Ringo Flinthammer paused in his walk around the garrison, flexing and unflexing his fingers in an attempt to work the kinks out, staring absently at the garrison’s herb garden.
“Mining getting you down?” came a voice from the garden.
“Widge,” Ringo greeted the gnome with a nod. “Aye, Lantresor complained so much, th’ Commander took pity on him and rotated him out. Reckon Ah know why he whined so much.”
“I don’t even understand why the Commander wants a mine or an herb garden,” Widge continued. “I mean, we could gather all of the ore and herbs without the Commander’s help. Leaving a little bit for someone to come by and pick up as a hobby, when they’re supposed to be leading Alliance efforts against the Iron Horde — it’s weird.”
There was a grunt as Baelan Grimaxe dropped one of the crates he was bringing to the scrapyard. He sat on it and groaned, rubbing his feet through his boots.
“That’s not even the weirdest thing the Commander is doing: Look at this guy,” Baelan said, nodding at a still figure watching the herb garden and muttering quietly to himself. “The Alliance’s greatest hunter, reduced to … this.”
“Ah heard the Commander found him drunk in Nagrand and brought him back here to dry out. Now all he does is stare at the herbs all day, muttering to himself, instead of being out there, on the front lines. Sad.”
The three stared at the figure.
“The front lines are about to extend to Tanaan Jungle, I hear,” Widge said at last. “They say we’ll have Kilrogg’s and Grommash’s forces on the run in no time and we’ll be home in time for the Feast of Winters Veil.”
“Aye, just like the siege of Orgrimmar was supposed to be done in a matter o’ weeks, or the sacking o’ Icecrown Citadel. We’ll be fightin’ Grommash’s forces fer another damned year, Ah guarantee ye.”
Baelen grunted, getting back to his feet.
“Probably right,” he said, lifting up his crate of scrap. “The powers that be always think things will get done a lot faster than we know they will. Well, back to work.”
The two dwarves nodded to Widge, leaving the gnome to go back to composting in the garden.
It was quiet then in the garden. Hemet Nesingwary could think again.
“You wee bastards think that Hemet doesn’t know you’re still lurking in the garden, do you?” he murmured. “The Commander reckons you’re all run off, but I know better. No raccoon will make a fool of me, you little stripe-tailed bastards …”
“So, aboot this armor …”
“Yes, Mountaineer Flinthammer, it just arrived via the weekly Stormshield portal to Ironforge,” Lieutenant Thorn said, not looking up from the paperwork spread out before her. “It’s a new, higher-quality set of Trailseeker mountaineer gear. Even the ones back home aren’t wearing it yet.”
“Ah wanted tae talk to ye aboot tha shoulder situation.”
“Yes, the commander was very clear: Everyone at Lunarfall Garrison will be wearing a full set of armor while on duty, including shoulder armor.”
“But tha uniform didnae come wit’ any. Well, it did, but it wer’ jist a scrap o’ paper, saying ‘Trailseeker Spaulders,’ but there wer’ nothin’ in tha box.”
“Nevertheless, the commander was very clear on this point.”
“Right. So Ah spoke tae the quartermaster in Ashran.”
“Dearest Beli and Bael:
“Another Feast of Winters Veil you’re spending without me. I’m sorry I’m missing it once again — sorrier than most years, because I did not get a chance to warn you I was saying goodbye.
“As you have probably heard by now, we survived our trip through the Dark Portal. I don’t know why it turned red, exactly, although Widge keeps trying to explain it to me, but we ended up in the past of Draenor. Or maybe a past of Draenor: Widge says it’s close, but not exactly the same as the one Garrosh Hellscram was born on. In any case, the Mag’har of this time have been turned into a war machine under the command of Grommash Hellscream, although Garrosh is obviously somewhere in the shadows, whipping the Iron Horde up into a frenzy against the Alliance and Stormwind.
“Widge, Vamen, Baelan and I are now stationed in the Alliance base of [REDACTED], in [REDACTED]. [REDACTED] is nothing like we remember it from Outland, Beli: It’s a beautiful [REDACTED] land, full of [REDACTED] [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] [REDACTED]. Widge and I have been taking shifts in the base’s [REDACTED] and other times, we go on patrol and other missions with the others.
“I reckon you’ve heard about Commander [REDACTED] back on Azeroth. We don’t see much of [REDACTED], as [REDACTED] is always off with Khadgar, it seems like, or on secret missions of one sort or another. There’s no Winters Veil decorations up at [REDACTED] and I’m told there’s not any at [REDACTED], either. But the commander did prevail upon Khadgar to get portals open for us to send mail through to our loved ones for the holiday.
“Frostmaw is here with me and fine, although he’s had to stay back at [REDACTED] during raids; the commander’s got some new ideas about maximum [REDACTED] during missions.
“I’ve attached some [REDACTED] [REDACTED] for you, Beli, and a [REDACTED] made by the native draenei for you, Bael. I’m hoping the Alliance censors let those through, seeing as it’s the holidays.
“I am sorry I could not be there with you. Everything happened so fast this time, and the threat of the Iron Horde was so great, to you and all of us, I had to head to the front immediately. I promised to be take you fishing, Bael, and I will be back as soon as I can, to do just that. Beli, I’ve promised you so many things, and I mean to honor all of them. We will finish this as soon as possible, and without making the same mistakes that tore Draenor apart during the Second War, I hope. Take care of your mother, Bael.
“I love you both and I will be home as soon as I can.
“Merry Feast of Winters Veil, Ringo”
Sergeant Widge Gearloose wiped the seawater from his goggles as he ducked his head back down. The group had worked hard to get their makeshift raft to look merely like a chunk of shipwreck debris, but any Iron Horde mariners wouldn’t be fooled if they saw a gnome head peeking out from between the planks.
“Land is in sight. We’ve been heading south so it’s Shadowmoon Valley, I guess. It’s hard to tell, really.”
The dwarves — Knight-Captain Ringo Flinthammer and Baelan Grimaxe — muttered dourly. Whatever this place was, it wasn’t the Outland they’d been expecting. While neither objected to fighting orcs, where they were, when they were and how they might one day get back home nagged at them.
“Almost the Feast o’ Winter Veil, too,” Ringo muttered, thumping his skull back against the sodden wood. “Ah’m the worst father e’er.”
“Cheer up,” the fourth refugee in their raft said, the gnome Vamen D’barr.
“First, if we are in a different time, no time might have passed at all back on Azeroth. Or, you know, maybe thousands of years have passed and everyone we know is already dead. Either way, not much point in worrying about it.”
“Thank ye, that’s very comforting,” Ringo growled.
They had spent the last two weeks ducking and hiding in the jungle that occupied the place where the Hellfire Peninsula should have been. The pitched battle against the Alliance and Horde had died down almost immediately, but that was even more dangerous, as it left the Iron Horde remaining on the peninsula free to hunt down any scattered survivors. Multiple times they had heard bursts of spellfire and gunfire, followed by the screams of the dying. Those had become rarer and rarer as time went on, as the Iron Horde had found all of those who’d become separated from the Iron Vanguard invasion force.
Twice the foursome had encountered Iron Horde patrols, but had been fortunate enough the first time to have gotten the drop on the orcs. The second time, both groups had spotted each other at the same time, and while the dwarves and gnomes had prevailed, it wasn’t until after one of the orcs had fired off a flare, calling for reinforcements. They’d spent several sleepless days hiding from increased patrols before the Iron Horde appeared to give up, and they decided to build a raft and head south, toward what appeared to be a more hospitable shore than the expanse of jungle they’d seen to the northwest.
Widge lifted up the raft’s lid again.
“Get ready, we’re about to –”