A bit of a short story in honor of WoW's patch 5.4: Siege of Orgrimmar!
Minor spoilers ahead if you have not already seen up to at least the second boss fight of Siege of Orgrimmar (not to mention you may not understand the story's significance). But nothing too terrible, I think.
A bit of background: Cerylia is my main character in WoW. She is a blood elf hunter, and the only character I ever was able to do the full Golden Lotus storyline with before most of the quests were removed with the patch. Because of this, she—and I—have an emotional attachment to the members of the Golden Lotus, and thus this story is a tribute to them and the wonderful story experience this expansion has given me so far.
Rogues were typically known to be silent and deadly. Cerylia Dawnwing had never took that to be literal, though, until she first met He Softfoot of the Golden Lotus.
She had to look up to see him—not unexpected, as his large Pandaren frame dwarfed her tiny sin'dorei self. At first she expected him to speak, in the typical deep, friendly tone most male Pandaren possessed, but he only smiled politely and bowed. At her side, his brother Lao Softfoot explained. "Oh. He does not talk. But that's all right, isn't it? You don't need words to get things done."
Cerylia came to understand this meant He was mute. She, at first, thought he was just a quiet person, but through all the deciphering of his pictures and hand gestures, she realized he really couldn't talk. But as Lao said, that was all right. Unlike the loud, inelegant Lao who was skilled in battle but made for a most un-stealthy rogue, He moved like water through enemies. They never noticed this giant bear tiptoeing amongst them until he put a dagger in their ribs, and even then they might not notice before they died. Even Cerylia, small and graceful and accustomed to sneaking around as she tracked her quarry, felt clumsy at times beside the rogue. But He always smiled at her, and she took that to mean he thought she was doing a good job.
Cerylia liked the Golden Lotus. They were dedicated Pandaren, devoted to protecting the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, and so she devoted herself to helping them whenever she could. Whether it was shooting down several mogu, or retrieving supplies, or saving those who had been captured, she did her best to show her respect for their efforts. In a land where outsiders had dragged the inhabitants into a messy conflict, she wanted to show that she was sorry for all the commotion, and understood their pain. Quel'Thalas had been peaceful and idyllic too, until Arthas had dragged his Scourge in and ruined everything. She understood this helpless feeling as well as the Pandaren did.
Yet the Golden Lotus never complained. They never muttered about the Horde or Alliance behind their backs, although they would firmly remind those getting too aggressive that there would be no fighting in their presence. They never made snide remarks to Cerylia as she asked questions, though it was probably something Cerylia would have done were their positions reversed. And most importantly, they never made her feel like she wasn't welcome among them. The opposite, in fact. Every time Cerylia showed up at the Golden Pagoda for another day of work, she felt like she was being welcomed by family.
He Softfoot never spoke to her, but it was in his subtle actions that she came to understand him. And every interaction they had made her like him all the more. When they had investigated the Guo-Lai Halls together, a mogu statue had suddenly seized He by the throat, attempting to crush the life from him. Cerylia had screamed loud enough to make him stare at her, wincing in pain but genuinely looking surprised to see her fighting tooth and nail to free him. Afterwards, when he rescued her from a mogu cage, he had not pulled away when she touched his throat gently, checking to see if he was injured. His grateful smile seemed to convey everything, and she liked it better than words.
From that point forward, He always looked a little worried himself when he sent her to slay saurok, or fog beasts, or mogu scouts. When she returned he would look her over carefully, shake his head when he saw any fresh blood on her, then touch her dainty shoulder with a paw before pointing in the direction of the Pagoda.
"All right, all right," she laughed, gently batting his paw away. "I will go to see Sun and get healed. Don't worry, I'm not that delicate."
You look delicate to me, his crinkled brow seemed to say, and she would giggle as she went off.
Then she remembered the time Lao had been captured. Leven Dawnblade had rolled his eyes and remarked that he really was a lousy rogue sometimes, trying to make light of the situation, but Cerylia had glanced briefly at He and saw a sad frown on his face. It was so adorably sad—like some bear who wanted honey but the bee's nest was too difficult to reach, no matter how he tried to climb the tree—that afterwards, before going off to dutifully search for Lao, she had come up to He's side and patted his arm. He looked down at her blankly.
"Don't worry about your brother. I'm sure he's fine," she said, sounding upbeat and happy despite what she knew he had to be worried about. Those mogu regularly ripped the souls out of their Golden Lotus prisoners to animate new statue soldiers. "I'll go rescue him, and then I will even scold him for you."
