I awoke in front of the tan chao. Pei-Zhi smiled benevolently at me.
‘You’ve been out for almost an hour. The battle is won, Keliera.
This age must be one of great strife to breed heroes such as you. I can only imagine what adventures lie ahead for you. It has been a great honour to meet you and to fight alongside you. Until the last spirits pass through the tan-chao, I will remain here, guiding them. Then, I will pass through the veil myself.
But I am disturbed by the last curse of the spirit waker. “You will not stop the thunder.” I do not know what he could have meant. But balance is restored here. Please, go and inform your people, and mine. No doubt they need this knowledge as much as anyone on Pandaria.’
Bidding Pei-Zhi a final goodbye, I headed out of the silent Terrace, back towards Greenstone Quarry, where I had originally been bound when I had stumbled across the ruins. Finding my way to its entrance, a cave bored into a mountain, I saw most of the resident miners running in fear around the area. I had encountered captive shale spiders before, but not living ones. Surely they couldn’t be any more dangerous than what I’d seen before…
Perhaps as soon as I stepped inside there was a rockfall which nearly took off my head. I hurried in.
‘Over here! Help!’
I ran towards the source of the noise, finding a large pandaren trapped under a pile of rocks.
‘I’m Hao Mann. I just need to get out of this – Nnngrh! Nope, not got it.’ He tried to shove himself out, but refused my offer of help. ‘Let me guess, my wife sent you. Ha, she’s always frettin’ over me. I’ll be fine, but some o’ the boys are in real trouble. Go down and give ’em a hand, would ya?’ With that, he pushed the rocks off. ‘I’ll be outside settling things down. You look like you can handle yourself in here.’
The shale spiders were quite small compared to what I had been expecting – they were known as nibblers by the local miners. They were no trouble compared to getting the miners out of the fixes they’d ended up in. Some were trapped under rockfalls, others stuck in tiny holes in their attempt to flee. However, when I got onto the lower level of the mine I realised why there was so much trouble. The adult spiders had grown extremely large on the jade down here, and towered much wider (if not taller) than me. They threw rocks in anger at being disturbed and at times I worried that the mineshafts would collapse.
With the mine in some semblance of order again, I made my way outside. Hopefully the miners would be able to seal up the shaft the spiders were coming from. Hao greeted me. ‘Those miners were runnin outta there like ol’ Kher Shan himself were chasin’ em! What a laugh! Now, you need ta get this jade back and I need ta get back ta my wife, so what d’you say I take you in the cart? We’re on schedule so it’s the least I can do. You climb on in back and let ol’ Hao do the pulling.’ I wasn’t going to decline his hospitality, so I let him take me back to Emperor’s Omen.
As he pulled me along, a few remaining shale spiders charged us, but in the exposed air they were easily defeatable. ‘Doggone critters don’t know when to give up, do they? I like you, elf. What a rush! Ho-ho!’ We soon arrived back at Emperor’s Omen, where Mrs Mann gave her husband a public scolding.
‘Snow Lily! We’re back from the quarry with a special delivery for you!’
‘Hon- It’s about time! Don’t you Snow Lily me, we were worried sick about you! And this jade is for the Lorewalk-oh!’ Hao silenced his wife with a quick kiss, and she bowed to me in thanks. ‘I can’t stay mad at you, old bear. Thank you for keeping him out of trouble, Keliera. And- oh, you brought so much jade! This should be enough for at least another pane!’
By now, the first tablet had been fully restored, showing a single Pandaren in meditation. The second was in progress, and showed two Pandaren crossing swords against a backdrop of fire… like a war. Oh! The Mogu! I quickly informed Lorewalker Cho.
‘The mogu return in force, it seems… we do not know their aims yet, but thank you for your services, Keliera. I will inform the other settlements.’ Lorewalker Cho pulled a thin bamboo whistle from one of his bags, and blew a single, haunting note into it. A kingfisher flew down from the fresco, and chirped happily to the Lorewalker. The Lorewalker nodded to it and whispered a few words, and the bird set off south. Cho chuckled. ‘Kingfishers enjoy humour, Keliera, but they are one of the most reliable birds in a hurry.’
The dark clouds overhead for the past days had meant I’d lost track of time, and I was informed that it was early morning. Mrs Mann spoke to me after I’d eaten breakfast.
‘Keliera, thanks to your efforts we actually have excess jade from this project. While we continue the restoration here, would you mind bringing the jade south to Serpent’s Heart? My friend, Foreman Raike, is in charge of the construction of the great statue there. Tell him his old friend Mann says hello.’
So, later that morning I bid my farewells again to Cho and the Manns, and set off south via kite for Dawn’s Blossom, then by foot to Serpent’s Heart. I had seen the Jade Serpent’s statue from afar on my way to Nectarbreeze Orchard, but I had yet to encounter it up close. It was quite exciting, for I had heard that the statue was based on a great cloud serpent that granted the Pandaren in the Forest knowledge.
As I headed south I thought of my hawkstrider, Velore. My feet had hurt for days because of the walking everywhere, but it was more than speed. I missed having my companion with me. Velore understood when I was upset and provided great comfort back in Eversong. I had not seen him since the first battle on the shores. I wondered if he was still alive, and either way if he was happy. I hoped so.
