“Flinthammer! Lt. Commander Flinthammer!”
Beli Flinthammer’s shoulders tensed, and she refused to look to see who in the crowd was yelling at her.
“Mom, that dwarf is calling you,” Bael said, tugging her sleeve.
“I know, it’s just … complicated.”
And then the dwarf shoved his way through the people thronging the docks of Stormwind Harbor.
“Ye’re Lt. Commander Flinthammer, aren’t ye?” the dwarf panted, carrying what looked like all his worldly possessions in an overstuffed backpack. “Ah fought under yer command in Alterac Valley. Ah was an adventurer like you, then Ah took an arrow in the knee.”
“I just have one of those faces,” Beli said, giving Bael a warning squeeze on the shoulder to keep her son quiet. “My name is Azora Rockbottom.”
“Oh, my mistake. Ah should have realized. Lt. Commander Flinthammer is in the Broken Isles, Ah reckon.”
As the dwarf left, waving his arm and trying to reach someone else he thought he knew, Bael looked up at his mother, a confused look on his face.
“I’ll explain later, Bael,” Beli said quietly into his ear. “Now, let’s see where your grandparents have gotten to.”
Every dock in the harbor was crowded with people, each of whom was desperate to get aboard the ships tied up there. They rode low in the water, as they took on ever-more people, residents of the Kingdom of Stormwind eager to get away from a place they all knew was a continuing target for the Burning Legion.
“Dad! Dad!” Beli called, waving.
The elder Rockbottom, who shared a name with his grandson, nodded and raised one hand. The rest of his family was clustered around him, keeping an eye on the possessions they’d hastily stuffed into backpacks.
The crowd parted, startled, as a black Barrens lion half-leapt over to Bael, who met him with a headbutt. Ringo Flinthammer had long ago tamed Lucky to serve as Bael’s bodyguard and companion. Dorae Rockbottom followed in the great cat’s wake, eyeing the scene dubiously.
“Your son is still carrying that sledgehammer from the work site,” she said under her breath, “I thought we talked about this.”
Beli sighed, and gave her son a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.
“If it makes Bael feel better to carry a sledgehammer, he can carry a sledgehammer. Eonar knows that his father never goes anywhere without being heavily armed. Come on, boys.”
Slapping a hand to a thigh, Beli signaled for Lucky and Bael to follow them back to where the Rockbottoms were haggling for a place aboard a ship headed north.
There was a squeal of frustration and pain as she worked her way through the crowd.
“Excuse me!” She knelt, helping a tearful gnome pick up the books scattered on the dock.
“It’s not your fault,” he said. “I’m a fool for bringing all these books with me, I know.”
Beli picked one up and squinted at it.
“They’re all by the same author: Tuldire Longread.”
“That’s me,” the gnome said, adjusting his monocle. “I’m a folklorist and naturalist.”
He shoved his books roughly into a bag.
“I couldn’t have been more useless to my family during a Legion invasion if I tried.”
He looked up at Beli, searching her face.
“My family and I have to flee, don’t you see? What am I supposed to do the next time the Legion attacks Stormwind? Draenei folk dances?”
Beli gave a half-smile and patted his shoulder.
“You’ve got nothing to apologize for, Tuldire.”
Beli adjusted her bag and nodded for her mother, Bael and Lucky to follow her to the Rockbottoms.
“Mom, what’s that?”
“Bael, I’m sure it’s nothing; let’s get to your grandfather — if we can get a berth out of Stormwind, we’ll need to move fast.”
“I know, but what is that?”
“Bael, we don’t have time for sightseeing –”
Her son grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around, his other hand pointing at the sky, now occupied by a shattered orb ablaze with green energy.
“Khaz’goroth on a cracker …”