Author: Slopaw (Page 2 of 7)

This is Slopaw.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 56 Letter

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 56

Letter

From then on, we settled down in Mount Hua, living a life that was similar but ever so slightly different from back then.

With Master gone, it was just the two of us. Life went on as usual. Back then, Lian’er and I took care of most of the housework. Now, in addition to that, we had to make one or two more errand trips down the mountain every month. Master only ran our errands because we were too young at the time, and now that wasn’t an issue anymore.

Other than the minutiae of everyday life, there was one extremely important thing to do every day that took up most of our free time, and that was, searching for Master– dead or alive. 

It was easier said than done. When you actually got down to business, it was as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. Imagine how big Mount Hua was? With three peaks standing in tripod and two side by side, there were countless caves, valleys, and cliffs among the mountains. At first, we had a rough idea where to start, searching the places nearby where she was likely to go, but even after a month had passed there were no signs of her.

When we had eliminated all the possible places we had in our mind, we fell into an aimless state. The area we were searching was getting bigger, and slowly, we started to lean on our intuition. As you might guess, the more you do that, the less likely you are going to get anything out of it. Later on, I could feel that Lian’er had begun to slack and give up. She began to treat the daily outing as a game. Every time we went to a place, she would split up with me and look around herself, picking the most dangerous areas to go and play.

I knew her qinggong was exceptional, so I had no reason to stop her. Lian’er had always been an impatient person. It was surprising enough that she hadn’t quit on me by now, so I had to let her be. I would just watch out for her at a distance. Fortunately, nothing went wrong. 

A few months elapsed in a blink of an eye. Other than becoming better at rock climbing and more familiar with the terrain around Mount Hua, what did we find? Nothing.

After the first year ended with just the two of us, it was moving into early spring. The plants and trees came to life, the wild geese returned, and the peach trees started to flower.

On this day, Lian’er, who had been putting up with my willfulness for months, finally spoke to me, saying that the three-year period was due, that she was going to fulfill Master’s last wish to look for Taoist Zhenqian in Luoyan peak and ask him to inform Master’s husband, Huo Tiandu, about her death, and she asked me what I thought.

I looked at her. After a long moment, I clenched my teeth, and at last, said, “Alright.”

It was a damp and cold day in the mountains, with mist hanging in the air, giving the day a somber feel. Lian’er didn’t say anything more when she saw that I agreed. As she was about to turn and go after nodding with a smile, I grabbed her and said that I would go with her, but she didn’t agree. Instead, she pushed me towards the cave. Lian’er said, smiling, as she was pushing me, “What are you going to do by coming with me? I’m just sending a message. Look at your face, it looks almost as bad as the sky. You better get some rest. I’ll be faster on my own. Isn’t it better that I’ll be back before it rains?”

I didn’t know how my face looked like, and I didn’t feel like I needed rest either, but it was undeniable that she would be faster if she went alone. The weather was ever-changing in the mountains, but once you had stayed in the mountains for long enough, you would have a good idea when it would rain. I could only let her go and kept telling her to come back early and not take more than four hours. 

I paced back into the cave after I saw her off into the distance, but I didn’t feel like resting, so I went to the small stone chamber at the farthest end again and stood before it.

Master, I accepted your death, but am I supposed to…I asked myself. Even though I knew there would be no answer, even though all these days had yielded nothing, the glimmer of hope was still sparking in me. However, there was a limit to willfulness.

From October to now, I have dragged Lian’er with me to stay here for several months. She hadn’t complained, but sometimes, she would go down the mountain alone. I knew what she was doing down there. She went down to see her people from the stronghold who came all the way to town. This kind of meeting happened once or twice a month and let her tend to some affairs and keep in touch with the outside world.

She was already a member of the jianghu, but I dragged her with me to stay in the mountain, causing her some tedious troubles. I felt sorry for her every time I thought of that. Besides, the possibility of finding Master was slim, so I had to…give up, no matter how much I hated to.

I told myself this giving up was just temporary. It didn’t mean it was over, but I couldn’t convince myself no matter what. Frustrated, I wandered in the stone chamber. Looking at this little world where time had frozen, a sense of familiarity welled up and ebbed away. 

The stone chamber was still the same as it was a few months ago, still dark, still covered in dust. That time when we were cleaning up, I had decided to clean up this place, but after being interrupted by Lian’er, the resolution that I worked up was almost gone. Then I couldn’t bring myself to do it again, and in the end, I kept it as it was, like how Master had left it.

I rubbed my neck. Maybe I should be glad that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to regain my peace so easily.

But after regaining peace, I began to feel sorry because Master had always liked to stay tidy. If she was still around, she would never allow her room to become like this. Now that she was no longer around, her disciples left her room to collect dust. I supposed it wasn’t something she would like to see whether she was around or not.

I couldn’t just stand there anymore at the thought of it. I let out a long breath, eventually decided to roll up my sleeve, and continued what I had left unfinished a few months ago.

At this moment, I would feel better if I was doing something. 

The interior of the stone chamber was simple. After I wiped the dust off the large stone block that was used as a table and mopped the floor and a few small items, all that was left was the alcove in the wall where things like quilts and cushions were put, and a robe was draped on top like how I had first seen it a few months ago.

I reached out my hand and hesitated for a moment but still took that robe down, planning to wash it later. I also moved the quilts and the other stuff over to the stone block one by one, separating them into those that needed drying and those that needed washing. When I cleared away everything and only the alcove was left, I took the cloth and was about to clean it. Who knew I accidentally knocked the bottom of the alcove and found that there was a lid there. Flipping it open, there laid a scroll of parchment and a wooden box.

That scroll of parchment was something I was familiar with—it was the notebook that Lian’er had found. It was just that it was much thicker than it was back then. I folded my hands at it and saluted it three times in silence before opening it. A lot of new martial arts techniques were added in it, and her thoughts about the sword techniques, but content about her feelings was getting lesser with time. Only the last part wrote, her handwriting messy, “I was meditating last night, cultivating my neigong. Unexpectedly, a nightmare struck, as if there were numerous demons coming at me. I fought and slayed them. When I woke up, my lower body was paralyzed, unable to move, and my upper body felt numb. What I practiced was tainted and brought the scourge of Qi Deviation on myself. Alas! I would never see the sky again.”

I read it twice before closing the scroll silently and spacing out. Before this, I only listened to what Lian’er said. This was the first time I had seen Master tell the story herself. It turned out it was just a nightmare that had ruined such a vibrant person. A few simple sentences on paper and a sigh. A quiet despair, and that’s it.

In the face of what I had seen, the hope I had had for several months now had cracked for the first time. Maybe Lian’er was right. Maybe Master was really…

It took me a while to pull myself together. I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand, stopping myself from thinking about it, and carefully put the parchment scroll back in place, and turned my attention to the wooden box beside. The box wasn’t big and was nondescript, but since it was put together with the parchment scroll, it showed how much Master valued it.

After a moment of hesitation, I took it out carefully. I opened the lid, and there was a small jar. Its color was old and plain, but it looked somehow familiar. I shook it, and it rattled. There were some small items inside. I poured them out to find three little wine cups, simple and modest, but the edges were smooth and neat.

When I saw these, it dawned on me, wasn’t this the jar of fine wine that the old man from the ceramic store gave us? I never thought that Master would keep it together with Lian’er’s gift after all these years. I could see that she treasured them. If Lian’er knew about it after she was back, I reckoned she would be exhilarated.

My mood seemed to lighten up at this discovery. I was about to put the stuff back in place and show it to Lian’er when she was back, but when I picked up the small wine jar and was about to put it back, I noticed there was one more thing on the bottom of the box. Something thin and light stuck to the bottom, like some sort of paper. 

I took it out. It didn’t just look like it; it was a piece of paper, a letter. On the side facing up, it wrote, “To my dear disciple, Zhu Xian.”

I was shocked, almost letting go of the small wine jar I was holding. Fortunately, I came around in time and laid it down eagerly. I hurried to the entrance where there was light with that letter and took a closer look. It was Master’s handwriting, no doubt. The handwriting was as messy as the one on the parchment scroll. Obviously, it was written after she had fallen ill.

Ever since I had seen the letter written for Lian’er, there had been a doubt in my mind. That was, there was not a single word about me in that letter. I thought Master still resented me, so I couldn’t say anything. Now that I found out about this letter, it stirred me. My fingers started to tremble, at the same time, I couldn’t wait to open it, wondering what Master wanted to say.

When I finally opened it, I saw it was just a few sentences on a white piece of paper, a poem. It wrote: 

The young green bamboos are half sheathed. 

New tips are peeking out the wall.

Their shadows creep across the books, casting an illusion of night. 

The wine bottles seem to cool as their shadows pass by.

Dainty and pure with the wash of rain. 

The wind carries their faint fragrance.

If only they are left untouched, someday you will see them reach the clouds.

—Ode to the Bamboo, Dufu

I had read it twice, from top to bottom. Other than that, there was nothing.

Holding this piece of paper, the ripple it caused in me earlier faded, leaving only doubts. Although I wasn’t that familiar with it, I remembered it was a poem written by a famous poet, but I didn’t understand why Master didn’t mention a word about what she was thinking in this letter that was almost like a last will. Instead, she only left me a poem.

It must mean something, but what? I read through the poem once again. There were no acrostics nor metaphors. It was just an ode to the bamboo. That was related to my name, but so what? Surely, Master wouldn’t just want to compliment someone in a deliberately written letter like this, right? Not to mention, there was nothing worth complimenting about me. 

I was racking my brain but still had no idea at all. I read it over and over again, and in the end—you could say it was an intuition—the word “wine” in the poem caught my eyes.

It was nothing uncommon when the word “wine” was in a poem. It was just that… 

I turned around. The wine jar was still in the alcove, and the wine cups that Lian’er made back then were in it. The letter and the two items were put together. So could there be some connection between them?

Then I thought about it again. If the bamboo in the poem was me and the wine in the poem was these wine ware, then there was only once where I was connected with these ware. That was…

Suddenly, a memory flashed across my mind. A chill struck me.

Could it be that on that evening a few years ago, Master…


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 55 Black and White

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 55

Black and White

The first thing that came to me when I heard what she said wasn’t surprise but apprehension.

But the next moment, I dismissed the apprehensive feeling, not only because of rationality, but also because I didn’t think that she would repeat that brusque action she had done when she was a kid. Some deep-rooted things from childhood might continue to influence her throughout her life, but just a few. After all these years, her growth and change had been so obvious. 

So after the feeling of apprehension had subsided, what came next was a faint hope.

“Why? Why didn’t you bury her?” Because of the rising hope, I pressed on, almost desperately. Talking with my head up was too uncomfortable, so I leaped on the tree with qi, but because I was too hasty and careless, the tip of a leaf grazed the corner of my eye.

Disconcerted, I squinted my right eye that was tearing out of reflex, but I had no time to pay any heed to it. I held on to the tree branch to keep myself still and crouched down. Then I laid my other hand on Lian’er’s shoulder and blurted, “Didn’t you say Master had passed away? Why didn’t you bury her? Why do you only bring it up now? Or there’s more to it?”

I was impatient, but she wasn’t. She sat reclining against the tree trunk, letting my hand rest on her, even reaching out her left hand to rub my sore eye. She said, grinning, “What’s the hurry? You were crying back then. That’s why I didn’t go into the details, and later, it didn’t occur to me to bring it up. I thought paying respect is just setting up a memorial tablet and burning some joss paper. I saw the people in the stronghold do that a lot. Who would have thought you wanted to visit the grave?”

My heart rippled when the soft hand grazed my face, but I quickly pulled myself together. Now I didn’t feel like explaining the difference between a memorial tablet and a grave and just let her go on with what she was doing. I looked at her with the other eye and said, “What are the details that you haven’t told me? Can you tell me now?”

She nodded, her hand kept on rubbing absent-mindedly when she said, “It’s nothing, actually. I can explain it in a few sentences. You’d asked me why I didn’t bury Master, but at that time, I didn’t even know where Master died. I couldn’t bury her even if I wanted to.”

My heart skipped at her words. The faint hope seemed to be getting closer. “I don’t know!” I continued after her, my voice unconsciously raising a few notches, “But you were so sure before. Or were you not with her when she died despite what you said?”

Lian’er first nodded and then shook her head. She looked at me and said with a frown, “I didn’t see her die with my own eyes, but she did die.”

“How could you just assume a person’s death like this if you didn’t see it yourself?”

The growing hope felt somewhat unreal, like light in the darkest of times. I couldn’t contain myself at the excitement and couldn’t help raising my voice. The words I blurted were loud and hasty, tinged with a hint of blame.

“You don’t believe me?” She retracted her hand, and her face darkened. Biting her lips, a tinge of frost gleamed in her eyes. 

I was shocked by my own words that nearly sounded like blame as soon as they were out. My chest tensed, and I saw the hurt in Lian’er’s eyes. I immediately regretted it, loathing myself for getting too worked up and getting carried away. I quickly held her hand that was still mid-air. I lowered my voice, trying to soften my voice, and said apologetically, “Lian’er, Lian’er, don’t be angry. When have I ever not believed you? You know me, even if there’s just the slightest chance, I hope Master would still be alive…”

After she listened to my explanation, she blinked while looking at me, her face softened, and her eyebrows smoothed. “I understand what you’re saying. Actually, I wish Master was still alive too, but she’s really dead. I’m not just saying this. I’ll show you the evidence.”

After that, she turned to grab my hand and leaped off the tree with me. After we landed, we headed toward Yellow Dragon Cave.

I was being pulled along. It didn’t show on my face, but inside, I was nervous. I didn’t know whether I felt more excited or scared. Uneasily, I entered the cave with Lian’er. Then she let go of my hand and went to the left corner, rummaging for something.

There were only a few small wooden chests in that corner. It was the place where we put our books and papers. They were books that Master had bought us for practicing writing. Except for the few that had interested her that were brought into the small chamber, the rest were piled up there. Most of them had sat there for ages, but I saw Lian’er pick them up one by one and flip through them before throwing them aside, as if she was looking for something. After repeating this a few more times, she let out a cheer and pulled out a piece of paper from an old blue book. 

“Found it! See.” She turned and hopped over, shoving the paper in my hand.

I looked at her before looking down. Taking a breath to compose myself, I laid my eyes on that thin sheet of paper. After taking a careful look, I realized that this wasn’t just a piece of paper, it was a short letter, with salutation and sign-off. That meticulous style, who else would that be if not our Master.

The content of the letter was clear and concise. The first two sentences reminded Lian’er that although she had made some progress, she had to remember that there was always someone stronger than her, and she should keep improving and not slack off. Then she changed tones and told us that this would be the final farewell, don’t go looking for her and don’t miss her; we only had to inform her death to Taoist Zhenqian in the temple located at Luoyan Peak and ask him to pass on the message to her husband Huo Tiandu three years later, on the day when the 20-year-promise was due.  

