23 November 2012

The Thorn in the Forest

Still in a daze, Weipon was ushered along before Aysa and Ji and bundled into a hot air balloon. Huo and Da Feng whirred about overhead, chittering excitedly to each other. Wu Guo and Shu remained on the ground, watching apprehensively as the three pandaren prepared the balloon for takeoff.

Then they were in the air, and the salty breeze began to cut through the fog in Weipon's head. "This is it," she whispered in awe, watching as Aysa expertly directed the balloon towards a massive, moss-covered mound sticking out the front of their island.

"This is it," Ji agreed, slapping Weipon's shoulder in excitement. 

As they approached, the mound reared out of the water, and the pandaren could pick out details, comically massive compared to their tiny bodies. A huge eye, taller than the Temple of Five Dawns, regarded them seriously. Wrinkles big enough to swallow Weipon's village lined the ancient-but-ageless face.

Ever formal, Aysa leaned over the side of the carriage, shouting to make their introductions. "Shen Zin Su, we are the descendants of Liu Lang! We've sensed your pain, and we want to help! What ails you?"

The great eye crinkled. The perspective barely seemed to change, even as the balloon circled the great head. A voice, deep enough to send waves rushing away from his throat and loud enough to make the balloon tremble dangerously, called out to them. "I am in pain, but it warms my heart that Liu Lang's grandchildren have not forgotten me." The great eye blinked, brows drawing together and upsetting several bird's nests. "There is a thorn in my side, and the pain is unbearable. I cannot remove it! Please, grandchildren, can you remove this thorn?"

Aysa leaned forward again. "Of course! But your shell is large, and we are small. Where is the thorn?"

"It is in the forest where your feet do not walk. Please hurry," Shen Zin Su urged. His head sank back down, cutting off their conversation and unleashing a massive wave that swept across the ocean below them.

Aysa and Ji exchanged a look. "Pei-Wu forest?" Ji asked. Aysa nodded, and Ji began to tug at the balloon, redirecting it towards that side of the island. They soared over their home, and Weipon found time to marvel at the suddenly tiny roads and houses. Then they cleared the mountains and came across something ghastly.

"Is that...a boat?" Ji muttered incredulously. He sucked in a breath. "It's a whole airship!"

The airship, massive to the pandaren, was the thorn in Shen Zin Su's side. They could see where his shell had been cracked, pierced by the now-shattered wooden planks and metal beams that had kept the airship's shape. Fresh blood oozed sluggishly out around the "thorn," creating a dark, oily stain in the nearby seawater. Tiny figures were running to and fro, sometimes fighting, sometimes simply running away.

"Those aren't pandaren down there," Ji continued, sharp eyes scanning for tactical information. "They've got no fur."

Aysa remained silent, clearly absorbing as much data as possible before she began to process it. Finally, she allowed, "Someone has crashed into our island. Removing this thorn may be harder than we thought. We need to talk to Elder Shaopai about this."

Wordlessly, they turned to the balloon's controls, directing it to the Temple of Five Dawns. After touching down, things began to move very quickly. What seemed like seconds later, Weipon was watching Jojo Ironbrow bash open the gate to the Pei-Wu forest, a place deemed too dangerous for the peaceful pandaren and as such forbidden to residents of the island. Weipon had heard all manner of rumors about the forest and its inhabitants, and now she was going to learn the truth.

There was a vague path leading from the gate to a humble hut, built strategically on a hill. Several figures - only one of them pandaren - were gathered just outside, and Ji jogged over to them without hesitation, causing Aysa to half-choke in nervous rage. When it seemed the strangers were not attacking the impulsive pandaren, Aysa snarled and motioned for Weipon to follow. 

"Wei, are these friends of yours?" asked a wide, heavily muscled, impossibly horned creature in Orcish. 

Weipon barely heard the answer from the pandaren called Wei, so shocked she was to see an actual tauren on the Wandering Isle speaking Orcish.

The tauren was speaking again. She tried to focus. "Korga Strongmane, once prisoner of the Alliance, now free and woefully unarmed tauren. Good to meet you, pandaren." He pressed a fist to his heart, and belatedly Weipon remembered to bow in response. She hadn't understood all the words, but she had picked out his name and that he was a prisoner of the Alliance, and was now trying to focus on that rather than the quaint excitement she felt at seeing something out of her textbooks.

