Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Three)
Chapter 3 The Results of a Previous Day
It was the first time that Xiao Mei had ridden an airship. She could hardly contain her nervousness, and her stomach continued to do back flips until they were so high in the air. To her surprise, it was a lot quieter inside the aircraft than outside with its thunderous engines. The egg-shaped hunk of metal of the sky was hovering over a valley surrounded by a crown of hills and mountains of dense green.
With Fong out of commission for a while, despite the best efforts of the hospital doctors and healers, it would fall on Obaasan who had just come back from her overseas trip to mind the store. Fong's own mother and father didn't know anything about his trade, and the two of them were spending their golden years too far away at some faraway island to be of help anyway. His younger brother is too busy playing diplomat at the country's eastern border, his wife and son with him. Finally, the only other person that Fong could rely on, Chun Hua, his former apprentice, just started looking after an apprentice of her own, which means she couldn't be inconvenienced with one more brain. And with that, there would be no one to continue with Xiao Mei's education, which Fong cared about as much as saving money. For that reason, Fong telephoned the place of his schooling and arranged Xiao Mei temporary apprenticeship to the order. As Sparrow and the scholars were headed there anyway, it was a simple thing to have Xiao Mei tag along for the ride and save a load of cash in the meantime. Seto, of course, was coming along as chaperone.
"I was going to send you there one day, anyway," Fong had said with a shrug when he saw the uncertainty in his daughter's eyes. "You want to be a professional healer in traditional arts, don't you? The Dragon's Temple would be the perfect place for your education. And the people over there will teach you many other useful things."
So, it was decided. With bags all packed, and everything planned out and arranged, it was time now for another journey.
Beside Xiao Mei, hurling what remained of his breakfast into a paper bag kindly provided by the company of the airship was Seto. This was also his first time flying. When he arrived to Zhang several years ago, it was on a boat. Boats were good. Boats were his friends. Airships are the enemy!
Sparrow shook his head in pity, watching Seto from his seat opposite of Xiao Mei and Seto. Dr. Green patted Seto's back, deciding to sit with Seto and Xiao Mei so there would be more room for the apprentices to sit next to Sparrow.
There was a knock on the door.
"Yes, please do come in," Sparrow said. "The door's open."
It was a girl close to Xiao Mei's age wearing a the uniform of a maid. She was doll-like delicate, with vampire pale skin. Her dark gray eyes were blank, void of any emotion. When Sparrow first introduced the maid to Xiao Mei, Xiao Mei had thought that the woman was a life-sized doll. It was not humanly possible for someone to be as pale as her. And yet, there she stood, as real as dirt.
"Well, hello, Elizabeth," Sparrow said to his cousin with brotherly warmth. "Is something the matter? What can I do to help?"
Elizabeth Darkwater bowed her head slightly, whispering in that soft, yet audible, voice: "It is soon time for us to land. Master Taught thought you should know."
In the compartment behind Sparrow, there was another member of the group of scholars who was actually in charge of the whole expedition. His name was Evan Taught. Unlike the others, Taught had the compartment all to himself, much to the consternation and jealousy of the other scholars. It was rumored that he was a pirate before becoming a scholar. Even Sparrow had a hard time questioning the possibility. Elizabeth, as the maid, either waited outside for orders, or was making tea or some such with the other personal servants of the other passengers of wealth.
"I see," Sparrow said thoughtfully. Looking out the window, he said: "Funny thing about this valley, it all used to be under water millions of years ago. Dinosaur fish used to swim in that lake. Even today, if you dig deep enough, you could find a bone or two from that ancient time. One theory about those creatures was that they evolved over time to become the dragons of myth. Some say that the dinosaurs of this region were the ancestors of the dragons. And that dragons are still around today, only hidden in nature where they could not be disturbed. Well, the location would be ideal for dragons to make their home. Except by airship, the valley is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Not to mention that it's a historical, natural landmark that, by law, cannot be disturbed."
"And yet it's one of the most prosperous villages in the entire Zhang Empire," Dr. Green added to the lecture.
"Right you are, Dr. Green," said Sparrow with a nod. She may be one of the biggest klutz in the world, but she was still a seasoned scholar of great intellect. "Thanks to the ecology and location of the valley, the village has been able to independently function isolated from the rest of the country. Of course, that is to say that they don't interact with the outside world. There are deliveries of goods such as technological conveniences and so forth like the ones that are obviously on this airship. As such, the village is not some backwater town without any form of modern convenience. But with farming and natural fruits from the forests, the village doesn't really need much to warrant leaving the ring of mountains."
"Blah blah blah, nerd talk," went the voice in Xiao Mei's head.
While everyone else was drinking the lecture up, Seto yawned. The air sickness medicine, so slow-acting, was finally taking effect. Elizabeth quietly excused herself and then left to who-knows-where. It wasn't long before the airship made its descent at a clear field of concrete. The craft circled around twice before gently lowering to the ground. The passengers were jostled in the descent, and Xiao Mei nearly fell to the floor had Seto not caught her.
"Are you alright?" he said.
Xiao Mei turned red in the face for some reason and stammered that she was unharmed. Her face turned an even deeper shade of red when she realized that she and Seto were holding hands.
