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Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twelve)
Chapter Twelve In Which An Unexpected Discovery Comes With Unexpected Troubles
"So, had any luck trying to get that thing open?" asked Seto.
When he and Xiao Mei (and Phoenix; let's not forget about the fire-breathing bird that's always with her) got together at the dining hall, Xiao Mei immediately told him of her discovery at the library. Master Da Hu had no problem with letting Xiao Mei keep the book as it was originally her mother's, so she kept the book with her, refusing to let go of it as if it might disappear from her sight.
Xiao Mei shook her head.
"We never had a chance," she said, obviously disappointed. "Master Da Hu only let me hold onto the diary as long as we didn't let it distract us from helping with the cleanup."
"Well, now seems like a good time as any to try," said Seto. "Maybe there are clues in there that'll help us find out what happened with your mother."
One could only hope, Xiao Mei thought.
"Gee," the voice in Xiao Mei's head said sarcastically. "Why didn't we think of that? And here we were trying to get this diary open to find out what her favorite snack was."
Seto took the diary into his hands and began pulling the lock as hard as he could. Xiao Mei froze in horror and could only pray that he didn't destroy the book in the process. After a few tries, he gave up.
"That's a tough lock," he said, shaking his hand which now had welts.
"Hello, everyone," Sparrow sang as he approached their table. He stopped and spotted the welts on Seto's hand and rolled his eyes to the diary in his other hand. "You're not going to get that diary open with brute force. That lock's made by the Imperial Dragon Company. They're notorious in Zhang for creating super strong locks which they sell for surprisingly little money."
"What's this?" went Qiang Shi. He and everyone else also just came by. "You still haven't gotten that open yet?"
When asked about her mother after finding the diary, Xiao Mei explained to everyone how she thought her mother had been dead for many years before her father told her that he thought that her mother went into hiding because she discovered some kind of incredible secret, and that there were people who would do anything, even terrible things, to get their hands on that secret. Because of those people, Fong had decided to keep his daughter and everyone else believing that his wife was no longer among the living.
"What made him change his mind and decide to tell you everything?" Diana had asked.
"Well, a lot happened," Xiao Mei hesitantly replied. How was she to explain to the others that her father was actually the former Crown Prince of the country and that her family had to go on the run when the current emperor staged a coup, navigating through a lot of danger? It was hard enough explaining the situation with her mother.
"It's a tough lock," Seto said, showing everyone his welt-covered hand.
"Well, no duh," said Diana. "Everyone knows that a lock made by the Zhangese Imperial Dragon Company, even a tiny one like that, are practically unbreakable. Not even a mountain troll would be able to break it. The only way that thing's gonna open is if you either have the key, or you pick it."
"No key here, so I guess we go with option number two," Seto said. "Does anyone here know how to pick a lock?"
Sparrow glanced left and right shadily before raising his hand. And to everyone's astonishment, Xiao Mei also slowly raised her hand.
"You know how to pick a lock?" Harold exclaimed in disbelief.
"Mr. Ma the locksmith taught me when Master Fong had me help him with work for a couple of days," Xiao Mei confessed.
"Fong tried to get Xiao Mei to try a couple of things to see if she would get interested in anything other than taking over the clinic," Seto said. "Something about how it's up to her what she should do with her life."
"Huh," went Diana, putting her hands to her hip. "I guess he's a lot cooler than he looks."
"It just proves the saying that you should never judge a book by its cover," said Sparrow. "But speaking of books, want me to take a crack at that diary?"
"I don't know . . ." Xiao Mei began to say.
"Oh come on," said the voice in her head. "Let him try. Maybe we'll find some clues in that diary about what Mom had been up to. And Sparrow might be able to help us find where she is now. He is detective-like after all."
"I guess it's okay," Xiao Mei said, finally caving in.
"Excellent!" Sparrow said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together in anticipation. "Move aside and watch a master at work."
After moving the bowls and plates out of the way, he pulled out a cloth bundle and spread it up at his right, while taking the book from Seto and setting it about his left. From the cloth bundle, he selected a pair of delicate thin tools. But before he could start, Sir Geoffrey suddenly appeared.
"What's going on here?" asked the curious old man.
"I'm picking the lock of a recently found diary of a woman who just happened to be the long-lost mother of a companion of a past adventure that saw the fall of a country's recent dynasty in the hopes of solving the mystery behind her disappearance," Sparrow said rapidly as he worked on the lock.
