Author: Slopaw (Page 2 of 5)

This is Slopaw.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 34 Gongsun

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 34

Gongsun

By the time I got there, the place was already a shambles. A few young, buff fellows were lying around, unable to get up. The other villagers surrounded them in a big circle. They were constantly shouting curses, but none of them dared to come forth.

In the middle of the circle stood a man. Judging from his face, he was in his early twenties, well-dressed, decent-looking, but unfortunately, conceit and arrogance were written all over his face, ruining everything. Now he was grasping a woman and looking asquint at the people around while sneering: “It’s her blessing that I, Gongsun Lei, want to take her as my wife. It’s not like I want to take advantage of her for nothing. You bunch of ingrates. I was being merciful just now. If you dare to stop me again, don’t blame me for not showing mercy no more!”

I just got here, and when I heard what he said from a distance away, a thought fleeted through my mind, could there be something more to it? But when I saw the woman beside him looking humiliated and anxious with tears all over her face, her eyes glancing at one of the young fellows on the ground all the time and her concern for him was clear, I knew I had worried too much. 

As these thoughts passed through my mind, I had made it to the edge of the crowd. Before I said anything, Wu Liu next to me couldn’t wait and shouted: “Move, move! Coming through, I’ve got Miss San’er! Coming through!”

The shout did nothing but drew all the eyes of the people around to me in a swoosh. In an instant, I felt the pressure on me, making me feel very uncomfortable, but I could only brace myself and assumed a calm composure, pushing my way through the crowd, walking step by step into the circle, and faced off with the man. 

The man was confused, but when he saw how the crowd reacted, he looked me up and down and asked: “What? Are you in charge here?”

I shook my head and said: “I’m not in charge here. Only one person is.” 

“Oh? Who’s it?” He asked, smiling a little disdainfully.

“It’s the person beside you,” I said as I raised my hand and pointed to the woman he was holding. When I saw him looking baffled, I added: “If you sincerely want to marry her and treat her well for the rest of your life, you should know to ask her to marry you with all sincerity. As long as the feelings are mutual, I won’t stop you, even if everyone on this earth is against it.”

When the woman heard it, she looked even more alarmed. Although she was cringing in fear and afraid to speak, she shook her hands and head at me repeatedly and struggled a few times to break free, looking frightened and eager to break away from his hold. Anyone with common sense could see how reluctant she was.

Of course, the man had seen everything. He probably felt that there was no hope of getting her to agree, so he didn’t ask but said arrogantly: “She should just get married to me if I want to marry her. She’ll have her own perks in the future. It’s not something she can understand now. Humph!”

When I heard that, I couldn’t help but shake my head to myself. If these were excuses for snatching a girl, so be it. If he really thought so, he was indeed one exceptional oddball among the dum-dums.

“If I can’t convince you, then I have no choice but to ask you to let go of her.” The immediate problem was to save the girl from the hands of this oddball. When reasoning didn’t work, the only way was to adopt a harder tone.

Who knew this dum-dum, standing there and holding the girl, suddenly grinned and broke into laughter after inspecting me. “Or what? I can let go of her. You’re good-looking too. Why don’t you take her place instead?”

When he said that, the crowd burst into an uproar. My eyes darkened. Before I could say anything, Wu Liu beside me, emboldened by my presence, immediately leaped to my defense, reviling: “Bah! A toad like you who dreams of eating swan meat. When you take a fancy to Shitou’s wife, it’s already like pairing a flower with cow dung, and now you have the balls to take a fancy to Miss San. How can you be worthy of Miss San? You son of a bitch that comes from God knows which grave! You ignorant, blind bastard who doesn’t have a father to teach you manners!”

The way mountain people cursed was vulgar enough, and now he seemed particularly worked up, probably because Wu Liu saw his brother got beaten. Words that escaped his lips were nasty. I didn’t know which sentence had touched the man’s sore spot. I saw a sudden change on the man’s face, followed by a bawl from him, “You asked for it!” and his body dilated, swooping over like an enormous bird. 

I had been on my guard against his attack. Now when I saw him pouncing on us, I leaped up almost at the same time to intercept him in the air before he hit Wu Liu. In our brief crossing, we had exchanged a few moves. He was so confident that he was still carrying the woman in his arm when he swooped over, so he could only strike with one hand. The two palm strikes he took in a row aside, I had jabbed him in the Quze acupoint of that arm holding the girl with my finger, and his arm spasmed, then he let go of the girl. 

I was still in the air. I didn’t dare to slow down, quickly let go of my opponent to catch the girl, turned to land on the ground, and laid the girl aside. The villagers gathered around at once when they saw it, applauding and comforting her all at once. The girl couldn’t care about anything else. After letting out a whimper, she bowed and thanked me before she pushed her way through the crowd and rushed to the young fellow to check on his injury. 

She was saved, but it wasn’t over yet. That man wouldn’t be willing to let it go after taking a beating. As soon as he landed, he unsheathed his sabre with a bellow and struck again. I would have a hard time confronting him unarmed. After a few dodges, an idea came to me. I grabbed the scabbard he had thrown aside, confronting the sabre with the scabbard. I wasn’t much at a disadvantage.

After exchanging a dozen moves like this, I slowly noticed something. The man’s sabre’s skills and moves were impressive, supposedly taught by a master. Too bad I don’t live up to the expectations. My foundation is flimsy, and my movements are slow. It is more than enough to deal with most people, but I will only humiliate myself if I come across a master. I don’t claim to be a master, but because I’m used to sparring with Master and Lian’er, I can feel his movements are slow and weak when I come face to face with him now. His skills with his sabre, no matter how impressive they are, pose no threat to me. 

Once I knew what to expect, I was much more confident. After a few more moves, I straightened the scabbard and met his sabre with the scabbard’s mouth pointing toward him as he thrust forward. The cold, gleaming blade slotted right into it, returning the sabre to its scabbard, fitting together perfectly.

He was stupefied as he hadn’t expected there was such a move. I took the chance to twirl and twist the scabbard, bringing the scabbard round with the blade. He couldn’t hold on to the grip and let loose, but he hadn’t given up and stepped forward, wanting to get it back. I didn’t dodge but bent three of my fingers, and with a spin, turned the sabre in my hand around and thrust its pommel at him. 

Though it was just the pommel, the thrust was delivered at a blistering speed. If it landed on the right spot, it might break one of his ribs. I intended to teach him a lesson. Wielding a sabre in place of a sword, I was using the unique sword technique created by Master. 

At this critical moment, I suddenly caught a faint whistle of something piercing through the air!

My heart jolted, and I had a bad feeling about it, so I quickly halted my strike and drew back to protect myself, but I was still one step slower. I felt a coldness, immediately followed by numbness on my wrist of the hand holding the sabre, and the sabre dropped on the ground with a clang. The sound of something piercing through the air was still coming one after another. I went all out weaving and exhausting all the body techniques Master taught me to be able to dodge them just in time and was sent a few steps back before I regained my balance. 

It all happened in a flash. The villagers didn’t know what was going on, but I knew how ruffled I was. While I was in shock, I heard the man call in excitement: “Momma, you’re here! Just in time, these people are bullying me!”

It was strange enough for a big man to call his mother “momma.” What was even more strange was, as he called, a person popped up out of nowhere in the middle of the circle mobbed by a crowd of people. 

It was a fine dame with a red flower perched on her temple and a staff in her hand. 

From her appearance, she aged well and still kept her charm, her long caramel hair gleaming in the sun. If not for the wrong time and space, I would have thought it was dyed. These features looked out of place, contradicting each other, but putting them all together on her, they blended together harmoniously as if she was born this way. Now when she stood there in serenity, she looked like a spirit in its true form. 

Her entrance had stirred up the crowd. The villagers had never seen anything like this. For a second, they were all talking about her, thinking she was a ghost, looking shocked and scared and peeking at my reaction. I knew she wasn’t a ghost, but I also knew she was an outstanding master and was close with this man. I’m afraid it will be tricky. I didn’t dare to do anything rash, so I simply prepared for the unexpected and began to observe her.

When the man saw the fine dame had shown up, his face lit up with glee. He ran over and said: “Momma, you came just in time. If you came a bit later, that bitch was going to…Ah!” Before he could finish, the fine dame slapped him, and a crisp sound resounded.

When I saw the slap, aside from being surprised, I felt slightly relieved.

The man was surprised by this sudden change. He drew a long face and wanted to say something, but the fine dame asked him in a ghastly tone: “Tell me, what did you promise me before you went out?” Her voice was a little sharp with a note of coldness. 

“Don’t…don’t cause trouble, don’t go looking for trouble…” This man covered his face and said obsequiously. He seemed to fear the woman he called momma. Halfway through his sentence, he seemed grudging and turned around again.

“…But dad said if you don’t know the taste of women, you’re not a man. You usually forbid me to leave the house, and now I can finally come out. How am I causing trouble if I’m finding a wife for myself?” He said.

“You shut up! How dare you bring up your useless dad!” Upon hearing it, she raised her eyebrows in anger as if in extreme anger. “He does all sorts of evil. Do you want to follow him? Don’t forget! Your last name is Gongsun! Not Jin!” 

He quailed at her roar, standing aside with his head drooped, looking like he was too scared to argue with her, yet his mouth mumbling: “You’re my momma, he’s my dad. Disowning either is disloyal and ungrateful…I don’t want to be that…”

He said it in an extremely soft voice. Probably no one else around here had heard it except for me, so the fine dame ignored him and just glared at him before turning around to look at me and say: “You, the girl over there, come here.” 

