The mogu warlord towered over poor Yaochi, slowly approaching her with his arms stretched out and ready to grasp her. She couldn’t seem to catch a break. Whenever she managed to get away from one enemy, she only fell into the hands of another. Still, something was different about this Yu Gwai. His skin seemed less metallic and his hair looked almost like real hair of a real person, not the unmoving coiffures of most mogu which looked like carved from sandstone. Despite all the differences, he was still snarling at her and posturing to attack. But why?
“Why are you attacking me?” she said, pressing her back against the stone wall. “A moment ago you were helping me!”
“Not me,” Yu Gwai barked back, “the turtle did.”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “But you are the turtle!” she replied.
“Not quite,” the mogu said before reaching out to her. Yaochi closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, preparing to be hit… but then another voice filled the air, and a familiar one at that.
“Yu Gwai!” another mogu shouted. “This day is full of surprises!” It was Kun Yomi and three of his soldiers, appearing from behind a corner. “Did you save the girl from that fall?”
“Kun Yomi,” said the jade warlord turning around. Judging by the tone of his voice, the two were clearly on rather unfriendly terms. “I have no idea what you are talking about. Have the years completely emptied your mind?”
The slayer of Ao Guang moved forward, looking up and down the ‘turtle’. “Under what rock have you lived for all those millennia?”
“That is none of your business,” Yu Gwai shouted back. Kun Yomi would not tolerate this insolence. He struck Yu Gwai’s face with the back of his hand.
“It is all of my business. And before the next sunset, you will tell me everything. Once the Thunder King is back, he will reward me for bringing you back to him for more torture.” The two warlords just continued to look at each other in close quarters, posturing with snarls and frowns. “Soldiers,” Kun Yomi called out, “cuff them both. I will learn how she survived the fall and where Yu Gwai has been hiding, even if I have to rip this information from their naked souls.”
Clasped in irons, they were forced to march across the Zouchin Province through most of the night. Kun Yomi was not a gentle captor, but luckily for the girl, he seemed to put most of his attention to his ancient nemesis. Yu Gwai was kicked, pushed around, knocked down and forced back up – mogu are cruel creatures to other races, but it seemed they could be just as cruel for their own. The azure warlord was determined to learn where his opponent was for these countless centuries, but it did not occur to him he could have been a turtle.
Finally, they were led to a tent near the Great Lift, a mechanism that was used for communication between Zouchin and the rest of the Pandaren Empire since time immemorial, probably since before the mogu, even. Inside the tent, Kun Yomi looked on as his shirtless, ugly servant hung his prisoners’ chains on bolts sticking out of the big, wooden pole. Yaochi could barely remain conscious after what she’s been through, but Yu Gwai remained defiant.
“You know what surprises me the most?” Kun Yomi said, looking on, “That you would help the pandaren girl, however you did that. I always knew you were weak…”
The jade warlord suddenly pulled his left arm, reflexively trying to hit his captor. “I did not help her.”
“Then how?” Kun responded, “How did she fall from a mountain, in a carriage, and survive the fall?”
“I don’t know,” Yu Gwai said, grinning at Kun Yomi, “Perhaps the years have dulled your senses and you were hallucinating.”
“Silence!” the azure mogu barked in response. “You, for one, should know our power. You have seen the rise of Lei Shen first-hand.”
“And then,” Yu responded, “I saw his body no longer be able to sustain the power he stole from our gods. I saw him being buried beneath Kun-Lai. And then I saw numerous fools, one weaker than another, take his throne. Finally, I saw his empire crumble and be taken over by his former slaves.” Kun Yomi clearly didn’t like what he was hearing. “Your Thunder King is gone, and your time is over.”
The captor was scowling, but he did not allow himself to be provoked again. “By this time tomorrow you will speak differently. Or you will be dead. The choice will be yours.” He then quickly turned around and left the tent, with the ugly jailor leaving just after him – but not before he spat under the prisoners’ feet. Thus, the pandaren girl and the mogu warlord were left, chained to opposite sides of the wooden post and left to contemplate their situation.
