Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-One)
Chapter Twenty-One In Which They Walk Through A Garden
A free day with no lessons, research, or work, was upon them, so Sparrow and the others gathered together and decided to go with Xiao Mei to the garden where her mother used to always walk around.
During breakfast, Xiao Mei told the others about her talk with Jing, and about the idea she had, inspired from that talk.
"What do you think?" she had asked when she was done with her explanation.
"Well, I certainly think it's worth a shot," said Sparrow.
"Same here," she said.
"It wouldn't hurt to take a look around," said Seto.
"Wait, didn't you have plans with Li Jiao?" Ai Hui asked. That got Xiao Mei's attention, sending a jolt to her brain. "I heard some of the girl disciples talking about it."
Wearing a sour look on his face, Seto grumbled "I don't want to talk about it."
"So, you had a fight," said Sparrow. "About what?"
"I said I don't want to talk about it." Seto shot Sparrow a threatening glare. Taking the hint, Sparrow quickly fell silent. The others, however, looked eager to press for more. They only backed away when Seto practically growled at them like an attack dog.
Once they were done with breakfast, they all headed towards the garden, led by Xiao Mei who had with her a map that Master Da Hu gave her.
From the library, they went down one hall forward. They turned left, walking into a small courtyard made up of stone blocks. After crossing through the courtyard, they went down two flights of stairs. The openings on the walls gave the adventurers a view of the vast mountain range and its forest ahead. They went right at the third hallway down, and then went down a flight of stairs the the right at the end. After reaching a courtyard for meditation, they cut through the grass field where children were playing games, walking towards a large fountain with a statue of a dragon that spouted water from its gaping maw. They turned right at the statue and continued straight before reaching another statue, this one of an old man dressed in elegant robes, sporting a long pointed beard, and long flowing hair.
"That's Wise Man Lao," Qiang Shi said, pointing towards the statue. "It's said that his wisdom rivaled that of the Great Dragon, Ai Long, and his heart was just as kind and generous. Legend had it that he taught and guided a lot of legendary heroes from back in the day."
"Wasn't he also famous for getting villains to change their ways and abandon the path of evil?" Sparrow asked.
"Yeah! That too!" Qiang Shi said.
Moving on, they quickly reached an old storage shed where a monkey man with a bent back and wearing a straw hat was putting away gardening tools. When he saw the children, he gave them all a warm smile and a cheery wave. The children smiled and waved back before entering the garden through a red arch gate.
Waiting at the end of the main path where a circle stone clearing revealed five different paths were Jing, Mei Ling, Zhun, and Sir Geoffrey. While Sir Geoffrey and Jing sat together on a stone bench, Both Mei Ling and Zhun were leaning against a red pillar on either side of the stone bench with their arms crossed, eyes closed, maybe meditating.
"What are you all doing here?" asked a surprised Sparrow.
"And why are you armed?" said Harold, pointing to the weapons that three of the four adults were carrying.
And these weren't just the usual weapons the three of them were carrying. Jing's staff now had a large, red glass-like blade on each end. Mei Ling was carrying a sheathed sword, probably one of the monastery's. Zhun had a pair of machetes sheathed to his hips.
Xiao Mei stared at Jing's weapon. She had seen it once before, a few years ago when robotic menaces went wild during a wedding reception at the imperial palace, at the bidding of a mad woman.
"I'm sorry," Jing said, noticing her staring at his weapon. "This must be making you nervous."
"No," Xiao Mei quickly replied. "That's not it. It's just that it got me remembering about the past."
"It was my idea," Sir Geoffrey answered to Sparrow's question. "When I heard that you were visiting the En Province section of the gardens, I thought that it would be best if we adults kept an eye on you for your safety. I'm glad I was able to gather everyone here in time to meet you."
"You shouldn't really worry about that," said Seto. "I mean, we have our own feathery bodyguard here."
He nodded towards Phoenix, who had been hovering above them the entire way here. The exotic fire bird landed on a nearby branch and chirped a greeting.
