She’s back! When we last left Toriah, Sergeant Krodan Bloodbane, and little Yue-Ming, they had just met the group of Pandaren newcomers as they presented themselves to Warchief Garrosh Hellscream and the warchief said that he had a “gift” for the newest members of the Horde…
The denizens of Orgrimmar were still talking about the pandaren delegation as Toriah, Krodan Bloodbane, and Yue-Ming hurried to the Valley of Honor. Toriah could hear the snickering and secret whispers, saw the sidelong glances and furtive nods toward the newcomers. She forced herself to stay focused on following Bloodbane, but did little to hide her dismay.
“What happened to the Horde?” Toriah said in a low voice. “We used to be a band of outcasts. Misfits. The ones no one wanted. The ones many of the other races reviled and called ‘savage.’ That used to be our strength: having each other when everyone else turned us away.”
“Give our people a little slack,” Bloodbane said. “The Pandaren are new and very different from the other races we’ve seen on Azeroth— and out of it.”
“That is no excuse. The Pandaren are the stuff of legends! Have none of them ever heard of the adventures of Vol’jin, Rexxar, and Chen?”
“Those tales have become more myth than historical fact these days. And, I would advise you to not praise Vol’jin’s name so freely in this city,” Bloodbane added, glancing into the surrounding shadows.
Toriah glared at him, her eyes glowing with green heat. “Don’t get me started on that.”
“To be fair, Vol’jin did threaten the warchief.”
“Not now, Bloodbane.”
They came to a halt. Toriah looked up at the hulking piece of architecture before them with dread. Where the building lacked in creativity and artistic integrity, the designer must have thought, “When in doubt, add spikes.” Birds did not even perch on the outcroppings.
“The Ring of Valor?” Bloodbane said. “Why bring the pandaren here?”
The muffled cheering of spectators was suddenly drowned out by the distinctive roar of a magnataur. Then it was followed by the cry of an ettin. And a gronn.
Loosening her bow from its brace, the elven ranger captain bolted into the arena before Bloodbane could stop her. He hefted Yue-Ming higher into his arms before running inside as well. The orc sergeant did not have to go far to find his charge. Surrounded by cheering crowds on either side, Toriah stood in stunned silence at the railing overlooking the arena floor, her bow hanging from limp fingers. Bloodbane followed her gaze and held his breath. Yue-Ming buried her small, furry face into the sergeant’s leathery neck.
Below them, the Pandaren looked bewildered but, to their credit, were not panicking. Three massive creatures— the ones Toriah and Bloodbane had heard en route to the arena— closed in on the Horde initiates slowly, almost mockingly. They saw easy prey in the Pandaren, who were soft and round and barely armored.
“So this is Garrosh’s ‘gift’ to the Pandaren,” Toriah whispered.
“I know what you’re thinking, elf,” Bloodbane said, adjusting the Pandaren cub in his arms. “Don’t do it.”
Toriah looked at Yue-Ming, clinging to the orc in abject terror. A million thoughts ran through her head, but one caught her attention. She tightened a gloved hand around her bow and suddenly smiled. Her warden gave her a panicked look. The elf ran outside again and disappeared down the ramp. Bloodbane just stood where he was. He wasn’t going to get involved. If she wanted to condemn herself to death by doing something stupid, so be it.
Then, he heard a sharp whistle echo through the arena.
A blur of brazen light flashed through the dust and into the melee below Bloodbane. The gronn, intent on bringing down its fists on a fallen Pandaren, did not see the red-gold blaze leap from the floor to its throat until too late. Several paces behind, a slight figure dashed into the arena, breathlessly yelling, “Orion! Heel! To me, Orion!” before realizing the one-sided battle before her. She artfully fumbled with her bow and nocked an arrow to the string, trying to decide which monster to shoot first.
Toriah reached into a small holster at her hip and slung a trap tinged with frosty blue directly into the path of the lumbering ettin. The Pandaren, whom she recognized now as the leader from the throne room, turned in surprise as the sounds of pursuit stopped. Instead of a monster with slavering jaws, he saw a large block of ice looming over him. He took advantage of the moment and placed a well-aimed kick at the ettin’s head. The ice split with a deafening CRACK! and the creature contained within collapsed in a senseless heap.
