Valley of the Four Winds/Krasarang Wilds: Part 2

However, the manifestations in the ponds were not Sha, and fell quite easily. There were not many surviving fish, but I found enough. The manifestations made me feel sad the closer I got, and extracting the salt proved immensely hard. I had to take several rests and the night wore on quickly. By comparison, extracting honeycombs from the nearby beehives proved wonderfully trivial.

Unfortunately, the remedy only caused the pandaren wardens to vomit violently. So Ken-Ken decided to try another one.

‘Okay, so that only cheer Ken-Ken up. This time Ken-Ken need to do woodcutting. You need bring him big teeth – like panther teeth! Oh, and paint. Maybe Mei knows where paint is?’

Mei was caught up in reflection. ‘This cannot be how Zhu’s legacy ends.’ She looked me over. ‘But you are a visitor, you do not know what I am on about. Centuries ago, this land was untamed and part of the wilds. Reaching the south coast was a perilous journey, and many Pandaren were lost to the wilds, home of the great cranes.

Then, the famous hunter Zhu Longbrow came along. Tired of the needless loss of life, Zhu and his family carved out a corner of the wilds and settled in it. Despite the other pandaren begging him, Zhu did not want to settle the wilds entirely, for the wilds housed unique animals like the great cranes, and so Zhu Province was born – and Zhu’s Watch to protect it.

Yi-Mo is the last descendant of Zhu’s line, but he is not entirely made of the same stuff. You may have noticed how dramatic he can be. Some day, he will come to understand that you must fight for what you love, but the burden of his lineage weighs heavily on him. Was there something you wanted?’

After explaining about Ken-Ken’s next request, Mei chuckled, and thought for a moment.

‘Our grip on the province loosens with our wardens not active. Some saurok have moved in to a nearby cave north of town, and the saurok love to poach, so they have used the passiveness of the guards to walk in and take whatever they want. No doubt they are sitting on some crafting materials there. And while you’re there, please send them a message not to come back. Oh, and one more thing!

At the borders of the province are three bonfires, lit to keep out wildlife and the spread of the forest. They act as memorials to the founders of the town – Zhu, his wife Rin and his son Po. If they are not re-lit soon, the wilds will creep back and overtake the whole Province.’

I headed for the saurok-inhabited cave, as they seemed to pose the closest threat. I quickly fought my way into the cave. The saurok were large, humanoid lizards, and within the cave were all manner of supplies. I eventually found at the back of the cave some pigments and paints for Ken-Ken, and with some saurok dead and others driven off, the town was safe. Now that they no longer had the element of surprise, they were much easier to defeat.

I made my way further south, where panthers patrolled the border with the real wilds. After slaying a few of them I came across the memorial flames, three large beacons in a line along the Borderlands. I made my way across, re-lighting each. As the red flame burned in the darkness, the gloom of the wilds seemed to shrink away.

The rain remained constant, even though by the time I got back to the village I had been there almost a whole day. Everything Mei said about it had been true, and I found it hard not to let the despair overtake me as well.

‘Thank you for your aid, Keliera. Keeping Zhu Province viable as a corridor from the top of the Valley to the sea remains constant work, and you are the town’s only aid in this curious time. Come, Ken-Ken is almost done with his new… creation.’

Ken-Ken showed us a mask carved from wood with a ridiculous face when we arrived. It looked stupid, but I remembered the wisdom of the tale I had read outside the Temple of the Jade Serpent – the emperor Shaohao had made his doubts defeatable by a Mask of Doubt made by a hozen. Had Ken-Ken unknowingly stumbled upon the key to all our problems?

It appeared we were about to find out. ‘We just need to put on finishing touches and we gots us a guaranteed fun machine!’ Ken-Ken decided to test it out on one of the guards. We stood back as he put it on – and a Sha burst forth from his person and fled into the wider Province!

It had been the Sha all along, creating despair in Krasarang. Sure enough, when the Pandaren took the mask off, he was back to normal.

‘Ken-Ken remember why Hozen use mask now! Legend about Monkey King – they say he use mask to cure old pandaren emperor, Shaohao, when he was too sad to lead his people. They buried mask – with all his sadness – in ground! We should use mask on Pandaren here, but we not bury it – we kick its butt instead!’

I, Ken-Ken and Mei proceeded through the village, curing the Pandaren of their despondence. The Sha leapt forth as soon as the Pandaren wore the mask – we destroyed each one, freeing the Pandaren. Though the curse had been lifted from the townspeople, the rain did not end, and the land did not change.

‘Hey, is that Yi-Mo. He don’t look so good.’ Ken-Ken motioned us over towards Yi-Mo, the most despairing Pandaren of the town, but before we could reach him, Sha began crawling out of the desolate ground itself! Fortunately, the small Sha had had no time to fester within those they controlled, and fell easily. We cleared the way to Yi-Mo.

‘GIVE IN TO YOUR DESPAIR! LAY DOWN AND SUBMIT, FOR ALL IS LOST!’ The voice that came from Yi-Mo as we approached did not sound like his own. Ken-Ken quickly placed the mask over Yi-Mo’s face. A massive Sha rose out of his person, though not as big as the Sha of Doubt I had seen earlier – Yi-Mo was indeed affected most of all. The freed villagers rallied and quickly attacked the Quintessence of Despair as it called all the Sha in the village to its aid. The tide began to turn against us, and then I was knocked out.

‘Keliera? Keliera?’

‘Hush, she’s coming to.’

I awoke to see the concerned faces of Yi-Mo and Ken-Ken. The rain had stopped.

‘Keliera… To think you risked your life to save me from despair and I acted only with disdain. I am shamed beyond comprehension, but you must understand my mind was not my own. Should you ever need aid, Zhu’s Watch will offer it. But for now, my efforts lie with rebuilding our village. Thank you for your help, but we cannot accept any more. It would be asking you far too much.’

I met Ken-Ken back in the inn. ‘We did it, Keliera! Something tells Ken-Ken that that not last of the sads though. Where they all come from? Still, we did good work today. Monastery always tell us to leave place better than you find it.’

After some decent rest, Mei met me the next morning. ‘Deep in the wilds, on the southern coast where the Krasarang River joins with the sea is the Temple of the Red Crane. There, the August Celestial Chi-Ji makes his home, along with his followers. They must be informed of what happened here. We usually send couriers with supplies, but in the events that happened here the last courier never returned. Please, on your way try to find out what happened to him. Where the road forks at the Dojani River, he’d have gone north. When you reach the temple, find Koro Mistwalker.’

I left Mei, Yi-Mo and Ken-Ken (who showed no signs of searching for the Hidden Master now that he was the saviour of a village) in Zhu’s Watch, and took the path further southwest out of town. Sure enough, the rain began in force when I left the town, indicating that the problems of Krasarang were not over yet. Huge clouds of mists obstructed my view as I passed through the Borderlands, and into the Wilds proper.

The Krasarang Wilds are like something out of dreams. Trees push steeply upward, and dark jade leaves and vines hang down in the mists. Vivid red and green plants clutter the place, and the deeper in you go the more alike it looks, and the less likely you are to find the way you came from. Fortunately the path was fairly clear for now. The orange sky can barely be seen through the canopy, but the rain stopped not far in. The mists and tall fronds blocking out almost all light remained.

I did not expect to find mogu ruins, nor hear a mogu yell as I came into a clearing.

‘Beggers and usurpers, we will burn you and your pandaren allies to ash!’ I found a wounded tauren, his breath short and fading, not far from the path.

‘The… mogu. Do not trust. Poison… get sample. Sample blades… Bring to Dezco… Thunder Cleft, west of here…’ With that, the tauren collapsed on the ground, dead.

The ruins here were the third instance of mogu reclaiming their ancient territories for some unknown purpose. I quickly disrupted their operations, unknown though they were, and took some of their weapons. I was on my way further south when I heard a gobin chattering to some companions.

