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.