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Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Army Dreamers

Postby Dinpik » February 7th, 2015, 12:11 am

Prologue

“Dinpik?”

“Hmm?” Dinpik looked at Miranda’s reflection in the oval mirror that hung above the pair of ornate sinks. The bathroom open to the Royal Library’s visitors was in Dinpik’s opinion a little overdone with regard to décor. She finished the end of the first braid and held her hand out for the tie. Static electricity had been the day’s child-friendly demonstration, and Miranda had been the volunteer. Barnaby’s sister had balked at first, but the lecturer’s demeanor eventually won her over. She even laughed at seeing her hair standing out on end like a black halo.

Miranda passed her the tie. “Why don’t you like Miss Cambrix?”

For a heartbeat, Dinpik lost track of the braid. She retightened the ends quickly, asking “What makes you say that?” She met Miranda’s eyes in the mirror’s reflection and cursed herself for an idiot. Miranda’s expression had taken on the closed-in wariness so commonly seen after Barnaby’s departure, and had just begun to fade recently.

“Don’t know,” the little girl mumbled. “Just the way you acted.”

“Ah.” Dinpik tied off the first braid and began separating the three sections for the last. “She looks like someone I had a really bad fight with a while ago.”

“Oh.” Miranda looked thoughtful; Dinpik gave her a smile. They didn’t speak while Dinpik finished the braid and bundled them both up for the walk back to the orphanage. They had passed the archway to the Dwarven District when Miranda asked, “Can we see if the snowy owl is on the roof of the Pig and Whistle?”

“Sure.”

Stormwind’s seasonal visitor was indeed at its usual perch. They stood across from the Pig and Whistle’s door watching it until it flew off in the direction of the canals, then resumed their own journey. Miranda’s mood had lightened somewhat by the time they reached the orphanage, managing a little smile and farewell wave.

Dinpik’s mood had not. Miranda’s question and her answer dogged her as she trudged through the snow-packed streets. Maggie Cambrix’s only crime was having the same white-blonde hair and sky blue eyes as Sarafel, the priest who had overseen Dinpik’s audit – the assessing every warlock agent of the Argent Dawn had to go through – last fall. Cambrix was forthright and with a sense of humor. Sarafel had been gentle-voiced and mannerly and “just asked questions.”

Questions that had little to do with being corrupted by one’s own demons, to Dinpik’s mind, and more with prying into a person’s privacy for the sake of prying.

“You’re here in the fields every day. You seem to keep very busy.”

“I like being productive.” Dinpik regretted the answer the instant it left her lips.

A quirk of a perfectly-arced eyebrow. “You don’t feel productive as a warlock?”


Dinpik couldn’t remember what her response had been – it might have been the time she stomped off from her weeding, it might have been something along the lines of her vault’s coinage total proving she was productive as a warlock just fine. What she did remember was the feeling of being hounded, a feeling that had lasted for months after her return and left her shying away from priests as a whole. Even priests she knew from Twilight Empire. No matter who they were, they all reminded her of Sarafel.

Problem was, Sarafel had been right… in a way. Keeping busy, being productive: words Dinpik would easily and cheerfully have agreed fit her, since leaving Gnomeregan. Sarafel pushed past that blithe assertion, digging into the whys and why nots of her choices.

Her stint as a wandering adventurer; her work as a caravan guard in Outland and her alchemy, even her indigo chapbooks – they proved something to her that being a warlock did not. She had not been able to – had not wanted to be able to – explain further.

”Being a warlock is something I do,” she snapped, exasperated and tired and wanting desperately for this terrifyingly polite and horribly obtuse human to understand. “It’s not who I am!”

Sarafel nodded. Dinpik knew she didn’t believe her.


The mental examination had been the worst.

It couldn’t be completed. No matter what Sarafel tried, even putting Dinpik into a deep sleep, she couldn’t succeed.

”There’s… interference.” Sarafel was frowning, the first time Dinpik had seen that expression on the woman’s pretty features. “Something is blocking me. It isn’t one of your demons; it has none of the traits or taint of demonic If I didn’t know better, I’d say there was another mind attached to yours –“

Dinpik couldn’t help it – she laughed. “There is. My friend Tanyel and I are psychically linked.”

Sarafel shot her a look that made her want to be on the other side of the room. Better yet, outside the room entirely. “Explain, please.”


So Dinpik had: the day she and Tanyel had spent playing with a gnomish mind-control cap after indulging in one of Tanyel’s special mushroom omelettes, and their gradual realization that their habit of finishing each other’s sentences was the result of more than being good friends. The moments of feeling the other’s emotions, of knowing vaguely where the other was with a little concentration. Sarafel had taken it all in, and then gravely announced that Dinpik might no longer be a good candidate as an intelligence agent for the Argent Dawn. “The audit may be ruled incomplete. “ A pause. “And of course, the Dawn must have absolute faith in its people, particularly in such delicate positions as yours. I’m sure you understand.”

Dinpik had. She spent the next weeks in Pandaria feeling miserable at her impending failure, and anxious about what if anything the Argent Crusade would do.

To her surprise and delight, she passed the audit. She had kept the brief note from Officer Pureheart congratulating her for several weeks before burning it.

Dinpik passed beneath the archway to the Mage Quarter. The snow was a little more slushy here, along the pathways leading from the Mage Tower to the canals. She rounded the corner past the alchemist, ducking automatically as enchanted snowmen lobbed snowballs at her. She ducked inside the Blue Recluse as a pair of draenei were leaving, pausing to shake the worst of the snow from her boots before heading into the common room and the stairs to the apartments.

“Hey,” Joachim called. “Mail for you today. Slid it under your door.”

Dinpik thanked him and hurried up to her apartment. Her latest chapbook manuscript had been turned in two weeks ago. She had paid up for the next three months for her glass-making instruction. She’d just answered Tanyel’s five-page “diary” letter. And her chapbook mail didn’t come to the Blue Recluse at all.

As Joachim had said, there was a thin, short envelope just inside her doorway. Dinpik picked it up. The envelope was cheap, and addressed to D. FOGBUSTER in hand-writing that looked somewhat familiar.

