29 March 2013

The Visitor to the Temple

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

26 March 2013

The Heart of the Forest

Previously: A Meeting of Minds

Weipon quietly noted that when the mayor's gift had run out, Akabeko had replaced it with another bottle acquired from a wine seller in the market. Still, as hard as Weipon looked, she had to admit that the addition of alcohol to the druid's breakfast had not made her less alert.

She yawned, jaw creaking and eyes watering. The sun was barely above the horizon, filtering weakly through the trees, but if they intended to reach the Jade Temple by the afternoon they would have to travel quickly and far. Although it wasn't an actual city, the temple grounds were wide and populated with supplicants and warriors alike. Weipon hoped that they could find those sympathetic to the Horde there.

Akabeko belched, earning a startled yip from Fu. She glanced at Weipon and was rewarded with an answering burp. Both women chuckled, and the time passed with a friendly quiet.

The road to the temple was wide and well-traveled, and as the morning wore on they began to pass travelers with bags, farmers toting carts, and leather-armored patrols from the temple. Weipon peered at each curiously, hoping to gauge the friendliness of the atmosphere as they neared the temple grounds.

Suddenly, the trees gave way to a wide valley, at the center of which was an enormous column. A massive jade serpent gripped a towering stone pillar, body wrapped sinuously around the pillar, carved eyes turned to survey the surrounding area. Beside her, Weipon heard Akabeko gasp.

From the edge of the valley, they could see tiny figures bustling around the base of the column, pushing carts of jade through the well-manicured garden of the valley floor. The statue itself was appeared to be crawling with pandaren-shaped ants hanging from ropes that allowed them to work on the carving in midair.

"I think we found the temple," Akabeko joked, eyes huge as she took in the impressive sight.

Weipon was similarly moved, although her reaction was not only to the sheer scope of the statue, but also the very image of the serpent. The pandaren of the Wandering Isle worshiped Shen Zin Su and the spirits of the elements, but Weipon had still been raised on stories of the four gods of Pandaria. Stories about the Jade Serpent had always delighted her as a child, and seeing the statue before her was a sudden and powerful reminder that the Serpent was a real creature. She exhaled slowly, dragging her eyes away from those of the statue's and making an effort to take in the rest of the valley.

"Actually, I think the temple is a little farther," she joked back weakly, gesturing to the spires flying long banners further beyond the valley. They moved their mounts to follow the path circling the valley. The direct sunlight was a surprising comfort, and the wind swept across the grass, bringing earthy scents and the sounds of metalworking to the pair.

The great gate leading to the temple had the both of them gaping. Beyond the invitingly open doors rose the colorful, gilded towers of the temple. The hubbub inside matched the crowds streaming in and out of the gates, barely sparing a glance for the two gawking out-of-towners. With an excited grin, Weipon nudged her mount through the gates, weaving through the crowd.

She followed the path leading directly into the temple, hoping they might find someone in charge there. At the great stone bridge, she and Akabeko dismounted, then continued on foot. Closer to the temple, there were less common folk and more pandaren that had the look of monks and priests. Weipon eyed the monks with interest, unconsciously sizing them up.

The main building of the temple was massive; doors at both back and front had been thrown open to allow in more light. The approaching path had a huge stone bowl for incense offerings. Weipon dug out a handful of silver, tossed it in the offering box, and grabbed a set of incense for herself and Akabeko.

"You light it on the flame in the middle," she instructed, demonstrating. "Then, stick it into the sand." Finding a free spot, she pushed her bundle of incense into the ash filling the bowl. "Then, you put the smoke on."

Akabeko blinked. "What?"

Weipon demonstrated, using her hands to pull smoke from the bowl and pour it over her head. "The incense smoke, you put it on yourself. Like this." Akabeko imitated her, using her long fingers to waft smoke up and over her horns. One of her ears flicked endearingly. Weipon pressed her lips together to keep from grinning.

"Doesn't that thing ever get too full of incense?" the tauren asked as the continued into the temple.

"They clean it out," Weipon replied absently. The sudden dark hush of the temple fell over them, the cool shadow an abrupt change to the cheery sunlight outside. Everything inside was intricately carved and gilded, but only the closest details were visible through the murky, pungent smoke filling the temple. Here, the temple servants moved about with quiet purpose, politely moving around the worshippers gathered in ones and twos  in the center.

Which, upon closer inspection, was empty. Weipon blinked twice and looked again. The center of the temple, which would normally house a huge statue of the deity surrounded by lavish offerings, was completely empty. No plaques, no special flooring, no brocade-covered tables or barrels of wine. And yet, people were there, prayer beads in hand, kneeling in obvious worship.

She spied a woman wearing an important-looking set of ceremonial armor near one of the smaller shrines at the edge of the temple. "Aka, I'm going to go find out who we should be talking to." Nodding, Akabeko fell in step behind her.

Once again, Weipon repeated her formal introductions of herself, her companion, their greater organization, and the necessary background. The woman she had singled out introduced herself as Liu Flameheart, a Priestess of the Jade Serpent.

Rather than rush right into her recruiting spiel, Weipon couldn't help but comment, "It is a great honor to finally visit the legendary Temple. I have long studied what the pandaren of the Isle believed to be myths we would never ourselves lay eyes on. It is said that there is a faction of monks dedicated to the Jade Serpent..." she trailed off hopefully.

Liu nodded at her armor. "You have the look of a monk." She turned the same critical eye on Akabeko. "Your friend looks like she has seen battle, but I do not think she is a monk."

