Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Six)
Chapter 6 The Start of the First Day
Xiao Mei woke early in the morning in an unfamiliar room lit only by the sun shining into the window. Even her room wasn't so simple and plain, though Fong never liked to waste money on decorations. After a minute of confusion and rubbing sleep from her eyes, she remembered where she was and quickly got out of bed. The motion caused Phoenix' nose bubble to pop starling the bird awake.
She washed, diligently brushed her teeth, and dressed for the day in the bathroom at the end of the hall marked by the basic symbol for "Girls" hammered into the door. And then she was out, wandering the hallways trying to find her way with Phoenix taking his rightful place above her crown.
The little girl was long gone when the girl who was supposed to guide her around came to knock on the door only to find it carelessly left unlocked. Frantic, the girl wearing her hair in twin buns and braids ran one way in desperate search of the daughter of the legendary Fong, the most extreme workaholic and miser in the history of the temple. Remembering whose daughter the new girl was finally calmed the girl and she went on searching in a slower pace.
While wandering the halls, after a while, Xiao Mei thought that she might have made a mistake coming out. Didn't the Grand Master say that he would have someone show her around in the morning? Will whoever sees her gone from her room be mad? Fretting over being scolded, Xiao Mei did not see where she was going and ended up walking into a courtyard occupied by two.
Xiao Mei cried out in surprise when the large iron fan hit the staff made of transparent, red glass. Staring incredulously at the weapons, the color drained from Xiao Mei's face. She fell on her bottom as Phoenix launched into the air, scolding the sparring couple in his own language. If it weren't for Jing's long staff, Xiao Mei would have gotten a concussion from Mei Ling's fan, which is quite hard and heavy being made of iron and bulletproof flap.
Jing sighed with relief. A bead of sweat ran down the side of his face.
"That was a close one," he said, lowering his staff.
Mei Ling gaped, her jaw dropped, and she quickly looked Xiao Mei over, barraging the little girl with questions: "A-a-a-are you okay? Were you hurt anywhere?"
When she saw that Xiao Mei was unscathed, Mei Ling collapsed on her knees and breathed a sigh of relief
"You are as early a riser as ever," Jing remarked, wiping sweat off his forehead with a cloth. "It's still only six in the morning."
"That is early." Xiao Mei agreed. Normally she would start moving about thirty minutes later than this. Her shoulders hunched a little when she felt Phoenix' weight returning to her head. "What are you doing so early?" she asked as she reached up to stroke the exotic bird. Phoenix responded with a welcoming call.
"As you can see, we're exercising," Jing said. He explained that as a habit, Jing and Mei Ling spar early in the morning, nearly daily. It's just one of the many not-so-secret ways for Jing and Mei Ling to keep getting stronger as fighters.
"If you want, you can watch," Mei Ling offered. "Just, make sure you don't walk in on us."
Xiao Mei blushed a little and promised before stepping back a few paces, sitting at the stone stairs. She shivered a little because of the cold morning air, but Phoenix quickly turned up the heat, the skill of his kind.
With her fans unfurled, Mei Ling charged forward. She used her fan as a shield, blocking Jing's jab. Pushing the staff aside, the woman struck with her other fan, but it was pushed away by the other end of Jing's staff. The couple spun as they broke apart, and spun again when they came together.
Although they were engaged in battle, even a mock one, Xiao Mei thought they looked like they were having fun. Their punches were pulled, and their strikes seemed lenient at the last minute, at least to the trained eye.
"Ah! There you are!"
Xiao Mei turned from the fight to see a young woman running toward her holding a photograph. The woman seemed slight and nervous.
"Thank goodness I found you!" she said, the tense muscles of her face relaxing.
Xiao Mei stammered an apology, even though she didn't understand why she had to. It just felt right for her to do it.
"No, don't be sorry," the woman said. "It's understandable. At least I managed to find you. Ah! I nearly forgot to introduce myself. You can call me Miss Ba."
"Fong Xiao Mei!" the little girl replied.
"I know who you are," Miss Ba said. She actually felt more relieved. Having heard that Fong's daughter was coming, she had assumed that she would be dealing with a female kid version of the one-time senior student. Even after all these years, Fong still scared her. She was a little girl back then, much younger than the girl before her, who shrank from Fong's permanent glaring all the time. A Fong-like face, even coming form a kid, would be almost too much for Miss Ba to handle. But the girl before her was clearly nothing like her father. The aura of foul mood that Fong usually exuded was absent from this child.
After a moment of watching Jing and Mei Ling spar, as it was still a bit early, Miss Ba led Xiao Mei all the way to the fifth courtyard which was transformed from a quiet, serene place at night time, to a crowded mess of activity and talk during the day as the boys and girls, all wearing basic shirts and trousers like Xiao Mei was, waited to put in the morning incense and pray to their deceased loved ones and ancestors. The doors to the monastery were open this time, revealing a huge gold statue sitting cross-legged above rising rows of clay cups filled close to the brim with dark-gray ash.
