Authorís Note : Thank you to everyone who has been so encouraging and helpful with suggestions and ideas, you know who you are. J
Chapter 5 : Back-up
As Shang rode off, Fa Li and Grandmother Fa watched him with sad eyes. He had absolutely no idea what he was going into, and it could be something beyond anything they had ever imagined. Mulan loved her father dearly, and they both knew she would go to great lengths to protect him.
"Whyís everybody up so early?" came a sleepy voice. Fa Li and Grandmother Fa turned around to see Mei Yin, all dressed up for a new day although she still looked sleepy. She rubbed her eyes, then yawned.
"Mulan is gone," Fa Li said simply.
"What?!" Mei Yin shrieked. "Where to?"
Grandmother Fa shook her head sadly. "We donít know," she answered. "Where is your father?"
"Right here," Wan Shan announced, appearing in the sitting room fully clothed and ready for the day. "Whatís going on?"
Fa Li and Grandmother Fa looked at each other. They werenít sure what to tell him since they themselves had a very blurry picture of what was going on. Mulan had also told them not to tell anyone, or something close to that.
"Weíre not sure," Fa Li said. "And there isnít much to say. All we can do now is just wait and pray." With that the two Fa women turned around and went back into the house, leaving the two Wans standing there confused.
Wan Shan looked at her daughter. "Something is going on," he said. "Where is Fa Zhou?" Mei Yin shrugged. Wan Shan stepped out of the house and headed to the stable where is own horse was. "Iím going into the village to report this. Stay here."
Mei Yin nodded obediently as her father rode off. How strange. Mulan had suddenly run off for no apparent reason. She kind of expected that for someone as unpredictable as Mulan, but still, it was rude to not even say goodbye to her. Perhaps Mulan just wanted to do something spontaneous, or perhaps something really was wrong.
Mei Yin slid on her slippers and walked across the garden to the Fa ancestorís temple. She wasnít a Fa, but this was a good place as any other to pray for Mulanís protection. It looked quite serene, with numerous Fa ancestor tablets around the small space and guardian statues near the ceiling.
Inside the small structure, Mei Yin dropped to her knees and prayed silently. Mulan was a good friend, no matter how strange her ideas were. She shut her eyes and then bowed to the tablets before her.
She was so deep in thought she didnít notice one of the statues above her move ever so slightly. First an eye opened, then the other. Then its claws started to twitch. Finally, the stone made way for colourful scales and life.
"Itís good to be back!"
Mei Yin screamed. Her eyes flew open and she backed away, looking around frantically for the voice, but she couldnít see anyone.
"Hey, Mulan! You in trouble again?" the voice came again, this time louder as ever.
"Who are you?" Mei Yin asked shakily. "Where are you?" Mei Yin looked around again and again, but still she couldnít see anyone. The voice was so closeÖ Suddenly something fell on her.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! LIZAAAAAAAARD!" Mei Yin screamed and waved her arms frantically to push the reptile away. The little red Ďlizardí jumped off Mei Yin and brushed himself off.
"I ainít no lizard, lady," it said. It looked Mei Yin up and down. "And you ainít Mulan."
Mei Yin couldnít speak.
"Speechless? I always did have that effect on women," it said, striking a pose. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am the all-mighty all-powerful and not to mention devastatingly handsome guardian dragon of the Fa family : Mushu." He waited for a response.
"Dragon?" Mei Yin echoed. She couldnít help but snicker. "Arenít you a little small?"
"You were still scared of me, werenít you?" Mushu asked. "Imagine how terrified you would have been if I had been my real size." Mushu grinned.
Mei Yin felt herself relax. This littleÖ dragon as he claimed he was had a charm and personality that she liked. She smiled at the little thing and poked it in the stomach. "Iím sure," she said teasingly. "So youíre an all-mighty and all-powerful guardian of the Fa family?"
"Sure am," Mushu said proudly. "It was I who helped Mulan get through the whole Hun-war thing a while back. Not bad, eh?"
Mei Yin smiled lopsidedly. "Not bad at all, for an insect."
Suddenly a cricket jumped on her, squeaking for all it was worth. Mei Yin jerked back, and she could almost swear the cricket was waving its front leg at her as if it were threatening her.
"Thatís Cric-kee," Mushu said. "Get down here, Cric-kee! Donít bug the lady!" He chuckled at his corny joke.
Cric-kee jumped down from Mei Yin and to Mushuís side, still chirping away. "Iím sure the nice lady didnít mean it as an insult, you oversensitive fly," Mushu told the cricket. "And what are you doing out of your incense tray?"
"Mushu!" came a loud booming voice.
"Whoa, big fella!" Mushu said, putting his hands up in a surrender position. "Donít need to sneak up on me like that, First Ancestor."
The First Ancestor sat there on his tablet, stick in hand and looking solemn as always. He looked down on the little red dragon and sighed deeply. Even though Mushu did prove his worth and earned his position back as Guardian, he still couldnít quite stand him and his free-lance ways.
"Mulan is heading off into trouble," First Ancestor said. "Since you have experience from working with her, I appoint you the task of going after her."
"My Mulan just loves getting into fixes, doesnít she," Mushu groaned.
"Who are you talking to, Mushu?" Mei Yin asked.
