Author: Slopaw (Page 2 of 4)

This is Slopaw.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 27

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 27

Mark

Lian’er only believed I was fine after I wiped the blood off my hand and showed it to her.

But when it was my turn to ask her if she was okay, she always slurred it over impatiently, acting as if nothing had happened with a little…awkwardness in her movement.

Perhaps it was to hide this awkwardness, Lian’er let go of me, turned around, and went back to where she had fought. I followed behind her, and when I took a look at that place, I couldn’t help but be dumbfounded. I had just turned around for a moment, and that place was already a mess.

Although I knew from the cries and screams earlier that Lian’er didn’t go easy on them, I didn’t expect it to be so vicious. No wonder the machete before was covered with blood. She actually…

The wind brought a strong smell of blood to my nose, which made me feel a little nauseous. I closed my eyes, rubbed my brows as I covered my mouth and nose, and said in frustration: “Lian’er, aren’t you being too…harsh?”

“You’re the one who said one hand each. I haven’t even had time to finish it.” She replied apathetically, pulling me to the windward side, and went straight to those guys. While Lian’er’s attention was distracted, those who were less injured and had yet to be “finished” had fled for their lives in panic. Other than those with a broken arm who were rolling on the ground moaning, only one was still left with his limbs intact among those who were down on the ground in front of us.

“You’re good at throwing knives, eh—” Lian’er was standing in front of him. Her voice was soft, but with what happened just now, only fools couldn’t hear the anger in her voice. “But, why didn’t you come at me? Rather at the person who had nothing to do with this!”

“Fuck! You two are in it together, anyway. I hate myself for missing it!” The leader’s limbs were intact, but he had wounds everywhere. Though they were shallow, the bloody wounds made his expression particularly hideous.

“I admit defeat today, so just cut the crap and kill me if you want to. I’m not a fucking hero if I frown the slightest bit!”

After hearing him say that, followed by a snicker from Lian’er, I knew that things were going to get worse, so I ignored the smell of blood in the air, got to her in a few steps, grabbed her, who was about to make a move, and said softly: “Wait.”

Lian’er gave me a glare and barked: “Are you being soft again? He was trying to hurt you just now!”

“I’m not.” I shook my head and said: “Just have a few things to say, so let me finish it first, okay?” I tugged at her sleeve as I was saying, but she was standing still, not moving and just staring at me. It wasn’t until I gave her a pleading look that she pursed her lips and took a step back to my side with reluctance.

When the man saw me take Lian’er’s place standing in front of him, there was a subtle change in his expression. He still looked spiteful, but he was somewhat reluctant to meet my eyes and didn’t look as hideous as he was before. It seemed like the sneak attack earlier still impacted him.

Under my observation, I grew more certain of it. I looked at him and spoke coolly: “You, pride yourself as a hero?”

He snorted and turned his head to the side. I didn’t mind and kept on: “If you pride yourself as a hero. Then may I ask how do you feel about the person you call brother who bullied and tried to take advantage of a lone lady on the street today?”

He kept quiet and gritted his teeth after a while, saying: “I’d punish my brother for what he did wrong. There’s no need for you to do it for me!”

“Easy for you to say. You know how important a woman’s reputation is? If we didn’t happen to know self-defense, I’m afraid everything would have been too late, and what use would your punishment do by that time?” With that said, even I couldn’t help but sneer, and my face inadvertently showed a trace of contempt: “For heroes, chivalry and justice come first, and chivalry comes before justice. People like you who don’t care about right and wrong and only talk about brotherhood and loyalty are nothing but uncultivated bandits people spit on. Not to say that you aren’t skilled in martial arts, even if you’re at the pinnacle, you’re at best just bandits and bullies who rob and kill people and do harm to the neighborhood. You pride yourself as a hero? What a joke.”

Being rebuffed by me, the person’s expression changed a few times, a pair of fists propping up his body, scrunching the dirt ground, but he just clenched his teeth and didn’t talk back.

“Besides…” Seeing him so, I toned down my voice slightly and said: “Besides, is there really brotherhood between you and whom you call brothers? Look in front of you, when faced with strong enemies, everyone flees for their lives in the face of danger, except for those who are severely wounded and unable to get away, is there anyone willing to stay and face life and death together with you?”

As I waved my hand, he lifted his head as expected and glanced around. Looking at the few people with broken arms who were still struggling to back away bit by bit and the weapons that scattered all over the ground, he was finally disheartened. With a sigh, his head drooped, and he said dejectedly: “What’s done is done. There’s no use in talking much. If you have a heart, give me a quick one…”

“Okay, as you wish!” Lian’er was on the side. After hearing this, she replied right away, raised her palm, and was about to swing down.

I quickly held her hand and shook my head sternly at her. Then I turned back around, thought about it for a second, took out a few ingots worth of silver nuggets, squatted down, and handed them to him, saying: “This is all I have right now. Take your injured friends and go to the doctor before it’s too late.”

“…Why?” After a moment of silence, two voices asked almost simultaneously. The man’s face was full of astonishment. I couldn’t see Lian’er’s. I guess, on her face, there was anger more than anything else.

“There’s no ‘why.’ I was once given a chance to change, so I’m willing to give others a chance too.” I smiled, stood up, and walked to Lian’er, turning around to look at him one last time: “If you’re willing to change, we won’t see each other again; If you’re not, I’m afraid we won’t see each other again either. In these troubled times, being a bandit may not be much better than being a common man. You may enjoy a moment of pleasure, but the price is that you won’t get to live in peace ever again. Even after you die, your corpse will be thrown in the open, eaten by birds and animals, and die a graveless death.”

After saying that, I withdrew my gaze and nudged Lian’er with a smile, meaning, let’s go? For which Lian’er looked at me with indignation, pouting in anger. At first, she wouldn’t budge even after nudging her a few times, but suddenly, she stomped and swished further ahead on her own.

Leaving the mess behind, I quickly lightened my body with qi and went along with her.

The sound of the wind was all I heard. Lian’er was in a rage, so she was walking fast. For all the way, I could only see a light-colored shadowy figure swaying ahead. Fortunately, she hadn’t gone full speed, so I managed to keep up, but it was impossible to catch up.

I thought we would stay like this until we got back to Yellow Dragon cave, but after covering some miles and going further into the mountain, the person ahead gradually slowed down.

Delighted, I immediately took the chance and sped up. Finally, I came to her side and turned into walking side by side with her.

Although her pace had slowed down a lot, Lian’er was still unhappy and ignored me even after I talked a lot to her. Just when I was racking my brain to think about what to do, I heard a whisper suddenly coming from next to me: “Acting nice and setting a tiger free. Beware of being bitten back later.”

That was undoubtedly Lian’er’s voice, but when I looked over, she had a straight face, and her lips shut tight as if the words I just heard had nothing to do with her. This awkward look of hers was amusing, but I mustn’t laugh now, so I could only stifle it, and my lips curled slightly.

“Does it matter? Even if he tries to turn on us later, as long as Lian’er is around, what’s there for me to be afraid of, right?” That said, seeing the expression of the person beside me brighten up a lot, I couldn’t help but add: “Besides, it’s not that I haven’t been bitten before. The mark’s still there even now. It’s nothing, isn’t it?”

Beside me, her expression had just brightened up, but with my remark, it instantly changed again after she pondered dully for a while. Only this time, it was blushing more than anything else.

“That’s not the same!” A rare sight, Lian’er actually got a little sheepish. She stopped and looked at me, trying to look angry, but her face was slightly flushed: “I was small at that time and knew no martial arts, plus I saw you as an enemy…” She paused for a second and saw I was looking at her with a smile. She couldn’t carry on and yelled the last sentence as a conclusion: “In short, you’re not allowed to bring it up again.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll never bring it up again.” Bringing up this past affair was meant to liven up the atmosphere, so I just left it at that. While promising her absent-mindedly, my hand, however, was reaching to her right shoulder where the handprint was and flipped the collar, doing what I had intended to do earlier: “How’s your shoulder? Let me see.”

When I flipped it, she seemed to be frightened and hopped back a step while tugging at her collar and said with a defensive look in her eyes: “What’re you doing? I’m fine. What’re you looking at?”

If it were someone else, I might see this defensiveness as shyness, but I knew this child’s temper very well. Someone who casually sunbathed in front of me a few days ago would never react like that out of shyness. Seeing her rub her shoulder twice without realizing while we were on our way here, I knew that that hit had affected her, but if I insisted on checking it, I figured it would be difficult with Lian’er’s temper.

So, I could only resort to a devious way.

“But Lian’er, I’m afraid it’s not a good idea to go back like this, what d’you think?” Once I had made up my mind, I pointed to her clothes and said: “If you go back like this, Master will surely notice it. Then I can’t help you hide it even if I want to.”

When she was slashing people just now, she didn’t let the blood splatter onto her body out of instinct. It was indeed spotless anywhere else, but unfortunately, it was all for nothing after being hit by my blood-stained hand. The bloody red handprint on the right shoulder of the light-colored shirt was conspicuous. It was evident even in the night sky.

She probably hadn’t thought of this before. It wasn’t until she was reminded that she frowned. Perhaps because my intention to check out her shoulder was too obvious, she didn’t respond right away even though what I said was well-grounded. Instead, she pensively tilted her head. As if a thought suddenly came to her, she smiled and said: “Alright, then we’ll go clean up first before we go back.”

Right after that was said, she grabbed my hand without thinking, lightened her body with qi, and headed in the opposite direction.

My initial intention was just to find an excuse to check on her injuries while helping her with the collar. But now, things had taken an unexpected turn, and I had no choice but to follow.

Lian’er held my hand and took a few turns in a hurry on the way. The more turns she took, the denser the woods were. By the last turn, it suddenly opened up. Surrounded by lush green trees, a clear secluded pool silently appeared before my eyes.

I looked at the deep blue water and the sparkling moonlight on its surface. My breath was taken away for a moment, and when I looked at the valley behind the clear pool, there was a white line on the steep cliff, meandering down along the cliff wall, quietly flowing into the pool. You could imagine, if it was the rainy season or after a heavy rain, the white line would turn into an impressive waterfall.

Mount Hua was indeed full of winding paths leading to enchanting places. I had never been to such a place myself. While I was admiring the view, the sound of clothes rustling came from the back. I turned around subconsciously. Before I could see anything, I felt a flash before my eyes, and something was coming head-on as the sound of someone plunging into the water entered my ears.

“Lian’er?” After catching the things flying into my face and taking a look, it was nothing other than her clothes. She took them all off, and now they all ended up in my hands. Then I looked at the person in the blue water. What else was that if not a naked body?

“Lian’er!” I was embarrassed and mad, and before I could go on at her, she talked back as she swam around and said complacently: “It’s you who stained my clothes, so you should get rid of the stain for me. As for me, I’ll take this time to wash myself and get rid of the blood smell on me, in case Master notices it, perfect, isn’t it?” With that said, she giggled and no longer listened to me, just swimming further into the pool.

It was too late to lecture her. I was choked with anger and could neither let it out nor swallow it. I was holding her clothes, looking at the faint dash of white in the water. Somehow, I reached out my hand and covered my face, my mouth muttering words that even I myself didn’t understand.

“Not…not again…”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 26

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 26

Trick

I think I was supposed to be irritated.

This anger came from both the astonishment at what Lian’er had just said and the changes that happened before my eyes after that.

It wasn’t until I saw the changes that I realized.

It was getting darker, and for some reason, it was getting dark fast tonight. After Lian’er shouted, “come on out,” it got silent at one point. The wind blew past, and a few fuzzy leaves fluttered in the air. That was when I knew something was wrong.

This silence lasted for a while, and Lian’er waited patiently, like an assured hunter confronting her prey, eyes fixed on one point.

Perhaps her gaze was too assertive. It wasn’t long before the bushes in that direction began to rustle unnaturally, and then, one after another, figures started to jump out of the dark woods.

The figures were tall and sturdy, having the physique of a brawny man. There were about eight or nine of them. When they were approaching this way, their steps were steady, with a posture of strength and power. Only when they got closer did I see their faces. They were dressed in coarse shirts, of stalwart build, and dark-skinned. If it weren’t for the savagery and ferocity in their eyes, they looked no more different from the average farmers down the mountain.

But now, the one thing that really distinguished them from the average farmers was the gleaming machete they were holding in their hand.

