I met Nazgrim back at the abandoned airstrip, looking out over a curious field of standing stones. They had the same markings as there had been in Konk’s Nook. We were no longer fighting the Alliance, it seemed.
‘The Hozen. Natural predators of Pandaria. Stupid, too. We have monkeys to take out if we want to get past this perimeter.’
While the remnants held ground at the Strongarm Airstrip, I was to sneak down to the nearby grove bordering some mountains and retrieve some reagents to help us get past the Hozen. Chlorophyll. Nasty stuff. But necessary. I guess.
Fortunately, most of the nature elementals down at Serenity Falls (as the Pandaren call it) were peaceful and content to yield a flower or two. When I stumbled across the Falls proper, it was breathtaking.
Sprites of water that resemble the Kalimdorian Treants litter the place, casting rituals of rejuvenation and purity across the area. Glistening pure waters tumble from the cliffs above and come to a beautiful, soothing calm in the pools below. Trees that look greener and more alive than any I had ever seen grew out of the enriched water.
I cupped the diamond-coloured water in my hands and sipped it. It was wondrous. Tasting it gave me a wonderful clarity and calmness and immediately I knew which direction to head in for the necessary supplies. But I walked calmly, like all my fears and doubts had left me. As though war no longer mattered, but every small sign of life around me did. I found a crashed drone half-submerged in the water, one flung from Hellscream’s Fist when it had been destroyed.
I was brought from my clarity by the evidence that the native sprites had taken all the supplies. I did not wish to take the supplies back by force – but their repossession was vital to our survival in the hostile forests, and the sprites could easily sustain themselves. I simply did not wish to ruin the natural climes of such an isolated paradise. But war facilitates necessity, and taken by surprise the sprites were no match for a fireball at their necks. With the supplies regathered, I headed back to the Airstrip.
The Forsaken commander, Kiryn, handed me a set of poisoned throwing weapons. ‘The Hozen are massing for an assault. You must sow discord among their numbers.’ If the Hozen were massing to assault, then I would rather them than me. I quickly started up a surviving gyrocopter and flew around the copse nearby. The Hozen, having never seen such technology, were powerless to fight back and quickly fled back into the forests as I tore their ranks apart with poison.
Nazgrim already had new orders by the time I returned. ‘You are the quickest of our remaining number. Scout the area for any landmarks we may use as a base, before they can regroup.’
I made my way relatively quickly up the hill, and stumbled across a little camp, where the largest Hozen I had seen yet was busy re-organising them.
‘GET BACK DOWN HILL! OOK EM IN DOOKS!’
I shot a fireball through the amassed crowd and they scattered in fear. Splitting mirrors from myself I quickly engaged the commander in combat. It was the only way to end the attack, but I was more than a little worried about the size of the thing.
‘DUKE OOKEM GROOK YOU!’
At his yell almost all the forest Hozen seemed to mass around us, chanting in a fierce, war-drunk language as we fought. My skills of arcane were no match for the lumbering Hozen and as he fell, the Hozen troops fell quite. I was terrified that they would set upon me and tear me apart, and the seconds ticked by in silence as they registered the death of their leader.
‘WIKKET OOKED DOOK!’ The Hozen shrieked in fear at the realisation and ran wildly into the forest, knocking over shrubs and trees in fear. I let out a sigh of relief, only to see a Pandaren approaching the other side of the settlement.
‘Hello, friend! You must be one of the folk that crashed here. I would love to talk, but here is not the place. Please, follow me to the Cave of Words at the top of this hill.’
I did not quite trust my chances getting back through the Hozen to the settlement, but I knew I had duties to do for Nazgrim first, so I nodded politely to the Pandaren for his offer, setting across through the Forest to scout the rest of the hill.
Atop a small plateau next to a steep mountain range, I first found a curious shrine. It was abandoned, but around a little fountain were painstakingly crafted emblems of the sun. I made a note to ask the Pandaren in Honeydew Village about it, and headed further up the hill in the direction the Pandaren had walked, since there was nothing further down except the Hozen-inhabited copse.
I found a Pandaren path which led me along the hill until I reached another shrine. The only indication it was a shrine was that the gating was identical to the first – beyond it was little except a quiet spot of contemplation, and a table. However, the view was magnificent. From the table I could see over the whole Ascent, past the Hozen and through the Airstrip down right to the Village. On my left was Serenity Falls, and a second, higher level of the Falls I had not seen before. It was truly quite beautiful to behold.
‘Ah, friend! You have found the Shrine of the Moon, I see. Come with me. The Cave of Words is just around the corner.’
The Pandaren from earlier led me along the ridge I had been following before, until we came to a little cave built into the rock. Within the Cave of Words were countless scrolls, longer than any humanoid and written in elaborate, flowing Pandaren script that was enchanting just to look at. Warm ruby lanterns hung from the roof. The Pandaren led me to a brazier to warm up.
‘This is a wonderful time for Pandaria – the Mists have parted and we have rejoined Azeroth at last. Please, visitor, make yourself comfortable.’
Despite my protests, Cho (as he introduced himself) insisted I stay for tea. My concern lay with the Horde back at the Airstrip, but I was quite in need of an actual rest.
‘Fear not. We will discuss your people’s plight.’ Cho wandered over to a shelf full of scrolls as I drank, and began to read it.
‘Here we go. Over 14 millennia ago, this entire land was ruled by a race known as the Mogu.’ As he said the word, the braziers began to pump smoke out, and within the haze a figure became distinct. A towering, jade-coloured humanoid of incredible proportion. The same exact figure I had seen in the statue in the Ascent, and the statues acting as supports for the Thunder Hold Ruins.