‘-leapt out of the Temple, I tells ya. If we could get that dragon to Nesingwary, we’d get a huge- Why, hey there!’ The goblin woman waved and I wandered over.

‘Name’s Daggle Bombstrider, I’m part of the Nesingwary Expedition.’

Nesingwary? Here in Pandaria? How was that possible?

‘We were riding along in our hot air balloon when Nesingwary spots this place. He went north for the hoofed things in that big plainsland, but I decided to come to the jungle where the real beasts are. Fancy helping a girl out? There’s some good tigers and cranes about here, and I could do with a couple of their skins if you can spare the hands.’

While I detested Nesingwary, this little troupe of hunters had probably bitten off more than they could chew, and if it got them out of Pandaria faster, then it was all for the best.

As I proceeded through the undergrowth, killing wildlife, I came across.. A Darnassian camp? What were the Night Elves doing in the middle of Pandarian ruins? I thought it for the best if I stayed away, and quietly crept back into the bush. Somehow, I accidentally fell down a slope and rolled onto a nearby beach. It was filled with passive turtles, like the one Cho had rode in the Jade Forest. In the centre was a huge bronze statue. It was a wise, aged pandaren sat on a turtle, under an umbrella. Liu Lang. The pandaren spoke of him as the first Pandaren to leave Pandaria proper, with nothing but his turtle Shen-zin Su for company. It was rumoured that the same turtle had grown to accomodate whole colonies, and that was where the Pandaren of the Tushui and Huojin originated. A story scroll lay against the statue, and I walked over and read it.

‘Waiting for the Turtle

On this site many generations ago, equipped with little more than an umbrella and pack full of food, the young pandaren explorer Liu Lang set forth to explore the world on the back of a sea turtle.

At the time it was widely believed that the rest of the world had been destroyed in the Sundering. Common wisdom also had it that Liu Lang was… “damaged” in the head.

Everyone was proven wrong when Liu Lang returned five years later, spouting tales of mysterious lands beyond the sea. He would go on to return to Pandaria every five years for the rest of his days, his turtle growing bigger and bigger with each visit until it was large enough to house an entire colony.

Pandaren afflicted with the wanderlust often stared out at the sea awaiting his return. To this day, when someone is caught gazing off to the horizon for any reason, they are often asked if they are “Waiting for the turtle.”‘

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Valley of the Four Winds/Krasarang Wilds: Part 1

With the death of the Sha of Doubt the Jade Heart’s corruption lifted, and with it Yu’Lon’s strength returned. She moved to the courtyard as the survivors gathered, and addressed us.

‘Thanks to you the Temple is saved. A chain of events began when your people arrived in these lands, and it shows no sign of stopping. While these happenings have proven traumatic, there must be a larger purpose yet for you here. For now it is wisest for you to leave the Jade Forest, and explore the rest of Pandaria. It would be best if the natives did not see you here for a time.’

Yu’Lon moved to the front of the temple, where we clambered on to her and she gracefully leapt into the sky, ferrying us forth across the Forest, past the devastation and west towards the lands we had not yet seen.

‘The battles here have extracted a heavy toll. My rebirth will have to wait some years. I do not know why the Mists have opened, only that it was for a reason. Your war has exposed the darkness hidden in Pandaria – this you have seen for yourself. You are the reason for the opening of the Mists. You must find your purpose. The Valley of the Four Winds is a good place to start.

Another visitor is in the Valley, a Pandaren not native to Pandaria. His name is Chen Stormstout. Learn from him and make friends among the people. Farewell, strangers. I hope to call you friends when we meet again.’

With that, Yu’Lon set back off towards the Jade Forest, dropping us off on the border with the Valley.

‘Be wise, travellers. You must prove to the people here that your purpose extends beyond war and destruction.’

Sure enough, the fabled Chen Stormstout and his niece, Li Li, made camp on the main road not far from where I was.

‘Ha ha! Hello, stranger! My niece and I are new to Pandaria, probably like yourself. We’re visitors from the Wandering Isle. We’re not entirely sure where we’re going next, but the farm up ahead looks like a good place to stay. Would you like to accompany us?’

So Chen Stormstout, the mighty Pandaren brewmaster was from the Wandering Isle, the home of the Huojin Pandaren that had joined the Horde – and the Tushui Pandaren who had joined the Alliance.

I accompanied Chen and Li Li – a talkative pandaren girl who complained quite loudly about how slow Chen was going – to a nearby farmstead owned by a Pandaren named Pang. Though Chen offered ale in return for a place to sleep, Pang declined, perfectly happy for us to stay anyway.

Dawn was rising over the Valley of the Four Winds, and it was a sight to behold. The plains are majestic, far wider, greener and more sweeping than those of Nagrand or Mulgore, and yet nothing like them. Trees and fronds grew from bluffs and light winds made whole acres shimmer.

Pang Thunderfoot, who was providing us kindly with a place to stay, was a retired farmer. ‘The rest of my family runs the farms around here, and I am content to stay here and sell on what they send up. I have plenty of room for visitors. But things are quite troubled. The virmen – rabbit-like creatures around the hills here – have begun to invade the farms, eating our prized crops. Please, if you could spare the time, go take out some of the pests.’

Protecting this man’s livelihood was the least I could do, especially since he was such a benevolent host. I was starting out along the path into the farmland when I noticed a curious scroll propped against the side of the house.

‘Embracing the Passions

While some of the more tame forest hozen have chosen to intergrate with pandaren culture, they remain at their core a simple race driven by their passions. They love hunting and fishing, and often will assault anyone and everything in their hunting grounds. An unfortunate situation, since the hozen hunting ground seldom have consistent bordering or signage. Thankfully, most hozen are kept in check by pandaren monks.’

What a curious bit of information. I wondered if there were hozen in the Valley, and if they would be friendly after the destruction of their relatives in the Jade Forest. My confirmation was right behind me, as a hozen farmhand was busy shovelling hay. He beckoned me over.

‘Me Muno. You know Virmen, dumb little rabbit-things? They not just steal our food. They try start farms of their own. But they dumb. Last night, they break into tool shed, and we wakes up to find rakes and wheelbarrows planted in ground! They was trying to GROW WHEELBARROWS. Please unbury our stuff while you out there.’

I was not sure whether to be wary or amused by the virmen. I found out fairly quickly, as their rabbit-like appearance hid sharp teeth and fast claws. Cries of ‘you go away!’ as they guarded their ‘crops’ filled the air and alerted swarms of the things to me. I was forced to adopt a scorched earth policy more than once. By the time I got back to Pang’s Stead, I had a good collection of tools, and an extensive collection of bitemarks.

‘You’ve done pretty well. There’s still some bounding around, but I’d say they’re scared of you now. You’ve definitely more than earned your stay here.’

Leaving the house to ask about the Valley, I noticed a group of monks hanging around the house. They seemed familiar.

‘Keliera!’ One of the Pandaren in the collective ran over. It was Lin Tenderpaw, a pandaren woman I had become friends with in my time at the Xian Monastery.

‘Lin! What are you doing here?’

‘We graduated from the Tian Monastery not long after you left. We’re on a journey to find the Hidden Master here in the Valley.’

‘The- Hidden Master? What’s that?’

‘Lin, are you coming?’ One of the other monks yelled. Lin dragged me over. ‘You can listen in! It’ll be fun.’

‘Does anyone know where to find the hidden master?’ Asked Kang Bramblestaff.

‘No, silly. That’s why he’s hidden.’

After a long argument, it was decided that the monks there would split up and search for the hidden master through each of the Four Winds – north, east, south and west. After they had split up, I spoke to Xiao, who would remain waiting for the others at the Stead.

‘Ken-Ken and Kang have both gone to the Krasarang Wilds to try search for the hidden master. Their paths are dangerous enough, and I worry that with the lack of humility and brains between them, they may end up in a tight spot. Could you please go and check that they are alright?’

