The Jade Forest: Part 4

‘Now, the dilemma of those you brought with you. My people have built relations with the Hozen, though some may view them as crude, and you can do the same. At this time every year the Hozen lose many to the creatures of the water. If you were to rescue some victims and gather some fish from the waters the Hozen feed from, they might regard you more favourably.’ Cho nodded to a path beside the shrine. ‘This path leads to their waters, past Camp Nooka Nooka. Good luck.’

I followed the path, trying to steer clear from the Hozen, who ran in terror upon my arrival. Apparently my reputation preceded me. I quickly made my way to the higher waters of Serenity Falls – Lake Kittitata. The trees here grew larger, with beautiful white blossoms that hung six feet long. The waters were less calm, however, due to the snapping of feasting crocolisks, chasing and generally terrorising hungry Hozen and idle fish.

Despite the cries of the terrified Hozen I fought my way through, sending the crocolisks back to the far shore and freeing the Hozen and their fish from the sharp jaws. Someway through, I stumbled across a curious circle of stones in the middle of the lake. A broken ritual stone lay on the floor. I took it. It might be useful later. As I turned to take the fish I had collected to the village, I saw a couple of Hozen chattering.

‘Wikket grook crocs! Wikket grook crocs! We tell Nooki Nooki!’ Assuming that this Nooki Nooki was their local leader, I followed them quietly through the Camp. The Camp was very quaint. The Hozen lived in little huts of dark-painted wood and golden leaf roofing. Far more advanced than the architecture I’d seen earlier. Nooki Nooki was indeed at the largest hut, surrounded by chittering advisors who screamed and fled as I approached. Nooki Nooki remained, however, as I laid the fish at his feet in an offering of peace.

‘Wikket brings slickies for us? Wikket save Hozen and bring slickies? Wikket not so bad.’

Nooki Nooki took me through the village, explaining that the Hozen had a fairly simple life in peace with the rest of the natives, but the new arrivals were not entirely being nice. He handed me some Alliance orders, gained from a raid earlier, as well as telling me to bring the chief Kah Kah some cricket legs as bait and killing the alpha of the local tigers in order to clear a safe path. I set out straight away – I probably didn’t have much of a choice if I wanted to secure safety from the Hozen. Heading out of the camp, I entered Tigers’ Wood, a beautiful Vale. Heading along the path, blue flares flickered at me from a lavender grove east of me. I headed along. Sure enough, Alliance paratroopers had fired flares, and were busy fighting the local Hozen. Even with their aid, the Alliance did not fall easily, and after the death of their captain, their blood seeped into the ground as though the ground were absorbing it. It worried me.

With the Hozen gaining the offensive, I moved through the Wood, past incredibly tall pink and purple flowers with petals the size of my hands, to a clearing filled with carcasses that led to a large cave. No doubt the location of Kher Shan. I moved in, and quickly the grand tiger came into view, the largest of the pack by far. Engaging him with blinding fire, I moved around, barely dodging his massive rakes, until nearby Hozen joined in with the fight, avenging the brothers and sisters they had lost to the fiend.  Even in death he was an awesome creature.

I headed back to the path, coming to a river inhabited by luminous flies, and set about taking some of their legs for the Chief. Curiously, along the river I noticed some fish-men, as well as rafts that appeared to have sails made from the wings of the nearby flies. They did not seem occupied with me, and so I proceeded onwards with my task. Crossing the river, I came to Grookin Hill, a Hozen settlement even further developed than Camp Nooka Nooka had been. Chief Kah Kah was found front and centre in the largest building.

‘Welcome, wikket! Wikket very good to Hozen. Hozen has gift for good wikket, kept safe from great crash.’ Kah Kah handed me… a signal flare? It looked like they’d been using it as a weapon, but a couple of arcane charges did the trick. I sent up a flare – and with it came Nazgrim, and the survivors.

‘Impressive work. I had not thought the Horde able to gain allegiance from such creatures. Now that we have free passage we can turn our attention to more important matters.’

We stayed in Grookin Hill overnight, as I introduced the others to the Hozen’s way of life, and we planned out our next steps. An away team would scout the land, chartering it for settlement. Meanwhile, I would stay with Nazgrim to observe the Alliance.

In the morning, Nazgrim awoke me early.

‘The scouts have already departed. The fish-men – jinyu, according to the Pandaren – are hostile to the Hozen in the area, and as a result to us. They are massing along the river bed and must be driven back. And… The Chief has asked that you bring back some bird guts.’ Nazgrim huffed in frustration and left.

I made my way down to the riverbed. Sure enough, curious humanoids that looked part-man, part-fish were sat and stood in the river in ritual. The waters seemed faster and more dangerous than they had been before. I made my way down the bed, taking out a few with well-aimed fireballs, and scaring off the others with illusion. However, some were bolder than others, and leapt at me, tearing at me with mastery over the local water. I barely managed to get away long enough to conjure up a bout of missiles to take them out. The Jinyu were more powerful than I had anticipated.

