28 October 2013

Lost Temple [guest post!!]

Previously: The Emptiness

"What are you doing here, Ken-Ken?" Hadakha hissed at the dripping hozen.

"Ken-Ken on important quest! Gonna find Hidden Master, continue training!" he said, drawing himself up proudly. Then he deflated, looking back at the miserable village. "Something bad happen here, though. Villagers all sad and sulky, 'cept innkeep. He just a jerk. Chase me out!"

"What happened, do you know?"

"Nah, nobody talk to me. Nobody do nothin', really. Just sit there, or walk around for no reason."

"There is definitely something very wrong about this place, Ken-Ken. It's unnatural."

"Yes! Ken-Ken made camp not far from here, to keep watch. You should come, Senpai. It not safe to stay in village overnight, Ken-Ken think." He motioned for Hadakha to follow, but the tauren frowned in worry.

"My friends are coming. I need to stop them from entering the village until we figure out what is going on..."

"You mean those friends?" Ken-Ken pointed at the inn, where Weipon was trying to unobtrusively support Akabeko as she dragged herself wearily up the stairs into the light. Hadakha watched helplessly as they disappeared inside. The hozen eyed him warily, then licked his lips. "It too late now, Senpai. We should not go there, might get caught in nasty sickness too. Come." With a sigh, Hadakha followed his companion into the rainforest.

They made their way to the small camp that Ken-Ken had set up not far from the village. While they settled in for the night, Ken-Ken regaled him with the story of how he and his fellow students began their quest to find the Hidden Master. Hadakha listened with half an ear, thinking about what he could do to fix whatever was wrong with the villagers. Eventually, they slept.

The next morning was as dreary and damp as the previous evening, and during their brief breakfast he quizzed Ken-Ken on what he had learned so far. The information was, sadly, very unhelpful, and he only asked his companion for suggestions out of habit rather than a sense of expectation of useful advice. So the response he got was a little surprising.

"Ken-Ken have plenty ideas! Was going to start with old hozen medicine for the sads. Always work! Wanna help?"

"Uh, sure, ok. What do we need?"

"You go get honey from nib-stabber nests. Ken-Ken can take care of rest. Meet back here in couple of hours."

"Alright. I'll see you then."

It didn't take long for him to find the hives, as the buzzing was much louder than from similar places in Azeroth. The part that took time was finding something to carry the combs in once he realised he had nothing useful on him. Hunting around, he eventually found some broad, thick leaves that would keep off the rain when folded over. Job done, he headed back to the camp and waited patiently for Ken-Ken to return.

He heard the hozen coming long before he saw him. Muttering loudly to himself, Ken-Ken pushed through the brush around the camp and nodded at Hadakha as he dumped some dead fish and what looked to be some sort of moss onto the ground.

"Okay! Now we need panda. You wanna take medicine to them, or bring them to us?"

"Well, I'd like to minimise our exposure to whatever is in the village, so I think it would be best if we brought a pandaren out into the forest."

Ken-Ken nodded sagely. "Good thinking. You get panda out here while Ken-Ken make medicine?"

"I can do that. I'll come and get you when I have someone..."

He watched for a moment as Ken-Ken happily sorted through his ingredients, then took off towards the village. He spent some time observing the inhabitants, until finally he caught sight of a pair of pandaren making their way along the muddy paths. The way they moved showed more purpose and energy than anything he'd seen so far, and they were obviously conversing as they went. As they approached a once-brightly-painted house with what appeared to be a sign over the door, he caught a glimpse of a face as one turned to the other. It definitely looked like Weipon...where was Akabeko? She must still be at the inn. He hoped it was through choice, and not due to illness that she was still indoors. Druids tended to avoid being confined inside buildings all day if they could help it, so if she hadn't left the inn since her arrival then it didn't bode well.

All the more reason to help Ken-Ken get this medicine working as quickly as possible. Even as he thought it, his attention was drawn to a haggard-looking pandaren wearing a motley assortment of armour, some of it almost falling off and all of it muddy and ill-cared for. The guard had dropped his weapon and was plodding out into the forest, listlessly pushing through the undergrowth. He had his target.

