A lone hozen sat on a ridge near the Great Lift. Bored with all the tasks given to him by his elders, he snuck away and decided to just look at passengers of the Lift. On a normal day, it’s pretty busy – travelers come and go to and from Zouchin Province, but that morning it was so far eerily quiet. He realized something must have happened, but a simple hozen could not imagine what might it be. Then, he noticed the oddest thing – a turtle, slowly passing through a nearby valley, with a sleeping pandaren girl on its back. The girl must have grooked everyone down there, he thought, and that’s why she is now so tired that she sleeps during the day. No sane hozen sleeps during the day!
Yaochi may not have killed everyone in the Zouchin Province, but she certainly did enough killing, with very little sleep, to feel very tired. As soon as they were out of the immediate vicinity of the lift, she just crawled on the turtle’s back and asked it to let her “rest a bit” there. She barely ended her sentence when she fell fast asleep. The turtle had no heart to wake her now after all she’s been through so it just moved on, with her still on his back. It did not exactly know where to go – the turtle itself has never been up there, and even searching the warlord’s mind proved difficult, since even he was stuck in Zouchin for countless centuries and has simply forgotten the lay of Kun-Lai. But the turtle remembered something the pandaren always talk about with reverence – Temple of the White Tiger. Clearly, it is important to reach it… while avoiding the major roads the mogu could patrol in search of them.
Still, for all the wisdom it had from its own experience and from the mind of a mogu warlord melded with it, it was just a turtle. It kept going in circles or making large, unnecessary detours. It could not come up to anyone and ask them for directions, and Yaochi was still asleep, not disturbed by her companion’s constant swerving around. Her mass in fact did not help it, only slowing the turtle down. It knew that it had to go down and east to reach the Temple, but there were so many perilous ridges on the way. The girl may have survived one dangerous fall, but the turtle did not know how or why – there is a chance she would not survive it again.
Finally in the evening, Yaochi woke up and immediately started complaining about the pain on her backside. That’s what sleeping on the back of a turtle, which was constantly in motion, will do to you. However, she did not dwell much on it. Compared to some of the problems she had the previous day, this felt like nothing. She certainly felt rejuvenated and a bit happier, because she knew she was on the road back to her father, where everything would finally fall back into the right place. Except for Yu Gwai… she realized he was still cursed into the form of a turtle, and her father’s magicians would not be very keen on helping him.
But it was a problem for another day. She knew the night was about to fall and as refreshed as she felt, venturing out during the night in Kun-Lai, with mogu possibly still on their tails, was a foolish endeavor. She set up a campfire on a snowy ridge and just sat there, warming her hands at the fire, and waiting for Yu Gwai to manifest himself once again. Surely enough, within minutes the turtle was “sleeping” again and the warlord stretched out his arms, stopping himself from screaming in the last moment. They did not want to alert Kun Yomi’s men to their presence.
“Hi,” she just said, seeing the warlord again.
He sat down and grumbled quietly for a moment. How can he even greet her? “Uh… greetings.”
“We should go for the Temple of the White Tiger,” she said, looking back into the fire.
“I know, that’s just what the turtle was thinking,” he replied. He then looked around and noticed the polearm Yaochi grabbed for him. He reached out for it and pulled it towards himself, looking carefully at the construction. Unfinished, not properly tempered yet, needlessly ornate – it actually reminded him a lot of Yaochi. But he knew that like Yaochi, with proper care and handling it could yet become one of the best weapons in Pandaria. He then looked back at her again. The girl was not a mogu after all. He may have been too fast to think so highly of her. In all of his long life he thought of pandaren as soft and weak. But perhaps, he thought, there is an advantage to this weakness. She could have not spoken of any plan and let the turtle just leave disoriented and get killed by hungry soldiers. Because she was ‘weak’ and cared for him, he was still alive.
“The turtle can think of such complicated things?” she said, breaking Yu Gwai out of the train of thought.
“Yes,” he responded, pretending nothing happened, “in many ways our minds are joined. It knows what I know. That is what makes the turtle so smart.”
“So before… you,” she said, thinking for a while how to best phrase it, “the turtle was just a turtle?”
“Not quite,” he responded, laying the blade down on his legs, “it’s an ancient sea turtle, descended from some kind of turtle god from a distant land. It was always smart, for a turtle, but it could live up to its full potential only when it was melded with the mind of a mogu.”
“Sounds to me like you both benefit from it,” she said, sitting back.
“Goddamn child,” he yelled out, “this is a curse! Would you like to spend entire lifetimes in the skin of an animal, like a prisoner in someone else’s body?” He was struggling with his thoughts. On one hand, he was starting to grow fond of the girl, because of all the care and unquestioned support she gave him – she was just so… casual around him, despite how they first met. On the other hand, she was just a pandaren child. Part-animal, part-person, part-child. Stupid and weak – to befriend her would be a great shame for a mogu, regardless of being the servant of Lei Shen or his enemy. However… she did not seem stupid and weak to him. She had strength, resolve and wit that could challenge a mogu. One that actually resembled him of his oldest daughter… murdered by Lei Shen’s butchers. The memories came crashing again and he couldn’t bear to keep talking to her.
“I’m sorry,” she said after a short moment that felt to Yu Gwai like an eternity.