Common folks would own cleavers and hatchets, but not house tools that were used as weapons, let alone everyone was holding one in their hand.

I glanced at the person beside me, but Lian’er paid no attention to my gaze at all at this moment, just looking at the other side with great interest, her eyes showing a hint of uncontainable eagerness. These people started tailing us at some point. I didn’t notice it, but she must have noticed it for some time. Yet, she had to wait until I gave my word before telling me, so she must have had the intention to confront them.

Realizing it, I couldn’t help but sulk over it. She might not intend to be calculating, but in truth, she had tricked me. It was nothing malicious, but I minded it.

But with the current situation, even if it was a great displeasure, I could only put it aside for now.

“Fellow folks—” Clearing my throat, I took a step forward, getting from being behind Lian’er to standing side by side with her, and said, loud and clear: “I wonder what do you want, maliciously tailing my sister at this time of the day?”

Obviously, they came with ill intentions, but it was better to make what I had to say clear if I could.

Too bad. Even though I had this intention, the other party might not appreciate it. Hearing what I said, a sturdy man with a full beard spat sputum and complained to the person beside him with curses: “Look! Big brother, I told you we should’ve made our move when we saw them at the outskirts just now! God damn it! Third brother insisted on finding out their background. But after working so hard following them all the way, we still got spotted anyway.”

I slightly knitted my brows at his words, not because of the vulgarity of the words, but from his words, I recognized that they had found us and been tailing us soon after we left the market. And supposedly, we should have been on our way back with our qinggong. Then we would have lost them already.

At that time, it was Lian’er who stopped me, wanting to have a walk. Now it looked like she was doing it on purpose from the beginning.

It added fuel to the pent-up fury in me. Taking a few deep breaths, I told myself it wasn’t the time to argue over this with this girl, but some vicious thoughts still grew out of this fury, and somehow, I even started to hope that the other party would hurry up and attack so I could be done with this in no time.

However, there was one with a better brain among them, so they were much more cautious than I thought. At least, after the bearded man spat and cursed, he was stopped by one of them, who looked like the leader. After stopping him, this man cupped his fist at us from a distance and said with a loud voice: “I’m sorry. May I ask which Way do you two ladies follow?”

Before I could think about how to answer, his words entered Lian’er’s ears. Then she blinked and asked in a heartbeat: “What which way? Isn’t there only one way under our feet?”

The reason she asked that was, of course, because she didn’t actually get it. These seemingly common Jianghu terms were entirely foreign to her. But at this time and place, when she said that, it made her seem somewhat mysterious and unfathomable. The person on the other side apparently hadn’t expected that. He hesitated for a while when he heard that. Then he cupped his fist again, speaking more directly than before: “Ladies, are you fellow outlaws?”

Lian’er was smart, although she wasn’t familiar with the ways of the world. Seeing him repeat his question like this, she understood there was an undermeaning in his words, so she stopped talking and turned to me, asking with a whisper: “Hey, what’s an outlaw?”

Although I was seething inside, I couldn’t bring myself to ignore her, so I still answered her. But since I was angry, my tone was inadvertently harder than usual: “Outlaws, are actually people who do robberies. The good ones are called robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. The bad ones are called nuisances to the people. The big ones are called the tyrant of a region. The small ones are called bullying the weak and fearing the strong.”

“Oh?” Listening to what I said, Lian’er raised her brows with interest and went on: “So this group of people in front of us are outlaws? Are they the good ones or the bad ones? The big ones or the small ones?”

I dropped my gaze and said calmly: “What d’you say?”

Lian’er nodded: “They don’t look like the good ones, so they should be the latter for both.”

We were obviously not taking them seriously with the way we were talking and chiming in with each other. Naturally, this attitude would infuriate them. They rose to a clamor on the other side. The bearded man was in particular furious, spewing out curses. The one who seemed to be the leader finally couldn’t take it anymore and showed his imperious face, yelling: “Ho there! You two ladies injured my brother’s arm in the marketplace today. I haven’t gotten back at you for that, and now you’re ruffling my feathers instead! It looks like they’re nobody. Brothers, there’s nothing to fear. Finish them!” After that, they came charging over, brandishing their machete.

Looking at the group of people savagely storming at us, I snorted, thinking to myself, as I expected. Other than the dispute with the thug, I couldn’t think of a reason that would draw these guys over. And their initial pretense was just the fear of offending forces they couldn’t afford to mess with.

Unfortunately, some might have no forces behind them, but they weren’t to mess with nonetheless.

At this moment, seeing this group of people charging over, wielding their weapons, the eyes of the kid beside me had already lit up. She giggled and patted on my shoulder, saying: “I’ll do it. You just stay here. Don’t steal my fun!” Before she finished her sentence, the pressure on my shoulder was lifted, and the girl had already leaped up. Like a streak of shadow across the dark sky, she descended in the group.

While Lian’er was daring and pugnacious, I had always not bothered to meddle too much. I certainly wouldn’t want to take it from her, so I just stood by and watched with my hands behind my back. After making sure that these guys only knew some basic martial arts and were far from being a threat to Lian’er, I shouted: “Don’t take it too far and don’t take their lives. Like what you did in the daytime, one hand each is enough.”

On the other end, she was weaving in the group, fighting with gusto. When she heard me, she didn’t seem too happy about it and bawled: “You’re just being soft and like to mind my business!” But she didn’t deny what I said, except her moves became trickier, and she snatched a machete from one of them, swinging it around playfully. The wounds she dealt were shallow, but every slash was inescapable no matter how hard they tried.

I had no sympathy for those guys, but I didn’t like the sight of it either. Anyway, Lian’er had the situation in control, so I simply turned around, went further away to a tree, got it out of my sight, and waited for her to call me when done.

Only that I could still hear a barrage of screams coming into my ears.

I pretended not to hear it, looking into the distance and spacing out. I was still seething inside. It was a fight that could have been completely avoided, yet she had to get herself into trouble on purpose, even going as far as using her wits to trick me. She loved to play hero, liked to fight, and was also mercilessly vicious. It still wasn’t a problem now that she stayed in the mountain with Master and me. But if she were to step into the outside world, there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t make enemies everywhere. The human mind is complicated, and she doesn’t understand it. I hadn’t stopped teaching her about it over the years, even Master would occasionally advise her, but they were mere words, after all. Without experiencing it or seeing it, she still wouldn’t have a real concept of it.

I fear that…by the time she sees and experiences it…, it’s too late.

While I was caught up in my thoughts, an exclaim suddenly entered my ears.

“You! Get out of the way!”

That was Lian’er’s voice but sounded nothing like her either because I had never heard her voice with such panic. However, it was such a voice that woke me up. Feeling the wind behind my head, I didn’t turn my head but leaned and intuitively took a step to the side, subconsciously sending out my left palm.

The moment my hand touched it, it felt hard and cold, and then I heard a clang. A blood-stained machete was slapped aside, hitting the tree and bouncing off to the ground, reflecting off flickering lights.

If I had been half a step slower, the machete wouldn’t be on the ground but in my back instead.

Looking at the machete, then at my left hand that was stained with blood because of the slap, it was a little hard to pull myself together for a moment. While my heart was still palpitating with fear, another gust of wind came from behind, along with the sound of clothes fluttering. Having no time to think it through, I wheeled around by instinct and threw another palm.

Once the palm was thrown, I regretted it. The fluttering robe my eyes skimmed over was none other than Lian’er! The strike was a fight-or-flight response of mine, so I didn’t hold back on my strength. I wouldn’t say I had used all my power, but at least seven or eighty percent of it. Although I immediately retracted my palm when I saw who it was, how could I take it back completely in a split second? The palm wind with the residual force that had yet to retract hit solidly on her bladebone!

“Lian’er!” The shock was even greater than before. As I had blood on my hand, the strike had left a bloody handprint on her shoulder, which looked especially appalling.

But as if she was unaware of it, her body just slightly tilted when she took the blow without thinking. She still kept her speed and leaped in front of me. Once landed, she reached out her hand and wrapped it around me, turning half a round along with the momentum. After taking a scan of me, her face changed abruptly, and she asked worriedly: “How are you? Why is there blood on your hand? Are you hurt somewhere? Huh?”

Our eyes met. Looking at the genuine concern in those eyes, I knew all the anger in me had been wiped clean.


Slopaw’s note:
Sorry for being away for so long. My old laptop broke down about a month ago, and my laptop order got delayed as well due to the stock shortage, so I couldn’t work much on the translation in the meantime. Now I’m back with a new chapter! I’ll post the extra chapter for reaching my Kofi’s goal tomorrow.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 25

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 25

Right and wrong

By her nature, Lian’er had always been merciless and ferocious. I had always been well aware of it, although this nature of hers wasn’t so obvious over the years when it was just the three of us. Perhaps it was because her belligerence and hostility in our first year or two of living together left too deep of an impression.

So no matter how cold-blooded and ruthless she was now, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

If there were things I hadn’t expected, it was the odd smile she had before she moved and the fact that she hadn’t had enough of it and didn’t intend to let him go after dislocating his hand.

I thought, with her temper, she wouldn’t even care to look at him after subduing him in one move. However, Lian’er was more like a feline now than a little wolf, intending to torment her prey at her feet.

Frankly, I wasn’t against this thought of hers. This thug obviously had no fear. If it were any other ordinary girl who bumped into him today, God knows what would have happened. This world was always harsh on women. If a woman was to be tainted by misfortune, people would unlikely sympathize with her but discarded her like an old shoe after that.

From this point of view, I wouldn’t want to stop Lian’er, even if she were to be more ruthless. Worse comes to worst, we would just stay in the mountain for another year or so.

But now, the thug’s pig-like squeal stuck out like a sore thumb. Although the market was over and the crowd on the street had thinned out, there were still people passing by, plus those shopkeepers and vendors on the street. When the thug went on a rampage earlier, they dared not show their faces and turned a blind eye, but now when he was down on his luck, they all came poking around.

I really didn’t like the feeling of being gossiped about and judged behind my back, so I took a step forward and called out: “Lian’er, enough.”

But she didn’t move a muscle when called, still pinning the sturdy fellow to the ground with no intention of letting him go, just turning her head to look at me. Her eyes were full of hostility, seemingly with defiance, just like her being haughty to me during the time she was a little wolf.

She’s acting up again. I sighed inwardly and walked up to her. Saying nothing, I took a hawthorn off the stick in my left hand and stuffed it in her mouth first before asking her with a smile: “Is it good?”

Having something stuffed in her mouth when she wasn’t paying attention, she closed her mouth with a deadpan face, only seeing a small bulge in her cheek. Then she tongued it several times. I guessed she got a taste of it. Her expression slowly softened. She blinked and replied with a nod: “Mmm, sweet and sour, not bad.”

“That’s good. I didn’t order the right dishes, so I bought this for you to make up for it.” I took her hand as I said and brought her closer to me while smiling and continued: “How much longer do you want to stay here? We’ve got work to do. It’s enough to teach him a lesson for a man like this. How much time do you want to waste on him?”

The kid didn’t resist and let me take her and moved along with the hawthorn in her mouth. But right before she finally let go of his hand, I heard a faint snap, and then the thug’s screams went up a few notches in an instant. I glanced at the hand, which was already dislocated, and saw the thumb was grotesquely twisted, apparently broken.

I looked at Lian’er, and she also looked at me with an innocent face. I shook my head, handed her the candied hawthorns with a smile, and walked on while holding her free hand.

When we returned to the restaurant, I took the front door and asked Lian’er to get in the same way she got out. So when I settled the bill with the trembling shopkeeper, she sauntered down the stairs. After she had calmed down, she finally remembered Master’s order. This time, she put on everything she was supposed to put on. And she gave me a displeased look and handed me the bamboo hat, meaning you should put it on too.

I wouldn’t try to tease her in front of others, so I just accepted it and put it on. Then the two of us left the restaurant side by side.

This hassle took more time than expected. We should have gone straight to the ceramics shop after we got out. But as we had made too much of a fuss earlier, I had to take Lian’er on the road out of the marketplace under the eyes of the crowd until we came to a remote and deserted area, then we leaped over two houses with our qinggong and quietly returned to our original route.

Lian’er was a little puzzled by this. I explained to her that I didn’t want to cause any trouble for the old potter. If we were seen going in and out of his place, the thug might stir up trouble someday. We weren’t afraid of him, but commoners might not afford to mess with him.

