Dread Wastes Part 4: Soggy’s Gamble and the Klaxxi Council

After a short rest, I returned via kite to Klaxxi’vess, where Iyokkuk the Lucid had… settled in. He was not like the others, as he had been completely aware of his 877 years in encasement – and even he was unsure that his sanity had survived it intact. However, with the role of the pandaren in his freedom, the Klaxxi were content to let them stay “until the Swarm is dealt with.”

I had little time to dwell on that, as I was informed that another non-mantid race had crashed on the southern coast.

‘The presence there is not of our kind and they are of no value to us. Their supplies, however, could prove very valuable. If there is anything of use there, we must get there before the empress. Now go!’

I made my way across the Horrid March, down past Kypari Zar, and in a little cove on the southern coast was what looked like a hastily-constructed fishing town, with a wrecked boat preventing their exit via sea. I found the leader, Deck Boss Arie, in short time.

‘So the bugs have taken an interest in us, have they? Well if they want somethin’ from us they’ll have to come and earn it themselves! You work for what you get here – that means you too!’

Despite my protestations that I was merely a mantid envoy, they put me to work in Soggy’s Gamble – and the first thing I was forced to do was drink a disgusting water-breathing potion.

‘Tastes like seaweed and hot garbage, don’t it? You’ll thank me later.’

I was put to work helping to re-fill crab traps with bait, and feed the protected otters nearby that had been scrounging from them. It was not all that hard (once you learned how to avoid angry grouper) but it was not what I had intended to be doing.

‘Not bad, green, not bad. Now, another job for ya. You see that sea lion in the pen over there? Name’s Dog. He’s been Soggy’s pet for years. I think he’s been gettin’ restless lately. Why don’t you go talk to Soggy and let ‘im know – I’d say it’s about time you meet the cap’n anyway.’ I made my way up to the top building, where “Soggy” awaited me.

‘New deckhand, eh? We’ll see about that. I run a tight ship – even if she IS at the bottom of the sea. Now, about Dog.

Dog ain’t my “pet”. He’s a member of this crew, and my best friend. Saved my life more than once, you know. But I’m gettin’ too old to walk him anymore, and he still needs his exercise. Take Dog for a trip around the shelf, would ya? He loves to swim through the hot geysers just southeast of the shallows. He absolutely has to, er… “leave his mark” on the dead whale at the far western side. Oh, and he likes reminiscing at our old shipwreck.’

I was about to leave, when Soggy called me back.

‘Er, look, I ain’t got reason to trust you, but there’s a task I can’t give to my crew. I need you to search the wreck of our old ship, the Mist-Hopper, and bring back the charter. It’d be sealed up in a silver tube, in a footlocker. It’s sort of, uh, incriminating. I can’t risk any of the crew finding it if they decide to visit the ol’ girl. She’s resting on the Shelf of Mazu, to the west. I’d suggest riding a rip current there, if you got the stomach.’

On my way to meet Dog Arie called me over again.

‘Listen, I just got word that a string of pots we dropped this morning hit it BIG. We’re on the crab! Problem is, the rips are getting stronger, and we lost track of some – they’re just sitting out there, filled with spiky blue GOLD! Hook up buoys to any you see when you’re out there with Dog – it’ll send them to the surface for us. Oh, and there’s a big craze on the mainland for thresher teeth at the moment, so bring me any you find!’

I released Dog from his pen and took him west, to the Shelf of Mazu. It was filled with makrura, which Dog gorged happily on while I attached buoys to filled crab pots. Soon, we ended up at the Wreck of the Mist-Hopper, and while Dog happily swam about its algae-covered hull and masts, I went onto the deck of the ruined ship, and almost immediately found the footlocker Soggy had wanted me to find. I took the sealed tube and returned to Dog.

North of the old boat we found the Silt Vents, through which Dog eagerly swam for quite a while. We then swam west, and I killed the sharks we saw along the way, taking as many intact teeth as I could find. Finally, we reached the skeleton of an old whale shark, where Dog… “made his mark”. He seemed fully satisfied, so we swam back to Soggy’s Gamble. Arie took the thresher teeth warily, with a commendation on my work with the crabs. Finally, I returned to Soggy.

‘Good job, Dog seems really happy. That’s the charter tube, alright. I guess you’d like to know what all this fuss is about?’ Soggy sighed, uncapping the tube. ‘Might as well get it over with.’ He unrolled the charter and gasped. ‘What the-?! This ain’t the charter! It’s a letter. In Arie’s handwriting?

“Dear Soggy

If you are reading this, it means you finally worked up the guts to send someone after the old charter. Well, you’re too late. We know the Mist-Hopper wasn’t hired to venture this far beyond the wall. We know it was supposed to be a routine job off the coast of Jade Forest. What should have been a weak of easy fishing turned into a wild misadventure that ran us aground in the most dangerous place on the continent and nearly got us all killed, because you couldn’t stop chasing your hunches.

We just wanted to say: Thank you.

Thank you for chasing fortune on the distant horizon. Thank you for dreaming. And most of all, thank you for bringing us along. We’ll always be your crew, Soggy, ship or no ship. We’d follow you anywhere.

Sincerely, all of us. Even Dog.”

Dog barked happily in agreement at this last statement. Soggy was speechless, and seemed to be crying. I left him to it, and returned Dog to his pen. Arie called me over.

‘He read the note, then? Good. Took him long enough. I never thought I’d see this day, but I never thought I’d see Master Angler Ju Lien ask for help with his lines either – the sea is going crazy and he can’t keep up. Go give him a hand, I’ve already sent some others.’

I headed south to where Ju Lien was stationed, and on his fishing rack was some horrific variety of winged squid I had never seen before.

‘Creepy, aren’t they? Never seen ’em before, but I’ve been pulling ’em in all day.’ I aided, pulling in as many of the aggressive flying squid as I could while Ju Lien struggled with a huge catch.

‘What… in… Mazu’s… name… HHHHRGH! What the…’ A huge tentacle swept up out of the depths, followed by a giant squid head.

‘LEVIATHAN!’ We scattered as the tentacles began to pick people up, and I rushed into Soggy’s Gamble to warn the others.

The spawn of the leviathan were flying around all over the place and it began to rain heavily. I hurried back to Soggy and Arie.

‘What happened out there? I heard a scream and next thing I know these nasty things came rolling in on the next wave!’ I quickly explained the situation.

‘I’m not gonna sit in a damn rocking chair while my crew gets devoured by a leviathan! Come on, let’s get to the dock and set up a dinghy. I got plans just for this sort of situation. We’ll give that thing a case of harpoon fever.’ We headed southeast to the furthest dock, where a small boat was equipped with harpoon guns.

I and Soggy set off. ‘Fire harpoons at the bow, the port, the starboard and the stern! If we can take out its buoyancy sacs, it’s a goner!’ I launched the gun, firing harpoons at the great beast on all sides as we moved swiftly round it, and one by one they all burst. Soggy took out a handheld harpoon. ‘Mazu, guide my arm…. HURGH!’ He threw it, hitting the leviathan square in the face. The beast roared in pain, and swam back into the sea.

‘Ha ha! What do you think of that, you old squid? Back to the depths with ya!’ Soggy chuckled as we headed back to the shore where Arie awaited. ‘Never met anything that can’t be killed with enough harpoons.

‘That was some amazing work you two did out there. Oh, and Ju Lien survived! He swam ashore just after you started letting the harpoons fly. He was raving about some kind of gigantic egg or something that washed in with the leviathan. We should check up on him – he’s probably hauled it out of the water by now.’

By the time we reached the main body of Soggy’s Gamble, a whole containment structure had been constructed for the egg – but it was no egg.

It was another amber block! With another Paragon inside, no doubt!

‘Hey there! Would you look at the thing? Spotted it peeking out of the sea floor when I went under – Jiao must have dredged it up while he was thrashing around. Not really sure what to do with it, but it looks valuable. Seeing as how you and Soggy saved our hides, I think you should decide what to do with it.’

After I explained the amber’s true nature and the likelihood of a very strong mantid inside, the fishermen were happy to let me deal with it. I quickly broke Ka’roz the Locust out.

