Smelling slightly of rotten ale, I left the Brewery, and in my haste to clean myself in the river almost knocked over a pandaren woman.
‘Oh! I’m so sorry! Are you alright?’
‘Yes, I am. You’re Keliera, or did I hear your name wrong?’
‘No, that’s me. Is there something you need?’
‘I’ve come from Stoneplow, in the west. The ambassadors to the Crane Temple spoke of you. We needed to pick up some emergency beer rations, but the Brewery was all boarded up. Could you help me transport some of your friend’s ale? I’m sure a handsome man like him wouldn’t mind.’
I helped the woman – Emmi – take a few of Chen’s kegs of The Emperor off his cart, which were free of charge from Chen thanks to her compliment. She pointed me in the direction of Stoneplow, and I set off.
The plains of the western Valley were not as jam-packed as those I had been to before, and ahead of me stretched the Serpent’s Spine – the great wall that indicated the border between the mantid territory and the Pandaren empire. Great stags and mushan roamed the fields, and behind the wall huge twisted trees grasped upwards. Stoneplow was a small pandaren village in the shadow of the Wall. But, beyond the village I could see-
No! It couldn’t be!
A great crack split the Wall open, and devastation poured out. A cloud of mantid could be seen above it, and below it scorched earth and ruined houses painted the land the same colour as I had seen twice before – Sha corruption.
The vision that the pandaren of the region had witnessed had indeed come true. On the border of the village I was met by a Shado-Pan monk, Loon Mai.
‘Hail, traveller. I see you bring drinks. Quickly, come inside!’
The monk led me inside one of the nearby buildings and began to explain.
‘The defense of Stoneplow is more important than you know. If the mantid take Stoneplow, they may as well take this entire valley. Beyond the wall, nothing exists to stop them from sweeping through all of Pandaria. The mantid attack, and we are shamefully underprepared.
Under normal circumstances, the mantid are quite predictable. We anticipated that the next full-scale mantid attack would take place in about two-hundred years, as they do regularly every thousand. This current invasion is hardly full-scale, but it’s strong enough to take every village in the Valley unawares. Had the Shado-Pan not been keeping a watchful vigil on the wall, Stoneplow might have already fallen.
The defense of Stoneplow currently rests on our Order, and the rest of them wait at the wall for the next wave of attackers. The charge of the Shado-Pan is to defend all of Pandaria from the enemies that the common people have forgotten. Our numbers here are few, and we do not expect reinforcements unless the wall begins to crumble.
A few days past, a bolt of dark energy shot here from the west, devastating half of the village, and fracturing the wall – it nearly broke it entirely. Mantid scouts followed shortly after. Whether this was their doing or they are capitalising on an opportunity, I cannot say. Maybe they’re running from what caused the crack in the first place.
You’ve already aided us once, and we need every fighting hand. Please, get the remaining farmers by the wall out of harm’s way. My warriors will hold the line.’
Outside, I met up with a friend – Lin Tenderpaw.
‘Keliera! Oh, thank goodness you’re here. I haven’t found the Hidden Master yet – and with the mantid attacking I doubt I’ll get the chance to. I’m not from here. I’ve never even been here before. But something’s wrong.
That wall was built to keep the mantid out of Pandaren lands. Now the mantid are sending winged scouts over as if it wasn’t there any more! The only reason they aren’t dying is because they’re attacking farms rather than armies. If you’re headed over, they don’t stand a chance.’
I headed out, but I realised just how sorely underprepared we all were.
Easily several hundred mantid were already landing in the nearby fields, swarming in the skies, and generally being a nuisance. I was horrified at the notion that these were only scouting parties. Was this what Pandaren culture was actually like? Live for the moment, because thousands of dangerous insectoids are just round the corner baying for your blood?!
I managed to eliminate a few, but that roused the majority and I quickly fled further south into the Valley, where they left me well alone.
