Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Fourteen)
Chapter Fourteen In Which A Lock Is Busted, There Is A Close Call, And There Is A Secret Meeting
It was late at night. Xiao Mei was sure that everyone else must be asleep. Like Jane had instructed, Xiao Mei came without telling anyone of the secret nighttime meeting.
This was the first time that Xiao Mei had broken any rules. Frankly, it was nerve-wracking. On her way through the darkened halls, she jumped at every little rustling of leaves or soft howling of wind. And it didn't help that the night brought such a foreboding atmosphere to the ancient halls, enhanced by the sparse number of lit torches. (Although, it did make her feel like she was like that scholar adventurer from some old movies). She wasn't sure what would come first: her reaching her destination, or her getting a heart attack.
"Oh, stop being such a baby and get on with it!" the voice in her head scolded. "We haven't got all night. Don't you want to find out more about our mom?"
"Yes, our mom," said the voice. "Since you and I are basically the same person, that makes your mom just as much my mom. Now quit dawdling and move it!"
For the rest of the way, the voice would complain and criticize Xiao Mei on how slow she was moving. Xiao Mei gave up arguing with her that she was just being cautious and continued to do things her way while ignoring the voice. She had gotten used to the ways of the voice in the years that she had to deal with it, just as she had gotten used to how things continued with being her father's apprentice.
Fighting against the night chill, Xiao Mei stuck close to the walls, always peeking over her shoulder and from behind corners before moving on. She tiptoed from one end of the hall to the other. And finally, after crossing three halls, and going up one flight of stairs, she made it to the guest sleeping quarters where Jane was.
If she remembered correctly, Jane was staying in Room 323. 321 . . . 322 . . . There it is. Room 323.
Just as Xiao Mei was about to knock on the door, it opened. Jane was at the door with one hand to her hip with an expression on her face that Xiao Mei knew meant Jane was thinking "About time." Fong always made the same kind of face at Xiao Mei whenever he was kept waiting.
"Come on in," Jane said in a low voice. She stepped aside to allow Xiao Mei into her room before closing the door and locking it.
In her room, Jane had set up two folding tables against the wall. One held piles of machine parts while another held bottles and flasks filled with liquids of various colors. Beneath them laid the luggage left open and empty. There was a monitor screen with color picture sitting on a writing desk that depicted the hallway outside.
"So that's how she knew when to open the door," said the voice in her head. "Wow. Paranoid much?"
Catching Xiao Mei staring at the monitor, Jane explained, "I've had ideas stolen from me before. My work is often the target of spies. Knowledge gained from the notes I carry could be worth a lot of money and power to my enemies. So, to keep them from getting the upper hand, I make sure I take precautions."
Well, the first part wasn't exactly true. People have tried to steal Jane Montgomery's ideas, trying a whole bunch of different ways from hacking computer programs to just plain old breaking and entering. But so far, no one has been successful, and any who tried, unless were the vengeful sort, certainly didn't try again. Not unless they wanted the whole world to see them dressed up in the most humiliating (and hilarious) costumes. Not even the thieves who worked from home were spared.
"Seriously, what is up with that spacing out and wearing a creepy smile?" the voice asked. "That smile makes her look like a textbook villain." Xiao Mei mentally shushed her other self before moving to snap Jane out of it.
"Huh?" the teenage girl went as Xiao Mei snapped her fingers in front of her face. "Right. come this way."
Jane led Xiao Mei to the table that held the flasks and test tubes. Space had been cleared at the center except for a glass box with a logo printed on the side of a really big man, bald with a mustache, flexing his muscles. Xiao Mei remembered seeing that logo on the window of a bank she sometimes passed by. She happened to walk in on a contest at that very bank one time, where the bankers dared people to try and break their windows however they wanted. One person even tried taping a cluster of dynamite to it, according to the news. Xiao Mei was running errands, so didn't stay around. She left before the dynamite person got his turn. The windows stayed in tact, according to newspapers and television anchors, but the wall had to be fixed, and a lot of furniture had to be replaced.
Seeing the glass box, Xiao Mei started to worry about the safety of her mother's diary. And just as she had dreaded, Jane asked Xiao Mei to put the book down, pointing toward the box. It didn't make the young girl feel any better when Jane also brought out a bottle of something called "Text Repair: #1 Bookbinders Recommended".
"What do you think she's going to do?" the voice in Xiao Mei's head wondered.
