The Parable of Shuxiang Academy [Short]
“Could you please wake up? I’m finished.”
Groaning herself awake, Shannon’s eyes fluttered open to a hand lightly clapping her left cheek. That side of her face was swollen and tender, so it was strange that a slight touch no longer caused it pain. Still lying down, she first noticed Sun Liehuo blowing away the green healing flames on his arms and that his lap had been her pillow. She didn’t make a fuss about that as she sat up.
“Go ahead and check yourself,” Sun Liehuo said, adjusting his sitting position because his legs were numb. “I’ve undone all your injuries, down to the last cut, bump, and bruise.”
Shannon then realized she was seeing with two eyes again. She patted every part of her body that Sun Liehuo might’ve struck during their fight. True to his word, her body still ached from the physical strain, but there were no more physical injuries that hurt to touch.
“You really did heal me,” she said, beaming a bit of a smile. “Thanks.”
“I hope this makes us even and can allow us to start over,” Sun Liehuo admitted, a hand rubbing the back of his head. “Believe me; I was only doing what I was asked. But now that it’s over, I―!”
A pair of toned arms and legs locked themselves around his neck and waist for a bold display of physical contact. If there was something Sun Liehuo didn’t expect, it was for the girl he beat up minutes ago to suddenly wrap him in a hug.
“I misjudged you,” Shannon cooed to one of his ears. “You’re actually kinda sweet.”
Their sudden intimacy and the pleasant scent in her hair left Sun Liehuo so shellshocked that the words he spoke next were utter gibberish. And even when he finally spoke comprehensibly…
“A-at least put your jacket back on! R-right now, it’s like you’re almost―”
Shannon cut him off by tightening her squeeze. “What’s wrong? You don’t like girls?”
“I-it’s not that. It’s just, uh, F-Fenghuang’s watching!”
Sure enough, the girl in question was trembling at them with hands over her mouth to suppress a squeal and her slanted eyes from bugging out.
“Hmm…” Shannon diverted her attention for a second. “Let her look. She can watch us for all I care.”
It wasn’t long before Sun Liehuo stopped trying to escape and, without realizing it, invited the moment. “I… can’t believe you’re actually doing this.”
A pair of female lips pulled a smirk. “I know. How else could I make sure you wouldn’t dodge what’s next?”
Sun Liehuo’s eyes opened wide, completely stunned. It was at that moment he realized he had fallen into a trap.
Rearing her head back with a grunt and maniacal smile, Shannon smashed his nose with the full force of her forehead and gushed out a massive nosebleed. That was her revenge for the sudden elbow shot he did to begin their duel, and oh, did it feel sweet.
“Now, we’re even.” She relished the moment as the boy who forced her into a brutal fight became a ragdoll in her arms. He even crumpled to the floor like one when she finally let him go. “How’s that for of a kiss?”
Shannon then crouched over to Zheng Fenghuang, laid a hand on the other girl’s shoulder, and whispered, “Don’t worry. I’m not looking for a boyfriend~.”
She then gave a few shoulder pats before leaving the confused girl to interpret her words.
Shannon retrieved her jacket and cap afterward. They were still damp, so she wrung out as much seawater as possible before putting them back on. A nearby groan brought her attention back to Sun Liehuo, who didn’t take long to regain consciousness from her unguarded headbutt.
“Honestly, it’s a shame you can just heal the damage I dealt with those green flames of yours,” she said, a little disappointed.
He lifted his legs off the floor and sprang back to his feet with a kip up.
“I can… but because I got careless, I’ll let this one heal naturally on its own. Until then, my bleeding nose shall remind me that I sometimes forget my own advice.”
“That’s… pretty noble of you.” Shannon scratched a finger to her chin, a little embarrassed he'd do that for her.
Sun Liehuo responded with a begrudging grin and wiped away his blood with his sleeve, silently admitting that she’d humbled him.
“Now then, let’s get rid of this fog,” he said, eyeing his companion. “Shall we get started, Fenghuang?”
Within a blink, she stood at his word and angled her arms upward while concentrating. A few locks of her long black hair jutted out as if the wind blew from under them.
Shannon watched bewildered as Zheng Fenghuang began to levitate through a blurring force outlining her body. She ascended higher until she was over two bodies above the ground.
Sun Liehuo performed a mighty leap to her with the help of some compressed air he flared from his hands. Landing his feet on his companion’s shoulders, they prepared to perform a technique that was only possible when working together.
「Now, just like we practiced,」 he said, clasping his hands together to compress and pressure a ball of air.