“That night when I woke up, no one was in the cave anymore. I didn’t know what she did that let her leave at night without waking me up, but, by that time, her body had already been ruined. She couldn’t move her legs, and her upper body was far weaker than before. Mount Hua is full of dangers, and it was freezing outside then. What else could she have been doing other than seeking death? Plus after reading this letter, what else is there to doubt?”

Lian’er was explaining alongside me as I read the letter. The moment she was done, I finished the letter, but my eyes were still fixed on the words “death” and “farewell” for a while before I slumped beside the table. I put my hand to my forehead and tentatively mumbled, “Maybe—maybe Master just took a bet and ventured out, like a last-ditch effort. That’s why she left this farewell letter.”

“Impossible.” Lian’er cut off my wishful thinking without mercy and said resolutely, “Master even gave up on the 20-year-promise. Not to mention, with the state she was in, she couldn’t even get out of Mount Hua, where else could she have gone? If I were her, I would do the same—find a quiet place where nobody can find me and embrace my death with grace, also sparing my body from getting seen by anyone and tarnishing my image.”

She said it with determination and confidence, as if she knew what Master was thinking. Deep down, I believed her. The resolution and pride in Lian’er was extremely similar to that of Master. You could say she inherited them from Master. Every time we encountered an extreme situation, her judgment and understanding of Master’s thoughts was obviously better than mine. There was no doubt about it.

Besides, it wasn’t that I didn’t know, it’s just that…

I let out a soft sigh and read the letter once again, then I stood up, folded it, and gave it back to her. I watched her slip it back into the book and put it away in the corner before I spoke, “I know it may be a little inappropriate, and Master also told us to not look for her and not to miss her, but as the saying goes, I have to see her, dead or alive. We couldn’t just let things hang. Lian’er, let’s find some time and try to look around the mountain. Just to set our mind at ease, okay?”

As she gathered the books that had been tossed aside, she said casually without turning around, “Alright, anything is fine. I’ll look around with you if that’s what you want. Since we rarely come back, it’s fine if we stay a little longer. Let’s see who’s right.”

I knew she was still angry by the way she talked, so I walked over to the corner and asked carefully as I put away the books with her, “Then…is it alright to be away from your stronghold for so long?”

“You don’t have to worry about that. I have my ways. Besides, I normally go away once or twice every year. What could go wrong?” Perhaps she had noticed my deliberation, she straightened up and gazed at me. Then suddenly, she smiled and said, “Why are you acting funny today? It’s not like yourself at all. Am I that petty? What you said earlier didn’t bother me.”

Only now it doesn’t bother you. Of course, I didn’t say that out loud. Seeing her smile, I knew all her displeasure had dissipated. I breathed a sigh of relief. Things had settled. Although it was far from what I had planned to do while we were on the road, it was going in a positive direction—it might even be better than what I could hope for.

I had to see Master, dead or alive. Before that, there was still hope, no matter how small it was. 

After we had discussed that, it was time to make plans for a longer stay. Mount Hua was huge. I said we were going to look around, but I had no clue where to start, so there was no need to rush. We would talk about it after we tidied up the cave and made sure it was cozy.

Good thing that we were familiar with the place. Lian’er went out after she was done with the books in the corner, and we came together and decided our tasks. In less than an hour, she was back with some game and forage. Meanwhile, I fired the stove, fetched some water, and cleaned the pots. Since we had stovewood and salt outside the cave, I cooked up something to fill ourselves up. Then we took a break before starting to do a thorough clean of the clutter in the cave. 

Back then, we would do a cleaning like this every year. Washing, drying, mopping, sweeping, everyone did their job, and everything was in order. Everyone knew what to do without saying anything, so I didn’t check on Lian’er and went about my business at my own pace until I came to the small stone chamber at the furthest end. I hesitated.

According to our usual tasks, cleaning up this chamber was my responsibility. It was just that, this time around, I knowingly and unknowingly avoided coming close to here, let alone going in. It would just add to my grief.

At that moment, I stood in front of the stone wall, hesitated for a moment, and at last, made up my mind. I carefully moved the cover on both sides and entered.

Maybe it was all in my head, but as I stepped into the room, I felt it was darker than it was back then. I guessed Lian’er never went in here for the past two years because it was stuffy inside. There was a faint smell of mold in the air, and the room was covered in dust. Compared to outside, this actually felt like a place no one had lived in for a long time.

But everything was in the same place as before. Even a cloak was chucked on the bed like the owner had just taken it off.

I just looked at it, standing there for a while before touching my nose and going over. I took the wet cloth and was about to wipe off the thick dust on the furniture first, but just as the cloth touched the table, I heard Lian’er call for me outside.

She sounded urgent. I couldn’t make out the emotion in her voice. Before I could think, I chucked the cloth and rushed out, afraid that something might have happened. When I got out, I saw she was standing in front of the stone bench she slept on when she was little, facing a stack of clothes, holding something in her hand, her face beaming.

I settled down when I saw her smile but then wondered why she had called me so urgently, so I went to her in puzzlement, looked at her with my head tilted, and asked, “Lian’er, what’s wrong? Why did you call me over?”

She was looking at something in her hand, her face sparkling with delight. When she saw me walking over, she turned around but didn’t explain immediately, just grabbing my hand and saying gaily, “Right on time! Turn around. I have something nice for you!”

I didn’t know what she was up to but didn’t want to kill her joy either, so I turned around as she asked. Before I could speak my doubts, I felt my hair was gently parted. A lovely scent drew close, and I felt a warm touch, followed by a cold sensation on my neck. Something was clasped around my neck. A cold and smooth object fell against my collarbone. Its texture felt like jade but colder and harder.

Lian’er was right behind me, her body almost touching me. I could hear her voice beside my ear, chuckling, “I thought they’re gone. I never thought I could find them again after all these years. Well, we should make the best use of it. Now that Master is gone, we’ll take one each. Consider a sign of staying true to our promise.” 

It was then I could look at it. I saw a red string around my neck. The middle of it was intricately woven into a net, holding a carved stone in it, pure white in color. At first glance, it was easy to mistake it for jade, but if you looked closely, it was just a small colored stone. 

By the time I turned around, Lian’er had already taken a step back, her hand fiddling around her neck. When she put her hands down and saw me looking at her, she pointed to her neck with a smile. There was a similar piece of stone clasped around her neck. Only the color was different—it was black as ink. 

“You’ll take the white one, and I’ll take the black one. How’s that?”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 54 Return

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 54

Return

We actually left like that, without any hesitation.

The steward Dong Sun only managed to call “chief” once as she chased after us, but how could she possibly catch up to us? What she got in reply was an answer carried by wind to her: “I was almost done with them. You can finish up the rest. I’ll leave the stronghold to you guys while I’m away. If something urgent happens, just do like we did before.”

Lian’er didn’t even turn her head around when she said that. Rather, I was the one who glanced back as we hurried away and saw from a distance that she was frowning. The displeasure I had before receded, and then I felt a little sorry for her because, after all, she was just being loyal. 

Despite that, I had to let her know that it was better to get rid of those unrealistic ideas. Even if Lian Nichang is a phoenix, she is one that glides freely in the sky, never one that willingly stays in the depth of a shrine. Probably no woman in this world is as unrestrained as her. Just because she is willing to stop for someone doesn’t mean that anyone can keep her. Besides, no one knows better than me about what will happen in the future and how this story will go, even though I don’t remember the details. 

Lian Nichang is just a legend, not a historical fact. I don’t want her to get swept up by the wave of history. It will be too late to regret it when she gets swallowed up in it. 

She just has to live a carefree and  peaceful life.

We were on the road for the next few days. It would normally take about ten days to travel from Mount Dingjun to Mount Hua, but Lian’er and I were traveling light. We skipped the main road and took the shortcut through the mountains. Because Lian’er was fast with her qinggong, if she had been traveling alone, it would have taken her less than four days to arrive, but since there was me dragging her down, it took us two more days. The good thing was the journey was fun and relaxed; it had been a while since we experienced life in the wild.

The journey passed like that, and we finally arrived at the border of Mount Hua on the last day of September, a day before Winter Clothes Day.

It was getting dark when we reached Mount Hua’s border. We couldn’t stay at the foot of the mountain for too long, so we continued up the mountain in the dark. The path going up Mount Hua was perilous, but fortunately, we knew the way very well like it was our own backyard, so nothing could go wrong. 

Under the starry sky, I could see a cavernous cave from afar. Above it, the three big characters of Yellow Dragon Cave reflected the cold moonlight. Out of the blue, emotions swelled in my chest. I halted and looked ahead. For a moment, I was hesitant to go close.

Lian’er, who was next to me, stopped too. She looked at me first and then went over alone without saying anything, moving away the branches in front of the cave that were used to block the entrance from animals. After it was clear, she dusted off her hands and turned back to me. 

“Welcome back,” she said, smiling.

I felt a pang of sadness, but still I lifted my lips, forcing myself to smile, walk over and enter the cave with her. 

When I stepped inside the cave, it was so dark that I couldn’t see my fingers, but this wasn’t a problem. To find something in the dark in this familiar space was easy for me, let alone Lian’er. After hearing a rustling sound in the dark, a lit candle appeared in our hand, its light shining on the rock walls around us.

I looked around as I walked inside with the candlelight. The furniture and tools remained in the same places, just the colors looked a little faded. As I brushed my fingers across them while passing by, I was flooded with emotion.

But as the time went by, a shred of doubt arose amidst the emotion. 

When I came to the inner cave, the feeling of doubt got stronger. Since it had been empty for two years—even though the entrance had been blocked and it was difficult for animals to get in—I thought there should be some cobwebs or bugs or something like that around, or at least the place would be covered in a thick layer of dust, but it looked clean. I hadn’t gotten much dust on my hand after touching the furniture. I looked at my hand and said questioningly, “Lian’er, has anyone been here while you were away? How come the cave is so clean? Like it had been cleaned up recently?”

At that moment, she was looking down and sticking her candle into the candlestick on the table. She turned around upon hearing that and rolled her eyes at me. 

“Who else could it be? I come back and stay here two or three times every year. Unlike someone who hasn’t even come back once.” She said, pouting.

I was startled for a moment and was about to ask her why, but on second thought, the reason she came back every year was probably to visit Master’s grave and pay respects to her. I felt sorry at that moment and didn’t know what to say, so I murmured, “…Thanks.”

“Thanks? Thanks what?” I didn’t expect this would make her laugh. After she was done with the candle, she picked up the vellum on the table and waved it at me before saying, “What’s there to thank for waiting for someone. I was afraid that you wouldn’t know what had happened when you came back. That’s why I came back to have a look from time to time. I didn’t expect that I would end up catching you halfway and that this would just be a waste of time.” With that, she flicked her fingers, sending the thin vellum over.

She gave it to me because she wanted me to read it. I caught it and spread it out in the candlelight. There were only three characters scribbled on the yellowish brown vellum—Mount Dingjun. After giving it a little thought, I knew that this was a clue Lian’er left. Realizing I was wrong before, I couldn’t help but feel warm in my heart.

After that, I spent some time tidying up. Since it was late, we both tacitly didn’t bring up anything else, just cleaning up the space between the beds. After taking out the blankets and sheets from the camphor wood chest and making the beds, we took off our cloaks and robes and were ready to rest for the night. 

Lying on the nostalgic stone bed, fatigue sank in. When I was about to blow out the candle, I saw Lian’er. In her gown, she was standing barefoot with her blanket in her arms, staring at me without saying anything. She seemed a little angry but also aggrieved.

“What’s wrong?” Before I considered what was making this little daredevil unhappy, I quickly got up and sat her down to get her feet off of the cold ground.

“Tell me if there’s anything. The weather is so cold, why are you standing like that? Aren’t you afraid of catching a cold!”

She was sulking, so she ignored me. After listening to what I had to say, she scooched in and threw her blanket on the bed. 

“I want to sleep here,” she said grumpily. Then she went ahead and settled down comfortably.

I was confused. It threw me off when I saw her lying so close. We had been sleeping on our own beds for all the years we had lived together. Even back in the stronghold, she asked someone to set up another bed. How come she acted so strangely now that we were back to Yellow Dragon Cave?

I hesitated for a moment but still decided to reach out and nudge her. I could feel her warmth even through the gown. It was warm and soft. I retracted my hand right after giving her a nudge and said, clearing my throat, “Lian’er, what’s going on? Why do you want to…sleep with me all of a sudden?”

She was facing the wall with her back to me. “Who wants to sleep with you. No one was sleeping on this bed after you left, so I’ve been sleeping in this bed since a few years ago. Don’t you dare make me settle for that tiny little bench now,” she said with a snort.

When I heard what she said, something occurred to me. I looked at the person next to me, and then at the long stone bench. Finally, I realized what the problem was. There were only two beds when Master and I first fixed this cave up. That long bench wasn’t meant for that purpose. It was after we had Lian’er that we made it into a bed for her to sleep in at night. She was young at that time, and the stone bench was long and wide, so there wasn’t any problem using it as a bed after putting on some bedding, but now…

But now she has grown up into a tall lady. That long bench was no longer suitable to be her resting place.

That’s careless of me, I thought to myself. At that moment, I couldn’t care about being shy and got up on my knees on the bed. I first nudged her up a little and moved the pillow below her head. Then I spread out the blanket that she just draped over herself and tucked her in nicely. After I was finished, I reached out to snuff out the candle on the table. I bent over and patted her, saying softly in her ear, “Then have a good rest. We had a long trip today.”

She must have been still angry about me neglecting her earlier, so she just let me do everything without saying anything. It was only now that she replied with a barely audible “Mm.” Maybe she was tired. Her breathing turned soft and even soon after that.

But I, lying beside her in the dark, started to become uncomfortable. Although my eyes felt heavy, I couldn’t sleep, but I didn’t dare to turn either because I remembered Lian’er was extremely alert even when resting. In desperation, I forced myself to focus on the rhythmic breathing beside me. It took a long time before I drifted into slumber.

In the middle of the night, something pressed up against me. It was soft and warm. I was startled awake. I couldn’t push her away, so I could only listen to her muttering in her sleep with a wry smile as I stayed stiff in place, wondering what she was saying.

After a night of torment, I felt dizzy and nauseous the next day when I got up.

In contrast, Lian’er woke up refreshed. She was up early in the morning, and when she came into the cave and saw me sitting on the edge of the bed looking pale, she laughed at me. I smiled too, having no desire to argue with her. I went and washed up by the creek outside the cave. After taking some time to sort myself out, I felt I looked much better. Shaking off the chilly water on my hands, I turned around and saw Lian’er was on a big tree not far away. She was sitting on the tree branch boredly, swinging her legs, and looking at me. When she saw me turn around, she smiled and asked, “What’s our plan for today?”

It had been two years since anyone lived here. There was actually a lot to do, like getting groceries from town, doing laundry, fetching water, and hunting, all sorts of chores, but obviously, these weren’t the first priority. 

“Let’s go see Master first. Where is she buried?” I wiped my hands dry and straightened my clothes, saying seriously, “Today’s the first of October. Even though we’re not well prepared now, we should go visit her grave and greet her first. It’s never too late to buy the other stuff later.”