He shook his head quickly.
"Very well, I will not scold him. You're right; being a mogu prisoner is probably punishment enough."
With a shrug, He pointed at Leven standing several yards away with his back turned. Cerylia looked at him, before giggling.
"Oh yes. I'm sure whatever Leven will say to him will be punishment enough as well."
At last, He gave her a rare grin, toothy and genuinely happy. She took that to mean that he was pleased she understood him completely. Perhaps she did.
Later, while Lao was getting the expected scolding from Leven, Cerylia had come to He and bowed graciously to him when he bowed to her. His thanks was enough for her, but as she straightened from the bow he suddenly came to her and hugged her. She found herself smothered in bear arms.
"Oh… you are welcome," she said, into his armor. "I know you're happy to see Lao safe again. Just keep him out of trouble."
He let go of her and held her at arm's length. His smile spoke volumes. Just as it had when she and Leven returned victoriously from slaying the mogu warlord Zhao-Jin.
Cerylia spent that night feasting between the Softfoot brothers, her left ear deafened slightly from listening to Lao chatter endlessly for hours, and the other relieved, for He of course said nothing. She leaned against his furry arm and whispered playfully to him, tipsy from the brew she'd been drinking.
"Hey. We should do this again in the future," she giggled, cheeks warm with the liquor. He gave her a wide-eyed, perplexed stare. "Maybe just you and me instead? Maybe you should visit my home. It's really pretty like the Vale, so maybe you'd like it too."
Looking back on it was a bit embarrassing; perhaps it was rude to be flirting with her brother-in-arms? All the same, He seemed taken aback by her attentions. His small ears flattened back on his head, and he looked down at his mug in front of him. If he had been a Pandaren of words, he would have been at a loss for them in that moment.
Cerylia had paused, thinking better of the situation, before sitting up and patting his paw. He looked at her intently. "You and your friends are wonderful. It's wonderful being like this with all of you."
A smile lit up his face, and he moved his paw to envelop her tiny hand. His free hand reached out, to delicately poke the necklace she wore. She had told him of how it possessed the water of the Sunwell within it. It was a piece of home. He nodded vigorously, and pointed into the distance.
"Yes," Cerylia agreed, smiling. "When this is all over, you can come visit my home. Quel'Thalas will welcome my friend."
In that moment, she had already been planning the occasion. He would come, probably with Lao and even others of the Golden Lotus. Once this war was over and peace returned to Pandaria, maybe it would be ok for them to leave home and visit. It would only be polite to host them after they hosted her for so long, right? She would show them the streams and the forests. She would explain the story of the Dead Scar. She would show them the Sunwell, and maybe they would think of the Vale and smile.
But as Cerylia stared forward now, into the empty, anguished eyes of an ethereal He Softfoot, she knew it would never happen now. Garrosh had taken more from them. From her. And now He was dead.
"Forgive me," she whispered, as his ghost stared up at her. Where he had been enveloped in grey anguish, now gave way to a golden light. In defeating the souls of the fallen Golden Lotus, Cerylia and her companions had finally laid them to rest. "I guess we won't get to go visit my home after all. But that's all right, isn't it? We never had to travel. We were already there. Home is… where my heart is."
He reached up to her and placed what felt like a tangible paw on her chest, over her heart. A smile lit up his face.
Thank you for being you. Your friendship. Your love. Your smile.
She understood, and cried happily, even as He and his friends faded into light and found peace at last.
A bit of final explanation: He Softfoot, along with Rook Stonetoe and Sun Tenderheart, make up the second boss encounter in Siege of Orgrimmar. Killed by the blast when Garrosh threw Y'saarj's heart into the pool in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, they and many of their Golden Lotus companions are trapped as anguished spirits, unable to move on and forced to relive their failure. They must be defeated to put them to rest at last. I think every Pandaren I mention in this story is part of that boss encounter.
My goal in writing was to capture the tragedy of losing a friend, one you have grown close to and loved dearly only to lose them unexpectedly. I did grow attached to some of these NPCs and was saddened to see what happened to them. The events of the patch were quite shocking, but at the same time so beautifully sad. I really love the story so far.
Reviews, of course, are very much appreciated. Please only discuss this story, and DO NOT spoil any of the details of the rest of the raid, as I have not gotten much further than this encounter. I really want to play through it myself, and really do not want the story to be ruined.
Thanks for understanding, and thank you for reading!