Part 17: Meditation

Thunderpetal held up the jade flower on its silver chain. The yellow petal pointed without fail at the roof of a temple in the distance. A path ran towards it. They had not been bothered by anyone since the strange man had tried to deny them passage over the bridge. All that was left was a long set of stairs leading up to the rose-coloured wood and shining gilt of the temple’s roof. Thunderpetal had cut down a piece of bambu to serve as a bo staff. At the moment, he was using it to lean on. His legs were weary now that the end of his journey was in sight. The doors of the temple were open. Thunderpetal held out a claw to Huang.

“We have arrived, my friend. By rights, we should be dead, yet here we are. Without you, I would never have done it.”

Huang looked at the sky. “It looks like rain. Let’s get inside.” He grabbed Thunderpetal’s hand. “Our path has been an interesting one. I have gained much wisdom and experience from it.” His eyes gleamed under his hat. “Mainly, to run away fast whenever you start to explain one of your crazy ideas.”

Thunderpetal laughed, slapped Huang’s shoulder and walked into the temple. They looked round in awe. Whoever had built this temple had not squandered gold on precious stone or metal, but the craftsmanship was superb. The central piece of the temple was a large statue of a long-bearded Pandaren monk riding a turtle. In one hand, he held a parasol, in the other a lantern. Close by a Pandaren-sized water jug sat an old monk. The hair on his snout was grey, and his robes were blue, embroidered in white. His hands were in his lap, and his eyes shone brightly at Thunderpetal.

Thunderpetal stood before the monk and bowed deep. “Sir. My name is Léi-shēng Huā-bàn, and this is Huang. We have come through the Mists of Pandaria, from the Jade Temple, in search of Master Shang Xi.”

“And now, you have found him,” said Shang Xi. “You have travelled far. Your need must be great, and your companion faithful, to have come all this way. I have had signs of your coming.”

“You are correct on both counts,” said Thunderpetal. “I bring news of Bao Yu.”

“Do you now?” Master Shang Xi looked at Thunderpetal with a kind light in his eyes. “News of her would be news indeed. What do you have to tell?”

Thunderpetal lowered his eyes. “Master, Lorewalker Stonestep tells me that she passed away a few years ago, peacefully, holding this jewel in her hand.” He pulled out the jade flower and held it up. The yellow petal pointed straight and true at the Master’s heart. Shang Xi took it out of Thunderpetal’s hand, reached into his robes and took out an identical necklace. As he spun them both on their chains, the yellow petals pointed at the other jewel without fail.

“I knew of her passing, young monk,” said the Master. “A vision was given to me, exactly as you describe. Three weeks ago, I observed the movement of that jewel, and so I knew. Only a Pandaren in great need would undertake such a perilous journey. Why do you seek me? I train monks in the arts of fighting, but in Pandaria, a thousand Masters could give you that wisdom. Why will no other Master do?”

Thunderpetal moved closer to Shang Xi. “Master, look into my eyes. Then, you will know what I seek, or I will know that even you cannot help me.”

Master Shang Xi had to look only a moment. He nodded.

“The Sha of Anger has grown strong within your Self. I cannot help you with that, but instead I can help you to help yourself.”

Thunderpetal bowed his head. “I can only take what you are willing to give, Master. When the Sha of anger first took hold in my Self, I almost… hurt my friend. I would rather die than risk that again.”

“Help an old man to his feet,” said Shang Xi, holding out his hand. They walked down the stairs. “Do not worry. At my age I simply take a moment to start. We will confront this anger within you, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. It will not be easy. Prepare yourself.”

“Yes, Master,” said Thunderpetal.

Master Shang Xi took Thunderpetal and Huang to a cave at the end of a shallow pond. They entered, and the Master sat down on a stone. He made himself comfortable, and looked at Huang.

“Thunderpetal has named you his most trusted friend,” said the Master. “What will you do for him?”

Huang looked at the Master. “I will do what must be done to bring peace into his Self.”

Shang Xi’s eyes wrinkled. “That is good to know. Léi-shēng Huā-bàn?”

“Yes, Master?”

Shang Xi pointed at Huang. “Kill him.”

Thunderpetal’s mouth fell open. “Master, what is this madness? Huang is the last person in this world I would wish harm.”

“I will allow him to defend himself,” said Master Shang Xi. “One of you will not leave this cave.”


As Thunderpetal prepared to explain what exactly he thought of this plan, there was a small cough at the entrance. They looked. In the entrance stood a woman. Her fur was of the purest white, contrasting with incredibly bright green eyes and deep black hair, which she wore in a long ponytail.

“Aysa,” said Shang Xi, a fond look in his eyes. “What a pleasure to see you. What brings you here?”

“I seek the wisdom in this cave. Never mind me, I will be at the shrine, meditating.”

Thunderpetal pointed a finger at Shang Xi. “He wants me to kill my friend!”

Aysa shrugged. “Do what he says. He knows what he is doing. A pleasure to have met you both.” She gave Thunderpetal and Huang a dazzling smile, kneeled in front of the shrine at the end of the cave and lit a few sticks of incense. She raised her face, closed her eyes.

Master Shang Xi looked at Thunderpetal.

“Attack. Do it now. My time is limited, and I still have things to do.”

“I will not,” began Thunderpetal. At that moment, there was a rustle of leaves at the door and angry voices. A horde of small plant-creatures came running in, heading straight for Aysa.

