The Wandering Isle
Once, many many years ago, a pandaren explorer by the name of Liu Lang made a decision that would change the path of history. Not content to simply spend his time on the mist-shrouded isle of Pandaria, Liu Lang sought to discover what had happened to the rest of the world beyond the mists. To that end, he set out on the back of a sea turtle, a plan that rested on the ingenious thought that sea turtles were always able to find their way back to the beaches where they were born -- guaranteeing that Liu Lang could return.
Liu Lang made the journey back to Pandaria every five years, seeking like-minded individuals to accompany him on the quickly growing back of Shen-zin Su. Though many of Pandaria's natives thought the old fool mad, there were still those stricken with wanderlust that wanted to accompany Liu Lang. But those numbers eventually dwindled, until at last Liu Lang found that none were left. Shen-zin Su swam out to sea, leaving the mists of Pandaria one last time. And Liu Lang traveled to a sheltered part of the turtle's back, planted his staff in the ground, and became one with the land. His staff sprouted into a curious tree, one which still exists today. As later elders of the Wandering Isle passed on, they too traveled to the same secluded wood, planting their staves, becoming one with the land, and creating a secluded forest now known as the Wood of Staves.
As for the rest of the Wandering Isle, its population thrived. And although all pandaren on the Wandering Isle came from bloodlines of pandaren with wandering souls, Shen-zin Su stopped visiting Azeroth's continents, both the turtle and its denizens content with sailing Azeroth's oceans, lost and carefree.
Two houses, two philosophies
Many pandaren trained on the Wandering Isle, following the ways of old -- although the Wandering Isle was by and large secluded from the rest of the world, it still possessed its fair share of enemies to battle. Out of this training came two schools of pandaren philosophy. The Tushui, those that meditated and thought through all possible solutions before choosing the best answer, and the Huojin, those that followed the reasoning that swift action was better than long bouts of meditation and reasoning. Neither school was "better," for both sought the same goal in the end -- they merely followed two different ways to achieve it.
And on the Wandering Isle, two pandaren were about to embark on an adventure they'd never in their wildest dreams thought possible. Aysa Cloudsinger, a remarkable student of the Tushui way of thinking, and Ji Firepaw, an equally skilled student of the Huojin philosophy. They knew each other -- admired each other, albeit from afar -- and both were favorably looked upon by Master Shang Xi. When Shen-zin Su began to falter from his smooth course over the ocean waves, it was Aysa and Ji that were chosen to help solve the problem of Shen-zin Su's peculiar ailment.
The dynamic between Aysa and Ji was playful at first, but grew tense over time, given the pressure of the situation. Shen-zin Su had a "thorn" stuck in his side that was actually the remains of the Alliance ship. It crashed into the Wandering Isle, and the wreckage tore into Shen-zin Su's side, causing him a great deal of pain. But the survivors of the wreck were creatures that the pandaren had never encountered before -- the Alliance and Horde. Aysa immediately warmed to the Alliance, and found their line of thinking similar to the Tushui philosophy. Ji helped the Horde, whose ways were more in line with the Huojin.
A thorn removed
Although both Ji and Aysa were reluctant to admit their mutual admiration of each other, they were quick to work together to solve the problem. Without removing the remnants of the ship, the great turtle would surely die. Ji came up with a fast solution that horrified Aysa -- blow up the ship with explosives, remove it from Shen-zin Su's side, then use the healers of both Alliance and Horde to close up the wound and heal the injured turtle. Aysa was terrified that the plan would fail and Shen-zin Su would die -- meaning the death of every pandaren currently living on the Wandering Isle. Yet Ji went forward with the plan.
The ship was removed, but the wound was great. Ji tried to reassure Aysa, but she turned him away, worried and frightened that Shen-zin Su would die. The great turtle lived, of course, healed by the efforts of both Alliance and Horde ... but Aysa and Ji's story took a different turn. It was clear that further contact and study of the Alliance and Horde would be the best path to follow. As two of the brightest students, Aysa and Ji were sent as ambassadors to both factions. Aysa chose to go with the Alliance, and Ji chose to go with the Horde.
Ji and Aysa parted, but the story was vastly different on each side of the coin. While Aysa was shocked at the somewhat odd welcome of King Varian "hit-me-as-hard-as-you-can" Wrynn, Ji was equally shocked by the rough greeting and harsh tests of Warchief Garrosh Hellscream. Aysa was lucky. Ji ... was not as lucky, and there was a distinct impression that perhaps he knew he had chosen the more difficult of the two paths. The revelation that Garrosh's Orgrimmar was a place of racial segregation seemed to shock the young pandaren.
One thing was made clear to both Aysa and Ji -- any ties they had to anyone choosing the opposite faction were to be severed. Unlike the dynamic and serene coexistence of the students of the Huojin and Tushui, the Alliance and Horde were anything but peaceful. Any attempt to contact those that had chosen the opposing faction would be viewed as treason. With some amount of quiet dismay, Ji came to the conclusion that he would never see Aysa again, and vice versa. The paths they had chosen now divided them irrevocably.
Those final moments on the Wandering Isle were the last moments that Aysa and Ji would ever see each other, and neither knew it until it was too late. As each settled into their duties, neither knew that one day, they would meet again -- and that it would be under the most horrific circumstances possible.
