31 December 2012

The Art of War

Akabeko leaned forward with interest, for once without a single criticism for the healing strategy Hadakha was describing. He had always been a strong healer with good instincts, but after training with the guild he had developed a complete personal philosophy and and the healing intuition to boot. She enjoyed their discussions now more than ever, since there was less of a student-teacher dynamic and more of an equal exchange of ideas.

The doorbell she had rigged up to the doorway buzzed, emitting a sound like an irate planestrider. "Sorry," she muttered to Hadakha, going to the door.

Two burly orcs were waiting outside,  both wearing blood-red tabards depicting Hellscream's sigil.

"By degree of Garrosh Hellscream, all in service to the Horde are to swear an oath of allegiance to their Warchief," the first orc announced without preamble. His beady eyes flicked to Hadakha, who had followed Akabeko to the door. "All Horde members to Grommash Hold to swear allegiance to the Warchief," he repeated.

Akabeko's face twisted in incredulity. "I beg your unbelievable pardon?"

Her next words were cut off by Hadakha's fingers digging into her forearm. "What she means is: we'll be right there."

The orc wrinkled his nose in distaste and regarded them scornfully before finally motioning for the other grunt to follow him. Hadakha pulled Akabeko along behind them, directing them towards Grommash Hold. Akabeko placed her hand over where Hadakha's still rested on her arm and squeezed in irritation. To his credit, Hadakha did not flinch. They shuffled along behind the orcs, arm in awkward arm.

Inside Grommash Hold, more guards were arranging newcomers into rank and file. Each marched forward, declaring allegiance to the Warchief group by group. Garrosh presided over this with a grim satisfaction, nodding sternly to each group as it passed.

The two tauren allowed themselves to be herded into line, Akabeko still scowling and keeping a vicegrip on Hadakha's hand. He didn't look particularly happy about the turn of events either, but was at least resigned to it in the interest of self-preservation.

The Warchief's eyes were upon them. Tongue feeling clumsy in her mouth, Akabeko brought a fist to her breast and spoke the orcish words pledging her service not to the Horde, but to the Warchief personally. "It's not my language; it's not my true heart," she thought traitorously to herself. The chorus of voices echoed in the hold, then died away. They moved away to make room for the next group. Akabeko glanced at Hadakha balefully, but he was focusing on something over her shoulder. She turned to look.

General Nazgrim, a high-ranking, particularly surly orc officer, was pulling soldiers aside and quietly handing them small rolls of parchment. His eyes met Akabeko's, then raked over her and Hadakha's tabards. He flicked his chin, indicating for them to join them.

He pressed scrolls into each of their hands. "I have need of an elite veteran force for a preliminary excursion into new territory. Everything is explained in the scroll. Do not be late." With a last curt nod, he shooed them back into the crowd and out of the hold.

Hadakha stepped off the road into the relative shade of a scraggly bush and tore open the scroll. "Pandaria?" he muttered softly.

A week and a half later, Akabeko found herself blearily stowing her travel gear in the small bunk she had been assigned on the zeppelin and running over the checklist she had received upon reporting for duty. Fortunately, she had been put on mess hall duty. Her last deployment had her in the latrines every other day of the journey.

She made her way through the lower levels of the zeppelin, mapping the layout. Suddenly, she recognized an unexpected face by one of the murky windows.

"Long time no see, Wei!" Akabeko made her way through the increasing bustle towards the pandaren monk. She touched her heart in greeting.

Weipon seemed surprised, but also relieved to see her tauren acquaintance. "Aka! What are the odds?"

"You tell me! I was under the impression that this was a veteran force, and didn't you just arrive in Orgrimmar?"

Weipon shrugged. "I've been conscripted as a translator. They don't know if the pandaren living in Pandaria will understand Orcish. Besides, the guard told me that we pandaren needed to prove ourselves if we wanted to stay in the Horde." Her mouth quirked wryly.

Akabeko hummed sympathetically. "Lately I get the impression that anybody in the Horde is expected to start 'proving' themselves." She took in Weipon's silk shirt with an apprehensive glance. "Do you have, um, something a little more protective to wear when we get to Pandaria? It's not going to be all sunshine and rainbows, if it goes anything like my other campaigns."

"Oh, I have my gear stowed away for now. I've been assigned to mucking the wyvern roost, anyway." She pointed to a bundle resting beside a rucksack and what appeared to be an instrument case on a nearby bunk.

Before Akabeko could ask about the long-necked instrument, the rucksack moved, then let out a soft bark. Her eyes widened. Weipon coughed.

"Look, I can explain..."

Somewhere above, a horn announced their imminent departure, and the quiet hum of the engines increased as the engineers prepared to shove off. Soldiers streamed around them, looking for vantage points from which to bid farewell to Orgrimmar.

"You know, just tell me later. For now, I know a pretty good spot we can wave goodbye to the city from." Akabeko tried not to glance at the rucksack again, although it now appeared to be chasing its own tail. She followed the other soldiers out of the barracks, then pushed her way through the packed, window-lined hallways to a small platform. It was situated close to the enormous propellers at the back of the ship, and very windy, but it provided a panoramic view of everything they were leaving behind.

The zeppelin began to float away, and a cheer went up from those aboard. Akabeko and Weipon waved to Orgrimmar as it became smaller.

"Bye, new house. Bye, Ji," Weipon said.

"Goodbye, boredom," Akabeko murmured.

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