“Get them,” said Shang Xi. “Do not let them disturb Aysa’s meditation. When she comes here, it is important.”

Thunderpetal liked these new instructions much better than the last, and attacked. The attackers were not strong, but there were many of them, and both Huang and Thunderpetal had their hands full. They fought side by side, with their backs towards the meditating woman. After what seemed an eternity, with wave after wave of plant-sprites coming in through the door, the fight ended, and they stood breathing hard. Thunderpetal’s eyes turned to Huang, but he didn’t know what to say.

There was a noise behind them, and they looked round to see Aysa standing there, arms crossed.

“Oh. You’re both still alive. Why?” Her eyes fell on the vegetable carnage in front of her. “Ah. Did you two do that?”

“Yes, Mistress,” said Huang.

“That was very kind, thank you. A shame you are going to die.”

“Aysa…” Master Shang Xi tried to put a weary tone in his voice, but failed. “Stop interfering with my teachings. Have you found what you seek?”

“Yes, Master. I must be on my way now.” Aysa smiled, waved, and ran out of the cave.

“Well then,” said Shang Xi. “Where were we? Ah. Léi-shēng Huā-bàn, attack.”

“Master, I will not attack my friend. I do not know what purpose you have, but…”

Thunderpetal was interrupted by a hard blow to the side of his head. He looked round to see Huang bearing down on him, with eyes filled with purpose.

“Léi-shēng Huā-bàn, I am done with this.” Huang’s staff shot out and hit Thunderpetal in the stomach. “Ever since the cursed Virmen attacked your farm, you have not been yourself.” Huang’s staff swept round, viciously fast, at knee level. Thunderpetal only just had the notion to leap over it. “And ever since, I have not been able to trust you.” Huang’s attacks grew both in speed and force. Thunderpetal could only just dodge the strokes aimed at his face. “Now do what Master says, because…” Huang leapt into the air, and his staff came down on Thunderpetal’s shoulder. “I want my friend back!

Thunderpetal rolled onto his back, through and was back on his feet. With a shout, he stabbed out at Huang’s midriff. Huang blocked, counter-attacked. Thunderpetal pushed Huang’s staff away, and hit Huang with a fast reverse kick to the thigh. Huang stumbled back, recovering. Thunderpetal struck his fingers and Huang cried out and nearly dropped his staff. Holding one hand behind his back, he made his staff whirl round his body, then stabbed out at Thunderpetal with all his weight, Chi and anger behind it. Thunderpetal roared, blocked the attack, and hit Huang’s staff with a forceful double handed stroke. Huang’s staff flew off to one side, clattering on the floor. Thunderpetal struck out again. Huang blocked with his fore-arm, preferring a broken arm over a broken skull. He cried out in pain, and his arm hung limp. Thunderpetal struck again, making Huang block with his hand. Then, he swept low, hitting Huang’s leg. Huang went down on one knee, looked up at Thunderpetal, with nothing more to be done. Thunderpetal wound up, then struck down with a blow that would shatter Huang’s skull.

The blow never connected. Thunderpetal looked up to see Master Shang Xi’s staff blocking his, inches away from Huang’s head.

“Step back! See!” Master Shang Xi’s staff struck Thunderpetal, and knocked all the wind out of him. “See your enemy within.”

Thunderpetal rolled onto his back. Floating above him, he saw… smoke, but it had more shape than smoke. He could recognise in the shifting shards of mist the shape of Virmen, of Huang, of Liu Flameheart, and… of himself.

“Do you see? Do you recognise this?”


“Quick. Before it fades. You do not have so many friends that you can repeat this. Remember these images. They hold the key.”

Thunderpetal looked, tried to burn the shifting images in his mind. Then, there was a breeze of wind and they blew away. Master Shang Xi bent down to him.

“Remember these shapes. Draw them if you have the skill. Meditate upon them. Those are the images you must confront, and dismiss. Do you see now why I could not put into words what you have experienced?”

“I do, Master,” said Thunderpetal. “These shapes, they are different for everybody.”

“Precisely,” said Shang Xi. “If you were to draw them in charcoal, they would appear as recognisable shapes only to yourself. If you were to describe them in words, it would seem like gibberish to anyone but you. Practice this skill always, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn, until the day you die.”

“Don’t mind me,” said Huang. “I can heal myself.”

“Huang!” Thunderpetal bowed down over him. Green mist whirled round Huang’s body as his healing magic did its work.

“Are you done, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn?”

“I am,” said Thunderpetal, unsure of what else to say.

“Good,” said Huang. “You owe me a few pints of brew.”

Raven walked out of the Deeprun Tram, looking at the rotating parts of the tunnel. She didn’t know why this part of the tunnel was made of segments that rotated in opposite directions, whether it served a purpose, or whether it was simply a piece of art. Outside, she stood still. She should really find a place of her own. Violet had met a nice Pandaren boy just in from Stranglethorn Vale, and was giving her meaningful looks. Time to make herself scarce. She walked in the direction of the Pig and Whistle inn. She’d been paid. She could afford a bit of luxury. Someone walked next to her. Raven didn’t have to look.

“Hello Mr. Shaw.”

“Hello Miss Raven. I hear you completed your first job. Everything went smoothly, I trust?”

Disgusting, filthy, depressing, thought Raven. “Very smoothly indeed,” she said.

“Good, good,” said Shaw. “Are you hungry?”

