19 October 2012

The Playful Spirit of Water

Weipon woke, having spent the last 8 hours dozing in the back of the farmer's cart, jostled from any real sleep before it could begin. She yawned and stretched, feeling irritable, but put a good face on as the farmer came around to help her down.

"The Singing Pools are just down this hill," he told her, gesturing to the path. "I'm going to keep on to my farm."

"Thank you very much for your generosity," Weipon said politely. She bowed as he pulled away, then stumped down the hill, stretching cramped muscles as she went.

Trees rose up around her, knitting together thickly overhead and casting the pools in deep shadow. The early morning chill became downright cold as she approached a house at the bottom of the hill. Several pandaren were already awake and gathered outside chatting or preparing to go to work. An enormous panda, seated casually on a low chair and surrounded by admiring children, looked up at her curious face.

"A stranger! Come, friend, what can we do for you?"

With a grateful smile, Weipon made her way towards him. "I'm looking for Aysa Cloudsinger. I think she's expecting me; I was sent by Master Shang Xi."

The pandaren wrinkled his nose in thought. "Yes, Aysa passed by here on her way to the Singing Pools. That would make you...Weipon Silkbrush?" he chanced with a grin.

"Right!" she confirmed.

"Well, Aysa is just down this hill behind me. She said she would be meditating. If you're going down to the pools, might I ask a favor? I'm looking for a few strong reeds. If you could grab a few while you're out there, I'd really appreciate it. Just bring 'em to Jojo Ironbrow!"

Weipon nodded. "Of course! I'll keep an eye out. Thanks for your help!"

She located the pool Jojo had indicated and guessed that the pandaren seated on the flat rock in the center was Aysa. Bracing herself for icy water, she stepped into the pool. With a woosh and a splash, her nose was suddenly inches from the water and peering over black, furry paws. Weipon emitted a terrified squeak, which attracted the attention of the other woman in the pool.

"It's all right;" Aysa soothed. "It's just the water. If you come up on the rock, you'll change back."

Weipon hastily scurried to the rock, and sighed with relief when she shot back up to her normal height. She scrutinized her hands, confirming that not a hair was out of place.

"You must be the student that Master Shang sent." Aysa said. She leveled a considering gaze at Weipon.

The subject of her scrutiny tried very hard not to fidget, and stilled the impatient questions that bubbled up while she waited.

After a long moment, Aysa spoke again. "In the pool on the other side of the bridge, Tu Shui students are training. Watch them spar, or join them if you like. Then, I want you to ring the meditation bell in the center of the pool and reflect on what you've learned. Oh, and be mindful that many of the pools have the same curious qualities as this one." Instructions given, Aysa resettled into her meditation pose.

Weipon hesitated, wanting to ask about finding the spirits but not wanting to seem impertinent. She pulled herself together, bowed, and stepped back into the water. This time she was prepared for the rush as she was abruptly transformed into a skunk.

The other pool was filled with balancing poles, and Weipon could see students leaping back and forth between them. Some of them were sparring, although they mostly appeared to be trying to make their opponent fall into the water. Gathering herself, Weipon leaped onto the nearest pole, then hopped to the next, making her way to the center pillar.

She rang the bell, appreciating the tone, and settled herself beside it to meditate as instructed. Meditating had never really been a skill of hers. Soon, she was humming quietly to herself, contemplating the students sparring around her. She wondered what Aysa was trying to accomplish through her meditation. Surely they should be trying to find the elements?

The gentle lap of the water against the poles and the sleepless night soon had Weipon dozing. Her head nodded once...twice...she slumped bonelessly to the side, waking up as she splashed gracelessly into the pool. There was the familiar woosh, only this time she croaked! Now wide awake, she began to hop towards the bank, but was interrupted by a pair of long, spindly legs.

She followed the legs up to see a very hungry crane staring at her. Weipon gurgled. The crane squawked. As Weipon dashed towards the bank, the crane lashed out, attempting to snap her up. She let out an indignant croak and hopped even faster, finally diving onto the bank and back into her own body. The crane, momentarily confused, became even angrier to discover its meal had disappeared. It attacked, and Weipon quickly eliminated it with her staff.

