Author: Slopaw (Page 4 of 5)

This is Slopaw.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 17

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 17

On Her Back

How does it feel to trust your life to someone else? 

I couldn’t quite describe it, just knew that it felt terrible, really terrible.

It was for this feeling that I closed my eyes, but closing my eyes felt much worse. In the darkness where all I could feel was my own heartbeat, temperature, and the strange presence on my arm. 

Perhaps sensing something was off, it seemed a little agitated and was crawling around. The sensation of its ventral scales rubbing and squirming against my arm felt clear through the clothes.

Being able to control my body with my mind didn’t mean that I was physically comfortable with this feeling. My heart clenched, and I wanted to hurry her but didn’t dare to do so. Since I chose to hand over the control, all that was left to do was to wait. Rushing her served no purpose other than interfering with her judgment, and in most cases, it would only make things worse.

Fortunately, I could still sense her presence, which was somewhat reassuring.

The sense for that presence was actually quite subtle, more like a hazy intuition. It was so quiet around me that I couldn’t even hear her breathing, but somehow, I knew she was there. I could even picture her looking ready to attack like a wolf.

Suddenly, a gust of breeze blew against my face. It was so soft that it just left a slight chill on my skin.

But that wasn’t a breeze! For then there was a tight squeeze on my right arm, and it was getting tighter. The living vine that was wrapping around my arm began to coil up and constrict, causing significant pain to my arm. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I opened my eyes with a grunt and saw the branch in Lian’er’s hand was now stabbing straight into the snake’s mouth!

It was a precise strike, at least to me it was unbelievable, but it was also the most effective way and avoided the risk of snakebite entirely. The only downside, if I must say so, was the pressure it brought to my arm during its death-struggle.

The child knew it too, so she was now squatting, one hand holding the branch and continuing to clamp it down, the other reaching out to grab the lifted part of the snake’s body, tugging it left and right, trying to peel it off my arm. However, the snake’s constriction strength was apparently stronger than she could have imagined. Seeing the blood flow get obstructed and the arm gradually starting to turn blackish purple, she couldn’t wrap her head around the situation and got a little nervous, nipping her lip and glancing at me in a hustle, as if she was…worried. 

I lifted my free hand, and without adding fuel to the fire, stroked her back and told her it was nothing serious, that it was all right.

After bustling about for a while, that thing finally lost its strength and was yanked off by Lian’er. She clutched it in her hand, smacking it several times, and then it completely slackened into a dead, motionless thing. As if it wasn’t enough to vent her anger, she threw a few more glares at it before raising her hand and casting it far away. It disappeared into the night without a flop.

This childish act set my mind at rest, at the same time, it was somewhat funny. 

But I didn’t dare to laugh because the person in front of me had a straight face on. Seeing me press my lips together and smile, she glared over at me, but said nothing, just stepped to the side in silence, picked up the herbs on the ground she gathered earlier, and swished them in front of my face, the meaning of which went without saying. 

Seeing her serious face, I surely wouldn’t be so dumb to mess with her. I just looked over the herb she handed me, and at last, after a moment of hesitation, I decided to answer honestly: “It’s similar enough, but…too bad, it’s not the one.”

I thought I might piss the child off, but it turned out not at all. 

“Oh.” She sounded level-headed and showed no obvious expression, just tossed the wrongly picked plant aside, but she reached over abruptly in the next instant and hoicked me from the ground! It all happened so fast and unprepared that all I felt was my body getting lighter, and when I came back to my senses, I was already on her back again. 

“Lian’er?” It was out of nowhere, so I was baffled: “What’re you doing?”

She sneered and replied: “I’m carrying you.” After that, she said no more, going about stepping straight into the bushes with her body slightly leaning forward, her left hand supporting me, and her right hand sweeping the bushes. It looked like she intended to keep on searching for the herb this way. 

I knew it would be bad the moment I saw the sneer, but I never expected her to do that. I froze for a moment, then I thought about it again before opening my mouth again with deliberation: “Lian’er… what’re you doing?” Since I knew she was mad, I got serious: “What happened just now was just an accident. I was being careless and slipped up. Now that it’s settled, you really don’t have to—”

Before I could finish, a cold snort interrupted me. She didn’t answer me right away, not even turning her head, just shoving the handful of herbs she just picked in my face and asked: “How about this?”

“Um… no” With one look, I rejected it at once and tried to continue with my explanation earlier. But as soon as my words entered her ears, she just chucked it away. Before I could say another word, she shoved a handful of newly picked herbs in my face again: “What about this?”

I felt resigned. At this point, if I still didn’t get her intention, then I had lived my life in vain. 

So this time, without confirming or rejecting it, I just took the herb she handed over and looked at it in my hand, ignoring her question, and continued what I wanted to say: “It’s too exhausting for you, Lian’er. How can I not worry about you? Besides, it wouldn’t be that coincidental. There won’t be—” 

“You’re such a nag!” With me on her back, she erupted eventually and yelled over her shoulder in exasperation: “Who cares if you’re dead or alive! I just feel like it’s much more convenient like this! Save me a trip to the tree to ask you. It’s too much trouble!”

After yelling, without waiting for me to answer, she straightened up and reached her hand over her shoulder, wanting to grab the herb she just handed to me: “If not, throw it away! What does it mean, holding in your hand and not talking?”

Although she was always arrogant and tetchy with me, she had only two genuine outbursts so far. Maybe because she cared about my condition, compared to the punching and kicking at the creek last time, it was obvious she let me off this time. I knew it but didn’t want to argue, so I quickly reached out my hand and put it around her shoulders to avoid falling off while bumping along, and my other hand went to protect the herb in a hurry: “Easy, easy, you got it right this time. It’s a herb. Do you want to throw it away?”

She started and stopped moving. For a moment, she seemed to forget she was mad and glanced at me with her eyes squinted, looking askance: “Really?” 

I nodded in haste, smiling innocently at her. I didn’t lie. It was such a coincidence that the ones she looked for in all seriousness were always similar but weren’t the right one, instead, the one she grabbed in a fit of pique was right on target. 

She glanced at me a couple more times and probably felt I didn’t coax her, so she took the herb in her hand, scanned it, and sniffed it. Her brows flattened out, and she whispered to herself with her head slanted: “Ah, so this is what it looks like. It’s pretty common. Took me an entire day to look for it.”

She was still a child, after all. Her temper came and went. I tidied the strands of loose hair at her temple and smiled: “Now you know what this herb looks like. Just go look for it with this as a reference, so can you put me down now?” After that, I moved a little, trying to get down. 

Who knew she would notice it, and then her back tensed. Instead of cooperating, her arm that was supporting me tightened a bit more.

“What now?” I frowned and asked her, pretending to not understand. 

In fact, I knew the reason why she wouldn’t put me down, and the anger and outburst she just had were nothing more than the lingering fear of the previous mishap. I thought she would have been calm and collected, or at least not so concerned. But from the look of it, it seemed I was wrong again. 

As expected, she tensed up and said with her head held high as she kept me from getting down: “What are you coming down for? I’ve seen a bunch of herbs like that earlier. I will pick them all at once and we can go home. If I put you down now, I’ll have to carry you again later. It’s better to save the trouble.” She said it as if she was in the right. 

I sighed in my heart. Without an excuse, I thought she would give in even if she was reluctant to. But now, it seemed like the child was getting better at using her language skills. Could it be because we were talking more these days?

As for her, as always, she didn’t care about my opinion and continued to act on her own when she was done talking. 

With a reference in her hand, the target was much clearer. This time, she didn’t have to rummage through the bushes at random and went straight for the target instead. Weeds and whatnot weren’t an obstacle for her at all. In the waist-tall scrubs, it would take me some effort to search even in the morning. But she had swept through most of the area in no time.

However, herbs were, after all, rare and weren’t as easily obtained as she made it sound before. While the upward sloping terrain had made it easy to search without hunching, it could still be tiring after a while. 

I was so close to her, watching the sweat slowly seeping out of her forehead, I didn’t know what to say to her. After several attempts to speak, in the end, I could only sigh and raised the hand that was around her neck, dabbing the beads of sweat away for her.

Gradually calming down like this, my head started to get dizzy again. The night wind offered me temporary comfort, but in fact, did more harm than good to my condition. 

“You really surprised me this time, Lian’er… ” Maybe it was the increased dizziness. Lying on her shoulders and closing my eyes, I actually started mumbling out of nowhere after a while. 

“Hey, what will you do if I die of a disease by chance, or get killed by that snake earlier? Would you bury me as I taught you? Or would you rather pass me to those mates of yours for them to feed on?”

The thing with that little wolf just happened yesterday… um… or was it the day before? The time was a little blurred by my dizziness, but the images were still vivid in my mind, as were the feelings I had then. I didn’t think the place I held in her heart would be much higher than the pup.

The child’s definition of affinity was less intricate than that of the others. She would draw a circle, and everyone outside the circle was irrelevant, might even be a potential enemy, whereas everyone inside the circle was one of her own. Inside that circle, except for Master was stronger than her, the rest were weaker than her. For those who were weaker than her, she always wanted to conquer and manage them, and correspondingly, she would also offer protection. 

I was also included in this circle. My position might be slightly higher, but that was all. 

My head hurt a little more at the thought of what would have happened to the little wolf if I hadn’t insisted. A normal person wouldn’t want to suffer that treatment even after death. The cold really befuddled my mind, and I actually started to dwell on it, demanding an answer from her. 

Being pumped by me like this, she could no longer stand it and jerked her back up.

“I’m sick of this! I won’t let you die!” The reply was loud and clear, and her tone was one of furious exasperation: “I won’t let you die! Then you won’t die! Asking those things about death for what? So annoying! Shut up!”

I shut up when she said shut up.

Getting yelled at and shocked like this, a thin layer of sweat broke out on my back. It did nothing but snapped me into consciousness. Then I realized what kind of childishness I had just displayed. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to bury my head in the sand and forgot that I was being scolded by a child and just did as she said, hoping that I could get hold of myself, and wouldn’t say something stupid that could shame me to death.

I kept my mouth shut, and she stopped talking. Like this, we gathered enough herbs in a hurry and went back. The journey home was silent. 

When we’re back at Yellow Dragon cave, it was already late at night. Master had not yet returned. The herbs had to be pounded and boiled, but I was feeling dizzy already, so I had to adopt the previous method again—a person says, the other does. 

Until the end, guarding the blazing fire and watching the gurgling, burbling concoction grew darker and murkier, I couldn’t stay up anymore. My eyelids drooped and my head sagged. Half-asleep, I felt someone was getting closer, calling me a few times while shaking me, sounding worried. I subconsciously curled my lips up, reached out in a daze and patted her to show her I was fine and fell back to sleep again. 

I remembered nothing after that, except that I slept surprisingly sound in the warmth. Such a good sleep lasted until the child woke me up to take my medicine, and there wasn’t even a nightmare between. 

When I woke up, I thought, maybe something was different from now on. 

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 16

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 16

A Belt

Am I dreaming now? Or awake? I don’t get it.

If I was dreaming, yet my mind felt clear, my senses were sharp. The dewy dampness in the air, the scent of the cool earth, the passing wind, and the dancing shadow of the moon, all the sensations were so vivid. 

But if I was awake, wasn’t it strange for a person lying on the bed in a cave with high fever to feel all that?

