We were a grim crew as we filed through the open arch. The Blackfuse Company and a mighty dinosaur. All of that just to guard a door? What else are we going to find up ahead, corrupted Celestials led by a sha-infested Sargeras?
I was past caring. I felt numb. All I wanted to do was get past all of these misguided fools that believed in Garrosh, get this thing done. If the Kor’kron stood and died or were smart enough to run screaming before us, no difference to me.
Throw them all at us, Garrosh. Send us your fine Orc warriors, your true believers in your vision of what a Horde should be. So many good men and women lost for nothing while you cower in your hole. Explain to their mothers and fathers, explain how all this will bring about the bright future of your True Horde.
Or better still, don’t bother trying to explain. They will find the answers for themselves when they see your head at the tip of our spear.
The battle against Thok must have beaten me down more than I thought, because I didn’t get that we were under attack until the hum of an edge whipped past my head.
I ducked, startled out of my thoughts and quickly tossed up a rain of fire to get some breathing room.
Shit, I knew that buzzing sound.
The passage before us was thick with mantid warriors, their razor-edged limbs flashing as they attacked, wings buzzing as some leaped to try and flank us from the left.
Why the bloody hell would the mantid be here? Empress Shek’zeer was dead and gone and the mantid were under the guidance of the Klaxxi while they awaited the birth of a new Empress.
The Klaxxi… yes. Even in the dim light, I could make out some of the markings on the carapaces of the mantid pushing against each other in their eagerness to get at us. These were Klaxxi, untouched by the taint of the sha.
The Klaxxi warriors we fought showed no sign of wanting to talk it over. They were intent on getting to us and tearing us to pieces. It seemed they had been set to guard the way, and now that we had penetrated past the doors they would kill us or fall. Absolutely fearless and dedicated to fulfilling the will of the Klaxxi’va and their duty, as a true Klaxxi should be.
As we forced our way deeper into the passage, mandibles and armor pieces flying past, I thought I knew what was going on, and it felt like I’d been punched in the gut. Had it really only been a short few hours since I’d jokingly wondered if we would have to fight our family next?
And for my sins, here we are.
I remembered clearly the last time I saw Kil’ruk, my first and best friend among the Klaxxi, the first of the champions I had labored to free from his amber prison.
He had taken me aside to where the great sealed door faced the resonating crystals of the Klaxxi. I had always assumed behind it lay the entombed remains of great Klaxxi warriors of the past, perhaps even the Empresses of previous dynasties. Or maybe that was where they stored the fluids of their champions for genetic manipulators like Rik’kal to work with, always trying to improve the race.
What I learned from my swarm brother was a far different tale.
Kil’ruk had opened the way for me, and led me deep beneath the Klaxxi mound to a carefully guarded chamber. There were decorous carvings on the walls showing scenes from the mantid past. Scenes of the origin of the mantid… and who they truly served.
Kil’ruk said to me, “Wakener, your deeds have earned you the trust of the Klaxxi. You are to be rewarded.”
“The mantid are an elder race. The pandaren you associate with – they are but children. They have their role to play.”
“Each cycle, our young swarm their walls. The pandaren slay the weak. The strong return. With each generation, we grow ever stronger.”
“Before your history began, our empire was vast. We shared this world with our sister kingdoms, Ahn’Qiraj and Azjol-Nerub. Our Gods were many, and powerful.”
“We mantid worshipped the seven heads of Y’shaarj. Great was the Old One, and terrible was His wrath. He consumed hope and begat despair; He inhaled courage and breathed fear.”
“When the usurpers came – the ones you call ‘Titans’ – Y’shaarj was destroyed.”
“His last terrible breath has haunted this land ever since, but the shadows he left behind are mere whispers of his former glory.”
“I tell you now, because you have earned this warning. Your gods are not our gods, outsider. If the Old Ones ever return, we mantid will once again stand by their side. The wisest among you will do the same.”
I had stood in that chamber for some time afterwards, coming to grips with what he meant.
From the moment I had freed Kil’ruk from the amber, I had done my best to be a true friend to the Klaxxi. Together we had been successful in freeing the mantid from their slavery to the Sha of Fear, and regaining their freedom.
The truth was, the Klaxxi were the people I felt most comfortable with. The Horde and the Alliance were full of themselves and their petty fears, their prejudices and their hatreds. They brought their crap everywhere they went, and if they looked to build something for others it was just to consolidate their strength or build alliances so they could have greater resources or more allies for the next time they wanted to fuck something up.
The Klaxxi didn’t play any of those games. They had duty, commitment, a sense of purpose. They followed orders, and put the good of the many before the needs of themselves. They looked for and recognized excellence; what mattered was what you did, not what you said you intended to do. You couldn’t bullshit the Klaxxi, you performed and were rewarded or failed and were tossed on the shit pile.
Everything was aimed towards building a stronger society, a more powerful people that could face any challenge and survive into the future. They didn’t waste time proclaiming how fucking great they were or how perfect and awesome the current rulers were. No statues were built, no fawning tributes, none of that crap. The Klaxxi didn’t pretend the world had achieved perfection when a royal child was born. They looked to the future, always to the future.
