30 April 2013

Rant for free, or buy the full version and rant without ads!

I need a moment to complain about completely unrelated game stuff. This semester, for the time being at least, I am finding the time to log into WoW a few nights a week to do some leveling. The resurgence of my favored gametime means that I spend less time dicking around on my phone apps (plus, the home button is hit or miss these days and I can't really afford to repair it). Still, every once in a while I like to fool around on one of a few brightly-colored games, and my most recent crush is called "The Tribez."

As far as app games go, it's pretty simple. Build stuff, gather resources, build more stuff. Quests give your objectives to build more stuff and gather more resources. Good stuff. I turned off push notifications because I don't need more reasons for my phone to buzz at me.

AND YET.

The game still sends me silent notifications. That's fine - at least, it would be if it were actual useful information like "Crops are ready to be harvested" or what-have-you. But it doesn't just stop there. The game sends me threats, tries to cajole me into playing when I'm just trying to check the time or the weather or send a text. "Bad guys set your buildings on fire!" "Your villagers have grown bored!"

SHUT. UP. YOU CANNOT GUILT ME.
Because this is my blog, I get to tell you how angry this makes me. I go to class, I go to work, I exercise and hang out with friends and even occasionally clean my room. Oh, and I frequently use my phone for PHONE-RELATED ACTIVITIES. Now, sometimes that means I'm trolling instagram, but it's my free time and I get to decide how I waste it. So to get these snide little popups chastising me for not playing a stupid little game? GO JUMP OFF A BRIDGE. Shame on whoever wrote them, and double shame because they make me want to ignore the app even longer instead of convincing me to play (and maybe spend my hard-earned dollars on in game perks!)

NO. JUST STOP.
Ok now I shall share with you a happy game story. Last semester, we did a lot of self introductions - every single class in the first week, in fact. By the third class or so, everyone was sick of it. The teachers tried to come up with ways to make it more tolerable, but that mostly amounted to "tell us ANOTHER unknown fact!"

Well, anyway, at one point I went with "I like to play video games." A girl sitting in the back, who I have since become friends with, immediately sat up in excitement. After class she approached me shyly.

"So you like games? Which ones do you play?"

"Well, I like playing computer games the most." I briefly, awkwardly described WoW to her. "So what games do you like?"

She immediately pulled out her phone. "Right now, I'm playing this one all the time!" She showed me a puzzle game and let me play a level. Since then we have also heavily abused the camera function of her DS.

We don't talk a lot about video games when we're together, but I'm so grateful that we could bond through a shared interest!

c'mere, gamer friends
Last, but not least, please don't forget to leave Dahakha and I a little something something to talk about on our upcoming one-time-only audio post! Please!

please give us something to talk about or we will be lonely :D

26 April 2013

Dahakhabeko's One Time Fun Time podcast!

Hey readers! Yeah, all three of you! I know you're reading all this fanfic Dahakha and I are posting, because that's what this blog has been all about lately. Every comment on each chapter is like a wonderful nugget of chocolate, but we want to talk more with you! Perhaps...you might like to talk to us too?

let us commune like little dancing flowers

Who: Dahakha & Akabeko & AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION. If you've never commented, now is the time! It's ~fun and easy~ to do!
I would like, if I may
What: Ask the authors! Do you have comments or questions about any of the stories posted here? Are you curious about the characters, storyline, collaboration or writing process? We want to hear your thoughts, be they short, long, deep, simple, or any number of other adjectives! If you need a refresher, check out the Series page.

When: TBA (in about a week, or when it's clear no one can think of anything else to say >_>)

Where: Why, redcowrise, of course! (I do not want to figure out how to do a live show!)

Why: Because I'm asking nicely! Also wouldn't it be a nice change of pace to non-stop GRIPPING FICTION??

How: Comment on this post, or tweet us @redcowrise!

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.

Broken.

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

19 April 2013

The Consequence of War

Previously: An Opportunity Missed

Akabeko watched in horror as the towering creature began to feed, gathering into itself inky shadows from the corpse-strewn battlefield. The bodies shrank, skin drying and stretching tight across bones, hair and teeth withering and falling away. Even though she was still alive, Akabeko felt as if something within her were being tugged. She swallowed, willing away the nauseating sensation in her belly, and tried to calm Weipon.

The pandaren was inconsolable and refused to lift her head, lest she see any more of the broken serpent statue. However, her interest was roused when Akabeko shook her suddenly, pointing far across the field at a lithe fuchsia shape that had just taken to the air.

The cloud serpent sped through the air, and from its back a tiny figure was releasing handfuls of...something over the blackened ground. Although it resembled a farmer sowing seeds, the tiny objects fell like gunfire into the soil, gleaming in what dim light there was. Where they touched, the blackness seemed to lessen, and the creature itself shrieked, huddling in on itself as if injured. While this was a heartening development, Akabeko was dismayed to see clusters of smaller shadowy figures oozing out of the ground.

Weipon moaned, swaying weakly against Akabeko, who held her still and gave her a firm shake. "Wei, come on. Those things are hurting people, and we can help." As she spoke, the pair watched one of the rippling shadows pounce on an injured soldier, its foglike body soaking up his agonized scream, and leave behind a drained husk.

Veteran though she was, the sight still disturbed Akabeko. She could tell that Weipon was having a similar time, although the monk's eyes returned to the shattered remnants of the statue as much as they took in the monsters' grotesque feasting. Visibly, she pulled herself together, then nodded at Akabeko. "We...we should help them." She stepped to the edge of the hill and peered cautiously over the side.

"I can make that jump in lion form, but I don't know if I can carry you down as well..." Akabeko began, but Weipon interrupted her with a shake of her head.

"I can make the jump fine," she said with a wry grin. "I'm bouncy."

Suiting actions to words, Akabeko leapt from the cliff, transforming as she fell and landing with a soft whump on all fours. Seconds later, Weipon joined her with considerably more noise on impact. Remaining a lion, Akabeko stalked towards the dark, dry earth stretching out before them, nose wrinkling in disgust at its harsh, sour odor.

Checking to see that Weipon was following, she charged into a pack of the smaller monsters, relieved to see that her claws and teeth could find purchase on their shadowy skin. It tore apart under her paws like rotted meat, exploding into putrid gobs and stringy sinew between her jaws. Slashing through two in quick succession, she paused to roar in disgust, whipping her head around in frustration. Beside her, Weipon was finishing off her own cluster of monsters, flinging her hands down to free herself of sticky black clumps of smoldering flesh.

Ever-efficient, Akabeko loped off towards another pack of the creatures. Weipon kept pace easily, musing grimly as they ran, "Aka, these things are the same sort of monster that came from General Nazgrim. They're the things that pandaren warned us about, the things that come from our bad feelings."

Before she could reply, they had reached the next group of monsters, which were converging on a corpse. Akabeko ran, snarling, into the fray, no less disgusted by the wet squelch of the shadow flesh this time around. She heard Weipon give a stomach-clenching shout and turned in time to see her viciously pummeling a trio of creatures into featureless pulp. Underneath that stomach-churning unpleasant sound she heard something else: a weak cry of distress.

