Previously: Heading North
For the third morning in a row, Weipon returned to the room in time to witness Akabeko take a long sip of the wine they had received from the mayor. Her eyebrows twitched together in concern. "You know, that gift was for the both of us," she gently reminded the tauren.
Looking guilty, Akabeko wiped off the lip of the bottle before offering it to her friend. "You're welcome to have some at any time."
Weipon rolled her eyes and shook her head at the offered liquor. "Pandaren don't usually drink before breakfast. Or the afternoon, for that matter," she added.
"I told you, hair of the worg is a tried and true method to curing hangovers," Akabeko replied. She looked mournfully at the bottle before resolutely capping it and setting it aside.
After a moment's hesitation, Weipon finally ventured to voice the worry that had been growing since their first night in Dawn's Blossom. "You know, now that we've been accepted by the pandaren here, there's no need to keep drinking so much. You can drink less and still be sociable," she said gently.
Akabeko quirked her face into a smile. "Don't get all herd leader-y on me, Wei," she said with forced cheerfulness. "I used to drink a lot before we met, and I can hold my liquor pretty well. I just gotta get my tolerance back up to snuff."
Mulling this over, Weipon reluctantly concluded that there had to be things about tauren, orcish, and Horde culture in general that she still didn't understand. What's more, although she and Akabeko had grown very friendly after spending so much time together, she had only the vaguest sketch of the type of life Akabeko had led before coming to Pandaria.
Tucking her thoughts away for another time, Weipon crossed to her side of the room and began to gather her things. "I heard from some people that there is a very nice um...garden of trees outside the city," she translated awkwardly. "They said that people often go there to write." And drink, she thought silently.
"A garden of trees?" Akabeko asked, seeming to perk up at the thought. "I'm game for that. How far away is it?"
By midmorning they had reached the arboretum, as Akabeko called it. Now in the waning of spring, the delicate pink and white petals fluttered around them like a snowstorm. Those remaining on the trees created an unbroken, soft-looking cloud of blossoms overhead. Weipon peered up at the snatches of pale blue sky, briefly regretting bringing Fu along as he dashed to and fro around their leisurely moving mounts. She glanced at Akabeko and was surprised at the rapturous expression on her face.
The tauren noticed her stare and abruptly asked, "How much do you know about druids, Wei?"
She scrunched up her nose, dredging up what information she had gathered in her studies. "Well, they are very close to nature and can change their bodies into different animals. Sometimes they become fully animal and leave their old lives. And...the main druid organization is the Something-something Circle. Cention? Senaran?"
"Cenarion," Akabeko corrected with a grin. "It comes from Cenarius, a demigod." Her eyes roved hungrily over the trees spreading out around them. "Do you know what animals druids can become?"
"Well, I saw you change into a lion," Weipon began, earning an amused grunt from the tauren. "After that, there is bear and cheetah and crow form."
Akabeko hummed in response. "Nearly right. As time goes on and druids adapt to the changing world, they have adapted and even discovered new forms. The animals you mentioned are the basic forms that all druids train to achieve. Of course, depending on your relationship with the Earthmother - well I should say nature, really - some forms will come more easily than others. Druids that call on power from the heavens can become moonkin. They look like owlbeasts," she added, then noticed Weipon's blank face. "I'll draw you a picture. Anyway, druids that work with the deep powers of the earth and the forests could, at one time, become treants. Living trees."
Fascinated, Weipon mulled this new information over. "Wait, what do you mean they could 'at one time'? I've never read about a druid not being able to change."
"In the Cataclysm, the Destroyer tore into the fabric of the world. Somehow, he must have severed the roots that allowed druids to draw on the deep powers of the land." She enunciated this very carefully, as if reading from a textbook.
Weipon recalled watching druids heal the seemingly impossible wound in Shen Zin Su's shell. "I saw druids save the lives of everyone on the Wandering Isle," she said, almost to herself. "I think they could heal anything if they worked together."
"Yeah, well, the Cenarion Circle has bigger things on its plate than fixing some grumpy former trees," Akabeko replied grimly.
Their conversation was cut short when they came upon a small inn enclosed by a babbling brook. On the petal-carpeted lawn surrounding the inn lounged groups of pandaren drinking, chatting, and writing calligraphy.
"Wow," Weipon breathed, unaware she had slipped into Pandaren. "This is just like back home." She directed her mount to the hitching posts on their side of the stream, then crossed one of the small wooden bridges that spanned the water. She was dimly aware of Akabeko following her, but for now she only had eyes for the lovely works of art that lay drying in the grass.
The arrival of not only a tauren, but a pandaren on an unusual mount had attracted the attention of many of the leisure-seekers. One of them, a shockingly svelte pandaren looking too scrawny in his clothes, stood from his small desk and approached them smiling. "Welcome to the Arboretum! I am Inkmaster Jo Po." He looked curiously between the pair.
"I am Weipon, and this is Akabeko, a tauren. We are ambassadors of the Horde." She bowed, followed soon by both Akabeko and Jo Po. Straightening, she continued, "However, today I merely wish to enjoy this lovely garden, pleasant company, and fine poetry."
