Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Sixteen)
Chapter Sixteen In Which There Is A Dream Of The Past And Then A Clash Of Weapons
Xiao Mei found herself in the living room of her family's farmhouse, feeling the familiar scorching heat that was present every day. The heat could only be further described by what she saw out the open doors, which was just a world of blinding white. She was sitting on a chair with a coloring book on her lap. In a nearby mirror, Xiao Mei could see a small girl with her hair tied in twin ponytails, sitting on a chair of polished dark wood with a thin book on her lap. Above the book, she could see the television playing some program that was really popular when she was only five or six. From faraway, over the noise from the television, came a familiar singing in the local dialect. It was the song that her mother, no, her grandmother, used to sing all the time while she was working the field.
Despite being a rather old farmhouse, the place was very clean, with the tile floors glistening, and the wood furniture polished. The women of the house could thank Fong for that, who had taken it upon himself to keep the place as comfortable as to his own liking. Old photos stood on shelves above and around the television set. And there was a small shrine shelved at the right of the television set just out of Xiao Mei's reach with incense sticks burning in front of a red plaque with words of fortune printed on it in gold.
Footsteps drew Xiao Mei's attention towards the front door where a youngish man wearing a short-sleeve button-down shirt and straw hat was taking off his shoes. It was Fong, back from his work at the local village. Apparently, he was there to meet someone about a shop he had charge over in some city. The look on his face was all Xiao Mei needed to see to know how he felt about the unnecessary face time. His face softened when he spotted Xiao Mei.
To her surprise, there was another man at the door that she never saw before. The stranger was slightly taller than Fong, more formally dressed, and had a neat goatee beard. When the stranger noticed her staring, he smiled kindly at her and waved. Shy, Xiao Mei hid her blushing face behind her book, only to peek above it in curiosity.
After taking off his shoes and leaving them by the entrance, Fong walked over to Xiao Mei and placed his hand gently on her head. He ruffled her hair slightly before moving on to the kitchen, beckoning his guest to follow.
Xiao Mei could hear a conversation going on in the kitchen after Fong shut the door behind him. She tried to ignore the muffled voices, pouring all her concentration on the coloring book. But she just could not contain her curiosity. Her eyes kept switching from the book to the door again and again and again. She tried to be a good girl, but curiosity eventually trumped conscience.
As quiet as she could, Xiao Mei set the book aside and tiptoed to the door. She couldn't get in, however, because the door had, unsurprising, been locked. Undeterred, she decided to kneel down and press her right ear against the door, straining it against the crack between the door and the floor.
"Are you sure?" asked Fong's voice.
"Quite," replied an unfamiliar hoarse voice. It could only have belonged to the guest that Fong brought. "Someone else is definitely poking around, looking for your old girlfriend. You didn't hire any detectives other than me did you?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Fong snapped. "You know as well as I that you are the only investigator that I could trust, and the only one that she would trust."
"Considering the circumstances, I was actually afraid you'd say that, since it means that someone's chasing after her," said the man. Xiao Mei could hear him sigh almost in the same way Fong sometimes did when he was feeling stressed. "It'd explain why she disappeared all those years ago. Seriously, just what have you gotten me into?"
Xiao Mei didn't understand anything of what the grown-ups were discussing. But whatever the conversation was about, it must have been very serious since the grown-ups were clearly not happy.
"You're always welcome to quit," said Fong. "No one is forcing you to do this."
"Well, I've already gotten this far so no sense backing out now. And besides, she's a friend to me too. I owe her for that time when we were still just lowly aides. So, what do you want me to do? I can look into whoever's after her, if you'd like."
There was a short pause before Fong answered.
"No. It's too risky. But here's an idea. You still have some connections to the criminal underworld, don't you?"
"Yeah," replied the man. "I'm a detective. Of course I know a few people who don't get along with the law."
"Then here's what I want you to do: have your friends spread rumors around that she lost her life. But don't make it too obvious. And then . . . "
Xiao Mei never got to hear the rest of Fong's plan. His voice had started to wane in the distance, and everything faded to black, and the next thing Xiao Mei knew, she was lying beneath bed covers. She slowly opened her eyes and found herself in her room.
As she stared at the white ceiling, she wondered what that dream was about. Why did she suddenly dream about that time when she was just a little girl? And why specifically that day? Actually, what were Fong and his friend even talking about that day again? The memories of the dreams were starting to disappear from her memory.
"Beats me," said the voice in her head.
