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Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Deployment

Postby Dinpik » July 10th, 2014, 9:06 pm

26th of June

Anselm,

I write to you after receiving your note on our Stormwind courier's latest report. As you suggested, I retrieved it from the files and read it myself, keeping in mind the commentary on her conversations overheard by your field agents.

There is reason to be concerned, I agree. She has never been one to enjoy violence for her own sake, using humor or sticking-to-the-facts to distance herself from its ugliness, or to relish another's death with such apparent glee. She may be slipping down the path so many warlocks take; there could be some other influence as well. Quartermaster Lightspark recommended her --apparently his sister and she were classmates at times; I will ask if he has any insight as a gnome.


I don't like the idea of losing her. She's one of our few remaining Alliance warlocks. I don't see any notation of her most recent audits. In fact, I don't see any indication she's been audited at all.

I will keep you informed of what I learn, if anything, and ask you do the same.

For the Light and the Crusade,

Argent Officer Pureheart
Last edited by Dinpik on July 10th, 2014, 11:02 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Deployment

Postby Dinpik » July 10th, 2014, 9:07 pm

6/30

No audits? How long has she been doing this? The Silvermoon fel-sniffer gets a lookover at least once a year. You have
got to stop assuming 'cute female gnome' equals 'harmless'.

You may be right about other influences. One of Shaw's proteges did a stint at the Westbrook Garrison as a nurse after the bombing. Our girl practically buried the place in baked goods until Landreth put his foot down. Apparently she's friends -- or at least friendly with --a couple of the guards caught up in that mess. Moreover, one's confirmed as the loose cannon Booty Bay had tagged with a bounty for burning down the Twin Seas Trading Company office.

Speaking of which, sources tell me the kaldorei may be deigning to lift the embargo against Steamwheedle by summer's end; they're down to the amount of funds heading into Darnassus, and how favorable tariffs will be for kaldorei ships -- and for how long. Can't say the same for TSTC yet, which is not good. The smaller costers and companies that took their place don't have the same shipping agreements Twin Seas did, and the affect on certain economies is starting to show: higher prices, lack of particular goods, and disgruntled former employees.

And, she's been connected with the shutdown of Fidjit's Funk in some quarters.

Arrange an audit at the least, possibly out of Stormwind's territory, given that last. We'll keep our eye and ears open down here.

-- Anselm

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Deployment

Postby Dinpik » July 10th, 2014, 9:14 pm

7/1

Anselm,

Thank you for the information you passed along. Dispatch Commander Metz and I have plans in motion. Our courier will be notified within a day or two.

For the Light and the Crusade,

Argent Officer Pureheart

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Deployment

Postby Dinpik » July 10th, 2014, 9:24 pm

Courier,

Given your interest in herbalism and alchemy, and the cessation of hostilities within Pandaria, the Argent Crusade officially requests that you assist Tamia MacAvoy and Dihaldrin Treewalker in their research. They are exploring the possibilities of water of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms and the soil of the Valley of Fourwinds helping with the recovery operation in Western Plaguelands.

A room has been reserved for you at the Shrine of Seven Stars. Please report there no later than the fifth of this month.

For the Light and the Crusade,

Argent Officer Pureheart


Dinpik slowly folded the letter in half and slipped it back inside its envelope. She sat back in her desk chair and rubbed her eyes.

She didn't want to go to Pandaland, as she'd heard so many cavalierly refer to it. Not on the Argent Crusade's business, at least. What she wanted was to tell them "No, thanks, I'll pass, in fact, I think I'll just quit."

It was a passing fancy and she knew it. The work she did was important. Moreover, there was the not-entirely-joking rejoiner from the the smiling dwarf who'd signed her on:

"S'like a finicky inn, the Crusade. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Deployment

Postby Dinpik » July 18th, 2014, 10:24 pm

The Shrine of Seven Stars wasn’t what Dinpik thought it would be.

She’d expected, she realized as she stepped through the portal Tarashan had created for her, a religious building not unlike the smaller churches throughout the Eastern Kingdoms. The raucous music, the ebb and flow of voices and the barrage of cooking scents shattered that assumption.

“Don’t hesitate to ask if you need assistance,” Tarashan said.

“I won’t.” Dinpik adjusted the straps of her backpack. “Thank you again.” The night elf inclined her head, turned gracefully on her heel and strolled off. Dinpik’s shoulders sagged in relief. She wanted to explore the Shrine on her own while she had the chance. She wasn’t sure when or how she would meet the Argent Crusade people she was supposed to help.

“Oh, hello. You are new, yes?”

A pandaren woman in a pink apron brocade dangui with a purple skirt and rose bodice smiled at her. Well, yes, isn’t it obvious? Dinpik bit back the retort. No reason to take out her anxiety on a stranger.

“I am Matron Vi Vihn,” continued the pandaren. “It is my duty and my pleasure to assure the comfort of all who stay at the Golden Lantern. You require a room? There is one available, very close to the kitchen –"

A breeze wafted in from some out-of-sight opening, carrying the odor of heavily spiced burning fat. Dinpik’s stomach did a slow flip-flop. “No, thank you,” she said quickly. “I’m Dinpik Fogbuster. I’d really just prefer – “

Matron’s brows arched. “Ahh. Your room has been paid for. Please, this way.”

