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((This story originally written by the player Baern on the Sanctuary discord)) Zhanhao carried a fat sack of bok choy down the streets of Dalaran, winding slowly away from the wide streets of the Magus Commerce exchange and into the small residential streets that hugged the walls of the flying city. He'd picked up the vegetables at a premium, though one he happily paid, from a pandaren farmer who shipped his wares from the Valley of the Four Winds to Dalaran through expensive, powerful portals. He had more to offer, massive soy and humongous radishes and squat squash, but the bok choy would make for the perfect base tonight in Zhanhao's steaming ramen. He found his way to the Arcanist's Abode, a poorly named tower that contained barely any mages at all. Rebuilt after the Third War to an unexpected staggering height, it served chiefly as an inexpensive residence for merchants and traders that worked the exchange, and of course, enterprising old gardeners who managed shrubbery and flowers and herbs all across the city. Having spent most of his life a travelling trader and alchemist, Zhanhao's small caravan took on grand heights when Pandaria became the focus of the Horde and the Alliance. Travelers who could get from Krasrang to the Jade Forest to Four Winds to Kun'Lai, alchemists who could teach recipes using the unique fauna found in Pandaria, merchants who could introduce outlanders to the Cloud Serpent Riders, Tian monks, Shado-Pan wall watchers, and the fishermen of the Anglers they were all in very low supply and now in very high demand. Zhanhao had little trouble translating his skills into a hefty payday, but he saw almost none of it. His wife of many years had died only a few months prior to the commotion, and they had never started a family together. Pushing it off endlessly because they had so much life yet to live, and so much love for their days on the back of a mushan pulled wagon. But Zhanhao did have a family. He had doting parents, a brother with a bundle of kids all his own, a sister who had answered the call and was still an ascetic in the Tian Monastery. It was them he gave most of his newfound gold to, so that they could have the lives they'd always wanted without worry. But he didn't leave Pandaria empty handed. Most of the world was gripped with the new continent, but for a pandaren there was still most of the world to explore. Cities across Azeroth swung into lifelessness as the focus of their denizens swept south, and so finding a cheap apartment in Dalaran and buying outright with the remainder of his gold sounded a good idea for Zhanhao. It was also easy to find employment, as an alchemist and herbalist teaching those that remained behind in the floating city precisely what to do and how to grow herbs like Green Tea Leaf and Rain Poppy. Most pandaren plants were found to be quite robust, all told, and bringing them into the city was a lucrative way for the shaman to find employment. But seeding the various alchemists' gardens with them wasn't something that he wanted to spend all his time doing. Slowly, he started picking up employment as a gardener for the wealthy all across the city who wanted beautiful flowers rather than utilitarian herbal beds. But even as the world equalized again and the secrets of pandaria were no longer in short supply, there was still one trait that Zhanhao possessed, one skill that made an unassuming gardener in Dalaran unique. The magical elevator that took him to the forty-seventh floor was one of things he loved about this city in the clouds. Unlike in many other metropolii across Azeroth, a tall tower was not in high demand. The lifts had a frequent habit of failing and being unable to transport anyone until a special arcane mage arrived to fix the enchantments governing the structure. It was on these days that Zhanhao did not love them. But when they worked, being whisked up to his apartment was a comfort to be cherished. The shaman was greeted by half a dozen elementals, two earth, two water, two air, who jumped and frolicked at his shins. They were small, no more than a few inches high, but something about their energy always put a smile on his face. He handed the earth elementals the sack while the water dove into his feet, making them sopping wet, in the hopes to clean off a few flecks of dirt and mud. As the earth pair started hefting the sack to the counter to Zhanhao's right, the wind pair flew up and pulled out one bok choy each, floating it slowly over and plopping them on a bare section of counter, impatiently. Luckily, the lightened load was easier for their brethren to carry, and they stopped up a rickety wooden ramp to get the sack on the counter as well. Unfortunately, none of the elementals could be called "thoughtful" and as they threw the emptying back on top of the small pile of vegetables already removed, it just rolled off them and back onto the floor, spilling out the entirety of their contents for good measure. One of the earthen climbed the pile and began to wave its arms frantically