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Princess Yaochi stood in the burial chamber of the Thunder King, facing off against the two mogu warlords, one of whom stood in her way for the last couple of days. On her side stood only a Protector of the Golden Lotus she just found in the same tomb and a particularly smart turtle. The battle seemed hopeless, even more so considering what the warlords just said. Yaochi was shocked that they were happy to see her, that they claimed to have orchestrated everything… how could it be?

“That’s impossible,” she finally said, looking between the two smiling monsters, “you couldn’t have possibly planned everything.”

“Not everything,” Kun Yomi responded, “but we planned enough. You see, Qon’s consort has already read the tablet when you found her. We knew we needed blood…”

“…that didn’t come from a mogu,” Iron Qon interrupted, “so we left her to fight you. If you lost, we would have blood from you.”

“If you won,” Kun continued, “you would doubtlessly come here to fight us. So we get your blood anyway.”

That was pretty clever, coming from a brutal mogu warlord. But still, something didn’t make sense for Yaochi. “But why were you trying to kill me in the first place?” she inquired.

“That’s simple,” Kun Yomi responded, “without you, the Pandaren Empire is heirless and unstable. When it will descend into chaos, the Thunder King will return and rouse the mogu clans against the pandaren and bring back the times of our glory.”

Iron Qon looked at his companion, a bit surprised. “What’s up with the turtle?”

“Oh, that’s simple too,” Kun responded, chuckling. “See, that’s our old friend Yu Gwai.” Qon just looked at the turtle, raising his eyebrows. “I didn’t connect the dots immediately, because I was busy elsewhere when he disappeared from our Emperor’s dungeons, but soon enough, it made sense. The girl was only seen with the turtle, and with Yu Gwai.”

That is Yu Gwai?” Iron Qon started laughing. “This is even more pathetic than I heard!” The turtle tried to protest, but it could only snap its jaws in the air.

Protector Shaohao could no longer stand this. “Enough!” he exclaimed, “I will finish you both!” drawing his sword out, he charged at Iron Qon, finally jumping into the air just before him, raising his sword… only to be grabbed in motion by the crimson warlord by his neck.

Iron Qon laughed again, as the Golden Lotus warrior started to choke. “What a pitiful creature! Look at his armor!” he said to Kun Yomi. “He probably thinks he’s important.” Protector tried very hard to speak, but through mogu’s grip not a single word could pass. Then he felt as the grip tightened even more, until he felt something break… A moment later, Iron Qon flung his body across the room. The warlord eyed the body once again and asked the girl, “Was that the ‘emperor’? I do hope so.”

“He wasn’t an emperor,” she replied in anger, preparing her bow, “but he was a good man, and you will pay for this!”

Qon, still careless, looked back at Kun Yomi. “Kun, can you deal with them on your own?”

“Of course, friend!” the azure warlord yelled back, drawing his polearm from his back. Suddenly, three bolts of lightning appeared around his body, but refused to strike anything – they simply circled him, like scavengers waiting for carrion. “You are nothing!” Kun Yomi yelled as he charged.

In the last moment, the girl dodged and rolled away, as the warlord’s blade swung in the air. He simply turned to follow her and didn’t even notice the turtle approaching him.

“I’m nothing?” she said, getting back up, “How are you going to get blood from nothing?”

Kun Yomi snarled at her. “You want banter, really?” he said. “Your old master tried it. Where is he now?”

The mention of her master, murdered by the very man snarling threats at her angered her, but she remembered what Yu Gwai taught her. She could not let her anger control her. She carefully remained in her place and shot an arrow at the warlord. Although it reached him, one of the sparks jumped up and shot the arrow out of the air. But just as he was to follow her, the turtle grabbed his ankle with his jaw. Although the turtle’s bite was powerful, it wasn’t strong enough to easily get through the stony skin of an ancient warlord.

Kun Yomi just looked down and tried to pull his leg away, to no avail. Finally, he called up another spark, which entered his weapon. As the polearm began to crackle with lightning, the warlord raised it with a mad cackle. In a moment, he plunged it at the turtle… but to his surprise, the jade turtle was still standing there, his shell barely scratched. Kun Yomi realized at this moment the melding of the two beings must have been more thorough than he anticipated. The turtle’s shell became tougher than rock, because of the mogu within. But Kun did not falter – as the turtle loosened its jaw’s grip on his leg, he pulled back and prepared another hit, again swinging at it with all of his might. Lightning struck to all sides, bouncing of the tough shell, but the beast’s legs wavered only for a short while. Kun Yomi was slowly growing impatient.