Half-following, Akabeko pointed to herself and said, "I am a druid," in passable Pandaren. "I fight many times." She opened her arms to emphasize the amount.

"Pandaren!" Liu said with a surprised grin. "I'm impressed!" Then, to Weipon, she added, "And yes, there is such a faction of monks here at the temple. I would be happy to introduce you to them. I'm sure they would have many questions about the techniques of the Wandering Isle." Suddenly, she whistled a short trill, and a tiny russet serpent flew to her side with a responding chirp. In its tiny opalescent claws it clutched a sheaf of parchment and a brush.

Beside her, Weipon heard Akabeko curse and jump, startled. Weipon knew her own eyes must be comically huge.

Smirking at their reactions, Liu turned to a nearby table and hastily scribbled an introduction letter for them using the materials. This she stamped, sealed, and handed to Weipon. To the serpent, she chucked it under the chin and sent it off with a cluck of her tongue.

Speaking of serpents, Weipon remembered. "Liu, where is the Jade Serpent, if I may ask?"

Liu sighed regretfully. "She's rarely in the temple these days. There's much to do with the statue so near completion." Then, biting her lip as if considering her next words, she finally admitted, "Frankly, I wonder if she's getting a bit antsy with the rebirth so near."

Pages of yellowed, oft-handled textbooks whipped through Weipon's mind. "You mean, the statue outside..." She smacked her forehead. "That's the statue Yulon will be reborn into! Could it possibly be so soon?"

"We were hoping for year's end," Liu replied. "There have been problems lately with the mines, but word is that our supply should soon be restored."

Weipon reeled with this new revelation. Her heart swelled with excitement; this was by far the greatest thing that had happened to her since leaving the Wandering Isle. Already her fingers were itching to put ideas to instrument.

"Wei," Akabeko interrupted quietly. "What is that paper we just got?"

Distracted, she replied. "It's an introduction to the monks that train here."

Akabeko raised an eyebrow. "Is that what's causing your goofy grin?"

"It's not -- anyway, it's not just that. I'll tell you when we get outside."

Liu watched this exchange with open fascination. "I myself could never pick up another language, although Jinyuu is quite beautiful to listen to. Wouldn't bother with Hozen, though." Her lips quirked into a smirk. "When you exit the temple, the training ground is to the right, along the water. If you go left, you'll find the town with an inn for your stay."

Bowing deeply, Weipon said her thank yous and left the temple, dredging up the necessary vocabulary to explain everything she had learned to Akabeko. Half of her mind was still on the statue outside the grounds. If she couldn't see Yulon herself, she would just have to get a closer look at the Serpent's jade likeness!

Next: The Visitor to the Temple

20 March 2013

A Meeting of Minds (guest post!!)

...'mogu' returned same time we arrive. Coincidence? Ruled Pandaria thousands of years ago. Dark magic – fel influences? Contemporaries of troll empires? Potential threat? Further study needed.

Hadakha looked up from his letter as the strange birdcall rang out through the cool night air. The bright moonlight made it easy to read the secret marks he'd carefully written on the fine paper that Jiang had found for him. He gazed out from the tiny terrace over the temple walls into the forest beyond. It looked so peaceful, so serene. Well, apart from all the cloud serpents, he thought with a wry grimace. He'd seen more and more of them in the skies over the last couple of days as they'd approached this place. Probably not surprising, given all the jade cloud serpent statues throughout the temple grounds.

Land has energy. Not natural, not elemental, feels different. Almost living. Dark energy beings possessed troops, triggered through violence? Connected to mogu?

He became aware of eyes upon him. Instinct screamed at him to shift, but he swiftly suppressed the urge. It was too late now, the intruder had already seen him. Without lifting his head, he flicked his gaze around the terrace. There, off to the right, a small figure. The child from earlier today, the one who had them chasing after cloud serpent hatchlings. Definitely a salvagable situation.

"You move silently, child." he said in Taurahe, still not looking up from his letter. No reaction. Brave, too. Ah well, as long as it didn't make a fuss he may as well finish his letter. He was almost done, anyway.

Lost contact with Akabeko Runetotem, primary mission on hold until contact re-established. Proceeding to Tian Monastery to begin search.
  • Treewalker

"Can I see?" He raised his head at the thin, piping voice and looked hard at the cub. Ah, it couldn't do any harm, and it might be useful to have a friend inside the temple. He slowly nodded, beckoning the cub over. Solemnly it walked to his side, standing at his shoulder as he held the paper to catch the moonlight. He expected questions, but when he glanced at it, the cub was staring fixedly at the writing, giving every pretense of reading the strange script. He smothered a chuckle.

"Are you writing to your family?"

"No. I....I don't have any family. Not anymore. This is for my....." he racked his brain for the word. "Master? Yes, I think master is the word."

"Are you a monk?"

"No. I am a druid." he said the last word in Taurahe. "I don't know the word in Pandaren. I don't think there are any druids in this land."


"Would you like to see a trick?" The cub smiled and nodded vigorously. "Alright, stand over there." As it backed away, Hadakha rolled the paper and sealed it with wax. Then, he started a long, low, complicated chant, adding specific gestures at the appropriate times. When he was finished, a ghostly stormcrow glided down to the terrace, alighting on Hadakha's broad shoulder. He whispered to it, then held the rolled letter up. With a screech, the spectral bird took flight, snatching the letter out of his hand as it flew into the night. The spell would carry his letter to Moonglade, and deliver it to the Archdruid he reported to. Unlike a real bird, it didn't tire, didn't need to stop for food or rest, wasn't affected by weather or predators, and didn't get lost. Only agents such as himself were taught that particular spell, as their reports were vital to Cenarion Circle operations.