Lian’er didn’t quite understand. She was a little scornful about it at first, but when she figured it out, she blurted out that she should have taken his life just now to save the trouble.

Deep down, she was the same as she was before. Human life was no different from any other life in nature. Life and death couldn’t be more common.

I nagged her for a while, but I knew there was a long way to go with her thinking.

Back in the backyard of the ceramics shop.

The cups Lian’er made earlier were small, so they were almost dry now. The old potter didn’t want to leave the trimming to us at first because this part was crucial for the success of the firing. If you accidentally trim it unevenly, it will most likely be ruined when fired. But Lian’er insisted on doing it herself, so we couldn’t help it.

Of course, I had much more confidence in her with this than I did with the throwing because this part was all about the knife and handwork.

In Lian’er hands, all blades, regardless of their type, could only bow to her and fall under her control, as if she was born to be their master.

So I wasn’t surprised when she stood there and stroked the clay as shown by the old potter, handling the knife, angling it without hesitation, and trimming the clay readily and evenly without chattering it or misplacing the knife after seeing the old potter’s demonstration just once. Instead, the old man beside me was dumbfounded and asked me if this child had really never learned this before.

I could only gloss over it smilingly. In fact, I didn’t know how to explain it other than to evade it.

Fortunately, Lian’er didn’t take too long. While I was dealing with the old potter, she had already done all the work neatly and even smoothed out the tiniest of lines with the back of the knife. The old potter took them over in admiration and looked at them for a long time before coming to himself at my inquiry and telling us that he had a batch of wares to make tomorrow and would fire them together with these three, so we could set our mind at rest and pick them up in three days.

I could see Lian’er wasn’t so sure about this answer. Firstly, the time was too tight, and secondly, she was quite happy with what she had made, so she was a little reluctant to hand them over to anyone else. But when faced with areas she didn’t understand, she wasn’t of a character to question others easily, so after stepping out of the shop and turning around for a second look, she left with me without hesitation.

It was getting late now. The red sun in the sky was setting, but there was still a long way up the mountain, so when I left the market and came to the outskirts, I should have used my martial skills to get back as soon as possible. But the kid—I didn’t know what was in her mind—reached out her hand and grabbed me, looking like she wanted to take it slow for a while.

Baffled, I could only go along with her.

I thought she was trying to do or say something, but as we were approaching the mountain and the sky darkened, the person beside me stayed the same except for exchanging an occasional word or two with me, no more.

When she was being patient for once, I lost my patience instead, and at last, I halted at the entrance of a mountain pass and asked her what was wrong.

I stood still, and so did Lian’er. After hearing me, her eyes drifted left and right while holding the freshly plucked grass in her hand. Then she rolled her eyes around and finally prodded me with the grass in her hand and asked: “Will you tell Master…about that incident…today?”

“That incident?” Dazed, then I promptly realized what was going on. I smiled and asked her instead: “Right, is Lian’er afraid that I’ll tell Master about that?”

This question probably stirred her up a little. She raised her head, and her neck tensed: “Who’s afraid? I’ll bear the consequences of my own doing. I’m not afraid!”

“Okay, okay. I know you’re not afraid.” Seeing this look of hers, the curve of my lips couldn’t help but deepen: “What if I don’t tell Master?”

When she heard that, she looked at me again, toying the grass in her hand, and said, puffing up her cheek unconsciously: “You’re not supposed…to tell.” As she said that, she suddenly regained her confidence as if she had found a reason: “That’s right. Because of you, I was so angry that I forgot to put on the hat, and I hit him to help you too. Shouldn’t you keep this from Master?”

“I should.” I nodded and said solemnly.

Perhaps because my reply came out too readily, she was staggered for a moment before she asked doubtfully: “Really?”

“Yes.” I nodded again in the affirmative, only this time I couldn’t resist a smile. I reached out my hand to pull her closer and said as I looked into those eyes: “You disobeyed Master to help me. Of course, I’ll help you hide it. In the future, if Master learns the truth when she comes down from the mountain, worse comes to worst, we’ll face the punishment together, okay?”

Looking into my eyes, Lian’er probably realized how serious I was, so a glimmer of contented joy appeared on her face, and she said complacently: “Okay.”

Then she turned around, blocking me behind her, facing the woods in the distance that seemed shadowy because of the darkening sky. She held her head high and stood tall and proud, saying: “Well then, all you sneaky bastards back there, come on out!”


Slopaw’s note:
Kofi’s goal reached! I’ll be posting 2 chapters on the next release. Thanks for all the support and comments!
A reader commented on the previous chapter asking if there’s a schedule for this. I’m gonna reply here, in case other readers may have the same question. The answer is no. I didn’t set a schedule for this mainly because I can’t keep up with a fixed schedule. Once I can ensure a stable release, I’ll put the schedule on the website. Thank you for bearing with the slow releases.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 24

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 24

Down the Mountain

I have to say there are people in the world who are born with unparalleled talent, even in more than one field.

I admit that such an explanation is somewhat biased. In some ways, sword training and pottery have something in common, especially the basic breathing, strength control, and even the most crucial aspects—finger precision and flexibility. Those who can master the former can achieve twice the result with half the effort and sail through the latter if they try.

Just like what was happening before me. After being guided step by step by me once, she tried again by herself several more times and seemed to get the hang of the hand positioning, getting skillful at it and becoming more involved, like a child who just experienced the joy of playing with mud, focused and enthusiastic.

When I saw her fingertips brushed over the clay, keeping the subtle balance, throwing it into shape, even figuring out other techniques that I had yet to teach her from those she learned, I could think of nothing else but to sigh.

Finally, she made three small cups within four hours. They looked plain and simple, nothing fancy, but the edges were smooth and neat. From the look of the finished products, it was almost impossible to tell they were from a novice who had never done this before. I cut the cups off the wheel with a cutting wire and placed them in the courtyard to dry in the shade. The old potter came over to look at them and praised her profusely, saying that it was a pity that she was a girl. Otherwise, he would have taken her as his apprentice.

I just smiled, not giving him any response. Lian’er, who came out from the room while tying her bamboo hat, tilted her head in disapproval, wanting to say something, but I held her back before she could do so. I held her, bowed to the old man, and said with a smile: “While the cups are drying, my sister and I have something to attend to. We’ll be back in a while to trim the cups. Please look after them for us.” With that, I took Lian’er out of the shop at once as soon as we got his consent.

Taken away by me, Lian’er was so baffled. She asked once she was out of the shop: “What’re you doing? What’s the rush? Do we have something else to do?” I looked back at her when I heard that and asked her instead: “If I hadn’t held you back, what would you have said to the old potter?”

“About that—” She nodded and answered: “I don’t want to be his apprentice. I just don’t understand, so I wanted to ask him why he said a girl can’t be his apprentice. What is it about boys? His two apprentices aren’t even as good as me.”

As expected, I smiled in resignation, shook my head, and sighed: “Lian’er, there aren’t many things on earth a man can do that a woman can’t. You’re not wrong about this, but in the eyes of most people, women are, after all, inferior to men. This is due to both biological factors and the various constraints imposed on women by the world. You and I are lucky enough to have met Master and not have to be bound by these ridiculous constraints, but we can’t change the opinion of most people in this world. If so, it’s pointless to talk about it as people of different principles don’t get along. We came to the old man for something, not to make friends with him, so why bother with what he thinks, right?”

For she grew up in the mountains, it might still be too early for her to talk about these norms. But I would have to tell her eventually, so when I had the chance, I just went along and told her to prevent her from causing trouble in the future.

After hearing that, she didn’t answer me right away but spaced out in silence as if she was digesting these words. Perhaps she had doubts about it before. It was impossible not to notice the villagers’ manners whenever she came down, though she had only been down the mountain a handful of times over the past few years. I didn’t know why she didn’t ask, probably because it didn’t matter again after she returned to the mountain.

I only hoped while she lived as she willed, she wouldn’t be too much at odds with the world and have no place in it.

The two of us meandered down the road while holding hands. Since we said we were out for something, it wasn’t fit to turn right back. Besides, we would just be hanging around if we got back before the clay dried. The sun was waning; it was already three in the afternoon. Lian’er and I only had some snacks at noon to fill ourselves up. We had nothing else to do now, so I took her to a clean-looking restaurant on the main street and ordered some food to treat ourselves.

We rarely had the food down here. Firstly, we seldom came down the mountain. Secondly, when we did, we didn’t like to stay for too long and were always in a hurry. This time, I deliberately ordered a few meat dishes that I couldn’t make myself, wanting Lian’er to have a taste of something new. But after she curiously took a few bites when a few plates of red and green dishes were served, I didn’t see much expression on her face when she chewed.

“How’s it?” I could not tell if she liked it, so I could only ask: “Does it suit your taste?”

She chewed again and swallowed it before giving me a vague response: “It’s okay…” Yet her hand reached for the tea beside her, and she took two sips before sticking out her tongue and added: “Just a little salty.”

Yeah. Because of her unique childhood experience, she had never been able to take strong-tasting food, and under the influence of the health concept I once had, I thought it was pretty good too. It was good for our health, so I was happy to make milder meals. As time went by, the three of us got used to it. When I was ordering just now, I only remembered not to order anything too spicy or too salty, but I didn’t realize even the usual dishes were salty to Lian’er.

Though she said it was salty, she didn’t put down her chopsticks—probably because she was hungry. Instead, she was eating and drinking at the same time, downing the food with tea. I frowned as I watched her. With dishes like these, the more you eat, the saltier it gets. I saw her drinking more and more often. Apparently, it couldn’t quench her thirst. Yet, it would be too filling if I ordered rice. I looked outside, and my eyes alighted on a vendor at the far end of the street. Suddenly, I got an idea. I told her to wait for me for a moment and went down the stairs.

It was a food vendor selling sparkling bright red candied hawthorns, sticks of plump and juicy hawthorns coated with glistening sugar syrup sticking out of the stall. I could taste the salivating, sweet and sour flavor just by looking at it. I asked for the price, and it was fair. Then I fished out my coins, paid for it, and took two sticks from the straw bundle full of fruit sticks. But when I was about to go back, I accidentally bumped into someone.

The village market was always held in the morning. The crowds would be much smaller past noon. Perhaps that was why I wasn’t as careful as I was in the morning when I was threading through the crowd. Now that I bumped into someone while not paying attention, I could not help but feel regret. I bowed my head, apologized softly, and was about to turn and leave.

But as I turned around, I felt a tight pressure around my arm and was stopped by a strong force.

The sensation on my arm was repulsive. I turned my head around calmly, and there before me stood a sturdy man. Though sturdy, he was vulgarly dressed, with a short knife strapped to his waist and evil in his eyes, resembling those thugs I had seen before who bullied the people in their neighborhood with brute force and barbarity. At that moment, I knew the bump wasn’t because of my carelessness but a wilful act from him.

This set-up was so common that I was in no mood to say anything more than a curt, “Let go.”

There were levels to thugs too. If you bumped into an observant one with some senses, the person would know how to act based on your reaction. Unfortunately, this one in front of me lacked some senses. Instead of letting go when he heard me, he grinned cheekily and tightened his grip even more: “I’m blessed today. It’s rare to see a beauty, with a little temper too. Where do you come from? You’re too imprudent to be alone outside. I’m most gentle towards women. How about I’ll come with you?”

I was so used to seeing Lian’er and Master, so I thought I looked average. Now it was a little infuriating and funny to be roguishly called a beauty. But I had been impatient, so I passed the two sticks over to my left hand in secret, freeing up my right hand to channel qi. I warned him sternly for one last time: “You’d better let go right now, or else…”

I stopped before I could finish my words because I caught a sight of the light-colored figure over the man’s shoulder that leaped down from the restaurant and floated down to the ground at the other end of the street.

“Lian’er, what’re you doing?” I called her subconsciously, frowning. It wasn’t because she made the leap, but because we had taken off our hat to eat for convenience after the food was served as there weren’t many people around after lunchtime. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have come across such a drama while making a quick purchase. Seeing her leap out of the restaurant with her face uncovered and swaggered over with her head up, I was a little unhappy.

My stream of thought and Lian’er’s leap happened in a split second. By the time the thug reacted and turned around, Lian’er had come much closer. When I saw the guy standing there, dumbfounded, eyes fixated on her, unblinking, I only grew more unhappy.

