Though she had heard the tale of Liu Lang and the story about his umbrella and the Wood of Staves all her life, Kaoling had never really expected to ever set foot in that mystical place herself. She would have imagined even less that she might do so in company with all the monks and students from the Academy, but for some reason, it had seemed vitally important to Master Shang Xi that they all attend his final meditation. As the aged Master simply faded away and his charm-bedecked staff burst into bloom, Kaoling glanced, through her tears, at Koralyra and was a bit surprised to see that the other girl was also crying. Cool, emotionless Kora was actually crying. On a sudden impulse, Kaoling put her arm around Kora’s shoulders. The other girl covered her face with her hands and cried even harder for a minute or so. Then she wiped her eyes with the back of her paws and stood, pulling Kaoling up with her.
“Let’s go, Kaoling,” she said, “We’ve got to finish the task Master Shang Xi has set us. Let’s go find Master Firepaw and Master Cloudsinger at the balloon platform and see if Shen-zin Su will speak to us.”
Kora’s emotions roiled like a pot of her mother’s sweet-and-sour soup. Exhilaration from the soaring balloon ride, awe at the privilege of actually speaking with Shen-zin Su, horror at the huge airship embedded in the great turtle’s side, curiosity about the strange beings in and around the wrecked vessel, grief at the passing of Master Shang Xi. It was almost too much to bear, so she merely stood, staring blankly ahead at the statue of Liu Lang, barely listening as Master Firepaw and Master Cloudsinger reported their conversation with Shen-zin Su to Elder Shaopai.
“And you, Koralyra, Kaoling,” Elder Shaopai suddenly addressed them, “Master Shang Xi thought very highly of you indeed. What do you think we should do?”
“I think that the sky has gotten dark,” Kaoling answered, “and the stars are shining, and whatever we must do to cure Shen-zin Su, it will take great effort. I think we should rest and make plans in the morning.”
Master Firepaw and Master Cloudsinger’s faces displayed identical expressions of mingled approval and dismay as Kaoling bowed to each of them and to Elder Shaopai, then turned to leave the Temple of Five Dawns.
“Come on, Kora,” she said, tugging at Kora’s hand, “my parents live just down the hill. My father makes the best steamed buns in all Mandori Village, and I’m sure we can find a couch for you somewhere in the house.”