Author: Slopaw (Page 4 of 4)

This is Slopaw.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 7

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 7

Lian’er

When I first opened my eyes in this world, I thought I was dreaming. 

If one day those cliché plots actually happened to oneself, regardless of how banal they were, anyone would feel as absurd as a dream.

In my dream, I saw a crude straw house, a dim oil lamp, a stalwart man, and a woman crying and complaining about having given birth to a girl again. Unfortunately, I slept, woke up, and slept again; countless days and nights had passed, but I still didn’t wake up from this nightmare. So, I finally accepted the truth that I would never wake up. 

If one couldn’t wake up from the dream, the dream became a reality.

I was a practical person. 

Since I was alive, as a practical person, I would want to live a better life. 

Thus after that, I kept myself busy all the time, for survival and the future, struggling while taking the trouble to ask around and make all kinds of plans, only to achieve this simple goal.

But thanks to that, I gradually had the reality of living in the present. 

I thought I had accepted the fact of living in obscurity in the corner of history. The history was real, therefore so was I. It was just time and space separating me from the world of sleepless nights filled with debauchery and revelry.

I really thought so. 

But now…

Lian Nichang.

Who was Lian Nichang?

Like most people, living in a fast-paced life, I was not a keen fan of books at that time. Although I had some exposure to those kinds of literature, I had only scratched the surface for most of them, only vaguely remembering a fraction of them at most. 

Even so, I would never be unfamiliar with this name. 

Not only was it familiar, I literally heard a lot about it—a well-known yet fictional existence.

In a daze, I was back in the mountains. 

I didn’t even remember how I got back, or maybe I was merely following Master without thinking. 

I was not a child, after all, so, over the years, I had made my own decision about everything, rarely needing someone to talk to. Besides, there were many things I couldn’t talk about. Especially after following Master, neither of us liked to talk much. Gradually, we had come to a kind of tacit understanding—if I didn’t want to say it, she wouldn’t ask either. 

However, this time, she had looked at me several times on the way back from the store. And now, she finally called me, hesitantly: “Xian’er…”

Upon hearing her, I looked up and saw her brows knitted. Her expression was as usual, but her eyes clearly flashed with worries.  

I must have looked pale, but I also know she might have misunderstood me because of this. Master was a person with great pride who kept her words and honored her promises. Though she had never promised me herself, the time when we settled down in Mount Hua, she had made her attitude of recognizing me as her successor clear, which was why she had given me those words of encouragement. But now, she had accepted another disciple again, someone with an exceptional physique. Although her life’s wish had been fulfilled, she was a little troubled for breaking her own words. I understood the feelings she had even before this, so I had been acting considerate to make her feel relieved. Yet, when she actually accepted another disciple, my expression didn’t look so good, so it must have made her think that I still cared.

But how would she have known? And how could I tell her that what was bothering me was just a name she had given at random?

This name had once again sent me back to the confused state at birth. 

I couldn’t explain; I could only smile at her. Fortunately, Master wasn’t a person who liked to get to the bottom of things. She would give me time to think it over. 

And that was what I needed most now. 

That night, I had lost sleep for the first time. 

I rolled over, got up, and draped a coat over my shoulders, wanting to have a walk outside the cave. Who knew this small movement would alarm that child who had always been pretty alert. She reared her head cautiously on the bench beside, and her eyes stared straight at me in the dark. 

I looked at her in silence—though I couldn’t see her clearly in the dark.

After a while, I withdrew my gaze, turned around, and headed out of the cave. 

The air outside the cave was brisk. It was always chilly at night in the mountains, regardless of the season. Tonight was a lovely night with speckles of stars and a bright moon hanging high in the sky, seemingly the same as the sky I’d seen every night in the hunter’s house. 

I couldn’t read the stars, but every time I looked up into the sky, I felt my heart had been comforted, gaining a moment of peace. 

Peace was vital because only with a peace of mind that I could think, calmly and rationally.  

In the night wind, my mind gradually unclouded. I began to wonder.

Could it be just a coincidence? The world is so vast that even in a small part of the world, many people share the same name. Couldn’t someone be allowed to have the same name just so coincidence as a character in a book hundreds of years later? 

However, deep inside, a voice retorted.

How could it be so coincident? The name, checked; the world, checked; even the era, checked—when I think back now, it should be by the late Ming dynasty, troubled times when the eunuchs were in power. Although I almost can’t remember the story, this bit of knowledge was still in my brain. 

If…if this is not a coincidence, where am I now? Am I in actual history? Or am I in an imaginary story?

Looking up, I saw the vast rivers of stars. 

Are they the same as those I’ve seen countless times from inside the buildings or amid the wilderness hundreds of years later? 

What is this place? What day is today?

I once thought I found the answer, but now it was all blurred again. 

I sat still for a long time; perplexity and confusion remained. There was still no answer to everything. But at least, after sorting out my thoughts, they were not as complicated as before turning my mind into a mess.

After regaining my senses, I finally felt cold. I tugged my clothes wryly before getting up and left.

My view was getting darker returning into the cave from under the bright night sky. Relying on my memories, I felt my way to the stone bed. As I sat down on the bed, about to take off my shoes and socks, I suddenly felt a gaze on me.

I opened my eyes wide and focused, straining my eyes to their fullest. Finally, I saw a blurry figure—it was still that kid. She kept the same posture as before I was out. It seemed like she hadn’t moved much. Only a pair of bright eyes were gleaming in the dark. Now, seeing that I sensed her, she yawned out of boredom, and turned to lie down on the bench, and continued to rest. 

I wasn’t sure why. My heart shivered. It struck me that she was expressly waiting for me to come back. 

I didn’t know how long I had been sitting there, only noticing her shallow breathing in the dark becoming more distinct. Finally, I couldn’t hold back and spoke softly, trying to call her: “Lian…” The last two words lingered in my throat: “…Nichang?”

The moment I voiced the name, it didn’t feel like a dream; it felt like a show. 

But when my voice came out, she just twitched her ears and didn’t respond to the name. 

Right, she just had her name this morning. Generally, children wouldn’t remember it so quickly, let alone her. 

After a pause, I tried to call her again: “…Lian’er?”

This time, she turned half her face around and looked over here with her eyes squinting, as if she had concluded that I was teasing her. She puckered her nose with dissatisfaction and let out a ferocious grunt of protest from her throat before turning her back on me.    

I pursed my lips and smiled silently.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 6

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 6

Nichang

Spring came after Lunar New Year. After the awakening of hibernating insects[1] (begins around March 5 and ends around March 20), the weather in the mountain was finally getting warmer, and the snow and ice around were gradually melting into purling streams. 

The mountain life of three was much livelier than of two, but I had grown accustomed to it.

Great things happened. Since leaving the wolf’s den, the child’s animal nature had slowly diminished under our strict discipline these days. Recently, she had stopped biting people or gnawing on things easily and seldom made loud howls anymore. She even learned how to eat clumsily from a wooden bowl. Master’s eyes were beaming with joy witnessing that, and I was happy for her. 

There were also some subtle changes in her attitude toward us. 

Her attitude toward Master had gradually changed from pure fear to a kind of reverence. She even displayed affectionate and clingy behaviors sometimes. Master was pleased to see this and felt that it was a sign of the gradual disappearance of animal nature and the budding of humanity. I had nothing to say on this, but I personally believed that it might be the remnants of her animal nature having an effect on her behaviors. It was worth knowing that there was always a leader in every wolf pack. Such behaviors of hers were probably her instinct to recognize Master as the leader.

In this case, it could explain her attitude toward me. 

After all, compared to the gratifying progress on Master’s side, her attitude toward me always came with one word—defiance. 

I thought it was because the first fight we had in the wolf’s den that she had held a grudge and sowed hostility against me. I had tried to get close to her in every possible way. But after a long time, I realized that although she had no longer glared at me with belligerent eyes, and wasn’t constantly being aggressive anymore, she was still stubborn and supercilious. It was totally different from her attitude toward Master. 

Perplexed by this, I felt that only the law of the wolves could explain this situation after thinking it over—She instinctively sensed the power of Master, and conceded to her. She then recognized her as the leader, but would never accept others’ position to be above her. And this ‘others’ was, of course, me, which was why she acted haughty toward me in every way, causing a lot of trouble.

Having figured out the reason, I could only feel more ironic, feeling that the journey ahead would be difficult, yet didn’t know what to do with her.

Of course, there were two sides to the story. She didn’t always work against me in everything or act rebellious and unruly, especially when it was time to cook. 

