Dinpik slept that night on a cot in the command center’s main room, in front of the wide, fieldstone fireplace. Fitch and another officer made a show of heating water for a portable tub, stringing rope and a blanket up as a privacy screen, and bringing a plate of food and a mug of warmed cider. The food made sense, the bath did not. Maybe it was some weird military welcoming ritual. Maybe they thought she smelled funny. She sat on the cot and watched them work, plate and mug balanced on her knees, struck with déjà vu of her arrival at Westwind. The thought added to her misery; she couldn’t even find a thread of black humor in the comparison.
Fitch and the other officer – a human woman – saluted and left. Dinpik poked at the fried strips of meat a couple times, then began undressing. She let her jacket fall to the floor, kicked off her boots, and hesitated. Vinikzekeel stood next the fireplace, gauntleted hands lightly gripping the hilt crossbars of his two-handed sword – just as he had stood next to the fireplace in The Blue Recluse’s kitchen. She’d been naked around her demons before, but only Cattnys and her felhound Flaagrym. “Turn around, please,” Dinpik said.
Vinikzekeel turned around.
Dinpik finished undressing, using the cot an impromptu step-stool into the tub. She washed and stayed there until the water grew cold. She wrapped the thread-bare bath sheet the color of old ivory left for her use around her like a sarong and dug through her pack until she found what she was looking for: Tanyel’s undershirt. Sea-green linen, he’d given it to her years ago during their first caravan job as an impromptu nightgown. They’d been ambushed by fel orcs that first time and survived; Dinpik had kept the undershirt and packed it with every caravan run ever since.
She shoved her belongings back into her pack and crawled onto the cot. “You can turn around now,” she said. “Keep an eye out for the fire. If it gets out of control, put it out.” How many times had she said that, to one demon or the other? She curled on her side and watched the flames.
There has to be a way out of this. She wasn’t a leader or a fighter. She was the wrong person for this kind of thing. There had to be someone higher up than Fitch – than Strongheart – that she could appeal to. Somewhere. If she could reach them. And how will you do that? She’d only gotten a glimpse at the maps on Fitch’s office walls, and the land masses didn’t much resemble Outland. The names he mentioned weren’t familiar to her at all, and she couldn’t place them on her own mental cartography of Outland no matter how much she wracked her memory. She didn’t know where she was, the terrain, the weather, how far away other Alliance bases were.
She could send Vinikzekeel back to Stormwind, let Katelle or Ketani know. Or could she? And that is the only abomination you will have with you. What had Gelya done to her, exactly? What if she tried to use Vinikzekeel as a messenger and he couldn’t come back? Or if he was destroyed somehow – would she be able to summon him again? She felt a cold blankets couldn’t disperse.
She was stuck.
That realization kept her awake long after she reached the state of too-tired-to-sleep. At some point, however, she must have slept, because the sound of footsteps and a female voice saying, “Are you awake, Commander?” brought Dinpik awake, blinking.
“I am now.” Vinikzekeel stepped forward, his sword in defensive position. Dinpik mentally ordered him back to the fireplace.
“I’m sorry,” said the owner of the voice - the same woman from the previous night. She glanced anxiously at Vinikzekeel before she turned to salute Dinpik, and set down a bowl of something hot that smelled vaguely like oatmeal on the room’s main table. “Lt. Fitch will be here shortly, to go over your role in the funeral. You should get dressed, unless you want another bath?”
“My role?” Dinpik felt the beginnings of panic. “And no, I’m fine.” She tossed back the blanket and padded to the fireplace, stirring the banked embers with a poker. Sparks shot out and snapped
“Yes.” The woman frowned at the tub of water. “I’ll get this out of your way, Commander. “ She saluted again and left, carrying the tub by its handles.
Dinpik ordered Vinikzekeel to turn around again; another brief rummage through her pack found the best shirt, vest and pants on hand. She studied the mismatch of browns and dull greens and tans and shrugged. She had packed for a working caravan, after all.