Soon enough, Yaochi began to move around and try to free herself from the chains. But she could not gather nearly enough strength to break the heavy, ghost iron chains the mogu put on her. Yu Gwai only looked on at her struggle, finally chuckling to himself.
“These cuffs were made for an adult mogu. Even I would never be able to break them, let alone you.” Although he finally talked to her, he continued to look away.
“Well, help me then!” she screamed at her companion.
“Even if I could, what would I get out of that?” he replied.
“You saw me fight. You know what I can do!”
“Indeed,” he responded, chuckling again, “I saw you luckily shoot two mogu to death and then continue to flail around and draw an entire city worth of raiders to yourself.”
“But you helped me!” she screamed again, still not understanding her situation.
“Not I, the turtle did!” he shouted back, with obvious resentment.
“But you are the turtle!” she only replied, trying to look at him from the other side of the post.
“I’m NOT a turtle!”
“How can you be a turtle?” she continued to ask.
“I’m NOT a turtle!” he yelled out again, trying to deny the obvious fact.
“I saw you,” she said, “I saw the turtle stand there and then turn into… you. Stop denying it! I know you’re that turtle!”
Yu Gwai began to grumble something under his nose. “The turtle is not me, and I’m not him.” A moment of silence fell between the two. “I was cursed. I opposed the rise of Lei Shen, the one you know as the Thunder King, and I paid the price.”
“But how can you be a turtle?” she continued to inquire, still not understanding.
“When I… lost the battle, I was captured and led in chains, much like today, to Lei Shen’s new seat of power on the Thundering Mountain. There, his faithful servant, Shan Jitong, melded my body and spirit with that of an ancient sea turtle. We are now one being,” Yu Gwai said, as he loosened up and let himself slide down the pole, “When the turtle is awake, I feel like I’m in a dream, watching the turtle do things, but being unable to act.”
“So the turtle likes me,” the girl responded.
“It’s a turtle!” he shouted back. “It’s a stupid animal, always so eager to help… I hate him with all my heart, and Shan Jitong knew that. That’s why he chose that form.”
Yaochi just looked at Yu Gwai for a moment. In that instant, he didn’t seem like the menacing, snarling monster he was when he regained his real form. He looked like a broken, defeated man who lost everything, from his power to his will to act. And she felt pity on him.
“I’m sorry,” she replied, looking away.
Yu Gwai instantly pulled himself back up. “Do not feel sorry for me, you little pandaren whelp! I was a great warlord in my time! My clan has hunted down your kind like animals for centuries, even before Lei Shen came and forged his empire from the power he stole from the gods. If we had met on my terms, you would not be alive to pity me.”
“But we did not,” Yaochi said, “we did not meet on your terms. We are what we are, and where we are. We have a common foe, and we should join our forces.”
“Never!” Yu Gwai exclaimed, “They already call me weak. What do you expect they would think if I helped you, little girl?”
“It wouldn’t matter if we win,” she said, trying to smile at her unwitting companion.
“And if we lose?” he shouted back. “How much more shame would I be faced with? Into what new form would they put my spirit to further torment me? You think you’re in pain now, little girl? Try watching your enemy kill all the women and children of your clan so that it can never recover. Try watching your wife and daughters be slain by a half-stone butcher just to spite you. Try being forced into the form of an animal you detest and remain a prisoner inside its body, and then return to your own form during the night just so it can hurt you more when you’re the animal again.” She stopped stalking for a moment, just looking at the warlord, nearly falling to tears. “You know nothing of pain or suffering, little girl. If we try to break out of this and fail, you will learn the true cruelty my kind is capable of.” As he ended his rant, he simply looked away and slid down the pole again.
Yaochi was taught to be strong and to never show her emotions, but she couldn’t help but feel so very sad at hearing Yu Gwai’s story. She finally shed a tear she wished she could hide, but her hands were still chained above her head by an unbreakable chain. “I’m sorry,” she said again.
“Do not say that again!” the jade warlord shouted. “I deserved this. I failed them. I failed them all, and I was punished. Ten thousand years more of this torment would not be enough to repay my family and my clan. I will suffer for as long as the gods wish me to.” He looked down on the ground, losing himself in his thoughts.
