Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Thirty-Eight)
Chapter Thirty-Eight In Which The Day Ends
The airship landed in a clearing just a few feet away from the village. Several soldiers who had answered the villagers' calls for help and members of the Rowdy Rogues were there to greet Josephine as she and Xiao Mei walked down the steps to solid ground, cheering and applauding to the hero who ended the dragon's rampage, Josephine. All eyes were on her as she greeted everyone with a smile.
Everyone was in a joyous mood. Why wouldn't they be? They not only stopped an army of monsters before their invasion began, they completely defeated that army and its leader. And once again, the country, no, the world, was saved thanks to the famous hero, Josephine Desorciere, with a creation of another famous hero, Jing Wu.
While a huge crowd gathered around Josephine to congratulate her and share in her glory, Xiao Mei, who had been led away by Master Taught, had a little gathering of her own.
"Xiao Mei!" Seto cried out when he spotted her among the crowds of uniformed and armored men and women. He and their friends raced to embrace her, which the young doctor's apprentice gladly accepted and answered in kind. "Oh, thank goodness! You're okay!"
Above everyone's heads soared the majestic fire-breathing bird, Phoenix, who had been scouring the skies the whole time, searching for Xiao Mei. He had stayed as far away from the monsters as it could until it spotted Xiao Mei on an airship next to a familiar lady in white. Phoenix had tried to fly over to her, but the ship was too fast, and there were enemies everywhere. But now that all the monsters were gone, and Xiao Mei was on the ground, there was nothing to keep Phoenix away from her.
Glad to see his master safe and sound, the bird flew down and landed on top of her head. Now all was right with the world.
"You really had us worried!" said Ai Hui, wiping a tear out of the corner of her eye.
"Where are Sparrow and Jane?" asked Elizabeth. Her frantic looking around gave away the worry her stony face hid.
"They're still back at the temple," Xiao Mei replied. "Don't worry. They're . . . safe?"
Elizabeth turned to Xiao Mei. "Is something the matter?" she asked, noticing how Xiao Mei was making a funny face as she was looking at something.
Past Elizabeth, Xiao Mei had noticed a strange figure at the edge of the clearing disappear into a copse of trees. She thought that figure looked familiar and wondered who it could be. But then she heard Knightly's voice.
"Did you find him?" the Rowdy Rogue's leader asked. His voice echoed throughout the clearing to the left.
"No, sir," said the Rowdy Rogue lady. "But are you certain that he is still alive?"
"Of course he's still alive! He was defeated by the famous Josephine the Miracle! Using a formula created by the Red Saint! Come on! He can't have gone far! Find him! Find Geoffrey!"
That's who that figure was, Xiao Mei realized. It was Sir Geoffrey. He was going to escape.
She broke away from her friends and raced off into the forest where she saw the figure disappear into. Shaken off of Xiao Mei's head, Phoenix flew after her, determined not to be separated from Xiao Mei again.
"Xiao Mei!" a startled Seto cried out. "Where are you going?"
Xiao Mei didn't answer and quickly dove into the forest. She pushed away branches as she waded through leaves and bushes, following a trail of snapped twigs and footprints. There were pieces of rich cloth from expensive clothes snagged by some stray branches telling her that she was going the right way. She could feel the ground slope up the deeper into the forest she went, until, finally, she made it out into the open sky.
"Whoa!" Xiao Mei cried out. That was some gust of wind. The turbulence nearly pushed her off her feet.
From where she stood, the borders of the cliff concealed below, leaving just yellowing sky in her view. Birds could be heard, crying out from beyond, against the whipping, howling wind. And standing near the edge was Sir Geoffrey.
"Just what do you think you're doing, child?" he said with a defeated expression on his face. His shoulders were slump, and there was barely any life in his voice. "Come to gloat at my failure?"
"N-no!" Xiao Mei shouted. "That's not what I came here for."