Xiao Mei repeated the question to the scientist girl.
In reply, Jane, as she put on a pair of goggles, said: "I am going to mix some of these chemicals I have on the table to create something to melt the lock. There's some spare goggles in the trunk beneath my bed. I suggest you take one. Wouldn't want your eyes to melt off."
Xiao Mei practically dove beneath the bed to pull out the trunk.
"Hurry up! Hurry up!" the voice in her head shouted. "She's already taking out her science voodoo potions!"
Uh . . . Science and voodoo are nothing alike. In fact, they could be called polar opp-
"JUST PUT ON THE STINKIN' GOGGLES ALREADY! Those eyes aren't just yours, you know!"
Jane mixed together green liquid and clear liquid into a flask of what looked like water. The whole concoction turned purple. Next, Jane stirred the bottle rapidly with a glass wand before adding some blue powder into the mix. She stirred again for a few more seconds and then watched as the thin layer of foam at the surface bubbled, popped and then faded. Seemingly satisfied with her creation, Jane moved toward the glass box where Xiao Mei had put the diary in. She dipped a dropper into the mixture in the flask and then used it to carefully drop one or two droplets onto the lock.
As soon as the chemical touched the surface of the lock, it sizzled and smoked. The putrid burning stench quickly filled the room, making Xiao Mei's eyes water, her nose fill, and her to have a coughing fit. She turned away, covering her mouth and nose.
"Sorry about that," Jane said, covering her own mouth and nose with a handkerchief. "I should have warned you about the smell."
"If we end up poisoned, I'm so calling the police on her," the voice in Xiao Mei's head grumbled. She sounded as alright as Xiao Mei felt, who wasn't really alright. Definitely later, she was going to give herself some cleansing medicine. Back home, she and Fong made cleansing medicine all the time for people like factory workers who had to deal with the smoke from machines. Xiao Mei was sure that she had a few left in her luggage from Fong. Despite how he is, Fong does care.
"Well, anyway, looks like it worked," said Jane as she took out a pair of tongs. She used the tongs to pick up what was left of the lock and dropped it into a blue waste bin with hazard warning signs printed on the surface. After closing the lid of the bin, she kicked it aside and picked the diary up, now free of its lock. "Let's see what's inside, shall we?"
Excited to finally learn more things about her mother, Xiao Mei forgot about the smell, dropped her hand and went over to Jane. Her heart pounded with eagerness as she looked over Jane's shoulder to the diary in her hand. Jane's fingers moved to open the diary, and then -
"Huh?" went Jane. She tried opening again. The cover wouldn't budge. "That can't be right." She tried again. And again. And again. Bending over and then backward, and putting all of her strength into it, clenching her teeth, and grunting and whining, the scientist tried opening the diary, but to no avail.
"Should have known that it wouldn't be that easy," the voice groaned. "Now what?"
Xiao Mei didn't know. And she didn't answer. Disappointment pulled her heart down as she watched Jane's futile efforts.
"Hold on," said Jane. "I think I have some pliers or something that might do the trick."
"No," Xiao Mei said, trying to contain her sadness. "You've done what you could. That's more than I could have asked for. It's getting late. I should get going."
Jane objected, but Xiao Mei got her diary back and left the room in glum spirits.
"Well, at least we managed to get rid of the lock," said the voice as Xiao Mei crept back to her room through the darkened hallways. "So, I guess this nighttime jaunt wasn't a total waste of time."
Xiao Mei was only half listening. She tried to get back as swiftly as she could, no longer feeling the discomfort of walking alone at night because of the disappointment she was feeling. It took all she had to hold back the tears. Despite some apprehension, she really hoped that tonight she would be able to learn more about her mother. Now what was she supposed to do?
"Hey," said the voice. "HEY!"
Xiao Mei jumped.
"What is it?" she wanted to snap. She really wasn't in the mood for a conversation with anyone.
"Can't you hear that? Someone's coming!"
Xiao Mei didn't hear anything at first. But then, when she really strained her ears, she could detect the faint sounds of footsteps coming from ahead. The voice was right. Someone was really coming!
She frantically looked around, thinking to herself "Gotta find a place to hide. Gotta find a place to hide!" But where was a good place? She was right in the middle of a long hallway, with the only other way out being too far away! Whoever was coming sounded like he or she was just right around the corner. Xiao Mei could see the light beam of someone's electric torch bathe the end of the hall, getting bigger and bigger as it turned into the hallway that Xiao Mei was in.
