‘The villagers of Zouchin know the coasts better than anyone in Pandaria. If the Zandalari are hiding on the islands, they will know. Speak to Mishi and she will take you to the Emperor’s Path. I will go ahead to speak with the village elders. Follow the path to Whispercloud Rise. Shin Whispercloud will help you reach the village.’
I hurried the rest of the way out of the tomb, where Mishi awaited me, and quickly explained to her the situation before climbing on board. She flew out of the Valley of Emperors, winding round the mountainside to a mogu ruin embedded into a cliff-face. The Path of Conquerors.
The ruin was still in remarkably good condition, and filled with confused spirits as the Valley had been. I headed through the dark, winding passageways until I saw the bright snow of Kun-Lai at the end of a long staircase, heading out of the mouth of a cave to Whispercloud Rise. The balloon rides here were the only way into Zouchin Province. I was greeted as I left the cave by a pandaren woman known as Lin Whispercloud.
‘Hello, traveller! Be sure to take a moment and enjoy the view.’
‘Has anything strange been happening in Zouchin Province, ma’am?’
‘Oh, that poor village was ambushed when the trolls arrived! They don’t have any skilled warriors to defend them! You make sure to help them. Shin will take you there safely. SHIN! WE HAVE A VISITOR!’
The woman led me out to the balloon deploying point, a balcony overlooking the green valley below. To the west, a great mogu ruin poked out of the cliff, overlooked by the Temple of the White Tiger to the east.
‘Seeing scenery this beautiful really does put things into perspective. Now, have a nice trip!’ Lin waved us off as I got into the balloon, which was already crowded with several visitors to the Province. As we flew over the province, we saw the mogu ruins below, infested with crude troll structures. The villagers murmured in confusion and shock at seeing the invaders, and began to actively panic upon seeing the huts on the Province’s shoreline ablaze, under siege from troll boats.
We hurried into the village, under attack by trolls of every creed and colour, and I rushed to find Lorewalker Cho. He was in the village inn, speaking with its elders.
‘Promises, promises! There is nothing you can do. The Zandalari are ruthless!’
‘So negative all the time! What is your plan, Lorewalker?’
‘Your villagers need rest! We can offer protection and training!’
‘Even so, we are outnumbered five to one!’
‘All we need is to find their Prophet, Khar’zul. You know the surrounding islands better than we do. Your knowledge would be invaluable.’
‘Very well. If you help us fend off the Zandalari, we will help you find this Prophet.’
‘Thank you, Elders. We will not disappoint you.’
With the meeting over, I knocked and entered. Two Elders and Cho greeted me.
‘Keliera! The elders have agreed to help us find out where the Zandalari have hidden the Thunder King’s remains. They have some conditions first. The villagers have been guarding the province since the first attack. They are exhausted, and many are injured. If the Zandalari attack again, the defenders will fall asleep on the job! Relieve them of their posts.’
The female elder – Chi – spoke up.
‘If we are to mount our own defence, we need weapons to fight. We are not monks, but Zouchin has been a peaceful province since the times of our great-grandparents. Scavenge arms from the trolls and our blacksmith, Doshu, can make something we can use out of them.’
By Doshu’s house, I met his daughter, Shomi.
‘My father is delusional! He thinks I should be studying my tea-pouring while our village is under attack! It’s ridiculous! I have just as much courage as anyone else here… I just don’t know how to fight yet. Could I accompany you when you head out? I promise I won’t be a hindrance! I learn really fast!’
Unsure, I agreed, as long as she stayed far back enough to be safe. We were met by another elder, Shu, outside a nearby house.
‘I’ve seen the numbers the outsiders brought with them. This will not be an easy victory. I know of only one thing that could give us an advantage. A plant that grows in the province can be used to make a rather explosive liquid. It is named volatile bloom, and if you bring some to me I can begin brewing right away.
Also, there has been concern about a fishing village to the north. It is called Zouchin Strand, and the trolls headed there with some mercenaries. Please, check in with them and make sure they are well.’
