Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Seventeen)
Chapter Seventeen In Which There Is Renewed Determination To Discover The Truth
Sparrow, Seto and the others arrived soon after the intruder made his exit. Even the Grand Master and Master Da came. After learning what happened in their absence, Sparrow, Seto, Diana, Duncan, Harold, Ai Hui, and Qiang Shi refused to leave Xiao Mei alone for a single moment. They even went as far as to take shifts in bodyguard duty. None of the grown-ups minded as they were all busy checking the security of the temple, making sure everyone else was safe, and searching for the intruder. Master Da saw to lead a party around the temple that was prepared to bring swift punishment to the trespasser.
"I say," Sir Geoffrey said, wiping sweat off his brow with an embroidered handkerchief. "What was that all about?"
"Sir, if I may answer that," went Zhun just as Xiao Mei was about to open her mouth. "It appears that the intruder was looking for something."
"Looking for something?" said Sir Geoffrey, raising his eyebrows. "Looking for what?"
Xiao Mei opened her mouth to speak, but then, after looking a bit thoughtful, Sir Geoffrey cut in.
"Wait!" he said, clapping his hands together as if he realized something. "Could whatever the intruder be looking for have something to do with the research Miss Bai did before she vanished? Could it be, she found something during the course of her research that could be so amazing, so grand, that the very world could be affected by it? If such a secret fell in the wrong hands, who knows what horrors could await in the future?"
"That would be bad," said Zhun. "What do you think, Wu?"
Jing, who had been staring out the window wearing an expression on his face as if he did not have a single care in the world, did not seem to hear him.
When Jing didn't respond, worry crept up in Xiao Mei's chest. Could something be wrong with him? Maybe that fight took out more from the master alchemist than anyone thought.
"Is something the matter?" Sir Geoffrey asked, mirroring the worry that Xiao Mei was feeling.
Zhun, on the other hand, looked more irritated than worried. He walked over to Jing and waved a hand in front of his face.
"Yes?" Jing said, pulling out an earphone from his right ear. Xiao Mei had never felt so stupid worrying over someone before.
"And you used to complain about a girl you met from the Siblinghood Charity Order always listening through some wireless earphones," Zhun said, shaking his head.
"What?" went Jing. "What did I do?"
Zhun just shook his head again, and turned toward the window. "What was so interesting outside for you, anyway?"
"Oh, nothing," Jing said, steering his old school friend from the window. "Still, it was a really lucky thing you were nearby when that intruder came. Who knows what could have happened if you weren't there?"
"Yes," said Sparrow, rubbing his chin. "It really was a fortunate coincidence that you were nearby."
"I must thank you all so much for saving me," Xiao Mei said, bowing her head.
"Think nothing of it, dear child!" exclaimed Sir Geoffrey, puffing his chest out with pride. "As a knight, it is my sworn duty to defend innocent children such as yourself from harm brought by nefarious villains. But going back to our earlier talk, I think we can all safely assume that this intruder is searching for something related to your mother. Whatever it is that your mother discovered here years ago must not fall into the hands of those like that intruder. To prevent that, we must uncover the secret before they do. This is for the greater good of all!"
"He's right," said the voice inside Xiao Mei's head. "Who knows what the bad guys would do if they ever got their hands on the secret of this place? Chances are, what they would do won't be nice, like get everyone to sing along together kind of nice."
"But where can we start?" Zhun asked. "It's not like there are clues just lying around waiting for us to pick them up."
"Um . . ." went a hesitant Xiao Mei. "Actually, there is my mother's diary."
The two men turned to Xiao Mei with surprised looks.
"Hey, that's right!" exclaimed Diana. "We have Xiao Mei's mother's diary!"
"And don't forget, we also have Sparrow Hawkins with us," Harold added. "There's not a mystery in all of history that he can't solve. Hey, there's a rhyme!"
