With the Burlap Trail now safe, I remembered my commitment to aid the Shado-Pan, and began the trek down the mountainside towards the Serpent’s Spine, the western wall that cut Kun-Lai Summit off from the territories of the mantid.
The afternoon progressed calmly, as with the yaungol invasion defeated the plains were quite quiet. Soon, the Serpent’s Spine turned from silhouette into visible wall, and below it the pale red trees of Firebough Nook sprang up.
My leisurely afternoon seeing the sights took a turn for the worst, however, when I saw that the half of Firebough Nook further up the wall was completely corrupted by sha energy, turned twisted black and white, and the remainder of it was under attack by corrupted yaungol. I burst into a run as I saw the Shado-Pan defending the gate into the wall itself.
‘Halt! Does friend or foe walk there?’ I did not know where the voice came from, but I was sure a weapon was trained on me. I tried to stay calm.
‘Friend. I am an envoy from Eastwind Rest. We have stamped out the yaungol invasion in the eastern plains, and seek to aid the Shado-Pan.’
‘Then come forth, quickly!’ The path of battle briefly parted, and I ran through to the Guo-Lai Gate, and the doors into the Fallback shut behind me.
‘Good. You made it. Other envoys have come, but we still struggle. I am Shado-Master Chong. We have already lost the town outside… But no reinforcements have arrived from the Monastery. This is a grave turn of events. If you can fight, we need your help, just as we are using the help of the Alliance. I am afraid now is no time for politics.
Our true enemies are not the yaungol, but the sha who control them. They are destructive, but undisciplined. Undisciplined force cannot last. The flood loses its force in disperson, as the wildfire burns away its fuel. We can turn the sha’s destructive energy against them. Bring me the essences of the sha in the village, and I can explain further. And, obviously, along the way you will have to defend yourself against the yaungol.’
With that, I was sent back out of the gate and into the heat of battle. What little remained of the Nook was aflame, and I fought my way into the central rage of the area. Corruption spewed forth from the ground, taking shape as sha of mindless rage. I quickly reduced their number, collecting their essences, but the longer I fought the stronger they became, and I was forced back quickly.
‘Help, help!’ The cry of a pandaren woman came from an under-siege house. I forced my way in.
‘I can’t believe you made it here. My name is Sya Zhong. I don’t know how much longer I could have stayed here unaided. I am sure there are others still trapped in the village! Please, you have to help me find them. I will not return to the Fallback alone.’
I accompanied Sya outside, and she led me around the wreckage of the town. We found Ya Firebough two houses down. He was the leader of the Nook – if there was any left. Across from Sya’s house was Old Lady Fung, who kindly volunteered to ‘escort us to safety’ and we found Jin Warmkeg in the surviving brewery. He insisted on bringing the remaining ale with him. We fought our way past the yaungol siege, freeing up one of the doors, and hurried inside.
‘Survivors! We thought there were none. Thank you for your lesson in hope, Keliera. Now that you have bought us time to breathe, we must act. Let me show you how to defeat unbridled rage. I will make these essences into a trap for the yaungol leader, Kobai. He is not our ultimate target, though he will be snared and defeated in the process. Killing Kobai will accomplish nothing.
He is possessed by a powerful Sha known as Malevolent Fury. When Kobai is caught in the trap, steal his mask and put it on. It will force Malevolent Fury to appear, and we can focus our efforts on his defeat. Kobai is at the north side of the battlefield.’
The unoccupied Shado-Pan warriors ran out first, blending into the wilderness in readiness, and I proceeded towards Kobai. I placed the trap of Binding Rage on the floor, drawing his attention with an ice lance. The trap exploded as he stepped on it, blinding him, and I took his mask.
The air went black and as cold as ice as the Sha was pulled out of it, itself blinding white.
‘No! What is… happening…’ Kobai’s voice faded away as there was only the Sha before me. It screamed in anger, attempting to claw its way into my soul, but I ducked and weaved and fought with all I had, unaware of the Shado-Pan aiding me.
With a piercing scream the Sha fell, Kobai with him, and my gaze shifted back into reality. We had won the day.
We recuperated in the Fallback, the yaungol attack now ended.
‘We should feel shame at our inability to protect the village, and sorrow at its loss. We should feel pride in our actions in saving the wall and joy at saving the yaungol. But we cannot feel anything. Not yet. We must maintain total control over our emotions until our struggle with the sha is complete, or we strengthen them.’ Master Chong breathed quietly for a moment.
