A/N: My first Shenmue fanfiction piece. Some of the characters might seem a little OOC, although I tried to keep them consistent. Also, anyone know what type of tree that red tree in the Temple is? It's definitely not an oak, but I needed filler. Special thanks to my friend Linda for beta-reading this fic! Please R&R.
The sunsets were always quiet in Scarlet Hills. It was a well-deserved respite for Hong Xiuying as she paced in the shade of the temple's red maple, drinking in the early twilight silence after a hectic day in Wan Chai. Above her, a beautiful leaf drifted from the branches to begin its descent to earth. With a faint smile, the young master plucked it gently from the air. Yes, autumn was coming to an end; winter would be here soon, sooner than she knew, and things would be different in Hong Kong.
She heard the stranger before she saw her. A footstep among many was silent, but a footstep alone, in the early twilight calm, was deafening. She spun around gracefully, coming face-to-face with a woman who seemed a few years younger than she. Narrowing her eyes, Xiuying scrutinized the visitor. Her attire was certainly flashy enough; a bright crimson jacket, Western-style blue jeans and tall leather boots, all beneath a broad hat unlike any Xiuying had seen in the East.
"Master Tao Lishao?" the stranger spoke. Blunt and confident, but Xiuying could sense a troubled waver in her voice, ever so perceptible.
"I am Tao Lishao," Xiuying answered, effortlessly adopting her more well-known alias. "What is your name?"
"My name is Chunyan," came the reply. Xiuying whispered the name to herself, as she often did when meeting someone for the first time. Chunyan…why did that name feel so familiar on her lips?
"Chunyan," Xiuying acknowledged audibly, nodding. "You are not from around here. What brings you to Wan Chai at such an hour?"
Chunyan was silent for a moment before she replied. "I have lost my way."
"Lost your way," Xiuying repeated.
A nod. "I have lost my way. I seek your guidance, Master Tao."
"My guidance," Xiuying echoed. "Tell me, Chunyan…are you a martial artist?" She needn't have asked the question, in reality—the girl's body was in prime condition, and the distinct aura of power particular only to those disciplined in the martial arts surrounded her every breath. Still, it was best not to appear overconfident.
"I…I am a martial artist." There was a strange, almost forced, tone to the reply.
"I suspected as much. Tell me, Chunyan…what are the Wude?"
Chunyan hesitated, and turned her gaze to the floor. Xiuying was positive that the girl had been exposed to the core philosophy of the arts—all martial artists, regardless of upbringing, were reared under the Wude. Whether or nor the martial artist retained them, however, was often a different story. There was a long pause; the early evening wind whistled across Xiuying's hair. Finally, Chunyan looked up.
"Gon," she muttered, "to practice the arts every day, without neglect. Dan—to be brave, to remain calm. A-and—"
Chunyan broke off. It was apparent that she had forgotten the last two principles of Wude, as so many young martial artists often did, but Xiuying decided to wait a few more moments before speaking, in case she was mistaken about this girl. She wasn't.
"Jie—to judge oneself without conceit," she finally recited, looking Chunyan in the eyes. "Yi—never to hesitate in doing what is right. Do you remember?"
"I…I remember," Chunyan replied, looking toward the ground once more. "Jie and yi." Her voice became bitter. "I no longer have them."
"That remains to be determined," Xiuying answered. Turning, she walked out from underneath the maple tree into the courtyard, shadows long under the glow of the young moon. "Come, Chunyan," she beckoned. "Let us fight."
"What?" Chunyan seemed uncertain. "I…I—"
"I will tell you what you seek to learn," Xiuying told her, "But you must defeat me first." She dropped into her fighting stance, graceful as always. "Do not hesitate."
Even she did not expect the girl to comply quite so willingly. Chunyan spoke only a single word of accord, which quickly turned into a battle cry as she lunged toward Xiuying, legs poised to strike. The young master leapt to the left, barely dodging Chunyan's blow, and quickly parried another strike. The girl was aggressive enough, but Xiuying would return none of that aggression. Perhaps then the girl would understand.
"Jeet kune do," Xiuying remarked when she finally found the room to speak. "An impressive martial art. You fight well, Chunyan."
