Araatris: The trio of serpent dragons circle once over the village of Zhu’s Watch, Mu Lin leaning over the saddle, frowning at the grey, scarred land below.
Rhoelyn: Nysse raises her voice over the wind, “Is that because of the sha?” She frowns in worry. Mu Lin nods. “This is what the sha is doing to our lands.”
Araatris: With light, sure movements, the Pandaren directs Hushao to a clear area on the outskirts of the village, the other dragons following suit.
Rhoelyn: The huntress slides down and looks around with a sigh. “This feels like an ominous start.” Quaed strides to her, rasping, “This is our hope?”
Araatris: Mu Lin looks grim. “Let us form two groups and explore. Jay, Su Le, Quaed – you scout north. We will explore the south half of the village.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse nods. “Let’s meet back in an hour.” The others agree as the split into the village. She cringes as they step into the greying landscape.
Araatris: Nataro frowns as they walk, lifting his snout to the air. “This place smells of desolation and despair. The spirits have abandoned it entirely.”
Rhoelyn: The huntress frowns worriedly. “But this is a village. There should be pandaren here. Did they run away?” She kneels and checks the ground.
Araatris: The footprints in the sooty soil are faded and old, obscured by dragging prints that Nysse finds reminiscent of the rot fiends from Grizzly Hills.
Rhoelyn: “Something else may have been here… Let’s look for people. Maybe someone can tell us what happened.” Nysse stands and heads further in.
Araatris: The three of them check houses and storage buildings along the way, but the first half dozen seem abandoned. Food rots and plants go untended.
Rhoelyn: Nysse catches sight of a furred form in the street. “Look there!” Before she can bolt forward, Mu Lin grabs her arm. “Wait. Look at the body.”
Araatris: The form is wreathed in misty shadows of the same type, but far more than, the ones they’ve seen on their companions. They make it colorless.
Rhoelyn: The huntress bites her lip. “We have to check on them. They could still be alive.” Mu Lin shakes his head. “It is too dangerous. We cannot.”
Araatris: “But-” Nataro interrupts. “We must find the hozen with the supposed cure. The state of the village is not our concern. We must not risk infection.”
Rhoelyn: She clenches her hands, but calmly comments. “I don’t think the hozen’s going to be in the open. He’s probably hiding away from the sha.”
Araatris: Mu Lin nods. “We should search for the public buildings. The inn should be somewhere near the end of the main street.” He points farther south.
Rhoelyn: “Then let’s go.” The huntress strides ahead, attempting to take calming breaths as they run across more ‘sha fallen’. Something falls over nearby.
Araatris: As the dust settles, a greyish creature slithers over the fallen sack. It lets out a moaning cry, waving black tendrils at them as it approaches.
Rhoelyn: Nysse shoots two arrows even as Nataro’s lightning sparks across the ground. The creature dies with a horrific screech. Nysse shudders.
Araatris: With the death, a fallen Pandaren near them shivers and stirs, groaning. He sits up and looks around, color returning to his form. “Wh-whuh…?”
Rhoelyn: With a startled look, Nysse strides forward and crouches by him. “Hey there. How do you feel?” The pandaren stares at her in confusion.
Araatris: “W-what’re you? An’ how’d you get here?” Before she can answer, he looks around, blinking dark eyes at the village. “What’d you do to our home?”
Rhoelyn: “I… I didn’t do anything.” Nysse stutters. Mu Lin puts a paw on her shoulder. “She is right. We are trying to understand what happened here.”
Araatris: He looks at Mu Lin with relief. “It just… spread through the village til nobody could lift a paw. What was the point? It was all just… just…”
Rhoelyn: “…pointless,” he finishes. Mu Lin frowns. “Did you see anything unusual before hand?” Nysse stands amd steps back to give the Pandaren space.
Araatris: The villager frowns. “Hope started to flee when the land went black. We couldn’t seem to do anything to stop it.” He sighs and looks down.
Rhoelyn: The huntress mumbles to Nataro. “I want to look around. I feel like someone is watching us. I’ll stay in sight.” The tauren nods. “Be careful.”
Araatris: Nysse wanders away as Mu Lin continues to question the villager, her bow and an arrow ready. She follows the sensation to a stilted house.
Rhoelyn: “Is someone there?” Nysse peers around the stilts before walking up the stairs. She freezes when she hears movement, trying to pinpoint it.