Lian’er didn’t care about the different expressions on our face. She stopped a stone’s throw away from us and asked curiously: “What’re you guys doing?” As she asked, she glanced seemingly unintentionally at the hand gripping my arm. Then she shifted her gaze upwards, looked at the thug, and asked: “What’re you trying to do to her holding her like that?”

When she said that, there was even a hint of a smile tugged at her lips. With her voice and expression at the moment, coupled with her young age, she actually looked like a naive girl asking a question. Only someone who knew her well, like me, could notice something was wrong from that glimpse, so I simply stopped moving to see what she wanted to do.

The thug had no idea of death or danger. He was snapped back to reality by the voice, and as if he had come to himself, he grinned and let go of my hand, instead, he moved in on Lian’er, his face beaming with joy: “I’m not going to do anything to her, nothin’. What’re the other women when you’ve got someone as gorgeous as you standing here? Haha, what d’you say?”

As soon as this was said, Lian’er’s smile grew softer, her brows slightly raised, and she asked: “Oh? So you’re saying I’m prettier than her? How much prettier?”

“That’s…that…how can the light of the fireflies compare with the light of the sun and moon?” The man probably thought she would be easy. He showed off his eloquence while smiling cheekily, leaning in even more and reaching out his hand: “Let’s not talk about this. Why don’t…”

He had no time to finish his sentence because the girl in front of him, who was smiling a moment ago, suddenly disappeared, and right after that, his world was turned completely upside down!

He wasn’t sure what was happening at that moment, but I knew it very well. Just as his hand was about to touch Lian’er, she grasped his pulse, and with a leap to the back, she took advantage of the momentum to pull and twist. It was just a simple grappling technique, but she flipped such a burly fellow weighing several times her weight and slammed him down on the ground.

With the flip and slam, the hand being grasped must be dislocated. I could only hear the man’s howl, as loud as a pig being slaughtered. But Lian’er was still clasping his dislocated hand behind his back, clamping him down on the ground, not moving the slightest bit.

“What’re you?” She stood there sneering, looking baleful and violent. Her eyes were cold and vicious, looking down at the person on the ground with disdain as if she was now stepping on nothing more than an ant that pissed her off: “When do something like you get to judge our appearances?”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 23

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 23

Clay

In this life, I rarely held on to anything.

In the sixteen years I had lived, there had only been two things I set my sights on: The first one was a thought I had since birth, that was to run away from the poor, indifferent, so-called home and family, which treated daughters as objects, to make life better for myself. This wish had been fulfilled ever since I followed Master. The second one was the thought I had now, that was to protect the child.

It was not an idea that had just popped up. That afternoon, every word I said to her while ruffling her hair was never spontaneous, but a sincere promise, though it had not yet occurred to me that the girl might have an unforgettable tragic love in her future.

I hoped the so-called tragic love was just my imagination.

No matter what, I want to protect her. It was my own business, so I said nothing to her. I could not tell her; there was no need either. About the uncertain future, I could not even tell what would happen myself. Only I could understand the vague notion, and only I had to understand. 

For Lian’er, who knew nothing, simplicity is bliss, just like her biggest worry right now was simply not knowing what to buy to celebrate Master’s birthday.

Of course, if I let her know that I secretly used “simply” to define her worry, she would most likely blow up. 

This trip to the stone chamber was fruitful for me, but it was almost meaningless for Lian’er. She was still bothered by the fact that Master loved someone other than us, but it was nothing compared to the trouble she was facing. 

Fortunately, it was easy to reinstate the room because of its simplicity. Master noticed nothing strange when she was back, so we were safe. But time was still ticking away. With Lian’er temperament, it was difficult for her to stay calm when she was anxious. That night, I listened to her tossing and turning on her bed all night in her restless sleep. 

And the next day, I had to convince her to make a trip down the mountain first. There was so much stuff in the market. She might find one or two things she fancied for Master as we browsed around.

This idea was just a temporary way to stop her from being anxious for nothing. She knew it too, so she seemed a little dispirited. But maybe because of her reluctance to resign herself, she still nodded to the idea, eventually.

It was still early in the morning. After she nodded, we went to Master to request for a leave. I could not say much, so I just said that seeing Master went down the mountain yesterday had sparked our interest to go out for a walk, and we wanted Master to grant us a half-day leave.

The leave-taking did not go so well. Master disliked people loafing about to begin with. Plus, she had just gone down the mountain yesterday, so we had the suspicion of going against her with this move. But she could not stand us bugging her and finally begrudged us permission on the condition that we do not show off, do not flaunt our skills, keep a bamboo hat on, and not take it off before returning to the mountain. 

I agreed with a smile. Every one of these three rules was used to restrict Lian’er.

Lian’er was more or less aware of Master’s intention. Grudgingly, she agreed. She went to grab a loosely braided bamboo hat hanging on the outer cave wall and slapped it on her head. Then she urged me to go. I knew she was not in a good mood, so I said a quick goodbye to Master, took the hat beside me, and went after her.

We went down the mountain without a word and came to the largest village market nearby. It was a village, but it had taken on the size of a small town. Today was the grand market day of the month. The market was bustling with people. Usually, we did not like this kind of occasion, which was why Master went to run some errands the day before the grand market day. But now, as we were going to pick a gift without a specific item in mind, a market of this size with a variety of goods from all over the countryside was perfect.

Thanks to our nimbleness, Lian’er and I could move about freely in the crowded streets. On both sides of the cobblestone road were a vast array of stalls selling everything from food, clothing, and household goods, to delicate knick-knacks. Lian’er would sometimes stop in front of some stalls, look at them, ignore the vendors hawking their merchandise, and walk away. 

I had been down the mountain more often, and I always paid more attention, so I was rather familiar with the area. When I turned around and saw a disgruntled face through the crack of my bamboo hat, I knew she had not found anything that appealed to her, so I pulled her away from these stalls and went straight to some larger shops. There were clothing shops that Lian’er was familiar with, and also jewelry, calligraphy shops that she normally overlooked, and even a shop specializing in all kinds of intricate weaving. I took her from shop to shop, allowing her time to browse. She did try her best to look for something, but nothing took her fancy. 

This was no longer a matter of high standards. In all fairness, any few of those things would be far better than the ones made by Lian’er. After all, her problem was just that she could neither give Master her handmade gift nor find something Master liked. With this grudge in her mind, she was bound to find everything unsatisfactory. 

By noon, I took Lian’er to an uncrowded tea shop to take a break after a round of browsing. As if to prove my guess, she suddenly looked up at me and said as I was drinking tea and having some snacks after taking a seat in a corner: “No, I still want to give Master something I made myself.

After slowly taking a sip of my hot tea, I laid my cup down and asked while looking at her: “That same pair of colored stones? If you don’t mind those minor flaws, sure.”

“You’re missing the point.” She shook her head and replied sternly: “I’m not giving her the colored stones this year, but I’m still going to give her something I made myself. Didn’t you make one yourself here last year? Then I’ll do the same too. Take me there.”

“Last year?” I was slightly dazed, then I could not help but smile and explained: “Lian’er, pottery is not that simple. Just to make it yourself, you won’t be able to do well without learning it beforehand, not to mention if he will help this time. I…I happened to try making it two or three times prior before I could barely make it. But you’ve never…I’m afraid this last-minute decision…”

“There’s no such thing as I’m afraid.” She refused to listen and said as she waved her hand: “Just take me there. You won’t know until I do it. I haven’t tried it yet. Why are you worrying so much?”

After standing off for a while, there was nothing I could do about her. We set off together to find the potter I had once visited after finishing the snacks. The old man was in his fifties or sixties, hale and hearty. He had an inconspicuous small shop in a remote alley near the outskirts of town, where he fired his own wares and sold them. His wares were mostly utensils for commoners. 

Last time, I had the nerve to go to him uninvited. I felt embarrassed then, but this time around, I was a lot more familiar with him. First, I gave him a gift to thank him for his help last time, said a few words of courtesy, and explained why we were here this time. The folks here were unsophisticated, after all. When he heard my junior martial sister too wanted to make a gift herself to celebrate our master’s birthday, he laughed while fingering his beard, saying that her filial piety was commendable and that there was no problem.

When I was talking to the old man, Lian’er was standing beside me silently, looking around at times. It was only when I mentioned junior martial sister that she glared at me. When the old man praised her as he laughed, she smiled sweetly at him. Fortunately, she had promised Master not to take off her hat, so her smile was mostly covered. If not, I would have been worried about the safety of the two little apprentices by the old man’s side—if anyone dared to take the chance to approach her, I feared I would see blood the second I took my eyes off her with her temper. 

After some pleasantries, the old man led us to the backyard. It was a small square courtyard. I had been here once, so I knew the kiln for firing pottery was at the end of the yard, and the few rooms near the kiln were for making pottery. The old man took us to a small room and said that this room was for his own exclusive use. It had all the tools inside, and he lent them to us for today, so there was no hurry.

After thanking the old man, I closed the door and turned around. I saw Lian’er had taken off her hat and was curiously poking about the room.

Though I said I had made it myself, the clay was all pre-kneaded. Like the last time, the most crucial part was throwing the clay. I had done it before and knew a thing or two about pottery, so I pulled her over and sat her down in front of the wheel, walking her through the way of using the machine. She understood and was eager to try it out. Soon, she started to put it into practice.

But how could anyone do well on their first try? As expected, the clay could not be coned up at all when the wheel started spinning. It collapsed every time her hand touched it. Lian’er tried again and again as I told her, but it still slanted every time at her touch. Finally, she lost her confidence and slapped the clay in exasperation. Then she looked up at me, biting her lips, her eyes bright and limpid. 

I could not stand the look of help in her eyes and wanted to get her someone to guide her, but I felt it was inappropriate. Lian’er had already taken off her hat. Besides, it was hard to work with the hat on when it was dim inside. But if I called someone in without the hat, it was obviously disobeying Master. I thought about it and could only think of one way. After a moment of hesitation, I pulled a stool over, wetted my hands, and sat down close behind her, beckoning her to pedal the wheel.

Lian’er did not know what this was all about at first and just instinctively did as I instructed. It was not until I wrapped my arms around her and cupped her palms, guiding her fingertips to touch the clay, that she realized what I was doing. She thought it was a good idea and leaned against me, holding her breath and focusing on feeling the pressure and the movement of my fingers. 

The clay, which would have slanted at her touch, changed under our fingertips, slowly taking the shape of a brush holder.

It had nothing to do with the maker’s talent or skills. Just by spinning and touching the clay itself, it gradually changed from nothing to an entirely new shape, which in itself was an incredible beauty.

The person in my arms became more and more focused. Lian’er’s eyes widened, staring at the changes before her with unblinking eyes, seemingly entranced. I could not see her expression. But holding her quietly, body to body, arms to arms, palms to palms, I could feel her slightest breath and heartbeat. Her heartbeat was slightly slower as she was concentrating and being gentle, trying to touch the object in front of her with the gentlest of strength. My heartbeat, however, was slightly faster.

I guessed it was still awkward. I tried to justify it. There were these fuzzy images in my head, constantly reminding me that this gesture represented a special kind of intimacy, so the awkwardness was inevitable, I supposed.

My fingers lost their accuracy once I was distracted. A faint flap came from the spinning clay, which had been somewhat formed in shape, proved another failure in throwing the clay. 

I stood up as I cleared my throat, turned to the sink to wash the clay off my hands, and said: “Just like that. You try again in this way a few more times. Remember, ahem, remember the feeling just now.”


Slopaw’s note:
If you enjoy this novel and have a couple bucks to spare, please consider supporting me on Kofi (・ω<)☆
Happy reading!

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 22

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 22

A Thud

“I can’t sleep tonight. My mind drifted back to the past again. I left without saying goodbye that time; it’s more of an act of spite. Every time I wake up from my dream, I miss you dearly. I regret it, but I am like an arrow that has left the bow—there’s no turning back. A twenty-year promise is beyond the horizon. Today, I’m cutting my fingertip and writing this for later reunion. If fate let us meet again, that proves our love as husband and wife is true.”

Standing in the stone chamber, I was reading the dark red text on the scroll by the dim oil lamp. Most texts were much like this paragraph, no beginning nor an end. The days were written at intervals. The longest gap between entries was more than a year. Instead of saying it was a diary, it would be more apt to call it Master’s notebook for her feelings. 

Even though it was so fragmentary, reading up to here, I gradually figured out some outlines of the recorded events from between the lines.