I would clearly have to be more stealthy. Their numbers were far too high for me to just make my way in brazenly. After a period of wandering I noticed a curious camp on a little cliff-face opposite the entrance to the Wilds… with a balloon above it.
Well, forewarned was forearmed. I hurried over to the camp.
‘Oh hey there!’ Daggle Bombstrider, the goblin I’d met in Krasarang before, waved and beckoned me into the camp. ‘You come to take me up on my offer?’
‘I’m afraid that times are a bit more dangerous. I’m not sure if-‘
‘Ah, come on, it’ll get some of the stress outta ya! But the mogu have been gettin’ in the way of huntin’ recently. I’ll introduce ya to Nesingwary. And Nesingwary.’
To my abject horror, within the large, skin-decorated tent at the head of the camp were Hemet Nesingwary himself – and his son, Hemet Nesingwary Junior.
Light help the poor beasts of the Valley indeed.
Fortunately they were too drunk to talk, and Daggle instead led me west of the camp to hunt some of the local mushan and tigers. She was a better shot than I, but moved on frequently, and I had to admit that the place was overpopulated. The mantid incursion must have scared them south. Daggle saw my reservations.
‘Now, don’t worry your head off. We know not to kill everything here, or we run out of things to kill. That run-in with the druids in Northrend taught us well enough, and Ironforge almost cut off all his funding. Just don’t let Nesingwary hear you mention these ‘new-fangled bloody conversation ideas!” She cackled at her own impression of Nesingwary’s posh dwarven accent.
The Dustback mushan were as old as the ground they walked on, apparently, and predated on by the huge tigers of the Gorge, brilliant orange and green tigers that appeared to have migrated out from the Wilds. It did take my mind off my stress concerning the mantid, but I worried I was shirking responsbilities.
Later on, the party was divided in to two – one would hunt for beasts of local legend, and the other would hunt for wild stags and foxes. Little interesting happened on my side, which I was thankful for. Both groups met at the Torjari Pit, a small abandoned mogu ruin between the Camp and Stoneplow.
The party celebrated their catches until the sun went down, when we heard a strange noise emitting from the lake in the pit.
A massive tidal wave swept up from the lake, revealing some kind of horrendous pit beast that I was too terrified to describe. Thankfully between us all we were able to easily strike the beast down, but its appearance threw darkness on the celebrations.
The next morning I headed back into Stoneplow, not really much more prepared than I had been yesterday.
The Fields surrounding the village were swarming with mantid, but not corrupted, and I snuck through, clearing a way for the farmers as the Shado-Pan soldiers kept the mantid under control.
What I did not anticipate was that several families were more stubborn than most pandaren, having planted their livelihoods in the shadow of the Serpent’s Spine – and being unwilling to give it up. I could not argue – I was hardly versed in Stoneplow’s ways. I made my way back to the village to see how it fared.
‘A few stubborn farmers want to make my job harder? Fine. I will rob no pandaren of the right to defend their land.’ Loon Mai sighed after I delivered my report. ‘The breach in the wall is being quickly mended by skilled masons we called from Halfhill. The defense should become easier from now on. Now… Lin is searching for this ‘Hidden Master,’ you say. I believe I may have a clue for you.
Lin was extremely excited at potentially finding the end of her quest, and hurried up there. I stayed most of the morning to make sure the mantid did not make further incursions, then followed.
A large bamboo forest sits in the northwest corner of the Valley, dark and hidden from view. The land became hilly in the north. Giant lavender bushes illuminated the dense foliage. The Hollow was home to fireflies and dense mists, and strange moans in the darkness that spurred me further on, until I found a small house tucked away in the very corner of the Vale.
The Hidden Master. I found a story scroll outside the door.
‘Pandaren Fighting Tactics
During the dark days of the mogu dynasties, pandaren slaves were not permitted weapons of any kind. When training in secret, pandaren monks would often use farm tools or simple bamboo staves for practice. Emphasis was also placed on unarmed strikes.