Unable to hold back her curiosity, Dinpik locked the door behind her and sat down on the couch. She kicked off her boots, not caring they were dripping snow over the new throw-rug, shrugged out of her coat and opened the envelope.

Miss Fogbuster,

I write to inform you that after a thorough investigation, you have been cleared of all suspicion of theft, black marketeering and racketeering during your time with the military supply detail in Blasted Lands.

I am a man who can admit when he was wrong. Should you wish to resume your position in my team, I would welcome you back this Tuesday the 10th, for a return trip from the Blasted Lands.

Regards,

Augustus Barrett


Dinpik gripped the letter in her hands, not quite believing it was real. She could have her caravan job back. And Barrett had apologized.

She threw back her head and whooped, the memory of Sarafel and her audit evaporating in her relieved laughter.

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Army Dreamers

Postby Dinpik » March 2nd, 2015, 4:09 am

Dinpik expected the days to her reassignment to drag by like lame oxen, but they raced ahead like thoroughbreds. Aside from packing, there were alchemy projects to finish or neutralize, a last-minute change to the new chapbook, and arrangements made between Rina and the glassblowers for the former’s bottles. In the midst of this was Twilight Empire’s Love Gala. Dinpik almost didn’t attend, but did at the last minute, and was glad she did. Cerestal was there as well, and after the Cutest Couple contest was decided, Dinpik dragged him off to duel Vinikzekeel. Cerestal didn’t have his sword with him, and they wound up borrowing several of the Tuushi monk’s staves. They attracted an audience, passers-by apparently entertained by the sight of a night elf and a felguard beating each other with sticks.

The day of the ninth Dinpik told Miranda of her departure. “I’ll come see you as soon as I get back,” she said, feeling a stab of guilt at the fleeting look of fear and betrayal on Miranda’s face. I’m not Barnaby. “These things don’t last long, a week, sometimes two.”

Sleep was hard to find that night, and Dinpik woke up early. She washed, dressed, left a note with Joachim to hold her mail and double-and triple-checked her backpack and belt pouches while she waited until she could meet the mage she’d hired to send her to the Blasted Lands.

A fine grit filled the air, veiling the sun, when Dinpik stepped through the mage’s portal. She rubbed her eyes. The Blasted Lands didn’t have sandstorms, exactly, but the gusting winds created dust storms that were passable substitutes. She turned up her jacket’s collar, aware of the tingle of magic as the portal flickered out behind her like a dying candle.

She was on a ridge of blood-colored rock, one of the outcroppings used as a meeting point by scouts and caravans alike during the initial confrontation with the Iron Horde. Below it and a little ways off in the distance, was the familiar sight of caravan wagons. One bore the gold-and-brown checked flag Barrett favored. Dinpik picked a path down the ride, pausing briefly after only a few yards to call up Vinikzekeel. Everything looked quiet, but experience was a harsh teacher.

“Mr. Barrett?” she called out a short while later. The wagons were loaded, the drovers and caravaners tending to the last minute business. She didn’t recognize any of them. She reached for the door curtain of the wagon flying the gold-and-brown flag. It parted before her fingers touched it.

“Ah, Miss Fogbuster.” Barrett smiled at her. “Prompt, I see. Excellent work ethic. Your employers will be pleased.”

“My... huh?”

“Subcontracting.” He jumped down from the wagon and swung his arm to his left. “See that party over there? They’re waiting for you.”

Dinpik turned and looked where the human pointed. Another group of wagons, one she hadn’t noticed in her eagerness to reach Barrett’s. “Why didn’t you mention this in your letter?”

“Just got the request a couple days ago. Extra pay in it for you.” He paused. “I didn’t think you would mind.”

Subcontracting wasn’t common, and Dinpik had never heard of anyone being subcontracted without their permission and prior knowledge. For an instant she was tempted to say no. Instead she shrugged. “All right. See you, Mr. Barrett.”

“Goodbye, Miss Fogbuster.”

The second group wasn’t ready to go, at least they didn’t appear to be. And all then of the wagons, she realized as she drew closer, weren’t as uniform in shape or dimension as Barrett’s; they were a mishmash, from what looked like a stevedore’s dock cart to wagons half again as large as Barrett’s largest. The animals were yoked oxen, horses, even yaks – yaks!

As for the caravaners themselves…

Why were so many of them military?

Dinpik stopped at the edge of the group, abruptly hesitant to approach them. Back away, part of her whispered. Run. Now.

“Dinpik Fogbuster?”

She looked up at the sound of her name. A human man in a naval uniform that had seen better days strode towards her, Gelya with him. The man held out his hand. Dinpik shook it without thinking. “Orwald. You know Gelya.” At Dinpik’s nod, he continued, “The garrison you’ll be working out of is – “

“Garrison? Wait, what garrison?” The air shimmered in Dinpik’s peripheral vision; her attention was torn between Orwald and the formation of a portal.

“The one you’re going to in Draenor.”

“Huh? But I didn’t sign up! And the Alliance doesn’t conscript!”

“Consider yourself volunteered.” Orwald grinned thinly. “We lost too many people from the Draenor campaign’s start. Barrett says you know your business when it comes to caravans, and the Argent Crusade praised how you dealt with the natives in Pandaria. That’s good enough. Where does she keep it?”

“Keep what?” Dinpik asked, just as Gelya said, “Right front belt pouch.” Orwald yanked that pouch on Dinpik’s belt open, sending the buttons pattering to the ground and took out her guildstone. He dropped it on the ground and smashed it under his boot heel.

“HEY!”

“No unauthorized communication. Your work is too sensitive and we suspect the enemy may have the means to eavesdrop. Gelya – handle the rest.” Dinpik barely heard him; she stared in disbelief at the shattered bits of stone and magic. Tinox is going to be pissed.

“Dinpik? Give me your hand.”

