Chapter 2:

The Xinese Art of War

The Parable of Shuxiang Academy [Short]

“Fenghuang,” Sun Liehuo asked as a roundhouse kick to his head came swinging and struck hard, its impact resounding in their vicinity of the ocean, “…kindly make sure the boat stays leveled.”

Zheng Fenghuang stood and turned around to spectate the duel between her companion and their blonde newcomer, curious to see the latter’s worth. One of her hands maintained its prayer gesture, intent on following Sun Liehuo’s command.

Meanwhile, Shannon stared wide-eyed and speechless at the result of her kick.

The look on Sun Liehuo’s face didn’t waver as his hand gently squeezed the foot it caught, inches from his face at the last possible second.

How?! Shannon exclaimed within. He wasn’t even looking my bloody way!

It was only then that she remembered she was up against a trained student from Shuxiang Academy, the very same place that scouted her talented brother to join their ranks. After that reminder settled in, Sun Liehuo finally looked at her.

“Allow me to clear the disturbance in your thoughts,” he said in a polite tone that mocked his opponent’s incompetence. “I ‘saw’ your attack because I felt its change to the wind,” he chuckled. “Oh, and your footsteps were loud.”

He released Shannon’s foot without taking advantage of it, and she weaved in with her next attack: a battle cry-driven flurry of swift jabs and straights.

To her opponent, even those rapid strikes were easily telegraphed.

“I can feel your speed and ferocity… but your form lacks discipline,” Sun Liehuo commented while dodging and parrying every strike that came his way. “You don’t realize it, but everything you’re doing is riddled with pointlessly excessive movements. In other words…”

He parried Shannon’s tenth strike and stepped into her guard. “Right now, you could’ve been faster.”

Now it was Sun Liehuo’s time to counterattack. He went for a simultaneous punch. Shannon walled her arms to block, but one of her opponent’s fists slipped between her arms and continued toward her face, only to stop a few inches from contact.

She blinked, confused and frozen for half a second.

That’s why she didn’t notice Sun Liehuo’s other fist, which struck her solar plexus clean and knocked the wind out of her lungs. Shannon was sent wobbling toward the boat’s edge and left barely able to stand.

She held her abdomen, gasping for air as her legs turned inward. Sun Liehuo took the opportunity for some small talk.

“In kung fu, there is a saying: ‘One fist tells a lie, the other tells the truth.’ When put into use properly, it can break through any defense. And now, I know you won’t dodge something like this.”

He launched himself for a flying kick and, for the fun of it, threw in a battle cry.


Shannon saw the attack coming a mile away and strafed to the side.

But the last hit she took left her sluggish.

A heap of saliva purged out of her mouth as Sun Liehuo’s foot drove into her chest and forced her off the ground. They both flew off the boat but as soon as Shannon’s back hit the ocean with a splash, Sun Liehuo crouched and sprang off her body, erupting water particles and plunging her deeper into the ocean depths.

Back on the boat, Zheng Fenghuang maintained her prayer-like pose and meditated as she continued to keep the boat leveled.

She held still until someone landed on his two feet after flipping through the air.

「We’re done here, 」 Sun Liehuo said, speaking Mandarin Xinese. 「I want to take a break, so please pilot the boat back to Shuxiang Island for me until I’m ready to take over again.」

Zheng Fenghuang lowered her head and uttered, 「I see. That’s a shame. 」

She adjusted her hand gesture. Ripples began to appear around the boat as it slowly glided across the ocean’s surface once more.

「Hey, Liehuo, I hope your excuse is a good one. Allen will be disappointed when we return emptyhanded, 」she added.

「Are you sure about that? He’s the one who requested me to pick up his sister and observe her trial. He even told me not to hold back, but I decided to forbid myself from using any Dragon Path techniques while the trial goes on. 」

Half a minute later, Sun Liehuo remembered Shannon’s traveling case, which was still on the boat, and approached it.

「We should throw this away since we have no use for her belongings. Who knows, she might accidentally find it if she’s still alive. 」

「Really? I was thinking you were going to keep it for yourself, 」Zheng Fenghuang said, trying to lighten up the mood.

「What for? 」

「You know what I’m talking about. 」

「And I have no interest in such impurities, 」Sun Liehuo was quick to say.

The boat suddenly rocked, alerting its two passengers that they weren’t alone.

A hand had emerged from the water to grab the boat’s hull. Out went a fiery wail as Shannon Grey painstakingly climbed back onboard and rolled in when she pulled herself high enough.

Khak! Khahak! All that salt made me barf…”

“I mean, it’s the ocean,” Sun Liehuo was triggered to say.

Shannon coughed, spat, and rubbed her eyes until the stinging sensations went away. Then she rose to her feet, far from her best mood.

“Even with all that fog, you actually swam all the way back to us.” Sun Liehuo held a hand to his chin as he and the equally surprised Zheng Fenghuang stepped away to give the agitated blonde some space. “Sounds like someone wants to get vanquished again.”

“You know bloody well that’s not the reason why I’m back,” Shannon snarled as droplets from her soaked clothes dripped onto the boat. “I have not come this far… to die here.”

“Yes, I suppose you are,” Sun Liehuo admitted. “Very well then. When you’re ready, we’ll continue where we left off.”