The cub grinned and clapped delightedly. "Do another trick!" Hadakha thought about it. Then, beckoning the cub to his side once more, he assumed a very serious demeanour. "Only druids know the secret of this Mark. It will let you feel, for a short time, the power of nature, of the wild things. Are you ready?" The cub nodded. He traced a sigil on its arm, murmuring the spell. As he finished, the image of a pawprint glowed briefly where he had drawn, and the far-off shriek of a hawk, the roar of a lion, and the growl of a bear all echoed in his mind. He knew it had sounded in the cub's mind, too, from the way its eyes went round with wonder. He gathered his things and stood.

"That is enough for one night. Perhaps we will meet again."

"Good night!" The cub nodded and trotted off.

The next morning, he was back in lionform, padding alongside Jiang and Jessha as they paid their respects to the temple masters before resuming their journey. He spotted the cub again, standing off to the side as his companions received the monks' blessings. It was staring at him thoughtfully, and he suddenly felt the urge to leave this place, to be out in the wilderness once more. As they walked off towards the temple gate, a voice sounded in his mind.

"You are an enigma, Hadakha. Your life is full of danger and violence. Yet, I sense that you may bring peace to this land. Can you be trusted? Will this 'Cenarion Circle', that you hold so dear, be able to save Pandaria from the oncoming storm? Return here when you have met my brethren."

He looked back, but the monks were disappearing into the temple halls. The cub was gone.

Next: The Heart of the Forest

15 March 2013

The Tree in the Arboretum

Previously: Heading North

For the third morning in a row, Weipon returned to the room in time to witness Akabeko take a long sip of the wine they had received from the mayor. Her eyebrows twitched together in concern. "You know, that gift was for the both of us," she gently reminded the tauren.

Looking guilty, Akabeko wiped off the lip of the bottle before offering it to her friend. "You're welcome to have some at any time."

Weipon rolled her eyes and shook her head at the offered liquor. "Pandaren don't usually drink before breakfast. Or the afternoon, for that matter," she added.

"I told you, hair of the worg is a tried and true method to curing hangovers," Akabeko replied. She looked mournfully at the bottle before resolutely capping it and setting it aside.

After a moment's hesitation, Weipon finally ventured to voice the worry that had been growing since their first night in Dawn's Blossom. "You know, now that we've been accepted by the pandaren here, there's no need to keep drinking so much. You can drink less and still be sociable," she said gently.

Akabeko quirked her face into a smile. "Don't get all herd leader-y on me, Wei," she said with forced cheerfulness. "I used to drink a lot before we met, and I can hold my liquor pretty well. I just gotta get my tolerance back up to snuff."

Mulling this over, Weipon reluctantly concluded that there had to be things about tauren, orcish, and Horde culture in general that she still didn't understand. What's more, although she and Akabeko had grown very friendly after spending so much time together, she had only the vaguest sketch of the type of life Akabeko had led before coming to Pandaria.

Tucking her thoughts away for another time, Weipon crossed to her side of the room and began to gather her things. "I heard from some people that there is a very nice um...garden of trees outside the city," she translated awkwardly. "They said that people often go there to write." And drink, she thought silently.

"A garden of trees?" Akabeko asked, seeming to perk up at the thought. "I'm game for that. How far away is it?"

By midmorning they had reached the arboretum, as Akabeko called it. Now in the waning of spring, the delicate pink and white petals fluttered around them like a snowstorm. Those remaining on the trees created an unbroken, soft-looking cloud of blossoms overhead. Weipon peered up at the snatches of pale blue sky, briefly regretting bringing Fu along as he dashed to and fro around their leisurely moving mounts. She glanced at Akabeko and was surprised at the rapturous expression on her face.

The tauren noticed her stare and abruptly asked, "How much do you know about druids, Wei?"

She scrunched up her nose, dredging up what information she had gathered in her studies. "Well, they are very close to nature and can change their bodies into different animals. Sometimes they become fully animal and leave their old lives. And...the main druid organization is the Something-something Circle. Cention? Senaran?"

"Cenarion," Akabeko corrected with a grin. "It comes from Cenarius, a demigod." Her eyes roved hungrily over the trees spreading out around them. "Do you know what animals druids can become?"

"Well, I saw you change into a lion," Weipon began, earning an amused grunt from the tauren. "After that, there is bear and cheetah and crow form."

Akabeko hummed in response. "Nearly right. As time goes on and druids adapt to the changing world, they have adapted and even discovered new forms. The animals you mentioned are the basic forms that all druids train to achieve. Of course, depending on your relationship with the Earthmother - well I should say nature, really - some forms will come more easily than others. Druids that call on power from the heavens can become moonkin. They look like owlbeasts," she added, then noticed Weipon's blank face. "I'll draw you a picture. Anyway, druids that work with the deep powers of the earth and the forests could, at one time, become treants. Living trees."

Fascinated, Weipon mulled this new information over. "Wait, what do you mean they could 'at one time'? I've never read about a druid not being able to change."

"In the Cataclysm, the Destroyer tore into the fabric of the world. Somehow, he must have severed the roots that allowed druids to draw on the deep powers of the land." She enunciated this very carefully, as if reading from a textbook.