Akabeko peered closely at the corpse, jerking back into her upright form as she realized it wasn't a corpse, but a forsaken! "Easy does it," she soothed, hauling the bruised woman to a sitting position. With the ground so tortured, reaching for her healing spells was akin to attempting to drink from an empty waterskin. A pathetic trickle of power flowed through her, draining away as quickly as it came. She snarled in irritation, hating to feel so disconnected.

From several paces away, Weipon called out. "Aka, I think I found what that cloud serpent was dropping." She knelt to dig one of the metal objects out of the dusty earth, holding it up to reveal a brass bell, small enough to balance on the tip of her finger. "It feels...nice," she murmured quietly, then gave it an experimental shake. The resulting peal was clear and calming, and the clapper continued to chime shivery echoes well after Weipon stilled her hand.

The effect was immediate and astounding. Akabeko felt much of her exhaustion from the all-night dash fade away, and the forsaken seemed to rally from where she leaned heavily against Akabeko's arm. The stinking corpses of the monsters dissolved, leaving behind a sulfurous pile of ashes that blew away inconsequentially on the breeze.

"You gotta find Nazgrim," the forsaken grated out, clambering heavily to her feet. She brushed away Akabeko's steadying hands. "I can make it from here. Just get the General; bring him to the Temple. He should be front and center in the battlefield..." As one, they turned to look at the center, where the hulking behemoth still brooded over the broken statue. "I'll grab anyone alive on my way," the forsaken continued, extracting twin daggers from her belt. She nodded at them, confident her orders would be followed, and limped away.

Weipon was regarding the monster with naked horror. "This is the thing that comes from our bad emotions," she repeated, finally returning her gaze to Akabeko's. "This is why that pandaren warned us. The hatred in the two armies must have been so much. He told us not to bring war because this would happen."

Uncomfortable, Akabeko broke the stare to scan the sky for signs of the fuchsia cloud serpent. She hadn't wanted to bring war to Pandaria; hadn't wanted to do much of anything for a very long while, and she was just so tired. "Look," she replied, only half-intending to change the subject. "When that guy drops those bells, the big guy seems to flinch."

Following her pointing finger, Weipon frowned at the scene. "Is it also getting smaller?"

"Looks like we might be able to get over there without being noticed, if he keeps it up with the bells," Akabeko ventured, watching another arc of bells twirl crazily through the air. Distantly, their reassuring peals carried across the battlefield, echoing deep within the druid. She took a step, already in lion form, and began to pick her way across the ravaged bodies, sniffing this way and that for living flesh.

They moved even more cautiously the closer they got to the giant figure, but by now it seemed to have its full attention on the bells as they rained down, penning it inside an arc of consecrated ground. Now they were dodging roaming packs of the little shadow monsters, the lifeless green hunks of the statue, and the occasional flurry of bells, ringing merrily around them before thunking silent into the earth.

Akabeko came across Nazgrim's bloody form crumpled in the shadow of the statue's great head. She slid to her knees beside him, hands reaching out before she remembered the block on her spells. A single, clear note rang out, and she felt the power well up, stubborn but accessible. Before the note died out, she patched up the most life-threatening of his wounds, sighing sadly when the sound faded away, and with it, her spells. Looking up, she saw that it had been Weipon, still carrying the bell she had picked up before.

The pandaren shrugged sheepishly. "It seemed strange to drop it back in the dust after picking it up."

Nazgrim stirred, feebly turning his head back and forth, but remained unconscious. Akabeko stood, motioning for Weipon to help him up. "I can carry him, but I don't know if I'll be able to carry the both of you..." She shifted into stag form and waited for Weipon to awkwardly arrange the motionless body across her back. There was a tense moment immediately after Weipon vaulted up behind him while Akabeko adjusted to the weight of both a fully grown and armored orc and a pandaren, and then she began to make her way across the field.

So focused was she on the laborious task of carrying both general and comrade, it took several shouts from Weipon to get Akabeko's attention.

"The monster! It's heading towards the temple!" cried the pandaren, shifting on the druid's back in a way that made her spine groan in protest. "It's running away from the bells!"

Akabeko confirmed this for herself, tracking the thing as it flowed on its shadowy, rippling base across the field. She could see that it left behind desiccated, skin-and-bones corpses in its considerable wake.

By the time they reached the gates to the Temple, the survivors gathered there were in a frenzy. From her higher vantage point, Weipon was able to direct Akabeko to where the decimated Horde forces had gathered to deliver the General. Glad to be rid of her dual passengers, Akabeko creaked slowly upright, kneading a knuckle into her lower back with an exaggerated sigh of relief. The forsaken woman they had encountered before was shouting orders in her dry, hoarse voice, organizing and dividing the troops, completely oblivious to the venomous glares directed at her by the pandaren of the Temple.

"Aka, over there," Weipon whispered, nodding her head towards where a gaggle of temple monks were listening intently to a pandaren male. They edged closer, leaving the Horde group to eavesdrop on his story. Weipon's expression went from stunned to horrified, and she muttered in distress along with the gathered crowd. When it seemed he had finished all he had to say, the temple pandaren began to debate furiously amongst themselves, and Weipon turned to translate.

"He says that thing - called a Sha - was seen in a jade picture near the mines. It was created by the, um, king, but not a king," she shook her head, unable to think of the word. "Anyway, the king Shaohao wanted to warn people that the bad feelings from war would become real, just like that other pandaren said. So he made the jade picture as a warning, for them to be peaceful." She tapped at her chin thoughtfully. "Even on the Wandering Isle, we have a lot of sayings about being peaceful, but I never thought..." At Akabeko's resulting expression, she jumped back on track. "He says he's read some information about how to kill the Sha. Now the temple monks are making a rescue party for those who were in the temple when the Sha went inside."

While Weipon was speaking, the pandaren whose words she was translating had edged up behind her, eyes trained intently on Akabeko. "Excuse me," he began, then launched into a string of Pandaren that the tauren couldn't hope to follow. Through it, he gestured continuously to Akabeko, watching her with obvious interest.

"This is Cho. He collects information," Weipon began, not missing Cho's uncomfortable scrutiny of the poor tauren. "He says he knows someone who is looking for you."

Akabeko's eyebrows shot up. "Oh? And who is that?"

She understood Cho perfectly this time. "Hadakha." He continued, saying something that made Weipon gasp, and then she was translating.

"Hadakha was the person riding the cloud serpent and dropping those bells. The cloud serpent is Cho's friend Mishi."

They looked up together, eyes drawn to where the fuchsia cloud serpent was hovering tensely above the temple grounds. There was no rider on her back. "So...where is Had now?"

Weipon relayed this and received an apologetic shrug in response. "He says that he was just here. He should still be close!"