With what happened just now, I had some idea of how she conducted herself. Now when I heard her yell, I didn’t have much hostility and defensiveness towards her. I just took a few steps forward with respect as she instructed, saluted with a cupped fist, and asked: “How can I help you?” But I saw her take out some silver bits and said to me: “I saw how this all happened. I know it’s my son’s fault. Take the money and bring the injured to the doctor, and let’s just let it go.”

With that, I saw her hand twitch, and a few silver streaks were flying through the air to me. I perked up and swept both my hands in the air, and I managed to catch them all. Then I bowed to thank her, turned around, and asked Wu Liu to hand out the money. The villagers were relieved when they saw how things had gone. The crowd gradually dispersed, some went to take care of the injured, some went to comfort the girl, and some were clamoring about getting a doctor. 

I was about to leave when I saw it was over and everything had been taken care of, but I suddenly heard a voice coming from behind: “Hold on!” 

I looked back and saw the red flower dame, with her dragon head staff, was staring at me like I was her prey. She sneered grimly like before: “Girl, I was watching you earlier. If I’m not mistaken, your master should be living around Mount Hua, am I right?”

All of a sudden, a chill ran up my spine.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 33 San’er

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 33

San’er

“San yatou[1], down here again, huh? Looks like you’ve traded a lot today.”

“Xiao San’er, Dr. Zhou always has something good to say about your goods. Where do you get them? Tell us too.”

“Hey, Miss San’er, just in time. Come have a look. Taken fresh out of the ground this morning, fresh and crisp. Take some home.”

There would always be someone greeting me walking down the road. All these years had passed, but it was still those same old familiar faces. Everything was the same, even the way they called me hadn’t changed. If not for the traces left by time on those faces, you would feel as if time was frozen here.

I was young back then—actually, it wasn’t a matter of being young. Back then, something was occupying my thoughts. I spent all my time thinking about how to escape an unfavorable fate and simply didn’t have time to care about anything else. Even though I often went to this village, I subconsciously detested everything here, whether it was good or bad, young or old, thinking those were the things I should leave behind together with fate, so apart from maintaining the proper manner, I also kept my distance. 

Now that I was back with nothing to fear, I started to get more accepting, slowly getting acquainted with the people, and the sense of distance was far weaker now.

But after I got too close, it would sometimes get troublesome.

“Come, come here, Miss San’er. You must be thirsty, having come all the way here. Come have some tea. I’ve added some heal-all in it. It clears heat and improves eyesight, stimulates saliva and quenches thirst. Come, it’s my treat.” The woman from the herbal tea house next-door grabbed me before I was two steps out of the pharmacy. She dragged me inside fervently and sat me down, leaving me little room to refuse. 

The woman was quite famous in the neighborhood, so I knew what she wanted to do. I smiled a little, not saying much, and drank my tea as I listened to her rambling about how good this guy from this family was and how great that guy from that family was, and it always ended with the same old cliché: “Miss San’er, say, you’re not that young anymore. It’s no good to be a maiden lady. You still have to get married no matter how good-looking you are, right? For women, it’s only right to have a family.”

When I saw her almost done talking, I smiled and replied with my most commonly used excuse: “I don’t dare to make any decision about my marriage without Master’s approval. Master’s got a big temper. If anyone is to be found guilty of deception, no one will be able to take it by then.”

I only found out after I came back that my parents had explained my disappearance as I had taken a master as my teacher by chance and had gone to learn the art in the mountains of immortals. The villagers were skeptical when they first heard it and seemed to have suspected in private that my parents had sold me, but it was someone else’s family business, anyway and far away from them, so it wasn’t long before they put it behind them. 

Hence, when I returned ten years later, it caused quite a stir in the village. All the doubts were gone right away and replaced by infinite awe and admiration for the legendary immortal fate and teacher.

Sure enough, as soon as I said that, the woman over there started to look uneasy and didn’t know how to go on. She first complained a little: “Ay, this master of yours…you said she travels around, but how can she…” She broke off in the middle of her sentence, seemingly not daring to go on, then it turned into a sigh: “…This is going to hold you up. You said you want to wait for her to decide. How long do you have to wait? You don’t even know when she’ll come to visit you. Those immortals are unworldly, unlike us laities who’ll miss someone and don’t feel right if we don’t see them.” 

I was using this as a reason to excuse myself, so these words were supposed to go in one ear and out the other, but somehow, the last part about missing someone stirred me up. For a moment, I fell into silence as I was holding the tea bowl.

I don’t miss her during the daytime, not a bit. Every day, I would only go outside and look at the stars alone when the night falls and silence prevails, like when I was a child, opening up myself, even allowing myself to miss her, to look back on the moments we were together from the start of our encounter, every detail of it, and every feeling that comes along with those details. 

I told myself, when there is only concern and no bitterness every time I miss her, only warmth and no sweetness every time I look back on our memories, that is the day I can return.

Concern and warmth are affection, bitterness and sweetness are love. The former is something I want to give her, but the latter is unacceptable. 

But time was ticking away, and two years had gone by in a blink of an eye. The sweetness could fade, but every time I missed her, the bitterness in my heart permeated and thickened, which threw me off and stressed me out. The time left for me wasn’t infinite. Aside from Lian’er’s resentment, I was counting on the fact that Lian’er wouldn’t get into trouble because she was young to allow myself to be headstrong once, but if I had mistaken something or something happened to her when I was away, then… 

Uncertainty was wearing away my confidence day by day. If this went on, when would I be able to return to those two, to go back to being their Zhu Xian?

Unknowingly, I was caught up in my own emotions, which probably made me look not too friendly. Seeing this, the woman beside me quickly laughed and patted on my shoulder, appearing to be considerate, and said: “Don’t worry, don’t worry. Our Xiao San’er is so beautiful and has a master like an immortal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little late. Ah—” Suddenly, her eyes lit up. “Look, your pop is here. Heh, you really are the apple of his eyes. He gets worried every time you’re away.” She said, pointing in a direction as she smiled.

Looking up in the direction she pointed, I saw the man walking into the store with a simper on his face. 

Putting aside my mind full of thoughts and getting a grip of my emotions, I stood up, walked to him, and asked plainly: “What brought you here?”

“Heh, heh, there was no one home when I got home after work. Then I remembered you said you were going to come down today…” The man was simpering, his hand fiddling with a few strands of white hair in his sideburn. “I’ve nothing to do anyway, so I thought I’d pick you up.”

“Oh…” I nodded and replied: “I’m also done with my business. Madam Wang treated me to some tea while I’m on my way back. Since you’re here, why don’t you sit down and have a bowl too.” With that, I brought him to the table. Without having to ask the artful woman, she already had a fresh bowl of tea ready on the table and brought along some melon seeds and snacks. As soon as she saw us sitting down, she jumped right into a conversation with my dad, like she was used to.

I sat at a side and didn’t butt in, quietly having my tea and listening to their conversation, getting lost in my own thoughts. 

To be honest, I had never thought of coming back here. That time when I went down the mountain, coming back wasn’t even an option for me. My only impression of that house was cold and toil. By comparison, I would rather find a remote place, set up home, and lived alone, but since I had used this as an excuse to come down, it was better to pay a visit, so that it wasn’t a complete lie. With that self-comforting thought, I took a trip there. I was going to leave after taking a look, but I didn’t expect the situation would turn out to be a surprise. 

The shabby house before me was shabbier than it was ten years ago. The man who I once called dad was all alone. He trembled the moment he saw me, and cloudy tears streamed down his face. 

Only later did I learn that a turn of events had happened when I left. The nugget of silver that Master left as recompense was the trigger. After receiving that nugget of silver that could cover the household expenses of an ordinary family for a few years, coupled with a bit of savings, the woman wanted to move to a town outside the mountains. After all, not everyone wanted to live a destitute life in the mountains, but the man’s family had been hunters for generations. They had been living off the mountains. Naturally, he wouldn’t allow it. By the end, when the couple was at loggerheads with each other, the man gave the woman a punch. The next morning when he woke up, he found out his wife had disregarded their marriage and vanished with all the valuables in the house and never returned. 

After hearing all these, I couldn’t think of much else other than lamenting the unpredictability of humans and that it was a mixed blessing. This man had lost his wife and daughters back to back and was too broke to afford remarriage, so from then on, he had lived alone for ten years. Now that he suddenly saw me return, the missing kinship had spurted in him, and he, a seven-footer, actually cried his eyes out and kept begging me to stay.

I didn’t actually dislike this hunter dad just because he wasn’t too bad to me then, and it was understandable in this era that he wanted a boy to carry on the family name. Seeing him all alone now, I had sympathy for him, so I stayed, thinking that I wouldn’t stay with him for long, and I would fulfill my duty if I helped him sort out his life over the next few years.

In the days that followed, I’d spent a little of my valuables to hire someone to repair the house and pick up some furniture. Once dad had regained his spirit, the kills he got every day from hunting were growing, and life was slowly getting better. 

Honestly, the number of kills could be a few folds more if it was me who did the hunting, but humans all needed a purpose in life. I didn’t want to ruin the only confidence he had to be proud of. That was why I never went hunting. I would just go into the mountain off the beaten track from time to time to pick some high-quality herbs and sell them to the pharmacy to help support the house.

Living life like this was more peaceful than I expected, not at all as difficult as it was during my childhood.

But for some reason, I always felt a little uneasy about this peace.

Maybe it’s just me missing her too much, I thought as I shook my head and drank the last sip of the tea. I stood up, took out some coins for the tea, and hinted at my dad that it was getting late and I wished to get going soon. My dad quickly stood up when he heard it. The woman said a few words of courtesy to me. When she knew she couldn’t decline my payment, she was happy to accept it. Then she warmly escorted us out of the store while saying we should come here more often. 

I was about to leave when a guy scrambled in and ran into my dad, like a headless fly, his mouth yapping: “Bad news! Bad news!” 

