The Parable of Shuxiang Academy [Short]
“Shannon? The whole temple just heard a scream, and you’re the first person that comes to mind.”
Sun Liehuo, dressed in silk pajamas with a lotus pattern, knocked on Shannon’s room door. There was no response, but he felt it was too soon for her to go anywhere other than the girl’s bathroom, which was empty as far as he knew. After two more rounds of knocking went nowhere, he decided to let himself in.
But then a thought crossed his mind as he fastened a grip on the door. If he were to enter and coincidentally find Shannon in the middle of changing her clothes...
The fault would be all hers for not responding seconds ago, he told himself.
Sun Liehuo slammed the sliding door open, only to find a bedroom shrouded in darkness and silence.
“…Shannon? Where did you go―”
A horrified face with unkempt blond hair flashed before his eyes, and screamed.
“―Oh, there you are.”
As sudden as it was, Shannon’s jumpscare hardly forced a reaction from him. Her movements were too erratic, and he quickly sensed its disturbance to the air.
“This place is a nightmare!” she cried.
Sun Liehuo’s eyebrows rose slightly. “I expected you to say that, but not this soon.”
“How the bloody hell do you guys survive here?!” She grabbed and shook him by his shoulders. “Are you even human?!
“…By breathing, and uh, yes?”
Shannon shook him harder.
“What kind of a hellhole have you guys been living in, Liehuo?! First I find out nobody knows what Wi-Fi is, and then I find out there are no bloody light switches in my room, and then I, and then I―”
A stiff slap to the face silenced her rambling and forced her nerves to calm down.
“…Okay, I deserved that,” Shannon admitted, releasing him from her grip and rubbing a hand on her stung cheek. “I hate to say this, but thanks.”
“No problem. I enjoyed myself too,” Sun Liehuo smirked to her slight annoyance. “Now, before you disturb the neighbors again, how about we sit down, and I’ll answer your questions the best I can.”
They sat by Shannon’s room table, opposite each other. Shannon’s first question came out frantic after a moment of calmness―she voiced the possibility that they had traveled back in time upon arrival on Shuxiang Island. She even pointed out the recent unawareness of Wi-Fi and lack of electricity in the temple as examples.
Sun Liehuo dismissed her claims after a bit of fun watching her panic again.
His explanation was straightforward―Shuxiang Island abstains from modern technology or anything too convenient, which leads everyone to work the old-fashioned way to get things done. Some of the younger people, like the students, were inspired by the rule to fake unawareness of modern technology for fun, such as the two Dragon Path Students Shannon met in the corridor.
“So… I got toyed with? That’s it; they owe me a new phone!”
Shannon was steaming, but Sun Liehuo quickly told her it was also possible that those students really didn’t know what Wi-Fi was in the first place―
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT Wi-Fi IS?!”
“THIS IS NOT HAPPENING… THIS IS NOT HAPPENING!!!”
“NO… NO, NO INTERNET?! WHAT WILL I GET ADDICTED TO NOW??!!!!”
―More hysterical screams and complaints howled from far outside the temple, interrupting their conversation and sending more birds to the sky.
“It seems the fully-booked inn at Colony 6 was a blessing in disguise,” Sun Liehuo chuckled. “The owners must be having the time of their lives now that the other new students got their taste of reality here.”
Shannon didn’t expect to chuckle too, but that’s exactly what she did. She had to admit that what she went through was rather funny when taken from another point of view.
As their conversation got back on track, some moonlight beamed through the window, slightly illuminating the room. Speaking of which…
“So, how do you guys get some light here?” Shannon hitched a thumb to her window. “Or does this mean I have to wait for random chances like that?”
“Have you ever tried looking around your room?” Sun Liehuo asked.
“I was going to do that tomorrow after some shut-eye.”
“Okay, here’s an eye-opener for you; another of Shuxiang Academy’s unwritten rules: you should become aware of your surroundings as soon as possible, and right now is a basic example. You realize there’s no light source in your room, but is that really true?”
He wandered to the room’s closet and opened one of its drawers. A hand went in and took out a stick of wax.
“…A candle?” Shannon’s voice cracked. “I haven’t seen those since me and my brother’s last birthday cake.”
“And there’s a candle holder here too,” Sun Liehuo brought out a flat cup made of golden iron. “Now, you don’t have to worry about getting wax burns whenever you need to bring the candle around.”
It was already disheartening to find out her light source from then on was going to be something mundane, but then Shannon had another concern.
“What about an alarm for waking up? Usually, my phone does that for me.”
“There’s a small clock in this drawer, but the answer to your question is this.” Sun Liehuo pinched out a thin and sharp object made of steel.
“A nail!” Shannon almost exclaimed. “Hey, be careful! You could poke someone’s eye out!”
“Well, it’s time to get used to handling dangerous objects like how you should also start getting used to seeing broken bones,” Sun Liehuo argued calmly on his way back to the table. “It looks like your new life here won’t just be training you to become stronger. It might also be the training you’ll need to grow up quickly.”
