Once the Sha of Doubt was confirmed sealed away, things rushed by in a blur. Akabeko was only partially aware of being swept along in a sea of celebration towards the temple doors, only to encounter the gory carnage in the courtyard. Weipon excused herself to help clean up that unpleasant mess, and Akabeko was left to the mercy of the monk healers that were now pouring in through the gates. An elderly pandaren clucked over the pulpy mess that was the tauren's face, tugging at his beard in consternation when none of his spells seemed to have any effect. Finally, he settled on a traditional hands-on approach, and prepared an array of poultices and salves, which she bore with patience until Weipon came to collect her.
The monk took in the sight, raising her eyebrows inquisitively at the unhealed wounds and bruising still decorating Akabeko's face. Wisely, rather than pry she opted merely to help the druid to her feet and see them safely back to their room at the inn. Secretly, Akabeko was glad that she would have to let the wounds heal naturally. She had deserved every one of them.
After a well-earned rest, they found themselves heading to the temple out of habit. Akabeko suspected that pandaren had been working throughout the night to set the temple to rights, and she was curious to see if they had discovered anything more about the sha. The bruises on her face throbbed, a strangely reassuring reminder.
As predicted, the temple was a frantic bustle of activity. Weipon pointed out various undertakings of religious significance - purification rituals around the temple grounds, the somber procession of bodies towards the mass funeral pyre, and the unpleasant business of cleansing the stains from sha corpses from the tiles. Many of the same pandaren they had worked with the previous day were already hard at work - Akabeko wondered if some of them had even gone to sleep.
They wandered through the clusters of pandaren into the courtyard, which was blessedly clean and free of the horror they had seen the day before. Yu'lon was hovering near the entrance to the main temple, looking alert but far less lustrous than she had originally been. As they approached, her eyes picked them out of the crowd, and she regarded them with a solemn, clear gaze.
Well met, she said. Monks hovering around her ushered the pair into the temple, and someone was sent to fetch refreshments for the Jade Serpent's honored guests. I hope your rest was pleasant. It was well-deserved after your heroics earlier.
Weipon practically swelled with pride, shooting a tiny grin at Akabeko, who quirked her lips in what she hoped mimicked the expression.
"We were more than glad to help," Weipon gushed. "And we hope that you'll allow us to continue to help!"
Yu'lon's expression sobered. I am glad to hear that. For the moment, the threat to my temple is gone, and its repair can be left to the loyal pandaren who serve me. For you travelers, however, I have another task.
Weipon's eyebrows shot up in eagerness, and Akabeko tried to keep her sudden apprehension from her face.
I am not the only Celestial to be besieged by the malevolent influence of the Sha. The Temple of Chi-Ji, in the Krasarang Wilds, is also rumored to be under attack. I will be sending my own people there to bring aid, but since you both are already well-accustomed to travel and unattached to this place, I would like you to go as soon as possible.
Although Yu'lon spoke as if it were a suggestion, Akabeko knew that this was an order. She bristled at the idea of being told what to do by yet another authority, especially one she wasn't necessarily subject to.
As if sensing her reluctance, Yu'lon added, as if having just remembered, I know that you were seeking the other foreigner who aided in the defense of the temple. He has also agreed to travel to the Temple of Chi-Ji. If you want to meet him, you may find him there.
Akabeko pressed her lips together. Clearly Yu'lon knew that finding Hadakha again would serve as an impetus for the druid to obey the Celestial's orders. Still... She glanced at Weipon, who looked positively ecstatic to be asked directly to serve the Jade Serpent. And she couldn't forget the horrors she had seen the Sha commit at the temple. She wouldn't allow her childish pettiness to prevent her from doing what was right.
"Very well. If you are agreeable, Weipon?" she asked unnecessarily.
Weipon practically vibrated with her excitement to be off. "Of course! We can fight more sha, and maybe see Hadakha again!"
The Jade Serpent's features curved into a pleased expression. Excellent. I will see that you are outfitted with information and supplies to aid in your journey. Her eyes slid to Akabeko briefly. A small village in Zhu Province, on the road towards the Temple, is also rumored to be beset by sha. I ask that you do what you can to defeat them.