“Stop being sorry for me, you insolent pandaren!” he yelled back, standing up. “We are not friends. We have common foes. We get away from their reach and that’s it. If they kill you, I will not shed a tear over you. Is that clear?” he said, slowly punctuating his last sentence. She realized the kind of distress he was going through and decided to not continue. She just nodded in agreement and let him wander around their makeshift “camp”.
He just stood over the ridge and looked down, lost in thought for a good while. His past, his present, his future… everything was passing through his mind. He was born and lived his real life so long ago that it seemed like just a distant story. And yet, despite all the years, the emotions still felt very real. Mogu are taught from childhood to bury their emotions deep inside and never show them, so he never did – but inside Yu Gwai’s stony heart was a storm of sorrow and guilt that could dwarf the biggest storm Lei Shen could summon.
Then, he heard screams of Yaochi. But not the screams of pain or fear. They were the screams of the strain of training. As he looked around, he saw her turn and wave around the large polearm she claimed she took for him. He knew from the very start she was in fact thinking about herself, but expected she’d realize how foolish that was. The blade was far too big for her, not that she really knew how to use it either. The way she… fumbled around with it was starting to get on his nerves.
Yaochi was shocked when someone suddenly grabbed the polearm and simply pulled it out of her hands as if it was a cup of tea. She thought she had a good grip on it. She calmed down a bit when she saw who did it, but got nervous again when she saw his grimace.
“I could kill you right now!” he shouted. “Look at yourself just… flinging around like some madman who found a knife. You have no idea how to handle a polearm.”
“I beg your pardon?” she responded, resting her arms on her hips. “I was trained by the best weapon masters in the Pandaren Empire…”
“And how many classes have you actually passed?” he yelled again, resting one end of the weapon on the ground. She just shrugged. “You know nothing, girl. You simply look at something you want to hit and wave your hand in the general direction. You need discipline.”
Yaochi looked down. “Master Chang kept telling me that.”
“What do you know, I’m agreeing with a pandaren monk!” he said, chuckling mockingly. “Discipline is everything on the field of battle. You cannot let your emotions control you. You feel angry about Kun Yomi? You hate him? Well, so do I. But I would not just lash out at him. I would strike him carefully and make every blow count. This is how you win battles, not by letting your anger or hatred possess you.”
“What?” she said, looking back at him with a mischievous smile, “A big boy like you still believes in the Sha?” He didn’t seem to laugh at her joke.
“Believe in the Sha or not, anger, hatred, pride… they are very real and sit deep inside your heart. And you should keep them there. There might not be a real monster in monochrome popping out of the ground when you slay someone in anger… but you let the monster inside you control you.” Little did they know, the Sha were very real, but there was wisdom in his words. Even without the Sha, one can destroy oneself by acting on his emotions without thinking. And Yaochi recognized that wisdom.
“Then train me,” she said, looking up at him hopefully. “Train me how to fight and I will do it properly.”
He scoffed at the thought. “You’re just a pandaren girl,” he said walking away, “you can never fight as well as a mogu.”
“Yeah?” she said, not moving from her place. “I killed those two back in Zouchin fairly quickly.” He looked back to her without turning around to face her again. “I can fight like a mogu does. Right now, don’t think about what a pandaren can do. Think what I can do.”
Yu Gwai remembered the battles he thought all those thousands of years ago. He tried to think if he could really still fight as well as he once did. He swung the polearm behind his back and then threw it up in the air. It looked as if it rotated in the air a couple of times when he caught it back with both his arms and swung it to the side. Yaochi just looked speechless at this feat when Yu Gwai looked back at her. “I can teach you.”
He instructed her throughout the night in the basics of mogu combat style. Despite all the pride and prejudice the mogu had against the pandaren, their arts didn’t seem all that different from the monks. They valued discipline and control, and wanted to hide their emotions as well as possible, although they did it for very different reasons. The monks wanted to avoid ever calling up the Sha, while the mogu wanted to control them. Yu Gwai may have never seen a Sha in person, but his ancestors knew what sleeps beneath Pandaria, even if it was just a simple instinct. That instinct would one day give rise to Korune, but back in Yu Gwai’s day, it was simply the creed of a warrior – to master his fears, lest he is consumed by them.
When the morning came, Yaochi was tired, but the time she spent with Yu Gwai already taught her to restrain herself in some small part. She knew that she would be soon in the temple of Xuen if she exerts herself just a little bit. Once there, she could easily return to her father. And the turtle… perhaps she could keep it and continue to learn from the warlord. However, she quickly became uncomfortable with the thought. She wouldn’t want to use him like that, to use his inability to refuse. Despite all the bitter words he spoke, he was always kind to her. Kinder than she ever imagined a mogu could be.
As soon as the morning mists dissipated, she realized they were closer than she thought. Temple of the White Tiger loomed just on the horizon and both quickened their approach. These miles felt much lighter and much less tiring. Perhaps because she was going through a fairly flat surface, not having to hike around ridges and crevices, or perhaps because she was getting close to home. Unfortunately, when they were about to get to the temple, they realized it would not be that easy. In front of the entrance to temple grounds stood a contingent of mogu troops, ready for combat, facing just as ready pandaren warrior-priests of Xuen.
If that wasn’t enough, the mogu were led from the back of a large quilen by an unmistakable figure – a red-skinned warrior in a horned helmet. This was Iron Qon, an ancient servant of Lei Shen.
TO BE CONTINUED
In reality, written by the author of the Arakkoa Chronicles.