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Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Two)
Chapter Twenty-Two In Which A Discovery Is Made
"Dr. Green?" said Harold. "What are you doing here?"
Dr. Green jumped, tearing away from the window, and turned in surprised.
"Huh? What? What are you guys doing . . . HERE!?"
As she turned, she lost balance at the heel of her shoe and fell sideways to the ground.
"We're here to look for something," Ai Hui answered as Jing and Seto rushed to help the scholar back to her feet. "What are you doing here? And are you okay?"
"Yes, yes, I'm fine," said Dr. Green, clapping dust off her lap.
"Let me guess," Diana said. "You're here to look at the monster plants, again."
"Again?" said Xiao Mei.
"Dr. Green, here, is a huge fan of monsters," Duncan explained. There's not a scholar back at home who doesn't know."
"Yeah! At least once a week, she would invite us all to watch some monster movie," said Harold.
"I can speak fluent Nihonese thanks to watching all the foreign ones," Sparrow added. "And I sometimes hear screams of horror over the mass destruction of cities by roaring behemoths, when I close my eyes."
They all stared at him for a moment, before turning to the scholar.
"Yes, well, as you have colorfully surmised, I am here to observe the plant life," Dr. Green said. "Research is my job, after all. With Master Taught out of commission, I no longer have the luxury to pace myself. Once I'm through with here, I have to go translate some ancient texts that have piled up on Master Taught's desk. And I expect all of you in the headquarters room to help me with that."
"Huh?" The scholars-to-be all stared at her blankly.
"Oh, don't you give me that," Dr. Green scolded. "Scholar work isn't all fun and games. There is serious work to be done here. And that work is exactly what we're here for in the first place. For what other reason do we have apprentices if not to have them learn the ropes of the job so they could help out? Speaking of which, you are actually behind on your work. Considering the excitement we've been having the past couple of weeks with rogue robots wreaking havoc, I expected a little delay. But the lag in work is too much! Including your work, Mr. Hawkins."
Sparrow cast his eyes down sheepishly. He shot a sideways glowering glance toward Jane when she snickered.
"Oh, don't be too hard on them," said Sir Geoffrey. "They are still children, after all."
"Oh, hey!" Harold whispered to Xiao Mei. "Why don't you ask Dr. Green about the flowers?"
"Huh?" went Xiao Mei.
"Out of everyone here, she probably knows this place the best," Harold said.
"She does come here everyday after all," said Diana. "It wouldn't hurt to ask."
They weren't wrong. It probably wouldn't hurt to ask Dr. Green.
"Um . . . Dr. Green?"
"Yes, Xiao Mei?" said the scholar, breaking from her lecture.
"Do you think you could show us where the normal flowers are?" the young girl asked.
Dr. Green blinked twice.
"What are you talking about, Xiao Mei?" she asked. "The only flowers here are whatever's growing near the monster plants."
Xiao Mei blinked twice.
"Oh, yes," Dr. Green continued. "In fact, if I remember correctly, only the fiercest of the monsters here would have any flowers growing on them."
"Seriously?" Zhun went in disbelief.
"Well, yes," said Dr. Green said. "The main purpose of this greenhouse is to serve as a sanctuary for the monster plants, after all. There was simply just no room left for the regular flowers. Well, the people of En Province have been taking good care of those, so there's no need to create a sanctuary for them."
"And I don't suppose all those with flowers here have been gathered in one place?" Mei Ling asked.
"Nope," said the scholar. "They're all separated and scattered throughout the greenhouse."
"Right," said Mei Ling. "I should have seen that coming."
"Ugh!" Ai Hui groaned. "This is going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack!"
"Tell me about it," grumbled Duncan. "I know we came here to help Xiao Mei look for answers, but this seems like it's going to be an impossible search."
Dr. Green scowled and put her hands to her hips.
"Just what in the world are you talking about?" she said.
"Well . . . " Seto began, but he was cut off by Xiao Mei, who approached the teacher with her face set with determination.
"What are you thinking, Xiao Mei?" asked the voice in her head. Xiao Mei ignored the voice and continued forward.
"Dr. Green!" Xiao Mei said in a loud voice.
"Y-yes!" Dr. Green cried out, startled.
"Do you think you could show us around? I'm very curious about all these plants."
There was no way that she was just going to give up after coming this far. Even if it was a tedious waste of time, Xiao Mei was determined to search this entire place if she had to to find the answers she was looking for. She must know what happened to her mother, for herself, and for her father.