In contrast, the favoured weapons of the mogu were based on fear rather than practicality. They were large, cumbersome, and difficult to wield. Pandaren monks took advantage, developing fast strikes and the skill to quickly move around the battlefield. The larger, slower mogu were often completely disoriented by the speed of the pandaren monks in open combat.
Over the years, fighting styles have changed dramatically, incorporating any number of other abilities, weapons, styles, etc. But the core foundation of pandaren fighting technique remains the same: Defeat an opponent of any size with your bare paws if you have to.’
‘Keliera! I’ve found him!’ Lin ran out of the house, followed by a stout pandaren monk. ‘This is Master Bruised Paw.’ I bowed to the pandaren, who followed suit.
‘You seek training? Alright. We’ll start with a little test – one your friend Lin failed. To strike a larger object or foe, you must focus all your energy into one fist. Practice on this bamboo.’
The Master set me to work on breaking the huge bamboo trunks of the forest in one, focused blow. Soon, I came to master it.
‘You show promise in your focus. We will begin your training.’
I am not sure how long it lasted, but I and Lin trained for several days, building our focus, balance, power, premeditation and endurance. My brief training in the Tian Monastery was built upon until I could be called a skilled martial artist. The Master sent us out into the forest to slay the mistbeasts, horrifying incarnations of the Mists that had once protected Pandaria from the rest of the world. They were disruptions in the balance, and I had encountered them before – in the Torjari Pit and in the cave in Krasarang with the sweet malt grains.
The mistbeasts were scary at first, but without their mists they were powerless, and quite easy to defeat. Lighting some beacons along the way, we managed to push the mists quite far back.
After basic training, we took the Trial of Wood – similar to the Trial of Bamboo, but with the training we had recieved it was surprisingly just as easy, despite appearing harder. My training continued afterwards, from a modest to a more intermediate level, and I passed the Trial of Stone. My combat skills surprised me, and with a better understanding of Pandaren combat, I headed south on the advice of Lin.
‘I intend to learn everything I can from the Hidden Master. Please, if you see the others, tell them of this place. I could use some company.’
Loon Mai was in decent spirits when I arrived. ‘The mantid continue to send scouts over, but our defenses hold and the survivors are all accounted for now-‘
A massive roar sounded from behind the wall, and the defenders rallied.
‘What- what is that thing?!’
Huge claws stabbed through the wall where the breach had been made before, and shook it. The wall collapsed, and a massive Mantid Colossus crawled out – followed by hundreds – thousand of Mantid. The swarm approached.
We turned to see an army at our backs. The Valley had turned out in force. Chen, Li Li, Mudmug, the troops from Krasarang, Halfhill’s defenders – all those who I had met along the way.
‘Defenders! We will not surrender because these invaders can break down a wall!’ Chen’s voice boomed out across the fields.
‘We have our own wall – the people that call this place home! Any one of us would lay down our life to protect this land. It belongs to us – to our ancestors, to our children. And we are not about to let that change!’ With a tremendous roar, the army swept across the fields, launching themselves into battle with the mantid. As we fought back, Ken-Ken leapt from mantid to mantid, hitting them with his Mask. To our surprise, Sha manifestations leapt out of them.
‘The mantid! They’re under the influence of the sha! We can turn them back if we defeat the Sha!’
The kaldorei, tauren, Shado-pan and the regional guards all focused their efforts on the released sha. Freed from their influence, the mantid were confused that they were swarming at all, and left, flying back over the wall. Meanwhile, beer was kept in steady supply to all fighters.
The sha corrupting the mantid was not one I had seen before. The mantid almost seemed terrified, so terrified that they fought. Was it… fear? It certainly felt like it, from the proximity to the sha. The greyness again darkened my vision, and I felt the urge to run more than once. I began to wonder exactly what was on the other side of the wall to have corrupted so many.