Zheng Fenghuang interlocked her fingers.「I’m ready.」
““《 龙鶏 Path of the Dragon and Rooster: Mystic Storm Dianmu! 路径》””
The duo began to spin counterclockwise while isolated midair. Starting slow but quickly picking up speed with each rotation, they pulled water particles from the surrounding ocean into their makeshift vortex until it intensified into a mini-hurricane.
Shannon braced herself and her things after her amazement with the technique turned into urgent concern. She couldn’t see anything past the air walls surrounding the boat. At the same time, it became clear to her that Sun Liehuo was technically handicapped during their duel. Maybe he wasn’t holding back in hand-to-hand combat, but he still had an arsenal of Dragon Path techniques just waiting to be unleashed.
“Just stay where you are, Shannon!” Sun Liehuo advised while spinning as a blur with his companion. “The eye of this storm is where everything is most calm!”
When their hurricane reached its top rotational speed, Sun Liehuo and Zheng Fenghuang executed the final step of their combo technique. Separating and throwing their arms out with an empowering cry, the duo unleashed the storm they created as an omnidirectional wind blast that blew everything away except those within its eye.
After landing back on the boat, a little dizzy, they informed Shannon it was over and invited her to observe the fruits of their labor. Bewilderment took over the blond girl’s eyes once again.
The sunlight shined on them as the surrounding fog was no more. Instead, an island of clouds, emerald greenery, and mountain ranges revealed itself in the distance.
“It is done,” Sun Liehuo announced with a satisfied look. “As observer of your first fated trial, I, Sun Liehuo, hereby grant Shannon Grey passage into the sacred lands of Shuxiang Academy. May you find the right Path in your attainment of kung fu.”
Facing Shannon again, he and Zheng Fenghuang bowed and saluted with the same hand signs from when they first met back in the port at Mainland Xina.
Shannon couldn’t stop her lips from quivering into one of the silliest-looking smiles she’d ever made as she took in the finalization of her accomplishment. Clenching her fists to the point that her knuckles turned white, she looked ahead toward the island.
It’s finally happening, Allen. Your lil’ sis is finally seeing you for the first time in years.
As the boat approached Shuxiang Island, the view of its landscape became more profound. However, a short surface admiration of her new home led Shannon to more questions.
“Uh… do we have to circle the island or something cause I don’t see any place for us to park the boat.”
No matter where she looked from their current location, no docks or beaches could be found. There was just a massive waterfall flowing from one of the mountains that circled the entire island like a great wall.
“What are you talking about?” Sun Liehuo said, pinching his nose to halt his nosebleed. “We’re about to head straight there.”
“You mean the waterfall? Wait, are we going through it?!” Shannon exclaimed. “My clothes just finished drying up, you know.”
“This is why we need a student of the Rooster Path like Fenghuang here,” he said before turning to her. “Are you ready?”
Confirming with a nod, Zheng Fenghuang took a deep breath to concentrate. Holding her breath and keeping her eyes leveled to the floor, she raised her trembling palms upward at a steady pace as if pretending to lift a heavy object.
“Brace yourself,” Sun Liehuo warned casually. A second later, the floor beneath them jolted and rumbled like an earthquake.
“W-whoa!” Shannon toppled over but slammed a foot down in time and regained her balance. Sun Liehuo, on the other hand, hardly budged as he stood straight with his feet planted together and his arms folded behind himself. He was like a statue, passive to almost everything happening around them.
“You’ll get used to it,” he noted Shannon’s efforts with his signature easygoing smile.
She faced him with a half-hearted grin, unsure if he was commending or mocking her. “Already working on it.”
A few seconds later, the boat stopped rumbling as it rose out of the water and levitated into the air. Zheng Fenghuang exhaled, finally allowing herself to breathe again while continuing the rising motions of her hands.
"Sorry if I scared you." She spoke to Shannon with a few pauses mid-sentence. “But the hardest part is done now. I promise I will get better at this someday.”
“Heheh… Take as much time as you need. I’m still processing that you can actually do stuff like this,” Shannon said as the boat entered a cavern from which the waterfall gushed.
Rather than return to the rushing streams that flowed in the opposite direction, Zheng Fenghuang kept the boat afloat in the air and made it travel straight through the cavern. Spiky rock formations called stalagmites and stalactites formed parts of the floor and ceiling, but a line of lit torches allowed safe navigation through the darkness. Overall, the cavern’s layout was standard. Nothing was worth noting inside until the boat reached the light at its end.
As soon as the sun shined on them, Shannon lowered her baseball cap to shield her eyes. When she allowed herself to see again, every fiber of her body was struck with sensations that went from dark and gloomy to lush and vibrant.