It turned out that Master was already married and seemed like her husband was also a skilled swordsman, and they had a deep affection for each other. Master once told me she wanted to merge and refine the strengths of a hundred schools to create a unique school of swordsmanship. Now it seemed it was her husband’s idea. He even seemed to have joked about it with Master. It was too bad that both of them were sword masters, and Master was a prideful one, so the joke immediately incensed her. She declared to create her own school and compete against each other in twenty years to see whose was better. After that, she left without saying goodbye, taking the sword manuals her husband had gathered with her. Knowing that her husband was looking for her, she even wandered around to avoid him in the first few years. That was when we met and followed by a year of wandering. 

Later, there was no more news of Master’s husband searching for her. Master thought he must have given up, so she settled down in Mount Hua with me and devoted herself to refining her swordsmanship. But there was love, after all. As the days went by, she would still miss him and reflect on the past. It was only her feelings were insignificant. Hence with blood as a channel for her feelings, she wrote down these words to be witnessed in the future. 

Master was unbending. Even with blood as her feelings, all these entries were written short and simple, mostly just a few words. It did not take me long to finish them. Apart from these blood-written texts, the things recorded later on were some sword training’s ideas, progress, and stuff that happened in life, and even the course of taking Lian’er and me as her disciples was recorded at the end.

I finished it in a short while, and that was how I happened to learn about the whole story. It was hard for me to not get emotional. In those days when I was wandering around with Master, I thought there must be some kind of Jianghu feud stories about her, but her story turned out to be so simple. All because of a joke and an act of spite. 

For a moment, I was so engrossed in my feelings that I forgot there was someone else waiting beside me with eager eyes.

It was probably the tacit understanding developed back then when I was reading the medical book. Whenever I was reading something, especially something useful, Lian’er would usually wait patiently and would not make a fuss or rush me. But now that I was still silent after finishing it, she finally got antsy. She tugged at my sleeve and asked: “Hey, how’s it? What do those fancy words say? Are they useful?”

I shook my head. After giving a little thought, I told her exactly what was written in it combined with my understanding of it. Although much of what was written were Master’s inner thoughts, they indeed had nothing to do with her preferences or anything like that. 

Of course, she was not happy to hear that and seemed rather unhappy about it, staring stone-faced at the scroll for some time. Then she suddenly looked up at me, seeming bewildered aside from looking unhappy: “You mean Master likes another person besides us? She loves this man? More than us?”

“Silly girl…” I thought she was upset about something, and I was thinking about how to comfort her. But a question from her that came out of nowhere amused me instead. 

“What are you so upset about? Master’s love for us is that of a master and disciples, but for him, it’s that of a man and a woman. They’re two different kinds of love.”

“Love between a man and a woman?” Lian’er understood the relationship between master and disciple, so she had no questions about that. Instead, she skipped right to the latter kind. She tilted her head and wondered: “How does the love between a man and a woman look like? What’s the difference?”

This was…not an easy question to answer. 

For an instant, I almost knew how parents feel when confronted with an innocent and awkward question from their child, so I just went with what most parents would do in response—giving a vague answer: “Hmm…well, you’re still young, Lian’er. You’ll understand when you get older…”

Somehow, I felt a sudden thud in my heart as I spoke!

Will you naturally understand the love between a man and a woman once you get older? Yeah, didn’t you realize that before? 

This child beside me was slowly growing from a girl to a young lady. Even though she was just twelve-year-old, in this world where people could get married at the age of thirteen or fourteen, a love relationship was not too far off for her.

But…who would be the man?

I had been calling her Lian’er all this while. She was our Lian’er. The Lian’er, who was abandoned by her father, raised by a mother wolf, and brought back by us from the wolf’s den by chance. That was what I had told myself.

I had been calling her that all these years. I almost forgot she had another name. 

Lian Nichang.

She was once so small, a teeny-tiny wolf kid. At that time, I could not associate her with her name at all, so I forgot about it soon after. In a couple more years, I had completely put it aside and never thought of it again. 

And yet? Look at the person standing beside me right now. The scene by the creek flashed before my eyes. She was still adorable, but now there were other words that can represent her. And those words were used to describe women, such as slender and gorgeous. 

Having the poise of the autumn water and the look of jade, she was now closer to the legendary lady who towered above the world. 

So? There was a lady named Lian Nichang. Then would there be that…that man? A man named Zhuo Yihang, who would hurt her, fail her, and burden her for half of her life? 

I did not know, and I did not want to know either. It was best to never know. I felt irritated for no reason. Regardless of whether I believed it or not, I admitted that as soon as I tried to think about such a possibility that Lian’er would know such a person, know the taste of love, be hurt by it, suffer from it, and even end up…, I felt terrible. An indescribable feeling overwhelmed me. 

After all these years, I had consciously or unconsciously held this child deep in my heart, even deeper than Master. Master had her past, her experiences, and someone she loved. And she, like I, had no attachments in this world and seldom relied on anyone else. We saw each other as a presence that would always be there for one another.

Maybe, this was why it shook me so much to think about it compared to a few years ago. I could no longer accept such a possibility—the possibility that someone might hurt Lian’er in the future and hurt her so deeply, so badly, so absurdly.

And yet…

I took a deep breath, slowly letting out all the stale air in my chest. And yet, so what if I could not accept it? 

I think a lot, so it is not uncommon for me to halt in the middle of a conversation. The person beside me had something in her mind, and she was a short-tempered one. When she saw that I was not talking, she did not bombard me with questions, but went rummaging around the chamber, perhaps with the thought of not losing any time.

As my gaze followed the nimble figure, I smiled wryly. I could not be telling her: “Lian’er, whenever you meet a man surnamed Zhuo in the future, you must stay far away from him and never talk to him, nor can you like him, etc.” If I really said so, I could guarantee she would pay more attention to people with this surname instead.

For now, I could only take one step at a time.

But I was sure of one thing—I want to protect her. My Lian’er could be the one who captivated the world and rose above it, but she would never be the heartbroken woman whose hair turned white overnight in the story.

Never!


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 21

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 21

The Stone Chamber

Really.

I sometimes felt like I might never get used to it—to the child’s occasional, unexpected behaviors that would hit people right in their feels.

I never thought about her birthday, yet she remembered mine, even thought about sending me a gift when it snowed. It really left…me speechless. I dropped my head and looked up at her before I managed to lift my lips and put a smile on my face again.

After that, I looked quietly into her eyes and listened to her voice talking.

She didn’t notice anything standing in front of me and just carried on happily on her own, telling me how she had found these two stones and carved them into her desired shape bit by bit with the sword Master gave her. I listened in silence, but I saw her slowly knitting her brows as she spoke, as if she had thought of something troubling.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, reaching out my hand to rub her knitted brows.

She was a child who didn’t like to show her weakness, especially in front of me. Her eyes flickered for a second when she heard me asking. She looked over at me a few times before she finally made up her mind and spoke with some concern.

“But…” She said: “After all being said, these are still not good enough. Even I’m not satisfied with it myself. It’s bad to give it to Master and you.”

Stunned, I wondered: “What’s bad about them? Aren’t they nice? I quite like them.”

“But look.” She thrust those two little things up in front of my face, even closer than they had been earlier. “They were smooth before. After they’ve been carved, they aren’t even as smooth as the stones on the creek bank. They’re uncomfortable to touch.”

They were too close to my face. I had to lean back a little to be able to focus and take a closer look. I found that indeed, as Lian’er had said, streaks of scratches were left on the pure colored stones, faint but numerous, which would surely make it rough to touch.

I wanted to tell her that it is okay, that it is the thought that counts and the heart that matters, but I knew the child too well. She had the tendency to go to extremes about things she cared about. This time, I believed she was taking the gift very seriously, and she subconsciously had a sense of competition. She would never want to give anything less than what I gave to Master last time. I feared it would be counterproductive to give her this grand-sounding talk straight away.

It was best to think of a way to help her with this problem.

I was thinking and working my brain, and when I thought of what she had said about the stones on the creek bank, I incidentally glanced at the flowing water beside me. An idea suddenly came to mind, and I said with a smile: “Lian’er, I have an idea.”

“What?” She tilted her head and looked over this way, not very excited, but there was anticipation in her eyes.

“The reason why the surface of the stones on the riverbank was smooth was that the water was washing against the stones for a long period of time.” I explained it to her: “So, as long as you find a net to hold these two stones and leave it in the rapids. With the power of nature, they’ll surely be polished smooth and rid of any scratches, but…”

“But what?” She prompted.

“But I’m afraid it’s going to take quite a bit of time, that’s all. It isn’t going to happen overnight…”

Her eyes that had just brightened up dimmed down again: “The thing is, there’s no time. Master’s birthday is coming up in a few days…”

Now was the chance.

I chuckled and hugged her soothingly, affectionately, touching the skin on her waist by accident. It was warm and soft. A strange feeling welled up in my heart.

But I had no time to think about it now. I took this opportunity to say what I had been wanting to say: “Lian’er, it doesn’t matter how nice the gift is; it’s how deep your love that matters. The mug I gave last time wasn’t that nice either. Master likes it isn’t because it’s a nice mug , so I dare to say, as long as you give it to Master, she’ll be happy. It doesn’t matter much if it’s flawless or not. You don’t have to be bothered about it too much.”

Because of the roundabout earlier, she didn’t take offense of what I said and probably took it in. But after giving it some thought, she still shook her head and said: “I’d rather not. I don’t want to give it to her like this when I can do better.”

“Really?” A stubborn one indeed. I had more or less expected it. I wasn’t going to argue. I was just going to go along with her and smiled: “In that case, let’s find a net and place them in the water. There are still many days to go, won’t it be the same to give it to Master next year?”

“What about this year? Just forget about it?” She sulked, her face filled with reluctance.

I didn’t want to make the situation more complicated, so at first, I was going to convince her that it was okay to forget about it this time. Maybe I was used to seeing that radiant look on her. Seeing a look of dejection appeared on her face, I didn’t know why my heart felt a little heavy. With a change of thought, I started coming up with ideas again. I told her that a gift didn’t have to be hand-made. It could be something you bought specially for her. Of course, it was best to buy what she liked.

The idea itself was all right and perfectly fine.

But it was only after, long after that I would often wonder if I had talked her out of it if there hadn’t been that change of thought, that idea, would everything have been different?

Maybe it would. Without the trigger, something buried would just stay buried forever.

Maybe it wouldn’t. Even without the trigger, no one could be sure at what point, at what time in the future, and by what chance, another one would emerge quietly.

No matter what, maybe was always just a maybe.

The truth was Lian’er indeed brightened up after hearing what I said. Although she was still a little bothered about not being able to give Master a hand-made gift, she was relieved to be told that she could give a gift to Master on both of her birthdays. Then she began to think, seriously and single-mindedly, about buying a gift.

Buying a gift itself wasn’t a problem. Although Lian’er had a temper and didn’t like to talk to strangers at the foot of the mountain, she would be fine with me by her side, at least she wouldn’t cause any trouble. It was just that we were both stuck on finding out what Master liked.

She wasn’t picky about anything, be it clothing, or food, or the place she lived, or the things she used. She used whatever she had, rarely asking for anything. It was even harder to see her show any particular preferences. I was ashamed to say, the reason I gave her a ceramic mug that time was because I had learned something about pottery before for fun, and I remembered that there was a potter at the foot of the mountain, which was why I went to make one on a whim. I didn’t really consider what Master liked.

But since I had said that to Lian’er, and she had taken it seriously, I shouldn’t disappoint her. She and I had been thinking about it for a while, but to no avail. In the end, I didn’t know where Lian’er misunderstood, she discontentedly blamed it all on the fact that Master was always in retreat, and thus came to the conclusion that she had to get into the meditation chamber and check out what was inside.

When she said that, I was surprised.

No one had ever entered the stone chamber at the end of Yellow Dragon cave over the years, except Master. I knew the purpose of the chamber since it was first carved out, so I had been avoiding it knowingly or unknowingly. I had never been near it, except to serve Master food and water when she was in meditation retreat. Even when I brought food and water to her, I never looked around and always got out of there fast.

Maybe it was the subtle influence from me, she had never been in there, though she didn’t seem to be scared of it. Of course, it could be she had never been interested in it.

Anyway, after all these years, it was a de facto no-go area between Master and us disciples, although Master hadn’t said anything about it.