For a brief moment, blinking, I was really confused, but soon, my attention was drawn to something else like the bumps, the feeling, and the warmth and the breath too close beneath me.

Rarely have I been this close to people in this way, too rare and too close, so it felt oddly incongruous. I froze for a moment before I could react and realize what kind of situation I was currently in.

“Lian’er, what are you…cough…doing?” My voice was still hoarse. As the cold wind blew against my face, my words were almost choked back. 

“I’m carrying you.” The sound was so close. The young girl’s voice was as matter-of-fact as ever, except her breathing was slightly uneven.

Yes, I knew the situation even without her telling me. Right now, I was resting on her back, and she was carrying me, not only carrying me but also running. More precisely, she was dashing through the night woods with me on her back. She had used her qinggong, making her very fast, which had kicked up the wind. The dewy leaves and branches swept across my arms and cheeks from time to time, which had woken me up. 

“I know you’re carrying me…cough…What I meant was…coughcough…” Speaking against the wind in this state wasn’t exactly an easy task. I had to bury my head in her collar before I could even finish my sentence. I was coughing and gasping, choking on the wind. It took me a while to get back my breath.

“You shut up!” I couldn’t see her expression from behind, but I guessed my movement must have annoyed her. After yelling at me, she gave my body a heave, then I heard the voice soften a little: “Stop it. We’re almost there.”

I was dumbstruck for a moment. ‘Stop it’ were the words I used to say to her a lot. Now that it was used back against me, it really rendered me speechless.

But it wasn’t wise to talk against the wind at this time, and I felt her breath was shaky—even though she was gifted and well-grounded in martial arts, she was still young. After all, it was tiring to walk while carrying someone a few years older than her on her back. I wanted to get down immediately, but I knew she was stubborn. Instead of wasting each other’s energy arguing, it was better to cooperate. She wouldn’t lie anyway. If she said we are almost there, we are almost there. As for other doubts like where to and why to… I would leave them until we got there.

With my mind made up, I didn’t ask any more questions, just tried to wrap my arms around her shoulders and curl up as much as possible so that she could carry me more easily. It was indeed awkward being carried by a child. But fortunately, she couldn’t see my uneasiness because of the night and the position.

Just like this, nothing more was said along the way, except for the sound of two breathing with different rhythms revolving around. 

Indeed, after a short while, I felt my body shifting, and the world was turning topsy-turvy. Before I knew it, I was off her back and put down next to a huge tree. My legs were still limp. As soon as she let go, I slumped onto the ground despite myself. Fortunately, under my feet was a relatively dry patch of grass, and my back could also lean against the trunk. It turned out to be a suitable place to sit.

“Here we are.” She stood beside me, heaving a soft sigh.

Looking around, although it was late at night, and I was a little dizzy, the surroundings were more or less visible under the silver-washed moonlight. It was an open field located by the slightly slanted hillside. The trees were sparse and not dense, so all kinds of dwarf shrubs and herbs between the trees grew extremely well. Only thick patches of black could be seen in the night.

“This place is…” Although it was different from the day view, I could still recognize this place.

How could I not recognize it? I was the one who discovered this place. Because of the sunlight, the rain, the terrain, and such, it was a perfect place for growing herbs. In the last month, I often came here or the nearby area to pick herbs because of the little wolf, so the child had tagged along with me to this place a dozen times. 

“Lian’er, why do you bring me here at this time?” Even though I recognized this place, I was still full of questions, looking up at the person standing beside me. 

Her reply was filled with certainty: “Get herbs.” She replied, squatted and looked at me, frowning: “It’s been a day since Master’s gone, and your cold seems to have worsened. I thought about it for a long time and felt that, if so, why don’t I bring you here to pick some herbs for yourself first, it’s better than waiting in vain.”

A strange feeling streaked across my heart upon hearing that. It was indeed not a bad idea, but it never occurred to me, because I never expected that she would be willing to do this for me. However, despite being moved, looking at the surroundings blanketed by the night sky, I could only sigh. “Lian’er, it’s a good idea, but as I said before, not everyone can…”

“I know. Not everyone can see in the dark like me.” She broke in, standing up with a wave of her hand. “Then just tell me what kind of herb to look for, and I’ll find it in the bushes and bring it back for you to check. Simple.”

This time, I was really dumbfounded.

I supposed this reaction of mine was satisfying to her as I saw the corner of her eyes crinkled slightly, and a smug smile overtly appeared on her face. 

And what would happen next naturally fell into the child’s hands. 

Perhaps she was happy with the idea of surprising me, she was all pumped up, asking pressingly for the shape of herbs needed to be gathered without stopping for a rest. I thought about it and picked out a few simple, easily identifiable plants, describing them to her as succinctly as I could. Then she turned around and searched for them carefully in the nearby area. 

Instead, I was left with nothing to do, just have to sit under the tree and rest. 

The temperature at night was rather low, and the air was chilly. I felt much relaxed as the air filled my body between breaths. Although I was sick, I rarely sat down idly to watch people bustling about, so I felt somewhat at a loss. My eyes swept around aimlessly and eventually landed on the little figure not far away who was engrossed in the search.

How many times has it been? Every time, this child would always make me wonder, even introspect, about myself with her unexpected words and actions. 

Just like tonight, her idea was good, really good, but it wasn’t something hard to think of. I had always treasured my own life, yet this idea never crossed my mind… why? Could it have simply slipped through my mind? I’m afraid…not quite. 

I tried to make sense of it. Maybe it was the self-esteem of an adult that didn’t want a child to work hard for me, but then, I quirked my lips in self-irony and shook off this idea.

The answer was actually in my heart, plain and clear.

“How about this?” A long stalk of grass unexpectedly popped up in front of me, with dew still hanging on it. 

Taking it on my hand, I looked at the pair of eager eyes and then tried to identify the plant by the moonlight for a while before smiling and shaking my head at her. 

Undeterred, and knowing that wasn’t the one, she turned and walked away, carrying on her search. 

My body felt better, and the dizziness waned a bit, but I was still exhausted. I leaned against the trunk and closed my eyes, forcing my gaze to stop following the busy little figure. 

When you close your eyes in silence, you are dulled to the passage of time. Even when you know you are awake, your senses become blurred. 

It seemed like a long time, but it shouldn’t have been long because the child hadn’t found anything for me to look at. It was difficult for those who were inexperienced to search for a few specific plants among the thick, lush bushes, but you were bound to find something given some time.

As I was thinking fuzzily, I suddenly noticed a strange feeling.

I opened my eyes and looked to my right hand without moving. Because my back was resting against the tree, my hand was casually placed on the grass beside my body, just like how everyone sat when they were relaxed, usual and chill.

However, it was this hand that something was clearly next to it, showing up unknowingly. Under the night sky, it seemed like a twisty, dappled belt. 

Of course, that wouldn’t be a belt. Anyone with a modicum of common sense would know!

Holding my breath in concentration, I stared at it, restraining myself from shrieking or moving. Thanks to my previous experience, I had done mental precautions similar to this more than once before, as I would sometimes encounter unexpected situations being in the wild. I didn’t expect nothing had happened then, but it really came in handy in this life. 

It was crawling up slowly along my palm. Fortunately, the cuff wasn’t wide enough for it to get in, so it just wrapped itself loosely around my hand, circling my arms. Even so, I could still clearly feel the cold presence through the thin garment. 

I endured the discomfort, knowing that this was the worst time to be rash. It wasn’t aggressive at the moment. It was just the cold-blooded animals’ natural inclination toward warmth that made it come closer to me. If I could keep calm and steady, we could both be fine for the time being. If I made a reckless move out of fright, I would startle it instead, then a snake bite would be inevitable.

I would never want to be bitten by this thing. Although I could hardly see the dappled pattern in the haze of night, the head was, heck, a distinct triangular shape. 

While slowly calming my breath as best as I could, I secretly exerted force to my left hand on the other side. As the saying goes, hit a snake on its seven inches, grab a snake on its three inches. If I couldn’t grab its neck accurately in one strike, I would have one hell of a time with it. 

There was only one chance, but my hand was shaking, my body was weak, somewhat shy of a little energy. 

Or…a thought suddenly flashed across my mind. I relaxed my trembling left hand and cast my gaze on the little figure not far away.

I guessed she hadn’t found what she was looking for nearby. She had gone a little farther than before in the grass field, but she still stayed well within my sight, and I could easily spot that moving silhouette with a quick glance.

It was risky to cry out for help at this distance, but as long as it was well-controlled, the risk was no higher than catching the snake with my bare hand. 

The question was… 

I dared not curl my lips and could only smile wryly in my heart. I couldn’t believe the question came so fast. One second ago, I just figured out some answers, and the next, I was forced to make a decision?

Perhaps, deep down, I had never trusted that child. 

Yes, I believed in her, but I didn’t trust her. I cared for and tolerated her as a child, even disobeyed Master for her words. But on the other hand, it was true that I had never really wanted to rely on her for anything—that was why I never thought of her at all, never thought of cooperating with her, even though I was very sick—not wanting to trouble a child was just an excuse. 

No trust, why? Just because she was too young to be trusted? Or did those unruly, aggressive behaviors then leave a mark on me after all? Or simply, my own problem.

I used to have friends and buddies, at the very least, I still had my parents and blood relatives. After I came to this world, I didn’t think my personality had changed, but it was true that I had never trusted anyone again. There were no family or friends in my heart, and I relied only on myself. Even after I followed Master, I had thought about more than once what to do if she didn’t want me one day. 

Before today, I had never realized I had changed this way, cold and distant as if I was isolated from the world. 

However…taking one last look at the person in the distance, I took a shallow breath and closed my eyes, trying to return my attention to the unbearably cold presence on my arm. 

So what if I do realize it after today? Having died once, I was no longer willing to place my life in the hands of others anymore, nor was my fate. 

After gently getting my blood flowing again, my left hand stopped shaking so much. I tried to exert force again while keeping my eyes on my right arm. Fortunately or unfortunately, the thing remained where it was, not moving further up, but wound a little tighter, a dark triangular snake’s head swaying slightly from time to time.

After envisioning the move I should make a million times in my head, I finally felt the time was right. I gritted my teeth and bent over, as softly and carefully as I could, easing from a calm, relaxed resting state to one that was ready to strike. 

My left hand lifted gently. Success or failure, it all ends here. I couldn’t help feeling nervous. 

It was at this juncture that an unexpected turn of events took place!

“Hey! Come take a look, this must be it. This time, I’ve looked at it very carefully. It should…” A familiar voice abruptly sounded from the other side. There was pure joy in her tone, but then it suddenly broke off.

Startled, I looked up at her and saw her staring straight in my direction. There was some distance between us, so I couldn’t see her clearly in the night, but I could clearly feel her gaze unblinkingly locked on my right hand. Well, her pair of eyes could differentiate various plants in bushes at night that mingled and blended together, how could she not see the creature coiled around my arm now. 

After getting a good look, she said no word, just approaching this side one step at a time, even her footsteps were hushed, only her eyes were sparkling, penetrating and sharp. 

I knew what she wanted to do, and there was still time to stop her. That child was always like this, acting at her will. She did as she thought, wouldn’t hesitate, and never cared what others thought.