A valley of gray mountains, emerald greenery, clear waters, and clouds of mist welcomed her to its mystical atmosphere. Birds of multiple colors chirped and fluttered about as smaller waterfalls from other mountains cascaded into the lake the boat traveled over. Floating specks of light also decorated the landscape, much to Shannon’s fascination. They were turquoise in color and reminded her of glowworms from back home.
“My gosh, are those cherry blossoms?!” Shannon wrapped her arms around herself and squealed at the beautiful trees that also populated the valley. Some of their pink petals swirled in trails over the boat as they danced with the wind. “But… it’s summer. I don’t think they should be blooming around this time.”
“True,” Sun Liehuo agreed. “But Shuxiang Island is no ordinary place. The location aside, let’s just say that people like me are why those trees can live, even around this time of year.”
Their boat ventured further into the valley, and the first traces of civilization came into view.
Zheng Fenghuang chuckled as she watched Shannon dart around the boat and take pictures with her phone like a tourist. The blonde girl couldn’t contain her excitement as she surveyed the upward curving roofs of every pagoda and other oriental structure they passed, some of which were built onto the mountains and trees. There were also people of all ages dressed in Xinese outfits she never saw back in Mainland Xina. These traditional aesthetics left Shannon with the impression that she had traveled back a century in time.
「It seems we are the last group to make it back,」 Zheng Fenghuang looked ahead.
More cloudy-white boats like theirs lay parked on dry land at a small beach. A small group of older students in hooded black and white uniforms was also present.
Together, they performed a strange and sinister-looking technique. A mysterious black energy resembling miasma began to cultivate between their hands. With just a single blast, they erased the boats and left no traces other than an imprint of their former shapes in the sand.
Shannon’s hands covered her mouth in shock. Sun Liehuo and Zheng Fenghuang remained indifferent, having seen this process many times before.
“What you just saw, Shannon, is one of the signature techniques of the Tiger Path,” Sun Liehuo revealed, knowing by then that Shannon was bound to be curious about anything that could happen on Shuxiang Island. “I don’t mind telling you what they’re all about, but let’s save that for tomorrow morning. It will be a special day fit for the occasion.”
“Really now?” Shannon turned to him. “What kind of day are we talking about?”
A widened grin was all he needed to convey his excitement.
“An annual event called the ‘Gathering of the Twelve Paths.’ Just like the name says, it’s that one day of the year when every Path of Shuxiang kung fu will gather in one place. Each of them will demonstrate the latest evolution in their specialties through a set of chosen students.”
Shannon’s heart pounded as the gist of the event came to her like it would be a crucial moment, which was clarified by what Sun Liehuo said next.
“New students like you will have to join one of these twelve Paths, so tomorrow will be the perfect time to sample everything in one fell swoop. Otherwise, you’d have to travel around the entire island and visit each Path’s temple just to get an idea of one!”
The potential consequences of failing to attend the next day’s event caused Shannon’s teeth to chatter.
Oh god, no… That must be why I was instructed to go to Shuxiang Island today.
It was going to be crucial, alright.
“You’ve already seen my work with natural elements as a student of the Dragon Path, and you’ve seen Fenghuang move things with just her mind as a student of the Rooster Path. Tomorrow, you’ll witness ten more Paths in action, and you’ll have to decide soon whether you'd want to join me, Fenghuang, or any of the remaining ten.”
Soon enough, the boat arrived close to shore. Zheng Fenghuang telekinetically pushed it further until it was far enough on dry land to not let any feet get wet.
She and Sun Liehuo were the first to step off the boat. Passing the Tiger Path students, they exchanged bows and thanked each other for their work.
“We didn’t know each other long, but thanks for everything.”
Before stepping off with her traveling case, Shannon knelt and planted a goodbye kiss on the boat’s floor. She didn’t shed a tear but refused to look back as the Tiger Path students gathered more dark energy and gave the boat their version of a Viking funeral.
It wasn’t long before the deep beats of a tanggu, a Xinese drum, reached Shannon’s ears and got her attention. It was soon joined by the music of an erhu (violin), a dizi (transverse flute), a pipa (lute), and a guzheng (seven-stringed zither).
Although it was Shannon’s first time hearing these Xinese musical instruments, their cheerful tone made it clear to her that a festival was beginning nearby. Excitement welled in the British blonde as the culture of this foreign land presented itself in full blast.
“Now that we’re finally here on Shuxiang Island, how about we spend the rest of the day enjoying the festivities in celebration of the school life that awaits you?”
Eager to replace the worst part of the day with something more endearing, Shannon didn’t hesitate to agree. Turning to Zheng Fenghuang, she raised her hands for a double high-five. Much to her pleasure, the other girl slapped their hands together with a smile of her own.