Akabeko glanced at where the monks were still deep in discussion, presumably about their strategy in approaching the temple. "We probably have some time to look for him before these guys are ready to make a move. Shall we?"

Seeing them prepare to leave, Cho burst out with something that made Weipon smile and nod politely, face a carefully agreeable mask. "He wants us to come back after we find Had so he can ask you questions," she told Akabeko quietly once they were lost in the crowd. They shared an aggrieved look.

Next: A Shadow Rises

15 April 2013

An Opportunity Missed [guest post!]

Previously: The Battle for Pandaria Begins

"Next! Huo!"

Hadakha studied the next student as the stout pandaren hurried nervously to the centre of the circle. Bowing, he took up his fighting stance as Hadakha flowed into lionform. He was too tense, Hadakha thought, which made it easy to decide on an opening move. As one with Master Stonefist's shout of "Begin!", he sprang at the poor student, who predictably swept his arms up to block and parry. But this was not a punch or kick, a limb or weapon to be deflected or stopped by mere angles. This was a several-hundred-kilogram missile of muscle and sinew, a claw- and tooth-tipped mass of fury that bore the unfortunate pandaren to the ground. A mere second later Hadakha had his jaws firmly locked on the throat of his opponent. After a couple more frozen seconds, Master Stonefist called the end of the bout.

"Thus we see the dangers of immobility on the battlefield." he announced to his students as the fighters returned to the centre and bowed. "You will not always fight sharp blades, long spears or heavy fists, which you can turn and block. As our friends from beyond the mists are showing us, foes can take many forms. How will you deflect a ball of pure fire? How will you block lightning itself? How will you stop a flying lion or charging bear? You must learn to be where it is not. At all times be ready to move, in any direction. Tomorrow we begin that training." With that he turned and walked off. Hastily the students assembled and bowed to his retreating back, before dispersing.

Hadakha made his way back to the rooms he shared with Jiang and some other Horde survivors who had found their way to Tian Monastery over the past couple of weeks. The tale some of them had told of the disastrous attack on the Alliance base was eerily familiar, especially when they mentioned the strange energy monsters and that mysterious figure on a cloud serpent who had shown up to save General Nazgrim from these 'Sha'. Despite close questioning, none of them could remember seeing Akabeko after the airship went down. One did recall seeing a huge, griffon-sized stormcrow near the crashing vessel, however, which just raised more questions than it answered.

The rooms were empty, so he brought out the notes he'd made as a result of the nightly discussions he had with High Elder Cloudfall. Spending an hour or so reviewing the scrolls, he used a spare one to compose a summary of them for his superiors, making sure to highlight his findings about the sha. By the time he finished, Jiang and the others were trickling in from the various chores and training they'd been doing as payment for their keep. He nodded at their greetings, flashing a smile at Jiang, who insisted on sleeping close to him even here. She was as voluble as ever, but since she had hundreds of other people to talk to now, it didn't bother him to have her lie down next to him and talk herself softly to sleep at night. In truth, her demanding daily regimen left her exhausted, and as he usually slept in lionform, it didn't take long for her to fall asleep when he stretched out alongside her after dinner with the High Elder, her back nestled up to his flank.

Speaking of dinner, it was time to attend the High Elder. Taking the scroll with him, he made his way to a small patio overlooking the rocky cliffs of the coast. He glanced around to be sure nobody was watching, then summoned the spectral stormcrow to take the scroll to Moonglade. Watching it speed away over the blue ocean into the twilight, he turned and walked to High Elder Cloudfall's chambers. To his surprise there was an additional guest present, introduced as Lorewalker Cho. The new pandaren studied him intently, nodding to himself with undisguised interest. After a light meal they took tea and talked more about the similarities and differences between their cultures. Cho had many questions, especially about the history of the tauren and the Horde, and Hadakha did his best to relate as much as he could. Strangely, Cho seemed very interested in tauren songs, and Hadakha asked him why.

"Well, it may surprise you to know that you aren't the first tauren I have encountered, Hadakha." the lorewalker explained. "Actually, you are the first one I have met and talked to...but I have been hearing stories about other 'yaungol that aren't yaungol'. I am always travelling, as you know, and my wanderings have taken me through many villages and towns that are abuzz with tales of strangers from beyond the mists." He frowned. "Much of the talk was of the attempts by these strangers to recruit soldiers for the Alliance. Or was it the Horde?. One or the other. You know that Pandaren are unlikely to get involved in this conflict between your nations, don't you?" he finished severely.

"I have been getting that idea," Hadakha replied with a faint smile. "Your culture is remarkably peaceful, I have to admit. But...what does this have to do with tauren songs?"

"Oh, yes, of course. I tend to wander in my thoughts as well as on my feet!" Cho laughed loudly. "I was in Dawn's Blossom recently and heard of a wonderful performance by a tauren there, the tavern patrons loved it! She stopped very suddenly, though...is that a custom among your people?"

Hadakha perked up. "She? What was her name; did you hear?"

Cho shook his head. "I'm sorry, nobody mentioned a name. Anyway, I thought that since we Pandaren also keep a lot of our history and culture recorded in song, it would be useful to compare them with your people's songs to find common ground. Would you be willing to help me out with that, my friend?"

Hadakha sat very still, deep in thought. This was the only lead he'd had in all this time, and he was fairly certain that he'd learned most of what the High Elder could teach him about this land. It was time to move again. He looked at Cho intently. "I'm sorry, I have to go to Dawn's Blossom immediately. That tauren might be the person I've been searching for." Turning to the High Elder, he bowed from his seat. "High Elder Cloudfall, I thank you for your hospitality over these last weeks. I have enjoyed our conversations immensely, and I hope that you have learned enough about my people to regard them as future friends. I will not forget the time I have spent here. Please remember me well."

The High Elder nodded solemnly. "It is a sad day, my friend, but if you must leave, then go with our blessing. You have more than fulfilled your agreement to help train my students, and for that you have our gratitude. I will arrange for provisions to be supplied to you in the morning. When do you intend to depart?"

"At dawn, High Elder." Hadakha turned back to Cho. "Lorewalker, would you come with me? You know the people there; surely it will be easier to find my friend with your help."

Cho looked at him slyly. "I am sure it would, Hadakha. And I can't learn anything from you if I stay behind...so! I will accompany you, on the understanding that you will satisfy my curiosity! Agreed?"

Hadakha nodded distractedly. "Agreed." He looked questioningly at High Elder Cloudfall, who nodded with a smile. "I had better go and prepare, then. Goodnight, High Elder. Goodnight, Lorewalker."

He felt a rush of energy as he walked back to his quarters. Finally, some progress! All he had to do was high-tail it down to Dawn's Blossom, pick up the trail again and -

He stopped as he caught sight of Jiang. Damn. He couldn't take her with him. She was safe now, she could get back to a Horde camp or stay here...he sighed. This would not be easy. He hated dealing with tears. Well, it had to be done. Here goes......