Significantly more collected, Aysa was already mulling over the possibilities. "The Alliance? If the crashed ship is theirs, we need to contact them. Jojo, come with me. We need a plan." The pair set off down the hill and towards the beach. 

Wasting no time, Ji jumped in. "We need to dislodge that ship, Korga. If we help your crewmates, will you help us?"

"Gladly," Korga agreed readily. "Our engineer is still in the wilds, though. We'll need to rescue him first. And we will need to arm ourselves."

Ji turned to Weipon, switching to Pandaren to get her attention. "We are going to make our way west, searching for the goblin engineer. On the way, grab any sturdy bamboo you can find for weapons. Beware of tigers; they might be extra aggressive after all this shaking. Go!" 

She jumped, bowed, and ran off to the west, trying to pull her thoughts together. Both the Horde and Alliance had come to her island. There really was a hermit living in the Forbidden Forest! Tauren did have horns, and spoke Orcish just like her teachers!

Finding bamboo staves wasn't a problem. Running with them haphazardly lashed to her back presented something more of a challenge, and avoiding disgruntled tigers was more or less impossible. Eventually, she made it to the western limit of the forest and began to track south, scouting for the Horde engineer or Ji, whoever came first.

A small puff of smoke and Ji's loud laugh led her to a small clearing, sheltered enough to provide cover for the handful of Horde soldiers that were clustered together, tending to the wounded or making plans. Ji waved her over, introducing her to an impossibly short and very green goblin.

"Makael," the goblin said in accented Orcish, giving her a jaunty salute that Weipon did not understand or return. He directed other soldiers to distribute the staves she had brought, then included her in his conversation with Ji. "We can get the ship off of the island - err, turtle guy, but we're gonna need explosives."

"Weipon, you're up," Ji said in Pandaren. As much as she was fascinated by hearing real, live Orcish, it was helpful to have a friendly translation. "Get out there and collect as many of the explosive kits you can carry. Keep your eyes open, though." He leaned closer, looking uncharacteristically worried. "Some...creatures...have been attacking the beach. We don't know where they came from but they are very aggressive and very violent. Avoid them if you can, but if you can't...the only way to make them leave you alone is to kill them." He straightened, clapped her shoulder, and jerked his head towards the beach. "Well, see you back here shortly."

The kits were everywhere, although it was a significant amount of work to dig them out of the ground and determine if they were still functional. This effort was impeded by the monstrous saurok that were currently swarming the beach. Although most of the soldiers Weipon encountered realized what she was doing and tried to keep the nightmarish things away from her, she found herself frantically dodging and weaving their long, scythe-like claws more than once. At least for now the terror of self-preservation kept her from thinking too long about killing another living being.

Ji didn't give her time to dwell on it, either. He collected the explosives she had recovered and immediately sent her off to find Aysa on the beach. When she arrived at the Alliance camp, Aysa was nowhere to be found, and Weipon found herself dredging up Common from her school days as well.

"She's in the wreckage, fighting off some ferocious monster while we evacuate our personnel and medical supplies," the woman in charge told Weipon tersely, never taking her eyes off the skirmishes around them.

By way of thanks, Weipon dragged a few injured soldiers to safety on her way to the ship, then helped Aysa take down the massive saurok threatening the Alliance camp. Then, she hesitantly told the other woman the plan.

"Blowing the ship free is insane!" Aysa said furiously. She took off for the hull of the ship, where Ji and his Horde compatriots were already arranging explosives for the maneuver. "Ji, stop!" she cried, grabbing his shoulder and jerking him away from the work. "This is reckless and stupid. You could kill Shen Zin Su!"

Some of the soldiers looked up, but Ji waved them back to work. "He is already dying," he said urgently. "We blow the ship free, then we heal his wound. We have no other solution."

"You haven't taken the time to think of any others!" Aysa exploded. "If you stop this, maybe we can come up with something better!" She whipped her head around, frantic with worry. "Weipon, don't you help him too! Doing this risks everything!"

Feeling pained, Weipon tried not to look at Aysa's expression. "Doing nothing risks everything, too. I'd rather die knowing we at least tried than just waiting for him to...bleed to death." Her hands shook on the cords as she passed them to the engineer making the connections.

The engineer nodded, and the soldiers cleared back. Ji grabbed Aysa's arm, directing her away from the blast radius.

"I can't stop you, but we could lose everything," Aysa said fiercely. "I just hope you're right."

The engineer pressed the trigger, one hand to his ear, and the world exploded in white smoke.

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