"Quite a fan base you have for yourself," Seto murmured to Sparrow. To that, Sparrow could only sheepishly laugh.
Then his face straightened, and with a serious composure, Sparrow added: "However, the diary may prove itself to be an exceedingly difficult clue to work on."
"Oh?" went Sir Geoffrey. "How so?"
"I can explain that," said Xiao Mei. She got out of bed and reached beneath it. After pulling out the luggage case she kept there, she flipped the lid open and procured the book from beneath her neatly folded clothing. Holding the book up for everyone to see, she proceeded to try and pull the two covers apart. The covers would not part from the pages. Not even when she shook it.
"Hmm," Sir Geoffrey hummed, stroking his chin. "Now that is a bit of a put-off. But surely with Miss Mortimer's scientific aid, we can find a solution."
Xiao Mei nearly blurted out that Jane had tried. She stopped herself short remembering that there were adults in this room who would probably not like hearing how she broke the rules and snuck around late at night when she was supposed to be asleep. Who knows how much trouble that would land her in?
"Wait," went Duncan. "You managed to get the lock off? How'd you do it?"
"Huh? Uh . . . O-oh, well . . ." Xiao Mei mumbled. Inwardly, she screamed. She completely forgot about the lock. Now how was she going to explain this?
"Didn't Jane give you one of her concoctions?" Sparrow cut in.
Xiao Mei looked up in surprise. What was he talking about? She wondered. Sparrow glanced at her meaningfully. Quickly understanding, Xiao Mei played along.
"Y-yeah!" she said. "Jane Mortimer gave me something to use to bust open the lock. It worked, but then I found out about this. I tried getting it open all night afterward."
"So that's why you didn't get enough sleep," grumbled Seto.
"Sorry for worrying you," Xiao Mei said, guiltily looking down.
Seto gave Xiao Mei a sideways glance and then sighed.
"By the way, Sir Geoffrey?" Sparrow asked. "I hope you won't mind me asking this, but what was the nature of your previous trip here? What was it that you needed Xiao Mei's mother to do here in your absence?"
Sir Geoffrey turned to Sparrow with a thoughtful look on his face.
"Seeing as Miss Bai's mission and what's going on now are related, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to let everything out of the bag," he said. "It's not that much of a secret anyway.
"As I'm sure all of you know, I'm a bit of a treasure hunter, slash adventurer. I've traveled the whole world over, searching for gold, jewels, and priceless artifacts. But discovering such things were just a bonus. My true mission was to preserve the history and the ancient traditions of places such as this, keep them alive in memory, and maybe revive them. Languages and traditions had come in danger of disappearing because of colonists. My own family is guilty of such oppression of the locals. You could say, I'm hoping to redeem my family and atone for this transgression."
"You did mention something like that in your books," said Sparrow.
"I also want to uncover the truths behind the legends and bring them to light," Sir Geoffrey added. "In that regard, it's no different from what your own party is trying to do now, Mr. Hawkins. Actually, I'm pretty much a scholar myself. Officially, I mean. Anyway, I heard about the legends surrounding this temple, such as stories of the dragon and his warriors, and reached out to them, requesting to do research and write about my discoveries for the world to know. At first, the Grand Master and the others resisted. But eventually, they came around and said that I could come to observe their culture and learn about their history.
"Unfortunately, as I think I mentioned before, I caught a cold and couldn't make it. At that time, a young scholar and mother-to-be came under my wing. Rather than let this opportunity go to waste, and offend the locals with my decline of invitation, I decided to let the scholar go in my place. That was your mother, young miss.
"I didn't really see any harm. After all, most of the work is just listening to locals with their tales, observing their traditions, and reading ancient texts. Hardly dangererous work."