"How'd you make it here before us?" Sparrow asked. "If you really did hear of our plans, wouldn't it make more sense for us to reach here before you?"
"Oh, we took a short cut," said Jing.
"A short cut?"
"Yes, a rather exciting short cut," said Sir Geoffrey. The color drained from his face a little and he looked like the memory of that short cut was making him nauseous. Seeing him like this made Xiao Mei wonder what kind of short cut they used.
"I can imagine," said the voice in her head.
Suddenly, and image appeared in Xiao Mei's mind of three figures taking gravity-defying leaps up a cliff wall, while one was holding an old man in his arms. Now that she thought about it, Xiao Mei remembered that two of the four adults present were legendary warrior heroes, one of whom was a genius in alchemy to the point of sorcery. It would not be surprising if they actually did leap up a cliff. Wow, Xiao Mei realized, that journey she took a couple of years ago got her connected to some really extraordinary people.
"That's one way of putting it," said Xiao Mei's constant companion.
"But that still doesn't explain why you have those weapons with you," said Harold.
"Yeah," Diana said. "Why would you need those in a garden?"
"Oh, these?" said Zhun, lifting the hilt of one of his machetes. "These are just a precaution. The area where the En Province plants are housed are supposed to be safe, but you never know when a machete will come in handy with those kinds of plants there."
"What kind of plants are you talking about?" asked Qiang Shi.
Surprised, Zhun raised his eyebrows.
"You don't know about the plants there?" he asked. "Isn't this place supposed to be like your home?"
"I'm not a outdoors kind of guy," Qiang Shi replied with a shrug.
"I visit the gardens a lot, but I've never really gone any further than the next field," said Ai Hui.
"But what about lessons on En Province?" asked Mei Ling. "Even if you've never been to that area of the gardens, surely you must have learned something at school about En Province's plant life."
"We've only been focusing on medicinal herbs," said Qiang Shi. "Outside of that, our teachers haven't told us a thing."
"My goodness, just what are those teachers doing?" Sir Geoffrey grumbled. "Well, I guess now's as good a time as any for you to learn a thing or two. You'll see what kind of plants there are in En Province that would warrant bringing sharp weapons as a precaution when we get there."
"Did you just say 'when we get there'?" asked Diana. "You're not going to stop us?"
"Stop you from what?" asked Mei Ling. "From exploring a section of the gardens that isn't off-limits? Although, I have no idea why they don't close off that part of the gardens."
"Oh, it should be fine," said Zhun. "I've been there a few times, and as far as I could see, everything's secure. Besides, even if something goes wrong, that's what these weapons are for. It's not like there's any force on the planet that would stand a chance against two of seven legendary heroes who stopped a war, and someone who has the bragging rights as their equal. Now, come on! We're burning daylight."
Zhun walked through the middle pathway, beckoning the others to follow. After exchanging looks, Jing and Mei Ling strolled in, followed by the children. Sir Geoffrey was last.
They passed through one field of flowers after another as they made their way through the gardens. Xiao Mei couldn't help but gaze in wonder and awe at the magnificent blooms that graced her presence. Yellow blossoms, red flora, and rainbow petals were lit brightly by the sun above to the point that it looked like they, themselves, glowed. Peace dominated this place of flowers. Except for the excitable chatter of the children, there was only the rustling of leaves against the wind and the song of birds that sounded in the fields.
"My my," said Jing as he watched the children run ahead, clustered around an unusual, large blue bud. "I'm starting to wonder if they've forgotten why we're all here."
"Jeez," went Seto, sighing and rubbing his temples. "They're not little kids anymore."
"Ooh! Ooh!" Sparrow excitedly exclaimed while hopping up and down. "Look at this one! Isn't this rose gigantic?"
He was pointing towards the blooming red rose whose cluster of petals was as big as his head.
Jane shook her head and sighed while shrugging her shoulders as she walked past him.
Finally, they made it to the ginormous glass dome that housed the plants from En Province. There was a wooden sign hanging crooked above the doors with "Plants of En" carved onto its surface. Harold, Diana, and Duncan tried to peer through one of the windows to try and peek inside, but the glass was too fogged up for them to make out anything.