With the corrupted mantid armies on the back foot, I hurried over to Guard Captain Oakenshield, who was yelling orders from higher in the hills above the battleground.
‘My wall… I spent my whole life atop that wall… Those five students of the Hidden Master went closer to the breach. There’s dangerous creatures near the wall. Help them out.’
I met Xiao, Lin, Ken-Ken, Kang and Ashyo fighting some of the mantid commanders – fearmongers, bloodragers, incubators and tendon-slicers. Our lessons learnt during the last few weeks had taught us well, and though we killed them with ease via working in unity, their numbers did not slow.
‘Keliera, go back to Guard Captain Oakenshield! We need reinforcements!’ Kang spurred me on and I hurried back.
‘They can’t keep fighting like this forever. Those kids are downright heroic, but I don’t want anyone to die as a hero today. It’s time to throw in the towel.’
‘But… you can’t give up now! The whole of the lands west of the Serpent’s Spine are at risk if we give up against the mantid!’
‘We have no choice. We retreat and regroup or we all die here and the mantid go wherever they want. We may have to fall back to the Brewery or even to Halfhill, but it is better than losing all of the Valley. Go tell the Commander. I’ll recall the others and meet you in Stoneplow shortly.’
With a heavy heart, I realised he was speaking the truth, and made my way back through the desecrated grounds of the village. Loon Mai sighed when I delivered the words of Oakenshield.
‘I see. Well, we gave it our all. It’s time to evacuate, save lives, and reassess our strategy, before the mantid are given the chance to overtake the entire Valley.’
‘All hope is not lost yet.’ Master Bruised Paw said, dropping his travel case on the floor. ‘The commander speaks with haste. He has the weapons we need to win this battle. And, more importantly, he has you to direct them.’ With a wave of his paw, the Master indicated the line of mushan that had bore the troops here – among them, the devastating firing capabilities of Miss Fanny and Galleon the Blind.
There was hope yet, and the mushan understood that. Their way of life was at stake too, and their eyes gleamed with anticipation as they prepared for their role.
As one, the line of mushan charged into the fields, decimating the mantid lines under their feet, and tearing their commanders from the sky. They arranged in front of the great colossus that had broken the wall, and unleashed wave after wave of rocks and cannonballs at the great beast. This went on for minutes that seemed to drag endlessly, but the mushan prevailed, and the beast’s chitin began to break apart under the strain. Juices oozed from its limbs.
Galleon unleashed a wave of fireballs, followed by Miss Fanny and the rest of the mushan. The colossus fell with one final screech, and the mantid turned in horror as their greatest weapon died before them.
‘I can’t believe it! Where the Shado-Pan failed, where the Wall failed.. we have all succeeded!’ Loon Mai sounded emotional. ‘We may hold this farming village after all.. KEEP FIGHTING! ALL RETREAT ORDERS ARE CANCELLED! WE CAN WIN THIS!’
The battle continued, but the defenders were now on the winning side. The soldiers went out in shifts, and I met Dezco during my rest.
‘I am heading north when this day is won, Keliera. I have heard of another August Celestial in the north, and I feel it my duty to find his or her grounds and offer myself up to learn of their wisdom. Perhaps I will see you there.’
I was dismissed from battle, and on my way back to Halfhill, met a small creature – apparently known as a Grummle – who delivered a letter to me.
‘Aha! Greetings, friend of Lorewalker Cho. He sent this message for you. The lorewalker awaits you in Kun-Lai, the greatest mountain in this world. Very dangerous to travel there – very dangerous. Look for guides along the road to help you find your way.’
I took a kite back to Halfhill, where I learned that the Kun-Lai Mountains could only be accessed by a narrow mountain path known as the Veiled Stair, accessible along the northern border of the Valley. Saying my goodbyes and packing supplies for my trip, I made my way north – and wondered if I was ever going to see my hawkstrider again, or if I was condemned to walk on foot for my entire existence.