‘Tremble, fools! The locust has awakened! Get off me, insolent crabs! The Klaxxi beckon!’ The Paragon flew into the air, shaking off the crabs, and headed towards Klaxxi’vess.

At almost the same time, the Klaxxi whispers invaded my own head.

“The time has come, Wakener.

The council’s power will combine to put an end to the corrupted empress. This ritual has not been witnessed in one hundred of your kind’s lifetimes – and never by an outsider. In exchange for your deeds as Wakener, the Klaxxi’va invite you to behold this great moment in our history.”

I quickly took a kite back to Klaxxi’vess. The closer I got, the heavier and stronger the rain seemed to become – as though the whole land knew what was coming.

The council of Klaxxi’va and Paragons were gathered as I arrived.

‘Your arrival is timely, Wakener. Our ritual is underway. The council is in harmony. Our ritual will bring about the demise of the empress and allow us to secure the future of our great empire. Behold the power of the Klaxxi!’ All the gathered Klaxxi’va began to channel their whispering power into the great beacon of Klaxxi’vess – but suddenly, a great sha fissure erupted from the ground, and from it leapt the corrupted empress, Shek’zeer.

I do not know what I expected, but all my fears were met. The Grand Empress of the Mantid was the largest I had ever seen, as tall as a fully-grown Kunchong with glittering amber-coated limbs. The ends of her crown and limbs were tainted with the tell-tale smoke of sha corruption. She roared, and with a great burst of energy, killed almost all the present Klaxxi’va.

‘Death to all who dare challenge my empire! Such is the fate of those who question authority!’ With a last blast, she corrupted the Klaxxi’vess beacon, and disappeared back into the fissure to the Heart of Fear.

Of a council of between ten and fifteen, only three Klaxxi’va – Sra, Vor and Kor – remained. And they were all significantly weakened.

‘We are… undone, Wakener.’ The normally boastful and arrogant chittering voices of the Klaxxi were hollow, broken.

‘Your efforts appear to have become imperative to our cause. On behalf of the remaining council, I implore you to aid us. We have no strength now to complete the ritual or to hold back the swarm. We barely now have enough to defend our own lands.

Though we have claimed much from their empire in times past, the only hope for the mantid and for the whole continent lies with the Pandaren. The defenders of the wall must be told that the swarm cannot be stopped. The pandaren leaders must know that unless they send forces beyond the wall to rout the production of swarmborn, this war will never end. They must help us, so that the Paragons can storm the Heart of Fear and finally put an end to Shek’zeer’s corruption by the Sha of Fear. Only then will the Klaxxi be able to put in a new empress who can stop the madness – and only then can Pandaria be freed from the Sha.

Now go, quickly!’

I hurriedly flew into the Vale, arranging meetings with the Shado-Pan, the Celestials, the Alliance, the Horde and the Golden Lotus, until at last all were present.

At length the future of the mantid empire was discussed, until all came to an agreement that representatives of the Klaxxi would be allowed into the Vale to recruit troops to stop the Swarm. The Shado-Pan would reinforce the wall and the Gate of the Setting Sun, and the Klaxxi would call upon the Shado-Pan when the time came to storm the Heart of Fear.

I moved to the Vale, for there was still much to do there, but Pandaria became almost like a second home. Things were good, for the most part.

Dread Wastes Part 3: Taste of Amber

Later that day, I was called to go and free two more discovered Paragons – one in the shallows north of Zan’vess, and one on the island itself, in a dig excavated by the yaungol slaves of the mantid. Kil’ruk dropped me off at the dig.

‘Adding these Paragons to our forces is vital, Wakener. A few more may be all we need to turn the tide against the swarm.’

Within the Amber Quarry, I found an already-freed Rik’kal, the Dissector. He looked recently freed, and coughed slightly at my approach.

‘Diss-ec… tor… has… returned. You are… not like the others… I hear the Klaxxi calling… I just need a moment.’ I fought off a small group of Zan’thik sent to retrieve the Paragon as he reclaimed his strength.

‘My strength returns. Speak to me, Wakener, before I report to the Klaxxi.

My, look at you! All parts and pieces, and all of them so good at killing. I must pick your brain some time.’ With a gory laugh, the mantid flew off.

I made my way north through the Briny Murk, to the southern coast of the Wastes. In the Murkscale Shallows I found my way into an underwater lair of the saurok, and the chunk of amber holding the next Paragon was directly in the centre. I quickly struck it with the tuning fork, breaking out Skeer the Bloodseeker. The Klaxxi immediately called upon him.

‘The hunger… they said it would be fierce, but I did not expect anything like this. It is strange to feel so… weak. Food. I must have food. The starfish outside brought both strength and clarity of mind in my time. Bring it to me or I shall devour you instead. And clacker tails too, and some blood from the remoras. I will show you why they call me the Bloodseeker.’

I fought my way out into the bay, blessed by Skeer’s pheromones, and collected starfish, clacker tails, and shark blood, as asked – although it proved extremely difficult. It was better than getting eaten.

‘Excellent. I’m afraid that I wet my hands with saurok blood while you were away. I’m sorry, I could not help myself. Pitiful! Do they come to challenge ME? I, who have won a hundred wars and still shouted for my enemies to come? No, these saurok will crumple before me like paper before the flame! I shall show you my might, Wakener. They come!’

Saurok began to stream into the cave. Skeer cut them down with ease, one after the other, until we roused their leader, the Serpentus.

‘Sawrmborn! FIlthy muckeaters! You defile OUR grotto. You will not escape!’ He charged us, but we fought back blow for blow, and the saurok fell beneath Skeer’s blades and limbs.

‘Well done, Wakener. I will stay a while longer to quench my blade’s thirst, but I believe my swift swings will bear me to Klaxxi’vess before you anyway.’

I set back off for Klaxxi’vess, returning about a quarter of an hour later, and sure enough Skeer was there already.

Kil’ruk had another assignment for me the next morning, when the council had communicated with all the Paragons.

‘Scouts have reported a non-mantid presence near Kor’vess. Their intrusion and theft of amber would normally be swiftly dealt with, but all our forces are focused on stopping the swarm getting to the wall. The task seems suited to you, Wakener, for you are from beyond the wall. Convince them to leave, or destroy them in the name of the Klaxxi!’

I headed north towards Kor’vess, crossing the northern line of the Horrid March and hurrying under the boughs of the great tree, where I saw… pandaren?

Why would pandaren be harvesting sap from trees in the Dread Wastes? How had so many been allowed to cross the wall? The Shado-Pan would not let civilians cross the Widening Deep, nor would they let them descend the Serpent’s Spine onto the Dread Wastes side. It made no sense, and I confronted their leader immediately.

‘Greetings, friend! Can I get you a mug of anything?’

‘What are you doing here? This is a warzone! There’s a full mantid swarm barely a hundred yards from this tree!’

‘That is a good question. Few pandaren live on this side of the wall. We’re making beer, in short, but not just any beer – beer brewed with the sap of the great kypari trees.’

‘Uh… beer made with sap? That sounds-‘

‘-disgusting, I know. But it’s not. The amber that these trees produce has amazing healing qualities. The mantid can’t get enough of it. They consume it, use it in their weapons, their architecture… I’ve even heard legends that they embalm their great heroes in the stuff!’

‘And… you’re making beer out of it.’

‘Exactly! The traditions of the sapmasters go back through countless generations. I am but one link in a chain of sap-thirsty pandaren. Sometimes, however, I fear that I may be the final link.’

‘Why?’

‘The trees are dying. Kypari Vor is already dead, a victim of the sha. It will never again produce amber, and it no longer looks like a tree. The few amber-producing trees that remain in the Wastes are being overharvested by the free mantid, or are in danger of succumbing to sha. Either way, no more sap means no more sapmasters – and then I’d have to return to the Valley of the Four Winds, never to taste sap again. What brings you here, friend?’

‘The council of the Klaxxi has asked you to leave. They need to protect the trees from the forces of the corrupt mantid Empress.’

‘So, they want us to leave, do they? What a selfish request! We’re only taking amber from one tree. I have brew to make, and we aren’t going anywhere! If you help us then I think we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement. We’ll give them amberbrew and they stop trying to kill us.’