Allies and understanding
This was the last we saw of Aysa or Ji. Two pandaren from different philosophical schools and an unusually idyllic life on the Wandering Isle, torn from each other before their romance really had a chance to begin. And it was romance, in a way -- the kind of romance where each side is somewhat shy and unwilling to admit that they admire the other from afar. But there was something else that was torn from the traveling pandaren -- that sense of innocent wonder at the rest of the world.
Aysa and Ji didn't walk into the world at a moment that was particularly friendly or forgiving, they stepped out from the Wandering Isle into the middle of full-fledged war between the Alliance and Horde. Whatever benevolent views they held regarding the rest of the world were ultimately swept under the feet of Alliance and Kor'kron soldiers marching off to do battle -- and there was nothing either could do about it. It may have turned out all right for Aysa ... but Ji was stuck in an Orgrimmar that was divided, torn apart by Garrosh's racial biases and unquenchable thirst for power.
As players, we do finally see that story play out again. In the Siege of Orgrimmar, players that defeat the Iron Juggernaut have to battle their way into the Valley of Strength, where they are greeted with a shock. Ji Firepaw sits on his knees, beaten and bleeding, while Overseer Komak grimly informs him that he has a candle's length to tell the orc about "the Pandaren artifacts." If he does not spill the necessary information, Komak will execute him.
Here is the utterly heartbreaking part about that particular scene: Ji cannot answer his question
. Ji doesn't even know
the answer. He's from the Wandering Isle, an island that hasn't visited the mainland of Pandaria in so long that it was thought perhaps lost for good. Warchief Hellscream is so phenomenally stupid
that he doesn't even know the difference. All pandaren look exactly the same to him, and by that faulty reasoning, all of them must have the information that he's looking for.
How long did Ji spend, frantically telling Komak that he didn't know anything at all, before we arrived? How long was he beaten? How savagely was he tortured, while he cried out in pain? How long did he have to survive this brutal treatment, his mind filled with sheer terror, the thought that he could absolutely die for his perfectly understandable ignorance at the forefront of his mind? How long did Overseer Komak beat the innocence out of this pandaren, who had committed no crimes, was withholding no information, had done nothing wrong, other than choosing to arrive in Orgrimmar and ally with the Horde?
You have two choices, upon arriving in the Valley of Strength -- you can choose to attack the other adds in the area, and Ji Firepaw will die. Or you can choose to attack Overseer Komak immediately, and Ji will be saved by someone else who we never thought we'd see again -- Aysa Cloudsinger, arriving with the Alliance and utterly horrified at what is waiting for her. If Ji dies, she swears she will have her revenge, and if he lives ... if he lives, Aysa will go to him. She will tearfully tell this beaten, broken pandaren that she is sorry, that they can be together now, that they will go back to Shen-zin Su, begs him not to die. And then she picks up Ji and carries him out of Orgrimmar.
Does Ji live, or does he die, in canon lore? We don't know. In one situation, he most assuredly dies -- in the other, Aysa removes him before we can determine whether or not he will live. One thing, however, is certain -- there is no going back to Shen-zin Su. Oh, they can make a physical return. Aysa can nurse him back to health, she can mend his wounds and they can quietly retreat to raise a family. But whatever idyllic, innocent life they had on the Wandering Isle before traveling to Azeroth? That, they will never, ever
get back. That moment in Orgrimmar will remain seared into the minds of both Aysa and Ji for the rest of their lives.
And this is why I love the Siege of Orgrimmar. It packs an emotional punch the likes of which we have not seen out of a raid instance since perhaps the fall of Arthas, cradled in his father's arms as he dies a final death. In a way, it's far more brutal than even that tragic ending. We have spent almost a year learning about the pandaren, both on the Wandering Isle and on Pandaria, and the fallout from the damage we have wrought is finally falling into place.
We are slammed in the face with it the second we step from the ruins of the Vale into daylight and see our former allies as despondent spirits that we must lay to rest. Sun Tenderheart, who so gladly welcomed us to the Vale. He Softfoot, the mute pandaren who valiantly helped us uncover the secrets of the invading mogu. Rook Stonetoe, the gentle giant of few words who helplessly, openly wept and mourned over the loss of Sunwalker Dezco's son.
We see it reflected in the eyes and heart of Gamon, an unlikely hero in this battle -- a down-on-his-luck tauren who was viewed as nothing more than a shiftless drunkard for the entirety of three expansions. In Eitrigg, once an ally and friend of Tirion Fordring, who desperately tried to offer Garrosh counsel, but found his words falling on deaf ears. In Nazgrim, who Horde players helped rise to infamy over the course of two expansions, now forced to fight us, willing or no -- and meet his death at our hands.
And we see it cradled in the arms of Aysa Cloudsinger, possibly breathing its last breaths, desperately trying to reconcile why good intentions and a good, proud heart were greeted with harsh blows and brutal torture. Yes, the expansion has had its faltering moments in storytelling -- the ongoing argument about story balance between Alliance and Horde is being heard loud and clear. Say what you will about Mists of Pandaria
, but it has taken its place as a cornerstone of evocative, brilliant, expansion-wide storytelling with an emotional undertone the likes of which we simply have not seen before.
For those that follow the lore, we have been given a rare treat indeed. And if this expansion -- despite its struggles -- can pack this kind of an emotional punch, so eloquently tell this tale of woe, I can't wait to see what lies ahead.
While you don't need to have played the previous
Warcraft games to enjoy
World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the
World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore