“Do you want to become strong? Strong enough to be peerless, to the point that no one under the heavens dares to fight you?” Shen Qingqiu asks. His eyes are solemn as they meet Luo Binghe's.
Luo Binghe hesitates, swallowing back the immediate "yes!" that bubbles into his mouth.
Is this a test?
As a disciple of Qing Jing Peak, Luo Binghe is used to theoretical questions. Shizun would often ask them during lessons, listening carefully to every disciples’ response before tearing them all apart and encouraging them to “think harder, we are the peak of scholars.” Luo Binghe had watched disciples debate literature, philosophy, and theory. He had often watched his fellow disciple brothers and sisters smile genially at one another as they hurled vitriol so strong, Luo Binghe was surprised that a fight hadn’t broken out.
But, then again, Qing Jing Peak wasn’t Bai Zhan Peak.
…was the general, peak-wide consensus. A common ending statement, had the losing side of the literature debate gotten heated enough to actually appear ready to fight, was a haughty, “Fighting when you fail to properly think of an answer? Do you truly belong on Qing Jing?” Do you actually belong on Bai Zhan? being the unspoken taunt. The other party would then have to hold themselves back from launching themselves onto the winner and burying them in the bamboo forest.
Anyways, the point was this: at Qing Jing Peak, don’t act like you’re at Bai Zhan Peak.
Do you want to become strong enough to be peerless? That was definitely, definitely a test! Luo Binghe bit his lip. At least he knew what the wrong answer had to be.
A Bai Zhan Peak disciple would have answered an unhesitating "yes.”
(“Blockheads! Do these Bai Zhan Peak disciples have no brain!? Oh, of course not! Only thinking with their muscles!” Luo Binghe recalls one of his shixiong ranting.
“Completely uncultured - thinking that strength is everything, how foolish,” he remembers one of his shijie scoffing.)
Luo Binghe is not a Bai Zhan Peak disciple.
(He remembers, with discomfort and shame, when he was the least favored of all the disciples. When he could neither read the complicated characters that made up a text on philosophy nor place the strokes down in the proper order required to keep his hanzi from looking stilted.
"What is this," he remembers a fellow disciple-brother saying, scornful and vaguely amazed at how bad Luo Binghe’s lopsided characters looked. "Can you not even write? You really are like one of those Bai Zhan brutes."
Luo Binghe remembers with a painful clarity how that lofty, carelessly mean statement had hurt more than even the tea that had been spilled on him.)
Luo Binghe is his shizun's most favored disciple.
He is a Qing Jing Peak disciple.
"It is," Luo Binghe says carefully, "impossible to be infallible. To pursue absolute power would be like looking at a tree and hoping it will catch fish."
Shen Qingqiu snaps his fan open, and covers the lower half of his face. "And if you could theoretically possess an uncontested might?" Shen Qingqiu asks slowly. He turns his face away, breaking the solemn eye contact, as though no longer interested.
The very picture of an untouched immortal.
The very picture of a teacher disappointed by a student's poorly crafted answer.
Luo Binghe bites his lip. It was definitely a test! Luo Binghe cries in his heart.
His hands closing into fists, Luo Binghe takes a deep breath and thinks again. The answer had to lie in the phrasing.
(“For some questions, Ah-Luo,” Ning Yingying chirped after laying waste to an apprentice-brother’s argument and receiving a pat on the head by Shizun, “you have to pay attention to how the question is asked!”
Luo Binghe stared at her in envy. He also wanted Shizun to pat his head.)
“If I could have absolute strength… I do not think I would pursue it.”
Shen Qingqiu’s eyes snap back onto him, and Luo Binghe cheers in his heart. He was on the right track! More confident now, Luo Binghe continues. First, he deconstructs and defines the idea of strength. He goes on to detail the pitfalls that mindlessly following a path of strength would entail, and the costs and consequences that would result from trying to become peerlessly strong. The key word being “peerlessly.” He explains that the enemies that one would make in order to ensure that “no one under the heavens” would “dare to” challenge them would be innumerable. That someone in such a position may have great riches and be greatly praised outwardly, but would very likely be deeply hated by many. That this someone likely could not trust easily. Would probably doubt everyone’s intentions. Would probably be lonely. Finally, Luo Binghe explains, a person with such a tyrannical rule would eventually incite the masses to band together to overthrow such a person.
As Luo Binghe approaches his closing statement, he injects as much “impassioned scholar” into his voice that he can muster, “Certainly, the pursuit of strength by itself is not reprehensible. The pursuit of absolute strength, however, is different. Ultimately, the bloody path required to make oneself not only ‘strong’ but ‘peerlessly strong’ is both pointless and detrimental to one’s self and those around them.”
Shen Qingqiu feels his soul leave his body.
Luo Binghe’s eyes glittered brightly. Anyone looking on could easily imagine a tail wagging furiously behind Luo Binghe. “Praise me!” his expression seemed to say.
“I… I see. That’s certainly… a very well-thought out response.”
“Of course!” Luo Binghe exclaims. “After all, I am Shizun’s disciple!” His eyes continue to glitter. He leans forward eagerly.
Shen Qingqiu slowly lifts his hand and pats Luo Binghe’s head. “…good.”
Luo Binghe visibly brightens. Shizun did not even mention how Luo Binghe was too old to still want head pats! “Shizun!” he says, firmly attaching himself to Shen Qingqiu's side. Shizun does not say anything about that either, and Luo Binghe beams up at him. Shizun had to be really proud of his answer!
Shen Qingqiu looks away and cries in his heart.
Shen Qingqiu runs a hand down his face tiredly.
System: [Literary and philosophical depth +100]
Shen Qingqiu groans.