However, the young lady continued to sit on her tree in the sun-dappled shade, smiling. She responded with an “oh” and then shook her head. 

“But I didn’t bury Master, so there’s no such thing like a grave,” she said innocently.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 53 Depart

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 53

Depart

When I went out of the bamboo forest with my hand on my wound, it startled the people waiting outside.

The short lady exclaimed in surprise when she saw the blood seeping through my fingers landing on my bloodstained lapel. The tall lady beside her didn’t freak out as much as her, but her face turned pale too.

Meanwhile the steward Dong Sun remained unruffled. She walked over calmly and glanced in my direction before turning to the person next to me. 

“Chief, should we take care of the wound first or have breakfast first?” She asked respectfully. 

Lian’er acted as if nothing had happened and said frankly, “Bring the food to my room.” Then she took me away.

The next few days were peaceful. I spent most of my time in her room since the wound on my neck was a little unsightly, and I preferred the tranquility of the forest anyway.

Lian’er was busy being the glorious king of the mountain, so she wasn’t around for most of the time, but she first asked her ladies to set up a bed in her room for me. Its location and placement was similar to how our beds were arranged in Mount Hua. Sometimes I felt like we were back in Yellow Dragon Cave when we talked after the light was out.

When she had time to spare, she would keep me company and show me around the stronghold. Although I said she was keeping me company, it often ended up being her dragging me around and showing off the people and things in the stronghold. Her complacent and relaxed look made it seem as if the events of a few days ago had never happened.

Perhaps after that excruciating bite, she was over it. After that day, we never brought up anything related to that again.

Only the wound on my neck remained. 

In the end, Lian’er not only didn’t feel bad about this slightly embarrassing wound, she seemed to be rather pleased with it. I could feel her eyes on me every time I changed the dressing in front of the mirror before sleep. She would stand by and watch me spill the ointment all over the place with my awkward hand movements before she came over with a smile on her face and helped. I didn’t know what she was so happy about. She was probably having fun with how all over the place I was.

At first, I didn’t mind her delight, but when this happened a lot, it became annoying. Speaking of which, it was all thanks to her that now I had a wound on my hand, and a wound on my neck. Although I somewhat brought it on myself, there was no need to be so happy about it all the time, right? Besides, it wasn’t the first time she bit me. It was a curse that I would get a new bite mark every time we met.

“What are you talking about?” One night, I complained about this to her. She disagreed with it when she stood beside me and listened. She glared at me through the mirror while applying the ointment on me and said, “I didn’t hurt you a lot growing up. How did you get to that?” 

The wound stung a little, but I felt a cool sensation on it because of the ointment. I ignored it and just smiled. I said to her, counting with my fingers, “How am I wrong?  The first time when I saw you with the wolves, I got bit on the arm; the second time when I saw you with Honghua Guimu, I got bit on the finger; this time when we finally met again, I got bit once more. Every time, there’s blood. Doesn’t that mean I would get a new wound every time I see you?”

“So you meant this kind of seeing.” She seemed to understand and didn’t try to argue. She first nodded and smiled. While she was smiling, her face suddenly dropped.

“If you’re going to count it this way, then I’m going to bite every time I see you until I see blood. See if you dare leave again!”

I paused for a moment and stopped making fun of her. Looking at that blurry face in the mirror, I was dazed for a moment before saying with a sigh, “I won’t anymore…”

I won’t anymore, really, unless the hardships she is destined to experience are over, and she no longer needs me by her side and asks me to leave. 

Life was good, but I couldn’t feel peaceful. How could I? Perhaps Lian’er had put it behind her. She could talk and laugh so frankly with me because her conscience was clear, but although I talked to her like how I used to, whenever I was alone, I couldn’t get away from the emotion I had at that day. The sadness still lingered.

After a few more days when the bloody wound had almost scabbed over, the thought of leaving was getting stronger. 

I want to go to Mount Hua; I still do. There were two people I was supposed to reunite with: one was already here, but the other I could never reunite with again. I felt a sense of indebtedness, as if there were unfinished business and incomplete journeys. Besides, Master passed away there. How could I not pay respects to her? Even though I was two years late, I should toss a handful of soil, burn an incense[1], and kowtow for forgiveness. 

But that didn’t seem to cross Lian’er’s mind, probably because she didn’t care about these traditions. For her, death was death. She didn’t believe in ghosts or souls. That was why when I told her what I was thinking that night, she just responded with a “oh” and said casually that we could go together when she was free, but then I heard no word from her later on, nothing.

As I waited, I started to get restless, but she was busy, so I couldn’t rush her either.

Lian’er was very busy. I was worried that she would screw up at first, but now it seemed like I had worried too much. The people in the stronghold had their way of managing affairs inside the stronghold. There was no need for Lian’er to worry, but she would need to show her face when dealing with other bandits, but she probably had a plan for that. With that plan, she wouldn’t do anything too crazy, which was why she didn’t make many enemies within outlaws, instead, she made a lot of friends. She seemed to be uniting the gangs and growing.

She never avoided me when speaking about these matters. Today, she talked about who she beat and who she made friends with. The names sounded foreign to me. I didn’t care to ask, but I couldn’t ask her about going to Mount Hua with me either.

If it was back then, I would probably have planned to go on my own first. That way not only I could stop feeling restless but also I wouldn’t be in the way of Lian’er’s work. However…

I wouldn’t speak of leaving so easily anymore.

September would soon come to an end. Winter Clothes Day.[2] was on the first day of October. I wasn’t so familiar with all these old festive days and didn’t care about it either, but when I saw the ladies in the stronghold took time off and were making paper clothing in two or three, I remembered there was such a day to pay tribute to the dead, and that reminded me of the thought that had been on my mind. For a moment, I felt that I couldn’t wait anymore, so I turned and headed to the front of the stronghold. 

The front of the stronghold was where all the meetings and training took place. I had familiarized myself with the place over the last few days. I knew that Lian’er was receiving some guests over here today, so I went straight to the guest hall. The ladies on guard duty along the way knew me, so they didn’t stop and search me, and the journey continued without a hitch.

When I reached the stairs before the meeting hall, I could hear talking and laughter coming from inside. I pulled myself together and thought about what to say. When I took a step, about to go up the stairs, I heard a voice coming from behind. 

“How are you, jiejie? Why are you in such a hurry? ” She asked.

I turned around and saw a person at the stairs holding documents and walking over leisurely. Who else could that be if not the chief steward Dong Sun?

After getting used to the stronghold in the past few days, I more or less knew what was going on in the mountain. Most people here were saved by Lian’er. As chief, Lian’er was respected because of her impressive martial arts, and she was second to none for that, but when it came to making major decisions behind the scenes, this person was actually the real boss, or at least, someone who was also in charge.

Fortunately, she was genuinely assisting Lian’er and was loyal to her, so I had always treated her with respect. Now that she asked, I replied honestly, “I need to talk to Lian…your chief. I couldn’t wait, so I came here. I just need a few words with her. I’ll be on my way once I’m done. It won’t be long.”

“Oh, I see. I was wondering why you were in such a hurry.” She came in front of me while I was answering her, stopping three steps before me, and said gently, “Chief is having a meeting in the meeting hall now with people of all paths from Sichuan-Shaanxi. I’m afraid now is not a good time.”

What she said sounded very sincere. I acted out of impulse just now. After coming here in a rush, I hesitated for a bit when I heard the bustle in the hall. Now that I heard her say that,  after giving it a thought, I said, “If that’s the case, then I’d better come back another time. Sorry to disturb you.” With that, I turned to leave, but then I heard a “wait.”

I turned around for the second time and saw that she was still standing right there holding the documents. She said solemnly, “Actually, there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you. Would you be willing to hear me out now?” She looked serious, so I cupped my fist in earnest and said, “Please, enlighten me.”

“You flatter me. I’m in no place to enlighten you. The fact that we are here was all thanks to the chief. The chief really deserves her reputation as a hero,being the best of the best. She will definitely be somebody in the future. We, me, and the other sisters, just have to willingly give our life for her and follow her unto death.” She looked down and explained slowly. Her voice was even. “Since the chief introduced you as her family, you should also play your part as a family. Don’t hold her back while she soars.”

She didn’t say a lot, but what she was trying to say was blatantly obvious. I looked down upon hearing that and went silent, all kinds of thoughts going through my mind until I heard footsteps getting closer. I looked up and reached out, stopping Dong Sun who almost walked past me. I stared at her, frowning. “Did she say that? Or did you say that?” I asked.

She didn’t seem to expect me to come around so quickly and ask that, but she stood firm and said, “That’s what the people want.”

It would have been better if she hadn’t said that. As soon as she said that, it all seemed so ludicrous. I couldn’t stifle a chuckle. Not wanting to argue with her, I asked the question again, “Did she say that? Yes or no?”

“You don’t believe it’s God’s and people’s will?” This time, it shook her a little, as if she didn’t expect me to be so persistent. 

“People’s will is what people want. It isn’t only the few hundred people in the stronghold. As for God’s will, we have no way of knowing that. Does it matter if I believe it or not?” I smiled as I shook my head and answered, “In the end, it doesn’t matter if I believe in God’s will or people’s will. What matters is I know there’s one person who doesn’t believe in it. As long as she doesn’t want to, even if the people kneel down and beg God, she still won’t want to.”

“You!” She knew who I was talking about. Finally, her face fell and spluttered, “Wait, what are you doing!”

Although the martial arts of the people in the stronghold was taught by Lian’er and they had been training hard, they had just trained for two years, how could she have stopped me? I evaded her blocking with a slight dodge and said, smiling, “Nothing. Why are we arguing about who’s right? We could ask her.”

We had been talking in a lowered voice, so it didn’t alarm the people inside, but the door was right in front of us. As soon as I pushed the door after that dodge, the door opened, and the view inside unfolded before my eyes. 

The hall wasn’t too huge. It was elegantly decorated, flanked by two rows of pear wood round chairs. In them seated more than a dozen people in different outfits. Although I was shocked, I still put on a smile, and the one sitting in the carved wooden chair in the middle was the person we were talking about just now.

A dozen pairs of eyes darted to me when the door swung open. Some were shocked, some were furious, and some were confused, only the person in the middle smiled as she glanced over.

“It’ll be Winter Clothes Day in a few days. I want to go visit Master in our old house.” Althougheveryone was looking at me, I couldn’t be bothered. I just looked at that one person in the hall and asked with my hands behind my back, “Nichang, do you want to come along?”

When I called her that way, she seemed surprised. She raised her eyebrows and asked instead, “Are we going now?”

Actually, I wasn’t in such a rush. It was fine to leave early tomorrow morning, but somehow, I nodded and said, “I’m going now. Is that okay?”

Then I saw a flicker of shadow and the next moment she was standing in front of me, her eyes beaming and her lips smiling. She held my hand and said, “What are you waiting for? Let’s get going.”


[1] It’s a Chinese burial tradition, where family members toss a handful of dirt on the casket before burying it, and after that, incense is burned. 
[2] The Winter Clothes Day falls on the first day of Lunar October which marks the beginning of winter. On this day, people burn clothes made of colorful papers in front of their ancestors’ graves to keep them warm.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 52 Funniest

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 52

Funniest

Gone has a lot of meanings, but when you say a person is gone, that usually means only one thing. 

But maybe that wasn’t what Lian’er meant. I narrowed my eyes, looking at the person in front of me, hoping to find a hint from her face that supported what I thought. “gone” might simply mean that Master no longer stayed in Mount Hua. Besides, Lian’er would joke around sometimes. Maybe she just wanted to upset me and didn’t understand the severity of that joke.

However, her eyes were clear. There wasn’t much sadness in them, but there was no sign of joking either. 

But I didn’t want to believe it. “Gone? What do you mean by that?” I asked, making it clear, afraid that it was a misunderstanding, but at the same time, hoping it was a misunderstanding. I couldn’t describe how I felt now, but my voice was steadier than I imagined, just a little lower than usual.

“I’m trying to take care of your feelings and put it mildly.” The young lady sighed and murmured, “Doesn’t ‘gone’ mean dead?”

It snuffed out the last glimmer of hope.

I closed my eyes. Feeling a little weary,  I took two steps back and sat down on the bluestone beside the bamboo tree. Then I took a few deep breaths but still couldn’t get rid of the feelings of fatigue.

There was a kind of strange desolation, so empty that it took away sadness and happiness, leaving only confusion. It was a feeling that I loathed, even feared. I would rather feel grief or make a scene out of disbelief because that was how most people expressed sadness; that was the normal way to grieve.

But I couldn’t do it. My eyes were dry, and I didn’t even have the desire to move my fingers.

I was sitting, and Lian’er was standing. I could feel her eyes on me but didn’t know what kind of look she had on her face. There was a moment of silence. After that, she squatted down in front of me, holding her knees to her chest. She looked me in the eyes earnestly and said, “Why aren’t you crying? I thought you’d be crying.”

Too bad I couldn’t give her what she expected. I could only lift the corner of my lips feebly and look back into her eyes. 

“Have you heard of being too sad for tears?” I said.

“Of course I have. You taught me that before when I was a kid, meaning you want to cry but can’t, so that means you wanted to cry.” She answered frankly with a nod. When she saw my feeble attempt to lean back, she reached out right away and moved her leg slightly. Her body didn’t seem to move, but she had shifted places. 

“Don’t just lean back. Behind you is Moso bamboo. It can be itchy and painful if you touch the velvety hair on the culms,” she said.

My back didn’t land on the prickly hair, instead I fell into a warm embrace.

It was a familiar place. It wasn’t the first time that we leaned on each other like this. Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to care about being shy and embarrassed. I went ahead and rested my entire bodyweight on her. Sitting cross-legged and leaning my head into the crook of her neck, I closed my eyes and cleared my mind.

She was quiet too, so the air fell into tranquil silence, only interrupted by the rustling sound of bamboo leaves when the wind blew past, like whispers that no one understood, leaving a pleasant scent floating in this air. 

I didn’t know how long had passed, I just knew that the empty weariness had faded while being in the pleasant scent and warmth. I felt I had pulled myself together, or rather, I was ready, but I was still afraid to open my eyes, so I just murmured dreamily, calling, “Lian’er?”

“Mm?” Her voice was clear. It was right next to my ear. I couldn’t hear much emotion.

“Tell me…” Leaning on her shoulder, I felt her body heat passing on to me. It felt like a transfer of courage to me now. “Tell me the details. What exactly happened? Why did Master…it shouldn’t be…”

I clenched my teeth with my eyes closed. It shouldn’t be; it really shouldn’t be. I’m a person who likes to think the worst of everything, but even someone like me couldn’t imagine that. Master was in her prime. She had always been healthy and energetic and hadn’t even caught a cold for years. When it came to martial arts, rarely anyone could match her, not to mention she was living deep in the mountains away from people. No matter how you looked at it, you wouldn’t have thought that she would suddenly…

“Oh—” There still wasn’t much emotion in her voice. She let out a breath and stayed quiet for a while, as if she was gathering her thoughts, then she slowly started to speak, “It happened almost a year after that lady Honghua Guimu came. Master became more focused in her martial arts after that and went into closed-door meditation more frequently. Occasionally, she would come out and spar with me, and we both improved surprisingly well, so that year of training could probably match up with a few years of progress…”

She didn’t seem to say anything important and kept beating around the bush, but apprehension suddenly struck me. I had a feeling. This feeling had never struck me until now because Master was an expert.

