Stray Ch87

Author: 年终 / Nian Zhong

Translator: Kinky ||

Chapter 87: Bouquet and Water Source

In the faint candlelight, Nadine put the medicine bottle full of liquid on the tea table and carefully turned the label in the same direction. Her fingertips trembled with her age, and she almost dropped the envelope of her will that she was holding. The long wooden workbench was wiped clean, and the bookshelf was covered with cloth to prevent dust from falling.

The flowers in the vase had been taken away, and the water had been emptied. Everything was tidied up properly. Not one thing was missed that would be rotting in some corner before the possible new owner of this home steps in.

This wasn’t the first time she had made this kind of preparation. Before Nadine decided to leave Caleb Village and embark on her final journey, she made a very similar arrangement, except this time she would not return from the journey.

The pudding given by the Black Chapter became her last supper. Her tongue couldn’t taste much anymore, but she still insisted on eating it. After dinner, the witch hesitated for a moment, washed and dried the rough glass bottle, and carefully placed it in the vase. The napkin was neatly folded on the side of the dining table, and the tablecloth was repeatedly smoothed out without any traces of wrinkles.

‘Everything’s perfect,’ she thought wearily while moving her increasingly uncontrolled body to the rocking chair as she let fear and emptiness bite her back.

There was a brass candle holder on the small table next to the rocking chair, and the candle inside was about to burn out. ‘It’s okay,’ she thought slowly, and turned her head to look out the window. The moonlight was bright and shining clearly over the bare sand in the backyard.

The miracle didn’t happen as there didn’t seem to be any life fluctuations that came from there.

Her cat came out of the shadow of the table. The round orange cat meowed and jumped onto her knees skillfully, then laid down while making a loud purring sound.

“I have found a new home for you,” she murmured, gently stroking the soft fur on the cat’s back with her thin hands. “Lisa has always liked cats; she’ll treat you well… I will leave all my money to you.”

The huge room was immersed in candlelight, and the creaking sound of the rocking chair slowly moving was audible.

There was nothing to do, and there was nothing she could do. Out of some kind of complicated emotion that couldn’t be named, Nadine suddenly wanted to cry, but she failed to shed tears.

“I should have died a long time ago.” As usual, she began to babble to her only audience, the cat. “I delayed for a long time, but this delay was meaningless…”

The Earthsea Orchids didn’t bloom, so she would leave the world with an unfinished agreement.

When she left Caleb, she wanted to travel around before she died and also to conceal the fact of her rapid aging. Nadine didn’t deceive her best friend. She did go to all the places they had planned, starting from dawn until the setting of dusk*, non-stop.

*By light of the stars and moons (披星戴月) Idiom referring working hard from morning until dusk.

Naturally, she had discovered the truth behind the agreement. “The Disappearance of the Earthsea Orchid” could always be found in larger libraries. Lisa’s mind was very easy to guess. Every time she thought of the other party’s trick, Nadine couldn’t help but raise the corners of her mouth. She, of course, wouldn’t give up on this joke-like agreement. She was going back to Caleb Village after all, and at that time, she still hoped to complete it.

Nadine stroked her cat in silence. Its hot abdomen covered her skinny knees, and it was heavy and soft. If she was honest, her return trip started earlier than she thought. It was because she was growing old too fast.

“I picked you up a few years ago, right?” She coughed a few times and pinched the cat’s ears. Caramel turned its head away and licked her fingertips. “You said you’re a good cat, so what are you doing running around in the desert?”

It should’ve been six years ago, when her journey had just ended. Nadine found that her teeth were beginning to loosen, her bones were becoming extremely fragile, and she was at risk of breaking her limbs if she fell. Her magic, which was not complete, began to decline rapidly, and the world in front of her became blurrier.

Her body was no longer suitable for traveling, so she chose to return to her home; to the grave she had decided in advance. Crossing the desert was her last adventure, and this adventure may have become her last memory that could be written into a letter. However, she unexpectedly didn’t encounter anything worth mentioning—except for a group of half-dead arthropod lizards.

In the middle of the desert six years ago, a group of arthropod lizards were biting each other’s tails, moving with difficulty on the hot sand that was almost scorching. Nadine knew that it was her natural enemy, so she subconsciously planned to stay away from them.

The arthropod lizards probably also smelled her, but they didn’t have any intention of approaching her or asking for help. The leader—who should have been the leader from first glance—hesitated for a moment, bit its tail, and fed its blood to the cubs in the team. The purple-black liquid fell on the hot sand, making a harsh hissing sound.

Nadine stopped.

The smell of blood reminded her of the ordinary girl that lay on the fence railing many years ago and the gift she received for the first time—the ugly wildflowers.

She hesitated in place for a few minutes, and finally walked over. The arthropod lizards stared at her in silence, motionless.

“Don’t touch me,” she said softly. “You happen to be you, and I happen to be me—I understand. Listen, I have no hostility.”

The witch raised her hand, and green vines drilled into the sand.

Plants knew how to find water sources better than any living thing. Soon there was a hint of water in the hot and dry air. The vines gradually opened the sand pit and built a root system, drawing in water from the ground. Specks of light began to appear in the pit, gradually being filled with more water. The arthropod lizards, which were like dead corpses, started to stir. Their neat line slowly spread out, and the lizards surrounded the puddle, sticking out their slender tongues to lick at the hard-earned water.

The biggest lizard’s tail was still dripping in blood. It approached her, hissing its tongue, with an eagerness in its four eyes.

“Well, I really want to touch you,” she said, pulling a smile on her wrinkled face, “but you’ll make me wither.”

It seemed to understand her words and immediately took a few steps back cautiously.

Nadine sighed and tightened the scarf around her neck. She turned around and continued to move towards her goal…

“Goodbye,” she said to it, casually waving her cane. “…No, I don’t think we’ll meet again.”

In her last adventure, there were no terrifying monsters that appeared, nor did she encounter any beautiful illusions like mirages. There was just this one small episode. She then successfully took over her house as a “grandmother” and quietly waited for her death.

It was the cat that ran to her by itself.

At that time, Nadine was looking for traces of the Earthsea Orchid in the desert ruins on the outskirts of the village. It wilted and ran in front of her with a hoarse and pitiful cry. At that time, it was covered with sand and gravel, as if it had just emerged from a pile of ruins. She looked at its hind feet dripping with blood and decided to take it back.

After that, she had a patient and obedient listener and a new friend.

“Do you think those lizards are still alive?” She was so old now that it was strenuous to recall her memories. “If they know how to protect that water source, they should be fine.”

The cat arched into her palm with its wet and cold nose. Nadine sighed slightly. The candle was about to burn out when the flame began to shake violently.

There was a knock on the door suddenly.

‘Perhaps Lopez changed his mind,’ she thought numbly. Her blood suddenly ran cold due to fear, but it didn’t matter. She was prepared.

“The door is unlocked,” she struggled to say aloud. “Come in.”

In a daze, she really thought it was Godwin Lopez who had come early, but when she turned her gaze, she found it was a young man in a simple shirt. Nadine realized that something was off.

“Mr. Ramon,” she said, failing to get up from the rocking chair. “What are you doing here?”

“…We have an idea, Ms. Nadine.” The young man wearing the black badge squatted down slightly in front of the rocking chair and held her thin hands. “We may be able to break the root system and remove your power.”

Nemo was right behind Oliver, so he could see very clearly. A hint of light flashed in the eyes of the old woman, and then it quickly went out, like the flickering candle beside her.

“I don’t want you to become enemies with Horizon,” she said softly. “It’ll be a similar sentence for you. You’re too young for this to be worth it.”

“If you lose your powers… According to the law, they don’t need to proceed against you anymore.” The female warrior had her arms crossed, but her voice was gentle. “Strictly speaking, this is not ‘going against Horizon’.”

“We just happened to find a way and there’s not much cost to it,” Oliver said patiently. “I don’t want to lie to you. The success rate is less than half, but at least it’s a way. We decided to fake your death in order to fool the root system.”

“I’m not the first person that wants to escape the curse of this race.” Nadine shook her head. “No one can see the roots.”

“I can.” Nemo found that his voice was unexpectedly calm. “I think you have noticed… I am indeed a ‘bigshot’. I can see it.”

Nadine was silent for a few seconds as she looked up and down at Nemo for a moment.

“…I can probably guess what you’re thinking,” the witch said with a trembling voice, “But… please go back.”

“Can I ask the reason?” Oliver’s expression had not changed, and his voice remained patient.

“I finally made my peace,” the witch said, with great difficulty. “I don’t want to see hope. I don’t want to embrace that idea of ‘I could have lived’ anymore. Thank you for your kindness. Considering the trouble that could arise, just let me…”

“Will you give it a try?” An equally trembling voice sounded. “Nadine, please.”

The witch, Nadine, shivered suddenly. She tremblingly took out her glasses and tried several times to put them on the bridge of her nose.

Lisa went around her back and gently put her arms around her neck. The female innkeeper buried her face in the thin shoulders of the “old woman” and tears slid into the witch’s collar.

“You liar,” she said hoarsely. “…You liar, Nadine. You always like to lie to me.”

The witch’s whole body shook like a dead leaf in the wind. She trembled so badly that she couldn’t even formulate complete words.

“You have always been my dream,” Lisa said softly. “Beautiful, amazing, and perfect, unlike the people in this world. Look at me… A serious illness, a war; I could easily die from them. But I’m still alive… I’m still alive, so you must be able to find a way to survive. “

Nadine tried several times and finally grabbed her best friend’s arm. “…Don’t say that.”

“I know I’ve been like this all my life, but you…” The female innkeeper raised her voice, “I believe that you, who I know dearly, clearly loves ‘living’ more than anyone I’ve ever met… Do you really want to leave? You promised me you wouldn’t forget me! How can you go first…?”

At the end, she almost broke down in tears. “Now someone is reaching out again. Can you… try to grab onto it?”

“…I didn’t lie to you.” The witch tightened her grip. “Those letters are all true. I have really seen them… I have seen so many things.”

There was choking in Nadine’s voice.

“I have indeed seen a dragon fall, and a mountain range that hangs upside down. It’s all true.” She finally began to cry. “But believe me, Lisa, you are the most special one. I’m sorry, I’m really scared.”

Muddy tears fell down her wrinkles.

“I want to live,” she said as her sobs became more obvious. Her composure finally cracked, and a trace of youth came out from the old skin. “Of course, I want to live, but it took me a long time to muster the courage to face this… If it fails… What should I do…”

“Shhh,” Lisa wiped away her tears and kissed the slightly withered white hair. “I’m here. It doesn’t matter if it fails. Even if…” She shivered, but her voice remained firm. “Even if Horizon comes, I will be there in your last moments. You don’t need to face this alone.”

[Would you like to be friends with me? . . . . . . . . Can I still come to see you?]

That “ordinary” girl truly never left her again. Perhaps she was far inferior to Lisa in keeping her promises.

Her life may have ended once, many years ago, when she closed herself off and made up her mind to cut gerbils for fun alone. Her world changed from a room without light to a yard full of sunshine, and she decided to stop there. Then a hand grabbed her and pulled her out of that narrow yard.

Would there be a miracle this time? If the “most special person” was here, did she have a chance to see a completely different world? Perhaps… Nadine clenched the warm arm and thought in a daze… Maybe it was her turn to ask the questions this time.

“Can I try?”

“Of course.”

“Even now?”

“Even now.” Lisa rubbed her eyes hard, showing a reluctant smile. “You are still… good-looking and amazing. You can do anything. Have you forgotten?”

“Then… Sorry, I… I still want to give it a try.” Nadine turned to Oliver’s direction. She was still holding Lisa’s arm tightly, and her voice was trembling badly. “Please help me, Mr. Ramon.”

“I don’t want to die.”

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