Sir Geoffrey blinked twice. "What?"
"It's nothing, sir," said Seto. "Don't worry about it."
"Can you please stop squeezing my shoulder like that, Seto?" Sparrow said. "It's distracting me, and actually kind of hurts."
Seto shot him a dirty look, but he didn't notice, almost all of his attention now on the lock.
"Pei . . . Bai?" went Sir Geoffrey after glancing over Sparrow's shoulder. "Could it be that one of you knows Ms. Bai?"
Sparrow froze. He craned his head to look up to the old man.
"You knew my mother?" Xiao Mei asked.
"You're her daughter?" Sir Geoffrey exclaimed in astonishment. "My! I would never have guessed! Yes, I knew your mother. She worked for me for a brief time the last time I was in the country. She showed exemplary promise as a scholar, according to an associate of mine, so I agreed to have her come along on the expedition. She came here as one of my representatives when I couldn't make it."
"You couldn't make it?" said Duncan. "What happened, sir?"
"Ah! Alas, I was afflicted by that which plagued all mortals," the old man said, reeling back and rubbing his temples. "I caught a cold. It wasn't even that bad but the doctor wouldn't let me go. Honestly, I'm the one paying him, so shouldn't he have been the one taking orders from me?
"Anyway, so, you've found her diary, have you?" Sir Geoffrey continued. "Any luck getting it open?"
Snap! One of the tools that Sparrow was digging into the lock split in half.
"Oh no!" Sparrow exclaimed, tossing his tools down onto the table.
"Ah!" Xiao Mei cried out in horror.
"I'm sorry, Xiao Mei," said Sparrow. "That lock really lives up to its reputation."
"Never mind that!" Xiao Mei shouted. "Blood! Blood!"
"Huh?" went Sparrow. "What about bl-? GREAT TOMES OF THE LOST LIBRARY!"
When Sparrow snapped his tool in half, he accidentally nicked his finger. Now, normally a small cut like that would be no problem. But, unfortunately, Sparrow was the sort who bled easily. So you can guess what happened once he cut his finger. Yep. That's right. It made a mess of the table and the book. And it was really messy. Enough so that they were all scrambling around in a panic. One of the nearby temple disciples who saw the blood ended up emptying the contents of his stomach on the floor. It was that much of a mess.
Xiao Mei grabbed a nearby table cloth and wrapped it around Sparrow's finger. She tied the cloth as tight as she could. Miss Ba came by to see what was wrong, saw the blood, and fainted. That caused more panicking which soon spread throughout the dining hall. The uproar was finally calmed down when Master Da took charge. Both Sparrow and Miss Ba were taken to the infirmary. Xiao Mei followed after them, but not before she snatched away her mother's diary. She bowed to the stunned Sir Geoffrey who had been hovering over the book before taking off after her scholar friends.
"Honestly, Mr. Hawkins, you really need to be careful," said Dr. Green. "That was rather clumsy of you to give yourself such a serious injury."
When word had reached her that Sparrow had to be taken to the infirmary, she dropped all her work onto Taught's lap and rushed to see how he was doing. She was relieved when she found out what the trouble was all about, to the point that she sunk to her knees.
"You know," said Sparrow while Xiao Mei continued to bandage his finger. "Hearing that from you, Dr. Green, of all people, really takes a toll on my self-esteem."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Dr. Green retorted with a scowl.
"Exactly what it means," Sparrow said, shifting his weight on the bed.
"There! All done!" Xiao Mei proclaimed.
Sparrow lifted up his finger. Around it was a huge bundle of wrapping. It looked as if his finger were the cocoon of a huge silk worm.
"A bit excessive, don't you think?" he commented.
"Hey, the blood just wouldn't stop seeping through," Xiao Mei argued with a pout. "You'll be lucky if there's any blood left in you. You'll have to be put on an iron-rich diet just to be safe."
"Of course, Doctor," Sparrow said. The sarcasm was not lost to the little girl.
"How'd you end up cutting your finger anyway?" asked Dr. Green.
"Just doing something," Sparrow said, turning away.
"And what is that something?"
"Like I said, what is that something? And look at me when you talk to me."
Xiao Mei watched the endless back and forth cycle of the two scholars repeating the same question and answer. Neither side would yield. And although Xiao Mei wanted to intervene, she just couldn't find the chance to do that. So her mouth just hung open, while a plug in her throat stopped the words from getting out. If she had glanced toward her friends, she would have seen that they wore the same look as hers on their faces.