Fitch arrived while she was stirring the almost-oatmeal and debating whether or not to taste it. He saluted and sat across from her.
“A couple points before I go over the funeral rite, Commander,” he said. Dinpik looked up at him politely. “Yes?”
“Everyone here has to salute you first – you outrank them – but you need to return the salutes. You’ll also need to formally dismiss and order at ease as the occasion warrants. It’s military policy and here, it maintains order and morale. You and I don’t need to be quite so formal in private, you understand.”
She wouldn’t try the almost-oatmeal, Dinpik decided. Her stomach was in knots. “All right. I can do that. “
“Good.” Fitch smiled; it looked almost friendly. “Secondly, your demon. You need to send it away.”
And not be able to summon him back? “No.”
“I assure you, we do have the means to protect you – “
“No.” The friendliness vanished. Dinpik went on in a rush, “I’m a demonologist.” Images of Grathier target shooting, of Landreth from her many visits to Westbrook Garrison. “Would you take away a hunter’s gun or, or, a paladin’s sword? He’s my weapon. When I don’t need him for fighting, he stands in a corner.” Mentioning her felguard’s usual post in the Blue Recluse’s kitchen wouldn’t be wise.
Fitch looked at her. “Fine,” he said at last. “Make sure he stays well-behaved. Put him in the corner today. Now, the funeral…I’m giving the eulogy, Jestine’s saying the service. I’ll order to attention when it’s over, you say ‘Dismissed’. That’s all you need to do.”
. The garrison assembled in the square for the funeral in front of Strongheart’s bier. A Stormwind flag draped his corpse, for which Dinpik was grateful. She stood at the bier’s head between Fitch and a black-haired draenei woman in ivory robes, Jestine.
There were a number of draenei in the ranks, though humans outnumbered them, and then night elves. Dinpik counted four dwarves, three Bronzbeard and a Wildhammer, by the tattoos and feathers. No worgen, no pandaren. No gnomes.
She listened to Fitch’s eulogy, wondering how much of it was true and how much of it was speaking well of the dead. Had Strongheart’s true position as figurehead been well-known, or covered up with excuses and rationales? Had any of the people here liked the man, as a person or a commander? Volunteered to be his pall bearers?
And why did she care? A pointless train of thought, now.
Fitch stepped back, and Jestine glided forward to take his place. Dinpik listened more to her voice than her words; she possessed an unfamiliar accent, and Dinpik decided she must be a native of Draenor. Strange to think there could be that much difference between the draenei from her world and this one –
“ – may the Light embrace his body and keep safe his soul, always!”
Jestine’s hand flew up in the air, came down. A pillar of golden light engulfed the bier, intense enough to make Dinpik instinctively shield her face with her hand. When she lowered it, the bier was gone.
From the crowd came a stage-whisper: “Burn the bodies, but keep the skulls.”
Dinpik felt Fitch stiffen next to her, his hand gripped her shoulder. She croaked out, “Dismissed.”
The crowd departed by ranks, to buildings she assumed were barracks. Fitch’s hold lessened, but he didn’t let go. “There’s a feast in Strongheart’s honor this evening. You should look the part. If you’ll excuse the presumption, Commander, I’ve arranged for a proper uniform for you. The tailors just need your measurements.”
He steered her to the building left of the command center and past its store of supplies to a backroom. Three human women saluted as they walked in. Dinpik returned the salute at a squeeze from Fitch, who then said, “Ladies, the commander’s all yours” and shut the door behind him.
Within moments Dinpik was stripped down to her smallclothes and cris-crossed with measuring tapes. Two women spouted off numbers to the third who wrote them down, all the while she was tsk-tsking over the state of Dinpik’s clothing. “I’m making a note for three more pairs of pants and shirts, and a full dress set.”
The taller of the measuring tape women looked up and rolled her eyes. “Do we look like we have what we need for a full dress set?”
