiyang and Ming Xiaoqiao.

Lin Zhiyang was a little nervous and took a sip of her drink without thinking.

Ming Xiaoqiao dragged Lin Zhiyang over to meet her and called out to her at the top of her lungs, “Yu Che jiejie[1] is here!”

Yu Che glanced at their intertwined arms. Quickly regaining her composure, she curled her lip and handed over a gift in a delicate gift box. “Happy birthday, Little Princess.”

Ming Xiaoqiao didn’t expect Yu Che to tease her as well. Laughing, she pulled her hand out of Lin Zhiyang’s arm, cheerfully took the gift, and said, “Thank you, jiejie.”

She wasn’t expecting anything special in the box. It was either tea sets, an out-of-print book, or some exquisite jewelry—things that she didn’t lack, but she appreciated the thought. 

Ming Xiaoqiao turned to ask Lin Zhiyang, “Do you remember Yu Che jiejie? I introduced her to you at my birthday party last year.”

“Yeah, I remember.” Lin Zhiyang had been left out of the conversation until now. She straightened up, gave a polite nod, and said reservedly, “Hello, Professor Yu.”

Yu Che was a promising young professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Huaizhou University and a family friend of Ming Xiaoqiao. 

As for the exact background of her family, Lin Zhiyang had deliberately refrained herself from probing into it. The Ming family was already a prestigious family, and the Yu family seemed to have a higher social status. They weren’t in the same social circle, so Lin Zhiyang had no interest in prying.

Yu Che looked at her, emotion flitting across the corner of her eyes, and she replied politely, “Hello.”

Realizing that Yu Che was silently mocking her pretense, Lin Zhiyang didn’t continue the conversation.

As someone who was out of the loop, Ming Xiaoqiao wasn’t surprised by Yu Che’s reaction. Yu Che had always been like that, distant even to people close to her. It made sense that she wouldn’t be any more friendlier to strangers.

Ming Xiaoqiao knew that she had paid enough respect to her parents by showing up at her birthday party every year.

Lin Zhiyang was bored. She left Ming Xiaoqiao alone with Yu Che and went off to play with her college friends. She rarely went out to have fun, and with her bad luck, she kept losing and ended up taking quite a few shots. 

After an hour, she got a little restless, so she pretended to be sick, holding her forehead and frowning as if she was Daiyu[2] reincarnated. The group that had been messing around earlier started to feel sorry for her and offered to take her somewhere else to rest. She declined their offer and went to the bathroom. 

When she came out of the stall, Yu Che was reapplying her lipstick, bending over in front of the mirror. The color made her complexion look cool and fair, and the bright shade washed away some of the indifference on her face. 

At 5’7″ and with high heels, she exuded an unapproachable air. She lifted her head and casually glanced at Lin Zhiyang.

Lin Zhiyang looked at her graceful figure with drunken eyes and thought, damn, she’s always had a way of seducing people. She looked away, as if to hide it, and nodded politely. She didn’t say anything and went to wash her hands, looking down.

A hint of dissatisfaction flashed in Yu Che’s eyes when Lin Zhiyang didn’t talk to her, and her eyes landed on the slender fingers under the faucet. As if being scorched, she looked away awkwardly. As Lin Zhiyang was about to leave, she said softly, “Take it easy with the drinks.” 

A moment ago, she heard someone say something about “a drunken beauty having her own unique charm.” Then she couldn’t help but follow her. She didn’t like this kind of occasion, but Lin Zhiyang couldn’t leave anytime soon, so she had to stay a little longer. The way those people looked at Lin Zhiyang made Yu Che feel very uncomfortable. It was as if she found out that a group of uninvited guests were planning to sneak into her garden. 

“Okay.” Lin Zhiyang replied with a feathery voice. But just two steps in, she held onto the wall and bent down slightly.

Yu Che hurried over to help her and patted her back. She asked, frowning, “Are you okay?”

Lin Zhiyang was an average drinker. She had gotten a bit carried away while playing games earlier and had ended up drinking too much. Now, the alcohol was starting to hit her.

She felt Yu Che’s breath on her face. Her cold and faint scent soothed her. She said with a smile, “I’m fine. I’ll just need to sit down for a bit.” Then she dodged Yu Che’s hands and walked away, supporting herself with the wall. 

The hand she had dodged hung in the air for a moment before she silently put it down. She thought she might have overreacted. She shouldn’t be too close to her in places like this. 

Yu Che’s eyes caught Lin Zhiyang’s smile. It made her wonder, how could someone look so much like a siren yet have a bright and gentle smile. A perfect combination of innocence and lust. Suddenly, Yu Che didn’t want her to return to the crowd. 

It had been raining a lot in Huai City since the beginning of fall. For a whole week, it had been sunny for half a day and rainy for the rest of the day. The rain continued into the night, as if the white noise had been turned on. It was a natural cure for insomnia. 

It was almost midnight. Lin Zhiyang used being drunk as an excuse to leave Ming Xiaoqiao’s private villa. Ming Xiaoqiao didn’t force her to stay and sent her off. 

Unlike the bustle inside, the night outside was particularly quiet and cold. It sobered Lin Zhiyang up a bit. She took a taxi to the guesthouse. She kept her phone on call, even though the driver was a middle-aged woman.

She arrived at the guest house. Humming a song, she fixed her hair in the elevator, stretched her shoulders, and yawned with abandon. After getting out of the elevator, there was only one unit on the floor. Lin Zhiyang leaned against the door and knocked several times, ending the call as she did so. She heard the even footsteps of the person coming to get the door. 

That person had already removed her makeup. She seemed colder without it. Her long black hair fell over her shoulders, and the long sash of the cyan nightgown cinched at her waist accentuated her beautiful figure. A damp scent wafted over from her, seductive and tantalizing, yet the beauty’s expression was mild. She was still holding the phone. 

“Feeling better?” Yu Che asked in a gentle voice for once. 


“Go wash up.”

Yu Che had already washed herself thoroughly and waited here patiently, listening to the phone the whole time. It was all for a simple intercourse of the flesh and the soul, but she seemed so calm and collected.

Suddenly, Lin Zhiyang wanted to crush the ice on her face so badly and trample on her usual aloofness and reserve. She knew that Yu Che’s body was warm. It warmed up so easily, and her voice wasn’t as cold when she was turned on.

The evil thought was just a flash across her mind. Lin Zhiyang didn’t do anything, a harmless smile still on her face. She took the clothes that Yu Che gave her. Standing by the bathroom’s door, she called, “Yu Che.”

Yu Che was walking towards the desk. She had lectures to prepare. When she heard her voice, she turned around and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Lin Zhiyang fell silent. She didn’t know what was wrong. She just wanted to call her name, wanted to talk to her more. But she didn’t know what to say, what Yu Che wanted to hear or maybe she didn’t want to listen to anything at all. Suddenly, her mood turned sour. She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was late. She shook her head and said, “Nothing. You go ahead and work,” she said as she closed the bathroom’s door. 

Yu Che looked at where she had just looked at—00:53. She thought about what Lin Zhiyang was going to say, then she closed her laptop, put it away in her bag, and decided not to work. 

Lin Zhiyang had rented this guesthouse on a long-term basis. Even though they only came here three or four times a month, she had made the house into a cozy place with the wooden furniture and warm yellow light, the romantic and soothing scented candles, the half-assembled “Frozen” Lego set on the table, the pale green balloon flowers in full bloom in the vase, and a half-read book on the bedside table.

She probably comes here more than once a week. What does she usually do when she’s here?

Yu Che’s thoughts spun out of control. She mocked herself for imagining things. Lin Zhiyang couldn’t be bringing other women here, could she? Then she thought, why couldn’t she? Considering how often they talked and saw each other, it would be easy for Lin Zhiyang to hide things from her. Or maybe it wasn’t a matter of hiding things from her, but rather Lin Zhiyang thought that there was no need to tell her anything since they weren’t even dating.

Lin Zhiyang had confided in her once when she was drunk. She ruefully expressed that she wanted to be in a relationship, but she didn’t have a girlfriend. At that time, Yu Che, who had to take care of her, had simply replied, “Remember to tell me when you find one.”

As Yu Che listened to the sound of running water in the bathroom, the song that Lin Zhiyang was humming on the phone, “Farewell Nichome” by Miriam Yeung, began to play in Yu Che’s mind. 

Although her singing was off-key, it still sounded beautiful. 

Life is long, and I’m still young.[3]

[1] Jiejie, meaning “older sister,” is used to refer to women who are slightly older than the speaker.
[2] Daiyu is one of the main characters of a classic 18th-century Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber. She is known as a beautiful and fragile woman who is prone to occasional melancholy and often used to describe women who are delicate or sickly.
[3] It is a line of lyrics from the song “Farewell Nichome” by Miriam Yeung.

Slopaw’s note:
Hey, I’ve decided to translate this novel as a change of pace from my main project, The Witch Nichang. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to upload the next chapter. If there are a lot of readers who like this story, I might translate it more often. Hope you enjoy it!

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 73 Through the Pass

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 73

Through the Pass

Whether it was a camel or a horse, when two people rode together, the one in the back often took the reins because there was only one pair of stirrups. That way, they could stabilize themselves and also protect the one in front. That was why whenever we saw two people riding together during our journey, it was always the one on the back who took the lead. 

Lian’er learned that on the way. Even though she didn’t have much experience, she undoubtedly understood it. 

I was still wondering why she had given in so easily last night, especially after she left that smirk remark. It turned out she was waiting for me here. 

I didn’t mind where I sat if I was dressed in my usual clothes. After all, this camel was the last in the group. There were always camels ahead of us to lead the way. We didn’t even need to hold the reins. Lian’er, with her limited experience, would still be able to sit tight. As long as she didn’t frighten the camel, there was nothing to worry about. 

It was just… Looking at the black Hu clothes I was wearing, I gave a resigned smile to the girl in front of me and said softly, trying to convince her, “Lian’er, why do you have to sit in the back? Isn’t it better to sit in front? No one will be blocking your sight, and you’ll have a better view…” But she shook her head and said, “It’s not about someone blocking my view. I don’t like that the hump is in front of me. Out of sight, out of mind. You sit in front.”

Her words sounded both genuine and spurious. She said it with such seriousness that I couldn’t argue with her. I saw that everyone around us was busy preparing, so I leaned closer to her and whispered, “But…Lian’er, look at how I’m dressed now… So many people on the street are watching. How can a man be protected by a woman? If we sit like you said, I’m sure we’ll be laughed at…”

“You’re just wearing men’s clothes, not actually a man.” She didn’t seem to care at all and said unapologetically, “Besides, so what if you’re a man? What do I care what others think? I dare them to laugh at us! Anyway, on this trip, either you sit in front or you don’t dress up as a man. Godfather worried too much. If anything happens, I’m here. You don’t have to dress up as a man to intimidate other people.” 