"Then have you come to try to stop me from escaping or something? Yes, I suppose that must be the case. Can't let the bad guy get away. No, we can't."
Xiao Mei hesitated. Words were lost to her, but she eventually regained some.
"Can I ask you something?" she said.
Sir Geoffrey regarded the girl for a moment before turning away.
"I have nothing more to hide, so by all means," he said, waving his hand dismissively.
"Why did you do all this?" said Xiao Mei. "Why go through so much trouble for power? What were you planning to use all that power for? You were already a hero, weren't you?"
"Hero!" Sir Geoffrey spat that word like it was a disgusting phlegm. He startled Xiao Mei when he abruptly turned to her with rage and fury in his eyes. "It's true, I was called a hero. During our youth, me and Terrance Knightly worked together to end a war our country had been in against another. Needless to say, we succeeded. Overthrew the enemy's government and everything. We were labeled as heroes because of our success. We thought that with the end of the war, we would all finally know peace. But the next thing we knew, there was another one! Another war! And it was started by our own nation. Apparently, the country they attacked had resources that they desperately wanted. As if that was more important than the lives of the people! Our home town was caught up in the middle of it. The losses were enormous! Martha, Terrance's cousin, and my wife, did not survive."
Xiao Mei didn't say anything. She couldn't. What could she possible say to Sir Geoffrey's story? The answer to that question, of course, was nothing.
"Me and Terrance, and many other good men and women sacrificed much to bring peace back to our country, and to the world. And what do those leaders of ours do as repayment? They plunge it right back into conflict! And us heroes pay the price!
"Since then, Terrance and I founded the Rowdy Rogues, rebels against foolish government powers that forsake the innocent for their own greed, and warriors who will fight for justice and peace. But as the years passed, and we aged, I had come to a realization: it's never enough. No matter how much work we put into making the world a better place, there will always be fools bumbling into the scene to ruin everything, starting wars for wealth they don't need, oppressing groups of people simply for being different.
"It's happened time and time again. No matter where we go, what we do. And there's nothing we can do to stop it! But it had to stop! I had to put a stop to this once and for all! But in order for me to do that, I needed power, power to rewrite the world itself!"
"That's why you went after the wisdom of Ai Long," Xiao Mei said, putting the pieces together. "You wanted to use that wisdom to gain enough power to make the world how you wanted it to be."
"It's not just the wisdom of that dragon. I've traveled the whole world several times over in order to find and recreate the lost power of the ancients. I've made connections with all the world's governments and foremost scientific societies in order to find new discoveries and inventions that I could take for myself to become powerful by, things like that power suit of Wu's. But at every turn, Knightly, my own old friend and family, got in my way. Why would he do this? He knows what I'm trying to do. He knows that with power, incredible, amazing, unstoppable power, we could finally make our dreams come true. Is how I wanted the world to be so wrong? Am I a villain to try to make the world a better place?"
Xiao Mei shook her head in answer to the old man's questions.
"What you want is not wrong," she admitted. "I think to want to make the world a better place is a wonderful thing. But . . . the way you want to make that wish come true is what's wrong. Look at what's become of it. Good people were hurt because of you. People I care about were hurt. And look what happened to you in the end. You ended up turning in a monster by the very power you were looking for, and hurt even more people."
Sir Geoffrey face softened a bit as he considered the girl's words. Then he turned his back to the young girl and looked up to the sky.
"What does it all matter now?" he said, shoulders slumped. "In the end, that power I worked so hard for was undone in the blink of an eye by some brats who were a little smarter than most people. Everything I've done had been pointless."
"What will you do now?" Xiao Mei asked.
"Who knows?" Sir Geoffrey said, waving his hand dismissively. "Surrender, maybe? After today, I'm sure everything under my name will be taken or dismantled. I'll be left with nothing with nowhere to go. And I'm too old to ever build all that up again. Whether I like it or not, this is the end of the road for me. So if you're going to call the police here, by all means."