‘We must stay here while the sha are a danger. We cannot allow our guard over the Spine to drop. But you are not a Shado-Pan, Keliera. If you find time, please travel to Winter’s Blossom – our basecamp on the road to the Shado-Pan Monastery. We need to find out why reinforcements have not been sent.’
I agreed, and after brief recuperation set out across the lake, to the road leading north from the Nook. The roads led back onto the scrubland of the second level of the mountains, and as I reached a crossroads I saw a grummle convoy under attack by raging hozen. I quickly intervened, and a few fireballs sent the hozen scattering.
‘Many thanks for aid! Good fortune to friend of grummles!’ The grummles led me up the road to Kota Basecamp, another stage on the Burlap Trail.
‘Luckydo!’ The brothers Rabbitsfoot and Yakshoe ran over to me excitedly. ‘The Shado-Pan are not here, but the grummles are lucky that you are! Grummles owe much fortune to the Shado-Pan. If the Shado-Pan cannot defend grummles because the wall needs them, that means they are in danger and need grummlepacks more than ever!’ The two introduced me to the leader of Kota Basecamp’s deliveries, Brother Oilyak, who thanked me for saving the convoy earlier.
‘Welcome to Kota Peak, home of the famous Kota Kafa! Enjoy good fortune for most happy grummle delivery, hero of grummles.’ Oilyak directed me to Uncle Keenbean and Cousin Gootfur, who were responsible for ‘Kota Kafa’, which I think was some sort of coffee blend.
‘Kota Peak is famous for its Kafa bushes – no other can survive at this elevation. Grummles make good living selling Kota Kafa, but my cousin here-‘ Keenbean glared at Gootfur with this, ‘got the wildlife up on the Peak hooked on kafa with his scheming. It is more scarce than ever. We will pay good for any berries you can get us. But beware the yetis. They eat the goots normally, but then they ate goots hooked on kafa – now they hooked on kafa, and they gonna come looking for more soon.’
I spoke to Gootfur after Keenbean walked off angrily. ‘I mussed up bad. I’m such a luckydont! It such hard working cutting seeds out of kafa berries – but I noticed that goots eat the berries and give seeds back within a day or so. I gave all I had to the goots on Kota Peak and now they charge everything that moves. Kota Peak not safe for grummles anymore. And watch out for Kafa’goot! Mark it so Gootfur can collect it later.’
After equipping myself in several layers of fur I began the trek up the flag-marked path to Kota Peak. The bushes were less common than the very active goats and their ‘leavings’ were, and I had to fight through quite a few to reach the yetis. Most were asleep and cranky in or in front of their caves, and I had to kite them quite a bit to kill them.
With a whole bag of berries gathered, I decided to head back down, when a sudden roar preceded a terrified grummle squeal. Someone must have disturbed another yeti. The roar bellowed out again, and the grummle squeal was barely hearable:
‘Eep! Please, Great Kota Kon, forgive grummle. Let me go, I’ll bring lots of kafa right away!’
The roar shook the mountainside again. I had no idea who Kota Kon was, but I hurried towards the roar. I had berries to satisfy him, and assumed he would be at the peak.
I found Kota Kon’s cave at the highest point of the mountain accessible by foot. The yeti was a deep red in colour and of a monstrous size. Before him, a small grummle cowered.
‘I’m Nephew Burrberry. Kota Kon wants more kafa, but I already gave her all I have! Then I tried giving her a nice bow, but she’s not satisfied. I think she can smell the kafa I drank for breakfast!’ The grummle chattered in terror, but I brought out the bag of kafa berries I had obtained myself.
‘You… you brought kafa?! You magnificent luckydo! Hurry, give it to her!’
I walked forward, gently placing the bag in front of the yeti matriarch. She sniffed at it, and a few kafa berries rolled out. The yeti made a delighted noise and quickly began to eat them.
‘I… I think it’s working! Ack!’ With the berries finished, Kota Kon grabbed us in a single paw and bounded out of the cave, rushing down the mountain to Kota Basecamp and dropping us off there before sitting down.
‘We’re… We’re alive!’ The grummles around us were shrieking to high heaven.
‘WHAT HAVE I DONE?! WE’RE ALL DEAD!’ Nephew Gootfur ran around in horror and Keenbean cowered on the floor.
‘Well… she’s not eating anybody. That’s a good start. She must want more kafa, but she has nothing to do with the extra energy.
I got it! The Burlap Trail! She can smash hozen out there all day long! What do you think, girl? Wanna smash hozens?’ The yeti made a noise of approval, and Nephew Burrberry quickly fed her his flask of emergency kafa. Kota Kon roared happily and charged off into the Burlap Trail, and we watched as the ravaging hozen tribes were cut down in her wake.