Yaochi used the moment of his pause and shot another arrow, which almost hit his back but was again intercepted by the last bolt surrounding Kun Yomi. For a moment, she looked away, at Iron Qon, who just stood on the side, staring contently at the fight. She would rather not provoke another combatant at the moment, but the thought of his real plan troubled her. To her surprise, when she looked back at Kun Yomi after mere seconds, all three bolts were back around him. Depleting them is clearly not a tactic she can use. Even more problematic was that one of the original three bolts was still empowering his weapon.

The turtle pulled back a couple of steps, but the warlord chasing it did not slow down. He struck the turtle again, even harder than before, but he still did little to no damage. He looked around for any leverage that might wear it down, when he noticed he’s standing right next to the switch that closes the door to this chamber. Without giving it a second thought, he pressed the button. The doors began to close and the room was slowly becoming darker.

“You think you’re so tough as this animal,” Kun Yomi said, “but you forgot it’s daylight, even in small amounts, that keeps you in this form.” The doors finally closed, leaving the room only to the light of the few magical torches on the walls. “Now, you will be just a man again.” As light emanated again from the turtle as he grew and twisted back into the form of Yu Gwai, the emerging warlord screamed.

Finally, Yu Gwai stood there, drawing his polearm. “Fool,” he responded to Kun Yomi, “you only made me stronger!” The two weapons clashed immediately, sending sparks across the room.

“You are still nothing compared to me!” the azure warlord yelled, “You are just a warrior. A leftover from a bygone era of weakness and chaos!” His next blow sent Yu Gwai a couple of steps back. “I am a paragon of magic and the order of the Thunder King!” Kun Yomi kept hitting the jade warlord, but his hits were parried every time. “You are just a man. You tire with every hit you parry, with every blow you try to strike against me. And when your energy runs out… I will still have magic!”

Suddenly, Yu Gwai lashed out with a couple of powerful blows Kun Yomi could barely parry. The last blow even hit his armor, getting past the bolts guarding him. “You underestimate the power of pure strength,” Yu Gwai responded. “You think magic is everything? Then Lei Shen has really made you all weak. You have grown decadent, dependent on the power you stole from others…” The azure warlord was growing angrier with every passing moment, hitting Yu Gwai faster and louder. “What would you be if I was facing just your own powers? A pathetic whelp.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Kun Yomi yelled, arcing his blade far back and hitting Yu Gwai from the left. Although he hit the armor, the blow was powerful enough to stun his opponent for just a moment. “These powers are mine now, and you are not facing me without them. If you thought you could taunt me into discarding them, then you truly are a fool.”

“No,” Yu Gwai smiled, swinging back, “just trying to insult you.” Their weapons clashed again, but this time the jade warlord wasn’t pulling back after the hit. He simply kept grinding the blades against each other, as sparks kept shooting to the sides. Only after a moment, Kun Yomi realized what his enemy is doing – but it was too late. The energy of his spark was depleted from the weapon, leaving it weakened from all the energy that just passed through it.

“Clever,” Kun said, “but not clever enough.” Another of the two remaining sparks entered the weapon, empowering it again.

Yaochi looked on as the two continued to exchange blows. They continued to fight, and to push each other around, with no clear winner. Whenever it seemed one was winning, the other would push him back. Throughout all this time, Iron Qon still only looked on, with his arm ready with his spear in case he needed to intervene. Then the girl noticed the one bolt still floating around Kun Yomi. She realized they only deflect arrows, not melee blows, and that he also uses them to empower his weapon. She thought he could not run out of them, but perhaps… she was wrong. As she grabbed the arrow, she realized that she had only two arrows left. Nevertheless, she shot at Kun Yomi again, only to see it deflected again – but now he remained with no bolts, and he didn’t seem to summon another batch.

To Kun’s frustration, Yu Gwai didn’t seem to tire as fast as he expected. The jade warlord has only recently fought Diaochan and got through a tomb full of traps – and yet, he seemed still strong enough to keep fighting him on equal footing. Perhaps, there was a certain virtue to these old mogu. Perhaps… but most definitely, he would still not challenge the power of the Thunder King. Still, Yu Gwai attacked him again, and again he would not pull his blade back after a blow. The sparks came flying again and after a few seconds, another empowerment was gone. Kun Yomi clenched his fist, preparing to summon another batch of sparks… but then his polearm crumbled into small pieces. The weapon could no longer sustain the power coursing through it, just as Lei Shen could not sustain powers of Ra-Den forever. But Kun Yomi would not admit it.

