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Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Nineteen)
Chapter Nineteen In Which A Scholar Finds The Answer To Another Sticky Problem (Sort Of)
"Here's the diary," Xiao Mei announced as she rushed into the library where the others were waiting. She waved the book high above her head. The flower growing there was already tall enough that its petals brushed against the bottom of the small tome.
As soon as they had returned from their disastrous excursion through the forest, Sparrow had everyone huddle together for a bit and asked Xiao Mei to get the diary and bring it to the library.
"I have an inkling there might be a way to unlock the secrets of that diary yet," he had whispered as they lingered at the stone courtyard, after being asked why to get the diary.
Hearing that, there was no way that Xiao Mei could not be excited. She quickly broke away from the huddle before Sparrow could explain further and ran to her room where she had the diary hidden behind the dresser. The young girl had darted by so fast that none walking the halls then had realized that a human had been the one who sped past them. Many thought that an animal, or even a spirit had graced them with its presence.
"Wow, that was fast," Ai Hui remarked. She and the others had already gathered around a grand round table.
"Indeed," said Sparrow. "But the sooner the better, I suppose."
"I couldn't agree more," said Jane Montgomery as she flipped through the pages of a glossy magazine.
"Whoa!" Sparrow cried out. "Since when did you get here?"
"I was here the whole time," Jane said. "I was just passing by with research materials when I noticed your little huddle with the kids. I figured that you must have figured something out, so followed you to see if it was of anything interesting. You were just too excited about being a know-it-all detective, like usual, to notice."
"She followed us all the way from the courtyard when Xiao Mei left to find the diary," Duncan said.
"Wait, seriously?" went a flabbergasted Sparrow.
"Seriously," Jane said with a smirk. "Now, care to finally explain what gave you that look on your face, the one you always have whenever you solve a puzzle or mystery?"
Sparrow scowled at her, but relented.
"Remember when Master Taught was caught by that tree's sap?" he said.
"Yeah," said Harold. "How could we forget? It only happened a few hours ago."
"What about it?" asked Qiang Shi.
"Well, it got me thinking. What if whatever is keeping the diary sealed, despite the destruction of the lock, is, in fact, glue made from plant sap?"
"So you think that whatever's keeping the diary shut came from a plant," Seto said. "I don't see how that'll make a difference."
Everyone else nodded.
Seto rolled his eyes up, as if silently saying "Unbelievable" to above.
"What it means, ladies and gentlemen, is that Sparrow thinks that there could be a chance of opening that book, if we can figure out what sap the glue was made from," Jane cut in. "There must be a remedy out there that can take care of what's sealing the diary. Knowing where the glue came from will help us figure out what that remedy is."
"Oh," said the others.
"Now, with that point across, may I have the book, Xiao Mei?" Sparrow said, reaching his hand out.
"Oh, okay," said Xiao Mei. "But what are you - ?"
Sparrow snatched the book out of Xiao Mei's hand and put it to his nose, through which, to Xiao Mei's horror, he took a big sniff, and then licked. Shock dumbfounded everyone around senior scholar apprentice. After smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, Sparrow then, brought the edges of the book to his right eye for a good look at the paste keeping the tome shut, while shining a small electric torch over its surface.
"So," he began, "we're looking for a plant whose sap has a tropical scent, with tiny glittery substance mixed in its sap, and a salty taste."
" . . . and a salty taste," Ai Hui muttered to herself as she wrote in a red, leather-bound memo book. "Got it."
"Well, that's all well and good, but do you know any plants with that kind of sap?" Diana asked.
Jane and Sparrow exchanged looks before giving a collective, curt "No." That sure threw everyone off balance.
"Seriously?" Seto said, palming his forehead in disbelief. "Then who else could know about the plant we're looking for?"
They all turned their heads to Xiao Mei. She looked around with a confused look on her face, but when she realized what they were waiting for, she raised her hands, shook them, and said: "Don't look at me. All I have is whatever general facts I learned from visiting the neighborhood botanical garden. I've never heard of anything like what Sparrow just said."
"I suppose we can always try search through the books of this library," Harold suggested.
That suggestion received a lot of groans. It was no surprise as there were probably over hundreds of books they would have to go through before finding the right one. Jane said so.
"And that's only assuming that the glue really is made from a plant's sap," she added. "For all we know, any old glue from a factory could have been used."
