23 April 2013

A Shadow Rises [guest post!]

Previously: The Consequence of War

What a mess.

Hadakha tore his attention from the massive Sha feeding on the armies below to the walls of Dawn's Blossom, where Mayor Windfur and a few guards were trying to maintain order amongst the panic. Half of the citizens there were standing slack-jawed in shock, staring out at the monster in the valley and the remains of the jade statue, while the other half fled screaming into the town, trampling anyone who got in the way. Lorewalker Cho ignored it all, intent on the Sha and muttering to himself. Hadakha glided down to land beside him as he nodded to himself and turned to the mayor.

"What do you have, to fight it? I can't believe Taran Zhu would leave you defenceless against a Sha outbreak, not a town this close to the Temple."

Windfur nodded distractedly, still issuing orders to his guards. Finally he answered Cho. "I'll have to go and get them myself, since I have the only key."

Hadakha broke in. "I could go. I can move much faster through all this than you, after all."

The mayor shot him a dark look. "You wouldn't know where to look. And I think your kind have done enough already, tauren."

Ignoring the hostile tone, Hadakha shrugged. "Alright, I will carry you then. Speed is crucial, isn't it?" Without waiting for an answer, he flowed into stagform and stamped a hoof impatiently. When Windfur continued glowering at him, Cho stepped in and gave him a shove.

"Go! We don't have time for this! It will come for Dawn's Blossom next! I will meet you at the gate." Reluctantly, the mayor clambered onto Hadakha's back, muttered "My home," and they were off.

They darted through the chaos of the streets, Mayor Windfur bellowing at people to make way, and soon arrived at his mansion. Sliding off Hadakha's back, Windfur thrust a finger at his face. "You stay here!" he almost snarled, then ran into the building. Not long after, servants starting boiling out of the mansion, looking scared as they hurried off. Hadakha waited, watching the crowds become slowly more organised as guards directed people towards the northern gate. Finally, the mayor emerged, carrying some sacks, each about the size of a pandaren's head, that clinked as he once more climbed onto Hadakha's back.

The return journey through the town was much slower, since they were now going against the flow of the traffic. Even Windfur's bellowing couldn't speed their progress much. But it was easier once they neared the southern gate, most of the population having moved away by then. They found Lorewalker Cho standing near the portal, and to Hadakha's surprise he was talking to a large, fuschia cloud serpent that was hovering over him. As they trotted up, Cho pointed at Hadakha, seemed to argue with the cloud serpent for a few moments, then greeted them with a grim expression.

"Mishi here has just come from the Temple. The sha have erupted all over the temple grounds, and the monks are fighting to contain them. We can expect no aid from them, which means we have to deal with this ourselves. What did you bring?"

Windfur handed over a sack, which Cho untied and opened curiously. "The Shado-Pan brought these to me, as a first line of defence until help arrived," the mayor explained as Cho plucked out a tiny brass bell. "They are crafted for pure harmony, and blessed by Yu'lon herself. As sha are the product of negative emotion, these bells should disrupt their physical forms and disperse their energy." He frowned doubtfully. "But I don't know that they were designed to fight against something as big as that thing out there."

Hadakha grabbed a sack and started tying it to his belt. "Well, only one way to find out," he said, "and it's our only option at this stage." Windfur made to protest, but Cho nodded in agreement.

"Yes, we have to try. Mishi will take you there. Drop the bells near or in those fissures we saw, they seem to be the source of the Sha's energy." He helped tie the sacks to Hadakha's clothing, while the mayor spluttered impotently. Then, clapping the bulging, clinking tauren on the back, he said "The Lorewalkers keep a residence in the Temple grounds. I need to check the scrolls there, see if there is anything else we can do to fix this whole mess. Take care of those fissures, then head over to the Temple grounds and help the monks. I will meet you there. Good luck, my friend."

