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A Friend in Seed is a Friend Indeed

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Happily ensconced within her favorite bush in a fully-flowered form, Ying Chun watched the newest class of Dragon City University students wandering the campus in groups, some looking dazed and overwhelmed, others excited. Over the years, she had grown to enjoy this yearly tradition and had become quite fond of some of the students she observed. This year, one quiet, well-dressed student carefully exploring the campus on his own rather than with a crowd of friends caught her attention. Curious, she shifted her roots to move for a closer look.

To her surprise, the student turned and looked directly at her, despite her care in moving. The young man stared at her gravely, then offered a slight but formal bow in her direction. Shaken but strangely compelled, Ying Chun withdrew fully into the surrounding bush to transform before stepping forward.

“Student, I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new to this area?” Ying Chun asked.

The handsome young man graced her with a sad smile. “I suppose you could say that. A great many things have changed since last I was here.” He looked away, gaze distant. “It is good to know that the Yashou remain.”

Ying Chun hesitated. The way the student spoke -

“Forgive me if this question is impertinent, but your accent is one that I’ve not heard for a great many years. Are you perhaps from a… deeply southern region?”

With a barely there smile, the student said, “Your discretion is appreciated. Yes, I was sent from the… south to perform some duties to help maintain the peace. I am called Shen Wei.”

“Shen Wei,” Ying Chun repeated. “Shen Wei - oh! Hei Pao Shi! The Regent sent word of your coming, but never mentioned that you’re so young! And a student? Or perhaps a professor? I’m sorry, I never expected to be meeting one of the leaders of Dixing today; I’m Ying Chun, leader of the Flower Tribe of the Yashou.”

Shen Wei gave another slight bow. “I have been… away, for some time. While I have spent some time in the south adjusting, it was deemed best that I remain in Haixing, to better perform my duties and to learn of the changes here. What better way to learn than to join a university?”

Ying Chun smiled brightly at the Dixingren. “If you need anything, there are quite a few of us growing around the campus. I’m happy to introduce you to some of the others and help you as you settle in. We’ve all heard tales of the mighty Hei Pao Shi -” she noticed Shen Wei flinch ever so slightly - “but I’m looking forward to getting to know Shen Wei better.”

Shen Wei’s shoulders lowered slightly as he ducked his head, shyly adjusting his glasses. “My thanks to you, Ying Chun. I would appreciate your assistance, and look forward to knowing you better as well.”

 

The years passed, Hei Pao Shi returned in full force, and Shen Wei learned. He absorbed knowledge at a rapid pace, not only from his classes, but also from Ying Chun, his first friend in Haixing in this new age. At least once a week he sought out her company during his first year at DCU. The kind-hearted Yashou cheerfully explained what he couldn’t openly learn in Haixing, like how history and Haixing had changed while Shen Wei had slept, and helped him temper his accent so he wouldn’t stand out too noticeably. In return, Shen Wei shared stories of Fu You, the Yashou tribes and the alliance, sharing small portions of his previous life. Much like Kunlun had, Ying Chun listened to the lonely young man and encouraged him, even as he slowly grew less lonely and began making Haixingren friends. Eventually they grew close enough that, after swearing Ying Chun to secrecy, he had confided some of his deep-seated fears and anxieties regarding Kunlun.

So it was to Ying Chun that Shen Wei made his way upon finishing his PhD, uncertain what his next course of action should be and concerned about remaining hidden as Hei Pao Shi.

Ying Chun laughed. “Oh Shen Wei, have you already finished learning all there is to learn?”

Shen Wei huffed. “Of course not, but I have finished my course of study and am receiving my doctorate in a few weeks. I cannot remain a student forever. I’ll need some kind of cover story in order to remain unnoticed in Haixing.”

“And you can only do so as a student? Shen Wei, ah, Shen Wei, for someone so brilliant, sometimes you miss the obvious solutions.” Ying Chun reached up and tugged at a disgruntled Shen Wei’s arm. He sat down on the bench next to her, carefully avoiding her iridescent skirt. “Have you not seen that your department has an opening for a professor?”

Shen Wei blinked owlishly at the Yashou, who shook her head, bouncing the flowers braided into her hair. “You love learning so much, and your fellow students always come to you for assistance with difficult subjects. Have you never thought about teaching? Helping others to learn and love learning, like you do?”