Jiang looked up and smiled as he approached and sat down beside her. "Jiang," he started without preamble, "I have to leave. Tomorrow. At dawn." 

Her smiled faded, and as he'd expected, her eyes misted up. Suddenly she flung her arms around him. "Oh, Mr. Hadakha, I'm going to miss you!" she sobbed.

"I know, Jiang, but you can't – what?" He lifted her off him so he could look into her face. "Miss me?! You mean, you don't want to come with me?" She stared at his astonishment, then broke into uncontrollable giggles. 

"No need to be so shocked, Mr. Hadakha! I like it here. I am learning to defend myself, and the people are really nice. I want to stay as long as I can." She shook her head. "I know you have to go look for your friend, and I've been dreading having to tell you that you'd have to go alone. Who will look after you?"

Now it was his turn to laugh. "Oh, I think I am able to look after myself, Jiang. Besides, I will have Lorewalker Cho as my companion," he added when she looked doubtful. "Well, I'm glad that you have found a place here. Let's get some sleep so you can see me off tomorrow, eh?"

High Elder Cloudfall, his assistant, and Jiang said their farewells at the monastery gates as the sun began to brighten the sky. Slinging their packs over their shoulders, the two travelers set out into the forest. The path wound its way through the trees as they talked, until finally they came to a fork. Cho started down one path, then checked himself thoughtfully. Glancing at Hadakha, he turned back and took the other path instead. Suspicion flared in him, but when he asked where they were going, Cho waved the question away, calling it a "minor detour". Grinding his teeth, Hadakha had no choice but to follow.

Just before midday they crested a rise and Cho called a stop. "That is what I wanted to show you," he said, indicating a massive fresco, partially covered in moss and vines. "It is called the Emperor's Omen. Let us eat, and I will tell you the story." They sat and studied the fresco as Cho outlined the history behind it. "So as you can see, there seems to be a message, but since we haven't cleared off the final part yet, we just don't know what the Emperor's prediction was." He frowned worriedly. "I have been hearing many things about you foreigners, and your warlike ways" he admitted, "and it disturbs me that you may be bringing your conflicts to our land. The Emperor warns that war will have strong consequences...I just hope that we can avoid it."

Hadakha nodded, unwilling to confess that war had already arrived on Pandaria's shores. They ate in silence, until he noticed a strange light coming from the covered part of the fresco. Tapping Cho's shoulder, he pointed it out, and they gasped as the light suddenly flared, temporarily blinding them. When his sight returned, he heard a low moan come from his companion, and he followed the pandaren's gaze to the fully exposed fresco. It showed a monstrous Sha surrounded in blood and fire, and he felt a chill run through him. Gripped by a sudden sense of urgency, he leapt up, pulling Cho to his feet. He was certain that Akabeko was part of this, somehow. He needed to find her!

"Forget the food, we have to go, now! Cho! We need to get to Dawn's Blossom as soon as we can, so you will have to ride me." He cut off the Lorewalker's confused questioning with a curt gesture. "Steer me in the right direction, take every shortcut you know! Just get us there!" With that he shifted into stagform, waited impatiently while Cho struggled onto his back and buried his hands into the neck fur behind his ears, then sprang into a flat run.

They travelled all day, rested briefly as night settled, then continued on through the night. Hadakha managed to keep the torturous pace up with difficulty. He'd done this kind of flight before, though never with a rider, and the Lorewalker was not exactly light. He found himself avoiding heavier brush, and eventually they stopped for rest more and more frequently. Finally though, as the sun cleared the mountains, they saw the walls of Dawn's Blossom loom up in the distance.

Careening through the streets, Cho steered Hadakha to a big, palatial house, jumping off his back and shouting to a door servant as he strode up the stairs. Staggering back into tauren form, Hadakha followed as quickly as his exhausted limbs could take him. Inside he found Cho speaking urgently to a richly dressed Pandaren while servants scurried about around them. Hadakha collapsed onto a stool, heaving great lungfuls of air while the two conversed in low voices. When he got his breathing back to normal, he caught Cho's attention and the pandaren men came over. "Cho, we need to find my friend. Can you ask him if anyone knows where Akabeko is, or where she went?"

The other pandaren, quickly introduced as Mayor Windfur, shook his head gravely. "I'm afraid that is not our concern at this time, friend. As I have been telling Lorewalker Cho, we have reports of two armies marching toward each other in the valley of Serpent's Heart. They arrived during the night, and our scouts say that they are drawing up battle lines as we speak." His face tightened in anger and fear. "And now Cho tells me the Sha will be unleashed upon the advent of war? Your war?! I warned all of them, the 'ambassadors' trying to absorb us into their nations! Now they will be our ruin!"

Before Hadakha could reply, a runner burst in and spoke rapidly to the mayor. He could only follow about half of the stream of Pandaren, but it seemed that the mayor was wanted on the walls. Beckoning Cho to follow, the mayor strode off without a word, and Hadakha tagged along in discreet silence. They arrived among a growing crowd of townsfolk, each vying for a good place to watch the spectacle unfold in the valley below. There was tension in the air, and more than a few muttered opinions as Hadakha drew suspicious glances. He scanned the sky, but there were no cloud serpents in sight, so he shifted into stormcrow and flew up to the highest rooftop, settling in to watch with his augmented sight.

As he zeroed in on the valley, he saw movement at the head of each line of soldiers. There, the Alliance commander who had wiped out Garrosh'ar Point...and there, General Nazgrim. As if in slow motion, each raised their weapons and charged forward, followed by their native troops. A quick survey showed, thankfully, no sign of Akabeko. Hadakha shook his head at the stupidity and waste represented in the battle below, and closed his eyes, unwilling to watch the senseless slaughter. But then an almighty crack, like a thunderclap, sang through the air, and his eyes flew open, seeking the source. At first he couldn't see anything unusual, then a slight movement caught his attention and he stared in horror as the huge statue of the Jade Serpent at the heart of the valley slowly shifted and began to topple onto the seething mass of combat.

A great cry of shock and grief erupted from the crowd on the walls. Soon that was joined by shouts of fear as giant fissures rent the ground around the base of the ruined statue, spewing pitch-black smoke. The smoke thickened and spread until it covered the battlefield, before rising into the air and obscuring the far end of the valley. Suddenly a piercing screech echoed across the distance, mingling with the screams from the walls, and the smoke dispersed, leaving a shape he had seen too many times these last few weeks.