Raven glanced at Shaw. “Maybe.”

“Perhaps a little run will serve to give you an appetite?”

“Are you asking me out to dinner, Mr. Shaw?”

“I most certainly am, Miss Raven. Follow me if you are interested.”

Shaw broke into a light trot. Raven sped up as well. He disappeared into the first alley he could see, and jumped up. As Raven followed him up to the roof, she couldn’t help but admire the way the man moved. He might be Management, but he’d definitely kept in shape. She could also appreciate some of the hard muscles that allowed him to climb up like that. They ran over the rooftops towards the harbour, and dropped down on one of the turrets of an out of the way piece of the city wall. Shaw pulled out a bundle of keys, and opened a trapdoor leading to a ladder.

“Ladies first.”

“Who are you calling a lady?” said Raven. She climbed down the ladder while Shaw locked the trapdoor. It wasn’t completely dark, and a few minutes later, they were at the bottom of the shaft. There was wet sand on the bottom. Shaw pointed, and Raven walked forward carefully.

“Three-hundred yards,” said Shaw. “You’ll see light at the end. Step on it, Miss Raven.”

Raven ran down the tunnel. As her eyes got used to the darkness, her confidence grew. This was obviously some sort of escape route. The tunnel ended abruptly in a shaft leading up.

“Up here, Miss Raven.”

Raven climbed up the steps, with Shaw following her. She realised that he now had the same kind of view she had enjoyed earlier. Oh well. Only fair.

“Oh,” said Raven.


“No more steps.”


Raven put her feet on opposite sides of the shaft. She worked herself up for maybe twenty yards or so. She felt a door behind her. Shaw handed her up a bunch of keys.

“You drop them, you go get them,” said Shaw.

The second key Raven tried fit, and the door opened.

“Catch,” said Raven, and dropped the keys.

Shaw caught them, and put them away. “Smartarse.”

“Thanks for noticing.”

Raven crawled forward through a narrow pipe, until she came to a grille. It had a handle, and she could open it. She dropped down into a dark room with a stone floor. A trickle of light came through a closed shutter. She stepped aside and watched Shaw drop next to her.

“What is this place? Dumping ground for flunked rogues?”

Shaw laughed. “SI:7 safe house. This is where we put people when we don’t want anyone to hurt them.”

“Bit late now. There’s nobody left.”

“You had a nice run through Westfall. Don’t tell me you would have preferred this? I mean…” Shaw took off his pack and put it on the table. He grinned at Raven. “Apart from the company, of course, this place has little to commend itself.”

“The company? One of the most dangerous assassins in Stormwind?”

“I’ll give you that. There’s precisely three people better than I am. They are scary bastards. I send them on the most dangerous missions, and they just keep coming back.”

Shaw walked over to the wall and lit a gas torch. Raven looked round the room. Table. Bed, single. Latrine. If the alternative was being shot or stabbed, it was comfortable enough.

“Where are we? I think we went south, but…”

“South west,” said Shaw, walking over to the small window. He slid it open. “Come and see.”

Raven stepped up to the window, aware of how close together they were standing. She looked out. Her mouth fell open, and she held her breath. It was impossible to resist. She had to say the word.

“Gold,” Raven whispered.

“Yes,” said Shaw. “I told you it was a safe house.”

Raven didn’t blink. On the other side of the wall were bars of gold, neatly stacked. Barrels filled with gold coins. Stacks of gold. Pots made of gold, filled with gold. She looked at Shaw.

“Don’t tell me you can get in there from here.”

“You most certainly can. Open that door. Help yourself.” A very subtle smile played on Shaw’s face. “See what happens.”

“We could split,” said Raven. “Stranglethorn is nice. I could get a nice even tan there. You could see if I missed any bits.”

“There is not enough gold in the world to buy me into the place where I am now,” said Shaw. “There is no better place in the whole of Azeroth.” he walked back to the table and opened his pack. “For example, I get to take attractive women to dinner in unlikely places. Do you like Pandaren food?”

“Love it,” said Raven.

Thunderpetal sat in a quiet place, nearby the Temple of the Five Dawns, and looked inside his mind. Master Shang Xi had told him to picture it as a great room, with doors leading off into different places. The room of his mind was mostly a quiet place, filled with the smell of cooking, the call of birds, the rhythm of flails pounding the corn. Thunderpetal’s Self stood in the middle of the room, arms crossed, looking down on a small campfire. Black smoke rose from the campfire, and the smoke looked back at him. This was not a properly made cooking fire. There were no rocks round it to stop it from spreading, and the grass around it was dry. Still, his eyes were on it now. If the fire spread, and the smoke grew, he could stamp on it and put it out. But never the whole fire. If he did, it would simply spring up somewhere else. Also, and the thought made Thunderpetal uneasy, he might need this fire some time. He pointed at the fire, the smoke.

“Behave now,” said Thunderpetal.

He closed his eyes, then opened them again. The pleasant lands on the back of Shen-zin Su greeted him. Next to him sat Huang, like him, deep in meditation. There was a small noise behind him, and Thunderpetal looked round to see Master Shang Xi. He had his staff in his hand, and a bag over his shoulder.

“Huang? Léi-shēng Huā-bàn? I am going on a journey, to the Wood of Staves. Do you wish to come with me? You may learn something. Also, in these uncertain times it is good not to travel alone.”

