Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty)
Chapter Twenty In Which More Clues Point The Way
Xiao Mei let out a depressing sigh as she leaned on the railing of the veranda. Of course she would be depressed. After all, all that hard work in the library and the only thing they got out of it was an adult crying on the floor for several hours over a magazine that had been missing for over a decade. If what Master Da Hu said was true, then the magazine which could hold the answer to unlocking Pei Bai's diary at last was a dead end. And she really had her hopes up there for a moment. Sparrow apologized profusely for that, and Xiao Mei forgave him. He was only trying to help. Although, if Xiao Mei had to confess, she would have to admit that she still felt a little angry at him.
So far, the voice in her head that wasn't her own thoughts had been silent. She was probably feeling the same thing that Xiao Mei was. Or she just didn't have anything to say. Or she could just be sleeping. She always slept while Xiao Mei was being the diligent student.
Xiao Mei turned her head to the left. Jing approached, his cape billowing against the afternoon breeze. He was probably on a stroll or something, Xiao Mei guessed.
"You seem troubled," the alchemist said. "Is something the matter?"
Xiao Mei didn't say anything. She was sure that whatever lie she spewed would be seen through by this man of infinite wisdom.
"Drawing from past experience with friends who seemed lost at times, I'll take that silence as a yes," he said. "That and the wilting flower on your head. If it's alright, might I ask what is troubling you? I would like to help if I could."
"I thought we were getting closer to the truth, but no matter which direction we went, we ended up at a dead end," Xiao Mei muttered in a low voice. As she spoke, all the sadness, anger and frustration she had bottled up from past failures to uncover the truth swelled in her heart and was unleashed. "It's just so frustrating. We managed to get the lock off, but then find that it's glued shut. We find out there might be a way to unglue it, but the recipe turns out to have been lost for years. It's as if Heaven, itself, doesn't want me to find my mother! It's hopeless! I just don't know what I should do at this point. If you want to help me, then tell me, what should I do?"
This really wasn't like her, Xiao Mei thought. But the words just came pouring out of her mouth before she could stop herself.
"Hmm . . ." Jing hummed, stroking his chin while he regarded the girl thoughtfully. "I understand what you're going through. Believe it or not, there have been times where even I come across a mountain that seemed too high for me to climb. Amazing as I am, I'm still human, so I still have limits. But to be honest, from the beginning I didn't think that you and the others should pursue the mystery behind your mother's disappearance. Not only are there truths that, in the wrong hands, could mean this world's descent into darkness, there is the chance that the deeper you get into this, the more danger you and the others could end up in. As a responsible adult, that is what I want the least for you children. I would rather you left everything to me, Mei Ling, or any other adult to handle this crisis. An adult's duty is to keep children safe, after all."
"Is that why you've been walking around? To make sure that we're all safe and nothing happened to us?"
Xiao Mei was surprised at herself. The words just came out of her mouth before she even thought them. It wasn't like her earlier outburst. They truly weren't her words. She didn't even think that Jing was actually patrolling the grounds like a diligent guard.
"Quite the sharp child you are," he said.
"Could you please stop with the 'child' business," Xiao Mei asked. Again, she spoke before even thinking anything. These words weren't hers. "We're not kids anymore."
Jing looked a bit startled, but quickly composed himself.
"My apologies," he said. "But where was I? Oh, right! I was talking about how I didn't want you and your friends to continue with this detective work because of how dangerous it seems. If I would have my way, I would make sure that you never investigate this matter, going so far as to forbid you all from doing so. But . . ."
"I also know that it's not my place to decide a person's course in life, especially on such an important matter as this," Jing said. "Family is important, after all. If my mother had disappeared, I would do everything in my power to figure out how, why, and where she is now. That is why, I will leave the decision up to you. Do you wish to continue with this quest to find your mother? Or do you wish to give up? As I said before, I think you should. Give up, and you stop investigating, leaving things as they are. And instead, you'll just focus on your studies into the ancient medicinal arts."
"Give up?" said Xiao Mei. "There's no way that I can just do that! My mother is out there somewhere, hiding because a villain greedy for the power is still chasing after her. I must find her. You're right. I'm still just a child. And I'm probably powerless to do anything. But I still want to help her! I want to help her so that she and Master Fo- I mean Father can get back together again! He still misses her! I know because of the way he had been looking at her photo every day."
"Well, then," said Jing.
"Unless you know anything about plants from En Province, I don't see what help you could be," Xiao Mei grumbled. For a third time, this was not her talking.
"Plants from En Province, you say?" Jing said, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "If I remember correctly, there should be a section of the gardens dedicated to flora of that region. Wasn't your mother also fond of flowers of that area?"
"Huh?" went Xiao Mei.
"I remember seeing in all of the photos of your mother back at your home that she always had flowers that normally only grew in En Province," said Jing. "Remember? It was when I, Mei Ling, and the others stayed with your family while the excitement at the Imperial Palace died down. It wouldn't surprise me if your mother frequently ventured through the gardens where the En Province plants grew during her stay here."