But what Lian’er was saying was clearly leading up to that.

“Then that was the time of White Dew[1], and the days were getting colder…” The voice next to me continued steadily, “One day, Master was doing her meditation, and when she woke up the next day, she suddenly couldn’t move.”

“Couldn’t move?” I repeated her words in bewilderment, not quite understanding her meaning.

“Yeah, couldn’t move.” Lian’er wasn’t exactly a good storyteller. She wasn’t very good at forming her words, but she was using her own way to describe the scenario to me. “She couldn’t move her legs and couldn’t even feel anything on her legs. She didn’t even realize it when she cut her legs. Master said that because she had been cutting corners trying to speed up her progress, her practice became tainted, and that led her into Qi Deviation.[2] She said it’s her own fault.”

She was telling the story in plain words, just that few sentences. My eyes were closed, but it was as if a painting was unfolding before my eyes. It was so vivid. Master was such a prideful person, and suddenly, a mishap happened, but she still held her head high and refused to give in. Instead, she explained to Lian’er calmly what happened. How did she feel when she did that?

“She refused to go to the doctor, so I went down the mountain and abducted a few doctors to treat her, but she wasn’t getting any better. After a few days, her hands became less nimble, so Master stopped her practice entirely and just focused on training me. In her spare time, she would tell me things about jianghu. Until that winter when I’d learned everything, Master…she…”

At this point, Lian’er stopped. Actually, there was no need to say more.

This was it. All kinds of promises and wishes came to naught. The person I could fall back on was gone. I guessed the day Lian’er was ready to go on her own was the day when there was nothing holding Master back in this world.

My heart ached. It was as if the promises I made to her were still ringing in my ears. I toasted her that night, certain that we still had years ahead, that it was just a temporary farewell, that we would have decades to go for me to be by her side and fulfill my filial duties. It was moving to hear when I said it and made her shed her tears, but in the end, it turned out to be all talk, easier said than done.

Why hadn’t I thought about it? Lian’er was fated to get into jianghu and make her name. Why would Master, who was equally prideful, hide her edge and remain unknown to the world, leaving no impression and no trace in the story? 

It turned out it wasn’t that she didn’t leave any trace, but her life flew by and vanished in the blink of an eye, leaving only her footprints in the snow.

I covered my face and rubbed my eyes violently. They were still dry, but I could smile now, though bitterly. The person behind me let me lean on her silently, neither trying to comfort me nor blame me. Then it occurred to me that she had to face all these all by herself. Even if she saw life and death as the natural course of life, it must still be hard for her.

The funniest thing was the only person who could go through these with her was miles away living her life in peace and having sweet dreams.

“Lian’er…” When I spoke again, my voice was husky, as if coated with a layer of wax. “…do you…hate me?”

With my back against her, I couldn’t see her face. I could only see the hands around my waist. Her slender fingers were playing with my sash, looking bored, and I could only wait.

She stayed silent for a while, and finally, I heard her take a breath and say dejectedly, “Not really hate, but it’s true that I was angry. At that time, Master was gone and I was left alone on the mountain. I was lost and didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t in the mood to play with wolves. The days were boring as hell. I wanted to go down the mountain and look for you, but I didn’t know where to look. At that time, I was so angry when I thought about how you were eating and drinking well, living carefree. I really wanted to bite you, and only that could ease my anger.”

“You should hate me.” I nodded, feeling that I deserved it. 

“I was being an asshole. I’m sorry for Master, and I’m sorry for you,” I said. 

“Oh…” She replied but said nothing more. 

The air fell silent again. I had said what I had to say. What remained was our own thoughts. The wind was kicking up, the bamboo leaves were swaying, the sunlight was wavering, and the shadows were flickering. The rustling sound filled the air. Even the fallen leaves on the ground were carried up, fluttering, looking like withered butterflies dancing in the sky.

I sat quietly. My body was chilly, but my neck was warm. There was a breath against it, and then a sharp pain. 

Lian’er always acted with her  thoughts. She would do what she said. I had never doubted that.

She bit hard, showing no mercy, as if she wanted to vent out all her pent-up anger until she tasted blood– only then would she be satisfied. I raised my head in pain but stayed leaning against her, unmoving, simply because it was a punishment I deserved.

While something warm was trickling down my neck, something warm was finally welling up in my eyes.

And eventually, tears were streaming down my face.


[1] The traditional Chinese Lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. White Dew is the 15th solar term of the year. It begins on Sept 8 and ends on Sept 23.
[2] In short, Qi Deviation is martial arts training/cultivation gone wrong and messes up the flow of qi, causing internal damage to the body, or even death. It was mostly due to improper practice and techniques.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 51 Scared

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 51

Scared

“Chief, the old man’s here.”

A voice came from the outside of the bamboo forest and interrupted our conversation, so it had to be put on hold for now.

Lian’er looked at me first before she looked up and took two steps forward with her head held aloft. “Mm, bring him over,” she said in a lowered voice. Looking at her commanding manner when giving orders, where could you find the childishness when she was grumbling a moment ago?

In a way, she was used to giving orders since she was young, only it was wolves she commanded back then, and now it was people. 

The meaning of that glance just now was obvious. Of course, I took the hint. When the shadows of the figures outside the bamboo forest were approaching, I eased back to an inconspicuous corner behind Lian’er and decided not to call her unless I had to to save myself from being blamed for undermining her image later.

But when I saw who was coming, I knew it would be difficult to stay quiet. That scared old man who was following the ladies towards here, who else could it be if not the retired old man, Zhou Zhonglian? There were too many things going on in my mind before, and I felt that this person was harmless, so I totally forgot about him. I didn’t expect he hadn’t gone out of here yet. I didn’t know what Lian’er was going to do to him. Maybe I might have to ask Lian’er to spare him.

But for now, I will wait and see what happens first.

When the old man came close, one of the ladies came to stand beside Lian’er, and the rest stood a little behind on both sides. The situation looked like a trial in front of the court. The good thing was the old man had been in office for a long time. He still had his integrity, and was rather composed, even if frightened. He glanced around and said with his fist cupped, “Miss, may I ask why do you bring me here? How may I help you?”

The miss he called, the actual king of the mountain, stood there proudly and said, “Sir Zhuo, it’s nothing. I invited you here just to settle your accounts with you.”

I was listening at a corner, thinking to myself, so she was after his possessions. It was true that you would amass a fortune even if you were an upstanding official. No matter how righteous they were, officials who made it to old age and left their office in one piece would still possess a handsome amount of money. Otherwise, why would they hire those escorts to keep them safe on their journey?

Clearly, the old man thought so too. Upon hearing that, he said in panic, “You can have all this money. I have some money at home, so I don’t have to rely on the government purse.”

Her face turned cold, and she boomed, “Although I, Lian Nichang, am a bandit, I have my principles. You can ask other bandits, have I taken anyone’s money without reason? If you’re really clean, I won’t take a single penny from you. If you’re corrupt, hmph, then I’m sorry, I’ll take your money and your head too. You hear me?”

Sweat was dripping down from the old man’s head. His body was shaking. It shows that once you have been in office for long enough, you’re bound to have something to hide. I was a little astonished when I heard her righteous-sounding speech.

After she was done telling him off, she paused for a moment before slowing down and continued, “Zhuo Zhonglian, listen up. You’ve been in office for more than ten years. The money you received from your subordinates and the local governors was seventy-six thousand seven hundred taels, which was ill-gotten gains, so I’ll take them all. The grain you took as tax is worth thirty two thousand five hundred taels. Although you had gotten that from the government, it came from the people, so I’ll take it and give it back to the people for you. Aside from that, your salary was sixteen thousand eight hundred taels. That’s what you deserve. I’ll give it back to you. You have gained around one hundred thousand taels during your ten years in office. You’re not an upright official but not a corrupted official either, just an average imperial official. Now the accounts are settled. Got any problem with it?”

The more the old man listened to what Lian’er said, the more appalled he looked, but towards the end when he heard where it was heading, he brightened up a little. He quickly cupped his fist and said, “No, no, you’ve listed out everything about my income over the years, clear and precise. I’m satisfied!”

“As long as you’re satisfied.” She nodded contentedly when she got such an answer. She gave the person beside her a look, and the lady beside her stepped forward, raised her hand, and threw over a flag.

“I’ve sent away your bodyguards but I will give something back to you.” When Lian’er saw he was confused, she explained loftily, “Your retinue, money, and carriages are now at the entrance of the stronghold. Put this flag on the carriage when you go. No one will mess with you within the province, it’s much better than your Wudang bodyguards!”

The old man was overjoyed and quickly took the flag. As he was about to kowtow and thank her, someone came over and took him back the way he came, heading out of the bamboo forest.

So the old man only had time to thank her with a cupped fist before he turned to leave. He first cupped his fist at Lian’er, then he turned slightly to where I stood and cupped his fist. 

So he saw me earlier. Maybe he thought that things turned out for the better because of me.

The truth was I didn’t expect things to turn out this way any more than he did.

I had expected that Lian’er had grown up. Now, she is Lian Nichang, a chief who ruled over a region, Rakshasa, whose name shook Wulin. She must have come a long way to be here, so I wasn’t surprised when she made friends and formed alliances. I wasn’t surprised either when she decapitated someone. That was the result of her growth, her new branches and leaves. If I ever felt anything about that, it was deep regret. I regretted that I missed out on her growth in that period, this amazing period of her life. 

But what happened just now felt so foreign and distant, far beyond the scope of just growth. 

As the saying goes, a leopard never changes its spots. People grow within a framework. How could someone as wild and willful as Lian’er take the trouble to plan and investigate? She wouldn’t bother to come up with such a thorough plan no matter how smart she was. If she did, she was no longer the Lian’er I knew. 

And if she didn’t, then there should be someone who taught her to do so by her side, or even do it on her behalf.

I looked up at the thought. The old man Zhuo was gone by now. The young lady in the shade of the bamboo trees didn’t look back. She stayed there talking to the person beside her. Their voices were too soft. I couldn’t hear anything and could only see the dappled sunlight on them wavering in the breeze.

If I wasn’t mistaken, the lady beside her right now was the one she asked to bring me to her room.

Right-hand man. A word suddenly came to mind, and my heart skipped a beat. I should have thought so. With such a huge stronghold like Mount Dingjun and with so many people, there were many things that needed to be taken care of. It wouldn’t be easy to manage it well, yet the stronghold was thriving and well-organized. How could it be just about blood and guts?

And the righteous-sounding speech that she gave earlier wasn’t something she learned in Mount Hua. Although Master and I had taught her about the country and the world, her mind was never there.

If that was the truth, I should be glad that there were people like that by Lian’er’s side who could take care of her, plan for her, and alleviate her worries when I wasn’t there for her. Apart from her own ability, the fact that Lian’er’s journey after coming down the mountain went so well must have been thanks to them, so not only I should have been glad, I should have been thankful too.

But…

“What are you thinking? Standing here looking silly.” They had come back at some point while I was pondering. You could tell Lian’er was in a great mood by the big smile on her face. She spoke cheerfully before she even came close. “How did I do just now?” 

“Well-founded and fair. You have the bearing of a great hero,” I answered with a smile, putting a stop to my thoughts. Although it was unexpected, she did well just now. Of course, I wouldn’t hold back on my praises. When I looked away, I saw the person behind her, so I asked, “May I know who…”

“Oh yeah, come, let me introduce her to you.” She turned to where I was pointing. When she saw who I was pointing at, she didn’t look surprised, as if she was used to people following her. Instead, she pulled me over and said, “This is the chief steward of the stronghold. Her name is Dong Sun. Dong Sun, go tell the other sisters, this is my…close relative. Please treat her well, but she’s pretty easy-going. Just get along with her.”

I couldn’t help smiling to myself at that. She still didn’t acknowledge that I was her martial sister like before. She must have come up with “close relative” on the spot to skim it over, but it worked. Now wasn’t the time to make fun of her. Since it was an introduction, I cupped my fist formally and said, “I’m sure you’ll treat me well. I haven’t thanked you for showing me the way yesterday. If I have anything that I don’t understand in the future, I hope Dong……Sun jiejie[1] will help me out.”

I hadn’t talked to people so formally before in this life. I felt a little out of practice, so I hesitated on how to call her. First was because I didn’t know what was appropriate to call her. Second was that the name was a little bit of a…mouthful.

“You flatter me. It’s my honor. Since you’re Chief’s family, you’re also our family. From now on, we’re sisters.” Her reply was much more proper. Probably sensing my hesitation, she then explained, “All our names were decided by ourselves. It’s because most of us have a past we’d like to forget. That’s why we gave ourselves a new name as the start of our new life. My name, Dongsun, was given by the chief. If you think it’s mouthful, you can call me Dong’er or Sun’er.”

She looked not older than twenty years old, yet she was perceptive. Having been seen through by her, I was surprised. I simpered and was about to reply, but Lian’er carried on. 

“What do you think? It’s a good name, right?” She said.

I turned to look at her and saw that she was also looking at me. She was smiling, looking complacent. I couldn’t stifle a smile and answered, “Compared to Master, it isn’t that good. Don’t forget that our names have meaning.”

“Who says it doesn’t have meaning? It was in the middle of winter when I came to this place. At that time, the officials colluded with the bandits, and the people were suffering, especially a group of women. I couldn’t stand it and stepped in. That was how this stronghold came about. That’s why a lot of the ladies here have Dong[2] as their surname.” She had always been very competitive. When I doubted her, she wasn’t too pleased. She straightened her neck and argued, “As for the word, Sun[3], it has something to do with you. At that time, I saw she looked a bit like you, so it hit me to give her that name. If you say that, you’re dragging yourself in!”

I was startled, not because of what Lian’er had said but the strange look that flashed across that lady’s face, and I happened to see it. When I wanted to look closer, her face went back to normal. She took a step forward and cupped her fist respectfully. 

“Chief, it’s late. Breakfast is ready. When are you going to have breakfast?” She asked.

“Hm, okay. I’m coming.” Lian’er nodded and put the topic behind. She held my hand and smiled. 

“Let’s go? I’ll treat you to a nice meal,” she said. With that, she began to go and pull me along but didn’t succeed.

“Can we wait a little longer?” I stood in place. When I saw that she was looking at me, confused, I smiled at her and held her hand back. 

“I have something to say to you. Why don’t we have breakfast after that?” I asked softly. 

She thought for a while when she heard that. Without hesitating for too long, she then turned around and told them, “You guys go ahead first. I’ll come later. Just get the kitchen ready.”