With a nod, Hadakha mounted the cloud serpent and they flew out over the valley. He found the undulating movement very disconcerting, but forced himself to ignore it and study the cracked, broken ground. From the air it was even more clear that the large fissures were spewing out the black smoke, and Mishi obviously saw it too, heading straight for the closest one. He opened the first sack and tried to pick out a bell, but his large fingers were too bulky for such precision. Instead, he scooped out a half handful, letting the bells roll around on his palm, their bright, clear peals somehow penetrating even the wind-noise and the horrible screams and squelching from the battlefield below. Judging their course, he tipped his palm over and dropped the bells into the fissure.

Mishi halted as they watched the results. Only...there was no change. Scooping out a full handful now, he scattered the bells across the fissure, again watching for a reaction. Was the smoke lessening? He dug into the sack again and again, strewing the bells about to cover the area around the fissure as well. Each time, the smoke visibly dissipated a little more. Finally, with most of the bells used up, the smoke cleared to reveal unbroken ground, though it was still grey and lifeless.

They moved on to the next crack, and this time he knew how many he needed to sow. Casting bells about with abandon, he stopped only to check that this ground, too, had mended, before he was urging Mishi on to the next one. En route, he noticed that the Sha had diminished in size, and was thrashing about as if in agony. It was still feeding on the hapless soldiers, but it seemed more...frantic now. They went from fissure to fissure, driving back the smoke and healing the tortured ground, and each time the Sha shrank a little more, leaving behind multitudes of small, goblin-sized versions of itself that continued to gorge.

Casting around for more fissures, he noticed a couple of small figures racing across the valley from the south. One was humanoid, but the other, streaking ahead, was unmistakably a feline shape. He shook his head, wondering whether exhaustion was making him hallucinate, but the figures continued to charge in, tearing into the little sha. Could it be...Akabeko? If so, he was glad she was still alive. But right now he had a job to finish. Spotting the final remaining smoke-gushing fissure, they flew in and dumped the last sack of bells on the area.

As the bells tumbled down, the Sha gave another piercing shriek and dissolved into a formless, inky cloud. Rather than dissipating, however, the cloud fled, flowing across the ground towards the Temple at an incredible speed. With a shout, Hadakha and Mishi raced after it, but even the cloud serpent could not match its pace, and they watched as it flowed through the Temple gates and disappeared inside.

There was no sign of the cloud when Mishi landed in a courtyard near the temple itself, but as Hadakha jumped to the ground he saw there was still much to do. Chaos reigned in the temple grounds, with dozens of monks fighting off scores of sha creatures. Mishi sped off as he looked around, darting in to snap the sha up in its jaws and tear them apart, then moving away to do the same to the next pack. Hadakha swiftly changed into lionform and followed suit, clawing and ripping his way savagely through the foul flesh of the nearest sha.

He saw the greatest concentration of fighting around a large building, the inn he'd heard about last time, perhaps? Starting towards it, he was confronted by a group of sha who reached out to him hungrily. He ripped the first one apart, then his fury was shocked out of him when one of them spoke.

She is useless.

The words hissed in his mind. Batting aside a questing limb, he tore into another one.

She is pathetic.

Enraged now, he ravaged more of them, until only one remained.

She is...

He sprang forward, bearing it down and destroying it in an explosion of rotting giblets. But faintly, in his mind, he heard the final word.


He stood panting heavily, trying to purge the voice from his mind, but the words continued to echo just beyond his grasp. Disturbed now, he got his bearings and headed to the inn, falling on the creatures from behind and allowing the defending monks time to regroup.

He pushed through and surveyed the area. It seemed relatively peaceful now that the main attack had been beaten back. Suddenly a wave of dizziness washed over him, the events of the past days catching up to overwhelm him. Exhausted, he crawled into a narrow nook between a shrub and the back wall of the inn, and, despite the sha and their insidious taunts, tumbled into sleep.

Next: Into the Temple of the Jade Serpent

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