Along the main road south from Dawn’s Blossom, the path splits, one way leading to Serpent’s Heart and the other to the Temple of the Jade Serpent. Having not been down this route before, I was able to truly marvel at the beauty of the Pandaren constructions. Their people were the most content race I knew, yet constantly they strived for more beauty and achievement.
Upon entering Serpent’s Heart from the north the first thing you see is a grand stone fountain across from the beautiful orange groves. Further in, a great spire of metal rises out of the central ground, around which jade is wrapped tightly, in a coiled tail that leads up to a grand construction, a giant statue of a serpent that could house an entire town if it were hollow. The serpent’s body rests at the top, where it sits and stares out at the sun, seeking knowledge. No detail had been left undone on the great statue, and as I grew closer I could tell it was close to completion. Delicate bamboo scaffolds perched atop it, and the gentle sounds of skilled Pandaren craftsmen floated down. Hundreds of mockingbirds nested in the trees, singing in testament to the beauty of the statue, and on the ground huge yellow blossoms grew. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had seen in Pandaria so far, all contained on a small island in the middle of the Jade Forest’s largest river.
I made my way along the path that led around the Serpent, passing by jovial workers on their breaks and visitors who meditated in proximity to the statue, overlooked by the wisdom of the Serpent and the Temple. On the other side of the island I found Foreman Maike, ordering about idle Pandaren from a collection of workers’ tents.
‘Do my eyes decieve me? A full shipment of pure, high-quality jade ready for cutting? I knew Foreman Mann would come through for us! Thank you for bringing it by.’ I was not surprised that he was more thankful for the jade than for my delivering it – the Serpent’s Heart construction had been delayed for weeks by the problems in the jade supply line, and the Pandaren in Dawn’s Blossom had been worried that they would not be able to see the grand revealing if construction went into the harvest time.
Foreman Raike turned to me. ‘Could I trouble you for another favour? This shipment of jade is the last one we need, but I am far too busy with organising to get it where it needs to be. Could you take it to the taskmasters around the base, and to Taskmaster Emi at the top? We’re on a deadline, so please hurry!’
So I ferried jade first to Historian Dinh, who was in charge of constructing a gong opposite the serpent, then to Surveyor Sawa who was finishing details at the base, and quickly took a ride to the top of the Serpent from Kitemaster Shoku. The workers seemed to go into a frenzy as they began to apply the last details – but were no less careful than in any of the other details I had seen previously. Taskmaster Emi awaited my arrival at the top.
‘Wonderful! We now have all the jade we need. Just look at this. A whole century spent on producing this beautiful monument to the Jade Serpent. Now, we are almost finished, and your aid has played a key part in this indeed.’ From the top of the Serpent, I could see huge tracts of the forest – all the way down to the southern orchards and the northern temples, as well as miles upon miles of beautiful greenery.
I helped out for the rest of the day, though I could not do much except transport jade – I was not skilled at all in the crafts the Pandaren carried out, and I was merely grateful for a chance to look upon the grand finale of construction. Historian Dinh spoke to me as the workers began to finish.
‘You would learn more of the Jade Serpent if you went to her temple in the east. Please, let me give you a letter of recommendation.’
Foreman Raike agreed. ‘You can go tell Yu’Lon, the Jade Serpent herself, of our progress. By the time you get there we should have completed the statue.’ Historian Dinh passed me a letter bound for Elder Sage Wind-Yi, which would give me entry to the Temple’s esteemed grounds. Kitemaster Shoku gave me a kite to take me to the Temple Gates.
The Temple of the Jade serpent is incredible tall, a central building surrounded by three jade towers that stretch into the sky. The third and furthest back stretches tallest of the lot, almost touching the clouds. The grounds possess the tallest trees in the whole forest, and one could wander the grounds in peace for hours without meeting a soul other than the local wildlife. Details are everywhere, with huge walls and gates telling countless stories and with countless engravings.
I quickly found Elder Sage Wind-Yi outside the main door to the Temple.
‘Welcome, stranger, to the Temple of the Jade Serpent! Our doors are open to you on this fine day. How may I help you?’
‘I have a message from Serpent’s Heart to deliver to the Jade Serpent, ma’am.’
‘But of course! Come this way and speak to Elder Rain-Zhu.’ She led me through a gate into a large plaza where trainees of the Order of the Cloud Serpents trained. At the top of the plaza, at the door to one of the large towers, we met Elder Rain-Zhu.
‘Ah, a messenger from the Serpent’s Heart? Thank you, stranger, for coming all this way. But I am afraid you cannot speak to the Jade Serpent right now – the ancient one is very busy, and as you can see, not here. Would you mind helping us out while you wait? Some of the water sprites have made off with our water scryer’s ceremonial staff, and they have fled to the north side of the temple to play. Could you go find it?’
I of course agreed, if it would gain me audience with the wondrous Jade Serpent I had heard so much of. I was naturally curious about why the Pandaren would revere a beast. As I was leaving a little Pandaren girl ran up to me.
‘Hey there! I saw you talking to the Elder Sage and I thought you could help me. My name’s Fei, I’m one of the apprentices here and I help care for the hatchlings! Some of the young cloud serpents snuck off to play and the mistress will get angry if she finds out they’re gone before dinner! Could you look for them for me? Oh, and I was told to give you these! We’re going to be celebrating the unveiling of the statue soon!’ With that, the girl handed me some fireworks and ran off.
It appeared that my path would stretch a little further.