The moment I heard Lian’er wanted to check out such a place to find clues to what Master liked, I was reflexively against it and tried to talk her out, but I couldn’t convince her because I couldn’t explain why. Master hadn’t given any order not to enter, not even a casual remark, so Lian’er insisted that it was fine, and eventually, even I myself, was a little curious.

It is just the way people are. No matter how rational they are, deep down, there will always be a desire to explore mysterious, unknown places.

So in the end, I still agreed to Lian’er’s idea, even agreed to go with her, but only on the condition that she had to be patient and calm and wait for a time like when Master went down the mountain before we could bring our plan into action.

But in fact, it didn’t require much patience at all.

We were almost back in the cave when I remembered that Master had vaguely said something earlier like she was going down the mountain the next day for something when Master asked me to get Lian’er.

The next day, she really went down the mountain and didn’t sense anything unusual like always when she left.

Lian’er kept her promise. She did stay calm. Even when she heard that Master was leaving, she didn’t show the slightest difference in her behavior, which was surprising compared to her usual behaviors. But she jumped up as soon as Master left, eagerly wanting to proceed immediately, but was forced to sit down by me for a while with some coaxing. Only until I was sure Master had gone far and wouldn’t return because she had forgotten something did I let go of her hand.

Once I let go of her hand, she couldn’t hold back anymore—she didn’t have to as well. She came to the end of the cave in a few steps, channeled her qi, and moved the boulders that served as the doors with two palm strikes. Then she held them and pushed open a gap that allowed a person to get through. With all that done, she turned back, smiled at me smugly, and went ahead first.

Shaking my head with a smile tugged at my lips, I followed behind.

I knew the size of the chamber and the general look of it because I had watched Master carve it out at that time. But the chamber was unlit now, so it was dark.

This level of dimness was nothing to Lian’er, but it definitely had an effect on average people. I fished out a flint, not daring to light the candle on the table, for I feared that Master would find out what was going on later when she was back, so I went out to get an oil lamp and lit it up before taking a closer look at the layout of the stone chamber.

Speaking of layout, the interior was basic. There wasn’t even a table and a chair. The block of stone right in the middle of the chamber served as a table. On its side, there was a cushion for seating. A niche was carved out of the stone wall beside it, but it wasn’t used to honor the gods or the Buddha. After placing the quilt and cushions in the niche, it turned into a place to sleep at night.

Other than these large items, all that was left was some odds and ends. Holding an oil lamp to look around, I could see only more of the various sword techniques engraved on the stone walls, some new and some old, with different postures, some of which seemed familiar, some of which I had learnt long ago. I supposed they were the insights Master gained from meditation over the years.

How could we tell what Master liked from such a place that looked simpler than the outer cave? I was a little discouraged, but Lian’er wouldn’t give up. She searched under the mat and other stuff and rummaged through the quilt and cushions in the niche.

When I was just about to remind her not to make a mess, lest Master grew suspicious when she came back, I heard a cheer of delight coming from her.

Then when I was about to ask, I saw Lian’er turn around and stride over holding a roll of something in her hand. She didn’t say much when she came to me, just shoved the roll to me and asked urgently: “What’s this?”

I looked down at it and answered without thinking: “A parchment.”

This reply drew a look of disdain from her. Lian’er glared at me askance and said angrily: “Of course, I know this is a parchment. Inside, I mean inside!”

Placing the oil lamp on the block of stone, I carefully opened the thing with both hands, fearing that I might accidentally break it. The scroll was so long that it might as well have been a book. The beginning and the middle part of the scroll were filled with various sword styles, the same as those engraved on the stone walls, except for the addition of cultivation methods. I assumed it was the final draft Master put together. This might be something that many people in Jianghu dreamt of, but it had nothing to do with the purpose of this search with Lian’er.

I looked up and was about to say that to her, but then I felt something was off. Even if there were words that Lian’er didn’t know, she should be able to recognize the sword styles. It was impossible for her to be so excited just because she discovered this.

At the thought of that, I opened it up patiently, little by little. Towards the end of the scroll, I saw a dark red text, looking completely different from the text before.

I was startled. If I wasn’t mistaken, this dark red was clearly formed after the blood had dried. This…this was a letter written in blood? I didn’t dare to jump to a conclusion, so I asked Lian’er, and as I expected, it was what I thought it was. Naturally, she wouldn’t know the significance of a bloodletter. She only knew it was written in blood and intuited that it was different. That was why she was full of anticipation.

But looking at the thing on my hand, something didn’t feel right. Under normal circumstances, writing a bloodletter was always supposed to happen during a crisis or at a critical moment, but the words before me were neat, densely written, and clearly wasn’t written in panic.

I was puzzled, so I just held the scroll and perused its contents.

Upon perusal of it, I was surprised to discover that it was none other than Master’s own diary written over the years! Or rather, a diary-like existence that she had written now and then in longhand throughout the years!


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 20

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 20

Water

Actually, what…what was I panicking about?

Weird. By the time I realized what I was thinking, my hands were still on my ears. The skin was hot, and the beating in my chest was much faster than usual.

I reached the creek bank in a few steps and squatted, scooping up some water to wet my ears. A cold sensation instantaneously rushed up, and with the wind blowing against my face, the refreshing feeling spread all over my body. Then I stood up and softly let out a long breath.

That was right. Just now, I was just…taken by surprise. 

I had once hiked past a small village, and a few naked children suddenly sprang out of a corner. I was taken by surprise that time, so…so was this time.

I had never lived in a community before and never been to places like bathhouses, so I wasn’t used to seeing naked bodies. Master and I were the ones who bathed Lian’er when we first brought her back and had done similar things a few more times since then, but we hadn’t bathed her since she was a little older. It had been so long. It was only natural to be surprised seeing her nak…em unprepared, wasn’t it…

My heart gradually calmed down when I thought of it this way. I shook the water off my hands and brushed the corner of my clothes, but was still standing with my back to the other side, unwilling to turn over. 

I didn’t look back until a hand patted on my shoulder and a “Hey—” came from behind me.

But I frowned the moment I turned around.

The person behind me was now almost as tall as I was. Her facial features had become more and more exquisite over the years. Unfortunately, her temperament remained the same. A few wisps of hair on her forehead was dripping, and her clothes were still wet, but she didn’t care, draped them over her body, and walked over barefoot to meet me.

“Why are your clothes wet? Weren’t you wearing nothing just now? Or did you slip and fall into the water before?” I pulled her over and checked on her from head to toe, not seeing anything unusual.

“It’s all because of you.” She pouted and answered placidly: “They were dry at first, but you were yelling at me to put them on, so I went ahead and put them on. Now you’re complaining when I do so.”

When I heard that, I rolled my eyes at her, not bothering to twaddle with her, and replied casually: “Okay, okay, it’s my fault. I should have reminded you that you can’t put on your clothes when your body is wet, that you need to dry off first.” Yet I was pulling her away from the tree’s shade towards the rocky bank where we could get some sun. 

She was satisfied after getting the better of me verbally and followed me with a smile. It wasn’t until we reached the rocky bank and stood still that she asked with curiosity: “Why did you pull me over? What’s the difference between talking over here and over there?” 

Why? To get some sun. I pulled her over to stand on a flat boulder and responded as I fixed her loose sash: “It’s easy for you to sneak out earlier. Master’s looking for you, so she ordered me to look for you, but by the look of you now, you’d better dry off first, or else you’ll make her angry again when you’re back.”

Standing in the sun, she said nothing, just cozily closed her eyes, and spread her arms like she was going to let me fix her up at will. 

It was mid-summer, and her body temperature was a little higher than average, so she was wearing only a light-colored unlined garment now, which was made of the softest fabric we could find at the bottom of the mountain. The thin material gave the wearer a graceful look, but that was exactly why I noticed an…issue when I started fixing her clothes. 

Her clothes’ fabric was too thin. She had put them on when her body was wet, so her clothes were soaked through now. It was bad enough having the clothes clung to her body, and there was the fact that it was light-colored. I didn’t notice it when standing in the shade, but now that we were standing in the sun, I could see everything under her clothes, even the color of her skin was apparent. 

I was fine before I noticed it. But I felt weird again now that I took notice of it. What I had seen just now somehow surfaced in my mind. Although it was just a glimpse of memory, her shapely fairness stayed in my mind. 

We had always been together day and night and had been growing up together. Perhaps, that was why I hadn’t paid much attention to her changes. It was only now that it dawned on me that the child’s body had gradually shown the curves of a young girl. But she was only twelve years old, wasn’t this development a little…?

My face heated up somehow when I realized what I was thinking. She happened to be fixing her clothes. The transparent fabric could barely cover anything, and its blurriness added to my embarrassment instead. 

I averted my gaze from her and hurried up, trying to get it done as soon as possible. 

As the saying goes, a fool’s haste is no speed. The more I think about it, the more troubles I ran into. Because I wasn’t looking, there was a knot that I didn’t tie it right, so when I pulled from both ends, the sash not only didn’t tighten, it loosened instead. Two small objects fell out from the sash’s interlining. Before I could see what they were, they had dropped onto the rocks and were rolling towards the water. 

It all happened so suddenly. Before I could react, Lian’er’s eyes had gaped open; she wheeled around without looking and caught the objects with just a scoop before it fell into the rapids. 

Then, I heard a splash, and the water was splattering everywhere. 

“Lian—Lian’er! Are you alright?” My heart skipped a beat. As I stared at the water, I saw her emerge from the water before I could finish my words, shaking off the water on her head like a pup, and waded ashore, dripping.

I went to her in a hurry. 

Once ashore, she ignored everything else and opened her palm first to check on the things in it. I supposed she had made sure they were fine, so she looked relieved. She smiled to herself and looked up at me, puckering her face and pursing her lips as if she was about to throw a fit. But she thought better of it.

I didn’t care what she was thinking and quickly wrung the water out of her clothes for her. They were just wet before, and I figured they would dry off if she stayed in the sun for a while, but well, she was drenched like a drowned rat now. 

I was irritated, yet I didn’t know what to say. Besides, I had no right to blame her because I also had something to do with what just happened, so I could only keep it to myself. I silently led her to a boulder’s edge to sit down, took off her braid first, and let her long, dripping hair down. After slightly drying it, I went around to her front to take off her clothes. 

She had no problem with me letting down her hair, but when she saw me reaching out to unbutton her clothes, she pouted and asked: “What’re you doing?”

“Your clothes are dripping. Beware of getting rheumatism in the future if you keep them on. Besides, it dries faster if you take them off.” I answered her plainly, not caring if she understood what rheumatism was. My hands kept unbuttoning her clothes. I didn’t feel awkward at this moment as I was piqued and stripped her clean swiftly.

I wasn’t embarrassed, and she was even less embarrassed than I was. She just symbolically protested and let me do my thing. After I was done, she stretched and moved herself to a dry boulder by the side. Like the wolf in the distance, she lay down and curled up cozily under the sun; her hands were still playing with the two small objects. 

That was what I saw when I looked back after spreading the wet clothes out to dry on another boulder. I couldn’t stand looking at her even if I wasn’t embarrassed. I went over, took off my coat, and was about to put it on her. Unlike Lian’er with high body temperature, I knew my body was weak, and the temperature difference between day and night in the mountains was huge, so as long as it wasn’t too warm, I would put on a coat even in summer, lest I caught a cold. In the end, it was me who suffered. 

She didn’t mind anything I did before. Only when I took off my coat and was about to put it on her did she start acting against me and refused to accept it no matter what. I cajoled her for some time. Finally, only after I wiped the sweat on my forehead to prove that it was warm now and that I didn’t need the coat did she take it over reluctantly and draped it over her shoulders.

It was a little quiet for the rest of the time. We sat side by side in the sun, listening to the babbling of the creek, talking to each other from time to time while waiting for her hair and clothes to dry. There was no such thing as an endless talk between people who spent their days and nights together. More often than not, we were just being together in silence. I covered my mouth and yawned idly. From the corner of my eyes, I saw the things she had been holding, and that caught my attention.

If it were before, I might have hesitated for a bit, but we had fewer qualms about each other now, so when the thought came to my mind, I asked her straight away: “Lian’er, what’s so important in your hand? You went out of your way to catch it just now.”

When she heard that, she looked slightly hesitant as if she didn’t know if she should just say it, but she still opened her hand in the end and showed me what was in it.