I had hoped to spend more time in the Valley, but it was always something I could come back to later. I agreed, and spent most of that afternoon on the silent paths of the Valley, heading south towards Krasarang. I had been told in Dawn’s Blossom that the Krasarang Wilds formed the densest jungle in Pandaria, and had once covered its entire southern tract, fought back only by the Pandaren, whose agricultural ways had kept the Wilds from spreading beyond the Yan-Zhe River that separated the Valley from the jungle.

The paths made me long for my hawkstrider once more. Velore had been left in Grookin Hill, and there was a good chance that he had made it unscathed through everything that had happened after I had left for Serpent’s Overlook. I passed Thunderfoot Fields, heading southwest until I reached Zhu’s Watch, a lookout post that kept the bridge between the Wilds and the Valley free of trouble.

Past the bridge is Zhu’s descent, and here the grounds become marshy and darker. The trees grow taller, and all you can see in the south is untamed jungle. I found Ken Ken, a hozen monk, in the grounds of the main Watch. Rain fell from the purple skies. Something seemed amiss. Ken-Ken was upset when I found him.

‘This place.. it so sad! Ken-Ken never see a place so sad!’ I asked him what was going on.

‘Pandaren usually welcome travellers with open arms – they always happy to see you even if they really sad! But this town full of jerks! They all so busy sulking that they don’t talk to Ken-Ken at all. Maybe normal Pandaren hiding. Can you find someone who will talk to us?’

Ken-Ken was right. Very few Pandaren were even willing to look at you in Zhu’s Watch, never mind talk. I wandered in to the inn, and it was quite. No merriment. Things were definitely wrong. This went against all of Pandaren culture I had experienced so far. I spoke to Mei Barrelbottom outside the inn.

‘My nephew has always had a pessimistic view of things. When this weird wave of despair hit the town, he took it harder than most. He sat for days and wouldn’t eat. Now he’s wandered off towards the cliffs northeast of here, where the Thunderbirds nest. They’ll eat him alive. Please, you have to find Yi-Mo!’ I agreed, but spoke to a few more people before I left town. The wardens of the town refused to speak at all, stuck in their malaise. A woman named Sunni mentioned that no one had wanted to do anything since the rain had begun, and others mentioned that they toiled pointlessly, and that I was another person come to disturb them.

This was all very confusing. I had certainly never encountered such despair on a wide scale. I headed northeast to search for Yi-Mo, feeling that further attempts to get past the villagers’ apathy would only result in me getting annoyed.

The large Thunderbirds dominate the trees of the Zhu province, huge buzzard-like birds that could eat an elk whole. Fortunately the rain provided cover. The buzzards didn’t seem all that interested, anyway.

I found Yi-Mo by the edge of the cliffs, where a cruel wind blew. He was on the floor, simply sighing. He seemed… darker than the usual pandaren, like his fur was grey.

‘Let me guess: my aunt sent you?’ Yi-Mo sighed again. ‘Ever since the rain began, I’ve felt exhausted. Not physically. Like my soul is worthless. Hopeless. I feel worthless to everyone. At least the thunderbirds will have a good meal from me.’

Yi-Mo didn’t seem in the mood to move anywhere, so I took the next best option and rolled him back to town. The thunderbirds did not take kindly at this, pecking at me as I stole their next meal, and Yi-Mo even encouraged them as I kept moving! When we finally got back to town he stalked off, leaving me alone. I spoke to Mei afterwards.

‘He was going to let himself get eaten by the thunderbirds? I can’t believe it.. this despair affecting the town is worse than I thought. I cannot thank you enough for saving him.’

Mei took a breath and explained the situation.

‘All of this started with our ponds. In a single day, all the water retreated into the earth. When there was none left, it began to fall from the sky. But the ponds do not fill. They are never quenched. Now they birth horrific manifestations of despair – elementals made from the water of the sky and the salt of the earth. The Tears of Pandaria.’

Ken-Ken joined us in the inn, seeking shelter from the rain.

‘Only one lady panda who not crazy? This worse than Ken-Ken thought, Keliera. But Ken-Ken have old hozen remedy that might do trick. Need to mix honey, fish oil and salt. Ken-Ken saw beehives around town, and fish in the dry ponds, but not sure where to fetch salt.’ Mei interjected. ‘The manifestations by the ponds are made of the salts there. If you defeat them, you should be able to extract the salt.’

It was getting quite dark, but I set out anyway, since the pools were not far. Not only were they close, but they were familiar.

The ground was black, and the outside blinding white with the energy being sapped from it. It was the same devastation that had befallen Serpent’s Heart after the Sha of Doubt broke free. The Sha must be around here somewhere, and fairly strong if they had affected a whole town.

Overcoming Doubt: The Temple of the Jade Serpent

Yu’Lon flew me to the entrance to the Temple, where a group of devotees were preparing to attack and re-take the Temple. I was met by Priestess Summerpetal and Master Windstrong, who were leading the offensive.

‘What happened here?’ I asked hurriedly.

The Priestess answered quickly. ‘When the Serpent’s Heart was destroyed, with it went the protective wards of the temple. When you banished the Sha of Doubt back into the ground it entered the Temple grounds and corrupted the whole temple. The Heart of Jade itself is threatened by it.’

Yu’Lon collapsed upon the entrance floor in pain.

‘The Sha is corrupting the Heart of Jade, and with it, Yu’Lon’s strength will be sapped until she is but a pawn of the Sha! You must hurry! I and the Priestess will hold the line here.’ With that, Master Windsong urged us onwards towards the entry chambers to the Fountain of Everseeing.

The once-pristine waters that lined the halls leading to the Fountain were corrupted, turned into oily, dark waters that spewed venom into the halls. The local water sprites had been infected too, spraying corruption across the floors. The students of the halls were all dead. We fought our way through, careful to avoid standing in the corruptive sludge.

Upon reaching the Fountain proper, we saw Wise Mari, the jinyu who was waterspeaker of the Temple, affected too. His pale blue skin had turned blood-red, and spikes had grown along his body. He cast spells of corruption, tainting the waters of the Fountain. Upon seeing us, he protected himself in a bubble and began to summon corrupted elementals from the four springs in the room. Meanwhile, the living waters lining the room bubbled and became scalding hot.

As we fought the elementals, cleansing them of corruption, Mari agitated the water further, so that it spat and crashed around us, threatening to boil us alive. With the death of the last elemental, the waters began to calm, and Mari’s bubble burst open, the shockwave sending us flying across the room.

Engaging him in combat, he began to pull the water of all the room to his person. Magic and blade did nothing to stop it, and soon he began spraying jets of corrupted water around the room. Though for a short while we were on the run, the corruption in the water became weaker the more it moved from Mari, and soon Mari had weakened enough for us to defeat him, and he collapsed upon the floor. Cleansed and unconscious, the water followed Mari’s lead, becoming pristine and tranquil again.

Our next destination was the Scrollkeepers’ Sanctum, where the Sha had infested the books themselves. The Scrollkeepers had since fled or become corrupted, and minor Sha wandered the ancient halls. The books themselves had been made animate by the Sha, and corrupted imagery wandered the halls. Tales such as Jiang and Xiang, the juggling brothers, The Talking Fish and The Songbird Queen, and curious collections of beasts I simply did not understand jumped out at us as we fought past the Sha and into the heart of the library, where Lorekeeper Stonestep duelled with a corrupted scroll. As we approached the Sha began to mass, channeling their beings into the scroll, which rose up and formed one last tale: The Trial of the Yaungol.

The Trial of the Yaungol, as explained to us by the Lorekeeper, was a tale of a Yaungol who was ambushed on a trip through Kun-Lai Summit by peril and strife. The only way to defeat it was to focus our attacks so that neither became weaker or stronger than the other, achieving balance and giving the yaungol the inner peace to pass through. With enough of that tactic, both creatures fell.

Making our way next onto the terraces, we found the jade statues malformed by the Sha, and all the priests dead. In the courtyard, the remaining Sha and priests dueled in a great battle. The numbers we brought with us turned the battle in our favour, Sha by Sha, until Liu Fireheart, the priestess in charge of the Jade Serpent’s rebirth, was left in the middle, overcome by doubt. Despite our numbers, her abilities were incredibly powerful, and with martial arts she matched every one of our blows with two, sending fire and serpentflame shooting across the courtyard.