"I doubt it," said Sparrow. "There is a way to get this book open. We just need to know how."
"And how can you be so sure?" Jane demanded to know. "Where is all this confidence coming from, despite any lack of evidence?"
"Hmph!" Sparrow sniffed. "There is evidence. And that is testimony from Xiao Mei's father."
"My father?" went Xiao Mei, puzzled.
"I don't remember Dad saying anything about a diary," said the voice in her head. "What could he be talking about?"
"And not just from him, but also from Sir Geoffrey," Sparrow continued, crossing his arms over his puffed out chest.
"Testimony of what?" said Jane.
"Testimony that she is a scholar," Sparrow answered. "And what is a scholar's number one duty?"
"To record and preserve all knowledge for the next generation!" Diana, Duncan, and Harold shouted, standing up like soldiers at attention for some reason.
"Exactly!" Sparrow said with a nod, a smile on his face of pride for his fellow scholar trainees. "From everything I heard about Mrs. Fong, and what I researched on my own, I know she is a true scholar not just in spirit, but in training and license, too. No self-respecting scholar would record information just to lock it away without any means of reopening it. So, I'm confident that she must have made sure there was a way to open this book."
"Such flimsy reasoning with no empirical evidence to speak of!" Jane exclaimed. "And you call yourself a man of science?"
"Exhausting all possibilities until they arrive at the truth is also something a person of science does," Sparrow said. "Didn't you used to say so yourself?"
"Really? Well, that sounds like something I would have said," Jane said dismissively. "I just hope that it doesn't become a huge waste of time."
"It's not like anyone's forcing you to be here," Sparrow said reproachfully. "I'm only doing this because I want to help Xiao Mei get to the bottom of the mystery behind her mother's disappearance, unlike some people who work only for their own benefit. If you don't want to waste your oh-so precious time, then I suggest you leave and put this oh-so precious time to use elsewhere."
Jane's cheeks flushed red as she rose from her chair abruptly, her mouth twisted into a scathing scowl. It seemed to everyone that a huge fight was going to break out between Jane and Sparrow as they glared at each other, but to their collective relief, Jane took a deep breath and sat back down.
"Good," Sparrow said. "Fair warning. The search is going to be long and arduous, and will involve combing through several books in this library. Chances are, hours will past before we manage to find what we're looking for. Anyone who has somewhere else to be later on, should leave now."
Everyone exchanged looks, probably having second thoughts.
"It's fine for you all the leave," Xiao Mei said. "I really don't want any of you sacrificing your time for me. You've all done so much already."
"What are you saying?" Ai Hui asked. "We're friends! There's no way we're going to just leave you on your own like this when you need all the help you can get."
The others enthusiastically agreed.
"Even if it means combing through hundreds and hundreds, and hundreds of these old, dusty books."
The others agreed less enthusiastically.
"Alright then!" said Duncan, clapping his hands together. "Time for some real scholar work. Let's get cracking!"
With gusto, everyone got up and charged. They charged quietly, of course, since they were in a library, but they still charged ahead. Jane lagged behind, shaking her head at how childish the others were all being.
They gathered as many books on plants as they could get their hands on, flipping through the pages one by one, careful not to miss anything.
And then an hour passed.
"Ugh, this is hopeless!" Duncan cried out. throwing his hands up in frustration. "We're never going to find what we're looking for in all of this!"
Diana and Harold leaned back away from their books with tired sighs. Behind them, Jane glanced up for a moment before resuming her nail filing. As far as anyone knew, she only touched the one book that was beside her. On the other hand, Sparrow was surrounded by stacks of books, reaching from the floor to above his head as he sat on a chair, one leg over the other, with his face buried in another dusty, old work.
"He's already halfway through all those books!?" the voice in Xiao Mei's head exclaimed in bafflement. "He has some serious scholar powers."
Although Xiao Mei also had her eyes glued on the contents of a book, her heart was a mirror of Duncan's frustration. She was beginning to question why she was even doing this. It was only her stubborn streak that helped her get through so far.
That was when the portly tiger man approached them.
"It's getting late," he said. "I have to close up now."
Sparrow looked up, disgruntled. He looked like he had been enjoying his time with all the books. But then his eyes lit up and he stared at the tiger man.
"What?" Da Hu said, shifting uncomfortably from Sparrow's wide-eyed gaze.
