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The dull, rough noise of a man hitting stone was filling the room. Yu Gwai wasted no time trying to get himself and his companion free. Hours have passed, and if they waited even a short time more, the day would come again and Yaochi would be left with only a turtle to help her – one of very limited combat capability. However, despite the warlord’s best efforts at breaking the stone with the sheer mass of his body hitting repeatedly against it, the only result was bruises and exhaustion.

The princess just sat on the stairs, covering her ears from the noise and trying to think of a solution. Although she knew Yu Gwai was trying to help them, the noise was starting to get annoying. For hours she looked for a button or mechanism that would release the slab standing in the doorway, but to no avail. She was wondering how Kun Yomi could have known so much about these ancient mechanisms, but then she remembered he was alive when they were constructed. Still, she thought, he couldn’t have been around when the original thing, hidden behind the tomb, where Diaochan found the tablet, was constructed. Perhaps… there she could find something that would save them.

She quickly stood up and ran towards the passage the mogu woman opened to the secret compartment. For a moment, she stood in the doorway and shouted back at Yu Gwai. “Will you finally stop that?”

He stopped for a moment and looked back at her, breathing heavily. “I’m trying to get us out!”

“Well, it isn’t working,” she shouted back, “but this might!”

“What might?” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow. He quickly picked up the polearm he left on the floor and followed the girl.

“Look!” she responded, showing him the ancient machinery, full of weird panels, crystal orbs and blinking lights, barely visible in the light of magical torches hanging from the walls.

“Tools of the Makers,” he said, looking around. “I heard that Lei Shen found what the gods left behind when they went on to create other worlds. I heard that his followers built many palaces and tombs around the crypts left over from that time.” For the first time in millennia, Yu Gwai was in awe. He was witnessing the deeds of his gods. The real gods, not the blasphemer that the Thunder King was. “But all of this,” he said, raising his arms, trying to comprehend the vastness, “how can we even begin to understand this? This is ancient beyond all reckoning, older even than me and him. If you start pressing random buttons, you might just blow us up.”

“I don’t need to press any buttons!” the girl exclaimed, running towards a chest at the far end of the room. “Here,” she continued, “Qon’s red woman must have opened this chest, took out the tablet and left the rest alone.” The princess grabbed the lid of the chest and tried pulling it up, but with all her might she could not. However, Yu Gwai simply came up to her and easily lifted the lid. Inside, they found just a set of other tablets and a smooth, crystal orb.

The princess immediately started looking through the tablets. She could neither pick any of them up, nor understand any of the writings. For the writings were in the language of the Titans, an ancient and forgotten tongue from which almost all of the modern languages of Azeroth are descended from. Even the mogu warlord would not understand it. Perhaps the Thunder King would, with all the magic and knowledge he stolen from Ra-den, but alas, they could not. But then, Yu Gwai picked up the orb with one hand and tried looking into it – but he could see nothing.

“What’s this?” he asked, still looking for something in the orb.

“Some kind of… device,” the girl responded, shrugging.

“You don’t say!” he replied, waving his orb-bearing hand up. “Maybe it’s a weapon?”

“Maybe it’s the Pearl of Pandaria!” the princess exclaimed. “I heard it can grant great visions to people.”

“I just hope it doesn’t blow up in my hand,” Yu Gwai said. But just as he said it, the orb suddenly started to glow and hum. A set of glowing lines appeared all around the orb, making the shape of an odd polyhedron. And then, the lines started to turn around, with a clicking noise at every turn! “What’s happening?” Yu Gwai shouted, extending his arm. “I didn’t do anything!”

Yaochi looked up, worried. “You said ‘blow up’.”

“I said ‘don’t blow up’!” he responded. Then, the princess had an idea. She quickly grabbed the orb off of Yu Gwai’s hand and ran with it, as heavy as it was, towards the entrance to the tomb. He followed her as she dropped the orb and it rolled to the slab blocking the entrance.

“Get back!” she shouted, pushing him back. A moment later, the orb exploded in the doorway, blasting the slab into tiny pieces. Seeing the natural light again, they both at first sighed in relief, but their happiness quickly dissipated. This light meant the day has dawned again, and they might be too late to stop Kun Yomi. Yu Gwai morphed back into the turtle when the light touched him, but Yaochi did not want to give up. She knew the only way to stop the mogu now depended on her.

As they ran through the snowed roads the mogu have laid between the tombs thousands of years ago, they noticed most of the soldiers were gone from the valley. Yaochi wondered where could they have all gone. For a moment, she was scared they are too late and the Thunder King is alive again, commanding his troops to march out against the pandaren. But as she stopped and looked at the tracks the mogu left, she realized they weren’t going to the pandaren territories – they were clearly all going off to the north. Her thoughts wandered to the legendary Thundering Mountain that few pandaren dared to tread. She thought if they were all leaving towards it… could he be back after all?

Then, the turtle’s growl drew her attention. As she turned to follow him, she noticed another tomb. Bigger, with exceptionally ornate statues guarding it and with a snarling monster sculpted above the entrance. The size and splendor of this tomb left no doubt – this must have been the tomb of the Thunder King. Two mogu were still standing guard before the entrance, recently dug out of snow which relieved her slightly – if they were still there, perhaps not all was lost.