We made our way around the village, fighting off the wave of troll invaders. With the defenders given pause to rest, we headed into the wider province, making our way north to the Zouchin Strand. It was completely ablaze. We found a survivor outside a burning house, Sage Liao.
‘Ah… the village is wise to be concerned… we are not well. I am alive… barely… but they killed the rest. I must… return to the village… But I do not have long… I have a healing potion in my hut… search my belongings…’ I hurried into the hut while Shomi kept the man company. The hut was still intact, and I found the potion and ran back outside, bringing it to the Sage to drink. It worked, and he unsteadily rose to his feet.
‘Thank you. I suppose… I’ll need to ask you to do a bit more before I can return to the village. I cannot leave the bodies of my friends and family here. After the mercenaries robbed us, most left. But one of them… after the others took all we had, he ran the rest of us through. For sport!’ Liao spat on the floor.
‘Get justice for the fallen. Perhaps news of their deaths will raise my spirits enough to go on. They are just west of here.’ Liao thought for a moment, and continued. ‘We will need to honour the dead properly, which means gathering incense of life. We will need a crab shell and spices, which the mercenaries stole.
We will need headstones, but I have never had to bury so many at once. By the falls that hug the mountains, you will find stones polished to perfections by the water. Gather them for the villagers.’
We killed some of the crabs along the beach until Shomi identified the best shell of the lot, and then found ourselves in an inland bay, where the captain of the gnoll mercenaries, Ripflesh, counted his collected riches. Though well-armed, he had intelligence customary of gnolls, and his well-thought out tactics (for a gnoll) did not stop us from killing him.
We fought our way into the mercenaries’ main camp, killing a portion of their number and scaring the rest off. We obtained a full bag of the spices for the incense, and then turned back towards the falls to collect stones from the river.
Zouchin Province was a lot like the coastal areas of the Jade Forest had been, right down to the same wildlife – and annoying pond skaters. We killed them, and carried as many of the stones as possible back to the Strand.
‘This is a lot more work than I thought it’d be…’ Shomi murmured under her breath. The fires were all but out by the time we reached Liao.
‘The first group that passed us, the Trolls… they cared nothing for us, walked right past us, pushing our families out of the way. The next, though – the mercenaries. They took us prisoner, stole us from our homes, and threatened us with death if we resisted.
I can feel my spirits lifting, now that they are dead and everything is prepared. Soon, I will have the strength to return to the village. I cannot imagine leaving my friends without a proper burial.
Thank you so much. After all that has happened, it is good that fortune sent you two. You obtained justice for my friends and family, and gathered all that we need to honour them. I will take over preparations from here. Please, go and inform the village so that they may come to the funeral.’
We headed east to the Zandalari Vanguard to finish collecting blooms and weapons. In the ruins, Zandalari, Gurubashi, Amani, Drakkari and Farakki searched for something – but I had no idea what.
Despite my apprenhensions, Shomi proved a very able fighter and quickly proved a very big boon. We headed back to the village with the operations in the ruins disrupted.
‘I told you I was a quick learner! I will start training others. Thank you!’ Shomi ran off, and I began to report to everyone, starting with Doshu.
‘My, these are better than I anticipated! I can make four spears from each one of these. I’ll make sure the villagers are armed when the time comes. For now, I must craft.’
I then returned to Elder Shu.
‘Ah, these flowers are excellent! I would wash your hands a few times first, however. And what news of the Strand?’ His face turned grave when I informed him. ‘I see. We will meet you at the graveyard to honour them. You have done so much to honour our friends and family and protect this village.. it is only fair that you be the one to light the Incense of Life when the ceremony begins.’
Finally, I returned to Cho and the other Elders.
‘Very good, Keliera. Now that the villagers are rested, we may have a chance against the Zandalari. But honouring the dead takes priority. We will go to the funeral.’
The village assembled at the Zouchin graveyard, where the incense awaited with Liao. I stepped forward, and murmured my own prayer to them before lighting it.
