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The Fifth Lesson

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Verannion
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:20 pm Post subject: The Fifth Lesson Reply with quote

The lorewalkers tampering had immediate effect. It was subtle, at first, a soft humming from below, but soon it had risen to a teetch-clenching, almost organic vibration in the floor, as if the room was the belly of some great beast stirred from its slumber. Dust cascaded to the floor from the alcoves around the circular chamber, roused from the stillness of the ages by the vibrations in the walls suddenly alive with the sound of machinery so ancient it had once been designed by the very gods... and then given horrific new purpose under the Thunder Kings imperial ambitions. For a long time, nothing happened, save an eerie red light playing across the crumbling floor tiles. The silence, when it returned, was as merciful as the roar of the enormous stones engines under their feet had been jarring. Setting his small stone totem, carved into the likeness of Niuzao on the floor, Jianghuo steeled himself for whatever new terror this antediluvian titanic construct would subject them to. He did not have to wait long.

With a screeching, grinding noise that cut to the very bone, the back walls of some of the alcoves began rising, revealing a multitude of mancing Mogu figures half-concealed by shadows. Remarkably, they did not wear the telltale signs of aging stone, and after a few seconds, the sharp, metallic smell of freshly cut stone struck them. As one, the small band realized the horrible truth: That these mogu had not simply been locked away all this time, but had only just now been hewn from the very rock of Mount Neverest. The implications hit Jianghuo with all the force of a raging mushan. With a fully functional mogu constructor, Shan Bu and his Shan'ze servants could overrun the Townlong Steppes, join forces with Zhao-jin in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, and wage a genocidal war to wipe the pandaren - his kin, finally rediscovered - from the face of Azeroth. A sudden crash roused him from his horrible reverie to realize that the mogu he had thought lifeless were now coming alive with malicious intent. One by one, they had begun leaping into what he could now only think of as an arena. Settling into his stance, Jianghuo gritted his teeth and braced for battle, his compatriots scurrying to unsheated their blades, string their bows and ready their spells.

How much time passed, he did not know. The constructs seemed entirely content with simply going into battle one or two at a time, and were easily dispatched by the veteran Flames. It wasn't until the tremors in the floor stopped that he even realized they had begun again, and in the sudden moment of clarity, he realized why the mogu weren't throwing everything they had at them. In that exact moment, the two gigantic alcoves on the far side of the arena from the entrance, which he had assumed were decorative, shifted. Thundering footsteps could be heard from the darkness under the vault. Whatever was in there, it was enormous. Staring into that umbral passage, barely aware of the lesser mogu still endlessly streaming from the smaller alcoves, he reeled when the colossal things finally reared their heads out of their alcoves. They were mogu, but multiplied in size at least tenfold, towering over their brethren in much the same way that the Stormwind Keep towered over the houses in the Dwarven District. In their hands they grasped weapons almost as large as the Jade Serpent was long, and as massive as a small hill. taking a deep breath, Jianghuo thought back to his lessons on the isle, under Master Shang Xi.

*thwack*

The force of the blow made the thin, hollow bamboo stick snap in half, and sent the young Jianghuo sprawling into the shallow waters of the Singing Pools.
"Why did you do that?" Master Shang Xi asked, his calm voice all the more infuriating to the almost-cub because since the master was still holding the broken end of the stick.
"You hit me!" Jianghuo exclaimed, scrambling back up the wooden pole he had been told to stand on.
"And why is that, I wonder?"
"You told me I had to stand here and practice my balance. How can I practice if you assault me with sticks!?"
"I hit you, because you would not move out of the way of my blow. I told you not to fall, not to stand dumbfounded while I rained blows on your hide." As he spoke, Master Shang Xi walked over to the reed bank and broke off another.
"So is this now a lesson about fearing pain instead of finding balance?" Jianghuo asked, still rubbing his shoudler where the stick had hit.
"No. This is a lesson about water." Shang Xi said, and began stirring the waters with his reed. "Water is not disturbed by the things that enters it. It flows, and shapes itself around the invading object, avoiding it, and come out the other side of the blow, still as unharmed as it was when the blow first was struck."
"Master," Jianguo sighed, "Surely you don't expect me to split down the middle to avoid getting hit?"
"Of course not, my student. But there is still a lesson to be learned here. As the waters flow and weave around my blows, so must you flow in between your enemies' strikes, avoiding them."
"But how is avoiding my enemies going to resolve a fight in my favour? Surely it is better to hit first, before my enemy has the chance to strike at all?"
"Our way, the pandaren way, is not the way of violence and unprovoked agression!" Now it was Shang Xi's turn to sigh. "But you are, as ever, an exceedingly astute pupil. Simply dodging the blows of others will not win you any battle that is worth fighting. But consider this..." Shang Xi bent down and scooped up a small amount of water in his paw, then raised it high, watching as the liquid passed through the gaps between his fingers. "Where there is an opening, water finds it."