The Crusade. Wary but resigned, Dinpik followed the innkeeper through the lobby into a confusing twist of corridors, maneuvering through the occasional eddy of other guests like a fish in water. Dinpik tried to keep track of their path and swiftly gave up, trying instead to not get lost. Finally they stopped in front of what looked like a large rectangle of heavy paper set in a narrow door frame. The paper was robin’s egg-blue decorated with green, gold and white flowers. Matron Vi Vihn took something from her dangui’s apron pocket and pressed a knothole in the right doorpost. The paper and the wood supporting it slid into the doorframe.

“This is a quiet wing of the Golden Lantern,” the Matron said. “Your rest will not be disturbed.” She held out a small muttonfat jade lantern like the ones the Tushui used at the Stormwind encampment; it was barely the size of her claw. “Your key. Should you lose it, please let me know at once.” She smiled.

“Welcome to the Shrine of Seven Stars.”

“Thank you.” Dinpik watched the Matron leave. When she was no longer in sight, Dinpik stepped inside and awkwardly tugged the paper door closed. She studied the doorframe until she found the indention she was looking for and pressed the little jade lantern into it, shoulders sagging with relief at an audible click.

“This is going to take some getting used to,” Dinpik muttered. She shrugged off her backpack, setting it at her feet. This was now, if not her home, her living quarters in Pandaria. She looked around.

Compared to her apartments at the Blue Recluse and A Hero’s Welcome, the room was small. The walls were gold stone carved with abstract curlicues that reminded Dinpik of clouds. The ceiling, surprisingly, was vaulted and painted with the moons. Hooks were set on either side of the door, fancifully carved in the shape of horned, winged serpents. The floor was parquet of a dark wood with a deep green rug in front of the door. The bed was oval in shape and on a low wood platform; its cover was white with blue and gold cranes. Next to it stood a table with a bowl of tiny white and pink flowers, a backless cushioned chair tucked between the legs; the cushion’s coloring matched the bedcovers. To her left was a chest with two drawers and a squat, double-tiered rack that appeared to be for shoes. Investigation of a lacquered wooden screen to her right revealed a flushing necessary and a free-standing basin with hot and cold taps.

Dinpik sat down on the bed. The mattress was soft and giving, surprisingly so. She traced a crane with a finger; the crane was woven into the cloth, not exactly a brocade. The bedcover felt …not softer than silk, but different. It was lovely and charming and alien.

She kicked off her shoes, taking odd comfort in the messiness of the act, and pulled her knees up to her chest. Something about the room bothered her. She didn’t realize what until she reached out to turn the flower bowl for a better look.

Despite the room’s size, the furnishings were closer in scale to what she’d grown up with in Gnomeregan. Years of living among humans in their cities made her used to hopping onto chairs that were too high, holding glasses and tankards that were too large with both hands. Pandaren were taller than her people, but shorter than humans.
I could almost get to like this place. Shaking her head, she rose and put what clothes she had brought into the chest. The chest’s corners were all curved, she noticed, and the drawer handles engraved with the same flowers as the door. She slipped on her shoes and set out to find the lobby – the best way to get her bearings. She was careful to lock the door and to secure the lantern-key in a buttoned belt pouch.

It took her a while to find the lobby. One wrong turn brought her to the bathing rooms (segregated for men and women, she noted with relief), another to a library. Scrolls, books and placards of cards linked at the corners filled shelves made from the same wood seen in her room. There were sitting nooks with and without tables, kiosks offering supplies for traveling and crafts from sewing to metalwork, rice cakes and candies and other foods, maps of some place called the Krasang Wilds, as well as services from laundry to veterinary. She saw mostly humans and night elves, a worgen or two, but no other gnomes.

By the time Dinpik reached the lobby, she felt overwhelmed. She collapsed onto a padded stool at a long, low table, head aching. A pandaren wearing a stained vest and white cap bounded over and asked what she wanted; after a moment’s confusion she said, “Noodles and tea.”

“Spicy noodles?” He wiped his hands on a towel tucked into his apron. “Fish and vegetable? Garlic sauce with beef? “
“That,” Dinpik said quickly. It was hard to go wrong with beef, and she liked garlic. “And just… tea.”

The pandaren gave her a look, harrumphed and turned back to his stoves. Embarrassed, Dinpik pretended to be fascinated by the Shrine’s architecture. High vaulted ceilings were the norm, the walls decorated with the same stylized clouds of her room. The walls had paintings of a fierce-looking humanoid who reminded Dinpik somehow of a lion. Glowing green and white flames wreathed its hands.

“Who’s that?”Dinpik asked the cook when her tea and noodles arrived.

“A mogu,” someone else said.

Dinpik turned around. A brown-haired human woman in battered plate armor and a night elf man in scuffed tan and green leathers stood behind her. “Dinpik Fogbuster?” the night elf asked. He reminded Dinpik a little of Cerestal – their hair was the same dark blue, but this night elf didn’t have a beard.

“That’s me,” Dinpik replied, hoping she sounded more enthusiastic than she felt.

The woman nodded. “I’m Tamia.” She inclined her head toward the night elf. “Dihaldrin. We’re to escort you to Kun-Lai Summit.”

“Kun.. what? I’m supposed to go to the Valley of Four Winds!”

“An unexpected change of plans.” Dihaldrin smiled ruefully. “We need you at the Summit.”

Everything she thought she knew about this assignment had just been tipped over. “When?”

“As soon as possible,” Tamia said.

Dinpik rubbed her face. “Can I eat first?”

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Deployment

Postby Dinpik » August 7th, 2014, 3:36 pm

Two cloud serpents knifed across the sky.