Araatris: The huntress backs up a few steps, bringing her bow up. “Come out. I don’t want to hurt you.” Something skitters across the roof above her head.
Rhoelyn: She catches a glimpse of something brown. “Please don’t run away. We just want to know what happened here.” The sound stops around the corner.
Araatris: A voice comes back to her, tenor and punctuated with guttural grunts. “Ook? Not dooker or crackpot crazymook? You won’t spiney poor old Mik-Toc?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse frowns in confusion. “I’m not going to hurt you if that’s what you mean and not crazy. Come out.” A monkey face peers around the corner.
Araatris: The chocolate brown hozen blinks down his round snout at her before stepping around the corner and crouching, his knuckles against the dirt.
Rhoelyn: “Your name is Mik-Toc?” Nysse smiles at the hozen’s nod. “I’m Nysse. Do you know what happened here?” She waves towards the fallen Pandaren.
Araatris: His tail twitches as he looks at her, scratching his head. “What kinda dooks is you? All shiny-smooth and colorful. Mooks doesn’t ook green!”
Rhoelyn: Her brow furrows. “I’m a night elf from far away from here. We don’t usually have fur except our hair. Green is normal. My sister’s is silver.”
Araatris: Mik-Toc grunts, ambling closer. “Night elf mooks? Them furrydooks got sick and crazymooks! Superlookey sad and useless.” He reaches for her.
Rhoelyn: Nysse bites her lip nervously. “What are you doing?” He touches her hair and leans forward, sniffing it. “Your green ook smell like tree.”
Araatris: The huntress blushes and mumbles, “Elune… Not that again.” She manages to force a weak smile and brush his hands away. “Is anyone else not sick?”
Rhoelyn: The furry head shakes. “All furrydooks sick and sad. No moving. Just Mik-toc here.” Nysse watches him. “Do you know of any way to help them?”
Araatris: “Mask shoved the scrabblies out, but they’s mean scrabblies. Mik-Toc is no dooker for stabbing and spining like Ken-Ken.” He frowns.
Rhoelyn: The huntress pinches her nose as she thinks. “Mask pushes scrabblies. Mik-toc, are the scrabblies the creatures with all the tentacles?”
Araatris: He nods, scowling. “Rotten, scrabbley, slappy mooks, those dookers. Fuzzydooks isn’t happygood until they’s ooked off for good.” Mik-Toc shrugs.
Rhoelyn: Nysse looks a bit more hopeful. “Do you… do you think that you could lead us to the mask?” She glances at the others still with the Pandaren.
Araatris: The monkey-man nods. “Mik-Toc ooked it safe in hidey spot.” He tilts his head at her, pulling back his lips to grin. “Nysse mook wants it?”
Rhoelyn: The huntress nods and smiles. “If it will help sick people, yes. Can you help us, Mik-Toc? Would you mind showing us to where you hid it?”
Araatris: He considers her, eyeing her bow. “You’s good at spining scrabblies?” Nysse nods, biting her lip. “Then you spines these fuzzymooks’ scrabblies?”
Rhoelyn: “I shot an arrow at one. Are there more you want us to clear out first?” The huntress notices the others looking her way and waves them over.
Araatris: As Nataro and Mu Lin approach, he nods and repeats his earlier statement. “Fuzzydooks isn’t happygood until scrabblies ooked off for good.”
Rhoelyn: “So, the mask won’t help unless we off the scrabblies first?” Nysse queries. The hozen nods again. She turns to face them with a sigh.
Rhoelyn: “Seems we have to kill these sha things and it’ll help the village, then he has a mask that keeps them away. Mik-toc said he hid it.”
Araatris: The others consider the hozen before Mu Lin questions him. “A mask? It repels the sha?” “Makes the sadmooks think happy,” Mik-Toc clarifies.
Rhoelyn: Nysse frowns. “Will they stay happy if the mask is removed?” The hozen shrugs. Sighing, she offers, “It’s similar to the rumor. It’s worth trying.”
Araatris: Mu Lin nods and steps up to Mik-Toc. “We will help you destroy the… scrabblies if you show us the mask and how it works.” He offers his hand.
Rhoelyn: The hozen nods and spits on his palm, grasping Mu Lin’s hand. “Spine scrabbles, then we talk mask, furrymook. They over there.” He points behind him.
