Part 1: Promenade

A hot-air balloon gently drifted over the waves, carried by a gentle breeze from the West. In the basket hanging under it sat a monk, his eyes closed in meditation. The monk’s name, as closely translated as possible, was Thunderpetal. He and his fellow travellers had been flying the skies of Azeroth for over two months now, but Thunderpetal never lost patience. For a monk, a cook and a brewer of marvellous brews, patience is not simply a virtue, it is a way of life. Thunderpetal was used to waiting for things: for the noodles to cook, the beer to ferment, and in this case, for the hot air balloon to make its way to the city of Stormwind, home of many strange and wonderful creatures.

The breeze blew gently through Thunderpetal’s black-and-white fur, and the balloon moved a bit quicker. Thunderpetal noticed an itch in his neck. He allowed the itch to enter his consciousness, experienced it, studied it. When he thought he had felt the itch in all its aspects, and couldn’t learn any more by meditating upon it, he opened his eyes, raised a claw and scratched. Aysa Cloudsinger, their leader, pulled one of the ropes that opened the balloon at the top and pointed.

“Stormwind,” she said. “City of the Chiu-man.”

Thunderpetal bowed his large bear-like head, and said nothing. He didn’t know the Chiu-man, who lived in that stone city. Teacher Aysa had told him what she knew, which was not much. All they knew was that they belonged to the Alliance, and were friends. Friends they hadn’t met yet, friends who might not know that they were friends, but friends nonetheless.

Thunderpetal was a Panda-ren, one of the people of Pandaria. He was large, bear-like, with a black and white pattern to his fur. His eyes, dark, and hidden in the dark patches of fur round them, looked upon Stormwind for the first time. Thick stone walls rose out of the ocean, dotted with watch towers. Thunderpetal was a long, long way from home.

Back at home, on the continent of Pandaria, things were not well. For centuries, it had been a peaceful place until now, for unknown reasons, malevolent spirits had possessed usually friendly creatures and driven them to attack the Panda-ren. Thunderpetal had been forced to fight them. They were now at peace again, but unfortunately, they were also dead. In the fight, Thunderpetal, usually a placid young Pandaren, had shown a fierce anger that hadn’t gone away once the threat of the Virmen had disappeared. His father had sent him to the temple of the Jade Serpent, to find that his Self had been invaded by an anger that would eventually destroy him. Searching for a cure had finally led him to meet Aysa Cloudsinger, and join the Alliance.

Aysa Cloudsinger put out the flame under the balloon, and it started to descend quietly. She was making for a small island at the edge of the lands, where Thunderpetal could see a few Panda-ren tents. They were not the first to arrive here. At Teacher Aysa’s command, he threw out the anchor, and as the air in the balloon cooled, it settled on the grass. Another one of his companions jumped out of the basket, drove stakes into the earth and fastened the balloon to it before it could fly off again. Aysa Cloudsinger opened her small shrine, lit a few sticks of incense, then offered a small prayer of thanks to the winds for carrying them safely to this place. She jumped over the edge of the basket and landed solidly on her feet. She bent down, picked a few blades of grass, rubbed them between her fingers and watched them fly away on the breeze. She closed her eyes and breathed in deep, taking in the scents of Stormwind.

“This is a good land,” she said. “But it has seen trouble, only a short while ago. And we know absolutely nothing about it.”

Thunderpetal and the other monks nodded their heads quietly. They looked round. The island they had landed on was covered with grass. A few Panda-ren had established a camp, and a few riding turtles slowly chewed on the grass, or swam in the sea. To the East, they could see a circle of standing stones, and what looked like a piece of armour hanging from a wooden frame. As they were still collecting themselves, there was movement, and one of the Chiu-man stepped out of a boat, and walked up to them. He unrolled a piece of paper and spoke a few words that were almost entirely unlike Aysa Cloudsinger’s name. She looked up.

“The Chiu-man knew we were coming,” said Aysa, stepping forward. She walked up to the man and bowed to him. “I am Aysa Cloudsinger,” she said.

The Chiu-man nodded at her, then spoke slowly and loudly in his own language. Aysa gave him a wavering smile and put up her hands.

Bo-tu“, said the man. “Hiu Ko-mu Bo-tu, Va-Lian.” He gestured towards the small rowing boat he had arrived in.

One of the other monks drew up to her. “I believe he wishes you to come with him, Teacher.”

“I believe you are right, Huang,” said Aysa. “Well, it would be rude to refuse.”