Snapping back to the present, Jianghuo turned and caught the eye of two of his companions, shouting to be heard across the wordless bellowing of the enormous Mogu's challenge. "Carenne, take the left one, I've got the other. Faelwen, keep these small ones off us!" The two merely nodded and raced of to deal with their respective tasks, Jianghuo turned to face his appointed foe. The thing was even larger up close. Adjusting the strap of his eyepatch, Jianghuo grinned. "I wonder if this is what gnomes feel like all the time." Before he had even finished the thought, the things colossal sword scythed the the air, only narrowly missing him. Missing him, because the now-seasoned Brewmaster had learned his first lesson well. A second blow again connected with nothing. The thing was fast, no doubt. But not fast enough. Blow after blow he dodged, some easily, some narrowly, but every time, the titanic blade found no target, drew no blood. As the mogu grew angrier with each failing blow, its strikes became wilder, less controlled. Eventually, a particularily savage overhead slash drove the gargantuan blade deep into the stone mosaic that covered the floor, and stuck there. It was the opening Jianghuo had waited for. As the monstrosity struggled to free the blade, he leapt onto the blade, running up the length of both it and the things arm, until he came to perch atop the mogu's crown. "I wonder if I might avail you to a piece of Alliance wisdom. I consider it my sacred duty to educate the world. It is simply this. "The bigger they are..." A furious punch to the back of the things head sent it reeling. Another, and it became confused, unable to see its attacker. A third one caused cracks to start appearing. A fourth, and the colossus went rigid, falling backwards. Leaping from the thing just in time to avoid being crushed, Jianguo looked over to Carenne to see that her construct too had failed. Clearly whatever foul magic had spawned the two had also bound their fates together. "...the harder they fall."

As the dust settled, Faelwen walked up to him where he sat on the mogu's shattered arm.
"How is it you always seem to come out of these things without so much as a scratch on you?" she asked.
"Oh, I owe it all to my old master. It was one of the first things he taught me, in fact."
"Which is?"
Smiling, he repeated the words Shang Xi had spoken on the isle, so long ago.
"And so your first lesson is this: Flow, like water."
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Any man's death diminishes me, because I am invested in humanity, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee - John Donne
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Verannion
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 24, 2014 4:53 pm Post subject: Reply with quote

The Wind-Lord howled with indignant fury. All around him his warriors were falling like flies, hit by arrows... or worse. A Kor'thik warden to his right burst into purple flames even as an Ik'thik Windguard froze solid in a block of ice, taking several of his companions with him as he plummeted towards the distant ground. Hoarse with fury, Mel'jarak glared down at the lesser beings swarming over his ground troops. They were confident, and obviously plenty skilled to have overcome the Grand Vizier and the Blade-Lord to get to this point. But he would have the last laugh. Clacking his mandibles with anticipation of the blood to come, he bellowed "Pitiful, wingless grubs. You step into my domain, and I will hear your death screams as you plummet from this terrace! Set'thik, in formation! Show them who controls the winds of Pandaria! Breath of the empress, bring mighty Garalon to us!" Mantid didn't have lips, but if they did, his would've been drawn back in a confident sneer. A buzzing, soft at first, but curiously insistent filled the air until it was all that could be heard.

"What now?" The night elf unburied his dagger from an insectoid skull with a horrible sucking sound. "More mantid?"
Jianghuo looked up as a shadow obscured the moon. A cloud? Yet it seemed to be... growing. The buzzing filled the entire courtyard now; the very air seemed to be thrumming, causing bowstring to vibrate and spells to die in their casters mouths as words of incantation crashed against the wall of sound and failed entirely. Realization, slow to insert itself and all the more terrible for its sluggishness, finally dawned on the monk.
"No, Bias..." Jianghuo shook his head "Something much worse."
The buzzing stopped. The shadow dropped towards the few Flames spread out loosely on the platform. The impact shook the entire Kypari tree against which the Imperial Vess was built. As the dust settled, from far above you could hear the clacking sound that was to mantid what laughter was to other peoples. The Wind-Lord's voice rang out once again. "Garalon, grind their bones to dust!" The enormous kunchong roared a challenge and charged, heedless of the fireballs, arrows, darts and various weapons bouncing off its carapace without so much denting it. Jianghuo breathed in deep...