‘Very well. But if the Council does not like your compromise, then I won’t be able to hold them back.’

‘The mantid are starting to surround us. What’s worse, they’re draining the amber from the tree. They’ve dug a burrow into the south side of the tree, where we’re shorthanded. Could you take care of them?’

I agreed, and headed around the tree to where a hasty burrow had been constructed into the trunk, marked by mantid banners. Within, mantid quickly drained the amber from its central pools, overseen by a tall Adjudant – Azzix K’tai. I killed them all, but on the Adjudant’s corpse I found a strange, old scroll. It appeared to be a poem. I had no idea what it meant, but resolved to show it to those at the Brewgarden and see if they knew anything:

“When the horror comes a-rising
And the heavens hum with war
Our great vessel of salvation
Must be broken from its core.

Rending daggers of the great ones
Shall be bound with wood and shade
If the fiery wings of sunset kings
Are ever to be stayed.

Incantations fae and primal
Bought on promises of gold
Bind the glamour to the thing
That quenches fires and fears of old

Comprehend this sacred recipe
Perform it as I’ve penned
Drive its fruit through Blood of Ancients
And your terror-war shall end.”

Sapmaster Vu, the leader of the Brewgarden I had spoken with earlier, had no idea.

‘Perhaps you should ask Lya of the Ten Songs. She is our resident songsmistress.’

Lya was on the other side of the garden, having a drink.

‘What have you brought for me? A scroll of some sort! Let me have a look.’ She read the thing once over and frowned, murmuring it again and again.

‘This scroll, this is a prophecy… It’s terrifying! SAPMASTER!’ Lya raced over to Vu, waving the scroll in his face. ‘This is a way to stop the mantid! A way to stop the sha!’

Vu gaped. ‘What? Let me take a look at that!’ Vu read it, paying more attention than he had before. ‘No, no. Look at these words here: “vessel”, “quench”, “recipe” – This is a beer recipe! What a find!’

‘You are wrong, master! We have to stop the mantid!’

‘Ignore her, let’s get this beer brewing.’

I had no idea which person to believe, so I took the conciliatory route and agreed to help test out both options. Vu spoke to me at length about the meaning of the prophetic scroll.

‘I keep looking at that line in the second stanza – “bound with wood and shade” – the “shade” in particular interests me. I must admit, I’ve often considered taking some of the area’s residual sha essence and incorporating it into a brew. I suspect that this is the shade our recipe calls for. There are many sha amalgamations in the southeast.’

As well as this, for “rending daggers of the great ones” I was sent to collect mushan teeth, and also to collect some picnic items that the pandaren had left east of the tree, for no particular reason. Lya spoke to me next.

‘Never mind their wild goose chase. We have real work to do. The scroll mentions “rending daggers of the great ones”. I’ve got a feeling where they are. Two mantid lieutenants patrol the Horrid March to the south. Each one carries a ceremonial dagger – bring them here.’

I was all but ready to leave camp when I heard my name called.

‘Keliera!’ Was that-

‘Chen!’ I ran over to see my old friend.

‘It is so good to see you well, and travelling so far. It seems our paths are tightly intertwined. I am here looking for family. I am told that several Stormstouts came across the wall to help face the mantid threat. Have you seen any Stormstouts about?’

We asked around, and it turned out that there had been several Stormstouts in the area – Lazy Dan, Evie, Han and Mama Stormstout. But only Dan was in camp – Han had gone hunting by Kor’vess several days prior, and Evie had gone north to hunt.

‘It seems like Dan will be safe here. In that case, I will go and look for Han, Evie and Mama Stormstout. Take care, Keliera!’ With that, Chen ran out of camp and into the forests.

I made my way east, killing mushan, but finding few suitably large teeth. I collected a couple, and continued on. After killing the first lieutenant, Kz’Kzik, I saw Chen on the other side of the March, cradling… a pandaren!

‘It was too late. She was so small… and I was too late. I will give her a funeral at the Brewgarden. Please, when you have time, meet me there.’

Further along was Illikax, another commander, and then I began to hunt down the picnic pieces that had gone missing, as well as “Shade” from the local sha.

I made my way back to camp, where we attended Evie’s eulogy, at the graveyard by the Widening Deep.

‘They say your name was Evie. They say you were a sweet girl. I never knew you… but you were family. May your journey in the next world be filled with joy and beauty. Farewell, Evie Stormstout.’

For a moment, we were all silent. And then, slowly, the pandaren dispersed until I and Chen were left. I could understand why Chen was more upset – he had only just found his family, and it was being torn from him by war so soon.

‘There will be time for mourning later. For now, there are other Stormstouts to be found. They say that Han Stormstout was last seen exploring Kor’vess. I suspect he headed into the mantid burrow across from the Brewgarden. You should meet me down there. I don’t doubt that I can handle a few mantid by myself, but I’d feel better with a friend by my side.’ Chen departed, with a murmur about Li Li. I did not catch it.

I returned first to Lya.

‘I think I’m starting to understand the next lines of the prophecy. Do you have the daggers?’ I handed them over, and Lya inspected them. ‘Look! These daggers were meant to fit together!’ She held them hilt to hilt, and they formed a continuous pattern. ‘But how, I wonder, to join them? Hmm… “Rending daggers of the great ones shall be bound with WOOD and SHADE.” Hmm. I’ve learned a lot about the Kor’thik mantid in my time here. I know that they maintain shrines in their settlement of Kor’vess. One is a heartroot of the very tree that they inhabit. The other is a dark pillar, connecting them with their queen. These shrines -are- the wood and shade. If my predictions are correct… the daggers should react in their presence.’

Vu continued on, having set up a bubbling cauldron for his brew.

‘Beautiful. These will be fine additions to our brew.’ I thought he was insane. He was literally adding the essence of negative emotion into beer. How could that possibly work? ‘The most dangerous ingredients often prove the most delicious. Now… “bound with wood”. We don’t typically brew with wood. Sap, yes… but not wood. We have, on rare occasions, infused our drinks with corewood from the treants to the west of here. Most of them have fallen to the mantid – but their remains should suffice for our recipe.’

On my way out of the Brewgarden I met with one of its defenders, a pandaren by the name of Azzo.

‘I’m no brewer – just looking at ingredients makes my head spin. I’m here to make sure that the brewers don’t get cut in half while they’re trying to make that perfect brew. The Kor’thik mantid across the basin have been attacking us nightly. I hear you’re headed over there, so why don’t you return the favour and cut them down for us?’

I was fairly certain that I would encounter mantid anyway while there, so I agreed.

I fought my way through the woods first, collecting a bagful of corewood from the decaying treants, before making my way into the Kor’vess structures. In the first building I entered was the shrine to the Empress, and at my approach the daggers leapt from my hands, circling the shrine and drawing some kind of vivid energy from it before neatly returning to the bag they had been in before. How curious.

I made my way into the second building, where the same thing happened, except the daggers came together with the energy and merged into one another. The resulting weapon looked seamless.

With that task complete, I headed round to the southern side of Kor’vess, where a burrow was built into the tree as per usual. The mantid guards were all dead, and I hurried down into the bottom room, where Chen was fighting a host of mantid who were forcing the amber of the room to literally boil. Great beams of amber prevented any movement.

‘I cannot get across the beams!’

I teleported to the other side of the room, where Han Stormstout was encased in a block of amber. I threw the mantid into the streams of amber, killing them, and quickly pushed Han across to Chen.

‘First Evie, now Han. I was too late again. Another one lost. He may never know the peace of returning to the earth, but at least he went out fighting. There is nothing to be done. Come on. I hear Mama Stormstout is still out there somewhere.’

We returned to the Brewgarden once more, but Chen left shortly afterwards. I returned to Lya.

‘The daggers! They’ve bound together into a forked blade. We are on the right track! I knew this wasn’t a beer recipe.’ She did not yet have any idea what to do for the rest of the prophecy, and instead began studying the blade. I then spoke to Vu again.

‘We don’t brew with wood here, it gives the brew a harsh, insipid flavour, not unlike that of wine. I’ll get this prepared and put it into the pot. Olon here had a clever idea. He thinks that we should visit the sprites to the west, and ask them if they have any of these ingredients. Some of the elements to this recipe are seeming… strange. The Rikkitun sprites have a village in the west. I will meet you there.’