11 April 2013

My platform: the internet is too damn slow

After a round of Tuesday restarts, I suddenly found myself unable to log in. Considering the semester just started and I expect things will get busy pretty soon, I was really bummed to not be able to log in when I actually had free time.

browsing thru my gifs and thought "wow what luck this is perfectly accurate"
Anyway, not wanting to write to CS right away, I first went through a checklist of DIY checks and repairs to see if I could find, and hopefully fix, the problem. For those of you following my twitter, you already know that plan failed and I ended up emailing CS for help. Based on the results of the various tests I did, their response was that my connection was too slow and the servers were more or less telling me to give up. They told me this problem would likely be fixed the following week, and to email them when I could log back in to get the days lost credited to me.

well done, CS, not only were you right but you were very nice
One of the suggestions you're likely familiar with was to delete the WTF, Interface, and Cache folders. Well...the suggestion is usually to remove them by placing them somewhere else. Of course, in my fit of rage, I straight up deleted them.

when it comes to computer troubles, i sometimes cut off my nose to spite my digital face :/
After a week, I figured I would be able to log back in and opened Curse, figuring I would update addons before opening the game. Imagine my surprise when "no addons were found."

WHERE GO??
The good news is that WoW connected with no problems!

did u miss me, babbies?
The better news is that since I'm too lazy to clean my recycle bin, I was able to restore the folders and get my addons back!

i wish i could be so graceful with my victory dances...

08 April 2013

The Battle for Pandaria Begins

Previously: A Tea Party

The Jade Serpent leveled Akabeko with a critical stare. Understand that the deception was necessary. We are not accustomed to your people.

"I don't imagine you get many tauren out this way," Akabeko joked weakly. The Serpent's eyes merely narrowed in thought. Akabeko shifted uncomfortably.

As you already know, soon I will retire for my long-awaited rest. I have watched over the people of the Jade Forest for a very long time, and they are ill-prepared for life without my constant presence. 

Akabeko dimly felt her conscious narrowing to a tiny point, vision filling with the sight of herself reflected in the Jade Serpent's enormous eyes. How is it that I can understand her, anyway? she wondered idly.

We are communicating on a level much more profound than mere speech, came the unexpected response. Akabeko sensed, rather than saw, the Serpent's wry grin. She sobered quickly, however, with her next words. I cannot see far enough ahead to say what role you will play in Pandaria's future. What I can see is that wounds you thought too deep and terrible to mend can be healed, in time. The very nature of the land will not allow you to simply bury your hurts while you are here. You will address them, or they will consume and destroy you.

Throat constricting, Akabeko willed herself to meet the Serpent's gaze impassively. She wasn't burying her problems, she was just setting them aside-

There will be a reckoning, the Serpent said sadly. But you will pass through it, even if carried solely by pure stubbornness. Before Akabeko could gather her wits enough to respond, the Serpent was withdrawing from her mind, leaving behind a confusing jumble of hope and dread. Thank you for letting me learn more about your people, Akabeko Runetotem.

Once again, Akabeko was aware of herself, standing beside Weipon, who looked just as surprised. With a jaunty nod, the Jade Serpent turned and went into the temple, already drawing a small crowd of monks and worshipers clamoring for attention.

"That was freaky," Akabeko said, blowing out a breath.

Weipon shook her head mutely. She opened her mouth to reply and was interrupted by a pandaren in clothes dusty from traveling.

"You! Tauren!" he cried, running over to them. He was waving a sealed scroll and saying things too rapidly for Akabeko's tired mind to process.

She accepted the scroll, letting Weipon deal with the stranger while she unfurled the message. "Yikes," she muttered, scanning the very...frank language. The messenger gone, Weipon was now peering over her shoulder, lips moving as she silently read the missive.

"So he wants us to return to the Horde camp?" Weipon summarized, brow furrowed. "But I don't understand the use of this word..." she pointed to a particularly coarse turn of phrase in the first line. "I've never heard the term 'Quit fu-'"

"I'll explain it on the way," Akabeko interrupted. "Suffice it to say: he wants us to hurry. We need to get over there right away.":

They said their farewells to the temple priests and monks who had helped them, gathered their belongings, and were on their way in short order. Looking at the woefully inaccurate map that was included with the missive, Akabeko was pleased to note that in addition to the list of towns converted to Horde sympathy, she and Weipon could also provide proper maps for the general.

Showing the map to the flight master at the temple was enough to get two kites rigged to fly them to Grookin Hill, a hozen settlement the Horde had appropriated. Flying a direct path, above the trees, saved them several hours of tedious travel, although Fu spent the entire ride barking frantically.

When they touched down, a harried-looking secretary ran to fetch the general, who sent for them to meet him in his tent. The secretary took their things to be stored in their tent among the other soldiers and ushered the pair inside where General Nazgrim waited.

"Throm-ka," he greeted gruffly, setting down a handful of reports. "I hope you've got good news for me. You're the last ambassadors I sent out to return. I've literally gathered and trained an army in the time you've been gone!"

For the first time since they had been traveling together, Akabeko took the lead in the interaction. She summarized their trek through the Forest, noting which settlements were for, or at least open to Horde involvement. Finally, she presented him with the pandaren-drawn map, which earned a grudgingly appreciative grunt.

"All right, I suppose I won't need to have you flogged for taking your sweet time obeying my orders. Good work." He threaded his fingers together and leaned forward over his makeshift desk. "Here's the deal: we've got an army of mostly-sentient hozen ready to go to war for us, and I plan to use them. In just a few days we'll be ready to take out those sorry sons-of-harpies and secure Pandaria for the Warchief's Horde!" Then, leaning back contemplatively, he continued, "To be perfectly honest, you two had some of the best results. I'm loath to send you to the front lines to die alongside the idiot monkey-men when I could have you doing better work elsewhere. At this point, we don't need much in the way of translating." He rubbed the furrowed skin above his nose, thinking aloud. "How about you go scout the area around that big serpent statue? We need intel on the Alliance movement."

Nodding decisively to himself, he stood. Akabeko and Weipon rose with him, saluting. He dismissed them with a wave, adding, "And for the love of the spirits, don't you dare be late to report this time!"

Akabeko grinned cheekily. "When you talk like that, sir, I can't help but think you really do like us."

Nazgrim snorted. "Get out before I change my mind," he said, flapping a hand at them.

They spent the night bedded down in the midst of Nazgrim's troops. Weipon commented on the hozen's presence, but Akabeko was too tired to do more than nod along with what the pandaren was saying. She slept uneasily, turning over what the Jade Serpent had told her again and again.

When she awoke the next morning, Weipon had packed her things and left to investigate the Horde encampment. She returned as Akabeko was cleaning up her breakfast, looking troubled.

"It seems wrong to use the hozen to fight the Horde's battle," she said abruptly, filling the entrance to the tent.

Akabeko cinched her bag closed with more force than necessary and whirled around. "That's not something you wanna be saying in the middle of this camp," she cautioned, giving Weipon a serious look. She motioned for the monk to grab her belongings, then led the way from the camp before summoning her mount. After several minutes of quietly picking their way through the untamed forest, she continued. "You've already seen enough of the Horde's way of doing business to know that speaking out against policy can go very badly for you."

Unfazed, Weipon replied, "But we have already gotten many towns to join us. Those that favor the Alliance, or don't want to favor either side, will not suddenly join the Horde if we defeat the Alliance here."