Sure enough, all the beating-around-the-bush was just to say that she didn’t want me to dress up as a man when she couldn’t. 

After thinking about it last night, I understood why Lian’er did that. Once I understood it, it became easy to see. She always wanted to win, liked to be ahead of me in everything. That part of her had been obvious since she was young. She even refused to call me her martial sister. Now that I was dressed in men’s clothes and she was still in women’s clothes, we were a man and a woman in people’s eyes, so it was clear who was in charge. Even though she said that she didn’t care about what people thought, and for most of the time, she really didn’t, when it came to this, I didn’t think she meant what she said. 

Her attitude was clear. It was just a matter of figuring out how to deal with it. If I were to go with what she said, I would have to convince Old Tie. Dealing with one stubborn person was hard enough, but two? It was a real pain in the neck. 

Besides, the clothes fit me well and felt familiar. Personally, I didn’t want to change out of them so soon. 

Now that I had made up my mind, the only question was how to persuade her. I leaned closer to her ear and pleaded fawningly, “Lian’er… You see, we’re about to leave, and the room is paid for. Where am I supposed to change? Let’s go first. There are a lot of people on our way out of the city. Bear with me for a bit. Once we’re in the desert, we can swap. The reason the old man asked me to wear Hu clothes is to avoid attracting too much attention. Why don’t we each take a step back? When we get to a place where no one is around, I’ll sit where you want me to sit, wear what you want me to wear. That way, it’d be easier for me. Okay?”

When dealing with her, you always had to go along with her to get things done. After hearing what I said, the girl’s face brightened up a little, showing signs of giving in, but she continued to be unforgiving with her words and asked with a side-eye, “Do you care so much about how others think?” Seeing me nod repeatedly, she said with a smile, “Alright then, just the part where there were people around. You said so. Once we get into the desert, you’ll listen to me.”

With her consent, this hiccup was resolved for the time being, and I could finally relax. We still had a long way to go before we reached an area where there was no one. At least, not today. 

By the time things were settled on our end, the guide on the other end was getting impatient. Everything that we needed was in place, and we were ready to go. The Gobi Desert was a hot and barren area. The journey through it had to be carefully planned and timed, so there was no room for delay. The old man had already mounted his camel. After rocking for a bit and getting used to the ride, he turned around and told us to hurry.

Without further stalling, I stepped into the stirrup on the side of the kneeling camel, and as soon as my other foot was in another stirrup, I turned to the girl beside me and smiled. Though reluctant, Lian’er didn’t dawdle, and with a jump, she sat firmly in front of me.

When the guide saw that everyone was seated, he ordered the camels to stand up. This was the bumpiest part. When the camels raised their front legs, those on their back would lean back with the momentum. I had experienced this before, but Lian’er hadn’t. Fortunately, I was prepared. I held her as she fell back to keep her stable, so she wouldn’t be thrown forward when the camel tipped us forward as it raised its hind legs.

After the bob was over, the camel below us finally stood up completely. We had a clear view ahead. With a shout from the front and the jingle of camel bells, the journey began. 

We first passed through a street market. The sky was brighter than when we first started out. More people had come out to go about their day. After rocking on the camelback for a while, the street started to get busy. 

I didn’t know if it was because she wasn’t used to riding slowly through the street, or because of her clumsiness at the start of the ride. She wasn’t in a great mood. Lian’er and I were sitting close together. Looking at her stiff back, I found it amusing but also was a little worried. Riding a camel was the same as riding a horse—if you didn’t relax and move with the rhythm of your mount, you would feel very uncomfortable after rocking on it for some time, and worse, you might feel sore from your lower back to your thighs, making it difficult to even walk on flat ground. The desert was different from other places. In other times, we still had carriages when we got tired of riding. Here, we could only spend the entire journey on the back of a camel. There might not even be time to rest. 

Despite knowing that, I couldn’t just say the obvious. After thinking for a moment and going over what I wanted to say, I gently placed my hand on her shoulder and pulled her back. As expected, Lian’er resisted, not only refusing to comply but also turning her head to glance at me, and asked, “What are you doing?” Her tone was slightly hostile, but I was prepared for it. I softened my voice and replied, “Lian’er, sitting like this, we’re at the same height. I can’t see what’s in front of me. Could you lower yourself a little?”

She seemed to like the way I said it, and her budding displeasure dissipated. She said, her face brightening up, “We are both already about the same height. Maybe I’m a little taller than you. We just never compare it. When we have the chance to compare, we’ll know…” As she spoke, she began to relax. I listened to her with a smile as I gently guided her to lean back until she rested comfortably against me and finally let out a secret sigh of relief.

Then we were rocking our way forward. After about ten minutes, the caravan left the crowded area, through the north gate, across the bridge, and arrived at the north bank of a muddy river. The two locals stopped the caravan and said that they needed to pray to the gods for a safe journey as they entered the Western Regions. 

When Old Tie saw that, he jumped off his camel to join in the prayers. Lian’er didn’t care. She never believed in gods and spirits. She probably felt comfortable after relaxing. She didn’t resist this kind of contact and used my body as a cushion. She just sat there and watched. Since she didn’t get up, I couldn’t get up either, so I just sat there and watched with her.

After praying, we continued on our journey. It was mostly desert along the way, with some trees, grass, and low shrubs sparsely scattered around the desert. Occasionally, we came across sand dunes. A few mud houses were scattered on either side. As the sun rose higher, the blazing sunlight was scorching hot. Lian’er seemed listless under her veil. I, on the other hand—I didn’t know whether it was because of the clothes I was wearing or the person in my arms—felt a tinge of excitement swirling within me. 

When a majestic and imposing structure appeared at the end of the barren desert under the vast blue sky, it stoked my excitement. 

“Lian’er, look, Jiayu Pass!” I couldn’t help but shake the person in my arms and point ahead, wanting her to share my excitement, but the girl just sat up slightly and looked at it for a moment before saying, “This is the first great pass that godfather talked about? Hm, it’s pretty tall, but it can’t stop me. There’s nothing special about it…” After saying that, she lost interest. 

She wasn’t interested, so I didn’t force it on her and continued looking by myself. As we drew near, the tall structure became more and more magnificent. As we got closer, there was a market. Many merchants had set up stalls here to do business with travelers passing by. It was a lively scene with all the carriages and horses passing through. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t stay for long. After showing our documents at the pass and having our luggage checked, we rode through the city gates without stopping and began our long journey. 

As I took one last look at the majestic pass that spanned across the Gobi Desert and the fire beacons that seemed to shimmer in the scorching sun, a pang of sadness washed over me, and the lines of a poem came to mind. I recited them softly, “The hundred-foot wall spans the western sky, travelers of a thousand miles halt at its majesty…” The rest of the verse seemed to escape me.

“You’re reciting poems again. It’s so annoying. Don’t disturb my rest…” When I recited a few lines of poetry, there was no applause but a protest from the girl in my arms. I smiled and put what she said behind me, not dwelling on it.

We were still in the Gobi Desert after leaving the Jiayu Pass. If we were to compare the difference between the inside and the outside of the pass, it was more expansive and desolate outside. There was hardly any elevation in the terrain, just a sea of black and brown sand, and the sky was like a huge blue dome. No matter which way we went, we seemed to always be at the center of the dome. With the camel caravan in front of us guiding us, we didn’t have to worry about the direction, not even the time. All we had to do was sway with the camel and listen to the jingling of the camel bells. 

Despite the desolate landscape, the sun was shining, and the wind was blowing. It somehow brought joy to my heart.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so relaxed. I felt an indescribable sense of happiness like a bird flying freely in the vast sky. Throughout the journey, I was full of energy and found the red willow, the camel thorn, and other desert plants in the distance special. I would either point them out to Lian’er or enjoy them myself from afar. 

Amidst the vastness of the clear sky, the boundless expanse of the desert, and the pleasant jingling of the camel bells, it felt as though time and space had ceased to exist. I could hear the soft humming of a song—a tune I had hummed myself, a melody as familiar as yesterday.

“You are humming a strange tune again…” The girl in my arms suddenly spoke, her voice casual, as if it was just a random remark. “But you seem to be quite happy. I haven’t seen you this happy for many years.”

“Oh, really?” Because her tone was so casual, I also responded with a casual answer. I didn’t give it much thought. I even looked around as I spoke. 

However, the response that followed was unexpected. “Yeah.” Lian’er’s tone remained light-hearted, as if we were chatting, “The last time I saw you this happy was when we were young. I remember it.”

As she spoke, she turned to look at me. Under the clear blue sky, her eyes were as clear and transparent as ever, imprinting themselves on my heart. 

“You haven’t been this happy since the year we celebrated Master’s birthday.”

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 72 Get Ready

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 72

Get Ready

Old Tie was a simple man who wasn’t particularly eloquent, but this time, what he said sounded like a criticism but was actually a compliment, and they were all true. Lian’er’s beauty was of the finest kind beyond gender. Her appearance bore no resemblance to her bold, decisive, and relentless personality.

Lian’er knew it herself too, so she couldn’t talk back. She was unruly by nature but not to the point of being unreasonable. She just refused to give in. She couldn’t talk back, so she stared back at the old man in defiance. 

At times like this, it was best for me to stay out of it, as nothing was going to happen anyway. I got out and stepped back quietly, leaving the two of them to continue staring at each other, and went to do my thing.

The so-called “thing” I had to do was actually the first thing Lian’er wanted to do when she returned to the inn. After all, this was the western border where sandstorms were frequent and the conditions on the road were poor. Whenever we went out these days, we always took a bath and changed first thing when we got back. Fortunately, there was no limit to water use here. The more luxurious inns even had large Western-style baths, but because of our personalities—she disliked strangers and I was too shy—neither Lian’er nor I had ever been to those.

But thanks to those bathhouses, hot water was always available. Even if you wanted to bathe in your room, it’s convenient to ask someone to prepare the bath. In no time, the air behind the screen became misty. The water didn’t need to be that hot in this dry and hot region. It just had to be warm enough to wash away the sweat.

As I sank into the warm and cozy embrace, sweat and dust washed away, my body finally began to relax. The thought that we might be on the road the next day, starting the toughest part of our journey, and that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this luxury in the desert, made me all the more reluctant to leave the bath. I didn’t want to get up, bathing in the warmth and subtle scent of plants. The water was mixed with some sort of crushed leaf that the locals used to repel mosquitoes. I didn’t know what it was. It had a faint lemony scent that was refreshing. 

