Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Five)
Chapter 5 In the Temple (And In Which There Are Surprise Guests)
There are five courtyards in the temple and a tree of buildings branched throughout the entire surface of the hill's vast top. Cool air blew and whistled as the visitors piled into the first courtyard, led by their host and his right hand man. Everywhere was lit by red paper lanterns, the candle flames inside bathing the stone floors gold. The first courtyard had a large fountain with a dragon looking up toward the mountain peaks, water gushing out of its mouth. Radiant flowers were housed in the second courtyard. A variety of tools for combat training was spread out in the third. Only the fourth and fifth courtyards were bare of anything except leaves and rogue flower petals.
The sights, the relaxing wind, the very atmosphere of the temple took Xiao Mei's breath away. Everything was organized in accordance to Feng Shui. And the young girl thought that it seemed to be working.
"Forgive the lack of welcome," the Grand Master said, turning to his guests, as if there was nothing to be impressed about. They had stopped at the final fifth courtyard that was faced by the tall monastery, its protective gates closed. There was just the simple-robed custodian sweeping the leaves to the side. He looked up as everyone approached, bowed his head to the Grand Master, and then continued with his work. "It is rather late, now. Almost everyone else is asleep."
"It's really alright," said Jane. "You coming to greet us is more than we could have ever wanted."
"Well, thank you for that," the Grand Master said. "You really are too kind."
"You should share your kindness with him too, Jane," Sparrow said, nodding to the janitor.
"And what do you mean by that?" Jane demanded, glaring at Sparrow.
Sparrow just ignored her. Calling to the sweeper, he said: "You really didn't have to take the effort to stay up so late and put on this disguise."
The janitor looked up and went "huh?" Sparrow just crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow. His expression was all the janitor needed to know that Sparrow wasn't falling for it.
With a frustrated sigh, the janitor pulled off his cap, and his wig. "My word, boy!" he said as he ripped off the black eyebrows, revealing the thinner white beneath. Next, out went the dark-brown contact lens. "How did you know?"
"The wristwatch jutting out from beneath the sleeve," Sparrow said. "There is no way anyone here would be able to afford something so high quality, nor would they buy something so extravagant. This monastery is dedicated to modest living, after all."
"Harumph!" went the aged man with clear green eyes. "I knew I should have left it off, but I was afraid of misplacing it, as I've so often had."
"Don't beat yourself up over it," Sparrow said. "Your perfectly manicured nails, the wig being crooked, and the cap being worn the wrong way would have been ample enough hints."
The man crossed his arms and scowled, probably mentally kicking himself in the rear for such amateurish mistakes. "And I suppose you already know who I am."
"Of course," Sparrow said. "There are very few men of your class who enjoys going on adventures and playing with disguises. You're Sir Geoffrey, one of the greatest men in all of the world!"
Seto and Taught were probably the only ones that didn't gasp in surprise and awe. While Taught wasn't easily surprised, Seto was just confused. He wondered what was so great about this Sir Geoffrey guy, but didn't ask because he didn't want to sound like an idiot. Especially not in front of Xiao Mei who seemed to know everything.
"The one and only," Sir Geoffrey said with a gentleman's bow. "Adventurer, philanthropist, soldier, teacher, and cook extraordinaire at your service!"
"But what brings a man of your stature here?" Jane asked, smoothing down the wrinkles of her lab coat. She reached to shake the wealthy man's hand, shoving Sparrow aside with her shoulder. Behind her back, Sparrow rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"Just a little anthropological jaunt," Sir Geoffrey said while shaking Jane's hand. It was the hobby of the rich to play the part of amateur scholars. Not that the actual scholars mind when thinking about their next paycheck. "My company is doing a documentary of ancient, still-standing places like this. I couldn't resist tagging along for old time's sake. The scholar in me is as alive as it was during the days of my youth."
"And hearing that the scholars were coming, you couldn't resist going back to your old mischief," Sparrow said.