He asked Zheng Fenghuang to stop the boat and keep it leveled again. Without hesitation, she resumed her previous duty and beamed a smile of newfound admiration for the one who came clawing back.

This is good, Shannon. If this is who you are, then you might stand a chance even against him.

Shannon examined their surroundings, now that she was given some time to calm down and think.

She stepped to the edge of the boat, careful not to fall into the ocean again. No matter how hard she hopped in place or stomped her feet, not a single ripple or any other outside disturbance appeared in the water nearest to the boat. At the same time, she confirmed that the boat wouldn’t tip over ever since Zheng Fenghuang was asked to keep it leveled. How she did so was still a mystery, but it became clear to Shannon that she didn’t have to worry too much about maintaining her footing and balance no matter where she stood on the boat’s flat floor.

This may be a boat, but right now, it’s like an immobile arena in the middle of the ocean. There isn’t a ton of space to move around in, but what we have is more than enough for a one-on-one fight. Alright, I’ve seen enough.

Shannon returned to her “half” of the boat. Sun Liehuo stood on the opposite half, waiting for their duel to resume.

“Ready?” he asked, reassuming his fighting stance.

“Almost,” Shannon replied and tipped off her baseball cap. Short blond hair tumbled out as she shook water droplets out of it. Then she pinched her jacket’s zipper and slowly pulled it down.

“Wait, what’re you doing?”

Watching the slow pace of her mannerisms made Sun Liehuo lose his stance momentarily.

“My jacket’s all wet and heavy, so I’ll do what I must and lose the dead weight,” Shannon said calmly. “I hope you don’t mind, but then again, you left me no choice.”

The rest of her jacket slid off her shoulders, leaving her upper body in just a halter top with straps crisscrossing around her neck. With broad shoulders and a toned midriff now laid bare, Sun Liehuo and Zheng Fenghuang saw that Shannon had a lithe but athletic figure, just like her brother.

“Now I’m ready,” Shannon said. “So… like what you see?” she asked with a suitable pose, her skin still wet and glistening.

“A-are you joking?!” Sun Liehuo exclaimed as Zheng Fenghuang enjoyed a reaction she didn’t see too often. “I’ve been trained for this kind of thing! Nothing will happen if I stare at a girl’s chest… or in your case, a lack of one.”

Shannon giggled and laid a hand on what he talked about.

“You’re right. It’d be embarrassing if you lost because you were distracted by this… instead of this.”

She tossed her jacket, which spread out in the air and latched onto Sun Liehuo like a weighted net. In an unusual moment of alarm, he flailed about, only to find Shannon missing from his peripheral vision once he pried her jacket off.

No, the wind from your next attack is over he―!

He predicted that she relocated to his left, but failed to react in time to the spin kick that slammed against his flank. Shannon kept up the pressure on her stunned opponent with a renewed assault of attacks that mixed right-handed punches and kicks.

Some were blocked and parried like before, but a few hit their mark. Shannon’s confidence grew as she convinced herself that Sun Liehuo now had chinks in his defense. All she had to do was keep attacking and was bound to find them soon.

The tides of the duel began to turn as its combatants fought on more equal footing and broke out a sweat, one more so than the other. Sun Liehuo traded his easygoing smile for an irritated grin as he too sensed the changing atmosphere. He could still anticipate Shannon’s attacks whenever they were unleashed, but their disturbances to the surrounding air had become more streamlined and focused compared to the duel’s beginning.

It’s because she’s calmed down, he realized. Her attacks still have some pointless movements, but now they’ve improved drastically. No, this is what they should’ve been!

As Sun Liehuo made his conclusion, Shannon pivoted another roundhouse kick, but a twisting sidekick from him intercepted and pushed her away. All she managed to land was a foot tap to his back.

He advanced closer to capitalize and regain control of the fight, but Shannon had been waiting for a moment like this.

When the time was right, her left hand threw her baseball cap like a boomerang.

Sun Liehuo swatted the sudden projectile away before it could smack his face, but that one-second window of vision obscurity was enough for Shannon to tackle him off balance with a double-leg takedown.

Forcing the fight to the ground, Shannon mounted her opponent’s chest and rained a storm of hook punches all aiming for the face. The first few shots connected, barely, but the rest were blocked or deflected as Sun Liehuo became more accustomed to their rhythm. Then he caught a left punch, which he just surmised to be Shannon’s non-dominant hand.

Now’s my chance!

As if anticipating this as well, Shannon clutched the arm that caught her hand, swung one leg around, and transitioned into an armbar.

“Tch!” Sun Liehuo’s free hand grabbed his other wrist before the rest of his arm could get hyperextended into a world of excruciating pain. His hips and legs rocked and kicked about as he struggled to maintain his defensive grip.

Shannon focused everything she had on leaning back and completing her hold, grunting and clenching her teeth as her body released more cold sweat.

I don’t have what it takes to beat him, but he’ll have no excuses to let this fight continue if I force him into submission! Burn me if you want, but I sacrificed most of my free time in a year to prepare for this day, and I’m not about to let anything or anyone put my efforts to waste!

Then, in the middle of the struggle, Sun Liehuo lost his grip. Shannon felt it as her back descended closer to the floor.

This is it. It’s now or never!



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