Taran Zhu was right
In order to access the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, players must first convince Xuen the White Tiger and the rest of the August Celestials to let us in. You do so by traveling to the Temple of the White Tiger, where an unusual scene lies before you -- Zhi the Harmonious, leader of the Golden Lotus, seeks help to combat the strange uprising of mogu in the Vale. Prince Anduin Wrynn mentions that both the Alliance and Horde would be willing to help with this cause. Arguing against this is Taran Zhu, leader of the Shado Pan and witness to what occurred not so long ago in the Jade Forest. According to Taran Zhu, we cannot be trusted.
And he's right. He's absolutely right. By letting us into the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, the August Celestials began a domino effect that rippled into what happens in patch 5.4 -- the destruction of the Vale. Zhi the Harmonious, kind and willing to accept help without judgment, loses his life in the ongoing assault in the Vale. The Thunder King's armor and weapons are returned to him just in time for his return in patch 5.2. The Vale is excavated by Garrosh Hellscream's followers -- first, for information regarding the Divine Bell, and later, to discover the dark heart of Y'shaarj, buried deep beneath the Vale itself.
Once that heart is found, the Vale is completely destroyed. What we log into on Tuesday isn't just a scene of horrific destruction. It's the end result of our efforts to get into the Vale in the first place. We were well-meaning, we were only trying to help, but in our eagerness to help we brought the mogu and we brought the Horde, raining down on the once-peaceful Vale in a flash-flood of death and corruption. By allowing us into the Vale, the August Celestials unwittingly opened the floodgates of chaos.
Or were they really that unwitting?
Wisdom of the Celestials
Once players have helped Wrathion to a sufficient degree, he tasks them with a whirlwind tour of the world, in which he asks each of the Celestials for their blessing. Each Celestial has their own challenge, and their own questions of the Black Prince. In these questions and answers are riddles that imply that perhaps the August Celestials know far more about Pandaria and the rest of the world than they let on. In the case of the Jade Serpent, she asks about the nature of wisdom -- and then suggests that true wisdom comes from knowing what is right, and sometimes, doing nothing at all.
Somehow, this made me think of our journey into the Vale all over again. Letting us into the Vale was quite obviously the least amount of wisdom the August Celestials have ever shown ... or was it? What if they already knew what was coming, and threw us all into the Vale despite it all? The right thing to do in that situation would have been to simply chuck the Alliance and Horde off of Pandaria on their respective butts and let them fend for themselves. But the Celestials deemed it necessary to let us into the Vale. They deemed the events that followed after -- the rise of Lei Shen, the destruction of the Vale -- worthy instances that needed to happen. Why?
The other Celestials each had their own lessons for Wrathion. Xuen taught Wrathion that strength in the service of others is twice as strong as strength spent on our foes. Niuzao discussed the nature of fortitude, pointing out that in the thousands upon thousands of years that he's been alive, he's seen the mightiest of emperors fall to the perseverance of the smallest of enemies. Chi-Ji, the Red Crane, was perhaps the most enlightening. He recognized Wrathion for what he was -- the son of Deathwing -- and gently told him of hope. When Wrathion pleaded for the Red Crane's blessing, Chi-Ji noted that Wrathion was perhaps the one who needed hope most of all.
In this exchange was also a mention of the Burning Legion. Wrathion has made it very clear to players that the Legion will be returning. In fact, his whole campaign in Pandaria has been a deliberate attempt to set the war between Alliance and Horde into fast-forward, so that a victor could be declared and we could get on with the business of rallying to fight off whatever attack the Legion happens to be planning. But his plans don't work out as expected in patch 5.4, and he's incredibly angry about that.
Yet it makes one wonder -- were the August Celestials, ancient creatures who so gently chided Wrathion for his naive schemes of supremacy between the factions, aware of the pending arrival of the Burning Legion as well? That answer may very well be a resounding yes -- and it all ties back to the last Emperor of Pandaria.
The long game of Shaohao
Thousands of years ago, on the brink of the Sundering that split the world, Emperor Shaohao sought a way to fight back against the Burning Legion. And although he consulted with the August Celestials along the way, Shaohao learned a far more important lesson from himself. About the nature of Pandaria, and the nature of strength, wisdom, fortitude, and hope. In order to see the world and the way in which it was connected -- in order to save the land he so desperately sought to shelter from the Legion's armies -- he had to first confront the doubt, despair, fear, and anger that haunted him. Once completed, Shaohao came out of the experience a much stronger person that he was going in.