Before we could say anything, the woman scowled as she saw the guy had bumped into her customers. She twisted the guy’s ear with arms akimbo and hooted: “Wu Liu, what a guy. What’s the bad news? Can you afford to pay if you hurt my customers?”

I recognized Wu Liu. He was the village’s well-known fleet-footer. Though he was grimacing and hollering in pain, having his ear twisted, his eyes didn’t stop scanning around. When his eyes landed on me, he quickly broke away from the claws as if seeing a savior and came over in a few hops, and said urgently: “Good Lord, you’re really here, Miss San’er. I’ve been looking for you. Quick, follow me. Something‘s happened!”

When I heard it, I furrowed my brows and asked: “What? I’ve told you many times, if anyone has an argument with someone, go to the local police or the village chief. There’s no use coming to me.” Because I had shown a little of my skills a few times in the two years I had been back, plus the previous rumor, the people in this small town had seen me as an unfathomable master. They liked to come to me for resolution whenever there were any disputes, fights, or brawls, which was downright annoying.

“No, no, no, this is something big. A girl was being snatched!” Wu Liu said as he repeatedly waved his hand. After taking a breath, he quickly carried on: “I don’t know where the foreigner came from. When he saw Shitou’s childhood friend who was betrothed to him since she was a child, the one who lived in the neighboring village, he said he wanted to make her his wife! Shitou and his brothers fought with him, but they were knocked down in minutes. I was thinking you seem to be in town today, so I ran all the way here to find you! This is something huge!”

He finished his words in one breath and crouched down, puffing and panting, leaving the three of us looking at each other. 

I wasn’t a nosy person who liked to poke my nose into other people’s business. As long as it didn’t concern me, it was better to be an invisible person in those disputes. Only for one thing: it bothered me a little to see a vulnerable woman in this world suffer.

So after a moment of hesitation, I replied firmly: “Let’s go have a look.”

I who decided to meddle in others’ affairs at that time didn’t expect this seemingly minor incident would later get myself, even Master and Lian’er who were at Mount Hua, miles away from here, involved in a dangerous situation.


[1]yatou means “young girl” or “servant girl.” It’s a term of endearment or a derogatory term, depending on the context. In this case, it’s a term of endearment.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 32 Leaving

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 32

Leaving

It was Master who told Lian’er this news, and it was me who asked Master to tell her. 

Actually, I knew it was futile to do so because eventually, I would still have to face all kinds of questions from her. But anyway, I didn’t think I had the courage to say it in front of her that I was leaving.

So I would rather ask Master to break the news while I myself was packing my things and anxiously waiting for the inevitable arrival of an interrogation.

I wouldn’t say I held an important place in her heart, but I knew I had a place in her heart. Not to mention that Lian’er had shown a strong desire to control since young, even treated me as a target of subjugation and control before. The way we interacted got much better later on, but once something major like this happened, I couldn’t be too hopeful with that temper of hers.

As expected, it wasn’t long before a noise came from behind. I turned around, and what came into my view was a frosty face. She didn’t come storming in but quietly looking at me instead. Even when she saw me turn around, she didn’t say a thing.

Things aren’t looking good, I thought. Lian’er wouldn’t be mad but smile instead when Lian’er was in extreme anger, and what was worse than that was this placid coldness. I would rather face her usual aggression or even her punches and kicks when angry. That, at least, was a way for her to vent her anger.

How she behaved now was the opposite of her willful nature, too suppressed. I felt terrible for her, though she didn’t say so. 

Because of this terrible feeling, it made me forget about the apprehension I had earlier and put aside all my feelings for the time being. If she wouldn’t come over, then I would walk over. Without saying a word, I took her hand, but she shook my hand off the next second. I wasn’t surprised. She kept shaking off my hand, and I kept taking back her hand. After repeating it several times in silence, she finally couldn’t stand it. After giving my hand a hard fling, she hissed: “Aren’t you going to leave? Just go! Why care about me now!” 

There was anger, bitterness, and a lot of grievances in her tone. My heart stung hearing it. I thought she might blow up or even forcefully stop me when she knew I was leaving, but I didn’t expect her to react like this. For all these years, when had I not treated her with love and care? Yet now, I made her sad.

That was why I grew more determined to leave. The bud of hurting myself and others had to be nipped. There was no room for it to survive. 

Choking back the pain in my heart, I reached out my hand and took Lian’er’s hand once again. She didn’t shake it off this time, and I managed to hold her hand. With my mind made up, I pulled her closer and embraced her.

Perhaps because the farewell was imminent, I needed such a hug for security and certainty. I let myself play with fire, and for once, the person in my arms wasn’t being difficult and resisting. The way she let me hug her could even be said as meek. Only her pair of lucent eyes was staring straight at me with all kinds of emotions written all over them.

“Since Master’s told you, you should know I’m leaving to visit my parents and fulfill my filial duty…” Deliberating my words, I spoke with care, just wanting to calm her nerves sooner: “So how come I don’t care about you? Lian’er is always very important to me.”

Lian’er’s eyes were flashing with doubt: “Very important?”

“Very!” An affirmative answer. I nodded slowly and firmly. In fact, your importance had long exceeded your expectations and had even exceeded my own expectations. 

Even when Lian’er got this answer, she was still unsure and added: “Then which is more important? Master and I or your parents?”

I kept silent for a moment. To answer this question wasn’t hard. There were ways to fudge it or be ambiguous. My rationality told me it was best to do so because that way, I could take account of Lian’er’s feelings and make my excuse to leave sound more natural and justified.

But in the end, when words were about to leave my lips, I still told the truth under the gaze of those eyes: “To me, no one in this world can beat Master and you.”

I didn’t want to lie about it or hide the truth from her. More importantly, I knew Lian’er cared a lot about my answer. I still remembered she had once asked a similar question. That time, she asked me: “Master like someone else too? Does she love that man? More than us?” 

Lian’er only had us in this world. There was nothing wrong with Master having someone else she loved, but at least, I couldn’t let her down again, even if it would put the conversion later in an unfavorable situation with this answer. 

Sure enough, while the girl in my arms couldn’t help but show her satisfaction and joy after hearing this answer, she started to bombard me with questions: “If so, why do you still want to go? You said Master and I are the most important, yet why do you want to leave us and go to your parents? Isn’t that weird?”

“They’re the ones who gave birth to me and raised me. Even if they aren’t that important. It’s inevitable to worry about them.” Saying the excuse I had prepared, I tried my best not to let my eyes give away my guilt. “After all, it’s been ten years since I left. It’s normal to want to see how they’re doing now, isn’t it?”

It was quite convincing. Lian’er still looked reluctant, but after she looked down and gave it a thought, she showed signs of accepting it, then she raised her head and asked: “Then, then when are you coming back?”

Of all the questions, this was the one I was most afraid of.

I kept silent. I had been thinking about how to answer this question since earlier and had thought of many answers, but when she really did ask, I felt that all the answers were bad. I didn’t know when I would be back because I didn’t know when I could nip the bud that wasn’t supposed to exist and get our relationship back on track where we could be open and natural with each other.

But I couldn’t say words like “date of return is uncertain” either, no matter how. That would let Lian’er down greatly, and if possible, I didn’t want to let her down.

Maybe this hesitation was misleading, Lian’er’s countenance tensed and fell suddenly: “You’re not coming back?!”

I never expected she would imagine it to be that bad. I quickly denied it, but because I hadn’t thought about how to put it, my defense was a bit haphazard: “No, no, what makes you think so, Lian’er? Why would I not return? You see, Master and you are here. This is where I belong, and…and, yeah, you know, right? Master and her husband had a 20-year promise. No matter how much of a jerk I am, I couldn’t have ignored something so important, right?”

I was just hoping she wouldn’t assume the worst when I repeatedly denied it. But to my surprise, these words didn’t comfort Lian’er but made her face look even worse: “20-year promise! You’re not coming back until then?” She jerked away from me, taking two steps back, and said in exasperation: “I remembered it crystal clear. There’re still…still…” She counted on her fingers, but maybe because she couldn’t work out the number while she was all worked up, she gave up, flung her hand, and said: “…there’re still so many years to go! If you’ll only come back by then. What’s the difference with not coming back!”

After yelling that last sentence, she turned around in a fit of pique and left like a gust of wind.

I wanted to go after her and explain to her that that wasn’t what I meant. The 20-year promise was just a figurative bottom line. It didn’t mean that I would wait until then to come back. Looking at the fading figure, I froze for a while, and in the end, I didn’t go after her. 

Even though I wasn’t going to come back that much later, when would I be back? This was indeed a question I couldn’t answer. 

So, I was in no position to go after her… 

Not before long, I regretted my decision of not going after her at that time. 

Because later, when I thought about it after I had calmed down, I felt I should make it clear to Lian’er, at least I shouldn’t have let her have the wrong idea. Our last conversation shouldn’t have ended with a misunderstanding, but she kept avoiding me for the next two days.

This situation rendered me helpless as if our role had reversed. Before, it was me who was avoiding her, and now when I wanted to talk to her, it was her who was avoiding me. She was nowhere to be found for most of the day, and at night, she would only be back when she was dog-tired and fell right asleep. The only time I could talk to her was during mealtime. Even at that hour, she would gobble up her food in a jiffy, push her bowl, and leave without saying a word for the entire time, and she wouldn’t bother with me either.

I had waited for two days but hadn’t had a chance to talk to her. Master saw I had everything packed up but was yet to make my move. So she finally asked. I didn’t dare to lie about it, so I repeated the whole story as it was, except for my thoughts.

After hearing it, Master nodded and said that the girl is like that. If you keep waiting, you wouldn’t know she might think she could hold you back like this and keep getting worse. Why not Xian’er goes according to the plan? I will look for a chance to clear up the misunderstanding and don’t worry about this.  