Weipon recalled watching druids heal the seemingly impossible wound in Shen Zin Su's shell. "I saw druids save the lives of everyone on the Wandering Isle," she said, almost to herself. "I think they could heal anything if they worked together."

"Yeah, well, the Cenarion Circle has bigger things on its plate than fixing some grumpy former trees," Akabeko replied grimly.

Their conversation was cut short when they came upon a small inn enclosed by a babbling brook. On the petal-carpeted lawn surrounding the inn lounged groups of pandaren drinking, chatting, and writing calligraphy.

"Wow," Weipon breathed, unaware she had slipped into Pandaren. "This is just like back home." She directed her mount to the hitching posts on their side of the stream, then crossed one of the small wooden bridges that spanned the water. She was dimly aware of Akabeko following her, but for now she only had eyes for the lovely works of art that lay drying in the grass.

The arrival of not only a tauren, but a pandaren on an unusual mount had attracted the attention of many of the leisure-seekers. One of them, a shockingly svelte pandaren looking too scrawny in his clothes, stood from his small desk and approached them smiling. "Welcome to the Arboretum! I am Inkmaster Jo Po." He looked curiously between the pair.

"I am Weipon, and this is Akabeko, a tauren. We are ambassadors of the Horde." She bowed, followed soon by both Akabeko and Jo Po. Straightening, she continued, "However, today I merely wish to enjoy this lovely garden, pleasant company, and fine poetry."

Jo Po's smile widened. "We are always happy to meet fellow students of the brush. If you need any supplies or would like to borrow a table, you can talk to Inkmaster Wei in the inn." He gestured to the squat building, where Weipon could see a much rounder pandaren organizing a box of inkstones.

"Thank you," replied Weipon, motioning for Akabeko to accompany her to the inn. Switching to Orcish, she told her, "I want to get some writing things and stay here today. Is that all right?"

Akabeko shrugged good-naturedly. "Fine with me. Is this how pandaren get their kicks?"

Weipon drew her brows together, confused. "Kick?" She pantomimed kicking something.

"I mean relax," Akabeko amended. "You guys like to paint to relax?"

"It's a popular hobby," Weipon agreed. "And a traditional art. My parents make brushes, so of course they wanted me to study writing with a brush." She thought hard, finally drawing up the word from her memory. "Calligraphy."

They reached the inn and immediately drew the attention of Inkmaster Wei. He quickly finished hanging the handful of freshly-washed brushes and approached them, drying his hands on an ink-stained towel. "Interesting visitors!" He remarked. "What can I do for you?"

Again, Weipon made their introductions. "I'd like to borrow a table, if it isn't too much trouble."

"A friend of the brush is a friend of mine," Inkmaster Wei responded, plucking a folding table from the neatly stacked pile next to the supplies. "Do you need anything else? Perhaps an inkstone or parchment?"

"Actually, I will take some parchment," Weipon decided, reaching for her coinpurse. Gold exchanged hands, and then Weipon led Akabeko to an unoccupied tree near the edge of the stream. She knelt and began to arrange her materials, pulling brushes, inkstone, and grinding stone from her bag.

"You had all of that in your bags?" Akabeko marveled. "That's some dedication. And here I thought you were just a musician."

Weipon smiled, rolling a sheet of parchment over the felt-covered table. "Although I learned to write because of my parents, I like it as a hobby. It's calming."

Akabeko hummed, then glanced at the inn. "I'm gonna go check out what's going on in the inn. I'll be back soon." She sauntered away, head swiveling to take in the entirety of the garden.

When she returned, Weipon was just finishing grinding her ink and pondering what to write.

"I got us some drinks. The vendor said they were for..." she mimicked the Pandaren word she had heard, managing to get it mostly right. "What does that mean?"

Weipon laughed. "It means 'inspiration'." Then, having decided it was a good a word to begin with as any, she wrote inspiration in decisive, bold strokes. Sitting back, she peered critically at her work, then set down her brush to accept the cup of sweet-smelling wine Akabeko offered her. She took a sip while replacing the paper with a fresh sheet. "Do you want to try?"

Surprised, Akabeko set down her cup and scooted over to kneel awkwardly in the space Weipon had vacated. "Don't think I'll be very good at writing in Pandaren, but I can give it a try." She allowed Weipon to wrap her fingers around the brush, positioning her hand correctly so that her wrist was straight, holding the brush perpendicular to the paper.

"You can write what I just wrote. You move with your elbow, not wrist." Her fingers hovered feather-light over Akabeko's hand. "To start, you press and circle to, um... hide the beginning." She guided the brush in a tiny circle, then pressed down to create a fat blob of ink over the scratchy marks where the brush had first touched paper. "Then, pull, and press less and less and less and up!" She drew Akabeko's hand to the left, gradually decreasing the pressure until the stroke dwindled to a point and the brush was released. She pointed to the way the stroke split into several spidery lines, then at the awkwardly angled  brush. "See, the stroke is broken. You can fix the brush shape against the stone."

Akabeko did as instructed, rolling the brush against the grindstone until it was again formed into a neat point. Weipon continued to guide her through the remaining strokes, finally producing a passable amateur character.

Now, Weipon selected a much smaller brush, delicate and almost fragile in both pandaren and tauren hands. She loaded this brush with ink, then exchanged it for Akabeko's. "Now, you can write your name here." She indicated the bottom right of the parchment. "Top to bottom," she added, seeing Akabeko's brief confusion.

Much more confident in Taurahe, Akabeko penned her name, then admired her work with a wry grin. "Soon I'll be a master," she joked.