When it looked at last as though the battle was turning in our favour, she leapt up into the sky. ‘Jade Serpent, bestow upon me your aid!’ Over flew the now-corrupted Jade Serpent herself, Yu’Lon, to her aid.

‘No! Yu’Lon!’ the remaining priests and priestesses were terrified, and fled. They were losing their faith. No!

The remainder of us leapt in to battle with the great serpent, who, though corrupted, was aged and weak, and was defeated. With her being cleansed, she breathed soft, calming peace onto Liu.

‘May your doubts be assuaged, my student, in your sleep.’ Yu’Lon nodded to us in thanks, and the doors to the final tower swung open.

Sha leapt out at the great serpent, who was too weak now to defend herself, and we battled them, defeating them, until shadowy tendrils grabbed us and pulled us into the Heart of Jade.

Within, the Sha of Doubt filled the room, reformed after its second banishment. We had no option but to fight it with few, and the battle began to turn against us as the Sha split our wills from ourselves and began to corrupt them. Soon, we were battling ourselves, and yet there was only battle in our minds.

Your friends are not your friends.

Death awaits you.

Pandaria will be your end.

You have no hope.

I could feel the grey doubts invading my mind, and I began to lose myself, drowning. This couldn’t be! We had come so close!

There had to be something to have faith in, something to stop the doubts before it was too late.

And yet… the only thing I could have faith in now… was my ability to still hold faith.

And that was all I needed. With it, I broke free of the bonds the Sha held over me, and colour flooded my senses. With my own freedom my companions regained faith in me, and with it so too were they freed. Under our might the Sha began to fall.

‘No… This cannot be… You cannot escape me… I am… in… every… breath…’ With one last curse, the sha fell to the ground and shattered into pieces. Wisps of its being flew out and were dispelled forever.

The Temple belonged to the Jade Serpent once more. The curse of Doubt had been freed, and Faith had truly returned to Pandaria.

The Jade Forest: Part 11

I and Velore remained in blissful silence, both merely happy to be in company, as we rode north. The forest was quiet, as though it anticipated a fight. The sky was dark, but my happiness and resolution was all the light I needed in the world at that moment.

When we reached Grookin Hill, Chief Kah Kah and General Nazgrim were surveying a map of the Forest.

‘Throm-Ka, Keliera! Our preparations are almost complete. I hope you learned valuable information on your trip, for we have need of you now. We have been training the Hozen since you left, and they are almost prepared for war. I would like you to oversee training, and motivate the less-disciplined ones. There is no room for slacking in the Horde!’

The Hozen moved around the Hill with efficiency now, in formations, undergoing constant drills. Fishy water quickly awoke slackers, and by the south side of the village a line of refurbished catapults were practising. Down at the Murky Bank, the Hozen gathered supplies extremely efficiently. I was not the only one surprised by how well the survivors had been able to turn the Hozen into an army – it was also slightly scary. Nazgrim was pleased with the progress, but he did not seem overconfident.

Later that day Lorewalker Cho arrived at the gates of the village to see me.

‘This new way of the Hozen is troubling. They march in formation and carry arms. It is not their way. Still, we can discuss that later. The ancient fresco you aided me with restoring earlier is almost fully revealed. I am certain that it holds ancient knowledge the last emperor wanted us to remember. My meditations may not be enough to find its meaning, however – I will require the blessing of my ancestors, and I would like you to present an offering to them for me while I journey back to the Omen. Mishi can take you to the shrine.’ With that, Cho gestured to his companion, a bright red cloud serpent that I had not seen before. Mishi was very friendly, and flew me to the shrine with no complaints. It was quite amazing to fly on such a majestic being, and it felt like floating in mid-air.

Mishi flew me to Serpent’s Overlook, a collection of memorial buildings on top of a small plateau just north of the Nectarbreeze Orchard. Though it was passing into night, I found the shrine of Cho’s family quite easily. I knelt before the shrine, presenting a family heirloom – Cho’s offering – at the foot of the shrine, as Cho no doubt looked to the fresco for guidance.

The last emperor cleared his mind and looked to the future for guidance.

He saw races woven together by history break apart and fight, brother versus sister.

The war given to them by others will release ancient evil upon all of the lands.

The next morning I was woken by the cacophony of battle. Already? I scrambled to the edge of the Overlook to see an army of hozen fighting an army of jinyu on Serpent’s Heart. The Horde and Alliance would war? Here?

Brother versus sister, bonds shattered and flung into the fire. Doubt in their history, doubt in their bonds and commonality. The loss of their faith and the start of their war.

The sky cracked and rain began to fall. Lightning and thunder echoed the ongoing battle. Gunfire and explosives filled the air with the wrong kind of light.

Bang.

No! They’d hit the statue! The Jade Serpent was falling!

‘Keliera!’

Cho’s voice sounded as he weaved through the fire on Mishi and landed beside me. I was locked onto the fight, paralysed by doubt. How could I fight this war when it created such destruction of beauty? What was I fighting for? Who was I fighting for?

‘Keliera, I-I saw-‘

The statue hit the ground, throwing earth and soldiers everywhere. From the Temple the Pandaren looked on, horrified.

The statue’s spine cracked, and soon it was shattering into hundreds of dull pieces of jade. The stone base of the statue ripped open with a horrifying scream. The ground turned black and consumed the soldiers whole.

‘It… we are too late… The Sha returns..’

From beneath the ground the statue had once stood on, shadow swept out like a tornado, engulfing all that lived on the island and seared the ground with black and white energy. The energy rose up into a behemoth as tall as the Temple itself.

The Sha of Doubt. The Sha that the last emperor had bound beneath the Forest. A leviathan of shadow and emotion, with gaping jaws that open up only into oblivion. It had a body that moved as though made of smoke, and horrific, malformed claws. I had seen the Sha before, in Thunder Hold – but this was greater than anything I had ever thought possible. All the doubt of the Forest had formed into this – and the words of Tarun Zhu came true. Our bloodbath had had far worse effects than we had considered possible.

Cho stood beside me.

‘The legends… they’re true! I thought Sha of this immensity were but legend – we all did. Just a story to prevent fighting amongst the young and keep the smaller Sha at bay. There is no time to talk! The Sha is feeding off the fissures created by its release and the war made above its prison. Take Mishi and seal the fissures before it can grow stronger!’ Cho handed me a cannon and Mishi lowered her head for me to climb on.

‘I will research the archives of my family. There must be something we can do to contain this horror!’

I mounted Mishi and we set off towards the Sha. There was no time for fear, even though it gripped me like ice – Pandaria needed us. Around what was once Serpent’s Heart, the trees had turned blackened and twisted, and the statues had been destroyed. Great tears in the land oozed dark energy, which floated towards the Sha. Using the hand cannon, the explosions made the holes collapse. The Sha turned and swept a great shadowed hand at us, and Mishi rolled in self-defence. I lost the cannon to the Sha’s claws and it shattered like glass. Now with merely my own magic to spare, I threw fireballs at the ground, hoping that they would be powerful enough to cut off the Sha’s link to the surface. As we circled, it barely worked, and the Sha was cut off from its power – dragged back into the earth. We landed by Cho, who had moved to the gong in Serpent’s Heart. Above us, the sky grew black and foreboding with residual energy.

‘The emperor’s message warned only of the unique threat war would bring to Pandaria – the release of powerful Sha of old, like this one. The Omen is silent on how we are to end this crisis. Pandaria is a mystical land, and not all of its secrets are known to the Lorewalkers. Sealing the fissures did not mend what has already been broken. Many minor Sha were formed by the aggression of the previous battle. For now we may only try and diminish their presence here.’ Cho gestured to the chunks of the statue strewn about. ‘Though alone you will not be able to defeat the stronger manifestations, the power of the celestials is imbued in the jade here, and would weaken them. If you meet any of your allies that yet survive, signal Mishi. She will bear them to safety in the Temple for healing.’