Since Master said so, I could only nod and agree, no matter how worried or how hesitant I was.

Thus and thus, by the early morning of the third day, I finally firmed my heart and took my already prepared baggage. After lingering for a moment in this abode where I lived for nearly ten years, I bid farewell to Master and left the Yellow Dragon cave. 

On this day, Master was the only one who saw me off. She had told me a lot of things, but Lian’er was still nowhere to be seen. As usual, she was gone as soon as she got up early this morning. She probably didn’t know that this was the day we parted.  

Imagining how she would react when she didn’t see me after returning at night, the sorrow and ache grew more and more intense. I was trailing, looking back almost every three steps, hoping to see the person one last time, talk to her, tell her not to worry, and take care of herself. There were so many things to tell her, but I was getting further and further away. When I reached the end and took one last glimpse, there was only Master standing there alone. 

Finally, after taking two turns, everything was out of my sight.

Dawdling in the woods, walking down the mountain bit by bit, every step brought me a little further away from the people I cared about. The feelings of parting waned, and gradually, I felt myself falling into a kind of numbness, unaware of how I felt at present, no sadness or joy, just drifting and lacking a sense of reality, as if a few wisps of soul had been sucked out of me, and I was just mechanically moving my legs. 

I left, after all. Everything on earth comes and goes. Ten years was like a dream.

Moving forward numbly like this, I had walked for a long time, but the wood scenery didn’t change much, reminding me I hadn’t gone very far. At least, it was a tortoise’s pace compared to the speed we used to go down the mountain.

Not that I deliberately dallied, it was just that in the past, we would lighten our body with qi and walk however fast we could. This time, I didn’t feel like leaving, so I didn’t pick up the pace with qi, but I walked step by step instead, wanting to fix the scenery that I used to pass by but never cared about in my mind.

As I walked and looked around, suddenly, I stopped after taking a sniff of the air.

There was a distinct smell floating in the air. 

It was one that of beasts.

Coming to a halt, I didn’t panic, simply because there was a vague familiarity in this smell. If I wasn’t mistaken, they should be a group of friends I knew. 

As expected, not long after I stood still, many four-legged creatures came out from the surrounding bushes one after another.

They obviously meant no harm, just gathering in twos or threes on both sides. Most of them were just staring at me and nothing else. Among them, there were a few with distinctive features, something I could recognize. After years of mingling with them, I had some trust in them. So what I felt was more like doubt than caution. 

It was still early in the morning, which was supposedly the rest time for the wolves after a night of activity, and this place was near the bottom of the mountain, far away from their territory that I knew. How could these wolves somehow appear here at this time?

I thought for a while in bewilderment, and suddenly, a thought crossed my mind, and I straightened up.

“Lian’er!” Looking around, I called out this name. The wolves wouldn’t break their routine for no reason. Without having to think, there was no one else who could lead this pack of beasts.

“Lian’er! Why’re you hiding? I know you’re here. Come on out, okay?”

After several calls, I quieted down and listened, but there was only the sound of the wind rustling the leaves. Aside from the bustle of the wolves, it was quiet around, as if there was nothing around.

But I was sure she was here.

“Lian’er, since you’re here, why don’t you come out? If you don’t come out, why did you come?” I stopped shouting, and for this one, I spoke with my usual voice. The question was for her, and also for myself.

This time, a response came after a moment of silence.

A familiar voice, but I couldn’t pinpoint its exact location. It was just hovering around in the air, like a gust of erratic wind. 

The wind sounded like this: “I don’t come out because it isn’t me who wants to see you off, it’s them. I’m just leading the way for them.”

“See me off?” I repeated in puzzlement. Then I looked at the wolves in front of me and found that there was indeed something strange. Although they seemed to be blocking in front of me in twos or threes, none of them was really blocking the middle of the road. They were all scattered on both sides of the road. 

In the midst of amazement, the wind sounded again next to my ears.

“So don’t get me wrong. I won’t see you, and I won’t send you off until you’re back and never leave again. Keep that in mind, Zhu Xian!”

So that day, among the few who saw me off, there was no Lian’er. 

As I turned around to leave, the wolves started to howl, a howl I remembered hearing before. That time, they had lost a young member, and now they howled again as if they had once again lost another member.

Amid the howls, I gritted my teeth, lightened my body with qi, and flew off without stopping. I held back from turning around, but I didn’t hold back my tears.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 31 A Thought

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 31

A Thought

The wind carried a biting chill and stopped right before my left shoulder. 

The turbulence around me swerved from a rapid surge to a slow flow. The storm of attacks stopped without a warning as if someone had cast a fixation spell.

It was all black in front of me. Only my sense of touch and hearing were sharp. Lian’er’s breathing was right above my head, a reminder that time was still ticking.

Her breathing was slightly messed up, unlike her who could keep her composure even after two to four hours of practice. Her slightly disrupted breathing went on for a while. Then I heard a voice deeper than usual saying: “You, open your eyes.” After a pause, she got more impatient when she received no response and blared: “Open your eyes and lift your head!”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t do as she wished because it would surely be the start of our confrontation once I did that. I feared I couldn’t control the emotions in my eyes and also my mouth. The sudden spurt of emotions was like the fermentation gas choking in my chest, which would blow up upon the slightest contact. I just had to not see, not speak, and not move, pretending to be a cold corpse to keep it in check.

But in the next moment, my collar tightened, and I was dragged to my knees, the pissed-off voice shouting beside my ears: “What’re you doing? Can’t you look at me and talk properly? Acting all weird, you weren’t like this before!” 

She was right. It was all because of me. This must be too much for her. But the reproachful voice at this moment was like adding fuel to the fire, cracking my last line of restraint. I appeared the same on the surface, but my breathing became heavier, hands clenched into fists, and I was about to lose control.

In the nick of time, it was the sudden words of Master that saved the day. 

“Lian’er, that’s enough.” I heard her voice coming from the other side. It was far off at first, but by the next sentence, it was next to me. “Stand down. Let me talk to your sister.”

This unexpected intervention loosened the tense string in my mind that was about to snap.

Regarding Master’s order, Lian’er, who was in a rage, was reluctant to obey. She had been making a fuss for a while now. I kept quiet and listened to her the whole time. But eventually, she still gave in, let go of my collar with reluctance, and with a stomp, walked away in anger. 

“Xian’er…” Master spoke again after the sound of footsteps faded. “Alright, can you open your eyes now?”

This was a phrase for discussion but not a tone for one. I could be stubborn with Lian’er but not with Master, no matter how angry I was. Besides, during that time just now, I had regained control of those unexplainable emotions. Now that Master said so, I slowly opened my eyes. 

Still, I was feeling a little guilty, so I daren’t look Master in the eye, just looking at the ground, stooping down to hide my face: “Your disciple…is ashamed…”

“Alright, stop hiding. You have emotions. Lian’er doesn’t understand. Do you think I don’t?” I was flicked twice on the forehead, and I heard Master laugh: “It’s just that I didn’t expect there’s time Xian’er was so stubborn. I thought you’d be willing to talk to Lian’er once given a chance. I didn’t expect you to suffer for nothing.”

My lips fluttered. I had no idea what to say, and by the next line, Master’s smile dissolved. “Tell me, what’s on your mind? Lian’er didn’t know any better. You can always talk to your teacher, right?”

Once, I hoped there was such a person in this world to whom I could open my heart. Once, I thought Master and Lian’er were such a person. But now I knew I couldn’t talk about these feelings to anyone, no way. Other than heaven and the earth, gods and spirits, it could only forever rot in my belly.

But on the other hand, I genuinely didn’t want to lie to Master and knew lying to her wasn’t easy. When both were in conflict, I hesitated for some time. I had nothing to say, other than murmuring: “Master…”

“Fine.” When Master saw I wasn’t talking after a long wait, she didn’t get angry but just heaved a long sigh and patted my head, saying: “Actually, even if you don’t spill out your thoughts, I could somewhat tell. Something was off about you since that day. Why do you have to keep it to yourself?”

My heart was thumping when I heard that. 

I lifted my head. Apart from incredulity, there was unconcealable panic on my face. But in front of me, Master’s expressions that came into view were amiable and serene, even wearing a sweet, loving smile on her face.

Seeing such expressions on her, the unbidden panic in me subsided.

I knew Master was sharp, but I didn’t think she was that sharp since these feelings of mine were too mind-boggling in this era. How could someone, however wise they are, guess it so easily? I’m afraid Master misunderstood me and got the wrong idea. If that is the case, it actually isn’t a bad thing. As I was pondering, I stopped talking and lowered my head again. 

Master saw I was surprised just now. Thinking she might be right, she couldn’t help but feel a little upset. “You’ve followed me for almost 10 years, right?” She asked. 

Not knowing why she asked this, I answered honestly: “Yes, I’ve been following Master since I was six. It’s been more than 10 years now.” After a while, she sighed: “…Yeah, you’ll miss your family all the more on festive days. No matter how at odds you are with them, the bond can’t be severed.”

Her sigh came out of nowhere. It was more of talking to herself rather than me. I confusedly stole a peek at Master. Seeing Master rapt in her thoughts like the dusk of that day when she was drinking, I started to wonder, could there be another occasion a few days ago other than Master’s birthday? If so, then Master just pretended there was none, whereas Lian’er and I really had no idea but somehow reminded Master of something, thus those words? 

But what did that have to do with me?

Before I could make sense of it, Master slowly turned around, facing me, and said earnestly: “Do you remember I once said, from now on, whether or not you return, accept your parents, or get married, it’s up to you to decide, and no one in this world can put you at their mercy?”