"I don't think you fully understand. The Horde will defeat the Alliance, and then they will bend and break each town until it is for the Horde. It's the oldest reason for war: to first prevent the opposing side from gaining any ground, and then snatch up as much as possible land for ourselves."

"It's not their land to take," Weipon said softly.

Feeling suddenly weary, Akabeko said nothing in reply.

They scouted for days, eventually dismissing their mounts to travel less conspicuously as they neared the last known locations of Alliance troops. On the third day they came across the evidence of a large camp, but the tracks were old and they had yet to meet another soul in the endless woods.

Unfurling the map, Akabeko clucked over their current location. "We know the Alliance were coming from the south." Her fingers skittered over the southern coastline, tapping the locations that were rumored to be Alliance-run cities. "If their intel is any good, they'll be heading north hoping to confront the Horde troops. Of course, at the same time, we're heading south in the hopes of getting the jump on them."

From over her shoulder, Weipon stabbed decisively at the map. "If both sides are moving towards the center of the Forest, they will probably meet close to the Temple of the Jade Serpent."

Akabeko jerked at the realization, then quickly put away the map. "If that's the case, we're behind the Alliance front and may even be missing the battle. We have to get back!" She summoned her mount, barely waiting to see if Weipon was following, and took off the way they had come.

They followed the obvious path left by the Alliance army's march, moving much more quickly mounted than they had been on foot. Heeding Nazgrim's order for speed, Akabeko set a difficult pace, allowing them to stop only when their mounts needed to rest. Both kodo and dragon turtle were creatures built for endurance, not speed.

The night was blessedly clear, and they were able to make their way cautiously through the woods by the light of the waning moon. Akabeko was sure they would see campfires well before they blundered into the Alliance camp, and as such continued to push their mounts for more speed. Weipon followed without complaint, although Akabeko could tell that her companion was very nervous to be traveling so noisily in the dead of night.

The sky was lightening to a dim gray when they heard - and smelled - the signs of the Alliance troops. Immediately, Akabeko motioned for Weipon to dismiss her mount and follow her, then transformed into lion form. With her heightened senses, she could pick out the distinct scents of various unwashed Alliance races alongside an unfamiliar fishy scent. She prowled through the trees, guiding Weipon on a safe route that skirted the slowly waking enemy camp.

An unexpected snarl of steep rock ledges sent them on a detour. Unwilling to get any closer to the Alliance forces, Akabeko led them around the other side of the hills, eventually allowing them to mount when she deemed it safe. Her gut told her that the battle would occur soon, and that even if she was too late to warn the troops, she could still fight alongside them. Whether Weipon would be willing to do the same remained to be seen.

Unexpectedly, the haphazard path they had taken around the rocks turned upward, and they found themselves on a low ledge overlooking the clearing where the Jade Serpent's statue was still under construction. To the north, Akabeko saw a dark shadow in the trees that could only be the Horde troops assembled and ready to march. Feeling dread settle in her stomach, she looked to the south, confirming the Alliance troops were already waiting in neat lines.

"How..." she gasped helplessly, frustrated that they hadn't managed to achieve a single thing during their scouting mission. As she watched, a single figure riding a worg darted out ahead of the Horde troops, raising a massive battleaxe and gesturing grandly. Similarly, a human in gleaming plate was rallying the Alliance troops, and from both sides rose a deafening roar of anticipation.

Weipon's hands had flown to her head, tugging at her ears in consternation. "I can't believe this is happening," she moaned, eyes darting between the two armies.

Whipped into a frenzy, both sides charged, shouting battlecries in countless languages and wielding weapons of every possible make. "No no no no," Weipon chanted, shaking her head. The armies met with incredible force, the sounds of ringing metal, dull bodily thuds, and garbled cries sweeping through the valley. Over all this came a sudden resounding crack, making Akabeko flinch as the harsh sound struck her ears. Weipon's hands belatedly flew to her ears. "What was that?" she cried, looking around frantically.

A tiny movement drew Akabeko's eyes upward. "Look," she half-whispered, pointing at the center of the battlefield.

Slowly, almost dreamily, the statue of the Jade Serpent, her deathbed and her hope of rebirth, collapsed into useless fragments. The shattered pieces hit the ground with jarring impact, crushing those too slow or stupid to get out of the way with a sickening crunch. Then, from the statue's remains spread thick black fissures, seeping wetly across the land and leaving behind sickly dry earth. This dead earth cracked, oozing blinding white light, and from the cracks sprang living shadow. It twirled lazily in the air, thickening until Akabeko couldn't see the transfixed expressions of the soldiers below. Finally, with an unearthly screech, the smoke coalesced, and the dark cloud became a twisted, malformed creature, towering over where the statue had been.

Weipon was screaming, shaking her head in disbelief, staring at the charred remains of the Serpent's statue. Unexpectedly, she whirled and threw herself into Akabeko's arms, sobbing incomprehensibly in Pandaren.

Shocked, Akabeko absently patted the monk's back, unable to tear her eyes away from the hideous monster hunched over the armies like a predator preparing to gorge itself on a kill. "Earthmother protect us," she muttered darkly.

Next: An Opportunity Missed

05 April 2013

A Tea Party [guest post!!]

Previously: The Importance of Control

By the time they reached Tian Monastery, Hadakha had grown tired of the charade. Well, if he was honest with himself, he was tired of Jiang. While she had been fantastic at extracting information from people, especially Jessha, she was constantly talking. Once the shock of the massacre at Garrosh'ar Point had worn off, her natural, exuberant, chatty personality had reasserted itself, and he was longing for a respite. After the jade serpent temple, he'd taken to letting the women go into the towns without him, all for a blessed night of peace. Alone.

Of course, Jiang loved every minute of those nights too, as he heard in excruciating detail the next day. She would have liked to stay longer, especially in the large town of Dawn's Blossom, and he suspected she would have if not for Jessha, who was impatient to reach her brother. When they were on the road, she described all she had learned, and then when she was finished with that, she talked about whatever Jessha had said, and when that topic was exhausted, she talked about whatever came to mind, usually her home and family. She never took offense at his frequent departures to scout the area, simply resuming where she had left off when he returned. He forced himself to pay attention to it all, no matter how banal, because there was something to learn from every little detail. Plus, his Pandaren was improving enormously, thanks to her. She had a knack for sensing which words or phrases he didn't understand, and went out of her way to indicate the Orcish equivalent. She was a brilliant teacher, he had to admit.

Jessha took control as they entered the monastery gates. Speaking briefly to a guard, she beckoned to Jiang and set off in the direction he'd indicated. The guard eyed Hadakha uneasily, but made no move to stop him as they followed the jinyu woman. They passed through courtyards, some empty and some full of people exercising and practising fighting moves, and along beautifully decorated paths, finally reaching a great hall with huge, intricately carved doors. Jessha slowed, took a deep breath, and went to a side door with a small bell above it. She pulled the rope attached and waited. After a short time the door cracked open, and Jessha bowed, saying something to the person inside. The door opened wider, and the jinyu turned back to her companions. "Wait here," she said, "the Master will summon you." Then she disappeared inside.

