Brunhild glanced at her husband, but Magnus was a statue, staring out at the Great Sea, refusing to look back at the shore.
“Aye, that’s us,” she sighed. “Where do we sign in yer book?”
The Kul Tiran helped her sign without a second glance for Magnus; during the evacuation of the survivors of Lordaeron, he had seen all sorts of reactions, whether it was uncontrollable weeping, endless rage or, common among the dwarves, a grim refusal to acknowledge the pain at all.
Brunhild ran a hand along her husband’s shoulders.
“Ye’re stiff,” she said. “Well, stiffer than usual.”
“How is it?” Magnus rumbled, so quietly that only a wife of many years could have understood the words.
Brunhild leaned against the railing, looking back across the ship and toward the shore.
“Blighted. Burning. There’s a few things flying overhead. Reckon there’s few left alive.”
“The last ships out o’ Lordaeron,” Magnus murmured. “Not sailing to Kul Tiras, but tae somewhere beyond that no one’s e’er heard of. Are ye sure we should nae go south, back to Khaz Modan and our boys?”
“We would be dead afore we reached the Thandol Span. And we have nae idea where to find the boys. They may still be gallivanting around with Feranor Steeltoe out by Strahnbrad. We have tae trust they went south in time.”
“Ah donnae think … Ah donnae reckon …”
“That’ll we’ll e’er see them again?” Brunhild turned toward the Great Sea, sliding an arm around Magnus’ shoulders, resting her head on his arm. “Maybe. But no matter what folks call them, the Flinthammer Boys are nae boys any more. They’ll be fine.”
Magnus grunted, unconvinced.
“Ely, maybe. He’ll find himself in a job counting every bullet in the arsenal and chasin’ down every receipt fer the chuck wagons.”
“An army travels on its stomach,” Brunhild smiled.
“And Bragh,” Magnus said, warming to his subject. “The whole world could go tae blazes, and he’d be fine, off somewhere with his beasties.”
“Our wee boarmaster.”
“Ah pity the undead bastard who crosses paths with Mordrun. That crazy bastard’s half-beast hisself. He’ll rip them to pieces with his teeth and bare hands and all.”
“Ah hope he washes up after,” Brunhild sighed. “Fer once.”
“And Durkon,” Magnus smiled at last, straightening up a bit. “Ah expect, after he’s done chaperonin’ his brothers around on a silly dragon hunt, he’ll end up leadin’ the whole bloody army.”
“Ah reckon yer right.”
“But Ringo,” Magnus scowled. “That boy practically got killed tagging along with his brothers on Steeltoe’s expedition. Who’s going tae keep an eye on him when if we’re nae around?”
Brunhild pinched her lips.
“The boy knows his limitations, just like Ely does. He’ll stay out o’ trouble after this, trust me.”
Thirteen years later:
“How did ye talk us into this?” Ringo yelled, his voice hoarse from all the screaming, firing a gun through one of the constructs made of wood, bone and antler. “Ah thought we’d be helpin’ Jaina Proudmoore with somethin’ or other.”
Ringo and Beli ducked as a blue-black burst of magical energy soared over their heads, sent by a cackling figure obscured in the dark woods of Drustvar.
“No, this is her home,” Widge Gearloose said, grimly patting his overalls for a potion to restore his waning mana. “I’m sure she’s fine. She’s fine.”
“So, it’s OK if I keep some of this witch stuff, right?” Beli asked, overly casually. “Might be fun to use on the Horde, I reckon.”
“Hold on, Snorts,” Bragh said to his boar.
This was supposed to be a diplomatic mission, featuring diplomacy through the exchange of agricultural innovation, bringing techniques developed in Pandaria to Kul Tiras. That wasn’t how it had worked out, though.
He stomped on a burning ember, tested a burnt patch on a nearby crate and, satisfied that wasn’t going to burn him, slid it up against a wall, and climbed up onto it. The Horde was gone — for now — but the damage they had done to Brennadam remained.
“I hope you were welcomed into the Light, brother,” Bragh said, closing the eyes of the dead villager, pinned to the wall by a Horde spear.