There was no telling if there would have ever been an end to the back and forth between Sparrow and Dr. Green if they had not been interrupted. And who, pray tell, was responsible for the interruption? Well, it wasn't "who", but "what".
Suddenly, an automaton crashed through the window and rolled across the floor to the middle of the room. Glass showered over the floor. The robot was almost just like the one that attacked Jing a couple of days ago, only this one looked newer, bigger and more geared to fighting with its studded shoulders and knuckles.
Nobody moved as it rotated its head three-sixty degrees, its eyes scanning the entirety of the room. And then it stopped its head, facing a book on the table that was stained with the blood from Sparrow's careless accident. It approached Diana and Harold who just happened to be in its way.
"Move!" Sparrow shouted. But the two apprentice scholars could not move. They were paralyzed with fear. Dr. Green ran toward them, but slipped on some gauze that Xiao Mei had earlier tossed aside while she was treating Sparrow's finger. She fell flat on her face. Lifting her head, she watched with horror as the robot reached for the apprentices. Then, to everyone's surprise (and relief), the robot pushed them aside and grabbed the book on the table.
Xiao Mei's relief was short-lived, however, when she realized what book was in the robot's hand.
"No!" she cried out.
"That automaton just crashed through the window just to get a book?" went Harold.
"Not just any book!" said Qiang Shi. "That's Xiao Mei's mother's diary!"
"Say what now?" Dr. Green said, incredulously turning to the boy.
Sensing his master's distress, Phoenix took off from her head and flew at the moving metal statue. Knowing that this foe was not the kind to fall easily, he summoned as much power as he could from the pits of his stomach and gathered it at his throat, from which a torrent of fire so intensely hot that it was blue, spewed forth. It was something that Phoenix had mastered in secret after his and his master's journey four years ago.
The mechanical menace was pushed back by the intensity of the flames. It twitched and had spasms as the wiring inside became too hot for the machine to handle. Because of the heat, the breaker tripped, but that would not stop the damage.
Popping could be heard from the machine. Considering that a bad sign, Sparrow quickly reached his hand out. Using the psychic powers he gained as a privilege of being a scholar, he pulled the diary away from the robot as it slipped from its convulsive fingers. The diary flew across the room and was caught by Xiao Mei who had ran after Sparrow's telekinesis took hold.
Phoenix stopped his attack and collapsed onto the floor, heaving and coughing. As the blue fire was on of his most powerful moves, it should have been expected that it would leave him exhausted. Until he had a good rest, no flame will come from this bird's mouth. Not even smoke. But the metal statue had fallen. After all that damage, there was no way that it was coming back up.
Unfortunately, that was not the only mechanical menace to appear. Upon the fall of the first, a second automaton, just as menacing as the first leaped into the room. Its glowing red eyes were trained squarely on the book in the girl's arms. Xiao Mei swallowed and slowly backed away. But for each step back she took, the automaton took one step toward her. The automaton would not take its eyes off of her. She stepped to the right. The automaton turned its head towards her. She stepped to the left. The robotic menace's eyes just followed after her. Yep. No doubt about it. Just like with the first, it was after her mother's diary.
Qiang Shi quickly opened the door to help Xiao Mei escape, but outside was another automaton. It pushed him aside roughly as it came in, followed by another. Now there were three automatons to deal with.
"Seriously, what's so special about Mom's diary that they'd send four robots after it?" the voice in Xiao Mei's head grumbled.
Xiao Mei did not reply. She was preoccupied with the robots that just came in. The automatons pushed everyone else down as they made their way toward her. Dr. Green and Sparrow tried to put up a fight, grabbing the nearest objects to attack with, but the bed pan Dr. Green swung and the flower vase that Sparrow smashed only scratched the armor of the automatons a bit. The automatons grabbed the two scholars and tossed them aside. Luck had them land on the bed before rolling onto the floor.
Phoenix tried to get up, but being drained in energy, there was no way he would be flying anytime soon. So he was ignored.
Powerless, Xiao Mei's friends could only watch in horror as she was surrounded. The automatons bent down a little, raised their arms, and then reached for the young girl.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Eleven)
Word is a monster is lurking the halls of the temple.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Thirteen)
Robots attack! And they're after the diary of Xiao Mei's mother!
Check out Xiao Mei's first adventure in:
- Country Of Dragons by Victor Kwok
Follow Xiao Mei as she journeys across the country with a fire-breathing bird to save her family.