Shen Wei hesitated, thoughts catapulting back to a man who encouraged him to explore all aspects of life. Perhaps he had been too narrowly focused. Perhaps by broadening his horizons, he would have a better chance of finding Kunlun again. Perhaps as a professor, he could fulfill the role Kunlun had played in his own life for other students, showing them the depth and breadth and joys of life, all while still continuing to feed his own passion for learning.

He ducked his head and nodded, not even trying to hide his smile. “My advisor had mentioned the possibility of applying, and offered to write a recommendation, but I never thought myself qualified to teach, especially since I haven’t been in Haixing that long.”

Ying Chun patted his hand. “You may not have been here all that long, but you have been a teacher most of your life. You’ve told me of how you trained your men before, during the war. You tutor your friends and have been Professor Zhou’s teaching assistant for years. Why would you not be qualified to teach?”

Shen Wei huffed a small laugh. “My friend, you have a knack for making my seemingly complicated situations simple. What would I do without you?”

Ying Chun laughed gaily. “Move to another city and try to start over as a student at a different university?” She nudged him gently with her shoulder. “But really, Shen Wei, is it so awful, putting down roots?” Mischievously, she waggled her habitually bare feet at him.

“Of course not, it’s just… the world is so much bigger now than it was. What if, by planting myself somewhere, I miss finding Kunlun somewhere else?” Shen Wei stared down at his hands. Although some of his fears had eased with Ying Chun’s patient and gentle guidance and counsel, they never truly left him.

“Then you must plant yourself and grow in such a way that Kunlun would not be able to miss seeing your flowers.” Ying Chun flung her arms towards the sky. “Be the tallest, most glorious Shen Wei so that your Kunlun can find you towering above all the others. Remember, he knows all of you, not just Hei Pao Shi. Allow Shen Wei to take up some space for once. Life is not only about your duties. Take it from the leader of the Flower Yashou tribe!” Ying Chun nodded firmly.

“Well, never let it be said that Hei Pao Shi doesn’t take the advice of the Yashou tribe leaders under consideration,” Shen Wei said with a grin.

 

After two years of successful professorship, Shen Wei moved from his original closet of an office to one that was much more conducive to grading papers and meeting with his students, large and full of windows and natural light. He had brought the final boxes in and was considering how easy it would be for Ying Chun to visit him now that he had windows facing outdoors, when a loud cry echoed in the hallway. Concerned, he quickly straightened from putting his books on the shelf, and moved to the doorway in a few strides. Peering through the blinds, he noticed a group of students clamoring near his former office. Stifling a sigh, Shen Wei opened his door to end the ruckus. Even though he had reminded his students multiple times about the office move, it seemed some had forgotten that his afternoon office hours had moved to the new location, and were reacting poorly.

Stepping into the hallway, he called, “Students! This is inappropriate behavior!”

One of his favorite students (if he were to admit to having favorites), a bright second-year, stood from where she’d been crouching. “Professor Shen! There’s a jiejie here who needs help!”

At her words, the group of students parted to reveal a barefoot girl sobbing on the floor.

Shen Wei hurried over, prepared to send a student for aid when he recognized the huddled form. He froze, startled, but quickly shook off the shock, crouched down, and reached out, eyebrows pinching in with concern. “Ying Chun?”

The Flower Yashou tilted towards his voice like a daylily following the sun. “Shen Wei? There you are. I couldn’t find you… You have to stop them, they’re going to destroy everything!”

Shen Wei scooped the shaking Ying Chun into his arms. “Li Qian, please clear the boxes off of the couch in my office. Students, please go about your business. Normal office hours will resume tomorrow.” With that, he swept after Li Qian, leaving the confused students behind to murmur and gossip in his wake.

Once Ying Chun was settled on the couch nearest the exterior window, Shen Wei turned and said, “Li Qian, thank you for your assistance with this matter today. Please, return to your studies.”

Li Qian nodded. “Yes, Professor.” She hesitated in the doorway, clutching her books. “Professor Shen? I hope she’ll be okay. She seemed very certain that someone was being hurt.” With a quick nod and smile, Li Qian left, pulling the door closed behind her.

