Previously: Heading Out
He opened his eyes as the crystal-clear chime faded from his mind. The air felt less oppressive, the scent of decay and corruption less pervasive. Emerging from his bolt-hole behind the inn, he opened his jaws wide in a toothy yawn, stretching lazily as he let his feline senses scan the area for threats.
Detecting the distant clash of battle, he padded around the building to find the courtyard a scene of controlled chaos. Monks were streaming in from all over the temple grounds, bearing wounded comrades, often wounded themselves, and medical stations were scattered about the area. A much smaller stream of monks, fresh and eager, were heading out in small groups. At the centre of all this were a couple of older Pandaren, directing people to aid, assigning groups, coordinating supplies. He trotted up to them, flowing back into his tauren shape as he approached. The involuntary gasps of alarm this elicited from those close by drew the attention of the elder monks, and under their stern, appraising gazes he stopped and bowed in front of them.
"Elders. I am here to help. What is the situation?"
Their eyebrows raised in astonishment, then one scowled as the other turned away to deal with another emergency. The scowling one opened her mouth to speak but stopped short, her eyes shifting to the temple. After a moment she nodded with a gruff harrumph and returned her gaze to Hadakha.
"You are a healer?"
"I have some healing abilities, yes, though it is not my-"
"Good. You may assist our wounded here." She gestured, taking in the chaos surrounding them.
Hadakha held her gaze for a moment, then bowed again perfunctorily. "Elder."
Some time later, as the stream of wounded slowed to a trickle, he found a bowl of hot noodle soup thrust into his hands, and retreated to a bench to eat and mull through what he had gleaned from talking to the monks he'd worked with.
So now he knew what the Sha were. This one had been imprisoned under the Temple for thousands of years. The bells that he had heard as he woke signaled that it had been forced back into its prison, but the echoes and remnants of its presence still lingered around the Temple grounds.
From the tales of some of the wounded who had taken part in the cleansing of the temple, he knew that the sha had the ability to possess people, but the implications were yet to be fully established. Could the possessed infect others, like the plague of undeath? Could the sha be - knowingly or unknowingly - transported out of Pandaria? Were they connected somehow to the mogu? The mists surrounding Pandaria? The arrival of the Horde and Alliance? The emergence of this one certainly seemed to be triggered by the new arrivals and their ever-present conflict, but was that the full story?
More information was needed. First thing: study the battleground where the Sha first emerged. Decision made, he left the bowl on the seat and strode out of the inn's courtyard, flowing into lionform as he left the area behind. He loped through the Temple grounds to the main gate, noting the skirmishing around the scattered areas of corrupted land as he went. He'd have to remember to find out how they cleansed the corruption – such knowledge could prove invaluable to the Circle if the sha menace spread to Azeroth.
The battlefield stench was worse than he'd expected, despite the surprisingly few bodies present. He remembered the sickening, rancid smell of the sha-lings he'd torn apart earlier, and wondered how long it would take for it to disperse. Groups of pandaren dotted the valley floor, some searching for signs of life, others collecting the remaining corpses of the armies that had clashed here only that morning.
He wandered around, examining the dessicated husks of those the Sha had fed upon, the desecrated ground, the jagged chunks of jade from the statue. In the fading light of dusk, he searched out the tiny brass bells he'd dropped from Mishi. Strangely, there was no sign of them at the first few recently-closed fissures he checked. The next one, however, showed him why. He caught sight of a telltale metallic gleam, which led him to a scattering of a few dozen bells.
Only a few of them were whole, however. Most were partially blackened and corroded, as if exposed to acid. With this new insight he swept his gaze over the immediate area and, sure enough, the ground was covered in tiny black lumps. It seemed that he'd been lucky to have enough bells to overcome the corrosive effect of the sha energy. Gathering up the unblemished bells, plus a few partly-corroded ones for reference, he dropped them into some pouches for later study. With the light fading fast now on the valley floor, he started the trek back to the Temple grounds.
It was very late when he arrived at the main gate, but the guards recognised him and let him in without a fuss. He started towards the inn, but then an idea led him to double back, to enquire of the guards where he could find the Lorewalker residence. Directions in hand, he made his way through the busy grounds, still full of bustling monks heading every which way. Finally he found the small building, tucked away behind some artfully cultivated foliage. As he approached the door, he was nearly bowled over by a stouter-than-usual pandaren clutching scrolls and papers.
"Oh! My deepest apologies, sir! I was just...my, you are a tall one, aren't you...just on my way to...sorry, were you looking for someone in particular?"
Hadakha raised an eyebrow at the flustered pandaren. "This is the Lorewalker residence, yes?"
"Yes, yes, of course, you are the...the...tauren, Hadakha!" Suddenly unsure, he peered at Hadakha more closely. "Am I correct in making that presumption, sir?"