Dinpik hunched down further in the saddle, eyes closed and head ducked to one side. The wind was a constant roar in her ears despite the spare goggles and cap Dihaldrin had loaned her before the start of the flight. Cloud serpents (the models for the decorative hooks in her room at the Golden Lantern, only a hundredfold larger) didn’t move like hippogryphs or gryphons. Their snake-like bodies undulated with sinuous grace, never hovering over thermal updrafts, adjusting instantaneously to minute changes in pressures of air and warmth. Her first experience with their coiling, side-to-side motion as they left the Shrine had made Dinpik very thankful the night elf had told her eating before her trip might not be a good idea. She would have embarrassed herself easily. She still might; her stomach continued to object strenuously to its treatment, no matter that her last meal had been hours ago. She tightened her grip on the saddle yoke in front of her.

“We’ll be at Westwind soon.” Dihaldrin had to yell in order to be heard. Dinpik nodded in reply and hoped he could see her.

“You should take your first look at Kun-Lai from the air,” he went on. “You’ve had your eyes shut the entire time. You’re missing a sight!”

I’ll pass, thanks, Dinpik thought. Somehow, despite her reluctance, she chanced it and opened her eyes.

The ground rushed past her, a crazy-quilt of squares of green and brown with knots of blue and red and gold and orange. Buildings? Plants? Animals? She couldn’t tell. She thought she saw structures near what her mind insisted was the horizon. Mountains loomed on her left, snow-capped and –covered even now, in the middle of summer. To her right, a large blot of blue rapidly gained size as the cloud serpent nosedived toward it. Dinpik gasped, stomach roiling. She clapped a hand to her mouth, swallowing hard.

The cloud serpent landed. Dinpik rocked back, her senses insisting for several moments she was still flying. She clung to the saddle yoke, dimly aware of Dihaldrin unfastening the safety straps, then picking her up around the waist and lowering her to the ground. She lacked the wherewithal to protest this indignity; once he let go, she fell to her knees and was miserably sick.

“Tch! For shame!” Through tearing eyes Dinpik looked up. A pandaren woman bore down on them, her undyed leather smock and trousers worn and patched. She planted her paws on her hips and aimed a glower somewhere above Dinpik’s head. “Is this how you treat our surveyor, druid?”

“I warned her to not eat, and she didn’t,” Dihaldrin protested. He placed his fingertips on Dinpik’s forehead, and the nausea and flush of heat in her face abated. “She seemed all right on the way here, Yiun.”

The pandaren – Yiun – shook her head; locks of reddish hair slipped free of her topknot. “Bring her inside . Tamia is already there with the chieftainess. You can explain things. ” She raised Dinpik to her feet, muzzle wrinkling in a smile. “There is fresh buttered tea.”

A short while later Dinpik sat on an overstuffed cushion in front of a low table in the Alliance headquarters’ tent, a small ceramic bowl in her hands. The bowl held the promised buttered tea; it tasted horrible, but was somehow soothing.

At least something was.

“This is the situation, Citizen Dinpik.” Dinpik looked at Tamia with a start; it felt weird to hear her Twilight Empire title spoken by a non-Imperial. “With the mantid unable to maintain their hold on the Towlong Steppes, Srengal’s tribe would like to return to their homeland.”

Dinpik nodded. “Makes sense.” Srengal turned her massive, horned head to look at her. Srengal was a yaungol and the chieftainess Yiun had mentioned. Her hide vest-dress was beaded and stamped in abstract patterns, and the spear she had carefully left by the tent’s doorflap was decorated with bronze rings and blue-black feathers.

“But their ancestral grounds may have been too damaged by the mantid to reclaim, and they can’t risk losing what land they hold now near Firebough to find out.”

Yiun stirred at this, then settled back on her cushion, paws clasped in her lap like a schoolgirl.

“Yiun’s family and two others wish to rebuild their farms,” Dihaldrin said. “Near Muskpaw Ranch.”

“Not that far from where Srengal and her people are camped,” Tamia added. “If the yaungol can return to the Steppes, even if they have to wait until next spring, they’re willing to trade with the farmers.”

“Meat and hides for tools and cloth,” Srengal said suddenly; her voice was deep but at the same time unmistakably female. “One yak for every three we capture.”

“One wild yak,” Tamia said. There was a slight emphasis on ‘wild’.

Yiun nodded. “Yes. Mutual assistance for mutual survival.”

“You called me your surveyor.” Dinpik touched her lips to the bowl, swallowed more of the salty tea. “Why?”

Tamia and Dihaldrin exchanged glances. “Yiun looks to me for advice as Srengal does to Tamia,” Dihaldrin said in near-perfect gnomish. Dinpik blinked. Tall Folk rarely bothered learning gnomish. “They trust us. Their trust does not extend to each other. Not as far as we’d like. Neither of us can risk leaving Westwind with their agreement so tentative. We need you to investigate the Steppes and learn if a return for Srengal’s tribe is possible.”

“I am sorry, what did you say?” Yiun asked in a too-polite tone. “I didn’t understand you.”

“I explained the mission to Citizen Dinpik in her native language.” Dihaldrin smiled. “Much quicker that way.”

“Ah.” Yiun fixed Dinpik with a thoughtful gaze. “Of course.”

“I’d be happy to help.” Show a little more enthusiasm, Dinpik scolded herself. Wasn’t this what the Citizens’ Branch was supposed to do, after all? Help people? It shouldn’t matter it was half the world away from her home and everyone she knew.

