A shallow breeze fluttered gently through the strenuous misty mountain paths, bringing along the first whisper of spring. Atop one of the many mountains came excited whispers and barely hushed chatter bought a new bout of cheer as little ones squirmed in their spots whilst waiting for the shriveled old man to begin. The elder sat crossed-legged comfortably atop a smooth granite stone lodged snugly beneath a budding tree. With a polite wave of his sleeves, he quieted the small group of children and told tales of flying swords, magic, bravery, heroism and immortality.
“Hey! Hey! Grandpa Shu! Grandpa Shu! Do you think that we can ever ascend to immortality?” One of the tiny ones perked up and inquired with cute wide eyes.
“Hmm….” Grandpa Shu stroked his long white beard softly in an act of thought.
“What may seem impossible can only be attempted till a path if found. A lost path may be preceded by innovation and many paths may result in the same destination or lead one astray to somewhere distant and obscure…”
“Grandpa Shu!! You’re trying to trick us again!” One of the little ones accused.
“Yeah, yeah! You always go into long-winded speeches when you don’t want to answer us...!” Another one stood in childish anger. The group chorused in unanimous agreement. Some more verbally than others.
Their pouting faces were adorable and even more so as their expressions were that of harmless fury. So, how could Grandpa Shu resist teasing them?
“Haha..” He chuckled.
“How about this? I’ll tell you lot another tale, and maybe you can find the answer yourselves?”
“Hmm… but Grandpa Shu! How can we know if the tales are true? Will you make this one up as well?”
“Heh~ You won’t know anyway, so why not take a chance?” He smiled with an evil teasing glint in his eyes.
“Aww…” They whined.
“Alright, hush now. Did you know that this thousands-of-years-old tree was planted by an immortal?” Grandpa Shu gestured above them to a winding tree that shaded them from the morning sun.
Their expressions instantly lit up quizzingly as they gaze to the aged branches and weird funny spirals that clothed them.
“Once, in an age long forgotten, an immortal was taking a leisure stroll right by these very plains. He was unrivaled by many and looked up upon by many other strong and powerful immortals. But, he was bored attending to the affairs of the immortal realm and came to relax. He traveled around this very mountain and admired the blissful scenery of rolling clouds and serene chirps of the birds. It was quiet and peaceful. So, he laid down and ate a snack. A mystical fruit that has magical and wonderous properties and was rumored to be able to save one from the brink of death!
So, he ate it and threw the pit over the smooth rock he had slept on for the afternoon. Despite not being buried in the ground and cared for, the little pit grew up sturdy and strong for thousands of years and remained till this day… The End.”
“Ehhh!! That’s it?” The children began complaining again. Where was the bloodshed? The trials and tribulations of being an immortal? Don’t immortals usually get chased around by their enemies who want to steal their treasures? Where're the heaven-shaking battles?
“Complaining are you? Next time I won’t tell you lot any more stories!” Grandpa Shu threatened.
“B-but! There weren’t any fights! Why did he just eat a wonderous medicinal fruit like that! It could’ve saved him from being killed!” The other kids chorused in agreement.
“Well, must there be fights for a tale? The fruit was his, and he was strong so why should he worry about being harmed?” Grandpa Shu retorted playfully. He knew they would be agitated.
“B-but!! That was so bland!”
“Heh heh~ Well, aren’t you interested in the tree anymore?”
“Right! The tree! Does that mean if we eat the fruits of the tree we can become immortal?”
“Hmm~ Aside from healing properties, the fruit is a miracle pill for ease of cultivation of one’s internal force…”
“But!” Grandpa Shu paused for emphasis as he enjoyed the tortured expressions on the little ones.
“This tree’s a male! How could it bear fruit!?”
“Whaaaaaaat!???” They were defeated. Utterly defeated. Their tiny fragile hearts broke at being played by this old man time and time again… How hateful!