That lady acknowledged what she said and left. It was just that after turning around, she seemed to take one more look at us.

Am I…overthinking this? I couldn’t help feeling a little bemused.

Some feelings were stirring in me. I’m just afraid that I cannot stand the fact that there is someone by Lian’er’s side and become jealous of that person. I don’t have any expectations, but at least, I know that I have been the one by Lian’er’s side. However, if she is surrounded by capable people one day, where would I be? It is a question I have never thought about.

If I’m no longer needed, then there is no point staying by her side anymore, right?

I was merely upsetting myself thinking about it. Fortunately, I realized it soon and stopped myself from spiraling down. I shook my head slightly, shaking off all the nonsense. I looked up and saw Lian’er was looking at me intently, looking inquisitive. 

“What’re you thinking?” When she saw me realizing that she was looking at me, she didn’t try to hide it. Instead, she spoke, asking curiously, “In a moment you’re frowning, and the next you’re shaking your head. There’s a lot going on on your face.”

I rubbed my eyebrows and said, smiling wryly, “I’m just thinking nonsense. Master used to say that I like overthinking, not that you didn’t know that.” At this point, I remembered our previous conversation, so I carried on, “Oh right, Lian’er, I got interrupted earlier. I asked you how you ended up here alone, and you haven’t answered me. Did Master allow you to come down the mountain?”

When I asked that, my fingers were still rubbing my eyebrows, which blocked my sight, so I didn’t pay attention to the surroundings. When I didn’t get any answer after a while, I put my hand down wonderingly and saw Lian’er was standing quietly in the shade of the bamboo trees, barely showing any emotion in her eyes.

“She has no control over what I do anymore.” She looked at me and answered frankly.

“Master’s gone.”


[1] It’s a term of endearment which means elder sister.
[2] Dong means winter.
[3] Sun means bamboo shoots, and the MC’s name is Zhu(bamboo) Xian. That’s why Lian’er gave Dong Sun her name.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 50 In the Forest

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 50

In the Forest

I woke up from my sleep with sunlight shining into the room. It felt strange for a moment because it was silent. It was a peace and quiet I never had over the years I was away, whether I lived in a village in the countryside or rested at a postal station along my journey.

It had been a while since I felt so peaceful, as if I was in the middle of the forest, away from people.

I still felt a little groggy when I got up. I stared at the simple and unfamiliar furnishings of the room and the tranquil greenery outside the window before I was fully awake. Then I remembered that although this place wasn’t that far away from town, it was indeed in the middle of the forest. 

This was Lian’er’s room. 

I knew that because that was what she said at that time. 

At that time, there wasn’t much going through my mind–it was as empty as a blank slate. I just wanted to tell her that I’m back and won’t leave anymore. That was what she asked for back then. It was an answer I owed her.

She nodded then and said, “good”.

It was only after that conversation that we were truly reunited.

Then…

Then I was interrupted. 

I was ashamed to say that I had put everything out of my mind because I was too focused before. When people around us started clamouring, I realised it wasn’t the time and place to pour out my heart. 

Those opponents of Lian’er—probably because they got away in one piece despite the turn of events—were still in shock. They were hushed for a moment. When they wrapped their heads around a few moments later, they took up the fight again, especially Geng Shaonan. I guessed he couldn’t stand being played with because of his pride. Even though he knew he was no match for Lian’er, he lifted his sword to fight nonetheless, disregarding his own life. Fortunately, Wang Zhaoxi stopped him. Although his other brothers had better judgement than him, their chests were heaving while they were standing at the side in silence, their eyes bursting with anger towards Lian’er. 

Lian’er glanced at them impatiently and then looked at me. She turned her head and called. One of the ladies responded and came forward. Then Lian’er told her, “Bring her to the back, to my room.” The lady was startled when she heard that. She looked at me hesitantly before nodding. 

After she nodded, Lian’er looked back at me and said, “There’s a balm in a jade bottle in the hidden compartment at the bedside. Take care of that wound on your hand with it and take some rest.” 

She was acting like usual, without the slightest sentiment of reunion. Apart from the moment where her eyes lit up when she said “good,” her attitude was no different from her usual attitude during our days in Mount Hua when she asked me to make food after she was back from hunting.

Although I couldn’t act as nonchalant as her, I knew now wasn’t a good time to talk. Besides, my hand was throbbing with pain, so I took her suggestion. But I didn’t forget what I wanted to do. Before I left, I whispered in her ear, “Although what Geng Shaonan did was detestable, he’s got his lesson. I caught a cold on the road before, and they looked after me during the two days I was with them. Let’s just call it off, shall we?”

I knew giving her a lecture now wouldn’t do any good, so I tried to relate myself to them. It wasn’t entirely a lie though. Lian’er didn’t answer me directly. She just rolled her eyes and harrumphed, “You always like to meddle in other people’s business. Does your hand not hurt?” With that, she reached out and pushed me to  the lady behind her. Then she added, “Remember, the jade bottle. Don’t get the wrong one or you’ll be in trouble.”

If others heard her dance around a question like this, they would have thought I failed to convince her and it was a no-go, but how could I not know her. I smiled and took one last look at her before leaving with the lady with a light heart.

After that, when did I fall asleep?

At that point, I raised my hand unconsciously and looked at the dressing on my palm. When the lady asked if I needed help, I obviously declined her offer and took care of it myself, but these layers of dressing were too meticulous and nice. Clearly, it wasn’t how it looked like when I wrapped it myself with one hand.

Although I wasn’t a master, I think I still was quite vigilant, and considering that the matter was something like dressing my wounds, there was only one person who could have done that without waking me up.

Did Lian’er come back last night? Then why did she leave again without saying anything?

It was already late when everything happened yesterday. Shortly after I came to this room and took care of my wound, it got dark outside. When it was time to light the lamp, Lian’er still hadn’t come back. I don’t know if she had set any rules. There was no one around the house, and it wasn’t a good idea to roam around by myself either. Fortunately, although the room interior was simple, everything I needed was there. I poured myself some hot tea and drank two cups of it as I looked around the room. I was tired, after all. It wasn’t long before fatigue kicked in, and I drifted off as soon as I lay on the bed.

So…could it be that I had unknowingly occupied her place, so she had nowhere to rest and had to look for another place? 

As I thought to myself, anger started to build in me. I shook my head, trying to stop myself from thinking too much, trying to shake this displeasure that came out of nowhere out of my mind. Then I got up and cleaned up. Maybe they heard the sound from inside. A voice came from outside. “Miss, are you awake? Do you need to wash up?” 

I opened the door when I heard that. Two ladies were standing outside, one tall and one short. They were foreign faces dressed like soldiers, with toiletries and a basin of warm water in hand. I quickly let them in. They were setting things up with ease and familiarity. It didn’t take them long to put everything in order. I couldn’t help but wonder, did Lian’er begin to put on airs and ask people to serve her after she came down the mountain?

But this doubt soon dissipated because after the short lady was done, she couldn’t help looking around. 

“So this is what it looks like inside the chief’s room. It’s my first time seeing it. I thought it would be different.” She said, smiling. 

“Lyu’er!” Apparently, the tall lady was more serious. She glared at her and bowed at me. 

“Pardon us. She’s still young and hasn’t learned her manners yet.”

I was washing up when they talked. Hearing them, I picked up the pace and quickly finished up before looking up and smiled. 

“It’s okay. I’m not particular about that. Anyway, Lian…your chief, why didn’t she come back yesterday? What’s she up to?” I said.

“Right, we were very busy yesterday. The chief invited a bunch of brutes, making pacts and forming alliances. Beside that, we had to watch out for vermin among them and get rid of them. Of course, we worked until midnight.” The short lady cut in as she smiled. When she noticed her partner was glaring at her, she said to her plainly, “What’re you doing staring at me? The chief said it herself there’s no need to be careful with her, just treat her like our own.”

It was easier to get along with straightforward and lively kids. After hearing what she said, I smiled. I stopped mincing my words and cut to the chase. 

“Where’s your chief now? Can you take me to her if that’s alright?” I asked.

She could be nonchalant about our reunion, but I couldn’t. The feeling of wanting to see her kept growing over the night. Besides, after hearing what she was busy with, I could only stop worrying by being by her side. Otherwise, who knew if this little daredevil would stir up any trouble?

“Um…the chief would do her sword training first thing in the morning. Why don’t you have your breakfast first, Miss?” Since she couldn’t stop her partner, the tall lady just continued. 

“The chief should be here when you’re done with breakfast.” She said as she cupped her fist.

I knew about that, so I answered, “It’s alright. Just take me to her. I can wait until she finishes with her training and have breakfast together after that.”

“Eh? How did you know our chief hasn’t had breakfast?” The short lady looked at me, blinking, looking curious. 

I smiled frankly and said, “The day starts with what you do in the morning. Training at sunrise is what she’s been doing for many years even without the crow of the rooster. I guess it’s become a habit.”

With that, we went out and down. I noticed on my way here yesterday that the back of the stronghold was the living area. Compared to the front of the stronghold, where it was heavily guarded and sentries were everywhere, this place seemed to be much more peaceful. Plus, the people who lived here were all girls, so the place was neat and well-organised. It even had its own style. Only Lian’er’s house was far away from all these at the farthest end, in the midst of a forest, surrounded only by the rusting of the  forest trees  and chirps of insects and birds.

I was following the two ladies. The further we travelled, the more remote it became. We were heading down and away from the forest, into a bamboo forest. The canes were slender and tall, unlike thick and lush sun-blocking trees. Faint rays of sunlight shone through the sparse bamboo leaves and dappled shadows on the ground.

Shortly after entering the bamboo forest, the two ladies stopped. They bowed and gestured me to go ahead. 

I went in alone. When I went a little further into the forest, I heard a familiar sound. That was the hum of a sharp blade slicing through the air. It was sometimes fast, sometimes slow, forming its rhythm. It sounded melodious and soft like music when slow, deafening like thunder when fast. The scenery changed as I continued. Between the bamboos, there was a dancing girl. 

This dance was unlike any other dance. It was as graceful and elegant as other dances, but as it moved, it could take lives and claim souls. Luckily, it was all too familiar for me. Instead of feeling frightened, I felt at home. With my interest piqued, I stood at the side and watched this nostalgic scene.

She should have noticed me, but she didn’t stop. Not only did she not stop, she got even closer after a few moves. Suddenly, she flicked her wrist, and her sword came thrusting at me. 

Although the strike was a surprise attack, she didn’t go all out on me. I easily dodged it and caught her sword with two fingers like how I did it yesterday. When I looked into her eyes, I understood what she wanted to do. Without saying anything, I jumped into the battleground, and the two of us fought.

We used to do this a lot back when we were in Mount Hua, either to play or to spar. Every time we fought, every time our eyes met, they were mostly happy memories, except…the last fight.

At that time, I was trapped in my own world, afraid to look at her.

The panic and uncertainty back then had been worn away with time. Although my feelings for her were still there, at least I learned that it was useless to run away. Besides, now was the time when Lian Nichang needed me by her side. 

The future was uncertain. Let’s put the rest aside for now. I made up my mind and felt calm. The flow of my moves, both attack and defence, were smooth like the flowing river. Lian’er was holding back. Every time, she stopped short before her sword got me. I could even see her smile when her hair lifted as the wind blew past.

I thought to myself I might also be smiling right now. True feelings always showed on your face without you knowing.

After ten more moves, Lian’er swung and jumped away without warning, returning her sword to its sheath. Of course, I wouldn’t go after her. I immediately drew back my sword, let out a long breath and wiped my forehead. Maybe I hadn’t had such a spar for a long time, I was sweating a little.

“You’re rusty.” She came over holding her sword. When she saw what I did, she smiled smugly and said, “If I get serious, you won’t survive a hundred moves from me, let alone win.”

“I never wanted to win either.” I replied frankly. When I saw her approaching, I pulled her over out of reflex and smoothed out her slightly dishevelled clothes. Even after all these years, I couldn’t break this habit that I had taken on over time. I did it so naturally, but she was also happy to let me do it, splaying out her arms to make it easier for me to fix it.

“Right, Lian’er…” As I was doing my thing, I spoke, wanting to say something.

But her eyes, which were half-closed with delight, opened. “Shh—” She looked down and said to me seriously, “My men are coming. Don’t call me Lian’er in front of others. It sounds childish, not at all respectable.”

“Pfft, then what should I call you?” This made me laugh. I raised my eyebrows and teased her. 

“Should I call you ‘Miss Lian’ like others? Chief Lian? Jade Rakshasa? Or like how your men call you, Lady? Which one do you prefer, mm?” I said.

My teasing made her frown. Her face darkened and said, “Neither one is good. Others can call me those, but you can’t. It all sounds cringy. We haven’t talked about the fact that you hid in the crowd and fooled me. If you tease me again, I won’t let you off so easily!”

“Alright, alright. If it’s cringy, I won’t call you that, that’s it.” I paused knowing that this sensitive girl was still fussing about what happened before, but I couldn’t resist my curiosity and asked, “I felt like I’d done a pretty good job in hiding. There were so many people, when did you notice me?” This kid was good at everything, except she wasn’t particularly observant. I was a little surprised that she didn’t seem surprised when we met this time. 

Such a question was met with the expected glare. “You’d done well hiding. I can’t believe you avoided me. If it wasn’t for the fact that Wang Zhaoxi said there’s someone in the group whose martial art style was similar to mine and asked if you’re a spy that I sent after returning to the stronghold, I was almost fooled by you. You avoided me, and yet now you’re asking for mercy for those losers from Wudang. Hmph!” She said, disgruntled. 

She was getting angrier the more she spoke, close to calling me a bad guy. In the end, she snorted and turned her head away, ignoring me. But what she said made my heart soften. After all these years, we could still talk as if we had never been separated. Not to say she was just grumbling, even if she was raging at me, I would be happy to listen to her.

But I still had to cheer her up. “I didn’t do that on purpose. At that time, all I could think about was going back to Mount Hua to see you. Who knew you would show up halfway at the inn under that unexpected name. How could I not be surprised and stumped?” I put my hand on her shoulder and tugged at her lightly. When I saw she was still ignoring me, her lips still pursed, I continued to explain, saying softly, “About those losers from Wudang, since they insulted Master, of course, they should have been taught a lesson, but they’re not wicked people, after all, and I also know them. Let’s just let it pass after giving them a lesson. Give them a second chance…” 

As I spoke, a question suddenly came to my mind. This question had been at the back of my mind since I saw her last night. It was just that I didn’t have the chance to bring it up.

Since I remembered it now, I asked her while I was at it to clear my doubt. “By the way, why did you end up here alone? I heard you went down the mountain two years ago. What happened? Where’s Master?”

As soon as I said that, I felt the shoulder under my hand stiffen.

At that moment, a voice came from afar outside of the bamboo forest. 

“Chief, the old man’s here.”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 49 A Sentence

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 49

A Sentence

The day dawned after a night of turmoil, and a morning glow started to light the sky.