"Would you like to write more?" Weipon offered, getting a fresh sheet of paper.

Akabeko returned the smaller brush. "Nah, I'm good. You have fun." She grabbed her cup and moved to sit at the base of a nearby tree, settling comfortably in among the knobbly roots snaking through the grass. Fu was immediately at her side, sniffing at the petals she had disturbed.

Taking another sip of her own wine, Weipon watched the scene fondly for a moment. Unaware of the scrutiny, Akabeko looked both deeply at peace and unbearably mournful as she watched the swaying branches overhead. Weipon's thoughts drifted to their earlier conversation about druids. Knowing that druids focused on one form made her wonder. She had seen Akabeko in lion form, claws and jaws ruthlessly tearing through foes. Even as a tauren, there was something half-wild and quietly dangerous about her. And yet, watching her watch the trees... Weipon picked up her brush and began to write again.

Soft pink clouds float overhead
Beneath, wine and good poetry
Spring comes quietly but surely
A red flower slowly blossoms

Next: A Meeting of Minds

12 March 2013

Heading North (guest post!!)

Previously: The Decision in Dawn's Blossom

Hadakha shifted out of lionform, sitting with his back pressed against the large rock from which Jiang was curiously watching the jinyu woman frolic in the river below. "That was good thinking, Jiang," he said in a low voice, "but from now on let's dispense with the babytalk."

"'Dispense'?" Her brow furrowed at the unfamiliar word.


"Oh. Sorry, Mr. Hadakha. I didn't mean to be rude, I just thought -"

"No, no, it's okay, you did well. Just...go back to a normal voice. For my dignity." He heard her smother a giggle. 

"I will do that, Mr. Hadakha." 

He could sense her struggling to compose herself. Sighing, he gave up. "Come on, let it out so we can move on..."

With a snort of laughter followed by uncontrollable giggling, Jiang blurted out, "Oh you were so cute, Mr. Hadahka! It was so much fun having a great big kitty to pet and talk to, it was like having LiuLiu back! Of course, I had to leave her at home when I joined the Horde, and she's only a housecat, but you know what I mean. I don't know why you want to hide from Jessha, but I hope I can 'keep' you for a bit longer!"

"Yeah, well, we'll see. Are you done now?" he said sourly. She nodded, wiping her eyes. "Mhm."

"Okay. So we need to find the other Horde landing force. We'd have heard from – or of – them by now if they had landed close by, so we're heading north until we get more intel. I know that Jessha wanted to go north too, but I couldn't understand why. Where did she say she was going?"

"She said she was travelling to a monastery in the northern part of the forest, Tian was the name, I think. She is going to be a student there, like her brother."

"Excellent. That seems like as good a place as any to start our search. Tell her you'll escort her there. Does she know that you're not from Pandaria?"

"I-I'm not sure, Mr. Hadakha. I don't think she can tell that my accent and dialect is different from the locals, her Pandaren is a little better than yours but it is still basic. And her village didn't have much to do with Paw'don. She hasn't asked anything about where my home is yet, should I tell her?"

"No! No, be vague, don't give anything away. We can use a guide, so let's not spook her. Your role now is to get as much information out of her as you can, about the land, the people, the culture, the history, the dangers, everything. That is why I am leaving this to you, Jiang – my true form would frighten her, she will be much more likely to talk openly to you if she thinks I am an animal. If she asks, tell her you are a wanderer, out to explore the world. It's worked for me many times."

"I understand, Mr. Hadakha."

"And see if you can persuade her into stopping by a village, or temple, or whatever settlements they have here. You can mingle with the locals and gain more information." He smiled. "I'm sure you'd enjoy sleeping indoors again for a change, eh?"

"Oh most certainly, Mr. Hadakha! Yes, indeed! I can't wait....oh, Jessha is coming back now, Mr. Hadakha." She looked down at the place where he had been sitting. Smiling ruefully, she turned back to her new friend making her way up the path. This was not what she had envisioned when she had joined the Horde, and she was not entirely sure what Hadakha's motives were, but at least she was alive........now, to see about talking Jessha into going through a town, a village, anywhere with a hot bath!

Next: The Tree in the Arboretum

08 March 2013

The Decision at Dawn's Blossom

Previously: An Unexpected Ally

Now with a detailed, accurate map of the Jade Forest, Weipon and Akabeko stuck to the main roads and headed straight for Dawn's Blossom. Akabeko had hoped that any influence they could have at the main city would spread out to the surrounding villages, making it easier and more efficient to bring them into the Horde. The journey into the heart of the forest was long, although they saved time by not stopping at every town they passed. Pandaren farmers watched them curiously as they passed, and those they met on the road were wary even after Weipon called out to them. They spent two nights in the forest, huddled in their bedrolls listening to the creaks and chirps of an unfamiliar landscape.

Finally, shortly after their morning snack, eaten in the saddle, the pair could see flashes of bright red and orange paint through the trees. Heartened, they picked up the pace, eager to get back to work and on their own two feet. As they approached, the tall, sweeping roofs of the city's many buildings rose out of the trees, making both women gape. Aside from Orgrimmar, Weipon had never seen another city so grand; although the Temple of Five Dawns was an impressive piece of architecture, the surrounding buildings in all the towns on the Wandering Isle were small and sprawling. Here, she could see many-storied buildings surrounded by a crush of smaller shacks and carts, and around it all a never ending crush of people trading, chatting, or just milling about.

Akabeko's low whistle drew her attention to the tauren. "Looks like this is the place." She turned her mount towards the massive gate in the stone wall surrounding the city.