Still in shock and hoping that somehow things would begin to make sense, Dinpik obeyed. Gelya turned it palm up as tiny versions of her totems sprouted around her in a square. The draenei began an eerie, sing-song chant like nothing Dinpik had ever heard from Yulia, drawing symbols in Dinpik’s palm. The chant reached an ear-hurting pitch, and Dinpik yelped in pain as the shaman’s fingernail stabbed into her flesh hard enough to make her bleed. Gelya swiftly retraced the patterns with the blood; they glowed brief green-blue and faded away. Dizziness washed through Dinpik, not related to the physical pain; some indefinable part of her flinched and tightened at the sensation of somehow being tethered. Vinikzekeel roared. “No! Dinpik cried out and he fell silent.

“There. It is done.” Gelya fixed her with an impassive gaze. “The Crusade couldn’t completely vouch for your reliability. I have guaranteed it. You will speak to no one you know without them speaking to you first, and where you go, you are not likely to meet friends. And that – “ She pointed behind Dinpik’s shoulder. “ – is the only abomination you will have with you. Your kind will not ruin this world as you did Outland!” The draenei’s impassivity melted into open contempt. She turned from Dinpik, tossing brown pony tails over her shoulders. “Orwald? She is yours.”

Dinpik barely acknowledged Orwald’s grip on her shoulder, steering her to the frontmost wagon or his lifting her onto its seat or the raging rumblings from her felguard stomping beside her as the order was given to move out through the now fully-formed portal. She felt as if she were back in Vash’jir, trying to navigate her surroundings and determine which way was up, which was down. Only she wasn’t underwater.

I told Miranda I wouldn’t be gone long....

Opalescent light blinded her as she passed through the portal. The light disappeared in a cascade of shimmering motes a heartbeat later and they were through.

Dinpik’s first impression was of bone-chilling cold. Her teeth were chattering as Orwald dragged her off the wagon seat. The caravan was at the north end of a cleared square – at least it would be a cleared square if it wasn’t filled with rows of people, the majority in uniforms. Buildings of stone and wood lined the sides of the square. At its front, immediately facing her and Orwald, were two human men. One stood a good head taller than the other. He nodded at Orwald.

“I’m glad you made it safely, Mr. Orwald. Miss Fogbuster.” He bowed, then crouched down. He had a kindly face, with sad brown eyes under salt-and-pepper hair. “I am Commander Strongheart. It is my honor to make your acquaintance.” He rose and turned back to the crowd.

“Gentlemen, ladies, soldiers alike, I ordered this assembly to introduce you not only to your new caravan master, but to your new Commander.”

A brief murmur stirred like wind through the grass, then died. The other human man started.

“Will all due respect, Commander, you can’t be serious – “

“I can and I am, Lieutenant Fitch. It’s called a field promotion.”

“Sir, even a jump-step promotion –

“That is enough, Lieutenant Fitch. I have the final say on all promotions here still.” Strongheart stared at the other man for a long moment, then went on. “I expect all of you to give Commander Fogbuster your full respect and cooperation. I am resigning my commission as of now, and am going to my office to stand down. I look forward to retirement.” He saluted Dinpik, and walked away into the largest of the buildings to Dinpik’s right.

Dinpik watched him, then her gaze shifted to the assembly. Dozens – hundreds – of eyes looked back at her. She felt small and overwhelmed and very, very afraid. Next to her, Vinikzekeel shifted foot to foot. A commander? How in the name of the Makers was she going to be a commander?

“You. Come with me.” Fitch’s hand on her shoulder. “We’ll get this straightened out. To hell with his… stand down, retirement – Strongheart!“ Fitch took off at a run, to the same building Strongheart had entered. Dinpik followed, only catching up to the man’s longer stride once inside. She could hear him shouting, running .She raced through the building’s main room and down a long hallway to find Fitch pounding on a closed door.

“Strongheart, you son-of-a-bitch, don’t – “

Then they heard the gunshot.
Last edited by Dinpik on July 4th, 2015, 10:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Army Dreamers

Postby Dinpik » March 15th, 2015, 11:26 am

“Not the most auspicious beginning to your new post, Commander,” Lt. Fitch said.

Dinpik nodded. Nodding was safe, controllable. Unlike what she feared would happen if she actually opened her mouth and spoke. She might shatter the comforting numbness currently enrobing her and fall completely apart.

“I’m sure you have questions.”

She did. She was afraid to ask them. Fitch leaned back in his chair, studying her. They were in his office, which was next door to what was now putatively her office. Staff were cleaning it, making it presentable. Other staff were taking care of Strongheart’s body, making him presentable for the funeral tomorrow.

Dinpik looked around Fitch’s office. Behind her Vinizkezeel stood guard at the door, quiescent as a statue. Two other chairs. A small pot-bellied stove with a tea kettle on an extendable top; cups hung on pegs next to it. The desk covered with neat stacks of papers. A hunting rifle hanging on the wall above Fitch’s head. Maps on the walls, worn, filled with notations.

“I’ll do my best to answer them.”

Dinpik’s attention shifted to Fitch. He was older than most of the people she knew from the Empire, but not nearly as old as Donnelly; not as old as Strongheart had been. He wore a footman’s uniform with what must be his rank markings. He reminded her a little of Grathier in height and build. His hair wasn’t quite black and not quite military -- as if he’d gone too long between trims – and his eyes were blue.

That was good. She didn’t like the thought of him having Grathier’s eyes.

He was waiting for her to ask a question. Several flitted through her mind – about the garrison, about her new rank, about Fitch himself. So she was surprised to hear herself blurt out, “Why?”

Fitch spread his hands in a brief, giving-it-to-fate gesture. “Strongheart was tired.”

Dinpik shifted her weight, then settled back in her chair. She’d left what she meant wide open to interpretation. Let him say what he wanted while she got her own thoughts in order. “Tired?”

“He’d served the Alliance a long time. Through most of the recent wars. He didn’t want to come to this one. And he had…failures.”

“Failures?”

Fitch fell silent. “Do you know what we are, here?”

Dinpik shook her head.