Yaochi couldn’t help herself. “I’m so sorry,” she said once again. This time, Yu Gwai could not gather the strength to bark back at her. He simply sighed and kept looking into the empty space. This awkward silence continued for a time, until the princess looked up and looked through a small hole in the upper part of the tent. Neither she nor the warlord would be able to reach it, but she could see the sky through it, and she could see the sky was slowly getting brighter again. Then, an idea dawned in her mind.
“You’re a turtle!” she said triumphantly.
“I’m not a turtle!” he could only deny once again.
“You don’t understand!” she said, realizing what’s happening. “The sun is about to rise. You will turn into a turtle once again! Your hands will slide out of the cuffs and you will be free!”
The warlord looked back at her. “What?” he could only say.
“When you’re a turtle again, and you’re free, I will start to scream. The jailor will think you got out and are trying to hurt me and will come in. That’s when you attack him and take his keys. Then you set me free…”
“…And we can get out here,” he said, realizing the girl’s plan. For a moment, he looked up at the sky in the hole. “But I could just walk out of here when I’m the turtle again. Why do you trust me to help you?”
She just grinned at him. “I don’t trust you,” she said, “I trust the turtle.”
Just as she finished speaking, the first lights of dawn shone through the hole in the tent. Yu Gwai looked up and sighed deeply. “Here we go again,” he said, as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The same magical light emanated from his body and in a few seconds, enveloped him whole. Despite all the lights, Yaochi could still see his arms retract and easily slide through the cuffs as his whole form shrunk and deformed to again let the turtle reign. After a short moment, the turtle was standing there again next to the pole, free from chains and free to act. It gave Yaochi a knowing glance and moved towards the entrance.
Soon enough, the jailer who sat down to work in a nearby tent heard the screams of a young pandaren girl. At first, he didn’t think much of it, but when the screams continued he became worried that the girl would die too soon and his master Kun Yomi would punish him for negligence. The ugly mogu quickly rose from his seat and walked towards the tent with his prisoners, with the keys still tied to his belt. To his surprise, as he crossed the threshold, he felt a strong bite on his ankles. As he convulsed in pain and fell over, he saw what was happening. The girl immediately stopped screaming and the mogu prisoner was gone. Only a turtle stood next to him and was about to jump at his face.
Soon enough, the jailor became even uglier than before, his face torn apart by the turtle’s strong jaws. Then, the animal remembered what the man heard. The jade turtle grabbed the key ring off the mogu’s belt and pulled it off, dragging it towards Yaochi. After a short struggle, the princess managed to grab the keys and direct them into the keyhole on her chains. With a clang, the cuffs opened and she slid down the pole. Although the turtle tried to help her, it didn’t need to. She quickly rolled over, stood up and dropped the keys she no longer needed.
She was about to leave, but she decided to take the opportunity to rearm herself. First, she noticed the bow she took from that mogu, left in the tent by Kun Yomi. “My bow!” she said, grabbing it. The turtle just looked at her. “What? It’s mine now!” Then she looked around and saw a strange polearm the jailor dropped when he walked in. A long stick, far too large for her to use, with white blades engraved with faces of an eagle, stuck on both ends of the stick. She quickly took the weapon from the dead mogu and looked back at her companion. “This will be for you. I’m just holding it for now.”
Before their captors could realize what all the ruckus is really about, they snuck out of the tent and quickly and silently moved towards the Great Lift. Yaochi pulled the lever that drove their wagon up. Only as its wooden construction began to make a ratchet, the mogu started to realize something’s wrong. Kun Yomi woke up, without getting even an hour of sleep and slowly walked with his lieutenants towards his prisoners’ tent. Soon, he found out they escaped and ran out with a loud roar, looking at the lift. However, by then, the princess and the turtle already got all the way up and were out of his reach.
But Kun Yomi would not give up. He decided he would catch the two again, but next time, he would not wait and would kill them both instantly.
TO BE CONTINUED
In reality, written by the author of the Arakkoa Chronicles.