I made my way through the Wilds to where the Valley met it. The northern exits from the Ruins of Korja gave way to the Forbidden Jungle, a last outpost of some of the most dangerous creatures in the Wilds. Biting wasps and hundreds of spiders filled the air with noise as light guided my way out of the Wilds. The jungle became lighter and more visible, and the path rose up the hill until I encountered the ruins of the convoy that had been on its way to the Temple of the Red Crane. There, I was met by another envoy, Len, and Sunwalker Dezco.
‘Keliera! I am glad to see a familiar face again. I fought off as many of these ‘mantid’ as I could-‘ Dezco gestured to numerous beaten corpses surrounding him, ‘but I could not stop them dragging the rest of the pandaren into the jungle. They are only civilians, and we must aid them. Fortunately, I kept the healing remedies you and Kang gathered for my Leza, and they will be effective enough to keep the Pandaren alive while they get to safety. Find the envoys and heal them, and send them back my way. I will keep the way clear of any mantid that seek to hamper your efforts.’
The Deepwoods were filled with ancient spirits, and this part of the Wilds held its wisest and oldest trees. I found a few envoys under their shade, but it was not long before I came across the mantid.
Words could not have prepared me for the gruesome sight of them. More horrifying than any Qiraji or Nerubian I had seen in images, the mantid had great bug-eyes and made high-pitched chittering noises, using muddy, sharp wings to ferry them across the Wilds with unmatchable speed. They carried dark yellow weapons that looked as though they had been crafted from glass, and their thin insectoid limbs made sounds like crunching leaves as they moved.
Drawing their ire was even more unpleasant. With a horrific cry in a foul, scraping language I could not bear to listen to, and certainly could not contemplate understanding, they swept down with ferocious speed, using their four front limbs to cut and hack at their enemy. Though I was able to stay back, a single cut from their mystic weapons drew deep blood from my arm, and long after the cut it stung like I had been cut by the finest diamond.
As I travelled through the wilds, bringing them down by fire to their wings and limbs (which was fortunately effective) I saw the lush pastures of the Valley merge with the dark, hot grounds of the Wilds. There were not many envoys left, and the Mantid seemed fairly localised – they must have pursued the envoys from Stoneplow and leapt upon their chance when the mogu had scattered the convoy.
The convoy appeared to have mostly re-assembled by the time I returned. Ambassador Len spoke to me as the wounded were tended to by Dezco.
‘Thank you so much for your help, mage. Not many would go so far out of their way to aid so many – and I have not seen such prowess against mantid in combat aside from the Shado-Pan themselves.’
‘You give me more credit than I am due, Ambassador. Were it not for the monks of the forest, I would not be here, and were it not for Dezco I would not have been able to help heal your companions.’
‘Then perhaps modesty is your greatest strength.’ The Ambassador chuckled. ‘The civilians will all return in time now that the threat of the mantid here has been extinguished.’
‘And we will rally our troops to aid.’ Dezco’s voice chimed in. ‘Kor should be prepared to attack the Ruins of Korja now, and he will no doubt appreciate your aid against Groundbreaker Brojai, the Lord Reclaimer. Once all the civilians are accounted for, I will follow along with Kang, who is transporting the civilians from the outlying camps.’
I ran back to the ruins, making my way to the deeper command section – an isolated clearing, with a terrace surrounded by the same lion-like statues I had encountered in the Ruins of Dojan. In the centre of the circle lay Kor and, I assumed, the leader of the Kaldorei Sentinels in the area. Unfortunately, we were too late, and as we charged Brojai struck killing blows on them.
‘You fail to bend knee to our power? THEN DIE LIKE THE VERMIN YOU ARE!’
A Highborne charged Brojai at the same time I and Dezco did, and Kang joined us shortly after. Even with the statues on his side, he could not match our fury, and as Brojai fell an explosion shook the earth as the portals and structures among the ruins collapsed along with his magic.
Neither side wished to fight after all the losses of Krasarang, and the Highborne – a man named Vaeldrin – agreed with Dezco a truce while both sides recouped their losses and moved against the mantid. Kor in our possession, we moved back to the Retreat.
‘Thank you, Keliera, for helping me avenge my friends and my wife in these lands. I did not always see eye to eye with Kor, but he was my brother, just as I now call you my sister, and I will mourn him. We will move on shortly, but please know that you always have my gratitude – and should we fight together in the future, know that you can always rely on my aid.’
An air of hope and relief had come over the camp when we returned. Though there was sorrow, there was also the knowledge that our path through the Wilds might now be finished, and better times were ahead – the Tauren would move north, in search of the sacred location in their visions, and I would probably head back to the Valley for a rest. Kang met me on the second night, as the Tauren prepared to leave.
‘Keliera, I now only barely remember the path I set out on that led me here, but I know that for both of us it has been far more fulfilling. Perhaps the Hidden Master was simply mastery over what emotions the Sha here presented to us. If you are returning to the Valley, please inform Xiao that I will be staying here a bit longer under the tutelage of the Crane – there is much this place has taught me, and far more it can offer. The mogu, the mantid, the Sha – these are brave times for Pandaria, and dark times too. I would be prepared for whatever the Hidden Master may offer me, if he ever finds me. It has been a true honour to fight alongside you.’