I headed west the next morning. Lya, Olon and Vu had already gone – Lya having the coincidental realisation that “incantations fae and primal” had to refer to the sprites. I made my way along the Horrid March, passing Kor’vess and heading up the nearby hill to Rikkitun Village, filled with friendly sprites, inhabiting the bottom of a long-dead kypari tree. The chief of the sprites was mountainous – the very opposite of a sprite, he was twice the size of any of us, and spoke in perfect common. The Rikkitun sprites were just as playful as any I had seen before, but kinder and more peaceful. They seemed the complete opposite of what their habitat would suggest. I met Vu, Olon and Lya in a small camp in the north section.

‘It’s been a long time since I brewed on the road.’

Olon directed me to collect glitter from the wings of the local faerie dragons for “fiery wings”, Lya asked me to slay two rampaging mistlurkers that terrorised the village, in order to gain the support of the sprites, and the Rikkitun oracle, Boggeo, asked me to kill the mistlurkers and ‘kyparites’ which were eating many sprites.

‘We are protected from the mantid. Such was the agreement made so many millennia ago.’ What a curious thing – I was surprised that the corrupted mantid had continued to honour this agreement.

The ‘flitterlings’ as the sprites called them, shook copious amounts of glitter when petted, and the stuff glowed like starlight. It was enchanting. I suppose it was fitting that the last group of sprites I was introduced to in Pandaria was the most enchanting and tied in the most with their habitat. The Rikkitun ferried great seeds of the kypari trees to and from a pit where they were safeguarded night and day.

I headed out into the forests, where I killed some of the mistlurkers terrorising the sprites, and then their leaders, two very large mistlurkers known as Ahgunoss and Mygoness. I had no idea what the kyparite things I was looking for were until I stumbled over one – and a huge kyparite worm shot out of the ground and tried to eat me. I killed a couple and headed back to the village.

The sprites agreed to perform the enchantment while the brewers busied themselves with their own machinations. Lya and I presented the Forked Blade to Rikkitun, who led us to a strange pearl-like crystal embedded in a tangle of roots, along a path from the main village. He lifted the blade above it, chittering in the strange language of the sprites, and power flowed into the blade, enchanting it.

‘It is done. Let us return to the village. Now, only one task remains: you must use the blade.’

Both Lya and Vu agreed that the “Blood of the Ancients” referred to kypari sap – and the oldest tree in Pandaria was now the Heart of Fear. I set off southwest through the wastes, in the hope that some part of the tree had not yet tainted. Lya’s last hope was the Amber Hibernal that was at its base, that the mantid might have forgotten. Sure enough, the back of the Heart was abandoned, completely dead, but littered in uncorrupted amber leading right up to where the landslide blocked off the Hibernal. I gently dislodged it, and the rocks rolled over into the Deep.

The Rikkitun removed the rest of the rocks and exposed the slightly ruined entrance to the Hibernal. I took out the forked blade and hurried inside.

Down in the main room was a… pandaren?! It had to be Mama Stormstout. But her eyes… they were a haunting amber, and a link connected her to a great amber husk in the centre of the room.

It had to be a Paragon! That was what the prong was for! It was another fork! But… What was his power that the mantid would go to all these lengths to seal him away, and would it really turn the tide for good?

There was only one way to find out. I rushed past Mama Stormstout into the amber pools and struck the amber once, twice, three times with the fork. Suddenly, three Adjuncts of Shek’zeer teleported in, holding the crystal together. As I fought them off, the possessed Mama Stormstout cried out to me.

‘The hatching hour is nigh… I must answer to the swarm…’

One Adjudant fell.

‘Set me free… The Klaxxi call…’

Two.

‘No… You will not keep me inside this abhorrent prison…’

Three.

The Paragon broke free and flew out with a call of ‘freedom’.

‘For eight hundred and seventy-seven years, I waited in that crystal… watching shadows pass through the cracks, counting decades. Now… I am needed elsewhere.’ With that, Iyyokuk the Lucid flew back to Klaxxi’vess, and Mama Stormstout was freed.

‘I… wah… where? What is going on?’

At this, Chen (who I had not seen arrive) took over.

‘You were being mind-controlled by some sort of malevolent ancient insect creature.’

‘Oh, that. Bah, I’ve been through worse. And who are you?’

‘I am Chen Stormstout. From the Wandering Isle.’

‘STORMSTOUT? No. You’re foolin’. Really? A Wandering Isle Stormstout, here, on Pandaria! Where’s the rest of the family?’

‘I will explain on the way. Let us return to the Sapmasters.’

The two went ahead while I collected amber for Vu’s brew – though I no longer thought it the real truth behind the ancient scroll.

When I returned, Olon, Lya and Vu were gathered around the amber which encased Han, waiting for me. I quickly told them of what I had found.

‘There was a… mantid inside that chamber? I never would have thought that the solution to our war on the mantid would be… another mantid. There are still many things that I have left to learn, but I do know this: that CERTAINLY wasn’t a beer recipe.’ Lya shook her head at Vu, who took the amber from me.

‘Recipe complete. Let’s see how this brew tastes.’ Vu took a deep swig. ‘Yeah, this is pretty horrible. Want some, Lya?’

Lya laughed and suddenly the two were best of friends again. I doubted that the Klaxxi would like the continued presence of Pandaren beyond the wall, but they could not deny that they had crucially helped recover another Paragon. As for the Stormstouts, well, after the loss of Evie, they decided they’d had enough of life beyond the wall – and Chen, Mama and Dan took Han back to the Brewery, for some peace and quiet.

Dread Wastes Part 2: The Might of the Klaxxi

Though the mantid society was built on the swarm and hard for me to understand, I saw that there was truth in what the Klaxxi did. They worked tirelessly to find other Paragons and get the message to free mantid to come to Klaxxi’vess. The next morning, they had heard of another Paragon – but the nearest crystal, in Amberglow Hollow, was not functional, and would need repairs before they could hear his location. And he was weakening fast.

I made my way across the March to Kypari Ik, a sha-corrupted tree, and found an open chamber at its southern base – the Amberglow Hollow. I fought my way in, past the winged mantid soldiers sent by Shek’zeer, and into the main room, where an Adjunct awaited. I slew him (he was all talk) and ran over to activate the singing beacon. The voices of the Klaxxi’va stretched out, and soon they would know where to go.

I made my way onto the Stinging Trail, where I had been assigned to save the young kypari trees from the Empress’ harvesters and reclaim the amber for Klaxxi use. The young kypari trees would die if harvested too soon and too fast, so I killed as many harvesters as I could and removed all the collectors, taking with me the amber already collected.

By the time I returned to the Hollow Klaxxi agents awaited.

‘The Klaxxi’va have found the Paragon. He is hidden in the Briny Murk – but not so hidden anymore. The lizard-men surround him. He cannot fall into their scaly hands! Find and awaken him and then the Klaxxi will be pleased.’

The saurok patrolled the Briny Murk, counting their latest riches, and great amber giants stomped around, squashing them but not really paying attention. The tuning fork led me to a rockfall, which it dispersed, and beneath was Kaz’tik the Manipulator.

‘What… where am I? What manner of creature are you? How did you awaken me?’ I quickly explained the situation we were in.

‘Before I explain myself, I need to know you are trustworthy. I must retrieve my weapon and you must defend me while I do so, for I cannot. Then you will earn my trust.’

As Kaz’tik led me around the Murk, he explained that he was a Paragon not chosen for his physical skills. He was able to communicate directly with me via thought, and demonstrated the skills of a priest in battle. Soon, we found where his ‘weapon’ was buried and he broke the ground open to reveal… a miniature colossus.

I know that sounds like an oxymoron. It looked like it too.

‘Kovok is just as impressive as the last time I saw him. He will ensure great victories for the Klaxxi.’

I was not convinced. The ‘colossus’ barely came up to my waist.