‘Wow… that was VIOLENT.’ A grummle muttered in awe when she returned.
Brother Oilyak addressed me.
‘Thanks to you and Burrberry’s quick thinking, we may have just formed a mutually beneficial relationship with the Terror of Kota Peak.’
With the influence of the hozen over the Burlap Trail now permanently regulated even without the Shado-Pan present, I recieved word that I would now be able to get an escort up Mount Neverest to meet Lorewalker Cho. The next morning I took a kite back to One Keg and met with Uncle Cloverleaf.
‘Many guides still scared by mountain pass. Grummles disappear up there even though grummles make the best guides. If you give them fire lotus incense maybe you can make them brave.’
More than a few guides were shirking their duties in the village, but a sniff of the fire lotus incense meant that they were unable to keep hiding. By the time I returned with all the hidden guides, I noted that Shado-Pan guards were now repopulating the area. The battle for Firebough Nook must have been won.
‘Incense works like a charm! Effects do not last long, so you must hurry! The mountain pass is very dangerous, but wind blows from the east – grummles travel best when east wind blows. Nephew Bentnail will take you in the cart when you are ready.’
As I was about to leave, a curious whispering sound, sort of like a half-scream, drifted over the village. The Shado-Pan bristled and the villagers looked around, confused.
‘The sha are whispering. This does not bode well.’ A nearby guard muttered. I made my way to the cart regardless.
‘We can never rest until we get to the top. Get it?’ Bentnail laughed at his own joke, then yelped as several hozen attacked the cart. The yaks kept moving, and I threw blinding spice at the hozen until they left – but then gained the ire of a nearby yeti, and we had to throw almost everything in the cart at it to get rid of it. I had no chance to look at the view.
‘You’ve arrived just in time, mage. I was starting to think I would die up here!’ Our guide at the Basecamp, Lucky Bluestring, greeted us.
‘Did you have to throw our supplies at them? Why not use your weapon? Maybe fancy spells or kicks? Now we don’t have enough to last us here, especially with Bentnail eating like a yeti. You threw it, you go get it. The wreckage will be down the path. Find supplies there.’
I headed down the icy mountain path. I found much of the wreckage abandoned by a pair of everlit mogu braziers, surrounded by the same lion-dog statues.
‘A pity you have made it through the mountain pass only to die here!’ The regal booming voice of a mogu preceded his arrival on a real beast identical to the statues. It was clearly organic.
‘Awaken, my pets! Feast on their flesh!’ The four statues sprang to life and leapt at me, but I teleported out of the way and they fell atop one another and I quickly destroyed them.
‘I will see to your demise myself!’ The mogu charged at me and I split into mirror images, flinging frost in his eyes and moving out of the way of his great cleaves. Blinded, he fell easily. But I was uneasy – this had been a trap. All our supplies had been destroyed. I hurried back to the basecamp.
‘You were attacked by a mogu? How terrible! This is very bad luck. I’m sure your pandaren friend has some ideas about what the mogu are doing here, however. He was very specific.
“The mage must endure the trek alone with only her thoughts. She will honour the shrines and meet me at the top.”
The path up Seeker’s Folly is marked by flags. Be careful! Seeker’s Folly is dangerous even on lucky days.’
Conjuring some food so that the grummles would be able to stay here for a while, I made my way up to Seeker’s Folly. Harsh icy winds blew here, and I murmured a flame ward to keep my face clear while I wrapped myself tighter in my furs. I could only see a few feet ahead even in the bright sunlight. I quickly became snowblind. On either side of me the mountains grew high and dense with snow.
As I climbed up, I saw great snowballs coming down from above – sprites, no doubt. I could barely see, but made my way past them, encountering the first of the shrines – the Shrine of the Seeker’s Body. I read the engraving on it.
‘Each bodily injury endured, is a lesson learned. Each defeat, an opportunity to grow.’
I forced my way up the path through the large snowballs. The snow grew thicker, and as I passed the snowballs I became aware of extreme winds this high up. I struggled to stay standing, and had to grip the ropes guiding my way as I reached the second shrine – the Shrine of the Seeker’s Breath.
‘Finding peace within will allow you to see obstacles with reason.’
I passed by the winds, and was relatively unobscured up to the final shrine, the Shrine of the Seeker’s Heart.
‘Wisdom can only penetrate a heart that is truly open to it.’
I reached Seeker’s Point, and beautiful clarity opened up as the snow cleared. Ahead of me were Cho, Mishi, and a Lorewalker Scroll.
‘The Emperor’s Burden – Part 2