Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Seven)
Chapter Twenty-Seven In Which A Diary Finally Opens
"Seriously, just what kind of maid school did you go to?" Seto asked after being caught up to speed about Elizabeth's part in the hostage rescue.
He couldn't help but roll his eyes towards the unconscious man on the floor with a battery-loaded suction dart on his back. That was Jane's doing, he was told. After learning that, Seto made a mental note to himself to always be careful around girls.
After freeing the hostages, Jane, Xiao Mei, Tim and Tom, and Elizabeth left the adults to herding the others to safety while they went back to free the others. Elizabeth led the charge. None of the Rowdy Rogues knew what hit them, mostly because she knocked them all out with a stun blaster before they had a chance to turn around. Close behind, Jane helped by shooting shock darts out of her toy blaster. Once all the guards had been knocked out, Elizabeth swiped their keys and used them to unlock the doors to the rooms where Sparrow and the others were being kept prisoners.
"It is simply a school for children to learn to serve the people who serve their country," the maid replied. "Nothing more and nothing less."
"But-!" Seto was cut off by Sparrow.
"Leave it be for now," Sparrow said. "It's a bit complicated to explain. And we don't have a lot of time. We should hurry to Jing and Mei Ling and tell them that the hostages are free."
"Excellent idea, Mr. Hawkins," said Sir Geoffrey. "Then let us be off!"
"But how?" asked Ai Hui. "Outside's a war zone. The moment we step out, we'll get caught up in the fighting."
She and the others could still hear the sounds of battle coming from outside.
"Yeah, let's not do that then," said Duncan.
"By the way," Sparrow said to Sir Geoffrey. "Sir Geoffrey, I've been meaning to ask you something."
"What is it?" asked the old man.
"I've noticed that you're sometimes called 'Master' by the children of the temple. Why is that?"
"Oh, well, after Miss Bai's disappearance, I paid this temple a visit to see if I could find out anything behind it. I didn't, unfortunately. But while I was here the first time, I ended up teaching what I learned from my adventures to the children here. Since then, I come back each year to tell the children about my adventures and help them with their studies when I could. Sort of like a tutor. I suppose that's how I got recognized as a teacher to the children here. But what of it?"
While Sparrow and Sir Geoffrey were talking, Elizabeth turned her head towards a wall.
"You come here each year?" asked Sparrow. "Interesting. So that must mean you know a lot about this temple by now."
Xiao Mei and the other children turned around as Elizabeth walked towards the wall that got her interest and watched her has she intently stared at it.
"Every nook and cranny," said Sir Geoffrey.
"Does that include any secret passageways?"
"I might know a few," Sir Geoffrey said. Realization dawned to him. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That we find ourselves a secret passageway and use it to get to Jing and Mei Ling, avoiding all the fighting happening outside?"
"Now that's a plan! You are one clever boy, you know that? Ever thought about working for an adventurer?"
"Well, I - !"
"Hey!" Harold called out. "Hurry up! Elizabeth just found a secret passageway that we can use to get to the greenhouse where Master Wu and Master Wu are being held prisoner!"
The two stared at Harold and then exchanged looks, before turning their attention back to the gaping hole in the wall.
"Hey, wait for us!" Sparrow cried out before he and Sir Geoffrey ran after the others.
"Perhaps I should take the lead," said the old man as they followed Jane and Elizabeth through the dark passageway that was lit only by the electric torch in Jane's hand. "After all, I've known about these secret passageways for a while. I know the best route that'll take us closest to the greenhouse we need to get to."
"We just need to go left, and then right, and then go down a flight of stairs that to a hall that runs alongside the library, go down another flight of stairs, and straight through a final hallway that leads to an exit disguised outside as a cluster of giant stones," Elizabeth said.
"Y-yes, that's right. But how did you-?"
"I found the secret passageways and rooms on our first day here," the maid replied. "I already have the majority mapped out in my head."
"Okay," said Sir Geoffrey. "Excuse me, Miss Darkwater, but have you ever considered a career in adventuring?"
They trudged through, waving spider webs from their faces with their hands while spitting dust out of their mouths. Only Elizabeth and Sir Geoffrey seemed unfazed by the disgusting elements of the passage. Sir Geoffrey, the experienced adventurer aside, Xiao Mei wondered how Elizabeth could remain so composed even in places like this. Xiao Mei, herself, felt the tightness of claustrophobia in her chest, and it was only the reassuring presences of everyone with her that was preventing her from having a panic attack.
"Hm? What's this?" Sparrow said. He stopped to pick something up off the floor.
"What is it?" Xiao Mei asked. She could just barely make out the corner of a sheet of paper.
