I headed along the splintered path, hearing the anguished cries of the gorillas rebounding off the trees as their home was destroyed. Soon I reached the Gormal Ruins, home to the local mogu – known as the Gormali tribe. I stayed behind a ruined tree, scouting the area, until Shao arrived.
‘How does it look, Keliera?’
‘This wasn’t a quick snatching operation. They have over a hundred villagers in there from all over the Forest. This was planned.’
‘They’re setting up for something big.’
As we watched, the mogu inspected their captives, sending along only those deemed strong enough to work.
‘The mogu value strength above all else, Keliera. It is what their empire was founded upon. We must stop them!’
We forced our way through the camps, freeing any prisoners we encountered and sending them on their way back to the Orchard. We worked our way down the cliffs inhabited by the mogu and soon were stood before their leader, Subjugator Gormal.
‘Ah, volunteers for the Thunder King’s labour force!’
‘ATTACK!’ On cue, a wave of pandaren charged the Subjugator from behind on the beach – reinforcements from the Orchard. Though the strongest mogu in the camp, the Subjugator was no match for so many Pandaren at once, and fell beneath our numbers. With the mogu in disarray, we regrouped on the other side of camp and headed back to the Orchard.
‘If the mogu are banding together they could be a significant threat to Pandaria. Their barbaric rule over these lands will not reoccur. Keliera, we can protect the Orchard for now – head north and warn Dawn’s Blossom.’
I did not linger, arriving in Dawn’s Blossom at the next nightfall. The whole saga since leaving Grookin Hill had only taken a few days. I quickly informed Mayor Windfur when I returned.
‘Organised mogu raids? This is troubling. I will send word to the other villages. But I think you should have a rest after all you have done in such a short time, Keliera. Please, go to the Tian Monastery, north of here. It will help you much to calm your heart.’
I could not disagree, and was soon on my way into the heart of the northern mountains. Past the wooden staircase that leads up the mountain’s edge, a tremendous stone bridge stretches across the Forest Heart, into the heart of the mountains themselves. Though many birds call these peaks their home and the air is sharper, the land is no less hospitable than the rest of the forest, home to many training monks. Halfway along the bridge is a grand bell known as the Gong of Hope, that rings out daily to bolster the wills of the recruits.
In the mountains, thin trees stretch out, grasping for the sun’s rays, and the ground is sparser, filled with lush green ferns rather than huge bamboo shoots and wild fronds. Thin paths lead you through the canyons until you are not really sure which way you came. But if you head inward you are bound to reach the Tian Monastery, with its plazas stretching across the mountaintops. However, even within the grounds one can get lost. Paths lead through markets and training areas, and the Monastery could quite easily be a small town and no one would be none the wiser. Eventually I found my way into the highest of its grounds, past a giant bell and into the main building, where I was directed to High Elder Cloudfall.
High Elder Cloudfall was at the top of the tallest building, awaiting my arrival. ‘Welcome to Tian Monastery. I hope what you have already seen has helped you understand our role in Pandaria. It would be a great honour if you would train alongside our young ones – we have only knowledge to offer, and perhaps an appreciation of our ways. If this interests you, please speak with me after we eat this evening.’
While I waited for evening, I aided in the local harvests of the ripe oranges that were just ripe for eating. The harvest was less a task and more a game of catch, as the trees grew so tall that only the oranges large enough to fall could be gained from them – and then they had to be caught carefully or ruined. The game was made entertaining by the local nature sprites, jumping from tree to tree, knocking oranges out of our hands and generally trying to make us fall over. Thoroughly worn-out and happy, we headed back for the banquet.
I had never truly experienced a Pandaren feast until that evening. Wine and ale flowed like water as the Pandaren celebrated the success of their harvest, and music and tales of history filled me with ease. It truly felt as though nothing was wrong with the world here. I managed to speak to the High Elder at some point during the evening. Welcoming me to the Monastery, he introduced me to the instructors, and we feasted merrily into the night.
At breakfast the next morning, I noticed that Hozen and Jinyu lived in peace within the Monastery ranks. The Pandaren facilitated peace where war would grow otherwise, it seemed.
After breakfast came sparring led by Master Stone Fist, which I took to fairly well, being lithe and quite acrobatic already (the fact that almost all the trainees were still drunk helped too). Afterwards, I sought out Groundskeeper Wu to complete my chores. He told me to collect branches for making weapons, and to transport ale from the merchants for lunch. I was then sent to Instructor Xann at the Ring of Balance. I joined the trainees in the ring who were already practising. I believe the correct phrase was ‘practise makes perfect’ – the pandaren trainees practised their moves ten-thousand times per day to attain this. Fortunately, as a new trainee, I was excused from such rigorous exercise this early.
‘This isn’t your first time fighting, like it is for the new trainees. You have well-practised form – not perfect yet, but certainly better than many here.’ Instructor Xann then had me practise on the training dummies in the yard as the more advanced students did, yelling commands until I perfected my ability to switch targets – something he assured me would be useful in future. He then sent me back to the Groundskeeper.