I proceeded into the devastated glade, trying to fight past the negative surges that resulted from my proximity to the Sha. Their blinding energy corrupted the ground and surged into the heavens, corrupting the sky as well. The sky flashed ominously, signalling as though it had known the outcome of this day all along.

Though the power of the celestial jade indeed weakened the Sha, it did not do much, and I could only kill a few before their sapping power exhausted me. I only found a few survivors of my own side, Nazgrim included – the Sha appeared to have devastated the tribes of forest hozen and jinyu that had once lived in peace. I mourned them. Their deaths were not their own doing, but the Horde and Alliance’s. Cho was in deep contemplation when I returned.

‘So much lost in so little time… And I fear that this is only… the beginning. We must find a way to undo what has been done here. All this was meant for so much more.’

‘Heroes, I require your aid!’ The call of Yu’Lon sounded as she swept down from the sky beside us.

‘After what has happened here today, it is clear that my destiny will continue for a time. I require your aid, Keliera. Residual energy of the Sha of Doubt has begun to consume the Temple!’

The Jade Forest: Part 10

I found the first missing serpent not far from the courtyard as I headed north. Interested in me and all alone, it happily followed, whizzing about my head and performing entertaining aerobatics. It was good to laugh now and again. I headed into the north tower, into the ground section known as the Fountain of the Everseeing. Here, pure water ran through the walls, collecting in glittering pools around a central fountain, where a jinyu stood. He appeared to be chasing a number of water sprites.

‘I say, give me back my staff! I need that for tonight!’ The elementals chattered and giggled in streams of bubbles, and I quickly stopped some short with a wave of ice. Shocked, they yielded the staff quickly, and I passed it to the jinyu.

‘Thank you. I am Wise Mari, the scryer of these halls. The waters have clouded, and I need this staff to calm the spirits and speak to the water. I am but an old jinyu, and without you I would never have caught those sprites. Once again, thank you. Please tell Elder Sage Rain-Zhu that I will be here continuing my work.’

As I went down the hall, he gave me a piece of wisdom. ‘Water is life. When the waters feel torment, then so shall we.’ As if on cue thunder burst above the temple, preceding another bout of rain. I was beginning to suspect that the rain was not natural. Heading out of the Fountain and onto a sheltered parapet, I found another serpent bobbing its head up and down to the rain. Noticing its friend it flew over and the two chittered excitedly.

I made my way back to the central courtyard, noticing that every few minutes fireworks would go off at random places in the temple. They lightened the mood of the rain considerably, and I set off some from my location before returning to Rain-Zhu.

‘Excellent! Knowing that Mari can once again work has lifted a great burden from my shoulders. However.. there is one other problem I have. Something has been troubling Lorewalker Stonestep, who is in charge of the Temple’s Library. Right now, we don’t have time for him to be distracted. Could I ask you to search in the south tower and find out what ails him?’

With serpent hatchlings in tow, I headed back across the courtyard to the entrance to the south tower, and entered the Scrollkeeper’s Sanctum. The place was wide, old, and just like a library should be – warm, inviting and filled with countless tomes and scrolls. I spotted Lorewalker Stonestep down on the lower level, and walked round to meet him. Curiously, the place was filled with small moths.

Just before Stonestep I found a third young serpent playing hide-and-seek amongst the bookshelves, being scolded by a pair of scrollkeepers. I brought it along with me. Stonestep looked up from his work as I approached.

‘Elder Rain-Zhu sent you? Very well. You are the one who shall help me. Look around you!’ Stonestep gestured wildly to the rafters above. ‘Moths have infested the library! Moths! All the books in here are in danger as long as they remain here. Please, make them go away! My cowardly assistants are scared of the things, and the works of a thousand storytellers depend on the removal of the moths. And that is but the half of it! The moths have already laid eggs, and bookworms are infesting the books as we speak! Remove them immediately, before the books become unsalvagable!’

Stonestep looked considerably stressed, and I obeyed his words. The bookworms were considerably easy to remove, as they could barely move an inch once you shook them from the bookcases. The moths proved more difficult, shaking dust into my eyes and flapping at my head. However, once a few had been taken out the rest took their senses and were driven outside easily with broom and brush.

‘Thank you, oh thank you! You’ve thinned their numbers considerably. I’m so relieved that we were able to avert this potential disaster. Some books will need careful restoration of course, but none are irrecoverable. Please return and inform Elder Rain-Zhu of the good news.

Leaving the library, I returned to the terraces, and found on my way back to the central plaza the last of the missing serpents. Fei looked extremely relieved to see me.

‘Thank you so much! You found them! Now don’t you run off again!’ She waggled her finger at the serpents, feigning disapproval, but quickly lost her facade and began laughing and playing with the serpents.

Elder Sage Rain-Zhu was pleased as well.

‘I do believe my headache is disappearing. Everything is in order once again. You have done what four accomplished priests of Yu’Lon could not. Remarkable. I think it is time that you met the Jade Serpent. You came to deliver a message to her, did you not?’

I felt more than a little nervous as we proceeded in to the final spire. How was one supposed to speak to a flying serpent, especially one revered by every Pandaren you had met?

We entered a large room which connected to a viewing platform. From there you could see all of the eastern coast. But.. there was no jade serpent there.

‘Fei, if you would.’

The little pandaren girl giggled, leaving her hatchling friends and running over to the centre of the room.

She was not a pandaren. She rose in size majestically, darkening in colour and forming into the Jade Serpent, glittering with scales of pure white and dark jade. I was speechless.

‘I apologise for this deception, friend. But you were a stranger, a member of a race we had never seen before. I had to know the bearing of your heart. It is clear to me now.’ The doors shut behind us, and I and Yu’Lon were left alone.

‘The Temple priests are too frightened to face the truth, but I grow old. My time on Pandaria and all of this world is almost up. Do you remember the great statue in the distance? The likeness of myself, built from jade? The workers have toiled for one hundred years on it, and with a little more jade – the jade you brought us – it will be complete.’ The serpents moved to the platform, and indicated for me to climb aboard her back. She flew out of the room and rose high above the temple. It was a wondrous sight, and I was completely awestruck.

‘With my last breath, I shall transfer my life essence to the statue, bringing forth the birth of a new guardian. Do not be sad for my passing – I am but part of the cycle. The beginning came long before me, and the ending will come longer still after me. Someday, you may be called to defend all that is dear to you, as I have done all my life. When that day comes, take my blessing, and seek all the light and wonder of the world, and fight with all your heart. We live together, or we die together. All of Pandaria is connected, as you will grow to know.’

Looping around the statue, Yu’Lon headed back to the temple.

‘I grow weary now, and must rest for when the statue is ready. Goodbye. I will see you soon enough.’ With that, Yu’Lon dropped me off in the courtyard at the front of the temple, and returned to her chambers. Elder Sage Wind-Yi met me again.

‘I see you delivered your message, friend. And I have a message for you. Your companions urgently require your presence back in the Hozen villages. I have arranged transport for when you are ready.’

I took several minutes to think. I had enjoyed aiding the Pandaren, and getting to know their way of life – these past few weeks had meant more to me than all the war before it. But I could not escape the war, and the words of Yu’Lon rang true. I was not just fighting to kill, or to protect myself, or all those fighting alongside myself. This was total war, and I was fighting to defend my way of life, and Quel’Thalas. Maybe I did not want to fight, but I had the most glorious of opportunities – that of protecting all I held dear, and using my love to save others from the sword, and see all the beauty of Pandaria along the way.

Elder Sage Wind-Yi was stood next to a shrine. It seemed familiar, and a curious story scroll was attached.

‘The Emperor’s Burden – Part 3

It was at this very location ten thousand years ago that Shaohao, the last emperor of Pandaria, defeated the Sha of Doubt and imprisoned it beneath the land.

