03 April 2013

The Importance of Control

Previously: The Visitor to the Temple

Evade. Open-handed downward block. Side kick. Plant, rolling block followed by forward jab. Block to the side, punch. Front heel kick.

Weipon flowed between each motion, strikes and blocks meeting her opponent's in scripted symmetry. Finished with the pair form, their instructor called for them to switch places and begin again. They did, syncing their attacks together, able to strike quickly and forcefully now that they were practiced at matching the other's movement.

They had been training since sunrise, and Weipon was beginning to tire. She was used to intense training, and their days since reaching Pandaria hadn't all been feasts and parties, but these Pandaria monks knew how to work hard. Well, that, and she had barely slept after quarreling with Akabeko the night before. It hadn't been far from her thoughts, but now it came to the front of her mind, irritating her all over again.

The instructor called for them to spar, freeform, and Weipon bowed to her opponent, ready to begin. She relaxed, trying to release all her body's tells while simultaneously scrutinizing her opponent for his. There, a feint in his shoulders, but the true direction of his punch was obvious in the shift of his hips. She dodged, responding with a rolling backfist that just grazed him as he retreated.

Weipon had arrived at the Temple expecting to meet her friend, only to find her gone, leaving a very flustered librarian behind. He had told Weipon about Akabeko's heroics, and also about her sudden bout of weakness. He had apologized profusely for allowing Akabeko to leave when she was clearly in such a state, but - and he repeated this several times - she was extremely insistent.

She let her opponent press the attack, content to defend and retaliate as she liked for now. He sent a series of kicks her way, whirling and jumping to press her back. One caught her stomach, striking through the comfortable layer of padding to the tensed muscles beneath. She moved into his space then, using elbows to strike at his vulnerable neck, ribs, anything she could reach.

In a fit of worry, Weipon had rushed to the inn, only to find Akabeko spectacularly drunk, morose, and infuriatingly tight-lipped.

"What happened to you today?" she repeated, concern wearing away into frustration. "I already know that you...got sick, or something, so stop saying that nothing happened!"

Akabeko's scowl only deepened. "I already told you that I don't know. Whatever it was, it's not a problem, and I feel fine now, anyway."

The annoyance that had been prickling at Weipon since the morning unfurled into anger. Now she began to harry her opponent, barely giving him time to defend in between her attacks. He grunted as some of her strikes hit home.

Weipon threw up her hands. "Fine except for being drunk. Again! You've been drinking more and more since we came here, and now using your spells is hard for you. I think that's not fine! Maybe if you didn't drink so much you wouldn't have-"

"Don't you tell me what to do like you're some Chieftain!" Akabeko roared, sounding entirely too bear-like for Weipon's comfort. "If you had any idea, any idea at all what I..." Nostrils flaring, Akabeko took a deep, shuddering breath, all the fight leaving her. "I'm done talking about this with you," she said dully. Before Weipon could respond, she stalked to the door, slamming it as she left and stomping off, presumably back to the common room.

The remembered impotent fury washed over Weipon, and she snarled. The sudden change in her demeanor startled her opponent, who let a strike cuff his ear. Viciously, methodically, Weipon continued, forcing him to retreat under a barrage of blows, until finally she spun, sweeping his feet from under him. Once he was down she pounced, pulling her hand back in preparation to jab him in the throat. The killing strike.

Hands were on her, staying her curled fingers and pulling her from her opponent, who scrambled away. Distantly, she was aware of shouting. She made an effort to focus on the words.

"Get a grip! Control it!" her instructor was saying, shouting directly into Weipon's face. She waved impatiently for a waterskin, then splashed some into Weipon's face. "Control it, control the emotion," she demanded again.

With a gasp, Weipon snapped back to herself. "Four great spirits," she whispered, meeting the instructor's intense gaze. "I'm sorry. I was so angry...I don't know what came over me."

"Yes, you do," the instructor replied sternly. "It's in the tenets displayed in every temple across Pandaria. He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still. That's not just a commentary on the Mogu empire. What does it mean to a monk? Why must we master ourselves?" She shook Weipon briefly, commanding her attention. "Why must we master ourselves?"

"Because the best fighters are never angry. They don't hold their emotions when they fight. Strong emotions can overwhelm and control you, direct you where you would not go."

Sitting back. the instructor nodded, then helped Weipon to her feet. "All of us in Pandaria must control our negative emotions, but it is particularly important to those who fight. You must not let negative feelings use you as a channel to escape into the world."

Weipon's opponent had come to stand just beyond the instructor. She turned to him, ashamed and regretful. "Peng, I am so terribly sorry. I made a novice mistake and nearly injured you. I'm not deserving of forgiveness..."

He stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, gently pulling her out of her deep bow. "Apology accepted, and you are forgiven." When she gave him a doubtful frown, he gave her a friendly shove. "Come on, you're not the first person to have this happen. I know you're worried about screwing up because you're not from around here, but even Pandaria monks let their emotions get the better of them sometimes. Why else would we have to practice so much?"

