Physically, the towering personage who seemed to be the leader of the strange beings camped around the hermit Wei Palerage’s hut reminded Kaoling very strongly of Wugou. He had nothing of the ancient earth spirit’s sleepy, placid nature about him, however. As the — tauren, Kaoling remembered from her childhood lessons — briskly described to Ji, Aysa, Kaoling, Koralyra, and the others who had come from the Academy and the Temple the circumstances that had led to the crash of the sky-vessel into Shen-zin Su’s side — a battle of ships off an unknown coast, the capture of himself and his “Horde” companions by their “Alliance” enemies after their ship capsized, an insurrection against their captors, an attack by lizard-men who had stowed away on the airship that took everyone by surprise — and his efforts to locate his comrades and survive in the Pei-Wu Forest over the past weeks, he was also listening to reports from his people and issuing new instructions. The tauren’s decisiveness impressed Kaoling, as did the shelters, the pile of crude weapons, and what appeared to be the skeletons of several small boats he and his people had constructed from broken bamboo trunks and other woodland materials.
Aysa and some of the others left to find the survivors from the other side of the sea-battle the tauren had described as soon as he had finished telling them about why the airship had crashed.
“We want to return to our homes,” the tauren was saying, “but that airship isn’t going anywhere ever again. We can help you dislodge it from your island, but we need to find our engineer. He parted ways with us when we were escaping the wreckage. We’d also appreciate it if you helped us find a way back to our own country.”
Ji quickly agreed, and Kaoling could see the twinkle in his eyes that meant he was thinking up a Plan.
They found more small groups of “Horde” survivors, including the engineer, as they pushed through the woods toward the crashed airship. They also discovered that the strange lizard-men had survived the crash, too, and were wreaking havoc on the entire Pei-Wu Forest ecosystem.
The “Alliance” survivors had gathered and set up tents quite close to the wreck. Their leader, a slender creature who looked to Kaoling very much like an oversized, oddly-colored sprite, gave a rather different account of the sea battle, the fight aboard the airship, and the crash.
“This island wasn’t on any of our charts… we came through a thick mist and ploughed straight into the forest. We didn’t see it coming,” she said.
She explained that over the past weeks, she and her people had been scavenging as much as they could from the wreck, but their efforts had been severely impeded by the lizard-men. She praised Aysa for having gone off immediately to distract the leader of the lizard-men so that a final collection of materials from the airship could be made, and she asked for help in reclaiming the supplies and rescuing those of her people who had been wounded during the most recent clashes with the lizard-men.
“I think I like these people,” Koralyra mused quietly as the two girls carried a stack of crates back from the wreck to the tents. “See how they have gotten all of their people into one place. See how they are salvaging as much of their own material as they can, so that they take as little as possible from our land.”
“But they had taken those other people prisoners,” Kaoling replied.
“Their ship was sinking. They saved them from drowning. And it doesn’t seem like they’ve made much of an effort, in all these weeks, to go find them in the forest and re-capture them,” Kora pointed out.
Kaoling didn’t have a good answer for that, but she still felt more sympathetic toward the tauren and his fellow Horde.
The blast knocked Kora to the ground. The land heaved beneath her as Shen-zin Su groaned in agony. It was the most awful sound she had ever heard, worse than a whole herd — worse than ten herds — of yaks in labor. She struggled to her feet. The wound in Shen-zin Su’s shell gushed terrible rivers of blood. Though she was not at all squeamish, Kora began to feel a little light-headed and quickly looked away. Nearby, Kaoling was getting up. Kora saw her friend sway and her face pale as she caught sight of the awful wound. Quickly, Kora grabbed Kaoling’s shoulders and turned her away.
“Remember Master Firepaw’s plan,” she said urgently. “Hurry, go find as many healers as you can and bring them here to save Shen-zin Su!” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a movement — the strange lizard-men, maddened by the scent of blood. “I will stay and defend the healers once you get them here. Hurry!”
Kaoling nodded and dashed off. Kora settled into a comfortable stance and began running through warm-up movements and incantations. Soon Kaoling was back, carrying one of the slender, white-robed Alliance priests over her shoulders. Like the wind and fire of the philosophy she favored, Kaoling darted about, bringing back one healer after another. Like the earth and water of the philosophy she favored, Koralyra was both firm and fluid as she fought off the frenzied lizard-men and kept them from attacking the healers. All around, others from the Academy and the Temple were doing the same.
For hours, it seemed, they fought while the terrible flow of blood continued and Shen-zin Su groaned and writhed. The healers poured all of their energy into their spells, until they began to collapse from exhaustion. Slowly, the torrent quieted to a stream and then to a trickle, and then, almost suddenly, the wound sealed. The troll and tauren healers joined their hands in a great spell, and everyone stumbled as earth shifted out from under their feet to cover and protect the raw flesh. The Horde healers then flung enchanted seeds over the dark, bloodsoaked soil. As they chanted, grasses, bushes, and trees sprung up, magically, to further stabilize the earthen scab. It would still be centuries before Shen-zin Su’s shell completely recovered — and there would always be a scar, a weak spot, in that place — but for now, at least, he would not die, and his pain, while perhaps greater now than it had been when the wrecked ship had still been embedded in his side, would eventually subside and vanish.
For a fleeting moment, the scent of the breeze shifted from canal water and pumpkin pancakes to cherry blossoms and ginseng tea, and a piece of parchment hastily folded into the shape of a crane tumbled through the second-story window of the inn in Stormwind where Koralyra was packing her bags and came to rest at her feet.
Kora picked up the parchment and carefully unfolded it, smiling as she recognized the calligraphic scrawl.
I promised to write to you when I got to Orgrimmar, did I not? The
EmperorWarchief of the Horde would consider even this contact treasonous, yet I cannot so blithely cast aside what Master Shang Xi told us so many times: “Forget injuries. Never forget kindnesses.” And you have been far kinder to me than I deserved. May your days bring you joy.