Then came a period of mourning and respective consolation. They even patted each other’s backs and licked their emotional wounds…
“B-but.. it has flowers….” One tried to reason in diminished hope.
“Well, you have nipples.” Grandpa Shu commented.
The children stared at him in confusion… but everyone … has nipples? What does that have to do with anything?
“Similarly, all trees can have flowers. But there are male and female flowers. You need both to bear fruit, just like how your parents have kids.”
“But, some plants can have a fruit on its own!”
“Well, ‘some plants’ are hermaphroditic, they have both female and male parts. You still can’t change the tree’s gender!” Grandpa Shu finished them off with half-mocking laughter.
Some kids glared at both the elder and the tree in despair. If they could, the would forcibly turn the miracle tree into a hermaphrodite!! Oh, if only they could!
“H-how about the flowers then...? Or the leaves? Would it be okay if we eat them?” A shyer child asked.
“Hmm… Good question, but the flowers and leaves have some poison in them. Not deadly, but it will give you kids a tummy ache!”
The little ones groaned in sadness… What a hateful Grandpa Shu! What a hateful tree! How hateful!!!
“Alright, alright! Enough now.” An elder voice bellowed. It was a big brother from their clan ushering them to leave for training.
“Big brother!” The kids greeted him together as they clamored to where he was to complain about the evil Grandpa Shu.
“Were you telling them about the tree? Don’t distract them from their studies.” He said righteously, trying to exude a serious aura whilst a few children climbed onto him.
“Hehe… Weren’t you also excited at their age? Hmm… who was it again that chewed on the tree’s petals secretly when I was still storytelling and got a tummy ache?” Grandpa Shu stroke his beard whilst tilling his head at an angle in thought.
Big brother’s face flushed in anger and embarrassment. He was speechless. This old man was too much of a tease! Even after growing up, no one can escape the clutches of Grandpa Shu! Some children shuddered at this thought.
“Haha...! Big brother’s face is red!” The child that climbed into big brothers’ arms exclaimed while lightly patting the elder’s cheeks with his open palms.
“Enough!” He shouted.
But the little ones laughed. Grandpa Shu’s personality was rubbing off on them.
“You lot better get to the training grounds before I give you lot special training!” He threatened.
“Gyaa!!” They ran. Even the ones on him jumped down. Big brother may act serious and righteous and all, but he was really scary when he gives ‘special training’! He wouldn’t relent! Most importantly, he wouldn’t give them dinner if they did badly! Bad big brother!
“ Haha… you’re still the same. How’s your cultivation level?” Elder Shu asked.
“Reporting to Elder Shu.” He bowed with his hands in a respectful gesture. “I’ve reached a bottleneck recently, but may breakthrough within the next 3 months.”
“Hmm… Good. Review the material and refer to the books in the study pavilion, there may be hints for ease of progress.” Elder Shu responded as he stood from beneath the tree.
“Thank you, Elder Shu, for your guidance.”
“Still so serious…” Elder Shu muttered. “How’s the wind blowing?” He asked whilst gazing at the budding flowers.
“ The gates have been touched, by the wind from the south.” The teen walked towards the tree and stood next to the pondering Elder.
“Hm... Great. Remember to shut the doors and strengthen the roofs. How is the preparation progressing?”
“Just completed. We are prepared for departure.”
“Great. Haha… Look.” Elder Shu smiled amiably, “They’re blooming.”
The buds on the strangely shaped branches expanded and bloomed merrily into arrays of velvety red.
“Beautiful.” The teen commented as a smile tugged on his lips.
“Hmm… perfect for tea!” Elder Shu said as he plucked a few, along with the light pastel pink leaves from various branches.
Big brother was confused. Weren’t they poisonous?
Noting his gaze, Elder Shu just said,
“The poisons in the leaves and petals are counteractive, great for health. Plus, they’re sweet!”
“…” How hateful. The teen unconsciously rubbed his tummy.