“We’re a supply station for outposts far from the front lines. Intelligence comes to and goes out from us as well. We’re tucked away in a corner of Talador, ducking under Frostfire Ridge’s ass. We’re not Lunarfall or Fort Wrynn – you won’t find us on maps given to the rank and file. We forage materiel—we can’t depend on steady supplies from the main bases here or Azeroth. We watch. We listen. And what we learn is passed on to our command.

“Strongheart. Despite his title, he led mostly as… call it a role model. He oversaw the supply distribution – who and what went out. In the last month or so we lost three supply couriers. One to weather; we get the tail-end of Frostfire’s storms, but those are bad enough. One we found in pieces, thanks to the locals. The third, we never found out what happened. We only know they didn’t show up when scouts trickled in from their destination. Nothing he could have prevented, but they hit him hard. Harder than any of us guessed.”

He leaned forward, hands resting on his desk. “I handled most of the day-to-day responsibilities here, leaving Strongheart free to deal with his area of expertise. The staff here are accustomed to this. I don’t see any reason to change our operating procedure.”

Dinpik passed her hand over her eyes as his meaning sank in. “So what you’re saying is… except for caravan stuff, I’m a figurehead, and you’re actually running things.” She heard weary resentment in her voice and didn’t care.

Fitch smiled thinly. “I’m glad we understand each other.”

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Army Dreamers

Postby Dinpik » April 26th, 2015, 6:48 pm

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.

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Re: Army Dreamers

Postby Dinpik » May 5th, 2015, 6:25 pm

Strongheart’s wake passed in a blur of faces and conversations, neither of which Dinpik could clearly recall. Eating fixed her light-headedness; the numerous toasts worsened her headache. At the end Dinpik somehow got to her quarters and collapsed on her bed, intending to stay there the next day.

Fitch didn’t let her, or on the days that followed. She had to preside over the morning roll-call, breakfast with the garrison and then spend the next few hours with Fitch learning what he saw necessary in a commander.

Military protocol. Military regulations. Infractions and their punishments. The ranks and their responsibilities. The garrison’s protocol, regulations and procedures. Inspections. And then the exceptions to all of those. She had a short time to herself before Fitch or another officer would drag her off to some duty the commander had to perform. All of this established a routine that blurred one day into the next, until Dinpik realized with surprise she had no idea how much time had passed since her arrival.

“Over a week,” Fitch said in response to her blurted question. “Time flies, eh?”

Not anymore, Dinpik thought grimly. She’d mark off the days with notches from Vinikzekeel’s axe on her desk if she had to. She noticed Fitch hadn’t offered her a calendar.

She noticed other things. Namely, that she hadn’t yet carried out any duties dealing with caravans. Had there simply not been any, incoming or outgoing, or was she being deliberately kept away? If it were the latter, why? She’d thought Fitch wanted some meat on the bones of her status of figurehead, given the daily “briefings”, but then why ignore the supposed reason for her being here in the first place?

She’ d pay attention to the assemblies and tours over the next few days, see if there were any new faces – not that she could recognize more than a few people by sight. Fitch had said information came and went as well as supplies. If any of those were missing, that would answer the question about deliberation.

The next morning at reveille a pandaren stood in the fourth row. He reminded Dinpik of Nipo, but he looked taller.

So. Either one of those mysterious scouts had come in during the night, or a caravan. Considering he was the only stranger she could pinpoint, her odds were on the former.

Dinpik pondered her options over breakfast. Pretend she hadn’t noticed or approach Fitch about it? Would it be more suspicious if she didn’t mention him? Standing in a line made up of mostly humans, filling two plates, he was hard to miss.

Fitch didn’t say anything about the pandaren during the briefing. During a pause Dinpik asked “So who’s the new guy?” Plunging on ahead, struck by a sudden realization, she added, “And where’s Orwald? I haven’t seen him since I arrived.”

Fitch looked at her, the papers he’d been shuffling momentarily stilled. “With all due respect, Commander, scouts and their missions are my concern. Caravans are yours.”

“Are they? I haven’t seen any come or leave! If I’m supposed to be in charge, why are you keeping me away from them?”

“You’re not ready.”

“I worked for years – “

“Commander.” His tone cut through Dinpik’s anger like ice. “Again, with all due respect, I’ve been trying to cram what someone who worked to your ranks from a raw recruit would know of the military and its workings. That was our first priority.”

He had brought in coffee. Now he topped off his own. “Because you may not like it, but you were legitimately drafted. Your promotion was not part of the plan, but we’ll roll with it.” He tasted his coffee, stirred in more sugar.

“Then… why not have me promote someone else?” And let me get the hell out of here.

He looked at her over his mug. “There isn’t anyone here suitable. As I said – we’ll roll with it. Kiting off on your own, you realize, would be desertion. And we don’t have prisons.”

Dinpik felt her face grow hot. She had sounded desperate – she was desperate. Bad enough as that was, Fitch had casually stomped on any nascent hope she had of getting out of this mess.

Fitch sipped his coffee. “I’ll swear on whatever you want that when the next caravan heads out, you’ll be on it.” He pushed a paper from the stack toward her. “The smithy’s due for inspection. Here’s the checklist.”

Three of the dwarves were at the smithy. The Bronzebeards were Bram Coalkeeper and Hilmar Anvilward. Hilmar apologized for his brother Hanvar’s absence due to hunting duties. The Wildhammer was Aiden Forgechanter. The inspection was a formality; everything was spotless, even the rock floor scrubbed free of soot stains.

“Congratulations, gentlemen, you passed with a perfect score.”

“Thank you, Commander.” Bram stepped forward from the line the trio had formed. “Begging your pardon, but could we possibly ask your assistance? We’ve a project for Lieutenant Fitch, but the calibrations can’t be done with it on the ground. We’ve a chain-fall tackle we can install to lift it up, so if you could adjust the gyroscopes --“

“I’m not an engineer. I’m an alchemist.”

All three dwarves blinked. Bram actually looked embarrassed. “Ah. Well… we thought…”

“Alchemist?” Aiden interrupted. “Y’ do anything with leechcraft, or just th’ fancy stuff most people want?”

“I’ve done some,” Dinpik answered. Leechcraft was Wildhammer-talk for healing, if she remembered right.