“I tire of this!” he yelled, dropping the crumbling remains of his weapon. “Now you will face my true power!” he shouted, pulling his hands up. Lightning and thunder poured from the ceiling towards his hands, gathering in his person and empowering it. Yu Gwai immediately raised his blade and hit towards his exposed belly, but a shield of lightning bounced the attack back. Even the warlord himself was struck with a stray bolt of lightning, pushing him back a couple of steps. He still stood his ground, but watched as Kun Yomi lowered his hands, now his eyes and his body full of arcane powers. Kun Yomi thrust his hands to the front and growled, preparing for his strike.

“Breath of Ao Guang!” the azure warlord yelled, “Come to my call!”

Yu Gwai jumped away just in time. A stream of water and lightning erupted forward from Kun Yomi’s hands, hitting the wall just behind the spot where the jade warlord just stood. But his enemy would not stop there – Kun Yomi began to turn around. Slowly but surely, he was turning around and leaving a trail of devastation across the walls. Yu Gwai knew that coming close to him now would be suicidal and he knew that he can simply evade this entire attack, just walking out of its path. Yaochi had another idea – she prepared her last arrow and put it in the bow’s string, but kept walking out of the stream’s path, trying to find the proper moment to strike. When she was about to shoot… she suddenly felt a strong grip on her waist. She looked up. Iron Qon.

“And where are you going?” Qon said, smiling deviously. Then, he effortlessly raised her in the air and contemplated for a moment the best way to finish her. He quickly smiled again when he noticed a corner of the room entirely surrounded by trapped tiles. With a loud growl, he threw the girl across the room. Moments later, she landed with a pained scream. She was becoming used to pain after these few days, so she began to raise back to her feet only to realize where she now lies – surrounded by trapped tiles, with the stream of lightning quickly coming her way.

Yu Gwai was still running away from the damage, but then he looked at the girl. He saw the stream coming her way, with no way of escaping it. Only one thought crossed his mind. Lightning from the hands of Lei Shen killing his daughter. He couldn’t stand to see it once again.

“No!” Yu Gwai yelled, going back – jumping straight into the path of the lightning.

Just in time, he jumped in to block it from hitting Yaochi. But he did not fall. He stood his ground and weathered the assault of lightning upon his body and his weapon. He simply stood there and watched as Kun Yomi exerted every last bit of Ao Guang’s magic he had left. Finally, after entire minutes of this assault, the azure warlord stopped. He only looked in shock as Yu Gwai didn’t move. Kun Yomi breathed heavily, trying to comprehend how could Yu Gwai survive this. But then… the jade warlord collapsed to the floor. And Kun Yomi laughed.

“Fool!” Kun Yomi yelled out. “Now, you will die. No one can survive this kind of energy! And now that you can no longer shield her… I will just kill her.” He began to laugh and wave his hands again, preparing another spell. Terrified Yaochi just pushed herself into the corner and closed her eyes. But then, in the depths of her mind, she remembered Kun Yomi’s boast a couple of days ago.

She opened her eyes again. She had quickly drawn her last arrow again and in the blink of an eye, she shot it into Kun Yomi’s left hand.

The energies quickly dissipated from the warlord’s hands as he yelled out in pain. He grabbed the arrow with his right hand, but he did not have enough strength left to pull it out. He could only mutter “How…”

“How did I know?” Yaochi responded. “You shouldn’t have bragged so much about your ‘good hand’ when you fought Master Chang.”

Kun Yomi began to growl like a mad dog, staring at the princess with an unbelievable fury. “I can still kill you with just my right hand.” He raised the right hand and lightning began to form in it, until… suddenly, he yelled out in pain and opened his right hand. As he looked down, he saw a spear sticking out of the middle of his chest. Iron Qon’s spear.

The crimson warlord slowly pulled out the spear, as Kun Yomi collapsed to the floor, spitting out blood. In his last energy, the slayer of Ao Guang looked up at his former companion. “Why?” he could only say.

