The Parable of Shuxiang Academy [Short]
Shannon’s back rolled toward the boat’s floor, signaling completion of her armbar submission hold.
She felt Sun Liehuo’s arm straightening in her clutches as she raised her hips for extra pressure on his elbow joint. A little higher, and that arm would snap.
“I’d hate to see things get ugly,” she said, squeezing her legs to keep her hold locked tight. “Last chance. Submit!”
Instead of a yes or no, Sun Liehuo let out a single laugh. “Just break it, already.”
Not wanting to witness a limb getting mangled, Shannon shut her eyes and clenched her teeth. She wished she could plug her ears too as she arched her hips to its apex, wincing as her opponent’s arm bent all the way.
And yet, it happened with no disturbing crunch noise.
Shannon’s eyes shot open, just in time to watch Sun Liehuo escape. He had managed to turn his arm 180 degrees just as she tried to break it. As such, his arm only bent the way it usually did. In addition, how he had kicked his legs and rocked his hips while trapped allowed him to gradually inch his way out of his opponent’s hold.
“It’s unfortunate that a broken arm scares you,” he said and dropped onto Shannon with a punishment for her mistake, “but you may close your eyes for this!”
Twisting his body on the way down, Sun Liehuo slammed most of his weight as an elbow strike to her chest. The sheer force caused Shannon’s limbs to reflexively reach for the sky as she was rendered breathless again. For a second, her heart felt like it had stopped beating.
Rising back up, Sun Liehuo looked down on his twitching opponent, still suffering the effects of his last blow.
“Stay down. You got me with a few scratches only because you distracted me with your jacket and cap. You won’t be doing that anymore.” He wandered to the two articles of clothing and placed them on top of Shannon’s traveling case. “Many would admonish you for resorting to such tricks. However, I offer you my praise for using one fist to tell a lie and the other the truth. After all, warfare is based on deception.”
He checked again on Shannon, who was still down for the count. “You can rest easy. I’ve decided to abandon throwing you off the boat. Instead, I’ll drop you back at the port where we first met. You might have learned something, but it is not enough for Shuxiang Academy to welcome you. So go home.”
Approaching Zheng Fenghuang, Sun Liehuo conveyed instructions but was interrupted by a fist that hammered the floor behind him.
“And you can shove those last words up your arse. I’d rather die than go home unchanged.”
Mildly annoyed, he looked over his shoulder and saw Shannon willing herself back to her feet. Her body trembled, but her mind was stable. When she finally rose up, so did her fists.
“Look at me. I’m still ready to go.”
Sun Liehuo, back still turned, lowered his head and sighed. “Suit yourself.”
Shannon pushed herself forward with an adrenaline-fueled battle cry and burned out everything she had, desperate to overcome the one who stood in her way.
Despite that, Sun Liehuo fought almost robotically. He stood still, using the least effort needed to parry the jab-cross combo and catch the wheel kick that came at him.
He gained the opportunity to put Shannon down with another finishing blow, but instead, he merely tripped her remaining leg and let her fall flat on her rear. She got up and tried again and again, getting more frustrated and exhausting more energy she could force out, only to end up knocked down the same way each time.
Soon enough, Sun Liehuo grew weary of humoring her.
Deflecting her next strike, he retaliated with flowing combinations of his own. Almost every part of his white and purple uniform got splashed with red. Whether it was a punch, a kick, an elbow, or a knee, they all forced their way through Shannon’s meager attempt at defense and battered her bloody.
Zheng Fenghuang’s concentration faltered with each pounding of flesh. Watching the duel became more difficult as Shannon became more unrecognizable with each passing second of this one-sided beatdown. She’d seen worse but never on someone who now looked unable to defend herself.
“So… still wanna continue?”
Those words came from another girl, much to Zheng Fenghuang’s surprise. She resumed spectating and saw Shannon, still standing but on legs like jelly. Her arms and head drooped down, almost unable to bear their own weight. The left side of her face had become so swollen that its eye had closed shut. Despite all that, the gutsy grin on her face refused to fade.
Meanwhile, Sun Liehuo’s teeth began to grind against each other over his patience getting tested. Confronting Shannon once more, he recalled some recent words from her.
“I offered you a peaceful solution, and you told me to shove my words up my what again? Fine. Forget bringing you back to port. This ocean shall be your grave!”
He spun out a wheel kick of his own. Shannon was able to raise an arm in time to block, but all it did was prevent her from losing teeth as the rest of Sun Liehuo’s heel slammed the right side of her head and sent her stumbling to the edge of the boat.
Barely a second after Shannon stopped herself from falling off, another kick shot from under her chin and sent her on a definite trip back to the water.
But then, Shannon stopped… in midair. She was floating!
Rather than share the same shocked expression she had, Sun Liehuo swiveled to the only person left in the boat with him.
「Fenghuang! Don’t interfere! 」
Zheng Fenghuang heard him loud and clear but didn’t listen. One of her open hands, aimed toward Shannon, slowly gestured as if pulling her back to the boat through a nigh invisible force.
That’s exactly what happened. It was only when Shannon’s feet touched the boat’s floor did she release the invisible force that carried her.