Grateful for Li Qian’s trusting assistance, Shen Wei turned his focus to Ying Chun. A quick pulse of dark energy told him that she was physically unharmed. Shen Wei frowned. He couldn’t recall ever seeing Ying Chun inside a building before; they had always met out in the open air in the past.

“Ying Chun?” He touched her shoulder gently. “You’re safe now. Can you tell me what happened?” What could possibly have been so devastating that the Yashou would seek him out indoors?

The pale Flower turned her tear-filled gaze on him. “Shen Wei? Oh, Shen Wei, it’s terrible, you need to stop them!”

“Stop who? Ying Chun, what happened?”

“Bulldozers, Shen Wei! The university is going to destroy one of the oldest groves on campus, a place where many of our elders have rooted themselves permanently. Shen Wei, my grandmother tree is there. They’re going to kill her!” Ying Chun slipped from the couch to kneel in front of Shen Wei, hands pressed to his knees. “Hei Pao Shi. I know that you are the Envoy for Dixing, but please, I beg you, speak to Haixing on the behalf of the Yashou tribe.”

Startled, Shen Wei reached out to lift Ying Chun back up to the couch, but she pulled away, still trembling.

“Please, Hei Pao Shi. You have influence both as the Envoy and as a professor here at the university. Please, speak for those of us who have no voice!”

Swallowing hard, Shen Wei crouched next to his friend. “Ying Chun. You know that I will do everything I can to prevent harm to your people. Please, there is no need to beg for my assistance. Rest here for a while; I will find out what is going on and see what needs to happen to prevent this tragedy.” This time when Shen Wei reached out, Ying Chun allowed him to help her back onto the couch. Shen Wei stood and moved to the window, opening the blinds fully to allow the sunlight to shine on his flowery friend. To give Ying Chun some fresh air while protecting her from the gusty wind, he opened the window a slight crack. “Will you be alright here while I go speak to the administration?”

Still teary-eyed, Ying Chun nodded. Shen Wei berated himself mentally for not carrying a handkerchief, but managed to find some tissues in one of his moving boxes. “I will return as soon as I can. You will be safe here.” After checking on Ying Chun one last time, Shen Wei left his office.

Once outside, Shen Wei paused to ponder his options. As Hei Pao Shi, he had the authority to speak to the government on behalf of the Dixingren, but his jurisdiction concerning the Yashou was unclear, to say the least. And he certainly didn’t want to bring the Yashou to Zhao Xinci’s attention any more than was necessary, considering the man’s opinions of anyone not of Haixingren descent.

Although his classes were popular with the students, Shen Wei was still a relatively junior professor who could not exert a great deal of influence in the school’s administration. However, he did have influence over his students; perhaps they could be encouraged to put pressure on the university. Many of them loved to hold study groups under the shady comfort of the trees. Would that tactic be fast enough to save the grove and the Yashou? Perhaps some of the students could form a defensive ring around the grove with earnest, hand-written signs… Determined, Shen Wei set off to the grove to gather necessary intelligence, so he could refine and set his plan into motion.

A few hours later, Shen Wei returned to his office, pleased with how things were already beginning to work out. As he switched on the light to combat the lengthening shadows, Ying Chun looked up from where she had been curled up dozing on the couch by the window. “Hei Pao Shi?”

“Ying Chun. How are you feeling?” Shen Wei crossed over to her, concern lacing his voice as he reached out to his friend.

The Flower offered a wavering smile and a small shrug. Shen Wei patted her shoulder gently. “I’m working on it. Please try to be at ease. I won’t let anything happen to your elder Yashou.” He hesitated a moment then added, “Perhaps you would feel better spending time with them? I promise that they will be protected, but it may ease your mind, being with them yourself?”

Ying Chun nodded. “Yes, thank you, Hei Pao Shi. Thank you for your help.” She glared at the tile floor grumpily. “Perhaps…”

Shen Wei smiled. “While I am happy to carry you out of the building, but the wind has died down, and the window opens onto the quad, if you would prefer to return to the grass immediately.”

