07 December 2012

The Departure of the Balloons

Elder Shaopai met the party at the Temple of Five Dawns and immediately stepped up to organize the two factions. Both Ji and Aysa were busy with the Horde and Alliance soldiers, respectively, and once again Weipon found herself hovering awkwardly around the edges, looking for something to do. Elder Shaopai noticed her hesitation and pulled her aside.

"There's something inside the temple that you might like to see."

Grateful for something to do, Weipon followed him inside, automatically following the line of the massive statue up to its umbrella. At the base of the statue, surrounded by the four spirits, was a brazier. Elder Shaopai threw a strong-smelling herb onto the fire, causing a puff of smoke, followed by...

"Master Shang Xi!" Weipon exclaimed, goggling at the ethereal figure that hovered over the flames.

The recently departed pandaren smiled. His voice came quietly to her, as if carried on the wind across a great distance. "I see that you have saved Shen Zin Su. I'm very proud of you, Weipon."

"Thank you, Master. But now, the Horde and--"

"Yes, it seems that the cooperation both factions showed here today is not enough to mend their great division. Both Horde and Alliance will need to be returned to their homes, and separately. And..." The spirit leveled a calculating look at his former student. "And, I think some pandaren might join them. Perhaps it's time for the secluded island pandaren to reintegrate ourselves into the outside world."

Elder Shaopai jerked. "Master Shang, do you really think the pandaren should leave the Wandering Isle?"

Master Shang turned his ethereal gaze on the older pandaren. "Times are changing. We have spent too long learning about the rest of the world in textbooks but never confirming it for ourselves. The pandaren who came to the Wandering Isle centuries ago were explorers. Why can we not be so again now?"

Weipon had never had any skill in reading oracle bones, but the instant Master Shang finished speaking she saw a premonition as clearly as if she had read it in the cracks of a tortoise shell still hot from the fire. She saw her path lead her away from the Wandering Isle as surely as if represented by a shattered piece of shell. She realized that Master Shang was watching her.

"I will make arrangements with Ji and Aysa. Go and make your final preparations. Return here within five days."

Soon after, Weipon was leaving the temple and beginning the relatively short walk to her family's home. Behind her, the activity in the temple kicked into a frenzy as Master Shang's orders were relayed.

Behind the stone wall surrounding the family estate, Weipon found her mother tending to the small garden along the sunniest wall. Her pet Fu was napping in a warm patch of grass, but began to bark and zoom wildly around the yard at Weipon's arrival.

"Weipon! We've been expecting you for several days! Did something happen at the tournament?" Her mother dusted her hands off and gave her daughter a sweaty hug. She peered intently into the younger pandaren's face and frowned at what she saw there. "What happened?"

"Can I tell both of you at once?" Weipon replied faintly.

Over what felt like several hours, Weipon related the past few days. The details of the tournament seemed bland in comparison, but Weipon included them for completeness. She tried to downplay the more dangerous situations, but her father still gasped and clucked as he refilled their tea.

"...so now, Master Shang is arranging for the Horde and Alliance soldiers to be sent home, and he is recruiting pandaren to go with them."

Weipon's mother leaned back with an amazed shake of her head. "Well, thank the spirits that that's over and done with. You must be very glad to be home!"

In the awkward silence that followed, Weipon's parents exchanged a glance before turning on her as a team. "You can't possibly be considering going with them!" her mother began, just as her father piped up with, "How can you take over the family business if you're across the ocean?"

They talked over each other for several seconds, growing more frustrated, until finally Weipon had a chance to speak. "Please understand that I'm not doing this to hurt you. I can't really explain it, but I feel like I need to do this. Meeting the other races of Azeroth made me realize that I don't know enough about the rest of the world, and I need to explore it to really understand it."

"You've never had any strange tendencies like that growing up, not like that Stormstout cub," her mother cut in.

Weipon reined in a grimace. "I don't know what to tell you, other than that I've decided to go. I have five days to spend with you before I leave, and I'd like to make the most of them."

The next few days were tense, as Weipon's parents alternated between showering her with frantic affection and passive-aggressively trying to talk her out of her decision. Her father's face grew thunderous when he saw fliers recruiting pandaren for the Horde or the Alliance. Her mother sighed loudly when she saw Weipon's packed bags waiting at the doorway. For her part, Weipon visited friends and neighbors, made last-minute copies of recipes and music, and spent as much time talking to her parents as possible.

On the last night before her departure, they sat around a campfire in the yard, sipping wine and admiring the setting sun reflecting off the artificial pond in their garden. Her father stretched and stood with some effort, then went into the house to retrieve something. He returned with his writing materials and spread them out on a folding table.

"I'd like to write something...for you to take with you," he said gruffly.