At this moment, I didn’t think I wanted her to come over, so I should just tell her: Lian’er, don’t move. It’s alright. Let me deal with it myself.

But still, until she got closer, nothing came out of my mouth.

Two steps away, she stopped. Her sharp gaze that locked on my right arm shifted, making contact with my eyes, and blinked, turning a little softer. 

Eyes are the mirror of the soul. I didn’t know if she saw my hesitation, but I had already understood the determination and persistence in her eyes. 

My tense body gradually relaxed.

Maybe I wasn’t willing to trust her; I didn’t even trust Master. The most others could do was to lend a helping hand. When it came to a critical moment, no one could be relied upon other than yourself. Even if the decision went wrong, you could only face the consequences of your own making, not blaming God or others. If not for holding this belief, I wouldn’t have survived to this day. 

Would there be any different in the future?

The child bent over, quietly picking up a branch and weighing it in her hand. Then she looked to my eyes again and nodded in silence, and I, at last, in that gaze, eased off the force on my left hand and slowly closed my eyes.

Because she is more stubborn than you are, a voice in my heart said so.


Translator’s note:
Sorry for the late release. I’ll see if I can upload one more chapter next week to make it up to you guys!

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 15

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 15

Sick

The moment I collapsed, I was actually fully aware of what had happened.

That time I pleaded with Master to take me in, I was bearing a risk-it-all attitude because I knew that this body would be a disappointment. It was considerate of Master to say I lacked talent.

Since I was born, I would get sick every so often. They were all just minor diseases like cold or fever, however, when it happened often enough, it inevitably became annoying to others. Many times, when I was in swaddling clothes, I could clearly read the annoyance in the adult’s eyes. Especially the high fever I had when I was two, they had basically already given up on me. They didn’t even bother to look after me. But thanks to that, I could get up, steal dad’s liquor, and wipe it all over my body to cool down while they were away. I also kept drinking water and tried to induce sweat. Only then I managed to survive through it. 

Therefore, when I grew a little older and was able to walk around freely, I would pay extra attention to this aspect, and consciously took care of my body as best as I could. Slowly, there were some improvements, and gradually I wouldn’t get sick so easily. Nevertheless, I had always paid great attention to it and never dared to let down my guard. 

However, after being with Master for all these years, I had slowly neglected it, perhaps because of the martial art training, my body seemed to become stronger.

Hence, it wasn’t something unexpected that this downpour had messed up my body. Just that I didn’t expect the cold to strike me so furiously without any signs after not getting sick for a few years, knocking me out straight away. 

In a daze, I seemed to be awake and at the same time, still dreaming. Dully, I felt that all my bones were aching. I knew I had sweated a lot. The air blowing out of my nose was as dry and scorching as being in the desert. I could hear sounds in my ears, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. They were very far away but posing a strong pressure on my eardrums.

I had a fever. I knew it in my mind, as clear as a mirror, but I couldn’t voice it out.  

Vaguely, I knew Master was talking but didn’t know what she was saying. After a while, the voice disappeared. All that remained was the noises in my ears, which were making me sick. I hated this feeling, so I let myself fall deeply asleep in exhaustion. 

When I opened my eyes again, the noises were gone, but the cave ceiling seemed to become unusually broad and was slightly swirling. 

I found myself lying on the stone bed, so I wanted to hold up my body sideways with my elbow, but halfway through, before I could finish the move, a hand pushed me back down. 

“Master said you should lie down and stay still.” Lian’er was right next to the bed, saying it with a definite tone and looking at me with sparkling eyes. “I want…water…” I forced myself to stay up and replied, not even having the energy to smile at her. My voice was so scratchy that it sounded nothing like myself.

“Oh.” She responded, got up, and went to the stone table to take the white porcelain teapot, but she didn’t pour the water for me, just handed over the teapot directly, and said: “Take it.”

That was exactly what I needed. I took the porcelain teapot and gulped down the water through the spout. The refreshing water ran down my burning body, somewhat quenching my thirst at last. 

When I passed the porcelain pot back to her, I felt much better.

“Where’s…Master?” I asked, turning my stiff neck to look around within a small radius. The meditation chamber’s door was wide open. No one could be seen inside. “Master went downhill to buy medicine that very night. She said you’d have to take medicine with your condition.” She answered casually, putting the water teapot back on the table. Then she came back, pushed my body back which had been propped up for drinking, and ordered: “Lie down and don’t move.”

I smiled in resignation and fell back to the bed. 

Among the three of us, it seemed like I was the only one who had some medical knowledge, not to mention Lian’er. Master should know how to treat wounds, but for diseases… if she knew, she wouldn’t have fainted in the mountain near my house back then. 

No one had fallen ill over the past few years. I didn’t know whether it was luck or misfortune… I thought while feeling groggy, then I drifted off to sleep again before I knew. 

It should be dawn by the time I woke up again. The soft, foggy light shone into the cave from outside. My body felt heavier than before, and I could hardly open my eyes. I managed to call for a few times before I realized there seemed to be no one in the cave. 

Fortunately, not before long, I heard sounds coming from beside me. I forced myself to turn and look—it was the child dashing in from outside, her body was wet, from the waist down, to be precise.

It didn’t seem like she had been caught in the rain. Besides, I didn’t hear any rain. “What’s going on?” I asked, feeling languid. 

She looked up when she heard my voice. Seeing that I was looking in her direction, she didn’t say much, her expression changed subtly, and she responded: “You’re awake?” After that, she turned and headed outside. Soon enough, she was back with her clothes changed and a few things in her arms. She put them down beside the bed before pulling me up slightly, and said: “Master told me before that I should give you something to eat once you’re awake, but you fell asleep again earlier, so I won’t forget this time.”

My whole body felt weak. I let her pull me up and took a closer look at the things on the side. They were a few baked sweet potatoes, still stained with some fire ashes, wisps of aroma and heat wafting from them, supposedly right out of the fire. 

“Here.” She patted away the dust, peeled it attentively, and handed over to me. This attitude of hers was a little… odd. 

Although I had a headache, my brain was wide awake. Plus, with her wet clothes and subtle expression before, I knew there must be something up. When I was just about to ask, the sweet potato was pressed against my lips. I reckoned she figured out what I was thinking, but I wasn’t sure if it was because she didn’t intend to speak or was putting Master’s order before anything else. Anyway, she looked like she wanted to shut me up with food. 

Under usual circumstances, I wasn’t as headstrong as her anyway. Plus, I hadn’t eaten anything at all since yesterday. The sweet potato in my face smelled nice, arousing the slumbering hunger in me, so I took a bite without thinking. 

Only when I took a mouthful of the sweet potato did I realize the situation had become…err…a situation in which she was feeding me?

Well, judging from our size and height, we looked only a few years different in age. In other’s eyes, we might just seem like two kids getting along well with each other, but she had always been a little kid in my heart. I could take care of her with no worries, but I felt awkward when I was the one being taken care of. My face was flushing for no reason. Fortunately, it wasn’t noticeable since I was burning. 

“This…I’ll…I’ll do it myself.” I murmured embarrassingly and reached over, wanting to take the food. However, I didn’t know whether she could tell that my hand had no strength or just being stubborn with me. Anyhow, she simply refused to give it to me, even pushing down my outstretched palm with one hand and shoving the sweet potato closer to my mouth with another hand. Her eyes were full of… excitement.

Realizing that this child’s interest in feeding me had been sparked, I felt a deep sense of impotence. I took a few bites awkwardly, hurriedly saying that I was full, and lied back down. She didn’t seem satisfied with the feeding, her face showing her discontent, but she also knew the boundaries, so she just pulled a thin quilt on a side over me.

Soon after, the awkwardness subsided, and fatigue began to set in again. It doesn’t feel right, I thought, I shouldn’t be falling asleep again like this

“Lian’er…what’s going on earlier?” I turned to look at her. The discomfort of my body promptly reminded me of something. “Right…what’s the time now? How long…has Master been away?”

It would take about half a day to make a round trip downhill. However, it would take less than six hours for an adept martial artist like Master if she was to go at full speed. I remembered it wasn’t too late at night when I blacked out, but it was already daybreak at this time. A whole night had passed, yet Master still hadn’t come back. I couldn’t help feeling a little worried. 

Lian’er said nothing earlier. Seeing me asking about it, she didn’t try to hide it from me and answered frankly: “It’s about 7 in the morning now. I don’t know when Master will be back. I just went to have a look. There was a major flash flood downhill, and the road was blocked.” 

“A flash flood?” I was shocked at first, but on second thought, it was usual for the rivers to overflow, considering the unceasing downpour a few days ago. Suddenly, I remembered that she was wet from the waist down earlier, and my heart pounded. Not knowing where my strength came from, I stretched my hand over, hauling her toward me: “Don’t tell me you went into the water to explore the road?”

“Mm, I did try to.” She didn’t think it was a big deal and answered: “But the water was too murky and erratic, and wide too. I couldn’t get across. I don’t think Master could either.”

She said it like it was nothing, but I was horrified hearing it. Mountain floods, unlike the rivers, anything could possibly be in the murky water—trees, branches, vines, rocks, and all sorts of things. Once you got sucked in by the torrents and got smashed or entangled, the consequences would be unimaginable. She was being fearless as if a newborn calf, unafraid of tigers. She actually dared to wade into the water and explore. I was so worried that I wanted to teach her a lesson, but I knew the last thing she wanted was for me to lecture her. It would be worse if she acted against me then. Resignedly, I could only repress my feelings. I took her hand and advised her with a soft voice: “Lian’er…it’s too risky. Promise me never to do that again…okay?”

She looked at me with her brows frowned and asked questioningly: “How about you if Master doesn’t come back in time?”

I was slightly stunned upon hearing that. Then, I realized this child was actually taking me into consideration. I couldn’t help feeling warm in my heart and replied softly: “I’m fine…it’s just a common…cold. Just that it’d caught me off guard. You haven’t seen a cold before… it’s nothing serious, really, let alone life-threatening. Don’t worry…”

She was still staring at me, a pair of eyes like the translucent spring water shifted, yet she said no word. 

Looking at her, I knew she had something in mind. I took a breath and went on: “What’s…wrong?” She was hesitant for a moment, but in the end, she responded in a whisper: “You said not to worry before…that time you treated the little wolf…”

Stunned, I understood her meaning. For a moment, all kinds of feelings stirred in my heart. I forced myself to reply with a smile: “Even if you don’t believe in me…Lian’er should believe in Master, shouldn’t you? Even if Master takes a detour, she’d be back in a day at most with her speed… By that time, we’ll have the medicine. Then, it’ll be alright, isn’t it?” 

After I finished my sentence, I couldn’t hold on any longer. My temper was throbbing furiously, even the cave seemed to be spinning. I could no longer care if she believed it or not. I fell back to the bed feebly and closed my eyes to rest.

Everything after that became blurry. I seemed to fall into a boggy dream. The dream was bizarre and tangled, all kinds of scenes were mixed together—high buildings and grey tiles, street lamps, and bullock carts.  For a moment, the road underneath my feet was cement and asphalt, and the next moment, it turned into yellow dirt and dust flying in the air. I seemed to be falling, and at the same time, running. When falling, I felt the infinite sense of weightlessness; when running, I seemed to be hunted by something. Regardless of which, the sense of helplessness was unusually strong. I kept screaming, but my voice was carried away relentlessly by the wind. 

