Dezco breathed deep and stared at the flames, flickering and shifting. Always moving, never stable. Unpredictable, like so much in Pandaria. The only constant was himself, his own choices. He'd traveled through the coastal jungle, the northern mountains, and other regions with his sons. He'd faced brutal enemies like the mogu, lurking in every dark recess of the continent. All that time, he'd protected his children.
The shrine wasn't an impregnable fortress. In fact, some part of Dezco suspected that the Lotus only wanted him there for a chance to win him over. He'd be cornered. Trapped.
Dezco shook his head. "You're right that this land is dangerous, but there is a safe place for my sons: at my side. That's where they'll stay. If you want to follow us, so be it, but our destination is Mistfall."
It was still dark when Dezco suddenly awoke.
He propped himself up on his elbows, angry that he'd fallen asleep. He'd planned on keeping watch throughout the night, but the long journey had finally taken its toll.
Nearby, the yaks snorted and stamped their hooves into the ground, stricken with fear.
Dezco's thoughts went to Redhorn and Cloudhoof. They were safe, sleeping soundly on blankets near the fire. He carefully placed his children in their baskets and then secured them to his body.
At the other camp, a few of the refugees were slowly waking up, rubbing tired eyes. Mokimo, Weng, and Rook stood motionless at the far end of the fire, peering out into the darkness.
"What is it?" Dezco asked as he joined them.
Mokimo held his finger to his mouth in a gesture of silence. "Rook sees something," he whispered.
A low growl rumbled out of Rook's throat. His paw tightened around a giant iron mace adorned with vicious spikes. "Rook doesn't like those rocks," the white pandaren muttered.
"Why don't you like them?" Weng asked.
"They don't stay still." Rook gnashed his teeth. "Bad rocks. Stupid rocks."
Dezco put his back to the fire so his sight could adjust to the darkness. Slowly, details came into view: a steep slope, one side of the mountain pass they were planning on going through. Boulders of various sizes dotted the hillside. But nothing seemed out of place. It was just a—
Movement flashed against the slope. It was only for an instant, but Dezco saw it.
"Weng," Mokimo said. "Wake the refugees. Quietly. Hitch the carts to the yaks."
Weng nodded and scurried off.
Dezco kept his eyes locked on the mountain, unsure if what he'd seen had been real or just a figment of his imagination. Then the movement came again. And this time, it didn't stop.
"Run." Mokimo turned to Dezco. "Run!"
Ten giant boulders began tumbling down the slope in a landslide.
No, not tumbling, Dezco realized. They were running.
Rook raised his arms and roared as the boulders leapt off the mountainside, the details of their stout dog-like bodies and snarling faces becoming visible in the firelight.
"Quilen." Dezco sucked in his breath.
The yaks reared on their hind legs, only two of them secured to carts. Weng held them by the reins, struggling to keep them from bolting. Refugees scrambled around the camp, lighting stray pieces of wood in the fire to use as torches. Redhorn and Cloudhoof wailed in alarm.
Rather than attack, the quilen formed a wide semicircle around the camp, creating a barrier between the refugees and the vale to the north but leaving the mountain pass open.
"The path to Mistfall is safe!" Weng shouted. "Everyone, go to—"
"Hold your ground!" Dezco bellowed, aware of what was happening. "They're trying to drive us into the pass."
"He's right." Mokimo loped to Dezco's side, his breathing heavy. The quilen snapped their jaws together and paced closer to the camp but still held off their assault. "We need to move north, back into the middle of the vale."
"Rook make path." The white pandaren lifted the unhitched cart over his head, his tree-trunk-sized arms quivering from the effort. With a deafening roar he threw the cart forward. It exploded into timber at the center of the quilen line, forcing the beasts to scatter left and right.
"Now!" Dezco waved his hand.
The refugees surged ahead. Quilen closed in from all sides. Rook caught one of them in mid-leap with his mace. Four others charged at Dezco. He said a prayer to An'she, and the cold air around him bristled with power, warming and brightening as if night had turned to day.
He unstrapped his shield from his forearm and hurled the slab of jagged iron at the quilen. Glowing, it spun through the air and slammed into the first beast, embedding itself into the thing's head. The momentum of the blow sent the creature crashing into one of its brethren, splitting the other quilen in half.
The two remaining beasts continued on unscathed. Mokimo vaulted toward them on his long arms, striking one of the quilen with his foot. Dezco had just enough time to turn sideways and cover his chest with his free hand, protecting Cloudhoof, as the other hound leapt forward and crashed into him.
Something ripped. Dezco felt a weight lift off his shoulders. The quilen had severed the rope.
The tauren caught Cloudhoof's basket as it dropped. He whirled with his mace raised high, only to see the quilen bounding off toward the mountain pass.
It was dragging the other basket by the remains of the rope. Redhorn, tucked inside, was screaming.
The tauren sprinted for his crying son, his hooves tearing deep gouges in the soil. Mokimo raced up beside him and pulled on Dezco's arm hard enough to bring him to a stop.
"I'll get him," the hozen said. "Take Cloudhoof and go with the refugees."
"I'm not leaving Redhorn!" Dezco yanked his arm out of Mokimo's grasp.
"Then give me Cloudhoof and I'll take him to safety," the hozen pleaded.