「Please forgive me, Liehuo, 」she said, stalling to think of an excuse. 「But I believe she will only swim again and return here. I was just hastening the process. 」
「Even so, that does not give you the right, 」 he scolded her. 「This duel is between Shannon and me only. 」
「But I― 」
「I hate to admit it… but I agree… with everything he said. 」Shannon spoke to them in Mandarin for the first time.「I appreciate what you did… but please… don’t do it again. 」
Zheng Fenghuang was shaken at first, but she nodded to honor their terms. Shannon turned back to Sun Liehuo. “Now then, where were we?”
Instead of responding with words, he walked up to her and landed three haymaker punches that he would’ve criticized had he watched himself. Two hooks decked her face, and one uppercut to her stomach took her feet off the ground. All could’ve been dodged easily had they happened minutes ago, but Shannon was no longer in her best state.
The last hit to her stomach made Shannon sink to the floor on all fours, but she slowly got up again, albeit with more difficulty.
“Why do you refuse to stay down?!” Sun Liehuo slammed a foot on her back, forcing her down and pinning her to the floor. Despite that, one of Shannon’s hands grabbed his foot and tried to pry it off.
“Your family back in the UK doesn’t hate you, do they?” he added. “If that’s the case, you can still live a happy life, free of problems, back home!”
Shannon was aware Sun Liehuo didn’t know about her personal life, but his words still struck a nerve.
“My family may not hate me, but it’s clear they look down on me because of Allen. If I go home now, all the money they spent and the sacrifices I made to come here would be for nothing. Even worse, they’ll be proven right that I was always the lesser sibling. I just can't see myself living a decent life if I go home as a failure!”
The foot on her back pressed harder.
“Then why bother accepting Allen’s invitation? Why follow his footsteps if you hate getting compared with him? Why not make a different choice and succeed at that instead?”
Shannon growled in a mixture of pain, confusion, and uncertainty. “Don’t talk as if you know my brother and me. He and I have gone through everything together ever since we drew our first breath. No matter how much I’d want to change or deny it, for some reason I feel most alive when he sees me competing with him. I can’t help it. Right now, victories without him feel like they could’ve been more, but they didn’t.”
Sun Liehuo doubled down on his pressure as he felt her beginning to power out.
“Declining his invitation… would be like admitting I can’t stack up to him,” Shannon continued, eyes beginning to tear. “And nothing will make me happier than finally convincing Allen that I, too, can win, especially against him! So as far as this trial’s concerned…”
Shannon modified her grip. She went from trying to pry the foot off her back to digging her sharp nails into its Achilles tendon, painful enough to force Sun Liehuo to remove his foot and back off.
“The farthest victory you can get against me is by technicality, but you’ll never beat me down here!” she cried, rising again. “And until I drill that into your skull, this fight isn’t over!”
Listening to what he felt was arrogance pushed Sun Liehuo to his breaking point, but with this sudden realization, he suppressed himself before he could implode.
“No.” He crossed his arms before throwing them down. “It’s about to be over.”
“《 龙的 Path of the Dragon: Shining Viridian! 路径 》”
Flames erupted and engulfed his hands and half his arms without affecting his clothes. Unlike his last usage of fire, these were colored green. With his technique fully utilized, Sun Liehuo rushed forth.
Anticipating this as their final clash, Shannon lashed out a crescent kick with what she had left, only to be countered by a low sweep to her remaining foot. She toppled over, landing on her back, and left too stunned to move. All she could do now was brace herself as Sun Liehuo’s burning hands lunged for her face.
Shannon’s eyes sprung open when she felt the flame's heat, but it didn’t make her feel like screaming.
“It doesn’t… even hurt.”
They actually felt warm and soothing.
“That’s because these flames are meant to heal.” Sun Liehuo’s anger had calmed down. Instead, he chuckled as his hands gently clasped her cheeks. “You should’ve seen the look on your face. I think you’d like it.”
An annoyed growl. “I…Fine, laugh all you want. But why wouldn’t I look scared when someone was about to burn me?”
“I was about to say you looked very courageous.”
Rendered speechless, Shannon blushed.
“This duel no longer has to continue.” Sun Liehuo’s expression relaxed, and his easygoing smile returned. “I didn’t lose, but you win.”
Shannon’s remaining eye blinked twice. “Come again?”
“You heard him. I did too,” Zheng Fenghuang said in English, approaching them with a relieved smile. “You, Shannon Grey, have passed.”
Shannon still didn't grasp the situation from the look on her face, so Sun Liehuo explained as his treatment went on.
“It’s clear to me now that while I could break you, even to the point of death, I currently don’t have what it takes to break your spirit. That was what we wanted most from this trial. Strength was a secondary concern. What lies ahead in Shuxiang Academy will truly test if you are determined to reach a new peak of all humanity one day, but after what you’ve shown us, you might stand a chance.”
Shannon was left a little anxious that her challenges were just beginning, but she was also content that she finally made it past this hurdle. All traces of her adrenaline slipped away. Her body got a late reminder of the strain she put herself through, but she drifted off to sleep as the green flames continued to comfort her in their warmth.
「Fenghuang, I want you to rest and relax too, 」Sun Liehuo said. 「We’ll continue onward to Shuxiang Island later. For now, let me heal our newest fellow student. 」
Happily complying, the girl in a black and red uniform relaxed her hands and sat, leaning on the boat’s hull and breathing a sigh of relief. Maintaining the boat’s stability through telekinesis was a taxing stunt on her mind.