About halfway down the hill to Liang’s Farm, a light shower of rain began. It was still warm enough that it didn’t bother me, even though evening was approaching – after the extreme humidity of Krasarang, I was not inclined to fuss about a small amount of water.
The virmen seemed to flee as the rain fell, and my path was opened quite easily to the Thunderfoot Ranch – a cattle farm owned by Pang’s nephew. Chen and Li Li had already made their way down there, and I took refuge in the comfortably-furnished farmhouse.
‘Ah, Chen and Li Li told me you were the one in charge of sending the supplies down from Uncle’s farm. Thank you – the stews will keep us fed until we can next go to market, and the crops are my animals’ favourite food.’ Liang busied himself in his own home like the rest of his family, working his farm with enthusiasm and vigour that was extremely rare in any of the downtrodden orcish peons. All Pandaren seemed incredibly satisfied with what life gave them – perhaps a necessity given the threat of the Sha, but it seemed genuine wherever I encountered it.
The rain continued overhead that night, and the jovial attitude of the family was only ever interrupted by the quiet pestering of Li Li towards her uncle: ‘But Uncle Cheeen.. We’ve barely gone anywhere….’
The night passed happily, and the next morning the rain continued unabated – as did the positive attitudes of all around me.
Liang spoke to me after breakfast. ‘I’ve heard rumours of your hunting prowess, Keliera. Would a kind elf such as yourself be able to help me? The Mushan beasts that roam this region are the only creatures my pigs will eat, and they need meat to keep their strength up. A single mushan beast could feed my farm for weeks, and though strong, they are slow. Could you help us out?’
I agreed, and pledged to bring back turtle meat (the next-best alternative) if I was unable to bring down a mushan. The great beasts dwelt to the west, and I had apparently already encountered a couple – Miss Fanny had been one, and I had seen one on the edge of the Valley’s bluffs back in the Jade Forest.
Though the lumbering creatures were indeed strong, they were peaceful, and I managed to isolate an adolescent one and bring it down without much trouble. Leaving it there for the moment, I killed a couple of turtles by a nearby pond, and noticed a trio of pigs frolicking in the lake. Perhaps they had escaped from the farm?
With a couple of intentionally-missing fireballs, I sent the pigs loosely off in the direction of the farm, and began to move the mushan back. Even with the magic of telekinesis, it proved immensely heavy, and it took a good half-hour to get back. The rain stopped shortly before I got back, and Liang awaited me with the three pigs in tow.
‘Keliera! I assume you sent these my way? Jian, Ling and Smelly are always running away, and with the virmen around I didn’t get the chance to go after them last time. It seems like they had an adventure. And is that- My, what a fine catch!’ Liang quickly herded the three runaways back into their sty, before examining the mushan. ‘You certainly have an eye for the best. The young ones are always more tender.’
Liang spent the morning cutting up some of the mushan, and the pigs troughed happily when it and the turtle were finally delivered.
‘Now, neighbour. The sheep from Francis’ farm are always wandering over here, and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s in trouble. You’ve proved such a help already, but this mushan will keep me busy all day and I can’t spare time to entertain you. This poor little thing will probably have him worried sick, and if you can spare the time, I’d appreciate if you can take it over and check how the boy’s doing.’ With that, Liang led me inside, where a little lost lamb was bounding around the rooms and crashing into things. Giving me an improvised leash, Liang helped me catch it and gave me directions to Francis’ farm, before waving me off.
As I headed south, I thought about the Valley. It was the breadbasket of Pandaria, from what I had already heard, but apparently Thunderfoot Fields were paltry compared to the huge agricultural community known as Halfhill, which lay in the centre of the region. From there, merchants traded food and distributed it across the entire continent – and the continent was not left wanting. I had already seen the size of the vegetables in Pandaria – easily twice as large as any grown elsewhere, and I had heard small snippets that indicated it was to do with the water in Pandaria. I did not know what – but Anduin had mentioned that the waters had some sort of extra healing properties.
I found Francis the Shepherd-Boy cowering behind a rock at his little sheep farm.
‘Uh… Hello? Why are you behind this rock?’ Suddenly, a great hawk swept down and grabbed the lamb in its jaws. It (and Francis) squealed in terror. I hurriedly brought the hawk down with a fireball, grabbed the lamb and the boy, and ran inside.
‘You really shouldn’t have brought this lamb back. He… he was safer in the pigsty than he is here. First the hawks came, and then the wolves. I’m not nearly as brave as Master Shang thought, and the beasts are… are stealing all the sheep! You have to get them back! I’m not strong enough to fight the big wolves and hawks. I’ve been thinking that if you kill the wolves’ pack leader, they’ll stay away, but the hawks are stealing for themselves. The pack leader is a big brown wolf called Lupello – he lives on the other side of the riverbank.’