Perhaps I was too happy and relaxed. I found myself humming softly as I leaned back against the tub with my eyes closed.

It was a melody from a distant memory, connecting two different worlds. 

“What are you humming? That melody is so strange. How come I’ve never heard it before?” There were things I should never have done. I had just started humming, and there came a voice from behind the screen. With the voice came a figure who casually walked in as if it was her own room.

“Lian—Lian’er!” I shouted after the initial shock. I almost put my head under the water. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to talk if I did that, so I switched from leaning against the tub to lying on my stomach, clutching to the edge of the tub and curling up, and said anxiously, “Wha…what are you doing…no, how did you get in? Did I forget to lock the door?” I made sure that I had locked it earlier.

“It’s locked. It didn’t budge when I pushed it.” The girl nodded slowly and replied, “You’re taking too long. I’d already finished washing even if I’d gone after you and brought you your clothes. I figured you weren’t done yet when I saw the door was closed, but there was no point waiting outside, was there? So I came in through the window. You locked the door but forgot about the window, dum-dum, always making me worry about you.”

“Lian’er!” There are only three rooms in this small courtyard in the west wing. We each occupied one and the other was empty. I locked the door to prevent people from entering by mistake. Who would climb in through the window? Besides, how many people in the world could get in as silently as she did? Even a cat might accidentally knock over a flower pot!

I wanted to be angry but I couldn’t; I wanted to reason with her but I couldn’t. The situation was a little awkward. I stumbled over my words until I saw she hadn’t come any closer after coming behind the screen and had stopped at the small table where I kept my clothes. Then I began to calm down and said, “Why the rush to bring me the clothes? I have clean clothes right here on the table.”

“You don’t. These are the new clothes Godfather bought. He only knew that we were staying in this courtyard but didn’t know which room each of us was in, so he got our room wrong and put them in my room.” Amidst the steam, I saw that Lian’er had a small bundle in her hand. She held it up and shook it, saying, “Oh, and before he left, he asked me to tell you to try it on. If it doesn’t fit, we can still make adjustments. Otherwise, it’ll be too late tomorrow.” With that, she swung her hand and tossed it onto the small table. 

It was strange. She was so upset about who the clothes were for earlier, but now she didn’t seem to care anymore. Of course, it wasn’t the best time to be wondering about such things. I stayed curled up in the warm water and replied with a nod, “I got it. I’ll try it on when I get out…” I was waiting for her to leave.

Little did I know that this person seemed to enjoy going against me. Not only did she refuse to leave, but she slowly came closer to me and said, “Oh, by the way, how’s that injury on your chest now? Let me have a look.” How big could the room be? In just two sentences, she was standing next to me. I didn’t even have time to say no. For a moment, I wished that I had gone under the water.

I knew very well that I was the one who was acting strangely compared to her calm composure. 

So no matter how embarrassing it was, I had to pretend to be calm. It wasn’t the first time she had checked on me since I had taken the palm strike at Yunu Peak. Although it was embarrassing, I just had to pretend that she was a nurse in front of me. Back then when I was in the hospital, hadn’t they touched everything? As a civilized person, there was nothing I couldn’t handle.

I kept comforting myself, but when the warm touch laid on my skin, I couldn’t help but flinch and look away. 

In contrast to my self-consciousness, she was thorough with her check. Lian’er did look a bit like a nurse at the moment with her hand moving around the injured area and occasionally asking how I felt. Actually, after several months of recovery, the once terrifying dark purple bruise had faded and was now long gone. As for internal injuries and whatnot, I didn’t really know much about it. I figured it was fine as long as I felt okay. After some time, I felt that it wasn’t a big deal anymore, but it wasn’t wise to question Lian’er too much, so I just let her do what she wanted. 

After checking for a while, she was finally done. She smiled in satisfaction and said, “Not bad, it’s healed nicely. I was worried that your body couldn’t take it.” After that, probably to match her tone, she looked to the water and said teasingly, “Get up quickly. How long are you going to stay in the water? Your skin has gone all pale and wrinkly…”

It was unintentional on her part, but I was the self-conscious one. It was too much for me. I felt that my body temperature was warmer than the temperature of the water. Even the best-tempered person would become embarrassed and get angry. I hurried her out, but it didn’t seem to bother her. Perhaps she felt that she had had her revenge. She looked quite pleased and walked out smiling. As she closed the door on her way out, she didn’t forget to tell me to hurry. 

When I was finally alone, I stayed in the water for a while before I began to calm down. I always reflected on myself at such times, thinking that I wasn’t calm enough and always lost my composure over some unintentional act. Even though she was someone I deeply cared about, I shouldn’t be like this, but despite reflecting on it every time, I still seemed to do it again. It was frustrating to know my flaws but not be able to change them. 

After a few moments of reflection, I couldn’t stay for too long, otherwise, some impatient person might barge in and tell me to hurry. That would only be asking for trouble. 

I quickly got out of the water, dried off, went to the table, and put on my undergarments. After tying up my hair, I opened the small bundle that Lian’er had placed on the table. Inside was a complete set of clothes. There was even a hat. It was made of leather with a fur trim. Both the style and the material were different from the robes and sashes that I was used to seeing over the years. I remembered that Old Tie said that they were Hu clothes. I hadn’t paid attention before, but now I could see that they were quite different.

Fortunately, the clothing was simple, so it was easy to put on. It was a black, tight-fitting robe with narrow sleeves and a lapel, giving a sense of familiarity like meeting an old friend in a foreign land. The hem of the robe split on both sides and was trimmed with fine black velvet that reached to the knee without feeling constricting. The black pants and leather boots were also clean and neat. Then I fastened the waistband and moved around a bit. It felt so comfortable. 

It had been many years since I had dressed so freely. Although I had grown accustomed to the clothes of this world, they were somewhat cumbersome. How could they compare to the ease of movement these clothes offered? I started jumping up and down in the room without thinking, feeling as though I had seen the me who was backpacking back then. 

Later, when I went out wearing the clothes, it made Old Tie, who was talking to Lian’er in the courtyard, laugh. He stroked his beard and repeated “Not bad, not bad” a few times before saying that it was too bad that I was too skinny and not stocky enough, and that even in the black Hu clothes, I still looked like a delicate scholar. I could hardly pass for a man, but it wasn’t too bad.

On the other hand, Lian’er, sitting under the shade of the vine trellis, just glanced over and gave a noncommittal snort before turning her head back and ignoring me. She just kept urging Old Tie to talk about the important matter after he was done laughing. 

The old man finally stopped laughing, for the journey wasn’t to be taken lightly. The three of us gathered around the stone table under the vine trellis and went over in detail the things we needed to do next. No one could say for sure what would happen too far in the future, so we had to start with the immediate. Tomorrow would be the day of departure. The old man had found two local guides who could at least get us all the way safely to Dunhuang in Shazhou. He assured us that we could find another guide when we got there, and it would be great if we came across other merchant caravans along the way. 

With age comes wisdom. Despite his crude manner, Old Tie didn’t take matters of life and death lightly. He listed out everything meticulously and even checked the backgrounds of the two local guides, just to be on the safe side. 

At this point, we juniors didn’t really have much to say in this matter, but when they talked about the equipment and supplies for the trip and mentioned he had gotten four camels including those for the guides, I saw Lian’er’s brow furrow slightly. The old man noticed it too as he followed my gaze and asked her what was wrong. Lian’er smiled and replied, “Oh, it’s nothing.”

Lian’er didn’t really like camels. She found them strange. She had shown that during our stay in Liangzhou, and I knew that very well from the last few days of exploring around with her. Even though she disliked them, she understood how important they were. So despite her dislike of camels, she didn’t say a word about it in the end.

As she passed by me on her way out after our discussion, she said to me with a smile, “Don’t be happy too soon. Let’s see how things go after this.” Although it was a light-hearted remark, it left me with an uneasy feeling. 

It wasn’t until the next day that I finally understood where this unease was coming from. 

By dawn the next day, we were all up and getting ready for the long journey. In the desert, the days were long and the nights were short, and the temperature rose rapidly. It was impossible to continue in the midday sun. We had to make the most of the mornings and evenings. The four camels were ready and waiting outside, equipped. We had agreed the day before that the two guides would each have one camel, the old man would have one, and as Lian’er and I were small, we would share one camel.

The camels were all Mongolian camels, equipped with saddles and stirrups. The saddle was soft. It was really just several layers of padding cushioning between the two humps with a thick woolen rug on top to hold it in place. The two camel stirrups, like those of a horse, hung on either side, but they were slightly shorter than those of a horse. 

The camels were tall and couldn’t be mounted without them kneeling. I was the last to leave, so when I got to the door, the guide had already made the camels kneel down, and Lian’er was standing to one side with her hands behind her back, waiting. While this was a new experience for her, and I wasn’t confident because I wasn’t so familiar with them either, one of us had to take the lead, so I quickly walked over, but just as I was about to mount, she said in a seemingly casual manner, “You sit in front, I want to sit in the back.”

At first, it didn’t sound like there was anything wrong with what she said, but when I looked at the saddle and then at the men’s clothes I was wearing, it put me in an awkward situation.

We were riding a camel, not a motorcycle…

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 71 Far Away

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 71

Far Away

Tie Feilong went out early the next morning. Living up to his name as a local and seasoned jianghu traveler, he had everything arranged in no time, and a carriage and horses were waiting outside the Tie Manor. 

When I saw the arrangement of a carriage and two horses, I understood who the carriage was for, even though both of them didn’t say anything. I found it amusing. Although I wouldn’t get angry from being underestimated, I still wanted to prove myself. I didn’t get on the carriage but asked for the old man’s horse instead. The old man was nice. It was Lian’er who tried to talk me out of it. In the end, I persuaded her by saying that it was the perfect weather to ride a horse and only then did she reluctantly nod her consent. 

We hit the road after a quick preparation. The ease and efficiency of our movement made it feel as if we were going for a leisurely ride in spring rather than going on a long journey. 

Actually, if we only considered riding experience, I might be better than Lian’er, to be honest. Of course, the combined effect of two lifetimes had to be taken into account. After all, I hadn’t stayed in the Roof of the World for nothing in my previous life. On the contrary, I had spent a long time in the depths of the mountain in this life. The opportunities to ride horses are much less. Now that I had a good horse, I would have loved to ride across the Loess Plateau with abandon, if it hadn’t been for my arm injury.

In contrast to my excitement, Lian’er wasn’t all that enthusiastic about it.