Although the locals noticed their approach, they didn't have the nervous air that the other inhabitants had given off. Weipon smiled encouragingly at a woman lashing things to the back of a cart and got a friendly nod in return. "These people seem much more trusting than the ones we met before," she remarked, dismounting beside the druid. Fu danced around their feet, sniffing the other mounts from a safe distance.

"Well, cityfolk tend to see a lot of weird stuff." She hooked the reins to the closest hitching pole and turned to Weipon. "So they tend to take things more in stri--" with a gasp, she cut off abruptly, hands coming up in front of her chest, fingertips already blunted into paws.

Weipon followed her gaze. A trio of humans were passing through the gates ahead of them. They took no notice of the shocked tauren glaring suspiciously at them, and instead went to their mounts, talking loudly.

"We'll tell him that we did our best, but I don't think that will get us off easy. The general was clear that we need to secure Dawn's Blossom for the Alliance," the shorter human was telling her companions in Common.

One of them stroked his beard in consternation. "We have the entire journey back to make it sound better than it is," he suggested. The group mounted their horses and started down the path away from the city.

"That doesn't sound promising," Weipon said, glancing at Akabeko to confirm she had retracted her claws.

Akabeko rolled her neck and shrugged as if bracing herself. "I bet they're just bad negotiators. They don't even have a pandaren with them! Let's see what we can do."

Just inside the gate was a crowded marketplace. Although pandaren were nearly as tall as tauren, the appearance of a hooved, cow-faced creature in the throng attracted some glances. Weipon led the way through the crush, nodding politely to vendors shouting advertisements for their wares. Akabeko followed along behind, her most approachable grin plastered to her face. Reluctantly, she had agreed to carry Fu to protect him from the constantly moving feet.

A burly pandaren toting a huge keg of ale took in their appearances and called out to them, "Hey, strangers! You look like you could use a friend!"

Weipon smiled back at him, then indicated for Akabeko to follow her. "We just got into town," Weipon told him, rooting around in her bag for the letter of introduction they had received. "My name is Weipon, this is my companion Akabeko, and we are ambassadors of the Horde. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." She bowed, and Akabeko, recognizing some key phrases, followed suit.

The pandaren laughed, bowed over his enormous gut, and said, "Well, it's real nice to meet you, too. Name's Kai Wanderbrew." He set down his keg with a thump. "This here's my wandering brew!" Weipon laughed, and Akabeko smiled the polite smile of the completely lost. "Can't say I've ever seen one of her kind before. What did you say her name was...Ababeko?"

"It's Akabeko. She's a tauren from Kalimdor. We are both members of the Horde," Weipon explained. "We were hoping to meet with your mayor, to introduce ourselves." She neglected to mention their other goal.

"Well, shoot. I can take you to the mayor's office if you like." He glanced over his shoulder, peering through the bustle to a cart parked near one of the walls. "Boys! Come take care of this keg for me!" He grinned apologetically at Weipon as two young pandaren ran over at his command. "These are my nephews. They're working for me for a while since their daddy's away on business." The two pandaren grabbed the keg, peeking curiously at Weipon through their lashes, then rushed off to deliver it. "Well, follow me," Kai said, pushing his way through the marketplace.

Turning to Akabeko, Weipon switched to Orcish. "This is Kai. He's going to take us to the mayor."

"Here's hoping we have better luck than those humans," Akabeko replied.

They didn't have better luck. Master Windfur, the mayor of Dawn's Blossom, looked politely at the letter of introduction that Weipon gave him, humming and ahhing at the contents. In the end, however, he smiled kindly at the pair and said, "Although I understand your plight, I'm afraid that it's in our best interests for my city to remain neutral in the conflict you have brought with you from across the sea."

Sensing a 'no,' Akabeko murmured, "Remind him that should he not choose a side, it's possible that neither side will come to his aid should the city need it."

Weipon ignored her, instead opting for the more diplomatic, "Well, if remaining neutral allows you to open your city to the Horde, then we will be glad to accept whatever trade you offer."

The mayor rose, followed quickly by the two ambassadors, and he saw them to the doorway with a pleased expression. "I must say," he remarked, "You two took this much better than the Alliance delegation."

Weipon tried to keep a victorious grin off her face. "The Horde is respectful of the autonomy of the settlements in this area. We will not risk losing a positive connection, even if it is one also extended to the Alliance."

Impressed, Master Windfur motioned to one of his attendants, who disappeared briefly and returned with an elegantly wrapped bottle. "Please, accept this token of our good will." He handed the bottle to Weipon, who accepted it graciously. "I hope you will stay some time in our city to appreciate all it has to offer. Should you need anything, do not hesitate to ask."

However polite it had been, it was still a rejection. Akabeko was frowning, having finally put Fu down so she could rest her hands on her hips irritably. "What are we supposed to tell Nazgrim?" she griped.

"We can tell him that we can use the supplies and resources of Dawn's Blossom. And that the Alliance have the same right." Weipon began to walk back to the city center, interested in seeing just what those supplies and resources entailed.

"It's better than nothing," Akabeko said begrudgingly. She followed along, and her good humor soon returned when the smells of food stalls drifted down the street. Eyeing a tray of pork buns, she said, "I'm gonna go check out the local fare," before drifting into the crowd.

