Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Seven)
Chapter 7 The First Lesson (And In Which Excitement Ends With Something Strange)
Xiao Mei was led to a decent-size room made up of wood tables and long benches by Miss Ba. The room was filled with the characteristics of age, from the presence of a musty scent to the worn furniture. All the windows were open, letting in a perfect cool breeze and the noise of nature. Most of the benches were already filled with children around Xiao Mei's age, but there was one space by Ai Hui that was free. When she saw Xiao Mei come in, Ai Hui perked up and eagerly beckoned to the girl to sit down next to her. With a sense of gratitude, Xiao Mei rushed over to Ai Hui and sat down beside her.
Diana, Duncan, and Harold sat nearby and found themselves at the center of everyone's attention. Xiao Mei could see them all shift uncomfortably beneath the stares. Xiao Mei had mixed feelings about this. Honestly, she was relieved that she wasn't on the receiving end of so much attention. But at the same time, she couldn't help but feel a little bit envious as well. Many of the children staring seemed like they wanted to approach the foreigners. But they seemed reluctant, always shifting their gaze now and then to either Miss Ba or the door.
The door flew open and Jing, dressed in a red Tang jacket and trousers beneath his alchemist's cape, strolled in, carrying a large box in front of him. He went all the way to the large table at the back of the room where he put the box down and surveyed the class.
"Good morning, everyone," the narrow-eye gentleman said. "My given name is Jing and my family name is Wu." Xiao Mei noticed that many of her classmates all sat up straight, their attention focusing on the young man in the front. Some had the look of awe on their faces. "As many of you probably know, I am an alchemist of the master level. Well, I have created numerous things from medicine to dimensional probes. Yes, young man?"
Duncan, who had his hand up, lowered his hand and said with a puzzled expression: "What's a dimensional probe?"
"Ah, yes, well, a dimensional probe is like a camera that can send video across different dimensions or worlds," Jing replied. "Did you know that there are other realities apart from the one we're in? I once met a different version of myself with a completely different personality than my own, from a different world where the laws of physics differ in an unbelievable way from the laws of our own world. In fact, I think I have a recent video of him with me right now."
"Ahem!" went Miss Ba.
"Ah, right," went Jing, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head. "Maybe another time."
"Master Jing?" a girl sitting on the center front table called out, raising her hand.
"What's this other version of you like?" the girl asked. "You said that he had a completely different personality."
"Hmm . . ." went Jing. "How should I put it? Well, let's just say he's considerably mischievous with a sense of humor that . . . most would not appreciate."
"Well, one time, he used his incredible, near supernatural abilities, to turn his own nose into something like a slime cannon, converting his snot into slime that amounted to the same as a water hose shooting out water at maximum capacity."
"I . . . see," said the girl, looking very uncertain. She was probably thinking what everyone was probably thinking: "That was a joke, right?"
"Anyway," Jing said, clapping his hands together, "back to the lesson. Now, I'm sure plenty of you know this already, but one of the basics of basics of alchemy is medicine. Alchemy comes with numerous fields that involves the creation of something from something else. And there's no better way to start alchemy than through the creation of basic medicines through plants and herbs. There are a lot of alchemists who become basic doctors, using what they know to heal the injured and treat the sick. A very noble choice of path in life.
"Inside this box is a very interesting plant. It can be different things in different conditions, with a lot of different effects depending on which part is used. For example, when mixed with other ingredients, the nectar can heal almost any injury instantaneously. The leaves can be brewed into a tea that boosts the immune system, and be a great help in fighting off any sicknesses. Also used for tea, are the roots, which can give you an energy jump start in the morning better than coffee. And as for the seeds, well, I do remember they have some kind of special effect. But I completely forgot what."
Xiao Mei leaned forward with interest. As an herbalist doctor-in-training, she eagerly awaited the alchemist to reveal this mysterious plant that even she had not heard of. And she studied quite a bit about plants from all over the world and how they could be used to make medicine. It was a habit she picked up from her father who was almost never without a magazine on the subject.
"Now feast your eyes on - !"
A clockwork automaton suddenly burst into the room, turning the door into a pile of splinters in a leap before making a landing that left a dent on the stone floor. With the large amount of rust all over its would-be golden frame, the robot must be very old. The machine, itself, was large and bulky, albeit dented at the head, arms, and legs. That probably happened when it tackled the door. But despite its age, it was clear that it wasn't going to retire any time soon. Its shape, apart from its egg head, reminded Xiao Mei of a huge boar man that she encountered a few years ago, who looked like he could tear a tree in half with his bare hands. They both had the same muscle mass. At least the automaton looked like it would have watermelon-shaped muscles if there was a person beneath all that old armor.
"I say," said Jing, unaffected at all by the sudden entrance. "Is that not the service automaton that the Grand Master wished me to take a look at during my free time? I wonder what it's doing up and about. And with a sword, no less!"
Xiao Mei had witnessed the alchemist being calm in a ridiculous situation before, one even more ridiculous than the situation right now, but she still couldn't help but wonder if the man was insane or not. She, like the other students, fell out of her chair in surprise and gaped at the humanoid machine holding a dangerous weapon with fearful expectations.