"Nothing," Sparrow quickly replied before tucking the paper into his jacket pocket. "It's nothing. But what's up with you?"
"What do you mean?" asked Xiao Mei.
"Well, the way you're talking is a bit different from how you usually talk," Sparrow said. "You usually speak like a classic Miss Goody-Two-Shoes sort of way. But today, you sound, I don't know, a bit sharper. It's as if you've gotten a new personality all of a sudden."
That sent a jolt down the two personalities' spine.
"I-isn't it just your imagination?" the second personality of Xiao Mei stuttered.
"I suppose," Sparrow said. He shrugged and moved on.
"Come on," Sir Geoffrey said as he approached Xiao Mei from behind. "We best hurry along. We don't have much time."
After following Elizabeth through many twists and turns, the group finally emerged from some fake boulders and into the sun. Just as Elizabeth had said, they were practically next to the special greenhouse that housed all the monsters of nature.
"Hey!" someone shouted.
Everyone turned around and saw two Rogues approaching from the side.
"Stop right there!" one of them shouted.
Elizabeth, Jane, Tim, and Tom all raised their weapons to defend themselves and the others. But before they could make the first move, the entire front of the structure behind the Rogues cracked and crumbled into rubble.
The two armored mercenaries spun around at their heels, baffled by the completely unexpected destruction of a building meant to withstand the attacks of monsters.
"What in the world?" exclaimed the one on the right.
Xiao Mei was just as astonished. The crumbling walls caught her off-guard. She stared dumbfounded at the rubble left behind by the wall. As the thick dust cloud faded and settled, she could make out two figures approaching. One of them was wearing something that fluttered against the breeze.
Emerging from the debris was Jing and Mei Ling. Held between his fingers, Jing had small glass vials and test tubes filled with colorful, fizzing water. Mei Ling was cracking her knuckles while craning her neck. Both of them had vicious grins on their faces.
Yellow energy bolts were fired from the Rogues' weapons, flying straight towards the couple. Mei Ling kicked a shovel up from the ground up toward her outstretched hand. After catching the shovel, she swung it around, deflecting the stun bolts coming at her and her husband. While she defended, Jing tossed two of the vials onto the ground in front of them. The glass broke on impact, and the contents spread and mixed, sending up huge wafts of smoke. Once the yellow bolts of energy hit the smoke, they warped and fizzled out of existence.
Mei Ling pulled the shovel back and then hurled it. The shovel struck one Rogue in the head, sending him high up in the air parallel to the ground, before he fell with a loud thud. His partner made the mistake of turning away from the enemy. Once his right cheek was facing Jing and Mei Ling, Jing charged forward, abruptly stopped in front of the Rogue, and then poked the Rogue at the forehead of his helmet. He ran his finger down across the helmet. Smoke traced the fingertip's journey and the helmet of the Rogue split cleanly in half, exposing the Rogue's astonished look. The Rogue was a blond-haired man in his forties.
"You Rowdy Rogues are like super spies and soldiers, well trained and well prepared fighting machines. However, it seems you've forgotten that I'm an alchemist. Locking me in a place like the greenhouse full of interesting mutant plants that could have special alchemy ingredients would be like locking a soldier in a vault full of weapons. There is no end to the list of things I could create. Don't worry about the acid I just used. It only works on things like metal and plastic. The acid won't so much as sting, even if you dip your whole hand in the stuff. See? I'm even using my bare hands!"
Jing swiftly swiped the Rogue's utility belt with one hand, while he used the other to swipe away his weapon. Both and crumbled into pieces in his tight grasp. He tossed the useless pieces of metal aside and then readied himself in a classic Kung Fu pose.
"Surrender," he said, his tone now cold and deep. "I prefer to take the pacifist's approach, but if I have to fight, I will."
The Rogue seemed to pause to consider his options. Everyone watched in anticipation to see what he would decide. Ultimately, the Rogue decided to fight. He lunged at Jing, hoping to tackle him to the ground. But Jing side-stepped to avoid the Rogue and stuck his foot out, tripping the Rogue, before delivering a chop to the back of his neck that left a dent in his armor. And . . . the Rogue was down for the count.
"Why do they never surrender?" Jing wondered aloud after releasing a long sigh. "Are you all okay?"
"We're fine," said Sparrow.
"That's good to hear," said Mei Ling. "Then let's get you all out of here and to a safe place."
"Wait, what?" Xiao Mei exclaimed. "What about Dr. Gr - I mean, my mom?"
"We'll get to her as soon as we make sure you kids are safe," Mei Ling replied. "We've already let you kids into way more danger than we should have. Jing and I'll handle things here."
"What? No!" Xiao Mei cried out. "You can't! I want to help too!"
The other children protested as well.