Thunderpetal got to his feet. “I will come, Master.”

“And so will I,” said Huang.

They walked along the road to what Master Shang Xi called headwards. “The Great Turtle does not always swim in the same direction, my friends. At the moment, he is heading to the North. It is a wonderful thing to see the sun rise in one place on one day, and in another the next.”

Master Shang Xi walked on, taking his time to see all the beauty around him. Huang and Thunderpetal walked on either side of him, keeping a sharp eye out for anything wanting to harm the Master. They came to a small village, but Shang Xi only waved at it.

“I have seen them many times. If I go there, they will want me to stay for dinner, and my time is short. This way, my friends.”

Shang Xi led them to a quiet place among the reeds. He recognised it as the place where he needed to be, though to Thunderpetal, it looked no different from any other place. Shang Xi sat down, and breathed in deep. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the flower necklace. He frowned at it. Then, he smiled at Huang and Thunderpetal.

“This place is where I went to talk to Bao Yu. It seems strange that she is not in her usual place. It will not be long now before we meet again.”

Thunderpetal’s eyes turned to Huang. Huang gave Master Shang Xi a long look, until he turned away from them, eyes far, far away. Huang shook his head sadly at Thunderpetal.

“Excuse me?” A young woman walked up to the master. “Are you Shang Xi?”

“Yes, my girl,” said Shang Xi. “What can I do for you?”

“Ji Firepaw sends me,” said the woman, with a bow. “My name is Sweet Fragrance of Violets. What is your need, Master?”

Shang Xi pointed a paw at the forest. “I must perform a ritual, for which I need some of the charms you can find in these woods. Please find some for me. Eight will suffice.”

Sweet Fragrance of Violets bowed to Shang Xi. “It shall be done, Master.”

She turned round and ran into the forest. Shang Xi gave Huang and Thunderpetal a look. “Please follow her, and see that she comes to no harm. I feel that Sweet Fragrance of Violets has a great role to play in the coming events.”

“Yes, Master,” said Thunderpetal. He and Huang ran into the forest.

Just as they spotted Sweet Fragrance of Violets reverently removing a charm from one of the trees, they were attacked. The creatures that attacked them were forest sprites, similar to the ones they had fought in the cave of meditation. These sprites were far more vicious, and clouds of anger surrounded them. Huang and Thunderpetal fought back to back. There was a loud cry, and Sweet Fragrance of Violet came flying at them in a flying kick that sent one of the creatures flying. When it landed, it stayed down. The three of them managed to kill all the sprites that attacked them. Then, they stood there, taking deep breaths. Sweet Fragrance of Violets looked at Huang and Thunderpetal.

“Uh, boys? What are you doing here? It’s dangerous. I’ve been trained to fight by Aysa Cloudsinger herself, but you guys?”

Thunderpetal opened his mouth to say something, but Huang stepped forward and bowed.

“You have our thanks. If not for you, we would surely have come to great harm. Do you mind if we walk with you, for our safety?”

Sweet Fragrance of Violets pulled a face. “Well, I’m supposed to be working for Master Shang Xi. But I suppose I can’t just leave you here. Just try not to attract attention, will you?”

Huang grabbed his fist, and bowed his head to Sweet Fragrance of Violets. “Thank you, miss…”

“My friends call me Violet.”

Thunderpetal and Huang found Master Shang Xi where they left him, and Violet presented the charms. Shang Xi laid the charms out in a circle and performed a small ritual. When it was complete, he gave a small nod.

“Sweet Fragrance of Violets, you have lived all your life on the shell of the Great Turtle. But now, Shen-zin Su is ill, and we are all in danger. You were the one who found the Elemental Spirits. They are gathered now, together with Ji Firepaw and Aysa Cloudsinger. Go to them now, and speak with Shen-zin Su, that you may heal him. The fate of the world now lies upon your shoulders. Léi-shēng Huā-bàn, Huang, go with her. Aid her in whatever way you can.”

“Master?” Thunderpetal hesitated. “Are we to leave you alone here?”

“No, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. It is I who will leave you. My time is come. Farewell, and remember what I have taught you.”

Master Shang Xi closed his eyes. As they watched, breathlessly, his body became transparent, then faded into nothing. Thunderpetal stood still, watching. He wished to wave a paw through the place where the Master had been, but thought it disrespectful. There was a hand on his shoulder, and Violet looked at him with a kind eye.

“He taught me how to confront my inner anger,” said Thunderpetal. “I have come here on the wings of the dead, led by the dead. Why do I still live?”

“To that, there is no answer,” said Huang. “Miss Violet? Please lead on.”

Violet put her hands on Thunderpetal’s shoulders, looked into his eyes, then gave him a hug.

“I’m glad you are still alive,” said Violet. She smiled, turned round and ran in the direction of Shen-zin Su’s head, leaving Thunderpetal rather dazed until Huang punched him in the shoulder.

They ran after Violet.

The flight was quiet, apart from the occasional rush of flame from the heater. Aysa Cloudsinger was at the controls. She made it look like she was steering the balloon with her mind, even while she was bickering with Ji Firepaw. They had obviously known each other for a long time. Violet was glued to the side of the basket, eyes wide open in wonder at the sight of the world slowly disappearing into the distance. Huang stood next to her, pretending to pray, but ready to grab her if she’d lean over too far.

Thunderpetal looked up at a shout from Aysa Cloudsinger.