Iron Qon chuckled. “Because I have no desire to see the return of Lei Shen. I let you go along with it because I wanted to strike you at your weakest. Of course, I thought it would be during the ritual… but an exhaustion from battle with your equal would be just as good. And look…” he said, looking at dying Yu Gwai, “I killed two birds with one stone. Three, if you count that treacherous woman.”

Kun Yomi felt his spirit was about to leave and could only breathe his last words. “You have betrayed us all.” Iron Qon grinned widely at him.

“That’s what I do. Soon, I will be the only ancient warlord left. And Iron Qon will reign supreme.” As Kun Yomi’s eyes finally closed, Qon looked at the now-unarmed girl and her dying guardian. “As for you, I will let you live. You have helped me get rid of some of my greatest threats.”

The crimson warlord slowly marched out towards the exit, pressing the button to open the doors. One last time, he looked at the two. “May your ancestors have mercy on you.”

 

Nearly two hours have passed. Yaochi still kneeled in her corner, with Yu Gwai lying just in front of her, still alive but barely. She could not help him, because she could not pass through the trapped tiles. She could not get out for the same reason. He could not get up, because almost all of his life force was expended in that final blow from Kun Yomi. She could simply sit there and cry over a mogu – something she would not expect herself to do a couple of days ago. He selflessly risked his own life for another – no, for her. She only looked in the direction of the doorway, every time hoping a friendly face would come to help her, to help Yu Gwai, to bury Protector Shaohao. Then she noticed the light coming from outside.

“Daylight is getting here,” she said, surprised, “why aren’t you turning into the turtle again? Maybe then… you could be saved.”

He didn’t move, just staring at the ceiling and waiting for Sagelasi, the Mogu God of Death, to come for him. But for a moment, he looked at the source of light. “I am dying, my girl,” he finally responded, “the spell has been broken.”

“Don’t say that!” she replied, trying to reach him. Still, the traps stood in her way. “We’ll get out of this.”

“How?” he said, looking back at the ceiling. But before she could respond, they heard something.

Footsteps. A lot of footsteps. Someone was approaching from outside. They only hoped it would not be more mogu… and indeed they weren’t! After a moment, a friendly monkey face popped from behind a corner. The Monkey King!

“Hi!” the hozen said, smiling widely.

“The Monkey King!” Yaochi shouted in surprise. “Can you help him?”

The hozen entered the room fully. “Dunno,” he blurted out and looked back. “Here, here!” he yelled into the corridor. Soon, more footsteps followed and a whole group of the soldiers of Golden Lotus entered the room. With them, none other than Yi-Bo Shen, Lord Commander of the Golden Lotus.

Yi-Bo scowled at the sight of Yu Gwai. “This mogu is still alive!” he said, pulling out his sword. “Step aside, Princess, I will finish him!”

“No!” she shouted, standing up with the rest of her forces. “He helped me! He put his life on the line to save me!”

Lord Shen, one of the most serious and dour pandaren in the Empire, could not understand this. “A mogu, risking his life for a pandaren? Why would he do that?”

The girl tried to catch her breath before she could explain everything. “He’s a good guy. He was an enemy of Lei Shen, and for that he was cursed. But today, he fought for me. He protected me with his own body. And now he’s dying because of it.”

Yi-Bo looked at the warlord again with surprise. “A good mogu? Now that’s new.”

“Please,” the girl said, again, “can you heal him?” The Monkey King extended his staff towards her, motioning for her to grab it. She immediately grabbed the staff and got pulled over the trapped tiles.

“Heal a mogu?” Lord Shen shouted. “Now, even if you are right about what he has done…”

“Please! The Golden Lotus has some of the best healers in all of Pandaria!”

“No!” Yi-Bo Shen raised his hands in protest. “It is still a mogu. It will only wait for a moment to strike at us.” Yaochi could not believe what she heard. One of the most respected pandaren leaders was more prejudiced than a mogu – member of a race she considered monsters just days ago.

“Fine!” she shouted. “Make it an order! You will heal him, or my father will punish you!”

Yi-Bo only scowled at her. “You are not my Empress yet, you cannot give me orders.” They were about to start a long argument when suddenly another voice interrupted them.

“No need!” the Monkey King said. “I can heal him! I healed princess from biiig fall, healing from this magic is no problem for me!”

Yaochi’s jaw dropped in surprise. “You healed me?”

“Yup!” the Monkey King responded laconically, preparing a spell on the pearly tip of his staff. “I cast bubble over you. So when you fall, nothing too bad happened!”