I mingled among the group, moving along the mountain path together with the bandits, carriages, and horses. Lian’er was far ahead at the front, and I could only catch a glimpse of her. Meanwhile, the troop of ladies who came with her was scattered around the group, as if watching us while escorting us. 

After moving along like this for a while, we gradually deviated from the main path, heading straight toward a branch of the Daba mountains, Mount Dingjun. We were heading up from the foothill following the trail. When we were almost halfway up the mountain, I saw flags fluttering between the cliffs, lookouts on guard, fences and walls surrounding the hill, appearing just like a stronghold in the mountain. 

As I looked around while walking, I heard people talking beside me. It caught my attention, so I slowed down and listened. Geng Shaonan from Wudang was trying to get some information from the senior escort. He was asking softly, “Sir, you’ve been an escort in the northwest region for a long time. Who’s this Jade Rakshasa?”

“This Jade Rakshasa has just appeared in the last two years. Only her peers heard of her real name, Lian Nichang. No one knows where she came from, let alone where she’d learned her impressive martial arts!” The old escort looked around carefully before whispering to him, “I heard she defeated eighteen bandits with her palms and  sword when she first came out two years ago. When she was fighting with the bandits, Li Erfu, the Wulin veteran in Shaanxi, was watching, and he said afterward that Lian Nichang’s sword and palm techniques were different from all the other schools of martial arts in Wulin, and that they were the most vicious and strange techniques he had seen in his life. He also said, in less than ten years, the world’s best master will yield to this girl! ”

His words were hasty and quick, as if he was afraid anyone would hear it. I was walking ahead silently. I had mixed feelings about it when I heard it. If what the person said was true, that meant Lian’er went down the mountain a year—not even a year—after I left for the second time. I couldn’t believe I had to hear it from an outsider to know what she had done in the past two years. How could I not…

Frustration was boiling inside me. I regretted wasting too much time. I had gone according to my own plan and had been putting this aside for so long, thinking I could rest easy having her promise as a guarantee. I should have known fate always has its way. It was never something that could be controlled.

Maybe deep down in me, I still couldn’t treat my Lian’er as “Lian Nichang.” The future seemed so far away. 

But in just one night, the far-away future suddenly strode in front of me.

It wasn’t until I heard a clarion call that I came around and gathered myself. Looking up, I realized we had arrived at the stronghold. A group of female bandits came out from the entrance to greet us. They were holding weapons and standing proudly on both sides. The women in the north already looked rather masculine. With training, they looked even stronger, looking both fit and graceful. 

I was a little surprised. I knew that Lian’er would rule over a mountain. What I had seen along the way proved that too, but I didn’t remember it being a gallant army of ladies.

Shortly after we entered the stronghold, someone led us to the side room. As for where the bandits and those carriages and luggage had gone, I had no idea. The sun was already up by that time, and everyone seemed exhausted after a night of ruckus. Since it was heavily guarded outside with guards posted at the periphery, I didn’t try to do anything, and just listened in on surrounding conversations. It wasn’t until the afternoon that two ladies came in and called us, “Our chief invites you to a feast!”

Sentries were everywhere in the stronghold. When we entered, there were a few tables in the hall, and there were people already seated before us. They were all men. The outlaws with us earlier were among them, except that they were all silent now, appearing nervous. Meanwhile, the ladies on duty serving wine and food held their heads high, looking at them pridefully, radiating glamor. In contrast, they made an interesting scene. 

At the end of the hall, in the main seat on the stage, there sat a high-spirited young lady. Who else if not the little daredevil. 

I lowered my head and pushed my hat down the moment I saw her, trying to hide in the crowd and keep a low profile. Not that I didn’t want to see her, but the circumstance wasn’t right. Besides, I wanted to hear what these people thought of her if I could. 

Human minds are unpredictable, so this was a rare chance to listen to what they were thinking. They would never have thought that someone who regarded Jade Rakshasa as her family was sitting next to them when they were gossiping.

Nothing happened after the feast started, but I doubted many would be in the mood to enjoy the nice wine and nice food. Of course, I was no exception. I peeked up at her from time to time while listening to the people around whispering. It was after finding she had barely touched her wine that I could put my mind at ease. 

After a few rounds of wine, the little daredevil in the main seat finally stood up. She waved her hand and called, “Bring me the gift for Mr. Wang!” Then the ladies brought her five golden plates covered with red cloth. When the cloth was lifted, the old man beside me shrieked, and I looked at the plate. There were  bloody heads on the plate!

Luckily, I was far away from it. I looked down and closed my eyes, rubbing the bridge of my nose. I considered myself to be quite adaptable, and I knew how the world was in this era, so I didn’t make a big deal of it when I saw her take other people’s lives earlier, but this was…

As I closed my eyes, an escort beside me quavered, “Hey, those three on the right…aren’t they the imperial guards that showed up at the inn last night? How come…”

“Right. Like I said before, those three imperial guards must have been coming for Wang Zhaoxi. See, that kid came a long way to give Jada Rakshasa a gift, and in return, she killed those imperial guards who followed him. I must be right…”

I was even more worried now that I heard that. I knew what imperial guards meant even if I was bad at history. It was certain that when the outlaws took over the  mountain for themselves, they would become the enemy of the officials,, but it was out of my expectation that Lian’er actually went to this extent. I remembered in the future, she would have a longstanding conflict with the orthodox sects of jianghu, but looking at the situation now, would she clash with the Ming government too?

My temple started to throb just at the thought of it.

While I was having a headache because of her over here, the person herself didn’t seem to be bothered. She was passionately introducing Wang Zhaoxi to the other outlaws over there, and it turned out he was one of them too. His father was the chief of the outlaws in Northern Shaanxi. He was here this time to rope in new forces and build connections. Outlaws had a clear division of territories among themselves, which was why he wasn’t afraid to travel alone with the treasure. Who would have thought other than the attention of the imperial guards, it also caught the attention of the unwitting bandits.

When I heard what happened, I frowned but said nothing. Geng Shaonan, who was close to me, looked displeased. He must have been unable to stand the fact that he was being used as a shield. This guy was prideful and carried the reputation of Wudang, so he was particularly sensitive to these matters, in my opinion. Somehow, I had this uneasy feeling. 

Who knew the more I worried about something, the more someone was going to mess around with that something.

Lian’er was talking with a cup in her hand over there, smiling as she toasted to all the men. As they stood up in response to her toast, she glanced this way and called a girl over. After whispering something to her, the girl brought four people from the side door.

I had a bad feeling when I saw their outfits. A look of consternation appeared on Geng Shaonan’s face when he saw them after looking up. He leaped to his feet when Jade Rakshasa was walking over with them, smiling. 

“Brothers, why are you all here?” He asked.

I heard what he said, loud and clear. It almost made my head hurt so much that I had to hold on to the table. Even though she doesn’t know what will happen, does this kid have something against me? Then it occurred to me that the dead red-faced old man once said someone had captured the four people Wudang sent out. Could this someone be…

What crossed my mind should have crossed Geng Shaonan’s mind too. His face looked even graver, but Lian’er turned a blind eye to it and told the four men to sit down. She took the wine cup and greeted them with a smile and said, “Sit here. Let me have the chance to get to know the masters from Wudang.”

There were too many interpretations to this so-called “get to know.” Besides, Lian’er was smiling like this. The more I looked at her, the more I felt things weren’t looking good, but Geng Shaonan seemed to be oblivious to it. His grave face started to lighten when he saw the smile on the young lady’s face. After that, warm wine was served, and they were chatting. Perhaps he was tipsy—I didn’t know what he was thinking—but he even started to space out in front of Lian’er. 

I saw everything, and I was getting exasperated on the inside. I almost started to hate this man for being too insensitive. His martial brothers clearly seemed to have their worries and were holding back. Two of them were smiling wryly, but he didn’t even realize it. Even if he was drunk, it was still bad.

Who knew it could get worse? After sitting like this for a while, this man was high on alcohol, and words popped out of his mouth. 

“Miss Lian’s martial art is exceptional. I wonder who your teacher is? If I have the chance, I’d like to learn from you. It’d be my honor. But what a shame, like leaves and flowers, although they come from the same plant, they’re different. Like tangerine and trifoliate orange, one tastes sweet, another sour. I’m afraid we won’t have the chance to meet again.” 

His fellow brothers said in a panic that he was drunk. His words sounded like a compliment on the surface, but they implied pity and condescension, suggesting that Lian’er or our teacher was the sour orange, different from his orthodox sect! And he was still shaking his head and stressed, “I’m not drunk. Who says I’m drunk!”

I couldn’t stand him anymore. I slammed my cup down and glared straight up at him. Then I saw Lian’er standing up, still smiling, but her eyes had turned cold. She looked down and said something. Geng Shaonan’s face lit up. Ignoring the look on his fellows’ faces, he got up and left through the side door with Lian’er.

Shortly after they left, a person came and asked the few Wudang pupils to follow. 

At this point, the hall was bustling with people drinking and mingling. These people had seen and been through things, after all. After the initial tension and apprehension, they started to let their guard down when they saw nothing was happening. The group of escorts was afraid to look around, so no one in the hall noticed this tiny episode, not until Wang Zhaoxi, who gave the gift, got out from the throng of outlaws and saw a few people were missing over here. His face froze. He grabbed a lady on duty and asked a few questions. Then his face changed, and he hurried out. 

Because of the tight security, I was having trouble getting out, and it wasn’t a good idea to force my way out either, so when I saw that, I immediately went to him. Without saying much, I cut straight to the chase, “Brother Wang, I’ll go with you.”

He was surprised at first when he heard it, then he seemed to remember something, and he quickly nodded. Without further ado, he asked the lady on duty to lead the way. The three of us went out and hurried away.

It was still early in the day. We went down the mountainside and into the valley surrounded by the twin peaks. From afar, I saw a few female sentries and the Wudang pupils standing among the rocks at the col. Geng Shaonan was standing in the middle, clueless about what was happening. He went out alone with Lian’er just now, probably thinking he would have some good time with her. Who knew these people came. Now he was looking bemused. 

Wang Zhaoxi shouted and picked up the pace, rushing towards the valley. I had a rough idea what Lian’er was going to do, so I slowed down instead. 

Before Wang Zhaoxi could get there, a familiar figure emerged from the rocks. Different from what she wore at the feast, she had changed into a simple outfit, her hair tied up with a golden band, a long sword strapped to her waist, looking ever so elegant and radiant.

Geng Shaonan was confused. He went forward, cupped his fist, and spoke. He looked normal at first, but just a few sentences in, his face had changed a few times and even the Wudang pupils had stood up. Although I couldn’t hear them, I could tell what they were saying wasn’t pleasant.

From just now…no, earlier than that, Lian’er wanted to “get close” to them. I didn’t know why. Personally, I didn’t want her to mess around too much with Wudang, but after what he said, I hoped this uppity guy would be taught some lessons.

Master was always prideful. How could her disciples let other people look down on our martial art, mouthing off and talking nonsense!

When I got closer to the crowd, I heard Lian’er say aloud, “How generous of you. Why would I make it difficult for you? I heard Wudang’s swordsmanship was unparalleled in the world. I would very much like to see that!”

What she said sounded fine just by itself, but maybe because Lian’er had said something mean before, Geng Shaonan flared up and shouted, “Oh, so you want to try me out? I’d rather die a man than be humiliated. I would never disgrace Wudang’s reputation even if I were to take a few stabs from you and have my limbs broken!” Wang Zhaoxi was standing beside him, unable to stop him.

The answer was exactly what she wanted to hear. Lian’er said, chuckling, “Well, better watch out. I’m going to make the first move.”

I found an inconspicuous high ground and jumped onto it, looking at the scene. Lian’er unsheathed her sword and gave a light thrust. The move was very slow. It seemed like a child’s play to the eye of ordinary people. Geng Shaonan wasn’t sure if it was a feint. He lifted his sword to block. Who knew with a flick of her wrist, the tip of the sword was at his throat.

“That move didn’t work. Try again.” Lian’er didn’t actually intend to stab him. She just chuckled and sneered at him, like playing with a monkey.

Geng Shaonan was embarrassed. He roared, and with a sudden dash, he brandished his sword and sent out two moves: first, a thrust to the throat from the side, then a slash to the arms with a turn. They were fast, all in two swishes, but all missed. When he was about to make his third move, his opponent’s sword was already on his spine. Unable to continue his moves, he could only jump into the air. A breeze and a cold glint swept above his head. A lock of his hair was sliced off. 

Lian’er humiliated him twice in a row and still couldn’t get enough. Back to the ground, she said, looking down at him, “I told you to watch out. Why didn’t you watch out?” She stood with her sword and said, waving her hand at those beside her, “Fellow masters of Wudang, can you stand seeing your brother being played around like a monkey?”

The few martial brothers standing around couldn‘t. They jumped right into the fight. Lining up four of their swords, they attacked. In the glint of the swords, Lian’er said with a smile, “That’s more like it.” She was fooling them around under the attack of five swords from Wudang, looking relaxed and at ease. 

The fight went on like this for some time. Five of them suffered some grazes. They looked like a mess, but there was no turning back now. Lian’er was getting bored after playing around for a while. I thought they had enough of a lesson, but then she spun her wrist and leaped into the air with a frosty look and hooted, “I’ll let you know there’s always someone stronger out there. You cannot just rely on your sect’s prestige!” The cold glint was swooping down from above towards the fingers of the Wudang’s pupils!

Wang Zhaonan jumped and said, “Miss Lian, have mercy!” But there was nothing he could do. 

Almost at the same time he shouted, I jumped and dashed toward her!

I had no problem if Lian’er wanted to teach some scoundrel a lesson, but she shouldn’t cut off other people’s limbs on a whim! I didn’t mind her making enemies, but I didn’t want an unforgivable grudge to forge between her and the Wudang sect!

That move was one of the killing moves Master taught us. It was unpredictable and lightning-fast. I couldn’t afford to dawdle. At full tilt, I rushed forward. I managed to reach and hold the thin blade with my two fingers before its cold glint got to the first person, but I didn’t dare to take the full force of it, so I redirected its momentum, veering the blade slightly, only leaving a streak of blood on Geng Shaonan’s and the second person’s finger. 

It all happened in a split second. After I countered her move, I had no time to talk. I quickly let go and pulled back, but I wasn’t fast enough. The blade flipped. While the blade got loose, it slid past my palm and left a gash.

The pain in my hand was no big deal. The unfortunate thing was my body was in the air, and I had exhausted my energy while rushing over just now. With that swing, I lost my balance and was sent flying to the ground. It was too late for me to channel my qi. Looking at the jagged rocks below me, I could only close my eyes and accept my fate with a wry smile, hoping I wouldn’t fall too hard.

But the next moment, my body came to a stop. Something suddenly caught hold of my waist. I felt a squeeze, and my body was held against something. 

I wheeled my head around. What came into view was a familiar pair of bright eyes. It was too close, so close that I could see my own reflection in them. 

A moment–a long time. 

Then came a feeling of groundedness as my feet touched the earth.