at the pair of air elementals, but neither seemed very willing to accept responsibility. Their competitive nature, however, kicked in when the second of the earthen dropped back to the floor and began picking up bok choy and running it up the ramp. Not to be outdone, the hovering elementals swooped in and began carrying their own, adding it to the pile they'd already started. When they were finished, all four elementals fought over the sack, trying to claim the honor of clearing the final piece of things, but the shaman plucked it from them and placed it on top of the hapless mound of vegetables he'd had. Dutifully, the water elementals slid up the ramp and began washing the food, depositing it finally into the basin on the far side of the counter. Zhanhao's apartment was narrow, but long, ending in one great, wide window that stretched from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Its curtains were drawn, though the dark green glow of fel peaked out at every available opportunity. Before Dalaran's teleportation, he'd had a beautiful view of the ocean. Now, he had a view of the fel beam above the Tomb of Sargeras. His plump pandaren bed filled the space just under the curtain, stretching from the wall on the left to the kitchen counter on the right, itself full of all kinds of vegetables, fruit and grain that made for large meals. That counter ran the length of the room with a basin for water dividing it in half. On one side, Zhanhao seemed to keep things neat, orderly, organized, a storage space for the fresh food he brought in but wasn't prepared to eat or cook immediately. On the other, chaos rained, as the ramp that allowed his elementals to access the counter denoted that side to be their mischievous domain. In fairness, the floors were also a mess. One corner seemed dedicated just to gardening supplies, including a wet smock to work in, wet trowels and shovels and tools, and two and a half bags of soil lazily propped up on one wall. It was an odd layout for an apartment, and on the wall across from the counter, two clear doors stood as well. Most of the room was dominated by the bed at the end, but it didn't seem to belong, as if cramped in there rather than in a space all its own. After he'd cleaned himself off and cleared himself of his traveling clothes, Zhanhao stepped into the back room, careful to close the door off to any six inch intruders. What was clearly meant to be a bedroom had no bed in sight, almost no furniture at all, in fact. A single cylindrical block of jade with a fluffy pillow atop it was the only thing coming close, right in the center. To the right, another curtained window, to the left a wall with a few decorative scrolls hanging. But the main feature was across from the door as one entered. Three shelves, as wide as the wall, with tall glass boxes end to end standing on all three. They seemed to be made of discrete panels, glass framed with wood, that were nestled together into containers, maybe a foot and a half tall each. But the containers weren't the important part. Twenty three out of thirty six had a plant inside, a small flower with golden petals lilting softly to one side. Some of the rest had seedlings or buds yet to flower, though others were empty. Uniquely, one container held snow covered soil with soft, yellow grass shooting forth, so tall as to bend at the top of the container. Four totems glowing with energy lay on the floor under the shelves, one for each element. As Zhanhao takes his place atop the Jade block, folding his legs and closing his eyes, he connects to the flagging totems, slowly opening the flow of power between himself and them. It's the totems that govern the plants inside the containers, fire dictating the artificial sunlight hitting their leaves, water keeping them hydrated, earth making sure they have the proper nutrients, and air managing the atmosphere inside each of them. Zhanhao had always thought of himself as a strong shaman, able to conjure spells at their most powerful, the hottest fire, heaviest earth, quickest lightning. But the magic that he was using now wasn't about monumental exertions. It was about precision. The importance of totems in shamanistic magic was an interesting phenomanon, as Zhanhao learned that orcs, trolls, tauren and pandaren all seemed to learn the same process for decentralizing their power into totems. And while certain cultures had focused on certain uses of totems, Zhanhao had stubbornly refused to learn from them for months after moving to Dalaran. He knew his goal was to cultivate Golden Lotus plants outside of Pandaren soil, but however he tried to make the magic work, the plants withered and died before he was able to reach them. It was only after consulting with tauren shaman on the kind of magic that allowed their farmers to irrigate so effectively that the final piece of the puzzle fell into place and he was able to grow the plants in his home. By pumping huge amounts of energy into his totems, but restrict the way it flowed to a slow trickle, he was able to charge totems that lasted for