Given her personality, she would probably have preferred to travel light on foot, but not wanting to rudely refuse his kindness, she could only accept his arrangement. She felt a little uncomfortable on horseback at first, but as she got used to it and relaxed after going for a while, she rode alongside me, gazing at the scenery around. Suddenly, she pointed with her horse whip and said, “Interesting. There’s a group of Taoists, old and young, wearing white headbands there. Are they having a funeral?”

They both looked in the direction she was pointing without thinking. I didn’t say anything, but Tie Feilong, who was leaning on the carriage and driving it with his whip, strained his eyes and looked. He said, his brows furrowed, “Sharp eyes, Jadey. You even saw the white headbands. I can’t see them clearly. Anyway, those people look like they’re from Wudang. Why are they traveling in a group to the Shaanxi border? Is there something going on in Wudang? After a moment’s thought, he shook his head and said, “Forget it, these ox’s noses[1] are not friendly people. I only respect their leader, Ziyang. It’s best not to get involved with them. Let’s just focus on the road. Hah!” With a loud crack of the whip, the carriage picked up speed.

Since the old man had said so, Lian’er seemed to have no objections. She urged her horse on with the whip and followed behind the carriage. They rode off, leaving me behind. As I watched the carriage and the horse leave, I looked back at the group of Taoists on the hill. As my horse slowed down, I heard Lian’er urging me from a distance. I felt an inexplicable joy. Then I responded with a call, spurred my horse, and caught up with them. 

The sky was high, the earth was vast. Could I really go far away, away from this world?

We continued westwards, with a long journey ahead of us. The journey was rough, but thankfully, with an experienced jianghu traveler, old man Tie, it wasn’t too arduous, especially when it came to choosing the route to go. Each day, we traveled by day and rested by night, taking detours and crossing mountains and streams. When we were tired, we got into the carriage, and when we were bored, we rode on horseback. Sometimes, we traveled with qinggong for a while, and so we would travel. 

As we traveled, I gradually realized that the old man had taken the route through the Longshan Mountains to Lanzhou, the Golden City, and then to the Hexi Corridor. Although it was a detour, it was certainly the easiest route. After that, my trust in the old man had grown stronger.

Occasionally, as we passed through some towns, we would stop for a day or half a day. We rested while the old man Tie went to visit his old friends to gather information. But this person, surnamed Jin, seemed to have disappeared without a trace. Each time the old man returned empty-handed. Both the godfather and goddaughter discussed it and came to the conclusion that the person must have gone into hiding to practice his cultivation. That strengthened their resolve to go straight to his old lair. 

After several months of traveling, through the Golden City, across the Yellow River and over the mountains, we arrived in Liangzhou, Wuwei. As the vast grasslands and barren deserts opened up before us, I realized that this journey to the West was real and that there was no going back.

Contrary to my emotional rollercoaster, the other two were calm. Old Tie had traveled all over the north and south, and had even been to the west once, so he was used to it. As for Lian’er, she didn’t show much emotion. She was just a little curious about things she hadn’t seen before. She especially liked the Qilian Mountains, which stretched for miles in the distance. Although she had grown up on the top of Mount Hua and had seen many mountains before, she had never seen an alpine that snowed all year round. She was skeptical at first when she heard about it, but when the old man confirmed it, she was sure that I wasn’t kidding her. 

The journey ahead was much duller than in the Central Plains and much more difficult. Because of Lian’er’s aversion to unknown creatures, we continued to travel on horseback instead of switching to camels, but the carriage was pulled by two horses instead of one, leaving only one horse to ride. Our carriage was well-stocked with food and water, and we followed the ancient trail that had been carved out over thousands of years. The route was surrounded by desert with no end in sight, with sparse patches of green. There were checkpoints scattering along the way where we could stop and rest. Despite everything, it was a smooth ride.  

Occasionally, when the old man was in the mood during the journey, he would tell stories of the local area, of the Silk Road, of Han generals and western horsemen. Lian’er always found them interesting. I had to nod along. No matter how tempted I was to share the stories I knew, I had to hold it in and not show it off. That felt worse than the dull journey.

But even when we were careful, we still made mistakes sometimes.

Hexi was made up of four regions. After passing through Zhangye in Liangzhou and traveling along the Gobi Desert pass, we arrived at Suzhou Jiuquan City. As we entered the city, we saw that many of the walls were made of rammed earth, and the buildings around were low, with only a few tall buildings. Although it wasn’t a busy city, it was still lively and bustling. I thought we were just stopping to rest, but the old man found an inn in the town center near the drum tower and said we would stay there for a few days to prepare for the journey after the pass.

I thought it was strange at the time and asked, ‘Shouldn’t we go past Dunhuang City in Shazhou to be considered out of the pass?’ The old man burst out laughing and said that Guazhou and Shazhou had been abandoned for over a hundred years. The people there had all moved inside the pass. Jiuquan was now the first major city in the border area, and the Jiayu Pass, thirty miles away, was the first pass in the western regions, and beyond that was the desert. He was surprised that I didn’t know about it and said that I had read too much.

I couldn’t just say that I hadn’t heard of this part of the story when I visited Dunhuang back then, so I scratched my face, giggled embarrassedly, and glossed over it by letting the old man misunderstand.

So we settled down. Over the next few days, trivial tasks like gathering information, stocking up, preparing the documents, and hiring a guide were left to Old Tie. I felt a little bad, but the old man waved it off with his big hand and said, “What are you two girls worrying about? If you’re bored, go have fun. The scenery here is unique. You won’t find scenery like this in the Central Plains. You and Jadey go explore and make this trip worth your while.”

Lian’er, on the other hand, immediately accepted his suggestion and dragged me along to look around. Though there weren’t many pavilions and towers here, the Silk Road being the first major trade route where a lot of goods passed through, you could see rare items and strange-looking people—for Lian’er, of course. 

“Look, there’s someone with red hair and blue eyes in one of the merchant groups. So strange. I wonder if their meridians are the same as ours? I really want to give them a strike and see. Is their blood red too?” Words like that were the most I had heard from her lately. Fortunately, she only talked about it but didn’t take any action. Otherwise, she would be the first one to ruin the friendly relations between East and West. 

On one hand, I was worried, but on the other hand, I quite enjoyed it when she pulled me along through the crowd. To protect ourselves from the dust and sun, we dressed like the locals when we entered the Gobi Desert. At the moment, she was wearing a white shirt and a fox-fur coat, her hair tied up with a gold ring and a thin veil, adding an exotic touch to her usual attire. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. 

The only annoying thing was neither can others take their eyes off her. Even though the thin veil covered part of the girl’s face, there were still occasional awestruck glances in her direction, wishing that they could see through the veil. It was an eyesore. I thought to myself, if we didn’t both have a sword at our waists, there would probably have been trouble. 

We went out for a while today, and as expected, it was the same situation again. “Lian’er, I think we should go back?” I didn’t consider myself a petty or jealous person, but every time this happened, I really wished I could take her back to the inn and close the door. “You’ve already explored most of the places in this area over the past few days. We still have a long way to go and the desert was dangerous. It’s better for us to save our energy for what lies ahead.”

“What are you afraid of?” She didn’t care and said with a wave, “Look, these people have traveled a long way to get here. We can’t be worse than them, can we? It’s all right.”

“I just feel like this place is a bit unsafe.” In desperation, I tried to find an opening and said frankly, “You’re good-looking. Don’t you feel that people are always ogling you? It’s going to be a problem if we attract the wrong kind of attention and can’t get out of the pass.”

“Hmph, who’s afraid?” She lifted her chin and said, “Jiayu Pass? The First and Greatest Pass? It’s a dead thing. Do you think it can stop me if I want to leave?” After bragging, she looked around the crowd with a furrowed brow and grumbled, “And what you said is not entirely true. Are they only looking at me? I think half of them are looking at you, hmph.”

“Ah?” It was completely unexpected. Who would have thought she would even want to compare this? Suddenly, I was at a loss, not knowing how to react.

But fortunately, Lian’er seemed to lose interest in exploring after that and wanted to take me back to the inn after walking halfway down the street unenthusiastically. I felt bad instead seeing her lose her spirit, so I bought some fruits that weren’t common in the Central Plains at that time and thought I could cheer her up after returning to the inn. 

Who knew as we stepped into the inn’s lobby, we saw the old man sitting alone in a corner, frowning and drinking cup after cup of wine as if it were tea. When he looked up and saw us, he raised his hand and called out, “Haha, girls, just in time. Come over here. Try some of this special wine from this region. They say it’s made from grapes. This is the only one of its kind!”

“I don’t like alcohol. You can drink by yourself, Godfather. We just got back from outside, and I need to go take a bath and change.” Without trying to be polite, Lian’er replied with a smile and was about to go inside, but I stopped her gently and gave her a look. Although the old man sounded jovial, a furrowed brow usually meant nothing good. It was better to ask him what was wrong. 

As we approached the table, hands held, I saw the liquid in the cup was a translucent amber color. I smiled slightly, poured some into a cup for myself, and took a sip. I complimented, “What a fine wine.” Then I tilted my head and looked at the old man, saying with a smile, “Fine wine in a glass, luminous in the moonlight; As we yearn for more, pipas sound the battle’s march[2]. Old man, we’ve tasted the wine. When will we mount our horses and march into the great desert?”

At first, the old man was happily pouring wine, but when he heard the question, his smile froze, and he waved his arm and said, “Don’t go there. We finally made it here, but I hadn’t expected things would be this bad. It’s so frustrating!”

“What’s wrong?” Lian’er realized what was going on at that moment. She didn’t like to beat around the bush, so she went straight to the point and asked, “Speak up if there’s something. Whether it’s good or bad, three heads are better than one, in case you can’t figure it out. Look at you drinking alone, tsk tsk…” She said as she grinned and flicked the wine jug.

The old man’s eyes widened at her words. He slammed down his glass and protested, “Who told you that I drink alone because I don’t know what to do? I know what to do! It’s whether you have the guts to do it!’”

“So, tell us, what exactly happened?” These two had a tendency to get sidetracked once they started arguing. I quickly steered the conversation back on track to avoid having to take a detour to get it back on track later. 

Then we listened to the old man talk. We learned that he had taken care of everything during the two days we had been here, but he was having trouble with the most important thing – the travel route. The Turpan region in the west was our original destination, but unfortunately, the King of Turpan had become powerful and often led his army to invade other regions. Although the Silk Road wasn’t affected by it, it was often blocked due to war, and that was the situation now.

“Hami’s northern route is no longer an option. They say it could be disrupted for three to five months, and we can’t afford to wait…” The old man shook his head and continued, “Our only option is to take the Hanbei Road. It’s an old road full of dangers. I don’t mind, but you two girls are the new kids on the block. You should think it over carefully.”

