Ringo Flinthammer’s regular “morning constitutional” consisted of walking, somewhat stiff-leggedly, through Tinker Town to the Military Quarter and dropping into a chair upstairs at Bruuk’s Corner and drinking his breakfast.
He was well on his way, the pandaren bear cub at his heels or rubbing against his ankles, threatening to trip him, when he stepped out of the Tinker Town tunnel and pulled up short.
The Military Quarter was alive with activity, even at this hour.
“By Khaz’s stony beard, what’s going on in here?”
“The Qiraji are rising,” growled a grizzled, heavily armored dwarf as he climbed aboard a snowy ram, his aides handing him official-looking scroll cases and documents.
“Commander.” Ringo drew himself up straight, shooting off a salute. He’d been busted down from officer some weeks ago — there was an incident with him, a panicked junior officer and a pants full of Alterac Valley snow — but Commander Stronghammer was one worthy of respect. “Where are ye off to, sir?”
“Orgrimmar,” the senior dwarf spat onto the dusty stone floor. “War is coming. First to Kalimdor, and then to Khaz Modan if we cannot hold the line. His Majesty has ordered to me to serve as special ambassador to the Horde to coordinate the war effort. The Silithid are an advance force for an ancient enemy of the Titans. The Qiraji are coming to destroy all that the Shapers have touched.”
“Unless we stop them.”
“Aye, unless we stop them.” The commander surveyed the milling troops discussing how to set up. Ringo recognized it now for what it was: preparations for war.
“The tide, sir,” the young dwarf piped, her voice squeaking slightly. She was too young to have fought in the Third War, and just had stood on the sidelines as the world was brought to its knees. Ringo felt a pang of pity for her; she had no idea what was to come, or whether the Alliance and Horde could stand against it. “It’s a long ride to Menethil Harbor.”
The commander nodded gruffly, tying his shoulder bag shut. He shot both Ringo and the aide a salute, spurred his ram and shot off towards the main gates of the city, civilians and soldiers alike scrambling to get out of his way.
“For Khaz Modan!”
Ringo and the aide looked at each other awkwardly a moment and the hunter tried to think of something comforting to say to her. Then she saw a senior officer beckoning her over, and she ran off, grateful to be keeping busy.
Ringo tugged on his beard with one hand, scooping up the pandaren cub with his other, letting the baby bear nestle against his whiskers.
He and Beli had explored the desert of Silithus before. It was overrun with worms, scorpions and spiders. Although it was dry, a cold wind blew across it at all times, turning the fine hard sand into a punishing spray that stung the skin and found its way into wrinkles, nostrils, ears, the corners of his eyes and his mouth. And there was always a strange, subtle smell always present — it wasn’t rot, but something similarly both sweet and sickly. Ringo didn’t look forward to going back there, and in the company of Kaldorei and tauren no less.
As he watched, the Military Quarter filled with dwarves setting up tables, placing checklists on each. The first supplies were stacked up as ram riders arrived with bundles and boxes.
“Bugs, great.” The Silithid were impossible to track, moving so lightly over the sand — or beneath it — that Ringo was as blind as anyone when it came to their ambushes. “It had to be another bug hunt.”