"Not well enough," Chunyan shot back, then offered a quick punch. Xiuying easily escaped the move; she could have predicted it from a kilometer away. She heard Chunyan hiss violently as she delivered another blocked kick. The sudden outbreak of anger surprised Xiuying, but she was determined to test the girl to her limits.
"Try hitting me for once," Xiuying called. She didn't mean it as a taunt, but guessed that Chunyan, in her current state, would interpret it as such. A shout of fury confirmed the master's suspicions, and she saw the girl redouble her efforts, seething. It was a fruitless attempt on Chunyan's part, of course—the girl was undeniably skilled, but Xiuying was a master, and easily blocked every kick, punch, and throw. Chunyan, however, didn't let that lessen her resolve…or her anger.
Xiuying's command caught Chunyan mid-kick, and the girl reluctantly let her leg drop to the ground, breathing heavily. A thin sheen of sweat covered her skin, and a dangerous gleam lit her eyes as she stared back at Xiuying with nothing short of loathing. It was rare to see such anger in a young fighter, but it was equally rare to see her own current method fail so utterly. It was time to try a different approach.
"Attack me," Xiuying told her. "I will not defend myself." She let her arms fall to her side. "Go on. Don't hold back."
Chunyan didn't need to be prompted twice, and immediately lashed out with a powerful flip kick. Xiuying knew what was coming, but even so, was not quite prepared for the piercing pain as the girl's blow connected with her midsection. It would have been easy to let herself tumble backward; standing her ground was far more difficult.
"Again," Xiuying said through gritted teeth.
She saw Chunyan's fist for a split second before she felt its impact with her face. Xiuying struggled to keep her gaze firm even as her eyes watered uncontrollably. She ventured a glance in Chunyan's direction; the girl's lips were curled in a cold sneer, and the same maniacal twinkle tainted her eyes. Xiuying sighed.
"Good hit. But before you strike again, I must ask you a question." She locked eyes with the girl. "Why do you hate me?"
The effect was instantaneous. In an instant, Chunyan went from irate and vicious to wide-eyed and confused. She stared back at Xiuying, almost embarrassed.
"I…but—" She struggled with her words. "I don't—"
"You fight well," Xiuying offered, wiping blood from her lips. "But your actions lack focus. You do not think through what you do. You let anger, passion, instinct, but not your will, dictate your fighting."
"Your fury overwhelms you," the master continued, letting her voice become soft. "It hinders your judgment and conscience, blocking all but your lust for violence, your desire to see your opponent vanquished." She shook her head. "And without a doubt, it is a powerful technique. But if you wish to follow the path of a true master, to live by the Wude, this anger must be abandoned. For only then," Xiuying said, pausing for emphasis, "will you find what you seek—will you rediscover your jie, your yi."
"I…but—" Chunyan muttered, but Xiuying could tell that her carefully selected words were finally becoming clear. The girl sighed. "You are right, Master Tao." She bowed her head in disgrace. "I…I'm sorry."
"No need," Xiuying replied softly. "It is a difficult lesson to learn. Come then, Chunyan…I have one final lesson for you." She beckoned.
The master led the girl back to the quiet spot beneath the maple tree, then tapped the tree trunk lightly, almost tenderly, with one finger. The tree answered her call; a maelstrom of scarlet leaves began to drift from the treetop, vivid even under the waning moonlight. Deftly, she picked a leaf from the air and showed it to Chunyan.
"I would like you to try that."
"Not a problem." The girl reached out with a motion nearly as adept as Xiuying's, easily catching a leaf between her fingers. Xiuying nodded in approval.
"Good. I expected as much from you. Now," she continued, taking the leaf from the girl, "close your eyes, and try again."
Chunyan was perplexed. "I…what?"
"Trust me," Xiuying reassured her, and gently pressed the girl's eyes closed. "Focus on your surroundings. Let everything go but your senses. Now."
Chunyan's arm whipped out wildly, violently, missing the leaves by far. A ripple swept across the cascade of falling crimson.
She tried again. Another miss. Xiuying could feel Chunyan's irritation growing with each new failure. With a firm palm, the master stopped Chunyan's hand mid-reach.
