Mudmug wasn’t actually a name, however. It was a brewing technique. The right type of muddy water had insects that would ferment hops into ale, and while yeast was used in large breweries, muddy water was often a far better alternative for home-brewing. Though outside of Khaz Modan, most home-brewers weren’t successful, and usually met explosive ends. A fair few in Khaz Modan did too.
Chen walked with me around the brewing area as Li Li dashed around examining things.
‘The virmen breed fast, but there’s never any need for wholesale slaughter. Take out the alphas in their burrows and they’ll slow down breeding. The population will regulate itself and balance will return.’
Li Li was more interested in having some fun. ‘It’s awesome to mess with virmen’s heads. They hate turnips, but if you can get me some orange and red flowers I can paint a few orange and convince them that they’re carrots! It’ll be hilaaarious!’ Li Li cracked up in giggles at the mere thought of it, and I left her to it, looking around the area for virmen burrows. The nearby meadows were full of flowers – and virmen. I found the first alpha not far from the stead, outfitted in… leather and metal? It tossed pans at me, but virmen were not especially strong foes and I brought it down easily enough.
The second alpha used an array of farming tools as weapons, and the third was extremely quick. They all seemed to be better-equipped (if not more intelligent) than their peers, and I wondered if they were developing or if they were just exceptional thieves and imitators. I was inclined to guess at the second, given my experience with them so far.
A dry storm began as I returned to the farmstead, bright lightning and rolling thunder filling the warm autumn air. We decided that it would be best to stay put for the night until the storm had passed – something that did not endear Li Li to any of us. However, once I delivered the flowers to her for the carrot-like dye, she was preoccupied most of the night. Even Chen was surprised by how quiet she remained.
The next morning, the sky was filled with puffy pink clouds, but not overcast. I and Chen set out for the Twisted Warren, the location of the Twitchheel Warren-Mother. Chen’s hope was that, with no leadership or breeding system, the virmen would fall into fighting each other for long enough to allow the surrounding area to recover from the mess they had caused.
The Twisted Warren was filled with virmen, but Li Li’s ‘carrots’ came in handy, as they quickly distracted the virmen – who fled in terror and disgust when they realised they were eating turnips. Making our way through, Chen and I came across several sacks of hops.
‘How silly! They’ve been using them as pillows.’ Chen picked them up and carried them along with us. ‘Mudmug will appreciate their return.’ We made our way into the main room of the Warren-Mother – Chufa. The room was filled with pilfered pandaren food, tools and furniture. There was little doubt in my mind that the virmen were mere thieves.
‘Oh my heavens, no…’ Chufa was perhaps the biggest virmen I had ever seen, and from his reaction Chen was taken by surprise too. Outfitted in actual armour from head-to-toe (cutlery included) Chufa proved incredibly tough in battle.
‘YOU COME TO FIGHT MY BROOD? YOU COME TO STEAL CHUFA’S TREASURE?’ I managed to melt a hole in Chufa’s armour, and Chen quickly took advantage with a series of strikes.
‘Chufa’s battle armour weakening… TIME FOR CHUFA’S SURPRISE!’
‘What!? Oh my… get down!’ Chen pushed me into the muddy floor as Chufa pulled out a working flamethrower and set it off. Fire spewed over our heads and whirled around. Heat grew, and I began to think that Chufa had lost contro-
‘NO!’ The Warren-Mother shrieked as a mighty explosion shook the warren – apparently the virmen had obtained some explosives. After a small rockfall, Chen and I got to our feet, shaky.
‘She is gone, Keliera. Let’s get out of here before the rest of the virmen come running.’ Carrying the hops, Chen led the way back to Mudmug’s place, where over a few mugs of ale we shared the tale of our success. Li Li was in hysterics for most of the afternoon after learning of her turnip sabotage success. After Mudmug finished storing the recovered hops, he joined us.
‘Y’all are real sweet. Thanks for the help. I’ve been brewin’ all mornin’, and I’d like ya to try some. It’d be an honour to have y’all try the first brew of this new batch.’
‘Well, I certainly can’t say we haven’t earned a small reward.’ Chen chuckled, and took the first gulp – then proceeded to swallow the drink whole, finishing with a mighty belch. ‘Mudmug, this is fantastic – so strong, too!’
‘Thanks! Most folk round here prefer it over anything from that Stormstout Brewery.’
Li Li broke out of her giggling. ‘Wait… did you say Stormstout Brewery?’
Chen spoke as though he suspected a trick. ‘You know of more Stormstouts? Here, in Pandaria?’
Mudmug chuckled. ‘Well shoot, of course I do! They’re only the biggest brewin’ family in this whole valley!’
‘A family… a brewery… My ancestral home!’
‘Wait a dang minute – you’re a Stormstout?’
‘Yes, yes I am! Tell me, I must know where this Stormstout Brewery is! I must see it for myself!’ As Chen continued to speak, happiness flooded his features, as though he had finally reached the end of a long journey, and his speech became faster and more excited.
