Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Nine)
Chapter 9 In Which Some Junior Scholars Explore a Little
It was unsurprising that the monastery was abuzz over the morning's excitement. Xiao Mei could overhear many different islands of people huddled together talking about it. While the basic truth persisted, the young girl couldn't help but notice that some parts were either exaggerated or changed from story to story. One boy talked about how Jing destroyed the wild automaton with just a single glare, while a girl gossiped that he, with his incredible wisdom, called on heavenly beings to convert the automaton back into a peaceful machine. And another even spoke that he used a super secret qi master move.
"What's a qi master?" asked Duncan.
Right now, she and the scholar apprentices were being led throughout the whole of the monastery during their free time by Qiang Shi. Apparently, he had agreed to take the trio on a more thorough tour and they decided to invite Xiao Mei, too because they didn't want to leave her out. She appreciated that, and that they were trying hard not to stare at the plant growing on her head. It still made her feel awkward to walk out in the open with it.
"A qi master's kind of like your basic psychic," Qiang Shi explained. "They keep ancient, traditional ways of wielding psychic power alive and make use of these old techniques in a whole number of ways."
"It's like with Fong's and my healing powers," said Xiao Mei. "We use our inner energy, or qi, to make things happen."
"Like what?" asked Diana.
"Fist of Dragon's Fury!" came a strong, ferocious shout from outside.
The group of children glanced out the window towards the source just in time to see an immense amount of energy erupt upward toward the sky in the shape of a Zhangese (Chinese to the Gaians) dragon. They rubbed their eyes in disbelief and then stared outside. The incredible stream of dazzling light still writhed like a swimming serpent. After close to a couple of minutes, the light disappeared.
"Like that," Qiang Shi said casually in answer to Diana's question.
"What . . . was . . . that?" went Duncan. "Did you just see that? I mean . . . wow!"
"That's what you'd call a finishing move," said Qiang Shi. "The Fist of the Dragon's Fury is one of the top moves that qi masters can use. In fact, over here, only the Grand Master and his successor would know that move. I guess one of them is probably practicing it right now. We have been seeing a lot of that move lately around this time. Still, that move doesn't even compare to the move called Heaven's Mandate."
"You mean that old man has that much power in him?" Harold exclaimed.
"Of course!" said Qiang Shi as if that was normal. "He wouldn't be Grand Master if he didn't have anything to show for it. Anyway, come on! There's something I think you guys will be interested to see. Especially you scholar guys."
You can imagine why so many questions were filling up the children's brains. But they just followed after Qiang Shi, understandably unable to bring out the words.
As they walked, Qiang Shi spoke.
"Since you're scholars, I thought we'd start with over here," he said, gesturing to the red double doors up ahead. There was a sign above that read "Library".
"Of course we'd come here first," mumbled Duncan.
"What was that?" went Qiang Shi.
The library was a vast indoor space with shelves reaching up to the high ceiling. Not only books were present, scrolls and tablets were there as well waiting to be read. Display cases dominated some areas, presenting the world with the ancient artifacts and archaic photos from the monastery's past. There were a few young patrons roaming around, hurrying to find what they need for their homework, as well as some older folk who were there to pass the time. At the checkout desk by the exit sat a pot-bellied, middle-aged tiger man with a bushy mustache wearing a bored expression on his face as he read the newspaper. He only glanced up once to check out the new arrivals before resuming reading his newspaper.
"Harold, Duncan, and Diana?"
The tour group turned to the source of the voice, finding Sparrow stepping out from between two shelves while holding a stack of books reaching from his belly to just beneath his chin. Draped over his arm was a long coat and his cane. His bowler hat topped the stack of books.
"Here for a tour, I take it?" he said. "I believe we already had one, but I suppose you are all at that age where you can't help but explore for yourselves with people your own age."
"What's with this about 'people your own age' thing?" the voice in Xiao Mei's head said. "It's saying stuff like that that makes him sound like some stuffy grandpa."
That's not nice, Xiao Mei said to the voice in her mind.
"So, you're off to show them the mural, then?" Sparrow continued.
"Y-yes," Qiang Shi replied. "How did you - ?"
"Other than the tomes, I can hardly find anything else that would be interesting about this place except for the mural," Sparrow said with a shrug. "Whoa!" He nearly lost his balance and made all the books he collected fall. "I encourage you all to go see it. I think you'll especially find it interesting, Xiao Mei."
The children were about to ask the teen scholar what he meant by that, but he walked off before he could. At the same time, Jane Mortimer walked into the library. She watched as Sparrow continued toward a cluster of tables, completely unaware of her presence. Jane shook her head and sighed before turning around and exiting the library.
"Seriously, that's one dedicated scholar," Qiang Shi said. "Our librarian could take a leaf or two out of his book."
"I think he's just a bibliophile, myself," Diana commented.
"It means he really, really, really loves books," said Xiao Mei.
"Ah. I still think the librarian could learn a thing or two from him, though."
Qiang Shi turned pointedly toward the tiger man who was twisting the right end tip of his mustache as he continued to read the newspaper. He had shifted towards the left, revealing a wire coming from his feline ear. The wire snaked all the way down to the radio clipped to his belt.