Fuck Varian, and fuck the statue he built to himself at the entrance to his castle. How about the masses starving at the walls of Sentinel Hill? The history of Westfall was written by the blood of those cast aside. But a statue to the greatness that is Varian Wrynn? Oh yes, by all means, open the treasury and bring up the construction teams.
The Klaxxi are my people, I am the Wakener and their swarm brother.
That is what made the secrets he entrusted to me so hard to bear. For all their logic and order, for their goal of a stronger tomorrow, they were still trapped by their beginnings.
Even as they grew stronger, smarter, as they began to think for themselves and act independently, in their hearts they thought it was all in service to some old dead god they worshipped in a musty old chamber.
I had left that chamber grateful that Y’shaarj was dead and gone.
As strong as the Klaxxi were already, it seemed to me every generation that got farther from the days of Y’shaarj would grow more independent. Their efforts to improve the race were bearing unexpected fruit. Given enough time, I bet they’d become a people free of the influence of Y’shaarj and look for a way past the cycle of war with the pandaren on their own. They probably didn’t even realize they were doing it.
I snapped back from my memories in horror, as I realized what this meant.
The heart of Y’shaarj reborn. How could I have been so stupid as to miss what that would mean to the Klaxxi? For all their selfless attention to duty, they still looked for someone, the right someone to take charge and tell them what to do. With their Empress dead they would be even more desperate for a leader to follow. A leader that tradition supported.
Who better than someone consumed by the Heart of Y’shaarj itself? To the Klaxxi, it wouldn’t be Garrosh using the dark power of the heart, it would be the Heart of their One True God speaking to them at last, through a warm-blooded faceless puppet.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit!
My teammates killed the last of the Klaxxi warriors, leaving the rest of the tunnel clear.
We pushed on and stepped into a vast chamber, with, yep, another big fucking locked door on the other side.
The room was very large with a high domed ceiling and raised terraces to left and right. Plenty of room for all manner of flying, leaping and crawling critters to come swarming down on us. Joy.
The room was full of Klaxxi, but the very first thing that drew my eye was an empty wooden crate cast off and abandoned in the far corner of the room.
There lay the chest that had held the Heart of Y’shaarj, still glowing with the lingering purple essence of a dead god come back to life. Proof if I needed any that a remnant of Y’shaarj was returned, surrounded by a swarm of Klaxxi eager to defend the way against any who came.
The room was filled with those I had come to call my friends.
My heart was lifted for a moment to see massive Kovok stomping around impatiently behind the Klaxxi warriors like a particularly impatient dog that had forgotten where he had buried a bone. Ah, the good times he and I had had!
But enough. The Klaxxi had their duty, but so did I. There was a reason we got along so well.
Arrayed about the high terraces, the nine surviving Klaxxi Paragons looked down upon us.
I had stood beside each and every one of these powerful champions in battle, and I had cause to respect their will. They had never known defeat, and were so committed to duty they had permitted themselves to be entombed in amber, possibly for all time, just to be ready against the day their might was needed in defense of their people. And in the hopes of a good bloodbath, too.
As I’d expected, the first to recognize me was Kil’ruk, the Wind-Reaver. The angel of death, he who had laid waste to countless pandaren and mogu. He called to the others around him, saying “Look, brothers! The Wakener is here!”
My heart sunk even further. I already knew there would be no talking around this. You don’t convince the Klaxxi, you don’t debate or plead. They make a decision, and then carry it out. You could point out an advantage they overlooked and hope the Klaxxi elders would see your point, but if not, tough shit.
Rik’kal the Dissector turned his head to stare at Kil’ruk in disbelief. “They made it this far? I TOLD you the others needed some microsonic genetic alterations!”
I had to chuckle at that. Ah, Rik’kal, always letting his desire to investigate come before the matter at hand. I still had to laugh at the way Kaz’tik shut him down when Rik’kal wanted to… investigate the source of Kovok’s great strength. At least he did before Kaz’tik pointed out his vulnerability to sonics and how fascinating he might find his own spleen.
Iyyokuk the Lucid was clearly irritated, as if the solution to a clearly foreseen problem hadn’t worked out after all. “How illogical… Did they not take your warning, Kil’ruk?”
Kil’ruk shrugged his winged shoulders as Xaril the Poisoned Mind reminded him, “We Mantid serve a power far greater than they or their gods.”
Kaz’tik finished the brief exchange between them, and in that moment I realized that my chance to speak was lost. I had just watched them discuss how far being the Wakener would carry us, and as Kaz’tik said, the answer was “It matters not. The Old One will not suffer their intrusion.”
The nine Paragons all turned to look at us, and Korven the Prime addressed us directly for the first time.
“We have endured the Usurpers, their children, the loss of the Old One, and soon… you.”
Ka’roz the Locust joined in, speaking as if continuing the same thought. As though all the Paragons were of one mind.
“We will slay you all as easily as we slew the pandaren of old!”
Skeer the Bloodseeker picked up the thread, saying “And then the Old One will remake this world, for the Mantid.”
Hisek the Swarmkeeper fluffed his wings, saying what we knew would surely follow.
“Come, children of the Titans… You face the Paragons.”