In the end, the old man told us this with great solemnity. 

“What’s the big deal?” The young girl listened in silence, then smiled and replied calmly, “There aren’t many people who are stronger than us, are there? Since those who are weaker than us can get through, and people have been using them since ancient times, what’s there to be afraid of? Am I, Lian Nichang, not braver than a merchant?”

As she finished with a flourish, she tilted her head and looked at me, her lips pursed. Her meaning couldn’t have been clearer. I smiled and nodded. The old man said we were the new kids on the block, but truth be told, I wasn’t. At least, I had some idea of the dangers and difficulties we would face on the journey ahead. 

As long as Lian’er wasn’t afraid, I would never hold her back. 

“Good!” The old man exclaimed as he heard that, slamming his hand down on the table. “Since we’re all not afraid to die, it’s settled! I’ll find us a good guide and we’ll head out tomorrow!”

Having shouted that, he got up and strode out. He took two steps before he remembered something and turned back to say, “Oh, one more thing, I almost forgot. I bought a set of Hufu and put it in the room. It’s Zhu’s size. We’ll be in foreign territory once we leave the pass. It’s not safe out there, so it’s better to dress like a man. Remember to change into that.”

I froze, but then came to my senses. Just as I was about to nod, Lian’er suddenly looked indignant.

“Wait a minute, Godfather!” She took my arm and pointed, saying, “Why should she be the one in disguise? If anyone should do it, it should be me, right? Look at her, she looks like she could be blown away by the wind, and she’s weak and not as strong as me, and…” She gave me a once-over and continued indignantly, “She’s not even taller than me!”

This was the second time today that she fussed over something like this, and it made me wonder. Lian’er should be very confident in her looks, and she wouldn’t have compared herself to me. Even if she had come to have the mind to compare, this attitude…was not like her.

“Jadey, why are you making such a fuss over this little thing?” The old man saved me from the situation with one sentence. He stood there and glared at her, saying, “Zhu is a bit delicate, but at least she can pull off the disguise. Those barbarians are not used to seeing men from the Central Plains, so they might think men in Central Plains look like this. But you? Don’t make me laugh! Where in the world can you find such a beautiful man? Not even the red-bearded devils from the West will fall for it!”

[1] Ox’s nose is a nickname for Taoists. There are two common explanations as to why they’re called ox noses. One is that the Taoist’s hairdo resembles the nose of an ox. The second is that the founder of Taoism, Laozi, was said to ride an ox wherever he went. Ox was later used to refer to Laozi, so Taoists are called ox’s nose.
[2] It’s the first half of a poem written by Wang Han during the Tang dynasty. If anyone is interested in the whole poem, you can look up “Liangzhou verse by Wang Han.”

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 70 Thousands of Miles

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 70

Thousands of Miles

Humans are selfish creatures. When it comes to this, I’m no different from the woman.

The woman was aware that the sword manual was a stolen property and that it was against morality to take it, but she asked for it anyway. I, on the other hand, remembered that in the middle of the questioning. I sympathized with her, but I didn’t speak up for her. 

The reason she wanted the sword manual was to learn the martial arts so as to escape from the grasp of Tie Feilong, and the reason I didn’t speak up for her was because I wanted Tie Feilong to go all out on helping Lian’er to get back the sword manual without anyone to tie him down. In my mind—instead of saying it’s a vague memory, it’s more like a hunch—I had a hunch that it was never going to be an easy task. It might even be a perilous journey where a lot of things could happen. 

On this perilous path, Lian’er should have the full support of Tie Feilong. Just for this reason, I didn’t want to change anything recklessly, so I remained silent and stood by. I couldn’t afford to plead mercy for her.

But poor Tie Shanhu, she had to accept her fate and wander in jianghu alone.

I remembered that she, despite being harsh and childish before, was a person with a strong sense of loyalty. Her action now proved it. She stood beside me, tears streaming down her face, but she was still looking into the woods with eager eyes. When she saw the woman stumbling out of the woods, she rushed forward, her eyes red with tears. She took a few steps and stopped, fiercely wiping her tears with her sleeve before calling, “Aunt Ke, are—are you okay?”

The woman had blood on her forehead. She was staggering forward with her head down. Suddenly stopped by the girl’s call, she came to a halt and looked up in confusion. When she saw the girl, her already pale face lost even more color. Her lips quivered for a moment before she forced a sad smile and said, “Ah Hu, Aunt Ke got what she wanted, though for the wrong reasons, so being an evil person for once didn’t go in vain. Your father said I’ve ruined his name. I don’t think so. If we were to settle accounts, I owe him nothing, but you…I feel guilty about you. I’m ashamed to see you. In this vast world, you have to take care of yourself…next life…if there’s one, I’m still willing to take care of you…”

After she finished her words with sorrow and gave a bitter smile, she continued on her way, brushing past the girl without looking back. The girl just stared at her bleakly, her face devoid of emotion, even her tears had dried up. 

Although I chose to stand by and let things come to this point, I couldn’t be indifferent seeing their pain. Besides, there was nothing to worry about at this point. It was out of the thought of compensating that I waited here. How could I let them leave like this? I called when I saw that and spoke, “Wait, hold on.”

The woman flinched at my voice. Even though I was just beside the girl earlier, she seemed to only now notice me. With a pale face, she turned around and said stiffly, “You…why are you…forget it, what else do you want? Spit it out and let’s get this over with.”

I shook my head and said, “The truth has been revealed. I want nothing else. I just want to know what you want. You said the world is vast just now. Are you going to just turn around and walk away, leaving Miss Shanhu alone to wander by herself?”

“I…” The woman didn’t expect it would be about this. She was taken aback for a moment before she stammered, “No..I…I just…I no longer deserve…” Her voice trailed off as she appeared to be at a loss for words.

“Miss Shanhu?” I turned back to look at the girl. Behind her was a large grove of flowering trees, graced by speckles of flowers. Now it only made her seem frail and helpless. I couldn’t bring myself to see them face the fate of wandering alone. I set my mind and said, “Miss Shanhu, what do you think? Do you hate this person?”

Hearing my question, the woman became even more flustered, dropping her head like a kid waiting to be scolded, extremely anxious.

On the contrary, the teenage girl looked mature at the moment. She thought about it quietly for a moment and spoke composedly, “It’s a lie if I said I’m not upset. I blame Aunt Ke a little…” Seeing the woman looking aside embarrassedly, she sighed and continued, “But so what. No one forced me back then. I can’t blame anyone for being greedy and wanting to learn it. Even if I blame her, I can’t say I hate her…”

The girl walked over as she sighed. Without looking at me, she took the woman’s hand and said, “Aunt Ke, no matter what happened before, she’s right. From now on, we’re people with no home, wandering wherever we may go. The world is so huge. I’m young and inexperienced. Can you really leave me alone?”

Ever since the truth was revealed, the woman was either hysterical or sorrowful. Her face was bloodless, but not a drop of tear was shed. The moment she heard that, tears were rolling down her face. She held the girl’s hand back and said, “Good, good, as long as you don’t hate me. We’ll go together. There’s nothing to be afraid of wandering in jianghu. I’ve been running around jianghu performing since I was young. I’ve seen everything. Ah Hu, don’t be afraid.”

“Mm!” When the girl saw that the woman cried, she rubbed her eyes, smiled with tears brimming in her eyes, and said, “If Aunt Ke said so, I’m not afraid.” Taking a breath, she turned to the side, and now she was looking at me. She said, “Thank you.” Then she held the woman’s hand and left, both of them walking more firmly than before, no longer stumbling like when they came out of the woods. 

I didn’t stop them. Before they went too far away, I took a breath and shouted, “If you face any difficulties or are tired of wandering in the future, you can go to Mount Dingjun in southern Shaanxi. There’s a stronghold there, inhabited by women troops. Just say the name Jade Rakshasa, you’ll be safe there!”

Worried that it might be heard by the ones in the woods, I didn’t speak too loudly. Fortunately, the wind was blowing in the right direction. The two women walked along the dirt road. One of them waved from afar, indicating that she had heard it. Of course, it was entirely up to them whether they would go there in the future. 

After shouting that, I watched the two figures leave in silence, slowly fading into a tiny black spot and disappearing over the horizon. I could say that I had done everything that I could, but somehow my heart was filled with melancholy. Traveling with no return. The word “wandering” held a hundred feelings. Only those who had experienced it could truly know. I remembered this day, but I couldn’t see into the next day. I could only hope that everything went well for them. 

Standing on the hillside, I was deep in thought and didn’t realize how long I had been standing there. When I came around, I realized that I had wasted too much time. Even though I trusted old man Tie’s integrity and vaguely remembered that he was supposed to help Lian’er, it was hard to say that he wouldn’t lose his mind. After all, he just abandoned his daughter and wife and went through a major change in his life. Besides, Lian’er was known for speaking with no filter. What if she started arguing with him, and he ended up fighting her with his life?. 

As these thoughts crossed my mind, I felt uneasy and turned around, about to head into the woods. Two steps in, I suddenly heard…laughter coming from the woods?

Before I could be shocked, I saw two people emerge from the woods, an old man and a young girl. The old man was tall and imposing, while the young girl was elegant and graceful. Who else would they be if not Lian’er and Tie Feilong? I was worried that the two of them would start fighting if they couldn’t get along, but the reality was Lian’er was joyful with a smile on her face, even the old man, although there was still a trace of sadness in his frowned brows, no longer looked heavy. I didn’t know what Lian’er did, but she managed to brighten the old man up. Despite his lingering sorrow, he was talking like usual with her.

“Ah, there you are. What are you doing foolishly standing there all alone on the hillside?” The girl came out of the woods, and upon scanning her surroundings, she quickly spotted me and called. She strode over, grabbed my left hand, and said with a smile, “Come, quick, kneel and kowtow three times. Accept him as your godfather.”

“Godfather?” I was utterly dumbfounded. For a moment, I didn’t know what she was up to, and during that time, the old man came over with an “ay” and said, stroking his beard, “Where’s your manner, Jadey? How can you just come up like this and ask her to kneel down and accept me as her godfather?” Although his words were reproachful, his tone was calm, his expression was composed, and the way he referred to her sounded much closer. 

“You don’t understand, godfather. She and I have been together since we were young. We eat together and live together under one master. I accepted you as my godfather. There’s no reason she wouldn’t do the same.” Lian’er turned around and smiled at the old man. Then she shot a glance at me and said, “Quick, are you going to kowtow or not? If you don’t, I’ll get along with godfather and not talk to you anymore.”