Screaming hard like this, I would sometimes wake myself up. I heard my own scream in my ears. Unlike the sonority I thought in my dream, it was so soft that it could only be considered as a whisper. 

Other than that, there was a familiar voice resonating beside my ears. That was Lian’er’s. I knew that I was burning up and gibbering, and I knew that she must be worried. But before I could do anything, I was dragged back into the deep mire again. 

My consciousness came and went. Being in a trance, I was oblivious of the passing of time. By the time I finally regained some consciousness, a shudder suddenly hit me, and I was woken up by a gust of cold wind. Then I felt each breath I took was filled with the damp, fresh air. 

And the sound of her breathing was underneath me, too close, way too close.  

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 14

The Witch Nichang– Chapter 14

Sorry

In the end, we still buried him.

Lian’er was still a little confused about what I had just said, but she eventually chose to send off the little wolf on his last journey with me in a human way, not an animal way. We worked together to fill the hole with dirt, pile it up high, and tamp it down into the shape of a mini grave mound.

The rain stopped before we knew it, and the sky was getting dark. She patted the small grave mound before standing up and said to me: “Let’s go home.”

I smiled bitterly as it came to me now that I still had a huge problem to solve. 

Acting on a whim was bound to create future troubles. On the way back, I had gone through many ways on how to face Master, how to explain it to her, and whether to confess truthfully to her, but I felt inappropriate no matter how I thought about it. 

Before I could straighten out anything, we were already standing at the cave entrance. I looked at Lian’er, stretching out my hand to hold her, and went in together. 

The inside wasn’t as bright and as spacious as the outside. The lights were lit, and Master was sitting in the shadow where the light and darkness met. Her expression was unclear. I hurried over, stopping three steps away from her, and dropped to my knees without saying a word. Lian’er was standing behind me, nudging my shoulder. I tugged at her sleeve, and she knelt together with me.

We said nothing, nor did Master. For a moment, the room sank into unbearable silence.

My hand was unconsciously kneading the hem of my clothes. I had no idea what was the best way to explain the situation even after thinking it over. At the same time, I also didn’t want to stay in this depressing silence for any longer, so I clenched my jaw and lifted my head, about to open my mouth. At the very moment, Master moved first. 

She first swept her hand across the air to stop my voice, then got up from the stone bench, and paced slowly toward us, stopping in front of us.

“You two have secrets?” At last, she opened her mouth, her voice was calm and flat, revealing no emotion in her voice, yet her eyes were sharp, so sharp that it impelled people to bow their head to avert from such a gaze. But I didn’t bow my head after all. Facing that gaze, I answered frankly: “Yes.”

“You feel that the secret is worth hiding and taking the blame for her?” Master asked again.

Was it worth it? I didn’t know. I knew that this secret would anger Master, even making her disappointed with Lian’er. It was my initial intention to keep the secret for Lian’er, but in the end, especially after the little wolf’s incident, I couldn’t tell if this hiding was for Master, Lian’er, or myself. 

“Yes.” No matter whom it was for, the answer could only be this. 

The room sank into silence again. I couldn’t help being worried as I thought this answer would have enraged the high-esteemed Master. But who knew, after waiting for a long moment, Master didn’t scold us, instead I heard her sigh and said: “If you feel that way, then I have no interest in knowing it.”

After saying that, she left for the stone chamber with a flick of her sleeve. I couldn’t respond in time. A second later, I straightened up and called in surprise: “Master.” She stopped, with her back facing us and her hands crossed behind: “I don’t need to know, but you’d still have to be punished for your disobedience.”

To my delight, I finally grasped the implication in her words that she had forgiven us. I answered, loud and clear: “Master, please punish me.”

Perhaps the delight in my voice was too obvious. Master threw a glare at me without saying a word before going into the stone chamber. Silence prevailed over words. I smiled awkwardly and remained kneeling on the ground, not daring to get up. I knew this was probably the punishment, at least for now.

The cave quieted down again, but it was no longer depressing, just sheer silence.

In the utter silence, the string that had been stretching in my head all day relaxed at last. Everything had passed. It wasn’t perfect, with many regrets, but it had still passed. 

After staying under the rain and not having anything for almost a day, I gradually drifted into a trance while kneeling with my cold, exhausted body.

On the brink of sleep, I suddenly felt something leaning against my back.

I was dazed but immediately recognized that it was the child’s head. 

She knelt behind me, head against my back. I felt her breathing through the slightest vibration, shallow but even. She fell asleep before me, and I was still awake instead, so I subconsciously kept my back straight to let her lean on more comfortably. 

I didn’t expect this tiniest move would wake her up. 

A mumbling mutter came from behind me. She stretched out her hand and patted on my back as a complaint. Perhaps she was quite comfortable leaning on me. She moved a little but didn’t leave, just turning to another side to lean on, and fell asleep again. 

But the soft, gentle breathing wasn’t as even as before, so I knew she was awake. 

Opening my mouth, I wanted to say something to her like “Are you tired?” or “Are you hungry?” 

“Sorry…” 

Instead, I blurted out this word, out of the blue. Even I myself was scratching my head when I said that, yet it felt like the right thing to say.

I couldn’t see her expression. Maybe because she was sleepy, her voice when answering me was soft with a hint of indolence. “You sure are weird.” She added: “It’s me who dragged you out today. Why are you saying sorry to me now instead?”

“Not this.” Feeling the warmth on my back, I pressed my lips together and continued: “I mean…the thing with the pup. Sorry.”

Initially, she came to me for him in a rage, but after I had started treating him, no one had mentioned this again, until today’s…loss.”

At first, I didn’t think I had done anything wrong on this, not until now. Reasonably speaking, I still didn’t think I had done anything wrong—it was all sorts of factual reasons adding up that caused this injury. The reasons I saved him were, on the one hand, to appease Lian’er who was raging at that time, on the other, I pitied him being so small and young. 

But the fact was, the trap I set had indeed injured him. I hurt him yet couldn’t cure him, letting him suffer for nearly a month and watching him die.

I had given Lian’er hope, but I had also failed her in the end. 

She should have hated me to death with her usual black-or-white attitude towards love and hate. But until now, she hadn’t mentioned anything and was even willing to sleep on my back. 

So, let me be the one who gets it out, I thought. I would have to face it one way or the other. 

However, I heard her laugh. 

There was a time I thought Lian’er didn’t like to laugh and only liked to act haughty in front of me with her chin up. Only recently, when we started to get along, did I realize she would smile quite often. She would smile mildly when she was happy, smile scornfully when she wasn’t happy; she would smile even when she was extremely angry. It didn’t matter if she threw a tantrum. 

I couldn’t see her smile at the moment, nor could I tell her emotions with her laughter alone. I could only keep my back straight and wait. 

In the swaying shadow of the lamp oil, I could hear the child on my back whispering: “He didn’t hate you, so I don’t hate you either. You cried today. I saw it.”

This answer had lifted off something in my heart. 

I couldn’t believe I actually cared so much about it. And now, because of her words, my mood was brisker than when I got Master’s forgiveness as if only this was what truly put my heart at ease, even my whole body loosened up.

Wait…this was…

Holding my head, I felt lighter and lighter, a floating sensation that I shouldn’t have even when I was relaxed. Contrarily, my consciousness was sinking. I couldn’t even lift my eyelids, only feeling tired and sleepy. 

This drowsiness flooded in too fast and fierce. I couldn’t resist it and could only give in. 

The last thing I saw before losing my consciousness was the child holding me up. Her eyes glinted with the candlelight were flashing with shock and bewilderment. 

I wanted to comfort her, saying it was all right, but I couldn’t.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 13

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 13

Futile

Running in the rain, Lian’er said nothing, just clasping my hand in hers, and hurried on at full speed while watching the road ahead with her lips pursed.

Thanks to the practice before, I managed to keep up with her speed. 

I wanted to ask something, but I would choke on rainwater whenever I opened my mouth. Besides, I actually knew where we were heading without asking. For nearly a month, we would make a trip in this direction every day. 

With unease in my heart, I only hoped that the worst wouldn’t happen. 

However…

Wiping off the rain on my face, I looked at the scene before me while panting—the pack was crammed in the concave area below the cliff, taking shelter from the rain. Perhaps they had grown used to it and also came to understand something over the past month. Therefore, when they saw us, especially me, they stepped aside one by one on their own accord, revealing the mother wolf and her son who were huddling inside and leaning on the mountain wall. 

The wolf pup’s condition was terrible. Anyone who didn’t understand what it meant could see it at first sight.

I hurried over in a few steps, oblivious of being wet, and reached out my hand to gently peel off the soaked bandage on his wound. However, the moment I touched his body, I realized he was shivering as if suffering from malaria, his little limbs were shaking, and his temperature was lower than usual. The mother wolf was constantly licking him, seemed to be comforting him, but to no avail. 

The herbs that I had applied four days ago had all dried out and changed color. And now, after having been soaked by the rain, it had turned mud-like and was smudged around the wound. I tore off a corner of my clothes, squeezed out the excess water, and carefully wiped that area clean, finally exposing the wound that had somewhat turned white. There were some signs of inflammation around the wound, but they were not severe; the wound had even healed a little. 

From the surface, I couldn’t see any abnormalities, but his condition was indeed not good.

Could it be…a thought flashed across my mind, but I did not want to believe it. With my mind made up, I held the wolf pup in my arms, carefully covering him with my coat, and then rushed out. 

However, right when I was entering the rain, not two steps down, a hand grasped my sash.

“Where’re you going?” The child looked straight at me. 

I was a little flustered because of the conjecture I had in mind, and for a moment, I forgot that someone was silently standing behind me all the time. Turning back to look at her at this moment, I found that her eyes were calm, and she seemed to be more collected than I was. 

“Take him to the village down the hill. People over there usually rear livestock. Maybe they know how to treat him better.” I did not want to make it sound too grave, so I just told her what I would do at the moment. But who knew, after hearing it, she said nothing. After a while, she still hadn’t let go of the sash. Instead, she asked: “Why didn’t you do this earlier?”

I remained silent until she repeated the question, only then I responded hesitantly and ambiguously: “Commoners, especially those in the mountain village,…err…dislike wolves…”

It was actually more than disliking. The beasts in the mountains had taken who knew how many lives that depended on the mountains. The hatred had accumulated year after year, generations over generations. The mountain men prided themselves for the capability to kill beasts. Anyone who could kill a tiger or a wolf would be a hero in others’ eyes. It was almost impossible to expect them to save a wolf pup. 

But there was really no other way.  

We looked at each other, and no one said anything. Perhaps she saw something from my eyes. She bit her lips and let go of her hand at last, but she turned to hug the wolf pup in my hands and smiled coldly: “They hate us, then we don’t go begging them. A wolf is a wolf, not a dog.”

I was not sure if it was a coincidence. The wolf pup gave a few whimpers, seemingly in response, and was struggling to shove himself into her arms. 

The rain still kept falling, fine trickles of rain intertwined. The mountains were as if shrouded in a smog-like veil. I stood within the veil watching silently—watching the child holding the little life in her arms, walking step by step to the mother wolf without looking back, and sat down. She let his head lean against his mother’s neck comfortably, and his body curled in her hands, stroking him over and over again, saying something over and over again. She kept saying until that little life gradually stopped trembling in her hands. 

