[Writer’s ramble: I know it’s been a while since I’ve last written a part of Toriah’s ongoing story, or anything substantial, for that matter. This winter’s been particularly hard on the health of those around me and, now, me. But the steroids the doctor put me on yesterday are helping a lot. So much so, I was able to finish Chapter 4 here. I hope it’s not another two months until I can sit down and write again! Enjoy!]
“My sista found dis little girl washed up on de shore near Sen’jin Village,” Matron Mercy continued. “She be clinging to a scrap o’ wood at de time. Never found ‘er parents anywhere. So we nursed de little one back to health and she be here ever since. In’t dat right, Yue-Ming?”
The girl turned her chubby face to the matron and smiled, her eyes disappearing amidst folds of fur and cheeks.
“She also not be talking much,” Matron Mercy said, the cajoling lilt in her voice gone. “Haven’t heard a peep. She be happy enough, I tink, but maybe her silence is because of de wreck. We only know ‘er name because of dis token dat was sewn into the pocket of de jacket.”
She handed over a small, intricately carved piece of stone to the elven ranger. It wasn’t any longer or thicker than the elf’s thumb. There were a myriad of pale and deep greens that streaked and swirled into one another within the stone. The carving itself was of two pandaren children playing underneath a simple tablet with flowing, elegant calligraphy. At the top of the tablet was a radiant crescent moon.
“How did you decipher this?” Toriah asked. “I’ve never seen this sort of writing before. Except…” She thought back to the inscription on the old, lone keg found in the Barrens.
“Dere be more inscriptions on de inside o’ dat keg,” the troll said, her eye twinkling with hidden intelligence. “Dat old orc Drohn in Ratchet found ’em later, but kept dem around. When we found Yue-Ming and her liddle carving, I took it to Drohn and compared the writings. It be luck I found matching symbols, or we jus’ be callin’ dis one ‘Furball.'”
Toriah nodded, still trying to wrap her mind around everything that had just transpired. She knelt before the child. Yue-Ming met the hunter’s gaze without wavering. The open, curious expression on her face seemed to ask, Who are you going to be for me?
In her mind, all Toriah could think was, Hopefully, good enough.
As if reading her thoughts, Yue-Ming’s face lit up with a smile again. She let go of the matron and trundled over to Toriah. She slipped a paw into Toriah’s hand, holding it tight. Standing at the elf’s side, she turned back to the troll matron and nodded once, still beaming with what appeared to be contentment. Toriah stared at Bloodbane and Matron Mercy, confused and helpless. The latter only shrugged, her tall frame shaking with laughter. Suddenly, it all made sense to Toriah. She started to laugh herself, gripping Yue-Ming’s paw gently in return.
“I guess I’ve been claimed,” she said. Turning to face her charge again, she said, “My name is Toriah. It would be my honor to teach you everything I know, Yue-Ming.”
There was that smile again, and Toriah felt her heart swell. The pandaren child’s face lit up with an Oh! expression, as if remembering something important. She looked at Sergeant Bloodbane expectantly, then back at Toriah.
“Oh,” Toriah said, “this is Sergeant Krodan Bloodbane. He’ll be coming with us, too.”
“Not like I have much choice in the matter,” Bloodbane muttered. “My orders are to keep an eye on you, elf, and I intend to fulfill my duty to the warchief. Just don’t expect me to change diapers or wipe her nose.”
Matron Mercy placed a crisp, folded piece of parchment into Toriah’s free hand. “Dis be all da formal stuff in writin’,” she said, “jus’ in case da warchief be wantin’ some explanation.”
“I’m sure I’ll have to explain quite a bit,” Toriah said, tucking the paper into a secure pouch at her side. “This is probably different from what Garrosh had in mind, but I’ll make him see our side of things.
“You’ll know things have worked out if you don’t see an axe in my head the next time I’m by,” she added with a grin before heading out the door with Yue-Ming and Bloodbane in tow.