These two were both quirky. I already knew that, especially the young one. I thought I was quite familiar with her personality, but it still caught me off guard when I was faced with this situation. These people were threatening to kill each other a moment ago, with quite a bit of rivalry between them, while the other just kicked his daughter and wife out and became an old single man. How did they suddenly become a joyful pair of godparent and godchild?

I was taken aback. Lian’er didn’t give me time to think. When she saw me hesitating, she puckered her face angrily and threw me a menacing look. Seeing her like this, I had no time to be shocked. I smiled and said, “Do you really want me to accept him as my godfather?” After she gave me a knowing look, I grinned and said, “Hero Tie surely is a man of honor and virtue. It’s a great honor to accept him as my godfather. I’m happy to oblige, but I have to remind you Lian’er, so you don’t blame me later for not telling you earlier, that once we both accept him as our godfather, you’ll have to call me sister.”

Her smile faded as soon as she heard that. She thought about it for a while and said, “No, no.” Then she gave me a light push, ran to the old man, and said in a pout, “Godfather, promise me that you only accept me as your goddaughter. It’s fine to have a younger sister, but I don’t want an older sister.” 

Old man Tie was amused by her antics and laughed, “Even if you don’t accept her as your sister, she is still your martial sister, isn’t? Are the things you said earlier about eating and living together under one master not true?”

“Yes, we eat and live together under one master, but she’s not my martial sister.” Lian’er pouted and said, “I have to respect seniority if we’re martial sisters. I don’t want her to be above me. Me being above her is more like it.”

This was the first time I heard her say this in all these years. Although I had expected it, I couldn’t help but shake my head and smile. There was nothing I could do about her. Old man Tie’s temperament surprisingly meshed well with Lian’er’s. After hearing what she said, he nodded in agreement, “Makes sense. The rules about seniority are too much of a hassle. It’s better if we don’t follow, it’s better if we don’t follow, haha.”

As they continued to chat, the sorrowful atmosphere dissolved until we stepped into the Tie’s Manor courtyard. The old man became sad again when he saw the surroundings. Lian’er and I noticed when we were making dinner that he was alone in the parlor, touching the table and chair armrests, looking lonely. At that moment, he was merely a gray-haired old man. It struck a string in my heart, and I understood why Lian’er did what she did. 

Sure enough, Lian’er saw that too after following my gaze. She smiled, went to him, and said, “Right, godfather, when are we going to look for the sword manual?” Old man Tie snapped out of his daze and said, “What’s the hurry? I’ll definitely get your baby back for you. You don’t believe what I said?”

“I can’t be asking you to get the sword manual back by yourself, can I?” Shaking her head, Lian’er said with a smile. The old man put on a straight face and said, “Since I’ve promised you, it’s my business. Do you think I can’t retrieve it by myself?” She didn’t take it seriously and said, “Godfather, I have faith in you, but you may feel lonely if you go alone. We can be your companions and ease your boredom. Isn’t that great?” As she spoke, it sounded like a daughter speaking to her father. I was a little surprised as I listened.

Old man Tie had a straight temper. When he heard what Lian’er said, a loving expression appeared on his face. It seemed like he really saw her as her daughter. He patted her head and said in all seriousness, “Jadey, I’m happy that you’re thinking about me, but Jin Duyi who’s stolen the sword manual has some history. Not only would it be dangerous, it’d be a long journey. I’m afraid you can’t go.” 

Lian’er wanted to say something after hearing that. I didn’t understand, so I walked up to him and chimed in, “Sir, I haven’t been in jianghu for a long time and I wasn’t in the woods just now, so I don’t understand what you mean. Hope you could enlighten me.”

“Cut the sir thing.” The old man looked at me and said, stroking his beard, “Since you’re close to Jadey, you’re half a daughter to me. It’s nice to be called sir, but it feels distant after some time. You can call me whatever you feel like. If you can’t think of anything, you can call me old man Tie.”

“…Then I’ll graciously accept it and call you old man.” I smiled and nodded. 

Later, the old man explained the situation to me. It turned out when the woman left, she had told him in detail about the three people who had stolen the sword manual. Tie Feilong knew all of them, but he wasn’t close to them. The two accomplices were some little-known people in jianghu, so there was no need to mention them. However, the gang leader was particularly tricky to deal with.

The person’s name was Jin Duyi. He had been famous for over thirty years. The martial arts he practiced, Yin Feng Du Sha Zhang (Yin Wind Venomous Gravel Palm), was extremely malicious. Not only were both his palms filled with poison, his palm strikes were also powerful, the chill from the strikes would seep into the skin like a ghost. Many years ago, he had caused trouble in the Central Plains and his behaviors were eccentric. Finally, he incited public anger in Wulin. He narrowly survived a major battle. After that, he went into hiding in the western region. Although he took in disciples here and there, he couldn’t cause much chaos in the western frontier. However, the old man didn’t expect that after many years, he would secretly return to the Central Plains again. Somehow, he got the information and went to steal the sword manual that Taoist Zhenqian was supposed to bring to Mount Heaven.

“This person is cunning and vicious. He’s strong. It’ll make him even stronger if he learns the sword techniques. I cannot allow that to happen.” Toward the end, old man Tie got serious and said, “That’s why I’ve decided to head northwest and ask around the fellow members of jianghu for any information along the way. If I can find out his whereabouts, that’d be the best. If not, I’ll continue my journey and head straight to his old lair in the northwest! Even if I can’t get him, I’ll definitely find out his whereabouts!”

“Way to go, sir!” Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but compliment. The western regions were far away. Even in times where transportation was easily accessible, you couldn’t just go on a whim. He made it sound like a simple stroll after a meal. As someone who traveled a lot, I was genuinely impressed. 

“Of course, I always keep my word.” The old man, pleased with what he heard, seemed to have forgotten what he asked of me and stroked his short beard, closing his eyes. Then he opened his eyes and said, “That’s exactly why. I may be away for as little as a couple of months or as long as a year. It’s not okay for both of you to come with me, especially for you, Jadey,  as the head of a stronghold, you can’t leave for too long. Now that we’re about to part, I don’t have any gift to welcome you as my goddaughter. Your level of martial arts is higher than mine. I have nothing to teach you, but I’ve gained insights in internal cultivation. I’ll leave a book for you tomorrow. You can read it in your free time. You’ll benefit from it.”

His words were heartfelt. To the end, he was even willing to pass on the experience and insights he had gained from decades of practicing internal cultivation. I was delighted for Lian’er, but Lian’er didn’t seem thrilled. She didn’t show much emotion after hearing that. Instead, she lowered her head and seemed to be lost in thought. After a while, as if having made up her mind, she looked up and said, “Godfather, we’ll go with you!”

She spoke with resolution. Old man Tie was startled. Standing beside them, I frowned and said, “Lian’er, what about Mount Dingjun? We might have to leave for over a year, and you’re the head of the stronghold.”

“What’s the big deal? Mount Dingjun is different from what it used to be. It’s already on track and has formed alliances with the surrounding clans. Even if something big were to happen, we’ve got our back covered. Everything will be under control.” The young lady waved her hand, as if there was nothing to worry about, and said with a smile, “I’ll write a letter tomorrow. Godfather, you can have someone deliver it to the stronghold, and everything will be taken care of. It’ll be fine even if we’re away for a year or so!”

“Alrighty, since you’ve said so, what else can this old man say?” The old man, straightforward in nature, no longer said otherwise after hearing what Lian’er said. He guffawed and said, “In that case, let’s get some good rest tonight. We’ll set out tomorrow!”

They stayed in the Tie Manor that night. Although the old man had kicked his daughter out, his love for her remained, so he kept Tie Shanhu’s room and arranged a guest room for each of us. We went to rest and recharge for the night. 

Perhaps I went to bed too early, and there was something weighing on my mind. I lay in bed tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. After flipping around a few times, I gave up trying and got out of bed. I draped a robe over my shoulders and strolled to the courtyard. The northwest was cool and breezy at night. In the courtyard stood a towering old tree, reaching up to the night sky. Although it was tall and mighty, it stood alone in the moonlight, with its branches swaying gently in the wind, giving off a sense of desolation.

Looking up and stroking the dry bark of the old tree, I didn’t know what I was feeling. Suddenly, a familiar voice caught my ear.

“What are you doing, not sleeping and wearing so little?” I turned around and saw the young lady emerge from the shadows of the corridor. She came to me and grabbed my left hand, but she immediately furrowed her brows and said, “It’s so cold. Your injury isn’t fully healed yet. Are you trying to make yourself sick standing in the wind like this, so you can stay in bed tomorrow and not have to go with us tomorrow?”

I had no idea where her strange logic came from. I burst out into laughter and said, “What are you thinking? I went to bed too early tonight and just can’t sleep. What about you? Why aren’t you in bed and ended up here in the courtyard?”

The young lady grunted and said, turning her head, “I was writing a letter. Writing a letter is such a hassle. Why can’t I just write like how I’d normally speak? All those flowery words hurt my brain. I got frustrated, so I came out to get some fresh air.”

“Lian’er…” Hearing her talk about writing a letter, it triggered something that was on my mind. I called her, looked at her, and asked, “Are you really going to leave everything behind and leave the Central Plains like this, traveling to the west with the old man? Won‘t you…miss the life here?’”

Yes, I didn’t have anything I care about here except the person in front of me, but she was already a member of jianghu. She had a reputation, a base, all kinds of ambitions, many people she had known, even potentially a like-minded…someone.

“Miss? Miss what?” At this moment, she looked at me with a confused face. After asking the question, as if she suddenly thought of something, she said nervously, “Who said I’m going with him? WE are going to go with him! You said before that you’ll go wherever I go. No backing out now, no matter how long the journey is!”

In the moonlight, I saw the young lady’s nervous and serious face. She was speaking so seriously, too seriously in fact. It made me laugh. I chuckled and said, “Wherever you go, I go. Even if it’s thousands of miles away and far beyond. I won’t regret it.”

I would even be more than happy to do so.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 69.2 Chase

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 69.2


As soon as she said that, the old man Tie’s face changed. He asked in a quavering voice, “What do you mean by that?” Red-eyed, the girl looked at the woman beside her and bit her lip before saying whisperingly, “It’s…it’s Aunt Ke who got it…”

In that instant, the face of the woman beside her turned ashen, the old man’s eyes shot red, and Lian’er guffawed. After laughing, she fell silent, her face turned cold, and she said seriously, “Old man Tie, I wasn’t wrong about you, was I?”

I walked to her silently and tugged at her before she became too unforgiving. Then I went to the old man and said calmly, “Sir, let’s find out what’s going on first before you decide on anything. Maybe there’s a reason or it’s just a coincidence.”

