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Yaochi was sitting up on the grass at the feet of the mountain. Although she was still in great pain, nothing seemed to be broken. By the grass she could tell she’s in Zouchin Province, the northernmost province of the Pandaren Empire, one isolated from the rest of the Empire by great mountains. The only thing further north was the Plains of Giants and then remnants of the Zandalari Empire, and finally the Kaldorei lands. She had never seen any of these lands, only hearing frightful tales about the vicious, cannibal trolls who used to be allies of the mogu, and about the night elves, powerful magi who hated the trolls as much as pandaren hated the mogu. Perhaps there was a story between them, but no one could tell it to her but ancient tomes written in characters she hasn’t learned yet. Indeed, there were no Lorewalkers yet back then!

Her position quickly torn her away from these musings. She was wounded and in pain, sitting at the feet of the Kun-Lai Mountains. Master Chang was undoubtedly dead, killed brutally by the mogu villain and ancestors only know what kind of gruesome ritual his remains were put through. The carriage driver was lying motionless and breathless on nearby rocks, with a bolt in his chest. Even the yaks were dead. Her only companion seemed to be the turtle that gave her water when she woke up. What kind of turtle would know how to do such things? There was something odd about it. It moved with speed and deliberation she only saw from people, and his eyes… there was something about his eyes. When she looked into his eyes, she saw a splinter of sentience. There was no doubt, that was not a normal turtle.

Regardless of who or what the turtle could be or how much pain she was in, she had to move on. Her father would want to hear the good news about her miraculous survival and would pay handsomely to the Zouchin Villagers who would bring her back to him. With great effort and a loud yell she rose from the ground and very slowly walked forward. She had never been in these parts, or if she were she were just a little cub back then. You see, she thought she was already big! In some basic ways, she was already a woman, but both her body and her mind still had a lot of growing to do. To her surprise, as she moved out, the turtle ran up to her (as much as a turtle can run) and just looked up at her. Its jaws began to flap and a low, growling noise came out of them, as if it was trying to speak.

“You want to come with me?” Yaochi asked, “Why? You’re just a turtle, this is your place.” But the turtle did not want to hear it! It just continued to move forward, and then looked around, back at the princess, as if urging her to come. “Fine,” she finally said, “you’ll come with me.” She pressed on, no matter how much her knees told her to stop and lie back. She may have not receive a formal training at the Peak of Serenity yet, but Master Chang trained her well during her childhood – she did not gave up just because of a small ache in her legs!

The turtle continued to surprise her. It knew better than her where to go to reach the village. She felt very disoriented by this unfamiliar province and its odd fauna, but her new companion seemed to know the area well. Even the animals would not endanger her. Though she took great care to avoid the raptors, fearsome reptiles trolls loved to ride in the tales she heard, the porcupines were quite a different problem. They may have been rodents, which Yaochi always found very cute, but their quills were quite dangerous. But it mattered not – one growl from the turtle scared these territorial creatures.

Before long, Zouchin City was in her sights. It wasn’t the biggest city of Pandaria, far from it in fact. Even back then, it was barely bigger than a small village it is now. It still had its own magistrate, outlying farms, and a contingent of imperial troops. Despite the changes, the local folks were still just as friendly and warm as they are now, as it only comes natural to the pandaren people. Yaochi slowly approached a farmer who sat outside his hut, chewing on a bamboo reed.

“Farmer,” she said with a deep bow, “My greetings to you, friend. You probably recognize who I am…”

“Hmm,” he interrupted her and raised an eyebrow to take a good look at the princess. “You look like a pandaren girl. Yes, that’s most definitely who you are,” he said, smiling at his own joke.

“I… forgive you farmer,” she responded, “but I am Princess Yaochi, heiress of Emperor Huizong. Would you mind leading me back to my father? There will undoubtedly be a great reward for you for doing that.”

The farmer only laughed out loud and took off his straw hat. “Funny,” he said, pointing at her.

“It’s not funny,” she said, beginning to become frustrated.

“Oh?” he said and pointed at her dress, torn and ripped by the landing she had from the mountain, but with no blood it only gave impression of her being a young vagabond. “Princesses don’t wear clothes like these, young one. You should have dressed better before if you wanted to play a royal.”

