"I said it's a lorevault. It uses pandaren stories as traps to protect dangerous artifacts. I'd hate to think what would happen to anyone who went in there without a knowledgeable guide. Curry ball?" she said, holding one up.
"You offerin' your services?" Druz said.
"For pay? Absolutely not," Shuchun said. "But without me, you'll both be eaten. Or worse. So, I will take you inside and endeavor to convince you that this is a mistake."
She stared at the gun, then the dagger, until they were put away. Then, she smiled, stood, and called out with a storyteller's voice that rose above the rumble of the waves.
"'The Lorewalker had made her decision,'" she said. "'She turned her attention to the lorevault. Recognizing her for what she was, it opened.'"
With a thunderous CRACK, the cliff unfolded, spilling sand and chunks of rock.
In the darkness within was a round golden door large enough for a dragon to fly through. Etched figures covered every inch of its surface, thousands of characters in thousands of stories, one after another. The delirious spotlights swarming over the door made it seem as though the carvings were moving…
The door spun and opened to reveal a staircase leading down.
Lorewalker Shuchun walked ahead of the two goblins down the gentle curve of the stone passageway. Once it was clear that no one was immediately going to betray anyone, the goblins relaxed. The air was cool, quiet. Expectant.
Ziya broke the silence. "I don't get it."
"What?" Druz said.
"You. You're reserved, competent. How did you end up working for 'I've got my face on a mountain' Gallywix?"
"Mr. Gallywix," Druz corrected. "Or Trade Prince Gallywix. Never just Gallywix. And maybe you don't know him like I do."
"There's nothing to know," Ziya said. "He's a monster. I've stepped in deeper puddles."
"Right," said Druz. "And somehow, he's still in charge when most of the other trade princes and goblins want him dead. Hell, his own mother tried to kill him twice. Makes you think."
The path suddenly curved to the right. Gradually, the smooth walls were replaced with ancient, jagged bricks. Stinking sludge leaked through the cracks. Neither goblin noticed. Shuchun grinned at the ceiling.
"No, it doesn't," Ziya snapped. "He enslaved us when we left Kezan! His own people!"
"Not his fault you didn't have your own boat," Druz said. "But, hey, you fought your way free. Good for you. And I bet you're more careful who you trust now."
The gentle curve became a four-way intersection. Shuchun went left without pause, and the goblins followed.
"That aside," Ziya growled (because he was right), "you really want to turn over this weapon—whatever it is—to Gallywix? Knowing how he sucks up to our lunatic warchief?"
"Mr. Gallywix," Druz said reprovingly. "And between you, me, and our guide, we are seekin' leverage, not power. Originally, we were after peace between the Horde and Alliance, but after Theramore…"
"Peace," Ziya said. "Gallywix wants the Horde to make peace. With the Alliance."
"Yeah," said Druz, eyebrows raised at the anger in her voice.
"But they're worse than him! If we go back now, then it's all been for—"
"Hold on," Druz said. They had passed a few more intersections without stopping. "Lorewalker, where are we?"
"In a story," Shuchun said. She was focused on the ground.
"Not a happy one, if I'm right," she said, slowing to allow the goblins to catch up. "But I want to be sure before I—never mind." She pointed. "I'm sure."
Their footsteps stretched before them. Somehow, they had gone in a circle, but there was something strange.
There were other footsteps racing along behind theirs, lopsided and horrible. And if they had gone in a circle—
"Don't turn around," Shuchun said.
"But—" Ziya said, horror scrambling up her spine. Eager feet slapped the stone behind them, getting closer.
"Don't turn around," she repeated. "Because this is 'The Maze of Mad Emperor Ku.'
"Emperor Ku," said Lorewalker Shuchun, "was ruled by his fears. He believed that the mogu would return. Through the haze of his paranoia, he saw treachery behind every smile, a scheme behind every vow of devotion, and cunning traps in the calm prophecies of the jinyu waterspeakers.
"And so, he had a maze built beneath his palace, with a safe room at the center. The next time his fear gripped him, Ku fled for it, shut the door, and waited for the terror to subside. It never did. The maze had been so cleverly constructed that the emperor had forgotten the way out."
Teeth biting his lip, Druz inched his gaze around, reaching for his—
Without taking her eyes from the tunnel ahead, Shuchun flicked his ear.
"Ow. Don't do that again."
"What do you care?" Shuchun said calmly above the low, crackling groans of the approaching thing. "You clearly aren't using it for listening. Do. Not. Look."
"I think she's trying to tell us," Ziya said, eyes closed in either fear or prayer.
"Search parties sometimes heard him calling," continued Shuchun. "But years passed. Occasionally, an explorer went into the maze and ran out screaming, wild with terror, for Ku's time in the dark had twisted him into something appalling to behold…"
"What do we do?" Ziya whispered. Claws scraped the walls behind them. Druz's mouth was a firm line, and his hand hovered over the holstered rifle.