“Shen-zin Su, we are the descendants of Liu Lang. We’ve sensed your pain, and we want to help. What ails you Shen-zin Su? What can we do?”

Thunderpetal’s mouth fell open. What he’d thought to be a mountain, slowly opened an eye, larger than a house, larger than a city. Then, in Thunderpetal’s mind, there was a voice deeper than anything he’d ever heard.

“I am in pain, but it warms my heart that Liu Lang’s grandchildren have not forgotten me. There is a thorn in my side. I cannot remove it. The pain is unbearable, and I can no longer swim straight. Please grandchildren, can you remove this thorn? I cannot do so on my own.”

“Of course, Shen-zin Su!” said Aysa, “But your shell is large, and I do not know where this thorn could be.”

Shen-zin Su’s voice sounded laboured. “It is in the forest where your feet do not walk. Continue along the mountains and you will find it.”

Aysa raised her voice over the wind. “We will find it, and we will remove it. You have our word!”

Aysa pulled the cord. The flame under the balloon roared, and the balloon shot up, found the right gust of wind and sailed off.

“The forest where your feet do not walk,” said Ji Firepaw. “A nice little riddle. Someone ought to explain to Shen-zin su the points of the compass. It would make our dealings with him much easier.”

Violet looked at Aysa. “But you know what Shen-zin Su meant, don’t you?”

Aysa shook her head, making the balloon go higher and higher. “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“But then… Why didn’t you ask?”

Aysa looked at Violet. “Sweet Fragrance of Violets, Shen-zin Su thought we were worthy of his words. For him even to gaze upon you is an honour. Each word from such a being is a precious gift. When we do not understand, we do not go: Huh?” Aysa’s smile faded. “Also, it hurts him to speak. We must find this ‘thorn’, though we may be searching for a while.”

Thunderpetal looked at Huang, and raised a hand. “Mistress Cloudsinger? I believe we have the answer. We may have arrived on this… thorn.”

“You stuck the thorn in Shen-zin Su’s side?” Ji Firepaw snorted. “That wasn’t very clever. It’s all your fault then? Good. I will find you a pair of tweezers and leave you to sort it out.”

“Shut your mouth Ji,” said Aysa, without looking at him. The way she said it suggested that it was a familiar phrase. “Where is this thorn, then?”

Thunderpetal looked round. In the far distance, he could see the roof of the temple. He stood with his back to Shen-zin Su’s head, pointed one hand at the temple, the other hand at the place where he remembered coming ashore.

“That way.”

The basket tilted worryingly as all the Pandaren leaned to look.

“By the beard of my Ancestor,” said Ji Firepaw. “I should have known that Shen-zin Su’s idea of a thorn is not the same as mine. We’re going to have some trouble getting that out.”

“We cannot do this by ourselves,” said Aysa. “We will need the help of many. It will require us to put all of our heads together.”

“Speaking of heads,” said Ji Firepaw. “Where is Jojo Ironbrow?”

“Breaking things,” said Aysa. “Which was not what I was thinking of.”

“I brought him a bunch of stones,” said Violet. “He broke those with no problem. This… ship is made of wood. He may be able to help.”

“Brute force will not help us here,” said Aysa. “We may end up doing more harm than good. I think we need to talk to Elder Shaopai. He will know what to do.”

“Then I will talk to him,” said Violet, strapping on one of the parachutes that were part of the balloon’s equipment. “He’s in the village below, isn’t he?”

“Mandori village, yes,” said Ji.

“Alright then,” said Violet. Before anyone could speak, she climbed onto the side of the balloon, blew them a kiss, and jumped down with a delighted scream. A few anxious heartbeats later, the parachute opened and Violet slowly descended towards the village.

“Hah! I like this girl,” said Ji Firepaw. “Doesn’t sit still, but gets on with it.”

Huang handed Thunderpetal a parachute, but Aysa grabbed it.

“No. I’m setting down by the crash site. I’ll need you two there. You’ve been there before.”

“But Mistress,” said Huang. “I fear for Violet’s safety.”

Aysa looked at the small spot of the parachute. “She’ll be fine. She has a greater destiny than simply going splat on the floor.”

Aysa set down her balloon a few hundred yards from the wreck of the airship, threw out the anchor, and jumped out. Ji Firepaw jumped out, waved, and ran off into the woods.

“Léi-shēng Huā-bàn, Huang, follow me. We are going to have a word with the sailors of that vessel.”

A little way away, the strangers had set up a camp. Healers were busy tending to injured sailors. Huang saw that some had stab wounds as well as bruises and broken bones from being tossed about. Without a word, he walked over to the most severe casualty that wasn’t being seen to and went to work. Hairless faces looked at him strangely, then saw what Huang was doing, and left him to it. Meanwhile, Aysa Cloudsinger was talking to the woman who was in charge. They were mainly using their hands and feet, as the language sounded to him like yowls punctuated by rolling noises. By means of pointing and waving, the head woman made it clear that there were many wounded, that some of her sailors were still swimming or drowning in the sea, and that supplies were low. Finally, Aysa nodded and turned to Thunderpetal.

“These are the Chiu-man,” said Aysa. “Huang is doing what he can healing their wounded. Could you see if you can find some of their supplies?”

“Yes, Mistress,” said Thunderpetal.