Toriah, Bloodbane, and little Yue-Ming found Grommash Stronghold in a flurry of activity. Orc scouts and couriers rushed about, paying no mind to the strange, bewildered trio. The elf scooped Yue-Ming into her arms to keep the pandaren child from getting underfoot or trampled. After several minutes, Bloodbane finally caught a frantic scout by the arm, eager to get some answers.
“I am on a task from the warchief! Why do you—” the scout blurted out with frustration. When he recognized Bloodbane, the younger orc stood at attention and thumped his chest with a fist in greeting. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t realize it was you. But I have orders from Warchief Hellscream, and you know he does not like to be kept waiting.”
“I won’t detain you long, scout,” Bloodbane said quickly. “We just need to know what’s going on. Why’s there so many people here? And why the hurry?”
“The exploratory expedition came back. You know, the one that we hadn’t heard from in a while?”
Bloodbane glanced at Toriah, but she shook her head. The scout realized neither of the veterans knew what he was talking about and it would be quicker to just give the full explanation. “The expedition crashed somewhere and couldn’t get word back to us for months. Turns out they were on some wandering island and met a new race of creatures. I figured you knew since you had one of those things with you.”
One of those ‘things?’ Toriah looked at the scout in confusion. Then she understood he was referring to Yue-Ming. Her arms tightened around the child as she frowned at the scout.
“You mean a pandaren?” she said a little more sharply than she’d intended.
“Yes, ma’am,” the scout said, his attitude subdued. “There’s a whole group of them inside with the warchief right now.”
“Thank you,” Bloodbane cut in. “You’re dismissed.”
The scout made a sloppy half salute before running off again, glad to put some distance between himself and the elf’s angry gaze. Bloodbane squeezed his way past the steady stream of people, trying to make it to the central chamber where they were most likely to find the warchief. Toriah let the orc lead the way. She figured it was for the best that neither she nor Yue-Ming be the first people Hellscream saw muscling their way into the audience space.
They heard the warchief’s voice before they even reached the inner hallways. Toriah craned her neck to peer over Bloodbane’s shoulder and saw Garrosh Hellscream looming over several prostrate pandaren. He was grandstanding, as usual: all posturing and blustering with the intent of striking the fear of Hellscream into his new minions. For all the flaws the muscular, brown orc had, Warchief Hellscream was at least honest and straightforward about his intentions. Painfully so.
“You are now a tool in Hellscream’s war machine!” he was saying. “Everyone in my Horde earns their keep. You and your friends will be no exception! Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, warchief,” the foremost pandaren murmured.
Hellscream grunted, seemingly satisfied with the pandaren’s response. “Follow me,” he said finally.
Toriah felt the crowd shift to make room for Garrosh and the pandaren delegation. She glanced at Bloodbane, who only shrugged his large shoulders and followed everyone else. When they felt a small breeze relieve the stuffiness in the cramped hallway, they knew Hellscream had led everyone back out to the Valley of Strength.
“Meet me in the Valley of Honor,” the brown orc said to the pandaren, his voice booming over the crowd. “I have a gift for you there.”
Without another word, Garrosh turned on his heel and went to the mounted Kor’kron who sat at attention. He climbed onto the large, armored wind rider one of the guards held ready then took off. The crowd dispersed: some toward the Valley of Honor, curious to see what “gift” their warchief had planned for the newcomers; others to their own business.
Bloodbane, Toriah, and Yue-Ming watched the pandaren delegation carefully make their way down the Drag. The elf frowned. “We should be there,” she said. “I don’t like the sound of this.”
Much to his surprise, Bloodbane was frowning, too. Given what happened during yesterday’s audience with the warchief, they knew nothing good could come out of whatever Garrosh has planned in the Valley of Honor. He took the little pandaren from Toriah’s arms and set Yue-Ming on his broad shoulders. Together, they set a brisk pace through the Drag.