The mother wolf let out a low wailing cry, which resounded like ripples, spreading out little by little among the wolf pack, and finally, it started resonating in all directions.

Amidst the low resonating cry, she got closer to rub his little nose for one last time, and then she put down the body that was still soft, came to me, and said: “Let’s go home.”

Maybe because I had stayed in the rain for too long, my limbs were stiff. I was soaked, but my throat felt bone dry. It took me a while to get back my voice. 

“That…” When I lowered my head, even my neck gave out a choppy creaking sound: “That’s it?”

She looked at me as if she did not understand what I meant. 

Taking two deep breaths, the moist and cold air entered my body and finally woke up my usual self. I turned around looking at her and asked: “That’s it? Shouldn’t we…bury him properly?”

“Bury?” She tilted her head, eyes full of questions as if it was a foreign word. She only reacted after a while and replied: “Is it to bury in the ground? But why do we have to bury him? The weather is awful these days. The carcass is still useful for everyone.”

I stared at her as if I had never known her. A biting chill ran up from my feet, spreading through my limbs and bones along the spine. I could not believe the meaning I got from it. I felt that there must be some mistake. Yet my brain had clearly discerned the implication.

I wanted to talk and explain to her, but at that moment, my feelings dominated my body. Like she had done before, I walked to the mother wolf in silence, bent over, and took the pup’s little body. After a moment of thought, I peeled off the bandage on his leg together with the fixed splints. I thought once I peeled it off, his leg would crook to a side like when I first saw it, but it did not. 

How sad. I smiled in silence. The leg bone was trying hard to recover, but its owner could not make it. 

Holding the body, I walked out of the wolf pack step by step. No wolf was stopping me, including the mother wolf, who lost her child. Maybe they were just used to it.  

The child did not stop me either. I knew she was following behind me, but I did not know—and also did not want to know—what she was thinking. I just kept moving forward until I saw a lush tree in the distance. The tree was green and luxuriant, towering in the rain like an enormous umbrella, shielding off the drizzle. I walked to the tree, withdrew the short sword I carried about, and started digging. 

I felt a gaze on my back, but I did not turn around. All I wanted to do was dig the hole deeper, so deep that no wild animal could dig it out. Fortunately, the sword was a great one, and the damp ground was easy to dig. This task did not take me too long. Looking at the satisfactory depth, I took the little wolf over and had a last look. And then, I laid him into the hole, took a handful of dirt, and wanted to scatter over him. 

At this moment, someone grabbed my hand. 

“Why?” A familiar voice came right beside my ear: “What’s good about burying in the ground?”

Her voice sounded serious and puzzled. I did not look up at her, just answering softly: “He was just this small… At worst, I will hunt some prey for the wolf pack as compensation later…” But, this irritated the voice’s owner. She flung the hand I was holding the dirt and snapped: “I’m not asking about this. What’s the use of burying him in the ground like this and rotting away slowly?”

“Lian’er.” I sighed softly in my heart, put down the dirt in my hand, and turned back to her: “People do a lot of things, not just because they’re useful. If everything is measured according to its usefulness, then burial is useless, sorrow is useless, even…” I looked deeply into those bright eyes: “your tears are also useless.”

She was stunned when she heard that. She touched her face recklessly, looked at her palm, and replied: “I’m not crying.”

“You did.” I lowered my head and smiled gently: “When I first saw you, you were crying, leaning on a huge wolf’s carcass. Your face was full of tears. You didn’t cry this time, but don’t you feel sad in your heart?”

Her nose twitched a few times in silence.

“Come and look.” I pulled her over in a soft voice and showed her the little wolf in the hole: “He’ll sleep here. We’ll bury him, and he’ll rest here forever. If you miss him, you can come here to see him. You’re right. His flesh will disintegrate bit by bit, but the bones will still be here, still in a sleeping position, and his flesh will return to this land, and maybe next year, a flower will grow here, just like he has lived again, isn’t that nice?”

“It’s nice…but…” She looked lost: “Why do we want to do that?”

“Because we liked him and loved him. Naturally, we want him well and can’t stand seeing him suffer even after death.” I patiently guided her, but in return, more confusion appeared on her little face.

“I understand what’s like, but…what’s love?”

She asked, a pair of black eyes looking straight at me without blinking.

My heart thumped for no reason.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 12

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 12

All Kinds

The next day, at the crack of dawn, Lian’er dragged me into the mountain to find medicine.

Actually, she wanted to do so already when she woke up in the middle of the night. But, after listening to my resigned explanation that not everyone could see in the dark like her, she just squinted at me, scoffed a ‘dumb’ mumbly from her throat, and said nothing more. She did not insist either. It made me feel rather surprised. 

I felt it was not so much that our relationship grew substantially as she finally realized there was something she could not do by herself, but the other could. Thus, her unruly demeanor had imperceptibly subsided a lot. 

In this regard, she had always been a pretty simple child. Deference was deference; defiance was defiance, regardless.

On the contrary, I was not sure if I could live up to her expectations.

I soon found the herbs. As long as I sorted out their exact shapes and scents, they were all actually herbs that were commonly seen in the mountain’s depths. The wolf pup’s injury did not further worsen, although he was still listless. However, looking at him being such feeble while holding the herbal paste in my hand that was finally mixed and mashed, I was a little hesitant for a moment as I was not sure if it would work—both the remedy and dosage. I was even worried about what to do if I picked the wrong herbs. After thinking about it, I told her my misgivings truthfully, though I did not know why I would seek advice from this child.

“You’re weird.” As a result, she looked at me, and her eyes seemed to say that it was odd to have such concerns. “Because it has to be treated, that’s why we went looking for medicine, isn’t it?”

I broke into laughter.

I carefully unswathed the wolf pup’s bandage, not touching the fixed splints, gently applied the herbal medicine onto the wound from the gap, and wrapped the bandage again. Maybe it was merely because of the refreshing sensation of the fresh herbal paste, but seeing the pup nudged Lian’er’s hand affectionately and seemed to be feeling much better, I still felt comforted. 

Humans were like so; hunting other animals for food and survival on the one hand, but developing feelings for some animals around them on the other. I am afraid I would be told weird again if I let this thought of mine known to this child beside me who is cheering the wolf pup up.

In her eyes, maybe everything was normal and natural.

Life was, death was. 

In the days to come, although no one said anything, changes had still started to take place tacitly. Every day, we would go out and into the mountain together, then we would go to where the wolf pack was hand in hand. Lian’er was perfectly justifiable to hunt and feed them, whereas I went about in secret to collect herbs and treat the injury—of course, when I said in secret, I meant in front of Master. 

Actually, I had fear about this. After all, I was someone who seldom went out. Even if I went out, I would mostly stay near the cave entrance to practice my swordsmanship or do my tasks. I was easy to find. But now, I would disappear for two to four hours every day. Although Master often stayed in retreat, she would notice it, sooner or later, given some time. I had thought of teaching Lian’er to identify the herbs and let her do both things together. But on second thought, I still needed to go to the wolf pup to concoct the medicine and change the dressing anyway, so I just put that thought aside. 

A few days later, Master came out from her retreat, and she indeed asked about it over the dinner table. Before I could think of how to answer, someone unexpectedly interjected the conversation from aside.  

“She accompanies me to practice martial arts.” That child so interjected. Thinking about it, she shook her head again: “No, it’s me who accompanies her to practice martial arts. Her martial art skills suck.”

This had successfully made Master frown, and then she lectured her on respect for teachers. Seeing that she lowered her head and continued eating without uttering a word, she turned to me and asked me. The excuse I had prepared beforehand was totally useless now. I had to continue on with her story. Luckily, it was a near miss. I managed to forcibly mend the lie.

“That’s good too.” Master’s brows had yet to unfurl: “Your junior martial sister’s qinggong is indeed not bad. It’s good that you two compete and encourage each other, but remember, do not go too far, and more so do not pamper her too much.”

I nodded in agreement. It had me sweating inwardly, and my knowledge of that child had once again stepped up a level.

I could not say that Lian’er had done a disservice. Based on her character, these words must have been spontaneous. Her quick reaction was already beyond my expectation. I had never even thought she would take the trouble to speak for me. But from that day, I did have one more task, that was, to hone my qinggong for Master’s inspection in the future. 

Lian’er was very calm about this. She said if worse came to worse, she would just accompany me to practice. It was good to know that even though we were closer now, she was still quite proud of her martial art skills. Of course, this pride came from the fact, and I also did not mind. However, because of what Master had said earlier and also out of my own interest, I coaxed her to make a promise with me, that was, if I caught up to her once during this practice period, she had to politely call me senior martial sister from that time on.

After all, she was still a straightforward child, so she agreed without thinking and was not even aware she actually had nothing to gain. 

The next two weeks were even busier. It was hectic but contented. 

But one thing in my heart had been giving me a sense of faint uneasiness. This uneasiness had become more and more evident over time. It was not because of the qinggong challenge. Although I had not won in the past two weeks, my qinggong had improved a lot. Sometimes, I could come close to her in full force by using some tricks stealthily. For me, that was enough. It was also not because of prey sharing. Right after I had asked about the whole story, I had set the trap outside of the wolf pack’s home range, not interfering with each other. 

What disturbed me was the little pup’s injury.

His injury had not worsened, at least every time I cleaned the wound, I saw no sign of infection or suppuration. It had been nearly a month since the beginning. The regeneration ability of animals was supposed to be better than the average human. But somehow, the wound healed awfully slowly, even his spirit was low all the time. Regarding this, I was not sure whether Lian’er did not notice it or did not voice it out. Anyway, she said nothing. But I was uncertain and often worried about if the herbs I picked actually worked. 

What I had never thought was, soon, I could not use even these types of medicinal herbs on him.

Late summer should not have been the rain season in Mount Hua, but the rain had indeed been pattering for three days. 

The rain was not heavy, but it was not light either. Anyway, it was not the kind of rain people could walk through like it was nothing. Even so, it should not have affected me and Lian’er too much. We would do things that needed to be done even if it was raining or snowing, unless…Master was at the side. 

But it was just such a coincidence that she had just completed a phase of closed-door meditation, and these few days were the time for her to rest and recuperate. 

Therefore, in the face of the rain, which was not a big deal, the excuses we made before had become useless. Even the hunting that Lian’er had been doing all the while was also temporarily put on hold with an impassive remark from Master: “With such heavy rain, you don’t have to go out purposely. There are enough grains stored in the cave and also plenty of smoked meats. We won’t run out of food for a few days.”

For the first time in my life, I had regretted being too proactive that I kept too many reserves.

The days being grounded in disguise were tough, especially when you had something to worry about. Except for doing the chores, meditating, and circulating qi every day, I was looking at the trees in the rain outside the cave, dazing, hoping that the sky would clear up the next day. The situation of Lian’er was much worse. Although she kept herself quite in check in front of Master, she could not even calm herself down when meditating, and there was a hint of rage in her eyes. 

In this way, the days continued until the fourth day. At last, that child could no longer hold in and had gone missing early in the morning. 

