“Xia… Xia… Sister… My sister…”
I sat next to Ying, who was lying on the ground. I, honestly, never thought the first expression I’d see from her would be one of agony. She looked ghastly pale. Lucia sat to one side and held Nier’s hand. Concerned, Lucia quietly said, “She has been this way the entire time. Her fever is too serious. Your Highness, you need to bring a doctor, or she might not make it.”
Nier asked, “But are there doctors in this village?”
“There’s definitely a doctor except they won’t be professional. Checking a fever is within their capabilities, though,” I said, standing up. “I’ll go look for a doctor. You girls stay with her. Let’s put tonight’s task aside for now. I need to ensure Ying’s safety first and foremost.”
“It’s dark, Your Majesty.”
“It’s all right. This village is considerably safe. There are only a few families. I’ll be fine. Also, you should already be aware the people of this village don’t have any actual combat abilities. Don’t worry about me, Nier. You two just watch over Ying.”
Nier was reluctant to let go of my head. I kissed her forehead and quietly said, “Sorry, I know you two have just returned to me, but I have something to do. I promise we’ll go home once this matter with Ying is over.”
Nier gave a nod and sniffled. I walked up to Lucia and kissed her lips. I had one last glimpse of Ying’s painful expression before turning to leave.
I went down to the village. The stone steps were slightly cold at night. The green shrubs during the day were dark enough to be a little scary. The flames in the village below weren’t bright. Dark clouds shrouded the moonlight. I regretted not bringing a fire torch out with me. I reached the entrance to the village, nonetheless.
The village didn’t have any guards. The main door was shut, but it wasn’t difficult to jump over the shabby fence by the side. I went onto the main street. Homes on either side of the street lit fires for light. I settled on the entrance of the store selling vegetables and meat.
In my opinion, the owner was nice, relatively speaking. He was arguably reasonable compared to the others. He knew what the people feared, so he knew the meaning of Ying’s existence. Therefore, I reasoned it would be all right to see him.
“I’m closed,” said the owner.
The owner came out from the store in coarse cloth clothing when I almost ripped the door down. He was angry, though. I told him, “Ying’s condition is very poor. You saw her today, right? She needs a doctor. Is there a doctor here?”
“I guess you could say I’m the doctor of this village. Having said that, I don’t believe I can treat her. I don’t want to enter the shrine, either. You’ve caused an uproar. The shrine is a forbidden zone to us. The villagers will ostracise me if I go inside. They’ll think I helped Ying. Consequently, if Ying once again…”
“Again?” I cut the owner off, eyes fixated on him.
The owner froze. He was aware he just had a slip of the tongue, therefore abstaining from speaking again. He fiddled with his hair, and then turned around: “That’s just how it is. I can’t offend the villagers for Ying or your sake. I need to live here…”
“What exactly did Ying previously do?”
“That has nothing to do with you, does it? Moreover, it’s in the past now.”
I took a swift step and grabbed his collar when he wanted to turn around and leave. In a serious tone, I said, “You’re coming with me to check Ying’s condition now, or I’ll spare you from having to think about life as a villager anymore. You see those two girls today? I assure you just one of them alone is enough to massacre your entire village, because they’re my bodyguards.”
The owner looked back at me as though there was nothing in the world worth living for: “If you kill me, there’ll be no doctors to take a look at Ying.”
“Didn’t you just say that you might not be able to treat her? Let’s have a bet, then?”
The owner sighed: “All right. I’ll go and take a look; however, I can’t promise I can treat her. I’m only a doctor in my spare time. The wyrm wounded her of all things. My medicines might be useless. In any case, *sigh*, I’ll go.”
I looked around to check that there was nobody behind. The owner went back inside to change. He picked up a basket and went with me. He warned, “Don’t stand out too much. Let’s hurry before somebody sees me. I’ll be done for if they see me.”
“Just walk normally. Nobody will see you in the middle of the night.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. I did something guilty, after all.”
“Atone for it, then.”
“Isn’t that what I’m doing now?”
When we arrived at the shrine, he knelt down next to Ying and gave her a check-up. He let out a sigh of relief: “Lucky. She has a fever, though. Her wound is just an ordinary wound. There’s no venom or rotting. You treated her in time. I’ll leave these few bags of medicine. Just serve them to her at the fixed times.”
“That’s a relief, then.” I let out a breath of relief.