‘Good. Let us begin the funeral. You see, what you have done here is a tribute we pandaren hold most dear. None of us approaches death with joy – but neither should we feel fear, nor anger, nor doubt.’ As he spoke, Sage Liao proceeded around the graves, blessing each.
A remarkable thing happened. Plants began to sprout from the graves, forming trees which blossomed beautifully to mark each grave. ‘Though we may die, from our passing blossoms new life. This is the truth that we live, work, and die for. Do you see? From their graves, trees grow. May these trees always stand for the sacrifice they made, and the honour you have done them. Thank you, friend. You are truly a hero.’ With the funeral over, we made our way back to the village and rested.
Some hours later, scouts alerted Cho, the elders and myself to the massing troll numbers on the village’s northwest edges.
‘The Zandalari are preparing to attack! We must defend the village! If we can’t push them back, we will never find the Thunder King’s remains!’
The villagers rallied as the trolls came in, fighting surprisingly well considering how outmatched they were. Shomi had trained them well, it appeared. Archers and warriors defended the village from beserkers while Shomi led a defense against raptor-riders from the northwest gate, and behemoths assaulted from the east. Elder Shu’s explosive mixture defeated them as well. Soon, the Zandalari became outnumbered and began to retreat. Cho called me back into the inn.
‘This victory will mean a great deal to the villagers. They have defended their peaceful way of life without succumbing to all its negative emotions. In the chaos we captured one of the fighters. Let’s see if we can extract any information from him. The prisoner is upstairs. It will be difficult to get information from him, but even the slightest detail will help. The elders are questioning him already. Go help them, and see if he has any useful information.’
I headed upstairs, where Elders Chi and Hou were berating the troll.
‘You will think twice about attacking our village again!’
‘Tell us where the remains have been hidden!’
‘You are too late! De Thunder King will rise and take dis land from you!’
I stepped forward.
‘Where have the Thunder King’s remains been taken?’
‘You are too late. Da remains of da Thunder King were taken to da Isle of Reckoning. We performed da ancient rites! Even now, da true emperor of Pandaria lives and breathes once more. Woe to da pandaren usurpers! The mogu will rule dis land again, and we Zandalari will have a new homeland.’
‘We will not be the only village to rise against the Thunder King, troll. Your war is far from over.’
Cho joined us downstairs to plan.
‘We cannot dwell on this setback. Prophet Khar’zul must be dealt with. Every member of the Thunder King’s forces we destroy brings us one step closer to victory. Khar’zul and his forces must be destroyed to protect this village. He underestimated our abilities, and he will no doubt do so again. His death will send a message to the Thunder King that we will not be defeated.’
Mishi flew me to the Isle of Reckoning, where Khar’zul awaited. I fought my way through the allied tribal troops, and engaged Khar’zul.
‘Da Thunder King lives! Our empires be united once more!’ He unleashed spirit magic upon me, filling the air with screams and dark energy. ‘Feed you to da crows!’ His entourage of crows flew around, jabbing at me, and I split into mirror images to divert their attention away. I unleashed volley after volley of energy at Khar’zul as he began a massive spirit storm. ‘We need dis land! Da cataclysm destroyed our home!’ If he wasn’t stopped, he would end up destroying the whole island! I called upon all my magics, almost draining myself entirely, and flew a huge fireball at him, destroying him and the altar.
‘Dis only jus begun… we ain’t gonna jes… roll over and die…’
I hurried back onto Mishi and we flew off before the Zandalari could react to the death of their leader. Cho met us back at Zouchin Village, which was now free of attackers.
‘These events should be learnt from. It is important that we learn from history. Had we paid more attention, we could have headed this off before it got so far. Everything that has happened was already foretold – we just didn’t know how to read it. For now, I have no other need of you. I will study the ancient texts for clues as to where Lei Shen has gone. May the rest of your path be filled with knowledge.’
I took a kite back to the Kota Basecamp, and the next morning set off for Winter’s Blossom. I still needed to find out why the Monastery had not sent reinforcements to Firebough Nook.