“You knew,” she said, in realization, “you knew all along. You knew everything that was happening. You saved me from that fall, leading me to him. You guided me to this place. You knew everything…”

“Yup!” he said again, touching Yu Gwai with the tip of his staff. The healing light began to envelop the warlord, slowly mending his wounds and his broken skin and bones.

“But why?” she continued to ask.

“I may not be August Celestial,” he said, shrugging his free arm, “but I know things. And when I know, I act. I see you fight with him in here. I see you destroy one bad mogu and stop big bad mogu. But only when he’s with you.”

The light from the staff disappeared, and Yu Gwai looked around. Yi-Bo scowled at him again, but didn’t do anything. The warlord began to rise to his feet but when he was still kneeling, the Monkey King touched him again.

“Wait!” the hozen said, “One more decision you must make!”

Yu Gwai sighed deeply. “What again?”

Shi Hou grinned widely. “Are you a turtle?”

“What?” the mogu screamed back in surprise.

“You always say, ‘I am not turtle!’” the hozen explained, “But you now see many things you did not know you do. Now that you’re healed, you will turn into turtle again. Unless I take turtle out.”

“You can do that?” Yaochi replied.

“I never say I cannot,” he quickly, responded, looking between them.

Yu Gwai just remained there, kneeling, thinking about the recent events. He thought how selfless and helpful the turtle was. He thought how smart, but strong at the same time it was. He thought how the turtle always knew the right thing to do. Only now, he realized that in fact they were very much the same. He needed to meet a good person who would show him the true self that always hid in his heart. And then he realized, Shan Jitong didn’t curse him. He gave him the greatest blessing anyone could have ever done. He looked back up at the people gathered around him and for the first time in his life he could proudly say “Yes”.

“I am the turtle.”

His body began to glow again, with the same familiar glow. His body twisted and shrunk again, but for the first time he did not oppose the transformation. For the first time, it came easily, without pain. For the first time, both beings were at ease with one another, and both realized they are, in fact, one and the same. Yaochi quickly knelt before the jade turtle and hugged its scaly head. Now, she knew she could keep it… him. Because no longer was Yu Gwai imprisoned inside the turtle’s body. He could leave if he wanted… but he would not.

Yi-Bo looked out towards the sunlight shining in through the roof of the neighboring room. “What now?” he said to the gathered people.

“Now,” the girl responded, standing up, “we return home.” The Monkey King started clapping loudly and ooking with glee. Yaochi sighed again. “I mean, my sleep schedule is totally screwed. I need to rest!”

 

Yaochi returned home changed. She was braver, more determined and more disciplined than before. With her new friend, she travelled around Pandaria and helped many people in need. Many innocents were saved by her and her jade turtle and many villains have fallen to her bow and the turtle’s strong jaws. And during the nights, Yu Gwai continued to emerge and helped train her with all of his knowledge. He quickly realized Yaochi was like his lost daughter in more ways than one. He learned to truly love and respect her and continued to serve her throughout her life.

Twenty years later, Emperor Huizong died. Yaochi, as his only child, was crowned as the new Empress. Although she no longer went on adventures, she reigned as a just and kind Empress who was venerated all across her land. Even the mantids did not dare to attack the Empire during her reign, because they knew she was just as fearsome an opponent as she was kind to her allies. She married a good boy and had many children with him. Her oldest son was named Shaohao, after the Protector that fallen in her defense.

Yu Gwai served Empress Yaochi till her last days. When she died after a long and peaceful reign, the entire Empire wept for her, including the August Celestials and the Monkey King. The turtle witnessed her being laid to her final rest and when everything was done, it departed. No one knows where it went, or where it could be now. Perhaps, he is still alive somewhere in Pandaria, remembering the good old days. Or perhaps, he awaits for a moment of great need to emerge again. But he knew that he left Pandaria in good hands – the hands of Emperor Shaohao. But his story is a completely different one.

But now, Pandaria has changed. Shan Jitong, who placed the curse upon him, is dead. The Thunder King is destroyed again and the source of his power depleted. Who knows, perhaps the jade warlord and the turtle are now separate beings again… or perhaps with the curse finally dissipating, Yu Gwai is free to return to the soil, after a long and heroic life. And now, maybe his spirit finally joined the spirit of his Empress, where he can watch over her once again.

THE END

In reality, written by the author of Arakkoa Chronicles.

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