‘Such a beautiful creature, wouldn’t you agree? Do not let his small size deceive you. Even at a young age the Kunchong are lethal. Before my discovery, the Kunchong were used as weapons with little regard for their intelligence. We struggled to control them until it occurred to me that we didn’t fully understand them. By forming a bond with the creatures we no longer needed to exert control forcefully. Instead, a partnership occurred. Kovok was the next step in my experiment.

After years of working with the Kunchong I developed a theory; raising one from infancy would strengthen the bond and therefore strengthen the sonic connection. I had just begun training Kovok when I was chosen for encasement. He is still very young, and will need diligent training to reach his full potential. I’m entrusting Kovok to you, but be warned; if any harm comes to him, your life is forfeit.

First, you must feed him to gain his trust. The turtles nearby should be suitable for this. However, to really connect with Kovok you need to challenge him physically and mentally. You must respect his strength and intelligence; only then will he allow you to fully train him. The murkscale tribe may prove an adequate test of his abilities and with you there he shouldn’t be in danger. Additionally, this will allow us to decrease their numbers in the Briny Murk.

I will return to Klaxxi’vess to meet with the council. Please take good care of Kovok!’ With that, Kaz’tik flew off.

I and Kovok fought through the Murk, and every so often he would leap upon a turtle, devouring it. I was unsure of the small Kunchong’s strength, but he was certainly vicious enough. Sufficiently fed, he buzzed around, eager to kill, and we fought our way into the saurok camps. In the centre of them we could Oracle Hiss’ir, and killed him too (Kovok made a particularly gory show with his head). Curiously, I found a collection of small amber rocks in Hiss’ir’s immediate vicinity – I took as many as I could, intent on asking the Klaxxi why they had them.

With the saurok decimated, we set back off for Klaxxi’vess. It remained under siege by forces of the queen, but was holding out, and now more populated than when I arrived. I reported back to Kaz’tik.

‘Kovok has weathered the years in hibernation well, I see. I had half-expected him to just eat you. Perhaps Kunchong raising is in your blood, Wakener. Kovok’s training is coming along nicely, and he seems fond of you. I have no doubt that you were the best choice to assist in his training, soft-skin though you may be. And- what is that?’ Kaz’tik examined the amber I had brought him.

‘You were wise to bring this to the Klaxxi. This is not part of my amber – but part of another Paragon’s. The damage suggests the saurok may have found one, and he may be in trouble – I will speak to the council immediately.’

While they spoke to the council, I was assigned to clear out saurok from a lake with amber deposits, south of the March. The Lake of Stars was infested with both saurok and crocolisk, dark under the shadows cast by Kypari Zar.

I cleared out as many saurok as I could, but I discovered that they held curious relics and tablets on them, written in what looked like the mantid tongue, but there was only stone on the relics, no amber. I collected a good number, and fought my way into the Mistscale lair.

A curious whispering began, and I took it to be one of the Klaxxi’va – but I was wrong. Coming into the main room of the lair, I saw the Mistscale leader – and an amber construction binding another Paragon.

Fear grips her mind and body. The Empress is no longer fit to rule her empire.

I split into mirror images, engaging the saurok leader and quickly destroying him.

The time of awakening must be near, but they have not yet come for me. Why do the Klaxxi wait?

The whispers came from the amber, and I quickly used the tuning fork to break it open.

‘At… last… My time has come.’

Great emanations flooded the chamber with the chittering voices of the Klaxxi’va.

‘Yes, Klaxxi’va… How long I have waited to hear the Council’s command! I see… Much has transpired since I first entered my long sleep. There is much to do.

But first, Wakener… Help me recover my strength.’ The Paragon, Korven the Prime, turned to me.

‘I must join the other Paragons and the Council immediately, but I am barely strong enough to stand, and must feed. Kill the creatures of the lake, and I shall do the rest. As well as this, liquid amber is usually provided at a Wakening Ceremony – but you were not properly instructed, of course. There is plenty at the bottom of the lake, but you will have to dig it up for me.’

We headed into the lake, and I began killing crocolisks while Korven looked for amber on the bottom of the lake for me to dig up. As he fed, he explained to me his tale.

‘Back when the world was still young, the first kypari trees bloomed. From the trees, the amber flowed and nurtured us. Kyparite, we called it, the blood of the earth. It healed our wounds and made us bold. It tasted like sweetness and fire, and gave us the strength to conquer the lesser races. Many were the threats to our race after the usurpers remade the world. Narrow was the path ahead. It was I who suggested our greatest warriors be cast in amber to sleep, to be awakened at the swarm’s greatest times of need. It was the sleep from which one could not awake. A great risk. A great sacrifice. But necessary. Thus, I was the first Paragon. This is why I am the Prime. And now, the Klaxxi call us to battle. Now, I am awakened. The strength returns to my body.

Thank you, Wakener. This is enough for now.’ We made our way to the shore of the lake.

‘What is that tree on the hill to the west? Can that be… Kypari Zar?’ I confirmed this, and the mantid lapsed into silence.

‘When I returned from my final ravage, before being risen to a paragon, I was given the honour of planting that very tree. I see it has grown into a great kypari… but it seems something is amiss. There is an old sonar tower at its base, Wakener. Take me there and I can see what ails it.’

We hurried up the hill towards the sonar beacon he had spoken of, and Korven raced to it.

‘Yes, it is true! This IS Kypari Zar! But why do I sense no life emanating from within? Why do I sense no amber sap running through its veins? I must examine the tree. Guard me while I perform this task, Wakener!’

Korven began whispering through the sonar tower to the old tree, and I fended him off from waves of encroaching mantid guards.

‘It is done. Kypari Zar… cries out in unbearable pain, so much that it hurts my soul to listen to it. Once, great rivers of amber coursed through this tree’s veins. Now, it is but a dried husk.

Kypari Zar is dying. A creature of terrible darkness corrupts it from beneath its roots. The tree cannot be saved, but at least we can lessen its pain. Look. The vile creature has carved a path to its own lair. We need only follow it down the hill, just behind this tower.’

We headed down a trail of bone and blood to a cave beneath the kypari roots. Within were hundreds of eggs and the crocolisk matriarch, corrupted by sha energy. Sadly, the hatchlings were corrupted too, and we had to wipe out the matriarch and all the eggs – a terrible event for the crocolisk population.

‘Thank you, Wakener. Kypari Zar can now dream in peace. However, the beast was merely a vessel for the corruption – the true corruption lies much deeper. Let us return to Klaxxi’vess and inform the council.’

He flew me back to the Klaxxi, where debate about the sha continued amongst the council, and I rested, preparing for what would come next.

Dread Wastes Part 1: The Terrace of Gurthan, the Klaxxi and the First Paragons

About a week into my mostly-relaxing stay in the Vale, I received a missive from Taran Zhu.

‘Keliera,

I have heard the great words of the Vale, and your actions in defending it. The Steppes are secured, and the time has come to move into the Dread Wastes themselves, home of the mantid. Fear will not wait for us. I have arranged transport by kite to the Serpent’s Spine on the border between the Vale and the Wastes. Upon arrival, you are to report to Bowmistress Lin, who will direct you where she sees fit.

Good luck, and remember your training. Even in the face of total defeat, remain bold and courageous, for you fight Fear itself.’

After gathering supplies and doing a quick bout of training, I took a kite to the Serpent’s Spine, where I met the guard-captain, Bowmistress Li.

‘A volunteer for duty in the Dread Wastes? I think that’s a first. Pleased to meet you. Walk with me.’ Li walked around the immediate area of the wall hurriedly, pointing things out. ‘It’s bad enough trying to hold off the mantid, but now we’ve got spiders swarming up from the ruins below. One of my best marksmen got a blast of webbing caught around his leg – and he got pulled straight down. We think he’s alive, but we don’t have the manpower to send anyone down after him – until you arrived. You can use the rappelling ropes all over to go and look for him. I hope you’re not afraid of heights. Or spiders. But if you need to do some damage, take one of these.’ The captain passed me a dragon gun, and I headed down.

The Dread Wastes are almost supernatural forests of huge green and blue trees, like the Ghostlands but far brighter and more twisted. The mantid swarms were ever-present in the sky, and I hurried through the terraces of Gurthan, killing the large spiders there and destroying eggs. The place was covered in webbing – apparently the mogu did not want to reclaim these ruins.