Sir Geoffrey responded with a sheepish grin.
"My, my, what's all this I see?"
Again, the others gasped. Seto did too, this time. Their attention was turned to the man wearing blue militaristic-style clothes beneath a matching cape strolling out into the courtyard. This tall, pleasant figure was THE Jing Wu, world-renown Alchemist inventor, and superhero to all. There is no one to match this young man's genius mind and fighting prowess, with only six exceptions to that, one of whom is now his wife. Behind his blue-lens, wire-rimmed, round spectacles was a serene and gentle face with eyes so narrow, they were like slits. His hands were clasped behind his back.
"Oh my!" he exclaimed. "If it isn't Sparrow, Xiao Mei, and Seto. How wondrous it is to meet you here of all places. It has been years!"
Diane, Harold, Duncan and Dr. Green spun at their heels and gaped at the three, staring hard in astonishment.
"You're friends with one of the greatest alchemists in the world?" their eyes seem to scream.
Xiao Mei blushed a little and shied away, while Seto remained in awe at the presence of one of the world's greatest warriors. He still hasn't got used to it, even though he once shared a roof with all seven heroes for a few weeks some four years ago after a terrible misadventure that he would rather forget but couldn't.
Sparrow, with a smug look on his face, greeted the alchemist and warrior like an old friend.
"Master Wu and his wife are here at the request of our sister temple at the far-off country they come from," explained the Grand Master. "We've been short on teachers, since the retirement of three. I've heard of their exploits, and the Grand Master of the other temple highly recommended them."
"Speaking of wives, congratulations on your marriage," said Sparrow. "I heard about it on the news."
Wu chuckled. "Well, thank you for that. Forgive me for not sending out invitations, but a ceremony just seemed tedious and hectic."
"That would be an understatement," Sir Geoffrey said. "The news of your wedding caused quite a stir among the staff members of my estate."
"They're not the only ones in a stir."
Suddenly, something caped leaped from the tiled roof of the roofed side path and pounced at Wu.
"Look out!" Harold cried out. His warning came in time. He and the others could do nothing but watch as Wu and his attacker had an impromptu match.
Wu stepped to the side and then struck back. The figure in black blocked Wu's punched, threw his fist aside and clawed at Wu's face. Wu leaned back far enough for the hooked fingers to rake only air. He dropped down and kicked out. The attacker jumped into an aerial somersault to Wu's back. Wu twisted around just in time to stop the man in black from gouging out his eyes. They twisted apart, took defensive stance and locked eyes. There was tense atmosphere between them for a while, but then, they relaxed.
"It's been years," Wu said, smiling just a little bigger than usual.
"That it has," said the man in black. His clothes were almost identical to Wu's. Unlike Wu, however, he had a wild glint in his eyes, and a smile to match. At his hip was a pair of long batons. "Blue doesn't suit you."
"And just who are you?" Taught demanded.
"Forgive me, but I couldn't resist," the man in black said with a sarcastic bow. "The name's Zhun. I'm Sir Geoffrey's bodyguard for this time around."
"Bodyguard?" Wu said. "Last I heard, you were a mercenary out dealing with pirates and bandits!"
"Yeah, well, gotta find work where you can," Zhun said with a shrug. "We can't all be genius alchemists with patents to dozens of inventions. By the way, sorry for the late arrival, Sir Geoffrey. The car broke down partway through the trip, so I had to leg it the rest of the way. The rest of the stuff should be here soon."
"Think nothing of it, my boy," said Sir Geoffrey.
"Uh . . . y-you know each other?" Xiao Mei said, fidgeting shyly a little.
"Know each other?" went Zhun. "We're alumni! We went to the same academy together and are comrades of the battlefield!"
"I thought your country's been at peace for centuries," Seto said, puzzled. Yes, he does his homework. He was put off by Xiao Mei's look of astonishment from Seto's knowledge.