“I just fell off a mountain! What did you expect me to look like?” she shouted at the still laughing farmer.

“Oh, and you fell off a mountain?” He only started laughing harder and deeper. “I’ll tell you, I’m about to fall off my chair!” But then, he looked at her again. She wasn’t laughing. She was as serious as a pandaren who wasn’t a monk or a member of the Golden Lotus. “Kid,” he said, “what’s really going on?”

“Take me to the Emperor,” she repeated slowly, trying to calm down. The turtle just stood beside her and kept looking between them throughout the whole conversation.

The farmer put his hat back on and put down the reed he was chewing. “Fine, I’ll go to town with you and tell them you need to find your father, but don’t expect me to tell that tall tale to the magistrates.”

She sighed deeply. “That will do, farmer.”

But as they were about to leave, suddenly a loud shriek pierced the air. “Mogu!” a woman running by shouted, quickly running towards the city.

“Oh no,” the farmer said, looking back. The unmistakable look of mogu raiders, riding their quilen pets appeared from around the nearby cliff. Their blue cloaks with the sign of a serpent left no doubt in Yaochi’s mind – they were from Kun Yomi’s clan. Certain they came for her after they found out she survived, she ran off towards the city, without thinking about the farmer, who instantly hid in his hut, or the turtle, who desperately tried to keep up.

She ran and ran, as panicked as everyone in the city. Although she begged everyone to let her hide with them, no one would believe her story. Would you believe it if someone told you he just fell off a mountain, got fed by a turtle, and is the heir of an empire? Neither did these people, afraid for their lives and not wanting to stop even for a moment. Yes, they did not shelter a little girl, a stranger to them – few have the bravery to stand up and act for someone else’s behalf.

Nevertheless, she finally found an empty grain silo in the city with its doors wide open. She quickly ran inside, with the turtle still strangely following her. She closed the door behind her and pushed a stack of empty crates to block the door. As she cowered again in a corner, she noticed the poor turtle, still staring at her with its large eyes.

“What do you want?” she said through tears, “Why are you still following me?” But as it was a turtle, it could not talk back. It simply kept staring. It felt almost as if it really wanted to talk, but its throat simply could not produce the sound. Finally, she grabbed the turtle’s head and hugged it, as rough and scaly as it was. And then she sat there, listening to the sounds of combat and screams coming from outside, too afraid to come out and do anything about it. She trained under Master Chang, but she was never in real combat! And those mogu, such giant creatures with fierce fangs, huge muscles and skin as tough as rock! How could she, just a little girl who spent her life in a court, hope to withstand but a single blow from such a creature? Well, as it turns out, she was about to find out. She could not hide in a corner forever, and she would certainly be no Empress if she could not face her fear.

That was when she heard a loud, knocking sound on the silo’s doors. A realization dawned upon her that she hid in the worst possible place! What other place would mogu raiders be checking first if not a silo, full of tasty grain? As the knocks were growing in strength, she was thinking whether the crates she pulled could withstand the force of a mogu. Unfortunately, they could not. With a loud cracking sound, the crates smashed into pieces and the doors opened wide, with only a shadowy silhouette of the invader visible from inside the dark building.

“What do we have here?” he said in a low, growling voice. “Just a pandaren whelp? And I wasted so much strength on it. Now,” he said pulling up a bow with an arrow readied, “I will have to kill you.” As the light settled in, she began to notice the mogu’s face, strained to shoot his bow. And then, she realized she met this mogu before – this was one of the six soldiers that Kun Yomi sent against Master Chang, only to be defeated by his fists. But just as she realized that, the mogu too started to notice who is he looking at. “You!” he said, lowering his bow for a moment. “You’re the princess. How could you have possibly survived?”

This moment of distraction was all the turtle needed. Suddenly, the mogu yelled out in pain and keeled over, with the turtle’s strong jaws on his ankles. Yaochi was still afraid and still cowering in the corner, but she started to remember some of the old master’s teachings. How to dodge, how to see your opponent’s weakness and use his distraction. This was a perfect moment for her to strike, with her opponent bending over. With a grace of a wild cat, she leapt out of her hiding and struck the mogu’s stomach with her fist. He finally fell down and dropped his bow.