"I still don't see why you need sharp weapons here," said Sparrow, looking up at the structure. "It just looks like a regular greenhouse to me, albeit a bit worn down."
"That's what you think," said Jane. "Imperial-grade shield glass like what they use at the United Free Lands' President's office for his safety, disaster-proof support beams that could withstand the highest grade earthquakes, and electrifying security wires that would shock anyone passing over the edges of the structure, barring the entrance and walkways. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that this monastery is keeping monsters in here."
"Well, you're not far from the truth," said Sir Geoffrey.
Jane blinked twice.
"Say what now?"
"Yeah, say what now, Master Geoffrey?" said Ai Hui.
"Seriously," went the voice in Xiao Mei's head. "Just what in the world are they keeping in there?"
Xiao Mei felt her nerves rattled from Sir Geoffrey's last remark. It skyrocketed her sense of danger. But she had come this far to find the truth about her mother, and there was no backing out now.
"You'll just have to wait and see," said Sir Geoffrey.
Zhun placed his hand on the door handle. Turning to the others, he asked: "Are you all ready?"
Almost everyone gave each other nervous glances. But Xiao Mei, after taking a deep breath to steel herself, walked up and gave Zhun a curt and determined nod. Zhun's eyebrows raised to show how impressed he was with the young girl's pluck. He flashed her a quick smile before turning to the doors again.
"Then, let's go."
The doors flew open, and inside, the greenhouse came alive. Large Venus flytraps with eyes and claws pressed against the glass that kept between them and the outside world. A green reptile-like creature made of bark roared. Slick grey vines lathered slime everywhere as they swayed around. Rustling, bestial shrieks, and threatening snarls could be heard coming from everywhere behind the display cases that kept the monsters away from the dimly lit walkway. Beneath each display was a plaque describing what was beyond the glass, as well as an image of the monstrous animal out of hiding.
But these weren't animals, Xiao Mei realized after approaching one display, her eyes sweeping over the information plaque. If what the plaque said was true, then what were behind the glass were actually plants.
"Uh . . . " the other children went, pointing towards inside the greenhouse while they gaped at the adults.
Jing scratched the side of his head and then shouted: "Surprise! En Province used to have a thriving population of monster plants! When the people settled down on the land there, they moved all the scary ones as far away as they could while keeping the pretty ones alone for their enjoyment. Taking pity on the monster plants, members of this monastery's order brought them here where they could live in peace."
Xiao Mei cried out in shock and dismay as one beast-like mushroom slammed another against the window.
"Well, as peaceful a life as a monster plant could have," Jing said over the sounds of something tearing.
"Xiao Mei's mom used to come here all the time?" said Duncan. "Seriously?"
In response, Xiao Mei turned to her friend and gave him a shaky smile, and an unsure shrug.
"Well, now that we're here, do you know where we should start searching?" Jane asked. "We're looking for some old book that might hold a recipe to get rid of that glue keeping your mother's diary shut, right?"
In response, Xiao Mei turned to Jane and gave her a shaky smile, and an unsure shrug.
The corner of Jane's mouth twitched.
"We can start by looking for plants that Ms. Bai would have liked," Mei Ling said, taking charge. "I mean, sure about ninety-percent of En Province's plants were probably monsters, but there were also a lot of pretty ones there, too. We all know that. And it's for those flowers that Xiao Mei's mom used to come here, right?"
"I don't know," said Sparrow. "I know one person who would love to gawk at these monsters all day."
"Whoever that person is must be a real weirdo," Jane murmured. "Who're you talking about?"
"Well, her," Sparrow replied. He pointed over Jane's shoulder toward the lone woman standing not very far away with her face close to the glass. She had a weird, goofy smile on her face, and her eyes were sparkling with glee at the sight of the horrors beyond the window.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty)
From one dead end to another, what are the sleuths to do now?
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Two)
And the search really begins.