Stalking the guard was easy. He paid no attention to his surroundings, simply taking the path of least resistance and making his way vaguely south, in the direction of the Krasarang jungle. At first curious as to where he was going, Hadakha soon grew bored with the monotonous pace. But he still had the problem of how to get the pandaren back to the camp. He'd been in situations like this before, staking out villages that had become plagued by sickness, and the first rule he'd learned was: don't expose yourself to the contagion. No physical contact with the inhabitants, and ideally no proximity either. You can't help them if you are struck down as well.

Of course, that was when he could send for assistance from the Council, when his role was primarily that of an observer. Here, he had no help to call upon – the only druids he knew of were already here, the Horde forces had been scattered at the battle in the Jade Forest, and he had very little understanding of the local geography. In the end it might mean that he needed to investigate the village up close, but for now he had to minimise risk to himself. He was a little concerned that Ken-Ken had apparently been into the village already, but there was nothing to be done about that now. He'd just have to keep a sharp eye on the hozen for any symptoms of illness.

The guard had stopped. At first Hadakha thought he'd run out of steam – a few times now, he'd slowly come to a stop for no apparent reason, before gathering his willpower and forcing himself onward – but that notion was quickly dispelled when he heard a low, menacing purr from the other side of the guard. Silently he stalked around to get a better view, only to see a pair of lithe, inky-black feline shapes emerge from the underbrush, spreading out to flank the hapless guard. Rather than try to flee, though, the guard slumped to his knees, sighing in a mixture of resignation and relief. Was this why he'd come out here? The thought stunned Hadakha.

But only for a moment. He had to act fast if he was going to save this pandaren and get him back to Ken-Ken. Muttering a spell, he called on the trees to bind one of the panthers in place. As the roots snaked out of the ground to entangle the legs of the big cat, he shifted into bear form and charged the other one with a roar. It shrank back, as if to turn and run, but then yowled in rage and flung itself at him. He slapped it out of the air, neck snapping loudly as it pinwheeled away. The other cat, maddened enough to break free of the roots, also came at him in a spitting, snarling frenzy, and he only barely managed to protect his eyes from the assault.

He did receive a few minor cuts through his thick hide before finally pinning the panther down and crushing the life from it. As it died, he caught a faint whuff of decay on its final exhalation. It was a stench he recognised, from the Temple of the Jade Serpent. Shifting to heal himself, he glanced over at the guard while he inspected the bodies. The pandaren was still on his knees, eyes closed, waiting. He didn't appear injured, which was good. Hadakha turned his attention back to the panthers. It was odd enough that they hunted together, but he'd never even heard of a cat like this attacking a bear over twice it's size! If the sha were involved, however, it could explain the aberrant behaviour. The fur did look quite brittle and dry...

Suspicion flashed into his mind. He looked sharply back at the guard, still slumped in the mud. Warily, he slowly approached the figure, ready to leap away in an instant. It had been difficult to tell until now, due to the gloom, the rain, and the mud crusting up his fur, but now Hadakha knew what to look for, he could see the telltale grey tinge to the previously white patches of the guard's hide. So. Probably not a disease then. He prodded the guard's shoulder.

"Hey. Get up."

The pandaren opened his eyes and gazed around blankly. He focused on the tauren standing before him, and closed his eyes again. Finally, sighing in resignation, he dragged himself to his feet. Hadakha waved in the direction of their camp.

"This way. We're going to get you some help."

The guard stared dully at him for a while, then shrugged and turned towards the direction shown. They trudged through the forest in silence, Hadakha discovering early on that his questions would not even be acknowledged. Finally they made it to the camp. Ken-Ken jumped up eagerly when they appeared. "Yes! Good! You come to the right hozen! Got your cure here. Drink up!" He thrust a bowl of sludge at the pandaren, who made no move to take it.

"Come on, mopesy! This always work!" Finally the guard reached out and lifted the bowl to his mouth, baring his fangs a little at the smell. Then, in one swift motion, he threw his head back and poured the contents down his throat. All three stood there in expectant silence, awaiting the results, which manifested rapidly. Dropping the bowl, the guard clutched his belly.