They had a rather busy afternoon. Thunderpetal dragged three half-drowned Chiu-man out of the sea, and collected all kinds of stuff from the water. To make matters worse, nightmarish creatures had emerged from the sea to prey on the Chiu-man and their supplies. Thunderpetal had needed to come to Aysa’s aid as she fought one of them. They had finally defeated the beast and its minions, and Aysa had leaned on his shoulder and given him a grin, a memory that would help him through many a difficult moment. Thunderpetal was sitting by the fire, clutching a large mug of tea Huang had given him. A familiar voice called out to him.

“Léi-shēng Huā-bàn! So good to see you. Are you alright?”

“I am good, Miss Violet. Just tired. How are you?”

“All good,” said Violet. “I’m looking for Mistress Aysa. Do you know where she is? I’ve got… news for her.”

Thunderpetal looked at Violet’s face. She looked a bit worried. No doubt Mistress Aysa could help her with whatever the matter was. He pointed a hand towards the tent, and Violet ran off. Thunderpetal bent over his tea. It was strong, and had an entire beehive’s worth of honey in it. Huang knew how to restore people’s spirit.


Thunderpetal looked up. Mistress Aysa was clearly not pleased with something. She was pulling up her sleeves, with an expression like thunder on her face.

“Violet. Huang. Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. Follow me. We have to knock some sense into that idiot’s head.”

“Well then, you come up with a better plan. Don’t hang about, though. Time’s a wasting.”

Aysa sniffed, and walked over to the wreckage. Ji Firepaw sat down on the ground with a thud. He looked up at Thunderpetal.

“I have watched her train, you know,” said Ji, softly. “Her form is perfect. When she assumes the stance of the crane, there isn’t a single muscle in her body that is not under her conscious control, either tensed or relaxed. If she was fighting me, I’d be powerless to resist because I’d want to watch her.” Ji gave a low rumble. “And still, she’s just standing there doing nothing!”

Aysa looked over her shoulder. “I’m not doing nothing. I’m thinking. Try it some time.”

“Pah. Thought of anything good yet?”

Aysa turned round, shoulders sagging.

“No. I suppose your idea…”

“Excellent,” said Ji. “The explosives are stacked. Sweet Fragrance of Violets? Would you do the honours?”

Ji pulled a burning stick out of the fire and offered it to Violet. Violet looked at Aysa. Aysa tilted her head a bit, and Violet took the torch from Ji’s hand. She walked onto the ship, lit the fuse, and came running back as though the Sha of Anger, Doubt, Fear, Hate and Discontent were all after her.

“Get down!”

Aysa Cloudsinger looked on in horror. Red blood was flowing like a river into the sea, and the ground was shaking. Shen-zin Su was dying, and they had done it. The shipwreck was gone. Thunderpetal looked round to see several of the Olu-ku walk towards them, they were wearing robes and staffs were in their hands. They would never be able to defeat them all. From another direction came a line of Chiu-man, looking grim-faced at the Olu-ku. Battle was about to be joined, more death upon a dying creature’s back. Ji Firepaw ran forward and screamed.

“Do you have healers? Then heal, you motherless bastards. Heal.”

One of the Olu-ku looked at the line of his enemies, then at the gaping wound in Shen-zin Su’s side. He stood on the edge, raised his arms and magic flowed. At that, orders were shouted, and a line of healers, both Chiu-man and Olu-ku formed. All combined their strength.

There was a cry, and Thunderpetal looked to see the sea-creatures walk from the water and attack the healers. Easy prey. Thunderpetal rolled forward, and knocked the creatures back into the sea. Aysa Cloudsinger stood beside him. So did Ji Firepaw. So did several of the Chiu-man and Olu-ku. Together they held back the attack until the sea once more ran clear. A great shiver went through the ground, and the sun moved in the sky as Shen-zin Su turned North.

The bed, to be honest, was too small for two. If there were two of you, you’d have to lie very close together. What a bother. Raven had come out of the Tram needing a stiff drink, but this worked just as well. One of Shaw’s arms was around her, the other hand was on her thigh, fingers slowly moving.

“Do all your new employees get this, Mr. Shaw?”

“Not from me personally,” said Shaw. “But a thorough evaluation of their capabilities is an important part of the process. And I must say that thing you did just now was very good.”

“Must have been fun with Edda.”

She could feel him laughing more than hear it.

“Edda Flintforge is very good at what she does. Not many people can turn the scene of a bloodbath into a fresh clean room within the hour.”

Raven turned round, so that his hand was now on her bottom, which was nice. She looked at his face from a few inches away.

“How about the girl you sent away to be caught?”

Shaw’s face closed up as if a drawbridge was raised, doors closed and locked.

“Did Mavis tell you her name?”


“Good. Our people in Northrend are still safe because of what she told the enemy. She was a true hero. Better than me or you.”

“Look. I get that I’m playing with the big boys now. And that whenever you send me on a mission, there’s a good chance I won’t be coming back. That’s part of the game, and if I didn’t like it I shouldn’t have put my chips down. But if you ever try to pull a trick like that on me…” Raven touched Shaw’s face. “I’ll kill you.”

“First, my dear,” said Shaw. “You don’t get to choose what missions I send you on. But leaving that aside, it’s unlikely that you’d ever take orders directly from me.”

Shaw’s hand slowly slid up Raven’s back, till his hand was on her breast, and his thumb was underneath. She knew he could feel her heart beating like that. You could kill someone by breaking her rib and pushing it into her heart. Raven felt her breath quicken, and a flutter in her stomach at the thought that she was in bed with a man who would kill her if he needed to. Their lips were almost touching.

