Bloodied Heart: The Yaungol

After little rest, they were back to work the next morning. Khairan’s phoenix had traced the supplies round to a lake that the rivers in the saurok caverns fed. It poured into the Jade Forest, but there was a jinyu village on the lake that had likely come across some of their supplies. Hopefully there were things that could be salvaged. And, as was revealed to great concern, three barrels of plague that were to be retrieved immediately.

‘Are you absolutely insane, Amaran?! What if those canisters had broken?’

‘Be assured that they will not break, Sunshard.’

Keliera said nothing. The effects of the Sha had lightened recently, but she had not been in the mood to talk much. It was not noticed – the others seemed distant from her, Sunshard especially. She was not surprised. The effects of the Sha in the last few weeks weighed heavily on everyone and the fact that all who had fallen victim had been saved was in itself miraculous. With many of their number in recuperation alongside the Horde forces at Binan, it fell to the research department to retrieve what supplies they could – and isolate the plague canisters.

The village, Inkgill, was quiet when they arrived. There was a perceptible haze in the air, like smoke after a fire; the buildings showed no sign of damage. In the first courtyard they met the village’s Waterspeaker; Edanna took over discussions, being the most politically reliable.

‘I’m afraid we sustained some damage due to a saurok attack on our way here. Have you seen any supplies drifting past?’
At her question, the jinyu blushed and looked at his feet.

‘I… yes, though I must apologise. We have eaten some of them. There have been no catches for the past week.’

‘No catches?’ Edanna bustled between the boxes, inspecting each and finding none of the plague canisters.

‘It is not as though the fish do not want to bite. We have known these waters for millennia. It is… as though the fish are no longer there.’

While the discussion continued, Keliera curiously stepped up to the water.

‘-you suppose that it could be-‘

Ignoring the others, she slid her feet past the surface. The water was still despite the raging river that fed the lake and the rivers exiting it. The waters remained still when she stepped in further, as though it was air.

‘-down at the bottom-‘

She inspected the water of the lake. At first glance it looked like any normal water, but upon looking again it shifted slightly. It was darker than one would expect water to be.

‘-diving capability-‘

It was like… She struggled to think of what it reminded her of. It was like someone had spilled a pot of ink into a bath, the initial contact causing rippled that twisted the water with colour; eventually it all mixed, and was slightly darker, slightly off.

‘-could be-‘

Sha.

‘-Sha.’

Upon tuning into the water, Keliera could hear them: the little whispers in her mind, the piranha noises emanating from below, and the sight of dark shapes moving below the water unnerved her. She left immediately and rejoined the discussion.

The effect of the Sha was minimal thus far, though all the fish had disappeared and there was already an effect on the jinyu present. So far the Sha were minor and neutral, but the Convocation could not risk hostility. No one had tried to mix Sha and Plague. No one wanted to.

The jinyu granted them what brief blessing they could. The Convocation set off shortly after, with rope, hook and detector system. Thin and weak red flashes illuminated the location of the barrels, and one by one they were hauled up by divers who tied rope, attached hook, and provided lift. The Convocation was unnerved by the water-breathing and water-walking, but pushed on.

Just after attaching the second barrel, Keliera gave in and the Sha gripped her. Fear flooded her mind.

going to drown…

weak…

they are coming…

we are coming…

The whispers were weak but plentiful, and she forced herself out of the water. Having secured the barrels and their supplies, the Convocation hurried back to Binan. It was too much of a risk to remain near the jinyu and their sha-infested lake.

The next few days revolved around helping to heal the injured, collecting samples for research, and simple recovery. Despite their progress, Keliera was shaken by the words of the Sha. Again it occupied a tiny part of her, nagging away.

Her fears were met in the evening three days after their arrival at Binan, when thunder and fire exploded from the northern ridges. Great horns blew and war drums roared, as an army akin to black locusts poured onto the plains, a dread shadow illuminated by the sunset and the fire they brought with them. For a moment, the village cowered, and then sprang into defense.

‘What was that noise?’

‘What are those things?’

‘What is going on?’

Kal’es silenced them all with a single word. ‘Yaungol.’