Shaking her head in amusement, Weipon wandered through the stalls, Fu close on her heels. The marketplace butted up against a rocky hill rising up in the center of the city. The slope of the hill cradled a small pond, in the center of which was a small shrine. Curious, Weipon picked her way across the stepping stones and knelt in front of the shrine. She lit a handful of incense, adding the sticks to the sand-filled pot on the altar, then tossed a coin into the donation box beside the supplies. The statue inside was no deity she recognized, but the scrolls hanging inside the altar provided the answer. "Emperor Shaohao," she murmured, rolling the unfamiliar name around on her tongue. The story on the scrolls was just the beginning. She wondered how it ended for the former emperor of Pandaria.

She had just stepped back into the fray when Akabeko appeared, holding a bag of something tasty-smelling and looking quite pleased with herself. "I got us some grub using my Pandaren and charming negotiation skills," she explained, handing Weipon a bun filled with red bean paste.

That night again found them drinking and carousing in the inn's common room, and Weipon was again encouraged to bring out her sanxian. She relished the opportunity; not only did she miss playing the instrument every day, but she had been working on a few new compositions inspired by recent events and wanted to try them out. The crowd of gathered pandaren were appreciative, laughing and sighing at the twists and turns in her tale. She also played the old folk songs she knew and was delighted to find some older pandaren in the crowd who still remembered them.

As the night wore on, the listeners began to call for Akabeko to sing for them. Weipon translated dutifully, grinning at her friend as she hemmed and hawed, hiding behind her drink in mock embarrassment.

"It doesn't have to be anything complicated," Weipon assured her. "They just want to share some of your culture."

Finally, Akabeko relented. "I'll sing an Orcish drinking song," she declared, finishing her drink in one long gulp. Weipon translated this for their audience, earning a roar of approval, and then Akabeko began to sing.

The song was loud and bawdy, and Weipon blushed at the phrases she knew. Uncomprehending, the pandaren in the common room swayed and cheered and clinked mugs as the tauren led them through several stanzas, finishing with the chorus and cheers.

Delighted, the pandaren clamored for another. They clapped Akabeko on the shoulders, and someone refilled her drink. "Now they are asking for something from your language. Do the tauren have any drinking songs?" Weipon asked curiously.

"Hmmm," Akabeko said, swaying a little in her seat. "Most of our songs are for special occasions; for the hunt and the harvest and the changing seasons." She closed her eyes and drank deeply, thinking hard. "Oh, I have something. It's something we sing at parties."

She began to sing again, and Weipon found herself intrigued by the way Akabeko's voice changed when singing in her own language. This song was upbeat, but still more stoic than the orc tune had been. Experimentally, Weipon plucked at her strings, eventually finding some simple chords to match the repetitive melody.

Abruptly, Akabeko fell silent. Her hand fumbled to bring her drink to her lips, knocking the rest of it back in one go. When she wiped her lips and opened her eyes, they were overly bright and swimming with drink. "That's it; that's the end of the song," she said unnecessarily. "I have to go." With that, she lurched unsteadily to her feet and made her way to the stairs.

In the awkward silence that followed, Weipon simply said, "I think she's had a bit too much to drink."

"Pandaren know how to brew ale right!" cried a voice from the back, eliciting shouts of agreement, and from there the festivities came back to life.

By the time Weipon finally returned to their room, Akabeko was asleep, half-dressed and collapsed face-down on top of the covers. Her hand dangled off the bed, fingers slack, and on the floor beneath them was one shiny blue feather.

Next: Heading North

01 March 2013

An Unexpected Ally [guest post!!]

Previously: A New Land

Hadakha waited as the pandaren woman slowly elbow-walked her way up alongside him. She peered out into the clearing, where humanoid shapes could be seen in cages scattered amongst the ruins. The fading light made it difficult to tell what races they were, though most of them were slender and tall. Probably elves. There hadn't been any sin'dorei in the part of the fleet that made it to Garrosh'ar Point, he mused, so they were either kal'dorei or Akabeko's squadron had landed not too far up the coast. He glanced at the woman beside him.

"Well, Jiang, what do you think? The pandaren don't seem like the type to keep prisoners in conditions like this, so what kind of creature in this land are we up against?"

Her brow wrinkling in thought, she studied the camp. "Mr. Hadakha, I didn't hear any tales of dangers from the Paw'don townsfolk, except maybe the hozen? But the hozen I know aren't really smart – or patient – enough to make cages like these. And they tend to just smash and steal things. I've never heard – oh!" Smothering her own gasp with a quick hand, Jiang pointed.

A group of large, muscular shapes marched into view. Carrying torches, they made a round of the cages, inspecting each prisoner carefully and conferring with each other. "Mogu!" Jiang hissed. "I thought they were no more..." She started trembling and inching back into the undergrowth. "We can't stay here, Mr. Hadakha! We can't let them catch us!"

He snaked out a big hand and hooked her elbow, all the while studying the ogre-sized mogu intently. "It's okay, Jiang. I won't let them catch us. Just keep still." Jiang struggled, beginning to whimper. The mogu had stopped at a cage and were hauling the captive out with mocking, malicious voices. Jiang thrashed about, sobbing, in her attempt to break out of Hadakha's grip. Realising that she would end up catching the mogu's attention, he let her go. "Okay, okay Jiang, stay calm. Get to the cave. I'll be right behind you," he murmured soothingly. Then she was gone. Turning back to the clearing, he watched as the mogu led the captive away into the night.