But the lower terraces had been claimed by something else entirely. Telltale black-and-white smoke signalled sha corruption at a cave in the rock, and not far from it was the missing marksman, Lann.

‘They sent someone after me! Thank the winds. The fall didn’t hurt at all, thanks to the spider corpses. I did what I could, but arrows are far less effective, as you can see.’ I helped Lann out of the sticky webbing he was encased in. ‘You aren’t going to believe what I saw. Two mantid fighting each other, whipping some serious magic back and forth. One didn’t look like any mantid I’ve ever seen. Completely different colour and dress to him, like some kind of… oracle or something. The other one was a total psycho, splashing sha energy around like it was a keg of Stormstout Special. Look, I gotta get back up the wall, but those two are still fighting in that cave. You should check it out.’

I pointed Lann in the direction of the ropes, and hurried into the cave.

Sha corruption littered the place, and in the cave an extremely tall mantid fought with pure, glowing energy against a sha-corrupted one – a second sha-corrupted one was already dead. I did not want to aid either one, mantid being mantid, but the sha was far more threatening, and I aided the oracle, who was quickly losing.

‘What’s this? Now they come over the walls to oppose us? The fools!’ I killed him, and the other was stunned, almost tired.

‘Mage… approach me…’

I headed over to the severely wounded mantid, intent on finishing him off.

‘Hold, elf…. we are… not your enemy.’ The mantid gasped, spitting out blood. He was not long for the world.

‘Take… this…’ The mantid passed me a humming, golden fork with thin prongs and an ornate handle. ‘Awaken… the Wind-Reaver… It is the only way to end… the swarm…’ With that, the mantid collapsed, giving in to his wounds.

I was unsure what he meant, but I took the fork outside, and it began to hum with an increased pitch as I moved. I was getting closer to something. I followed the sound through the terraces, until I found a giant chunk of amber, twice my size and echoing the sound of the fork. It became beautifully resonant in a held note as I approached, and began to shake the closer I got. Taking a deep breath, I pulled the prong back and struck.

The note vibrated around for minutes, becoming louder and louder until little cracks appeared all over the amber, and with the end of the chord it broke apart. My ears rang, and a mantid fell out and knelt upon the ground.

‘I… have returned…’ He must have been the Windreaver the oracle had spoke of!

‘The Klaxxi… Call to me… But my head swims… I am not… myself yet. You will forgive my current state – I have slept for many years. A Klaxxi’va should have been here to attend my wakening with Kypari sap, but… you will have to do. I sense the buzzing of the sapflies in the south. They gorge on the sap I need. Bring them to me.’ The mantid shook his head briefly and continued. ‘I can hear them howling in rage… the spirits of the Gurthani mogu I slayed so long ago. They wander this ruined terrace, seeking vengeance. If they find me in this state, I will not have the strength to fend them off. Draw their attention and strike them down. Finish what I started, and I will tell you who I am.’

I proceeded even lower into the ruins, where mogu spirits raged at sleeping quilen and the sapflies buzzed all around. I fought as many spirits as I could, but they activated the quilen when near and I was at a disadvantage, especially with the spiders around. Fortunately the sapflies proved easier, as a single firebolt could take out a whole swarm. As I fought my way through the terraces slowly, I realised that it was raining. It had been consistently raining since I got here, like in Krasarang – the sha corruption already went far deeper than we realised.

I hurried back to the Windreaver, and gave him (him?) the sapfly bits.

‘Quickly, without nourishment I will die where I stand. These will do.’ He spoke as he ate. ‘I saw how you fought those mogu spirits. It appears we have a common enemy. And perhaps others. We shall see.’ Nourished, he stood up to his full imposing height, in ancient regalia with pristine, muscular limbs.

‘I must report to the Klaxxi. They would not have woken me unless the situation were dire. You have not been entirely useless, little one. For that, I will spare your life. The council may find a use for you. If you are so curious about we mantid, I will explain on our way to Klaxxi’vess.’ With that, the great mantid snatched me up onto his back and flew into the air.

‘I am Kil’ruk, a warrior from an era long passed. In my time, this was a mogu stronghold. It was my honour to paint the walls with their blood. For my deeds, I was named a Paragon. A hero to be preserved in amber for a time when the empire would need… correcting.’ We flew south, until the great path caused by the endless swarm could be seen, a black, sha-infested blight cutting right through the land. It reminded me of the Dead Scar – but it spread outwards, affecting everything. It was so much worse. Beside the March, a great kypari could be seen, blackened, twisted and fully corrupted. ‘Wakener, what power is this that burns our lands and corrupts our trees?’

Kil’ruk turned suddenly, heading southwest, towards a great set of spires built out from the largest kypari in the Wastes.

‘The palace! This is… not our way. I see why the Klaxxi have been forced to act.’ Two-thirds of the amber spires that formed the palace were entirely corrupted, spewing sha energy and a dull, dead grey in colour. Kil’ruk turned before we were noticed and headed back inland. ‘The Klaxxi are a council of our wisest cultural leaders. They serve to check the power of the Empress. Should the Empress ever fall to corruption or endanger our civilisation, the Klaxxi are sworn to unseat her.

There are others like me. Paragons of each era, frozen in time and buried safely beyond the whispers of the Empress. We answer only to the council. And we rest only when their will is done.’ Kil’ruk landed in a place I assumed to be Klaxxi’vess, the place he had mentioned earlier. Ancient amber structures were attached to even older stone walls, in the shadow of an inhabited kypari that glowed blue in the twilight. Around a pillar in the courtyard, members of the Klaxxi council were involved in… some ritual. The mantid in the area, servants of the Klaxxi, eyed me warily, as though they might call me an ally and eat me in the same breath.

‘This is a sacred meeting place for the Klaxxi. It would be wise of you to let me do the talking.’ The Klaxxi leaders began to talk upon seeing us.

‘Wind-Reaver. You have awakened. What of Klaxxi’va Tik?’

‘And what is this filth you have brought to our sanctuary?’

‘The Klaxxi’va you sent has fallen to an adjunct of Her Majesty. This… “filth” defeated the adjunct and saw to my Wakening.’

‘We do not need help from the lesser races! Dispose of it!’

‘Right away, Klaxxi’va.’

‘No. The Wakener may prove useful. One way or another.’

‘As fodder for the swarm, perhaps.’

The council fell into silence, and I gained the impression that they did not want me here, but felt a kind of grudging obligation for my saving of one of their Paragons. The Klaxxi’va were behemoths of mantid, easily three times or more the size of regular mantid. Kil’ruk spoke to me afterwards.

‘The imperial clutches have become an abomination! Clutch-keepers rush the development of new swarmborn, saturating them in this vile “sha” energy before sending them away to the wall! Newly-hatched mantid only wish to kill and feed, but these swarmborn are tainted, born into shadows and darkness. Driven by terror, not hunger. They all must be purged, and the clutch-keepers too, if we are to stem the swarm. I will fly you to the Clutches of Shek’zeer when you are ready.’

Before I left, I was given more tasks by lower-caste Klaxxi, eager to load off their own work on their new servant. I was beginning to dislike them, even if it was only an alliance of necessity. As well as retrieving blades from the mantid soldiers, I was to fix a broken resonating tower by the Heart of Fear – the name allocated to the former palace. The ritual the Klaxxi’va participated in was whispering to the tower – the tower carried the whisper to all the other towers, and the nearby mantid and paragons, and then went back. Through the towers, the Klaxxi could see everything – when the towers functioned.

Kil’ruk took me to the Heart of Fear, aiding me in fighting through to the inactive relay. I quickly socketed it, and it activated, singing into my mind.

There was a nearby Paragon, in the clutch east of the tower. The clutch-keepers were trying to corrupt it. The Klaxxi would whisper through me to break him out.

I hurried east into the Clutches, where I found inside a clutch an amber crystal identical to that I’d seen in the Terraces of Gurthan. I quickly placed my hands on it after I cleared the area. The crystal broke open with the combined whispers of the Klaxxi’va, and the area was suddenly beset by swarmborn, intent on devouring him. I split into mirror images, barely fending them off, but he Wakened.