Araatris: The Pandaren grits out a grin and turns back to the others, wiping his hand on his vest. Nysse readies her bow as they venture across the path.
Rhoelyn: Behind the building is a pitch black pit with more of the sha spawned scrabblies. Nysse shudders seeing so many together. “So many of them…”
Araatris: Nataro folds his arms, his gaze intense. “We should bring the others here. This is risky with just us. You don’t even have your wolf.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse starts to protest then presses her hand to where the necklace would have rested. With a sigh, she nods, “Yes, I think that’s a good idea.”
Araatris: Mu Lin heads back to Mik-Toc and the survivor, asking them to join as they head north to the rendezvous. Beyond the dragons, a ruckus resounds.
Rhoelyn: The huntress shares a look with the other two before Mu Lin nods. She and Nataro run ahead. Jay yells, “Watch out! Another one! Over there!”
Araatris: Quaed yanks his daggers out of a grey-black sha creature and dodges away just in time to evade the tendril that snaps, whip-like, by his head.
Rhoelyn: The night elf rocks back on her heels as she draws her bow and fires at the sha creature following the undead, then she darts towards Su Le.
Araatris: The Pandaren fends off a pair of fiends, her weapons a blur gripped in her fast-moving fists. A flailing tendril cracks against her shoulder.
Rhoelyn: Nysse kicks one back, firing an arrow point blank into its sludgy skin. Nataro crushes the other in a rocky fist. “Are you injured, Su Le?”
Araatris: She shakes her head, rolling her shoulder out before she slams her weaponized fist into another. “I am fine save bruises and annoyance.”
Rhoelyn: Quaed removes his daggers from another one and rasps, “If we get too close to them I suspect it will be more than an annoyance. Stay sharp.”
Araatris: Jay bashes his lion’s head shield into the one in front of him, shoving it back. “What are these things? And why are there so many?”
Rhoelyn: “Sha creatures I think.” Nysse fires another shot into the fray. “We-” She kicks one that gets to close and it grabs her ankle. “Rot! Let go!”
Araatris: One of Quaed’s spines pierces the tentacle. It immediately goes limp and numb. Nysse leaps back, sending a pair of arrows flying.
Rhoelyn: The creature falls and Nysse continues, “We found a hozen that said we needed to clear them out and help the town, but he mentioned a mask.”
Araatris: Another falls as Jay slices through it with his bright sword. “Whether we want to or not, I guess we’re helping clear them out. What about a mask?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse holds her arrow as Quaed ducks across the battle. “He said the mask would make them happy, but he’s hidden it until we deal with… this.”
Araatris: Crackling lightning drowns out part of Jay’s response. “-ky people and masks? This is how we’re going to save Miss Rhoelyn?” Nataro just grunts.
Rhoelyn: “I don’t know, Jay, but I’m not sure we,” she pauses to dart away from a sha tentacle, “can be picky. Rhoe and Leo don’t have many choices.”
Araatris: “Who cares where it comes from,” Quaed growls, “as long as it works.” He tosses his dagger, sinking it into a fiend menacing Su Le from behind.
Rhoelyn: Jay grumbles as he steps on a tentacle with a metal boot and stabs another sha, “Maybe it because it sounds too perfect. I don’t like it.”
Araatris: Su Le teases, slamming another into the ground and watching it dissolve to white smoke, “Jay, I have observed there are few things you do like.”
Rhoelyn: The guard pauses to catch his breath, ”I like plenty of things. Food, sleep, and a warm bed to name a few.” He slashes one creeping up on Nysse.
Araatris: Mu Lin interjects, yanking at one’s grip on his arm, “He – ugh – seemed to like Lana’s spiced boar bao quite well.” He kicks it in the face.
Rhoelyn: The female pandaren laughs, “That’s right. He ate nearly as much as you did, Mu Lin. Though I’m certain that Nysse ate most of the dumplings.”
Araatris: The huntress blushes a bit around a grin, firing off a few arrows and turning Mu Lin’s target into a pincushion. “They were delicious!”
Rhoelyn: “Lana appreciated your enthusiasm,” Se Le adds as she punches another sha. Quaed growls, “I thought it’d be quieter without Leothir. I was wrong.”
Araatris: “Mmm,” Nataro rumbles, crushing a couple more under a slab of rock. “Only you are so concerned about killing in silence, Quaed.”