‘Well, you just keep goin’ down the road, but-‘
‘I am going! Li Li, you stay here! I will come back for you. Promise me you’ll be good!’ With a quick kiss to Li Li’s head Chen ran down the road before any of us could respond. Li Li was almost speechless – a condition I had never seen her in before.
‘I… yeah… whatever…’
When Chen was out of sight, she turned to me and jumped up and down. ‘This is my big chance to finally explore Pandaria! No fat uncle tying me down! Woo hoo! Li Li ran around and gathered her things. I decided it would be best if I accompanied her – something told me she would get into trouble regardless of any promises.
Mudmug spoke to me before Li Li managed to run off. ‘I’m runnin’ low on muddy water for my brewin’… could you collect me some from the river on your trip?’ Making a note to fill up a cask on the way, I hurried after Li Li, who had picked a direction and was running in it.
‘The Huangtze Falls are this way! We passed them on our way here but Chen was too busy on his ale-hunt to look at them.’ At the Huangtze Falls, great willow trees bent over the river, forming cool shade, and pond-skaters butted heads with turtles perched on lilypads. Li Li looked behind the falls, but found no cave. She was undeterred, having several other destinations she wanted to visit. I quickly filled the cask with muddy water before she led me further north.
‘I want to see New Cifera next!’ We met back up with the main road, and Li Li led me to some marshy fields – overlooked by a massive mogu-built dam, supplying water to the nearby landscape.
‘Oh wow. This is even more awesome than I thought it was gonna be! Come on!’ Li Li sprinted north up the road, leading me to a village amongst the marsh. ‘This place is like all puddles!’ While Li Li looked around, I found my way into the centre of the village, where a story scroll rested against a jinyu fountain.
In the days before the Sundering, legend has it that all rivers flowed to Pandaria. Few were more aware of this than the clever jinyu. Over time the wisest of their people learned to commune with the waters of the river, and listen for the future and news it would bring. These elders were respected by most races and earned their title of Waterspeakers.’
‘We meet again, Keliera.’ I turned to my side to see a jinyu… Ashyo! One of the monks searching for the Hidden Master.
‘Ashyo! It’s good to see you well. Xiao still eagerly awaits your new knowledge.’
‘Ah, yes. Forgive me, but as soon as I arrived in New Cifera I was permanently distracted.’ Ashyo turned to view the great dam. ‘That waterfall must be the water supply for the whole Valley. Think about it – the pandaren use that water to grow vegetables the size of houses. Where could it come from? Why is it so special?
The elders among my people have a special technique for speaking with the water and divining the future from it. Perhaps this can give us some insight into the water’s source. Please, meet me at the Pools of Purity north of New Cifera, and we will see.’ With our agreement made, Ashyo departed to the north, and I took a look around.
‘Neat! A jinyu! It’s good that there’s some left after what happened in the Jade Forest. D’you think they’re related to murlocs?’ With a passing comment, Li Li dashed past me again.
‘Toads! Toads and more toads!’ A Pandaren chef shooed three toads out of his cauldron. ‘Ah… forgive me, friend. I am afraid I cannot cook for you today. Yan’s kitchen is closed due to a toad infestation – the things are breeding like crazy up in the Pools of Purity. If you could help, though, maybe we could make a deal. Here-‘ Yan handed me several jars. ‘If you can collect their spawn in this it should slow down their breeding. And.. don’t worry, I can ‘re-house’ these ones..’ The pandaren chuckled as I walked off, leaving me feeling slightly worried for the toad eggs.
As I was preparing to leave, Li Li caught up with me. ‘Hey, Keliera! I found something great we can do! There’s a few fishermen round here, and I was thinking we should do our own fishing too! This place is full of -HUGE- fish! I bet Chen would go nuts if he saw one that I’d caught. All we need is some bird feathers and bug-bits from around here and we can make lures.’
The Pools of Purity stretched up the side of the mountain. The pools were home to huge lotuses farmed by the local Pandaren, and were quite beautiful. We met a concerned young pandaren known as Zhang Yue on the second level.
‘Ah, hello. The Pools here are special, you know: They nurture life like no other water in Pandaria. This often attracts unwanted attention from the local fauna. If you’re travelling to the top layer, be careful of the dragon turtles – they’ve taken an interest in the huge numbers of toadspawn up there and they’re becoming pretty aggressive.’
‘Hey, isn’t that that jinyu you spoke to earlier?’ Li Li pointed to the pools near us before we went up to the higher ones, and sure enough Clever Ashyo was preparing for his ritual. We quietly joined him.
‘This is a good spot to consult the water. I trust that you are ready.’ Ashyo muttered in the bubbly language of the jinyu, platning his staff in the river. After a pause, he was bathed in golden light and stunned.
‘What… what is this place… so beautiful…’ Ashyo collapsed, and Zhang helped us drag him to a nearby tent.
‘I know what your friend has seen, but the power of the jinyu – I had no idea they could tap into the water so easily. He will need time before he is recovered.’