We stood face to face, speechless for a moment. I was a little flummoxed when I came around. It was then I realized the hat I was wearing had disappeared at some point. My lips moved, wanting to say something like it’s been a while, or I didn’t mean to hide from you, but nothing felt right when I was about to say it. She was still looking at me. In her eyes, there was no surprise. They were just filled with all kinds of emotion.

The feeling of being flummoxed gradually receded. I knew she only needed a sentence from me, and there wasn’t a moment for the past three years that I didn’t want to tell her that. 

I held her hand and smiled at her. This young lady. She is Lian’er. She is Lian Nichang. She is Jade Rakshasa. No matter who she is, she is the only person in this world who can make my heart flutter, the only person I want to protect, so…

“I’m back, Lian’er…” Holding her, I said, word by word, in all sincerity, “From now on, I’ll always be there for you. Never to leave you, in weal and woe, till death do us part. How’s that?”

Then her eyes lit up. She lifted her chin proudly and nodded, then she said,

“Good!”


Slopaw’s note:
Good news! I have a new editor who will be working on this project with me. Please welcome Khriss!

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 48 Rakshasa

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 48

Rakshasa

What is going on right now? 

For a moment, I was confused. 

I seemed to hear a word just now, a word that only I knew, something only I should know—as long as Lian’er stayed out of jianghu

Lian’er couldn’t have gotten into jianghu because she had promised me. That night, she had promised me with a cup of wine to stay in Mount Hua and by Master’s side. Lian’er was never a person who would renege on her promises. Without a doubt. I believed her wholeheartedly.

So it was impossible. 

As if to prove me wrong, that word was brought up again and again. Amid the commotion, I heard someone say, “This is a gift for Jade Rakshasa from someone!” Then someone shouted, “You brat, trying to scare us with Jade Rakshasa?”

So I was confused. I didn’t want to doubt the girl I grew up with. But then again, would there be another Jade Rakshasa in this world?

Who was the person they were talking about?

I wasn’t confused for long because I saw Wang Zhaoxi raise the golden saddle high in the air in the melee, revealing the opposite side of it. In the candlelight, I could see a few glittering words engraved on it. The handwriting wasn’t beautiful but forceful. Its bold touches and fine strokes stood out. 

The parlor wasn’t big. He did a turn while holding the saddle up. Most of the people saw those words, including me.

A line, a sentence—Miss Lian Nichang, please accept my gift. 

“This isn’t something I can carve on the spot.” The young man was smiling. He was so confident as if he had the situation under control. He glanced at me when he said that, seemingly unintentional. 

I knew he was looking at me, but I wanted nothing to do with him. I wanted nothing to do with anyone, so I lowered my head slightly, hiding my face under the hat and the veil. I didn’t want to look at anyone and didn’t want to be looked at either. 

I didn’t want to be seen because I didn’t know what kind of expression I had on my face and what kind of look I had in my eyes now. 

If I could, I wanted to wipe those three characters off the saddle. 

I wasn’t the only one who fell silent. Those outlaws were all hushed. Only the chiefs gathered together and whispered, but there seemed to be some disagreements between them. The more they talked, the more impatient they became. At last, the big red-faced old man, who came in last, suddenly lifted his head, rolled his eyes, and snarled, “I’m going to take it even if it’s Jade Rakshasa’s!”

As soon as he said that, everyone around him was shocked, their faces terrified. He slammed his palm on the rosewood table, breaking a corner of the table, and roared, “I’ve had enough of that girl. Let’s go for it and fight her this time!”

The pudgy old man with the pipe was so shocked when he heard it that he took a few steps back and said, quavering, “That…that…” But the red-faced old man glared at him and snarled, “Shame on you. How could an outlaw like you be so scared! We’ve only heard rumors about how strong she is, but we’ve never actually seen it. Hey, come with me if you have the balls. I’m taking this brat’s saddle!”

As the saying goes, people die for wealth, birds die for food, but in reality, people might try their luck and risk their lives for money, but if they know they will die from the beginning, they most likely won’t do it. 

That was why most of the guys here kept silent. Only a handful of them responded to him. The pipe-holding pudgy old man was hesitant. Threatened by the red-faced old man with their brotherhood, he eventually said, smiling wryly, “Since Big Brother wants to do it, I have to obey.”

The line between forces had been drawn. A roar sounded, and people started fighting again!

This time, the situation was different. The Wudang disciple was the one who stood back this time, and the bandits joined forces and went straight for the target, as though they wanted to make it quick.

Wang Zhaoxi was surrounded with the treasure in his hand. He could only dodge. It should have been a dire situation, but he didn’t seem to panic. After a dozen moves into the fight, he suddenly caught a break and jumped elegantly to the side. 

“Brother Gui, you’ve fallen for my stalling trick. You should have robbed me earlier when you could. It’s too late now. Listen to the noise outside!” He said, smirking.

The air in the hall was already tense. When the fight stopped, it became so silent that you could hear a pin drop. I could hear a gong clacking and banging in the distance behind the wall. It was already three in the morning. 

The young man laughed along with the time signal and said, “Do you hear it? It’s three now. Jade Rahsaksa will be here soon! Brother Gui, if you don’t cut it now, you’ll be damned!”

He said it loud and clear. I was shook, maybe even more so than before!

“Brat. You’re trying to buy time. I’ll send you to Yan Wang* first!” The red-faced old man was roused. With a roar, he slammed his palm down onto his head, but the young man snapped out his hand like lightning and waved as he laughed, snubbing out the big candles in the hall. The entire hall was plunged into darkness. 

The hall wasn’t pitch black because there was light outside. It was just that it took time for the human eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness. 

I had been wearing the bamboo hat and staying in its shade, so my eyes were adjusting to the darkness better than the others. I just had to close my eyes and open them again, and I could somewhat see what was happening in the hall. I could see who was hiding, who was groping around, who was lurking about, and who was standing still, nonplussed. 

So was what he said just buying time? Realizing that, I didn’t know how I should feel, yet I was still thinking about whether to help that guy. Since…even though I was reluctant, that thing was indeed a gift for Lian’er from what I saw so far.

I hadn’t understood what had happened, but it wouldn’t affect how I would choose and which side I would take. The answer went without saying. I didn’t even have to think. 

When I made up my mind and was about to take action, a ringing laugh came in from the outside.

The laugh sounded distant at first, but the next second, it was at the door. There was soft light pouring in from the open door. A troop of ladies came in. The four people at the forefront were carrying a blue veil lantern, and the others following behind them were standing on both sides in a line surrounding a lady with a graceful gait. In the soft light, I could see she was dressed in an apricot dress with a light-colored silk sash, red lips and white teeth, ambling over with a smile.

Everyone was standing in the hall, transfixed.

I hadn’t moved ever since the laugh started, just quietly looking at the scenes playing out before me. How long had it been since I had a good look at her and her face? Three years? Six years? Or even longer? It had been so long that my memory was hazy, even though she was someone I held dear. It seemed unreal now that we met again. 

I vaguely remembered this happened once before. A night in the moonlight, a clear pool, a moment of daze, who was that in front of me? Her brows, her eyes, and every movement of hers were so familiar, yet vaguely unfamiliar.

As I looked at her, I seemed to forget where I was. I wanted to call her out of habit. When I almost did, a cheerful holler sounded in the hall and woke me up.

Wang Zhaoxi said cheerfully, “Miss Lian! My father wants to say hello to you!”

Woken up by his words, I was back to myself. His words made me want to laugh. It was even hilarious when the young lady nodded with seeming seriousness and said loftily, “Hello to him.” 

I took a step back and pressed my hat low on my head, trying to hide the curl on my lips.

Luckily, no one noticed my little gesture. Probably no one would expect anyone to laugh at this point. The air was even graver now. All the bandits who were acting cocky just now were dumbstruck. A few of the faces even turned ashen, cowering in a corner, afraid to move. 

Apart from me, the only one who could smile was the young man who guarded the treasure. Wang Zhaoxi continued, “My father wants me to bring this to you. They…” The young lady lowered her head as she smiled and butted in, “I already know why you’re here. Are they the ones who want the saddle?” Her bright eyes swept around. The pudgy old man with the pipe explained in panic, “I didn’t know it’s yours, ma’am!”

It was still fine for a young man to call her madam, but it was comical for a pudgy old man at his age to call her madam. Aside from that, I was getting more confused. What had happened in the past three years that made her break her promise, come down from the mountain, and come to such power? 

It would be a lie if I said I wasn’t angry when I first heard people calling the name Jade Rakshasa and when I saw the three words on the saddle. After all, how could I remain calm when the promise I had always believed in was suddenly broken in such a way?

What followed anger was worry.

But I had to admit, after she showed up in person, in front of me, all the anger and worry vanished like the wind-blown smoke. All that was left was pure confusion and displeasure. 

I wanted to talk to her right away, but now was obviously not the time. 

The situation was now under Lian’er control. Her petrifying eyes swept across the room. She smiled after a moment of pause and said, “Brother Gui, you’re here too? You haven’t paid your tribute for this month. Have you forgotten it?”

When the tall red-faced old man, who was called Brother Gui and the first one to say he wasn’t afraid of Jade Rakshasa, was called out, he took a deep breath and calmed himself down. He shouted, “Jade Rakshasa, everyone’s afraid of you, but I’m not. This isn’t your territory. The saddle is mine!” With that, he lunged forward with a stride and was going to attack her! 

I stepped forward without thinking but went back into the shadow on second thought.

It was at this moment Lian’er raised her brows and asked, “Anyone else want this saddle?” All the outlaws skittered aside while saying no repeatedly. Even the pudgy old man’s face blanched, unable to say a word. Only the two who responded to the red-faced old man’s call were still following behind him. Lian’er broke into laughter and said, “Brother Gui, who wants you to be afraid?” Her body moved, and then she was in the air.

The red-faced old man had charged up to her, his fan-like hand swinging down to grab her, but she disappeared right when he was about to grab her. He quickly retreated, but it was too late. A heavy blow hit his back, and he fell to the ground. The two following behind him took a palm strike below their ribs before they could see what happened. They screamed and howled, rolling around on the ground!

In a blink of an eye, three bandits were down with three ruthless hits. The young lady was standing by the light, smiling like nothing had happened. A look of dread appeared on the outlaws’ faces. The legs of the pudgy old man, who also responded to his call earlier, turned to jelly. He kept begging for mercy, but Lian’er just sneered and said nothing. 

Since she stepped into this place, she had been smiling almost all the time, even more than when we were together. But they were smiles intended for enemies, not ones coming from the heart.

Among the three who were on the ground, two were screaming in pain and gasping. Only the red-faced old man had a distorted look on his face, his face steaming, beads of sweat dripping down his face, and his facial muscles were spasming. He was in so much pain that his face was distorted, yet we could hear no sound from him. It seemed like he couldn’t even make a sound. 

I rubbed my brows. This felt familiar to me. When I tried to recall, I realized it looked similar to the move Honghua Guimu had used against Lian’er back then.

And suddenly, I felt it was ludicrous. 

After rolling on the ground and screaming in pain for a while, the two couldn’t take it and shouted, “Please have mercy on me! Hurry up and kill me!” The eyes of the red-faced old man were bulging, but he couldn’t scream, and the young lady said, smiling, “Fang Brothers, you’re accomplices, so you’re not as guilty. I’ll spare you the suffering.” With that, she lifted her leg and gave each of them a kick. The brothers let out a shriek and fell silent. 

A muffled commotion erupted in the crowd, especially among the escorts. Fear and trepidation were written over their faces, as if they couldn’t believe that such a beautiful lady was a murderous devil. 

This was the first time I saw her kill someone. I should be horrified, but when it really happened in front of me, it barely stirred me, as if this was how it should be.

Because it was what lives had always been for her.

After killing the Fang Brothers, she waved at the pudgy old man and said, “Come here!” Hands on the wall and his body trembling, the pudgy old man came over step by step. Lian’er said softly, “You and Boss Gui have been brothers for many years. You two must be close, right?” The pudgy old man was hasty to say, “Miss, you know. I’m not a part of this this time.”

“You’ve been a bandit for so many years, yet you don’t know the rules? Why are you acting tough and trying to be the boss of the outlaws? You have absolutely no eye for people.” The young lady went on at him as her smile faded and her face turned grave.

Thus, a funny episode played out in the parlor. A pretty lady was scolding an old pudgy man. But the more she scolded him, the more relieved he was, and all the men beside him kept their heads down and their mouths shut, looking nervous. 

People who didn’t know what was going on might find it hilarious, even felt humiliated for the old man, but I knew very well—and the pudgy man obviously knew it too—what was going on, and when she was done scolding, he looked relieved. He slapped himself on each side of his face and said out loud, “I’m wrong. I’m not fit to be a bandit. I hope ma’am will teach me.”

Lian’er shouted, “I’ll forgive you if you know your fault. Come here and end your sworn brother’s life!”

I didn’t think anything was wrong with what she had done earlier, but what she just said was too much. Killing their own sworn brother might just be a way to show good faith, a way to free his friend from suffering in the eyes of Lian’er who didn’t understand human relationships. To her, there was nothing wrong with it, but she didn’t know what it meant to average people. 

Sure enough, the pudgy man’s face blanched when he heard it. It was even paler than before. He couldn’t do it, even though the red-faced old man rolled over with a pleading look in his eyes.

If this went on, I feared it would lead to outrage and wouldn’t end well. 

I took a breath in, wanting to step in, but the Wudang disciple, Geng Shaonan, couldn’t stand it first. He strode out and spoke up, “Gui Youzhang is an atrocious lone bandit. You’re getting rid of a bully for the fellow outlaws if you put him to death. No one will blame you. But to ask him to kill his own brother is indecent!”

Lian’er’s expression changed. Then she smiled and asked, “Where do you come from?”

“Wudang’s second-generation disciple!” The man seemed to be very proud of that. He would bring that up whenever he could. I didn’t notice it before, but now it felt like an eyesore.

“Oh, someone from Wudang, pardon me!” Fortunately, Lian’er didn’t give a damn about it. She turned her eyes, blinked, and said to the pudgy old man with a smile, “Shao Xuanyang, I’m trying you out. Although you’re brothers with Gui Youzhang, you’re not causing troubles like he does, and you don’t just give in and try to flatter me when I asked you to kill him. You don’t kill your friend to save yourself. Good. I’ll spare you because of these.” As she spoke, she ended the life of the red-faced old man, who was rolling on the ground, with a light kick. 

I had no idea how others felt when they saw this turn of events, but I hid my face and stepped back with a smile. When did this kid learn to be so crafty? 

After killing three bandits while talking, Lian’er waved her hand, smiled, and said to those outlaws, “You all, come with me to Mount Dingjun!” Then she pointed over here and said, “You guys too, come with me, together with that old man Zhuo and all the money and luggage. Move them all up to the mountain!”