From the Book of Burdens, Chapter 5:

“Shaohao meditated for three days and three nights, for the counsel of the Jade Serpent was unclear. How could one purge oneself of all doubt?

Weary of waiting, Shaohao’s travelling companion the Monkey King whittled a strange grimacing visage out of bamboo. He urged the Emperor to place the Mask of Doubt on his face…”

While mischief was the Monkey King’s motivation, the mask worked – as Shaohao pulled the mask away, his doubts took on a physical form. For seven hours they fought, until the Sha of Doubt was buried.

From that day onward, the last emperor had no doubt that he would save Pandaria from the Sundering. He became a creature of faith.’

It was the same story as I had read about in Dawn’s Blossom. Its message was clear, that doubt would only lead to downfall. And I was ready.

‘Good. Your transport is around somewhere.’ The Elder Sage whistled cheerfully, and was responded to by the call of… a hawkstrider?

It couldn’t be. It was.

Velore burst forth from behind one of the trees, worm in beak, and nuzzled me.

‘I’ve missed you, old friend. Come. We have a war to fight sometime or other.’ Bowing once more to Elder Sage Wind-Yi, and telling her to pass on my gratitude to the Temple for keeping Velore safe, I set back off through the gates of the temple, towards the north, and Grookin Hill.

To war.

The Jade Forest: Part 9

I awoke in front of the tan chao. Pei-Zhi smiled benevolently at me.

‘You’ve been out for almost an hour. The battle is won, Keliera.

This age must be one of great strife to breed heroes such as you. I can only imagine what adventures lie ahead for you. It has been a great honour to meet you and to fight alongside you. Until the last spirits pass through the tan-chao, I will remain here, guiding them. Then, I will pass through the veil myself.

But I am disturbed by the last curse of the spirit waker. “You will not stop the thunder.” I do not know what he could have meant. But balance is restored here. Please, go and inform your people, and mine. No doubt they need this knowledge as much as anyone on Pandaria.’

Bidding Pei-Zhi a final goodbye, I headed out of the silent Terrace, back towards Greenstone Quarry, where I had originally been bound when I had stumbled across the ruins. Finding my way to its entrance, a cave bored into a mountain, I saw most of the resident miners running in fear around the area. I had encountered captive shale spiders before, but not living ones. Surely they couldn’t be any more dangerous than what I’d seen before…

Perhaps as soon as I stepped inside there was a rockfall which nearly took off my head. I hurried in.

‘Over here! Help!’

I ran towards the source of the noise, finding a large pandaren trapped under a pile of rocks.

‘I’m Hao Mann. I just need to get out of this – Nnngrh! Nope, not got it.’ He tried to shove himself out, but refused my offer of help. ‘Let me guess, my wife sent you. Ha, she’s always frettin’ over me. I’ll be fine, but some o’ the boys are in real trouble. Go down and give ’em a hand, would ya?’ With that, he pushed the rocks off. ‘I’ll be outside settling things down. You look like you can handle yourself in here.’

The shale spiders were quite small compared to what I had been expecting – they were known as nibblers by the local miners. They were no trouble compared to getting the miners out of the fixes they’d ended up in. Some were trapped under rockfalls, others stuck in tiny holes in their attempt to flee. However, when I got onto the lower level of the mine I realised why there was so much trouble. The adult spiders had grown extremely large on the jade down here, and towered much wider (if not taller) than me. They threw rocks in anger at being disturbed and at times I worried that the mineshafts would collapse.

With the mine in some semblance of order again, I made my way outside. Hopefully the miners would be able to seal up the shaft the spiders were coming from. Hao greeted me. ‘Those miners were runnin outta there like ol’ Kher Shan himself were chasin’ em! What a laugh! Now, you need ta get this jade back and I need ta get back ta my wife, so what d’you say I take you in the cart? We’re on schedule so it’s the least I can do. You climb on in back and let ol’ Hao do the pulling.’ I wasn’t going to decline his hospitality, so I let him take me back to Emperor’s Omen.

As he pulled me along, a few remaining shale spiders charged us, but in the exposed air they were easily defeatable. ‘Doggone critters don’t know when to give up, do they? I like you, elf. What a rush! Ho-ho!’ We soon arrived back at Emperor’s Omen, where Mrs Mann gave her husband a public scolding.

‘Snow Lily! We’re back from the quarry with a special delivery for you!’

‘Hon- It’s about time! Don’t you Snow Lily me, we were worried sick about you! And this jade is for the Lorewalk-oh!’ Hao silenced his wife with a quick kiss, and she bowed to me in thanks. ‘I can’t stay mad at you, old bear. Thank you for keeping him out of trouble, Keliera. And- oh, you brought so much jade! This should be enough for at least another pane!’

By now, the first tablet had been fully restored, showing a single Pandaren in meditation. The second was in progress, and showed two Pandaren crossing swords against a backdrop of fire… like a war. Oh! The Mogu! I quickly informed Lorewalker Cho.

‘The mogu return in force, it seems… we do not know their aims yet, but thank you for your services, Keliera. I will inform the other settlements.’ Lorewalker Cho pulled a thin bamboo whistle from one of his bags, and blew a single, haunting note into it. A kingfisher flew down from the fresco, and chirped happily to the Lorewalker. The Lorewalker nodded to it and whispered a few words, and the bird set off south. Cho chuckled. ‘Kingfishers enjoy humour, Keliera, but they are one of the most reliable birds in a hurry.’

The dark clouds overhead for the past days had meant I’d lost track of time, and I was informed that it was early morning. Mrs Mann spoke to me after I’d eaten breakfast.

‘Keliera, thanks to your efforts we actually have excess jade from this project. While we continue the restoration here, would you mind bringing the jade south to Serpent’s Heart? My friend, Foreman Raike, is in charge of the construction of the great statue there. Tell him his old friend Mann says hello.’

So, later that morning I bid my farewells again to Cho and the Manns, and set off south via kite for Dawn’s Blossom, then by foot to Serpent’s Heart. I had seen the Jade Serpent’s statue from afar on my way to Nectarbreeze Orchard, but I had yet to encounter it up close. It was quite exciting, for I had heard that the statue was based on a great cloud serpent that granted the Pandaren in the Forest knowledge.

As I headed south I thought of my hawkstrider, Velore. My feet had hurt for days because of the walking everywhere, but it was more than speed. I missed having my companion with me. Velore understood when I was upset and provided great comfort back in Eversong. I had not seen him since the first battle on the shores. I wondered if he was still alive, and either way if he was happy. I hoped so.

Along the main road south from Dawn’s Blossom, the path splits, one way leading to Serpent’s Heart and the other to the Temple of the Jade Serpent. Having not been down this route before, I was able to truly marvel at the beauty of the Pandaren constructions. Their people were the most content race I knew, yet constantly they strived for more beauty and achievement.

Upon entering Serpent’s Heart from the north the first thing you see is a grand stone fountain across from the beautiful orange groves. Further in, a great spire of metal rises out of the central ground, around which jade is wrapped tightly, in a coiled tail that leads up to a grand construction, a giant statue of a serpent that could house an entire town if it were hollow. The serpent’s body rests at the top, where it sits and stares out at the sun, seeking knowledge. No detail had been left undone on the great statue, and as I grew closer I could tell it was close to completion. Delicate bamboo scaffolds perched atop it, and the gentle sounds of skilled Pandaren craftsmen floated down. Hundreds of mockingbirds nested in the trees, singing in testament to the beauty of the statue, and on the ground huge yellow blossoms grew. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had seen in Pandaria so far, all contained on a small island in the middle of the Jade Forest’s largest river.

I made my way along the path that led around the Serpent, passing by jovial workers on their breaks and visitors who meditated in proximity to the statue, overlooked by the wisdom of the Serpent and the Temple. On the other side of the island I found Foreman Maike, ordering about idle Pandaren from a collection of workers’ tents.