The owner fumbled through his bag. He took out a few paper bags and placed them to the side. He told me how to prepare and serve the medicine. He immediately got to his feet after. He didn’t want to stay inside for another second. I stood up and left the shrine with him, with him walking in front.
He suddenly stopped at the entrance of the shrine. He turned around. I tilted my head and asked, “What’s the matter?”
“I think there are some things I should tell you. I can’t mention them in the village, but I can now. Furthermore, if I don’t tell you now, you’ll probably go and verify it soon, won’t you?”
The owner reached into his pocket and took out a few rolls of paper. He took out a stick, lit it up then put it in his mouth. He took in a breath and blew out a mouthful of smoke. He didn’t look at me; instead, he looked at the dark sky. Voice soft, he asked, “You noticed her calling a name in her current state, right?”
“That’s her younger sister’s name.”
“I know that already.”
“Do you know where the child is right now?”
The owner smiled, and then had another smoke. I watched the lit up red circle slowly move. I waited for him to continue. He elaborated, “I told you I did something guilty on the way here. I did something I’m very guilty about. When Ying first arrived at the shrine, we didn’t treat her with this attitude. Ying got along with everybody really well. Lots of kids were willing to play in the shrine, too. At the time, Ying’s sister, Xia, was still with her. One unfortunate day, Ying went berserk. Xia tried to stop her but failed. That day, Ying murdered five kids in the shrine. After that fiasco, the infuriated villagers charged to the shrine and kidnapped Xia. They blinded Xia, and then locked her in the house by the harbour. That’s what led to Ying’s relationship with the villagers completely changing. From then on, Ying never showed any emotion again.”
“So, you’re saying that Ying is here to atone? You’re saying the villagers fear her, because of her going berserk?”
“But I saw the truth. I came to deliver stuff that time and saw what exactly happened.”
The red flame went out. The owner firmly stepped on it: “The truth is Ying wasn’t the one who went berserk. It was the children who went berserk. They picked up Ying’s sabre without her knowledge. The sabre is, in fact, the source of Ying’s power, which can also be described as a sabre containing hatred and souls. It’s not a power an ordinary person can withstand. The sabre consumed the children. The sabre turned the children into a part of the countless evil souls Ying had slain. Ying had no choice but to kill the children. She didn’t explain herself; or rather, nobody would’ve believed her explanation. We blinded her sister, because of those children who brought it upon themselves. Consequently, we turned her sister into a chain to restrain her. The pain and self-blame Ying felt further pushed her to stay here and endure all of this for eternity.”
“Is that the reason she won’t retaliate no matter what you do to her?”
“Yes. I’m a sinner; I knew the truth, yet didn’t dare to speak up. Do you know how it feels to personally steal the perfectly functional eyes of a girl? I, personally, took her eyes. I’m now looking at the world Xia won’t ever see again. I’m watching those iron chains restrain her forever. I’m still a weakling, even now. You’re not, though. You’re an outsider, and you care for Ying. I can’t do it. I have too many concerns, but you can help Ying.”
He gave me a few soft pats on my shoulder. After a long sigh, whispered next to my ear, “Don’t let others know I was the one who told you. Xia is in that house. Bring her out. Ying has the right to choose her own life. It wasn’t her mistake, but she’s too kind and gentle… Take her away. I’m begging you. Take her away. Ying shouldn’t belong here.”
I never knew a person’s tears could be so clear and bright. I didn’t say anything so as to avoid making him feel awkward. He wiped the corner of his eyes. Then, he took in a big breath and gave me a few shoulder pats before leaving the shrine.
I went up to the stone steps and watched the owner slowly vanish into the darkness. He looked feeble from the rear. He looked as if the darkness could swallow him at any given moment. He was comparable to a star weakly shining for its last few moments. Only a few stars shone through the sinister dark clouds. Even then, their light was almost invisible. However, a weak light was still a light. Perhaps I should say,” Only when weak stars gather together, can they shine through the dark clouds shrouding the sky.” I wanted to save her. I could save her.
I went back to the shrine. Lucia and Nier were lying down next to Ying. The two of them were falling asleep. The two of them had to busy themselves right after they were rescued. As a result, they were spent. I walked up to their sides and whispered, “Rest up you two. Leave the rest to me.”
“Mm… Your Majesty…”
“All right, Your Highness.”
The two nodded. They grabbed my hands and shut their eyes.
I focused on Ying’s face, but I wasn’t sleepy at all…