‘I am returned! I heed the call of the Klaxxi!’ He flew off towards Klaxxi’vess, and I fought my way back out, but found a strange sha-corrupted focusing crystal on the ground and took it with me. We headed back east into Klaxxi’vess, or rather, I did, since Kil’ruk had accompanied the other Paragon back to make sure he Wakened properly.

The crystal I had found was in fact amber, the most common material in all the Wastes, but is was polluted with fear. The mantid made a great deal of this, chittering in their own language, and I could not understand what it meant. It was not until afterwards that I learnt that amber was used to give life to all mantid, and that the ‘dread amber’ I had obtained meant that all new swarmborn were held too tightly in the grip of the Sha to save. The Klaxxi would decide on a proposal for disposal once they knew more – which meant my obtaining more of it.

For now, however, the matter at hand was the new swarmborn.

‘These eggs should have basked in the warmth of the sun and the song of a million wings for ten more years. The Empress will pay for her crimes.’

‘When the dust settles, the traitors shall be fed to the Kunchong.’

The Paragon I had freed was named Malik the Unscathed, and he spoke bluntly of the sha-infested nightmares he had begun to suffer before being freed. As well as this, I learned more of the swarmborn – the desire to feed was inbuilt from birth, and as such all mantid young were hatched at the same time – the massive swarms every century. The participation in a swarm was not just cultural, but part of physical maturation, as only the swarmborn who survived the swarm developed into fully-aware mantid, able to use their intelligence and strength for more than the next feed. It was for that reason that the older a mantid was, the stronger but less dangerous it became.

I listened to the conversation between the Klaxxi’va and Malik.

‘Malik the Unscathed. Never a glancing blow laid upon you, but countless foes cut down by your halberd.’

‘And countless more to come, Klaxxi’va. It is my honour to serve in our time of need.’

‘And serve you shall. Arm yourself at the quartermaster. The drones here are at your disposal.’

‘Right away, Klaxxi’va. This soft one should serve well. Come, Wakener.’

Malik led me to the quartermaster, and while I knew that it was insulting to be a servant to these mantid (or rather, they viewed me as lesser) I could not help but get the feeling in being the accidental Wakener of two Paragons, I was committing one of the great honours in their society.

‘The Klaxxi see far and hear much. They have shared with me their insight. The Vor’thik embrace the sha, using its power to fuel their march in this false swarm. Their warriors consume tainted amber and call themselves dreadsworn. There is no future for them. They are waste which needs disposing, something you will help with at Kypari Vor.

At Shek’zeer’s command, the great kypari tree of Kypari Vor was twisted into a totem of horror. Like those outside of the palace, the clutch nearby is being used to corrupt the swarmborn. You must recover the eggs before they are tainted. We shall raise them here, where they will be the citizens of a new empire, free from the sha.

And finally, the last piece of knowledge. The Klaxxi’va hear another paragon, north of Kypari Vor. He is crying out in pain and fear – he cannot be saved. The Klaxxi do not wish his memory to be tainted in the swarm, and so we will put him down.’

I headed north into the Wastes, and soon reached Kypari Vor, a devastated Kypari tree, blackened with sha energy pouring from it into the sky, turning the blue clouds black. I fought my way through, and the two Paragons flew back and forth, ferrying uncorrupted eggs. Soon, we found ourselves in the middle of the clutch, facing off against Qi’tar the Deathcaller, slowly being corrupted by the sha.

‘Please… Stop this nightmare!’ He fought against us, but it was not by his will, as fear was overtaking him. We gave him a quick death and the Paragons left, carrying their fallen brother to the Klaxxi’va for a proper end. I continued through the corruption, destroying fear-crafters who were imbuing sha into the young, and collected the dread amber they used. Soon, I had cut a swath through their troops, and headed back to Klaxxi’vess.

I was informed that we had been lucky that Qi’tar the Deathcaller had not been fully awakened, because he would have been near invincible if he had. I doubted it. Often legends are the things we hold most faith in. But the Klaxxi and I settled into a sort of unease amongst each other – they no longer regarded me with outright disgust and suspicion, and… well, I was still quite disgusted. They were insects, after all.

Mogu’shan Palace

The forces of the Vale swept into the Grand Foyer of the Palace, the entire place gilded with gold and lined with incredible red carpets. Great pieces of art lined the walls, and mogu littered the place. Yells came from far-off rooms, and we fought through the mogu forces until we reached the Crimson Assembly Hall – a massive room where the mogu king, Xin the Weaponmaster, and the three strongest mogu clans were arrayed.

‘These other clans aren’t worthy of your time, great king!’

‘The other clans are nothing!’

‘These other clans are beneath you!’

‘They have sullied the legacy of the mogu!’

‘Our clan holds true to the way of the ancients!’

‘We are the greatest!’

‘The mogu cannot reclaim our true glory without our clan’s strength!’

‘We deserve the king’s favour above all others!’

‘ENOUGH! Useless, all of you! Even the guards you’ve given me in tribute cannot keep these lesser beings from my palace! Prove yourselves now! Deal with these intruders! The clan who brings me their heads shall have my favour!’ We reached the centre of the room as Xin left, and the first clan leader stepped forward.

‘I am Haiyan the Unstoppable, and Clan Korgesh will demonstrate why only the strong deserve to stand at our king’s side!’ The clan leader attacked us with all his might, but the pandaren outfought him, and forced him back – and did the same to Kuai the Brute of Clan Gurthan, and Ming the Cunning of Clan Harthak. The strongest the mogu supposedly had to offer were defeated – but their huge clans still stood.

Rather than turning on us, however, the mogu gave in to bickering.

‘Only you would allow intruders into these halls!’

‘Only you would point a finger at the other clans when it is you to blame!’

We barely escaped the mogu before they began a massive melee in the centre of the room. We hurried to one side, and saw… saurok, running down a hidden staircase with untold amounts of treasure.

We were suddenly joined by projected imagery of several Lorewalkers, led by Cho. ‘Friends, you must not let the saurok get away with these artifacts, nor must you let the mogu discover them. These halls hold untold weaponry that the mogu could use to re-exert their entire grip over Pandaria!’

We headed down the forgotten passageway, taking out saurok, until we reached the huge rooms of the Vaults of Kings Past. Hundreds of massive vaults lined the walls of a huge underground cavern, filled with untold knowledge and power. The mogu had apparently forgotten it in their retaking of the palace. We set about clearing the room, eventually finding ourselves at the bottom of the room, surrounded by the largest vaults and facing off against a huge saurok known as Gekkan. He was joined by a legion of his own pillaging forces, and every one of those we brought down made him angrier and more reckless. Soon, we brought him down, and upon his death, a strange noise emitted from the back of the chamber.

In a ruined section of the chamber was a functioning mogu elevator that took us directly to the top floor of the palace, where Xin’s strongest troops were arranged and waiting for blood. We fought our way through the grandest mogu rooms many of us had ever seen, past the Bladelords’ Retreat and into ancient shrines to old mogu gods, until we finally reached the Throne of Ancient Conquerors, where Xin awaited.

‘What is this? More have to claim my crown? They are small, weak. You are not the first to challenge me, peons! You shall not be the last!’ Preceded by his imperial quilen guards, Xin attacked us.

Xin proved himself to be worthy of his title, filling the room with blood and smoke as he set off axe traps, caused the walls to fling swords, send fire hurtling from the roof and crossbows shooting as us. The room filled with panic and destruction, but we united and fought our way up to him. He shook the palace with his swings and blows, but he fell.

The room slowly cleared of smoke, and before us we saw the grand door, marked with the insignia and face of Lei Shen begin to roll open. The lorewalkers teleported in behind us.

‘What you have done today is unlock mysteries we never thought solveable. Today, we can venture into the halls of Mogu’shan that were never open to us before. With any luck, the trail of Lei Shen that grew cold here will once again grow warm. We Lorewalkers will study this region for now. Thank you, all of you – the power of the mogu here has been broken. The clans have been decimated. The unification of the mogu tribes behind Lei Shen may come to nothing as a result.’

The Vale of Eternal Blossoms

The Vale was surrounded by mountains, cutting it off from all regions of Pandaria except for the Serpent’s Spine, which cut into it in the west, forming a great barrier against the mantid in the Dread Wastes.