The Shado-Li Basin which formed the path to Winter’s Blossom was the most desolate of the Kun-Lai scrublands I had seen so far. A few hardy yak trundled south, and bored sprites swung desolately from dead trees. Soon, the tent-filled camp of Winter’s Blossom came into view, as well as the white-blossomed tree it was named for. Further down the basin I could see the Serpent’s Spine pass me, as well as a curious wooden scaffold up the cliff to the camp. I made my way in, where I met the leaders of the camp, Lin and Suna Silentstrike.
‘Shado-Master Chong sent you? Yes, we recieved his request for reinforcements. Sadly we are in no position to grant them. We only just finished our own battle, and the monastery’s been locked up tight. We can’t get reinforcements, and we’re only just down the hill!’
The two talked in hushed tones for a few minutes, then called me back.
‘If Shado-Master Chong trusted you, then we will as well. Perhaps you can help us.’
‘The yaungol are our enemies. But we must prove that we are better than they. We will show them honour in death.’
‘Go thin the numbers of the carrion birds at the battlefield in the west. Stop their desecration of the yaungol bodies.’
‘And while you are there… We lost our own Shado-Master in the battle. He and two of our comrades still lay on the battlefield. Recover their possessions and give them their last rites.’
I made my way down to the bottom of the basin, clearing out the vultures, and laying Liu of the Thousand Blows, Shiya Boldblade and Shado-Master Zhiyao to rest, freeing them from their oaths. I took their armour back to the camp.
‘Good. After what they have done, we would not show kindness to the yaungol in life. But neither will we allow their bodies to be eaten by birds.’
‘We will make sure the armour of the fallen is returned to their students. Thank you.’
We were suddenly distracted by the noise of fire, and rocks hit the mountain above us.
‘They are attacking again! Archers, to the wall!’ The camp mobilised, heading to the Ox Gate. ‘Keliera, you have to get up there. My wife Suna went to scout the wall with that fool, Lao-Chin. Perhaps if he had spent more time on defenses and less on that stupid ale-lifting contraption… It matters not. Get a kite from Len and then go find my wife. She’ll know what to do next.’
Making my way through the fire and smoke, I hurried to the kite master, Len.
‘I need a kite up the wall. Quickly!’ I flew over the siege engines, faster than the spears and fire, and hurried up to the Serpent’s Spine. Sun and Lao-Chin awaited from one of the towers.
‘Good flying. We have an idea, but we need to deal with the yaungol on the wall first. They’re providing cover fire for the ones on the ground. The good news is, the spirit of the Ox is helping us. When you weaken the archers, he will stun them, and you can push them off. It’s not a nice end, but we have no choice.’
‘I have an idea, and am prepared to make a sacrifice. I will tell you later, but I need you to collect the everburning oil they are using to light their arrows.’
I moved forth, collecting barrels of oil and knocking the yaungol off the wall. It was certainly not pleasant, but we needed to control the Ox Gate in order to prevent losing all the progress we had made in Kun-Lai. If the yaungol kept invading, we would not be able to find out why. With most of the battlement clear, I headed back to the tower.
‘Good work, Keliera. We could see them flying from here.’
Lao-Chin stood up. ‘Well, I am off to prepare our next move with these. Good luck, friends.’ Lao-Chin left on the kite I had arrived on, muttering to himself about brew and oil.
‘Alright, with your help the Wall is back under our control. I’ll stay here to make sure no more yaungol sneak up here. Go and see what Lao-Chin is cooking up. Maybe he had a good idea after all.’ Suna produced another kite, the one she had used to access the tower, and sent me back to the front. By the odd scaffold structure I had seen earlier (apparently an ale transport mechanism) Lao-Chin awaited me.
‘Good to see you made it back in one piece. Thanks to your help, I have brewed up a surprise for the yaungol. When I trained as a brewmaster, I didn’t expect to use my knowledge like this…
Ale catches fire when lit. When mixed with yaungol oil, it’s downright explosive. I’ve mixed the oil into these kegs – roll them at the yaungol and ignite them when they get close. When it does blow, you don’t want to be near it. Which is why I’ll be here, mourning the loss of this brew.’
