Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter One)
Chapter 1 In Which There is a Reunion After Four Years
The Tang Shi Library was of modest size compared to the Capital Library of Vai where Vaian scholars made their headquarters, but it was still moderately big. It stood several stories high with the traditional-style tiling and pointed roofs with corners curved upward. This appearance has not changed since it was first known as a branch of the Imperial Scholars' Archive three hundred years ago, founded by the second to last dynasty before the current one that was certain to be short lived.
Sparrow Hawkins, the round-faced sixteen-year-old young man in the three-piece suit, bowler hat, and overcoat was stepping out of the library after seeing to the accommodations of the young apprentices. He wasn't particularly dashing, although he liked to think of himself as a sort of charmer. What he had going for him was his brain. With a simple glance, he would know where you've been, what you've done, and maybe why. Of course, he wasn't psychic. Just observant. But even his power of observation had its limits. He can't know everything simply by looking, sniffing, tasting, and hypothesizing.
He and his senior scholars had come to the Zhang Empire on invitation to one of the most ancient and culturally rich foundations in the entire country where the apprentices will learn how scholars worked and even help with research on the ancient past, techniques, philosophy, and science of the people of the temple. When his master said that he should go, Sparrow could not have been more eager and happy. And he still is happy, even if the trip came with some inconvenience.
His hawk-head cane tapped on the stone steps as he descended while humming a jolly tune.
It had been four years since he was last in Zhang. He was glad to see that all was as lively as ever, despite the setbacks that were the current emperor's fault. Sparrow's time in the country had been rather . . . eventful, more than he cared to experience. But he had made some good friends during his time, and he became associated with the most famous of scholars who doubled as heroic figures. Right now, he was on his way to meet some of those friends he made in Zhang. If he got the address right, there shouldn't be any problems.
He just reached the bottom of the library front steps when the recently made full scholar turned around with an exasperated sigh.
"Are you headed out, Dr. Green?" he asked.
The woman dressed in a baby-blue blouse and long skirt beneath the standard black scholar gown paused, startled. She looked a bit young but was in fact close to forty years of age, if her records were to be believed. Her hair was tomato red paint color, and her eyes a deep shade of brown, almost black. She was also taller than Sparrow by several inches.
Startled, Janet Green tripped and was close to falling down when three robed scholars in their pre-teens, one of them having the head of a green parrot, the other a pointy-eared descendant of a homunculus, and the third a human boy with round glasses, as pale as the moon, appeared at her side to prevent her swift trip down to pavement. Sparrow, caught off guard, was close to tripping himself. His heart had skipped a beat when she fell forward.
"Really, Sparrow, how did you know?" the clumsy woman demanded. Her accent was as thick as always.
"Your irregular footsteps are as clear as day to me," Sparrow replied, rubbing his temples. It was just his luck that he had to babysit one of the most clumsiest, accident-prone scholars in the history of the order. He always wondered why she was chosen for such an important trip. "You really ought to rest that ankle of yours. You were lucky that it was just a simple sprain."
Dr. Green scowled. "I'm not some helpless damsel, Sparrow. And it hurts my pride when a boy old enough to be my son treat me like I'm some child."
The minors of the group avoided eye contact with the scholar.
"And for your information," Dr. Green continued, "I was just on my way to explore the town. I'm well enough to stretch my legs, as it is. What of you, however? Going for a small tour around town?"
"Visiting friends, actually," Sparrow said with a shrug.
"I didn't know you had friends here," tweeted Diana, the parrot chimera with a bow tie on her head.
"Didn't I say anything about that?" Sparrow said with surprise etched on his face. "Well, I suppose it can't be helped. We all have free time right now, so how about I introduce to you some of my friends?"
Diana, Harold the homunculus descendant, and Duncan the human thanked Sparrow enthusiastically and apologized with having to bother him all the while excited to meet friends and associates of the famed Sparrow Hawkins, an intellect all in his own class. Dr. Green fidgeted a little.
"Of course you can come too, Dr. Green," Sparrow said. "We might have need in your 'talent' with foreign languages."
"Huh?" went Dr. Green trying, and failing, to act casual. "O-of course! I guess there's no helping it."
Sparrow rolled his eyes as he turned away, leading his fellow scholars, and scholars-to-be away from the library to navigate the twisting and turning maze of streets filled with titanic buildings all vying to touch the heavens to a district of shops, and small businesses close to a port that was famous for its multicultural background and unity.
The small, lean thirteen-year-old girl was taking a stroll, wading through the rivers of people going about their daily business. Shop owners and vendors who recognized the girl, would cheerfully greet her and she would enthusiastically return those greetings. Since she was five years old, she had been living in this district where all kinds of people gather and share in the wealth. It was a thriving street with plenty of activity, even during times of great financial hardships, like the one Zhang was now facing.
Just a couple of years ago, there was an overthrow, and a new emperor forced his way onto the throne. During a wedding party with foreign dignitaries, ambassadors and world leaders, a relative of this new emperor suddenly went mad and called upon an army of automatons to hold everyone hostage. Thanks to seven heroes, and maybe the involvement of a little girl and her friends, everyone except for the lunatic bride made it alright. But after that fiasco, the new emperor was now just decoration while the ministers scrambled about trying to fix the mess he made.
In this very district, the girl was pretty well known, though not as well known as her mentor, the physician of the district who owned the apothecary where he also held his base of operations and saw patients when he was not doing his daily rounds. The girl's master was a normally humorless man with hard lines from years of his practice and then some. However, after the events from four years ago, his hair was beginning to gray, and at his age there was a message in that.
"Well, if it ain't Xiao Mei, the girl with the bird on her head!" exclaimed a former Southern United Free Lands naval officer now seafaring man.
