Later that day, I was called to go and free two more discovered Paragons – one in the shallows north of Zan’vess, and one on the island itself, in a dig excavated by the yaungol slaves of the mantid. Kil’ruk dropped me off at the dig.
‘Adding these Paragons to our forces is vital, Wakener. A few more may be all we need to turn the tide against the swarm.’
Within the Amber Quarry, I found an already-freed Rik’kal, the Dissector. He looked recently freed, and coughed slightly at my approach.
‘Diss-ec… tor… has… returned. You are… not like the others… I hear the Klaxxi calling… I just need a moment.’ I fought off a small group of Zan’thik sent to retrieve the Paragon as he reclaimed his strength.
‘My strength returns. Speak to me, Wakener, before I report to the Klaxxi.
My, look at you! All parts and pieces, and all of them so good at killing. I must pick your brain some time.’ With a gory laugh, the mantid flew off.
I made my way north through the Briny Murk, to the southern coast of the Wastes. In the Murkscale Shallows I found my way into an underwater lair of the saurok, and the chunk of amber holding the next Paragon was directly in the centre. I quickly struck it with the tuning fork, breaking out Skeer the Bloodseeker. The Klaxxi immediately called upon him.
‘The hunger… they said it would be fierce, but I did not expect anything like this. It is strange to feel so… weak. Food. I must have food. The starfish outside brought both strength and clarity of mind in my time. Bring it to me or I shall devour you instead. And clacker tails too, and some blood from the remoras. I will show you why they call me the Bloodseeker.’
I fought my way out into the bay, blessed by Skeer’s pheromones, and collected starfish, clacker tails, and shark blood, as asked – although it proved extremely difficult. It was better than getting eaten.
‘Excellent. I’m afraid that I wet my hands with saurok blood while you were away. I’m sorry, I could not help myself. Pitiful! Do they come to challenge ME? I, who have won a hundred wars and still shouted for my enemies to come? No, these saurok will crumple before me like paper before the flame! I shall show you my might, Wakener. They come!’
Saurok began to stream into the cave. Skeer cut them down with ease, one after the other, until we roused their leader, the Serpentus.
‘Sawrmborn! FIlthy muckeaters! You defile OUR grotto. You will not escape!’ He charged us, but we fought back blow for blow, and the saurok fell beneath Skeer’s blades and limbs.
‘Well done, Wakener. I will stay a while longer to quench my blade’s thirst, but I believe my swift swings will bear me to Klaxxi’vess before you anyway.’
I set back off for Klaxxi’vess, returning about a quarter of an hour later, and sure enough Skeer was there already.
Kil’ruk had another assignment for me the next morning, when the council had communicated with all the Paragons.
‘Scouts have reported a non-mantid presence near Kor’vess. Their intrusion and theft of amber would normally be swiftly dealt with, but all our forces are focused on stopping the swarm getting to the wall. The task seems suited to you, Wakener, for you are from beyond the wall. Convince them to leave, or destroy them in the name of the Klaxxi!’
I headed north towards Kor’vess, crossing the northern line of the Horrid March and hurrying under the boughs of the great tree, where I saw… pandaren?
Why would pandaren be harvesting sap from trees in the Dread Wastes? How had so many been allowed to cross the wall? The Shado-Pan would not let civilians cross the Widening Deep, nor would they let them descend the Serpent’s Spine onto the Dread Wastes side. It made no sense, and I confronted their leader immediately.
‘Greetings, friend! Can I get you a mug of anything?’
‘What are you doing here? This is a warzone! There’s a full mantid swarm barely a hundred yards from this tree!’
‘That is a good question. Few pandaren live on this side of the wall. We’re making beer, in short, but not just any beer – beer brewed with the sap of the great kypari trees.’
‘Uh… beer made with sap? That sounds-‘
‘-disgusting, I know. But it’s not. The amber that these trees produce has amazing healing qualities. The mantid can’t get enough of it. They consume it, use it in their weapons, their architecture… I’ve even heard legends that they embalm their great heroes in the stuff!’
‘And… you’re making beer out of it.’
‘Exactly! The traditions of the sapmasters go back through countless generations. I am but one link in a chain of sap-thirsty pandaren. Sometimes, however, I fear that I may be the final link.’
‘The trees are dying. Kypari Vor is already dead, a victim of the sha. It will never again produce amber, and it no longer looks like a tree. The few amber-producing trees that remain in the Wastes are being overharvested by the free mantid, or are in danger of succumbing to sha. Either way, no more sap means no more sapmasters – and then I’d have to return to the Valley of the Four Winds, never to taste sap again. What brings you here, friend?’
‘The council of the Klaxxi has asked you to leave. They need to protect the trees from the forces of the corrupt mantid Empress.’