I was the one who usually prepared the meals in the cave. Initially, the child wouldn’t even touch the cooked food when I gave it to her. She would only drool over bloody raw meats, and sometimes she would also eat grassroots or tree berries. Master couldn’t stand it. She told me not to give her anything but cooked food, even if she would starve to death. Later, she had really fasted for a few meals and was lethargic, seeming piteous. I couldn’t unsee it. After careful observation of her behaviors, I noticed, not that she refused to eat; it was just that she couldn’t take hot food, not even when it was warm. And the weather was freezing cold then, so every dish I prepared for each meal was steaming hot. Naturally, she wouldn’t eat it. 

Because of this, I felt somewhat guilty. After that, I would specially cut some meat, add less seasoning, and roast it slowly with low heat, then slice it, and let it cool before giving it to her. As I thought, she liked it. After this occasion, she was willing to accept other food little by little.

Even though she liked it, she seemed to have her own conceit as a proud little wolf. She would never be tempted by food and danced around merrily like cats and dogs, especially when the person who enticed her was me. While I was roasting the meat, she would stand watching over me silently in the distance, letting the smell of roasting meat waft through the air without taking a glimpse at it. Occasionally, when she peeked out of the corner of her eye, she would assume a look of indifference. Sometimes, when I wanted to tease her, I would take my sweet time to roast the meat and not give it to her. Once her craving turned into frustration, not only would she not give in and please me, she would threaten me with a ferocious look instead. 

Or maybe I should be happy, for she didn’t bite down on me. 

Although we didn’t get along well, the kid did gradually return to the track of being a so-called human following Master’s expectations. On the day when she was awkwardly trying to stand on her feet, Master removed the rope from her.

At first glance, Master seemed to be very strict with this child, but I was well aware of how much effort Master had put into her. Since the child came, Master spent significantly less time in closed-door meditation refining her martial art, especially the initial phase. As the child only feared her, she was the one who looked after the child all the time. Later, when the situation was slightly better, she would retreat to the stone chamber to train, but she would definitely come out once in a day or two, which was quite different from the ten-day-to-half-a-month meditation when it was only the two of us. 

Master called me Xian’er and called her Lian’er.

I knew as long as Master hadn’t named her for a day; it meant that she still wasn’t considered as Master’s disciple for a day. But whenever I saw Master spending time with her, calling her Lian’er, I always had a weird feeling. 

I, too, felt odd for this weird feeling.

I wasn’t a jealous person, much less of such a master-disciple relationship. Undeniably to this day, Master was the only person with whom I had developed a relationship since I came to this world. I was grateful to her…grateful to her for getting me out of deep water and opening up a whole new world before me, so I wanted to repay her and try my best to fulfill all her expectations of me.

But now, there was a more suitable person to carry these expectations. 

I was a little upset, yet deep down, I felt a sense of relief. 

If so, why do I have this inexplicable feeling? Where does it come from?

For a long time, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Until that day—it was the beginning of the summer. 

The weather in the mountain was still pleasant at this time, gentle breezes blowing in the air, but the turn of the season was just around the corner.

Children of a few years old grew up fast. Her last year’s clothes didn’t fit her anymore when I took them out and had a look. Ever since we brought the kid back, she had been wearing my old clothes, and the size didn’t fit her well either. Since her animal nature was fading, we decided to take her along to the market downhill to buy some new clothes after a brief discussion. 

The so-called market was just the most basic mountain village fair. Farmers from villages around gathered for buying and selling goods. Master and I were no strangers to it, but for the child, everything was new. 

I thought she would look about with curiosity and like to try everything. But who knew, amidst the jostling crowd, this kid kept a cold face with caution and vigilance written in her eyes. When she saw anyone came too close, she would pucker her nose and give the person a menacing look. Fortunately, she was in Master’s arms, so she didn’t do anything in the end. 

Seeing her response, we didn’t want to stay on the street for any longer. We headed straight to the clothing store after purchasing the necessities. 

I hadn’t been very demanding. It was a clothing store, but as a small store in the countryside, they sold both ready-made garments and fabrics side by side. We were lucky as we quickly found clothes that fit her. It would be difficult to find fitting ones if she were a little younger. Master also picked some silk and prepared to sew a robe for her after we got back. 

The old shopkeeper’s face lit up with happiness as silk was expensive quality goods in this small village store. He measured and cut the silk himself while pouring out flattery the whole time. I didn’t know how he mistook us for mother and daughters. He first complimented Master, saying she was blessed for having such a pair of daughters, and then praised her for being a good mother. 

I felt uncomfortable listening in by the side. Master seemed annoyed too, however, she couldn’t lose her temper. She could only sit tight and wait for him to finish his job. 

In contrast, the child was more relaxed now, probably because she was away from the crowd. She was just starting to learn how to speak of late. While listening to the old shopkeeper talking, she babbled along with bright eyes. 

At first, Master and I were used to this, so it didn’t surprise us.

Until she uttered a crisp and clear word among her babbling: 

“Ma…ma…”

I saw Master start slightly, looking incredulous. She looked at the child in her arms deeply. And for a moment, tears welled up faintly in the corners of her eyes.  

I had been following Master for so long. This was the first time I had seen her lose her composure. I dropped my head down quietly, all sorts of feelings flooded my heart. 

Luckily, Master had quickly recollected herself despite losing her cool. With a deep breath, she was back to normal. The old shopkeeper saw nothing when he lifted his head back up, heard only the child’s babbling. He was delighted and asked for the child’s name while chatting with Master. 

The moment I heard the old shopkeeper’s inquiry, a premonition struck me for some reason. 

I looked up at Master, saw that she was silent at first, then she slowly looked over to the silk chiffon in the shopkeeper’s hands, and gazed fixedly at it with her mouth ajar for a while. 

“Nichang.”

I heard her reply: “This child’s name is Lian Nichang.”

A sentence crashed into my brain, instantly freezing my limbs and bones. 

In a trance, I only knew that I seemed to have repeated the name once more.

Lian…Nichang…

Lian Nichang…

Her name was as familiar as the sound of thunder to my ears. 


[1]惊蛰(Jīngzhé)- 惊 is to startle and 蛰 means hibernating insects. It’s the 3rd of the 24 solar terms in the traditional East Asian calendars. Traditional Chinese folklore says that during Jingzhe, thunderstorms will wake up the hibernating insects, which implies that the weather is getting warmer. Source: Wikipedia

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 5

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 5

She

“This girl surnamed Lian, her father was a poor scholar. When they fled to this place, her mother died in childbirth. Her father abandoned her at the foot of Mount Hua, and a monk in Mount Yuanji found and raised her…”

I sat on a stone stool in the cave, listening to Master reciting the inscription on the rotten rag in her hand while redressing the wound. 

The tattered rag found in the wolf’s den earlier turned out to be the child’s swaddling clothes with her antecedent scrawled on it. The handwriting was already blurry by now, but it was still legible. I once imagined her life experience as complicated and full of ups and downs, but it sounded mediocre now that I knew it. After all, abandoned babies weren’t uncommon in this world, especially baby girls. If it weren’t for the mother wolf that found and raised her by chance, it would merely be an ordinary story. 

I turned my head; in the candlelight, the protagonist of the story was curling up on the stone bench where I usually rested, sleeping soundly, frowning and squelching from time to time. 

With a faint sigh, I tied the last knot tight, jumped off the stone stool, and came to Master’s side, asking tentatively with a cupped fist: “What should we do with that…kid?”

Master didn’t answer me right away, but took another look at the girl following my gaze. The thoughtful look on her face grew more pronounced.

It was just as I would expect. Upon seeing that, I was more sure of it. There was no reason to hesitate anymore now. I took a step back, bowed, and pleaded: “I beg Master to keep her.”

Deep down, I had known for a long time that Master had always given a lot of weight to the martial arts she created, always wanted to find a talented successor to carry forward her mantle and make it shine. In this regard, I had fallen short of her expectations. Just because she had a high standard and couldn’t find the ideal prospect adhering to her principle of quality over quantity, in the end, she could only put her hope upon me.  

That time when I saw Master peering at her in the wolf’s den, I knew that this child was most likely the talent Master had been waiting for for a long time. Otherwise, for Master’s personality, she would never have taken the trouble to search for her origin even though she had saved her. 

Even if I didn’t say it now, Master should also have this intention. It would be better if I made it clear and saved her from contemplating, and both sides would be satisfied. 

Who knew Master just glanced at me and asked: “Why?”