“Anyway,” said Shaw, “You wouldn’t be suited to a job like that. You’re not an assassin. You’re going to do your stint of dirty work in the Fourth Finger, then move on to the Third, and once you’re there, you’ll never leave. You will love it there. Those stunning grey eyes are going to see things that the Horde really doesn’t want them to, and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

“Good,” said Raven. “Now that’s out of the way, about that thing you mentioned.”


Raven rolled over on top of Shaw.

“Want me to do it again?”

“Oh yes.”

“There you go, Aubrey. Clean botty again. Time for your nap.”

Interalia pulled the blanket over Aubrey, then picked up the lock box with Unpickable Lock Mark Twenty Eight. This one was important. Nix was going to use this on his masterpiece, the Titansteel Lunch Box. He was out in Northrend now, mining the titansteel. Interalia sat back in her chair. So far, she liked this place. It had once been an office, but Boilerman had turned it into a home. Some of the changes could still be seen. An OP-250 water heater, fed straight from a mountain stream. Far too many steam outlets, gas light everywhere. When they left, they had pulled out the mezzanine floors, but they had been left in a shed and Nix had put them back in so that they now had upstairs bedrooms for Aubrey and themselves. It was the nicest home she’d ever had, and it was hers.

Interalia had been a thief, then an intelligence officer or sneak for Big Lug over in Redridge, and now? A full-time mummy? Nix had told her no, and that as far as he was concerned, she had made his locks what they were as much as he had. Which was very nice of him. He’d made her a full partner in his business, which was also very nice of him, especially when he told her what some of his locks went for. And the silly git was still completely head over heels in love with her, which was beyond nice, bordering on ‘Trusting Fool’. Didn’t he realise that she was a rogue, a thief, and a pathological liar? Funny thing was, he did. And still, he trusted her.

Stupid git.

She hoped he was alright.

Nix hefted his big bag of ore on his back. An amazing amount of ore went into making even just one bar of titansteel, and he’d been mining his fingers to the bone. He was now standing at the north bank of a small lake in the middle of a steaming hot jungle called Sholazar Basin. He was about to take the chopper to Hemet Nessingwary’s base camp for the night. Another week or so, and he’d have exactly twice as much ore as he’d calculated he needed. It was easier to mine a bit more ore here, than it was to come back here once he’d run out. Buying the stuff on the auction house wasn’t allowed, and there’d be a functionary looking at his fingers as he smelted every lump of metal.

“Nix Steambender! You Light-bereft little delinquent. What are you doing here?”

Nix stared at the flightmaster, looked better, then recognised…

“Marvin Sprocket.”

Wobblesprocket if you please. I’m here incognito.”

Nix laughed. “Who’d know it was you?”

Marvin slapped Nix’ shoulder. “The authorities, actually. When I was doing my thing in Gnomeregan, I thought I’d drop the wobble for commercial reasons. How are you?”

“Um. Married, young daughter, working on my masterpiece.”

“Good, good. Nice girl?”

Nix’ eyes shone. “One of the nastiest you can imagine. One in a million. Best in the world.”

“Well, I never would have expected that from you. Well done.”

“Um yeah,” said Nix. “Sorry about Gnomeregan and all that.”

Marvin laughed. “I won’t deny it, I had fantasies of kicking your little butts up and down all the ramps in the place. But I’m easy about it now. If you nasty gits hadn’t driven me out of the place, then I would never have met my wife.”

“Wife?” Marvin had been a dedicated bachelor. As far as Nix knew, he had been all his life. “Is she here?”

“Standing behind you,” said Marvin. “Nix Steambender? Meet Tamara.”

Nix turned round. Behind him stood a woman, with long brown hair, wearing a pair of overalls and an Arclight spanner in her hand. Even with the dark smudges of oil on her face, and the fact that she was, not to get racist about it, a Human, she was actually quite beautiful, especially when she smiled. And she looked like she did that a lot.

“My,” said Nix. “You’re a tall one.”

At the top of the watchtower, with his back to the merlon, sat Richard Sparkbolt. Half sitting, half lying against him, with her head on his shoulder, was Trixie Steambender. They were watching the sunset. Normally, having been in Sentinel Hill this long, they would have been on their third round of love-making. But now, with Trixie actually staying here, they could give it a miss and actually enjoy each other’s company. It was new, and in a way, exciting. Neither of them spoke. Nothing much to say that couldn’t wait. Richard ran his finger through Trixie’s pink hair. Trixie wriggled her shoulders a bit. Richard looked at her face. Her eyes were closed.

“Hey. Are you asleep?”




“I love you.”

“I know,” said Trixie. “I love you too.”

Richard pulled her a bit closer, wrapped his arms round her a bit tighter.

And that, apparently, was that.

Griggin shut down the big OP-6000 boiler and de-pressurised it. Tests had been successful. He already had his first order for the thing. Apparently, they were going to rebuild the Old Barracks after knocking down what little of it remained. They needed hot water. Griggin had it. Nix had written that he’d met Martin out in Northrend, married to a Human. Of all the things Griggin had imagined Marvin might be doing, that definitely came last. He’d been to Ironforge for some parts and a cup of coffee with Interalia. Aubrey was growing. Apparently, she’d lifted her head and looked around. Soon, she would start rolling over. The old place looked good. Soon, it would no longer be Steambender Manor 2.1, but Shutfast Manor 1.0. Griggin had looked at Nix’ designs. It was good for Nix to be worried about graduating, but Griggin didn’t worry a bit.