‘So, they want us to leave, do they? What a selfish request! We’re only taking amber from one tree. I have brew to make, and we aren’t going anywhere! If you help us then I think we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement. We’ll give them amberbrew and they stop trying to kill us.’
‘Very well. But if the Council does not like your compromise, then I won’t be able to hold them back.’
‘The mantid are starting to surround us. What’s worse, they’re draining the amber from the tree. They’ve dug a burrow into the south side of the tree, where we’re shorthanded. Could you take care of them?’
I agreed, and headed around the tree to where a hasty burrow had been constructed into the trunk, marked by mantid banners. Within, mantid quickly drained the amber from its central pools, overseen by a tall Adjudant – Azzix K’tai. I killed them all, but on the Adjudant’s corpse I found a strange, old scroll. It appeared to be a poem. I had no idea what it meant, but resolved to show it to those at the Brewgarden and see if they knew anything:
“When the horror comes a-rising
And the heavens hum with war
Our great vessel of salvation
Must be broken from its core.
Rending daggers of the great ones
Shall be bound with wood and shade
If the fiery wings of sunset kings
Are ever to be stayed.
Incantations fae and primal
Bought on promises of gold
Bind the glamour to the thing
That quenches fires and fears of old
Comprehend this sacred recipe
Perform it as I’ve penned
Drive its fruit through Blood of Ancients
And your terror-war shall end.”
Sapmaster Vu, the leader of the Brewgarden I had spoken with earlier, had no idea.
‘Perhaps you should ask Lya of the Ten Songs. She is our resident songsmistress.’
Lya was on the other side of the garden, having a drink.
‘What have you brought for me? A scroll of some sort! Let me have a look.’ She read the thing once over and frowned, murmuring it again and again.
‘This scroll, this is a prophecy… It’s terrifying! SAPMASTER!’ Lya raced over to Vu, waving the scroll in his face. ‘This is a way to stop the mantid! A way to stop the sha!’
Vu gaped. ‘What? Let me take a look at that!’ Vu read it, paying more attention than he had before. ‘No, no. Look at these words here: “vessel”, “quench”, “recipe” – This is a beer recipe! What a find!’
‘You are wrong, master! We have to stop the mantid!’
‘Ignore her, let’s get this beer brewing.’
I had no idea which person to believe, so I took the conciliatory route and agreed to help test out both options. Vu spoke to me at length about the meaning of the prophetic scroll.
‘I keep looking at that line in the second stanza – “bound with wood and shade” – the “shade” in particular interests me. I must admit, I’ve often considered taking some of the area’s residual sha essence and incorporating it into a brew. I suspect that this is the shade our recipe calls for. There are many sha amalgamations in the southeast.’
As well as this, for “rending daggers of the great ones” I was sent to collect mushan teeth, and also to collect some picnic items that the pandaren had left east of the tree, for no particular reason. Lya spoke to me next.
‘Never mind their wild goose chase. We have real work to do. The scroll mentions “rending daggers of the great ones”. I’ve got a feeling where they are. Two mantid lieutenants patrol the Horrid March to the south. Each one carries a ceremonial dagger – bring them here.’
I was all but ready to leave camp when I heard my name called.
‘Keliera!’ Was that-
‘Chen!’ I ran over to see my old friend.
‘It is so good to see you well, and travelling so far. It seems our paths are tightly intertwined. I am here looking for family. I am told that several Stormstouts came across the wall to help face the mantid threat. Have you seen any Stormstouts about?’
We asked around, and it turned out that there had been several Stormstouts in the area – Lazy Dan, Evie, Han and Mama Stormstout. But only Dan was in camp – Han had gone hunting by Kor’vess several days prior, and Evie had gone north to hunt.
‘It seems like Dan will be safe here. In that case, I will go and look for Han, Evie and Mama Stormstout. Take care, Keliera!’ With that, Chen ran out of camp and into the forests.
I made my way east, killing mushan, but finding few suitably large teeth. I collected a couple, and continued on. After killing the first lieutenant, Kz’Kzik, I saw Chen on the other side of the March, cradling… a pandaren!
‘It was too late. She was so small… and I was too late. I will give her a funeral at the Brewgarden. Please, when you have time, meet me there.’
Further along was Illikax, another commander, and then I began to hunt down the picnic pieces that had gone missing, as well as “Shade” from the local sha.
I made my way back to camp, where we attended Evie’s eulogy, at the graveyard by the Widening Deep.
‘They say your name was Evie. They say you were a sweet girl. I never knew you… but you were family. May your journey in the next world be filled with joy and beauty. Farewell, Evie Stormstout.’
For a moment, we were all silent. And then, slowly, the pandaren dispersed until I and Chen were left. I could understand why Chen was more upset – he had only just found his family, and it was being torn from him by war so soon.