“I…” Don’t you want to keep her? I secretly grumbled, yet couldn’t speak it out. I hesitated for a bit: “Disciple wants to have a companion who trains and studies together. This…” My voice was getting softer as I lowered my head. This wasn’t me, and Master should know it more or less. This excuse was a little too silly. 

I raised my brows and took a peek in secret. As expected, she was looking at me noncommittally. Seeing me lifted my head abashedly, she smiled a little. 

“I’m used to seeing you acting like an adult, and you had the gall to guess what I’m thinking.” She said with a smile, reached out her hand, and gave a punitive pat on my head. Then, she stood up, walked next to the stone bench, observed the girl for some time, and finally, she sighed: “Let’s just leave it to fate. We’ll see if we can get rid of her animal nature first”

Only then did I understand Master’s actual misgivings.

Now that I thought of it. It was an era where information wasn’t easily accessible. Such strange events were mostly unheard of. Naturally, she would be in doubt. No matter how good she was, if she didn’t have even the basic humanity, let alone others. 

I wasn’t concerned about this. Thinking back to those legends and tales I’d read, it clearly explained that a wolf child was also a human. Their learning ability and intelligence didn’t necessarily deteriorate much. Besides, this child was so young. With an appropriate environment and guidance, it shouldn’t be too difficult to tame the ferity.

But it was just my thoughts. I daren’t make any promises at the moment, just thinking about it in my mind.  

Other than what should be done to get rid of her animality, there was one thing that must be done now. 

And that was the cleaning. 

This child was covered in dirt from head to toes. I already had the intention of throwing the coat away when I gave it to her to keep out the cold earlier. After staying in the same room with her, I was even more sensitive to the foul smell. I had been eyeing her for a while now, but considering the injury on my arm, plus, she might suddenly wake up and hurt others, I could only ask for Master’s help. Who knew Master had the same thought as me. Since we were both thinking the same thing, we ended our break right away and boiled some water. While she was still unconscious, we put her into a tub and gave her a thorough scrub. 

I had to say this was more exhausting than breaking ice. I kept boiling and changing the water. It took me a few rounds of water to see her actual skin color. The most pitiable thing was her greasy, matted hair. We couldn’t untangle it no matter how hard we tried to smooth it down, and this had maddened Master. She resolutely swung her sword to cut off her hair, shaving it short to not more than an inch long. 

She had woken up once in the meantime, struggled blankly in the water, but was quickly knocked out again, and continued to let us move her around limply. 

After all the washing and scrubbing, Master carried her back to the stone bench freshly cushioned with some thick clothes. I then took a dry cloth to wipe off the water and had a closer look at the final result of my hard work.

She now looked like a steaming peeled boiled egg after getting out of the warm water. 

I knew that she had good features under the cover of dirt. I had taken a few glances while bathing her just now. But, now that I looked closely, she was far better looking than I imagined. Let’s say this little body with fair and silky smooth skin. Although the skin on her knees and palms was rough, she looked totally different from before. Speaking of her face, the little features of her were still childlike, but looking at her arch eyebrows and almond eyes, red lips and white teeth, she was a total beauty. And now, with her newly chopped hair, she looked naïve and lovable, like a baby. 

I took a few more glances with admiration before looking over to Master. I noticed she was also looking at the child with great satisfaction. Her eyes were filled with joy and hope. 

For an instant, I was a little upset. 

She…had never looked at me with such eyes. 

When I noticed what was bothering me, I couldn’t help smiling. Shaking my head lightly, I silently stepped back to a side, pulled out a set of clothes from my baggage, which was a little too small for me to wear, brought it over, and put them on for the child. 

If she was Master’s hope, she should be mine too. 

Soon after, she slowly woke up.

I watched her long eyelashes flutter open. In a blink of an eye, the innocence and naivety of a baby had all vanished. 

She rolled over suddenly and got up on the stone bench on all fours. She seemed to be very concerned about where she was, anxiously wanting to look around. However, because of her movements, she felt a thick encumbrance on her body and was eager to take it off. For a while, she seemed lost, not knowing what to do first. One moment, she raised her head and looked around, the next she lowered her head and tried to tear off her clothes, seemingly in a bustle. 

I couldn’t help chuckling for a moment and bursting out in laughter. 

Her ears twitched as she heard the laugh, and she turned around swiftly as if she got shocked, glaring at me with savage eyes. She was ready to pounce on me, but when she caught a glimpse of Master standing beside me the next second, she suddenly looked scared, kept retreating until she curled up in a corner, shivering, giving out faint whimpers. 

Seeing her attitude between two extremes, I smiled wryly, knowing that my life ahead would be difficult. 

As expected, for a long time after that, she would curl up in the corner and remain silent as long as Master was within sight. Although her eyes were full of vigilance and she wouldn’t let others near her, she was considerably docile. However, once Master was out or went into training—in short, when Master wasn’t around—she would turn my life upside down and never listen to me. Whenever she saw me alone, she wanted to attack me, or she would try every possible means within her intellect to escape. Master and I couldn’t keep watching over her all the time. We were forced into no choice, and in the end, we bound a rope around her right ankle and tied it to the stone table—she didn’t know how to untie it, anyway. Every time her movements were restricted, she would vent out her steam on the rope, grabbing and biting it recklessly. After she was worn out from the biting, she would lie face down on the ground with her arms and legs spread out and pant with her tongue hanging outside her mouth. 

Occasionally, she would do nothing but gaze out the cave with eager eyes, raise her head and let out dismal howls, which were no different from wolves, with a trace of sorrow, as if calling for her former mates. 

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. After that winter night, there wasn’t a single wolf to be seen within a hundred-mile radius. 

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 4

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 4

Wolves

It was a winter night with a bleak moon up high.

The torch couldn’t shine far in the rocky heaps, and the branches covered in snow were in the way. I hadn’t been to this valley with complex terrain since winter began, and now, it’s covered in a thick layer of snow, making it even harder to see. I was groping in the dark. With my memory and eyesight, I took every step with caution.

The sobs drifting in the wind at this time added a little more eeriness to this place.

The only thing that could comfort me who was fumbling around alone was the few wolf carcasses that I could see along the way. Their death was horrible, but at least the same one-strike-kill wounds indicated that Master had been here before, and probably heading in the same direction. I figured she might be attracted by the same sound too, or she might be just ahead.

This guess had lifted my spirit, and I sped up my pace.

But, it wasn’t too far until a forked road unexpectedly appeared before me. I wouldn’t say there were actually roads; it was only a broken wall that had forcefully parted the way ahead into two. And, here happened to be a wind gap. The wind hovered and echoed here, interfering with the cries’ direction—sometimes it’s coming from the left, and sometimes it’s from the right—causing it difficult to differentiate. I frowned while trying to recall, vaguely remembering that I had been to this place when I was picking fruits during autumn. This fork to the left should lead to a bare mountain crest, and taking two turns on the right would lead to the bottom of the cliff. After much consideration, I decided to go right. 

I came to the bottom of the cliff after a while. Since the fork, I hadn’t seen a single wolf carcass. Fortunately, I hadn’t encountered any wolves either. Rather, the cries were becoming louder, proving that I had made the right choice. I was slightly relieved. Shortly after following the sound, I found a cave beneath the cliff. 

The cave was deep inside, but it was not as refined as Yellow Dragon Cave, reeking with a distinct stench of beasts from the inside. I glanced around at the cave entrance, hesitant, afraid that there was something I couldn’t mess with in the cave.

But the cries were clearly coming from the inside. 

I looked at the torch in my hand. The fire was burning briskly. It seemed I have taken a long time on this journey, but in fact, it was only ten minutes at most. I had come this far. There was no reason to turn back now. Thinking about it again, since a child was crying inside, then at least that deadly thing shouldn’t be around right now. Unless…

Holding a torch and a short sword, murmuring ‘Materialism, I don’t believe in ghosts and monsters,’ I crept into the cave. 

Inside the cave was lower than I imagined. If adults were to come in, I was afraid they had to watch their heads all the time. What I hated the most was the stench was even worse than outside, forcing me to pinch my nose with the hand that wasn’t holding the short sword. The only thing that I was thankful for was the cave wasn’t too deep. After a short walk, I had reached the cave’s end. 

Then, when the torch shined across, I’d seen a scene I’d never forget in my life. 

At the cave’s end, piles of messy straws and pieces of animals’ bones were scattered all around. This was still nothing; what was odd was, an enormous white wolf was lying on the straws. Its eyes were bulging with ferocity, and its menacing glare remained, but the eyes were dull and unfocused—clearly, it had been long dead. Two wolf pups were lying on its side, whining. 