In short order, Akabeko found herself back in the inn, belongings in one hand and a scroll of maps and notes in another. Weipon was getting the final tips from a group of traders seated in the common room. Akabeko had given up on following their conversation shortly after it had begun. Eventually, Weipon bid them farewell and the pair stepped outside.
They made their way to the gate that would connect to the route that would lead them to the Krasarang Wilds. Akabeko could feel a tension to their silence, and her suspicions were confirmed when, mounted and five minutes out of the temple grounds, Weipon hesitantly turned in her saddle.
"So...I see that you still have wounds from the fight. The healers didn't help you?"
Akabeko unconsciously hunched her shoulders. "They tried. It just didn't work."
Weipon considered this, mouth pulling into a frown. "Well, what about your own healing powers? Wouldn't they work?"
"No," Akabeko replied shortly.
They fell into an awkward silence. Weipon tried unsuccessfully to strike up some kind of interaction with Fu. However, his long confinement in the Temple inn had put him in an impressive sulk, and he was now pointedly looking at everything but his pandaren master.
The path through the Jade Forest was beautiful, now that they had left the desecrated land around the Temple behind. There was less random wildlife to be seen, although Akabeko didn't know if it was due to the change in location or the aftereffects of the sha's attack. The comfortable almost-silence of the forest settled around Akabeko's shoulders like a mossy cloak, and she began to drift.
"I'm not gonna kill you. I'm just gonna talk to you. And then you can decide your punishment for yourself," the apparition said, spreading her hands placatingly.
That seemed reasonable. It was the same conversation Akabeko had been having with herself every day since she had lost her friend.
The apparition began to list her faults, her flaws, every mistake that had led to the tragedy and continued to influence her bad decisions now. Sometimes, the apparition's voice wavered, sinking down into a lower, more masculine register.
Akabeko nodded along to the litany. Weak-willed, check. Cowardly, check. Easily led, check. Selfish, check. It went on an on.
After what could have been hours, the voice stopped. Paused. Continued, "Well, you see the evidence against you. What do you have to say to that?"
"It's all true," Akabeko said dully. She watched resignedly as the apparition came towards her.
"It sure is."
She didn't flinch away from the first blow.
"Hey, Aka! Are you falling asleep? We still have a ways to go before we reach the Valley of the Four Winds."
Startled, Akabeko jerked herself from her stupor, blinking comically at Weipon. "I'm just zoning out," she muttered. "What's in Valley of the Four Winds, anyway?"
Weipon shuffled the maps around, peering at her notes. "Well, the biggest city seems to be a main meeting place for the farmers in the area. The travelers in the inn said we should visit. But if we follow this route to Zhu Province, we won't be able to."
"We can earmark that for later. Maybe after we deal with the sha at the temple in Krasarang."
"Well, first we have to get rid of the ones in Zhu Province," Weipon corrected, folding up her maps. Fu made a show of sitting on them. "I'm kind of worried about the sha," the pandaren continued hesitantly, resolutely avoiding looking at her friend. When she received no reply, she pressed on. "It seemed like...you didn't have an easy time fighting them. What if they get the better of you again?"
Finally, Weipon turned to look her in the eyes, and Akabeko could see everything from the pandaren's excitement to be helping the Jade Serpent, to her concern for her increasingly troubled friend, to her resolve to see this task through no matter what. Akabeko was abruptly reminded that although she was supposed to be the experienced teacher in this strange working relationship, she had been setting a colossally poor example for the budding soldier.
She plastered a cocky grin on her face. "Wei, we fought an entire battlefield of sha, and then took the fight straight into the Temple without so much as a break. I think we can handle a couple nasties at this village in Zhu. Plus, Yu'lon told us she was sending troops to the Temple of Chi-Ji, so we won't be going in alone!"
Weipon scrutinized her, evidently aware of the forced cheerfulness. "I'm sure we'll be fine," she allowed slowly, before boldly adding, "But the sha prey on negative emotions to get their power. So if you want to talk about anything, I can listen." She gritted her teeth nervously.
"I, um." Akabeko took a breath. "I appreciate the offer. But... What I really need to talk about is how bad my Pandaren is! I need way more practice if I'm going to be of any use out here!"
It was a painfully obvious cop-out, but Weipon simply studied her face quietly for a moment before pointing at the tauren. "All right, tell me everything you can say about yourself in Pandaren."