"Right then!" Sparrow exclaimed, clapping his hands together, seemingly completely oblivious of the turn of events, while Diana was giving her funny looks, for her parrot head. This made Xiao Mei blush even deeper red. "Let's get our luggage down and get ready to depart at once."
Waiting outside, with a simple sack that reached up to his waist, was Evan Taught. He was a short, stout fellow with a long, bushy beard. Like Sparrow, he had a cane, but this one ivory and made of quality that was inferior to the one that Sparrow had with him, which was forged by his father for Grandfather Hawkins who was a bit of a swordsman. Elizabeth was with the eldest scholar with a trunk of her own personal belongings. The maid's trunk was minuscule compared to the trunks of the scholars. Even Xiao Mei's, who only brought clothes for a week, some notebooks, and her pocket computer phone (you Gaians would call them "smart phones"), was bigger in comparison.
"Right then!" went Taught, stamping his cane against the floor of the airship. He had a sailor's rough voice, and he walked as if he had a peg leg instead of two feet. The way he walked reminded Xiao Mei of the penguins she sometimes took care of at the public zoo when they were short on volunteer and part-time helpers. "Let's get going, shall we?"
Xiao Mei, Seto, and the scholars marched behind the commanding Taught in single file, like they were all school children on a field trip. Sparrow took the rear, with Dr. Green placed in front of him. Probably, the line arrangement was to prevent anything from happening that would be Dr. Green's direct fault. They assimilated with the longer line of passengers, amid the pushing and shoving of their less patient others. Most of them were bedraggled from napping during the trip, grumbling angrily after having been disturbed by the airship's landing, even though the captain had given warning early enough.
"Best keep watch of your pockets," Sparrow whispered to his companions. "Don't want to end up having to make an impromptu stop at the bank for more pocket funds. We're actually really tight on schedule."
"You believe that our wallets will be stolen?" Xiao Mei asked, warily looking around now.
"Highly unlikely, but it's happened to me once before," Sparrow replied. Unpleasant memories came to his mind, and he grimaced at the horrible discomfort he felt from the experience. "Better safe than sorry, eh?"
They all made their way out of the airship (at last!) and hurriedly gathered around in a tightknit crowd, huddled together with their luggage, a small island of peers, one among many in the plain concrete ocean. It was out there, that the roars of airships, hulking sky whales of metal, were definite facts of existence.
Slowly, but ever surely, the number of islands of hugging, chattering people began to dwindle. People came and go. Men and women in bright, glow-green vests and large ear mufflers waved their bright orange batons, guiding the airships to hangars where they would wait for the next journey.
They all waited, and waited and waited and waited and waited and . . . (try imagine "and waited" x 500 and you can see just how long they really waited)
"How long are we going to wait?" Duncan asked impatiently. He was beginning to feel baked beneath the hot afternoon sun. "It's been an hour!"
"Actually, it's been an hour, thirty-two minutes," Sparrow pointed out after checking his pocket watch.
"That's really not helping," Seto said, fanning himself with a pink, wooden folding fan with a smiling panda bear. He borrowed that from Xiao Mei who was not bothered in the least by the scorching sun. She already had long-lasting sunblock applied to her face and hands, and her long-sleeved shirt was breathable. But for the most part, she was just used to hot temperatures because her mentor/father did not believe in using air conditioners outside of business. He strongly believed that it was a big fat waste of cash and actually risky to the health.
Dr. Green was squatting down beside her trunk wiping sweat from her forehead beneath her straw hat.
"I hope they didn't get the time wrong," she said, which got everyone thinking, especially Sparrow, who was now rifling through his coat pockets.
He found and pulled out a small, leather-bound date book, flipped through its smooth, white pages, and settled for today's date. It was only a second before he slapped himself on the forehead.
"We came too early," he said with a groan. "We came to the right place but by the wrong airship and time! How fortunate we were that the compartments we chose were empty."
"Oh, what?" exclaimed the apprentices. "What kind of idiot comes too early?"
They all turned to the woman who was standing up now, faced away from the group, and fanning herself like nothing was wrong while the corner of her mouth twitched, and sweat was beginning to pour.
Just as the sun set, another airship arrived. Everyone clapped their hands over their ears against the hyper shriek of the ship as it landed. It gently touched down a few paces from the scholars and co. And people poured out with the wealthy coming out from their own special exit. Among those wealthy was a young woman in a lab coat, followed by two misshaped men, one tall and bony, and other a short, fat man. The woman only had a carry-on bag while her large heavy trunks were carried by the men.
As she descended down the stairs which glimmered gold, she cast her sights down and paused.
"Sparrow Hawkins?" she said surprised and astonished. "Whatever are you doing here?"
"Oh no," Sparrow moaned, rubbing his temples. "Not her. Not here. Not now!"
All eyes were on him now. And just when they were about to barrage the young scholar with questions, a white tiger chimera man (that is to say he was literally part human and part white tiger) in a simple tunic came, carrying a sign for the scholar party, and below the party's name, the name of another party.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Two)
And the doctor makes his appearance.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Four)
Who is this newcomer? And what is she to Sparrow Hawkins?