Next to the wolf pups, there’s a third being whining together, but it wasn’t a wolf pup.

The one bending over, weeping, was a naked human child!

The situation was peculiar. While I was bewildered, the fire in my hand had already alarmed them. The two wolf pups reacted first, stood up in my direction, and stopped whining. Instead, they let out low growls full of threats and resentment. Following that, the young child also raised the head with tears on the face. The child’s expression and action were the same as those wolf pups, with eyes brimmed with cruelty.

They were closing in slowly. If it were two adult wolves that surrounded me now, I would have panicked. But, these two wolf pups looked more like three to four months old puppies, adorable but not as threatening, so I wasn’t scared. Instead, I took advantage of them nearing to size up the child more closely. 

As I got closer, I noticed this child was about three to four years old. Although the child was mucky with long hair covering the face, there’s no injury on the body. In contrast, the child was vigorous and agile, with all fours on the ground, moving from one place to another, looking exactly like a young wolf waiting for the right moment to ambush. My eyes followed the child for a few jumps, and finally, I could see clearly that the child was a girl. 

Out of the blue, I remembered those folktales I’d heard before.

The two pups had probably seen me distracted. Right at this moment, they abruptly launched an attack. They were well-coordinated, both quietly turned to my blind spot. Then, with a low howl, they lunged toward me at the same time, one from the left and one from the right. With the swift speed and the fierce impetus, they had quite the demeanor of adult wolves. 

Unfortunately for them, although I was pondering over something, I was still watching their movements with the corners of my eyes. As soon as the howls arose, I took a step to the side and dodged right away. With more than a year of hard work and training, although the progress of my internal martial arts was slow, there were significant improvements in my strength and speed, and my reaction was much faster, which was why, even when the wolf pups came charging over, they weren’t so fast in my eyes. With a slight lean to the side, I easily evaded the first pup’s attack and gave it a kick in passing. Meanwhile, I raised my sword, faced the second one that had simultaneously lunged forward, fended off its sharp claws, and gave it a hard tap on its forehead with the sword’s ridge.

After getting kicked and tapped, the two young pups were knocked far off into the distance, whimpering, and couldn’t get up any sooner. 

Out of pity for them being young and cute, I’d only used half of my strength. I didn’t expect it to be so effective, even myself was a little astonished. 

While I was stupefied, a gust of strong wind suddenly came from behind. 

Tensed up, I instinctively thrust my sword as I turned over. In a glance, I quickly retracted my sword—right in front of me was a young face. Though her bright eyes were full of beast’s brutality, I couldn’t treat her like a beast—I flinched my wrist, and the blade shifted away by a slight inch from her skin. But, she didn’t seem to be aware of it. Instead, she used this advantage to bite down on me without mercy. 

An excruciating pain came from my forearm at once, hurting me so much that I almost dropped my sword.

Although she was young, her bite force was impressive. I had only a child’s physique at the moment. And now, my forearm was tied down by her, but she just wouldn’t unclench her jaw after biting it hard, seeming as if she would never let loose until she tore a piece of flesh off me. My right hand had been bitten, the pain was such that tears were on the verge of bursting out, yet I couldn’t hit her too hard. I was agitated. I stuck the torch into the crevice in a hurry, freeing my other hand to pry her jaw open. She was kicking and scratching madly, so I pressed her down with all my weight. For a moment, we were in a scuffle, rolling around in one place. It was a critical moment, but when the fire cast elongated shadows on the cave wall beside, it looked more like two kids fighting and messing around. I caught a glimpse of it in haste. It was somewhat funny and ironic. 

I managed to force her to loosen her jaw with some difficulty. Bloody tooth marks were long left on my right arm. I gasped in pain, only wishing to get a chance to take care of this wound sooner. 

But the present circumstances didn’t allow me this chance. The girl was forced back, but she wasn’t hurt, still moving slowly and recollecting herself to strike again. The two wolf pups had had their respite, staggering to their feet, looking as if they were going to regroup and join the fight. In contrast, on my side, my sword-holding dominant hand was aching horribly, and the most crucial torch was out of my control—though it’s still burning fine in the crevice at the moment, I worried that if the fight later snubbed the fire out by accident, then it would be ‘exciting’ in the dark. 

Do I have to hit her without mercy?  I unknowingly clench my fist. That’s fine with the two wolf pups, but that…

While I was in a dilemma, there seemed to be a gust of light breeze coming from behind. I saw the three that surrounded me in a fan shape eyeing me, looking behind me abruptly in unison. The ferocity in their eyes earlier turned into dread.  

“Xian’er,” came a familiar voice. I turned over and saw a figure. 

I was surprised and delighted at the same time. A load was promptly taken off my mind. I wanted to jump forward and give her a good hug. But when I saw that usual impassive face, I held back my emotions in time, just calling her softly: “Master.”  

But even such impassive Master couldn’t help but be surprised at the sight of the child not far away, who was on all fours with her long hair covering her face. She looked at her, then looked down at me and said softly: “Isn’t that…you?”

I startled, then came to understand and replied: “Disciple was here following the sound as well…” I felt warm in my heart. Out in this wilderness, I would only wonder when I heard a child crying, but when she heard a child crying while she was killing the wolves out there, she would think of me, thinking that something had happened to her disciple, that was why there was this question. 

I was secretly moved here, but over there, it’s already a mess. After getting the answer, Master stopped asking any more questions, walking straight over there with her sword. She was moving at a slow and relaxed pace, yet the other side was frightened to death. Perhaps it’s the murderous aura she had. Unlike the aggressive attitude when facing me, they seemed terrified while facing Master. The two young pups that had finally gotten to their feet fell again and huddled together, shivering. The girl was leaping between rocks, evading. The look of her hoping to get far away was frantic. 

Master completely ignored the young pups but seemed to be very interested in the girl. I saw her looking at the girl for some time, musing. Suddenly, she flicked her fingers in the air, the girl who was hiding slumped on the ground at once. 

I rushed forward to catch her, only to find that she merely passed out. I was somewhat relieved. 

After knocking her unconscious, Master started to search around the wolf den. I didn’t know what she was looking for. Carrying the child, I felt a sharp pain on my right arm. I quickly put her down on my lap to free my hand and pulled out my waist strap to take care of my wound. The tooth marks were deeper than I expected. I frowned upon looking at it, desiring to get two doses of rabies vaccine so I could have peace of mind. 

When I had temporarily treated the wound, Master had also done searching around the wolf den. I saw her holding some scraps she found from somewhere. Taking a closer look at it, it seemed to be a tattered rag. I was about to ask, but Master opened her mouth first.

“We cannot stay here for long,” said Master, grabbing the torch that was stuck in the ground. The flame was swaying and seemed like it was about to burn out. “Take her. We’ll talk about it later.” 

“Mmm,” I answered. Thought of the snow outside, I took off my coat and wrapped the little girl on my lap nicely and carried her as I stood up. “Master, you have so many things in your hands. Let me take this child.” Now that I carried her when she had quieted down, the agile and fierce person earlier was much lighter than I imagined. I honestly didn’t know where her strength came from just now. 

Who knew the corners of Master’s lips would curve up a bit upon hearing these words. 

“With your temperament of overthinking and worrying, are you waiting for yourself to dally back?” She smiled faintly and passed the long sword to the torch-holding hand. The next moment, I felt my body lifted, fallen into the familiar arm. 

Just like this, Master carried me, I took the child, and we hurried our way back. It’s already late night outside where the dribbles of water froze into ice, and Master was moving fast, I could feel gusts of winter wind slicing at my face even when I was hiding beneath her robe. Unwittingly, I helped the child in my arms wrap her clothes tighter.

She twitched but didn’t wake up.

Looking over her closely under the faint moonlight, the more I felt her facial feature proportions underneath the unkempt and dirty appearance were actually exquisite. Thinking back to the scene where Master was musing in the cave, a premonition vaguely arose in my heart.

It seemed like something was about to change in these peaceful days in the mountains.        

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 3

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 3

Mount Hua

Aunt Ling, from then on, I called her Master.

I was still a little worried about following her because I knew it was a fit of pique that she was willing to take me in. So, I was being prudent throughout the journey, afraid that she might regret and abandon me. By that time, I didn’t know how to cope with this immense world.

Only later, after getting along with her for some time, I realized I was worrying too much.

Master was stubborn, someone with an unyielding personality. Taking me in might be an act of impulse, but once she’d accepted me as her disciple, she would treat me as one. She took me along everywhere, traveling from place to place without having a fixed abode and a roof over our heads. However, she would set aside two or four hours every day for training, guiding me from Post-standing[1] and leg stretching to qi circulation[2] and meditation. She taught me everything at length, even repeating all the minor details.