Though confused, I still nodded hard. For me, this sentence rewrote my life. The memory of it was definitely still fresh in my mind like it was yesterday.

Master smiled as she saw me nod and continued: “Since you remember, then you should know I always kept my words, and since I’d said no one in this world can put you at their mercy, naturally, that includes me.” She paused, looked at me in the eyes, and said solemnly: “So, you don’t have to hesitate. Do whatever you want. You don’t have to worry about me, much less Lian’er.”

If I hadn’t guessed her thoughts before, I would have thought she was hinting at something at this moment.

But because of the guessing, my rationality told me there must be another reason—A few days ago, we celebrated Master’s birthday. Whether or not we forgot any special occasion, we had evoked something in Master’s mind that made her miss her family faraway. She was so and seeing me looking troubled since that day, it was easy for her to misunderstand that I was in the same situation as her. And associating what I had said before, she clearly thought I…

I heaved a sigh of relief once I figured it out. Just as I was about to explain to Master to ease her mind, a thought came to me on second thought. 

This thought was so huge that I myself was staggered. 

That night, the day was calm. Lian’er was tinkering with something outside. Master was busy with her big thing in the stone chamber as usual. And I was holding a book and looking at it absent-mindedly by the oil lamp on the table.

Shortly after, someone came in from outside.

Without having to look, I knew who came in just by the footsteps. It was boring to stay in the cave. Plus, she didn’t like to read, so she always preferred to play outside when she had nothing to do. When she had enough and came back, it was time to rest.

So I stood up out of habit and set down the book in my hand. When I was about to blow out the lamp, a hand stopped me.

“Who asked you to blow out the lamp? I still have things to do, with you.” Her temper came and went quickly for most of the time. Though I didn’t think her gloom had dissipated, I couldn’t hear much negativity in her voice just from this sentence alone. At least she was way calmer than she was in the daytime. 

After a moment of hesitation, I looked up, this time looking right into her eyes, and asked softly: “What’s it?”

I knew, from having that thought onward, there was a subtle change in my attitude that made me not want to avoid her anymore, to disappoint her, or to upset her. 

Lian’er was stunned, probably didn’t expect to get such a direct response. A look of surprise flashed across her face first, and then I could see her cheering up, her face breaking into a smile of pure happiness. She shook the little bottle in her hand at me, and said: “Just listen to me, go go, go to the bed and lie down. Oh, right! Take off your clothes too.”

I was being shoved towards the bed, and when I heard that, I was shocked and said nervously: “You, wait, what do you want to do, Lian’er?”

“Put on some tincture.” She didn’t stop and continued to push me as she answered, driving me to the bed like driving something off, and in the meantime, flashing me the little bottle again. “I’m very strong, so don’t tell me your body doesn’t hurt.”

I only recognized the use of that little bottle when she said so. It was a kind of tincture for bruises we brought from a doctor down the mountain. Since we lived in the mountains and practiced martial arts a lot, bumps and falls were inevitable. We usually had this kind of stuff ready. I just didn’t expect Lian’er to dig it out from the storage outside the cave so late at night.

My heart softened when I knew what she wanted to do, but the feeling of being in a quandary ensued. By now, I had to sit down as I had been pushed to the edge of the bed. I couldn’t care about anything else but implored her softly: “Wait, wait a second, Lian’er. I can take care of those bruises myself. You…let me do it myself, okay?” With that, I reached out my hand, wanting to grab the bottle she was holding. 

Who knew she realized my intention when my hand was stretched halfway. With a swift turn, she dodged my hand and said with a straight face: “Let you do it yourself? Can you? I remember where I hit. Those on the back, try doing it yourself?” Then she rolled her eyes and said: “Could it be…you couldn’t be afraid of pain that you don’t dare to let me help you?”

This girl, when did she learn how to goad someone? And did it in such an obvious way? I burst into laughter. It was fine if she didn’t mention it. Now that she mentioned it, my body was indeed stinging for the whole day now. Besides, if I kept refusing, she might be upset, and it would seem like…I’m a bit guilty…

At the thought of this, I stopped refusing. I gritted my teeth and took off my robe gently, pretending to be frank. I hesitated for a while, but still, I couldn’t do it in the end and just untie the inner garment a little, lifted it, and revealed my back. Then I sat at the bed and turned around, stammering a little: “That’s, um, that’s all right, right?”

It was quiet behind me, no sound. After a while, a hand gently landed on my skin. The body temperature that was slightly higher than average formed a stark contrast to the cold tincture, triggering a shiver. 

The sensation of heat and cold blended together was sliding on my back and slowly, getting heavier. When her hand rubbed on the bruise, it was so painful my body tensed up, and when it left, my body relaxed. I was caught in the cycle of tension and relaxation. The coldness was no more, and the tincture turned scalding. The hand was even warmer. Everywhere it went was painful and burning. Gradually, the burning sensation overtook the pain. The pain was no longer intense, but a tickling sensation set in with the burning heat, sore and prickly. It was faint at first, but then it built up. Mixed with the heat, it crushed into my body. I felt sore and weary, like my bones and tenders being ground, yet it was strangely pleasant. 

In this strange comfort, it was as if I had entered a dream. Something was stirred in my brain and started floating. The beach was bustling with people. The white sand carried the warmth of the sun, and it felt as pleasant as earlier. The shade of the parasol was just right, the waves were swashing not far away with a rhythm, and a hand was stroking on my back along with the rhythm. The coldness of the sunscreen was blended with a strange warmth, and I heard beside my ears: “How’s it? Wanna put some more on? Xiao Ying[1]?”

And I roused with a shudder!

“Are you dreaming again? What’re you afraid of?” The voice behind me wasn’t someone’s; it was Lian’er’s.

Realizing this, it didn’t lighten up my mood. I forgot I was half-dressed and turned around to look at her face to face, listening to her continue: “You’re not happy. There’s something you fear inside you. I know. It’s fine if you don’t tell me. I’ll find it out myself.”

She said she would find it out herself. My Lian’er, always growing without me realizing it. Now, she began to understand how to figure out people’s minds. At least, she tried to figure me out. 

This didn’t make me happy. Instead, a wave of panic surged up in me. 

Deep into the night, everything returned to silence.

Lian’er was sleeping well—probably the best one she had in the past few days—because she had made up her mind to figure out others’ minds and what they were thinking on her own to solve her doubts. 

I got up silently, walked around her holding my breath, and tiptoed to the end of the cave, in front of Master’s room.

Through the gap between the rocks that acted as screens, I could see the light inside was still on. I stood there for a long time, oblivious of how much time had passed, and at last, I flipped the hem of my robe, kneeled down, and kowtowed.

At the end of that conversion, Master said: “No rush. Come again and tell me when you’ve thought this through.”

“Zhu Xian pleads Master to grant me return.”


[1]xiao is a term of endearment commonly used in Chinese, which means “small” or “young” or “little.” Zhu Xian’s name in her past life was Wu Ying, thus Xiao Ying, which literally translates to little Ying.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 30 Distance

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 30

Distance

I could make myself look as usual. Only heaven and the earth know my heart, anyway.

But if pretending nothing was wrong and getting along as usual meant that from now on, I would lose control of my words and actions from time to time, then I had no other choice. 

After dusk of that day, I cleaned up the dishes without a word and then continued with what I had to do. Except that a cordon was raised inside of me, virtually marking out a self-measured safety distance and carefully sticking to it at all times, trying my best not to cross over, meanwhile, keeping an eye on Lian’er to prevent her from crossing over.

I knew this was a dick move, but I couldn’t think of any other ways. I was merely grasping at straws. In this life, all I wanted was peace, yet I couldn’t get it. Worse still, it was ruined by my own hands. How ludicrous, but I couldn’t laugh.

Even if it was poison, I had to drink it.

Lian’er didn’t sense anything about my approach at first. She is independent, doesn’t like to cling to anyone, and loves to run around all day. Every time she thought of something to do, the most she would do was ask me whether I wanted to tag along. If the answer was negative, she wouldn’t push it either. She would just go: “Oh” and continue to do her thing.

But no matter how heedless she was of trifles, slowly but surely, she would sense something was off as the days went by. 

I wasn’t sure when Lian’er started to sense it, I only knew she looked strange that day when the three of us were sitting together having dinner.

Lian’er had a bad habit when she ate. Although the way she ate wasn’t exactly rude, it wasn’t controlled and civil either like a lady. She would gobble up her food every time. Sometimes, Master and I would correct her, but it rarely worked. Not to mention the guilt of avoiding her of late, all that was on my mind was to compensate her elsewhere, so I had been making her favourite dishes these days, and now she was devouring her food across the table like the wind sweeping up the clouds. After she was done, a bowl was held out in front of me. 

“More rice.” It was the familiar, assertive voice.

Surprise flashed across my mind. I was used to helping Master with another serving of rice. Back when I pampered her as a child, I would love to help her with that, but she was the one who always spurned my help. She would roll her eyes at me every time, slid out of her seat with her empty bowl, and went to the stove to help herself.

And now she suddenly asked for help herself, even though I said nothing. It was hard not to be surprised. 

But surprise aside, I looked down at the empty bowl, then at the clean, slender fingers around the brim of the bowl, and my eyes went all the way to her forearm, and I didn’t want to go up anymore. I murmured an “Oh,” took the bowl and left my seat, calmly went to the outer cave, opened the barrel steamer, filled up the bowl, came back, and gently put it back in front of her.

Who knew after staying silent for a while, she pushed the bowl and acted out: ”It’s too much. I can’t finish it!” I didn’t know if it was an illusion. There was a tinge of agitation in her tone and action.

By that time, I had already sat down. Not knowing what she wanted, I reached out my hand, took it over without a word, and scooped some over to my bowl, then pushed the rest back to her.

