Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Eight)
Chapter 8 In Which A Mystery Deepens
"How come I'm the only one with a plant growing out of my head?" said Xiao Mei.
She, Jing, and Sparrow had come to the monastery's infirmary room. It had a much more modern feel to it than the rest of the monastery, complete with its own electric lighting, and even air conditioning. Xiao Mei felt at home in this room, with the room's scent almost a match for the disinfectant smell of the check-up room her father met with patients in. If she were not so distracted by the plant growing on top of her head, she would probably be wondering what her father was up to right now and if he was getting along well without her or not. He was probably okay. This was Fong, after all.
"My memory about the seeds of the plant is spotty, at best," Jing confessed with a small shrug. "All I really know is that someone with some kind of special condition would be effected by the seeds if they breathed it in. From what I had heard in the past, the practicality of the seeds, other than to grow more of the plants, is severely limited. Like I said, it only effects people with a certain special condition. Whatever this condition is must be pretty rare for even I to be ignorant of. What do you make of it?"
"Huh?" went Sparrow. "You're asking me?"
"Well, as a scholar, you are the only other person in this room who might have the answer," Jing said. "The doctor was certainly surprised when she saw Xiao Mei. She's in the library right now trying to find an answer."
Xiao Mei could understand the look of astonishment on Sparrow's face. After all, Jing was a famous alchemist, and one of the best in the world. Why would someone like that turn to a lowly scholar's apprentice? Scratch that. Senior scholar apprentice.
"She's probably the most likely to find one then," said Sparrow with a shrug. "I know of the plant the seeds came from, but not in expert detail. But seeing as there doesn't seem to be any immediate harm to Xiao Mei, I'm more concerned about our mechanical friend here."
"About that," said Xiao Mei, sheepishly edging to the right. "Do you mind turning that head the other way? It's sort of creeping me out."
On the table beside Xiao Mei sat the automaton's head, which Sparrow, for some reason, picked up and brought with him. It was facing her, with its vacant circle, blue glass eyes boring right through her.
"You're telling me," said the voice in her head, audibly shuddering. "Brr. It's like it's staring deep into your soul."
"So sorry," said Sparrow, turning the head around. "I thought Master Wu wanted to take a look at it later. Being an alchemist that's a professional in almost every field of science imaginable, I'd think he would be able to find out who wanted him . . . out of the way, so to speak."
"Not necessary, but the sentiment is appreciated," Jing said. "An automaton that old, it would be simple to just shut down any safety protocols, assert oneself as a master, and then order the machine to whatever one wished. One could even wear a mask and disguise their voice with some device so whatever records remain in the machine would be next to useless."
"Not at all!" Sparrow argued back, giving Jing a funny look for some reason. "I'm sure a lot could be found out from taking a peek at Old Tin Man's memories."
"Like what?" Xiao Mei asked. When Sparrow started giving her that hesitant grown-up look that always irked her because of her small size, she scowled. "I'm not a child anymore. So don't look at me like I need someone to hold my hand. And have you forgotten what we both went through a few years ago? And before I'm his daughter, I'm Doctor Fong's apprentice."
"Right," said Sparrow, bowing his head down shamefully. "Sorry. Well, even the tiniest of details can be as good as a picture. So, anything, from the height of the person, to maybe he forgot to wear gloves could point to whoever's behind making Old Tin Man go crazy and attack Master Wu."
"In that case, I would recommend that Zhun have a look at it, instead," said Jing.
"You mean the man with the batons you sparred with this morning?"
"While he is a bodyguard, he was also what most people would call a detective," Jing said. "In fact, last I heard, he has a spot reserved at one of those famous police agencies. He was also a bit of a sleuth during our student days."
Sparrow looked Jing up and down. He seemed to hesitate relinquishing the robot's head to the alchemist, as if it were some kind of precious treasure. Both Jing and Xiao Mei edged away from him a little. "No wait!" He tried to explain himself, but then the door burst open and Seto marched in. He was followed by Phoenix.
"Xiao Mei, are you okay?" he called out. "I heard what happened and - !" He froze on his tracks when he saw her. His eyes widened when he saw the lime-colored bulb on her head. Seto made an O-shape with his mouth. And then he burst out laughing.
Feeling her cheeks go warm, she shouted "It's not funny!"
In between the fits of laughter, he managed to choke out: "Y-yes it . . . is! Man, first birds. Now plants!"
His laughing was rather maniacal.
"Well, I must be off," said Jing. He snatched the robot's head out of Sparrow's hands and then walked out of the infirmary in a quick pace. His cape fluttered behind him at his ankles.
When the door closed behind him, Sparrow suddenly pulled Xiao Mei and Seto close. Curious, the bird got close as well, first going for Xiao Mei's head, but then thought better of it, and landed on Seto's instead. It wasn't the same, but with that plant on her head, there was no way Phoenix was going to be perching on her any time soon.
"Hey!" Seto cried out. "What gives?"
"Did any of you notice how fast Master Wu just walked out of this room?" Sparrow whispered.
"Maybe he had to go somewhere in a hurry?" Seto asked. "Why are we whispering? It's not like he can hear us."
