Beli Flinthammer slapped at her neck.
The enormous Zuldazar mosquito burst with a sickening plop and she shuddered. The mosquitos of the Wetlands had nothing on these beasts.
She wiped the blood and insect guts off her neck and yelped in alarm.
“Not the letter, you little bastard!” Beli frantically tried to clean the spattered blood and goo off the letter, then scraped at it with her fingernail.
“Letter from home, eh?” came a woman’s voice nearby.
Beli looked over. A Dark Iron woman nodded ruefully at her, lifting a letter of her own.
“Letter from my daughter,” she said. “Meant to be here for the Feast of Winter Veil, but I guess it got delayed.”
“Same here,” Beli replied. ” Letter from my son.”
The Alliance outpost in Xibala was dominated by the Dark Irons, which meant Dwarvish food almost as good as home, even if they favored a smokier, spicier flavor than Beli was used to back home.
“At least they’re not censored like during Operation Legionfall. My brother-in-law was a postmaster and thought it was cute to censor every other blessed word.”
The Dark Iron woman snorted.
“Thanks; first good laugh I’ve had for weeks.”
“Miss the wee one?” Beli said.
“Aye,” the other woman said. “Her father and I … well, it’s my first campaign without having a parent there to watch over Marisi.”
“I understand. My husband, he’s called up or volunteered for every campaign since Ahn’Qiraj. I always reckoned he had it easier, bein’ busy at the front, with no time to miss Bael and me. But …”
“They’re both hard.”
“Aye,” Beli said.
The Dark Iron woman carefully refolded her letter and tucked it away inside her mail armor, then extended a hand.
“Beli Flinthammer,” Beli said, shaking Kildris’ hand.
“Happy Feast of Winter Veil.”
“Happy Feast of Winter Veil. May we be back home for the next one.”
When Mordrun Flinthammer was a boy, his brothers would hunt him.
Mordrun had long ago discovered that he loved wriggling under the surface of the Anvilmar snow. His brothers were baffled by the behavior. Bragh would lead their little brothers, Ringo and Ely, on hunting expeditions for Mordrun, accompanied by Bragh’s pet of the moment to help sniff him out.
Bragh learned to move almost flat on his back through the snow, creating natural tunnels that wouldn’t disturb the snow’s surface or give any hint that a giggling dwarf boy was sliding along underneath.
When Mordrun would finally get caught, sometimes hours later, he’d be brought in by Bragh and his triumphant younger brothers, who would view the affair as a mighty quest completed by the Flinthammer Boys.
His oldest brother, Durkon, would usually be at the forge, hammering a blade’s edge, or listening to war stories from veterans, absorbing everything he could from them. Durkon would fix Mordrun, shivering and having a mornbrew pressed into his hands by their mother to warm him up, with a disappointed gaze and shake his head.
“What good is sneaking around under the snow?”
Mordrun was pretty sure Durkon was born an old grump.
And, in any case, Durkon was wrong. Slithering around under the snow had been useful after all.
Mordrun raised his head slowly. The wet leaves made no sound and the black mud beneath him released him without a squelch. He could see over the rise and watched the Horde caravan move through Darkshore.
They were nervous.
He and the survivors of Darnassus had harassed the Horde for weeks, but Malfurion Stormrage had ordered them to not lay into the Horde like they wanted to, not until Tyrande Whisperwind had accomplished some task she had been working on.
Mordrun didn’t know what it was. The elves trusted him, but only to a point. He was a feral beast, as far as they were concerned, which he figured was fair enough.
Still, Mordrun was bored. The elves wouldn’t mind if this particular supply caravan didn’t make it to the front intact. He tensed, preparing to leap on the orcs serving as the rear guard when something heavy bounded over him, tearing through the Horde soldiers in a matter of moments.
When the lone survivor was sent fleeing as a warning to the rest of the Horde, Malfurion turned toward Mordrun in his hiding place and smirked.
“The time for waiting is over. We attack at sunrise.”
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.”
“Commander Flinthammer! Commander Flinthammer, wake up!”
Slapping, not particularly gentle.
Durkon Flinthammer caught the hand before it could slap him again. He opened his eyes and tried to sit up, only to find the whole world tilting crazily around him and a pain in his head that felt like an axe blade lodged there. He hadn’t touched alcohol in years — he always believed in maximum combat readiness — but this felt like the worst hangover he could remember.
“I was on guard,” Durkon began to recall. “In the Stockades. Wait, did they free the prisoner?”
“No,” the soldier said. It was dark, and hard to see, but she appeared to be dressed in a 7th Legion uniform. “He stayed in his cell, even though they opened it during the escape. They helped the Zandalari prisoners escape instead.”
“Strange,” Durkon said, putting a hand on the soldier’s shoulder and pulling himself to his feet. He wanted to vomit.
“Careful, sir. You were gravely injured during the battle, but we’ve got to move. It’s not safe for us to remain here.”
“Why not?” Spots danced in front of his eyes as Durkon turned his head to survey the scene. They were outside, under an archway along one of Stormwind’s canals. “And what’s that smell?”
“Stormwind, sir.” The soldier helped Durkon turn to face the city. “The Horde set fire to the city to cover their escape. Jaina Proudmoore and other mages are working to put out the fires. I’ll explain more on the ship.”
“Ship?” Durkon groaned. “Are we going somewhere?”
“We’ve got immediate orders to ship out, Commander Flinthammer. We’re going to take the fight to the Horde in Zandalar.”