Yellow Dragon cave was just so big of a place. I could not hide it for her even if I wanted to. Master soon found out that she was gone. She could not get any answer out of me, so naturally, she flushed up with anger, sat down facing at the cave entrance with a straight face and fell silent. I stood at the side with hands hanging by the sides of my body, knowing that things were going to be bad. I quietly took two steps nearer to the cave entrance in the hope that when Lian’er came back, she could look at my eyes first and make up a good excuse. 

We stayed like this for a long time. The rain outside was getting heavier, and there was even thunder in the distance. 

I got really anxious from waiting, and when I was about to implore Master to let me look for her, the cave entrance suddenly turned dark, and a little, dripping wet figure flashed in. 

She was drenched and wretched, even her hair was dripping water, and her face was a little paler than usual. She came into the cave as if she did not see the master nearby, rushing straight to me, and grabbed my hand.

“Follow me!” She said, her eyes filled with anxiety, her fingertips were ice cold. 

“Xian’er!” A grating roar came from behind me. She did not call Lian’er, but me; her meaning went without saying.

For a moment, I was caught in a dilemma. But, the cold on my hand was too piercing, it did not allow me to hesitate. I turned around decisively, cupped my fists, and bowed deeply to Master: “There is no time to explain now. I’ll make a trip. I hope Master can trust me and also Lian’er!”

After finishing my sentence, I could not think about anything else. I turned around and rushed into the hazy rain hand in hand with the child.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 11

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 11

A Day

Only when I saw the wolf did I understand why Lian’er became so exasperated.

That was a young pup, nestled in its mother’s chest under the shade of a tree at the moment, wailing sporadically with its hind leg crooked. It was apparently broken from the middle. I could even faintly see bits of shattered bones in its bloody wound. 

Actually, the figure four deadfall trap was just a very simple mechanism. Its power could vary, and the key lay in the weight above the bait. I did not want to encounter fierce animals going all out, so I always set the rock low and heavy, hoping to avoid large animals, and at the same time, capture small prey in one strike. Who knew it would accidentally hit a wolf pup. 

In fact, even if it accidentally hit the wolf pup, he should not have been hurt so badly. I figured it was the mother wolf who tried to save her child in a moment of desperation and did something blindly, causing further injury to her child, hence this present situation. 

Though I thought so, I could not really explain it to her. Could I unabashedly blame it on animals?

There was already an outburst of commotion when the wolf pack saw a stranger stepping in their territory. It was Lian’er who took my hand and assumed a prevailing demeanor, continuously fending off the beasts that were coveting a chance to strike as she was leading the way and brought me to the mother and son pair. 

At the moment, I was checking the pup’s injury, and she was squatting aside, calming the anxious mother wolf down. Occasionally, she would take a few glimpses at me. A look of mistrust was on her face with anger in her eyes too. But what’s more, was the eager expectation on her face. 

I was accustomed to her being condescending with her cheek puffed, and now basking in her eyes full of high hopes, I felt a little uncomfortable. I cleared my throat before looking up to face her gaze: “He was indeed badly injured…” Before I finished my words, I saw her eyes dimmed down, and her nose puckered. My body stiffened; I quickly made a stop gesture: “Stop! Listen—he was indeed badly injured, but he can still be treated. Although it will take some time, and the pup may not completely heal, it should be no problem for him to jump and run in the future if everything goes well.”

I explained myself in one breath; I thought those words “may not completely heal” would definitely displease her, but who knew I would see a frank…smile. 

“That’s great.” It was not for me. She looked at the wolf pup, stretched out her hand, and stroked him. Her eyes were filled with genuine happiness: “You can live now. You don’t have to die.” 

I had never seen such a gentle expression on her face before. I froze for a moment, and after coming back to my mind, I vaguely felt that this sentence did not sound quite right, so I explained: “Even if it’s left untreated, this wound won’t necessarily kill him.”

“It will.” Without even raising her head, she kept on stroking the wolf pup: “If he lives like this, I’ll take his life.”

In the next hour, I found a bamboo culm of the right thickness nearby and split it in half, then carefully burnished it into splints and asked her to hold down the wolf pup. With my teeth gritted and a pull and push, I repositioned the dislocated bone back to its place. Lastly, I secured the splints and wrapped it up. The whole process was simple, but when I actually did it, I was sweating like hell. In contrast, she looked as usual; she even tapped the pup’s head twice as a punishment when he was struggling and not cooperating. 

After tossing about by us, although the pup’s wound was treated properly, he became more and more feeble and huddled up to his mother, losing even the strength to whine. She stayed by their side, looking at them without blinking. I also did not want to rush her, just sitting in a nearby corner to rest. 

She looked at the wolf, and I looked at her. In my brain, I always tried to connect what she said earlier with the scene before me. 

All this time, I had been looking at her and observing her like this. Maybe because I had brought her back myself, and Master was not a caring person in life, so I always had a special sense of responsibility for her.

I thought I was observant enough and knew her enough. But only at that moment, I realized I did not truly know many things about the child, just as I did not know she would throw the “kill“ word at me, just as I did not think she would throw the “kill“ word at the pup. If to me, it could be explained as our relationship was not deep enough. Then, to this pup, her eyes would grow teary for him; she would be filled with hope because of him; she would give him a gentle smile. However, when she said she would take his life, she was still so calm and resolute.

Initially, I interpreted it as the wolf’s nature in nature, but now I felt that it might not be a wolf’s nature, but her true…nature. 

Wolf’s nature can be removed, but true nature…

Unconsciously, I had already sunk deep in thoughts. Right at this moment, a string of shouts snapped me out of it. 

“Hey, hey, you! Why are you zoning out? Come over here!” Over there, the little human was lying beside the little wolf. Her hands were still stroking him, but her eyes were staring at my direction. Anxiety was all over her face: “Come and have a look. He looks weird.”

I hurried over in a few steps and took the pup from her hands that were holding him up. His head was hanging, and his ears were slouching, looking like he was gasping for air, dying.

“What’s wrong with it? Haven’t you already treated the wound?” She clenched her little fist. Her voice carried a questioning tone, but it was devoid of mistrust she had earlier. Presumably, the treatment gave her confidence in me. 

However, I was not a veterinarian, not even a doctor. I knew some virtues of medicinal herbs because I was born in a family living in the mountain. As for first-aid and wound dressing, it was because I used to be a backpacker. So, I was a little nervous too, when being asked now. I examined the injury again to make sure there was no mistake, then calmed down and thought it out. Within my knowledge, I had thought of two possibilities. 

“Maybe it was just too painful,” I answered honestly. “Another worse possibility is that the wound is infected.”

I did not know if the word “infect” was within this world’s lexicon. She would not understand anyway. She was only concerned about what to do. I felt rather helpless—If it was just pain, the pup could still endure it. But if it was infection…I only knew the most common herbs for dispelling cold and clearing heat.

But being stared at by such eyes, I really did not want to disappoint her. 

Or should I tell Master? She had wandered in jianghu. She should have some knowledge in treating wounds. But, it was not appropriate. Neither Lian’er or I was hurt. Even making a fresh wound now could not guarantee the result. If Master knew that we were rescuing a wild wolf, I could not imagine the consequences. 

Wait—Master.

An idea flashed across my mind. I suddenly remembered something, then I pulled the person beside me and ran back the way we came. She was caught off guard by me, staggering for two steps before withdrawing her eyes from the pup. 

“What’s the matter?” She asked, looking at me in confusion, but she did not turn violent and fight back. 

“Do you still remember the books Master brought back the other day?” I explained to her as we ran: “The ones that we use to read and write?”

In teaching us, Master had focused all her effort on martial arts, but she also felt that her disciples could not be illiterate. So, every time she went to replenish the supplies down the hill, she would always purchase two books as teaching materials. However, books were scarce goods in a rural small town. Only one or two books could be found from time to time, and the contents were diverse; they were even in different scripts. But Master did not care much. She would buy it for us to learn in our spare time whenever she came across one. For me, it was still all right, but Lian’er had a tough time studying them, so she had always held some grudges against them.

“What?” As expected, when I suddenly mentioned those books now, she looked alert, and her pace also slowed down a lot.  

I turned around and smiled at her, replying: “I remember there is a medical book among them. There should be a prescription for treating wounds.”

It was almost dusk when we returned to Yellow Dragon cave. Master did not come out from closed-door meditation today. It suited us just right. After rummaging through the boxes and chests, we actually dug out that thin medical book. Lian’er snatched it from my hand and flipped through it first, then she immediately passed the book back to me and stared at me intently.  

She did not say anything. Hope was written all over her eyes. 

Under that gaze, I opened the book and read a few lines carefully; I could not help but draw my brows together. 

The book was indeed a medical book, but it was just a local record. What was recorded inside was all kinds of jumbled remedies. Actually, it was great because the most common category in this kind of mixed remedies would include the commonly used prescriptions for treating wounds and relieving pain, removing toxin and putrefaction. It even recorded the benefits and shapes of herbs. But unfortunately, the terms, especially the jargon, were hard to understand. The herb drawings were scratchy. To locate the herbs with these drawings was near to impossible. 

For the sake of today’s plan, I could only first tough it out and make out how the herbs look like from the obscure descriptions.

I was holding the book, interpreting it word by word, trying to translate it into sentences with my poor basic knowledge. My mind was consistently jumping from Chinese medicine to western medicine, classical Chinese to vernacular Chinese. For a moment, I felt my head had been blown up to a few times bigger. 

The light around me was slowly dimming down. Until I could no longer see the words in the book clearly, I put down the book and rubbed my sore eyes. I was going to light the lamp, but suddenly, I saw Lian’er was holding an oil lamp in her hands at the corridor’s end, carefully walking over. 

I thought I had read too much, overstraining my eyes, so I rubbed my eyes again, but what I saw was still there.

It was really odd. In the past, when it was dark, I would light the lamp, and Master would light the lamp, but I had never seen this child lighting the lamp. First, she was a little afraid of the fire all the while. Second, her eyesight was so good that she could see in the dark and never needed the light at all. 

But now, she had clearly brought a lamp over and even placed it on the table. Sensing my gaze, she curled her lips down: “You, quick, read!” Then, she just stared at the oil lamp and ignored me. 

I grinned, wanted to tease her but felt that it was not the right time and also afraid that the things I had in mind would go away, so I went on grinding away as she said. 

By the time I managed to put the book’s words into my own understanding and visualize this understanding into images in my brain, linking them with those plants in the mountains, it was already late at night. I lifted my head and expelled a long breath. Then I found that she was lying on the table. Her long lashes were quivering under the shadows. She had fallen asleep watching the lamp. 

It suddenly occurred to me that on this day, we seemed to know each other better and get closer to each other than the past few years. 

Maybe, for she and I, this was the beginning of a real relationship.

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 10

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 10

Bite

I had no idea what an actual martial sister relationship should be like in this world. Following Master over the years, I had never, not before or after settling down, come in contact with a real member of the martial arts community. 

When recalling those stories I had read, the existence of a so-called senior martial sister was either overbearing or dignified, if not, she would get along with other martial siblings like her own siblings.

I would also like to emulate that kind of existence if possible, but I had not had the chance. 

Since Lian’er started learning how to talk, the first word she said was mama, the second word was master, and the third word was you. When she finally learned to say the word senior sister, she soon understood the meaning of this title, especially the implication of being above her. From then on, she stopped using it and resumed her usual way of addressing with “you.”