I’d always kept her advice in mind, besides I was mature and knew the boundaries, so I always put in extra effort when practicing, hoping it could make up for my lack of talent. I daren’t slack off even when I was free. I’d go collect water when she rests, prepare the meal when she hunts. I was coping just fine here. Instead, I vaguely felt like I’d returned to the days of being a backpacker, so sometimes, I’d forget about the boundaries and crossed the line. As a result, I’d aroused her suspicions before, but she couldn’t figure out anything, so she ended up attributing all these to me being a child from the mountain.

For a whole year, I’d followed her to many places, but we often stayed in the wild where there weren’t many people around, rarely stopping in busy downtowns. This had given me a vague feeling that she might be hiding from something, but I could only guess in my head.

At other times, she was sparing of words, except for the four hours when she was teaching me, and she mentioned nothing about herself.

She never told me what I was learning, and I never asked her either.

She never told me her full name, and I never asked her either.

Finally, one day, on the summit of mountainous Mount Hua that was surrounded by ranges of hills, she gazed into the mountain valley pervaded by clouds and mist with her hands behind for a good while, and said to me: “Let’s settle down here.”

I nodded in accord.

We’d sought a few places and finally found a safe place at the mountainside. It was a secluded, less populated place, and it happened that there was an ancient cave that was rather deep and hidden. The view from the cave entrance was spectacular. Master was pleased with this place. She carved some rocks into stone stools and tables with her sword. Then, she flew over to carve down three words on the cliff wall—Yellow Dragon cave.

This was the first time I’d seen her wielding her sword, and it was also the first time I’d seen someone cutting through stones like mud—a scene I once thought was ridiculous presented itself before my eyes, leaving me speechless in astonishment. It turned out that I’d acknowledged a true master as a teacher.

After that, we headed down the mountain to get some food, bedding and buy some utensils and winter clothes. Finally, we found a place to settle down before winter.

On the day we settled down, she asked me to kneel before her. Looking at her serious expression, I did as she told me with respect. After a long silence, she began to speak with great solemnity.

Since then, I learned that her name was Ling Muhua. She created her martial arts by integrating the strengths of a hundred different schools of martial arts. So, there was no need to trace the origin of her martial arts. Now, the reason for settling down here was to refine her martial arts, take her skills to the next level, and create a unique school of swordsmanship that was unrivaled in this world.

“Xian’er.” She called me: “Because of this, I won’t be supervising you as I did before, but fortunately, you’ve always been diligent, conscientious, and intelligent. Your natural endowment is average, but as the saying goes, the fastest horse can’t reach ten steps in one leap, yet an ordinary horse can gallop a great distance by continuous trotting. Since you’ve come under my wing, you ought not to disappoint me, do you understand?”

By that time, I’d been practicing for more than a year, but I was still at the beginner level. Thanks to the exam-orientated education, I could recite anything fluently as long as it was something that required memorization, such as the incantations and the sword gestures, and I could also replicate the exact moves from memory. I think I’d left a false impression of being brilliant, making her have hope for me. But she was a grandmaster, after all; I couldn’t hide the truth of my slow progress on meditation and Qi circulation, and thus, prompted this encouragement.

My initial intention hadn’t changed. I didn’t have lofty ambitions and wish to become a master. However, I had to accept her expectations of me, as I knew how much she’d given me.

After that, Master started to go into closed-door meditation often.

In the cave’s deepest end, a small chamber had been carved out for her. The chamber space wasn’t huge. Outside the entrance, two boulders are placed side by side, making it seem inconspicuous, even when noticed, one couldn’t move them easily. She gained insights into her martial arts in that room, only got out after at least ten days to a month to get some fresh air and see the progress of what I’d learned. Occasionally, she would go hunting for some food and then leave it to me to clean up. Maybe it’d become a habit after a year. She didn’t seem to think there was anything off with leaving these chores to a child. But I was glad that she was not suspicious, then I could take care of everything with no worries.

Days passed by; Entering the winter, the snow started to fall in Mount Hua.

At first, I could still enjoy the beautiful and majestic snowy landscape with great interest, but the snow gradually turned from light to heavy. Finally, in the deep mid-winter, heavy snowfall soared for three days and three nights. The freezing wind destroyed the trees, the heavy frosts formed into ice, the stream froze, and the snow was knee-deep, covering Mount Hua in snow.

I didn’t expect there to be heavy snowfall. It’d caught us off guard. Luckily, the path from the cave entrance was torturous; plus, I’d crafted two walls using branches and hides, which had played the role of shielding us from the wind and the cold. There were winter clothes in the cave, and the food supplies were sufficient too. Sometimes, when it was too cold, we could get two pieces of charcoal from the outer cave and start a fire to keep warm—I daren’t start a fire inside the cave too often, and Master also thought it was unnecessary, though our considerations were different.

Even so, there was still some drudgery to do, such as plowing the snow and breaking some ice for water.

I wrapped myself in thick layers of clothes and then picked up a wood bucket before making my way through the snowy forest. From a distance, I looked like a downsized clumsy bear. Master always said that martial artists could circulate their Qi to keep out the cold. Unfortunately, her disciple had failed her as I was still trembling cold even when I’d wrapped myself into a bear. It didn’t snow on this day, but the wind was blowing. It was piercing cold when the snow fell from the branches onto my neck.

I managed to reach the stream, but the water had already frozen solid. I walked to the center, channeled some qi, lifted the drill rod, and pounded the ice several times. Then, the ice broke into pieces, and I’d fill the bucket with the ice pieces, bringing it back to keep in reserve in case of need. This was the routine I’d carry out every few days. For now, this was the most demanding task for me.

Finally, the bucket was full. I straightened up, flopped down onto the ice, and decided to take a break first.

It was exhausting, but my heart was at peace.

It was very serene out here. Looking around, everywhere was covered in snow. The trees and rocks were beautiful, like sculptures carved out of ice or jade. Besides, this place was at the bottom of the valley. There was almost no wind here. Once I stopped pounding, this place was tranquil as if the time had frozen. Only the sound of breathing was signaling my existence.

But gradually, as my breathing slowed down, I seemed to hear something else.

At first, I thought I’d heard it wrong as auditory hallucinations often occurred in a hushed environment. It could be the sound of snow shifting or rocks falling, and even the sound of branches cracking because of the unbearable weight of the snow. Either would create a strange echo within the hollow valley.

But something was off!

I sprang up from the ground, clenching the drill rod in one hand while drawing out the short sword at my waist that Master gave me with another hand. I searched through the surrounding slowly and warily, paying attention to every single detail. The sound was sporadic. When it sounded, it was faint and short, yet rhythmic, like a soft drum—it sounded clearly like the footsteps of animals!

On the right-hand side, there seemed to be something moving in the snowy forest. I wasn’t sure but daren’t go to check it out without thinking it through.

There was a faint unpleasant smell of beasts in the air, or it was just an illusion, but I could feel something was eyeing me from the forest end.

The time was ticking away, not before too long, my limbs had slowly become numb in this harsh cold. I didn’t know how long this situation would last. I was a little anxious, pondering whether I should confront it without fear, or it was just a false alarm.

In this absolute silence, suddenly, a long cry pierced through the air.

The cry was deep and distant. After a few waves, it ended with a deep, reverberating sound, shaking off the snow on the branches. When the beast that had been standing against me heard the cry, it retreated as if it’d received an order, running into the forest’s depths without hesitation. It didn’t even care to hide its trail. The snow dust that it’d kicked up when running was rolling and dispersing like boiling water, drifting in the air for a long time before it settled.

Because of the interference of the snow dust, I didn’t see what I’d just encountered, but I was sure I’d heard it.

That was not a cry, it was a wolf howl.

When we first chose the place to settle down in Mount Hua, we deliberately avoided places that wolves and tigers frequented. In these six months, everything had been calm. So now, I was quite shocked to bump into one so sudden near where we lived.

And what was even worse was, in the next few days, I could hear the gloomy howling every night even in the cave.

I was a little uneasy, feared that the wolf pack that night would follow the scent to the cave. Coincidentally, Master was in closed-door meditation these days. Major incidents in my eyes were trivial matters to her, so I couldn’t disturb her; I could only buck up, staying half-awake at night while holding my sword, and monitoring the cave entrance at all times for any movements.

