Krodan Bloodbane rose at dawn to find his charge already awake and breaking her fast in the inn’s dining hall, which was otherwise empty save for the cook and his assistant. The smell of cooked chicken eggs, roasted strider meat, and fried boar bacon made his mouth water. He was about to greet his companion and press her for a plan when he realized her food was largely untouched; the elf was paying no attention to her immediate surroundings.
She was watching a group of orphans playing in the streets instead, their giggles and shrieks of glee echoing in morning stillness. A sad smile touched her face— only for a moment— then disappeared when her ears twitched upon hearing Bloodbane’s approaching footsteps. Toriah turned, nodded to the orc in friendly acknowledgment.
“Good morning,” she said smiling, though the smile never reached her eyes.
He got the feeling she hadn’t slept well the night before, even as she feigned nonchalance. “Morning!” he exclaimed with forced cheer. “Now, this is a proper Orgrimmar breakfast!”
Toriah made no response. After several minutes of silence, Bloodbane tried again. “Those little ‘uns are the future of the Horde.” He jerked his head toward the stampede of orphans as they rushed by. “They’ll grow to be great warriors like me. And you, of course,” he added when she looked up at him sharply, thinking she had taken offense at his omission.
“What was that last bit again?” Toriah asked.
“Uh, that those kids are going to become great warriors?”
“Chef!” she shouted, twisting around in her seat toward the bar and kitchen. “What part of the season are we in right now?”
The troll chef jumped. “It be da late bit o’ spring,” he finally managed to say. “We jus’ celebrated Noblega’den a couple o’ weeks ago.”
“My thanks!” A manic grin split the elf’s face as she turned back to her companion. “You’re a genius, Bloodbane. I think I may have an idea that will satisfy Hellscream.”
She drained her mug of tea, grabbed a mouthful of food, and bolted out the door. Bloodbane stared longingly at the table of food, his stomach rumbling. With a reluctant growl, he ran after Toriah, but not before commanding the cook to keep their food warm and uneaten. He followed the trail of dust his companion had kicked up in her haste, the particles still lingering in the rapidly warming air. When he finally got to the end of it, it took him a minute to fully register where he was.
Kids of varying races were running around the cramped room, screaming and squealing. On the edge of a cot, a child sobbed woefully, snot running out of his blunt nose and into his open mouth. Two harried caretakers— an orc and a troll— tried unsuccessfully to corral the children. As soon as one was under control, another darted off to create mischief elsewhere in the room. In the middle of the storm, Toriah stood chatting with an elderly troll woman as if nothing else were happening.
Bloodbane marched up to the two, breathless and confused. “What are we doing here, elf?” he asked. “What is this place, anyway?”
“This is Matron Mercy,” Toriah said, gesturing to the troll who inclined her head in greeting. “She runs the orphanage for Orgrimmar, taking in children whose parents are…” She paused, trying to find the right word with all of the little ears around. “… Not here to look after them right now.”
“The orphanage?” Bloodbane echoed. “You still haven’t told me why we’re here, Toriah.”
“I can answer dat, sergeant,” Matron Mercy said. “Every year, we have a week where we ask the citizens of de Horde to remember de children left behind in de wake of war an’ crisis. We call it Children’s Week. Most o’ dese kids don’t know much outside o’ de orphanage, let alone de city walls. So we let de kids tag along wit’ an adult an’ go adventuring for a bit: ride a wyvern, see kodos in de wild, meet Azeroth’s dignitaries— dat sort o’ ting.”
“Who would want some kid following them around Azeroth?” Bloodbane said.
“I would,” said Toriah.
Bloodbane turned to stare his companion in dumbfounded silence. “You said it yourself,” the elf continued. “These kids are going to be the future of the Horde. But, without us, they won’t have much of a future. They need to be taught and raised right. They also need to know that there will be more to their lives than being fed to the great ‘Horde war machine,’ then spat out again.”
“Don’t use a child in your little vendetta against the warchief!” Bloodbane said. “You’d be no better than him if you do!”
The orphanage fell into a shocked silence. Most of the children just stopped, instinctively becoming cautious like all kids do whenever they hear adults raise their voices in anger. They waited and watched with wide eyes that took everything in and gave nothing back.
Toriah dropped her gaze, unable to look the orc or anyone else in the eye. She had been so intent on telling off the warchief that she missed the one simple fact. It was a lesson she usually carried with her, one she taught to countless others during her journeys throughout Azeroth. What surprised her most of all was that Bloodbane had been the one to set her straight. Given the events of the past few days, however, she realized she probably shouldn’t be so surprised. The orc who had just admonished her was not the same, single-minded man first assigned to be her warden.
“You’re right, Krodan,” Toriah said, her voice quiet. “Orphan or no, a child is still a child— and a child is still a person who deserves better than to be treated like a tool or object. I should be doing this for them, not for my own selfish reasons.”
She turned to the troll and bowed deeply. “I’m sorry, Matron. I don’t think I’m fit to look after an orphan this year.”
Matron Mercy watched the elf with a twinkling eye under whitened brows. Then, she just threw her head back and laughed. The assistants only smiled and went back to tending to the children. Whatever tension existed before was vaporized by the old troll’s hearty, throaty laughter. Bloodbane and Toriah exchanged baffled glances.
“Oh, ‘scuse me,” Matron Mercy said, finally sobering and wiping away a tear. “I haven’t laughed like dat in months! Ah, you silly elf, doncha know you be de perfect person for one o’ dese kiddies to follow? Dey have many tings to learn, including knowing when ta admit when you’re wrong! Jus’ make sure dis orc be around to help you out, yeah? I got te’ perfect kid for you. Wait right here.”
She disappeared into a small room at the other end of the orphanage. In a few minutes, she returned with a small, round figure in tow. Toriah hardly believed what she was seeing. She heard the sergeant’s awed utterance and knew her eyes weren’t deceiving her. It was as if they’d stepped into the pages of history and legend. No one had seen a member of the renowned race since the monk’s adventures with Rexxar in days so long past that they have become more myth than reality now. The elf only knew the truth of the stories when she stumbled upon an old keg while wandering the Barrens one day. Even then, she never dared hope to meet a living member of the race in person, let alone look after one of its children.
Clinging to the matron’s hand was a chubby, dark-furred pandaren child with large, clear brown eyes that gazed calmly at Toriah and Bloodbane.
“Dis,” said Matron Mercy, “is Yue-Ming.”