Sir Geoffrey took a deep breath and sighed. "Never did I realize that it would come to this: a mother and her daughter being separated at birth, that scholar disappearing without a trace, and now nefarious rogues plaguing her child and bringing torment to the denizens of this proud and noble temple. You know, she once confided in me a bit about her situation. I don't know all the details, save that some kind of conflict forced her to leave. But whatever that conflict was must be very serious if it separated a family. Still, despite that, Miss Bai never gave up on the dream of reuniting with her husband. One day, she would reunite with the love of her life and together, they would raise their child. She said that with such certainty that it was almost like an oracle's prediction of the future. But, alas, with what happened, I fear that her dream will never be realized. I can't help but feel responsible for this. If I hadn't sent her to the temple all those years ago, perhaps none of this would have happened.
"The reason behind my visit here this time around is to make things right, for her, and for you, child. I swear that we will find the truth behind the mystery of your mother's disappearance and see to it that justice is done. And maybe, at last, her dream can be realized. On my honor, life, and soul."
"Sir Geoffrey . . . " said Xiao Mei, her heart touched by the old man's sincerity. "I-I don't know what to say, except maybe thank you."
"Think nothing of it, dear child," said Sir Geoffrey. "Think nothing of it. Now, I think I've taken enough of your time. I must be off."
Xiao Mei watched him go. Zhun followed after him, giving everyone a small salute good-bye.
"I, too, must be off," said Wu. "There are still . . . things that I need to do."
"Uh . . . Master Wu?" Qiang Shi said.
"Yes?" went Jing just as he was about to step outside.
"We're on the seventh floor."
"I know," Jing said. He put one foot on the window sill and began fiddling with switches on shoe. Lines of red light traced around the footwear. "What of it?"
He hopped through the window and dropped down. The children cried out in horror and all rushed to the window. They made it just in time to see the alchemist gently drift down while red energy pulsed from his feet. With his anti-gravity shoes, he slowly reached a patch of grass and then walked away.
After everyone pulled their heads back inside, Sparrow had a question.
"So, what will you do now, Xiao Mei?" he asked. "Honestly, I don't think we should continue to pursue this mystery. By now, the dangers should be made clear to you, if they hadn't already after the last couple of mishaps. These rogues are dangerous and powerful enough that they've made bold moves in the presence of heroes like the masters Wu."
"I'm game with that," said Seto. "I say we play it safe and let the adults do their thing."
To that, almost all the young ones in the room exploded with protests.
"What?" Ai Hui shouted. "You expect us to just sit around, kick back, and relax while some dangerous people are walking around with their eyes on a secret the temple has been guarding for thousands of years? Not to mention solving this mystery might help Xiao Mei reunite with her mom at long last!"
"Yeah!" shouted Duncan. "We can't just stop now!"
"Your bravado is appreciated, but I was talking to Xiao Mei," Sparrow cut in. He gave all the younger scholars and temple pupils a good, stern glare which they shrank from. It was a paralyzing glare that could, in Xiao Mei's opinion, match Obaasan's, Seto's grandmother, when she was in a bad mood. That old woman could be very scary when made mad. "This is her decision to make right now. And hers alone. Well, Xiao Mei? What will it be?"
Xiao Mei squirmed beneath the pressure of several pairs of eyes on her. She could feel a heavy weight on her shoulders as they all waited for her answer. Sparrow and Seto were right that it was dangerous. Honestly, Xiao Mei thought that she was getting in way over her head here. But then she remembered what Sir Geoffrey said about her mother's dream of being with her father again and her answer became clear.
"I want to know the truth," she said. She looked up and returned Sparrow's cold gaze with a stare welling with determination. "What did my mother discover? Who are the ones after her? I have to find her. And knowing those things may be the only way to."
"No matter the dangers knowing will bring?" asked Sparrow, staring as intently into her eyes as she stared intently into his.
"No matter the dangers," Xiao Mei answered.
Sparrow crossed his arms and sighed.
"Very well," he said. "Then, upon my honor as a scholar and a gentleman, I will do whatever I can to help you. I swear that I will not give up!"
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Sixteen)
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