But I didn’t expect that would anger her. 

“What’re you doing? I just said it’s too much. I didn’t ask you to take some over. Why do you act on your own without saying anything!” She really seemed to be getting irritated. Her voice was louder than when she usually acted out. Her tone was harsher too. I didn’t raise my head to look at her. But given her tone, I guessed her expression must have been furious.

“Lian’er…” Meanwhile, Master, who saw how things unfolded, said flatly. Her meaning was clear. 

But the person beside me seemed to ignore Master’s attitude and kept on stubbornly. I was looking at the tabletop and could even feel her sharp and emotional gaze. She glared at me and snarled: “Looking down again! You always keep your head down lately! What’s wrong? Can’t you just look at me and talk!”

“Lian’er! What’s with your manner of talking to your sister!” Master’s tone suddenly hardened. 

Although Lian’er was willful, she had always been respectful of Master. Her disregard earlier might just be a momentary outburst of emotion, and she couldn’t control herself. I knew Master got angry when I heard her raise her voice. Although Lian’er still looked a little indignant, she meekly hushed up, holding back her emotion, and sat down, picked up her bowl and chopsticks, starting to eat listlessly. 

Looking at that pair of chopsticks sluggishly poking between those few dishes as if they were tasteless, I finally couldn’t stand it and took a quick peek. Who knew she was also staring at me, and both our eyes met. I froze and quickly averted my eyes.

I had averted my eyes but couldn’t turn away from the impression left in my head in that split second. The emotion exuding from those eyes wasn’t so much anger but aggrieved with a trace of bewilderment.

I sighed to myself, thinking she had felt something after all. She felt the existence of the line. Maybe because our relationship since young was me humoring her and taking care of her, so she didn’t quite know how to approach me and interact with me on her own. Besides, this action of pushing her away was ambiguous and vague. For Lian’er, who liked to keep things clean and simple, she was indeed lost. That was why she would find such a poor excuse to talk to me and got anxious and flipped out when she didn’t get the response she wanted.

How innocent she was to be affected by my emotion and have her mood ruined for no reason. 

But what shall I do? Neither could I get closer nor stay away. It would hurt the other person when far away, hurt myself when close. It was a dilemma.

I wasn’t a selfless person with great love, after all. The reason I treated her well, accommodated her, took meticulous care of her, rarely went against her on anything was simply because I knew it wouldn’t hurt me. Even if she were a fierce little wolf, being bitten once or twice was still acceptable for me. I didn’t really care. 

But now she was no longer a little wolf but a soaring fire of karma. If I get any closer, the price is to burn to ashes.

It was a price I couldn’t afford and daren’t afford. Once I touched the truly untouchable, like all ordinary people, my first reaction was to retreat and protect myself.

Such a situation had lasted for three days. Three days later, Master wanted us to spar sword-to-sword. 

Master’s order came at short notice, but I wasn’t surprised. The feeling that something was wrong between Lian’er and me these days, especially the episode at the dinner table. Since she had seen them all, it was only a matter of time before she would do something about it. In a way, I even thought Master’s response came a little late, though I didn’t yet understand what the purpose of doing so was.

And Lian’er didn’t seem surprised about it either. But her nonchalance and mine were different. As Master kept strict supervision over her martial arts training, it was common for her to sword spar. Only this time, she snorted when she heard her opponent was me and passed by in front of me with her chin lifted, taking the lead to go out of the cave first. 

Scratching my face with resignation, I stood up and followed her.

The large flat land not far away from the cave where I loved to lay in the sun was the usual sword training ground whose surface was made up of hard rocks. With the rain washing all year round, almost no loose soil remained on the surface, and lush vegetation couldn’t thrive, but not far from there, there were canopies of green. Thus, it was an ideal place for martial arts practice.  

When I arrived, Lian’er had been waiting for me. She was holding a black bamboo commonly used for sparring, left hand forming into sword fingers, standing tall and spirited in the middle of the training ground, her robe rippling in the wind, emanating an imposing air.

I didn’t dare to keep my eyes on her for too long. My eyes quickly swept past her, and I looked at Master at the side in confusion, wanting to get a hint from her, but all I got was a black bamboo same as Lian’er’s and a word from her: “Go.”

So I was forced to walk into the field until I stopped ten feet away from her. Under her burning gaze, I braced myself, spun my sword, and got into a pose. Then I bit the bullet and raised my head. Suddenly, I understood why Master did this. 

Scholars make friends through literature, martial artists connect through martial arts. The person who knows you best is always your opponent. Even if it is only sparring, standing against each other like this, waiting for an opportunity to strike, our eyes were bound to meet. It is only through guessing each other’s minds, emotions, even characters that you know what you will face next.

Master had used the simplest method—force us to communicate. I didn’t know if Lian’er understood her intention. But when I forced myself to raise my head and looked into her eyes, the aggressive yet eager eyes I saw were no lie. 

That gaze was too intense. Reciting the cultivation incantations, I forced myself to focus, trying to tune myself to a state of non-self ready for combat. But in the end, I still subconsciously closed my eyes.

I couldn’t face the enemy because it was impossible to treat the person in front of me as an enemy.

That moment I closed my eyes was undoubtedly a great opening, and surely, it brought about Lian’er’s attack. At that instant, I felt the wind gusting against my face, and I ducked out of instinct and used footwork. With a few dodges, I avoided the onslaught of wind gusts just in time, and finally, only after backing up a few steps did I have the chance to look back, and I saw a purple streak pursuing me like a living thing and thrusting towards my shoulder blade.

It was too late for me to retreat or to block now. I could only grit my teeth and mustered my qi to bear this strike. The next moment, my eyes went blurry, and one side of my body got the taste of the ground.

But Lian’er’s attacks were still raining down on me. I lay on the ground, wielding the black bamboo in my hand to defend myself, trying to break out to the left while blocking her attacks on the right. I barely held on by relying on my familiarity with her moves while being held down, unable to get a break to get up. The hits were harder than I expected when they landed on me sometimes.

Lian’er was being serious. Never had she been so serious, almost no mercy. 

Even so, I still didn’t really look into those serious eyes.

Facing a lopsided situation, Master didn’t call a halt. I knew she wouldn’t, and I didn’t have time to look over and ask her to call a halt. After blocking for a while, the places where I got hit were increasing, and my movements were getting slower. Several parts of my body were so painful and numb that they couldn’t summon up any strength, and my shoulder blade was burning.

Slowly, my emotion began to change.

I rarely get angry at Lian’er. Even when I did, it wouldn’t last for long, and I had never vented my anger at her. But right now, there was a fire of rage burning inside of me, slowly yet vividly.

Why? Why? I just want to stay a little further away from you. I’ll still protect you, pamper you, just from a little further away. Why do you have to force me like this?

You don’t understand at all. You don’t understand what you mean to me. I don’t want you to understand. Isn’t that better? You have your future, and I want to protect you, but that doesn’t mean I have to lose my heart to you, does it?

You’ll fall for someone, a man. You’re destined to be crazy for him. Why do I have to fall for someone like you!

My body started to turn cold little by little. It had nothing to do with physical pain. It was a chill that arose from the bottom of my heart. What was burning was obviously a fire, but it felt cold to the bone. 

I stopped all my movements, no longer resisting nor paying any mind to Lian’er attacks, and just closed my eyes.

I didn’t dare to open my eyes, didn’t dare to look at her because my last thread of rationality kept me worried, worried that if I opened my eyes ever so slightly at this moment, it would reveal the hatred that filled my eyes.


Slopaw’s note:
I promised 2 chapters in this release last time, but I still have a little editing left to do for the next chapter, so I’ll upload it tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed this chapter!

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 29 After

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 29

After

My body was falling, falling endlessly. 

What I could see was my tousled hair whipped by the wind, and a ray of light above my head, getting further and further away. I reached out my hand but couldn’t catch it because that wasn’t my light. 

Is that it? Am I going to die? Am I going to die? Is this the end?

Splat, a clump of mushed flesh.

Quietly, I opened my eyes. It was dark around. Underneath was a comfortable cushion. I was lying nicely on it, just a little short of breath, teeth clenched tight. I touched my forehead. It was covered in sweat. 

Propping up my body, I sat up from the bed and leaned against the stone wall. I mopped my hand across my face and took a few deep breaths, letting the fresh air fill my body, clearing the stuffiness in my chest. Now I felt much better, and my heartbeat began to settle.

That was when I felt eyes on me. I lifted my hand rubbing my eyes and saw Lian’er was sleeping in her usual place, staring at me.

“…What’s wrong with you?” I asked a somewhat silly question, perhaps because I had just woken up and wasn’t thinking straight. 

Surely, this question made her frown and said in displeasure: “I’m the one who wants to ask you ‘what’s wrong with you?’ You were sleeping just fine, and suddenly, you looked like you were dying, mumbling who knows what. And when I was trying to listen carefully, you woke up.”

That’s close. Sighing to myself, I was wide awake. I barely put on a smile and replied: ”Nothing. It’s just a nightmare.”

“A nightmare?” Over there, she asked with curiosity: “You do that too when you have a fever. Is nightmare a scary dream? I saw you’d been sweating as if you were terrified.”

Scary? Maybe. Terrified? Indeed. I couldn’t help raising a wry smile and said: “Well, not really…I hope Lian’er will never know what a nightmare is.” As I said, I reached out my hand without thinking and wanted to stroke her head.

“No!” This act had prompted resistance. She cocked her head to dodge it and snarled: “Don’t rub my head! I’m not a child anymore!”

I took back my hovering hand and stared dazedly at her for a moment before I nodded: “Understood.”

