The Jade Forest: Part 6

I made my way through the Silkwood, and despite killing a large quantity of spiders, found no evidence that any Pandaren cubs were in the area. I did, however, end up covered in high-quality spider silk that I kept stored for later. Before I knew it, I had ended up back at the border to the Forest Heart.

‘Wait for me!’ I spun around to see An Windfur racing along the path behind me.

‘What are you doing here? You should have stayed in the village, young one.’

‘It’s my fault Shin is stuck in the Jade Witch’s garden! I have to help him!’

It was far too late now to send her back alone, so I relented, and we proceeded through the forest. It was not long before a Jade Cat leapt at us. Though my magic was effective, their gaze alone locked on to you and slowed you down, and I had no doubt that if they had not died fast enough I too would have been left a statue. I began to fear the powers of the Witch more and more. Meanwhile An scampered about like a moth to a flame, able to find each of her friends until they all had been safely collected.

‘Shin still isn’t here, miss! The Jade Witch must have him! You’re an adult, maybe if you talk to her she won’t turn back into stone. We’re going to wait back in town where it’s safe.’

The children ran off, chattering, and I was left at the house of the Jade Witch. I wondered if Sergeant Gorrok was around. This seemed like the place Riko lost him at. The house was quaint, but completely out of place, and surrounded by Jade Statues that looked far too humanoid to have been sculpted. I cautiously knocked on the door and an animated statuette leapt out from it, pulling it open for me. Even more worried, I went inside.

A larger-than-life Pandaren female sat inside drinking tea and chuckling to herself. ‘Hello, dear! I haven’t seen anyone like you in these parts before.’

‘Ah, hello there, ma’am. I was told you were Widow Greenpaw. I’m looking for a missing Pandaren child, he goes by the name of Shin. I don’t… suppose you have seen anything that could help me find his whereabouts?’

‘Why, I don’t know, my dear. The only things around here are the statues I make for the Shrine of my late husband. He was a great crafter and fighter, you know. Come with me, let’s take a look around the garden, the cub might be playing around with my collection.’

Unsure of whether the cubs had been telling the truth or not, I agreed, as she escorted me through the garden to a wonderful fountain at the back of her house, with statues surrounding a single, greater one which I assumed to be a statue of her late husband. She led me to a statue of a pandaren cub.

‘Here he is. Doesn’t he look special? My late husband and I always… wanted children. You should join our family, preserved forever in jade!’ The woman leapt at me, flinging jade out of nowhere. I summoned mirror images to distract her while I gained range, but she locked my feet in place, turning them to jade. My spells seemed to do nothing to break her concentration, and fear swept over me as I felt my legs beginning to transform.

‘Stop! You’re not going to turn more people into statues!’ With that, An leapt from a tree and hit the Witch on her head. Her concentration broken I was quickly able to disable her and with her death, the statues around us broke back into living beings. The spell of Jade was broken and the forest seemed to lighten, the gloom and mist driven away.

I, Shin and An made our way back to the village, where a stony-faced Tzu awaited us at the gate.

‘It appears I was mistaken. I know now that the wisdom of children is not to be misjudged, Keliera. Thank you for the kind acts you have done in the name of our people.’

I spent some time on the edge of town, watching the sights, when I noticed a female monk practising as the sun set. When she finished her practising, she turned to me.

‘Hello, friend. One of the little Wanderbrews has made off with my student, Syra Goldendraft, to the Arboretum.’ The woman pointed down the hill out of the village, to a secluded building in a grove filled with pink blossomed trees. ‘Their families have a long-standing feud and it would not do well for the village to know that they are together. Please, go fetch them before anyone notices.’ Bowing to me, the monk resumed practise. With the sun almost gone, I departed down the hill to the Arboretum.

As I passed through the trees, the faint buzzing of contended wasps filled the air. Giant worms crawled around the ground, munching happily in a paradise of flowers. Majestic cranes fed from the river, and life went on. I quickly reached the Arboretum and hurried inside as the last vestiges of sunlight disappeared. The Arboretum was home to many inkmasters, who used the enchanted petals of the local trees to make inks of all colours for Pandaria. Though I inquired about the two lovers, they had already gone.

‘Syra and Lo are not children and will not be bound by their families. They went to find the Shrine of the Dawn, to seek an answer amongst their ancestors.’ I stayed a while as the evening crept on, learning about the delicate craft of the inkmasters. The petals of the trees darkened as they aged, which allowed for hundreds of precise ink shades to be made. The stingers of the local wasps provided the perfect writing tools, and the next morning I aided them, collecting freshly-fallen petals and carefully retrieving stingers from the young, passive wasps.

The freshest petals are vivid reds in colour, and the gardens were home to many visitors from Pandaria, who came to meditate amongst the soft, delicious scents of the petals. Honey from the flowers was distributed all over the Forest and renowned among Pandaren for its scent, which perfectly mirrored that of the trees. Inkmasters who leave to sell their wares often take a pot of the stuff to remind them of their home on long journeys.