“I can dream, can’t I?”
Her companion snorted. “Better settle for wresting up material a good coat. This jacket’s useless if we get more storms.”
Fitch was waiting outside the door when Dinpik finally escaped the tailors and their debates over which was worse, Draenor or Northrend. He saluted her. Dinpik saluted in return after a pause. “A tour of the Garrison, Commander?” he asked.
She didn’t want a tour of the garrison. She wanted to go back to her cot in the command center – or better yet, a cot that was someplace private – curl up and pretend none of this was happening. At least for while. “Sure.”
The wind countered whatever warmth the sun might have provided. Part of her was glad for the exercise to fight off the chill; part of her wished Fitch would drop the helpful assistant façade and leave her to her own devices, such as they were. No chance of that last, she knew, so she kept quiet and paid attention to Fitch’s commentary. Knowing what was where would be useful.
Besides barracks and the command center, there was a smithy, infirmary and stables, the latter spread out widely, necessary because of the eclectic nature of the draft animals used by the garrison. The yaks that had come through the portal yesterday were in stalls a good distance from the oxen. There were even a few smaller buildings whose purpose Fitch never explained. Storage? Prisons? Housing for the couriers Fitch had mentioned? Dinpik didn’t press. What she had thought was a wooden building at the garrison’s northernmost point turned out to be a front: behind it was a cave. “Mainly our fall-back, though we’ve had to stick some of the animals in here during bad weather. If things get rough, we can hold out here. For a while.”
Fitch was an enthusiastic guide; at each point of interest he stopped to talk to the staff, who were all polite and welcoming to their new commander. By the time they reached the command center it was past midday. Dinpik felt both light-headed and the onset of a headache. Fitch held the door for her as she entered. The people setting up tables and benches stopped in place and saluted.
Dinpik saluted. There was something else… She rubbed her forehead. “At ease.”
Everyone went back to work.
Her belongings were stacked next to the cot, the only piece of furniture in the main hall not being shuffled around. Vinikzekeel stood in his corner, watching the activity with mild interest.
Dinpik glanced at Fitch. “The feast is here,” he said, “only space large enough for everyone. Strongheart’s – your office is ready, and his quarters.”
“His…?” I’m going to be sleeping in a dead man’s bed.
“Of course.” Fitch’s mouth curled up at one corner. “You are the commander now.”
He led her down the hallway, waiting while she caught up her packs and called to Vinikzekeel to follow them. The door to Strongheart’s office had been repaired, a hard and hasty job. “Replaced as soon as possible.” He swung open the door to its left, one Dinpik hadn’t noticed yesterday.
“You look tired, Commander. Perhaps more sleep?” He saluted and shut the door behind her, not waiting for her return gesture.
“Stand by the door, Vinnie.” Dinpik looked around.
Pigeon hole desk with a chair; bed; dresser and armoire; armor post and weapon rack; a fireplace that took up most of the northern wall; a full-length mirror above the dresser Wall shelves. Empty wall shelves.
Caravan masters kept records: routes, weather, dangers, and unusual events. Whatever records Strongheart had kept, they were gone. As were any personal items.
She stood on her toes dropped her packs on the desk chair. No, not all the personal items had been removed. A glass paperweight shot through with autumn leaves was under the desk. Dinpik picked the paperweight up and set it on the desk.
Everything was human-sized. Of course. She would manage – she had for years. Maybe she could ask for a stepstool for the bed. Or something.
She padded to the bed, reached for the corner of the bedspread and stopped. Lying out on it was an Alliance military uniform.
Dinpik held it against her and looked in the mirror. A commander’s uniform, complete with the proper braid for her rank. A rank she’d done nothing to deserve and didn’t want.
Hey, Dinnie! Nice costume for the next Empire masquerade!
She slung it over the desk chair, pulled herself onto the bed and buried her head in her hands.