“Just tell me when you want me to go.”

Dinpik
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Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Deployment

Postby Dinpik » August 25th, 2014, 10:28 am

Despite their claim of urgency, Tamia and Dihaldrin didn’t send Dinpik off packing within the hour, or even within the next day. Sorting out the details took longer than expected.

First there was the matter of where in Townlong Steppes Dinpik was supposed to go. The Kun-Lai pandaren didn’t have maps of the Steppes, and Srengal was reluctant to reveal her homeland’s secrets. Long bouts of polite, carefully worded arguing went by until Srengal finally agreed to sketch out the path her people had taken when they fled the mantid encroachment in the Steppes.

Then the question of how she would go arose. The cloud serpents weren’t a possibility, being the personal mounts of the Argent Crusaders; using either would suggest bias, ruining her supposed neutrality. Westwind flatly refused to let her use a gryphon, and the Argent Crusaders insisted they couldn’t wait for her to arrange to have her own gryphon brought from Stormwind. She couldn’t ride a yak from the yaungol or the pandaren for the same reason. Tami persuaded the Westwind commander to request the loan of a yak from One Keg, thus beginning negotiations with the grummles in charge there.

All this took several days, during which Dinpik got acquainted with Westwind and its immediate surroundings. Westwind was more a military outpost than a civilian village, the main tent’s style that used by the Alliance on long-term campaigns. Several smaller tents surrounded it, supply shelters as well as the quarters of the Alliance staff and pandaren allies. Dinpik had been given a cot tucked in a corner of the campaign tent, with a blanket tossed over a cord strung between the nearest tent poles as a pretense of privacy. Crawling under the thick but plain wool blankets that first night, she’d thought wistfully of the bed in the Golden Lantern she’d never gotten to use.

During the day Dinpik sketched and collected the native flora and dodged the native fauna, (being chased by irate porcupines the size of retrievers was a new and unpleasant experience) and learned to ride the Alliance quartermaster’s yak. At night she assisted with chores and tried to learn more about the people she was supposed to help. What struck her first was the language. Both Srengal and Yiun spoke accented but otherwise flawless Common. Tamia’s answer when asked how the pair had learned it so quickly was unsettling: Srengal was a shaman, and had petitioned her ancestral spirits for the power to understand the newcomers. Dinpik hadn’t realizbed such a thing was possible; she’d never heard of draenei or dwarven shamans wielding that magic. But then, she knew very little about shamanism. And from what she heard, the yaungol’s shamanism took a different turn from dwarves or draenei.

That difference might account for the lack of mingling between Yiun’s farmers and Srengal’s tribe. Yaungol and pandaren were polite with each other, not warm or friendly. Perhaps the invasion was the cause of this coolness, perhaps it was centuries of antagonistic history. Whatever the reason, Dinpik felt jumpy and skittish when she faced the two groups together. She didn’t know the nuances of custom that would prevent misunderstandings and insults. She was polite and cautiously friendly to farmers and herder-hunters alike, but couldn’t quiet the feeling she was playing a game of political blind-man’s bluff.

The day the One Keg yak trundled through the gate and Dihaldrin told her she’d depart the following morning, therefore, was a relief.

“Well before noon, with luck,” he said. “The sooner gone, the sooner back Four Winds is anxious to meet you.” His tone was light, but he was frowning slightly as he tapped an envelope in his palm. A courier had arrived earlier – one of several over the last couple days -- which prompted Dinpik to ask, “Something wrong?”

Dihaldrin shook his head. “It’s nothing.” He shot her a wry grin. “Just an inter- office squabble.”

About me? “Guess I’ll get my pack ready.”

Along with Tamia and Dihaldrin, Yiun and Srengal were there to see her off. In addition, a number of previously efficient Westwind staff suddenly found reasons to loiter around the main tent. The One Keg grummle who had accompanied the borrowed yak fussed with the distribution of the saddle bags and an unexpected gift, a compact lean-to shelter because her “mission smelled of good fortune.” Dinpik hoped he was right.

“You can follow the track to the Ox Gate,” Tamia said as Dinpik took up the reins. “Mostly mushan that way right now, according to the last scout. Avoid the fire camps.” Dinpik nodded. The yaungol’s use of oil in all its forms and for everything from cooking to rituals made it a precious, contested commodity. “A yaungol tribe at a fire camp will attack first,” Tamia went on, low-voiced. She shot Dinpik a hard, searching look. “Do what you must to protect yourself.”

An oblique reference to her demons, a topic both night elf and human had never directly broached. On her explorations Dinpik had taken care to summon and dismiss her felguard well out of sight of Westwind. The Argent Crusaders might have tolerated their presence; she wasn't sure about the natives or the other Alliance. She nodded again, clicked her tongue to the yak and left.

She did keep to the track, a meandering path worn by countless feet over untold years. She could see the dome-huts of fire camps and the hozen “Dooker Dome” miles off in the distance. Small hillocks and rock outcroppings provided little cover; she camped at them, calling on Cattnyss or Vinikzekeel to stand guard, and set up her lean-to at them at night. She turned north into the mountain pass to the Kota Base Camp, staying overnight before continuing on at sunrise.

Late afternoon two days later brought her to the Ox Gate.

The aftermath of the battle that had raged here had not all been cleared away. Oil and smoke stains blackened the Wall. Rusted weapons and shattered machinery lay scattered about like discarded toys .Sometimes something crunched under the yak’s hooves. Dinpik pretended not to notice.