"Wha-....what did you do to me?" he rasped painfully, before a loud gurgle sounded from his stomach and he began to stagger towards the bushes. Hadakha made to assist him, but his hozen companion signaled him to wait, and – somewhat doubtfully – he restrained himself. They could hear the pandaren moaning as he crashed through the brush, and although the sounds of distress didn't get too distant, Hadakha was not convinced that Ken-Ken's plan was working as intended.

He eyed the hozen. "What did you just give him, Ken-Ken?"

"Medicine for the spooky-dooks!"


"Dooks get scared sometimes, don't wanna come out. This get's 'em out! Pandaren gonna be happy for sure!"

Hadakha's eyes widened as he pieced together just what the hozen meant. "You mean..."

The hozen drew himself up proudly and nodded. "Yup! Like ol' Gramma used to say: can't throw if can't go!"

Hadakha massaged his brow. "Oh dear. Ohhhh dear. Just- just go and bring him back, Ken-Ken. Somehow I don't think he's going to be happy."

Ken-Ken scowled at him. "Always work! No chance he still be a mopey-dope now!" But he went off to follow the moaning regardless, leaving Hadakha to ponder their next move. He was still considering the implications of a sha presence when the hozen returned, all but dragging a reluctant guard behind him.

"Huh. Didn't work." he grunted sourly. "But," he brightened "Ken-Ken got 'nother idea!"

"Please, not another medicine..." the pandaren said wearily. Hadakha looked at his companion with a sceptical eye.

"Nope! We gonna have some FUN! Okay, need to do some woodwork, but if Senpai can get some teeth, we can make do with stuff we got here. Try and get big teeth, like panther ones!"

"Ken-Ken, if this is another-"

"No no, this go way WAY back, to ancient times. Hozen still do this sometimes. Mostly at parties..."


"It works! Senpai will see! Just need those teeth for final touch."

"...Fine. I'll be back soon." He stabbed a finger at the pandaren. "Keep an eye on him!"

Ken-Ken nodded absently as Hadakha left, sorting through the store of semi-dry wood they had collected that morning for the campfire. He made his way back to where the corpses of the panthers lay, and an hour later he had a collection of teeth for his trouble. When he returned, he found Ken-Ken with a mask in front of him, tongue sticking out the side of his mouth while he drew lines and shapes in charcoal on the wood. He placed the bundle of teeth next to the hozen and sat back to watch the rest of the assembly, curiosity failing to overcome the sense of futility for the endeavour.

Finally, satisfied with his handiwork, Ken-Ken held up the mask. "Nobody can be sad when they wearin' a mask like this!" he declared. He waggled it in front of his face, laughing. "Okay mopey-dope, time to test this FUN MACHINE!"

With visible trepidation, the pandaren allowed Ken-Ken to fix the mask in place. They all waited for something to happen, to no avail. "Maybe dance around a bit." Ken-Ken suggested. "Try havin' fun!" All the guard could manage was a vague shuffle from foot to foot, to the hozen's disappointment. He sighed. "Maybe only works for hozen," he said, "'cause hozen know how to – woah, that weird."

The mask had started smoking. The guard reached up, trying to remove it, but it wouldn't budge. It seemed melded to his face. The smoking increased, and the pandaren became more and more agitated, desperately trying to claw the mask off. Just as Hadakha decided to step in and do something – anything – the smoke blackened and thickened, pooling on the ground in front of them as the guard abruptly stopped struggling.

The oily smoke rose up, coalescing into a familiar shape. That rotten stench he remembered from the Jade Forest assailed him as the sha took form. Ken-Ken jumped back in dismay. "What the ook is that?!"

Hadakha grimaced. "Sha." He shifted into lionform, preparing to pounce on the sha once it solidified. Neither of them paid any attention to the guard crumpling to the ground as the sha exited his body. Sensing his moment, Hadakha leapt at the black shape, but with surprising speed it slithered out of his reach and bore down on Ken-Ken.

