By the time they reached Tian Monastery, Hadakha had grown tired of the charade. Well, if he was honest with himself, he was tired of Jiang. While she had been fantastic at extracting information from people, especially Jessha, she was constantly talking. Once the shock of the massacre at Garrosh'ar Point had worn off, her natural, exuberant, chatty personality had reasserted itself, and he was longing for a respite. After the jade serpent temple, he'd taken to letting the women go into the towns without him, all for a blessed night of peace. Alone.
Of course, Jiang loved every minute of those nights too, as he heard in excruciating detail the next day. She would have liked to stay longer, especially in the large town of Dawn's Blossom, and he suspected she would have if not for Jessha, who was impatient to reach her brother. When they were on the road, she described all she had learned, and then when she was finished with that, she talked about whatever Jessha had said, and when that topic was exhausted, she talked about whatever came to mind, usually her home and family. She never took offense at his frequent departures to scout the area, simply resuming where she had left off when he returned. He forced himself to pay attention to it all, no matter how banal, because there was something to learn from every little detail. Plus, his Pandaren was improving enormously, thanks to her. She had a knack for sensing which words or phrases he didn't understand, and went out of her way to indicate the Orcish equivalent. She was a brilliant teacher, he had to admit.
Jessha took control as they entered the monastery gates. Speaking briefly to a guard, she beckoned to Jiang and set off in the direction he'd indicated. The guard eyed Hadakha uneasily, but made no move to stop him as they followed the jinyu woman. They passed through courtyards, some empty and some full of people exercising and practising fighting moves, and along beautifully decorated paths, finally reaching a great hall with huge, intricately carved doors. Jessha slowed, took a deep breath, and went to a side door with a small bell above it. She pulled the rope attached and waited. After a short time the door cracked open, and Jessha bowed, saying something to the person inside. The door opened wider, and the jinyu turned back to her companions. "Wait here," she said, "the Master will summon you." Then she disappeared inside.
Hadakha and Jiang moved to the main doors, studying the worn, weather-beaten carvings with fascination. The door was divided into eight tall panels, four across. The top row featured carvings of four animals: a tiger, some kind of bird, an ox, and a cloud serpent. Beneath each one was carved a....monster. The same monster? It was hard to tell. It looked vaguely similar to the energy beings from the Alliance massacre. Could it be related? There was writing on the right side of each panel. Jiang reached out a hand and stroked one carved pictogram reverently. "This is old, Mr. Hadakha," she whispered in awe. "I've not seen anything like these before. I'm not even sure I can read them all." She stepped back to survey the whole door. "The four lower panels are easy enough, they simply say fear, anger, despair and doubt. The upper ones, though..." Squinting in thought, her mouth moved silently as she tried to make sense of the words. "I...I haven't seen these words before, Mr. Hadakha. They might be an old dialect that never made it to the Wandering Isle. Or...they could be names?" Pointing to each one in turn, she sounded them out. "Niuzao. Xuen. Chi-Ji. Yu'lon."
"It is sad that Liu Lang's people have forgotten this. How much more has faded from memory, I wonder?" They whirled at the voice. An older pandaren man stood calmly beneath the side door bell, his hands hidden together in the sleeves of his plain robe. He bowed his head slightly to Jiang, then gestured to the opening. "High Elder Cloudfall will see you now." Hadakha expected protest when he followed Jiang through the door, but the man showed no reaction as he trotted past, as if he had expected them to remain together. A shiver of warning ran through him, his instincts demanding caution.
He looked around the big hall appraisingly as they entered. It was mostly empty, a few altars occupying alcoves along the walls, incense sticks stuck in sand bowls in front of them. At one end sat an elderly Pandaren, and Jessha knelt on a cushion facing him, conversing in low voices. As Jiang and Hadakha approached the pair, the monk said something and Jessha turned to watch them. "Welcome to Tian Monastery!" he said with a broad smile. "Please, come and sit. Will you take tea?" He indicated the two empty cushions before him. Hadakha noticed a tray with intricately decorated cups and a strange-looking teapot sitting beside him.
Jiang stopped at her cushion and bowed deeply. "I am honoured to be in your presence, High Elder," she said solemnly. "Thank you for seeing us." She knelt down on her cushion, then smiled shyly. "I am a little thirsty." she admitted. Hadakha sat behind and between the two women as the monk chuckled and handed Jiang a steaming, fragrant cup. He then looked Hadakha in the eye. "Will you not join us, friend?" he said amiably. Hadakha's companions looked at each other in surprise, then at him. He remained still, confident that his bluff would hold, as it had countless times in the past. Jiang stared at him imploringly, silently begging for a sign of what to do. Jessha turned to the monk in confusion. "Mr. Hadakha is Jiang's pet, High Elder...surely you do not mean to include it in our discussion?"
"Pet?" the monk replied, still holding Hadakha's gaze. "Pets are owned, Jessha. People who are owned, are slaves. I do not think Hadakha is a slave. What do you think, Jiang? Is Hadakha a slave?"
Jiang's face turned to horror. "What?! No! I -" She was interrupted by Hadakha's loud sigh. It looked like his bluff had been called. He shifted back to his tauren form, sending Jessha scuttling back in alarm. "It's ok, Jiang." he said. "Our game is over." Turning to the jinyu, he bowed deeply. "I am sorry for deceiving you, Jessha. I needed a guide, and I was afraid that my true form would frighten you away." His mouth twisted wryly. "Looks like I was right. Be assured, I mean you no harm."
Finally, he bowed to the monk, who was studying him with delight. "Greetings, High Elder Cloudfall. My name is Hadakha Treewalker. I represent the Cenarion Circle, and I am new to this land – as is my friend Jiang. I would very much like to learn about you and your culture, your history and your peoples. It is an honour to meet you."
He lowered his large body awkwardly onto the small cushion. "I believe you mentioned tea?" he said with a smile.
Next: The Battle for Pandaria Begins
Next: The Battle for Pandaria Begins