Weipon wanted to return to Aysa and get things moving, but she suspected that the stoic woman would want her to take a long time, to show she had seriously meditated. She decided to collect reeds for Jojo instead.

An appropriate amount of time later, she returned to the pool where she had met Aysa. The monk was standing on the bank with an old man, and Weipon had the undignified task of crossing the pool as a skunk in order to reach them.

Aysa gave her a look that suggested she knew Weipon had not meditated sufficiently. "This is Grandpa Liang. He used to play with Shu, the spirit of water, and has an idea to lure him out."

Grandpa Liang looked very friendly, with his wide smile and greying whiskers. "I must emphasize how long ago it was that we played, but I used to bring Shu a Sun Pearl from the bottom of one of the pools each time we met. I think if you did that, he might come out to play again."

Aysa dictated her plan carefully to Weipon, who bit back increasingly impatient responses. Finally, she was released, and within minutes was dropping a slimy golden pearl into the pool where Shu was said to be hiding.

She heard a child's laughter and was suddenly sprayed with a jet of water from behind. Weipon turned, but Shu was already flitting across the water, giggling mischievously. Across the pool, a bubbling puddle appeared, and remembering Grandpa Liang's description, she ran to stand in it. The bubbles erupted, shooting Weipon high into the air. She landed with a satisfying splash, and Shu shrieked with delight. After several repetitions, the water calmed enough for Weipon to call out, "Shu! Master Shang Xi is looking for you! How would you like to go to the Temple of Five Dawns and see your other spirit friends?"

Shu considered this offer, idly drawing ripples around himself. Finally, he agreed with a wave that swept Weipon all the way to the edge of the pool. She stood, looked at her sodden clothes, and gave up on being dry.

When they met Aysa, she was reading a hastily-written note with a displeased look. "There's been a change of plans, Ms. Silkbrush," she said, grimacing. "It seems that Ji has found Wu Guo, but is having trouble waking him. He...thinks Shu might be able to help." She sighed the sigh of the long-suffering. "He's very hasty, but I have considered his plan and it will likely work. He's at the Dai Lo farmstead, not far from here. You can probably find a farmer to give you a lift-"

Before she could finish, Shu had raised a mighty tidal wave, sweeping Weipon helplessly up and away from Aysa. Surprised, Weipon called out to the other woman before she was out of sight, "I'll meet you at the Temple of Five Dawns!"

The wave surged forward, carrying Weipon away from the Singing Pools and down the hard-packed track that led to the farmstead. What would have taken half a day or more to traverse was accomplished in less than an hour, although it left Weipon feeling seasick and unsteady. She was deposited in the town square amidst a now-muddy tidal wave. The townsfolk gaped at this display, but Weipon recognized one familiar face.

"Ms. Silkbrush! I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow, but this certainly is convenient!" Ji steered her towards the sleeping spirit of earth. "Apparently he's been dozing here for decades. Just showed up one day, conked out, and that was that!"

Weipon noted the tiny shrine elements that had sprung up around the sleeping spirit. She had half a mind to add a coin to the shallow dish at his feet, but remembered that they would soon be waking Wu Guo, thus eliminating the purpose of the shrine.

"So far I've tried tapping, yelling, pushing, jostling, asking politely, and even ringing this here gong," Ji explained. "You would not believe the trouble I had to to through to get the mallet!" He rolled his eyes. "But I've got a pretty good idea. What if Shu here were to blast him with water? That always wakes me up after a night out!"

Weipon blinked. It certainly was direct. It did seem promising, too. "Shu," she called. "Wouldn't you like to play with your friend Wu Guo?" she asked, grinning. Shu nodded enthusiastically. "Well, if you help us wake him up, you can!" She gestured to the sleeping spirit and stepped back.

Chuckling, Shu wound himself up, then unleashed a torrent of water directly into the face of the earth spirit.

Wu Guo spluttered, squeaked, and opened his eyes. The pandaren cheered; Shu giggled.

"You tell him what's up; I'll get us a lift back to the Temple," Ji said, jogging away to suit actions to his words.

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