I knew you weren’t a kid anymore. That was why it added a lot of trouble. If I could choose, I really hoped that I didn’t know and cared for you as a child for the rest of my life. It was better for me, and for you.

Too bad things didn’t always go your way.

I tried to get on with my life in the next few days, especially when I was with Lian’er. I would talk like how I would talk, smile like how I would smile. Just that inside, I could no longer be honest. Back when the feeling was still hazy, I could shrug it off without delving into it, even if being affectionate and sometimes being moved. But now that my feeling was clear, I felt as if I was doing something wrong. When I saw a casual expression or action from her, I acted as nothing happened on the outside, but on the inside, I couldn’t help being hung up on it.

I couldn’t control this inner conflict. If I could, I really didn’t like such a self who could no longer be calm and frank. 

The only thing I was glad about was I had considerably good control over this feeling. I had kept it secret from everyone. Although Master had a keen observation, she wouldn’t notice anything strange as she didn’t pay much attention to us when we were together. As for Lian’er, she had an exceptional intuition but didn’t care to read people. Thus she was even less likely to notice anything, not to mention she had something on her mind now.

After that day, she finally waited through three days and couldn’t wait any longer. She dragged me down the mountain in a hurry after finding an excuse to hunt in the morning. Of course, I couldn’t refuse her. Besides, it was impossible to let her go alone, so I could only go down the mountain with her.

This trip down the mountain was nothing like the last one. Our trip went without a hitch. Everything went surprisingly well. When we stepped into the ceramics store, the old man had been waiting for us. All three items were done. Lian’er played with them over and over again in her hands. The corners of her eyes and brows were brimming with uncontainable delight. I watched from the side and found my eyes drawn to her again, so I whisked my eyes away. I cupped my fists at the old master in gratitude and gave him many gifts that I prepared beforehand as thanks. The old man was a forthright one. He accepted them with good grace and called his apprentice to fetch a small jar from the back, saying how could we celebrate a birthday without wine? It was the good stuff he had buried in his backyard for decades. He had wanted to celebrate with it after firing a batch of the most satisfactory wares in the future. Now that he shared a jar with us, our friendship was made. 

I didn’t want to accept this thing at first. For one thing, it was too precious, and for the other, what were we going to do with this murky yellow liquid? But I couldn’t resist the fervor of the old man. Besides, Lian’er next to me had never seen wine. Now that she heard him speak about it as if it was something marvelous, I figured she was curious and tempted as she hinted to me with her eyes. I was used to letting her have her way, plus I had something to hide these days, so after being looked at for a few times, I could only thank him and accept it. 

When we left, it occurred to me there couldn’t be wine without food, so I took Lian’er to a restaurant to get some side dishes, wrapped them nicely in lotus leaf and oil paper, and hurried back to the mountain before dusk with packages of food.

When we appeared in front of Master in such a manner, it was hard for her not to understand what was going on, and she realized, for the past few days, we were secretly up to something behind her back. That said, it was a token of her disciples’ affection, so she couldn’t blame us. Instead, she couldn’t contain a gratified smile when Lian’er took her outside the cave and sat her down before a stone block, kneeling on the ground with reverence and presenting her handmade gift to her. 

Because of this smile, I put aside the mixed feelings that had been bothering me for the past few days and immersed myself in pure joy.

Although this was said to be a birthday celebration, there was no other plan after the gift-giving session. Thinking since it was about time, I served the dishes, portioned them out, and popped open the mudcap of the wine jar. The three of us just sat at the stone table outside the cave and enjoyed today’s dinner with the breeze and the setting sun.

When I poured the wine for Master, I was still a little worried, but maybe because she was happy, she said nothing about what we had done. Once I was done pouring, she picked it up, had a sniff, and took a sip. “Good stuff!” She praised with her brows raised. After that, one shot after another, she began to drink to her heart’s content like a real jianghu hero, not a sign of a lightweight a woman usually was.

I sat on a side, boggling at the sight of it. Fearing that it wasn’t good for the body to be drinking too much on an empty stomach, I kept putting food on her plate and told her to eat more. But when I looked away amid the haste, I saw Lian’er was holding the wine jar across me, blatantly pouring herself a full cup of wine. I panicked and called out to stop her, but Master squinted and waved her hand, saying: “It’s okay. It won’t hurt to let her try.”

Once she got her word, Lian’er brightened up, looking at me as if she had won. I was speechless. I couldn’t be teaching her about the rule that minors aren’t allowed to drink, so I could only watch her picking up her cup in triumph.

Lian’er never had alcohol before, after all. Although she was acting all smug, she was wary of it without knowing when the cup came close to her lips. She first imitated Master’s movement and took a sniff, looking a little bemused, but refused to give in. She held back her hesitation and took a gulp. Then she laid the cup and frowned. 

This series of actions had given away her thoughts. “See. I told you you can’t drink,” I said in delight and reached out my hand as I said, wanting to take the cup away. It was fine if I didn’t say that. Once I said that, she held the cup of wine with both hands like she was guarding her food and looked at me, taking a few sips as if to protest. Then she lifted the chopstick and started eating with a blank expression.

There was nothing I could do about her stubbornness, so I could only take away the wine jar in front of her while pouring wine for Master, hoping she would stop after that one cup.

Lian’er wasn’t much of a drinker at all. After a few sips, her face started to flush. Because of her fair skin, the flush seemed especially conspicuous, growing redder as the heat crept up. When a cup of wine was barely downed, her face had become like ripe red fruit. Her typically sharp eyes had become hazy. As she was chewing after taking two more bites of the dishes, she dropped her head at the table.

I witnessed the episode from the beginning to the end. When I saw her lower her head, I quickly leaned forward and held her. Perhaps because she sensed someone getting close, she looked up in bewilderment. When she saw it was me, she swayed her head and shone a beaming smile, mumbling something. Then she leaned on my shoulder and fell sound asleep just like that. 

With that, I felt so disconcerted. Not a part of my body felt right, but I couldn’t just pull away and let her fall, so I looked at Master for help, hoping she would step in. 

However, upon looking, I found that Master’s mind wasn’t here at all.

All my mind was on Lian’er just now, so I didn’t notice, at some point, the smile had melted away from Master’s face. Although she was still drinking one cup after another, looking calm, her mind had obviously drifted away. Even the cups of wine reflecting the golden setting sun weren’t in her eyes, her eyes unfocused as if she was absorbed in her thoughts.

“…Master?” As I called her with worry, she looked over here as if she just woke up, took a look around, and said with a smile: “Is Lian’er drunk? It’s good she behaves like this after getting drunk. It’s getting dark, and the wind’s strong outside. You’d better take her to rest inside…”

When I saw her slowly stand up as she spoke, dusted the hem of her robe, and took a stride, as if to go somewhere, I asked in a hurry: “Master, what’re you…?” She halted without turning around, just staring into the distance, and said with nonchalance: “It’s been a long time since I drink like this. I’m feeling a bit tipsy. While the sun’s still up, I want to take a walk to clear my head. Don’t worry. You just have to take care of your sister.”

After saying that, she let out a long sigh and left with a sway.

I looked at the direction she had gone. After a long time, I looked away without a word. Everyone says that wine eases sorrow, but who knows it will hurt more later. After exploring the stone chamber, I knew what was troubling Master. But what good is it to know? 

The word, love; Impossible to sunder, chaotic to disentangle, only oneself knows its joys and sorrows, others could never intervene. 

I looked at the person sleeping tight in my arms. What shall I do with my love? 

As the sun set, the wind outside indeed kicked up. Our hair was riffled in the wind. A strand of hair brushed her nose, and her face crinkled together, letting out a tiny sneeze.

I knew she wasn’t catching a cold, but I still wrapped my arms around her and went inside. Luckily, Lian’er was young and not that heavy, plus my persistent practice over the years, so I was still capable of carrying her back into the inner cave without breaking a sweat and laid her down on the padded stone bed she usually slept in. 

Lian’er was usually highly vigilant. A little noise would wake her up. But now when she was drunk, she gave no response even after being tossed around, just reflexively emitting hums in comfort when her body touched the soft bed. She rolled over. Seemingly unsatisfied, she rolled back over and grabbed my arm, nuzzling against it like hugging a pillow, and snuggled down. 

Being grabbed like this, I couldn’t pull off her hand, and I also didn’t want to. I sat beside the bed and looked at her, entranced. 

I seldom looked at her this closely. At first, because of her being haughty towards me, she didn’t allow me to look at her. By the time we got along, I had used to not look straight at her. 

She was sleeping so comfortably now, her nose quivering with her breaths. The light cast a faint shadow under her pretty lashes. Her face was flushed red from drinking, even her ears were red, yet they looked moisturized and plump. The white hue in the red gave it a natural glow.

I totally forgot about everything, only drawn to the sight in front of me. I wanted to get closer, a little closer. I closed my eyes, the tip of my nose and my lips could feel the delicacy and softness, stinging temperature yet so pleasant that it paralyzed me. There was a subtle scent of wine as she breathed, but it was more like the scent of woods, like the fresh leaves, the flowing water, the flower that bloomed for the first time, imbued with a unique innocence of a child, which formed a unique scent belonged to Lian’er. 

Taking in such a scent and being close to such warmth, I felt tiddly even though I didn’t touch a drop.

It wasn’t until she felt disturbed in her sleep, raised her hand, and scratched the part of the skin that was touched, like scratching an itch, that I realized how close I was to her. I leaped to my feet in a panic, the arm being held broke loose with the jerk, and I backed away to a side in a few steps. 

That was when my heart started racing, and compunction set in. 

The thing I hated the most was losing control, yet I had lost control of myself twice in just a few days. My mind went blank, and I did silly stuff, especially what happened just now. I actually…actually lost my head and let myself lean over and kissed her cheek! 