“Fer animals?”

“Mostly for people. I’ve made salves and the like for animal handlers to their specifications, but not on my own.”

Aiden stroked his straw-colored beard. “We lost our vet, Lantee, when he was sent to Fort Wrynn. Been doin’ what I can, but gryphons aren’t the same as these ground-pounding beasts. The second building out yonder to th’ left’s an old alchemy still. If y’ could recall those specifications, and it wouldn’t take up too much of y’r time, Commander, that’d be a good help.”

Dinpik nodded. Something that had been small and cramped within her broke, freeing a growing elation. “I’ll see what I can do.”

The building Aiden indicated did have an alchemy still – or what was left it. Too heavy to move without need, the table was in place. , and so were the shelves and a pair of cupboards over a battered sink basin. No glassware of any kind remained, nor were there any materials left. No charts of the moon or constellations or correspondences native to Draenor – if the previous user of this tiny lab had known them

Dinpik paced the length of the table, brushing away dust with her jacket sleeve and not caring about the smudges. She’d need a brazier, jars (she didn’t think she’d find vials) and lids for them, chopping knives, a barrel for water. Goldthorn, sungrass – those had been staples of the medicines of the caravan veterinarians she’d known. Did they have any here? She’d have to ask. If they didn’t she’d think of something…

“Commander?”

The woman who’d helped Fitch Dinpik’s first night at the garrison stood in the doorway – Jenson. Her rank took a moment to recall. “Yes, Corporal?”

“Lieutenant Fitch wants to see you. He’s in his office.”

“Commander,” Fitch said when Dinpik returned his salute. “I have excellent news.”

He smiled. Dinpik suddenly wished she could hide behind a chair. Or better yet, somebody else.

“There’s a caravan going out day after tomorrow. You’re on it.”

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Re: Army Dreamers

Postby Dinpik » May 31st, 2015, 8:42 pm

“This is not what I had in mind,” Dinpik said faintly.

“It’s what we have, Commander,” Fitch replied. “After all, size doesn’t matter.”

The center square of the garrison was the assembly point for caravans as well as staff. From what Dinpik had gathered, leavetakings weren’t considered noteworthy by soldiers and support staff alike. Today, however, it seemed everyone had some reason to mosey across the square. It was almost enough to make Dinpik beg off.

But not quite. She had been as anxious a child before Winter Veil the last day, anticipating this chance not only to do something in which she was competent, but leave the garrison and Fitch and indulge the illusion of freedom. Nothing was going to stop that.

Not even a caravan that consisted of two Gilnean work-mastiffs and their night elf handler.

The night elf handler’s name was Olondys Steelraven. She was out of uniform, dressed instead in dark green and brown scout’s leathers. Her hair was braided around her head in a coronet and so dark a purple it looked black. Red dagger-like markings framed gold eyes, a bold contrast to her mauve skin. A horn bow was slung across her back and a full quiver of black-and-red fletched arrows hung counterpart to the sword sheathed on her right hip. Olondys was busy adjusting the mastiffs’ harnesses and very deliberately paying no attention to Dinpik and Fitch. Unsure how to react to this snubbing, Dinpik studied the dogs.

Unlike the more familiar sleek-skinned hunters, these mastiffs had shaggy fur, piebald brown and cream. If she stood on her toes, Dinpik could maybe touch a shoulder. Each had packs strapped to their harness, two to a side, and suffered their handler’s fussing with stoic acceptance. At last Olondys straightened.

“Have you ridden a nightsaber, Commander?” There was a faint stress to you; Dinpik thought the night elf’s gaze flicked to Vinikzekeel, standing beside her in what passed for the felguard’s “at-ease” pose: two-handed sword point down, his gauntleted hands clasping the hilt’s crossarms.

“Not in a few years, but I have,” Dinpik answered. Olondys nodded.

“Good. That will help. You can ride with me. One mount leaves fewer tracks than two.” The night elf’s tone was conversational, even pleasant, but underneath Dinpik thought she detected a faint distaste. Because she was a gnome or because she was a warlock? She’d been around the kaldorei of the Empire too long; she wasn’t accustomed to disapproval just for existing.

“Your.. companion…” Now the distaste was palpable. “.. is another matter. Perhaps he should stay behind.”

Dinpik shook her head. “He comes with us. He’ll keep up on his own feet.”
Nostrils flaring, Olondys looked over Dinpik’s head to Fitch. Dinpik’s face grew hot, but she didn’t turn around to look at him also. Fitch said nothing. Olondys scowled. “He’ll stand out like a falcon in a henyard. He’ll give us away.”

“Vinikzekeel, tone it down.” Her felguard said nothing, didn’t move, but his armor’s color slowly faded from bright red and brilliant gold to rust and muted yellow. Dinpik felt an absurd pride in the trick; felguards weren’t known for any strengths outside combat.

“Very well,” Olondys said flatly. She put two fingers to her mouth and whistled; from across the courtyard a black, tan-striped nightsaber bounded to her. Olondys adjusted the saddle pad and the saddle before turning back to Dinpik. “Keep it on my left, away from Frick and Frack.”

“Frick and Frack?” Dinpik echoed. Fitch laughed.

Olondys blushed deep purple. “I didn’t name them.” She cupped her hands as a boost; Dinpik accepted. She was jostled forward when Olondys swung up behind her.

“Open the gate!” Fitch called out.

The guards on duty pulled back the locking bars, and the half-doors magically wrought of rock and wood comingled swung inward. Olondys’s nightsaber took off at a run, the dogs beside it, and for the first time Dinpik was out in the world beyond her unwilling command.

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Re: Army Dreamers

Postby Dinpik » July 4th, 2015, 7:58 pm

Dinpik noticed the snow first.

Patches of it, irregular and dulled with dirt. There hadn’t been any in the garrison, doubtless because of orders from Fitch to keep it clear. The ground that showed was covered with brown, dry grass. The air was moist but cold, and pale grey clouds shrouded the sky. Dinpik remembered what the tailors had said about more storms, and couldn’t decide if Draenor was in the first stages of spring or the last gasp of winter.