I went with the refugees along the Emperor’s Approach, the northern road by which the Mogu Emperors always entered the Vale – for it was mogu who had first discovered the Vale, and legend had it that the waters of the Vale had turned them from primordial brutes into the strong, cunning then-masters of Pandaria.

The great trees of the Vale almost glittered, their leaves a perpetual gold and their trunks white to the point of being silver. The main road led right between two monstrous mogu statues, both wielding huge polearms of pure gold, with their bodies made out of stone. They formed a barrier into the city-state that had once been the mogu capital. I had never seen statues so large in all my life – they were easily as tall as Sunfury Spire, carved right out of the rock itself. The time taken to construct those must have been far longer than the time spent on the Serpent’s Heart – and all of it would have been done by slaves. I had never seen such beautiful lands.

At the Golden Pagoda, a rest stop between the main road and the capital, the Golden Lotus stopped to take up residence. Before us, we could see the grand majesty of the height of the mogu empire – a huge glittering city made of gold, with beautiful stained glass windows and the pure blue waters of the Vale flowing around it. None of us could speak, for none of us had ever encountered such beauty, even in Pandaria. But the opening of these gates today was an event that would only occur once in pandaren history – and a tale that would be told for centuries to come.

Zhi the Harmonious, the leader of the Golden Lotus that I had met at the Temple of the White Tiger, spoke to me.

‘Mage, so good that you came. For thousands of years, we Golden Lotus have protected the Vale from those who would seek its power. But now, that time is past – we must ask Pandaria for aid against the enemies that come from within it. We have allocated two sections of the city for residence – the Horde may stay in the Shrine of Seven Stars, and the Alliance in the Shrine of Two Moons. Pandaren may stay-‘

‘Die, intruders!’ A mogu charged us, and had we not been great in number we would have undoubtedly been taken out. Guards leapt upon him before he reached us, and he fell.

‘Good heavens…’ The leader of the guard, Sun Tenderheart, addressed us. ‘Zhi, this blade was meant for you as the leader of the Golden Lotus. I had no information of the mogu being so close to our location.’

Zhi cleared his throat and tried to calm himself from the shock. ‘Then we must fear for the refugees first. Keliera, go to the Shrine of Two Moons to the northeast of here. I will send messengers to the other parts of the city.’

I headed past the Pagoda into the Summer Fields, where the plantlife and ground literally glowed with the power of the nearby waters. The crossroads marked the way to the Horde section of the city, a towering selection of spires embedded into the rock. The grandiose balconies and roofs of mogu architecture reflected copious amounts of sunlight, making the place brighter still. Bronze mogu statues lined the way. I searched for the leaders of the area.

In the Golden Terrace, ambassadors from all the great sects of Pandaria – the August Celestials, the Golden Lotus, the Order of the Cloud Serpents, the Shado-Pan and the Tillers and more – gathered to recruit help and distribute messages. The place bustled, and yet it was never loud or hot or uncomfortable. Above the Terrace, kites and serpents flew to and fro, among the city and all over Pandaria. The inn known as Summer’s Rest could be found in one of the spires, and the refugees were settling in all over the place, opening shops and creating portals and trade routes.

News came in all day from Pandaria of how it fared, and regular food shipments began to arrive from the Valley of the Four Winds – which sourced its magical growth water from none other than the Vale. There was no sign of any mogu until I was dwelling alone in the central plaza by the Mogu’shan Palace – once home to every mogu emperor since Lei Shen, now controlled by the Golden Lotus. Out of the blue, two mogu teleported almost on top of me and attacked, and taken by surprise, I yelled, attracting the attention of guards, who brought the mogu down.

I quickly went to inform Sun.

‘This is worse than we thought. The mogu are actively trying to reclaim the Vale – starting with the palace! You must go inside and stop the united tribes before they force the pandaren out of the Vale altogether!

The Opening of the Gate

That night, we returned to the Watchpost, and for the first time, silence fell completely over the Steppes.

The yaungol invasion had stopped, and they had been freed from the Sha and their homes had been reclaimed from the mantid.

The mantid had been driven out of the Steppes and the defenses against them restored. The influence of the Sha over those native to the Steppes had been removed.

The Sha of Hatred had been destroyed and the Temple of Niuzao reclaimed.

But the costs were not light.

Over the fire that night, Taran addressed me.

‘Keliera, there are no weak spots in our defenses right now. The Shado-Pan are going to monitor the Steppes and secure the lands of the yaungol and the Temple while we drive out the last mantid vestiges.

You are not of the Shado-Pan, though you fight as one, and I will not keep you here when your work can be used elsewhere. Take a rest, and I will arrange travel for you to go to the top of the Serpent’s Spine and help with its defense against the mantid from the Dread Wastes.’

The next morning, I awoke to find a messenger from Kun-Lai Summit.

Keliera,

I don’t know what you did, but you have done something. Xuen has agreed to open the Gate of the August Celestials and let the Alliance and Horde have refuge in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. All four Celestials are in agreement, but they wish you to be there. Please, come as soon as you receive this letter.

Sunwalker Dezco.

It appeared my path had already been decided, and with Taran’s blessing, I took a kite through Townlong and back to Eastwind Rest in Kun-Lai Summit. From there, I set off towards the Gate of the August Celestials. Stone mogu ruins marked the way, where great mogu statues guarded the gold, red and white gates. Intricate patterns were marked in symmetry across it, and two towers stretched up above it, one on either side, with a wall linking them. The Gate iself was a huge brass creation with a complex mogu lock.

On the courtyard in front of the Gate were countless refugees from Kun-Lai and the Steppes, as well as their yaks and carts of supplies. Members of what was apparently the ‘Golden Lotus’ guarded the way and kept people in check. I bowed politely to Anduin as I passed him and met Dezco.

‘We are all here. This is a historic moment. My dying wife envisioned a city of light beyond these gates. There is only one way to find out what is behind them.’

The refugees gathered as the Celestials approached. From the west, Niuzao the Black Ox, the Spirit of Bravery and Fortitude, guarded one of the statues. From the south, Chi-Ji the Red Crane, the Spirit of Hope, guarded the other. From the east, Yu’lon the Jade Serpent, the Spirit of Wisdom and Foresight flew overhead, guarding the skies, and below, from the north, Xuen the White Tiger, the Spirit of Strength, approached the main gate from the earth.

Each was awesome to behold, but united they commanded all thoughts. The greatest treasures of Pandaria lay beyond these Gates, and its greatest guardians had gathered to open them for the first time since the Mogu Empire was overthrown fourteen-thousand years ago by the first monks of Pandaria.

‘Children of Pandaria.’ Yu’lon’s voice boomed out across Kun-Lai. ‘The mists have fallen. A new era dawns for us all. Accept the healing powers of this Vale… but use these gifts wisely.’

Xuen struck the gate with his paw and roared. Then, Chi-Ji approached, knocked it with his beak, and called out in song. Niuzao rammed the gate with his horns and a gruff bleat. Finally, Yu’lon descended, and pressed her mouth to the gate – with a whisper, then a shout.

The Gate responded, inner cogs whirring and blue light spreading over the entire structure as the first Gate opened – then another marked with the symbol of the Tiger, a third marked with the Ox, a fourth marked with the Crane and a final one marked with the Dragon.

Before us, the lush lands of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms stretched out – a land of golden lights, golden grasses and trees. The refugees began to move inside, murmuring excitedly. There were pandaren from all over Pandaria here – and even some jinyu, hozen and yaungol.

‘We risk everything, allowing so many into the Vale.’ Yu’lon voiced her concerns to the others as we entered.

‘I have faith in our friends from beyond the mists.’ Chi-Ji answered boldly.

‘I, too. They have aided us well, and revealed that which Pandaria has always hidden from its children.’ Niuzao nodded along.

‘Their strength is an inspiration… and sorely needed. We must trust that their hearts are pure.’ Xuen finished.

‘Indeed. We must hope that these gifts will be put to the use for which they were truly designed.’ With that, the four Celestials turned, returning to their sacred temples.

The Vale glittered with gold before me, great pagodas and statues and forests and, yes, blossoms.