What lay in her hand were just two stones, similar to those pebbles on the rocky bank, but their colors were pure, one black, one white. At first glance, it was easy to mistake them for jades. While the shape was apparently carved by hand, the carving seemed a bit…

“I made them.” She was hesitant before she showed them to me, but now she sounded proud: “It’s Master’s birthday in a few days. You secretly made something for her last year, so it’s my turn to make something for her this year.”

“Ah!” I called out. If she hadn’t mentioned it, I would have forgotten about it. 

When I came into this world, I only knew I was born in winter; I never cared which day it was, much less celebrated it. Besides, the rules here seemed to be a little different: they only celebrated their birthday at certain ages. I never bothered to understand it, and Master never cared about it, as if we had naturally forgotten about it.

Of course, Lian’er wouldn’t understand something we didn’t care about, not until last year when we went down the mountain together and met a country gentleman celebrating his seventieth birthday. It was a lively scene, and that was when Lian’er got curious. With Master and I explaining it to her, she somewhat understood it. After that, she kept asking for our birthday. I didn’t know mine anyway, so I just answered frankly, but Master, both disdainful of lying to coax her and unable to resist the child’s insistence, finally had no choice but to tell her her birthday. 

When she told Lian’er, I was listening in by the side. Subconsciously, I did the math and realized it was soon. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know, but it was always a bit of a concern if I did. However, I didn’t know the rules, so I had no idea what was the right thing to do. I ended up going to a potter at the foot of the mountain, begged him to let me make my own mug, and gave it to Master respectfully. 

These were all trivial matters. I didn’t do it to please anyone. It was not even a birthday celebration. I just wanted to take the opportunity to show my inexpressible gratitude to Master. Who knew Lian’er would get mad when she found out and blamed me for not taking her along. She got so furious that she wouldn’t talk to me for days. It took me a lot of coaxing to quench her anger. I thought it was over, but it turned out she had always remembered it. 

Since I knew she cared, I didn’t want to tease her on this matter. I took a serious look at the stones on her palm and praised with a smile: “You made them yourself? Nice work. They’re…pretty.”

When she heard my praise, she lit up. Holding one in each hand, she stuck them in front of me and said with pride: “They’re beautiful, aren’t they? It took me a lot of time to find such beautiful ones, and they’re a pair!”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. Who on earth gives their elder something that comes in a pair? Others might think it’s for her sweetheart…well, Lian’er didn’t know what a sweetheart was yet.

While I was poking fun at her to myself, the child continued: “I’ll give one of these to Master, and when it snows in the winter, I’ll give the other one to you. Though you don’t know when you were born, it’s in winter after all, right?”


Translator’s note:
I’ve reached my Kofi goal!! I’ll update another chapter by the end of this week as a reward. Thanks for everyone who supported me on Kofi. Every bit helps and means a lot to me. Love y’all <3

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 19

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 19

A Few Years

“There is no calendar in the mountains, and when winter is over, you don’t know the time of year.”

When I was young, I had read “Journey to the West” in my spare time. I had forgotten everything, except the classic plots, and that was the only line that stuck in my mind. I envied the monkey’s free and unrestrained spirit when he was just born and yearned to be like him, so when I became an adult, I developed a hobby of carrying a backpack and traveling across the country on foot in quest of scenic places.

But still, it wasn’t until now that I truly understood the meaning of the line. 

In this life, I had lived in the mountains for years. I was born and raised in the mountains, even most of the wandering and setting after following Master was in the mountains. Occasionally, we would make a trip downhill to purchase household goods, so it wasn’t so bad as not knowing the time of year, but the concept of time did become much more blurry. More often than not, I only paid attention to the change of the seasons and climate and watched out for what we were wearing.

Therefore, three years after three years, time passed in a blink of an eye, and life went on as usual. 

Those who were accustomed to the world’s glitz and glamour might not stand such an unchanging life, but for myself, I had never gotten tired of it. Instead, I found the slow daily routine to be pleasant, with little worry and little thought. Nothing mattered much.

I wouldn’t feel lonely, for my heart was settled, and there dwelled in it people, like family, like friends, staying close by. 

Aside from being arrogant and disagreeable, Lian’er was a cheerful and fun-loving person, but the fun was limited to what she liked. Unlike most people, she would rather spend her days roaming and playing with the pack in the woods, or drag me to the mountaintop to play than jostling with the crowds in the market at the foothills.

Besides, as we grew up, Master wasn’t willing to take us down the mountain anymore. Her exact words were we were too conspicuous.

I had no doubt about that. In fact, Master was still the center of attention even when she was out by herself. In the past few years, Lian’er and I had been growing taller and taller, yet Master hadn’t aged in the slightest. Her features still looked the same. On the contrary, her demeanor with the way she carried herself was getting more remarkable, adding some splendor to her. I thought she had a secret recipe for retaining her youthful look, but came to think of it, I didn’t see her making any special effort on it, so I could only chalk it up to the cultivation method, taking a wild guess.

Master’s mind was, after all, on her martial arts. For the past few years, apart from closed-door meditation, she had devoted most of her energy to urging us on, especially on Lian’er’s martial arts attainments. 

I would sometimes feel the way she urged us on was as if she was afraid that time would fly like a white pony’s shadow across a crevice, like she wouldn’t have enough if she wasn’t careful.

I hadn’t told anyone about this random thought. 

When I said anyone, aside from Master and I, there was only one other person—Lian’er. She had always lived up to Master’s expectations. One explanation was all she needed to understand anything related to martial arts. Even Master had more than once praised her endowment as being rare in the world, not to say I felt insignificant in the face of her talent. One might well say it was something you couldn’t ask for. 

On the other hand, she was somewhat spontaneous when it came to practice. When she was in the mood, she wouldn’t take a break from practice. When she wasn’t in the mood, she would skip a few days of practice. All in all, she always caused Master a headache. 

Just like today. 

Today, as usual, I was planning our meals for the day early in the morning. Frankly, I wasn’t much of a cook. Especially without all the spices and seasonings, what I could make was limited, but Master and Lian’er had been eating it for years and had never complained. This pleased me and made me even determined to put in the work to make it better. 

As I was preparing the meal, Master came up behind me and asked with a stern face: “Xian’er, have you seen your martial sister?”

I turned my head slightly and saw from the corner of my eyes that Master was holding a fuchsia wooden sword. Even though it was a wooden sword, it was made of top-quality Hsienmu wood, sounding like metal, as hard as steel, and extremely heavy. It was a fine item Master found by chance during the year when we were traveling together. It was meant to be used for training my wrist strength, but it was only in Lian’er’s hands that it was put to good use. 

The moment when I saw Master holding it, and her face was grave, I had a good idea of what happened, so I replied with reverence: “She went out early this morning, and I haven’t seen her.”

The answer didn’t please Master. She glared at me and scolded me: “Okay, cut it out, don’t play dumb for her. You think I don’t know you yet? You’re always so protective of her and even closer to her than you’re to me as your master. She went out early this morning, but she will come back to you when she’s hungry, won’t she?”

My lie was exposed on the spot. I rubbed my nose in embarrassment and said with a flattering smile: “It’s not that I want to cover her. Lian’er had put a lot of effort into practicing martial arts the other day. As the saying goes, work hard, play hard, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to let her go for a walk today. If it’s something important, I’ll just go get her back.”

If it was nothing important, Master wouldn’t usually ask me to do it when I said so. But it did seem like she wanted Lian’er for something today, so she cut the nonsense and said with a wave: “Well then, get going and be back soon. I have to go down the mountain to handle some business tomorrow after having a word with her.”

Having seen that, I said nothing more, just nodded at Master, turned, and scooted off the cave. 

When I got outside, I headed west without hesitation and found the wolf pack at the mountain pass with familiarity. Over the past few years, if Lian’er had gone out, nine times out of ten, she had been with them. 

When we became closer, I had once tried to talk her out of it. I said to her: “You’re a human now, no longer a member of the wolf pack. If you always bring your harvest to them like this, it’ll diminish their wild nature and hunting ability over time. As kind as you are, what’s the difference between that and a mountain man taming a dog?”

When I said that, I expected her to lose her temper, and she did. But two days later, she came back to me and admitted that I had a point. Since then, she never brought any large prey to them, and when she did, she only brought a little, giving priority to taking care of the sick mother wolves and their pups.

As such, I had no reason to stop her, and sometimes, I would tag along and take care of the sick and the old with her.

As time went by, I became acquainted with the wolves, and they treated me as one of their own, which kind of fulfilled Lian’er’s initial intention of getting me into her gang. 

Today, as usual, the wolves resting in the grass paid no attention to my arrival and didn’t cause an uproar at all, still going about their business and waving their tails leisurely. There were a few juveniles at the age where they liked to snuggle. When they saw me, they scrambled forward eagerly and kept on nuzzling my hand with their wet noses. 

Stooping down, I looked around as I busied myself with them and called for Lian’er a few times, but I didn’t see that familiar figure. I couldn’t help feeling a little puzzled.

Then a female wolf came up to me. 

I couldn’t see the difference between each wolf as well as Lian’er, but only with this wolf, I could recognize her at first glance because I once killed one of her pups.

She was a young female wolf then, but now, she was in her prime. I couldn’t tell why, but I could see she had a fairly high status in the pack. At this moment, she strolled over, brushed my calf with her tail, then turned around, took a few steps, stopped again, and looked back over. 

Surprised, I knew the wolf was a highly intelligent animal, but this was the first time I had encountered such an obvious hint from an animal. I hesitated a little and felt that it should be fine, so I gently pushed the pups aside, stood up, and ran after her. 

She casually led the way, at least she looked like she was leading the way, guiding me into the woods, and I followed behind her at an even pace. The wolves had been roaming around here for months, and I was familiar with these woods, so I wasn’t afraid of getting lost or anything.

But when I saw her slowly leading me deeper into the woods, towards a mountain creek where they usually drank water, I got a little confused. It would be a big joke if she just wanted to get a drink of water, and I got the wrong idea. 

I was hesitant on my way there, but I still ended up following her to the destination. 

I wasn’t wrong. The end destination was indeed the clear creek where the wolves usually drank water. The female wolf stopped when she reached there, just lay down on a boulder and looked at me. 

I looked at her too, then at the sputtering mountain creek. The water here wasn’t too deep. The water at the shallow end was so clear that you could see down to the bottom of the creek, but it was wide, and the current was rapid. A few streams intertwined, forming a water net, traveling, and gushing downstream. Standing nearby, I could feel a hint of coolness in the fresh air. It was exhilarating. 

But at the moment, I didn’t understand why she brought me here. Could it be that Lian’er came here to drink water like them? Or had I gotten the wrong idea? Or…

Before I could think anything out, there came the sound of feet splashing through the water. 

Out of instinct, I turned to the direction of the sound and saw a figure wading through the water, emerging from behind a creek boulder. She was walking in the shallow end of the water, but the current was rapid, and the water was waist high, slapping against her body with considerable speed. The water bouncing off her was splashing all around; each bead of water was glittering under the sun. 

The person was a familiar one, except… 

“Lian’er! What’re you doing? Quick, get out of the water! Be careful not to slip!” I yelled, knowing that I was worrying for nothing but I was still worried. But for that moment, I could only stand there; I could neither go over or look at her. 

When she heard my voice, she wheeled around with a look of joy, sprang out of the water with a deep breath, landed steadily on the rocks by the bank, and came scampering over barefoot. 

I was getting flustered and could only cover my face and yell at her: “Stay back! You…you put on your clothes first!”

After that, my ears were burning, and I had no idea what the child was doing in the water. Maybe she wanted to play with the water or simply to take a bath. Either way, her lack of vigilance was…how could she…just not care at all even after getting out of the water…

With my face covered, I didn’t know how she reacted to my yelling. I could only hear the pattering footsteps go a little further away. She probably went to where she put her clothes. I didn’t have the nerve to look anyway, so I pinched my ears and looked away, then I realized the wolf was still lying on the boulder behind me, wagging her tail as if she was enjoying the show. 

I shot a glare at her and bawled softly: “You’re not allowed to look either.”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 18

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 18

Afternoon

I had taken the medicine that Lian’er picked twice tonight, the first time was at midnight, and the second time was at the first light. 

Both times, she was the one who brought the medicine over and called me. I was ashamed to say that because of the drowsiness, I ended up not knowing whether she had rested or gone to sleep at all for the whole night, but I knew even if she had, she mustn’t have slept well. 