Gold stalk incense sticks with red bottom sections were passed around. While that happened, everyone went quiet. Each person took three. Miss Ba and Xiao Mei took their place as next-to-last in line. Jing and Mei Ling were last having had to freshen up after a morning's workout.
After Xiao Mei placed the incense stick into one of the ash-filled cups, she was led to a vast dining room with simple wood furniture neatly placed in rows and columns that were towered over by a long table at the end of the room. That table where the Grand Master, Gorilla, and Miss Ba sat along with some other adults, Sir Geoffrey, and Taught, was placed at the feet of a large dragon statue of painted gold that had its mouth gaping open while coiled in dance.
"Hey!" Xiao Mei heard someone cry out.
She spun around and saw Harold, Diana, and Duncan waving to her. Relief from seeing some familiar faces washed over her. With an approving nod from Miss Ba, Xiao Mei hurried to the trio who were with a dog chimera and boy with a bowl haircut.
"Always good to see a familiar face," said Duncan. "Slept well?"
"Okay, I guess," Xiao Mei answered as she took her seat by Diana. To the dog chimera and the boy, she said: "Nice to meet you. I'm Xiao Mei."
"So, you're the daughter of the legendary Fong," the dog girl said. Her voice was loud enough for everyone in the dining hall to hear.
"Huh?" Xiao Mei went, her face flushed pink. "Legendary?" Was her father really that famous? Sure he was the crown prince of the entire nation, and he was considered an incredible doctor back home, but he couldn't be so famous that he'd be called a legend, could he?
"Is it true that he's like an automaton? Tireless with infinite energy? A never-ending worker?"
The dog girl talked so fast, and her face was a little too close to Xiao Mei's that Xiao Mei couldn't understand. She could feel the eyes of many shooting at her. Her stomach was smashing into itself repeatedly like a beating heart. "W-well . . ."
The boy nudged the dog girl hard with his elbow.
"Please stop before you make her die of embarrassment, Ai Hui. You're making a scene," he said. "Don't mind her. I'm Qiang Shi. Nice to meet you."
"O-oh! I'm Xiao Mei." She took Qiang Shi's hand and shook it.
"I know," said Qiang Shi. "Harold, Diana, and Duncan just told us a little about you."
"Nothing bad, I hope," Xiao Mei said. She sounded like she was joking, but she really thought that.
"Just that they met you at your father's office and that you seem to be friends with Sparrow Hawkins, that scholar with the bowler hat," the boy said, nodding to Sparrow helping himself to a bowl of rice. He was pointedly avoiding eye contact with Jane who was just as unhappy having to sit next to him. "According to them, he's supposed to be a really good detective."
"He is," Diana promised. "If he wasn't, he wouldn't make a good scholar, would he?"
"I can vouch for them," Xiao Mei said. She remembered the day she and Sparrow first met as clearly as if it happened yesterday. He really gained some weight since they last met. Back then, using his great intellect, Sparrow had helped Xiao Mei out of a pinch. His deductions were still spot-on, as if he were some kind of psychic.
"Are you looking for someone?" Harold asked.
"Huh?" went Xiao Mei. "Why would you say that?"
"You've been turning your head around a lot," Diana pointed out.
"I have?" Xiao Mei's cheeks became even more pink. She didn't mean to. Her eyes just wandered on their own, hungrily taking everything all in. After that exciting adventure she had when she was younger, she found that she had a taste for seeing new things in new places. She itched to explore and have adventures again, but she got better at suppressing those urges as the years went by. Her father had a lot of physical strain put on him during that time, and she worried for his health, especially as he was as Ai Hui described, an automaton that tirelessly worked. In fact, the only time other than meals that Xiao Mei ever saw her father take a break was to recover from the injuries he got during their last adventure.
"Yep," went Qiang Shi. "I thought you might have owl blood in you the way your head turns around."
"I can understand how she feels, though," said Duncan. "One of the reasons I put up with all the boring reading and studying is so I could go out and explore the world like we're doing right now, to worlds I've only read of in books."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," said Ai Hui. "When I first came here, my mind was like blown away!"
Qiang Shi snorted. "Don't you mean you were filled with dread?" he said with a smirk.
Ai Hui shot Qiang Shi a nasty look, but the boy did not back down.
"Hey, you know, when she first came here, she was like one of those city kids," he said, leering at her in a friendly, mischievous way. "She was worried that her pocket phone would get no reception, and that there'd be no Online Network to connect to."
"And I was right," Ai Hui said with a huge, overly dramatic sigh. "I can't even make a call to my parents unless I go all the way down those steps. The first few weeks were a nightmare. But, I managed to get used to it. Hey, are you okay, Xiao Mei?"
Xiao Mei answered that she was fine, but she was anything but. She was worried. If there isn't any phone service for portable phones, then that would mean she couldn't call Fong and check up on him with the one he gave her. What if she needed something from him, or worse? What if he needed something from her?
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Five)
They have arrived at last to the Temple of the Dragon.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Seven)
Xiao Mei's lessons begin.
Check out Xiao Mei's last adventure in
- Country Of Dragons by Victor Kwok
Follow a young girl on a journey across the country to save her family.