Groundskeeper Wu sent me out of the Monastery to fetch stew from a nearby old woman for the next feast, and clear the Waxwood that separated her house and the Monastery of tigers and sprites that were beginning to overpopulate and make travel hard. As I entered the Waxwood the sky flashed overhead. A storm was brewing, somewhere, and it was beginning to look as though I would have to take shelter in the old woman’s house. The local sprites were tricksters, and more than once I found myself fighting a mirror image of me just to get past them.
With a mighty peal of thunder rain burst over my head as I reached the house of Mother Wu. I could see the Thunder Hold ruins below me as I hurried inside, and I thought of the Sha. I could only hope the weather was a natural occurrence and not related to my earlier encounter with them.
‘It will do no good taking the stew to the Monastery in this weather – come in and have some tea while you wait, friend!’ Fortunately, Mother Wu was more hospitable than the outside. After about ten minutes of nice tea and chat, the worst of the storm had passed.
‘If you wouldn’t mind, dear, I need some Blushleaf Extract for my next stew – there are plenty of bushes in the Waxwood, and the stuff should be dripping off in this weather. Could you get some for me?’
I agreed, since I had nothing more pressing to do, but what Mother Wu did not tell me was that the Blushleaf Groves were full of tigers. It took quite a few ambushes before I had enough extract to return.
‘Oh, this is wonderful, dearie! The stew is all ready and covered for you to go back now.’ True enough, the stew was now locked safely in a large portable cauldron – with detachable lid. I hurriedly pulled it back to the Monastery before it cooled. With the stew safe, as well as the rest of Waxwood, lunch could now be served.
After a rather damp lunch, I resumed training with Master Stone Fist, who sent me to defeat the advanced trainees – a Jinyu named Husshun, who was a fierce, knowledgeable combatant, and a Hozen named Zhi-Zhi, the fastest Hozen I had seen in all the forest. Though the best challengers I had seen, I managed to defeat them through my own prior experience in battle. My final challenge for the day would be Xiao, the strongest (and largest) student in the Monastery. He was still eating his lunch when I challenged him. Though undoubtedly strong, his feasting had made him off-balanced, and I barely managed to overpower him.
Master Stone Fist was impressed. ‘You have shown considerable mastery over the way of sparring, but perhaps a test of how wide a variety of styles you can command is in order. Find Instructor Myang on the western side of the Monastery. She will train you this afternoon.’
Myang awaited me when I arrived. ‘My students have already spoken of your prowess. I would like to first test your abilities one-on-many. Please step into the ring. Your objective is of course to stay alive for the duration.’
Slightly cautious, I stepped into the Ring of Inner Focus. I couldn’t see any opponents…
‘BEGIN THE RUMPUS!’ Myang yelled with an air of command, and trainees quickly began to stream through the gates of the ring. First in twos and threes, then some larger, single combatants, then a whole host of them. I was quickly forced to use every trick I knew to stay on top, but I managed it.
‘Congratulations Keliera! You have defeated the Rumpus!’ Myang’s voice boomed, signalling the end, and the gates opened. She met me outside.
‘Well done. I have rarely seen such mastery over such a wide array of magic and combat. I think your training here is complete. Come, the banquet is starting, and High Elder Cloudfall wishes to speak to you.’
Myang led me back through the banquet grounds as the sun began to set. The rainfall had yet to lighten up, and a great red canopy had been erected over the banquet grounds. The rain did not dampen the jovial atmosphere, which seemed almost synonymous with Pandaren culture by now. The High Elder beckoned me over as we quickly hurried out of the rain.
‘You have passed your traineeship with flying colours, Keliera, even if it was only an honorary one. Your peers respect you, the young trainees are inspired by you and the masters here thank you for the services you have done for the Monastery. Come now, Wu has prepared a grand feast for us.’
Once again, we drank into the blissful night.
The next morning, though the ground was dry the sky was overcast, as though it knew dark things we did not. I cast my doubts aside for the moment. With my training in the Monastery completed and my mind cleared, I had little else to do except to travel back to Dawn’s Blossom.
When I reached the town that afternoon, I was immediately greeted with a message from one of the local jade merchants, Toya.
‘Keliera! Once again, thank you for your aid. After you freed the Forest Heart from the clutches of the Jade Witch, the jade suppliers began travelling into town again. We have a shipment bound for Lorewalker Cho, north in the Emperor’s Omen. He knows you well, and I was hoping you would be able to deliver it to him. I can give you a free ride there, of course.’
Having learnt quite a lot in the past couple of weeks, I agreed. A free ride, in this case, was a ride via kite, a majestic enchanted contraption that the Pandaren used for flight between towns. Soon I caught sight of the Emperor’s Omen, a gigantic stone tablet carved into the face of one of the mountains and covered in years’ worth of plant life. It was amazing to behold. Not far from where I landed, I saw Lorewalker Cho in discussion with some other Pandaren. He turned as I arrived.
‘Ah, hello again, Keliera!’ Lorewalker Cho eyed the collection of jade I had brought with him. ‘Toya is always dependable.’