The hozen yipped in terror and dodged around, more concerned with keeping the sinuous tendrils from reaching him than landing any counterattacks. Hadakha tore into it from behind, ripping chunks out of the body and twisting away from the claws that turned on him. Ken-Ken, seeing the damage Hadakha was doing, regained his composure and began pummeling the sha himself. Under their combined onslaught, the sha was quickly dealt with, and they took a moment to centre themselves again before checking on the guard.

When several minutes of attempts to wake him did not work, Hadakha brought him close to the campfire and covered him well. Then he turned to Ken-Ken. "This is what is wrong with the villagers. We have to find some help – this is too big for us alone." He bent down and picked up the mask. It was charred and warped, the silly face twisted into a horrific visage now. "Clearly we can't use this again. Can you make more? We'll need plenty if we want to help these people."

The hozen looked down at the unconcious pandaren and nodded sombrely. "Just need panther teeth once these used up. No problem. What you gonna do, Senpai?"

"I was on my way to the Temple of the Red Crane before we stopped here. I'm thinking that the monks there will be able to help us. I'm not sure how long it'll take to get there and back, so just make as many masks as you can until then, ok?" Barely waiting for Ken-Ken's assent, he turned and flowed into lionform, trotting out into the wilderness.

* * *

Despair threatened to well up in him as he approached the edge of the Krasarang jungle, heading back to Zhu and the suddenly much larger, much more dangerous task before him. The journey to the Temple of the Red Crane had been uneventful, if arduous. It had taken only an hour for him to give up on ground travel and take to the air, even if it was merely skimming the canopy for a few hundred yards at a time before ducking back undercover. He wasn't about to take any chances with cloud serpents on this mission. Even so, it had taken the rest of the day and all night to reach the Temple.

It was with dismay that he looked down on the abandoned complex, the only movement that of sha as they defiled the once-holy ground. He spent most of the morning in careful reconnaissance, hoping to discover a bastion of resistance or a rescue party somewhere, but it was not to be. After a short rest, he started back empty-handed.

Now, after another journey through the night and morning, he pushed down the despair, the doubt, the hopelessness at the mission in front of him. He couldn't afford to travel back to the Jade Forest, there was no time to spare here. It was up to him and Ken-Ken...

Shouts from ahead spurred him into greater speed. It sounded like battle. He burst into the clearing, ready to pounce on whatever needed pouncing. Either the sha-possessed villagers had decided to eliminate the threat that Ken-Ken posed, or he'd found -


Next: The Masks

23 October 2013


After an unwanted but sorely needed hiatus, RCR is back in business! I'm safely relocated to Seattle and have a shiny new red laptop. Even the city welcomed me; look what I found on my first day out exploring!

It's a sign
I'm still looking for a full time day job, but until then I have a place to stay and some freelancing to work on. There's also WoW, and with that, the return of my creative streak. Yes, that's right, Dahakha and I are back in business and working hard on the next steps in the sad, sad Pandaria story! We're hoping for a big push in November (not necessarily NaNoWriMo but at least some more motivation).

I don't expect to be raiding anytime soon, but I am preparing to switch servers and guilds to find something in my new time zone. Are there perhaps any west coast guilds who might welcome a friendly tauren? :3

Finally, I need some addon help. My go-to raid frames have always been Grid, but it appears to only want to show me all druid hots rather than only the ones I've cast. Is there a way to fix this, or do I need to make a switch?


17 October 2013

The Emptiness

Previously: Catching Up

Weipon awoke only out of habit, as the morning sun was completely obscured behind thick rain clouds. Her first instinct was to check on Akabeko, who was sleeping fitfully. Fu, she was surprised to see, had finally moved out of the tauren's reach and was curled on the floor, whuffling softly.

When Weipon called her name, Akabeko came awake with what appeared to be great difficulty. "Hey, Wei," she croaked, blinking her puffy eyelids and scrubbing sleepily at her face.

"How are you feeling?" Weipon asked quietly. She preemptively gathered the medicine pouch and a cup while Akabeko took stock of her illness.

Finally, she replied, "I feel better, but still very tired."

"Sounds like the medicine is having an effect!" Weipon stirred hot water into the cup. "By the time we run out of this powder, I'm sure you'll be completely healthy." She passed the cup to Akabeko, who drank it haltingly before clumsily handing it back. The motion finally woke Fu, who jumped up and began to whine at Weipon. "Yeah, yeah, I got your breakfast," she told him in Pandaren.