In the next couple of days as the Yaungol army advanced the Convocation learned much of them. Great yak-men the size of arcane constructs, the Yaungol were primitive beings from beyond the Western Wall that had mastered fire and oil in crude wooden and mushan-skin camps. These camps were known as Fire-Camps and were marked by the plumes of black smoke from where the Yaungol drilled for oil. Before the Convocation could blink, the Yaungol were bearing down upon the gates of Binan, and they had to fight back.

A Yaungol invasion into Kun-Lai did not bode well, but the Convocation found an advantage in how primitive the tactics of the Yaungol (isolated from mainland Pandaria by the building of the wall thousands of years ago) remained despite countless wars against the swarming mantid. A well-placed fireball was able to destroy an entire camp, and a huge section of the forward army with it. All too soon the Convocation found itself battered and bruised in Binan, but alive and victorious.

Some days after there was a celebration by feast, though the Convocation planned to leave but the next morning. The former Archon Rael Lightdawn had been discovered off the coast and brought to the Temple of the White Tiger, another celestial further north in the summit. The Convocation was to head there and then return for Horde orders.

Their feast was distracted by an untimely arrival – that of Elient Darkstrike, the master spy turned wanted mass-murderer.

‘I merely wish to make a deal. It’s so nice to see you all again.’ Keliera was frozen, fully aware that she was the one closest to Darkstrike.

‘The only deal I will give you is that you leave with your life, Darkstrike.’ Sorlain remained cold and unreadable.

‘Now, now. I have something I’m willing to give.’ Elient held out a pocket-size ball, pitch black in colour. ‘This is a Void Cataclysm.’ Edanna gasped in horror.

‘And what need do I have for that?’ Sorlain remained unchanging even as Edanna frantically whispered to him the immense void-opening power of the device.

‘Well, either I receive two of your magi, or I shall be forced to use it.’

‘You’re desperate to come asking after our mages.’

‘Quite the opposite. They’re the best.’

Despite many misgivings, there was little choice. Two of Sorlain’s personal entourage left with Darkstrike that night, never to return.

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Bloodied Heart: Further Up and Further In

From the wreckage of the Jade Forest they made their way west and up the coast until they reached scalable land. The warm summer plains of the Valley of the Four Winds were a welcome release from the endless downpour of the eastern Forest. For much of the time they spent travelling and lounging, the sun remained high in the sky, cool winds blew, and little troubled them.

A few virmen burrows later, they found themselves in Halfhill, where ample research supplies were acquired, and communication began to come in. Only a handful had survived the Sha of Doubt (which the pandaren had destroyed) and had been taken north, into the mountain range of Kun-Lai, to heal. The Convocation would move to Binan Village, the border between the valley and the mountains, and decide upon a new course of action alongside the remaining Horde forces.

All in all, the Convocation had made it through the Forest with little damage compared to the Horde scouting armies. There had been troop losses, but nothing to stop them keeping going. There was reason to be thankful.

Some days later, with full rations, and a collection of pandaren-crafted weaponry, the Convocation set off to the northern borders of the Valley, where thin mountain trails awaited them.

‘There is an inn midway up the trail. We will make our way there, rest, and then head into the village. Follow me.’ With that, Sorlain led the way, scaling the Hundred Steps up through the Veiled Stair. A rather motley crew of magi, paladins, and warriors followed behind. A short way up, they encountered a single pandaren Lorewalker.

‘Beware the mountain passes. The saurok hide in the trees, the bushes, the rivers.’

The various scouts looked around, but nothing seemed out of order. As the Lorewalker continued her path down the Steps, Sorlain tutted derisively. ‘Little children’s tales are no match for our-‘

A boulder rolled down the stairs out of nowhere, crushing the stone beneath it and slamming into the forward members. The back of the troupe scattered and Keliera shielded herself, draining a substantial part of her magic. Sorlain was slammed into the wall and collapsed forward as the boulder trundled down the rest of the way into the Valley.

‘Report…’

Most had survived intact, with Sorlain as the greatest casualty. Supporting him, they moved to continue up the stairs until a volley of allows fired down. Saurok. They loosed more arrows at the group, and the faint acidic smell of poison drifted towards Keliera. She prepared a spell and as the Convocation fought back she fired a devastating wave of arcane, wiping out half the saurok on the ledge above them and destroying several feet of tall grass, exposing more saurok.

By the time the fight ended the inn was in sight, but Keliera was drained dry and many of the Convocation were injured. Aided by potion, they struggled to the inn, significantly weaker than they had anticipated.