Mushu pointed at the First Ancestor. "Donít you see him? The big dude who looks like he sure could use a haircut?"
"She cannot see me," the First Ancestor told him. "Lucky thing, too. Who is she, anyway?"
"Hey, who are you?" Mushu asked her.
"My name is Wan Mei Yin," Mei Yin said.
The First Ancestor peered down on Mei Yin for a while. "She does resemble Mulan quite a bit, doesnít she, Mushu?"
Mushu frowned. "Now you mention it, she does," Mushu agreed.
"Look like Mulan. Only with more make-up."
Mei Yin made a face but nodded. "I know. When we were kids people thought we were sisters." She frowned. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing," Mushu said.
"Mushu!" the First Ancestor bellowed. "Get going and bring back Mulan safe and sound!"
"Donít I always?" Mushu said with a grin. "Come on, Cric-kee. Your mission should you choose to accept it is to bring Mulan back home safe and sound. This temple will self-destruct in five seconds!" He ran out of the temple with Cric-kee close behind, laughing out loud. "Ainít it great, Cric-kee? Finally get something to do after being stuck in that darn place for months!"
"What?" Mushu turned around and glared at Mei Yin. "Why are you following me?"
"Who said I was following you?" Mei Yin asked innocently.
"Keep your distance, sister, Guardian on duty here," Mushu said, shooing Mei Yin off. Cric-kee chirped, agreeing with Mushu, and the two walked off. The dragon and the cricket walked off across the lawn, the dragon humming the Mission:Impossible theme softly under his breath.
Mushu stopped walking. He looked at a small puddle nearby. The water rippled. Again. Cric-kee chirped, looking up at Mushu.
"Dog! Run!" Mushu screamed and dashed off as Little Brother came pounding into the garden. Specks of saliva flew everywhere. Mushu ran wildly through the bushes, away from the slobbering canine. Cric-kee jumped around wildly but managed to find protection among high leaves on a tree.
Mushu continued to run. Wrong. His little running body became a target for Little Brother, who was yipping close at his heels. Little Brother was catching up fast, and Mushu was panting like crazy.
"Get away from me! Mad dog! Mad dog! Call the cops we got a mad dog on the loose!" Mushu shouted, still running frantically. Suddenly a huge shadow cast on top of Mushu, and he realised that Little Brother had leapt onto him. Just before this huge weight of body landed on him, too arms scooped the dog away.
"Bad dog! Bad dog!" Mei Yin scolded. "Shoo!"
Mushu took a moment to catch his breath. Little Brother yipped and ran to the other side of the garden, birds being his new target. Mei Yin put her hands on her hips satisfactorily.
"YouÖ uhÖ didnít have to do that. I had everything under control. I am a Guardian, after all," Mushu said, brushing himself off.
"Oh, youíre so full of yourself," Mei Yin groaned. "Get going. Iím having breakfast." Mei Yin turned her heels and walked back to the house. Once she entered the sitting room, she saw Fa Li standing by an open chest, a look of horror on her face.
"Whatís wrong?" Mei Yin asked.
"This chest," Fa Li whispered hoarsely. "We kept the sword of Shan-Yu in here. Itís gone."
"Shan-Yu?" Mei Yin echoed. "The Shan-Yu?"
Fa Li nodded weakly. Mei Yin sunk to the floor, realisation creeping into her. Things were worse than she thought. Her father had told her Shan-Yu had died, but then why was his sword gone? Maybe it was a follower, but even so, it was just as bad.
"The Emperorís crest is gone, too," Fa Li told her, pointing to an open glass case above the chest.
She remembered the Guardian dragon outside, and she knew he had to know of this. Mei Yin stood up and ran out of the room into the garden. There she saw Mushu and Cric-kee at the gateway of the house, ready to leave.
"Mushu! Shan-Yuís sword is gone!" she told him.
"Shan-Yu?" Mushu said, obviously shocked. "No wayÖ I was there when we barbecued the guy."
"Just to warn you," Mei Yin said. "I think Mulan went to Xiían. The Emperorís crest was taken as well."
"Xiían?" Mushu echoed. "Thatís quite a long way. Weíd better speed this up, Cric-kee."
Mei Yin kneeled down so she could look at the two creatures better. "How are you going to get there?"
Mushu shrugged. "Weíll hitch-hike."
Mei Yin felt her inside tremble. She loved Mulan as a sister, she had to help her in any way she could. She felt confused, unsure of what to do. Perhaps this was what Mulan felt when she made her choice to go into the army in her fatherís place.
"Iíll take you there," Mei Yin announced. "My horse is fast, we can be there quickly."
"No way, sister, you are staying here!" Mushu said firmly. "This is official Guardian business." Cric-kee chirped in agreement.
Mei Yin opened the stable doors. "No problem. Iíll just go there and get back before sunset. I wonít meddle in whatever it is youíre gonna do there."
Mushu and Cric-kee looked at each other. "Okay, make it quick."
Mei Yin nodded as she prepared her horse. Her father would surely object and she would receive a plentiful of scoldings once she returned, but this was for Mulan. Mei Yin cringed. She didnít normally do things as impromptu as this, but this was different. She sighed. The things she did for that troublesome friend of hers.