13 October 2012

The Cowardly Spirit of Fire

Weipon was still humming to herself when Wu-Song Village appeared on the horizon. Even from a distance away, she could see something was wrong. There seemed to be a large gathering of pandaren in the center of the village, while smaller, more agile shapes scampered between the buildings. She increased her pace, warming up her limbs as she jogged.

Soon she confirmed her suspicions: hozen were harassing the village, chasing frightened cubs to their mothers  and making a general mess of the place. Although Mandori Village was rarely bothered by the pests, she had been taught since a young age that the only way to deal with them was swift punishment. She retrieved her staff from across her back and swung it, hitting a nearby hozen across the back with a snap. He howled something that sounded like "dooker!" and scampered away.

Within the village boundaries, Weipon made her way towards the bridge that crossed the center square, meting out staff justice with flicks of her wrists. The hozen scattered enough to allow her onto the bridge, where an enormously rotund pandaren was shouting orders to the warriors gathered around him. He noticed her approach and stepped to meet her.

"My name is Weipon Silkbrush; Master Shang Xi sent me to work with Ji Firepaw," Weipon said, bowing. The pandaren inclined his head and she straightened.

"I'm Ji," he said. "And I'm glad you're here, because we are completely swamped by these hozen." He glanced behind her, then shouted over his shoulder, "INCOMING FROM THE EAST!" Three pandaren moved to cover the area he indicated. Satisfied, he turned back to her. "Ms. Silkbrush, I'm sure Master Shang already told you of his plan to reunite the spirits. I've located Huo in the Shrine of Inner Light." He produced a map, marking the shrine and dotting the route from the village. "Huo is agitated, and I think his outbursts are what has upset the hozen so much. I need someone to bring him some calming materials to get him out here, but I can't seem to spare anybody!"

Weipon nodded, listening intently as he continued.

"I don't know what upset Huo, but I know he has a fondness for dogwood kindling. Then, and I'm really just thinking on the fly here, I think if we bottled some air from a spirit of living wind, that might be enough to get Huo to come out of hiding! Maybe he'd stop lighting these hozen's hineys on fire and give us a break as well!" Ji tapped the map. "There's a stand of dogwoods here, and I know I've seen living wind pass through there. Here, you can use this to capture the living wind in." He handed her a bottle that smelled suspiciously of soju.

She nodded. "I'll go right away, Master Firepaw."

"Please, Ji is just fine. I'll meet you at the Temple of Five Dawns as soon as possible!" He nodded at her, then turned to his attention back to the fighting.

Weipon rushed to the copse of dogwoods, thwacking hozen with her staff as she ran. She reached the trees and set about collecting a bundle of kindling, keeping an eye out for living wind. As she worked, she hummed a song she composed on the spot. Before long, she became aware of another breathy voice humming along with her and peeked over her shoulder. A living wind spirit was hovering behind her, undulating with the song. Slowly, still singing, she uncorked the bottle and turned around. The living wind was sucked inside, and she capped it with a pop. "Don't worry," she cooed. "It's just for a little while."

Taking the materials, she ran to the Shrine of Inner Light, where she found a monk shifting nervously from foot to foot in the entrance. "Huo's upset and shooting fire all through the passageway!" he burst out, alternatively appearing to want to stop her and beg her to help.

"I'll take care of it," Weipon reassured him, gently pushing him aside so she could enter. The pathway was hot and dry and stank of smoke. Periodically, the ground would crackle, glowing briefly before it erupted in a spout of flame. She kept her eyes glued to the floor, dodging fire that would have surely killed her in seconds. Before long, and with only a singed sleeve to show for it, she emerged into a large room with a shallow, glowing pool in the center. Here, the air was clear and damp. She waded through the pool and climbed the moss-slick steps to the innermost chamber, where she could see a tiny glimmer hidden among stone pillars.

"Huo," she called softly, carefully arranging the kindling on the edge of the pool he was lurking above. She struck a match and lit the kindling, then uncorked the bottle. The living wind flowed out and across the kindling, growing the flame and wafting it towards the element of fire. He sniffed at it experimentally, sneezed tiny sparks that sizzled as they struck the water, and edged a little closer. Weipon blew gently on the flame, and he inhaled noisily, growing brighter.

Suddenly, with a delighted cry, Huo blossomed, temporarily blinding Weipon and showering her with stinging sparks. When her vision cleared, he was right in front of her, crackling merrily. Weipon smiled.

"Huo, Master Shang Xi sent me to get you. He wants you to come to the Temple of Five Dawns and help us speak to Shen-Zin Su," she explained.

Huo squealed something that sounded suspiciously like "Little Xi!" and a torrent of fire whipped around Weipon, picking her up and carrying her out of the temple. She cried out in fear, then in surprise when she realized that although it was unpleasantly warm, she was completely unharmed. They flew across fields and over Mandori Village, finally swooping into the lowest level of the temple. Weipon stumbled as she was released, but a steadying hand caught her shoulder.

"I knew anyone sent by Master Shang could be trusted to get the job done," said Ji Firepaw, patting his belly jovially.

"Thank you, Mr. Firepaw," Weipon replied, still dizzy from the whirlwind trip.

"Ji, please," he reminded her.

She watched as Master Shang conversed quietly with Huo, who seemed to be delighted to see the old pandaren. With a final squeak, he flitted away to play among the branches growing from the enormous statue in the temple.

Master Shang approached them, smiling. "I'm glad to see you two were able to get him out of hiding. But there's no time to rest. I've arranged for two carts to take you overnight to your next destination. Weipon, you will be meeting Aysa at the Singing Pools, and Ji, you're going to the Dai Lo farmstead." He ushered them outside, where the two farmers commissioned to ferry them around were waiting with carts loaded with supplies.

"I have every faith in you," Master Shang said kindly, helping Weipon into the back of the cart.

"Feel free to sleep on the hay back there," called the farmer from the front.

"See ya around!" shouted Ji, waving as his cart trundled off.

With a Hee! the farmer spurred his yak into motion and the cart jolted down the hill. Weipon punched some hay into the vague shape of a pillow and settled in for a bumpy ride.

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