Two days later, dank mists set in over the entire mountain system. Though thin at first, gradually the vapour built until seeing past one’s face became almost impossible. The nature of Pandaria made weather unpredictable but constant – if it was not mist it would be rain, or fierce winds. So, the Convocation had to press onwards. Having spent their spare time completing mundane tasks for the local powerbase – some Soya or something, Keliera did not know – the mostly-healed Convocation packed up banners and weaponry and set off across the high trails that let across the dry canyons of the Stair and onto the lowest of Kun-Lai’s bluffs.

For much of the journey, it was quiet; the mountains loomed overhead, casting shadow on their silent trudging. Although the saurok infested the region, the pandaren had survived for millennia with just one passage through the saurok breeding caves. The earlier stairs, cut through a mountain by legions of mogu slaves, had not been replicated. For some reason, the intricate mogu stonework of their earliest kingdoms stopped completely just beyond the Tavern. Regardless, they pressed on until they met the entrance to the saurok cavern, where they were to sneak their way through, pressed against the wall under an illusion that would make them appear as the wall itself.

They encountered few saurok until the narrow bottleneck that marked the border into the Kun-Lai side of the tunnel. At once, everything seemed to go wrong. Focused on helping maintain the illusion, Keliera was forced to watch as the invisible grummle boat bearing their supplies was destroyed by impeccable saurok marksmanship. The grummles shrieked, drowning as the cavern’s currents pulled them into another room along with the supplies. The waves roared, splashing the Convocation and causing Sorlain to slip and nearly fall into the water. A group of saurok were alerted and a desperate push through the bottleneck ensued, resulting in a skirmish.

Fortunately the only casualties were those of the supplies and the grummles. Soon, the Convocation pushed out from one pitch darkness into another; they were alone in the blanketing silence of Kun-Lai, the stars their only company.

Bloodied Heart: Jade Dreams

She’d made it out. She did not know how many others had. Eventually, she would, through death or retreat. Her armour was ripped and bloodied and her face smeared with dirt. And it felt as though she had lost everything. This was what they had to contend with now; their own emotions seeped out of the ground and fought to control them, rather than the other way around.

The way it was going, the Sha would easily win. From what she could see after teleporting away, the Sha had turned the Serpent’s Heart into a wasteland and moved on to the Temple, battering the walls. For everyone’s sakes, she hoped the Pandaren were better at combating the Sha than the others were.

It was too late to do anything now. So she turned and headed for the rendezvous point agreed on two weeks prior – the Bloodcrystals set up in the vicinity of Twinspire, a southern keep taken by the Forsaken at the start of the campaign. Had she held herself together, she would have been able to teleport via her own crystal; in the panic it had been lost and she had been forced to teleport as far away as she could see.

Given the distance made across the Forest already, it only took a few hours to reach Twinspire. At several points she was not sure if she was dreaming or not.

For the first section of the journey she made her way parallel to the main road from the cliffs above, and found herself tormented by shadows; sha leaping from every hiding spot to mess with her head, until she stopped before the Alliance villages convinced that she was going insane.
Left alone Behind Foolish to Abandoned by your No way Out of this Take over the You will be Join Us Join Us Join Us-

‘ENOUGH!’ She screamed as loud as she could, venting arcane magic all over the place. The blast cleared the area of shrubs and the sha went flying.

The rain lightened, and she could hear again. The sha did not bother her journey after that. Eventually she reached Twinspire. It was pitiful. The place had been wrecked from within by the death of the commander and infighting between the Orcish troops and the Forsaken. The forward point, Garrosh’ar, was no longer contacting them. But gradually, over the next few days, stragglers reappeared, and the Convocation regrouped. The Archons again assumed control, and it was as before. Except everything had changed. But no one would say a word about it.

Back to war. She remained quiet and kept watch as the group made its way south to try and request aid from Garrosh’ar.

Garrosh’ar was wrecked when they reached it, the place encompassing nothing but Sha energy now. It was old damage, for the Sha were already weak and translucent from lack of emotion.

It was too late. They turned to go back, and the remainder of the Alliance began to fight the forces at Twinspire. They would all fall, and the Sha would begin to absorb them. Even now they could feel the rejuvenation in the Sha as they brightened and moved towards the north, ignoring the Convocation. There was only one route now.