"It's always nothing but the sports and horse races for him," Qiang Shi whispered. "Well, anyway, back to our tour. Come right this way!"
He led them to the furthest right of the library, all the way to the end where they were greeted by a massive mural the must cover the whole wall. The mural was an archaic picture of animal men, soldiers, and two very large dragons facing off against each other. To the left was a golden dragon with its mouth gaping open as it spewed its flames at the murky green dragon with brown blotches on the right side. The green dragon was surrounded by ink-dark clouds and terrible monsters. And it had a distorted, mutant look compared to the golden dragon that adopted the classic look of all other dragons, with a third sideways eye on its forehead, two snake tongues, and a mane of ivory spikes that could skewer through grown men instead of fur. There was something sinister and wicked about the dragon on the right that made Xiao Mei shiver with dread just staring at it. XIao Mei was more awed by the golden dragon and when she looked up to it, the cold dread she got from the green dragon was replaced by a feeling of warmth. If this was the aim of the artist to make viewers feel this way when looking at his or her work, the artist most definitely met this goal in Xiao Mei.
One figure stood out among all the soldiers, warriors, and monsters. There could be no mistaking this figure, for, to Xiao Mei, it was clearly -
"That's Huang Zhi, the Boar Warrior of Peace," said Qiang Shi when he noticed Xiao Mei's interest in the boar man carrying two mace weapons with large metal ball heads.
"I know," Xiao Mei said. "I met a descendant of him a few years ago. He looks exactly like him."
"What?" Qiang Shi cried out. His eyes practically popped out like an amphibian. "Seriously? You lie!"
"I'm telling the truth," said Xiao Mei, who didn't appreciate being called a liar. "You can talk with Sparrow if you'd like. He'll tell you the same thing."
"Say, what's the story behind this mural?" Diana interrupted. "I mean, other than the obvious that it's about some epic battle that must have taken place a long, long time ago."
"It's called the Battle of Two Dragons."
Seto came walking toward them. Beside him was a mermaid about his age with long hair tied into a braid that was laid over her left shoulder. Like others of her kind, the mermaid had green skin, webbed fingers, and large black eyes.
"Li Jiao here was telling me all about it," he said, gesturing to the girl. She smiled warmly to the group and bowed in greeting.
"It is a pleasure to meet you all," she said. "Especially you, Xiao Mei. Seto has told me much about you."
"I-it's nice to meet you too!" Xiao Mei stammered. "You both seem to be getting along well."
She didn't mean to sound edgy about it, but she couldn't stop it from coming out. Luckily, it seemed like no one noticed.
"Yeah," said Seto. "We just met last night. We had lessons together this morning and she was kind enough to show me around more."
"It was nothing," Li Jiao said, blushing. For some reason, Xiao Mei felt bothered by that. "The Grand Master and the Gorilla are infamous for rushing their tours and missing some of the more interesting places."
"Hey," went Harold. "Do you think you can tell us a bit more about the Battle of Two Dragons? I want to know more about it."
"Of course," said Li Jiao. "But might I suggest we take this elsewhere to a more appropriate location. It wouldn't do to disturb the people here who are trying to read."
The children looked around a little before shrinking sheepishly. Li Jiao was right. They could see people nearby searching for books. Some read standing up by the shelves.
"I promise the next place will be just as interesting and relevant to the tale, if you'll allow me to lead you there," Li Jiao said.
"Not at all," said Qiang Shi. "You tell the story better than I do anyway."
"Well, I have to go," said Seto. "Some guys invited me to check out their training and even try it out with them for a bit. See you guys later."
"Good bye," said Li Jiao.
Seto gave Li Jiao and the others a small salute and hurried out of the library. The unpleasant feeling that Xiao Mei felt earlier just seemed to be getting worse.
"Shall we go?" Li Jiao said with a smile.
Feeling guilty over her unpleasant feelings, Xiao Mei tried to push them down and replied enthusiastically with the others for the mermaid to lead the way. She didn't understand why these feelings were stirring. It wasn't like Li Jiao was a bad person. At least, she didn't seem that way.
She lead them through a labyrinth of hallways and passages, pointing out to the rooms that served as meditation chambers, classrooms, laboratories, and storage rooms. They reached a path to the private quarters of the monastery's masters, where Qiang Shi warned that they were not to enter, even if a student and master were family. Apparently, that was also where dangerous artifacts of the monastery were kept in case of an invasion. Part of the masters' duties included making sure all the weapons for such an occasion were kept in pristine condition.
"Why would a monastery need weapons?" asked Diana.
Qiang Shi shrugged.
"Beats me," he said. "Maybe in ancient times, having weapons was necessary, but these days, I think they just keep everything in working order because there's nothing else to do. This place hasn't seen any serious battles in over a thousand years."
Eventually, they made their way into a small courtyard filled with greenery that dressed over the cold stone. At the center was a statue of a woman in simple robes. In her hand was a sheathed sword.
Dramatically gesturing to the statue, Li Jiao said to the children: "Meet the patron of our monastery, the Maiden of the Sheathed Sword."
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Eight)
There is a mystery afoot!
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Ten)
Now's time for some ancient history lessons.