The Gate itself had not been repaired. The huge doors hung crookedDinpik brought the yak to a halt directly beneath it, and took a long shuddering breath. She was uneasy – no, she was afraid. And couldn’t understand why.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she muttered. “You came this far without falling to pieces.” She touched the belt pouch that held her guildstone. She hadn’t turned it on since her arrival at Westwind; she’d been busy enough without its added distraction. Now, she wanted the distraction. The company. The familiarity.

Dinpik rubbed her face. At the Shrine, at Westwind, there had been people she knew – not personally but as part of a culture she belonged to, as Alliance. Once through this gate she’d be on her own -- truly alone -- as she never had been in her life.

She gripped the reins took another breath and clicked her tongue. The yak ambled forward.

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Deployment

Postby Dinpik » October 18th, 2014, 6:48 am

The Townlong Steppes looked nothing like Kun-Lai Summit.

Though the land on this of the Gate was as battle-scarred as that Dinpik had just left, notable differences existed. What grass remained carried a hint of blue in its green color, and the trees left standing bore leafless branches that grew at angles from their trunks. And the reason for the area’s name was obvious: the land rolled out in terrace-like hillsides, some steeper than others, with stretches of flatland between them.

Srengal’s homeland was north-west of Osul, the fire camp nearest the Gate. Dinpik turned in that direction. She let the yak choose its path as Dihaldrin had advised, trusting its instincts. It grew warmer as she traveled, even keeping as close to the wall as possible to avoid Osul. The fire camp appeared deserted, and some of the round huts damaged.She stopped at sunset, setting up her lean-to, making a smokeless fire (thank the Makers for Grathier’s roughing-it stories) and calling Cattnys from it. Fire-summoning was an old method, time-consuming and therefore disdained by most modern warlocks. Dinpik secretly liked its romantic nature, and had long made a habit of using it when the time for renewing her demons’ contracts drew near. Moreover, she suspected it flattered Cattnys.

The succubus stepped daintily from the fire, shot Dinpik an appraising look and began to casually patrol the perimeter. She lacked the brute strength of Dinpik’s felguard, but she was capable in a fight and an astute guard; in addition, her powers could beguile nearly anything sentient. She was also a better conversationalist than her felguard. Vinikzekeel wasn’t exactly stupid, but his intelligence was narrowly focused.

The rest of the trip fell into that pattern: camp at sunset, wake at predawn and set out. As they neared Srengal’s tribal grounds, the grass was no longer sere and dying but lush and healthy, the blue tinge more noticeable. The trees were intact, coniferous as well as ones like she’d seen at the Ox Gate, but with unusual pink-orange leaves. One in particular caught Dinpik’s eye and she steered the yak toward it.

From a distance it looked like the tree had been covered from mid-trunk to roots in a brightly multicolored tent. When Dinpik drew nearer, however, the ‘tent’ proved to be individual pieces of cloth – like huge scarves -- tied to its branches. She stopped the yak several yards away and dismounted. After a moment’s thought she called Cattnys to her and cautiously approached the tree, curiosity piqued.

The cloth varied in size and length and material as well as color; some were made from the cotton and silk Dinpik had seen at the Shrine and around Westwind, a few weren’t cloth at all but leather. Colors varied in hue and intensity, from the aquas and purples and pinks as brilliant as any found in the Exodars, to the simple yellows and rust-reds and forest greens made from plants and roots Some of the ‘scarves’ were striped or checked, or patterned with a lozenge motif on one edge. Many bore symbols she couldn’t decipher. A few were weighted at the ends with rough gems or wooden talisman. A few similar talisman hung on the lower branches.

“There is power here, mistress,” Cattnys said. “I would not touch these things.”

Dinpik snatched her hand back from a of a particularly pretty length of blue-green cloth as if it were open flame. “What kind of power?”

Cattnys paced daintily in front of the tree for a few moments, tapping an exquisitely lacquered finger against her lips in thought. She gave a little bouncy jump, snapped her wings out and glided a quarter-circle around the tree before landing and sprinting back. “Not like ours, or a mage’s,” she announced, adjusting her whip. “It reminds me of your draenei friend.”

Draenei friend was how Cattnys referred to Yulia, who was a shaman. “Huh. Can you tell if it’s like Srengal’s?”

The succubus shook her head. Dinpik shrugged. It had been a long shot, given how careful she’d been not to have her demons around Westwind. No way for Cattnys to have learned how Srengal’s magic felt.

She walked around the tree, Cattnys behind her. Three silk scarves – one orange, one blood-red, the last robin’s-egg blue – had been knotted together and weighted down with flowers carved from bone. A decent landmark, Dinpik decided, in case they ran across another shaman-tree like this.

She didn’t. Her travels continued further into Srengal’s homeland, much of it empty of any sign of current occupation by yaungol or mantid. Even here, though, there was the rare scar of war: abandoned mantid machinery or ruined yaungol yurt, scorch marks erupting blemish-like from the ground. Dinpik took plant samples, samples, wrapping them in burlap sacking with notes and descriptions of their initial appearance.

Animal life was equally scattered. Birds and insects, rodents like bandicoot and marmots, small deer and civot-like cats that stalked them. Yaks and mushan. Not many of the first, and fewer still of the second. Dinpik didn’t see any calves with the mushan, so she guessed they might be young bulls driven off from herds. The yak whirled and fled before she could gain distance to count accurate numbers of young.