‘There will be time for mourning later. For now, there are other Stormstouts to be found. They say that Han Stormstout was last seen exploring Kor’vess. I suspect he headed into the mantid burrow across from the Brewgarden. You should meet me down there. I don’t doubt that I can handle a few mantid by myself, but I’d feel better with a friend by my side.’ Chen departed, with a murmur about Li Li. I did not catch it.
I returned first to Lya.
‘I think I’m starting to understand the next lines of the prophecy. Do you have the daggers?’ I handed them over, and Lya inspected them. ‘Look! These daggers were meant to fit together!’ She held them hilt to hilt, and they formed a continuous pattern. ‘But how, I wonder, to join them? Hmm… “Rending daggers of the great ones shall be bound with WOOD and SHADE.” Hmm. I’ve learned a lot about the Kor’thik mantid in my time here. I know that they maintain shrines in their settlement of Kor’vess. One is a heartroot of the very tree that they inhabit. The other is a dark pillar, connecting them with their queen. These shrines -are- the wood and shade. If my predictions are correct… the daggers should react in their presence.’
Vu continued on, having set up a bubbling cauldron for his brew.
‘Beautiful. These will be fine additions to our brew.’ I thought he was insane. He was literally adding the essence of negative emotion into beer. How could that possibly work? ‘The most dangerous ingredients often prove the most delicious. Now… “bound with wood”. We don’t typically brew with wood. Sap, yes… but not wood. We have, on rare occasions, infused our drinks with corewood from the treants to the west of here. Most of them have fallen to the mantid – but their remains should suffice for our recipe.’
On my way out of the Brewgarden I met with one of its defenders, a pandaren by the name of Azzo.
‘I’m no brewer – just looking at ingredients makes my head spin. I’m here to make sure that the brewers don’t get cut in half while they’re trying to make that perfect brew. The Kor’thik mantid across the basin have been attacking us nightly. I hear you’re headed over there, so why don’t you return the favour and cut them down for us?’
I was fairly certain that I would encounter mantid anyway while there, so I agreed.
I fought my way through the woods first, collecting a bagful of corewood from the decaying treants, before making my way into the Kor’vess structures. In the first building I entered was the shrine to the Empress, and at my approach the daggers leapt from my hands, circling the shrine and drawing some kind of vivid energy from it before neatly returning to the bag they had been in before. How curious.
I made my way into the second building, where the same thing happened, except the daggers came together with the energy and merged into one another. The resulting weapon looked seamless.
With that task complete, I headed round to the southern side of Kor’vess, where a burrow was built into the tree as per usual. The mantid guards were all dead, and I hurried down into the bottom room, where Chen was fighting a host of mantid who were forcing the amber of the room to literally boil. Great beams of amber prevented any movement.
‘I cannot get across the beams!’
I teleported to the other side of the room, where Han Stormstout was encased in a block of amber. I threw the mantid into the streams of amber, killing them, and quickly pushed Han across to Chen.
‘First Evie, now Han. I was too late again. Another one lost. He may never know the peace of returning to the earth, but at least he went out fighting. There is nothing to be done. Come on. I hear Mama Stormstout is still out there somewhere.’
We returned to the Brewgarden once more, but Chen left shortly afterwards. I returned to Lya.
‘The daggers! They’ve bound together into a forked blade. We are on the right track! I knew this wasn’t a beer recipe.’ She did not yet have any idea what to do for the rest of the prophecy, and instead began studying the blade. I then spoke to Vu again.
‘We don’t brew with wood here, it gives the brew a harsh, insipid flavour, not unlike that of wine. I’ll get this prepared and put it into the pot. Olon here had a clever idea. He thinks that we should visit the sprites to the west, and ask them if they have any of these ingredients. Some of the elements to this recipe are seeming… strange. The Rikkitun sprites have a village in the west. I will meet you there.’
I headed west the next morning. Lya, Olon and Vu had already gone – Lya having the coincidental realisation that “incantations fae and primal” had to refer to the sprites. I made my way along the Horrid March, passing Kor’vess and heading up the nearby hill to Rikkitun Village, filled with friendly sprites, inhabiting the bottom of a long-dead kypari tree. The chief of the sprites was mountainous – the very opposite of a sprite, he was twice the size of any of us, and spoke in perfect common. The Rikkitun sprites were just as playful as any I had seen before, but kinder and more peaceful. They seemed the complete opposite of what their habitat would suggest. I met Vu, Olon and Lya in a small camp in the north section.
‘It’s been a long time since I brewed on the road.’