With my paths in Krasarang now leading out of it, I made my way back to the Temple, which had been fully retaken and restored, and got a kite back up to the start of the Valley I had come from – perhaps a new start, in a way. I left maybe wet, tired and covered in cuts and bruises – but with new resolve, new hope for what lay beyond.
It did not take long for me to reach the Valley of the Four Winds, and after so long in Krasarang the wild expanses and bright sunshine almost seemed alien. Xiao still awaited me in peaceful meditation when I returned.
‘It seems both Ken-Ken and Kang learned thanks to your aid, Keliera. And from what we have heard, the Wilds owe you thanks. I would not be surprised to see Kang and Ken-Ken abandon their pursuit of the Hidden Master in search of greater knowledge… but we will see.’
I caught up with Pang after lunch. He continued to provide comfortable accomodation for those interested in helping out around the farm, and he seemed slightly troubled.
‘The virmen problem has decreased in the past weeks, Keliera, but they have not stopped troubling my farms. My son, Ang, runs the small farm down the road from here. He should have brought me some produce earlier today but I have yet to see him. Would you go and check in with him? I want to make sure everything is alright.’
I had no other pressing engagements, and the farm was not far. As I was setting off, Xiao spoke to me again.
‘Keliera, both Lin and Ashyo have yet to send word back on their progress finding the Hidden Master. Both are capable, but they may not wish to inform me if they are struggling. Ashyo headed north, and Lin headed west. If you meet them on your travels, do find out how they are doing.’
I headed across the fields towards Thunderfoot Farms, and soon found Ang’s residence.
‘Ah, a visitor! Please, come in!’ His warm and friendly face furrowed with frustration after I informed him about my purpose.
‘My father, always interfering. I can handle everything here just fine, he needn’t worry… Alright, maybe not everything is under control. A group of virmen took residence here a week ago, and I and Ana have been struggling to get rid of them. They’ve stolen the crops I was planning to deliver to my father and taken them to the riverside south of here. I need those crops back if my father wants them delivered today.’ I agreed to aid Ang, and shortly after his daughter Ana also requested my aid outside.
‘This place is full of marmots! You gotta help me get rid of these things before my father sees! You take them outside of the farm while I fill in their holes, and then I’ll show you the way the Virmen took our crops.” The marmots proved rather entertaining for morning work, and Ana enjoyed it too, dashing down through the farm to the path below.
‘They went that way, miss! I don’t know what they’re upto, but they’ve been coming and going from that river all day.’
I made my way past the hills beside the river, and fell into a hole.
It was a virmen nest! The thing was huge, and no doubt extended under the nearby farms. Stolen crops littered the floor, and around me huge numbers of virmen young squealed impatiently for food. The few adult virmen around were struggling to mush up the crops fast enough to feed them.
‘Turnips must gets punished!’ A virmen yelled beside me, and attacked the turnips. I was hopelessly confused. Had the turnips offended the virmen somehow? I made my way in and recovered as many turnips as I could, and continued along the river once I scrambled out of the nest. Not far down, a large group of virmen watched… watermelons? With flags?!
Were the Virmen racing watermelons? Really?
I again tried to ignore the utter nonsense that appeared to be first-nature to virmen, and carried as much salvaged produce as I could back to Ang’s farm.
‘What were they doing down there with all this? It may be bruised, but it’s all I can offer.’ Ang moved around his house swiftly, neatly boxing the produce so that it would not be damaged further. ‘I’ll take a look down at the river and see if I can get any seeds, and prevent this being a complete disaster. Please, take this back to my father.’ Ang wrang his hands and hurried outside, followed by Ana, and I made my way back to Pang’s Stead as the mid-afternoon sun moved across the sky.
‘Ho ho! Turnips! Now that’s what I like to see.’ Pang was certainly more enthusiastic than Ang had worried. ‘Now, some of these vegetables will be kept rather than sold, so that my family has enough food to feed themselves, especially with winter not far off. However, we have no option but to ask Miss Fanny to deliver them until the Snagtooth Virmen go away. So, if you would… please bring… these to Miss Fanny, and ask her – NICELY! – to deliver them to my nephew Liang’s ranch.’ Handing me a crate of produce, Pang looked over at the road nervously. ‘Ah… here she comes now…’ He half-pushed me towards one of the large kodo-like beings I had seen in the Jade Forest, which stopped roughly at the side of the house.
I was unsure how to ask a beast to deliver things. I placed the crate of produce on her (her?) back, and began to ask.
‘Uh… Hello, Miss Fanny! It’s very nice to meet you. Pang prepared these for his nephew, Liang, and I’ve come to ask you if you could please deliver for them. He’d be very grateful if you did, since-‘ The creature grabbed the crate with her tail, and threw it towards a nearby farmstead with a grunt. It landed perfectly.
I was speechless. With little else to do, I set off for the Farmstead to make sure that the food had arrived safely.