Previously: The Sha Manifests
Weipon collapsed beside Akabeko, letting out a sigh of exhaustion. Silently, Akabeko passed her half a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese and waited for her to eat.
Finally, after taking a long drink, Weipon belched noisily and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "The pandaren that came with us are going to travel around Pandaria with each of the garrisons."
Akabeko nodded. "And what about us? I've been sitting here, waiting for an assignment, and Nazgrim's walked by without a word more than once."
"We are going to the nearest town as ambassadors. The orders are to recruit the town into the Horde or...else. I'm to do the talking and you...are my bodyguard." She smiled wryly.
"Huh." Akabeko blinked. "So I guess you know where we're headed?"
After a night of much-needed rest, both pandaren and tauren were woken by Fu hopping eagerly on and off their stomachs.
"Bad...bad dog..." Akabeko murmured sleepily, swatting at the animal as he danced away playfully.
Still yawning, Akabeko peered over Weipon's shoulder as the newly-appointed pandaren ambassador inspected the roughly sketched map she had been given.
"It looks like the largest village should be nearby. It should be about half a day's ride, if we go in the right direction."
They set out, Akabeko on her trusty war kodo, and Weipon on a dragon turtle, hastily-acquired from the pandaren quartermaster before leaving Orgrimmar. Weipon lead hesitantly, frequently tutting over the map. Akabeko was content to follow, instead focusing on stretching her senses out in search of nearby forest creatures.
"There are a lot of angry critters out here," Akabeko muttered, almost to herself, as they once again fled from an enraged panther, cloaked in an unnatural shadow. After the first close call, Fu had consented to ride in the basket at the back of Weipon's saddle, and now served as a barking sentry when more angry animals stalked the pair.
Weipon's mouth firmed into a concerned frown. "Do you think it's the same thing that took over General Nazgrim?"
"Sure seems like it. What did that pandaren say? We should be careful what emotions we bring with us? Does that mean we are somehow making the animals like this?"
Instead of answering, Weipon abruptly called a halt, pointing off to the right. "Over there; I think I saw a pandaren." She waved and called out a long greeting that Akabeko couldn't understand. From the bushes came a hesitant reply.
A wide-eyed pandaren woman stepped out of the trees. If she had been surprised at Weipon's appearance, she was completely shocked by Akabeko's. Her jaw dropped as she took in their unusual mounts and the weapons slung across their backs.
Slowly, Weipon dismounted, speaking in gentle tones. Akabeko followed suit, watching as Weipon exchanged a few words with the other woman, then bowed. She gestured to Akabeko, and Akabeko mimicked her bow politely.
"She says that the village is near. I think in Orcish it would be called something like "Honeydew". She says that they had heard stories of foreign people coming to the forest, but no one she knows has seen any. Maybe she's leading us into a trap, but if we can get to the head of the village maybe we can talk to him."
Akabeko nodded, then followed obediently behind the two pandaren as they continued their unintelligible conversation. Soon, the carefully tended patches of farmland and animal pens signifying a large settlement came into view, and they were led to the gates in a low stone wall surrounding Honeydew Village. The pandaren woman stepped back, looking apologetic as two muscular pandaren wielding staves stepped forward to hem the pair in.
"It's all right," Weipon said quietly, noticing Akabeko's hands clench into fists in preparation for a quick transformation. "They are just security. We are going to meet the mayor."
They were paraded into town, and the villagers gathered from all corners to see the strange pair as they wound their way through the streets, presumably heading for wherever the mayor would meet with them. "Wei, I can't fight my way through all of these people," Akabeko said, eyes darting from the expertly-handled staves at her back to the sheer number of villagers gaping at them.
"It's fine," Weipon lied unconvincingly. "They won't attack us."
They were brought upstairs in what appeared to be a spacious residence and seated at a small table. Finally, an enormous pandaren waddled up the stairs, puffing out what could only be complaints. He regarded them seriously for a few moments before sitting across from them. Three cups of tea were brought and left on the table. The pandaren bodyguards stood nearby, quietly menacing.
"Don't drink until he invites us to," Weipon instructed.
The mayor spoke, gesturing to the tea, and reached for his own cup.
"Is this safe?" Akabeko whispered, slowly raising her own cup in a half-hearted toast.
"It's unlucky to poison someone at the first meeting," Weipon replied shortly, bringing her cup to her lips and drinking. "Better to die on the battlefield."
Then, Akabeko was once again shut out as Weipon began to converse with the mayor. Unable to follow the words, she focused on the mayor's expressions, guessing her way through Weipon's descriptions of their arrival in Pandaria, the content of their forces, the details of their battle with the Alliance. She could hear the guards shifting behind them, evidently reacting as the mayor was to the incredible tale. She could see from the mayor's expression that although he believed them, he wanted little to do with a foreign bloodbath, even if it was on local soil. Weipon pressed on, voice urgent, until finally the mayor held up a hand, silencing her. He stood, soon followed by Weipon who dragged Akabeko up with her, and they bowed farewell.
The mayor exited, and when he was out of sight the guards escorted the ambassadors back downstairs and left them.
"What...just happened?" Akabeko said, trying to ignore the eyes she could feel boring into her from all directions.
"That was Mayor Honeydew, and I think I just failed my job," Weipon sighed. "He believes the story, mostly because of you, but also because even I'm strange to them. And he feels bad about our troubles, but he won't put his village in our fight."
Akabeko hummed, tapping her chin. "What specifically did he say about our troubles?"
"Well, he said that he would be willing to help our hurt. But he won't send his people into battle."
"That's more than enough to report back to Nazgrim. You know he will use that as the excuse he needs to get in the door. Once he gets into the village, it won't be long before he's got the strongest villagers in armor."
Weipon looked shocked. "That's...terrible! That's exactly what the mayor doesn't want!"
"Yeah, well," Akabeko shrugged. "Nazgrim is a shrewd general. If he brings enough smooth-talking pandaren into the village, all he needs is time before he gets his way. And honestly, if he doesn't get his way by talking..."
The answering expression on Weipon's face spoke volumes about her opinion of the Horde general. "I see."
Not knowing how to respond, Akabeko tried to change the subject. "So...the guards just left us here on the street. Does that mean we're free to move about the town?"
Weipon nodded, finally relaxing enough to glance around at the sea of curious faces. "Yes. And after how long we traveled, we are going to stay here tonight. We should find the inn." She grinned shyly at the villagers, then said something in Pandaren. After a few stunned moments, one pandaren spoke up, followed by a few others, and finally they were surrounded by pandaren, each clamoring to introduce themselves and lead them to the nearest establishment.
Bemused, Akabeko allowed herself to be swept along as face after unfamiliar face approached Weipon, who dutifully made their introductions. In short order, they were seated at an enormous round table in the inn, soon populated by a crowd of villagers and several generous mugs of ale. Voices pressed in around them, peppering Weipon with questions that she tried her best to answer. Akabeko smiled politely at the pandaren seated next to her. He clinked their glasses together and said something that made Weipon snort into her drink.
Still smiling, Akabeko asked, "Should I be worried about what he just said?"
"I don't think you will like it," Weipon hedged. When Akabeko's smile froze into a glare, she relented. "He, um, said that you're different from any foreign race he imagined. But..." she hesitated, "he said that even though you're skinny, your, um, chest is still big enough," she finished in a rush, then hastily downed her drink.
Akabeko turned back to the still-grinning pandaren. She clinked their glasses together and pasted a smile on her face. "I'm going to kill you in your sleep," she told him cheerfully.
"I will tell him you said thank you," Weipon said apologetically.
Next: The Unexpected Concert