The Wood of Staves. Thousands of years of elders had made this trek since Liu Lang, planting their staves into the soft, loamy earth, before passing on, content in the knowledge that a part of them would forever live on. For when a staff was planted here, it blossomed into a tree - a hint of eternity for the honored masters of Shen-zin Su. But such solemnity was not the object of this trip. Indeed, the gravity of history seemed far away as the sun beat down on the young Jianghuo trying desperately to defend the little campsite he and master Shang Xi had made. It seemed every time he turned around, one of the tiny wood sprites that called the grove home would sneak past and run off with something from their supplies. The master chuckled as the younger monk, not for the first time, fell flat on his muzzle trying to catch the mischievous spirits.
"You try too hard, my pupil." The master smiled as the young Jianghuo dusted himself off for the umpteenth time that day.
"But master, we need these supplies!" The student cried. "We can't just let them run off with our food! What will we eat?"
The master laughed and prodded his pupil in the gut with his cane. "From the look of you, I'd say there's been enough eating for quite a while, don't you think?"
"But even so, master..." Jianghuo began.
"Yes, yes, even so." The master waved his pupil into silence. "But there is a lesson to be learned here, which is why I brought you." You rush after these sprites, and what have you saved save yourself from a day of relaxation?"
Jianghuo frowned. "I thought... I'd be swift, like the wind. The other pupils told me you're fond of coupling lessons with elements, and..."
"Indeed. And what are the elements?"
"Uh... Water, Wind, Fire and Earth, master." Jianghuo looked for approval in his teachers face and found none.
"If you were a shaman, you would be correct. But their elements are not our elements." Shang Xi pointed his cane towards a nearby staff-tree. "What do you see?"
Jianghuo peered at the tree, realizing that the question wasn't intended to be answered as simply as it had been posed. It was an old, gnarly thing that looked as if it had stood since Liu Lang still walked on the turtle. Roots spread out in a wide circle around it, coiling around rocks... Jianghuo frowned. Not quite in a circle, he realized. Behind the tree was a barren cliff, and the roots did not extend over the stone there. "The roots... they don't seem to reach across the cliff there" he pointed out.
"Indeed. And why should they? The tree cannot draw nourishment from the rock, so why expend time and energy trying to? Similarily, your efforts to stop the sprites has not resulted in their failing to steal our food."
"But surely you don't expect me to just give up!" The young monk cried, indignant.
"Of course not. But like the tree, like wood, you must direct your efforts such that they not be needlessly expended. You must find a way that works."


...and exhaled. Kunchong chitin was notoriously difficult to breach, to the point that much of the mantids defensive armaments were made of the stuff. But no creature was entirely without weakness. Ducking and dodging the slow, clumsy blows of the gargantuan insect, Jianghuo sought such a fault. As the creature lunged at Belasko, he saw it. Each time the mammoth creature struck its legs buckled slightly. Not surprising, since they must be holding up the entire weight of a being as large as some castles. The monk sought one of his allies in the melee, and found Bias, hanging of the side of the bug and stabbing ineffectively at it. "Bias! The legs! Break the legs!" Whatever the rogue answered was lost in the din as the mantid high above cheered in anticipation of Garalon's impending victory. But their cries of merriment turned to shrieks of despair as Bias and his strike team began breaking the colossal limbs one by one until the kunchong was immobilized entirely. In one last ditch effort to crush the intruders, the monstrous insect tried taking to the air, but again plummeted out of the air as purple flames consumed its wings. The impact from the fall cracked the carapace, and the Flames' weapons finally found their way to the beings organs. With a keeing wail, Garalon died, unable to even thrash with t's broken limbs.

The Wind-Lord furious scream was like music to Jainghuo's ears as he recalled the words Shang Xi had spoken so long ago.
"And so your second lesson is this: Seek, like wood."
_________________
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am invested in humanity, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee - John Donne
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Verannion
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2015 6:52 pm Post subject: Reply with quote

"I thank you strangers. I have been freed." The words of the coiled cloud serpent arrived in the gathered Flames' minds without the apparent intervention of anything so crass as actual sound.
Jianghuo bowed in the traditional gesture of parting. "Be at peace, great spirit." He turned to the assembled band that had come with him, in pursuit, from the Heart of Fear. The healers were hard at work tending to their companions wounds, but none of them looked any worse for wear, considering they had just trekked across the length of Pandaria only to fight a dragon at their destination. Looking around, Jianghuo took in the state of the place for the first time. The Terrace of the Endless Spring would have been beautiful, once. The immediate surroundings mimicked the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, which according to legend, was watered by the same spring upon which the Sha of Fear had now made it's nest. Dread hang heavy in the air, no less present for the fact that it had no apparent cause to. The corruption of the Sha had not yet fully taken root in the waters and gardens, but the occasional patch of barren earth, white fumes spiralling from cracks in the ground still gave mute testimony to the malign presence that now ruled this sacred place.

