Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Fifteen)
Chapter Fifteen In Which There Is A Dance of Swords And A Fainting
Dr. Green led Xiao Mei safely back to her room. Although, by the time they reached her room, the sky was already turning a dark shade of blue. They had gone through numerous twists and turns. After a while, Xiao Mei had begun to lose hope that they would make it out of that maze of secret passages. It seemed as though that Dr. Green had gotten them lost at times. At first, the tunnels fascinated the young girl. But with the long hours dragging by, wading through cobwebs, touching disgustingly moist stones, and encountering huge, huge, huge bugs (and trying to block out all memories of those bugs), the magical feeling of adventure met its end.
When they reached their goal, they quietly bade each other a good night and parted ways.
"Oh!" the scholar exclaimed as she was about to turn away. "Before I leave, you wouldn't mind keeping to yourself about those secret passageways, would you? If everyone knew about those passageways, they might all want to start exploring, and we really can't have that. Some of those passageways can be really dangerous because of how old they are. Not to mention that any number of the children here might use those passageways for mischief. If you do, I might just overlook your little late night stroll, this time around."
Xiao Mei promised. There was a lot that she wanted to talk to Dr. Green about, such as what the Grand Master and his deputy were talking about, as well as why Dr. Green was wandering around secret passageways in the dead of night, anyway. But the words she wanted to say remained stuck at her throat.
She closed the door when Dr. Green left and walked over to her bed without changing, just dropping onto the sheets. The night adventure had taken its toll on her and she went straight to sleep. Unfortunately, because the sun was already coming up, the blackness of sleep only lasted for a moment for her. Just when it had finally overtaken her, there was pounding at the door.
"Ugh!" the girl groaned, lifting her head. She had been lying on her stomach for who knows how long. It felt like the whole world was pressing down on her as she tried to get up.
Rubbing her eyes, she lumbered toward the door. It took a lot of strength to just turn the knob.
"Good morning," Miss Ba said through the crack at the door Xiao Mei opened. "Did you sleep well?"
Xiao Mei glared at her, but Miss Ba didn't seem to notice.
Xiao Mei glanced toward the clock and had to suppress a groan when she saw what time it was.
"Come on," Miss Ba said. "You should hurry and get ready. You're not going to want to miss this?"
"Miss what?" Xiao Mei asked, to which, Miss Ba simply replied with a grin: "You'll see."
After brushing her teeth quickly and changing into a fresh set of clothes, Xiao Mei followed Miss Ba toward one of the temple's gardens. A huge crowd was gathered in this large clearing of grass with trees scattered spaciously apart. People sat in simple stools around a platform decorated in bright gold and red colors taking little mind of the drizzle of cherry blossom petals.
Xiao Mei spotted Dr. Green and the other scholars not too far from the gathering of the monastery's masters. It was easy to spot the scholar, looking as terrible as she did. She was slouching, her eyes twisted in a glare with dark bags beneath. Sparrow turned and whispered to Dr. Green, but the senior scholar shooed him away.
As they searched for a spot to sit, Miss Ba started explaining to Xiao Mei what was going on. Apparently, today was the day for an annual ceremony to honor the Maiden of the Sheathed Sword. In this ceremony, a woman sword master would perform a dance during the sun's rise. And apparently, the previous year's performer was Miss Ba's own mother. And the year before that was the Grand Master's niece. And before that was a former admiral of an imperial military unit now a promoter for world peace. And the list went on and on. But by the fifth year previous, Xiao Mei was no longer listening.
Her attention was caught by the applause and cheers. Xiao Mei looked up and saw Mei-Ling slowly striding toward the platform stage wearing a pink gown with long flowing sleeves. Her face was powdered a light blush, and her lips were glossed a deep peach. While her hair was let down, there was a bundle held by a simple blue ornament to a side of her head. Both hair and hanging sleeves billowed slightly against the gentle breeze. In her hand was what looked like a sword hilt glinting against the rays of the morning sun.
Although Mei-Ling seemed to have a serene look on her face, Xiao Mei couldn't help but notice that a corner of her mouth as well as an eyebrow was twitching as she passed by her.
What Xiao Mei and everyone else did not know was that behind her facade, Mei-Ling was thinking along the lines of: "I can't believe I'm doing this. This is so embarrassing. Oh, that sly snake of a husband of mine! He did this on purpose! He always does this! I just know he's going to tease me about this later." One benefit that Mei-Ling found of the gown, despite her disdain for such attire was that it was good for concealing her free hand, whose fingers twitched like the legs of a scurrying spider.
Jing always knew how Mei-Ling disliked being in the spotlight. But being such a mischievous person, he purposely started praising Mei-Ling's skills with a sword loudly when she was approached about performing for the ceremony this year. Because of the pressure from everyone who heard him, Mei-Ling couldn't refuse performing. Mei-Ling blamed her husband's doppelganger from another universe who pushed Jing into thinking of mischief as light fun back when they met as kids. Curse you, James Jing Wu. Curse you! Mei-Ling hoped someone would turn that unscientific, magical nightmare into a toad.
Once Mei-Ling made it to the stage's center, she took a deep breath, and unfolded her sword. The sword looked like any other folding practice sword for Tai Chi practice, but since it bore the crest of Jing's company on its guard, there must surely be something special about it. She raised her sword and waited for the music to start. When the musicians, also in grand colorful robes, began to play, she started to dance. She gracefully cut the air with gentle swings and twirls, the sleeves and edges of her gown trailing her spins. Her sword was moved up, down, left, right, forward, and back. And acrobatics was added to the mix. Sometimes, she would spin in the air, add kicks, and strike a pose as if she were in combat. Each time she did an acrobat-like move, scattered applause joined with the traditional music.