I always reciprocated her unique sense of pride with understanding. Even if I was being singled out, I did not feel too bothered and just let her be. 

However, when I heard the teeth-gnashing “I’ll kill you” under the gaze of those malicious eyes, I admitted my heart shook for a moment.

Closed my eyes, I told myself. Like many times before, this was just an expression of her violence out of spite. Besides, in Lian’er’s thinking, killing, and life and death were not as heavy as they were in ordinary people’s eyes. It was the law of nature she learned earlier than language; it had always been as simple and as usual as drinking and eating.

Yes, rationally, I could understand. 

But still my heart sank instantaneously the moment that sentence blurted out from between her teeth. 

During these few years after bringing her back, Master had undoubtedly devoted a great deal of effort to her, but the effort I put in was not necessarily lesser. Especially on trivial matters such as food and clothing. I spent even more energy than Master on these, yet I got such words in return. She might feel nothing, but I could not help feeling upset the moment I heard it. 

Hence that night, I said nothing to her after that sentence. I only gave her an intense look in silence and turned to leave.

When I left, I was even mentally prepared for her to assault me, but fortunately, at last, she did not. 

I wondered if she saw anything from that gaze. 

However, even though the feelings in my heart were inexpressible, ultimately, I still kept my lips sealed in front of Master and helped her to keep this—in fact, harmless—secret.

Anyway, Master had been getting busier recently, so she also would not notice any time soon.

It was just that because of this matter, both of us were gradually drifting apart from each other. 

Strictly speaking, it was not so much the both of us as only me from her one-sidedly—she still spoke to me bluntly like always. Seeing that I did not reveal anything to Master this time, she just went on as usual. Occasionally, she took a few looks at me—I also did not know what it meant—and then turned back to continue doing her own thing. 

Despite her young age, she was indeed busy, busy practicing martial arts, and learning how to read, all of which were arranged by Master. She would check on them now and then; she had never neglected them. And also, busy hunting; this was a little…as if she was sure that it would be no problem if I did not say it. She seemed like she was not going to learn a lesson at all. Most of the time, she still took only a little of her kills back. The rest, needless to say, were fed to her “distant relatives.”

If we had not had that conversation, I could still remind her it was inappropriate to do so. But now, we did not talk, and it happened that I was responsible for the cooking. She probably had not learned the proverb- even a capable housewife cannot cook a meal without rice, yet she had already unintentionally used this proverb to make things difficult for me. 

Out of desperation, I had to think of a way myself. Fortunately, I had not forgotten those trap techniques I learned to fill my stomach when I was in the hunter’s house. Now when I set up the traps again, I could get some kills from time to time, so Master did not notice anything wrong during the meal.

Why did I have to cover it up  for the child while I was angry with her?

Every time I thought about this, I could only sigh—I was born to toil. 

Like this, we had been living in peace for a short period. Except for conflicting with myself, everything else remained the same, at least on the surface.

The sky was clear on this day. I had taken a wooden bucket to the nearest stream to wash our clothes. From afar, I saw a familiar little figure scurrying toward the direction of the cave and disappeared in a flash. 

Sigh…her qinggong is becoming more and more consummate. My thoughts drifted aimlessly. I lowered my head, scrubbing hard, and her clothes happened to be in my hands.

Even though I was angry, unless it was something serious, I was a person who could hardly hold on to it for long. After these days, my anger had subsided. It was meaningless to distance her. First, she did not care. Second, I was an adult on the inside, yet I was angry with such a child. It was ridiculous when I thought about it. 

Besides, I later recalled her vehement reaction at that time—is it because she remembered the incident when Master slaughtered the wolves? If so, I should understand her for her thoughtless words. 

This way, it was better to make up with her. Although she did not care, it was different to me.

I washed the last clothes, wrung all of them, and put them back in the bucket one by one. I flung my hands and stood up, ready to return to Yellow Dragon cave and talked to the child. Looking up, I saw the figure earlier rushing over here from the direction of the cave. 

“Lian’er—” I called out from a distance. I had not called her name for several days. I missed it quite a bit. 

When she heard my voice, she sped up. It was nothing seeing from a distance before, but when she came closer, I noticed something was wrong with her.

As she got even closer, I saw it clearly—why did she look exasperated and menacing?

Where did I cross her again? Before I could figure it out, she was already in front of me. Her face was rosy because of running too fast, and her hair was also a mess. At first, I unconsciously wanted to reach out my hand to smooth it out for her, but seeing her expression, I stopped wisely. 

“What’s the matter?” I could only ask. 

She looked straight into my eyes, not answering. I did not know whether she was exhausted or something. She was gasping, her chest heaving violently, even the rim of her eyes turning red. She flung the thing in her hand on the ground and asked with a croaky voice: “Yours?”

I looked at her and squatted down, then I noticed that it was an item made of woods and cow tendons, Taking a closer look, it was a component I used to make a figure four deadfall trap, but now it was damaged and somehow stained with blood.

My heart tensed after seeing it. I quickly raised my head: “I made it. Did it hurt you? Where did it hurt?” While saying that, I wanted to get up and examine her, but I immediately noticed that when she heard what I said, the redness around her eyes suddenly deepened. Clutching her fists, she let out a dismal hiss from her throat like a young beast and jumped on me at once.

I was in a squatting position, could not dodge in time, so she caught me head-on. The momentum was too strong. The two of us fell into the stream in an instant while wrestling together. 

The moment she knocked me down, my heart trembled, feeling that things were about to go south. 

I did not know why she suddenly came at me. I only knew that if she genuinely wanted to give me a hard time now, I was doomed.

We rolled in the water a few times. She had the upper hand; she sprang over and pressed me down into the stream, followed by a burst of blows and kicks. For a moment, water was splashing everywhere. I suffered a few hits to my body and arms, but surprisingly, they did not hurt much. 

Startled, I stopped floundering and scanned her, who was now on me. Although her face was flushed, seemingly furious, she clearly did not use internal energy while swinging punches and kicks. Not only that, but even her way of hitting was also haphazard. It was not so much an assault as a child venting out her anger. 

I was worried, but I did not say much to her. It did not hurt much anyway, so I just let her beat me and took advantage of the situation to check her body from head to toe. I did not find any wounds. 

I was worried about her, but she seemed to think the beating was not enough to quench her anger. After squirming for a while and some thinking, she pulled my arm toward her mouth. I was frightened, thinking, are you going to bite me again? I quickly stretched the other hand to grip her cheeks.

With her cheeks squeezed and her mouth pouted, she could not bite. She probably felt that she had made too much of a fuss, so she stopped struggling, looking at me while panting, her eyes still tinted with anger.

Maintaining this posture, I shook my head, shaking off the wet hair on my forehead, and said: “I made the trap because you always share the kills. I have to do it, do you understand?”

Silence.

“Did the trap hurt you?”

More silence.

“Did it hurt your…wolves?”

Finally, she struggled. Her eyes were getting more and more furious. 

Okay, bingo. 

“That trap of mine won’t kill them. You came to me for their injuries. Then I’ll treat them. That’s it. Why do you throw a fit like this!” Soaking in the cold water, I was really mad. 

Yet, I saw her pouting, eyes full of distrust.

“You know how to treat?”

I really wanted to bite her too. 


Translator’s note:
This chapter is later than usual. Sorry for leaving you hanging(*>人<)Hope you enjoy this chapter!

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 9

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 9

Beasts

The dense woods were unusually dark. All the trees turned into streaks of dark shadow. Only one or two rays of dim light seeped through the gap between the trees. Instead of setting my mind at ease, it made the atmosphere ineffably gloomy.

Humans were such strange creatures. If there was light, we could be courageous even in the wild; if there was no light, we could be scared even at home. 

I was just an ordinary person, not even tall enough to have a higher viewpoint. It was only human nature to be a little nervous standing unarmed in the dark and windy woods now. 

I took a deep breath and told myself to calm down. Anyhow, this was still a martial-arts-trained body. Even though I had little talent in martial arts, I had been practicing it for years. How could I be less fearless than the last time I explored the wolf’s den alone?

Besides, there should be no danger in these woods. 

It proved that there were things I should not think of. The moment I had that thought, a crisp sound of dried branches breaking came from the dark. I looked back in shock, panicking, wondering if the child was doubling back?

It turned out that it was the kid’s distant relatives.

I heard a low howl coming from beside, and pairs of dreadful flickering gleams lit up in the dark. It should be a terrifying scene. But for a moment, I was not sure whether I should be afraid, shocked, or sighed first, so it numbed my expression instead. Controlling my heartbeat, I counted the pairs of gleams carefully, and there were over ten pairs of them! 

It was far from good. 

When I first arrived at Mount Hua, I used to run around a lot during that time to familiarize myself with the mountain terrain. Later, when I found out the areas where there were fresh fruits and mountain springs, I only traveled between these few spots, rarely going to other areas. I had never been to these woods where I was tonight, and now, I had been surrounded in the dark; it was really…

Suddenly, a hunch hit me; I concentrated and observed. I noticed that although the pairs of gleams were flickering almost everywhere, only the northwest corner seemed to be quiet. 

An oversight? Or limited by the pack’s intellect? Or…

I could not bother about that now. Although I was murmuring to myself, I quietly took a few deep breaths and swerved. Lifted a breath of qi, I dashed off to the northwest while the pack was still slowly gathering before starting to move.

Trees were receding fast beside me, the wind whistling by my ear, beasts bellowing behind me, and the short and rapid rattles mingled among them—that was the sound of feet trotting. 

I did not have to look back to know how aggressive that pack of wolves was chasing me. 

The dark, dense woods were their playground; I was well aware that running like a headless chicken would not last me long. I had wasted a lot of energy to keep up with Lian’er when tailing her. And before I could catch my breath, I was being chased by the wolves. I could still keep up with this speed, but it would not be long before the breath of qi I lifted got disrupted. 

Or should I stop and put up a good fight? But—that was not a good idea. A face-to-face confrontation would end up injuring both sides, and that was the most foolish thing to do. 

What should I do?

I continued moving forward with all my strength while thinking fast. But, before I could think of a way out, the road ahead suddenly opened up. 

Soon, there were no more trees around me. Heading in the northwest’s direction had led me out of the woods by accident. 

There were no more obstacles before me after coming back to the vast field outside the woods, which was in my favor. Losing the cover of the trees, the threat that the pack posed had notably abated. More importantly, from now on, I knew which way was the right direction. I did not have to worry about wasting my energy like a headless chicken. 

In such a short time, the table had turned, and everything was great now. 

Too good that—something felt out of place.  

The joy in my heart dissipated. I thought for a moment, frowning. Instead of running far away, I gradually slowed down my speed, and eventually, came to a halt. 

As I stopped, the pack behind me caught up to me, orderly spreading out in the grass, slowly forming a fan-shaped net encompassing me. All of them were eyeing me in the dark, hissing. 

But it was odd. 

They were threatening to attack, but the attack still had not occurred after I had calmed my breath.  

I stared at them warily. At last, I took a deep breath and called out sonorously. 

“Lian’er!”

My voice was not loud, but it was imbued with qi. It sounded crystal clear in the field. 

“Lian’er, come out! I know it’s you.”

