Originally written April 11, 2013.
The taste of Pandaren tea matched the smell of the land’s air and sight of its landscapes. This sudden pensive thought struck Arialynn as odd, given her usual lack of such romantic reflection. But the tea nonetheless tasted like a poem, its aromas simultaneously sharp and sweet, its aftertaste a painter’s portrait of gentle rolling thunder over a span of endless hills.
She set the ornate tea cup aside. The handle was an intricate jade serpent; one with a long, curved creature with a tousled mane and bared fangs piercing the cup’s lip. The cup’s style was uniquely Pandaren as well, but the lady knight did not pause long to question the serpent’s significance or the craftsmanship of the carving. Instead, she turned to a different cup, one far more plain and reassuring in its humbler appearance: it was a simple wooden flagon, filled with an ale dark in color and topped with a thick foam.
The instructions the Pandaren master Ordnu gave were simple, composing of three steps that to the lady knight, seemed like repeats of one another. But the Pandaren was careful to clarify, warning her that none of the steps could be skipped or followed carelessly. So even though the instructions barely filled the top of a single page, Arialynn finished her preparations and continued the ritual as instructed.
Pandaren rituals were foreign to her, but the universal first step – meditation – was intimately familiar. Though the paladin tradition was to meditate in armor, preferably before battle, the Pandaren variation stressed a more earthy approach such as sitting within nature and wearing a simple robe. The lady knight sought a compromise: she chose an even patch of ground beneath a tree but kept the armor. To a bemused passerby, it was a curious blend of Eastern Kingdom and Pandaria tradition sitting beneath a freshly blossomed peach tree.
It is said that this brew will reveal what angers you most, she recalled Ordnu telling her as he poured the brew into her cup. Anger can overwhelm the senses and drive some warriors to their deaths, but you must train against your anger in order to face the monster himself. Your anger is your enemy, and the sha is made powerful by your anger. Once you battle yourself and win, the Sha of Anger will lose its greatest weapon against you.
She sat in meditation, taking in the spring air in silence. Finally she stirred, taking the flagon in hand and sipping the brew.
Its taste was swift and pungent, and invaded her like a liquid fire. The fire spread, a hot tide that poured over the high walls of her emotional threshold, bringing with it a wave of rage and fury that actively sought to overcome her senses.
The barrage first seemed like an invader, coming too swiftly to be genuine or remotely hers. Her rational mind was quick to analyze and attempt to reject it, to defend against the outsider forces, but then the snarls of fury took shape, molded, and became familiar. Personal. As the fire within her blazed, her body outwardly sat still while a hot battle coursed in the veins and mind.
Memories replayed themselves, their images hazy and edges tinged with red. Faces of the dead abruptly appeared then faded, appeared then faded, settling to the drum of her heartbeat. With each thump, Arialynn identified another face and recalled the day – and war – their life was lost. An emotion swelled within her, rousing like a gnawing, gnashing creature within the pit of her stomach, writhing from the inside. It took some time before she could understand the name it called itself: resentment.
They died and left you here, it told her. They died before the mission was done. There’s so much to do, so much left! What life do you have for yourself when all you do is duty, duty, duty? They do nothing now, they are released. How dare they? They took the easy way out! Lucky! Cowards! Fools!
The resentment seethed and evolved, gaining in momentum in a quickening spiral. The red tinge on edges of her vision overflowed the faces of comrades were coated in a thick, clotted film of what seemed like blood. The vision was vivid and as wrenching as the original death each of the men and women she once knew endured. The same cycle of emotions replayed themselves but snagged at a critical juncture, refusing to move further: first was shock, then denial, and finally anger. It pulsated.
Anger rose from resentment, shaping itself from something small and made of shadows to a full-bodied aberration that loomed impossibly high. It took a moment for the lady knight to recognize the creature her own emotion fed and became: the Sha of Anger.
He stood hunched, his great shoulders weighed down by curled spires that spouted shadows like flame. The head in between was dwarfed in comparison, but it regained the threat it lost with its unnaturally wide row of teeth and the forked tongue that lashed between its jaws. He stood on multiple legs, as if he began with two violently split into a web of scythed legs and sharp claws that snagged the ground to keep him upright.
The sha did not speak, it only lunged. A veteran of battle, Arialynn immediately sought to remove herself from his path, to take up a weapon and shield to defend herself. But for all the battles she fought and survived, for all the battle-hardened instincts and training that supported her, her body refused to move. It remained rooted, and she had the fleeting thought that the confines of the ritual were what prevented her to move at all.
As the sha’s hand descended, its wicked claws splayed outward and a trail of shadow in its wake, time slowed and Arialynn’s mind raced over the possibilities. Downward it came, her eyes saw the hand open wider. Downward it raced, her body remained locked in place. Downward it fell, the sha’s claws brushed her face.
Friends, comrades, Templars, Arialynn said silently, her voice only within her mind. You have fought your battles and left this world. I am not yet done. Go. Go, I forgive you.
The sha dissipated, his screams of frustration followed by a manic bout of laughter. He still did not speak, but his departing message was clear: Soon.
The swell of emotions within her abated, the brew within her stomach finally quelled and relinquished its hold. As the last of the sha’s shadows faded, her vision cleared and filled with the blissful vista of the peach tree perched upon a grassy hill. Much like her dream, her body had remained rooted in place throughout the meditation, despite the violent turmoil of what occurred within. Fresh blossoms from the tree had littered her lap, and she gained a companion in the form of a curious, red ringed-tail creature with black circles around its eyes peering at her from a safe distance. Catching her now awake, the creature opted to climb the tree and observe her instead from the canopy of its branches.
Her companionship grew by one more as she caught sight of Ordnu himself lumbering up the hill towards her. He carried a strange weight on his back; something that perhaps could be considered a pack if it were not so rectangular and framed in bamboo. As he drew closer to her, he smiled and set the container between them. Within it, he lifted two cups and a pot of tea.
“How was your battle?” He asked, his voice deep and as lumbering as the slow rhythm of his gait.
“Vivid,” she told him. “You were correct to tell me to prepare.”
“Ah, Yes. But the true battle lies ahead,” Ordnu nodded sagely, pouring a cup for her then for himself. “But I believe you and others are better prepared.” With a smile, he offered the cup. “Thirsty?”