"W-why of course!" said Dr. Green. "But is that okay? There must be better ways to spend your day off, aren't there?"
"No," Xiao Mei said. "I am really interested to know about these plants. It was said that my mother liked to come here often, so I want to know more about this place to find out what about it made it so interesting to her."
"You want to find out what made this place interesting to your mother?" Dr. Green said. "W-well, there are plenty of interesting things about this place."
"That's one way of putting it," Jane mumbled beneath her breath. She cast a glance towards her right where a giant flower had a tongue-like vine spread from its gaping maw-like petals. It was lathering mucus slime on the glass. Shuddering, the scientist averted her gaze.
Because she wasn't looking as she backed away from the disgusting spectacle, she accidentally bumped into Sparrow.
"Whoa!" they both cried out, spinning around to face one another. They gazed at one another for a bit before turning away, Sparrow coughing while Jane straightened her lab coat.
Some of the others looked sideways at the pair before turning away quickly when the two looked up.
"Well," went Dr. Green. "I can show you around, but what about you, Sir Geoffrey, Master Wu, Madame Wu, and . . . er . . . ?"
"It's Zhun," said Zhun, scowling. "Just call me Zhun."
"Okay, Master Zhun," said Dr. Green. "What about you all? The children, I can understand, but don't you all also have your own duties to attend to?"
"I'm free for the day," said Mei Ling. "As is my husband, here. We thought we'd take the time to really explore the temple, monastery grounds."
"When we heard the children were going to do the same, we thought it wouldn't hurt to accompany them," said Jing.
"I am the same," said Sir Geoffrey. "Xiao Mei's mother used to work for me, researching the secrets of the temple. I can't help but feel a little bit responsible for whatever had happened to her. So, I want to help as much as I can, even if it means risking my life to protect these children."
"Th-that's a bit over the top!" Xiao Mei stammered. "I'm grateful you'd go so far, but I wouldn't be happy if anything happened to you."
"Yeah, Master Geoffrey!" went Qiang Shi.
"My!" Dr. Green exclaimed. "Wherever she is, I'm sure she's doing fine, so please stop with such talk, Sir Geoffrey!"
"It's useless," Zhun said. "He always get like this. That's why I'm here. To make sure it never comes to that. Anyway, enough sappy talk. We should really get moving. The day won't wait for us."
"Uh . . . sure," said Dr. Green. "By the way, what's up with the weapons?"
Dr. Green showed them all through one hallway after another. Around every corner, there was a monstrosity of nature waiting to rear its ugly mug at them. They were greeted by snarling dinosaur trees, tri-eyed fruits splatting against the glass, and leafy greens that wanted to eat them.
She tried her best to be a good tour guide, but Dr. Green kept getting distracted by the appearance of a new monster. The others definitely weren't exaggerating about how much she loved monsters. Xiao Mei could see her practically drooling over these horrific, animated plants. Dr. Green actually scared Xiao Mei with this. If Xiao Mei's mother really used to come here, could she be as much of a monster freak as this scholar was? Xiao Mei sincerely hoped not.
With so many monsters around on display, it was hard for the children not to enjoy the trip through the gardens. Most of them probably forgot what they were here for in the first place.
Xiao Mei carefully scanned each one of the creatures they passed by, hoping to find something, anything, that could be a clue. But so far, it was just one hideous monstrosity after another. While plenty of the monsters had flowers growing on them, none of those flowers stood out to Xiao Mei. Well, that was obvious. There was no way anyone would try to pluck a flower from one of these guys just to wear on their hair. She would not allow the ugliness and ferocity of the creatures deter her from her mission. She would not allow anything to deter her, again, of reuniting her father and mother.
There must be something, anything, that could be another clue. This trip must not be another dead end.
Xiao Mei paused her roaming eyes.
What was that just now?
She traced back her gaze until she came across a familiar cluster of yellow petals with intricate blue veins. Xiao Mei had seen that flower before. When was it? Oh, right! It was when Fong indulged her request to see pictures of her mother again. They had flipped through many pages of an album the old doctor kept in his bedroom. In almost all of them, there was a picture of a woman, about a head taller than Fong, with such a flower in her hair. One would think that flower was the woman's number one favorite.
"Xiao Mei?" said Seto. "What's wrong?"