Escape.

Bloodied Heart: Doubt

The monstrous being of twisted shadow limbs reared up above them, a primal scream enveloping the land in an expanding blanket of darkness.

She awoke from her walking sleep. For the past few days they’d moved south as a part of the tangled mess of Hozen and Horde soldiers, neither within nor without. She knew what was going to happen. She had seen it before. The Alliance would have an army, and the Horde would have an army. There would be no winners. Only handfuls of survivors. Thanks to the Sha, she was no longer sure which group she wanted to be in. She certainly held no hope of her own survival. The pouring rain disguised her from any suspicion of the grey tinges; the monsoon was making it hard to speak, let alone be heard. Soon enough (for time was beginning to blur into an endless march of death) they reached the Serpent’s Heart.

At some point prior the place had been evacuated. The giant behemoth of the Jade Serpent’s visage loomed above them, gleaming green out of the darkness. It was due to be unveiled in a few days, and the cycle of the Celestial would continue.

It was never unveiled.

The battle erupted while they were still a mile away, the far-off sound of steel upon flesh rebounding off every surface as though given some magical amplitude. A whisper followed every sound.

You are too weak to fight… They saw the blockade.

They are going to get you killed… They reached the bridge.

Is this what you want? They fought the waterspeakers.

Run while you still can. The bear charged. The bridge collapsed.

Give in to your doubt, for I am FREE.

Suddenly, everything sped up. Explosions loosed around her as the Alliance were swept downstream. They ducked and dived as fire soared overhead, and soon was replaced with earth driven from the ground. Roars were replaced by screams. A tremendous groan came from beneath them. The statue cracked, shuddered, and began to fall. The impact was feet away, the great head of the serpent throwing a wave of dirt that knocked them to the floor. They were saved only by the statue splitting in the middle.

Long after the impact, the ground continued to shake.

‘Report!’

The ground began to shake more, and the air grew quiet.

‘Report!’

The whispers increased, buzzing around her head until she felt faint; all the breath was being drawn from her.

And then it was gone.

‘REPORT!’

The ground split open, throwing them back across the river, and shadows seeped out, filling the air with screams of evil pleasure. They flew around the area cackling, growing bigger and bigger as the sky overhead sundered. The sun went out. The rain stopped.

Only… shadow.

It looked at them. And it roared. And shadow enveloped all around her.

The Future of the Sha: Right Under Our Noses

So, in Patch 5.0 we were faced with the six Sha primes, of which Fear was the strongest, all were defeated, Pandaria was changed forever but saved. Hooray!

Except, if you’ve been paying attention, the Sha are the last whispers of a seven-headed Old God. And we’ve only seen six. However, if there is a seventh Prime, no one knows about it. How could they? Shaohao was a being of ‘pure light’ when he cleansed himself of the six. The only logical solution is that he was never affected by the mystery seventh Sha. So what is it, if Shaohao didn’t encounter it?

I have no idea. The tremendous list in an earlier post gives some potential candidates, but it could be anyone’s guess.

What I do know is why there are no records of the seventh Sha. And it’s all part of the floating mystery that is Shen-zin Su. And in order to get there, we have to understand the mind of a Sha.

Sha are beings created from negative emotion, whose sole purpose is to curse others with that same emotion, and gain power by feasting upon the spread of these emotions – emotions that can build walls, crush empires, and halt armies. It’s not surprising that Garrosh wants this power. But if you are a Sha just after the short-lived reign of Shaohao, not only are you imprisoned, but your sphere of influence just shrunk massively with the introduction of the Mists. Having tasted power after another empire freed you and bent you to their will, of course you want to take over the world. But if you’re limited to a continent with the technology capable of keeping you captive, then you have no options.

Until someone comes along and breaks the Mists. Which Liu Lang did with his ingenious choice of an immortal dragon turtle.

There’s no trace of this missing Sha. It may not have been imprisoned. It may have simply waited and hidden for the right moment after it was freed from the Engine of Nalak’sha.

Of course, this makes more sense when you realise that it’s entirely possible the Sha freed themselves.

Impossible, no? It’s not like C’thun or Yogg-Saron did anything similar. The Sha are the last remnants of an Old God, the most powerful beings to have lived on Azeroth. The Old Gods are able to communicate across the length and breadth of a planet, as Yogg-Saron is part of an alliance of three of them. The loss of the effects of the Sundering would have been a blow to the Sha, if not for the fact that they freed themselves thousands of years earlier.