‘Do my eyes decieve me? A full shipment of pure, high-quality jade ready for cutting? I knew Foreman Mann would come through for us! Thank you for bringing it by.’ I was not surprised that he was more thankful for the jade than for my delivering it – the Serpent’s Heart construction had been delayed for weeks by the problems in the jade supply line, and the Pandaren in Dawn’s Blossom had been worried that they would not be able to see the grand revealing if construction went into the harvest time.

Foreman Raike turned to me. ‘Could I trouble you for another favour? This shipment of jade is the last one we need, but I am far too busy with organising to get it where it needs to be. Could you take it to the taskmasters around the base, and to Taskmaster Emi at the top? We’re on a deadline, so please hurry!’

So I ferried jade first to Historian Dinh, who was in charge of constructing a gong opposite the serpent, then  to Surveyor Sawa who was finishing details at the base, and quickly took a ride to the top of the Serpent from Kitemaster Shoku. The workers seemed to go into a frenzy as they began to apply the last details – but were no less careful than in any of the other details I had seen previously. Taskmaster Emi awaited my arrival at the top.

‘Wonderful! We now have all the jade we need. Just look at this. A whole century spent on producing this beautiful monument to the Jade Serpent. Now, we are almost finished, and your aid has played a key part in this indeed.’ From the top of the Serpent, I could see huge tracts of the forest – all the way down to the southern orchards and the northern temples, as well as miles upon miles of beautiful greenery.

I helped out for the rest of the day, though I could not do much except transport jade – I was not skilled at all in the crafts the Pandaren carried out, and I was merely grateful for a chance to look upon the grand finale of construction. Historian Dinh spoke to me as the workers began to finish.

‘You would learn more of the Jade Serpent if you went to her temple in the east. Please, let me give you a letter of recommendation.’

Foreman Raike agreed. ‘You can go tell Yu’Lon, the Jade Serpent herself, of our progress. By the time you get there we should have completed the statue.’ Historian Dinh passed me a letter bound for Elder Sage Wind-Yi, which would give me entry to the Temple’s esteemed grounds. Kitemaster Shoku gave me a kite to take me to the Temple Gates.

The Temple of the Jade serpent is incredible tall, a central building surrounded by three jade towers that stretch into the sky. The third and furthest back stretches tallest of the lot, almost touching the clouds. The grounds possess the tallest trees in the whole forest, and one could wander the grounds in peace for hours without meeting a soul other than the local wildlife. Details are everywhere, with huge walls and gates telling countless stories and with countless engravings.

I quickly found Elder Sage Wind-Yi outside the main door to the Temple.

‘Welcome, stranger, to the Temple of the Jade Serpent! Our doors are open to you on this fine day. How may I help you?’

‘I have a message from Serpent’s Heart to deliver to the Jade Serpent, ma’am.’

‘But of course! Come this way and speak to Elder Rain-Zhu.’ She led me through a gate into a large plaza where trainees of the Order of the Cloud Serpents trained. At the top of the plaza, at the door to one of the large towers, we met Elder Rain-Zhu.

‘Ah, a messenger from the Serpent’s Heart? Thank you, stranger, for coming all this way. But I am afraid you cannot speak to the Jade Serpent right now – the ancient one is very busy, and as you can see, not here. Would you mind helping us out while you wait? Some of the water sprites have made off with our water scryer’s ceremonial staff, and they have fled to the north side of the temple to play. Could you go find it?’

I of course agreed, if it would gain me audience with the wondrous Jade Serpent I had heard so much of. I was naturally curious about why the Pandaren would revere a beast. As I was leaving a little Pandaren girl ran up to me.

‘Hey there! I saw you talking to the Elder Sage and I thought you could help me. My name’s Fei, I’m one of the apprentices here and I help care for the hatchlings! Some of the young cloud serpents snuck off to play and the mistress will get angry if she finds out they’re gone before dinner! Could you look for them for me? Oh, and I was told to give you these! We’re going to be celebrating the unveiling of the statue soon!’ With that, the girl handed me some fireworks and ran off.

It appeared that my path would stretch a little further.

The Jade Forest: Part 8

‘With the arrival of strangers on Pandaria, I thought it important that we learn more from our history. This ancient fresco has fallen into ruin, but was once inlaid with jade and told many stories.’

Cho was interrupted by a woman stood to his side. ‘I understand, Lorewalker, but the Serpent’s Heart Project is already behind schedule after the Forest Heart incident. There is no stone to spare! If you want jade for this, you’ll have to go get it from the wood sprites in the mason’s quarters in Greenstone. My whole jade supply line has fallen apart, and those chopsticks are driving away the masons!’

‘Have patience, Mrs Mann. These strangers from beyond the mists are surprising and more resourceful than you may think.’

I headed south to Greenstone Village as it had been indicated to me. It did not take long to find the Mason’s Quarters, as it was the uninhabited northern section of the village, in a state of disarray and infested with sprites tossing jade fragments all around. As I sent them scurrying into the forest and recollected the jade, I began to wonder if there was something wrong with the balance of Pandaria – the nature sprites had been responsible for troubles in several regions of the Forest alone. I made my way back to Emperor’s Omen, where – to my surprise – one of the three tablets that had lain in ruin was already half-restored.

Foreman Mann met me as I entered the grove. ‘I hope you showed those walkin’ toothpicks a thing or two. Playin’ catch with my product.. Pah! Anyway, you’ve proven your worth. Maybe you can help me out with the mining situation. You’re definitely gonna need more jade than Cho had you bring. Normally, we’d be easily able to fulfill Cho’s request even with the Serpent’s Heart project going on.. But we’ve got problems.’

Foreman Mann walked with me as she oversaw the restoration. ‘Ever seen shale spiders in action? Usually they’re harmless things, they’ll stay underground eating rocks, but if they get a taste of gems or precious rocks, they’ll never stop searching for them. A few days back we dug into a nest of the things. They swarmed the mine, and they’re eating us out of jade. Clear them out and we’ve got spare jade again. The mines are in the quarry to the west.’

As I set off, Mann yelled at me. ‘And one other thing!’ She ran up, concern etched on her hard face. ‘My husband’s refusin’ to leave the mines. Says he’s needed for moral support. Stubborn as a Hozen, but please… make sure he’s alright.’ I nodded, and Mann turned away, her face regaining composure.

As I travelled towards the mines, I saw a disturbance by a river. Two nature sprites under attack by a… mogu? It looked like one, yet it appeared to be crafted entirely from stone. If this was the reason for the nature sprites’ incursion into Greenstone, perhaps there was more than missing jade to worry about. I quickly destroyed the stone mogu, and as it fell to pieces, a curious spirit rose up out of it and fled deeper into the forest. I followed, quickly carving a trail of dead constructs through the forest. Soon, I came upon a clearing.

Mogu ruins, from the looks of it. But surging with energy. Spirits like those I’d seen come out of the constructs whizzed around on trails of blue magic. The Woods of the Lost gave way to a place I had heard only whispers of in my short time in Pandaren society: The Terrace of Ten Thunders. The cries of the statues became more pained the closer I grew to it – they were possessed by the spirits, rather than merely animated, and it sounded forced.

At curious altars, real mogu called spirits from beyond, binding them into the stone of the land. Suddenly I had an explanation for the disturbances caused by the nature spirits. I quickly launched into combat against the spirit-binders, felling them before they could further distort the balance, and destroying the inanimate statues for good measure. Curiously, the statues here were identical to the ruined one I had seen in the Ascent of Swirling Winds – except smaller. The power of the spirits appeared to boost that of the statues several times over – the stones crumbled with ease because of their age and abandonment.

I soon reached the top of the terrace. I wondered if the sudden reappearance of the spiritbinders here was related to the attack on the southern orchards. At the top of the terrace, a master spiritbinder was calling tens, maybe even hundreds of spirits, and forcing them towards the largest statue of the lot. It was easily the same size as the ruined one back in the Ascent, and I dreaded to think of how powerful it could become if possessed. On a nearby altar, a sacrified pandaren’s stave was embedded in the rock, drawing energy as part of the ritual. With the master spiritbinder immersed in the ritual I quickly ran over and pulled out the stave. With its release, a faint spirit appeared over the altar.