A small set of stairs led up to a penultimate landing where the guardian of the pools wa- SHOULD have been found. It was empty. Taking a careful step forward, Jianghuo called out the name the lorewalkers had entrusted him with. "Lei Shi?" His voice cracked with terror. Looking back he realized the other Flames were starting to be affected as well. It was subtle. Trace fidgeting, eyes darting around the platform. The trouble, he reflected, with fighting your own emotions is the way they always come back to you. Silence ruled the Terrace, the true noiselessness of those too frightened even to scream. A soft splashing, loud as a gunshot in the booming hush, made him turn back to the centre of the dais. The water spirit was forming into the same shape that other spirits in Pandaria and Shen-zin Su usually took. But as the tiny rivulets ran into him, they crossed or originated in pools of sha energy, and even as the spirit formed fully, there was the occasional splash of white and black in its body. When it spoke, it was in the same trilling tone of voice that his kind usually used, but the words were tinged with a fear beyond their intention.
"Wh-what are you doing here!? G-go away!" The elemental was clearly terrified.
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, the monk stepped forward. "Great spirit, we see-"
"Stay away from me!" The elemental recoiled as if struck.
"My friends and I-" Jianghuo began as he tried to reach out.
"I'm hiding until you leave!" Lei Shi began to fade. Unlike normal dispersion though, he was simply turning transparent - and then vanished completely. A quick scan of the platform revealed nothing, save a barrier that had sprung up to block access to the upper level.
"I know you're still here, spirit. We want to help!" Jianghuo spoke quickly before he could be interrupted again.
"It's your fault it happened!" The voice was coming from everywhere. No help there. Terror was starting to overwhelm the monk. Think, think... He breathed in...

There was a chittering sound, just on the edge of hearing. Darkness closed in on the young monk. Was the source of the noise near and quiet, or far and muffled? A swishing sound behind him made him spin, causing him to loose his footing. As he fell, he cut his paw on something sharp. This was absurd! If he could not find his way, how could he find someone else? The master was, was... was absent, he realized. They'd entered together. They'd walked side by side. Now he was alone. Panic started to set in. Alone, underground, no way to see, no idea how to get out... his breathing became heavy.
A soft chuckle pierced the cacophony of nameless dread bouncing around in the young monks skull. "Sometimes, I forget how young you still are, my pupil." Light burst into the cavern as Master Shang Xi lit the lantern that hung perpetually from the staff.
Jianghuo frowned. "Master, why didn't you light the lantern as we entered?"
"Because this lesson-" the master began.
"Lesson! We are here to rescue a lost cub!" Jianghuo burst out.
"Never underestimate the potential of the seeming circumstance in the flow of your endeavour, my pupil." Shang Xi smiled. "Now, this lesson-"
"Fire, right? This is going to be fire. I read the Wu Xing. But what possible benefit can you get from fire? It eats and destroys, and surely these are not lessons you want me to learn!"
The smile faded on his masters face. "You are too focussed on the negative. A minute ago, the darkness made you fear. You did not think the flame such a bad thing then." Shang Xi sighed before resuming. "We are to be the shield of the pandaren people. When we fail, they fail. When we hold, they survive. When darkness threatens, we light the torch. And when they cannot see.. " He chuckled again and lifted his arm to let a frightened cub peer out from under it. "We bring the light to them."


...and out. Bring the light. There wasn't much flammable here, unless... Unhooking a flask from his belt, he sat down. A piece of incense carried for the purpose was lit as he took a swig of the brew in the unmarked flask. It'd been a foul brew as he recalled, practically tar, but it did have this one use. Holding the burning incense in front of him he sprayed the liquid across the burning end. The brew was, as he recalled, highly flammable and burst immediately into flame, forming a large cone that bathed the platform in light. A shadow on the edge of his vision caught his attention. He made his way carefully towards it, occasionally stopping to take another swig of the brew and spewing more flames, until he came close enough to lunge towards the shadow. The collision took the hiding spirit by surprise, startling it for long enough to make the illusion fade. Holding it down, Jianghuo beckoned for Maarken the shaman to calm Lei Shi down. It was the work of a moment for the draenei to expel the traces of sha-infused waters and cure the elemental. As Jianghuo let go, the spirit floated towards the barrier blocking the upper level, dissolving it, then turned to the Flames watching it. "I have to make the water not cloudy anymore. Will... will you help? "

Jianghuo nodded, and remembered the words he'd heard in cave so long ago:
"And so your third lesson is this: Illuminate, like Fire."
_________________
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am invested in humanity, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee - John Donne
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