“I will get you, little whelp,” he started spouting threats, as mogu seem unable to stop. But before he could rise back up, he saw Yaochi standing above him with his own bow in her hands, and an arrow pulled into the bow’s string.

“You are mistaken,” she said, for the first time in her life feeling brave in the face of danger.

The mogu just laughed in her face. “You have never handled a bow before, little girl. You cannot harm me.”

Through the teeth gritted in fear, she managed to respond to his threat. “There is a first time for everything,” she said, as she released the string.

The mogu’s head hit the floor with a loud thump, the arrow sticking out right between his eyes. The deed was done, her assailant was dead. The turtle just stood near her feet and shuffled around with curiosity. For a moment, she just stood there, staring at the corpse and not believing what she just did. However, reality was about to come knocking her into action again, quite literally. The turtle poked her leg a couple of times and then looked back at the street outside, showing her the situation. Another mogu, wielding a giant hammer, was standing a couple of yards away and looking at her, partially with shock, and partially with anger. With a loud snarl, the mogu charged.

But then, he too collapsed onto the ground, with an arrow sticking out of his neck. There was no time to wait, or aim, or to consider the morality of what she was doing. She had to act, or her life would be forfeit. However, she knew she got lucky and she could not fight back an entire mogu army. As much as the past couple of minutes taught her to kill, the coming minutes were about to teach her to run when the time is right. So she ran.

She ran through the streets and the gardens, trying to fend off the mogu chasing after her. With her initial burst of emotions gone, she could no longer hit her assailants as accurately. She kept shooting, but barely any arrows hit anything but the ground. Some completely failed to launch and landed right under her feet. Some flew a couple of feet, only to stop a mogu and slow him down. Some arrows even grazed a mogu’s shoulder or knee. But they would not stop chasing her. The turtle kept biting the ones who got too close and scaring them away. In time, they did not even notice as they left the city and entered the nearby ruins, remains of the original Zouchin, the former seat of a forgotten mogu warlord.

But as she left the town, someone spotted her. A young pandaren girl fending off a group of mogu with a bow too big for her is after all quite a sight. The leader of the raiders, Kun Yomi himself, noticed the commotion and followed the tracks. Finally, he saw the girl and the turtle leave, followed by his soldiers. His eyes widened in shock, as he growled in realization “How is that possible?”

She kept running through the ruins and ducking beneath half-collapsed stone arches and jumping through holes in the crumbling mogu walls. The mogu did not give up. Every time, they saw a shadow or an ear passing somewhere nearby and continued to chase her. However, with every yard, she knew she’s slowly leaving them behind. Mogu are proud creatures, easy to anger, and a little girl getting away from them was certainly a reason to grow angry. In short time, they started to unload their frustration on the ruins and lose concentration on the chase. As the sun was about to set, they finally lost her.

Yaochi finally sat down in the corner on the far side of the ruins. She could not keep running for much longer. Completely exhausted, she placed the bow down next to her and rested against the rocks. Just hours ago, she lied in a soft, comfortable bed made of expensive silks and linens and she wouldn’t even sit on a rock. Now, these hard, large stones of a mogu ruin seemed as soft as her best pillow. Thinking her plight was finally over, she yawned loudly and prepared to sleep, but then… a strange noise reached her ears.

She looked at her turtle. “Her” turtle – sometime during that chase she started thinking of the turtle as hers, as it defended her and attacked her foes. However, something was wrong. It was standing nearby, with its head hanging down and its legs wobbling. For a moment, she thought a stray arrow hurt it, but her doubts were quickly dispelled. Within moments, a strange magical glow began to arise from the turtle’s body and soon, he began to transform into something. Something much bigger, much stronger, much more terrifying…

A mogu.

Within seconds, she looked in shock at the back of a large, armored mogu with a silvery green skin. The mogu let out a loud growl as he spread his arms and shuffled around, becoming comfortable again with his normal form.

“Who are you?” she exclaimed in shock. The mogu slowly turned around, looking at her with a malicious smile.

“I am Yu Gwai, an ancient mogu warlord, Lord of Zouchin, enemy of Lei Shen, and you have made a terrible mistake.”

TO BE CONTINUED

In reality, written by the author of the Arakkoa Chronicles.

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