Xiao Mei abruptly broke away from the group and approached the glass casing that barred her from the flower. The tree it was growing on seemed ordinary enough. It was just a small, thin sapling with a modest number of branches and leaf patches. At least until you look at the base where flytrap-like vines writhed where the roots should be. Other than those carnivores, Xiao Mei could only see grass.
Obviously, her mother wouldn't put something behind the case where those deadly plants thrived. She wouldn't have been able to, considering how sealed everything was. But maybe somewhere near it? But where near it that would be safe?
"Hello?" went Seto. "Earth to Xiao Mei!"
Xiao Mei didn't hear Seto and bent down, looking around the base of the display. There, she found a vent panel.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Dr. Green shouted. "Get away from there!"
She was ignored as well.
"Do you think something is there?" Jing asked as he and Mei Ling crouched down beside Xiao Mei.
"Not think," the young girl replied. "Know."
Through the gaps of the vent panel, she could make out a square-shaped object lying on the dirt.
"Then I guess this is where I come in," said Mei Ling. To her husband, she said: "If anything happens, try not to cut my arm."
Jing smiled and answered: "Of course."
"Anyone got a knife or a screwdriver?"
"I have a Swiss army knife," said Sparrow, pulling the tool out of his pocket. He flipped through a series of miniature tools, until he came across the one Mei Ling was looking for before handing it over to her.
"Thanks," the woman warrior said as she accepted the tool.
"What are you doing?" Dr. Green demanded to know. Again, no one would answer her. Their attention was completely on Mei Ling's work.
She set to work, removing the panel from the wall. After carefully setting the panel aside, she slowly reached her hand in the vent. Her hand reached the square thing inside, and her fingers clenched one side of it.
Everyone watched as she pulled a package wrapped in black cloth out of the vent.
"You found something!" Harold exclaimed. The others around him exclaimed with excitement.
As she pulled the thing out, a flytrap vine snapped at her. It would have clamped down on her wrist if she had not caught it first with her free hand. The flytrap snapped wildly. But was no use.
"Mei Ling!" Jing cried out.
"Yeah, yeah," his wife said. "I know. Don't hurt the innocent plant. I won't."
"Actually, I was going to say 'destroy it before it spits acid on you'."
"Wait, these things spit acid? GAH!"
She tossed the vine away just as bluish spittle started dribbling from the flytrap's gaping maw. A few landed on the cuff of her sleeve, creating a few dark spots. Those spots would have been holes if the fabric hadn't been made with Jing's own special brand of alchemy.
Mei Ling quickly pulled the package from from the vent just as more flytrap vines emerged. Their path was quickly blocked by the curved blade of Jing's double-sided halberd, which cut into the stone floor.
"Just try it," the normally gentle alchemist growled to the flytraps, shooting them a chilling, dark gaze.
Jing had such a hostile aura that not just the vines, but almost every monster in the whole greenhouse dove for cover, retreating as far away as they could from the alchemist.
"Thanks," Mei Ling said after restoring the panel to the vent. "You know, you can be really terrifying when you want to be. I guess that's one thing you and that other you from another universe have in common."
"This coming from the woman who scared away a pack of Britannican wyverns with a single stare," said Jing.
"Uh, I think I speak for everyone when I say that the two of you are each just as terrifying," Zhun cut in. "Now, moving on."
He gestured to the package in Mei Ling's hands.
"Huh? Oh, right!" went Mei Ling. "Here," she said, handing the package to Xiao Mei. "You should be the one to open this."
"Thanks," Xiao Mei said, accepting the package in her hands. She could feel her shoulders get heavy as she stared at the package. Her heart was beating hard as her excitement rose.
"Well?" said Sir Geoffrey. "Aren't you going to open it?"
"Huh? Y-yes, of course!"
They really found something this time. They really did. Whatever was within the fabric held the key to finding out what happened with her mother. Just thinking about it gave her a sense of disbelief, like this couldn't possibly be real. She became afraid that this was all a dream.
To make sure it wasn't, she bit down on her lower lip until it hurt. Nope. It wasn't a dream.
With trembling fingers, she slowly unraveled the cloth. There seemed to be a white pattern printed on the inner side of it, but most of it was covered by the book the cloth carried. Just as thought, what Xiao Mei's mother had hidden was a magazine on plants and their many uses. A thin, worn ribbon of faded red marked a page that Xiao Mei was sure held the recipe to remove the glue on the diary.
