I thought I’d see Ying appear in the courtyard when I woke up the next day, sweeping flower petals as always. However, I didn’t see her when I sat up. The entire shrine was quiet; it was so quiet it made me uneasy. The feeling was comparable to being the only person left in the world. I began to feel concerned for her. She said she could defeat the wyrm, but she never said she could slay it. To put it another way, they were evenly matched. There was a chance she’d fail. She hadn’t returned, so she might’ve failed. But, if they were evenly matched enemies, they shouldn’t be able to kill each other. For that reason, I reasoned Ying should still be alive…
I stood up and decided to go to the harbour to take a look. I suddenly recalled there was a sealed house at the harbour. Everybody around stared at me when I approached it, prohibiting me from approaching it.
“Would it happen to be where she rested afterwards?” I wondered.
I speculated Ying was similar to Ling Yue, in that she transforms when she had to fight, then needed to take refuge in that house to reduce her aggression before returning to the shrine. According to what the villagers stated, she, apparently, was the same as a demon when she fought. In other words, she might attack everybody in sight when she fought. I thought that was a reasonable way to explain why people avoided the house. I needed to go and take a look in any case.
I got dressed, and then left the shrine. The village below hadn’t changed at all. There was still smoke in the air, and it was as calm as before. Ying’s status on the frontlines was unknown, but the village showed no signs of concern. They could be hoping for her to die taking down the wyrm so that they can lead peaceful lives after. It angered, but at the same time, made me feel hopeless. I needed to find Ying.
Only when I reached the entrance to the village did I realise my assumption was wrong. The village did change. For instance, everybody wore tense and fearful expressions. There was a crowd of people at the harbour. I noticed the villagers were armed with farming tools or blades as they stood around, waiting for the enemy.
I was afraid that my assumption became a reality. Maybe Ying did transform into an entity akin to a demon and attacked everybody in sight. Maybe I could still be useful if I joined her. I rushed over and squeezed through the crowd. I called out loudly for the people to move. While I was squeezing through the crowd, I heard two familiar voices.
One of them was Nier, and the other was Lucia – who stubbornly refused to change the way she addressed me. I, too, froze in place. The people around were also dumbfounded. They made way. The two holding a long sword and dagger cautiously watched me. Tears formed in Lucia’s eyes. She dropped her dagger. She ran over with her face covered in tears and hugged me tightly.
Nier, still armed, watched the quivering people armed with farming tools. They were just farmers, not soldiers. If Nier wanted to, there would be nothing to fret about even if they all attacked her. Lucia tightly hugged me and wailed. She kissed my face and lips. She curled up in my arms and wailed loudly. The farmers around us let out a sigh of relief when saw the scene after confirming Lucia and Nier weren’t hostiles. We wouldn’t blame the villagers, since my wives were initially armed. In consideration of their intense murderous aura, they didn’t dare to approach the two.
I realised Ying was missing. I released Lucia. Lucia clung tightly to my arm and sobbed. Nier gave me a happy smile. Nier rarely smiled; nevertheless, her smile was warmer than the sun in winter. However, I didn’t have a chance to say much to her, since Lucia blocked me off. I saw a torn white shirt. It belonged to Ying. Ying quietly sat to one side with her eyes shut.
Ying’s expression remained the same – except she had her eyes shut. She had a deep wound that went into her breast bones, yet she didn’t show any pain. With the beautiful view of her face from the side and painless expression, she resembled a dead wrapped up mummy. Her black hair hanging down covered her face.
I ran over to Ying and squatted down to hug her. She leaned onto my arm. She was silent. I held her in my arm and checked her breathing. Her breaths were weak. Fortunately, I could detect her breaths. I immediately picked her up and hurriedly told Lucia and Nier to come with me. We squeezed out of the crowd and rushed to the shrine.
Not a single person helped. Ying, who protected them, was wounded, yet not a single soul offered to help me. As a matter of fact, they avoided me. They refused to even look at her face. Ying didn’t resemble a demon. She was no different to how she usually was. She was a beautiful and kind girl, who used her strength to protect them, yet they feared her power! I wasn’t a local, and I didn’t care about her power. All that concerned me was her well-being.
Although befuddled, Lucia and Nier followed me. They had very mysterious gazes, since their husband wore a stern expression and carried another woman despite having just met up with them after a life and death experience. I knew Lucia and Nier had lots to say, but we had to put our conversation on hold, because I wanted to ensure that Ying was all right.
“Sorry, Nier, Lucia, I promise to tell you what happened between her and I afterwards, but not now. Right now, I need to make sure she’ll survive. I can’t help her check her injury on her chest, so I’ll have to rely on you two.”
I handed Ying to Nier and then pointed inside: “The medicine bag is inside. Go through the drawers, and you’ll find it. I’ll tell you the details, but you need to save her first!”
Nier and Lucia exchanged eye contact. Then, they turned around. They didn’t say another word. They carried Ying into the shrine and shut the door. I let out a breath of relief then sat down on the steps by the side. I observed the smoke outside and spaced out.
The world was too harsh on Ying. She was wounded so severely, yet not a soul cared about her. She would’ve died at the harbour if I wasn’t here.
I couldn’t understand she insisted on staying on the island when they treat her as if she was a tool. She was too kind and gentle. I surmised she believed she could attain salvation with her gentleness. That was once me. I believed that to be possible in the past. I, too, believed that my gentleness and kindness would lead to salvation, but you eventually realise that your gentleness and kindness is just weakness and softness in the eyes of others.
You’re only kind and gentle if others see you as kind and gentle. There weren’t many kind and gentle people in this world, however. When I faced them, they wanted to see power, so I showed them power. If they want to see murder, show them murder. Kindness and gentleness should be reserved for those deserving of it. As for those that don’t deserve it, give them a blade and some gunpowder. And by ‘give’, I meant stick it in them.
Nier pulled open the door behind me and informed me of Ying’s status: “Done. It’s not a very serious wound. But nonetheless, she’s lost too much blood, and she’s too weak. She has a bit of a fever and needs to sleep.”
I silently nodded. Nier walked up to me and sat down. She looked ahead and said, “You don’t need to explain what happened to us, yet Dear. This girl mentioned ‘She’, umm, ‘Xia’. That’s it. That’s how it was pronounced. I think ‘Xia’ is her younger sister. She kept murmuring the name when she was unconscious. Dear, do you know where Xia is?”
“Xia?” I repeated in my mind. I never knew Ying had a younger sister. I realised something in that moment. I said, “Nier, Lucia, go have a rest first.”
“There’s something to do tonight.”