“You should not go alone, Teacher,” said Huang. “We do not know if we can trust these Chiu-man.”

Aysa’s eyes gleamed at Huang. “Then you come with me, and defend me from the Alliance.” She looked round. “Thunderpetal can come as well, so he can defend you.”

“Yes, Teacher,” said Thunderpetal.

With some careful balancing and the three Panda-ren sitting very still, they managed to cross the water without having to swim for it. Their guide had brought them to the gates of the Emperor’s palace, where an enormous statue of a sword-fighter looked down on them. Aysa stood still for a moment, looking up.

“The Chiu-man have been at war for a long time,” she said, to no-one in particular.

“It is a recent work,” said Huang, who back on Pandaria had been a stonemason. “They use granite, which is not as lustrous as jade, but will allow them to make larger statues. The Chiu-man must like size and strength above all things.”

Aysa nodded quietly. “The Jade Serpent was larger than this, but still, it’s lying on the ground in pieces.”

Their guide had noticed they had stopped, and pointed his hand at the statue. “Va-lian Wu-lin,” he said. Then he gestured them to follow, and they walked into the palace. They were led down a long hallway paved with marble, into the Emperor’s hall. Their guide bowed to the Emperor, mispronounced Aysa Cloudsinger’s name and left.

The Emperor gave Aysa a strange look, then walked over to her. Aysa bowed deep. Thunderpetal and Huang did the same.

“Greetings, Emperor Va-lian,” said Aysa. “From Pandaria and the Wandering Isle we come to offer our friendship.”

The Emperor looked over his shoulder and shouted a name. One of the Emperor’s servants came rushing up. The Emperor pointed at Aysa Cloudsinger and her companions and asked a question. The servant cleared his throat and turned to Aysa Cloudsinger.

“I am pleased to introduce to you King Va-lian. We have news of your coming to Stormwind. We welcome you as honoured guests.”

Aysa turned to King Varian. As she spoke, the aide translated in a low whisper. “We, the people of Pandaria, thank you for your welcome. We are in your debt for the assistance the people under your command gave us on the Wandering Isle, and we place ourselves at your service.”

The King looked at Aysa with an incredulous grin, and spoke. The translator took a long breath, staring into space.

“The King wishes to know how…” he hesitated, struggling on the translation. “People such as you, can be of service to the Alliance.”

Aysa Cloudsinger bowed her head. “If it pleases the King, we Panda-ren have long studied the ways of Earth and Water, which we call the Tushui. We believe we share with the Alliance the belief in the moral certainty of this world, that the values of Right and Wrong are universal, and that we must always act accordingly, even at great sacrifice.”

There was a brief pause as the translator repeated this in Common. The King spoke, impatience quite clear in his voice. The translator turned to Aysa once more.

“The King would be pleased to learn how your… discipline aids the Alliance in a… military sense.”

Thunderpetal looked at Aysa Cloudsinger. During the voyage from the Wandering Isle to Stormwind, she had been a constant source of optimism, showing an indestructible faith in the outcome of their journey. Her face had always reflected her good humour and sense of wonder and beauty, except on the very few occasions where she honestly could not see the way forward. At those times, it became as still and quiet as when she was meditating, turning her sight and mind in on itself. Never had she allowed doubt or fear to show. But Thunderpetal could see now that she was keeping her feelings from showing, and that told him enough.

“During the course of our lives,” said Aysa, “It often becomes necessary to assert ourselves against influences that must not be. We are not without enemies. Troubled spirits often prey upon us, and we have had to defend ourselves against them, or in some cases the path of righteousness dictates that we end them.” Aysa looked up at King Varian. “We can fight.”

“How?” asked the translator, giving up on coming up with diplomatic translations.

“We have warriors,” said Aysa, “Mages. Hunters. Healers. We have a well-disciplined army. We are no strangers to the crafts of war. My companions are monks of the Temple of the Jade Serpent. Huang here is a Mistweaver, a healer. Thunderpetal is a Brewmaster.”

There was a pause as the translator relayed this information to the King. He asked the translator to repeat the last few words, then shot Aysa a glance, spoke a short sentence, then walked away.

“The King invites you to walk with him,” said the translator.

And so they walked. Out of the throne room, down a hallway to the right, and into a secluded garden. The King walked to the middle of the garden, then turned round to Aysa. He drew his sword.

“The King wishes to see your fighting style, you who use beer to fuel your courage.”

The King spoke a few more words.

“Either one, or three at a time.”