Upon traveling to the heart of Pandaria, Shaohao stood before his people in the Vale. He told them of his journey, told them what they must do. But they didn't understand. Shaohao's journey was an immensely personal one, and it was one that each pandaren would have to learn in time, if they ever hoped to stand against the Burning Legion. However, time was not on Pandaria's side. According to the various versions of the tale, Shaohao gave his last breath to cloak the world in dense mists and set it off to sea, floating as gently as a blossom on the wind. While he could not stop the Legion or the Sundering, he could give his people time to learn and grow.
And over the next ten thousand years, his people learned, and they grew. But Shaohao fell prey to the one Sha left -- the Sha at the heart of Pandaria. The Sha of Pride. Shaohao held immense pride in his people. He was convinced that they alone had the strength to survive against whatever the Legion would launch at the world in due time. So prideful was Shaohao that he didn't even consider the rest of the world, instead insisting that Pandaria could survive on its own. And yet, ten thousand years later, it was the rest of the world that put a halt to its inevitable destruction and killed Deathwing.
Did you ever stop to ponder, when taking those first few steps onto Pandaria's shores, that the Cataclysm didn't seem to affect the continent at all? Unlike the rest of the world, which was ripped apart by Deathwing's arrival, Pandaria seems absolutely pristine. I don't think that was because of Pandaria's location. I think it was because of the mists that protected the continent -- the mists of Shaohao's spirit. A spirit that took the full force of Deathwing's arrival in stride, clutching his precious homeland close and watching the rest of the world ignite. A spirit that saw what the rest of the world had been through, saw that it carried on in spite of its eminent destruction, and triumphed.
That is enough to strike a major blow to anyone's pride, even if they happen to be consumed by it at the time. And perhaps Shaohao, upon witnessing the sheer strength that the rest of the world demonstrated, realized that his land -- the land he had so carefully cultivated into a sheltered world where his people would eventually grow strong enough to fight the Legion -- was not in fact the strongest land in the world. Faced with the truth of the rest of the world's might, Shaohao let the mists fall free. His people had had enough time to learn on their own -- but they needed to learn the lessons the rest of the world had to teach, too.
The lessons of Pandaria
In the end, that's what makes the journey so much more difficult to watch. We are essentially a foreign element that Shaohao allowed into the land he'd so carefully protected for ten thousand years. An element that immediately ripped through the heart of the continent and unleashed every chained horror that Shaohao fought so hard ten thousand years ago to keep his people safe. We are not just a lesson, we are a blight deliberately set upon a sheltered people to test their strength and presumably teach them the same tenacity we demonstrated when we defeated Deathwing. Pandaria has sat, stagnant, for ten thousand years, and while Shaohao hoped his people would learn the same lessons he did, while he suffered immeasurable pride in their success, they had nothing to test those lessons against.
We are a virus. We demonstrated to the Aspects that we are strong enough to fend for ourselves against the horrors that the Old Gods and the Legion may throw at us, and we immediately unleashed that might on an innocent continent full of people that were not prepared for the chaos. In the end, this is the hardest burden Shaohao has to bear -- the thought that despite his careful preservation, Pandaria needed to suffer in order to become strong. In this, we are no better than the Old Gods -- a driving whirlwind of chaos and destruction set upon a continent of carefully preserved order.
Without a doubt, this is the biggest emotional punch that Pandaria has delivered. Patch 5.4 isn't just about our revenge on Garrosh Hellscream -- it's Shaohao's purpose finally come to light. It's the eminent destruction of all that the pandaren have held sacred for so long, all in the name of preparing for what is yet to come. The August Celestials see it, and they see the wisdom in Shaohao's actions, even if it is utterly heartbreaking to witness. And when we, at last, come out of this triumphant -- the pandaren will be at our side, having given us the lessons that we needed to learn as well along the way.
While this all seems noble and just on a larger scale, on a smaller scale, it still hurts to see. The refugees from Kun-Lai don't understand that what they have experienced from the yaungol and Zandalari is just the tip of the iceberg. They don't know what's just around the corner. They can't see forward in time to next Tuesday, but I can, and I know full well what's waiting for them. It isn't pretty, it isn't pleasant, it isn't peaceful, and likely most of those refugees will not live to tell their children's children of the day the gates of the Vale opened at last. They will not, in their later years, recall the legend of the strange heroes from across the sea, who rescued the harrowed people of Kun-Lai and delivered them to paradise. Because of us, paradise is no more.
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