Rhoelyn: Quaed rasps as he spines another creature. “That’s because death should be somber and silent.” Nysse smiles. “We need some stress relief.”
Araatris: The undead grunts his disagreement, yanking a pair of spines from one dissolving fiend and spearing them into the next. “Stress keeps you wary.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse sighs, “Stress also leads to mistakes. As my friend Val would say, it makes you trigger happy.” They circle around the village as they fight.
Araatris: It’s nearly an hour later before they get a break from the constant influx of fiends. The huntress stretches her shoulder, grabbing her arrow back.
Rhoelyn: She rubs at her face. “How’s everyone holding up?” Her gaze sweeps over the others. Mu Lin ties a bandage on Su Le’s arm. “Tired, but fine.”
Araatris: Nataro tosses down a warding totem before glancing through his bag. “I hope there aren’t many more. I believe we are getting low on… everything.”
Rhoelyn: Quaed nods. “We need to finish.” Jay calls back over his shoulder. “Did we get them all? I’m not seeing any more over here. Maybe we’re done.”
Araatris: “None remain over here,” Mu Lin says. “Hmph,” Quaed grouches. “Pretty sure we’ve killed about one of ‘em for every person in the village.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse blinks and turns toward him. “Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why killing that one helped the pandaren. These are their manifestations.”
Araatris: “Well, that would explain this…” The huntress looks up and follows Jay’s point to see the villagers in the street stirring and looking around.
Rhoelyn: The huntress bites her lip and gestures Mu Lin and Su Le towards the villagers. “Perhaps you all should go. We’d be unfamiliar to them.”
Araatris: As the two serpent riders make their way toward the villagers, Nataro sighs and sits on the steps of a stilted house. He leans back wearily.
Rhoelyn: Making her way to him, Nysse frowns and leans against the stairs. “Are you alright, Nataro? Is it that difficult to work with the spirits here?”
Araatris: “Yes,” he rumbles, looking over at her, “And yes. The spirits are reluctant to touch so much as a pebble of this rotten place. It takes coaxing.”
Rhoelyn: Quaed rasps dryly, “What? No concern for the walking corpse?” Nysse frowns at the undead rogue as he wipes off and stores his weapons.
Araatris: Nataro raises a brow at him. “Are you hurt?” “No,” he answers. “Are you jealous?” the shaman continues. “No!” Quaed growls it, frowning.
Rhoelyn: Nysse covers her mouth to hide a grin. “Are you doing fine, Quaed? You didn’t lose any of your weapons, did you? I had to go back for my arrows.”
Araatris: The rogue snorts. “Got ‘em all and a few more you don’t know about, girl. A good sneak leaves nothing.” He waves a dismissive hand. “I’m fine.”
Rhoelyn: She notices Jay’s gaze and strides over to him. He mumbles, “Maybe it’s not my place, Miss Whispersong, but should you be that casual with them?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse sighs and murmurs, “Jay, I know what they did. I haven’t forgotten, but it’s not going to help us save Rhoe. They have their own problems.”
Araatris: “And when we solve their problems, they’re going to become our problem.”Jay frowns and then catches himself. “Um… that is… with all due respect.”
Rhoelyn: She runs her hand through her hand. “I’m hoping that we’ll be in a monastery full on monks where they won’t dare try anything a second time.”
Araatris: The soldier folds his arms. “Well. They’re pretty useful in the meantime, I suppose.” Nysse nods. “The Spirit-Sage didn’t give us a choice.”
Rhoelyn: Jay nods. “But it doesn’t make it easier, Miss Whispersong.” Nysse smiles weakly and redirects, “Are you ever going to call me Nysse, Jay?”
Araatris: The man is spared from having to answer by their guides returning, Mik-Toc and another in tow. “Friends, meet Sunni Hou, leader of this village.”
Rhoelyn: The huntress bows deeply. “It is our pleasure to meet you, Sunni Hou. I’m Nysse Whispersong and this is Jay Masters.” She smiles at him.
Araatris: The Pandaren, though dirty and disheveled, manages a smile and a polite bow. “We are honored. The Sha of Despair caught us by surprise.”
Rhoelyn: “The sha has taken many of us by surprise, including my sister. We understand.” Nysse smiles weakly. “Is there anything we can do for you?”
Araatris: The brown Pandaren shakes his head. “From what we understand, you have already done so much. Mik-toc says killing the manifestations freed us.”