This had lasted for three nights. On the fourth day, Master finally came out of her room. I reported this matter to her at once. She thought for a moment and said calmly: “I suppose it’s the recent heavy snowfall that has caused the beasts to have no place to feed, and they’ve changed their territory out of hunger. We’ll see; if they come too close to Yellow Dragon Cave, I won’t allow them to run rampant here.”

I would rather avoid troubles. After hearing this, I was hoping the wolf pack would walk far away and leave us alone. But at about 9 o’clock that night, instead of ceasing, the howls arose one after another. It felt closer to the cave than it did a few days ago.

Master didn’t say much. She got up from her bed, put on her coat, and went out with her sword.

She didn’t leave a word when she went out, so I’d better stay put. I started a fire, waiting inside the cave with my nerves tensed up. However, after some time, I couldn’t see her coming back. I’d forgotten to keep track of the time before that, so I couldn’t tell how long it’d passed. And hearing that the howls were softer than before, I reckoned that it wasn’t that dangerous. I couldn’t wait any longer, so I took a touch and went out.

It was biting cold outside the cave; now was the time where the temperature was the lowest. Even the snow on the ground glistened with an icy glow under the moonlight. I daren’t go far, only examining the vicinity. As expected, I’d found two wolf carcasses. They were both killed in a single strike, and their eyes were still wide open—it was obviously out of Master’s hand.

There was little bleeding judging by the depth of the wounds. It seemed like Master had dealt with them with ease. I heaved a sigh of relief, wanting to return to the cave.

Just then, a faint sound came from the wind.

I was aghast at first, thinking that the encounter I had when I was breaking the ice to get some water had recurred. I drew out my sword in a hurry with my back against the cliff wall, shined my torch toward the darkness, and was embattled. But nothing happened after a while. Then, I pricked up my ears to listen to the sound in the wind. It didn’t sound like a howl, but rather a child’s cry.

Now, this is getting more strange. In the mountain, with the paths blocked by the heavy snowfall, it is common if a wolf comes. Why would there be a child sobbing?

In an instant, all sorts of strange thoughts surged in my mind, scaring me into a cold sweat.

At that moment, I only wanted to go back as soon as possible. But I couldn’t make myself leave. I might seem weak, but I had an adult soul who had lived for twenty-odd years. I couldn’t just turn a deaf ear to a child crying in the wild.

Gritted my teeth, I’d finally made my decision. Holding up the torch, I walked, step by step, toward the direction where the sound was coming from.


[1]Post-standing(站桩 Zhànzhuāng)- a training method to cultivate the internal martial arts by standing still in a unique posture.
[2]Qi circulation- a technique of controlling Qi (vital energy/force) to flow from the Dantian (energy center) through the meridians and back into the Dantian in a cycle.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 2

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 2

Enough

One day later, she was awake.


That day, it’s after turning her over that I could confirm that this person was a woman. Because in difficult times, she could be mistaken for a skinny guy looking at her back. Luckily she was a woman, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to move her back before nightfall with my weak strength and skinny limbs.

She suffered no injury on her body, only had a fever. Her forehead was boiling, yet her limbs were ice cold. I placed her on my small bed, wiped her dry, covered her with a thick blanket, and put a cold towel on her forehead. After thinking for a while, I chopped up a piece of ginger and garlic, boiled them into a bowl of thick ginger soup. I fed her the soup while she was still in a trance.  

I was glad that no one had seen it when I was doing all these. These were not something a six-year-old girl who lived in a mountain would know.

The adults were taken aback when they came back, but they didn’t doubt much with the excuse I had prepared in advance. The woman that I was supposed to call Mom was reluctant to let her stay. But after seeing the person wearing clothes that a poor commoner couldn’t afford, she kept quiet. Out of a sense of crisis—the lady looked like she was in her late twenties, though her features were not the finest, she was still good-looking and even more appealing when sick—in short, she didn’t allow my hunter dad to get close to that person, only asking me to take care of her.

This was exactly what I was hoping for. 


The next morning, the lady was awake. Dad had gone out by now, and the wife was occupying herself in the backyard. When she opened her eyes, I was the only one inside the small house, a little child who should be harmless in other’s eyes. 

But the moment she opened her eyes, her gaze was so sharp as if it could kill.

A chill struck my heart, I suppressed my unease while maintaining my composure, giving her a naïve, harmless smile.

It was not that I hadn’t thought about the worst possibility that I might bring in an atrocious person. It was just that I couldn’t let go of any opportunities at any cost. We couldn’t judge people by their appearance, but looking at her, the chances of her being a malicious person were slim—though this was just an intuition. 

But the minute I saw her sharp gaze, I genuinely doubted my intuition.   

“Where are my clothes?” She asked after realizing the situation she was in. Her eyes were still sharp, but she couldn’t hide the huskiness in her voice because of the cold.

My eyes were wide open: “Sister’s stuff? It is right next to the pillow. There was no one at home yesterday, and your clothes were all wet when San’er helped you to change. So, I put it next to you after I’d dried and folded them.”

After listening to what I said, she turned back and checked at once. I was frank about this. I didn’t coax her, anyway. I dried all those clothes myself, only dried and folded them without rummaging through them, not even opening her small pouch because the knot on the pouch was rather bizarre. I couldn’t guarantee I could tie it back after I’d opened it. 

After seeing all her stuff was still there, she heaved a sigh of relief, then she remembered something and asked sternly: “Where’s my sword?”

I’ve been waiting for this question, so I didn’t panic, only smiling more innocently. 

“Shh, sister, keep your voice down.” I lowered my voice and leaned over with the gesture of whispering beside her ear. A hint of alertness flashed in her eyes—probably considered me as a kid, so she didn’t stop or dodge me. 

“I’d hidden sister’s sword in the firewood pile behind the house. I can’t take it out now. Otherwise, San’er will be in big trouble.”

I pretended to be mysterious, yet she frowned.

“Why?”

“My dad and mom told San’er before that this world is bad. Bandits and evil people are everywhere. They told me to keep away from whoever has a sword and do not bring them home. San’er hid away sister’s sword first so dad and mom wouldn’t know about it.”

Perhaps because of the naïve and innocuous answer from a child, after hearing this, she seemed a little more relaxed. She looked at me as she raised her brows: “Really? Wouldn’t you be afraid that I might be a bandit or evil person?”

“Sister doesn’t look like one. San’er likes you.” I smiled at her. Turned over, I jumped off the bed and went to the stove to get a bowl of aromatic rice porridge for her. The people living in the mountain were unsophisticated. The family was poor and didn’t seem to be very hospitable, but since this had happened, I tried to prepare better food for her. 

I handed her the porridge and looked at her in anticipation. She hesitated for a moment before taking it, but she didn’t drink it, just carried on asking me questions. 

“Your name is San’er? Are you the one who saved me yesterday? Can you tell me what happened?”

I nodded and retold the story. It was the truth anyway. All I had to do was to hide my thoughts at that time. Then she asked me a few more questions, and I answered all of them honestly. At this moment, the woman I should call Mom came in. She was a little constrained, maybe because she was facing a noblewoman. She didn’t boss me around like she always did. After chattering for a while, she walked out of the room, leaving me to take care of her. 

After all these soundings, she probably cleared her worries, and for the first time, she took a sip of the porridge in her hand, which had become lukewarm.

I daren’t treat her lightly, so I went to her side and asked tentatively: “The porridge has become cold. How about San’er help sister to reheat it?”

She shook her head, seemed to have something to say, then she noticed: “Little kid, although I’m not as old as your mom, I’m also about the age of being your senior. Why have you addressed me as ‘sister’ since the beginning?”

I didn’t expect this question, so I was rendered speechless. I couldn’t tell her that this was an act of flattery to the seniors in my past life by addressing them younger. Since I didn’t have any relatives in this place, I’d kept this habit. Besides, I was pretending to be a good girl just now, so unconsciously, I behaved like how I used to. 

Seeing that she didn’t react to this previously, I assumed that she, as a person in Jianghu[1], didn’t mind trifle formality. Since she asked now, she was clearly a serious and rigorous person. And for a moment, I didn’t know how to answer. 

After contemplating for a moment, I decided to counter the changes with constancy, so I remained silent and looked at her with grievances in my eyes. 

Having been stared at with such eyes, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She coughed softly and waved: “Forget it, you are just a child. You probably don’t know about these things. My surname is Ling. You can call me… Aunt Ling and never address me as a sister again.”

With joy rose in my heart, I nodded a few times. Having a formal appellation was a big step forward. It was a good start.