They hugged the cliffside to the left of the garrison gate. Olondys steered them away from the snow, keeping to the sere earth and the occasional rocky outcropping. She didn’t speak, so Dinpik didn’t either. The only sounds Dinpik could hear clearly were the soft thump-thump of the nightsaber and the dogs, and the louder clatter of Vinikzekeel’s boots.

They didn’t move so swiftly Dinpik couldn’t see something of the land they travelled through. The trees caught her attention. Regardless of height, all appeared to be very high-branched, with no lower branches within even a draenei’s reach. Most were bare, but now and then faded orange-pink leaves fluttered in the breeze. The boles of some trees formed a spiral at the bottom; others had wedge-shaped ledges creeping up the trunk. Neither resembled any tree Dinpik had seen in Outland.

All these observations Dinpik tucked away as a warning. Despite the explanation given to her, Draenor wasn’t just a version of Outland-Before-Gul’dan.

Hours passed. Dinpik’s legs and backside registered their displeasure with their mode of transportation, displeasure only briefly mollified by breaks to rest the dogs or for calls of nature. At one of the latter Dinpik paused in her trudge back to Olondys’ night saber to pick orange-red flowers growing at the foot of a spiral-trunk tree. She didn’t have her herb satchel – it had been left at the Blue Recluse – or pouches for specimens. Her jacket pockets would make do, though. Maybe someone at the garrison could tell her more about Draenor’s floral life. These looked something like sunflowers.

As Dinpik reached for the biggest flower, it opened its eyes.

Dinpik stared, in confusion that swiftly segued to fascination. The eyes had pupils, sclera of a sort. Those leaf-stems – were they arms?

Then it opened its mouth, howled a tiny, ear-piercing shriek and leaped at her.

”HEY!” Dinpik batted at it with her fist. The thing sank its teeth into her wrist; two more ‘sunflowers’ lunged for her arm, a third her left leg. Their yammering cries still rang in Dinpik’s ears as she lashed out with a howl of her own.

Immediately her floral attackers fell off her and fled on leaf-legs, leaf-arms waving. An arrow flew past Dinpik, skewering a flower-thing. Vinikzekeel trampled it, charging after the rest. He spun on his heel, two-handed sword held outstretched, scything through them like a farmer at haying, bits of petals and stems and leaves showering through the air. The cries abruptly died.

“Are you all right?” Olondys’s voice, Olondys’ hand on her shoulder.

“What – what were those things?” Her legs felt weak and she wanted to collapse – not from pain, but from the concept of plants – flowers – with not only the malignant will to attack but the intelligence to set themselves up as a trap.

“Podlings. In ones or twos, they’re a nuisance, three or four like this, yes, a danger. More than that , lethal. I’ve seen a garden of them bring down an elekk calf separated from its herd.” Olondys hung her bow over her back. “Will you be able to ride?”

“Yeah… I’m fine.” There were only stinging pains now, fading past.

“I’ll look at your wounds when we reach the drop-off point. Some podlings produce a slow-acting poison.”

Lovely. Just what she needed. “Thanks.”

From Olondys’ comment Dinpik assumed they didn’t have much farther until they reached their goal. But not too long after they resumed travel, Olondys stopped, turning from side to side in the saddle.

“What is it?” Dinpik asked.

“The wind,” was the curt answer.

“The wind?” It had picked up, but….

“Look at the clouds.” Olondys nudged her nightsaber, turning it to a right angle to the direction they’d been heading. “We need to find shelter. Quickly.”

Dinpik glanced up. The clouds scudded across the sky, more numerous and lower than they had been before. At the far of edge of the cliffline they followed they were a heavy dark mass. The air smelled like rain.

“Thunderstorm?” Dinpik asked as a low growl rolled from the bank of clouds rapidly turning from gray to black.

“With luck, only that… here! Down!” Olondys’ nightsaber jerked to a halt, and the kaldorei swung off the cat’s broad back. She caught Dinpik under the arms and ran straight for the cliff, her mount and the mastiffs on her heels. The narrow opening in the rock wasn’t visible until they were almost on top of it. The cave’s interior stank of some animal and its past meals. Olondys kicked aside matted vegetation, calling to her nightsaber and the dogs in Darnassian as she moved to far back of the cave. Vinikzekeel brought up the rear, brittle things snapping under his boots.

“You don’t have to carry me anymore.” There were times she had to accept being lugged about like a doll, but she had never grown to like it. Olondys eased Dinpik to the cave floor, then sank down on her haunches. The night aber crouched next to her on her left, the mastiffs pressed again her right side.

“Stay away from the entrance.” Olondys had to raise her voice to be heard above the wind gusting outside. In the gloom her eyes glowed like gold coins. “If there’s more than rain – “

The crash of thunder and a blue-white whip of lightning blotted out whatever else the night elf intended to say. Within heartbeats the wind spiraled up to a shriek, rendering conversation impossible, and blowing the downpour of rain sideways. The cave’s narrow entrance kept out most of the rain, but not the cold. From time to time more lightning turned the sky an eye-searing white. At some point the rain’s constant drumbeat was counterpointed by a curious pinging, like metal pins dropped on stone.

There was no way to measure time’s passing. Dinpik huddled with Olondys and the animals, burrowing into her jacket for security more than warmth. She couldn’t recall being in a storm like this.

Somehow, incredibly, she must have dozed off, because her next clear memory was of Olondys heading for the cave entrance. Dinpik padded after her, glad to stretch cramped legs.

It was evening; a few stars peeked out from behind the remnants of clouds. In a nearby spinney trees lay like jackstraws. Tiny white pebbles littered the ground. Dinpik picked one up. The hailstone’s chill seeped through her glove.

“We’ll rest here,” Olondys announced. “Too late to move on.”

Olondys examined the pinpoint wounds left by the podlings, and after Dinpik denied suffering any of the symptoms put to her, declared them poison-free. In the fading light, they swept out the bedding used by the cave’s previous tenant and settled in. From Frick’s packs Olondys produced a faceted crystal the length of her palm set in a simple metal base. Olondys touched a facet and the crystal emitted a soft ivory glow.