Not daring to look at the sleeping person on the bed, I turned around and ran straight to the water reservoir outside the cave, scooped a ladle of water, and poured it over my face to cool my head off. But it wasn’t enough, so I scooped a few more times with my hands. After a few more splashes, I finally calmed down.

My chin and hair were dripping water, and the water in the tank was rocking. Amid the rocking water vaguely mirrored a blurry face.

I stared blankly at that face. After a moment, I began to sneer.

“Wu Ying…” Between my teeth, I spat out a name, a name that should have been dead, a name that I never wanted to hear again.

“Wu Ying, do you want to die again?”


Slopaw’s note:
I still owe you guys a chapter for reaching my Kofi goal. Will update 2 chapters in the next release.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 28

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 28

Who is she

The clear water was chilly to touch. Thankfully, it was summer now, so it wasn’t unbearable.

Cleaning Lian’er’s blood-stained clothes was much easier than I imagined because the bloodstain was still fresh. I dipped that part in the water, scrubbed it a few times, and the stain soon faded away a lot. After repeating this several times, I shook it out and looked at it against the moonlight. Once I made sure the stain was barely visible, I went to the edge of the woods, snapped off a branch, strung the clothes across it, and hung it between two scrubs to let it dry.

After doing all these, I rubbed my coldish hand and went back to the pool, looking up towards the water.

When I was doing the cleaning, I only focused on the task at hand. It didn’t take too long, so I thought the kid must still be playing in the water and wanted to call her up. When I looked over to that side, I found that she wasn’t playing but was in the water near the cliff instead with her back to this side, submerged in the water from the shoulders down, maintaining an odd, motionless posture.

I said it was odd because the water wasn’t exactly shallow. If a person wants to stay afloat, the person will have to keep treading water. It felt incongruous to be motionless like this. I had no time to care about other things. In the moonlight, I strained my eyes to look at the water before I could make out there was a rock underneath Lian’er, and she hid in the water sitting cross-legged, as if being in the middle of qi circulation. 

Only when I saw this that I understood what she was thinking. That palm of mine must have left a mark on her shoulder. That was why she found an excuse to get into the water. For one was to evade the check-up, and for the other, to circulate her qi to promote blood circulation while I was cleaning her stuff. I guessed she wanted to take the chance to clear out the bruise on her shoulder. That way, it didn’t matter if I insisted on checking later. 

Too bad she rarely did housework. She had no idea that the clothes didn’t need to be washed entirely, but just the area with the bloodstain had to be scrubbed, which took just a little time, not nearly enough for her to circulate qi to treat the bruise.

Before, she tried to trick me, and now, she tried to avoid me. She was getting better at using her wits on me. I didn’t know if it was because she was too proud to admit it or didn’t want me to feel guilty after seeing it that she was so reluctant to show me her injury. When I thought of this, I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head with resignation. With her temper, I think it was more reliable to guess the former. 

But anyhow, qi circulation and playing in the water were two completely different things. Now instead of calling her, I was worried something unexpected might disturb her, which would put her at risk of qigong deviation if she wasn’t careful.

And on the other hand…

Looking at the woods, rustled by the wind, I couldn’t help but frown. Out in such a wilderness and so uncovered, even though she was submerged in the water from the shoulders down, it was too… 

This place was deep in the mountain, and it was nighttime, and not even supposed to have a single ghost, but somehow, I felt uncanny. My mind began to recall all kinds of storylines about coincidence in various stories for no reason. I always had the feeling someone would see Lian’er the next moment.

As I was imagining these kinds of scenarios in my head, I laughed at myself for being infected by too many cheesy dramas, but at the same time, it unsettled me. It became intolerable at last, so I turned around and hurried to the woods.

This secluded pool was surrounded by cliffs on three sides. Even if you looked down from above, you couldn’t see anything, not to mention they were steep and craggy. The only way left to the pool was through these woods. I entered the woods but didn’t go deeper, just snatched a few branches and leaves, and deftly set up a few mechanisms on the path where people could pass through and the scrubs were sparse. This kind of mechanism is simple and harmless. It drops when touched and lets out some noises when it hits the ground. Although the noise wasn’t too loud, in such a quiet place and at such a close range, I think it should be enough. 

After setting up the defense line in a jiffy, I heaved a sigh of relief and fell silent for a moment before chuckling. I didn’t know what I was doing and actually got myself on the run by an imagination. 

But anyway, I felt safe now. I was mocking myself as I walked jauntily back to the pool, squatted down to wash my hands soiled by the branches and dirt, and at the same time, reflexively glanced at the pool.  

It was nothing if I didn’t look. Once I looked, it shocked me to my feet!

I was shocked not because I saw something terrifying. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I saw nothing. Over there, there was nothing in the crystal clear water! Lian’er who was quietly sitting in the water a little while ago with her shoulders above the water meditating and circulating qi was gone! 

This was an urgent matter. I went to the woods just now, but I was just skirting around it. It was just a few feet away from here. If there were any noises, I wouldn’t have not noticed it. But wouldn’t it be more worrying if she disappeared without a sound? Her clothes were still hanging on the branch, so she couldn’t be running away alone and naked, could she?

I daren’t take any reckless move, even more so when I am worried. My mind ran through every possibility, eyes kept searching the water. The best guess now was Lian’er was still in the water. But why would she go underwater? Did she finish with her meditation and dive into the water to play, or did she run into something? The worst of all thoughts was she somehow slipped into the water while she was still in the middle of the qi circulation. If so, I’m afraid… 

I got more and more anxious when I thought of it. Then I decided to count to ten. If she didn’t show up by then, I would jump into the water to look for her myself. But I just counted to five, and I couldn’t wait anymore. I lifted the hem of my shirt and was about to jump into the water.

But after taking two quick steps and the coolness was up over my ankles, the sound of someone getting out of the water suddenly came to my ears!

I looked up and stared. In the moonlight, a figure broke through the water, whipping off splashes of water, and then the figure whirled a round in the air, and landed, standing firmly on that rock in the pool, looking tall and upright. The translucent water droplets reflecting the moonlight trickled down the body, dripping off like little pieces of jade. But she paid no heed to it, just brushed the wet wisp of hair off her forehead, and inspected the small bright yellow freshwater snail in her hand, eyes sparkling with joy.  

She took no notice of me, but I was looking at her. Not that I hadn’t seen Lian’er like this before, it was just that I hadn’t really looked at her. So now, staring at the white jade-like figure in the water, I was actually entranced for a second. 

Who is she?

It was quiet around, the wind rattling the tree leaves, and the rhythm was like nature’s music sheet, crooning, giving rise to the sense of weightlessness like dreams. I was there, forgotten about the damp coldness on my feet and the worries I had a second ago, just looking at the blue water. The secluded pool was like a mirror, reflecting the shadow of the cliffs and a fair lady. She stood in the water. The moonlight gently shrouded her with a layer of tulle, wavering and faint, like a shimmer radiated from the smooth and flawless skin. 

Who is she? She is my Lian’er, but she isn’t my Lian’er either. In this moment, she is more like a complete stranger. She is a girl, a lady, but the one thing she isn’t is a child. She is no longer the child she once was. 

My mind was blank. Lost, I stood there for a long time, or at least I thought it was a long time. It wasn’t until the person in the water noticed my gaze and looked over, flourishing the bright yellow in her hand at me, and grinned that I gulped, snapped back to myself, stepped away from the water, and back to the dry ground, but then I slipped. If I hadn’t held on to a rock in time, I would have almost fallen.

With this slip and hold, my brain completely went back to normal. I felt my heart palpitating, the arteries in my neck throbbing, and a light film of sweat on my palms, as if waking up from a dripping dream. 

What is wrong with me? 

I was shocked and doubtful. 

This feeling isn’t…it’s impossible…

I was rubbing my temples. Before I could sort out all kinds of jumbled thoughts in my head, a cascade of faint tumbling sound abruptly came from the woods over that side.

Almost at the same time, I sprang and rushed towards the woods without even thinking!

Who’s it? Who triggers those mechanisms? Who’s coming this way? Absolutely no. Lian’er is standing in the water now, standing in the water just like that. Absolutely no. I can never let other people see her. She’s…she’s…

The answer was on the tip of my tongue. I deliberately suppressed it, single-mindedly going forward, and rushed to that place in the woods almost instantly. As expected, a mechanism I set earlier had fallen down, branches and gravel scattered on one side, but the surrounding remained quiet. I couldn’t see anything strange, and the other mechanisms were also intact. 

Panting, I pursed my lips, perked up my ears and looked around, not letting go of a single trail, but there was really no one around. However, the branches and gravel at my feet moved at this moment, and as I watched, a tiny hedgehog struggled out of it and waddled into the grass on the side.

Without moving, I watched this little guy disappear from my sight. I just stood still in silence. After a long time, I suddenly felt like all the strength had been sucked out of me. Unable to help myself, I crumpled to my knees, covering my mouth.

When did this start?

And how?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. It was just that the accumulated quantitative changes eventually turned into qualitative changes. As is now, here and now, I could no longer ignore it, no longer hide it, no longer able to find any other excuses. This feeling, for the first time, surfaced so vividly, so strongly that it alarmed me.

Even for that moment just now, only one thought was in my mind, that was, I could never let other people see that Lian’er. She’s…she’s…

She is, mine.


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 27

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 27

Mark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I could only resort to a devious way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not…not again…”


The Witch Nichang- Chapter 26

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 26

Trick

I think I was supposed to be irritated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You! Get out of the way!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 25

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 25

Right and wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in the backyard of the ceramics shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baffled, I could only go along with her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I should.” I nodded and said solemnly.

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

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

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

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


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

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