Previously: The Heart of the Forest
For the second day in a row, Akabeko woke alone, rumpled and groggy. Weipon was already gone, most likely to train with the monks at the temple. Her side of the room was clean and orderly.
Akabeko rolled gracelessly out of the circular, squashy lump of cushions the pandaren called a bed, reaching automatically for the bottle of sweet wine near her bag. Two long swallows had her feeling awake enough to start the day. Before anything else, she grabbed the electric blue feather resting on the nightstand and carefully rewrapped it in the silk cloth she stored it in. She had long broken the habit of worrying it in the restless moments before sleep, but the anxious need to hold the feather had returned on the shores of Pandaria. Why the culture shock of this place should be more than any of the other strange places she had visited, she did not know, but the end result was a steadily increasing gloominess that only abated when the feather was in hand.
Although her Pandaren skills were still beginner at best, she decided to spend the day seeing and being seen by the pandaren of the temple. If Weipon was going to shirk her duties in favor of training, Akabeko would have to do her own part for the Horde.
Dressed and fortified with another long drink of the wine, Akabeko exited the friendly inn and began to make her way towards the temple at the top of the hill. Yesterday she had spent popping in and out of the shops clustered together around the inn, making friends as she went. Today she was hoping to explore the temple grounds in more detail. Maybe she would even catch a glimpse of the Jade Serpent herself!
As it had every time she laid eyes upon it, the very sight of the temple took her breath away. Pandaren architecture was impressive, and they had evidently pulled out all the stops in the construction of this place of worship. As a tauren and a druid, her temples were open, grassy fields, sun-baked plains, misty, mossy forests, any number of beautiful places in nature. The Earthmother was best worshiped under sun and sky. Still, Akabeko could appreciate the care and dedication poured into the holy places of other races.
From the entrance she could see that the great hall held no more than the usual worshipers and a heavy cloud of incense, so she instead turned to follow the outer hallway. Between the thick pillars were stone-inlaid plaques depicting everything from stern-faced pandaren to temple scenes. Akabeko was drawn to a series further down the hall that featured the Jade Serpent. In these images, the Jade Serpent was born from a lovingly-crafted statue, protected and blessed the land while many generations of pandaren labored to prepare a new statue, and then finally returned to it at peace, ready to be reborn.
Nodding, having confirmed the tale Weipon had told her about the Serpent, Akabeko stepped back to admire the series as a whole. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a small shadow, and turned to see a plump pandaren cub looking at her calmly. Akabeko started, then chuckled to herself.
"It's rude to sneak up on people, kid," she told the cub. The girl merely cocked her head to the side, eyes placid. Akabeko tried out her rudimentary language skills. "Hello. My name is Akabeko."
Brightening, the girl replied, "My name is Fei." She quickly added a stream of questions too quick for Akabeko to catch.
Shrugging apologetically, Akabeko could only reply, "I'm sorry, I don't understand."
Fei nodded with the unquestioning acceptance of youth, then beckoned Akabeko to her. She led her to a hallway that opened into a wide courtyard. "Look," she said simply, pointing into the courtyard.
Obeying, Akabeko looked into the courtyard and was surprised to see pandaren arranged in neat rows, each standing across from a tiny cloud serpent like the one she had seen on her first day at the temple. As she watched, a voice from the other side of the courtyard called out some sort of order, and the serpents and pandaren alike reacted, going through a complicated series of motions. "Sparring practice with cloud serpents?" she muttered to herself. She realized that Fei was watching her, waiting for a reaction, and tried to dredge up some appropriate vocabulary. "Um...I like it," she offered with a wry grin. "Thank you for show. Why snakes fight?"
Pleased, Fei smiled. "The serpents fight to help pandaren. We fight together."