“What would you have done if – whatever – had still been here?” Dinpik asked between bites of hardtack.

“Killed it.” Olondys shrugged, tossing hunks of dried talbuk meat to the dogs and her mount. “Fed it to Frick and Frack and Bubbles.”

“Bubbles?”

Olondys’ lips set in a thin line. “Breeders name their night abers.”

Only a few clouds were visible the next morning, high and cottony, and it was still cold. They set out after the dogs were watered. Dinpik clambered onto Bubbles with dread; the cave floor made for an exquisitely uncomfortable bed, and she felt like one giant ache.

Olondys kept to a ground-eating pace with fewer rests. “We should be there in a few hours,” she said when they stopped at midday. Her prediction proved accurate. They came to a halt at yet another rock outcropping, the tail-end of a cliff line that ran unevenly into foothills on the horizon. Dinpik shaded her eyes, studying them curiously. “Where do they go?”

“Gorgrond.” Olondys unfastened the dogs’ halters. “Hellish place.” Frick and Frack flopped to the ground and rolled ecstatically. Olondys laughed with genuine warmth. First time for everything, Dinpik mused. Olondys disappeared into the cave pocket (Dinpik wondered if every stretch of rock in Draenor houses a cave or niche or hidey-hole), the halters with their packs slung over her shoulder. Dinpik plunked down on a convenient chunk of boulder, leaning over to rub her calves.

Something whistled past her head, clipping a ponytail in half.

Frick and Frack sprang up, yelping, and bolted for the niche, on the heels of Bubbles. Vinikzekeel bounded up the outcropping, his battle-roar raising a challenge to unhuman screams.

Dinpik jerked upright. Some thing rushed her from the left, brown-skinned, two-legged and in minimal armor of bone and wood. It had a huge skull instead of a face and carried a long-shafted two-handed axe – the sharp end of which was aimed at her.

”Olondys!” Dinpik screamed. ”HELP!”

The thing laughed, and an echoing chuckle came from Dinpik’s right. She sucked in a deep shaky breath and howled.

Laughter changed to panicked shrieks. Her attackers ran away from the outcropping and into the grassland. Dinpik hunched in on herself, reaching for the Twisting Nether to power another spell. Vinikzekeel’s growls and the clang of metal on metal reached her from the rocks above.

Olondys darted from the niche with her bow in her hands, swearing. “Where are they?” She nocked an arrow, backing up against the rock. “How many?”

“Three – I think…. I made two of them panic and run, but it won’t last very long. And there’s one – “

An agonized shriek quickly cut off, and demonic laughter. The coppery stink of blood wafted down. Dinpik winced.

“ – was one above us…”

Olondys didn’t answer. Her head turned left and right. “Your minion will continue to fight?” At Dinpik’s nod, she said tersely, “Get inside,” and sprang up to the top of the rocks.

Dinpik ran for the cave, feeling worse than useless. Another axe tumbled over her head; she made herself turn, the magic to weaken flesh and bone ready on her lips. Her attacker lunged.

A faint hissing, and blood geysered briefly around the arrowhead in his throat.

Olondys jumped down. Expression impassive, she pulled at one of the thing’s oversized tusks. To Dinpik’s surprise the skull came off in her hands, revealing an orc’s face.

“Laughing Skull clan,” Olondys informed her. She tossed the mask aside.

“Three orcs is likely only a scouting party, but we’re not staying, even with two dead. I'm not going to chase down the survivor on my own." Dinpik stirred at this backhanded insult -- didn't she count?

Well, no, honesty forced her to admit. Olondys was still speaking."This drop-point has been compromised. These may be the last reports we get from this section of Draenor for some time. We need to get back to Aeon as quickly as possible.”

“Aeon?” Dinpik asked, more because she wanted something – anything – to distract her, even for a few moments from what had just happened.

“It stands for ass-end of nowhere,” Olondys said with humor. “ What some call the garrison.” She glanced at Vinikzekeel as he joined them, wiping his two-handed sword on what appeared to be a green loincloth. He fixed his gaze on Dinpik, red eyes glowing like rubies with relished bloodlust.

“There was a fourth,” he rumbled. “Similar, but not the same. It watched.”

Olondys grimaced. “Frostwolf, Stormreaver, Iron Horde – even more reason to get moving.”

Two days later they were in Fitch’s office. Dinpik listened as Olondys briefed him on their mission. She was exhausted and filthy, and wanted nothing more than to bathe and sleep, not necessarily in that order.

Fitch dismissed Olondys. When Dinpik started to follow her, he said, “A moment if you would, Commander.”

Dinpik sank back down in her chair. “What is it?”

“Seems you had quite the adventure. I’m sure you see the wisdom of staying put.”

Pride, professional and personal, made her respond. “I’ve been through worse, Lieutenant.” True enough. It had been a long time since that camping trip with Grathier, though, and even longer since her days of roughing it with Tanyel across Azeroth and Outland.

“Have you? Well, then.” Fitch smiled slowly. “I’ll keep that in mind for the future.” He saluted. “I think we’re done, Commander.”

Dinpik saluted back, and rose.

“Oh, Commander? One more thing.”

“What is it?” She could hear the exasperation in her voice; she didn’t care.

Fitch’s smile broadened. “You might want to get a haircut.”

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Re: Army Dreamers

Postby Dinpik » November 14th, 2015, 2:12 am

Whatever insight Fitch found in the briefing proved to have a galvanizing effect. Dinpik found herself in an endless series of meetings with people she knew only as faces from the morning assemblies. No one bothered to explain to her what the names and numbers (agents? coordinates?) that were the topic of intense discussion meant, and her questions were always politely deflected with “When time is less pressing, Commander.”

Time was a pressing matter for all of Aeon, it seemed. Supplies arrived in the night by talbuk and elekk, and even boar. (One of the latter lost a battle with one of the stabled rams and was put down. The cooks made good use of its meat.) Well-tanned clefthoof hides were among the goods brought in; the tailors politely asked for the commander’s presence the following day shortly after breakfast. By that evening Dinpik had a new coat. To her mind made her resemble a furbolg with green hair. Aside from the meetings and the session with the tailors, Dinpik was left to her own devices.