She never saw another sentient being.

The solitude scared her. Her guildstone was muted to avoid attracting the wrong attention, so the familiar background noise of the voices of the Empire were gone. Small talk with Cattnys only went so far, especially as the succubus insinuated hints about what she wanted for her renewed contract. She had to be careful not to agree to something she’d regret later, even in conversation. Sometimes she thought she’d welcome hostile yaungol or mantid, just to see another person.

At last Dinpik decided she’d done what she could. She had her plant samples, and an idea of how this part of the Steppes had been affected by the mantid push toward the Eternal Vale. It was time to return.

The trip back seemed to take far less time, perhaps because Dinpik felt less need to be cautious. The fear that had dogged disappeared like ice in fire as she passed through the Ox Gate. Another overnight stay at Kota Base Camp, and the last brilliant sliver of sunset was sinking beneath the western horizon the day after when she reached Westwind’s gate.

“The One Keg grummle is pleased with the condition of their yak and the lean-to,” Tamia said some time later. Dinpik nodded and ducked under the bubble-strewn hot water; a bath was the first thing she had requested. The Argent Crusader herself had lugged in the water and heated it, leaving while Dinpik undressed only to return minutes later and ask if the surveyor would mind hearing a partial report? After only a moment’s hesitation Dinpik agreed. Embarrassment and shyness couldn’t beat her relief at being around people again.

“That’s good,” she said, raking fingers through her hair.

“Srengal and Dihaldrin are going over your plant samples right now and will probably continue tomorrow as well. Both Srengal and Yiun are eager to hear what you have to say.” Tamia grinned. “Expect quite the breakfast in the morning.”

Dinpik chuckled. “Nice way to get sent off. I hear the Valley of Four Winds is warmer than Kun-Lai. I hope so!”

“Well…”

Dinpik looked sharply at the human woman. Her mouth quirked in a half-grin.

“The two of them discussed it while you were away. They want you as escort for the first trade wagons.”

“What?!” Dinpik sat up. “But I’m supposed to –“

Tamia held up a hand. “I know. I know. But they were insistent, and it’s the one thing we’ve seen them both agree on without our cajoling in a long time. Dihaldrin and I will deal with Four Winds when they – if they complain again. You’ve come this far and waited this long, Mistress Fogbuster.” Dinpik blinked. Hearing herself addressed in such an old honorific was weird. “Can’t you wait a little longer?”

Beneath the humor, there was a note of real pleading in Tamia’s voice. This cooperation between pandaren and yaungol meant a lot to her, to Dihaldrin. But not you, part of her whispered. Haven’t you done enough for them already?

Dinpik rubbed her face. “Fine,” she sighed, then added on impulse, “but I want pancakes tomorrow.”

Tamia laughed. “I think we can manage that.”

Dinpik
Dinpik
Posts: 78
Joined: March 29th, 2014, 10:40 am
Dinpik

Re: Deployment

Postby Dinpik » October 24th, 2014, 10:21 pm

After hearing the report of her homeland’s condition and studying the plant samples the following morning, Srengal decided her tribe would winter in Kun-Lai summit and return to Townlong Steppes in the spring. As soon as Yiun heard this, she called her people together, and within moments they were all busy gathering the trade goods previously negotiated. Bolts of cloth, spindles of thread, tubs of butter, metal in forms and sizes from large-bore leatherworking needles and hinges and clasps to ghost iron bars and tent poles filled the pandaren’s wagon. Everything had to be arranged just so to ensure not just the wagon held as much as possible, but to balance the weight for the yoke of yaks that would pull it.

Dinpik watched from the doorway of the headquarters tent, sipping the last of her tea. Aside from Tamia’s pancakes, breakfast had been surprisingly light, given the trip to the yaungol camp and back would take most of the day. Zyobak, the pandaren who was going to be driving the wagon and could have easily packed away three times what he’d eaten, rumbled laughter when she commented on his lack of appetite. “Saving it up for later,” he said, tying the last corner of the wagon’s protective tarp. “No sense wasting all that delicious food on this leg of the journey!”
“Oh,” was all Dinpik could think of to say. Dinpik had the distinct feeling she was missing something, a feeling only strengthened by Zyobak’s laughter at her confusion. Must be a pandaren thing, she mused, accepting his cupped hands as a step-up to boost onto the wagon’s seat.

Zyobak was good company. He didn’t ask about the Alliance or Dinpik’s own life, which surprised her. Instead, he talked about his fellow villagers and Kun-Lai, and about Pandaria itself, a little. Dinpik was pretty sure he was spinning tall tales into all of it, but she didn’t mind; he told a good story. He did find her guildstone interesting; Dinpik had turned it back on as they left Westwind proper. “Useful, very useful, when you’re so far away from the rest,”he said.
“Yup,” Dinpik agreed. Hearing the Empire’s chit-chat and discussions-cum-arguments (Xandric and Averila were bickering about …something, as usual) was a relief after so many days without it.

The day wore on. The wagon bounced and jolted along the ground – Zyobak didn’t always keep to the path. The noon sun beat down on them as they neared Srengal’s tribe’s camp. “Are we expected?” Dinpik asked, suddenly aware they were two non-yaungol without any real proof of their good intentions.

“The chieftainess sent a runner out as soon as you arrived last night.” Zyobak shot her a knowing look. “We’re farmers and herders, not bumpkins.”

