An’she shone brightly overhead, leaving hardly any shadows in the little valley. It was warm, warmer than it had been for months now. Winter was finally giving way to spring. And Taeana was taking advantage of the warm weather. Having abandoned the fur shawl she had worn most winter to keep warm, she sat bare-shouldered in the sunlight as she went through that day’s mail delivery.
Her little calf laid on his back nearby, intensely studying a small toy made of various materials. He would put an edge of it in his mouth, nibble it, then pull it back up to study it again and shift it in his chubby hands.
Taeana sealed the letter she had just finished and set it aside, reaching over quickly to tickle Tawa’s brown tummy and make him giggle before picking up the next unread message. This one was clearly pandaren; easily distinguishable with the decorative casing and seal in a beautiful geometric design.
She broke the clay seal on the case and pulled out the rolled parchment within. Receiving letters from Pandaria or the Isle were not rare for her with how she kept contact with her old masters and friends. However, as she unrolled the letter, the stylized pandaren writing thereon was... Well it was familiar, but in a old, nostalgic way. Her eyes shot down to the signature at the bottom.
The name summoned old memories from years past. Lifetimes. She had only been twenty when she last saw the pandaren, a young, carefree shu’halo in the barrens, not even able to comprehend what the near and far future held for her.
Curiosity flared, she went back to the top of the letter and read:
It has been many years since we last spoke, to say the least. I have finally returned to the Wandering Isle and heard your name spoken amongst the temple. I suppose I am not surprised to discover how much you have grown and learned over the last few decades.
In that vein, I would request your presence on the Wandering Isle at your earliest convenience. Not only to reunite, but there is more that I would discuss with you, Master to Apprentice.
May the Celestials guide you, Taeana. I look forward to seeing you again soon.
A strange pattering had developed in her heart and stomach as she read. The mistweaving master that had first trained her. The first Pandaren she had ever met! The woman that had set her hooves on this path in the first place. If not for that chance meeting, what would Tae’s life had turned to? Certainly not where she was now. So much of her life changed after those years.
She had to go. She wanted to see her old friend and master again. Even beyond that, a summons from a master, even a “request”, was never something she could deny. How long had it been... thirty years? Excitement and curiosity built up. It would be an interesting trip indeed!
The hot air balloon flight had been long and stressful, but beautiful. Tawa was apparently not a fan of flying, but he managed to sleep for more than half of it, to Taeana’s great relief. Finally, the great turtle was on the horizon, and soon enough under their hooves.
Tawa securely in his carrier on her back, Taeana headed straight for the Temple of Five Dawns. The smile on her face was broad, excited and even a little nervous. The beauty of the isle was never lost on her, and she naturally walked slower, taking in the sights she had not seen for a few months.
As much as she missed living here, she knew she had made the right choice going back to Kalimdor. Her tribe needed their chieftess. And while she was certain she could remain happily upon Shen-zin Su, the joy that came with her calling was unmatched.
Entering the beautiful temple, Taeana began to look around for that familiar face. Would it still be familiar? Would Chai-ji even recognize her?
Others that knew her came over quickly to greet her and Tawa. The calf was a bit hesitant with so many new faces cooing over how he had grown, his chubbiness, and large ears. Lost in the chatter, Taeana didn’t even notice as an older pandaren woman took the place right in front of her.
“My, you have grown,” she said, her age clear in her voice, but even still the chime in it flooded Tae with old youthful memories.
“Chai-ji!” She exclaimed, fumbling her hands into a formal bow. Difficult with Tawa on her back but she lowered herself as much as she could.
Chai-ji chuckled and tucked Tae’s chin up. “You greet a friend first, young one,” she said, pulling Taeana into a hug. “It is good to see you again.”
Taeana was giddy, consciously making sure not to bounce on her hooves. “And you! I was so excited to hear from you!”
“I hoped you would be,” Chai-ji chuckled again, looking past Taeana to Tawa on her back. “And your offspring! He is adorable. I hear the father is a Yaungol?”
Taeana nodded. “Yes, Khar’huk.”
A curious glitter crossed Chai-ji’s eyes, and Taeana’s blushing nose answered the silent question and the pandaren chuckled again.
“Come, I will make us some tea and we can catch up more properly.”
Two days later, Chai-ji led them westward out of the temple, across the bridges towards Morning Breeze Village. The rolling thundering of the waterfalls was a soothing backdrop to their conversation. Pleasantries were exchanged, chatter about how Tawa was growing and learning, and life on Kalimdor. But eventually Chai-ji turned the conversation.
“I hear you have been teaching Mistweaving and healing lessons at the temple. You still find the Way of the Serpent to your favor?”
Taeana nods, thumbing one of the charms attached to her belt. “Yes, the forms still come easy to me, as do the commands of the Mists.”
Chai-ji smiled. “And the ideals of the Way? Having become a chieftess of your people, Wisdom must be a strength of yours?”
The tauren’s nose went a bit pink. “I do try to keep myself well informed, study when I have the chance, consider other viewpoints and options before making decisions.”
“That is very good!” Chai-ji smiled brightly. “And what of the Way of the Crane?”
“I focus upon it less,” Taeana answered. “But the forms are still well practiced, even if I use the methods not as much.”
“And the ideals?”
Taeana smiled, still nervous to boast of herself. “Hope is a virtue I cherish. Second chances, the brighter outlook for the future, trying to see the best in others and in situations.”
Nodding, Chai-ji was quiet for a moment, the pace of their walking slowing slightly before she spoke. “Hope was always the one of the four that I saw strongest in you.” Her next word came out drawn and uncertain. “Wisdom...” She giggled playfully and Taeana rolled her eyes. “You have always had that spark,” Chai-ji confirmed. “And I can see that the years have only added to it.”
“Thank you, Chai-ji,” Taeana responded humbly.
“You are ready to become a Master.”
Taeana’s hooves slowed to nearly a stop, Chai-ji’s proclamation catching her unprepared. “Master?” she questioned aloud. “No, I am not ready, nor skilled enough. I have only really been an apprentice for five years. It takes years, dedication... I have not kept up with my studies...”
Chai-ji chuckles slightly. “Taeana, you have followed the ways of Mistweaving for nearly all of your life. You have immersed yourself in it. Grown from and with it. You are more for it. Do you not agree?”
Taeana’s brow furrowed as she considered her words, stopping fully and looking down. Her life was certainly different. Better, no question. Even before she had been able to go to Pandaria or the Wandering Isle, Chai-ji’s lessons had become part of her every day. Part of her every being.
Mistweaving and the ways of the monks had allowed her to connect to the elements for the first time. The lessons had taught her how to manage her emotions. Kept her fit and relaxed, and even brought her and Khar’huk together.
Looking back up, her eyes focused on the wall on the hills above them, surrounding the frontmost part of Shen-zin Su’s shell-- The Wood of Staves. The resting place of all the masters from the Wandering Isle. Was she truly worthy to count herself among them?
“I... I do agree.” She tried to sound humble, but found it difficult. Confidence was one thing, but thinking yourself better than others? Presuming mastery over others... Not that she thought such pompousness from any of her Masters. Why then of herself?
Chai-ji smiled again. “Then you are ready, Taeana.”
She nodded, heart elated, if nervous all over again. “Thank you, Chai-ji.”
“Come,” the old pandaren said, resuming their walk and turning to climb the stairs towards the Wood of Staves. “I will set the final Trial before you.”