Chapter 0:

The Shadow of Allen Grey

The Parable of Shuxiang Academy [Short]

For as long as I can remember, it was rare for anyone to say my name without also mentioning “Allen.”

I was always compared to my older brother. Our parents, friends, and everybody we met; it always came naturally to them. Big bro and I were just so alike in everything because, well, he’s only one minute older than me. The glaring differences between us never mattered in our comparisons because we were still young and “undeveloped” back then.

Our parents felt that our chances at anything should be equal, so you know how that turned out? Everything my brother wanted to do, I had to come along for the ride! Because of this, I rarely spent much time at home, and arguing with mum and dad wasn’t worth getting hollered at for trying to deny these “opportunities.”

It got worse when I learned that my brother was obsessed with being #1. Academics and the arts were one thing, but it was in sports that our competitive spirits truly got heated.

No matter how hard I trained or tried to win, Allen was always several steps ahead of me, and he did it with the least amount of work too. Soon enough, his half of our room was collecting medals and trophies. Mine? Cobwebs.

But let’s not get things twisted. My big bro is the person I look up to the most. I was never afraid to congratulate him, and I’m also thankful that he never rubbed his victories in my face―instead, others did it once his back was turned, but besides that, I’m sure our relationship had always been great.

And then, we turned 8.

Allen suddenly moved abroad. Apparently, he was scouted during a sports meet to enroll in some kind of foreign school said to be capable of raising his talents beyond his wildest dreams. That was all it took to make him accept, and it wasn’t long before he hopped on a plane and left the UK to go to the Eastern nation of Xina.

I lost my best friend, but being a kinda-only-child felt good at first. I finally started to discover more about myself and understand my brother’s desires as I began raking in my own medals and trophies. The praise I heard from the crowds was amazing, but it didn’t take much to overshadow those thunderous cheers.

Anyone who knew me, even my parents, would say something like, “Good thing Allen wasn’t here,” or “If Allen were also competing, things would’ve ended differently.” There was even “It’s not a record like Allen’s, but a win is a win, I guess.”

Some kid my age even crossed the line and called me a “paper champion” to my face! I didn’t hesitate to show her how paper beats rock, and I’ll be damned if that moment didn’t make me smile hard.

Allen might’ve no longer been around, but he sure was still around in spirit since the comparisons between him and me continued. Is it wrong that I hated it whenever someone mentioned him during what should’ve been my moment for my hard work? I was old enough then to realize how messed up society is nowadays and that these comparisons were mostly uncalled for from the beginning. Still, it was hard to pretend I wasn’t affected after going through that for the longest time. 

At the same time, I wondered what became of my brother. He never texted me ever since he left, but he did keep in touch with me for a year―through old-fashioned, hand-written mail that must’ve taken days to reach me.

Through his letters, Allen told me about his new school: Shuxiang Academy. I’ve tried to look up the school on the internet, but information on it barely existed. The best I could find were a few rumors buried deep on forum sites.

But even though these rumors weren’t taken seriously, they resembled my brother’s words.

Shuxiang Academy was beyond anything he had ever imagined. It was a school, but its most unbelievable feature was that it also trained its students in the ways of kung fu. Allen stressed that Shuxiang kung fu was more than those martial art flicks that got us interested in combat sports. No, it was a way of life that could elevate people to a level beyond peak conditions. Big bro even made the bold claim that he could now run a 100-meter dash in 9.89 seconds―just .31 seconds slower than the current world record, which, for your information, is held by an adult professional sprinter!

Truth or not, big bro made it clear that taking the offer to study at Shuxiang Academy was the best decision he’d ever made.

My emotions were a mess as I kept receiving and reading more of his letters, letters I could never reply to since they never showed the sender’s address. Part of me wanted to hug big bro and shower him with praise for always outdoing himself. The other part of me hated the widening gap in our skills. When my brother returns home, our comparisons were bound to worsen at my expense.

And then I turned 11. That’s when I received Allen’s first letter in two years and something else.

It was a black envelope with a gold wax seal, and inside were instructions and the very same offer made to my brother three years ago. My brother’s accompanying letter confirmed it―he had recommended me to join him in attending Shuxiang Academy!

I was rocked to my core as I triple-checked that letter. Like my brother before me, I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer and prepare to move abroad to Xina, where I would finally see him again.

Allen, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I once accepted the fact that I’d never reach your level, but it seems that fact stays true only in the world outside Shuxiang Academy. Now that you’re letting me in, here is my vow.

I, Shannon Grey, your twin sister, swear to finally escape from your shadow!