Ignoring Seto, Sparrow continued. "He seemed to be act rather peculiar. You know how he told us that looking at Old Tin Man's memories would be useless?"
"I probably wasn't here," said Seto.
"Yes," Xiao Mei said.
"I wonder where this is going," said the voice in her head.
"There is no way such a successful alchemist would not be thorough, no matter how futile he'd believe it'd be," Sparrow said. "He'd still take a look. That combined with how hasty he was to take the head away from me makes me think that he's hiding something."
Xiao Mei gasped.
"Sparrow, you don't think that Master Wu's behind that automaton attack, do you?" she said.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Seto. "Why'd he do something like that?"
"Now, now!" Sparrow said. "I didn't say anything about suspecting Master Wu of anything. I just thought that he was acting very suspicious. There's no way a man with as much integrity as Master Wu would do something that could endanger others. But you have to admit that it seems like he knows more about what happened but doesn't want to share with us."
"He's right about that," said the voice in Xiao Mei's head.
"Hush!" went Xiao Mei.
"Pardon?" said Sparrow.
"N-nothing!" Xiao Mei quickly replied. "What voice in my he-!?"
She clapped her hands over her mouth to stop herself from saying anything more.
"Smooth," said the voice. "Really smooth, sister."
"Are you feeling okay, Xiao Mei?" Seto asked.
"You know what," Xiao Mei said. "I think all this excitement must have gotten to my head. I think I need to go back to my room to rest."
"A good idea," said Sparrow. "Lessons for your class are canceled anyways because of that automaton. A pity. The plant Master Wu was going to teach you about is certainly a fascinating one. Allow me to accompany you."
"I'm pretty much free, too," said Seto. He got an odd stare from Sparrow, but he ignored him and headed toward the door.
As the doctor had said that they were free to leave anytime they'd like before she went off to the library, the three of them just simply walked out of the infirmary, closing the door behind them. They made their way to the sleeping quarters of the monastery with Xiao Mei trying very hard not to be self-conscious of the plant growing on her head. Halfway down the hall, they noticed a group of grownups who looked like they were having a serious conversation.
"Master Taught?" went Sparrow. "Is something the matter?"
Taught, Dr. Green, and the gorilla man who was with the Grand Master all turned, almost in surprise. When the three friends came up to them, Xiao Mei happened to look into the room they were all standing outside of and gasped. To call it a mess would be an understatement.
"Whoa!" went the voice inside her head. "Looks like a storm hit this place good."
"My word!" Sparrow exclaimed. "What happened?"
"I-it was an accident!" Dr. Green exclaimed. "I left the window open and the wind blew all of my papers everywhere."
The trio glanced back into the room. Not only were sheets of paper everywhere, books were scattered open. The bed sheets were strewn across the floor. And it looked like someone pulled out the drawers from the desk. Even the trunks were emptied of Dr. Green's belongings.
Xiao Mei looked around inside a bit and then hurriedly pushed the two boys away from the room.
"Hey!" Seto shouted. "What's wrong?"
"N-nothing!" Xiao Mei shouted. "Just get away from this room!"
Quicker to catch on, Sparrow rushed back and helped Xiao Mei by pulling Seto away while pulling the brim of his hat down over his eyes. The adults stared at the three youths in confusion. But then when Dr. Green glanced back into her room, she went "Nargh!" and quickly shut the door.
"Sorry," she said to Taught and the gorilla, flashing an awkward smile. "Girl thing."
The two men paused to process, and then backed away. They did not want to know.
"Excuse us, but we should be off," Xiao Mei said.
As soon as they were out of the adults' earshot, Sparrow said: "There is no way that the wind made that big of a mess. Who ever heard of wind that could pull off desk drawers?"
"Yeah," said Seto. "I saw. I guess you're right. Something's going on and the grownups don't want any of us kids to know."
"But what could they be hiding?" Xiao Mei wondered. "Don't you know anything, Sparrow? You're a scholar like Dr. Green and Master Taught, aren't you?"
"I'm still an apprentice, albeit a senior one." Sparrow shrugged. "I was told that this expedition was to give junior apprentices experience in field work while also being part of a book writing process for Master Taught and Dr. Green. But seeing how those two were acting about that mess in Dr. Green's chambers, I can't help but wonder if there's actually a deeper meaning behind this so-called field study."
"Well, if you're right about Master Wu being spooked, whatever it is is probably something we don't want to mess with," said Seto. "One adventure was enough for me."
"Well, this is my stop," said Xiao Mei. She reached for the handle of the door with her name on it.
"I'll see you later, then, Xiao Mei," said Sparrow.
"See you later," Xiao Mei replied.
"Oh, and Xiao Mei?"
"Don't forget to water your plant!"
The two older boys ran off laughing while the red-faced young girl waved her fist at them.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Seven)
Xiao Mei's lessons begin.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Nine)
Time for the kids go go exploring.
Check out how the trio first met in:
- Country Of Dragons by Victor Kwok
A young girl embarks on a journey to save her family, meeting new allies and discovering things about herself she never thought possible.