Xiao Mei didn't know what she wanted to do. Here stood the man who had driven her mother to separate from her and go into hiding. He had made robots try to hurt her and the people close to her. Many innocent people nearly lost their homes today because of him. And Xiao Mei was certain that Sparrow was never going to walk right again because of those injuries from the ordeals he caused. There should be no forgiving him for his crimes, and yet, Xiao Mei could not find it in her to hate him. When she closed her eyes, she could still clearly see the pain on his face when he talked about Martha.
"No . . . Not . . . the END!"
Seeing a shadow loom over her, Xiao Mei twisted around and found a massive blob of tar shift, stretch and ungulate. Her jaw dropped as her mind tried to process the sight.
How? How could that be here? Xiao Mei wondered. Shouldn't it have been destroyed with all the other monsters when Sir Geoffrey was cured? But no matter how much she wondered, the answers weren't going to present themselves. And whatever the reason, it was here now, meaning she and Sir Geoffrey were both in danger.
This creature, thing, remnant of Sir Geoffrey's heart was bereft reason. Nothing could sway or control this mass of darkness. It was just a mindless beast that will lash out at anything that moves, its confusion made obvious by the way it randomly changed shape back and forth from the face of Sir Geoffrey to an indescribable mess.
"This terrible world must be corrected! I will put it on the right path! Only I can make things right!"
As the monster spouted mad nonsense that were formerly from the dark reaches of Sir Geoffrey's heart, tentacle-like tendrils grew out of its body and hammered on the ground, making it tremble and crack. The tendrils just thrashed around at random, too fast for Xiao Mei's eyes to follow. She didn't know where she could run, or if there was anywhere she could run to. One of those tendrils few straight towards her. By the time her mind registered it, it was already too late.
She felt someone shove her shoulder, and she fell down. The tendril swept over her head, brushing slightly on her hair. Following her landing, there was a sharp burn on her palm, knees, and elbows. Xiao Mei looked up just in time to see the old man fall over the edge.
Xiao Mei cried out. Even she didn't know what she shouted. She scrambled toward the end of the cliff, got down on all fours, and looked down. Sir Geoffrey was just a feet or two down, hanging onto a branch growing off the rock wall. His feet dangled in the air.
After a glance down, he looked up.
"Forget about me!" he implored the girl. "Just get out of here!"
Then his eyes widened.
Xiao Mei looked up just as the monster's tendril dropped down over her head. Just as it was about to crush her, a jet of fire pierced the air with its heat and severed the tendril from the rest of the tar. The slab of tar fell on the ground, dried and cracked before crumbling into ash. A large bird with fiery red and orange plumage dropped down, spewing flames of righteous fury from its beak.
"Phoenix!" Xiao Mei cried out in surprise.
The bird didn't look back. His eyes were solely on the monster that tried to hurt his master. He was relentless in his attack, spitting out jet after jet of fire against the monster. His opponent below unleashed a mighty, agonizing bellow and tried to swat the bird out of the sky. But Phoenix was too fast for the creature and easily evaded the monster.
Still, other than being made angrier and angrier, the monster didn't seem to be hurt all that much. In fact, it looked to Xiao Mei like it was growing. And she could see Phoenix slowing down and lurching at odd places. There was no way that Phoenix could keep up the fight for much longer.
Fortunately, help was not too far away.
Suddenly, a huge shape burst through the trees and charged toward the creature with the ferocity only a true warrior would possess. With a mighty roar, the boar man brought his hammers of justice down on the monster.
"Monster, you will not harm the innocent any longer!" he shouted. "Vile beast! Your evil will not go unpunished! I, Huang Zhi, will rain Heaven's Judgment upon you!"
Xiao Mei recognized the boar man as the monk from her journey three years ago. What was he doing here now?
Huang Zhi beat against the monster with his hammers, keeping the monster at bay. As he drove the monster to a standstill, others arrived. Mei Ling and Jing leaped into the fray, joining the boar man with their weapons glowing with power.