The old man’s face was frosty. He ignored what I said, his teeth clenched tight, and continued to shout at his daughter, “Then be honest with me! Don’t try to hide anything, not even a single word!”

“Two—two months ago, when I stopped to take a break in a small shop in Jixian town on my way home, I saw a Taoist with a blackening face sitting on the ground, unable to move…” The girl was sobbing, wiping her tears with her sleeve as she spoke softly, “The shopkeeper said that he had an emergency illness and was afraid that he would die in his shop, so he wanted to get him out. I—I pitied him. Out of curiosity, I went to take a look. The Taoist was good. He knew that I knew martial arts as soon as he saw me. He said, ‘Miss, do you have a sword with you?’ Then he wanted me to tear his clothes open, gouge out the rotting flesh an inch below his shoulder blade, and take the poison needle out for him…” 

I exchanged looks with Lian’er, thinking that it was certainly Taoist Zhenqian. Lian’er said that his blood was black when he died. It turned out he was actually poisoned. 

Old man Tie pressed her, “Did that Taoist know that you’re my daughter?” The girl answered, “He didn’t know at first, but I told him later. He told me, ‘I know your father was a righteous man. Please tell him that I have a sword manual. Someone entrusted me to bring it to Huo Tiandu. Now it was stolen. If I die, please ask him to try to send this message to Mount Heaven and ask Huo Tiandu to avenge my death!”

Old man Tie’s livid face brightened slightly when he heard that. He stroke his beard and said, “That Taoist is something.” He actually cared about other people’s praise of him even if he was no longer young. He would have almost smiled if the situation hadn’t been tense. 

Unfortunately, the girl didn’t see it. She kept on, her head down, “Later, he wrote a prescription and asked me to get the medicine. I went out with the prescription. Those pharmacies didn’t have all the herbs. There’s always something missing. I went to a few pharmacies and finally managed to get all the herbs. Suddenly—suddenly, I ran into Aunt Ke who came to look for me…”

The old man let out an “um” and said, “You’d been gone for a long time, so I asked her to look for you.” The girl said, sobbing, “I told Aunt Ke about it, and we went to see the old Taoist together, but the old Taoist was gone. Instead, I saw two men were looking for the old Taoist, an old man and a young man. They seemed to know Aunt Ke and even sent their regards to you, but Aunt Ke suddenly wanted to talk outside to one of them whose surname’s Jin…”

Old man Tie let out a snort and scolded the woman, “Look at what you and the others have done!” The woman cried, “I was just trying to force him to cough up what he’s stolen.” The old man didn’t care and said, “Alright, Shan Hu, you go on!” The girl wiped her tears and looked at the woman again before saying, “We went to a secluded area. Aunt Ke asked the old man to hand over the Taoist’s sword manual. At first, the old man said he didn’t have it, but he admitted later after we forced him…”

At this point, Lian’er couldn’t help but sneer. Her cold eyes darted between the three of them. She even ignored the look I gave her asking her to stop it. It made old man Tie turn around and say lividly, “Jade Rakshasa, what are you rushing for? The sword manual will be yours if it’s yours!” He continued to ask her daughter, “Did they hand over the sword manual later?”

“They didn’t want to at first. Aunt Ke said they either hand over the sword manual, she would read it and give it back to them or she would rat them out. The old man Jin agreed. He said that he will come and take it back in two months…” The girl replied, biting her lip. 

“Why didn’t you tell me!” The old man kept on, anger filled his face, but the girl stayed silent until the person next to her cut in coldly, “It’s me who asked her not to tell you.”

The woman’s voice was level, though her face remained pale. It seemed like she had given up. She said, her face vacant, “I was curious, so I asked for the sword manual and dragged Ah Hu along to try it out at a place where there’s no one. I found out that it was an amazing manual. The sword techniques on the manual were ingenious, something great that holds deep knowledge, so I asked Shan Hu to secretly learn it with me. Ah Hu only agrees because I convinced her.”

“Then what about the death of the Taoist!” Seeing that she confessed, Lian’er pressed on. The woman looked at her and said, “Later, the Taoist asked to meet with Sir at Mount Qingfeng through other means. I felt guilty about it, so I followed along. Then the city went into mayhem. Ah Hu was screaming for help by the hill, and Sir didn’t have time to look for the Taoist. I ran into him instead.”

The old man glared at her and said, “Not only did you take the sword manual, you really killed him?” The fear the woman had earlier was gone. She said without lifting her eyes, “When I saw him in the cave, the poison in him had kicked in. He’s dying, looking like he’s in great pain. He begged me to give him a quick death. I had an ulterior motive when I did that, but it’s not a murder.“

At this point, the truth was revealed. Everything she said fit. What she said was probably true. Looking at the two cowering ladies, I pitied them. The old man looked very disappointed. Suddenly, he trembled and said, “Okay, okay, give them back their sword manual first.”

The woman said calmly, “It was stolen that night at Mount Qingfeng or rather it was returned.”

When Lian’er heard that, her face changed. She blew up and said, “How dare you deny it! Are you looking for trouble!” The woman said nothing, but the girl chimed in, crying, “It’s true! Aunt Ke told me on the way back that night that there were two middle-aged men coming out of the city. Their clothes seemed to have been burned with black ash stains all over. They met up with Jin on the hill. When they saw Aunt Ke, they demanded the sword manual. Aunt Ke was too afraid to refuse!”

Lian’er didn’t believe it. I recalled that night’s conversation on the roof next to the burning town hall with Wang Zhaoxi and Zhuo Yihang. They also mentioned two middle-aged men. Both of their stories matched. I felt it was true, so I shook my head at Lian’er and said, “I can confirm that. There were these two people that day.”

Lian’er glared at me. Old man Tie on the other side said in a loud voice, “Jade Rakshasa, I’ll take care of your sword manual. I’ll get it back for you even if it means going to the ends of the earth!” Only then did Lian’er say, “Alright then, we’ll see,” as if she still didn’t believe it. 

The old man ignored her. He reached out to stroke her daughter’s hair, as loving as treating a child. The girl met his gaze, but she flinched. She called, “Dad, what’s the matter?”

I only watched until then before I walked up to Lian’er and said beside her ear, “I’ll go out of the woods for a while.” She was focused on what was happening. When she heard that, she didn’t ask any questions. She looked back wonderingly and told me, “What for? Don’t go too far no matter what you do.” Then she turned back, but her hand was still holding on to my clothes until I answered with a chuckle, “Okay, I’ll be right by the woods.” Only then did she let loose, but then she waved her hand like shooing a bug, as if she was annoyed. 

I smiled and left quietly. I took a small turn in the woods, avoiding the three without alarming them. They probably have no time to care about what others do. I went around to the outside of the woods. Shortly after, I heard someone in the woods shouting, “Dad, dad!” and there was an old man yelling, “You were eyeing the sword manual of another school and lied to your father! From now on, you’re no longer my daughter. Go! You’re not allowed to use my name out there!”

I sighed when I heard that. It went on for a little while longer, then the girl said woefully, “Dad, take care!” After that, I heard heavy footsteps stumbling this way.

“Miss Hu, hold on.” Waiting here, I called to stop her when I saw a figure was coming out. Even though I tried to be as gentle as possible when I spoke, it still startled her. The girl’s body shivered, her face covered in tears. The glow she had when she was picking flowers earlier and her arrogance when she stepped on people’s shoulders in the city were gone. When she saw me stop in front of her, she bit her lip, holding on to the last thread of pride, and said, “You…what else do you want? Do you want to keep humiliating me?”

I shook my head and answered calmly, “Miss Shan Hu, you’ve got me wrong. You reap what you sow. We’re just a trigger. Have you seen me doing anything inappropriate or throwing insults? What I’m looking for is just an answer.”

“Reap what I sow…” She laughed bitterly. After a while, she said, “Right, now I have suffered the consequences, so please get out of my way. What are you stopping me for?”

I pointed at the woods with my left finger and said, “Miss Shan Hu, you had made a split-second mistake. You’re also a victim and got involved to the point of expulsion from the family. Do you not want to know what punishment the person, the one who got you involved, will get? What consequence she will face?”

Dazed, she looked over in the direction I was pointing, and her eyes went wide open. After a moment, she shuddered. As if woken up from a dream, she muttered, “Aunt Ke…Aunt Ke…” A look of pain streaked across her face, and she said in a panic, “Dad, dad—dad will kill her, he’ll kill her!”

“You don’t want her to die? She’s the one who got you kicked out of the family.” I tilted my head and looked at the girl’s reaction. She kept shaking her head and said, as if talking to herself, “Aunt Ke…Aunt Ke meant well. She didn’t mean to hurt me. You don’t understand. She had a hard life, hard life…” As she spoke, she seemed to have come around. She tugged at my sleeve and said, “No, dad is very mad this time. He even disowns me. He would really kill her! My words mean nothing to him anymore. You go plead for mercy, quick, you can’t let her die!”

While she was pestering me, a hysterical laugh came from the woods. A woman’s voice was shrieking, “Old man, I’ve given up this life long ago. Kill me!” Then an old, commanding man’s voice sounded, “You stole someone’s sword manual and ruined my reputation. You deserve to die! What do you have to complain about!”

The girl was pulling at my sleeve. She flinched when she heard that and quieted down, looking at the woods, her lips trembling. Then I heard the woman’s voice go on. She laughed and said, “When my father died in a foreign land, I had no money to bury him, so I was forced to sell my body. After I was married to you, a young wife to an old man, gray hair and a young face, you claimed that you wanted to honor your ex-wife, so you treated me like a concubine. You always shout. I have to put on a smile in front of you. Do you really think I like you! I’m not afraid to tell you now. The reason I secretly learn the sword techniques is so that I can escape one day! It’s good to kill me now. I don’t want to live this life anymore!”

The woman’s voice was full of pain and sorrow. Every word bled agony. Even I was dumbfounded by what I heard, not to mention the girl. As if I felt the same, my heart welled up with sorrow. I was frozen for a moment before I snapped back. Just as I was about to rush in, I heard a roar from the woods, “Go! I never want to see you again!”

When the girl heard the roar, she faltered and sighed as if a weight was lifted off her chest, but tears kept trickling down her face. I was secretly relieved. My heart was pumping, beating a little faster than usual.

With all the things happening in this world, even if you are prepared for it and know what will happen, when you’re actually facing it, looking at those tears, listening to those cries, who dare say that they are heartless, that they can steel their heart and be as indifferent as the God in heaven. 

At least, I can’t. 

