Previously: Catching Up
Weipon awoke only out of habit, as the morning sun was completely obscured behind thick rain clouds. Her first instinct was to check on Akabeko, who was sleeping fitfully. Fu, she was surprised to see, had finally moved out of the tauren's reach and was curled on the floor, whuffling softly.
When Weipon called her name, Akabeko came awake with what appeared to be great difficulty. "Hey, Wei," she croaked, blinking her puffy eyelids and scrubbing sleepily at her face.
"How are you feeling?" Weipon asked quietly. She preemptively gathered the medicine pouch and a cup while Akabeko took stock of her illness.
Finally, she replied, "I feel better, but still very tired."
"Sounds like the medicine is having an effect!" Weipon stirred hot water into the cup. "By the time we run out of this powder, I'm sure you'll be completely healthy." She passed the cup to Akabeko, who drank it haltingly before clumsily handing it back. The motion finally woke Fu, who jumped up and began to whine at Weipon. "Yeah, yeah, I got your breakfast," she told him in Pandaren.
He whined while she dug through her pack for his food, whined when she placed the dried meat in front of him, and continued to whine in between reluctant bites of his meal. At a loss, Weipon ignored him while she gathered her things for the day and tidied the room. The sudden patter of rain on the roof made her sigh and reach for her still-wet cloak. When she moved to the door, however, Fu began to cry in earnest, scrabbling frantically at her legs and attempting to herd her back inside.
"Fu, what?" Weipon sighed in exasperation. Fu ran frantically back and forth between Akabeko's bed and Weipon, nipping at the pandaren's toes but going no closer to the tauren than necessary. She knelt, reaching out to comfort him, but he danced out of her grasp and continued to yowl pathetically. "I don't know what to do with you!" she exclaimed in frustration, stepping over him and escaping through the door. To Akabeko, she said, "Rest up today. I'll see you when I get back."
The tauren nodded and burrowed back into her blankets. Fu went back to pacing and keening softly.
Outside, the rain was just hard enough to be a nuisance. Weipon tugged her hood tightly around her face and stepped onto the muddy path that ran through town, already on the lookout for anyone else who had been energetic enough to venture out. The path was empty, so Weipon retraced her steps with Mei the day before, peeking into houses to check on the occupants. Many hadn't even moved from their previous positions.
Weipon kept an eye out for Mei while she walked, but made an complete circuit of the village without a sign of the other woman. It was barely midday, and yet she felt as if she had already exhausted her options for the day. The oppressive cloud cover and constant patter of rain made her feel sluggish and dimwitted, and she had to shake herself out of staring blankly into the gloom.
"Get it together, Wei," she muttered, slapping her cheeks lightly. She intentionally pasted a grin on her face and said cheerfully, "I'll just have to keep looking for whatever's causing this!" The fake enthusiasm made her feel marginally more active, and the unintentional word choice gave her an idea. "Maybe I'll be able to find the Sha and kill it myself!"
The thought of facing a Sha as terrifying as the one they had encountered in the Jade Temple gave Weipon pause. The smaller sha were much more manageable, especially if she had to fight them all by herself. Then again, as affected as the village was, she would have expected to see some physical sign of the sha already. She began to patrol the village again, this time keeping a keen eye out for slimy trails or blackened buildings, and sniffing intermittently for the sour stench that had become far too familiar.
Even looking more closely, the circuit took no time at all and yielded no new information. Weipon found herself again on the porch of the inn. She headed upstairs, ignoring the pointed look she got from Rude Sho when she hung up her sodden cloak by the fire, and quietly entered their room. Fu was up immediately, shaking himself out of his nap and pawing at her feet with quiet yips.
Akabeko didn't appear to have moved. Assuming she was asleep, Weipon quietly began to go through their bags, looking for some food for Fu and a little snack for herself. Holding up a bag of jerky, Weipon realized that the amount of food had barely changed. She had eaten some, and taken a meal or two down in the common room, but had Akabeko been eating any? Suddenly suspicious, Weipon lit a lamp and glanced over to the druid's bed.
In the wavering glow, Weipon saw that the tauren's eyes were open. Her eyes were wet, and glistening streaks tracked across her broad nose and into her mane.
"Aka?" Weipon whispered, feeling dread settle deep in the pit of her stomach. "What's the matter?"