They were common herbs, after all. No matter how thick you boiled it down, the effect was still mild and slow. The only reassuring thing was that the condition was at least not worsening and was under control.

The reason I told her this on purpose was to ease her mind so that she could go to rest. Who knew, after hearing this, she pressed her lips together, thought about it for a second, and said with a sudden realization: “Then I’d better go get some more herbs, in case it isn’t enough.” With that said, she lifted her leg and was ready to set off. 

Between tears and laughter, I reached out in a hurry and held her. We stared at each other like this for a while. In the end, she didn’t go. 

Not that I was capable, but because Master had returned. 

We were tugging at each other when she came back, and neither of us noticed right off. It was the child who reacted first. She halted and looked towards the cave entrance as if she felt something. Then, she called out in excitement and went over. It was then I turned around and saw Master walking in. 

She seemed a little disconcerted, judging from her look now. But I couldn’t tell where exactly. The thought merely flickered in my mind; it didn’t make much noise. I waited for her to come a little closer and was going to get up and salute her, but Master came straight over and pushed me back to bed. She reached out her hand, felt my forehead and pulse, and asked me some questions, to which I answered honestly. Then, I saw her knitted brows finally loosened up a little, like a sigh of relief.

It was also a relief for us that Master made it back safely. We knew that her martial arts were unfathomable, but it was only human to worry in the face of the unknown. I did, and I believed that so did Lian’er. 

That was why the child seemed so happy in that instant. 

For some time after that, it was Master who took care of me.

The medicine she brought back from the mountain’s base was prescribed by an old doctor in the town. Each dose consisted of a mixture of several herbs packed in a packet with a complete prescription. The effect was naturally incomparable to the one cooked out of one or two kinds of herbs picked from the mountains. Even so, I was still feeling dizzy for a few days before the medicine kicked in and slowly suppressed the condition. 

I was always grateful to Master. I didn’t want to use such exaggerated, sentimental words like ‘indebted’ to express my gratitude to her, but I remembered everything she did by heart.

Like this time, it was me who disobeyed her, and the reason I got sick after staying under the rain was also because of my weak body. To sum up, I brought it all on myself, yet she still hurried down the hill and didn’t mention a word about how difficult the journey was when she came back, just silently staying by my side, making sure I took my medicine and got changed, just like how I stayed by her side when we first met. Though she didn’t say much, everything was done with all her heart. 

Actually, I more or less had my doubts. I had a feeling that something might have happened to Master during the trip downhill because of her subtle distress when she returned. And also because even the largest flash flood—maybe it could hold her back for a few hours, even forced her to make a detour—even so, it wouldn’t have taken her an entire day. 

But since Master didn’t bring it up, I kept it to myself, keeping to our usual way of being together. 

As for Lian’er, I didn’t think she was aware of it. Although she was highly intuitive, she was still young and naive. She wouldn’t observe others’ expressions or moods and overthink as I would find myself doing. 

Speaking of the child, she had been out of sight again ever since Master had returned. 

Because I didn’t see her often, sometimes I sighed and wondered if all the worries she had about me that night were just a whim of the moment, and I was just being self-conscious because of that old habit of overthinking?

After thinking about it this way, I felt it wasn’t. 

Perhaps I was just comforting myself, but it was hard to see her these days, not least because most of the time, I was half-conscious and asleep. Sometimes, while I was half-awake, I could vaguely sense some presence. Unlike Master’s, it was a presence unique to a young child, lingering around for a while. Sometimes, I could even feel a soft chill on my forehead, stopping for a moment before disappearing again. 

Unless these were delusions, otherwise, there was no other possibility but the child. 

If it really was her, why did she always come when I was asleep? Was it deliberate or pure coincidence? This made me wonder, but I couldn’t think of anything else. 

The doubt was there all the time, though it bothered me to think about it, it didn’t affect anything. 

Sickness comes like a landslide but goes away slowly like spinning silk. 

Days like this went on a few more days. My cold was getting better with each passing day. Finally, I no longer had to lie in bed all day feeling dizzy and feeble, and my body had also regained some strength, so I wanted to get down and walk around. Master tried to stop me, but saw that I insisted, she just left it at that and warned me it was okay to do light activities like sunbathing in front of the cave, but I wasn’t allowed to practice qigong and go too far.

I promised with a smile. I didn’t have the strength to go far anyway. After lying down for six to seven days, my body felt incredibly sore, and my joints were as stiff as if they were rusted. Enduring all the discomfort, I swung my arms and legs on a flat ground not far outside the cave to get my blood flowing and did some radio exercise moves. Then, I picked a flat boulder and sat down against it, cozily basking in the sun, just as Master told me. 

It had been a long time since I had taken such a relaxing break in the sun, so long that I couldn’t remember when the last time was, maybe years ago, or perhaps in my previous life.

The sun was warm. When I closed my eyes, the world became pale red. 

Nothing was on my mind. I was fully immersed in this pale red’s warmth. For a brief moment, I almost forgot about everything. It wasn’t until footsteps sounded in the quiet world that I came back to my senses.  

The sound of the footsteps was faint. If the world I was immersed in hadn’t been so quiet, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them at all. There would only be two possibilities for such soft footsteps- either the person had trained in qinggong and was excellent at it, or the person himself wasn’t heavy and was as light as a child. 

Or it was simply both. 

I turned my head and narrowed my eyes, watching a little figure getting closer. Because she was approaching against the light, I couldn’t see anything at first. I could only see a rim of waving sunlight tracing around the outline of the figure and haloing as if the haloed ink was soaking through the paper in dots. 

Only when she got a little closer that I could see her. She was still an innocent, lovely child. For a second, her features seemed to grow a little more delicate than I remembered. She wasn’t exactly the same little person I brought home on that winter night. 

Realizing this, I felt a sense of loss somehow. 

She came to my side. Seeing that I was still looking straight at her, she was neither angry nor annoyed, but instead, she smiled a little and said proudly: “You really are at a place like this. I found you as soon as I started looking.” After saying that, she actually sat down beside me, leaning against the boulder as I did. 

This was another unexpected move from her. But this time, as if I had gotten used to it, it didn’t cause much astonishment. As I watched her sitting down, I reached out my hand, casually brushed the dust off her shirt for her, and asked: “You were looking for me?”

She nodded frankly and said: “I went into the cave, and Master said that you were out in the sun, so I thought this would be the best place to catch some sun, and here you are.” After that, she nodded again with great satisfaction. 

Resuming from where it left off, I was supposed to say something like these at this point: “What do you want from me?” or “What can I do for you?” But in the end, when the words were already on the tip of my tongue, they somehow took a turn, turning right into: “Haven’t you been avoiding me all this time? Then why are you looking for me now?”

The moment the words slipped out of my mouth, I wanted to bite my tongue. Being bitter with a child? How mature. 

Luckily, I didn’t think she noticed the bitter undertone in my voice, so it didn’t bother her to hear it. She just raised her eyebrows and answered earnestly: “No, I’m not avoiding you. I was just thinking about things, and now that I’d thought it out, so I came to you.”

“Oh?” This was so rare. Of course, she was thinking about stuff, which was nothing in itself, but it was a little unusual that she would say it this way: “What have you been thinking about then, Lian’er? Care to tell me?”

“Nothing.” The child looked at me with her cheeks resting on her hands, and her eyes were frank: “I was just thinking about what you said earlier, that thing called love.”

With that one sentence, my mind was suddenly pulled back to that cold rain. 

That time, standing under the tree, she said, “I understand what’s ‘like,’ but…what’s ‘love’?” Her face was full of confusion when she said that. 

So I did explain it to her after that, or should I say, tried to explain to her, what love was, although I felt that the explanation was actually quite far-fetched at the time.

I told her that if you like something, it won’t stop you from using it, or eating it, maybe because you like to use it or eat it that you were fond of it; but if you love something, you will be reluctant to let it go and won’t want it to suffer the slightest damage—even if the damage is supposed to be done, and may even do you some good—for no reason and for nothing. Regardless of things or people, if you can’t let it go and steel your heart against it no matter what, then that is love. 

In fact, I understood deep down that it was superficial to explain the word ‘love’ in this way, and it might even be a fallacious explanation too. What is love? Countless people around the world have explained it. Any one of those explanations would be more elegant and beautiful than this. But have those flowery words really explained it all?

I just wanted to guide the naive Lian’er to try to grasp that word for the first time with the simplest of words. As for the deeper meaning behind that word, no one could teach it to her but herself. 

But even then, it never occurred to me that she would be so dedicated to figuring it out. Besides that, there was another puzzling aspect to it. 

“So… now… Lian’er, have you figured out anything yet? Emm, and… ” After hesitating for a bit, I thought about it and felt that there should be nothing wrong with it, so I asked directly: “And why do you have to avoid me when thinking about this?”

I was puzzled, so I looked at her, yet she looked away. She was still sitting there with her hands on her cheeks, but her eyes gazing into the distance were a little unfocused.

“You’re the one who said ‘if I can’t let it go and steel my heart against it, then that’s love’.” There was a rare hesitation when the child said that, as if she wasn’t quite sure how to structure her words: “I’ve never, ever felt that before, even with the wolf pack. We really are a family, and I really like them, but feelings like unable to see them suffer and whatnot, not at all… it’s all supposed to happen, injury or death. Of course, I’m not saying that injury or death is a good thing…it’s just…it’s just… ” She began to become fretful and bit her lips hard as she spoke: “It’s all supposed to happen. It’s a natural thing!”

I quickly patted her hand and let her know seriously, meanwhile pleasantly: “It’s okay, I understand what you mean. I really understand.”

She looked at me with her head tilted and was silent for a moment. Then she shook me off and took a few slow steps before she stood still with her back to me and spoke: “But then… then you got sick, and you said you might die. When you said that, I felt really uncomfortable, in a way I hadn’t felt before, not even when Master killed the big wolf… ”

At this point, she turned back, looking over with eyes as clear as water, yet clearly reflecting the sunlight: “So, I thought about it for a long time and thought this is probably what you call ‘love,’ right? What’d you say? Yes or no?”

I just looked back at her quietly, not answering right away. After a moment, I smiled softly and said: “What I say doesn’t matter. Yes or no, that feeling is yours, Lian’er, so you have to ask yourself.”

I smiled, and she smiled with me. For some reason, she was beaming as if she brightened up in an instant. 

“I think, yeah.” She came back and bent over like she was trying to get a good look at me. It was close, very close, and then she pointed to her heart and said: “I don’t want you to die, whether from disease or snakebite. When you asked me that time, I felt sore here, upset and angry. I guess that’s what it’s like unable to let someone go and see her suffer. If that’s the case, then I love you.” After thinking about it, she added: “If it’s Master, I’ll also feel sore and uncomfortable, then I love Master too.”

So she seemed to come to a definite conclusion. That little face looked so joyful and satisfied. She smiled on her own for a while, and then as if remembering something, she looked me in the eyes again and said: “In that case, don’t ask me about death. I don’t want you to die, so I’ll protect you from death from now on.” 

When she said so, she reached out her hand and patted me on the shoulder, mimicking what Master usually did, as if that was a promise. 

I didn’t duck, letting her slap at my aching joints. When she was done, I reached out and ruffled her hair as well, expecting her to dodge out of the way arrogantly like before, but she didn’t. 

So as I ruffled her hair, smiling, I said to her word for word: “Well, in exchange for that, I’ll protect Lian’er from now on too. Although I’m not as good as you at martial arts, I’ll do whatever I can to protect Lian’er you. Deal.”

“Deal.” She nodded. Only then she dodged my hand, probably thinking everything was good once we had talked it out. Lastly, she patted me twice before turning about and running far away like a wind. 

I didn’t want to move, simply leaned there, and watched the little figure running away from a distance until she was out of my sight. Then I turned back, closed my eyes, and went back to basking in the sun.

This afternoon, the breeze was gentle, and the sun was surprisingly warm, warm enough to enter my heart.


Translator’s note:
In this chapter, I’ve changed the translation of the term “有情yòuqíng” to “to love” which I translated it to “to have feelings for” in chapter 13 as I find “to love” to be a better term for it given the context of this chapter. I’ll stick to this term in the future. Sorry for making such a mistake. Hope you enjoyed this novel so far.

And, thank you very much to those who support me on Kofi and everyone who keeps reading despite my slow update. Your support means a lot to me o(^▽^)o

有情yòuqíng- which can mean “to have feelings/affection for” or “to love”

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