All it takes is a simply whisper in the corner of a simple mortal’s brain, and they follow your word. C’thun did it with the Silithid, and thus the Sha made the Mogu via the Well of Eternity (or should I say, the Terrace of Endless Springs) – then nudged them in the direction of the Engine. The Mogu got an empire, the Sha got freedom, and the Mogu never realised. They would later use the Sha as weapons, but they never mastered the Primes. Because the Primes were never there to master.

So, after our missing Sha was freed, rather than take over a chunk of Pandaria it chose to wait. And wait it did, for a chance to escape Pandaria.

There is of course, no evidence that a Sha could have gotten onto Shen-zin Su. At least, not when he was young and you could keep track of the land on his back.

But there is evidence. Two huge tribes of Hozen. A statuette of Mogu origin. Ten-thousand years of Lorewalkers and Elders. Saurok who only appear when darkness threatens the entire isle. When the Alliance and Horde arrive.

Conveniently, at the same moment the Alliance and Horde release the Sha on Pandaria. But the Sha on the Wandering Isle was free, right?

Nope. I lied to you.

Oh, Sha number 7 is free, yes. But its presence would be fairly obvious if it did not lock itself away again. But Shen-zin Su is too obvious to possess. The same goes for Liu Lang. But the leader of the isle would be a networking hub – a way into everyone’s minds. Even when he’s gone.

Does it not seem a bit odd that pandaren elders can grow trees out of wood that’s been dead for over a century? I doubt most druids would be able to keep the wood from decaying for that long, let alone bring it back to life. That’s right. Bring it back to life. Not grow something new out of it, actually resurrect it. This is an extremely rare occurrence with druidic magic – what magic is allowing this to happen?

What magic indeed, I wonder. The powers of the Sha have raised the dead more than once. But I’m more concerned with how this looks. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but all the elder’s staves are… kypari trees. Where did they get kypari wood from? How are these trees so small compared to those on Pandaria, when some have been growing for 9000 years?

Because there is one special tree, the least tree-like of all. A tree held by Liu Lang for over a century.
WoWScrnShot_012113_151355
Two things struck me when I took a long look at that tree. The first we’ve already discussed.
How can you plant an umbrella and have it regrow, never mind regrow and look like a giant sha-infested umbrella? You pop a Sha in it for long enough for it to become part of the Sha, and thus something it has to be freed from by the Alliance and Horde’s arrival. The Sha uses the umbrella to absorb the wisdom of all the Elders, and their powers. The Sha eats the Elders before their trees outgrow it, making it stronger. Through proximity to the Elders, the Sha sees all the members of the Isle who come to pay homage, and it learns of their deepest emotions.
The second is that it looks really, really familiar.
WoWScrnShot_012113_153117
I rest my case. The Sha keeps itself strong by feeding off the emotions of those who come to see the Elders, and from them it learns the current state of the isle. But if it needs to interfere more directly, how can it? It’s a tree.
WoWScrnShot_012113_145403
That looks like Sha corruption to me, folks. What we have here is a carefully-cultivated scheme to keep a Sha prime hidden until the point in time where there is the most emotion to feed off.
What’s that? Alliance and Horde war? Zeppelin crash? Shen-zin Su in pain? Pandaren trainees leaving to participate in the war and experience the world?
Why, what a good time to break free! The arrival of the Alliance and Horde can cause the Sha’s freedom. By having interacted with so many pandaren on the isle from such a young age, the Sha is guaranteed power from all of these trainees, Huojin and Tushui, going off to destroy and fight and feel. And if that plan fails, what better way to sustain yourself than by leeching off the Well of Eternity?
We know how this works. Something gets into the Well, the Well mirrors it. Trolls become elves, lizards become saurok, and in the Singing Pools people become deceased animals.

But the rest of the Sha seem pretty much bound to Pandaria. There’s no way to get them out. Unless Shen-zin Su can go back. But the great turtle is old and can no longer swim straight. It’s unlikely he’ll go back to his birthplace unless he himself is dying.

Well, there goes the escape route. I guess we’re alright then. There’s no other way out of Pandaria.

Right?