Hadakha and Jiang moved to the main doors, studying the worn, weather-beaten carvings with fascination. The door was divided into eight tall panels, four across. The top row featured carvings of four animals: a tiger, some kind of bird, an ox, and a cloud serpent. Beneath each one was carved a....monster. The same monster? It was hard to tell. It looked vaguely similar to the energy beings from the Alliance massacre. Could it be related? There was writing on the right side of each panel. Jiang reached out a hand and stroked one carved pictogram reverently. "This is old, Mr. Hadakha," she whispered in awe. "I've not seen anything like these before. I'm not even sure I can read them all." She stepped back to survey the whole door. "The four lower panels are easy enough, they simply say fear, anger, despair and doubt. The upper ones, though..." Squinting in thought, her mouth moved silently as she tried to make sense of the words. "I...I haven't seen these words before, Mr. Hadakha. They might be an old dialect that never made it to the Wandering Isle. Or...they could be names?" Pointing to each one in turn, she sounded them out. "Niuzao. Xuen. Chi-Ji. Yu'lon."

"It is sad that Liu Lang's people have forgotten this. How much more has faded from memory, I wonder?" They whirled at the voice. An older pandaren man stood calmly beneath the side door bell, his hands hidden together in the sleeves of his plain robe. He bowed his head slightly to Jiang, then gestured to the opening. "High Elder Cloudfall will see you now." Hadakha expected protest when he followed Jiang through the door, but the man showed no reaction as he trotted past, as if he had expected them to remain together. A shiver of warning ran through him, his instincts demanding caution.

He looked around the big hall appraisingly as they entered. It was mostly empty, a few altars occupying alcoves along the walls, incense sticks stuck in sand bowls in front of them. At one end sat an elderly Pandaren, and Jessha knelt on a cushion facing him, conversing in low voices. As Jiang and Hadakha approached the pair, the monk said something and Jessha turned to watch them. "Welcome to Tian Monastery!" he said with a broad smile. "Please, come and sit. Will you take tea?" He indicated the two empty cushions before him. Hadakha noticed a tray with intricately decorated cups and a strange-looking teapot sitting beside him.

Jiang stopped at her cushion and bowed deeply. "I am honoured to be in your presence, High Elder," she said solemnly. "Thank you for seeing us." She knelt down on her cushion, then smiled shyly. "I am a little thirsty." she admitted. Hadakha sat behind and between the two women as the monk chuckled and handed Jiang a steaming, fragrant cup. He then looked Hadakha in the eye. "Will you not join us, friend?" he said amiably. Hadakha's companions looked at each other in surprise, then at him. He remained still, confident that his bluff would hold, as it had countless times in the past. Jiang stared at him imploringly, silently begging for a sign of what to do. Jessha turned to the monk in confusion. "Mr. Hadakha is Jiang's pet, High Elder...surely you do not mean to include it in our discussion?"

"Pet?" the monk replied, still holding Hadakha's gaze. "Pets are owned, Jessha. People who are owned, are slaves. I do not think Hadakha is a slave. What do you think, Jiang? Is Hadakha a slave?"

Jiang's face turned to horror. "What?! No! I -" She was interrupted by Hadakha's loud sigh. It looked like his bluff had been called. He shifted back to his tauren form, sending Jessha scuttling back in alarm. "It's ok, Jiang." he said. "Our game is over." Turning to the jinyu, he bowed deeply. "I am sorry for deceiving you, Jessha. I needed a guide, and I was afraid that my true form would frighten you away." His mouth twisted wryly. "Looks like I was right. Be assured, I mean you no harm."

Finally, he bowed to the monk, who was studying him with delight. "Greetings, High Elder Cloudfall. My name is Hadakha Treewalker. I represent the Cenarion Circle, and I am new to this land – as is my friend Jiang. I would very much like to learn about you and your culture, your history and your peoples. It is an honour to meet you."

He lowered his large body awkwardly onto the small cushion. "I believe you mentioned tea?" he said with a smile.

Next: The Battle for Pandaria Begins

03 April 2013

The Importance of Control

Previously: The Visitor to the Temple

Evade. Open-handed downward block. Side kick. Plant, rolling block followed by forward jab. Block to the side, punch. Front heel kick.

Weipon flowed between each motion, strikes and blocks meeting her opponent's in scripted symmetry. Finished with the pair form, their instructor called for them to switch places and begin again. They did, syncing their attacks together, able to strike quickly and forcefully now that they were practiced at matching the other's movement.

They had been training since sunrise, and Weipon was beginning to tire. She was used to intense training, and their days since reaching Pandaria hadn't all been feasts and parties, but these Pandaria monks knew how to work hard. Well, that, and she had barely slept after quarreling with Akabeko the night before. It hadn't been far from her thoughts, but now it came to the front of her mind, irritating her all over again.

The instructor called for them to spar, freeform, and Weipon bowed to her opponent, ready to begin. She relaxed, trying to release all her body's tells while simultaneously scrutinizing her opponent for his. There, a feint in his shoulders, but the true direction of his punch was obvious in the shift of his hips. She dodged, responding with a rolling backfist that just grazed him as he retreated.

Weipon had arrived at the Temple expecting to meet her friend, only to find her gone, leaving a very flustered librarian behind. He had told Weipon about Akabeko's heroics, and also about her sudden bout of weakness. He had apologized profusely for allowing Akabeko to leave when she was clearly in such a state, but - and he repeated this several times - she was extremely insistent.

She let her opponent press the attack, content to defend and retaliate as she liked for now. He sent a series of kicks her way, whirling and jumping to press her back. One caught her stomach, striking through the comfortable layer of padding to the tensed muscles beneath. She moved into his space then, using elbows to strike at his vulnerable neck, ribs, anything she could reach.

In a fit of worry, Weipon had rushed to the inn, only to find Akabeko spectacularly drunk, morose, and infuriatingly tight-lipped.

"What happened to you today?" she repeated, concern wearing away into frustration. "I already know that you...got sick, or something, so stop saying that nothing happened!"

Akabeko's scowl only deepened. "I already told you that I don't know. Whatever it was, it's not a problem, and I feel fine now, anyway."

The annoyance that had been prickling at Weipon since the morning unfurled into anger. Now she began to harry her opponent, barely giving him time to defend in between her attacks. He grunted as some of her strikes hit home.

Weipon threw up her hands. "Fine except for being drunk. Again! You've been drinking more and more since we came here, and now using your spells is hard for you. I think that's not fine! Maybe if you didn't drink so much you wouldn't have-"

"Don't you tell me what to do like you're some Chieftain!" Akabeko roared, sounding entirely too bear-like for Weipon's comfort. "If you had any idea, any idea at all what I..." Nostrils flaring, Akabeko took a deep, shuddering breath, all the fight leaving her. "I'm done talking about this with you," she said dully. Before Weipon could respond, she stalked to the door, slamming it as she left and stomping off, presumably back to the common room.

