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.
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.
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…
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.