He whined while she dug through her pack for his food, whined when she placed the dried meat in front of him, and continued to whine in between reluctant bites of his meal. At a loss, Weipon ignored him while she gathered her things for the day and tidied the room. The sudden patter of rain on the roof made her sigh and reach for her still-wet cloak. When she moved to the door, however, Fu began to cry in earnest, scrabbling frantically at her legs and attempting to herd her back inside.

"Fu, what?" Weipon sighed in exasperation. Fu ran frantically back and forth between Akabeko's bed and Weipon, nipping at the pandaren's toes but going no closer to the tauren than necessary. She knelt, reaching out to comfort him, but he danced out of her grasp and continued to yowl pathetically. "I don't know what to do with you!" she exclaimed in frustration, stepping over him and escaping through the door. To Akabeko, she said, "Rest up today. I'll see you when I get back."

The tauren nodded and burrowed back into her blankets. Fu went back to pacing and keening softly.

Outside, the rain was just hard enough to be a nuisance. Weipon tugged her hood tightly around her face and stepped onto the muddy path that ran through town, already on the lookout for anyone else who had been energetic enough to venture out. The path was empty, so Weipon retraced her steps with Mei the day before, peeking into houses to check on the occupants. Many hadn't even moved from their previous positions.

Weipon kept an eye out for Mei while she walked, but made an complete circuit of the village without a sign of the other woman. It was barely midday, and yet she felt as if she had already exhausted her options for the day. The oppressive cloud cover and constant patter of rain made her feel sluggish and dimwitted, and she had to shake herself out of staring blankly into the gloom.

"Get it together, Wei," she muttered, slapping her cheeks lightly. She intentionally pasted a grin on her face and said cheerfully, "I'll just have to keep looking for whatever's causing this!" The fake enthusiasm made her feel marginally more active, and the unintentional word choice gave her an idea. "Maybe I'll be able to find the Sha and kill it myself!"

The thought of facing a Sha as terrifying as the one they had encountered in the Jade Temple gave Weipon pause. The smaller sha were much more manageable, especially if she had to fight them all by herself. Then again, as affected as the village was, she would have expected to see some physical sign of the sha already. She began to patrol the village again, this time keeping a keen eye out for slimy trails or blackened buildings, and sniffing intermittently for the sour stench that had become far too familiar.

Even looking more closely, the circuit took no time at all and yielded no new information. Weipon found herself again on the porch of the inn. She headed upstairs, ignoring the pointed look she got from Rude Sho when she hung up her sodden cloak by the fire, and quietly entered their room. Fu was up immediately, shaking himself out of his nap and pawing at her feet with quiet yips.

Akabeko didn't appear to have moved. Assuming she was asleep, Weipon quietly began to go through their bags, looking for some food for Fu and a little snack for herself. Holding up a bag of jerky, Weipon realized that the amount of food had barely changed. She had eaten some, and taken a meal or two down in the common room, but had Akabeko been eating any? Suddenly suspicious, Weipon lit a lamp and glanced over to the druid's bed.

In the wavering glow, Weipon saw that the tauren's eyes were open. Her eyes were wet, and glistening streaks tracked across her broad nose and into her mane.

"Aka?" Weipon whispered, feeling dread settle deep in the pit of her stomach. "What's the matter?"

Akabeko shook her head minutely, eyes half closing in response. Fu rolled onto his back, letting out a sad whine and kicking his legs pathetically.

Weipon crept closer, getting right into the tauren's face. "Are you in pain? Do you need some more medicine?" she asked. Akabeko merely closed her eyes, sending a fresh cascade over her cheeks.

Unsettled, Weipon extinguished the lamp and crept downstairs, finding Sho in the common room. "Has she been down to eat anything?"

Sho grunted and shook his head.

"Not at all?" Weipon pressed, already knowing the answer.

Sho raised an eyebrow disdainfully.