‘The Mogu warlords ruled Pandaria through fear. Fear kept them in power, until the first monks of the Pandaren taught Pandaria courage. And courage overthrew the Mogu.’
Cho closed the scroll and joined me, sipping from his tea as the smoke cleared.
‘Those who govern through fear rule only while those they govern lack courage. The Hozen fear you now, but soon they will become courageous. In order to keep them in check, you must not make them fear you – but you must inspire them.’
I finished my tea. Despite the lesson Cho was teaching, a feeling of blissful courage and calm had set over my entire self.
‘I will help you learn. But first, I wish to learn about your ‘Horde’. But where are my manners! No doubt you have questions of your own first, and I am the host! Come, and we will learn more of each other.’ As Cho finished his tea he clapped his hands in peculiar rhythm, and from the shadows of the Cave a large turtle wandered out. Cho mounted the turtle – a deep, purple turtle with vivid and ancient scales, and led me back out, along a fork in the path I had not taken earlier.
‘I am what Pandaria calls a Lorewalker. We are considered the historians of this continent. As such, my weapons are quills and words, not swords and spells.’ As we walked, I took notice of the wildlife. Curious quilled mammals that I had never seen before, and large, beautiful wildcats identical to those that had been corrupted near Honeydew Village.
‘Pandaria’s history is shrouded in myth, even to us, and the Lorewalker’s job is to rediscover our history – rending the shroud, piece by piece. This task demands endless vigilance and searching – the eye to obtain clues that anyone not attuned to history would miss. We’ve arrived. This is the Circle of Bone. Keep watch. I’ve had trouble here before.’
We had reached another clearing, with polished standing stones and ritualised bones decorating the ground. Lorewalker Cho led me to a shrine, then stopped.
‘But of course, the best way to show you what a Lorewalker is… is to show you. The stones here have been locked from our knowledge for years by an ancient language I have only recently been able to begin deciphering. Please, do the honours. Use this key to unlock the secrets of these stones.’
Handing me the secrets of decryption, Cho accompanied me to the first stone. It told of a great Hozen Warlord who had lived in the Forest twenty-five hundred years ago.
‘What are your leaders like? Poets? Warriors? I should like to meet them someday.’ We wandered to the next stone. However, before I could decrypt it, Cho stood straight up. ‘Watch yourself! Saurok attack!’
A giant reptilian-humanoid creature leapt from a nearby tree and slammed me into another monolith. ‘DIE, SSOFTSSKINSS!’ The creature called lightning down and began to battle hand-to-hand with Cho as I lay dazed against the rock. Blood trickled down my back. Though the Saurok was the height of a full-grown magnataur Cho was too quick for it, and defeated it in short succession with well placed fists.
‘My apologies, friend. The Saurok have been hostile since the time of the Mogu, and though we have never given up on attempting to negotiate with them, sometimes we must fight.’ The Saurok’s corpse had stained the monolith.
‘Let us attempt the next one instead.’ Cho offered me his hand, and though dazed, I was not badly wounded. We walked to the next one, and Cho looked around as I decrypted it. Although there were other standing stones, Cho insisted upon my not overexerting myself, and we sat in the clearing for a rest. At some point during the last few days I’d lost my sense of time, and as the sun rose over my head and indicated noon I was taken by surprise.
‘Come, there is one more place we would visit. This place is called the Circle of Bone – and we travel to the Circle of Stone now.’ After gathering the notes he had made on the translations, Cho remounted his turtle and led me back up the way we had come, along a side-path to a small shrine.
‘I have learned a great deal from watching you so far, traveller. The fervor of youth, the experience of age. You have been through a lifetime of warfare, haven’t you?’
The comment was merely observation, but it still stung. I remembered the Wars, First, Second and Third, draining our people and eventually felling Quel’Thalas almost altogether. Since, the blood flow from Silvermoon had not been abated by the Outland and Northrend campaigns, the war against Deathwing, and this new war. I thought of my mother and father. I wondered if they knew I was here, stranded, on a beautiful new world. I wondered if they even knew I was alive.
‘This is a special place. My Great-Grandparents called this part of the forest home.’ Cho turned to me, seeing the sorrow across my face as I remembered my family. Mother, father, still safe, but for how long? Sithrial, my cousin, my dear love, taken from me in Theramore by the actions of a coward.
‘We Pandaren do not worship our ancestors. We learn from them, revering their memory and the wisdom they pass on to the world. My Great Grandfather first told me the tale of the Mogu that you heard from me earlier.’ As Cho spoke, he lit incense at the shrine, and from it came more smoke, and the silhouettes of Cho’s family – images of his relatives, stretching back thousands of years into the past, until they were too small to see.
‘I am most grateful for their knowledge. I stand on their shoulders. So, there is our introduction, Keliera. Our introduction. What of your people? Are they so different from mine. Let us find what we have in common.’ Cho indicated the second unlit incense bundle on the opposite side of the shrine.
I was not sure. But I took a deep breath, summoning a spark in my hands and dropping it onto the incense, which took light.
‘Let us hear of your ancestors, and where you came from, shall we?’ As the incense took light, the smoke made its images across from Cho’s, showing me, my parents, and all that came before. Blood elves, Farstriders, Traders, High Elves, magi, spellbreakers and rangers, stretching back far past the Highborne and into the domain of the Kaldorei, druids and hunters, warriors and conjurers, until the images stretched so far back that they blurred and hurt my eyes.
‘Noble is your lineage. Great is your power, and greater is your grief. It is clear why your people call themselves the Blood Elves. We are not so different, you and I. I think we will become good friends.’ Though I was emotional from what I had seen, I knew in my heart that Cho was right. I did not wish war upon this land, nor did I really wish it upon any other.