Jo Po's smile widened. "We are always happy to meet fellow students of the brush. If you need any supplies or would like to borrow a table, you can talk to Inkmaster Wei in the inn." He gestured to the squat building, where Weipon could see a much rounder pandaren organizing a box of inkstones.
"Thank you," replied Weipon, motioning for Akabeko to accompany her to the inn. Switching to Orcish, she told her, "I want to get some writing things and stay here today. Is that all right?"
Akabeko shrugged good-naturedly. "Fine with me. Is this how pandaren get their kicks?"
Weipon drew her brows together, confused. "Kick?" She pantomimed kicking something.
"I mean relax," Akabeko amended. "You guys like to paint to relax?"
"It's a popular hobby," Weipon agreed. "And a traditional art. My parents make brushes, so of course they wanted me to study writing with a brush." She thought hard, finally drawing up the word from her memory. "Calligraphy."
They reached the inn and immediately drew the attention of Inkmaster Wei. He quickly finished hanging the handful of freshly-washed brushes and approached them, drying his hands on an ink-stained towel. "Interesting visitors!" He remarked. "What can I do for you?"
Again, Weipon made their introductions. "I'd like to borrow a table, if it isn't too much trouble."
"A friend of the brush is a friend of mine," Inkmaster Wei responded, plucking a folding table from the neatly stacked pile next to the supplies. "Do you need anything else? Perhaps an inkstone or parchment?"
"Actually, I will take some parchment," Weipon decided, reaching for her coinpurse. Gold exchanged hands, and then Weipon led Akabeko to an unoccupied tree near the edge of the stream. She knelt and began to arrange her materials, pulling brushes, inkstone, and grinding stone from her bag.
"You had all of that in your bags?" Akabeko marveled. "That's some dedication. And here I thought you were just a musician."
Weipon smiled, rolling a sheet of parchment over the felt-covered table. "Although I learned to write because of my parents, I like it as a hobby. It's calming."
Akabeko hummed, then glanced at the inn. "I'm gonna go check out what's going on in the inn. I'll be back soon." She sauntered away, head swiveling to take in the entirety of the garden.
When she returned, Weipon was just finishing grinding her ink and pondering what to write.
"I got us some drinks. The vendor said they were for..." she mimicked the Pandaren word she had heard, managing to get it mostly right. "What does that mean?"
Weipon laughed. "It means 'inspiration'." Then, having decided it was a good a word to begin with as any, she wrote inspiration in decisive, bold strokes. Sitting back, she peered critically at her work, then set down her brush to accept the cup of sweet-smelling wine Akabeko offered her. She took a sip while replacing the paper with a fresh sheet. "Do you want to try?"
Surprised, Akabeko set down her cup and scooted over to kneel awkwardly in the space Weipon had vacated. "Don't think I'll be very good at writing in Pandaren, but I can give it a try." She allowed Weipon to wrap her fingers around the brush, positioning her hand correctly so that her wrist was straight, holding the brush perpendicular to the paper.
"You can write what I just wrote. You move with your elbow, not wrist." Her fingers hovered feather-light over Akabeko's hand. "To start, you press and circle to, um... hide the beginning." She guided the brush in a tiny circle, then pressed down to create a fat blob of ink over the scratchy marks where the brush had first touched paper. "Then, pull, and press less and less and less and up!" She drew Akabeko's hand to the left, gradually decreasing the pressure until the stroke dwindled to a point and the brush was released. She pointed to the way the stroke split into several spidery lines, then at the awkwardly angled brush. "See, the stroke is broken. You can fix the brush shape against the stone."
Akabeko did as instructed, rolling the brush against the grindstone until it was again formed into a neat point. Weipon continued to guide her through the remaining strokes, finally producing a passable amateur character.
Now, Weipon selected a much smaller brush, delicate and almost fragile in both pandaren and tauren hands. She loaded this brush with ink, then exchanged it for Akabeko's. "Now, you can write your name here." She indicated the bottom right of the parchment. "Top to bottom," she added, seeing Akabeko's brief confusion.
Much more confident in Taurahe, Akabeko penned her name, then admired her work with a wry grin. "Soon I'll be a master," she joked.
"Would you like to write more?" Weipon offered, getting a fresh sheet of paper.
Akabeko returned the smaller brush. "Nah, I'm good. You have fun." She grabbed her cup and moved to sit at the base of a nearby tree, settling comfortably in among the knobbly roots snaking through the grass. Fu was immediately at her side, sniffing at the petals she had disturbed.
Taking another sip of her own wine, Weipon watched the scene fondly for a moment. Unaware of the scrutiny, Akabeko looked both deeply at peace and unbearably mournful as she watched the swaying branches overhead. Weipon's thoughts drifted to their earlier conversation about druids. Knowing that druids focused on one form made her wonder. She had seen Akabeko in lion form, claws and jaws ruthlessly tearing through foes. Even as a tauren, there was something half-wild and quietly dangerous about her. And yet, watching her watch the trees... Weipon picked up her brush and began to write again.
Soft pink clouds float overhead
Beneath, wine and good poetry
Spring comes quietly but surely
A red flower slowly blossoms
Next: A Meeting of Minds