Akabeko shook her head minutely, eyes half closing in response. Fu rolled onto his back, letting out a sad whine and kicking his legs pathetically.
Weipon crept closer, getting right into the tauren's face. "Are you in pain? Do you need some more medicine?" she asked. Akabeko merely closed her eyes, sending a fresh cascade over her cheeks.
Unsettled, Weipon extinguished the lamp and crept downstairs, finding Sho in the common room. "Has she been down to eat anything?"
Sho grunted and shook his head.
"Not at all?" Weipon pressed, already knowing the answer.
Sho raised an eyebrow disdainfully.
Weipon went to sit on the porch, resolutely ignoring her inner dialogue about Akabeko's condition. The rain continued to fall, forming puddles on the path. She had no idea how much time had passed when there was a splash in the puddle and Mei was coming up the steps, shaking raindrops off of her cloak furiously.
Tromping up the steps, Mei skipped the pleasantries. "My nephew is infuriating! He manages to come up with just enough energy to argue with me!" She threw her sodden cloak on a nearby chair. "The nerve of that cub!"
"Your...nephew?" Weipon asked politely.
"Yi-mo Longbrow, descendant of Zhu Longbrow, is my nephew. And he is impossible! He's always been a quiet, sad sort of kid, but since the despair took over the town, he's been completely immobile. I thought that if he would just stay in the house, he would be safe until I could cure everyone, but now he's arguing with me and threatening to leave!" Mei shook her head, snorting in annoyance. She took a deep breath. "At least for now he's resting, if you can call it that. What have you been up to today?"
Weipon remembered her earlier idea. "I took a walk around the town to check on the villagers. Then, I thought that I would go looking for the source of this sadness. I fought something that was causing a similar problem in the Jade Forest, so I know how to deal with them." She briefly explained her experience with the sha. "Do you know if there is any place nearby where those monsters have been sighted? Or maybe a place that villagers or travelers unconsciously avoid?"
"Well, the lakes to the south of the village have some sort of monster around them," Mei said contemplatively. "It's been raining nonstop, but the lakes have completely dried up." She continued, excited, "If those things are the sha, then if you kill them the despair will leave the town! Weipon, please do what you can to kill those monsters!"
They both stood. "I'll go have a look right now," Weipon declared. And if killing the sha heals Aka...
"I have to get back to Yi-mo," Mei said with a grimace. "There's no telling what that kid will do. I'll be sure to come back tomorrow to check in with you, though!"
Feeling slightly uplifted, Weipon fetched her cloak from inside the inn and strode purposefully into the rain. She had just left the town limits when she saw the lakebeds, yawning stretches of land choked with dying weeds and crawling with shimmery, ethereal wraiths.
Weipon bit her lip. These creatures looked nothing like the sickening shadowy nightmares she had fought before. And yet...the Jade Serpent had indicated that there were many different kinds of sha. This one could just be a different manifestation of it. Weipon crept closer, scrutinizing the creatures. They were taller than her, with long torsos that tapered into nothingness rather than legs and thin, too-long arms. Their faces blurred, changing appearance and expression so fast it made Weipon's stomach churn.
She circled around the lake until she found a wraith separated from the rest and attacked. As soon as her fist met its glowing flesh, she knew it couldn't be a sha. Rather than rot, it smelled like heat, and the oil-shiny light that made up its body felt like striking her fist into a hot stove. Cursing, she rolled away and attacked with lightning, hoping it wouldn't attract any other wraiths. The wraith shrieked, twitching and shivering under the assault, until finally it simply evaporated, leaving behind a glistening heart-sized orb.
There was another shriek behind her. Weipon turned to see two more wraiths called by the commotion slowly rolling toward her.
It was late when she finally returned to the inn, having fought off six wraiths in total before she could safely extract herself from the area around the lakes. The complete lack of change in the town confirmed her assumption that the wraiths were not any new kind of sha, further sinking her spirits. She trudged despondently up the stairs, forgetting her other source of dread until she opened the door to their room.
Fu was huddled in the corner, as far away from Akabeko as possible. The tauren had barely moved, and Weipon could see that she was still weeping silently. Fighting down panic, stomach too knotted to consider eating, the monk laid down and attempted to sleep.
Next: Lost Temple