Dinpik reached down to unnecessarily tighten her boot laces to cover her blush.

Their goal was a half-circle of tents of various sizes in varying condition, and an even dozen of yurts. Beyond the camp a herd of roughly thirty yaks grazed. The stench of an open latrine greeted them even before Zyobak halted the wagon. From the yak herd, Dinpik guessed. No doubt the yaungol were used to it.

The tribe swarmed the wagon as soon as Zyobak peeled off the tarp, emptying the wagon within minutes. Dinpik glanced at Zyobak; he was looking at the yaungol camp itself, his expression a mix of resolve and..humor?

Yaungol trickled out from behind the tents, pushing short, roughly-made barrows, or touting bulging burlap sacks, or oversized wooden buckets. At first Dinpik couldn’t tell what, exactly, they carried. As they drew nearer, her sense of smell informed her all too well.

Yak manure.

Dinpik watched in a kind of stupefied horror as the yaungol filled the wagon with their herd’s leavings – fresh, old and all stages in between. “This …. This is a joke, right?” she whispered to Zyobak. The pandaren shook his head.

“We need to prepare our fields for the spring. And, if we’re lucky, get in a crop of winter barley and sheng grain. We need the sheng to survive this winter.” Zyobak called out, and two yaungol bulls ran up to help him tie down the tarp. A third ambled over with two racks of half-tanned hides, and fastened them to the tarp’s ropes.

Dinpik didn’t ask why they wanted to plant barley now instead of in springtime, or what sheng grain was. At the moment, she didn’t care; she was too busy trying to wrap her head around the hours-long return trip.

If this was this diplomacy, they could keep it.

Zyobak laughed. Dinpik blinked, not realizing she’d spoken aloud. “Trust me,” he said kindly, helping her onto the wagon seat. “It won’t be that bad.”

It was that bad.

Flies buzzed around them constantly. The tarp did little to fend off the stench. Simple manure alone might have been bearable, but whatever the yaungol treated their skins with the situation much worse. Dinpik held out as long as she could, but they had barely been on the move for half an hour before she was leaning over the side of the wagon and puking into the bushes. Zyobak unhooked his drinking gourd from his belt, expertly uncorked it one-handed and passed it to her. Dinpik took a long swig of the homebrew soju, swished it around and spat. She passed back the gourd, closed her eyes and gripped the seat with both hands, willing her stomach to behave.

Twice more it rebelled, each time a less stringently than before. The third occasion was during what Zyobak called the home stretch. Dinpik pulled her legs to her chest and rested her head on her knees. Her stomach hurt, and she was a little woozy from accidentally swallowing some of the soju that last time. Would this make a good drinking story? Emi would find it funny. Yulia might, too, though she hadn’t really drunk with Yulia before. (Did Yulia drink? She couldn’t remember.) Ketani certainly would and Barn –

A yak bawled in panic. Zyobak shouted something she couldn’t understand. Dinpik opened her eyes.

“Yaungol,” the pandaren growled. “From the fire camp we’re passing. Don’t think they liked you watering their bushes. Hang on! Hyaaah!” He snapped the reins and the yaks broke into an all-out run.

Dinpik kept a death-grip on the wagon seat. She could hear shouting, glimpse the sullen brown and black forms of yaungol behind and to their sides. Something thunked against the wagon’s body. Fire-lit javelins skimmed over the team, singeing fur. The left yak bawled in pain and bucked. The wagon surged ahead, rocking wildly side-to-side. Its wheels skidded across the path and hit rock. The wagon leaped up, crashing down with bone-jarring force.

Dinpik lost her grip and was flung through the air.

She landed on her side. She couldn’t breathe; her vision blurred and her entire body shrieked in pain. At last she could gulp in air; she scrubbed pain-tears from her eyes with her hand and tottered to her feet. She looked around for the wagon.

It still careened down the path, far away and growing more distant, too far for her to catch up, even if she ran in demon form.

A raucous bellow echoed painfully in her ears. Three yaungol bore down on her.

Dinpik turned and ran.

Ran right past the clay huts of the fire camp, past the oil drills and barrels of oil. The ground was slick with oil and scree. Smoke and the stink of rendered oil filled the air. She stumbled, regained her feet and ran faster through the fire camp, more outraged yaungol on her tail.

A slight incline ahead, to her right. Dinpik aimed for it, following it to a rough-cut path to a higher ledge. Dinpik scrambled up, rounding on her yaungol pursuers, and howled.

The yaungol fell back in terror, fleeing blindly back to their camp. Dinpik choked back a sob of her own fear and slew around for a way down and away.

No way down except the path she’d come up. It was narrow enough that the entire camp couldn’t charge after her. Small comfort – at least two could. Her spells would let her—

Dinpik groaned.

Her spells. Nearly all her spells used fire. Except her fear-spells, and those wouldn’t last long. She started to summon Vinikzekeel, and stopped. She’d had his weapons enchanted with fire last month. Cattnys’s whip cracked hard enough to strike sparks, just what she didn’t want here. Her imps used nothing but fire, her voidwalker could handle one or two attackers but not numbers waiting below, and her fel hound simply wasn’t strong enough.

Dinpik unbuttoned the belt pouch that held her guildstone and took it out. It was scuffed up, but apparently undamaged. She raised it to her mouth and spoke.

“Hey, guys?”

Silence.

It was broke. She was stuck. She –

-- ducked as a javelin clattered past her.

“Guys!”

No answer.

“Dinpik? Are you all right?”