Huang bowed his head to Aysa. “Teacher… if you will permit me, I will…”

“No, Huang,” said Aysa. “Your offer is brave, but I cannot allow it.” Aysa turned to Thunderpetal. “My friend, I can’t fight this King. If I win, he will see me as a rival, not an ally. If I let him win, then I will lose his respect and the Panda-ren will never truly enter the Alliance. Can you show this King we can fight?”

Thunderpetal looked at the King, who stood a few yards away with a mocking grin on his face. His large sword was in his hand.

“Yes, Teacher,” said Thunderpetal.

“Thank you,” said Aysa. “I am sorry to ask this of you.” She looked over her shoulder at the King. “This Chiu-man will fight very aggressively. Also, he practices with sharp blades.” The disapproval was clear in Aysa’s voice. In the Shang Xi training grounds, all practice was done with blunt weapons. The technique was the same, and using sharp weapons only led to people being hurt unnecessarily. Aysa looked into Thunderpetal’s eyes.

“Assume the Stance of the Sturdy Ox. Use the Laoshan brew for agility.” Aysa closed her eyes a moment, then looked at Thunderpetal. “Do not embarrass us, my friend.”

“I will not, Teacher Cloudsinger.”

Thunderpetal opened his pack, and selected one of the green earthenware bottles. The label showed the sign of a pagoda, surrounded by reeds. A river ran past it. Thunderpetal flipped out the cork with his thumb, raised the bottle to the King, then drank it. He wiped his mouth on his fur, and put the empty bottle back in his pack. He left his pack sitting on the floor, and stepped forward, bambu staff in hand. Holding his staff behind his back, he bowed to the King, then readied himself. The king spoke a few words, then lowered his sword and with his left hand gestured Thunderpetal to attack.

Thunderpetal’s eyes narrowed, studying the King’s stance. Then, his staff shot forward, trying to strike the King’s arm. The King blocked, counter-attacked. Thunderpetal moved out of the way, stabbed out with his staff. The King swung his large sword round in a great arc, meaning to cut Thunderpetal in half, but Thunderpetal caught the blade with the low end of his staff and pushed it up over his head. Then, with a shout, he jabbed out at the King again. The King twisted his body out of the way, turned round with the momentum of his stroke, and slashed upwards. Thunderpetal deflected the stroke, and counter-attacked with the top end of his staff. The King sprang backwards, raised his sword and grinned at Thunderpetal.

The King sprang forward again, sword slashing round. Thunderpetal dodged, stabbed out again. With every move, he felt his Chi grow. Chi. There were many clumsy translations for the word: life-force, focus. None of those words did justice to the concept. Chi was… Chi, and it made your punches hit harder than could be explained by the simple action of muscle and bone. It was what enabled fighters to break thick planks, or blocks of stone, using only their fists. Thunderpetal and the King exchanged more blows, until finally, Thunderpetal swept his staff round low, at ankle level. The King leapt up high to avoid it. Thunderpetal saw his chance. Moving with the momentum of his sweep, he turned round on one foot and his left hand, palm out, shot forward with all of Thunderpetal’s strength, Chi, and his not inconsiderable weight behind it. He caught the King in the middle of the chest, lifted him off the ground and flung him back a dozen feet. The King landed on the Royal Posterior, and looked up at Thunderpetal for a few moments, jaw agape.

Several guards sprang forward, hands on the hilts of their swords, but the King waved them away. He raised his sword, stuck it in the grass and burst out laughing. Thunderpetal stood up straight, held his staff behind his back and bowed. The King held out a hand to Thunderpetal. Thunderpetal pulled him to his feet, and the King spoke a few words.

“Well done… round person covered in fur,” supplied the translator.

Thunderpetal looked round to Aysa Cloudsinger, just in time to see the grin disappear from her face. She stuck her nose in the air.

“Well done, my Student,” she said. “Your mastery of the Tiger Palm is progressing satisfactorily.”

“Thank you, Teacher,” said Thunderpetal, bowing to her.

The King stepped up to Aysa.

“Thank you, Cloudsinger,” said the translator. “That was most enjoyable.”

“May it please you, King Va-lian,” said Aysa.

King Varian nodded, and started to speak at some length, with the translator supplying the words.

“We have heard of your kind, Mistress Cloudsinger, and of your wish to join our Alliance. We know, however, that not all of your kind have chosen to. Many have joined the Horde. The Horde are our mortal enemies, who would wipe us all off the face of Azeroth if they could. Should you join us, then the Horde, and those of your kind who have chosen to join them, will be your mortal enemies.”

