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.

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