Ying Chun’s responding smile, though only a shadow of its normal brightness, still lightened Shen Wei’s concern. He pulled the window fully open, checked outside for passers-by, and seeing none, held a hand out to Ying Chun. She stood, wrinkling her nose in distaste at the feel of the tile against her feet. With one long stride, Ying Chun reached the window and took Shen Wei’s hand. Carefully, he helped her sit on the window sill and swing her legs outside so she could drop down into the flowerbed under the office window. Shen Wei leaned out and watched the Yashou give a pleased wiggle as she buried her toes in the soft earth.

“Ying Chun. I will do anything in my power to help protect your people. I promise,” he reassured her once again.

She looked up at him and squeezed his hand tightly. “I know. Hei Pao Shi keeps his word.” She took a few steps, then paused and turned back. “And I know that Shen Wei does too.”

With a reassuringly brilliant smile, Ying Chun turned into a puff of pollen and disappeared into the dusk, leaving behind a young professor determined to carry out his promise.

 

Ying Chun leaned up against her grandmother’s tree in the grove Shen Wei had worked so hard to save a few years earlier. She frequently visited her grandmother to share stories of Shen Wei’s adventures as a young professor. Nainai loved hearing about him, as she had heard of Hei Pao Shi from her own nainai, an ancient plum Yashou who claimed she had known the young general. Whether that was true or not, Ying Chun was happy to report that as the years had passed, Shen Wei bloomed as a professor, stepping into a role that was clearly natural to him. He was both well-respected by his colleagues and adored by his students. And yet, as Ying Chun related to her nainai, even though he was growing so beautifully, there seemed to still be a deep-rooted sadness that clung to him, despite Ying Chun’s best efforts. Even though he presented a content face to the world, Ying Chun knew he was still longing to find what he’d lost as a young man.

Their times together had become fewer and further between, as Shen Wei’s professorial duties expanded. With Zhao Xinci’s blatant anti-Dixingren stance at the SID, Hei Pao Shi had stopped working directly with the Haixingren Directorate and spent more time on his own repatriating or helping above ground Dixingren. Ying Chun missed their meetings, but understood why Shen Wei was too busy to stop and chat with her at her favorite bush. Watching the students and faculty passing by, she sighed and snuggled closer to her nainai.

“He does so much to help others, and yet he never is truly happy himself. If only there were a way for us to help him find what he’s been searching for all these years.”

Nainai rustled her leaves at Ying Chun.

Ying Chun sighed and said, “Yes, I know, I’m not responsible for Shen Wei’s happiness. He’s chosen his own path. But still, he’s my friend, and I want to see him happy and peaceful.”

At her nainai’s side, she transformed into her orchid tree form, shaking some of her magenta flowers loose. From here she had a clear view of the quad, Shen Wei’s office on the far side, and several other university buildings. Most of the university had heard about a death on campus, and Ying Chun was keeping a careful watch out for anything suspicious that she could report to Hei Pao Shi - or to Shen Wei, in order to keep his students safe. It seemed like the Dragon City police were half-heartedly investigating, when she noticed a scruffy young man in a leather jacket arrive. He quickly took over from the DCPD along with a few other men, before disappearing into one of the buildings. Ying Chun considered moving closer, but hesitated when she saw Shen Wei approaching. He would be better able to discover any clues about possible Dixingren presence without her in the way.

Ying Chun prepared to wait patiently when she realized that Shen Wei had frozen, staring up at the window where the scruffy man was just visible. She’d never seen such naked longing on Shen Wei’s normally composed face before. From this distance, she couldn’t see the other man’s reaction, but he quickly disappeared from the window. While Ying Chun was painfully curious and desperately wanted to move closer, she hated transforming with so many people around, so instead simply strained her senses to understand what was happening.

Shen Wei’s shock was obvious to the Yashou, although he quickly composed himself and stooped to pet a chunky black cat that had appeared. Almost immediately, the scruffy man came out of the building and began conversing with Shen Wei. Despite Shen Wei’s best efforts, as the police officer spoke with him, it was clear that Shen Wei was out of his depth, clinging to the man’s handshake like a lifeline. Ying Chun frowned to herself; Shen Wei’s incredibly unusual behavior felt like a cause for concern. She’d never seen her friend so flustered, not even when he had first arrived on campus years ago.

The scruffy man left, and after a long hesitation, Shen Wei continued on his way toward his lecture hall. Ying Chun decided immediately that she needed to talk to her Dixingren friend and find out what was going on.