Now what was she going to do?
Just as she had lost all hope, someone suddenly clapped their hand over Xiao Mei's mouth and pulled her aside. She and her captor ended up inside another hallway, this one appearing more dark and dilapidated than the earlier one through what little light came in. Frightened, Xiao Mei let out a muffled scream.
"Shush!" urged a familiar, panicked voice. "You want him to hear us?"
Recognizing who it was, Xiao Mei calmed down a little. She glanced up but she couldn't see very much in the dark.
The shout gave Xiao Mei a jolt. But the shout alone wasn't what surprised her. What did was that the Grand Master said it so sharply and harshly. It was as if someone had erased his gentle and serene demeanor and replaced it with the attitude of a sour, cranky old man.
"I warn you," said the old man. "If I catch you, it'll be ten lashes! Come out now, and I might give you a slightly more lenient punishment."
He spoke in such a nasty way that it made Xiao Mei's skin crawl. She was downright relieved that Dr. Green caught her when she did.
Xiao Mei thought that there would be no more surprises, but the night had just one more surprise left to give.
"Now, now," said a new, gentle voice. "Let's be civil about this."
"S-sir!" the Grand Master exclaimed. "What are you doing out here at night?"
"I should be asking you the same thing," replied Master Da. "The task of patrolling the halls at night is not the Grand Master's, after all."
The "Grand Master" snorted.
"Yes, well, I'll be glad when I don't have to put up this charade," he said.
"Does this mean that preparations are complete?" Master Da asked.
"Preparations?" Xiao Mei thought to herself. Just what could they be talking about?
"Yes," the Grand Master answered. "Everything is in place."
"Then all that is left is to wait for them to discover the secrets of this temple," Master Da said.
"Finally, the time's coming," the Grand Master said. "What we have worked toward will finally be realized."
"But only if those children play their part," said Master Da.
"Oh, they better," said the Grand Master. "Otherwise dark times will be ahead for them."
"That doesn't sound good," said the voice in Xiao Mei's head. "They almost sound like bad guys whose plans are coming together."
Xiao Mei had to agree. The Grand Master and Master Da were hiding something. They were planning something. And Xiao Mei had a sinking feeling she knew who the children that the men were talking about were. Whatever it is that they wanted, they needed the scholars to get it.
Without saying another word, the Grand Master and Master Da walked away. When the masters of the temple finally moved on, Xiao Mei felt Dr. Green's hand lift from her mouth.
"Sorry about that," the scholar whispered. "But if I didn't do that, you would have been caught."
Xiao Mei turned around.
"Did you hear what they said?" she hissed. "They're hiding something. And they're putting on some kind of act! I don't even think that the Grand Master is the real Grand Master! We have to tell the others about this!"
"No!" Dr. Green almost shouted. Her outline in the darkness flinched. And she said in a lower voice: "No."
"We can't say anything without rousing suspicion," she said. "The walls have ears."
"Uh, earth to Xiao Mei," said the voice in her head. "I don't think she means they literally have ears. That's just an expression for 'You don't know who could be eavesdropping'."
"I wasn't thinking that!" Xiao Mei fibbed, feeling her face warm up a bit.
"Thinking what?" asked Dr. Green.
A jolt hit Xiao Mei.
"Never mind!" she quickly said, feeling her face grow hotter.
"Anyway, I'll take you back to your room," Dr. Green volunteered. She pulled out an electric torch from the pocket of her robe and used it to light the secret hall. The dilapidation of the hall was worse than Xiao Mei initially thought. Everywhere was practically white with dust, except for dark streaks where Dr. Green must have trekked. There were webs of cracks spreading across floors and walls.
"And don't forget the cobwebs," said the voice. "There are lots and lots of cobwebs."
Xiao Mei was actually trying not to think about those.
"And in the meantime," Dr. Green continued with a stern look on her face, "you can explain to me why you were sneaking around this late at night."
"What about you?" Xiao Mei argued back in a panic. "What are you doing here this late? And how do you know about these secret passageways?"
Dr. Green looked at a loss for words. She froze on the spot with her eyes darting about as she tried to think of what to say.
"You know what?" she finally said. "That can wait for another day. Let's just get you back to your room."
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Thirteen)
Robots attack! And they're after the diary of Xiao Mei's mother!
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Fifteen)
The mystery of the temple thickens, and a young girl begins to question who she could trust.