Xiao Mei's eyes were glued to the performance. There was something almost hypnotic about the way Mei-Ling moved. She could make out the sword trailing in space. To her, It felt like the whole world was spinning. Just spinning, spinning, and spinning.
"Whoa!" Miss Ba exclaimed. Xiao Mei had suddenly fallen backward, startling the woman. It was lucky of her that Miss Ba was behind her, otherwise she would have hit the ground instead of landing in Miss Ba's arms. She glanced around, opening her mouth to call for help, only to stop herself short seeing how engrossed everyone was with the performance. Near at a loss, she finally decided to pull Xiao Mei to the side somewhere before deciding her next move.
Seto, who had been laughing with Li Jiao a few seconds ago, saw what happened. The smile he wore a few seconds ago was wiped from his face. He rushed over to the hallway where Miss Ba half-dragged Xiao Mei to. He just arrived as Xiao Mei was laid on the stone bench.
"What happened?" he asked as he approached.
"I-I don't know," Miss Ba said, her voice shrill with fear and worry. "She was looking a bit tired this morning, but I figured it was just because it was early in the morning."
Seto placed the palm of his hand over Xiao Mei's forehead, then placed the back of his hand against her cheek. Finally, he straightened back up.
"I've seen this sort of thing before," he said with a sigh. He sat down on the floor and swept his bangs back from his forehead. "This isn't the first time she's burnt herself out."
"What?" Miss Ba blinked.
Just then, Li Jiao came, followed by Qiang Shi, Ai Hui, Diana, Harold, and Duncan close at her heels. And behind them were Sparrow and Jane.
"What's wrong?" Harold asked.
"Is Xiao Mei okay?" asked Ai Hui. Her ears and tail drooped, weighted by her worry.
"It's just exhaustion," said Seto. Like he had said earlier, this wasn't the first time that he had seen Xiao Mei faint. The girl was too much of a hard worker for her own good. Even Fong, who was pretty much the workaholic above all workaholics, at times, would be exasperated with the way she pushed herself. "She must have stayed up late last night or something. She's a hard worker, sometimes a bit too much of one. Because of that, if she doesn't get enough sleep stuff like this can happen. But what could have kept her up at night?"
"Yeah, I wonder what?" Jane said with a shaky voice.
Sparrow gave Jane a sideways glance.
"But wait!" said Duncan. "How do you know for sure that it's just exhaustion? What about that flower on her head? I mean, I once read somewhere about there being plants that are like parasites, draining energy out of living creatures. What if that's what's happening to her?"
"I highly doubt that."
Everyone whirled around to see Jing standing by the entry way, his hands held behind his back beneath his cape.
"When the plant takes in energy from the sunlight, its petals turn green. If depleted of sun energy, it turns red," he explained. "And you can see that it's only turning green from the bulb instead of from the roots or stem. Although the plant does take in energy through the roots, if it was doing that now with Xiao Mei, the roots and stem would not be red."
"He's right," said Miss Ba. "I've been researching the temple's archives on that plant and they said the exact same thing."
"Well, that makes me feel a little better," said Duncan.
"I think it best we take her to a nearby infirmary," said Jing. "This bench is hardly suitable for rest, for a child of her condition."
"Right," said Seto. Turning to Li Jiao, he said: "Mind helping me?"
With Li Jiao's help, Seto carried Xiao Mei piggyback. They turned to leave for the infirmary, when Jing stopped them with a "Wait!"
"What is it?" demanded a cross Seto.
Jing pulled out a small metal ball from his pocket that looked disturbingly like an eye. He pressed a button and a propeller appeared atop of it. The propeller spun rapidly and the metal eye floated above his palm. The alchemist nudged the metal eye back to the courtyard where his wife was still performing.
"What's that?" said Harold.
"A camera," was Jing's answer. "By now, Mei Ling must have found the first one and disposed of it in some sneaky way. I want to make sure that every moment is captured so that I can tease - I mean so I won't miss a moment of this important performance."
Everyone gave him sideways glances.
"Nothing," was their reply.
While Seto and Li Jiao hurried off with Xiao Mei, Jing stopped Duncan, Harold, Diana, Ai Hui, and Qiang Shi from following.
"You all go back to the courtyard," he said against their surprised and displeased looks. He waited for their protests to die down before speaking again. "Now, now. There's nothing else you can do. And I think five will be a bit too much of a crowd for when she comes to. Now off with you."
The children were reluctant to listen, but listen they did. He was still a guest master of the temple, after all. And maybe the way he crossed his arms and glared at them like how his tiger of a mother usually did to his father helped put them in a more obliging mood. Although, they did grumble rather loudly as they walked away. Satisfied, Jing also left.
Jane was about to go to, but a firm hand on her shoulder stopped her in her tracks.
"You and I have to talk," Sparrow said.
Uh-oh. Jane knew that look. That's his "I'm going to scold you for an hour for something" look. And what happens following that look is never fun.
For the next hour, people could hear two foreigners arguing throughout the whole temple. A new legend was born that day from it that would be passed down from generation to generation.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Fourteen)
How will Jane open a locked diary?
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Sixteen)
Xiao Mei has fainted. When she wakes up . . .