With a nod of satisfaction, Toriah turned her attention to their last opponent in the arena. The Pandaren delegation had rallied and were successfully bringing the magnataur down. She aimed her poison-tipped arrow at the back of its massive head— just to help speed things along, nothing big— and let it fly. The arrow buried itself up to the fletching through the magnataur’s neck and into the brain cavity. Roaring with anger and pain, the magnataur reared up, thumping its huge chest. Seeing her opportunity, the Pandaren maintaining the creature’s attention drove her fist into the creature’s exposed chest, delivering the killing blow.
Cheers went up from the crowd as the magnataur fell to the arena floor. People of all races were celebrating the Pandaren victory.
Everyone, except Garrosh Hellscream.
The warchief leapt down to the bloodied ground and loosened his battleaxe. He found Toriah splinting a Pandaren’s leg. To his disgust, he could feel the warmth and admiration for the elf emanating from the rest of the newcomers grouped about her. Weak, he thought. Pathetic. Around them, the crowds suddenly quieted, holding their collective breath. They were waiting, watching.
Hellscream put out a meaty hand to grab the smooth, worn leather guarding the elf’s shoulder but found no purchase. In the space of a breath, Toriah had whirled around and taken a knee before the warchief. Her bow laid in the dust between them. Even her cat looked low and humble.
Before he could recover, the ranger captain said in a loud voice that carried through the arena, “My apologies, warchief. You know how these pets can be— they often have a mind of their own!”
A ripple of knowing chuckles went through the crowd. The leader of the Pandaren delegation stepped forward to stand beside Toriah, nodding with approval. “If not for this woman’s intervention, the battle may not have gone so smoothly. Her arrival was quite timely, and much appreciated.”
Garrosh Hellscream narrowed his beady eyes. Surrounded by throngs of people and the freshly anointed Horde Pandaren, he was trapped. And the elf knew it. To strike her down would seem unjust and condemn him to scrutiny, which he could not afford at this moment when Azeroth’s forces were about to bring the fight to Deathwing.
Well played, elf, he thought with the barest hint of admiration. I’ll let you win this one.
“You had best keep a tighter leash on your animal,” Hellscream said, each word digging into his ego, mocking him with every syllable. “If I catch you interfering in such affairs again, I will have your head.”
“Yes, warchief,” Toriah said, her voice laden with theatrical penitence. “It won’t happen again, I assure you.”
“See that it doesn’t, elf.” He turned on his heel to walk away with as much dignity as he could muster, then stopped. “Report to the throne room when you are done here, captain. We have much to discuss. Don’t think I had forgotten.”
“Right away, warchief.” I wouldn’t dream of you forgetting our pact, Hellscream, Toriah thought.
She stood up again, brushing the dust from her hunting leathers and light chain mail. Next to her, Orion sniffed at nothing in particular and contented himself with a thorough cleaning. The elf caught sight of the lead Pandaren standing off to the side, waiting patiently. He approached slowly, then took her hand in his massive, calloused mitts and shook it warmly.
“My brethren and I owe you many thanks,” he said. “It was a dangerous thing you did back there.”
Toriah shrugged nonchalantly. “It was nothing. You guys did all of the work. I just helped a little.”
“I wasn’t referring to the melee.”
“I know.” The elf smiled and the Pandaren favored her with a toothy grin.
“I am Ji Firepaw, a student of the Huojin school of thought. It’s such thinking that made me believe your Horde would be the best fit for us when we left the Wandering Isle.”
Toriah wasn’t sure if she actually heard the uncertainty creep into his voice at the end, or if she merely imagined it. She squeezed her new friend’s paw. “It will get better. The Horde of yesteryear didn’t exactly welcome my people with open arms, but their true spirit— honor, ferocity, passion, strength— is what made me one of them.”
“I can certainly see the ferocity of this Horde. That much is plain.”
“The other qualities will shine through. You’ll see. The Horde who became my second family is still there. They just aren’t in the spotlight anymore.”
“I hope you are right, Miss…?”
“Toriah. Just ‘Toriah.’ No need for the formalities.”
Ji chortled. “Oh, I like you! Well, if you ever need an ally, Toriah of the Horde, you shall always find one in me.”
You have no idea, she thought.
Firepaw bowed formally to the elf and she returned the gesture, holding her posture slightly longer out of respect. He smiled at that and returned to his companions. She watched them go, hoping Garrosh wouldn’t grind the Pandaren to a bloody pulp beneath his ruthless heel of war.