The remembered impotent fury washed over Weipon, and she snarled. The sudden change in her demeanor startled her opponent, who let a strike cuff his ear. Viciously, methodically, Weipon continued, forcing him to retreat under a barrage of blows, until finally she spun, sweeping his feet from under him. Once he was down she pounced, pulling her hand back in preparation to jab him in the throat. The killing strike.

Hands were on her, staying her curled fingers and pulling her from her opponent, who scrambled away. Distantly, she was aware of shouting. She made an effort to focus on the words.

"Get a grip! Control it!" her instructor was saying, shouting directly into Weipon's face. She waved impatiently for a waterskin, then splashed some into Weipon's face. "Control it, control the emotion," she demanded again.

With a gasp, Weipon snapped back to herself. "Four great spirits," she whispered, meeting the instructor's intense gaze. "I'm sorry. I was so angry...I don't know what came over me."

"Yes, you do," the instructor replied sternly. "It's in the tenets displayed in every temple across Pandaria. He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still. That's not just a commentary on the Mogu empire. What does it mean to a monk? Why must we master ourselves?" She shook Weipon briefly, commanding her attention. "Why must we master ourselves?"

"Because the best fighters are never angry. They don't hold their emotions when they fight. Strong emotions can overwhelm and control you, direct you where you would not go."

Sitting back. the instructor nodded, then helped Weipon to her feet. "All of us in Pandaria must control our negative emotions, but it is particularly important to those who fight. You must not let negative feelings use you as a channel to escape into the world."

Weipon's opponent had come to stand just beyond the instructor. She turned to him, ashamed and regretful. "Peng, I am so terribly sorry. I made a novice mistake and nearly injured you. I'm not deserving of forgiveness..."

He stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, gently pulling her out of her deep bow. "Apology accepted, and you are forgiven." When she gave him a doubtful frown, he gave her a friendly shove. "Come on, you're not the first person to have this happen. I know you're worried about screwing up because you're not from around here, but even Pandaria monks let their emotions get the better of them sometimes. Why else would we have to practice so much?"

They looked at each other for a few awkward moments, Weipon still unable to accept her mistake. "I could have killed you," she said softly.

"But you didn't. And that has happened before." Peng waved a hand at her resulting expression. "It's rare, but it does happen. Not here, though. We have very well-trained healers." He nodded to where their instructor was sending trainees off to get lunch. "I think we're wrapping it up here. Do you wanna go down and visit the statue garden again today?"

Weipon was touched by her new friend's quick forgiveness, but she still couldn't squash the remaining thread of shame constricting her belly. "I can't today; I have to go see about my crazy roommate," she said, grimacing inwardly when she realized it wasn't a white lie. Eventually she would have to deal with the tauren and her mercurial moods. "Let's go another time, okay?"

Peng grinned. "Sure thing. I look forward to it, Wei." He waved as she left.

She walked slowly from the training grounds towards the entrance to the temple. To her left, a wide, deep stream flowed around the temple walls, and she could see cranes patiently awaiting unsuspecting fish. Having been convinced that the cranes would not hurt her dog, she had let him roam the grounds freely. She suspected Fu was somewhere rolling in mud. If only that could solve her current problems, too.

When Weipon arrived at the temple, she was shocked to see Akabeko standing before the large incense burner, wafting incense over herself. Irritation welled up in her again, but she wrestled it back. She would master her negative emotions better from now on. Instead of anger, she opted for compassion. "Hey, Aka."

Akabeko turned, her ears flicking down and away in obvious embarrassment. "Uhh, good morning. Afternoon." She sounded hungover. "Listen. I'm...really sorry. About yesterday." She choked, perhaps on shame, or maybe just the effort of apologizing. "Yesterday, I was exploring the temple, and this little girl Fei tripped up the librarian, and he was injured. And when I went to heal him, I could, but it was so hard. Too hard..." she took a deep breath, glancing around at the pandaren walking up and down the path around them.

Hoping she wouldn't interrupt this hard-won monologue, Weipon gestured for them to walk, aiming to guide them somewhere less populated. They moved to the outer hallway of the temple, retracing Akabeko's steps from the day before.

"Healing isn't difficult for me. It shouldn't be, anyway. I'm very good at it, and I have a ton of practice. I'm just as good at it as I am at my lion or bear forms. So when it gave me trouble, I got spooked. I didn't know how to deal with it. You gotta realize that it's like...it's like suddenly missing a hand, or a foot. Something you expect to be there is just gone." She stopped suddenly, breathing hard. Clearly, personal confessions were not her strong suit.

Treading carefully, Weipon offered an understanding smile. "I can see why that would be a bad experience." Then, hoping the good mood would continue, she hazarded, "Have you had trouble with your spells before?" A memory occurred to her. "Like when we first came. You were a bird, but it seemed like..."

"Yes," Akabeko agreed, nodding. "At first it seemed as if I were somehow more powerful, but after I caught you the feeling went away. When I tried to shift later, it didn't work. Just like-" her eyes drifted over Weipon's shoulder, then widened. "Fei!" she cried, pointing. "That's her! That's the girl who tripped the librarian! Quick, you gotta translate for me. Tell her-hey, don't you run away from me!"

Weipon watched in mounting confusion as Akabeko tore off past her down the hall, chasing after a tiny pandaren cub. She jogged to keep up, listening to Akabeko's threats mixed with the peals of laughter coming from the little girl. The trio ran down the hall, whipping incense smoke into a frenzy as they passed. The chase took them to the outer wall, where the sound of the sea wind deafened Weipon. Then, it was back around the opposite side, weaving in between priests that made Weipon stumble and look back. Was that a fish man? A shout from ahead drew her back into pursuit.

She slid to a stop, nearly smacking into Akabeko, who was looking around in frustration.

"She was just here, Wei, I know it! Just wait till I get my hands on that kid!"

From behind the large incense holder stepped the cub. Rather than mischievous, she looked serious, and much older than Weipon had initially guessed. Her sudden change in demeanor made Akabeko hesitate, and Weipon heard her teeth snap shut in surprise. Then, as they watched, Fei began to change.

At first, it appeared she was simply growing taller, but when she reached adult pandaren height she simply continued to grow, stretching and elongating in a way that made Weipon's stomach flip. As the cub illusion disappeared, she was surrounded by a faint glow, blurring the final changes from pandaren cub into impossibly large, impossibly old, impossibly real Jade Serpent.

Liquid, ageless eyes as big as Weipon's fist gazed between the monk and the druid. The Serpent's glistening green body undulated lazily behind her, tail flicking with amusement. Her great jaws remained closed, but Weipon had the distinct impression that the Serpent was smirking.

It seems it is high time I introduced myself, the Jade Serpent intoned regally.

"She says, um," Weipon began.

"Yeah," Akabeko replied slowly, tapping her forehead with a finger. "I, uh, I got it. Somehow."

Next: A Tea Party

01 April 2013