Across from the Arboretum is a grand temple, as well as a racetrack, for those training in the ways of Cloud Serpents. Cloud Serpents are majestic flying serpents that the Pandaren live in harmony with, and the Order of the Cloud Serpent only allowed the wisest and most dedicated of people to enter its ranks and train in riding one. This was not to say that only Pandaren are allowed – but I was informed that with my time already pre-occupied by the war I was part of, it was best that I apply once I was not busy. The Temple was known as the Temple of the Jade Serpent – and I was not allowed entry to that either.

With my business in the Arboretum done, I headed north, to the Shrine of the Dawn I had been informed of earlier.

As I headed further north, the wildlife began to mirror that I’d seen earlier, with graceful elks and awe-commanding tigresses wandering the wilds. Eagles swooped past, and porcupines (the quilled creatures I’d seen earlier) tumbled about while foxes stalked the undergrowth. The Shrine of the Dawn was empty, save for a pandaren female and her mate, who appeared to be dazed.

‘Stranger, please! You must help us! They’ve hurt my Lo…’ So this was Syra and Lo. I hurried over to them. ‘Lo appealed to the patriarchs to get their blessing to marry me. Their agreement would have been a great weight in our favour, but they demanded that a champion defeat them before they would pass blessing. Lo’s love is great but his strength does not stretch as far as the mighty ancestors. Please, would you be our champion?’ Having seen their love, I knew I could not end it after my own had been torn away from me so.

I wandered through the shrine, attuning myself to the local magic, and quickly found the first Ancestor, Bramblestaff. Though his strength was great, I defeated him throughspeed and tactics, and he granted Lo his blessing.

Moving down from Bramblestaff’s Hill, I found Goldendraft in high spirits by a pond. though his lineage granted him power, he too relented under my magic.

Finally, in the far wilds of the shrine, I found Windfur, the last of the three. His agility surpassed my own, but my defences pushed me through.

‘We give you our blessing. May the boy use it well. May it not be squandered.’ Wind rippled through the shrine as I hurried back to Lo and Syra. The two were overjoyed, and as we journeyed back to the village they encountered their frantic parents. Though there were arguments, the blessing of the Pandriarchs could not be overruled, and eventually, the families relented to the union of Lo and Syra.

However, I did not permit myself a long recuperation. I had promised to investigate the status of the southern orchards, by the Statue of the Jade Serpent, and with no other duties I was pulled to it by my own conscience. Beautiful large deer and snowy owls called the southern plains home, and I wandered through carefully, knowing that I was far from safety, and a stranger in the lands. The paths first led me to Serpent’s Heart, the location of the Statue, which was surrounded by sturdy orange trees. Though beautiful, the path to the orchards led me even further south.

At some point I met and re-crossed the Slicky Stream, heading into the Thunderwood, almost at the Nectarbreeze Orchards. Huge gorillas stomped about, and I was hard-pressed to camouflage myself, hiding in the undergrowth as I made my way through. The beautiful Silverhorn deer remained resolute and calm despite my own fears. Finally I reached the Orchard, filled with moths and silver-petalled trees – and completely ablaze.

The fears of those in Dawn’s Blossom had been right. Something had attacked the groves here. Something- No. It couldn’t be!

Before me stood 10-feet tall behemoths, wide and strong, majestic and powerful. They looked built of metal and were terrifying to behold.

The Mogu. They were here.

Using the smoke as cover, I hurried into the center of the orchard, where I saw the local farmers embroiled in battle with the Mogu. They were surely outmatched and outnumbered. I hurried to the only surviving building, where the Pandaren had built a temporary holdout. There I was met by Shao the defiant.

‘Halt! Who are you?’

‘My name is Keliera. I am a blood elf hailing from beyond Pandaria. I have been aiding the village of Dawn’s Blossom. They sent me here to see if things were alright.’

‘Hopefully you’re astute enough to notice that they aren’t. The mogu are dragging those who they don’t kill into the woods. We need your aid, since I can only hold the door here. Get rid of as many as possible and tell the survivors to rally here!’ Shao indicated a stack of buckets filled with a brown concoction. ‘That will put out the fires in a pinch. Bring back any tools that can we used as weapons, if you can. They’ll help give us an advantage.’

I flung myself into the fray, finding that my magic was quite effective – provided the mogu did not get close enough to get a hit. One hit my shoulder, nearly crushing it under its huge fist. I learned to stay at range after that. The concoction – which was in fact non-alcoholic cider – kept the fires under control, and with villagers freed and armed the tide began to turn against the mogu. What Cho had said I now realised to be true – without fear to command the Pandaren, the mogu were just bullies. I hurried back to Shao.

‘Excellent! We’ve held Hanae’s house and the Orchard seems to be under control for now. But more remains to be done. Until recently, the mogu in the area had been content to ambush travellers in the wilds. This was different. Their raid was… filled with purpose. They dragged their captives to the ruins, and they cut the trees down as they approached, making their return easier. I will make sure the Orchard is secured and meet you there. Find out what they are doing!’

I hurried out of the village the way I had arrived. Why were the mogu coming back? Why in such numbers? What were they planning?

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