Pralea’s voice. Thank you, Tinox! The stone worked.

“Um, no. I’m trapped at a fire camp in Kun-Lai. On a ledge above it. There’s too many yaungol and I can’t get down!”

“Do you need help?”Pralea asked.

A stone clipped her ear. “OW! Yes!”

“Dinpik, were you riding on a wagon I saw earlier?” Niala’s voice. “I’m in Kun-Lai, I thought that was you –“

“Where’s the fire camp, Din?” Pralea cut in. “Can you use your magic to distract them?”

“Umm…West of Westwind. And no – there’s too much oil all over.”

“’l’ll be there soon,” Niala said.

“I’m at Westwind. I’m on my way.”

“Senator, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Xandric’s voice.

Dinpik gaped. Was he saying what she thought he was? That she didn’t deserve help? “Why not?” she demanded. “I’m a Citizen, aren’t I? And Pralea’s in the Military, isn’t she?”

“Xandric. I’m going.”

The paladin heaved a heavy sigh. “Very well. We’re enroute, Citizen.”

If her rescuers said anything else, Dinpik didn’t hear. Another javelin thudded into the dirt at her feet; a yaungol roared a challenge as he stomped up the path to her ledge. Dinpik’s fear-spell sent him cowering back to his comrades. Dinpik crouched down, her back to the mountain, trying to present as small a target as possible. Her attention swung between the angered yaungol and watching for any sign of her fellow Imperials.

A gleam of white feathers, and two gryphons landed only yards from an oil derrick. Their riders dismounted. The tallest raised an arm, and brilliant golden light shot from his hand, struck a yaungol and riccocheted to three others. All four charged the pair.

Dinpik watched with a sense of rising panic. The other yaungol were going to notice the fight soon, if they hadn’t already. And there were more than four yaungol here, eight at least, maybe as many as twelve. Pralea and Xandric couldn’t handle that many on their own. And where was Niala?

Something landed with a rumbled “mrumph” next to her, something large and white and spotted. Dinpik grabbed for Solarity’s neck as the cat bumped his muzzle into the gnome’s chest. The cat licked her face and crouched down, craning to stare at Dinpik with eerie glowing eyes. Acting on a wild hunch, Dinpik clambered onto the cat’s back.

“Solarity has her,” Niala said over the guildstone. “Dinpik, hold tight!”

Dinpik dug her fingers into his fur. The cat crouched down further, then jumped off the ledge. He raced through the fire camp in three huge bounds, past Pralea and Xandric’s gryphons, halting at the talons of a glowing crimson phoenix.

“She’s out.” Niala’s shout echoed from Dinpik’s guildstone.

“Understood,” Pralea said. The gryphons shot into the air, diving at the yaungol bearing down on the paladin and the warrior and scattering them like minnows in a pon, then landing to allow the pair to mount up.

At Xandric’s “Clear,” Niala lifted Dinpik off Solarity and onto the phoenix’s saddle, jumped up behind her. “Dinpik, you’re bleeding-- you smell awful.” The night elf raised an eyebrow. “What barn have you been mucking?”

“Stone hit my ear,” she mumbled. “And – the wagon.” Was Zyobak all right? “I was escorting it -- have to find it.”

The night elf raised an eyebrow. “So that was you. Where were you going?”

Dinpik thought a moment. “Near Muskpaw Ranch.”

She heard Niala say something over the guildstone as the phoenix rose into the air – she wasn’t sure what. Her head ached, and the rest of her was announcing its displeasure with her recent adventure as well. She tried not to think or pay attention to anything at all until Niala tapped her lightly on the arm and asked, “Is that it?”

Dinpik looked down. Zyobak and his wagon were off the path, within sight of a tiny village of half-built wooden buildings and sturdy tents. Pandaren were running from the village toward the wagon. Dinpik nodded, and the phoenix glided into a graceful landing on the path.

“Surveyor!” Zyobak waved. “You made it!”

Dinpik managed to wave back as she slid down from the phoenix’s saddle. “Yeah. Used the guildstone. Asked for help.”

“So I see!” Zyobak’s gaze rose past her. Dinpik heard the flap and ruffle of feathered wings as Pralea and Xandric’s gryphons came to rest behind Niala.

“Citizen. ” Xandric said, approaching her, “are you… all ... right…” He stopped.

“Dinpik…” Pralea held her hand in front of her nose. “You..uh…”

Zyobak chuckled. “Nature of the job,” he said ruefully. He jerked his thumb at the wagon. “The smell does wash off, however.”

As one, the two humans and the night elf stared at the wagon, then at Dinpik.

“Citizen,” Xandric said slowly, “do you mean to tell me you were guarding a load of shit?”

“Umm….yeah.”

Xandric’s face twisted through several indecipherable expressions. “I’m going home now, “ he said at last. “Just – going home.” He stalked back to his gryphon.

Pralea and Niala looked at her. Then, slowly, Pralea began to laugh.. Niala bent forward, shoulders chuckling. Dinpik stared at the two women for a long moment before collapsing into hysterical giggles herself.

A good drinking story, after all.



8/2

She’s on her way to Four Winds tomorrow. Not at all what Tamia and I expected. No problems being away from her minions, and she’s the least egocentric warlock I’ve ever met. I think you’ll find your search for corruption withering on the vine, Sarafel.

For the Crusade,

Dihaldrin Tree walker


8/4

We’ll see.

In the Light’s name,

Sarafel

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