Rhoelyn: “Will it stay away? I don’t understand how they were formed or why it helped.” Nysse’s brow furrows. “I’m sorry for all the questions.”
Araatris: It’s Mik-Toc who chimes in, gesturing wildly. “Easy! Furrydooks gets all sad. Mask makes happy. Out comes scrabblies for spining.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse purses her lips thoughtfully. “That means that we have to use the mask to release the scrabblies, spine them, and then they’ll be free?”
Araatris: The hozen waves a hand at the milling Pandaren. “Fuzzydooks gets happy. Stays happy?” He shrugs. “Gotta keep sads outta they’s hearts.”
Rhoelyn: “So, if they get really sad or in my sister’s case, angry, again, then the sha will come back? Can’t we stop it for good?” She clenches her fist.
Araatris: He just shrugs. Mu Lin frowns and looks at Sunni. The village leader says, “I do not know. Some of the earliest infested were cleansed before.”
Rhoelyn: The huntress sighs, but nods, “We still have to try. Would it be possible to borrow the mask and return it once our friends are cleansed?”
Araatris: Mik-Toc gestures and capers a few steps down the road. “Come. Mik-Toc shows you Ken-Ken’s mask. How it’s make the sadmooks into happy ookers.”
Rhoelyn: “Thank you. I really do appreciate it. Do you wish to join us, Sunni?” Nysse waits for his answer. Sunni Hou shakes his head. “Go on ahead.”
Araatris: Nysse and the party follow the furry monkey-man to the edge of town, where a rather large stack of crates smells like rot. He rifles behind it.
Rhoelyn: The young night elf tries to circumspectly cover her nose. “What’s in the crates, Mik-Toc?” She cringes at the thought of the answer.
Araatris: He mumbles as he feels around. “Was squishfruits and lots of smellyleafs, but then poor Mik-Toc finds furrydooks not buy when sad. Ook!”
Rhoelyn: The monkey-man doesn’t notice as Nysse gags. He leans over into a crate. “No mooks think to look here. Safe spot. Ah ha!” He pulls something out.
Araatris: The hozen yanks out a putrid-smelling sack and reaches an arm in. He comes up with a handful of vaguely melon-looking goo. “That not right.”
Rhoelyn: Quaed chuckles at Nysse’s horrified expression as she steps back into Mu Lin. “Are you sure that’s where you hid it?” Nysse asks cautiously.
Araatris: When he tosses the sack down, it makes a wet, squicky sound and juice splatters on Nataro’s hooves. He growls, and Nysse turns a bit green.
Rhoelyn: Nysse takes a few more steps back around Mu Lin. “Please tell me the fruit didn’t rot around it…” Jay sighs and pats her shoulder soothingly.
Araatris: “Is… right…” Mik-Toc rummages more, feeling around between the crates. “Here!” He grins and holds up an ornate, stone mask of a smiling Mogu.
Rhoelyn: “Thank goodness!” Nysse exclaims. Jay murmurs, “Are you saying that because he found it or that it’s clean?” The huntress hushes him, “Jay!”
Araatris: As the guard chuckles, Su Le steps forward and takes the mask from Mik-Toc. She turns it over in her hands. “This is ancient. Where is it from?”
Rhoelyn: “Mik-Toc found in dirty cave. Cleaned it. It made furrydooks happy, so he kept. Happy furrydooks buy more.” The hozen nods enthusiastically.
Araatris: As Su Le rummages in her pack with a free hand, Nataro addresses the hozen. “Teach us how to make it work,” he rumbles, folding his arms.
Rhoelyn: Nysse raises an eyebrow, but watches silently. Mik-Toc shrugs again. “Fuzzymook wear. Get happy. What there to teach, big fuzzymook?”
Araatris: The Tauren blinks. “That’s all? No incantation? Nothing to activate it?” Mik-Toc shrugs. “Wear. Happy. Scrabbley. Spiny. Not jinyu rocket science.”
Rhoelyn: “Not everything has to be overly complicated, Nataro.” She bows. “Thank you for letting us borrow it, Mik-Toc. This could save our friends.”
Rhoelyn: “Understand. Nyssemook bring back?” He asks. At her nod, he gestures to the village. “Then time to go. Scrabblies not good for no one.”
Araatris: The trio of serpent dragons circle once over the village of Zhu’s Watch, Mu Lin leaning over the saddle, frowning at the grey, scarred land below.