At least in the face of certain people and things.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 69.1 Chase

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 69.1


Lian’er said that we were going after them, but when we went down the hill and continued for not more than half a mile, she suddenly stopped and wanted to take me back. 

I was worried, wondering if she had come around, thought that what the other people said was right and changed her mind since I actually acted out of emotion. It was more reasonable if she did as they said, act after planning. 

With my concern, I sounded her out. What followed was the girl’s snicker. Lian’er didn’t know what I was nervous about. She smiled and said, “Why would I change my mind? I just thought that we probably wouldn’t be able to catch up to them even if we go after them now, so we might as well go back to the inn, get our stuff, and head directly to that old thief’s lair tomorrow. Look at you. Your face is pale from all the running.”

I only found out that Lian’er had heard about that person before when she explained it again on the way. Even though it hadn’t been three years since she came into jianghu, she knew about both the orthodox and outlaw heroes. The old man, Tie from Longmen, was a famous eccentric around the north-west region, falling in between good and evil. He had done both good and bad things. If anyone offended him, no good would come of it for that person. 

“I thought although he was a weird character, he’s still prideful and decent. Who knows he’s different from what I’ve heard. He actually encouraged his daughter to steal our sword manual. He even killed someone!” Toward the end, Lian’er became angry and said, “When I saw that Taoist Zhenqian’s blood was black, I thought he’d died of poisoning, but when I looked closely, his jaw bone was fractured. It’s obvious that he’s hit and crushed with a palm. His throat was destroyed with a neigong technique. It looks exactly like the old man Tie’s doing. No mistake!”

I silently listened to her all the way, thinking to myself that with Tie Feilong’s level of martial skills, it seemed unnecessary for him to use poison if he wanted to steal the sword manual. Besides, after tonight’s fight, I knew that the old man’s hard style martial skills were already at its highest level. No matter how brilliant Master’s sword manual was, he couldn’t be learning it from the beginning again, right? But what Lian’er said made sense too. I had my doubts but I put those aside first, thinking that it wasn’t too late to confront him about it when we saw him. 

Putting my thoughts aside, we went back to the inn and rested until the next morning. Lian’er woke her subordinates and told them that they didn’t have to come along and asked them to meet with the others at Wang Zhaoxi’s place. Then she packed up and checked out. She didn’t forget to bring me to the clinic and do one more round of check-up. Only when the old doctor said that my bones were healing well did she leave Yan’an Mansion pleased.

We didn’t hurry after we left Yan’an Mansion. We asked around as we traveled. A few days to the northeast, we arrived at Longmen County that the old man had mentioned. The road we took that day was flanked by rocky cliffs, and the muddy river was raging. It was perilous. Looking around, there was no one, only a few sails on the river in the distance. 

We had asked about the location in the inn earlier. After traveling for a little more and passing through a valley, a village came into view. We learned that it was Tie Family Manor after asking the old farmer at the village entrance. 

When we entered the village, Lian’er brought up the name, Tie Fenglong. Everyone in the village knew about him. They said we could find him at the courtyard house on the top of the hill. Some of them looked wary and asked us in a thick accent why we were looking for him. Lian’er was straightforward, so it was on me to gloss it over smilingly with some ambiguous answers. Villagers were simple, after all. Seeing that we were two young ladies, they didn’t ask much and let us in. 

As we went further in, the courtyard house the villagers talked about slowly came into view. A girl’s ringing laugh suddenly came from the woods beside the hill tracks. It sounded somewhat familiar. I suddenly remembered something, so I stopped. I grabbed Lian’er and made a silent gesture at her, then I bent down and went into the woods to investigate. 

Stealthily, I looked into the woods and saw two women walking in the woods, one behind another. It seemed like they were taking a walk. The older one who dressed like a young married woman was holding a scissor. Whenever she saw a nice flower on the branch, she snipped it and passed it to the young lady behind her. The young lady already had her hands full of flowers, but it seemed to her that it wasn’t enough. She still smiled every time she took the flower. 

When we saw their faces, Lian’er beside me couldn’t hold still, wanting to rush to them, but I stopped her in time. I shook my head and said softly next to her ear, “Listen to me first…” Somehow, she tensed for a second and scratched her ear awkwardly, but after that, she quieted down and stopped moving. 

As we hid in the bushes holding our breath, the two ladies in the woods were approaching this way. Their voices were becoming clearer. The young girl asked with the flowers in her hands, “Aunt Ke, we’ve been walking for a while. Do you want to rest for a while?” The young woman said with a smile, “Ah Hu, you’re getting mischievous. I’m serving your father, not having the same age as your father. It’s just a short walk. Are you going to treat me like I’m an old woman?”

She was acting bratty and capricious the last time we met, but she was well-behaved when she was with this woman. She said, “Aunt Ke, what’re you talking about? I’m worried about you. It’s only been a few days since dad took the needle out of your shoulder. Isn’t your wound still fresh?”

When the woman heard what she said, she replied, “Nah, it’s just a silver needle. How bad would it be?” But her hand subconsciously went to rub on her shoulder. The girl saw it. She said angrily, “Seriously, you were just trying to help him. He let you get hurt and let her get away with it, not to mention he didn’t even appreciate it. It’s too much. Should we make a vegetarian dinner for him?”

“Ah Hu, you’d better not bring this up in front of your father.” The woman looked flustered when she heard that. She turned around, stood still, and said to the girl with a serious expression, “It seems like the sword manual might actually belong to them. We’re in the wrong. It’s better to keep it low. We’ll be in trouble if the old man knows about it.”

“You two wretched thieves, shameless bitch!” Lian’er could no longer stay hidden when she heard them talking about the sword manual. With a shout, she sprang out of the bushes. As soon as she landed in front of them, she scolded, “It turned out you really do have our sword manual. What is your excuse now? Brace yourself!” She reached out as she said, wanting to grab them. 

Shaking my head, I got up and went out with her. I wasn’t worried. I brushed off the grass on me and watched them fight. Both of them were shocked at the turn of events. They saw Lian’er was coming at them. How could they let it happen without a fight? So they fought back immediately. One held the scissor, and the other drew out her flute. When I saw that Lian’er was going to draw her sword, afraid that it might hurt someone, I said, “Take them alive, so we can interrogate them right away. Then they can’t accuse us of bullying them for no reason.”

Lian’er rolled her eyes at me reluctantly, but she didn’t talk against me. She gave a laugh at the two and said, “Bold of you to pull this on me. Let’s see how I‘ll catch you!” With the sheath still on, she spun her sword a little with her left hand, blocking the woman out, and her right hand snapped out. In two moves, she snatched the girl’s jade flute. She flicked and prodded her with the flute, pushing her back. The girl let out a cry and fell on the ground. 

“Ah Hu!” When the woman saw the girl fall on the ground, she got worried. She strode in front of Lian’er, thrusted the scissor and slashed to the right. Before going all the way, the blade suddenly turned back. She was using the scissor like a sword, and the technique she used was a unique killing move from our sword techniques. Although she wasn’t skilled with the way she was using it, it was no doubt she had seen the sword manual before. 

Lian’er knew that too. She laughed when she saw that. With a drop of her sheath, she countered the move. Then she turned the sword and swung with the hilt, thrusted at her rib. Even though the woman had secretly learned the sword technique, she only learned it for a short time and had yet to get familiar with the move. How could she have blocked it? At that moment, the acupoints around her ribs were struck, and she flopped to the ground. 

It had only been a few moments since they started fighting, and the fight was already over. Lian’er pulled back. As she was about to bend down and grab her, a shout came from the direction of the hill. It was the old man, Tie, who heard the noise and came over. When he came close and saw what happened. He glanced at her and said in rage, “You’ve gone too far, Jade Rakshasa! You came to us, yet you ignored jianghu’s courtesy? What do they have against you that you have to do this!”

It had been a few days. It wasn’t surprising that he knew Lian’er’s nickname. If I let them continue, I feared that there would be an unnecessary fight. I was ready for it. When I saw he lifted his palm, I jumped in front of him, blocking him from Lian’er. I bowed and said, “Calm down, sir. There’s a reason for this. I can explain. Please listen to me before you do anything.”

“Hmph! Why do I have to listen to you cunning thieves?” Even though Lian’er couldn’t strike in time because she was busy grabbing the girl, she still said unrelentingly, “People from the Tie’s family just can’t keep their hands out of the till. He’s no better. Perhaps the one who killed Taoist Zhenqian is him!”

Before I could turn around, the old man Tie heard what she was implying. He glared at her and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Nonsense! What killing? You little brat, don’t you dare accuse me!” Lian’er grabbed the girl with one hand and replied, sneering, “Why are you still pretending? If you didn’t steal our sword manual, how come we came across Taoist Zhenqian’s body on the top of the hill that night? And how come your beloved family knows about our Master’s secret sword technique!”

The old man bawled when he heard that, jumped over my head, and landed in front of Lian’er, but he didn’t attack. He just shouted, “Wait! Let me ask them about it!” He helped the two up and said with a serious voice, “What’s going on here!” His voice wasn’t loud, but it was unusually stern. Both of their expressions broke. The girl looked down, looking fearful. The woman was trembling, biting down on her lip, and her eyes seemed to fill with endless fear. 

The old man Tie probably felt something wasn’t right when he saw that. His face turned livid. He snapped at the woman and asked, “Jiu Niang! Did you steal their sword manual?” The woman said, her face turning ashen, “No, no, no…” Then he turned around and asked the girl, “Shan Hu! Did you steal her sword manual?” The girl clenched her teeth and kept quiet. 

Lian’er showed disdain for the way he asked, but she said nothing, just sneering. Her sneer made the old man uncomfortable. He put on a straight face and said in a stern voice, “Jade Rakshasa, listen! I, Tie Feilong, will never cover for my own!” Then he turned around and scolded, “Shan Hu! If you’re still my daughter, speak the truth. I’ll ask you one last time. Did you steal her sword manual?”

He threatened her with their relationship. The girl’s eyes turned red with tears, and she said, sobbing, “I’ve got one sword manual, but it was never stolen.”

Slopaw’s note:
Hey all, I’ve just set up a patreon page for early chapters. Currently, there are only 3 early chapters available. I’m planning to do a regular release of 2 chapters per week if there’s enough support. Then I can dedicate more time for translating. At the moment, I can’t guarantee a regular release because I have other priorities (also why I was gone for a long time sometimes) even though I would like to translate more. There are also other interesting baihe novels that I would like translate but I don’t have enough time for them TT. Please check out my patreon if you’re interested in early chapters or my kofi page if you would just like to give me a small tip or you can just leave a comment. Any support is greatly appreciated!

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