hours, even days, maintaining the conditions needed for the flower to bloom. Now, the spell was routine, and by combining it with the techniques he'd learned in his training as a monk, almost a subconscious effort. Four hours blinked by effortlessly for the old shaman, only roused by his rumbling stomach. Rising from his position and sore to have remained still for so long, he fixed the pillow to make it center on the block again. His stomach rumbled a second time, but he ignored it, choosing instead to regard the lotus containers with sad eyes. He'd worked so hard, spent so long waiting for one them to bloom, that picking the petals from the flower and grinding them into alchemical powder or dropping them into boiling concoctions almost felt like slaying his own children. It took months for a lotus to bloom, daily adjustments in temperature, lighting, soil, and water. Selling one brought in thousands of gold, paid for his food, and his home, and his trips to his brother's, and medicine for his parents, but somehow the cost never seemed high enough. He broke a rule of his, placing three fingers on the glass, caressing it. The slightest changes could cause a flower to wilt overnight if he wasn't careful, a problem that he'd discovered early. This particular plant would be sold in less than a week, anyway. He'd hug it, if he could. Tell it that some child somewhere needs the magic it carried to cure them of a deathly ill. But he removed his fingers, nonetheless, hoping that he hadn't ruined it with his few moments of tender sadness. It was always so strangely painful giving up one of his flowers. Still, there was no better task that took his mind off it than cooking, and his stomach rumbled a third time just to remind him of that. Bok choy and onions and garlic and ginger and ramen awaited him, so he let out a soft sigh, shook the thought from his head and returned to a kitchen he'd hoped wasn't a mess thanks to rambunctious elementals.
It's been a bad day. One of the worst I've had in a while. I fumbled everything. I literally fell off the ground. That I'd happened to land amidst a small group of people, one of which I knew, well that turned out not to be all that great either. I ate... of course I ate. Over the last few days, I have not been satisfied until I was near to bursting and then, the pain of it finally drowned out the craving. The all-encompassing need to consume, to chew, to swallow, to fill. Some of the time I had to access to real edible food. Sometimes I was not so lucky. I've eaten pinecones. Tree bark. Dirt. Things no rational animal would. But they fed me, Lilliana and her friends, with real meat, and I managed to catch a few fish. Then the bitch gave me some brew that sets you on fire when you drink it. I was clever enough to figure out the way of it. Drink like a dwarf, they suggested. So I did, and stubbornly drank two more. I was thirsty. If you chase the sulfuron slammer with another drink, it puts out the flames almost instantly. Still, SHE SET ME ON FIRE. I don't think its funny. I hate the flames. It's one of those days. So I decide that maybe its a good day for a drink. The Cantina is tonight, I'm pretty sure, and I'm hungry. Lilliana reminded me, and I want to go and watch. She is much stronger than I expected, and I need to plan carefully. Maybe she will be there. A good predator observes their prey for weakness. I go to the boat. Instead of the nice troll bartender, there is a goblin that greets me instead. But there are other trolls. A new male I have yet to charm. Maybe he will ply me with drinks in exchange for the vague hope of sex. Maybe he will feed me. The goblin asks me what I want. I tell her anything but a slammer. No more fire for me! She hands me a drink that warms my very soul, in a fuzzy round coconut half. It is extremely sweet and clings to the lips, allowing me to savor the taste of it instead of merely gulping it down to feel my throat work. Tahzani shuffles by, busy in his rounds, but tells me to make myself at home, so I do. There is an absurdly large driftwood chair set up like some kind of beach throne, sheltered beneath a canopy umbrella. I claim it, and survey the kingdom of the deck from this position of leisure. Why had no one claimed this spot? It is fantastic. The other troll watched me travel to the chair, which also happens to be right next to him. It is perfect. "Well, hello dere." He puts his mug down to greet me. I smile at him, and he returns a strange, coy sort of smirk. This is the start of the mating ritual that he doesn't know is doomed to fail. "Hi back at ya. Who you be?" I question him. On the other side of the boat, a forsaken in an absurd hat begins loud introductions. He is tailed by a young orc child, and seeing them irritates me immediately for some reason. Still, I have the troll's attention fully. He continues to smile, "Ah be Harkinic." He rises to his feet, and bows down quite low in an exaggerated display to me, "And who joo be....?" His eyes roam up and down my form. I play the game. "Who ya want me to being?" Harkinic settles back