As I expected—how would there be such a coincidence. The wolf pack appeared as soon as she disappeared in the woods. And that one opening among the wolf pack so happened to be the direction out of the woods. Look at them now, restless yet still had not attacked, they were obviously waiting for a command. Finally, after associating with the child’s unique background, it would be a wonder if I still could not figure out what had happened.

I was almost sure of my judgment, but nothing moved in the dark.

That little brat still dared pretend.

Smiling faintly, I steadily lifted my hands, turning my palms into claws—it was a set of more deadly hand techniques that Master had taught me. I could only wield it to a certain extent of its power, but it was excellent against animals. 

“If you don’t come out now, I don’t care what will happen next. Or do you think I won’t do anything up to this point?”

That was the most annoying thing. At some point, this little brat had picked up my trouble-avoiding personality. If not, why would she send the wolves to drive me away only to keep her little secret without worrying I might hurt the wolves?

Undeniably, this little brat, who had been out of the wolf’s den for just a few years, almost tricked me. Though I looked solemn now, I found it both amusing and irritating thinking about it. This child always made me wonder whether to cry or laugh.  

Perhaps she realized that she could not hide from me anymore. A rustling sound came from the grass, and then a small figure emerged from the dark.

The wolf pack made an uproar at the sight of her appearance, one that of intense excitement as if the chief had arrived. A few of them let out low growls. I was a little anxious upon seeing that. Just as I took a step forward, about to say something, two wolves could no longer hold back anymore, pouncing over from behind like an arrow that left its string.

Before I could see them coming, the color of her face changed. Then she moved; she was faster than the adult wolves. In a blink of an eye, she was standing before me, showing a ferocious expression at the two wolves. As if hitting something invisible, the two wolves fell to the ground from mid-air and ran away, whimpering, with their tails between their legs. 

At first, I wanted to put on a straight face and scold her, but after seeing this act of hers, my heart had softened a bit. 

“So, this is your secret?” I asked softly, pointing to the wolf pack. 

I did not scold her, yet she turned around and glared at me after fending off the two wolves. At first, she exasperatedly wanted to say something, opening her mouth, biting her lips, moving her eyes around, looking as if she had something in mind.  

The little look of her premeditating something was too apparent. I could not help chuckling. 

She did not notice me, just going about musing over there, and finally, she nodded as if she had made a decision. Then she looked over, lively and spirited, pointed at my nose, and said: “You followed me. It’s your fault. Now you see my secret, so you have to listen to me!”

I grinned and asked in reply: “Then what should I do?”

“If you listen to me, join us and be one of us.” She waved her hand and gestured across the wolf pack, seemingly with some king’s demeanor. 

“I’m the best. You stay by my side. If you listen to me, they’ll all listen to you.” After thinking for a while, she added: “Of course, you can also challenge me, but you can’t beat me.”

I was speechless for a while after hearing her words. I still wanted to tease her, but eventually, I shook my head.  

“I’m your senior martial sister.” I said that to her: “Do you understand what a senior martial sister means?”

“What’s the big deal with a senior martial sister? Whoever has the better ability has the say!” She responded while stamping her foot. She was a little mad now as it seemed like she did not expect me to refuse her offer.

I sighed, thinking I was right. All this time, she was behaving quite well in front of Master. It had convinced Master that the child was reborn. But, what she did not know was although she knew a lot better than before—able to speak and run, and looked no different from an ordinary person—her wolf’s nature still exists, even affecting the way she treats others. 

Master always had high self-esteem. If she knew the truth, she would be disappointed. 

At the thought of it, my heart felt a little heavy. I was no longer in the mood to play along with her. The smile on my face vanished. I looked at her with a stern face: “Lian’er, stop messing around. I know you have some history with them and also feel attached to them. But, if you continue behaving like this, do you know what will happen if Master notices it?”

The reason I said this was to let her understand Master’s feelings. But who knew, as soon as these words came out of my mouth, her expression changed. 

“Are you going to tell Master?” She was not good at hiding her emotions in the first place, and now, it was even clear. She panicked and gritted her teeth: “If you dare tell Master, I will, I will…”

I did not expect her to have such a huge reaction, so I was dazed. While pondering, words unconsciously came out of my mouth: “will what?”

Her eyes were simmering with anger: “I’ll kill you!” 

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 8

The Witch Nichang- Chapter 8

Human

Master once said: “Xian’er, you’re smart, but you always like to overthink, burdened by your own thoughts. Perhaps this is a flaw of worrying too much that you were born with.” 

It was more of a tease when she said that, but she hit the mark without intention. 

I still had some self-consciousness. Hence, I couldn’t refute that. I could only tell myself that it was all right to overthink, but just don’t be indecisive and be absorbed in insoluble or trivial problems.

These tangled feelings came in fast, but also faded away quickly. 

If there was no solution for the time being, just leave it for now.  

Besides, that night, because of her supposedly waiting and response, regardless of whether it was a coincidence, I vaguely came to realize she, Lian’er, compared to the legendary lady in the well-known story, was indeed a living being with flesh and blood. A child who was abandoned by her father, raised by a female wolf, and later, happened to be brought back from the wolf’s den by me and Master and fostered to this day. 

I had seen all her emotions- joy, anger, sorrow, and happiness, and seen her changes little by little. How could I doubt her existence, and in turn, question the reality of this entire world and myself simply because of a name?

Thinking about it this way, I felt relieved. 

The days went on as usual, plain and simple. Everything was going like how it was supposed to be. Master saw I was gradually coming back to normal. Perhaps she thought I had finally adjusted myself, so she asked no more questions. But she seemed gratified. 

However, in the days to come, I had unknowingly developed a new habit. 

It didn’t matter whether I was reminded or still dwelled on the thought. Later, when I was alone in my spare time, I couldn’t help but try to think and recall—recall the story of that legendary lady, although the result of such attempts was often in vain. 

I used to travel around. Every time during a long, tiring drive, I liked to read something to pass my time. I had read books of varied topics and many classic stories from the collection of Jin Yong’s wuxia novels, going with the crowd, and also many passages about Gu Long’s Sentimental Swordsman and Chu Liuxiang, the gallant bandit chief. Unfortunately, even with all these, all I could remember was just bits and pieces when I thought back now. As for the most pivotal masterpiece, I couldn’t even remember if I’d read it after thinking about it. 

So, no matter how hard I tried to recall, the images that flashed through my mind the most were various scenes from different versions of the story. That said, the appearance of the lady, however, was still fresh in my mind, keeping her graceful look; except, every detail of the story had become a passing memory, putting me in an awkward situation. 

Often at this moment, I couldn’t help but want to cover my face and sigh—only if God would give me one more chance.  

“Hey, you! Trance out again! Made me look for you long time. Master call!”

A yell abruptly came from behind. Though the sentences were incomplete and unclear, they still sounded prideful. 

Well—if God gave me another chance, I wouldn’t have been so dumb to choose this path. Thought of this, I smiled as I shook my head, got up, and brushed away the dust on my shirt. When I turned around, in front of me was a seemingly solemn little face. 

Maybe this was one of the reasons I felt relieved.

For no matter how I looked at her, I could never associate this little face with the stunning, domineering, legendary lady who shared the same name as her. Okay, regarding the stunning appearance, it might be possible for her to match in the future. But for now, adorable was the only word to describe her. As for the domineering demeanor, she had possessed it since young, but unfortunately, it was used only against me.  

I stepped forward, wanted to take her hand, and walk together. But, before I could reach out my hand, I received a glare from her. Then, she ran off and disappeared as soon as she turned around. 

In that instant, I missed the wolf pup that hadn’t learned qinggong and still couldn’t run on two legs. 

Since she started speaking, she seemed to grow up in no time. In less than a year, she could communicate fluently, and her way of thinking and expression looked more like a normal human being. 

After that, Master began to teach her some basic mental cultivation methods of her martial art as a foundation. In this regard, I had to say she deserved the painstaking efforts that Master invested in her. Her good comprehension and rapid progress had put me to shame. 

Before her, I had been practicing for over two years, but now it seemed like the day she would overtake me was close at hand. Occasionally, when I thought about it, I felt more or less disgruntled yet impotent. 

Of course, in contrast to my mixed feelings, Master was genuinely a lot happier. 

Or perhaps, she felt that she couldn’t let down such an exceptional talent. Therefore, she paid more and more attention to the set of swordsmanship that was being developed. So, aside from giving us guidance on our practices, she had returned to her previous meditation state, staying in all day long, spending even more time than before. Perhaps, she felt that Lian’er had already become a “human,” and nature would take its course for the rest. In recent days, she even entrusted the hunting to her with great assurance. 

As a result, this had inadvertently formed a situation in which she was responsible for everything outside the cave, and I took care of everything inside the cave. She was delighted about it and seemed to perceive herself as the head of the household, showing me more of her proud and lofty look with her cheek puffed. I wasn’t so bothered about this; her hunting ability was indeed above me. She might be even better than Master if only considered techniques. 

But, recently…

After dinner, Master, who seldom came out from her room, gave each of us a few words before returning to the stone chamber to meditate. I started a fire, preparing to clean up what she had brought back from the hunting in the daytime. But, when I walked towards the corner where the prey was usually stacked, I couldn’t help frowning at the sight of it.  

Only a half-dead pheasant was lying lonely and pitifully at that place, where it would usually have lots of prey piling up.

It was not the first time. It had been like this for several days now. 

I glanced at that bit of prey and turned back to peer at her. Expectedly, I noticed she was glancing at me at the same time from a distance. As soon as she saw me turning around, she immediately averted her eyes, trying to act as if nothing had happened.

I wanted to tell her, out of all the kids I’d seen, she was the worst at hiding her feelings.

Is there something going on? Now was the season of abundance; even if I were to go out hunting, the prey would certainly not be only this little, not to say her. Looking at her guilty expression, it was not so much a suspicion as a certainty.

So I kept an eye on her at night.

Master’s bed was in the innermost part of the stone chamber. Then there was a stone bed and a bench in the inner cave. Because the entrance of Yellow Dragon cave couldn’t be completely sealed, I would stay alert at night then, afraid that something might sneak in during the night. But ever since we had this child, I slept soundly instead as she was more sensitive to the surroundings than me. 

Tonight, however, I was vigilant, so I saw her sneaking out of the cave late at night. 

Why? Standing up, I was full of doubts.

With little time to hesitate, I put on my robe and boots and followed her immediately. 

The night ran deep, and the fog was thick. The air in the forest was humid, and the moonlight tonight was dull. It was a completely different environment, but somehow, it reminded me of that cold night when I first met the kid. 

The difference was I was trembling in fear with a touch in my hand at that time. And now I was holding my breath with empty hands. 

In front of me was a distant figure, moving fast. It was not an easy task to keep up with her pace. Not only because of her heightened alertness, but also because I nearly lost track of her several times in such a short distance. I didn’t bring any weapons. Not that I’d forgotten, but I subconsciously felt that there would be no danger. She might hide some little secret, but it would not be something sinister.

Perhaps I was too confident—confident that no matter how hard it would be, I could still keep up with her. 

Soon after, God punished me for my imprudence. I didn’t expect the child’s qinggong to be the one skill that had improved the most out of all her martial practices. I could still barely keep up with her speed on the field before, but those agile moves when she entered the dense woods were something I was incapable of doing now. 

Finally, in between the shadow of the trees, I lost her.

A moonless and windy night. 

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