Wait a minute. Everything seemed to point to plants from En Province. The plant which the glue on the diary was made from was from En Province. Xiao Mei's mother, if Jing was right, liked flowers from En Province. Could this be some sort of clue that she left behind? If what Jing was saying was true about where she was always hanging out, then it shouldn't be a surprise that she might have left something behind over there. And if that was the case . . .
"Well, it wouldn't hurt to check it out," said the voice in Xiao Mei's head. "Maybe you're right."
No. She had to be right. Like Sparrow had said, if she were a true scholar, Xiao Mei's mother would not have left behind that diary without the means of opening it. There must be a key to unlocking the diary's secrets hidden in this garden that Jing was talking about.
"Jing, you wouldn't happen to know where the garden with the En Province plants is, do you?" Xiao Mei asked.
"My my. By the look on your face, I assume that you have made up your mind?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm not much of an outdoors person, so I haven't been to any of the gardens," Jing said. "But I hear that the librarian, Master Da Hu is fond of gardening. He might know where the garden is."
No sooner did he say that, Xiao Mei ran off.
"Thanks, Jing!" she shouted from afar. Then she called out to Phoenix, who had been roosting on a nearby tree branch. Spreading his wings, the fire bird swooped down and soared above the girl.
"You're welcome!" Jing called out to them. "I'm glad I could be of help!" Together, girl and bird disappeared down the hall and headed towards the library.
When they were gone, Jing scratched his head, wondering aloud: "Now who was that speaking with Xiao Mei's mouth?"
"I'd call it more proof that you were right about her," said a woman's voice, coming out from the shadows. "Of course, the biggest proof of all will be when that flower on her head finally blooms."
"Oh, Mei Ling," Jing said. "How goes the search?"
"At least three different groups of thugs were found just outside the temple's borders," his wife said, brushing leaves off her jacket. "I've already taken care of them. As far as anyone else knows, they're just a bunch of bandits and thieves hoping to score some treasure at this ancient place. But that being said, it won't take long before the enemy figures out that we're on to them. They already know that we know something's up. We've tried keeping up with this act of not knowing anything more than that, but with this, they'll start to get more desperate or bold. Seriously, just who is this enemy who could assemble so many mercenaries?"
"Whoever our enemy is, he or she must be very resourceful," said Jing. "Mr. Hawkins has his suspicions, but nothing concrete."
"What about the Grand Master and his lieutenant?" asked Mei Ling. "They're clearly plotting something."
"If they meant any evil, I doubt that they would bring us here," Jing replied. "After all, they're one of the few people who know what we're capable of, the best."
"That's true," Mei Ling grumbled. "By the way, was it really okay to just let her and the other children continue like this?"
"Even if I refrained from talking to her, she would have found her confidence again and continued anyway," Jing replied. "And if I had just flat out forbid her from searching for the truth, using my authority as a temporary master of this temple and monastery, she would have just gone behind my back and disobey me. Despite her quiet nature, I suspect there is a nature that is much like our own to take action. A nature that others had tried to take advantage of in the past. I would rather she not struggle in ways similar to how we did. But all we can really do at this point is to look out for her, and act when the time is right."
"We could always just take that book away," Mei Ling suggested.
Jing stared at his wife in shock.
"Take away a child's only link to her missing mother? Who could be so monstrous?"
"Yes, I know what garden your mother liked to walk around in all the time," said the tiger man, eyes still wide after Xiao Mei suddenly burst in through the doors. She had pushed them with such force that they swung all the way against the wall with collective loud slams. It startled everyone in the room and started a small panic, but that quickly ended when they figured that it was only an excitable girl who was stronger than average. Yeah, only.
"Can you tell me where it is?" Xiao Mei asked.
"Well, sure, I guess," said Da Hu. "Just go down this hall. Turn left into the stone courtyard. Go down the stairs, two flights."
"Uh-huh, okay," said Xiao Mei.
"Go right at the third hallway down. Then turn right again at the end. Go down another flight of stairs. Go left. Then right. Then left again. After that, go straight through the meditation courtyard there."
"H-hold on!" Xiao Mei meekly implored. The librarian was talking so fast, it was as if he were a video going fast-forward.
"And then cut across the grass field where the disciples like to play sports. Turn right at the dragon fountain. And then turn right at the statue of Wise Man Lao."
"Let me just get something to write - !" Xiao Mei requested. But the tiger man didn't seem to hear and continued.
"Finally, turn left at the storage shed, and go into the garden there. That's not the garden you want, but if you go through it towards its back exit, it'll lead you straight into that garden. And you'll reach your destination. Got that?"
"Uh . . ." went Xiao Mei, which meant, no she did not.
Da Hu sighed and rolled his eyes up.
"I'll go get a map," he said in a tired manner, as if there was no helping her.
Xiao Mei wanted to retort, but instead, she just said "Thanks."
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Nineteen)
Sparrow finds inspiration that could be a step forward in this mystery solving.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-One)
With renewed hope, Xiao Mei moves forward.