down on his haunches, lifting his mug into a big hand, "Joo be who joo want, ah would be hoping." He responds gruffly, still eying me. The undead pirate is apparently one of the purple ones. He goes greeting his 'commodore' at the opposite railing, which is fine by me, as it adds distance between us. "I be called Derecho, most often," I tell my potential sugar daddy, and I add a smirk for good measure. "Da who joo really want da be?" He returns the expression, his face easily sliding into it. He's mine. I don't really have to play anymore. I tell him honestly "It be not mattren none too much what I be wantin now-days." I shrug, not quite sure why I told him that. Voices from across the deck snatch my attention. Two pandaren sit in the corner behind the wind gauge, and the male said something about food for certain. "Joo be needing a drink?" Harkinic asks me. He finishes his in a big gulp for the excuse to summon the bartender for more. "Sure ting," I agree. The pandas are still discussing a feast. My mouth waters. My companion summons the goblin, who comes over as she's hollaring that the bears won't be fed unless they pay up-front. It seems the two have just met and are in a courtship dance much like I am. He wants to double an order already placed for himself. I hope they've paid. Tahzani receives the request as he's halfway up the ramp with food. His arms are laden on both sides with layered and heavy dishes piled high, and his brow runs with sweat from having been preparing them below in the hot galley. He receives the updated order silently, though I see his eye twitch. Ever the gracious one, he says he'll have it done right away, and he carefully hands over what he has so far. I don't think they even noticed the tone used or the slight hesitation. Tahzani works very hard. I don't like these pandas. I am distracted when the goblin, whose name I've heard is Bayonnii, breaks my line of sight, finally summoned by Harkinic. "Ya need a drink, or..?" "Hells yes!" I cry, as he presses coins into her hand and tells her not one with fire. The new drink is no where near as satisfying as my first ones, but they are wet. I'm disappointed, but I lie and thank him anyway. Tahzani returns, again looking like an overburdened pack animal. I stare at the bears and their hugely excessive feast. I hate them, but I want what they have. My stomach clenches without sound, demanding. I wait until Tahzani has unloaded everything extra at the panda's table before waving to summon him. He shuffles over, assuming I have an order. "Everybody good heah?" comes his question, automatic. "Tahzani," says I, "How ya doin?" Instead of answering, he asks "Jah two okay ovah heah?" I think we are, so I say so to put his mind at ease. He takes it as his cue to leave. "Aight. Lemme know if jah need anytin' den" I'm irritated. "Ya lady mate be trouble!" I call. "Capital-like Tee." He stops two-thirds of the way through the automatonic query to other patrons. "Pardon me?" "Ya girl. Shhe been actin up. ...hic!" The hiccup surprises me completely, and I find it both funny and strange, this uncontrolled flux of my diaphragm. For a brief moment I'm intrigued by the shift of my insides, and then I feel bad for antagonizing Tahzani. My pettiness subsided, I want to apologize. "I be not knowin if ya want be knowin, so I done told ya." I don't quite manage it, see. Tahzani just stares at me dully, " Tanks fah de news." My ire rekindles, but not at him. For the woman that caused such a lacklust of passion in this troll. Lilliana. I have another motive, as if I needed it. Maybe he's working too hard? Maybe he just needs to sit and relax and not be a bartender or mate to a three-faced bitch. Maybe he needs a break. I peer at him, realizing this. "Ey!" I beckon and wave him over again. He comes to call like a slave. "Ya got de otha one to sherve, be talkin wit me a bit? Ya sheem down." "...Aight." But then Bayonnii leaves. In the corner, the pandas have gorged and fallen out into sleep. I know well how their energies have radically been diverted to the task of digestion. I want to stab them and steal what's left before they wake and finish it. The elf commander is even surprised. "I've heard the phrase "food coma", but..." The drastic change from feasting to hibernation has an odd effect on the pirate. His voice has been grating the whole time, but now he's frantic and even louder. He starts yelling about poison, which is of course a direct insult to Tahzani's cooking and hard work. Tahzani grunts and shrugs a shoulder at me, moving to the other side of the boat as he hears the commotion. I knudge Harkinic. "See? Dis be why I got no job. Lookit him." Tahzani has to explain to the idiot pirate that what has happened to the pandas is completely normal for their species. I listen, looking to see if perhaps I can swipe some of their feast for myself in the distraction. I decide to try. I get up and go over as the undead yells again. "IT BE POISON!" "Oh shut de fuck up!" I scream at him. It makes no sense to me. "Ya be dead already, what ya be carin fo? ...hic!" as I