With them driven away I headed south along the river, looking for birds and wondering why the Chief wanted bird guts. Not far along I spotted some eagles flying overhead to my west, and headed inland. There were some Hozen and Jinyu engaged in combat, but I was fairly certain of our ability to handle them. Passing into the Dookin’ Grounds I engaged a few of the birds with the Arcane. I was sorely underprepared and forced to take refuge under a tree from their fast claws.

Fortunately, a few projectiles managed to take them out when they came too close and I hurried back to the village before they called reinforcements. When I got back, I was immediately assigned elsewhere.

‘We need to supply the Hozen with more food if we’re to all continue living here for now. Behind the village is an isolated lake. There should be enough fish there, it’s where the Hozen get most of theirs.’

I was welcome of the chance to be alone for a while without urgency. At the Murky Bank, I found a lovely isolated lake brimming with fish, and relatively small snappers. However, my gaze was commanded by the sight of a massive, near-prehistoric beast resting atop the cliffs above. It looked like a larger, more reptilian Kodo, and yet far more wise and awesome. Above me the cliffs stretched far further into Pandaria. Curiously, part of the nearby cliffs looked charred and desolate, cracked as though in drought.

The water flowing from elsewhere in Pandaria led down to a Pandaren-built gate quite far off, and eventually to the sea. I turned to the task at hand, quickly gathering fish from the waters. The local turtles did not appreciate this, however, and I soon had several at my heels. Taking them out with a couple of fire blasts, I decided that taking their flesh may help as well.

With my bags and hands full, I made my way back to the village. These lands were quite peaceful now that things were almost settled. Perhaps I’d get to go back to Kalimdor soon. Almost as soon as I had put the food into storage, I was shouted by a goblin survivor, Rivett.

‘Ey, kid! The scoutin’ party found ’em an Alliance! They’re gonna interrogate it when you get there! Nazgrim’s a-waitin!’

Taking a moment to clean my hands of blood, I hurried round to the Chief’s house. An orc commander – Shokia – addressed me as I approached.

‘We may have a small problem, Keliera. Quickly, before Nazgrim gets back!’ Shokia led us into a nearby house, where a frantic younger Hozen was babbling to the Chief.

‘Sergeant Gorrok’s not dead! Totally not dead! Alive! But we also think he may be very, very dead.’

The Chief didn’t seem amused. ‘What happened, Riko?’

‘We travelled east, looking for the human guys. Kiryn and Shokia went off to do girl stuff and me and Gorrok investigated a hut.’

‘Where?’

‘Forest Heart. It was darker and greener than here. Signs told us to keep out but Gorrok pressed in. “Hah! We fear no signs!” He said.’

‘Then what?’

‘The hut had a garden, full of statues. Green like the forest. They looked like real Pandaren. Then this old lady Pandaren came out of the house. Pretty big too. So we went to ask her if she saw the Alliance go by.’

‘Did you hear what she said?’

‘She told Gorrok he had good posture and nice skin. He tried to ask her questions but she laughed and said something about a collection. Then – SHE TURNED HIM TO STONE!’ The Hozen babbled incoherently and began crying.’

‘Alright, Riko, that’s enough.’ Shokia interjected. ‘Kiryn, if you would, please explain what we found.’

The Forsaken woman stood up from the mossy ground, and took a deep, unnecessary breath as she began to speak.

‘What Riko said is fairly accurate. We could not pursue Gorrok because we are already low in number. We travelled south until night fell, and while Riko kept watch, Shokia and I began to look around and do reconnaissance. Shokia covered me with her rifle from afar as I looked for any life forms around the area. The biggest landmark was a huge statue of a dragon, still under construction. There was a campfire on the other side of it.’

Kiryn paused and took another dramatic breath.

‘It was this soldier here. After demonstrating how Shokia and I had him cornered, I took him back to Shokia.’

Riko interjected. ‘Shokia make us head south. We spotted an Alliance bomber and Kiryn went to take a look. Me and Shokia had… small disagreement. Then Kiryn yelled for help! Me went over to take a look, and Kiryn was captured in stinkin’ Jinyu nets! Some attacked us, and Alliance fought side by side with them! But Riko won, and-‘

Riko screamed, apparently traumatised by what had happened after, and refused to talk after that.

Shokia covered her face with her palm, and Kiryn finished the sentence. ‘We headed back to Shokia.’

Shokia took up the story. ‘We had a prisoner of war with us, and with our leader turned to stone, we needed a way to gain the upper hand. So we headed south to the Jinyu village. I set up a sniping position in the hills above it, while Kiryn snuck in under the cover of darkness. She placed some explosives in and quickly set them off while I kept her way clear from the guards.’

Shokia paused. ‘What we learned is that the Alliance now outnumber us thirty-to-one. And they have weapons, and are teaching the Jinyu to use them.’

Nazgrim walked up behind Shokia. ‘What is this, Shokia? An Alliance prisoner? Ha! You have done well.’ Nazgrim spun the prisoner around with a clap of his hand.

‘What is this? I know your face, human! You are the princeling! The son of Varian Wrynn!’

Anduin Wrynn? Here? In our custody?

I was suddenly scared that things were about to get a lot worse.

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