"He's referring to the mock war between the schools of our country," Wu answered, taking off his glasses and rubbing his temples. "Zhun, Mei Ling, I, and a few others were part of a lead group of our school's army in a set of competitions between our school and the other schools. It's something our country does to prepare for anything. We don't want war, but we're always willing to defend ourselves. It's very fortunate that our government are better politicians than warriors."
"We were quite the legends back in the day," said Zhun, draping his arm over Wu's shoulder. "This guy here was known as the Crimson Storm!"
"Please stop trying to embarrass me, Zhun," Wu implored.
"Oh ho!" went Zhun, rubbing the small stubble of hair on his chin. "Since when has the great alchemist, Jing Wu been so modest?"
"He's always been that way, as you well know," said yet another newcomer. Mei Ling entered the courtyard, dressed in a silk, pink shirt and pants with flower patterns. Draped over her shoulders was a wool shawl. She was about as tall as Wu, straight-back and more boyish. Unlike her husband, her smile had more mischief.
"And here is yet the most beautiful of the Five Dragons of Tai Academy," exclaimed Zhun.
Mei Ling's grin to Zhun could overshadow a vampire's. She smiled much more gently to the scholars and gave warm grins of greeting to Xiao Mei and Seto. Xiao Mei and Mei Ling actually got on especially well all those years ago when they stayed together at Xiao Mei's grandmother home, or as Fong liked to call the Wu company's stay, "freeload." To a girl like Xiao Mei, Mei Ling was an admirable example to follow, though Fong would disagree a little there. Not only is she a heroic warrior in her own right, her fame matched that of her husband for her prowess in almost everything. And her looks.
"Flattery will get you nowhere, Zhun," she said, craning her neck threateningly.
Zhun raised his hands in mock surrender. "Sorry, sorry. But it's true you know."
"Excuse me, but what Five Dragons are you talking about?" Xiao Mei asked.
"He's referring to the five top students of Tai Academy," Sparrow cut in, ever the all-knowing scholar. "Tai Academy awards the title of Dragon to the best of the best in their school. If I remember correctly from the magazines, Jing was awarded the title of Red Dragon when he was a student there."
"Hence the name Crimson Storm," Zhun said.
"If you all don't mind," went the gorilla. "It's getting late. I think it's best that you are all shown your rooms and then turn in for the night. I'm sure all of you will have much to do in the morning. I know one of you do."
His eyes were on one particular little girl.
Xiao Mei mouthed "Me?" and pointed a finger to herself. The gorilla man rolled his eyes.
They went straight for the sleeping quarters. A whole floor was reserved just for the scholars and Jane to share, an arrangement that Sparrow and Jane both looked displeased about. Sir Geoffrey, followed by Zhun, took the floor above them. It seemed like more people had followed Sir Geoffrey for Xiao Mei heard him talking about sharing the findings of his crew with Taught.
Seto was left with Gorilla, as everyone would later come to call the ape man, who broke from the tour with the boy, leading him to one wing while Xiao Mei was led to the other by the Grand Master.
Being separated from Seto, who she grew up with like siblings under the same roof did not sit well with Xiao Mei. Her stomach clenched a little, and she felt an uncomfortable feeling rise to her chest. Seto shot her a reassuring look before he disappeared at the corner, but that did little to help the girl as she turned a corner too.
"This is where you will be sleeping," the old man said, gesturing to the modest-size room, and its modest furniture. There was just a bed to sleep in, a closet for her clothes, and a desk and chair beneath the window. There was even a stand for hats and coats that was perfect for Phoenix to rest on. "I hope you have a pleasant night's dream. Be sure to wake up early. We are a bit strict on timing."
Xiao Mei thanked the old man and went in. She heard the door close behind her. After locking the door, which was a habit her father instilled into her, Xiao Mei put her luggage into one corner of the room, changed, and then went to sleep.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Four)
Who is this newcomer? And what is she to Sparrow Hawkins?
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Six)
And the first day of school starts.