He composed:
We bid farewell at the temple gate
The sun sets, I return home alone
In spring the flowers will bloom again
But will my beloved daughter too return?

With a flourish he signed and stamped his name, then began to meticulously clean up his materials. Weipon's mother slipped away with a murmur, then returned with a small pouch. Weipon swallowed, overcome with emotion, when her mother began to remove treasure after treasure from the pouch.

"I'm no poet like your father, but I also wrote something for you." She unfurled a sheet of parchment on which she had simply written "Remembrance." After replacing it in the pouch, she removed a jade comb depicting a serpent rampant inlaid in pearl and gold. Weipon had always admired it, especially when her mother wore it in her long hair. "Now this, as you know, has been passed down through the women of my family for some time, so it's high time it made its way to you. I'll give you the same advice my mother gave me: It's too pretty to be wasted in a drawer somewhere. Enjoy it by wearing it, or you won't enjoy it at all." This too was returned to the pouch. "And finally, these are from your father's side of the family. His mother gave them to me when we married." She showed Weipon two enormous gold disks shaped like half sunbursts, or perhaps golden paws. The centers were lacquered in red. Her mother smiled almost shyly. "I hope that you'll see these things and think of us."

"Oh, Mother," Weipon said, "you know I won't forget you!" She surged forward to hug her mother fiercely.

When they separated, her father was also holding out a small package. "It's nothing special. I know you already have your own set of brushes but... Well, it's just something new for you."

She opened the box to find two new calligraphy brushes and a small ink stick. Her father had carved her name into the handles and added a braided loop to the top for easy hanging. She touched them with trembling fingers, then closed the box.

"Thank you.," Weipon told her parents. "You have done nothing but provide for me since I was born, and now as I'm about to selfishly leave you alone you give me even more. I could not ask for anything greater."

In the morning, they rose early. Weipon's mother helped her fix the jade comb in her hair, and her father carried her bags to the temple. Weipon carried her sanxian strung across her back, the first few bars to a new piece already floating around her head. They arrived as the sun was just peeking above the horizon and gasped at the hot air balloons being prepared in the temple yard.

The only balloons big enough to transport the large amount of soldiers and pandaren across the sea were those typically used in festivals. Here and there brilliant splashes of crimson, emerald, and gold shivered in the early light as the balloons were filled and the baskets prepared for the journey. Designs depicting smiling pandaren faces, auspicious phrases, and playful spirits beamed down on the soon-to-be-travelers. Weipon saw Ji standing with a group of tauren by one of her favorite balloons. She turned to her parents.

Silently, they embraced. Then, with a wry grin, her father bowed, followed closely by her mother. Weipon swallowed hard and returned the gesture. She waved to their parting backs, then went to find something to do to distract her.

Ji was glad for the extra pair of hands. "We're hoping to release the first balloon within the hour. Did you decide if you're coming with me or, um...Aysa?" he asked with false brightness.

"You, of course. I think the Huojin is the only way for me to go." She shrugged.

He smiled. "Well, I'm glad to have you on board." He showed her where to store her belongings and set her to loading more packages onto the balloons assigned to the Horde group. As the sun rose, so did the number of people milling about, waiting for the events to start. Elder Shaopai began to rustle his parchment, indicating that he would like to give his speech, and the rabble gradually gathered into their assigned groups and quieted.

Weipon hardly heard the speech, so intently was she focusing on the gently undulating basket waiting for her. Then, Ji was helping her step up, and a group of half Horde soldiers, half pandaren volunteers filed in behind her. Expertly, Ji and another pandaren began to maneuver the balloon, sending it higher and directing it towards where they estimated Kalimdor to be based on Shen Zin Su's migration. The balloon floated up, finally rising above the highest spire of the temple.

Weipon was startled to hear a familiar barking.

"Hey, a little...what is that, anyway?" an orc cried, peering at a corner of the basket.

Fu looked up expectantly at Weipon, wagging his tail in excitement. "You...can't be here," Weipon said dumbly. "How did you even get out of the yard?"

"Is this little fella yours?" Ji asked. He gave Fu's ruff a friendly scratch. "I guess it's too late to take him back. Unless we toss him overboard, but he'd probably just swim along behind us." He smiled ruefully. Weipon was relieved to hear that Fu would not be tossed into the ocean.

And so, the freshly expanded Horde (plus one stowaway dog) set off for Kalimdor, crossing the sea in a whimsically colorful parade.


  1. *sniffle*

    You write so beautifully. I love the descriptions of Weipon's interactions with her parents and their activities during that last week at home. The gifts they give her are so touching.

    Will there be one more installment, when she gets to Orgrimmar?

    1. Thank you very much :)

      I think I'm going to incorporate her into Aka's story going forward into Pandaria (after all, she will need a translator!). Consider this my valiant effort to force myself to keep more than one toon current with the expansion!