Before setting it down on the table, he inserted the candle into its holder. Shannon noticed the candle had twelve evenly spaced ‘ring’ marks with a number under each of them.
“These rings represent the passage of time while the candle is lit. Every ring the flame melts means an hour had passed. If you want to set an alarm, just insert a nail into the ring you want like this.”
His thumb pressed the nail’s head into the ring with the number “9” below it.
“Nine hours from now, at 5:00 in the morning, I’m supposed to wake up for early training, but feel free to change to another number if you wish. Oh, before I forget, the Gathering of the Twelve Paths will be at 9:00 in the morning as well. Fenghuang and I will accompany you there.”
“Got it.” Shannon nodded before returning her eyes to the candle. “So… when the ring above ‘9’ melts, the nail should fall and hit the cup below. That’s the alarm? One nail drop that I could easily miss in my sleep?”
Shannon let out a long and dull sigh before droning, “Why does everyone in Shuxiang Island give themselves such a hard time in everything?”
“Because personal struggles and challenging yourself can build character, Shannon.”
Sun Liehuo said those words with a strange seriousness that cut her deep. However, his voice reverted to a more polite but sarcastic tone right after.
“By the way, here’s how you’re going to light the candle.”
He dropped three more objects on the table: a piece of flint, a shard of carbon steel, and a sheet of charcoal. This old-fashioned method of starting a fire led Shannon to slump.
“Hey, let me be honest with you. Even I still take some time to light a fire using those,” he admitted.
“Really?” Shannon raised her head, surprised and somewhat relieved.
“Really. I still can’t do it without getting a little frustrated.”
“Wow… Liehuo, I didn’t think you’d be willing to―”
“Of course, that was before I remembered I walk the Dragon Path.”
He snapped his fingers like a cigarette lighter. A tiny flame sparked atop his thumb, which he used to light the candle.
Shannon scowled him down. Forget her growing sense of empathy. She wanted to jump over the table and strangle him like that hug trap on the boat until his face became as purple as his uniform. Of course, she also knew he wouldn’t just let her do that… probably.
“…I think you’re despicable,” she muttered instead.
This was a guess on Shannon’s part, but she could’ve sworn Sun Liehuo’s smile widened a bit with her words.
She got up and walked away, hinting to him that it was time to leave her room.
“Okay, I’m done. I just wanna jump into bed.”
Her whole body took flight for its first landing on the mattress―
―which felt like swan diving into a pile of wood.
“I suppose… the mattresses back home were thicker and softer?” Sun Liehuo pretended to sound surprised.
“One day, Liehuo. I will crush you. Just you wait.” Shannon groaned, her voice muffled by her pillow.
As he climbed the stairs back to his dormitory room on a higher floor, Sun Liehuo reflected on the day’s events, starting with when he and Zheng Fenghuang were sent to fetch Shannon from the port in Mainland Xina.
For the longest time, he viewed girls as unnecessarily submissive once given an idea of his potential strength. Zheng Fenghuang was an example of that. But this day marked the first time he met a girl, foreigner or not, who refused to bow down to his superiority. Moreso, she openly defied him despite the gap in their differences and even swore revenge someday.
And on another note that filled his thoughts…
She sure was fond of wearing clothes that revealed a bit of skin, something he wasn’t used to despite previous claims. Her halter top and sweater made it challenging for him to keep his gaze away from her flat and toned belly.
How strange. I don’t think this ever happened before…
Sun Liehuo laid a hand on his chest to make sure the hammering inside wasn’t just his imagination. His smile straightening into a more concerning line, he realized.
Until he met Shannon, he believed he had no exploitable weaknesses.
Sleeping on a thin mattress atop a hard surface would take some getting used to.
Unable to keep her eyes shut, Shannon sat up and surveyed her room for anything that would put her in the mood to sleep.
What stood out in the dark was the candle on her table. Its dim flame was Sun Liehuo’s last act before he left her room.
Sitting by the table once more and watching the flame dance, Shannon pondered the future of her new life while tracing a finger on the cracked screen of her smartphone.
Although her phone wouldn’t get confiscated any time soon, she now knew she had to start getting used to life without it. No more internet surfing, no more social media, and no more long-distance communication through email or text. Her phone’s battery wasn’t going to last much longer either, and no electricity in her new home meant she had no way of charging it.
It was time for her to begrudgingly accept her new reality.
Shannon bit her lower lip as she switched her phone off. 46% was the battery life displayed on its screen before it faded to black.
Then, grasping the flint and steel in each hand, she struck them together over the charcoal sheet. She recently promised herself that she’d work hard to catch up to Allen. Now, Sun Liehuo had become another she placed on a pedestal. There was no time like the present while she still felt awake.
It was frustrating whenever a clash didn’t create sparks, but she tried again and again, grasping her tools harder and vowing not to climb back to her uncomfortable bed until the charcoal sheet burned with a new flame.