Francis was shocked by another attack, and I hurried south to the Yan-Zhe River. Lupello was obvious from afar – the other wolves were grey or white, and years of mud had coloured his pelt a rich brown. He was twice the size of the others, and surrounded by half-eaten carcasses offered to him by the other wolves. I decided it best to stay at range, and summoned a couple of mirror images to help rain fire down upon him. However, I underestimated him, and he pounced right across the river towards us. A split-second before he was going to devour me I managed to strike him with an ice lance to the chest – he fell, and the wolves scattered. I was quite shaken, and spent a few minutes recovering my breath before returning to the farmstead to help against the hawks.
Though alone they were fierce and well-armed, when carrying the sheep slowly away the hawks were extremely vulnerable, and after a few fell to the Arcane they stayed away. I managed to coax Francis out of hiding so that we could recover the scattered sheep.
As we were finishing up, a figure appeared along the road.
‘Oh no! The master will have my hide!’
‘Francis, we need to talk!’ The master, who was Shang Thunderfoot, Pang’s brother, spoke quickly, but kindly to his apprentice. ‘You need to show more bravery, young Francis. You have everything it takes to become a great shepherd – you just need the courage to face your fears. And there is only one way to show you how to lose your fears.’ Shang grabbed a rope off the ground, spun it masterfully for a few seconds, and shot a lasso up into the sky – where it attached itself to one of the great white plainshawks common to the Valley.
‘Francis, Keliera, hold on tightly to this rope.’ Cautiously, we grabbed on as well. ‘Get ready for the ride of your lives.’ Shang tugged hard on the rope, and the angry plainshawk shot into the sky, carrying us with it. I screamed at first, as did Francis, but I soon quietened down, my fear replaced with adrenaline and exhilaration. The plainshawk recognised that we were no threat, and soared dramatically over the Valley, looping and spinning until we were dizzy with joy. It was truly amazing to see the Valley rotate around me.
‘See, Francis, how you can overcome your fears?’ Shang’s voice was distant as the air spun around us, and at Shang’s gentle tugging the hawk dropped us off at Shang’s Stead, a farmhouse nestled into some hills. Shang let Francis (who was on the verge of fainting) rest inside, leading me round the back to his garden, where an enormous prized melon was growing. Shang tended to it as we spoke.
‘You lack fear, Keliera. I sense it in your heart.’
‘It is hard to have time for fear, after what I have already been through on Pandaria, as well as that which came before.’
‘You will have to tell me of it some time. Francis is like a second son to me – he lacks bravery now, but he will learn it in time. My son Liang was weak once. So were Pang and I. But the Thunderfoot way is to learn.’
A burst of conversation from the front of the house indicated the arrival of Chen and Li Li. Something about smelly mugs.
‘Hail, Keliera! How are your travels?’
‘They have been entertaining, to say the least. Your own?’
‘BORING!’ Li Li interjected with a huff. Chen chuckled at her.
‘Pandaria has much to offer, that I have already seen. However… my keg is almost empty. And a brewmaster’s keg should never be empty. I have heard word from the Thunderfoots of a brewery to the southwest, and while it is not my own brew, it would be good to taste Pandaria’s. Would you care to join us? I am sure it will be most fun.’
‘Really? We’re going to a brewery? But the Valley is so big – why can’t we fight some Sha?’
‘Because, Li Li, sometimes you must rest. Endless travel makes for a weary soul.’
‘Whatever. As long as this gets you off your butt!’
We journeyed along the main road, Li Li always pushing Chen to walk faster, and Chen always slowing down in response. We soon spotted a pandaren off the side of the road, looking down a hill.
‘Haaaalloo, stranger! Do you know where we can find a brewer named Mudmug?’ The stranger turned round to face us.
‘I’m Mudmug. Who’s askin’?’
Chen bowed to the man. ‘I am Chen, and this is my niece, Li Li, and my friend Keliera.’
Mudmug nodded. ‘Y’all any good at fightin’ virmen? I got a bit of a situation at the brewery.’
Li Li leapt up and down. ‘Oh, well I’ve only beat up, like, a millllion virmen back on Shen-zin Su!’
‘We’d be glad to help you, Mudmug.’
Mudmug ran onto the path. ‘Well then, follow me and let’s get critter-whompin’! My place is just round the corner.’
‘He’s weird.’ Li Li whispered as we followed him down.