The outlaws all listened to her. Those over this side, however, had a different look on each of their faces, some shocked, some confused, and some resigned. The prideful Wudang disciple, Geng Shaonan, seemed a little indignant, but Wang Zhaoxi stopped him from trying anything with a glance. I glanced past them calmly and saw the retired old man was upset. I couldn’t help but talk to him, assuring him that it would be fine. 

The old man was quite accepting. He said as he sighed, “Other things don’t matter as long as I can stay alive.” 

I smiled and said a few more words to him before I raised my head again and looked at the young lady at the door who was surrounded by a soft glow. 

Long time no see, Lian’er. 

Nice to meet you, Jade Rakshasa.


*Yan Wang or Yama is the god of death and the ruler of hell in Chinese Mythology.

Slopaw’s note:
Sorry for the long hiatus. A lot has been happening in my life lately. Things are getting back on track for me, so I’ll slowly get back to the usual release. (A chapter per week, hopefully. I’ll release more chapters if I can)

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 47 Money

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 47

Money

After traveling for two days, we passed by another town again, and further down the road was Yangpingguan.

I had almost figured out where these guys came from in these two days. It wasn’t as complicated as I thought. It turned out the old man was a retired government official, and it seemed like he was also a reputable high official. His name was Zhuo Zhonglian. If one could remain in office until old age, regardless of their reputation, they would have saved up some money. He was afraid that it wasn’t safe on the road, so he hired quite a few escorts and traveled in procession together with his own bodyguards to feel safe.

The slingshot-wielding young man wasn’t an escort. His name was Geng Shaonan, a close friend of the old man’s only grandson. He hardly knew the old man. It just happened that he had something to do, so he tagged along at his friend’s request, and they could look out for each other. It wasn’t until they ran into bandits at Qipanguan that they knew he was a Wudang disciple, a real jianghu person. 

The reason I stayed was because of these two characters, Wudang, so I was hoping I could talk to him. Although I didn’t know exactly what to talk about, it was always better to get some information than to know nothing.

There was a lot that I didn’t remember, but I wouldn’t forget what was destined to happen between Wudang and Lian’er. 

But things didn’t go as planned when we actually spent time together. For one thing, I wasn’t good at getting close to strangers in a short time, not to mention I couldn’t replicate my past life experience on how men and women got along in this world. Another thing was Geng Shaonan was quite haughty. Although he was polite, there was an air of arrogance in the way he spoke and behaved, probably because he prided himself on coming from a prestigious sect and was admired by a group of escorts. It made me want to avoid him when I saw him.

As a result, I had only exchanged three brief sentences with him in the last few days.

In contrast, the scholar riding the white horse was modest and mild-mannered. I later learned that he had only joined the group that day. He called himself Wang Zhaoxi. He was rushing back to his hometown alone to sit for an exam and sought protection from them along the way. The old man was kind, after all, so he graciously agreed. The scholar and I came almost at the same time. 

I didn’t know if this was why he felt close to me. He liked to talk to me. Although he treated me with respect and never crossed the boundary, he was still annoying.

My initial plan didn’t work out. Instead, I got myself into another trouble for no good reason. It was discouraging. As we continued on our journey and passed Yangpingguan, we were getting closer to our destination, and my body was feeling better, so I put aside the thought of getting any information. My urge to leave was getting stronger again. Although it was easier to travel with the group, it wasn’t as fast as traveling with qi day and night by myself. 

We arrived at Daan in the evening and lodged in the town’s largest inn.

It would be a smooth ride after passing the hill further down the road. I rested on the bed for a while, half asleep, before waking up in the middle of the night. After tossing and turning for a while, I got up resolutely and packed up. I decided to leave.

It was in the dead of night when everything was asleep. I got out of the guest room and went around the corridor, moving toward the front. When I came down the stairs and was hesitating if I should say goodbye to the old man, I noticed the only parlor in the front hall was still lit, and vaguely, there were voices coming out of it.

It was already late at night, so it was strange to hear voices. But to leave, I must pass through this place. Besides, there was only one group of people staying in this inn tonight.

Pushing open the side door of the parlor, the voices got much clearer. As expected, almost everyone was here.

A group of people was blocking in front of me. The escorts ringed around the retired old man, seemingly in a protective stance but they weren’t hostile. Everyone was looking in a direction, as if looking on, waiting.

There was a senior escort who was quite vigilant. He immediately turned around at the sound of the door. When he saw it was me, he breathed a sigh of relief and said, cupping his fist, “Miss Zhu, you’re here too. That’s great.”

I didn’t like people calling me hero, so I told them my name out of courtesy, but someone among these people misheard it as the common surname, Zhu.* Others followed and started to call me that. It didn’t matter to me, and I didn’t want to explain anything either. We were chance acquaintances, anyway. We wouldn’t see each other again once we parted. It was a name given by Master. Personally, I didn’t want just anyone to call my name.

That was why I just nodded and asked softly, “What’s going on?”

Our conversation was soft. Despite that, it still alarmed the old man who was being protected in the center. Before the senior escort answered me, the old man turned around and strode over. His gray mustache was quivering, but as expected of a veteran official, he had his emotions well under control. Only his voice sounded hasty. 

“Oh my, you came just in time, Miss Zhu. I was thinking about asking someone to get you from the rear room!” 

“Calm down, sir. Why are all of you gathered here in the middle of the night? What happened?”

With all this happening, now was obviously not the time to bring up my intention to leave. I edged my pack behind me. Good thing I had a robe to cover it. It was inconspicuous in the main hall with flickering light. 

“Hmph! What could have happened? That brat, Wang Zhaoxi, is no good. Our sir is kind enough to care for him, but he uses him as a buffer!”

The one who took up the conversation wasn’t the escort or the old man but a bodyguard near me. Although he was dressed in a commoner’s clothes, he was outspoken, spilling his guts when he talked. 

“I think this guy must be a government wanted criminal!”

As soon as he said that, the old man’s face blanched, and the old man glared at him until he lowered his head and shut up before turning back and smiled. He was about to say something when there was shouting coming from the side.

“Hey, hey. You can’t say that.” Although he was shouting, he didn’t sound exasperated. Instead, there was a hint of calmness in it. 

“I’d said before ‘thank you for your protection.’ I’m not going to lie. There have been some powerful enemies following us all the way, so something is bound to happen tonight. But the four imperial guards who came to investigate have nothing to do with me. It’s just a coincidence.”

The voice sounded close. When I turned around, I got to see what was happening in the hall through the crowd. 

When I glanced around the room, I found that the doors to the outside were all wide open in this considerably spacious parlor. A rosewood table was placed in the middle of the hall. On top of it were two large jars of wine and two large burning tallow candles with their lights wavering in the wind. 

There stood two people. I knew them both. The one with a sullen face was Geng Shaonan from Wudang, and the one shouting earlier was none other than the studious-looking Wang Zhaoxi. 

He still dressed like a scholar, only that there was less diffidence and more craftiness and shrewdness on his face and the way he behaved. When he spoke, it seemed like he wanted to come toward me, but he stopped when he saw everyone was guarding against him. He just smiled and cupped his fist at me. 

“I had no choice. I hope that Your Excellency and you don’t get me wrong.” He said.

I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things. I felt there was some meaning in it when he said the word, Miss. I didn’t know the ins and outs, so I pretended that I didn’t realize it and kept silent. The word, imperial guard, sparked some curiosity in me. I even felt unfortunate that I didn’t see them myself.

But my mind told me it was new only to me. I knew what it meant for those who lived in the present, especially for government officials. 

It was no wonder everybody looked as if they were facing a formidable enemy.

Among all the people, the Wudang disciple had the biggest reaction. He had stood up for everyone, but he felt he was being played, and it hurt his sect’s reputation, so he wasn’t looking too happy. No matter what Wang Zhaoxi said, he didn’t believe him. In the end, he couldn’t come to terms with him. After letting out a shout, he started to pick a fight with him.

When I saw him throw a palm strike, but Wang Zhaoxi was still smiling, I knew things weren’t that simple. Sure enough, not only was the seemingly frail-looking guy not losing, but he actually had the upper hand after a few exchanges of moves.

This was the so-called jianghu, plotting and scheming against each other, back-stabbing. Human hearts were unpredictable no matter when. 

Looking at what happened, a sense of weariness and desertion suddenly arose in me. I silently backed away a little. This wasn’t a place I should be in, and it wasn’t a place I wanted to be in either. 

Right at this moment, a whistling sound sounded in the distance!

I heard it. A moment later, the two who were fighting heard it too. Wang Zhaoxi pushed with his right elbow and shouted in a subdued voice, “Brother Geng, wait! The enemy is here! We’ll both be safe if we work together, or else we’ll both die!” And Geng Shaonan’s face took on a sudden change. 

“What the hell are you doing? One group goes, and another one comes?”

Wang Zhaoxi smiled frankly and said, “It’s the real bandits this time. To be honest, the five most formidable gangs of bandits around the border of Sichuan and Shanxi will be here tonight!”

Once he said that, everyone went into an uproar. The Imperial guards were scary, but there was the old man’s status as a government official. It was easier to send them off compared to the lawless, savage bandits. 

Someone couldn’t hold their anger and said, “His Excellency doesn’t have much money. Why do you have to make such a big fuss? Even teaming up with outside forces!” Wang Zhaoxi kept smiling. 

“Do you think I’m an inside man? The one they want to rob is me, not your Excellency, but you never know if they’ll want to rob you after robbing me.”

What he said sounded too questionable. This guy didn’t carry anything while we were traveling. How many valuables could he carry? But the situation now was pressing. It didn’t allow me to think much about it. Then his voice suddenly got serious.

“Quick, get back to the room and take down the lanterns with the official title. Maybe you won’t get swept up in this!”

The Wudang disciple was hesitating, but the whistling sound was getting closer, and a voice came, “Haha, too late!” Over ten men surged in through the burst open door. Tall and short, they filled the room in a second.

The air suddenly became tense. It was dead silent in the hall. The face of the senior escort nearest to me blanched, and he whispered, “This is bad. The three most formidable gangs are here. Apart from Dragon Gate Gang, there are the Fang brothers from the Daba mountains and the three heroes of the Mai family from Mount Dingjun, not to mention there are two more gangs yet to come. We’re screwed.”

After he whispered we’re screwed, everyone was even terrified. Fortunately, those guys’ target wasn’t them for now.

Two people came forth from the gang. It looked like they were the leaders. They both started to argue with Wang Zhaoxi. From what they say, they indeed came for the money, precisely this guy’s money. Wang Zhaoxi was obviously a seasoned jianghu person. He remained calm while he talked. The other party forced him to hand over his valuables, but he threatened them that they didn’t deserve the fortune if they couldn’t tell how he hid it. 

It worked, and it irritated one of the leaders. He said, “Bro, tell me about it. We’ll be friends if you can show us and let us have a look!”

Wang Zhaoxi actually stood up. He picked up the saddle that he put aside at a corner earlier and placed it on the rosewood table. I heard the table creak. Then he drew his sword and skimmed across it. The saddle was dark and unimpressive. Anyone who looked at it would think it was made of lacquered wood. No one expected the cut would reveal the golden sheen inside. Inside it was a piece of fine gold, studded with ten green cat’s-eyes, lustrous and splendid.

The way he hid it was clever. For a moment, everyone in the hall was dumbfounded and speechless, including that gang of bandits.

After he did that, he broke into laughter and picked up a stirrup. 

“We’re all comrades. I don’t have much to offer. I’ll give this stirrup to our fellow people at the Sichuan-Shanxi border. Consider it a little gift!” He said aloud.

The gang of outlaws looked at each other. Since they said it before, the leader said solemnly, “Well, you got us!” They turned around and left without taking the stirrup.

As soon as he said that, I could hear the group of escorts beside me heaved a long sigh. 

Who knew before they finished letting out their breath, a weird cackle came from the outside. A shadow flashed across, and a pudgy old man came in, smoking a big pipe and breathing out wisps of smoke. 

“Great. You guys have split the loot without me?” He said in a weird voice.

“He got us, Big Brother Shao.” The leader said. 

“Got us? I knew from the start there’s something wrong with his saddle. I heard all your conversations. I’m not a beggar. A stirrup? That won’t do!” The pudgy old man said as he pointed with his pipe.

What he said was absurd. Not only did Wang Zhaoxi’s face fall, but even Geng Shaonan couldn’t help standing out. Aside from standing up for them in outrage, he didn’t forget to state his master’s name and where he was from, looking like he intended to use the Wudang’s prestige to daunt them.

I had to admit it worked, although he seemed like he was abusing his status, especially after he mentioned there were other Wudang disciples around as if to wipe out any thought they had left. I stood by and watched. Things seemed to be looking up, but something happened.

“There are four people from Wudang, but someone has caught them. Other people aren’t afraid to lay a finger on them. Why should we? It’s just one dude. Let’s just kill him and throw him in the woods for the wolves! They can’t pin it on us even if the five Elders of Wudang find out about it. Someone will take the blame for us!” 

A roar came along with a strong gust of wind. The candlelight in the hall was wavering in the wind. A big, tall, red-faced old man flew in from outside and landed.

His words shocked everyone, even the pudgy old man. He called, “Hold on, Big Brother Gui. You mean the witch had made a move? But this place is not in her territory.” The red-faced old man who was being called Big Brother said, “How can you be such a coward. We’re the outlaws of the Sichuan-Shanxi border. We can’t be beaten by a girl.”

Although that guy was speaking, he didn’t slow down with what he was doing. With a shake of his shoulders, he charged toward the Wudang disciple.

The hall was in chaos. Those outlaws might have their concerns, or maybe they were confident in the red-faced old man. They stayed in line and just watched, but it stirred up the escorts since Geng Shaonan was on their side. They got a little restless seeing that he was backing up as if he couldn’t hold out against him. 

I stood at a corner behind these agitated people, watching Geng Shaonan being backed into a corner, and the real culprit, Wang Zhaoxi, didn’t go to his aid. I felt even more disheartened.

I didn’t like this place, not a bit. The light in the parlor was wavering. People were everywhere, voices buzzing around me. It should be noisy and tense, but they seemed so distant to me, as if there was an invisible screen between us. They were actors on the stage, and I was the audience. Everything I saw was gray.

Good and evil, black and white, they were just a gray mess.

Maybe the blood of someone from a prestigious sect will be spilled the next second. Maybe there would be innocent people getting caught in the crossfire tonight. Even so, I just wanted to leave at this moment. 

And I did. I turned around and backed to the window, making no noise. A push was all it took next.

Suddenly, I heard a voice saying coldly, “It’s easy to take my saddle, but have you asked Jade Rakshasa?”

My fingers stiffened. I wheeled my head around and saw Wang Zhaoxi standing and shouting, “Outlaws would rather rob a thousand families than snatch a gift. This is a gift for Jade Rakshasa from someone. Do you guys want to take it for yourselves!”

The expression on all the outlaws’ faces changed with his words.

I didn’t know if my face was the same as theirs at this moment or maybe even worse.


* This Zhu 朱 is different from the MC’s surname, Zhu 竹. They are pronounced almost the same but in a different tone.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2022 Leirion

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