I set off the ale kegs and they rolled one after the other towards the yaungol troops. With a bolt of fire they lit and exploded one after another, carving swathes of fire through the yaungol lines. But behind them, more troops ran in through the gate.
‘It looks like they’re preparing for their final assault. Get ready!’
As the yaungol dispersed, their leader jumped down from the Serpent’s Spine.
‘Their warlord shows his face! Let’s finish this!’ I and Lao-Chin charged to meet Suna and the rest of the troops, as we set upon Gong Da, the yaungol warlord. Though twice the size of any we had yet encountered, he was not strong without his army, and we brought him down. The Battle for the Ox Gate was ours.
At a cost. Lin Silentstrike had been captured by the yaungol. I regrouped with Lao-Chin, Ban Bearheart and Suna on the field.
‘Where is Lin? Where is my husband?!’
‘He must have pursued the fleeing yaungol while we intercepted their leader.’
‘I’m going ahead. I will see you on the other side.’
‘Patience, Suna! If we march into Townlong alone, we compound our problems. We must focus on the Monastery and get reinforcements.’
Ban addressed us. ‘I think we have finally pushed them out of Kun-Lai. But at what cost? So many dead across the Summit, and Lin now captured. I will not allow Taran Zhu to continue to ignore his charge as Lord of the Shado-Pan! We have lost too much!
This has gone too far. I cannot ignore our abandonment any longer. After all that has happened here, at Firebough, at Binan, Inkgill, the Advance, the Burlap Trail and Zouchin Province… we must travel to the Monastery.
Whatever they are doing in there can wait! We can take my balloon up the mountain to the Monastery. Let us return to camp, where it is anchored.’ Ban led me to the balloon. Winter’s Blossom was quiet, the remaining defenders in mourning, or simply angry that their trust had been broken by the Monastery. Once in the balloon, we set off, and Ban told me of the Shado-Pan.
‘As a stranger to these lands, you may be unfamiliar with the Shado-Pan. Our charge is an ancient one, dating back to the time of Shaohao, the last emperor of Pandaria. Dark energies embrace this land. Anger, Hatred, Fear, Doubt… These negative emotions can manifest in physical form. We call this dark energy “Sha”.
It is our sacred duty to monitor and imprison the Sha. To defeat it wherever it darkens the hearts of our people. In all my years, I have never seen the Sha so active as when your soldiers landed on our shores. Pandaria does not have a standing army. We, the Shado-Pan, are its first – and only – line of defence.
Taran Zhu leads the Shado-Pan, as his father did before him. But he has elected to close our Monastery gates. Why? We must find out. Without the Shado-Pan, Pandaria will surely be engulfed in darkness.’
We landed in front of the monastery, where several full convoys of grummles were arrayed dejectedly, having been turned away from the Monastery.
‘Something feels… different up here. I don’t know what yet, but I expect we will find out. Here we are, and now you know why we cannot let our brothers sit idly by. I simply refuse to believe the guards will not grant us entry to the monastery should we impress upon them the seriousness of the situation. We will go to the sentinel in front of the monastery, and demand admittance.’
We went up the path, where the Sentinel – a very large pandaren – blocked the door.
‘By the order of Lord Taran Zhu, none shall pass.’
‘I and this elf are here to demand an audience with Taran Zhu on behalf of the abandoned Shado-Pan warriors of the Summit!’
‘Demand? YOU DEMAND? WHO ARE YOU TO MAKE DEMANDS OF THE SHADO-PAN?!’ The sentinel burst into a rage and attacked us. We were forced to kill him, for he was clearly under the control of the Sha.
‘No… this is worse than I could have possibly imagined! The monastery itself has been compromised… This is unspeakable. If the monastery has truly been taken over by the Sha, we will need a great effort to purge the monks inside. I will gather our allies and meet you inside.’