Akabeko turned to inspect the activity in the courtyard again. She wanted to ask more: how had the cloud serpents come to work alongside the pandaren? In what manner did they fight together? She wondered if it was similar to how hunters worked with their pets, or if the serpents functioned more as attacking mounts. Sadly, she didn't have the vocabulary to attempt that kind of conversation without Weipon feeding her lines. If Fei wanted to chat about something easy like the weather, or where Akabeko was from... She glanced beside her and was surprised to see Fei gone. A child's attention span, she decided.
Several minutes passed while she watched the pandaren training with their cloud serpents, then Akabeko continued her exploration down the hallway. She found more plaques showing cloud serpents attacking huge armies from above, pandaren mounted on their backs. "Well, that answers that question," she told the picture.
The hallway led outside, wrapping around the back of the central building. Here, she could peer over the edge of the railing down into the sparkling ocean below. The wind blew strongly through this part of the building, bringing with it the scent of saltwater. When she finally retreated to a covered part of the walkway, she followed a practically hidden corridor lit only by serpent-shaped braziers burning dim coals and found herself in a huge library.
Stepping further into the library brought an overpowering scent of dust and mothballs. Breathing through her mouth only resulted in a coughing fit, but there was no one she could see from her vantage point on the second floor, so at least she wasn't disturbing anyone.
The books were entirely written in Pandaren, naturally, so Akabeko directed her attention to the intricately woven rugs and tapestries decorating the room instead. Each showed an epic scene: a great battle, a stately court, an elegant castle. Her path eventually took her to a staircase leading down to the first floor, and there she noticed an elderly pandaren standing beside a small mountain of books. He appeared to be attempting to clean them of dust and insect damage, and was entirely engrossed in the task.
Before she could say anything, he picked up an enormous stack of books and scrolls and began to cross the room, precariously balancing it before him. Without warning, Fei dashed out from behind a bookshelf, making him jump and sending the books crashing into the bookshelf.
"Look out!" Akabeko cried futilely in Taurahe, watching the bookshelf topple onto the dazed librarian. She rushed forward, heaving the bookshelf up with her shoulder enough to pull his still form out from under it, restoration spells already bubbling up and out of her. The magic flowed up from the earth as if sucked laboriously through a straw, pouring out of her into the pandaren. Light touches brushed across his skin, rejuvenating a shallow but bloody gash on his forehead and a line of quickly-rising bruises along his shoulders and back. Concentrating longer, she delved inside, mending a fractured bone, regrowing severed tendons and damaged muscles. She didn't need to touch someone to heal them, but she did now, kneeling to gently shake his shoulder.
The pandaren groaned and raised a hand to his head, feeling unbroken skin under the blood matting his fur. He looked up at her in confusion and said something in Pandaren.
"You well?" she asked, even though her senses told her his injuries were healed. He nodded. "My name is Akabeko. I am a druid. I..." she gestured to his body, "help you." The words were unexpectedly hard to get out around her suddenly labored breathing.
"Thank you for healing me," he gasped, then continued with more unintelligible Pandaren. He made to stand, and she extended a hand, pulling his very heavy form upright.
Akabeko looked around for Fei, wanting to give the cub a piece of her mind, even if it had to be in Taurahe. Turning her head made her sway dangerously on her feet, and she gulped air. "Girl...Fei...Where?" she asked the librarian. "You see girl?"
He looked around the library gamely. "I don't know any Fei." He peered at her. "Are you all right?"
Her heart was thundering in her chest, and she had the suspicion that she might be hyperventilating. Muttering soothing words, the librarian led her slowly to a chair, then disappeared into a back office to procure a glass of water. Akabeko tried to breathe deeply and easily, willing the spots in her vision to clear. Unbelievably, it seemed that healing the pandaren had overtaxed her despite it being one of the first spell routines she had ever learned. In fact, it was so simple that she had literally cast it in her sleep. Her hands shook traitorously, and she clenched them against her knees. Eventually, she was able to sip at the water without spilling it, but she couldn't help but wish for something stronger.
Next: The Importance of Control