Startled, she burst out from the bed covers with a yelp. She had nearly forgotten about her constant companion in her head. But before she could collect her thoughts, her attention was drawn by a noise at her right. Turning her head there, she spotted a figure dressed from head to toe in black rummaging through her dresser drawer, tossing aside her notebooks, pens, and pencils. The figure saw Xiao Mei staring at it with wide eyes and froze. For a moment, they just stared at each other. That's all they did.
And then, Xiao Mei slowly took in a deep breath, and screamed.
Phoenix, who had been sleeping in a nest on Xiao Mei's writing desk, let out a disgruntled cry and jumped, flapping its wings wildly. He circled around above his perch in the air a little before landing on Xiao Mei's lap, spitting harmless puffs of flame in every direction except behind him where Xiao Mei was.
That was when the door was kicked open and Zhun ran in, a long baton in each hand.
"I heard screaming," he shouted. He spotted the stranger in black and charged, swinging a baton down on it.
"What in blazes is going on?" Sir Geoffrey cried out. He had been right behind Zhun.
The stranger pulled out a small crutch from its belt at its back and blocked the baton with it. Zhun was pushed back, but he would not allow the stranger to escape and attacked again just as the stranger turned its back to him, forcing the stranger to defend itself. It seemed like the stranger realized that it was not going to escape as long as Zhun kept interfering, so decided to fight all out against Zhun. Crutch met batons, and two figures danced fiercely around Xiao Mei's room.
While the battle raged on, Xiao Mei was turning her head left and right going "Huh? What? Who? Why? Huh? What?" Phoenix, now fully awake, had his wings spread apart, ready to take flight into action, but he could not. Every time he saw an opportunity, it was snatched away by the man in black just as he was about to take off. So, as the man fought the stranger, Phoenix kept his place, prepared to become Xiao Mei's shield if the man fell in battle.
Sir Geoffrey lumbered over to Xiao Mei and kept himself between her and the fight. He had his cane raised, ready to join the fray, if need be. Actually, he looked like he was really itching to do just that. No, really. Just like Phoenix, he lowered down for a sprint only to straighten up a little with a disappointed look on his face. He got ready to spring when he saw another opportunity, but that opportunity was gone in a flash.
Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on viewpoint) the old man didn't need to do any fighting. Other people had heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. Among them were Jing and Mei Ling who rushed to join their former school friend.
Sensing movement from behind, Zhun broke away from his opponent and stepped to the side. Jing took his place, swinging his fists at the stranger. What looked like glowing red smoke leaked from the gloves he wore. One hit was all it took to break the stranger's crutch and send him gliding back. The stranger managed to stop itself before it hit the wall.
The stranger lunged toward Jing, bringing out another crutch to strike Jing with. But then Mei Ling leaped above Jing, landed between him and the stranger and blocked the crutch with her folding practice sword which glowed pink from her power. She pushed the crutch away and struck the stranger's wrist before jabbing the back end of her sword's hilt against the stranger's forehead. In both times, metal rang.
Mei Ling put such strength into her strikes that the stranger dropped its crutch from the shock and stumbled back.
Jing and Zhun soon took their places beside Mei Ling, fists and weapons raised.
"There is nowhere to run," Jing said. "Surrender now and cooperate with us, and I can assure you lenience for your crimes."
"And if you don't surrender, I'll knock you out cold and make you spill the beans later my way," Zhun added. He had a wild and wicked grin on his face. "And trust me, you don't want things to go my way."
"Looks like this is the end for this bad guy," the voice in Xiao Mei's head said. "What a let down. It would've been interesting if that guy managed to pose a challenge to those three."
Xiao Mei thought otherwise and was glad that this was over.
Unfortunately, this was not the end.
"This is not the end," the stranger finally spoke. His voice was mechanical and deep. "You have won this day, but the secrets discovered by that scholar-wannabe will be mine."
The stranger pulled something from his pocket and threw it against the ground. Smoke exploded and engulfed the whole room, sending everyone into a coughing fit. The sharp scent stung Xiao Mei's nose and brought tears to her eyes.
Thankfully, the smoke soon cleared and Xiao Mei could see again. Well, just barely, thanks to the tears. But once she blinked all the tears away, she could see just enough to realize that the stranger, the intruder who trespassed into her room, was gone.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Fifteen)
The mystery of the temple thickens, and a young girl begins to question who she could trust.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Seventeen)
An intruder evaded capture. Now the race is on to uncover the secrets of the temple.