With a grunt, Bragh twisted the spear, pulling it out of the villager’s body. Bragh hurled the spear aside and caught the body quickly, lowering it down onto the crate.
“And I promise you, we’ll get justice for you,” Bragh said, carrying the body to town, where the dead were being collected. “No matter what it takes.”
Lesaris closed his eyes and sniffed the air. In his bear shape, he could smell the rations inside the Horde troops’ bags, no matter how well they wrapped them. It was what he couldn’t smell that bothered him.
He sat down and waited for the screams to end. That was how he had tracked his quarry across Darkshore, following the path of carnage from Horde patrol to Horde campground to Horde watch post. At each, Lesaris had found broken bodies, looks of confusion and fear frozen on dead faces. Lesaris didn’t shed any tears over the dead Horde — not when there were still burning pockets on Teldrassil he could smell even with his normal nose — but what was killing the Horde was a puzzle.
The screams were dying away. He got up, shifting into his normal form, and crept into the clearing. There.
The thing was running around, hunched over, through the remains of the Horde camp, ransacking bags, looking through chests. Lesaris frowned. Was it a quillboar? A Dark Iron dwarf? No, just a filthy, filthy Bronzebeard dwarf.
Lesaris lunged, grabbing the dwarf by the back of the neck, holding it at arm’s length as it snarled and swung at him its fists.
“You are putting the Horde on high alert, at a time when secrecy is required. I want every last member of the Horde dead as well, but … wait, are you a Flinthammer?”
The filthy creature stopped and grinned, a surprisingly white smile beaming out through a mud- and leaf-caked beard.
“Mordrun Flinthammer, at your service! How can I help you?”
Lesaris sighed, carrying Mordrun at arm’s length — and downwind — as he headed back to the Zoram Strand.
“Your family’s debt gets repaid in ever more demeaning ways.”
The light changed, sunlight being replaced by a shadowless gray.
“Commander Flinthammer on deck!”
Durkon breathed in the fresh air.
“Thought I’d get on deck, get my first look at Zandalar.” He looked around at the fog bank ruefully. “Missed my chance, I suppose.”
“Magical fog bank,” Halford Wyrmbane nodded. “We’re just south of the Isle of Fangs. We don’t want to give away our position, not yet. We want to get the last of our ships in position before we besiege Dazar’alor.”
Durkon smiled, nodding.
“I’m ready, High Commander. I’ll put all of Zandalar to the torch, if we have to.”
“Dinner’s almost ready, Bael,” Ely called from the kitchen. “Get the table ready, if you please.”
Bael nodded, not moving.
The dwarf boy peered out the open doorway of Flinthammer Hall, willing the trees to move aside and give him an unobstructed view of the ruined Stonewrought Dam. He tentatively sketched another light line on his paper, from memory.
“Homework still?” Ely said, standing beside him.
“Aye, Uncle Ely. Can we go back out after dinner? I want to walk the dam again before turning this in.”
“If it’s not too late. I don’t reckon your parents would be too happy with me if they left me here to take care of you and you got eaten by something because we were wandering around Loch Modan too late at night.”
Bael mumbled something into his homework.
“I said ‘they won’t be mad if they don’t ever come home.'”
Ely sighed and sat down, hoping he had time before the dinner started to burn.
“Bael, it wasn’t easy for them to go. But your father, he said he’d rather have you be safe and miss him than let the danger come home to Khaz Modan.”
“There’s always something! There was Deathwing and then the war in Pandaria and the Legion invasion …”
“I don’t think you can blame your father for the Burning Legion …”
“It’s always something! When is it his turn to stay home?”
Ely sighed, patting his nephew’s shoulders.
“Each action in war, no matter how much it seems justified to those doing it, becomes the reason for the next person’s revenge. And so on, and so on.”
He stared at Bael’s drawing a moment, looking at the boy’s imagined restoration of the dam, destroyed in an act of war by those who were now their allies once more.
“Come on. Let’s get the stew off the fire.”