‘Quickly, friend! You must empower the staff with the spirits before they are sacrificed! Only then will we have enough power to halt Shan Jitong!’

‘Puny Pandaren! Your meddling is pointless! The ritual is almost complete!’ We had garnered the attention of the master spiritbinder, and the spirits started coming twice as quickly. I began pulling them back, drawing them into the power of the staff.

‘SPIRITBINDERS! WE ARE UNDER ATTACK! STOP THIS INTERLOPER!’ On call, mogu spiritbinders began to return to the top of the terrace, trying to interfere. I paralysed a couple and killed two more.

‘MORE SPIRITS! MORE SPIRITS! I AM SO CLOSE!’ A huge wave of spirits was called forth and began to procede towards the altar. I called forth the arcane into my fingertips, flinging it forth at the spirits. Caught in the arcane storm they were all halted and pulled into the staff, which reached full power. It shot at Shan Jitong, whose ritual was halted entirely.

‘Too much! It’s too much! I cannot fall here. Not with so much work left to be done!’ The mogu ran forth towards the statue, and despite my efforts to catch him, teleported away.

The Pandaren spirit floated towards the ground. ‘Spirit-binding! How were the mogu allowed to resume such a disgusting practise? At least the spirits will find peace again now, thanks to you. Wait… I have not seen your kind before. What century is this?’ The Pandaren, who introduced himself as Pei-Zhi, was the remnant of a failed conjuring by Shan Jitong. He had been the Spiritsage under Emperor Shaohao.

‘Keliera, with your help I can create a beacon, or tan-chao: a bridge from this world to the afterlife. With it, we can guide the souls trapped here back where they belong. There are probably Spiritclaws still capturing spirits for the Spiritbinders around here – reclaim their bottled spirits, and use the staff to capture any wayward spirits you find.’

So I proceeded past the top tier and onto the other side of the ruins, where mogu spiritbinders chased anguished spirits between the stones and trees. The spiritbinders were distracted and I managed to take them out quite easily from behind, but the spirits proved trickier to control. As I reached the top terrace with the ritual artifacts in tow, a mighty clap of thunder echoed across the sky, and another rainstorm broke out – warmeer than the one I had been caught in at the Monastery, but no less wet.

Pei-Zhi’s spirit awaited me upon my return. ‘If the mogu are spiritbinding once more, this is no light matter. Keliera, this means that the mogu are preparing for war. The coordinated attack on Nectarbreeze Orchard starting at the same time this did only confirms that.

To think the mogu have continued training spiritbinders all these years – the spirits cry out in anger and pain. Quickly, we must begin the ritual.’ Pei-Zhi began to set up, but stopped upon noticing movement in one of the spirit bottles. He examined it.

‘Impossible – these are not ancestor spirits, but beast spirits! The mogu have been poaching to fuel their simulacra. I cannot free these in the ritual. Take them to Tideview Thicket to the north, and release them there. Oh, and if you can, please collect some food for an offering while you’re at it.’

I made my way out of the ruins and into the forest proper. Tideview Thicket was filled with mushrooms, and while a few spiritbinders fruitlessly chased the local panthers around, I was able to collect a suitable amount. On my way through, I discovered a quaint Pandaren wishing well. I wondered who had put it there. I threw a gold coin in and made a wish. A sense of inner clarity seemed to sweep over my being. I turned to my next task – the releasing of the beast spirits.

Most were content to be freed and moved on quickly, but a few, bound in rage and terror, leapt at me as though I were the one that had imprisoned them. I did not hold their madness against them, and with magic was able to push them on too.

Pei-Zhi was almost ready when I returned. ‘Thank you, Keliera. Though Tidemist Caps are not the most obvious of offerings, the sentiment will bring the spirits to our side. Now that we have this, we are ready to open the tan-chao and bridge earth and sky, allowing the spirits to find peace.

Please, accompany and protect me as I complete the ritual. The mogu will no doubt sense the ritual and try to interrupt me. If I am undisturbed for long enough for the path to open, it will be too powerful to close. Follow me.’

Pei-Zhi led me along one of the winding paths north until we reached an abandoned altar. As Pei-Zhi opened the tan-chao, his voice reverberated with those of the spirits.

‘We are the lost. We know not who we are, or where we belong. We wander in darkness.
We see a flicker of flame. It seems far, but we know it to be close.’

As the spirits flocked to us the spiritclaws attacked, and I barely managed to keep them from breaking Pei-Zhi’s concentration.

‘In the dancing glow, we see an empty bowl. We fill the bowl – it becomes our body. We rest.
We fear not the darkness of this world. We know it is but shadow, cast by the glorious world beyond.’

By now almost all the spiritclaws from the ruins were advancing upon us. Fear and hopelessness trickled into my vision.

‘We fear not the brilliance of the tan-chao – we know it is a path home. The bridge between earth and sky.’

Something I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams began. As though sensing the attack on the balance, the spirits and the beasts of the wilds turned upon the mogu. Within seconds countless spiritclaws fell to the just anger of those they had wronged, and soon the tide was in our favour. The tan-chao opened, a glorious apex of light in the dark sky, and the spirits raced towards it, their final peace amongst the stars.

Pei-Zhi’s voice returned to normal. ‘It is done, Keliera! While I will join the spirits momentarily, first let me express my grati-‘

‘SPIRITSAGE!’ The voice cracked the ground as a portal swirled up in front of us, and out stepped Shan Jitong. Before I could act, he chained Pei-Zhi’s spirit to himself.

‘I told you I’d have you. I’d gladly trade all the spirits in this forest to see you bound.’ He turned to face me, and I feared for my own soul. ‘It is pointless now to send spiritclaws, for they will die at your feet. Know this, little elf: all that we have done here will be petty compared to what I have planned for this one.’

He tugged on the spirit-chain, pulling the struggling Pei-Zhi to him. ‘Run away. And do not look back. Not even the pandaren can hope to face the product of my next spirit-binding.’ With that, he stepped through the portal. Though the day had been won, it did not feel like it at all. Only greater danger lay ahead, it seemed.

The air above me crackled with energy. Shan Jitong was working in the terrace. Even if it meant my own life, his work must be stopped. I hurried north, to the Seat of the Spirit Waker, but I was too late. Shan Jitong had already bound Pei-Zhi’s spirit to a monstrous creation, a mogu colossu almost thirty feet high. But if I wanted to end the crimes here, then I had to try.

I engaged the giant statue, flinging fire and arcane at its head. I was faster than it, and though it pounded the ground, I was always one step ahead. I split mirror images off myself and began to throw barrage after barrage of magic at it.

‘You will not interefere again!’ Shan Jitong appeared within the Seat, firing shadow at me and trying to sever my spirit from my body. I was almost caught several times, and realised that I would have to end the construct quickly or be doomed. I muttered a large incantation that sapped my magic, casting a living bomb curse upon the construct. Drained, I felt the magic of Shan Jitong pulling at me. ‘You cannot hide from me in your body! I will have your spirit, like all the others! You are MINE!’

The colossus exploded, shooting fire all over the Seat. With such a large blow dealt, the construct began to crumble, and as it fell on the ground with a resounding crash, the link between it and Pei-Zhi’s spirit broke too.

‘What? IMPOSSIBLE!’ Shan Jitong appeared through the smoke. ‘No matter, I shall just have to tear your spirit out… by hand.

‘Time to fight your own battles, you monster!’ Pei-Zhi leapt in front of my tired form, and freed the remaining spirits from Shan Jitong’s grasp.

‘No… my wards!’ The spiritbinder and spiritsage fought for what seemed like hours in my dazed vision, but soon Shan Jitong fell to the ground, defeated.

‘No… You will not… defeat… the thunder…’ Unable to finish his sentence, he collapsed, dead at last. Exhausted, sleep finally took me from the world of the waking.