He hadn’t been in the second basement since they’d defeated Neera. The body would be long gone, dissolved into nothing as the spirit that inhabited it had dissipated. The memory never would. He hadn’t done any magic since. Chief Warlock Sindala was giving him the time to work through the experience. He was good with that sort of thing. He’d have to go down there, eventually. He might not like it, but his mind was still connected to that part of the Twisting Nethers where Daemons lived. He had to keep his hand in, or Daemons would have him for lunch. Well, first, let’s see about this pump.

There was a noise behind him, and then soft arms round his middle and Lenna’s cheek rubbing against his.

“You need a shave,” said Lenna.

“I’ll see to it immediately,” said Griggin.

Lenna did not let go. “They’re all gone. Nix, Trixie, Interalia, little Aubrey, all gone.”

“It was bound to happen some time,” said Griggin. He gently stroked Lenna’s hand.

“Even little Bieslook is off to school,” said Lenna. “Until four. It’s so quiet. Nobody in the house. Only you and me. I feel a bit sad about that, my love.”

“Yes,” said Griggin. “So do I.”

“Bored feeling sad,” said Lenna. “When was the last time we had cherries and icecream?”

Griggin thought back. “Surely, that was before Trixie. Was it before Nix even?”

“I think it was. In fact, I’m sure it was.”

“Was it the time when you dropped…”

“Mm hmm,” said Lenna.

“Into your…”

“Cold, cold, cold,” said Lenna.

Griggin turned his eyes to Lenna’s.

“Can you still do that thing with a cherry stalk?”

“Want to see me do it?”

Thunderpetal walked up to Aysa Cloudsinger, in her tent on Little Pandaria, and handed her the scroll. She bowed her head as she accepted it.

“I believe you were right, Mistress,” said Thunderpetal. “Master Ji Firepaw was being an idiot.”

Aysa laughed. “Master Ji Firepaw is an idiot. But on that day, his plan worked, and Shen-zin Su swims today because of it. May we never meet again before this war is over, and Alliance and Horde are enemies no more.”

“That may be some time,” said Thunderpetal.

“True,” said Aysa. “I have a job for you and Huang. We have learned what we can by sitting here. We need to explore. Many of us have gone already. They are learning, and showing the Alliance that we are good friends.”

“You wish me to seek wisdom, Mistress?”

“Yes. I would like you and Huang to go to a place called the Redridge Mountains, and learn of the ways of the people there, then write to me.”

“It will be a pleasure, Mistress,” said Thunderpetal. “How long will I be gone?”

“As long as you need, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn. There is no hurry. Life is to be savoured.”

Two Pandaren riding tortoises came trotting down the road from Stormwind, to a place called Goldshire. As Ni-chi had said, it had a bit of a reputation for sin and debauchery. Due to this and that, Thunderpetal and Huang were late, but the Sha of Wanderlust had struck them deep, and they had decided to travel by night if they had to. Still, it was time for dinner, and Huang suggested seeing what the local cuisine was like. They got off their tortoises and stepped into the Lion’s Pride Inn. They stood still. It was quite busy. The noise was ear-shattering, but so far, the mood seemed to be happy. People of all shapes and sizes were hugging each other, drinking, sitting on each other’s lap in dark corners. Huang leaned over to Thunderpetal. He had to shout in his ear to make himself heard.

“I think the kitchen may be closed, and I do not think the drink here is brewed for flavour.”

“Let’s leave,” said Thunderpetal.

They stepped outside, ears ringing.

“This must be what Ni-chi was talking about.”

“Yes,” said Huang. “Mistress Aysa wishes us to study the ways of the Alliance people, but perhaps we should know of their normal behaviour before we can say what social rules are being broken here.”

The door opened, and someone came staggering out, a half-full mug of vile liquor in her hand. From the descriptions, Thunderpetal recognised her as a D’len-ai woman. She spotted them and threw her arms in the air, spilling drink all over the place.

“Pandaren! Ni-hao” She took a few uncertain steps towards Thunderpetal, wrapped her arms round him, and closed her eyes. Thunderpetal looked at Huang.

Huang held his stomach and laughed. “How do you do it, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn? Please tell me your secret.”

“I… I don’t know.”

“Hmm,” the Draenei woman said. “Furry toes. I love furry toes. They’re so…” and she said a word in her own language they could not understand, but was certain to be nice.

“This woman has had too much to drink,” said Thunderpetal. She started to slide down, and Thunderpetal could only just grab her under her arms to pull her up again.

Huang grinned. “Do you think?”

The Draenei rubbed her cheek against Thunderpetal’s chest.

“Soft,” she murmured. “Hmmm.”

Thunderpetal pulled the woman up, and lifted her up in his arms.

“Whee,” she said, and giggled.

“We cannot leave her like this, Huang. We must make sure she is well.”

Huang gave Thunderpetal a look. “Do you remember what happened the last time you tried to do that, Léi-shēng Huā-bàn?”

Thunderpetal grinned. “Yes. I gained many wonderful new friends. Let’s get her inside.”

Huang put a hand on Thunderpetal’s shoulder, and together, they carried their new friend into the tavern.


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