Which was a double-edged blessing. On one hand, it accidentally gave her proof despite Fitch’s tacit leadership, the figurehead commander did get answers to questions. She discovered this at the next of the endless meetings, asking during a pause during one of the endless meetings if the garrison had any goldthorn and sungrass.

“Yes, Commander,” said a gaunt-faced woman in a patchwork uniform made from Westfall’s infantry and Aerie Peak’s cavalry units. “Quartermaster Wickworth is who you want to see. Second building to the command center’s right.”

Dinpik smiled, ignoring Fitch’s scrutiny. “Thank you.”

Quartermaster Wickworth was only too happy to supply her with goldthorn and sungrass, as well as the other equipment a makeshift alchemist lab would need. Dinpik spent the rest of that day setting up the glassware, testing the braziers and melting snow to ensure the water barrel didn’t leak.

On the other hand, being left to her own devices gave her time to think. What she mostly thought about was Miranda and the Twilight Empire.

She didn’t think the Empire would miss her yet. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going, but that wasn’t unusual, and Katelle and Skylah and the rest were used to her being away for stretches of time, some of them very long, indeed. Though the last time she had really been gone without reporting in at all had been in Outland. And if there was trouble, she could always call for help through her guildstone, of course… Dinpik grimaced and washed the last beaker before stowing it in its rack.

Getting word to the Empire she was… well, not dead or in danger… would be good. She couldn’t risk sending Vinikzekeel, even to reach Ketani or one of her demons. (Why do you have to do the reaching out? part of her whispered. Why hasn’t Ketani or someone tried to find you?) But letting Miranda know she hadn’t been abandoned or forgotten was more important.

She couldn’t ask Fitch to deliver a message. He’d refuse outright, and it would be another reason for him to watch her and hem her in. There had been new people arriving with the caravans, and people who had left with them. Maybe one of them? Though they might be more inclined to tell Fitch.

Dinpik closed the alchemy lab door and locked it (Fitch had balked only a little at her request for a lock. She knew she was being humored, but didn’t care.) There had to be a way. She just hadn’t thought of it yet.

Three days later, chipping the ice off her laboratory’s water barrel, she still hadn’t thought of one. A storm had swept in from Frostfire and dumped nearly three feet of snow on Aeon two nights ago before; it had taken half the following day for the assembly square to be cleaned and paths dug out, and the weather had been miserably cold since. Preparing the first batch of medicines for the garrison’s animals gave her an excuse to be alone and think.

For all the good it was doing.

She brought down the hammer on top of the chisel. The chisel slid sideways and flew across the small shed, thumping against the door. Dinpik swore and trudged over to retrieve it.

Someone knocked on the door.

Who? Nonplussed, Dinpik opened it. “Hello?”

The pandaren she’d noticed before her caravan trip stood there, bundled in a coat similar to hers and two scarves wound around his face, leaving only his nose and eyes visible. He pulled down the red scarf.

“Are you having some sort of difficulty? I believe I heard swearing.”

“Yeah…” Dinpik held the chisel awkwardly before tucking it under her arm. “My water barrel froze over.”

“That is a difficulty. Do you require assistance?”

Dinpik started to refuse – she could call Vinnie over if need be – then stopped. He’s a scout. He can leave – likely will. “Yes, I do,” she said stepping back. “If you don’t mind.”

The pandaren’s face creased in a smile; he followed her inside.

Dinpik watched him knock out the ice in a few swift, solid blows. “It was an honor, Commander,” he said, returning hammer and chisel to her, and made for the door.

“Wait, please. I need to ask you a favor.”

He stopped and turned back to her. “A favor?”

“Yes.” She rushed on, “There’s this girl, in Stormwind – the Stormwind orphanage – she’s the sister of a friend of mine. I promised him I’d watch over her—“ Not quite the truth, but it would work for now. “—but… this happened.” She gestured at the door, at the whole of the garrison beyond it. “I just want her to know…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to leave her alone, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.” I hope.

The pandaren looked at her. “My family name is Li and my personal name is Hao, and there is a slight flaw in my character,” he said. “We have been given very firm and very detailed reasons why we should not carry messages from this place. And yet…. This sister of your friend. What is her name?”

“Miranda,” Dinpik said, relieved. “Miranda Grathier.”

“I shall see what I can do, Commander,” Li Hao replied gravely and bowed himself out.

Just before dinner the next day another storm struck. Dinpik took a surreptitious survey of those gathered in the command center. Li Hao wasn’t there. It was with a buoyed mood that Dinpik ate quietly amidst all the groans and cursing of the weather, now and then commiserating appropriately.

She was finishing the night’s dessert – a brownie studded with some of the local nuts – when Fitch plunked a stack of papers and a ledger next to her onto the table. He saluted her; she returned it. “A little something to keep you busy during the bad weather, Commander. MIAs and KIAs from the field, needing to be recorded to be verified by Fort Wrynn.”

Dinpik looked at the papers with dismay. Not a pleasant job. “Shouldn’t they have gone straight to Fort Wrynn in the first place?”

“SOP collapses at times on Draenor, Commander. Some of these are from the field. We’ll send them on with our own.” He looked at her, saluted again, nodded when she returned it again and left.

Dinpik sighed and trooped back to her room, brownie tucked into a shirt pocket and the papers and the ledger under her arm, a glass of milk in her free hand. The sooner started the sooner done.

She finished her snack during the first two pages. She wondered at first at the names – who they had been, why they had come to Draenor, who they had left behind. Then, without knowing exactly when it happened, the names became just words she had to copy, lacking meaning in themselves.

Then she turned over the next sheet, and the world turned over with it.

Vinikzekeel rumbled from his usual post by the door. Dinpik realized she must have said something. She wasn’t sure what. It didn’t matter. Everything felt..unreal. But the words in front of her were all too real.

Grathier, Barnaby Francis. Missing, presumed dead.

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