Olon directed me to collect glitter from the wings of the local faerie dragons for “fiery wings”, Lya asked me to slay two rampaging mistlurkers that terrorised the village, in order to gain the support of the sprites, and the Rikkitun oracle, Boggeo, asked me to kill the mistlurkers and ‘kyparites’ which were eating many sprites.
‘We are protected from the mantid. Such was the agreement made so many millennia ago.’ What a curious thing – I was surprised that the corrupted mantid had continued to honour this agreement.
The ‘flitterlings’ as the sprites called them, shook copious amounts of glitter when petted, and the stuff glowed like starlight. It was enchanting. I suppose it was fitting that the last group of sprites I was introduced to in Pandaria was the most enchanting and tied in the most with their habitat. The Rikkitun ferried great seeds of the kypari trees to and from a pit where they were safeguarded night and day.
I headed out into the forests, where I killed some of the mistlurkers terrorising the sprites, and then their leaders, two very large mistlurkers known as Ahgunoss and Mygoness. I had no idea what the kyparite things I was looking for were until I stumbled over one – and a huge kyparite worm shot out of the ground and tried to eat me. I killed a couple and headed back to the village.
The sprites agreed to perform the enchantment while the brewers busied themselves with their own machinations. Lya and I presented the Forked Blade to Rikkitun, who led us to a strange pearl-like crystal embedded in a tangle of roots, along a path from the main village. He lifted the blade above it, chittering in the strange language of the sprites, and power flowed into the blade, enchanting it.
‘It is done. Let us return to the village. Now, only one task remains: you must use the blade.’
Both Lya and Vu agreed that the “Blood of the Ancients” referred to kypari sap – and the oldest tree in Pandaria was now the Heart of Fear. I set off southwest through the wastes, in the hope that some part of the tree had not yet tainted. Lya’s last hope was the Amber Hibernal that was at its base, that the mantid might have forgotten. Sure enough, the back of the Heart was abandoned, completely dead, but littered in uncorrupted amber leading right up to where the landslide blocked off the Hibernal. I gently dislodged it, and the rocks rolled over into the Deep.
The Rikkitun removed the rest of the rocks and exposed the slightly ruined entrance to the Hibernal. I took out the forked blade and hurried inside.
Down in the main room was a… pandaren?! It had to be Mama Stormstout. But her eyes… they were a haunting amber, and a link connected her to a great amber husk in the centre of the room.
It had to be a Paragon! That was what the prong was for! It was another fork! But… What was his power that the mantid would go to all these lengths to seal him away, and would it really turn the tide for good?
There was only one way to find out. I rushed past Mama Stormstout into the amber pools and struck the amber once, twice, three times with the fork. Suddenly, three Adjuncts of Shek’zeer teleported in, holding the crystal together. As I fought them off, the possessed Mama Stormstout cried out to me.
‘The hatching hour is nigh… I must answer to the swarm…’
One Adjudant fell.
‘Set me free… The Klaxxi call…’
‘No… You will not keep me inside this abhorrent prison…’
The Paragon broke free and flew out with a call of ‘freedom’.
‘For eight hundred and seventy-seven years, I waited in that crystal… watching shadows pass through the cracks, counting decades. Now… I am needed elsewhere.’ With that, Iyyokuk the Lucid flew back to Klaxxi’vess, and Mama Stormstout was freed.
‘I… wah… where? What is going on?’
At this, Chen (who I had not seen arrive) took over.
‘You were being mind-controlled by some sort of malevolent ancient insect creature.’
‘Oh, that. Bah, I’ve been through worse. And who are you?’
‘I am Chen Stormstout. From the Wandering Isle.’
‘STORMSTOUT? No. You’re foolin’. Really? A Wandering Isle Stormstout, here, on Pandaria! Where’s the rest of the family?’
‘I will explain on the way. Let us return to the Sapmasters.’
The two went ahead while I collected amber for Vu’s brew – though I no longer thought it the real truth behind the ancient scroll.
When I returned, Olon, Lya and Vu were gathered around the amber which encased Han, waiting for me. I quickly told them of what I had found.
‘There was a… mantid inside that chamber? I never would have thought that the solution to our war on the mantid would be… another mantid. There are still many things that I have left to learn, but I do know this: that CERTAINLY wasn’t a beer recipe.’ Lya shook her head at Vu, who took the amber from me.
‘Recipe complete. Let’s see how this brew tastes.’ Vu took a deep swig. ‘Yeah, this is pretty horrible. Want some, Lya?’
Lya laughed and suddenly the two were best of friends again. I doubted that the Klaxxi would like the continued presence of Pandaren beyond the wall, but they could not deny that they had crucially helped recover another Paragon. As for the Stormstouts, well, after the loss of Evie, they decided they’d had enough of life beyond the wall – and Chen, Mama and Dan took Han back to the Brewery, for some peace and quiet.