Her high fever was slightly better now, but she hadn’t fully recovered yet. Her body was still feeble. Mountain people didn’t always have good medicine. I could only pick some common herbs to boil every day and give it to her together with some ginger soup. My hunter dad was very kind to others. There was always some meat on the dining table these few days, which was more sumptuous than usual. I had something in mind, so I did my best to take care of her with no complaints, merely wishing to leave a good impression on her. I even spared my bed for her, only taking naps beside the bed these few days.

Regarding this, she didn’t have much to say. She ate everything and took the medicine I offered her. She frankly accepted my offers and never said a word of appreciation. Someone was secretly displeased about this, but the man didn’t mind it, so naturally, everything was calm.

Five or six days had elapsed, seeing that her body had gradually recovered. I’d been thinking of a way to carry out my thoughts. After finishing my tasks at dusk, I pushed the door into the house with my head ducked to find her neatly dressed, packing her stuff. 

Above all, there was a long sword beside her. It was the one she was carrying, the one I’d hidden in the firewood pile!

In truth, the first thing she did after she could get out of the bed was to retrieve her sword quietly from the firewood pile. As long as others wouldn’t see the sword, I didn’t mind how she hid it. But now, seeing that shevwas no longer hiding her sword and dressed in this way, I understood right away what was going on. I couldn’t help feeling flustered. I rushed up to her, ignoring the couple standing aside. 

“Aunt Ling!” I tugged at her sleeve: “Aunt Ling, are you going to leave?”

“Smart little kid.” She stroked my hair but didn’t give an eye to me, only looking at the couple over there, raising a cupped fist salute: “I, Ling, caught a disease by accident while passing through this place. Thanks to both of you and your daughter who didn’t leave me behind. I have nothing to repay your meticulous care in these few days, but only this to express my gratitude.”

As she finished her words, an object flew across the air and landed steadily on the table next to the couple. Looking at it under the afterglow of the setting sun, it turned out to be a silver sycee[2]. Given the weight of it, it could cover the expenses of the family for several years.

Earlier, the couple followed me into the house. They were frightened by the sword at first. But before they could do anything, a sudden fortune windfall dropped in front of their eyes. Startled, they stood in a daze for a while before returning to their senses. 

Both terrified and blissful, they thanked her several times. They had seen her well dressed, so they probably had selfish interests of their own with their care in these few days. At this moment, although there was fear in them, they’d gotten what they wanted. 

They’d gotten what they wanted, but I was thrown into confusion.

“Then, I shall leave now.” She didn’t dawdle. After offering a cupped fist salute once again, she turned over and was ready to leave. I’d no choice but to hold on to her sleeve, not letting go. 

This action had scared the couple. In their eyes, she was someone they couldn’t offend. They demanded me to let go of her. Eventually, she got suspicious. Tilted her head down, she looked at me and asked: “What’s the matter?”

“I… I loathe to…”

Forget it. I’ve no time to waste.

Up to this moment, it would be better to go straight to the point. I clenched my teeth, still grasping her sleeve, not letting loose of my hands. With a thump, I went down on my knees. 

“San’er wants to follow Aunt Ling and be your disciple!”

Yes, this was my plan.

Although I didn’t know how skilled she was in her martial arts, and whether her background was good or evil, now, she was the only hope that could take me out of this plight. I’d waited for six years in this sparsely populated remote mountain before I saw this opportunity. If I let this chance slip, I didn’t know when I’d meet the next person who could bring me hope.

It was now or never. I brought my head down, hoping to convey my sincerity.

The room fell into silence for a moment, and the couple was dumbfounded. They never thought their obedient, quiet San’er would have such a bold intention. I didn’t care what they thought. In their eyes, San’er was more like a labor and future betrothal gift. A son was what they’d always wanted.

But a sigh in the near distance made my heart sink. 

“It’s rare to have such faith at a young age. It’s a pity…” she sighed. She grabbed my hand that was holding on her. Suddenly, I felt a slight pressure around my hand. A strange pain ran through my nerves. The pain was not intense, but it’s immensely piercing. “Too bad. You are good-looking, but your bone structure is too ordinary, and your natural endowment is average. You have no talent to inherit my mantle, I’m afraid…”

Upon hearing this, I ignored the pain on my hand and answered with a loud voice: “San’er daren’t to ask for the inheritance of Aunt Ling’s mantle. San’er is not greedy. I only hope to follow by Aunt Ling’s side, learn some skills to protect myself, never be at the mercy of anyone thenceforth, and not drift away with the current, so to not be sold to a stranger as concubine or slave in this future”

I was out of my mind. The acute pain, flustered urgency had made my brain heated and dizzy. I only wanted to get my thoughts across to her as fast as possible, so I didn’t realize that I’d poured out all the thoughts I had in these few years. Not until I heard a roar, I felt chills sending down my spine. Then, I broke out in a cold sweat.

The roar came from my dad. The claim about being concubine and slave had enraged him. Oblivious of the situation, he strode up, wanting to grab me: “Little San’er! From where did you hear these things?”

Groaning in secret, I felt myself lifted before I could even think of an answer.

After pulling myself together, I was already in her arms.

“What she said… is it true?” She didn’t even look at me while holding me in her arms. She lifted her chin, glaring down at the man standing near her in disdain as she flicked her sword slightly forward. The hilt was glowing with a cold glow.

Dad was afraid of her. His wife pulled him back a few steps in haste. A hue of red and white appeared on their faces. They stammered, trying to explain yet couldn’t come up with a word. I should be thankful that they were honest people—not so good at lying.

She had witnessed that exact moment, but she gave no reaction. After a short silence, she suddenly turned around and asked me: “What’s your name?”

I froze, then understood the next second and responded with some awkwardness: “They… just call me little San’er… they didn’t give me a name…” Although my voice was awkward and soft, joy inadvertently rose in my heart, throwing me in a flutter. Could it be…

As expected, the moment she heard this, she snorted coldly, glancing at the couple: “A six-year-old child without a name, what else do you have to say? I thought life in the mountain was difficult, so the kids couldn’t avoid hardship. Now it seemed like you two were not even treating her like your own!”

These words are straightforward and without mercy, rendering their face blanched, especially the dad. He was a boor in the mountain, but still, he was a man. Holding his breath, he seemed to turn his shame into anger. His tone had gradually become firmer, although he was afraid of martial artists. He reminded Aunt Ling that she was indebted to them despite everything and told her not to meddle in his family affairs. What was the matter about not giving a name to his child. It had nothing to do with others. His words had a reproach undertone of her being too nosy.

The more he said these, the more obvious the sneer at the corner Aunt Ling’s lips. While they were babbling, she looked at me. “San’er, I’ll give you a name. Would you accept it?”

Only parents can give their children a name. 

Once a teacher, forever a mother.

I got out of her arms and kneeled in front of her: “Master, please give me a name.”

She reflected in silence, gazing out into the bamboo forest outside the window. Then I heard her voice saying: “The green bamboos are slim, but they stay strong in the wind and the rain. You’ll be called Zhu Xian[3].”

Before I could say anything, I felt my body lifted again. The wind blew on my face, and the moment I lifted my head, I saw the sky. 

“I’ve taken your child. From now on, whether she’ll return, whether she’ll reconcile with you, or whether she’ll marry, it’s up to her to decide. She is no longer in anyone’s mercy in this world!”

It was as if I’d heard a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon.     


[1]Jianghu, as you may know, refers to the martial arts world of ancient China
[2]Sycee, 元宝(yuánbǎo) is a type of boat-shaped gold or silver ingot currency used in ancient China.
[3]Zhu Xian竹纤 literally means bamboo fiber or slim bamboo. 

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 1

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 1

Encounter

“Xiaosan’er, you stupid little girl!” As soon as I sat down before catching my breath, I heard a loud yell.

“You’re so dumb. Throw the firewood beside the stove right after picking it up? Are you going to choke us to death by starting a fire this way? Take them to the backyard and dry them under the sun. Go!”

You’re the one being Xiaosan [1], I secretly retorted while frowning, but daren’t say it out loud.

Resignedly, I got up and rubbed my sore arm, hauling the firewood bundle which was taller than me to the backyard, leaving a long trail on the ground. Her grumbling voice was still lingering around my ear. Fortunately, she didn’t follow me and keep on nagging.

The so-called backyard was just a rather flat space behind the house. 

The crooked fence could barely keep the bamboos and trees out, let alone the overgrown weeds. I rarely went near that area, for I fretted that something might spring out from the grass.

Looking around the house, there were mountains and only mountains. 

I let out a sigh and untied the rope knot, leaning the firewood sticks against the wall in a line one by one.