They looked at each other for a few awkward moments, Weipon still unable to accept her mistake. "I could have killed you," she said softly.

"But you didn't. And that has happened before." Peng waved a hand at her resulting expression. "It's rare, but it does happen. Not here, though. We have very well-trained healers." He nodded to where their instructor was sending trainees off to get lunch. "I think we're wrapping it up here. Do you wanna go down and visit the statue garden again today?"

Weipon was touched by her new friend's quick forgiveness, but she still couldn't squash the remaining thread of shame constricting her belly. "I can't today; I have to go see about my crazy roommate," she said, grimacing inwardly when she realized it wasn't a white lie. Eventually she would have to deal with the tauren and her mercurial moods. "Let's go another time, okay?"

Peng grinned. "Sure thing. I look forward to it, Wei." He waved as she left.

She walked slowly from the training grounds towards the entrance to the temple. To her left, a wide, deep stream flowed around the temple walls, and she could see cranes patiently awaiting unsuspecting fish. Having been convinced that the cranes would not hurt her dog, she had let him roam the grounds freely. She suspected Fu was somewhere rolling in mud. If only that could solve her current problems, too.

When Weipon arrived at the temple, she was shocked to see Akabeko standing before the large incense burner, wafting incense over herself. Irritation welled up in her again, but she wrestled it back. She would master her negative emotions better from now on. Instead of anger, she opted for compassion. "Hey, Aka."

Akabeko turned, her ears flicking down and away in obvious embarrassment. "Uhh, good morning. Afternoon." She sounded hungover. "Listen. I'm...really sorry. About yesterday." She choked, perhaps on shame, or maybe just the effort of apologizing. "Yesterday, I was exploring the temple, and this little girl Fei tripped up the librarian, and he was injured. And when I went to heal him, I could, but it was so hard. Too hard..." she took a deep breath, glancing around at the pandaren walking up and down the path around them.

Hoping she wouldn't interrupt this hard-won monologue, Weipon gestured for them to walk, aiming to guide them somewhere less populated. They moved to the outer hallway of the temple, retracing Akabeko's steps from the day before.

"Healing isn't difficult for me. It shouldn't be, anyway. I'm very good at it, and I have a ton of practice. I'm just as good at it as I am at my lion or bear forms. So when it gave me trouble, I got spooked. I didn't know how to deal with it. You gotta realize that it's like...it's like suddenly missing a hand, or a foot. Something you expect to be there is just gone." She stopped suddenly, breathing hard. Clearly, personal confessions were not her strong suit.

Treading carefully, Weipon offered an understanding smile. "I can see why that would be a bad experience." Then, hoping the good mood would continue, she hazarded, "Have you had trouble with your spells before?" A memory occurred to her. "Like when we first came. You were a bird, but it seemed like..."

"Yes," Akabeko agreed, nodding. "At first it seemed as if I were somehow more powerful, but after I caught you the feeling went away. When I tried to shift later, it didn't work. Just like-" her eyes drifted over Weipon's shoulder, then widened. "Fei!" she cried, pointing. "That's her! That's the girl who tripped the librarian! Quick, you gotta translate for me. Tell her-hey, don't you run away from me!"

Weipon watched in mounting confusion as Akabeko tore off past her down the hall, chasing after a tiny pandaren cub. She jogged to keep up, listening to Akabeko's threats mixed with the peals of laughter coming from the little girl. The trio ran down the hall, whipping incense smoke into a frenzy as they passed. The chase took them to the outer wall, where the sound of the sea wind deafened Weipon. Then, it was back around the opposite side, weaving in between priests that made Weipon stumble and look back. Was that a fish man? A shout from ahead drew her back into pursuit.

She slid to a stop, nearly smacking into Akabeko, who was looking around in frustration.

"She was just here, Wei, I know it! Just wait till I get my hands on that kid!"

From behind the large incense holder stepped the cub. Rather than mischievous, she looked serious, and much older than Weipon had initially guessed. Her sudden change in demeanor made Akabeko hesitate, and Weipon heard her teeth snap shut in surprise. Then, as they watched, Fei began to change.

At first, it appeared she was simply growing taller, but when she reached adult pandaren height she simply continued to grow, stretching and elongating in a way that made Weipon's stomach flip. As the cub illusion disappeared, she was surrounded by a faint glow, blurring the final changes from pandaren cub into impossibly large, impossibly old, impossibly real Jade Serpent.

Liquid, ageless eyes as big as Weipon's fist gazed between the monk and the druid. The Serpent's glistening green body undulated lazily behind her, tail flicking with amusement. Her great jaws remained closed, but Weipon had the distinct impression that the Serpent was smirking.

It seems it is high time I introduced myself, the Jade Serpent intoned regally.

"She says, um," Weipon began.

"Yeah," Akabeko replied slowly, tapping her forehead with a finger. "I, uh, I got it. Somehow."

Next: A Tea Party

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