"Master Da Hu," the scholar apprentice said.
"I couldn't help but notice that magazine, you have there. It's about making crafts with botany, isn't it? Does that mean that you're interested in such things?"
"You could say that."
"And you've been working in this library for how long, exactly?"
"Twenty-three years," Da Hu replied. "What of it?"
"You wouldn't happen to know Xiao Mei's mother do you?" Sparrow asked. "Her family name's Bai, and her given name is Pei."
"Yes, actually, I did," Da Hu said. "We've only talked once in a while, however, so I can't say I knew her well."
"Did you ever talk about the kinds of plants that could be useful in crafting, like say . . . used for making glue?"
Everyone perked up, now realizing where Sparrow was going with this.
"Actually, yes," said Da Hu. "There was one time, she was in here, hoping to find inspiration that could help some young disciples of the temple with some kind of project. I can't remember what project it was, except that it involved building something. I told her about a plant coincidentally very near where she liked to wander around in the gardens that has fruits, whose juices were used by ancient tribes of the western region where En Province is now."
"These ancient tribes wouldn't happen to have a way of getting rid of the glue, would they?" Xiao Mei asked a bit too eagerly.
Startled by the excited look in Xiao Mei's eyes, Da Hu backed away, stammering "Y-yes. It's all in Volume Nine of the magazine 'Plants and Their Amazing Uses: Builders' Edition', if I remember right."
"Where is it?" Seto asked. "Do you have that magazine?"
Da Hu froze. His ears and tails perked up, and his forehead fur dampened as he broke out in cold sweat.
"I, well . . ." he stuttered. His voice trailed off and it looked like he was trying to think of what next to say.
Jane narrowed her eyes as she glared at the tiger man. She pocketed her nail file, got up, and slowly strolled over to him.
"You're not hiding anything, are you?" she said to his face.
"W-what?" cried the tiger man, retreating from the young woman. He stumbled a bit, but managed to catch himself with the corner of a nearby table. "How dare you! Why would I have anything to hide to the likes of you?"
Jane said nothing. She just stared right into his eyes with a poker face. And she kept staring, and staring, and staring, and staring, and staring, and staring . . .
"Alright, fine!" the tiger man cried out, throwing in the towel. "This library had the volume you're looking for, but it's gone! I lost it years ago, and haven't been able to find it since! Are you happy now?"
And then he broke down crying.
"I'm a failure as a archivist!" he sobbed, curled up on the floor.
A mixture of feelings swirled within Xiao Mei, that could only be summed up to something Seto said as they watched a full-grown tiger man cry like a toddler.
"C-calm down!" cried an alarmed Sparrow. "No need to make a scene over a missing magazine! We can just order a new one of our own! If it'll help, we'll even let you keep it!"
"You don't understand!" Da Hu said. "That magazine was discontinued five years ago due to the owners' foolish handling of money! And they only printed as much as ordered. There aren't any copies, new or old, left! The only places that would have any volumes would be the archives or libraries scattered across the globe! Despite the magazine company's owners being morons when it came to money handling, the works they published were sheer genius! No librarian's going to be foolish enough to allow such a rare and valuable source of information out of their archives. No librarian except this one!"
And he continued to cry, face on the floor. A puddle began to form from his tears.
"What do we do?" asked Qiang Shi, looking away. He couldn't bear to watch anymore of the master of the archives sobbing like that.
"Don't look at me!" Sparrow said, raising his hands in surrender. "This is out of my expertise. What about yours, Jane? Jane?"
Looking around, Xiao Mei realized that Jane was not here.
"Blast!" Sparrow cursed. "She must have escaped!"
And then, for a couple of hours, Xiao Mei, Sparrow, and the others kept the distraught tiger man company, feeling guilty about what happened, even though the one who should be feeling guilty the most ran away. They tried their best to console Da Hu until he finally calmed down and shooed them away because it was late.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Eighteen)
Time to explore the great outdoors.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty)
From one dead end to another, what are the sleuths to do now?
On Xiao Mei's previous adventure:
Xiao Mei, the apprentice of a doctor, gets her life turned upside down by surprise visitors, that has her embark on a journey across the country to save her family.
This is a prequel to the story I'm currently writing that details how Xiao Mei's adventures begin, and what mysteries she finds that carry over to this story.