But that recipe was not important right now to Xiao Mei. What was important was the sheet of browning paper that had been wrapped with the book in the cloth. It was a handwritten letter. And signed at the bottom of that letter was "Bai Pei".
Just a friendly reminder, in Zhang, the last name is always written and spoken before the first name.
"What's this?" Jing said, peering over Xiao Mei's shoulder. "A letter?"
"What does it say?" Seto asked.
"H-hold on!" Xiao Mei stammered. "Give me some space!"
With her hands still trembling, and with so many people looking over her shoulders, it was hard for her to concentrate. But eventually, she was able to read the entire letter.
To Whoever Finds This Letter,
First of all, greetings after a long time. If you managed to find this letter, then you must be someone who knows me well. Hopefully, you are Fong or someone I can trust. As you may know, after officially becoming a scholar, thanks to a friend I made while still working at the Imperial City, I was hired by a wealthy adventurer to do some work for him while he coped with an illness. That work was to act as his substitute in this temple and research the secrets it holds. I was not expecting to get such an important task so soon into the job, but one I took gladly, and seriously.
Everyone at the temple was warm and kind, and I made friends with them all fairly quickly. However, the more I dug into the legends of the temple, the more hostility I felt in the air. I could understand this, of course. After all, there was a good reason for the temple's secrets to be secrets. In the wrong hands, it could lead the world to a terrible future. But it was too late for me to stop. And I ended up finding out just what it is that this temple guards.
Knowing that I should not tell anyone, not even Sir Geoffrey, great man that he was, I decided to hide what I know. Unfortunately, I was not the only one looking into the secrets of the temple. At least thrice, I had discovered my room disturbed. All signs pointed to intruders looking through my notes, ransacking everything to find clues to what I know. I knew I could not stay any longer. So, in the dead of night, I fled the temple with the plan to go into hiding. I pray in my heart as I write this letter that I won't have to hide forever. But if that is what it takes to keep this world, the world that my children will live in, then so be it.
With this letter is a book I took from the temple's library that contains a recipe for glue remover for a certain glue that I used to seal my notes, which I have hidden elsewhere. I know I should have destroyed every clue I gathered on the secret, but as a scholar, I couldn't. So, I decided to make it so only people who would know me on a deep personal level be able to find it. I know for a fact that my husband Fong will be searching for me. He'll make his way here eventually, and maybe find the clues I've left behind. Being the Crown Prince, he'll know what to do with this secret, and about the enemy who chases me. And in case this is not he who reads this, then please, dear reader, take this letter to him, and all that I have left behind that you have found.
As for who this enemy is, I do not know. But after the last time my room was broken into, I discovered a cloth that I knew wasn't mine. It must have been dropped by the intruder. This clue will surely point the way to whoever is behind all of this.
That is all I can say right now. Good luck. And to Fong, if you are reading this, know that I will forever keep the first gift you had given me.
"This cloth is a clue?" Sparrow said. He took the cloth into his hands and unraveled it, revealing the white patter drawn of two swords crossed above a one-eyed rabbit. His eyes widened and his jaws dropped.
"What is it?" Sir Geoffrey asked when he noticed that something was wrong. When he saw the symbol on the cloth he double-backed in shock. "Great Adventurer in the Skies!"
"What? What is it?" cried Duncan. "Why's everyone looking scared?"
"Oh dear," said Jing as he gazed at the cloth.
Mei Ling took the cloth from Sparrow's hands and took a look for herself.
"Well, I guess that answers who's behind this," she said.
"What?" asked Xiao Mei. "You know who's the one who's been causing trouble? Who is it?"
"There is only one group who would use this symbol," Sir Geoffrey said with a grim face. "The Rowdy Rogues."
"Who?" the children all asked. Xiao Mei had never heard of them before.
"The Rowdy Rogues are an international band of criminals," said Sparrow. "I've heard of them from a scholar who specializes in researching crime. From pirating in the seven seas to bank robbing in major cities, they've been causing no end of trouble for everyone, breaking almost every law in the book."
"And they are led by a man who is willing to do anything to gain power," said Sir Geoffrey. "And I mean anything. He is a most terrible brute."
"Who is he, Master Geoffrey?" asked Ai Hui. "Who is this man that would chase Xiao Mei's mom into hiding? Who would attack us by using our own robotic servants against us?"
As if on cue, a loud explosion boomed from outside.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-One)
With renewed hope, Xiao Mei moves forward.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Three)
Now we see what the maid has been up to.