For a fleeting moment, the scent of the breeze shifted from pine resin and Mulgore Spice Bread to cherry blossoms and ginseng tea, and a piece of parchment carefully folded into the shape of a crane tumbled through the doorway of the tent in Thunder Bluff where Kaoling was sorting herbs and came to rest at her feet.
Kaoling picked up the parchment and delicately unfolded it, smiling as she recognized the meticulous calligraphy.
I promised that I would write to you after I reached Stormwind, but this must be the one and only time I do so. The
Emperor King of the Alliance has said that I must consider all Pandaren who chose to follow Master Firepaw and the Huojin my enemies. I am sure that the leader of the Horde has said the same to you about the Pandaren who chose to follow Master Cloudsinger and the Tushui. Nevertheless, I hope that, should we meet again, it will not be in battle. Or if it is, that it may be in cooperation against a common foe. We did make a great team, after all. Someday, perhaps, I shall have the wisdom to understand how Master Shang Xi knew it. May the world be a gentle teacher.
Kaoling came awake in the middle of the night when her bed jolted. She felt like the floor had tilted, too, but perhaps that was just the momentary disorientation of having been pulled too abruptly from a rather good dream.
“Must you do your exercises now?” she accused her roommate, who was always practicing and meditating at the oddest hours.
“I’m not,” Koralyra’s voice came back cooly from the other side of the room. “Can’t you hear all the bells ringing? Perhaps there’s a fire somewhere in town.”
Now that she was more awake, Kaoling could hear a fading clamor of what seemed like all the bells around the Academy. She crawled out of bed and went to the dormitory window. “I don’t see any fires out this direction.”
“I wonder what happened, then?” Koralyra murmured, sounding like she was already going back to sleep. “Master Shang Xi will probably tell us in the morning.”
But neither Master Shang Xi nor the other instructors at the academy said anything. Practice, meditation, sparring, and study continued as they always had.
Over the next few weeks, however, the weather became wildly unseasonable. The air temperature fluctuated abruptly. The fishermen who supplied the Academy’s kitchens reported catches of unusually variable quantity and quality and unfamiliar fish. The sun wobbled across the sky. Clearly, something was wrong with Shen-zin Su, the great sea turtle who carried the Wandering Isle on his back.
Why, then, was no-one doing anything about it? But there was nothing that she, Kaoling, could do, either, until she completed her training at the Academy. So she pushed herself to be the best in the current group of trainees, to be the one to finish fastest. Practicing with the large groups of students became too slow, too boring, so she soon began seeking out those of her fellow students who were willing to spar with her one-on-one.
On their first day at the Academy, Instructor Mossthorn had informed the novice trainees of a traditional challenge: who would be the first among them to traverse the balance poles in the Singing Pools all the way to the Meditation Bell in the center and ring it?
Every child on the Wandering Isle learned to balance on poles and to leap accurately from one to another.* The Academy’s balance poles, however, were further apart than any Koralyra had ever used before. Cranes stalked the pools, and all the trainees soon learned to get out of the water as quickly as they could when they fell. And everyone fell, especially when Instructor Qun and Instructor Zhi made them practice sparring while balancing on the poles.
Every day, Koralyra joined a large group of students at the pools to practice and meditation on the poles. She felt a great joy in the graceful unity of their movements and a calm pride as fewer splashes disturbed their concentration with each day that passed.
At last the day came when Kora reached the final ring of pillars surrounding the Meditation Bell without having fallen or been knocked off while sparring with a classmate. She breathed deeply and ran through a quick cycle of balancing forms, then leapt to the central platform. Something flickered in her peripheral vision, and as she reached out and struck the bell with her closed fan, another fan also struck the bell in the same instant.
“YOU!!!” Kora and Kaoling shouted at each other.
A cacophony of splashes, croaks, and screeches arose from the waters behind them.
Later that afternoon, Master Shang Xi summoned Koralyra to him at the Academy library. “It has been a long time since any student reached the Meditation Bell so early in her training,” the old Master smiled. “Now, I have another challenge for you.” He closed his fingers, then opened them, and a flame appeared in the palm of his hand. “Every wisdom has a time and place, and times are changing for those of us living here on Shen-zin Su. For this lesson, I would ask two things of you. For the first, I hold a flame in my hand. Gather your wits, and when you think you are ready, attempt to snatch the flame. Should you succeed, I want you to then go to the eastern alcove of the top floor of this library and burn the Edict of Temperance that you find there.”
Koralyra was shocked. Burn the Edict of Temperance that had guided the Pandaren of the Wandering Isle for generations? She closed her eyes for a moment, calming her mind and contemplating this new task. Then she reached out gently, silently inviting the flame to come to her as other small magics did, and it flowed eagerly from Master Shang Xi’s palm into hers before their fingers even touched.
The aged Master smiled again. “On the first try! I am impressed!”
Carefully cupping the flame in her hands, Koralyra climbed the stairs to the top of the library and made her way to the eastern alcove. She knelt there for a quarter hour or so, reading and re-reading the Edict, committing its words and message to heart one last time.
As she descended the stairs, pondering the import of what she had just done, her discomfiture increased when she saw Master Shang Xi speaking to Kaoling. He was telling the other girl the same things he had told her, asking her to burn another copy of the Edict in the western alcove of the top floor of the library.
Kaoling’s hand darted out before Master Shang Xi had even finished speaking. She swept the flames from his fingers and bounded up the stairs, pushing Koralyra aside. She returned only a minute or two later.
“It’s about time!” Kaoling said, “Now, what are we going to do about Shen-zin Su?”
* see Pearl of Pandaria pages 5 & 6