She didn’t have long to wait. That very evening, Shen Wei sought her out in her nainai’s grove, self-contained as always, yet brimming with restless energy. Ying Chun couldn’t help but smile at his excitement, despite her concern at his unusual behavior. “Shen Wei! You seem extra pleased about something today.”

Shen Wei ducked his head, hiding his face by pushing up his glasses. His smile was small but blindingly brilliant. “I found him, Ying Chun. At least - I think I have. He doesn’t know me, but… but he looks like Kunlun. Sounds like him. Talks like him. It has to be him. I don’t know why he doesn’t know me, but it must be Kunlun. It must.” For a moment, Shen Wei sounded like he had as a newly arrived young man, lonely and desperate for a connection lost ages ago.

Ying Chun’s heart ached. Over time, Shen Wei had slowly opened up about the loved one he’d lost, but rarely with any specifics beyond their deep connection, heartbreaking separation, and a promise of meeting again. Recently however, Shen Wei had nearly ceased talking about Kunlun at all, as though he had given up on finding him again. She hoped that Shen Wei wasn’t getting excited for nothing.

“Where did you find him? What’s his name, if not Kunlun?”

“Zhao Yunlan is now the head of the SID. We met this morning, as he’s investigating Lu Ruomei’s death.” Shen Wei’s happiness visibly dimmed. “It appears to be Dixingren related.” He hesitated before asking, “Is it terrible of me to be glad of it, though? Obviously, I am saddened by the loss of a life, especially one so young, but it has brought me Kun- Zhao Yunlan.” He frowned. “But what if I’m mistaken? People can look alike, after all. Perhaps he is merely one of Kunlun’s descendents.”

Ying Chun shook her head. “Shen Wei. Trust your heart. You know Kunlun. Take some time to get to know this Zhao Yunlan. Then you will know if he is truly Kunlun, or if he merely looks like him. But don’t trust Zhao Yunlan with your heart, not yet.” She reached out to rest a hand on Shen Wei’s arm. “I know you miss Kunlun, but don’t let your desire to find him blind you to what’s really happening. Didn’t you say this Zhao Yunlan is the head of the SID?”

At Shen Wei’s nod, she continued gently. “They’ve never proven themselves friends to Dixingren, and especially not lately.”

Shen Wei sighed. “I know. There’s a reason Hei Pao Shi has not been working closely with them. I just - I had nearly given up hope of seeing that face again. Ying Chun - I don’t know if I could stand losing him again.”

Ying Chun slid her arm around Shen Wei’s back, giving him a half hug. “Guard your heart, my friend. Be certain of who he is. If he is Kunlun, then I will be the first to wish you all the happiness in the world, you know that.”

Shen Wei smiled softly. “I do know and I thank you. The leader of the Flower Yashou is wise, as always, and a good friend.” He returned her embrace. “I hope to introduce you to him soon, so you can make your own judgment as to his merits.”

Ying Chun grinned up at Shen Wei. “You know, if Zhao Yunlan, or Kunlun, or whoever he is, dares break your heart again, we plants are extremely good at hiding bodies. I could probably get some of my Crow sisters to help too!”

Laughing, Shen Wei shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Ying Chun. But thank you for caring.” Bidding her goodnight, Shen Wei left to return to the teachers’ dormitory.

Ying Chun watched him make his way across campus. Even if Shen Wei had taken her comment as a joke, her intent was serious. Through their years of friendship, Ying Chun had grown very fond of the Dixingren who shouldered far more duties than any one person should ever have to carry. While she was certainly pleased to see him on the verge of finding happiness again, she wouldn’t hesitate to protect Shen Wei, even from himself. With a last glance and a smile at Shen Wei’s retreating form, Ying Chun returned to being a small orchid tree to plan how best to learn about this Kunlun look-alike.

Shen Wei’s appearance had been an unexpected eruption of early spring blossoms, enriching Ying Chun’s life with a bountiful harvest of friendship. If her life could be so changed by one unknown Dixingren’s appearance, how much more of a whirlwind would accompany Zhao Yunlan’s entrance into Shen Wei’s life? Perhaps, just this once, for the sake of her friend, the Yashou could ease their strict neutrality and root for the Haixingren and Dixingren to succeed together. For the sake of love.