"I can't do it," the girl hissed, obviously agitated. "Just let me open my eyes; I'm obviously not good enough—"
"You are good enough," Xiuying said, and she meant it. "But leave your anger behind, as I have taught you. Relax. Focus. Become one with your surroundings. Feel where the leaves are; sense them." She let go of the girl's hand.
Xiuying heard the girl's soft inhale, and watched as Chunyan relaxed quite visibly. Her shoulders fell, her muscles unwound, her breathing slowed. For a moment, she seemed almost like a sleeping child, beautiful and innocent in the starlight. Xiuying smiled; it was only a matter of time.
Chunyan's hand reached once more. There was no violence, no wildness in her gesture this time, only purposeful determination and calm. Her speed was traded in favor of elegance as her arm swept out in a graceful arc across the night air. Xiuying knew that Chunyan would succeed even before the red leaf landed softly between her fingers. The girl gently drew the leaf in toward her chest, and her lips curled upward in a smile.
"Well done," said Xiuying. "Open your eyes."
"I did it," Chunyan said breathlessly, looking down at the leaf in her hand with pride. There was no conceit or arrogance in her eyes, only dignity.
"This is my last lesson for you tonight," Xiuying explained. "Anger is only a crutch, seeming to help you when in fact it is only hindering you. Anything that is possible with anger is thrice possible when you have liberated yourself from its influence. Know now that anything is possible if you have the focus."
Chunyan nodded silently. "Thank you, Master Tao." She dropped to her knees before Xiuying. "Thank you for all that you have done."
"Do not thank me," Xiuying replied, and helped the girl back to her feet. "I had nothing to do with it. I may teach, but only the student can bring herself to learn, no matter how many words I say. You have done an exceptional job of learning tonight, Chunyan. I am proud of you." The master smiled.
Chunyan bowed. "I must be returning to Kowloon. Thank you again, Master Tao." She turned and began to walk toward the temple gate. Xiuying accompanied her.
"What business do you have in Kowloon?" Xiuying wondered aloud.
"I live there," Chunyan answered. She hesitated. "I-I am a street fighter."
"A street fighter…" Suddenly, something clicked in Xiuying's head, and she stopped walking to gaze at Chunyan in disbelief. "You are Xu Chunyan!"
Chunyan nodded. There was no pride in her gesture.
"Merciless, I have heard," said Xiuying. "None who has challenged you and failed has ever survived…and you have not yet been defeated."
Chunyan laughed lightly. "I am no longer undefeated. A few days ago, a young man came to the Black Heaven Building and challenged me. His name was Ryo…"
"Ryo Hazuki?" Xiuying asked, vaguely startled. Chunyan nodded.
"He defeated me easily, yet when I lost balance and fell off the arena, he helped me back up rather than watching me plummet to my death, as I have done with so many other fighters before him." She turned to Xiuying.
"Ryo Hazuki…" Xiuying murmured, and smiled inwardly.
"In some ways I owe Ryo almost as much gratitude as I owe you, Master Tao," Chunyan continued, bowing again. "Not only for my life, but for making me see the error of my ways, to see the lie that my entire life has been." Her voice grew soft. "And for giving me the opportunity to meet you."
Xiuying nodded. "Where will you go now?"
"I must go back to street fighting," Chunyan answered. "It is difficult to give something that has been one's entire life so far. But thanks to you, Master Tao, perhaps things will be different. There is hope for me yet, even in street fighting."
"I do not doubt it," Xiuying replied. "Farewell, Chunyan. Good luck to you, wherever your journey in life may take you. Perhaps we shall meet again one day."
"It would be an honor." Chunyan smiled. "Farewell, Master Tao." She turned, walked through the temple gate, and vanished into the darkness of Wan Chai.
Xiuying followed the girl with her eyes until she was out of sight, then turned and gazed up at the moon. The night was growing old now, and it was time for her to get some rest. The two apprentices had long since left for home, and she was alone now in the temple. Fangmei, her assistant, was surely growing anxious.
Looking down at her hand, Xiuying realized that she still clutched the leaf that she had taken from Chunyan so many moments ago. Smiling to herself, Xiuying tucked the leaf into her robes; one more wayward martial artist that she hoped would find the true path again. Somewhere down the line, perhaps, they would remember her.
"Ziming," she whispered to the stars. "Brother, wherever you may be…I hope that I have made you proud."