Then, as he shifted into lionform for the trip back to the cave, he noticed it. A shadow flitted from cage to cage, and in its wake the prisoners were pushing the doors open, tentatively stepping out into the open. Some of them gathered together, huddling and arguing in low voices. The shadow, short and broad, came over and issued some orders in a terse, gravelly tone. Hadakha strained to hear, but couldn't catch more than a few words of Common. The short figure pointed in the direction of Paw'don, and some of the group headed off. The rest stayed to help the tall, slender prisoners which looked kind of elvish. But with his heightened sense of smell, Hadakha detected a fishy scent which he'd missed before. The larger group, now all sprung from their cages, left the clearing in a different direction. Hadakha padded off, eager to quiz Jiang about these mogu.

When he entered the cave, she flew at him, whacking him on the nose with the bamboo staff she'd been using as a walking stick during her recovery. Twisting away, he leapt to the far side of the cave and shifted back to his natural form. "OW! Jiang! Whad da ffff...." he patted his face, then, seeing no blood, glared at the battle-ready pandaren. "What was that about?!"

Jiang held her stance defiantly, staff at the guard position, eyes flicking between Hadakha and the cave entrance. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it again, started once more, then suddenly her face crumpled and she lowered her weapon. "Oh Mr. Hadakha, I'm sorry! I-I-I thought you were one of.....of them!" She gestured vaguely outside through her tears. "You can't let them catch us, Mr. Hadakha! You don't know the horrible things they'll do to us....."

"It's okay, Jiang. They won't get us, I swear. You....mean the mogu, right?" She nodded. He walked over slowly and sat beside her. "Why don't you tell me about these mogu. They can't be that bad, surely?" 

She shook her head in disbelief. "Mr. Hadakha, they are the most evil race in Pandaria's history! They just......oh, where do I start?" In a halting, tremulous voice she briefly recounted the history of the mogu empire, the pandaren uprising, and the empire's destruction. After several minutes of silence, she looked at Hadakha. 

Still deep in thought, he asked her, "Jiang, you said that the mogu used dark magics, that could feed off the souls of victims. Is that right?" She nodded hesitantly. "Alright. I think we have to go and see this for ourselves." 

She shrank back, eyes wide. "Didn't you hear what I told you, Mr. Hadakha?! They are monsters! We can't go there! I won't go there!"

Hadakha started to argue with her, but seeing the scared determination on her face, he gave up quickly. "Fine, okay, you stay here and look after the supplies. Maybe you can start readying things for travel, too; we need to begin our journey north tomorrow anyway. I will be back by dawn." Before she could say anything more, he shifted into lionform and trotted out into the night.

Tracking the mogu and their captive was ridiculously easy. Before long he encountered a crude altar, and around a dozen mogu surrounding it. Several of them were channeling a spell over the prone form of a scaly, elf-like humanoid. A....fish-elf? He could feel the dark energies pulsing even from a distance. It felt similar to the energy from the things that had appeared at Twinspire Keep, what Jiang called sha. He definitely had to stop this ritual. Quickly sizing up the deployment of the mogu, he developed a plan.

They never had a chance. Their amusement was interrupted by a terrifyingly close roar. They spun to face it, hands going to weapons. After a few seconds, half of them went to investigate. From off to the side, he leapt onto the remaining mogu, mangling one and leaving another crippled. Then he dashed back into the night. The others bellowed angrily and chased after him, only to be hunted down, one by one. He raced back to the altar and brought down one of the ritualists, tearing out its throat before continuing on into the forest. The few remaining mogu regrouped behind the final two ritualists, fanning out to protect them. But Hadakha came flying over the altar, charging into the ritualists and knocking them into the others. In a frenzy of claws and teeth he maimed and ravaged the mogu, until they were all still and the area was quiet once more.

While he was checking the bodies, he heard a sound from the altar. Looking up, he saw the fishy-elf-thing sitting up, groggily clutching its head. He went over and nosed at its leg. Finally becoming aware of its surroundings, the creature gasped and scrambled away from him, chattering in some strange language. Hmmmm. He decided to play dumb, and remained in form while backing off. But when the creature started to run off into the forest, he knew he had to change his approach. Bounding past it, he turned and growled. That stopped the creature. It backed up, towards the altar. When it was a safe distance away, he circled around to the side. It tried to keep going, but he cut it off again, returning to the altar. This continued until it eventually went in the direction he wanted, and he herded it very slowly back to the cave where Jiang waited. As they approached, he sent up a thankful prayer to the ancestors that Jiang had stoked the fire back up. Once he was sure the creature had noticed the cave and its fire, he sat back on his haunches and waited for curiosity to overcome fear. Sure enough, the creature called out something and warily made it's way to the entrance.

Jiang reacted surprisingly well for someone on the edge of a breakdown only a couple of hours ago.
To his surprise, Hadakha heard both of them speaking Pandaren! Well, that would make things easier. He walked on in, and flopped down on his belly next to Jiang. She kept looking at him, and he kept hearing "Mr. Hadakha" every few sentences, so he yawned hugely and rolled over onto his back, silently begging her for a belly rub. She was a smart girl, he had to admit. She took his hint and – hesitantly at first, but with growing confidence – played up her newfound role as his master.

"Well, Mr. Hadakha, haven't you been busy! Jessha is certainly happy you came along, yes she is! You know, she's a jinyu, Mr. Hadakha, and...." He let the words soak into his brain, while he enjoyed the warmth of the fire and the unexpected pleasure of a belly rub from someone with paws......tomorrow they would set out, and hopefully this jinyu would guide them north to find the rest of the Horde. If they had made it to Pandaria. Surely Akabeko was out there, somewhere...

Next: The Decision at Dawn's Blossom