Hadakha waited as the pandaren woman slowly elbow-walked her way up alongside him. She peered out into the clearing, where humanoid shapes could be seen in cages scattered amongst the ruins. The fading light made it difficult to tell what races they were, though most of them were slender and tall. Probably elves. There hadn't been any sin'dorei in the part of the fleet that made it to Garrosh'ar Point, he mused, so they were either kal'dorei or Akabeko's squadron had landed not too far up the coast. He glanced at the woman beside him.
"Well, Jiang, what do you think? The pandaren don't seem like the type to keep prisoners in conditions like this, so what kind of creature in this land are we up against?"
Her brow wrinkling in thought, she studied the camp. "Mr. Hadakha, I didn't hear any tales of dangers from the Paw'don townsfolk, except maybe the hozen? But the hozen I know aren't really smart – or patient – enough to make cages like these. And they tend to just smash and steal things. I've never heard – oh!" Smothering her own gasp with a quick hand, Jiang pointed.
A group of large, muscular shapes marched into view. Carrying torches, they made a round of the cages, inspecting each prisoner carefully and conferring with each other. "Mogu!" Jiang hissed. "I thought they were no more..." She started trembling and inching back into the undergrowth. "We can't stay here, Mr. Hadakha! We can't let them catch us!"
He snaked out a big hand and hooked her elbow, all the while studying the ogre-sized mogu intently. "It's okay, Jiang. I won't let them catch us. Just keep still." Jiang struggled, beginning to whimper. The mogu had stopped at a cage and were hauling the captive out with mocking, malicious voices. Jiang thrashed about, sobbing, in her attempt to break out of Hadakha's grip. Realising that she would end up catching the mogu's attention, he let her go. "Okay, okay Jiang, stay calm. Get to the cave. I'll be right behind you," he murmured soothingly. Then she was gone. Turning back to the clearing, he watched as the mogu led the captive away into the night.
Then, as he shifted into lionform for the trip back to the cave, he noticed it. A shadow flitted from cage to cage, and in its wake the prisoners were pushing the doors open, tentatively stepping out into the open. Some of them gathered together, huddling and arguing in low voices. The shadow, short and broad, came over and issued some orders in a terse, gravelly tone. Hadakha strained to hear, but couldn't catch more than a few words of Common. The short figure pointed in the direction of Paw'don, and some of the group headed off. The rest stayed to help the tall, slender prisoners which looked kind of elvish. But with his heightened sense of smell, Hadakha detected a fishy scent which he'd missed before. The larger group, now all sprung from their cages, left the clearing in a different direction. Hadakha padded off, eager to quiz Jiang about these mogu.
When he entered the cave, she flew at him, whacking him on the nose with the bamboo staff she'd been using as a walking stick during her recovery. Twisting away, he leapt to the far side of the cave and shifted back to his natural form. "OW! Jiang! Whad da ffff...." he patted his face, then, seeing no blood, glared at the battle-ready pandaren. "What was that about?!"
Jiang held her stance defiantly, staff at the guard position, eyes flicking between Hadakha and the cave entrance. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it again, started once more, then suddenly her face crumpled and she lowered her weapon. "Oh Mr. Hadakha, I'm sorry! I-I-I thought you were one of.....of them!" She gestured vaguely outside through her tears. "You can't let them catch us, Mr. Hadakha! You don't know the horrible things they'll do to us....."
"It's okay, Jiang. They won't get us, I swear. You....mean the mogu, right?" She nodded. He walked over slowly and sat beside her. "Why don't you tell me about these mogu. They can't be that bad, surely?"
She shook her head in disbelief. "Mr. Hadakha, they are the most evil race in Pandaria's history! They just......oh, where do I start?" In a halting, tremulous voice she briefly recounted the history of the mogu empire, the pandaren uprising, and the empire's destruction. After several minutes of silence, she looked at Hadakha.
Still deep in thought, he asked her, "Jiang, you said that the mogu used dark magics, that could feed off the souls of victims. Is that right?" She nodded hesitantly. "Alright. I think we have to go and see this for ourselves."
She shrank back, eyes wide. "Didn't you hear what I told you, Mr. Hadakha?! They are monsters! We can't go there! I won't go there!"
Hadakha started to argue with her, but seeing the scared determination on her face, he gave up quickly. "Fine, okay, you stay here and look after the supplies. Maybe you can start readying things for travel, too; we need to begin our journey north tomorrow anyway. I will be back by dawn." Before she could say anything more, he shifted into lionform and trotted out into the night.
Tracking the mogu and their captive was ridiculously easy. Before long he encountered a crude altar, and around a dozen mogu surrounding it. Several of them were channeling a spell over the prone form of a scaly, elf-like humanoid. A....fish-elf? He could feel the dark energies pulsing even from a distance. It felt similar to the energy from the things that had appeared at Twinspire Keep, what Jiang called sha. He definitely had to stop this ritual. Quickly sizing up the deployment of the mogu, he developed a plan.
They never had a chance. Their amusement was interrupted by a terrifyingly close roar. They spun to face it, hands going to weapons. After a few seconds, half of them went to investigate. From off to the side, he leapt onto the remaining mogu, mangling one and leaving another crippled. Then he dashed back into the night. The others bellowed angrily and chased after him, only to be hunted down, one by one. He raced back to the altar and brought down one of the ritualists, tearing out its throat before continuing on into the forest. The few remaining mogu regrouped behind the final two ritualists, fanning out to protect them. But Hadakha came flying over the altar, charging into the ritualists and knocking them into the others. In a frenzy of claws and teeth he maimed and ravaged the mogu, until they were all still and the area was quiet once more.
While he was checking the bodies, he heard a sound from the altar. Looking up, he saw the fishy-elf-thing sitting up, groggily clutching its head. He went over and nosed at its leg. Finally becoming aware of its surroundings, the creature gasped and scrambled away from him, chattering in some strange language. Hmmmm. He decided to play dumb, and remained in form while backing off. But when the creature started to run off into the forest, he knew he had to change his approach. Bounding past it, he turned and growled. That stopped the creature. It backed up, towards the altar. When it was a safe distance away, he circled around to the side. It tried to keep going, but he cut it off again, returning to the altar. This continued until it eventually went in the direction he wanted, and he herded it very slowly back to the cave where Jiang waited. As they approached, he sent up a thankful prayer to the ancestors that Jiang had stoked the fire back up. Once he was sure the creature had noticed the cave and its fire, he sat back on his haunches and waited for curiosity to overcome fear. Sure enough, the creature called out something and warily made it's way to the entrance.
Jiang reacted surprisingly well for someone on the edge of a breakdown only a couple of hours ago.
To his surprise, Hadakha heard both of them speaking Pandaren! Well, that would make things easier. He walked on in, and flopped down on his belly next to Jiang. She kept looking at him, and he kept hearing "Mr. Hadakha" every few sentences, so he yawned hugely and rolled over onto his back, silently begging her for a belly rub. She was a smart girl, he had to admit. She took his hint and – hesitantly at first, but with growing confidence – played up her newfound role as his master.
"Well, Mr. Hadakha, haven't you been busy! Jessha is certainly happy you came along, yes she is! You know, she's a jinyu, Mr. Hadakha, and...." He let the words soak into his brain, while he enjoyed the warmth of the fire and the unexpected pleasure of a belly rub from someone with paws......tomorrow they would set out, and hopefully this jinyu would guide them north to find the rest of the Horde. If they had made it to Pandaria. Surely Akabeko was out there, somewhere...
Next: The Decision at Dawn's Blossom