Weipon went to sit on the porch, resolutely ignoring her inner dialogue about Akabeko's condition. The rain continued to fall, forming puddles on the path. She had no idea how much time had passed when there was a splash in the puddle and Mei was coming up the steps, shaking raindrops off of her cloak furiously.

Tromping up the steps, Mei skipped the pleasantries. "My nephew is infuriating! He manages to come up with just enough energy to argue with me!" She threw her sodden cloak on a nearby chair. "The nerve of that cub!"

"Your...nephew?" Weipon asked politely.

"Yi-mo Longbrow, descendant of Zhu Longbrow, is my nephew. And he is impossible! He's always been a quiet, sad sort of kid, but since the despair took over the town, he's been completely immobile. I thought that if he would just stay in the house, he would be safe until I could cure everyone, but now he's arguing with me and threatening to leave!" Mei shook her head, snorting in annoyance. She took a deep breath. "At least for now he's resting, if you can call it that. What have you been up to today?"

Weipon remembered her earlier idea. "I took a walk around the town to check on the villagers. Then, I thought that I would go looking for the source of this sadness. I fought something that was causing a similar problem in the Jade Forest, so I know how to deal with them." She briefly explained her experience with the sha. "Do you know if there is any place nearby where those monsters have been sighted? Or maybe a place that villagers or travelers unconsciously avoid?"

"Well, the lakes to the south of the village have some sort of monster around them," Mei said contemplatively. "It's been raining nonstop, but the lakes have completely dried up." She continued, excited, "If those things are the sha, then if you kill them the despair will leave the town! Weipon, please do what you can to kill those monsters!"

They both stood. "I'll go have a look right now," Weipon declared. And if killing the sha heals Aka...

"I have to get back to Yi-mo," Mei said with a grimace. "There's no telling what that kid will do. I'll be sure to come back tomorrow to check in with you, though!"

Feeling slightly uplifted, Weipon fetched her cloak from inside the inn and strode purposefully into the rain. She had just left the town limits when she saw the lakebeds, yawning stretches of land choked with dying weeds and crawling with shimmery, ethereal wraiths.

Weipon bit her lip. These creatures looked nothing like the sickening shadowy nightmares she had fought before. And yet...the Jade Serpent had indicated that there were many different kinds of sha. This one could just be a different manifestation of it. Weipon crept closer, scrutinizing the creatures. They were taller than her, with long torsos that tapered into nothingness rather than legs and thin, too-long arms. Their faces blurred, changing appearance and expression so fast it made Weipon's stomach churn.

She circled around the lake until she found a wraith separated from the rest and attacked. As soon as her fist met its glowing flesh, she knew it couldn't be a sha. Rather than rot, it smelled like heat, and the oil-shiny light that made up its body felt like striking her fist into a hot stove. Cursing, she rolled away and attacked with lightning, hoping it wouldn't attract any other wraiths. The wraith shrieked, twitching and shivering under the assault, until finally it simply evaporated, leaving behind a glistening heart-sized orb.

There was another shriek behind her. Weipon turned to see two more wraiths called by the commotion slowly rolling toward her.

It was late when she finally returned to the inn, having fought off six wraiths in total before she could safely extract herself from the area around the lakes. The complete lack of change in the town confirmed her assumption that the wraiths were not any new kind of sha, further sinking her spirits. She trudged despondently up the stairs, forgetting her other source of dread until she opened the door to their room.

Fu was huddled in the corner, as far away from Akabeko as possible. The tauren had barely moved, and Weipon could see that she was still weeping silently. Fighting down panic, stomach too knotted to consider eating, the monk laid down and attempted to sleep.

Next: Lost Temple

15 October 2013

Let's meet at Geek Girl Con!

Hi friends! Are any of you going to Seattle's Geek Girl Con 2013? I'll be there (in costume!) so let's hang out!

I'll be attending the Friday night kick off party at the Tap House Grill with a friend. Pretty sure we won't be in costume for that...

I'll also be attending Saturday in a trio costume (from Teen Wolf...don't judge me) so be on the lookout for Cora and Derek Hale and their bouncy friend Stiles. I have my program all drawn up, so if you wanna talk scheduling get at me!
Guess who I am. Hint: not Stiles.