"It's good to see you too," Xiao Mei said with a bow, careful not to disturb the fire-breathing bird that was nesting on her head as she made her way pass the restaurant the sailors were having lunch. Phoenix, the pyro-avian creature with feathers the color of flame chirped a greeting before going back to preening his feathers. However, while he groomed, he sharp eyes pierced toward the sailors in distrust, always the vigilant bodyguard. His two golden antennae strips that grew from his inner brow twitched as he expanded his sixth sense to detect threats. He was much bigger than he was since he and Xiao Mei first met four years ago, but so had Xiao Mei, and she had grown used to having a bird sitting on her head throughout the majority of the day.
"Oh!" went the restaurant owner as he was coming out, wiping his hands on his apron. "Xiao Mei! On your way to the shop?"
"Yes, Mr. Shun," Xiao Mei said.
"Well, what timing!" Mr. Shun exclaimed. "I was just on my way to repay him for treating my son. If you don't mind, would you be so kind as to give this to him."
He reached into the apron pocket and pulled out a yellow envelope. Xiao Mei accepted it and gave her word that it would reach her mentor's hands. And then she was off again.
She had just turned the corner of the bakery that had been opened for thirty years when she bumped into someone and was thrown back by impact with a yelp. Startled, Phoenix spread his wings and was airborn shrieking shrilly at the creature who would dare bump into Xiao Mei.
"I-I'm so sorry!" Xiao Mei and the woman both cried out simultaneously. "Not at all. It was nothing!"
Both were in perfect sync. With a careful look, Xiao Mei saw that the pleasant-looking woman could be taller than Fong. Her eyes sparked kindly and seemed relaxed, but held a keen intelligence that Fong was sure to respect. But something was strange. It was there for only an instant, but Xiao Mei, whose eyes were said, in plain fact, to be sharper than a hawk's, thought she saw shock in the woman's eyes. What was more unusual about her was that her hair was so vividly red that it must have been painted or dyed.
"Oh!" Xiao Mei exclaimed, looking down. She just happened to spot the woman's ankle and noticed how swollen it was.
Without thinking, Xiao Mei reached down and commanded her inner qi to flow to her finger tips and spread towards the swollen ankle.
"What are you . . . ?" the woman asked, before trailing off. Her eyes widened with astonishment at the sight of the swelling fading away before disappearing altogether.
Surprised, dear reader? Well don't be. In this world of Atlantis, alchemists, our version of scientists, had discovered a way to grant people psychic powers. Of course, how they to that is a trade secret. And yes, there are those who use psychic powers as a weapon, such as soldiers and police officers. But there are other, more popular uses for psychic powers, such as healing, which is a power all doctors and their apprentices are required to have in this world. As a doctor's apprentice, Xiao Mei was no exception. Once she was old enough and she was officially a doctor's apprentice, she was taken to an alchemist to be given psychic powers.
"Th-thanks!" the woman stammered. "But you really needn't-!"
"Dr. Green? Where are you? Honestly, she's supposed to be a scholar of high repute!"
The two women's attention was brought to across the street. A short distance away, there was a young man with his cane resting on his shoulder and behind his neck. He was followed by three children close to Xiao Mei's own age. On the young man's head was a familiar tattered bowler hat.
Sparrow Hawkins stopped when he saw the girl and the woman at the corner of a store. Both his, and the girl's eyes lit with recognition.
"Sparrow?" the girl exclaimed with surprise and glee. "It's been too long!"
"Xiao Mei! That it has. That it has," Sparrow agreed with a grin, his eyes happily sparkling. He frowned after a quick look up and down. "Have you been to a grave?"
"Huh?" Xiao Mei went. "How did you know?"
"You have dirt on your knees, and there is gray ash on your cuffs, the kind I recognize as having come from prayer incense. There's also a white rose petal just out of Phoenix' reach stuck between some wing feathers. Also, from the direction you were facing while talking to Dr. Janet Green, the woman you must have bumped into, you just came back from this direction" (Sparrow pointed to where Xiao Mei had just walked from) "in which case, in that direction, there are no residences for you to visit, and there are no stores with practical appeal to an apprentice of a doctor and store worker, or stores that might interest a thirteen-year-old girl. Given that it is not the weekend, I doubt you would linger around with friends at a restaurant. Also no other place would have a girl such as yourself kneeling on dirt and burn incense. Thus, by a process of elimination, you must have visited the cemetery that was put in that direction around two hundred years ago."
"I see," went Xiao Mei and meant it whole-hearted. The three children behind Sparrow who were listening looked lost. He talked too much. Sometimes they wondered whether or not he actually enjoyed hearing himself speak.
"Seriously, this guy does love to talk, doesn't he?" said a voice in Xiao Mei's head.
For four years now, Xiao Mei had been hearing a disembodied voice in her head. The first thing that came to mind was that it was a result to all the stress she must have gone through from her venture across the country, in which she encountered Sparrow and a lot of other people, most of them nice, while there were a few nasty characters in the mix. Of course, no one else knew of the voice. If she said anything about it, no doubt, Xiao Mei would be sent to a mental institute or some such. Besides, the voice wasn't all too bad. If anything, it's sharp, merciless "tongue" reminded the girl of someone who was just as harshly honest. "And man! Look how he let himself go!"
Well, it was true that Sparrow put on a little weight, but not so much that it was really noticeable. He looked well-fed, at the least, and had flecks of acne scattered across his face, like any other boy his age.
"Now then," Sparrow said, clapping his hands together. "Allow me to introduce my fellow scholars from Vai. Well, scholars in training. This is - !"
Everyone twisted to Dr. Green, startled. Clamped on her hand was a ruby scaled snake with blue eyes. Dr. Green tried to hold back tears, but the bite obviously hurt a lot.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Prologue)
A new story unfolds.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Two)
And the doctor makes his appearance.