"How do we beat this thing?" Mei Ling asked as she jumped to evade a lashing tentacle.
"Fire seems to be effective," Jing said, nodding towards the scattered ashes Phoenix made from his attacks. "But this thing is quite big, and moving all over. We need to keep it all in one place and then burn it with a mighty big flame."
"If it's keeping all that in one place, then leave that to me!"
Josephine Desorciere flew in and landed beside Xiao Mei like a graceful angel. She raised her hands, calling upon her psychic power to lift the huge mass of tar off the ground. The monster tried to resist, but even it was unable to fight against the power of the legendary hero.
"I'll leave the fire to you!" Josephine strained to shout to her friends. She clapped her hands together and made the monster roll up into a ball with her mind.
Phoenix didn't waste any time to blast the creature with his fire.
From beyond the trees came Seto, followed by armed soldiers and armored Rowdy Rogues.
"Whoa!" shouted Master Taught upon seeing the giant ball of tar floating in the air. "What is that?"
"Fire!" Xiao Mei shouted. "Use fire!"
Seto seemed to catch on and quickly summoned flames into his hands with the psychic powers he had gained from his grandmother. He was followed by Li Jiao and the other temple children, using the mystic Qi arts of the temple.
"Attack!" Knightly barked. "Use red blaster stones if you have them! Use bombs and grenades if you have those too! Throw everything you have at it!"
Deadly red energy bolts pierced and burned the surface of the tar ball floating in the air. Explosives burst against it, eating huge chunks of tar away. Jing and Mei Ling joined, unleashing their own psychic power in flame form at the tar. Zhun was there as well, firing his own blasters at the monster. And . . . was that Elizabeth with a flame thrower? Where did she get that?
The monster from Sir Geoffrey's heart was no match against the combined force of all these warriors and heroes. Try as it might, it couldn't escape Josephine's psychic grasp. It could not fight against the onslaught of attacks all around it. Xiao Mei could hear the monster's bellows get weaker and weaker as it slowly shrank down in size. Nothing would be left of it when they were done. Nothing at all.
"Now that that's done with," said Knightly, glancing at the scorched earth, "where's Bartholomew?"
"Xiao Mei!" Seto shouted in horror. "What are you doing?"
Xiao Mei was leaning over the edge of the cliff, reaching down.
"Grab my hand!" she called.
Sir Geoffrey stared at her dumbfounded.
"What are you doing?" he said. "After all that I've done to you, your family, and your friends, why would you try to save me? Why?"
"Never mind that!" Xiao Mei shouted. "Hurry! That branch isn't going to last much longer!"
She was right. Slowly, the branch dipped down under the weight of the old man. Already, its roots were being laid bare against the sun.
"Just leave me!" Sir Geoffrey implored. "Don't come closer! Any more and you'll fall with me!"
But the girl ignored him. She leaned even further and finally caught his wrist with both her hands. As she did so, the earth cracked beneath her and gave away.
"Whoa!" Xiao Mei cried out as she fell forward. Just as she dropped, two arms wrapped around her stomach and pulled her back up.
"Seriously, you're such trouble!" Seto shouted. Behind him, Li Jiao gripped tightly on his jacket, while Ai Hui and Qiang Shi both held her in tight hugs.
"Heave! Ho!" Diana, Harold and Duncan shouted in unison. "Heave! Ho!"
All of them were lifted off their feet by Josephine's power and gently put far away from the edge. Upon feet touching ground, Xiao Mei collapsed into Seto's arms. Her legs were devoid of strength. Relief washed over her, seeing all her friends around her. And with it, so did exhaustion. The adrenaline that pushed her all day finally exhausted itself, leaving nothing to keep her up.
To sum all that up: she fainted.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Thirty-Seven)
In Which A Villain Takes His Medicine
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Thirty-Nine)
In Which We Learn What Happens Afterward