head across the deck. Harkinic's eyes track me. I squeeze between the elf commander and the wind gauge carefully inserting myself near to the table. "They's down fer tha count! See?" I don't see. The male has reawoken already from all the noise, and he tries to tell the lunatic pirate to hush in deference to the female's continued slumber. He might notice if I just grab a handful of his food and try to run with it. Instead, I nudge at the girl panda within reach. "Ey. Ya be dead?" This produces a sleepy lick of the lips and a stretch, proving she is obviously still among the realm of the living. I feel that if I don't add something to my stomach, I might soon enough not be. My patience is wearing precious thin. "Dere. Ya be seein? Breathin fine. Not dead. Shut. Up." I glare at the stupid pirate. This comment is apparently the first he notices of my presence, distracted as he was with his own blustering. He looks at the speaker, me. "...Egad! Robby take cover! IT BE A SEA WITCH! She'll curse us an' drag us down ya Jonesy Dave's locker!" The little orc child promptly panics as instructed. I find this hilarious. What a fantastic distraction! I encourage it, raising my hands curled into claw-fingers. I hiss in my best sea-witch impersonation at the man, then cackle at the ridiculousness. This play-acting has quite an interesting and unintended effect on the panda bears. Evidently, they are not smart enough to recognize the joke, or perhaps too disoriented from sleep. They believe it! The girl jolts fully awake and shrinks back some. She grabs her hat and wraps it around her like a child's security blanket. The male completely freezes with a full roll of sausages dangly in his hands. I want them so. I turn my gaze on him. He swallows. "I can be havin one?" I ask him, quite enjoying this little over-lording. Still, I did ask, rather than demand. He stammers, agreeing, but rather than give up the prize in-hand, I get piping hot fresh sausages pulled from his bag. I cheer, extremely happy at my good luck, and I remember to thank the bear too. I retreat with my prize. I don't even care about the dwindling commotion, or the insulting title of sea witch. The Sanctuary mistress departs. The pandas stare at me in fear. I don't care. I have food. I return to my chair with it, gnawing already. The sausage has a grainy texture that is a pleasure to chew and break apart with the tongue, and is hot enough to make avoiding scalds while doing this a challenge. Harkinic grins to me, "De Derecho returns." He points out at the same time that a new troll is over there, across to the stern, waggling his eyebrows at him. I continue eating, watching for a moment. It becomes clear that the new male is trying to steal Harkinic. My territorial instinct runs wild. To say I am possessive would be an understatement. This new guy directly challenges my primal rights! I can't leave it be. The panda girl flinches when I get up, then relaxes at my trajectory. Harkinic chuckles, knowing what's about to happen, likely. I walk over. "Hi dere." The challenger looks up at me and smiles, "Ayh beautiful! Ayh dun tink we met afore, ayh?" I am in no mood for pleasantries. "Ya be talkin a good talk, but ya see, I been findin him first.Ya hear?" I glare at him, sizing him up and the warning in my tone is more than clear. "Ayh like both da laydayh an mons, ya know? If ya dun wan m' after 'im, ayh wun do nuthin more. Wha 'bout m' luck w'tcha lovely, though?" He winks at me, thinking himself rather sly. "Go be handy wit yaself, ya done pissed me off already." I'd like to hook my finger into that winking recess and feel the pop of loosening his eyeball. "Aww, dun be like dat, we be chill 'ere. Nah tryin nuthin harm." It takes a great deal of my willpower to not leap at him. I spin on my heel toe and stomp off, though. harkinic wears a rather superior smirk, unable to hide the arrogance at observing me return to him. I slam into my chair then turn a sweet smile onto him when he supplies me with another full mug of drink. Nice guy. Mollified, I had neglected to notice a huge tauren arrive. Gigantic, he is! I blurt such "Ya be a behemoth." Harkinic snickers, "Ah dunno tink dat one can help dat....." One of the druid's ears moves toward me betraying that he heard. At the comment his head lowers some, attempting to make himself seem smaller. Harkinic cackles, "Joo done hurt his feelings." He eyes the oversized tauren with a high level of deliberate assessment, "Joo were rathah right tho...." He says regarding the tauren's exceptional size. "Didn't be meaning to." I notice the hunch too. "Awwwww, don't be like dat. It be a good ting! Ya be big an strong!" I try to reassure. I'm sure it would have the opposite effect if I told him he could feed a village for a week, but the thought crosses my mind. The tauren rubs the side of his neck at my attempts to soothe. Still, he steps back to not be in the way of a new arrival. As his huge frame moves, the ramp becomes fully visible. I recognize the elf standing there. I can't help glaring. I fucking hate him! He's going to die.