Aysa bowed her head with a serious expression on her face. “We know and accept that, King Va-lian.”

“When the time comes, you may come to face others of your kind. People you may know. People you may have loved. Your loyalty, from the moment you join us, will be with the Alliance, and you will be called upon to strike them down. Do you understand this?”

“Yes, King Va-lian,” said Aysa.

“Good. Please return to your camp. I will send word to you when I need you.”

“As you wish.”

Aysa, Huang and Thunderpetal were walking back to their balloon. The evening was clear and crisp, and the sky stretched out above them in fiery red. Huang looked up at Aysa.


“Yes, Huang?”

“Several of my cousins have joined the Horde. I watched them grow up from a cub, giving them rides on my knee. When I meet them again, they will try to kill me, and I them.”

“May that day never come, Huang, but when it does, then be ready.”

You have friends who have joined the Horde, have you not?”

“I have,” said Aysa.

“Master Ji Firepaw has joined the Horde,” said Thunderpetal.

“Irresponsible fool,” said Aysa. “He almost killed the Great Turtle.”

Despite her words, there was a soft look in her eyes, and a little smile on her face.

“He told me he admired the perfection of your form,” said Thunderpetal.

“Did he now?” Aysa smiled.

“When the time comes,” said Thunderpetal, “Could you fight him? Kill him?”

Aysa looked round to Thunderpetal.

“Do you mean, would I be able to, or could I bring myself to?”

Thunderpetal looked away for a moment. He had no family in these lands, only in Pandaria, and his father was unlikely to join either Alliance or Horde.

“Both,” he said.

Aysa’s face hardened. “Yes, and yes,” she said. “I pray that I won’t have to, but if the Path demands it of me, I will.”

They walked on quietly, borrowed a boat from a Human, and walked back to their balloon, still floating a few dozen yards above the ground. Its ropes hung slack. While they were away, the others had put up a few more tents, and built a campfire. Dinner was being prepared and a divine smell of sweet and sour pork drifted across the island. They sat in a circle round the fire, and ate their first dinner as members of the Alliance, with a surprising amount of noise. Aysa stood up, and tapped her chopsticks on her bowl for attention.

“My companions,” she said, “From this hour forward, we are members of the Alliance. We have new friends, but also new enemies. We know little about our friends, and next to nothing of our enemies. It is said, ‘Know your enemy, and know yourself, and in a hundred battles, you will never be in danger’. Meditate upon this truth before sleep. That which we do not know, will not hurt us.” Aysa frowned. “It will kill us. Therefore, my friends, it will be your duty to go out into these lands, and learn what you can of its people, their hopes, their fears, their strengths, their weaknesses. Then report back to me, and I will make sure that we all drink deep of the knowledge you have gathered.”

Thunderpetal had put away his bowl and chopsticks, and helped clean up the dinner things. He found he could not yet go to sleep, so he might as well take a walk. It would help digestion, help him sleep, and allow him to start finding out about this place. He walked the streets of Stormwind. Lights were on everywhere, and people went about their business as though the Sun had never set. Did the Chiu-man need no sleep? He came to a part of the city that had been destroyed in a great fire, or explosion. Only ruins still remained of what looked like an old barracks , the roof fallen down. The enemies of the Alliance must be strong if they could wreak this kind of destruction.

As he turned round, his ears picked up a strange noise, a low moaning, as of a creature in pain. Thunderpetal pointed his ears forward, straining himself to see where the noise came from. Then, in the last light of the evening, he saw it: a lighter spot in the shadows of the old barracks. He jumped down a small hill and walked to the place where a woman of the Chiu-man lay on the ground. Her clothes were torn open, but Thunderpetal could see no wounds on her half-bare chest, nor on her legs, as far as he could see, which was about half-way up her thighs. He opened his mouth to ask if the woman was alright, but even if she could understand Pandaren, it would be a stupid question. He walked up to the woman and kneeled by her, looking at her carefully. Her face, pale and hairless, looked dirty, but unhurt. Soft painful noises came from her lips.

“Help me…”

Her eyelids fluttered, and she turned her face up to Thunderpetal. As she saw him, her eyes opened wide. Her chest rose suddenly with her breath, and she screamed loudly, pushed herself up on her arms and legs and skittered backwards, away from him. Thunderpetal frowned. How could this Chiu-man have recovered so quickly? He did not have long to think about that. There was a loud snap, a sudden pain in the back of his head, and then the lights went out.

Part 2: Gnomus


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