"Everyone, get to the back of the room!" Miss Ba shouted.
"Oh, I wouldn't advise that," Jing said. "It seems that this machine's only interest is in me."
Just like the master alchemist said, it seemed like the machine's blue light eyes were on him alone. It completely ignored everyone else cowering against the walls of the room and strolled on over to the alchemist, raising the elegant, straight-blade sword over its head. When it got close, it swung down fast, splitting the box and the table into two. From the split box, a cloud of spores dispersed into the air. The machine's aim had been Jing, but he stepped to the side before the blade could touch him and then skirted around to behind the machine.
The automaton turned around and attacked again, swiping left and right with the sword. With each move the automaton made, there were creaks and clicks from the gears turning and grinding beneath the armor plates. Although the machine was incredibly fast, Jing was faster. After all, not only was he a famous genius alchemist, he was also a famous genius warrior. He ducked whichever way to avoid the blade, keeping one finger on his glasses to keep them from slipping off the bridge of his nose, while his free hand was kept behind his back. The machine kept attacking, but Jing kept dodging, despite how close the two of them were. Jing couldn't be forced from his spot. He remained where he was, even when the machine aimed for his legs and feet.
Everyone stood frozen, watching as an incredible fight between man and machine unfolded. Despite being human, it seemed like Jing was toying with what was supposed to be the superior of the two. And then he fought back. Later, when he would recount the tale to others, he would claim that he had been studying the machine for its weaknesses.
"Always keep an open eye and wait when such is called for," he would say. "Patience is a virtue, even for warriors."
No one would doubt this story when they were witnesses. They watched him strike certain points of the machine's arms, legs and torso with just his gloved fists and feet. The strikes didn't even seem all that hard, but when he stepped back, pieces that kept the limbs connected through the joints popped out, and then the machine began to fall apart until it was a pile of gears and armor.
"Ow!" The alchemist winced and hissed while waving his hands about. "That really hurt."
Everyone just stared dumbfounded at the young man with their jaws hanging.
"I am so glad that machine's so old," the alchemist remarked. "Who knows how much damage my hands could have gotten if that was the case?"
Just then, Sparrow came running in with a hand blaster drawn out. He was followed by Zhun who looked ready to pulverize something with his batons.
"What's going on?" Zhun said, pushing Sparrow aside. Sparrow fumbled and nearly dropped his blaster. Both of them froze when they saw the pile of gears and armor plates lying at Jing's feet.
"Oh, nothing," Jing answered, massaging his hands. "It's just that someone purposely programmed an aged automaton to apparently take me down."
"Just how many enemies did you make since our school days?" Zhun demanded, sheathing his batons.
Sparrow stared at the pile of robot pieces and then glanced up to Jing. He looked like he wanted to say something, but chose not to say anything. Instead, he returned his weapon to the holster beneath his long jacket and surveyed the crowd.
"Is everyone all right?" he asked.
"W-we're fine," said Miss Ba. "What on earth is going on? Did Master Wu just say that someone deliberately sent this out-of-control machine to k-k-ki . . . get rid of him?"
"That does seem to be the claim," said Sparrow, giving the alchemist a wary look. "You don't appear armed. Don't tell me you did this with your bare hands."
"Not exactly," said Jing, holding up a hand. It was brief, but there was a flash of red. "These gloves are designed to enhance my chi control. As I'm sure a lot of people know, controlling one's chi allows one to gain healing powers and greater strength, among other things."
He bent down and picked up the sword that was used to try and cut him in half. Against the natural light of the room, the blade glinted brilliantly. Jing handled the weapon with extreme care, slowly brushing his fingers on the flat surface of the sword.
"This weapon was among the artifacts displayed in the monastery's archives," he remarked. "Those artifacts are looked after with extreme care. How did an aged service automaton get its hands on it?"
"Not quietly, evidently," Sparrow remarked. He stepped outside and took a look at the cracks all over the floor of the hallway.
When he stepped back inside, he suddenly froze. He stared straight at Xiao Mei with astonishment in his eyes. Xiao Mei squirmed beneath his gaze. Why was he looking at her so intently? Was there something on her face or something? Those questions swirling in her head were soon answered.
"My word!" he exclaimed. "There appears to be a plant growing on Xiao Mei's head!"
Xiao Mei reached up and felt around. At least three points of her palm felt something. It wasn't Phoenix. This thing on her head was much too small. The surface of this object was rounded, like a bulb. And it had a leaf-like feeling to it.
"Oh!" went Diana. She reached into the side pocket of her jacket and pulled out a pocket mirror which she held up for Xiao Mei.
Just as Sparrow said, there was a plant growing on her head. It was a huge, red bud, about the size of a rat.
"Oh!" went Jing. "Now I remember what the seeds do! If people breathe in the seed spores, they end up with plants growing out of their heads!"
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Six)
And the first day of school starts.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Eight)
There is a mystery afoot!
Learn more about this other version of Jing in:
- Star- Crossed Magic: Book Two of the Paladin Academy Chronicles by Victor Kwok
The students of James Jing Wu once again find themselves facing magical trouble. How will they cope with a war between two magic families, with someone lurking in the shadows pulling the strings?