The firewood sticks were thick and long. It was exhausting to move them with my tiny arms and skinny legs. No wonder two of their daughters are gone, considering they were doing such laborious works under such a harsh environment. 

But, I cannot perish just like this. I don’t want to die. 

Though I was staying in a hunter’s family out in the wilderness, with the unimaginable destitute and toil; though I might never go back to the vibrant and lively life I had before, I still wanted to be alive. It was enough to experience the fear of death once.

“What kind of odd things is my little San’er drawing on the ground again?” A big hand stroked my hair along with a deep voice. Then, I was off the ground the second I felt a slight pressure around my waist. 

I dropped the branch I was using to draw on the ground. I had to turn around and hold the man’s neck close to maintain my balance, calling him with a smile: “Dad.”

However, on the inside, I had goosebumps all over me. A few years had passed, but I still couldn’t get used to it. 

The man never noticed a thing. Giggling, he strode into the house while holding me in one arm and his prey in the other hand. Today’s harvest was plentiful compared to a few days ago, and the woman was delighted. She was preparing the meal while grumbling, as usual. Sitting by the dining table, she was planning on smoking the leftover meats so they could sell them for a better price at the market in two days.

While the woman was immersing herself with her thoughts, I hid away half a piece of steamed bun. The woman would think that it was the man who had eaten it. 

No matter how poor they were, she could never let the man starve. 

After that, we would wait for the night to fall. 

Nighttime was the time I hated the most, the day became dark so fast after sunset, and the oil lamp was too expensive, so I could only get into bed early after finishing my chores. But, this was not the worst thing; there was another thing that I really couldn’t stand. 

Subtle yet rapid pants came from the dark. I got up silently, groping for the door, making no noise as usual.

A six-year-old kid shouldn’t have understood these things; she shouldn’t have understood adults’ thoughts about her; she shouldn’t have known why men were superior to women; she shouldn’t have known what her parents did every night on the bed after the lights were out. A six-year-old kid should have been asleep by now after working with her parents for the whole day. 

But unfortunately, their San’er was an exception. 

The moonlight shined bright in the courtyard, and the air was slightly humid. Although the frogs were croaking and the crickets were chirping, the serenity of night remained untouched.

I climbed up a stone table and took out the jerkies that I hid underneath the table, eating it with the half piece of steamed bun I’d stolen this morning. I gazed into the bamboo grove and the starry sky at the far side, sinking into my thoughts while having my extra meal. 

Thought of the time before, my worries had deepened.

Reign of Emperor Wanli……? [2]

I didn’t understand how ancient people knew which era they lived in. After years of hard work, this was the only familiar term I found out.

Having a so-called foresight seemed useless at this place. The houses were scattered all around the mountains, and the nearest neighbor was 3 miles away. The journey to the closest village was about half a day. This place seemed detached from the outside world.

And finally, I’d gotten a bit of information, but what could I do with it?

Wanli… Even though I didn’t remember a lot, I knew that this reign title meant something bad.

I was agitated and upset.

In the time of chaos and a world full of heroes, I was no more worthy than a bear, even my dad, who was a hunter, couldn’t defeat a bear. Ordinary people, human bodies with flesh and blood, I’d already experienced how fragile human life was. I daren’t have such vain hope. Even if I went through these troubled times, the chance of me dying uglily was higher than anything.

But I was destined not to stay long with this family.

Women were like objects. They would be used to their fullest, and eventually, they would be married to someone in exchange for a dowry. I was well aware of it from the beginning. What I’d seen and heard made me even more convinced of this.

Looking at my hands, small and chubby, they were still a kid’s hands. But time flew, it was never too early to prepare.

Even so, how much could I prepare?

I couldn’t help but smile bitterly at the thought of this.

I intended to save up some money in secret so that when I was going to leave this place, it wouldn’t be hard for me to start a business with this advantage—this was what they always wrote in the books. I could try it out by imitating the books but a reign title had easily ruined all my plans.

I feared for the chaos, for death, yet I couldn’t protect myself. Even after racking my brain, I couldn’t remember the structure of those advanced devices in the modern days. Back in those days, I had learned some kickboxing for fun. But I’m afraid that I can’t even beat my sturdy father with that.

Learn a new skill? But from where could I learn?

There was a storyteller that came to talk about fabled legends once in a while whenever there was a market in the village. All the youths and the elders would listen with excitement. Looking at their admiring gaze, I’d learned that even in this place, Wuxia was just a legend. Blacksmiths sold only farm tools and kitchen knives, and the people who claimed they could fight relied more on brute force and recklessness.

A world full of masters, where were you?

After finishing the last sentence in mocking myself, I swallowed the last bit of steamed bun. I didn’t come up with any conclusion, as always. I wiped my mouth and kept away the remaining jerkies, waving to the moon before sneaking back to my room.

There were only snores in the dark. Adults who had finished with their business had fallen deeply into sleep.

I crawled into my bed and drifted off to sleep while counting my heartbeat.

A few days later, it was the market day.

This day was the most important day for the family that lived in the mountains. All their income came from selling the goods they had on this day and exchanged it for necessities such as oil, salt, vinegar, and rice, which they couldn’t produce themselves. The adults had already packed up and were ready to go before sunrise. This time, their daughters didn’t insist on going along. They remained quiet and sent them off on their journey.

Then, I put on my puttees[3] and set off to the mountain.

A few days ago, I had finished all the jerkies I stashed away. So, I needed to check on those small self-made traps that I set on the mountain. Perhaps, there might be some new harvest. It would be even better if I could get some fresh fruits along the way.

Funnily enough, the biggest problem I’d faced so far was just malnutrition and hunger. Most of the harvests at home were used to exchange money. Besides, they didn’t value girls in this era; It was enough to not let them die from starvation. Fortunately, I had gained some knowledge from being a backpacker back then. Plus, I was born in a hunter’s family, and under the influence of it, I’ve learned how to hunt for a living.

I hurried on, wanting to go back early and get everything done before the sun went down.

But who knew, things didn’t always go the way I wanted. It began to rain halfway on my way back, and after a short while, it was all blurry and misty over the mountain.

I crouched under a dented cliff, holding a few sheets of board leaf over my head, counting the time as I observed the rainfall. Then I’d decided to brace through the rain if it didn’t stop by the time I counted to 2000.

As I counted to 700, I saw a vague trace of white in the rain.

It was rare to see something white in a dark green mountain forest, as there weren’t many white animals in the natural world. Hunters and herb gatherers usually wore hemp cloth. There was no need for them to dress in white to make themselves feel awkward. Thus, the shade of white was rather conspicuous.

Even though it was conspicuous, but it only appeared for a moment.

I mumbled to myself, but still keeping track of my counts, carrying on with the counts as I held down my doubt.

At 1207, the rain was easing off; After another 100, the rain stopped.

After the heavy rain, the air brimmed with a rich scent of fresh grass. The plants around the mountain became fresher as if they had taken a shower. Careless of the dripping water in the surrounding, I came out from below the cliff. After a moment of consideration, I walked toward the direction where I saw the shade of white a moment ago.

When I was getting closer, I picked up a thick wooden branch along the way—though, in the end, the wooden branch was useless.

On the muddy ground and a large area of crushed vegetation lay a person. The white robe stood out against the green plants around with the splashed yellowish mud stains.

And me—the moment I caught sight of the thing in the person’s hand, my heart pounded.

That was—a sword.

This was the first sword I’d seen hitherto in this life. A sense of surreal inadvertently emerged—was that really a sword?

With doubts, I carefully poked the person with the branch and called the person a few times. Seeing that the person didn’t move, I reached out my hand toward the sword while holding my breath. The person didn’t hold the sword tightly; with just a slight yank, I pulled it out of the person’s hand.

In my hand was the hefty, metallic sensation of the sword. It might be too heavy for a kid; I clutched the hilt with great exertion and tried to pull it out of its sheath but I failed. Then I took a breath and tugged it with all my strength.

The hum of the sword unsheathing resonated beside my ear and an icy cold glow gleamed on my eyes.

Beneath the icy glow, the blade reflected an unfamiliar, childlike face—that was me.

This was—real.

My heart was beating like a drum.


[1]XiaoSan is commonly referred to a mistress; a third person in a relationship.
[2]“Wanli” is the era name of Zhu Yijin’s reign, the 14th emperor of Mind dynasty.
[3]Puttee, also known as legwraps, is a strip of cloth used to wrap around the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee for support and protection.

Translator’s notes:
This is the very first novel I translate. I’m super excited to share this novel with you! Hope you like it. Enjoy!

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