Yaochi carefully positioned herself on top of the wall of snow the mogu created when they dug up the entrance. She knew that this time she cannot miss. She took one of her last remaining arrows and carefully aimed the bow at one of the guards. Doubt suddenly appeared in her mind – what if there are many more soldiers inside the tomb? What if everyone actually went inside and even if she can kill these two, the entire army inside will overpower her? But just as quickly as the doubt appeared, her determination to set things right won over. She released her arrow… and hit the left guard just below his neck. As he fell over, bleeding and gasping for air, the other guard came forward, looking for the assailant… only for the turtle to land on his head and knock him out. Just to be sure, Yaochi landed another arrow in his back and looked into the tomb. A dark and forbidding place of final rest of the worst villain Pandaria has ever known. But she knew she had to be brave and went in, followed by the turtle.

The tomb was dusty and cold inside, clearly untouched for countless centuries. But it was also dark and quiet, evidently not hosting an army of mogu. Yaochi did not know why Kun Yomi would send away most of his soldiers if he wasn’t done, but doubt had no more place in her mind. She simply continued forward and… was about to learn unconditional determination can be deadly too. As she was about to make another step, the turtle suddenly knocked her over.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, getting up. As more light shone from outside, she noticed a different tile, slightly raised above the others. “I remember,” she said, “you told me about all the traps. How do we get through?” The turtle just looked forward… and pressed on, going through the tile. The monster heads mounted on the walls started spitting darts and arrows – ones that would easily kill a mogu or a standing pandaren. But a turtle could easily pass under them! So Yaochi dropped to the floor and crawled under the danger, emerging into the large chamber, lit only by a single hole in the roof.

Before she could be amazed at the beauty of this place, she heard footsteps. Too light to be a mogu, and yet too heavy to come from the turtle. She prepared her bow immediately and turned towards the source of the noise. To her surprise, a pandaren emerged from the darkness, clad in shining, golden armor and a red scarf on his face. A member of the Golden Lotus!

“Princess Yaochi!” the pandaren yelled out in surprise, “I am Protector Shaohao, I was sent out to find you! I did not expect I would find you in this forsaken tomb.”

The girl was happy to finally see a friendly face – or at least the part of it not covered by a scarf – and couldn’t help but smile. And yet, something about this was odd. “Then why did you come in if you did not expect to find me here?” she asked.

“Most terrible things, your grace,” Shaohao said, “as I was searching for your esteemed self in the mountains, I noticed a large group of mogu moving around this area. Then I heard their leader, a blue warlord…”

“Kun Yomi,” she interrupted him.

“Then you have met him?” Protector responded.

“Yes,” she replied, looking around, “he tried to kill me at least twice.”

“And I heard them talk about the return of Lei Shen! This is most troubling!” Shaohao responded, uncovering his mouth.

“I know,” the princess added, “They found some kind of tablet that can… what was it?” She looked at the turtle. Protector only raised his eyebrow in surprise. “It’s not actually a turtle,” Yaochi quickly added, trying to explain herself. “Well, it is a turtle, but there’s also a mogu inside.”

“A mogu!?” Shaohao exclaimed, unsheathing his sword.

“But he’s a good one!” she quickly responded, raising her hands between the two. “Listen, they found a tablet that can give the Thunder King a new body. We tried to stop them, but they closed us in another tomb… Did they…?” Yaochi paused anxiously.

“No,” the Golden Lotus responded, “this Kun Yomi sent away his troops to prepare the Thundering Mountain. I hid in the darkness, hoping to find an opportune moment to strike and disrupt their ritual.”

“Well,” the princess said, “this moment just came. There are now three of us and… how many left?”

“The two warlords, but I must protest!” Shaohao responded, “I was originally sent to protect you, not to put you in grave danger!”

“Too late,” she responded, “we are already in grave danger. And even more grave one if we do not stop them in time!”

Protector Shaohao looked down, thinking for a moment about his situation. He was under oath to protect the members of the royal family, and letting princess Yaochi go off on this adventure would violate his oath. But then he thought it would violate it to let the warlords complete the ritual even more. Finally, he looked up and with hesitation, he nodded in agreement. “Fine,” he said, “today we fight together, for the better future of Pandaria.”

The three quickly followed the mogu trail through the corridors, carefully avoiding all the trapped tiles and other buttons that could bring ancient statues back to life. Yaochi heard stories about ancient tomb guardians, statues enchanted to awaken when someone breaches the sanctity of burial, but once she saw them, a lot of their mythical charm dissipated. Not only they had to be triggered by a button, like a simple machine, they were much less imposing in reality than the bards made them out to be. Finally, they heard a muffled conversation through the nearest door. Undoubtedly, the warlords conducting their ritual.

Yaochi stood on one side of the door, preparing her bow, with the turtle right beside her. Protector Shaohao stood opposite of her. Doubts began to appear in his mind, but he was well trained by the monks – he quickly dispelled them, knowing that once the decision is made, he had to go through with it. Once again, he looked at the princess, knowing they’re about to go into the toughest battle either of them had fought. Then, he simply nodded at her, giving her the sign to action.

She pressed the button. The door slowly slid open and the conversation immediately stopped. Protector Shaohao immediately jumped into the room, luckily into a safe tile. Yaochi quickly followed after him, raising her bow, the turtle standing right between them. But to their surprise, the two warlords weren’t chanting, nor was their ritual even ready.

Kun Yomi and Iron Qon simply stood on two sides of Lei Shen’s sarcophagus, smiling maliciously at the heroes.

“Finally,” Kun Yomi said, “and just in time too.”

Iron Qon laughed. “Blood for the ritual has come.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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

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