At Hadakha's smile and nod, he continued hastily. "Lorewalker Cho said that you would come by. Unfortunately he has left, but I was to give you access to anything you required here. However, I..." he gestured helplessly with the scrolls, "I am summoned by Yu'lon to advise the Elders. You are most welcome to stay and avail yourself of anything you need. A bed is made up for you should you require it, and I have left a pot of freshly-brewed tea inside too. I...I'm afraid I really must be off now, so sorry!"
Bowing over and over as he sidled past, the pandaren finally turned and hurried off into the night. Hadakha chuckled as he went inside and took in the surroundings. The living area was cosy enough, but what really interested him was in the next room. Rubbing his hands in anticipation, he stepped through the bead curtain and gazed in satisfaction at the collection of lore before him. Then a frown furrowed his brow, and after a slight hesitation, he picked up a nearby scroll and unrolled it, his face dropping in frustrated disappointment. Although he could now converse in Pandaren almost fluently, he hadn't learned the script. Well, that was a waste. Since there was no telling when the lorewalker would be back, he decided with a sigh that sleep would be the best option for now.
He awoke to find himself still alone. After eating and washing, he wandered back into the storage room in the vain hope that the scrolls had become legible overnight. It was there that the lorewalker found him a little later, returning from his consultation. He bustled in, absentmindedly shelving the papers in his hands as he talked.
"Good morning, Mr. Hadakha! I trust you slept well? I apologise for my lack of hospitality, these are difficult times and one does not ignore a Celestial."
Hadakha dropped the scroll he held back onto the table and moved out of the pandaren's way. "Of course, I understand completely, er....?"
"Oh my goodness! How rude of me! I am Giko, of the order of Lorewalkers. I maintain our chapterhouse here. Not so much lorewalking, more lorekeeping." He grinned toothily. "Have you found what you were looking for? The organisation of our resources here might not be familiar to you."
"Actually, Lorewalker, I need your help. You see, I can't read Pandaren at all. It is so different from any natural language I have studied, I just...I wouldn't know where to begin."
"Of course, of course! Let me brew some tea, and then we shall see what I can help you with. Come, come." He herded Hadakha out into the living space, and busied himself with the tea while Hadakha explained about the bells and how they affected the Sha. With a cup of hot brew appearing tiny in his hands, he got to the real issues.
"Mayor Windfur mentioned that the bells he gave me were created by the Shado-Pan. I need to know more about this Shado-Pan, and how they relate to the Sha. It seems to me that if the Sha are breaking out from wherever they are, we will need ways to fight them. So, is there anything in there " - he nodded towards the storeroom – "that can give me some leads?" He leaned forward eagerly.
Giko nodded sagely. "Yes...yes, I think we can help you there. It so happens that, as a Lorewalker, I am intimately acquainted with the knowledge kept in those scrolls, so there is no need for us to search through them. I may need to consult some of them for particular details, but first let me give you the broad history of the Shado-Pan..."
Several hours and many pots of tea later, Hadakha was satisfied that he had enough information about the Shado-Pan, although as Giko stressed, they were a secretive order and he would need to earn their trust in order to learn more. Stretching, he admitted that he needed to go and find his friends. At this, Giko frowned in consternation.
"There was another of your kind at the Temple this morning, a woman. What was her name...Akabeka? This was your friend?"
"Akabeko. Yes. She has a companion, too, a Pandaren from the Wandering Isle. I guess I'd better head over to the Temple then...what is it?"
"Ah, my friend, they are gone! I was there when they had an audience with Yu'lon. I don't know what they talked about, but it seems they are on another quest to aid the Jade Serpent. They left this morning!"
Hadakha stared for a moment, then closed his eyes and dropped his face into his hand with a sigh. Well, he'd needed this information about the Shado-Pan, so it couldn't be helped. He was only a few hours behind them, after all, so it shouldn't take long to catch up with them. He thanked the Lorewalker profusely for his help, and took his leave, promising to come back sometime and satisfy Giko's curiosity about the world outside the Mists. As he turned to go, the Lorewalker's farewell gave him pause.
"Travel safe, my friend! I hope Akabeko manages to find someone to heal her injuries!"
He turned back, eyeing Giko warily. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, she was very battered and bruised this morning at the Temple."
He looked down at the bloodied tauren, kneeling on the floor before him, eyes downcast as he smashed his fist into her skull. She rocked back, then straightened again, still looking dully at the floor as he laughed and raised his fist once more.
"It was strange, I overheard some of the monks claiming that even their strongest healers could not help her! I've never heard of such a thing happening before. Anyway, I'm sure she will find the poultices effective, even if it takes longer."
He nodded slowly. Then with a quick bow, he turned and loped off, grinning inwardly at the awed gasp behind him as he shifted into lionform. The grin faded quickly though, as he considered the implications of Akabeko's injuries. She was a powerful healer in her own right, what could be preventing her from tending to her own wounds?
She is broken. The thought nagged at him as he headed for the main gate.
Next: The Despair
Next: The Despair