"Now, now," said Sir Geoffrey. "Mrs. Wu is correct. You all are too young to be in these sorts of dangerous situations."
"You're staying with them," Mei Ling said to the old man.
"What?" he exclaimed. "Why?"
"Someone needs to look after them and make sure they don't do something foolish like run after me and Jing while we go after them," was Mei Ling's answer. She did not add that she did not like the idea of an old man past retirement age running off to a battlefield.
"But how are you going to find them?" said Harold. "We have the diary that could tell us where they are. Don't you need that?"
"Not anymore," Mei Ling said. "Tell'em, Jing."
"I placed a tracking device on Dr. Green when she made that grand confession of hers," the alchemist explained. "Its signal is so strong that no matter how far away or how deep underground she gets, I'll still be able to find her with this."
Jing tapped the side of his glasses, and suddenly, a huge map of the temple and the surrounding lands was projected in front of him. On the map there was a bright red blip flashing somewhere beneath the surface of the ground level. He tapped his glasses again, and the hologram disappeared.
"Well, you know where they are, but you still need to know how to get there," Diana argued. "There could be special mechanisms or puzzles you have to solve to open doors and such."
Mei Ling and Jing exchanged glances.
"Uh . . . in case you've forgotten, Jing's an alchemist, so he knows how to make something to blow stuff up," Mei Ling said. "And I'm a warrior who's trained in the ways of using Chi. We can just bust our way straight through."
The children and Sir Geoffrey continued to mount their protests, but neither Mei Ling, nor Jing, would listen. To keep the argument from dragging any further, Mei Ling hailed a nearby group of temple warriors who had been passing through on their way to the battlefield. They gladly listened to her and agreed to escort everyone back to a secure part of the temple where others of the temple were escaping through. Not even Sir Geoffrey and Jane could do anything more, and reluctantly followed the temple warriors.
"Now what?" Qiang Shi grumbled.
Everyone had been led to the back courtyard where a long line of people were streaming into a hidden entrance into a secret escape tunnel. Because there were so many children and people, Xiao Mei and the others had to sit at a corner waiting for their turn.
No one had an answer to that question.
Xiao Mei stewed with frustration. After everything she had been through, this was what came of it? She did not escape from her prison just to be treated like a small child and be escorted away from rescuing her mother. And she definitely did not do all that just to hear the original personality tell her "I told you so" over and over again.
"Oh, be quit nagging me already!" she snapped in the middle of the lecture the other personality was holding in her head.
"What was that?" Sparrow asked. "Did you say something?"
"Uh, yeah," Xiao Mei said. "I was just thinking aloud that we need to do something."
"But do what?" asked Harold. "I know you want to save Dr. Green. We all do. I mean, she might be a big klutz, but she's also the best teacher we've had. But we don't even know where they went."
"We have the diary," said Diane.
"Yeah, but how are we going to get that diary open?" said Duncan. "We still need to make that special formula to get rid of all that glue."
"Way ahead of you," Jane said, holding up a vial of pink liquid. Her other hand held the magazine they had found buried in the garden of monster plants. "This is the formula that will undo the glue on that diary."
Everyone gaped at her.
"When did you have the time to make that?" Sparrow asked.
"I didn't," Jane replied as she brushed strands of hair behind her ear. "During that little drama that Zhun started at the greenhouse, I took the liberty of taking a peek at the book while everyone was distracted and messaged Tim and Tom what needed to be done with my pocket computer. They took care of the rest. All of you were so caught up in the moment, you didn't even notice when I was texting."
Everyone turned their heads to the servant pair who were standing guard with the other temple warriors. They smiled and waved enthusiastically while the others waved back awkwardly.
"Well?" said Jane. "Are we going to do this or not? Time's of the essence, so I suggest you hurry up and make up your mind now."
"Why, certainly!" exclaimed Sir Geoffrey. "Let's get to it right away!"
Seto, Jane, and Sparrow all gave Sir Geoffrey sideways glances. The old man didn't seem to notice.
Xiao Mei didn't even need a second to think. Jing and Mei Ling may be heroes, but her mother's life was on the line, and Xiao Mei wanted to help. There was only one thing to do. She snatched the vial from Jane's hand, yanked the cork off with her teeth and poured the vial's contents onto the edges of the book while spitting the cork out her mouth.
Ignoring the astonished looks on the others' faces, she stared intently at the diary as the formula seeped into the pages. After waiting a few seconds, she pried the book open, barely able to contain her excitement. She could sense the other Xiao Mei stir in the back of her mind.
At last, the diary was open.
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Six)
In Which Servants Show They're More Than Meets The Eye
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twenty-Eight)
In Which A Path Is Found