“Eleven! Twelve!”


Tock continued his attacks on the training dummy, mentally checking his stance and posture as he did so. It felt awkward… The stance Robin had guided him into felt unnatural, his legs stretched at odd angles. He felt off balance, but did his best to keep it all straight.


“There!” Oxplow rumbled as Tock struck the dummy again. “Do you feel the passion, poured into each strike?”


“Erm…” Tock thought. Passion? He was just trying to keep the stance right!


“Neither do I,” the pandaren said gruffly.


“Remember what I told you,” Robin chimed in. “That’s a GOBLIN who just STOLE your research!”


Tock nodded. “Right! Passion. He stole my research. Or he’s one of Thermaplugg’s goons!”


He struck again, harder, though the wood seemed to hit back even more. “Thirteen! Fourteen!” He leaped at the training dummy, striking higher up this time. “Fifteen!”


“That got him going,” Robin mused, looking up at Oxplow. The pandaren merely stroked his chin with his thumb, his expression still unreadable to the initiate.


Tock decided to save his breath, keeping count only at every fifth strike. “Twenty,” he announced after a few more. How was he going to keep this up to one hundred?


“Take a rest,” Oxplow urged. “Look at your stance.”


Tock froze and looked down, realizing he was very slouched, and straightened up a bit. Robin came over to him and put a hand on his back, straightening him up further. She squared his shoulders and then gave a satisfied nod before returning to her position at Oxplow’s side.


“What was the count again?” she asked, the barest hint of a grin forming on her face.


Tock realized in alarm that he had lost count. “U-uh…”


“Start over.”


He couldn’t read her… He couldn’t tell if she was amused or not, but a smile had definitely formed on Oxplow’s face, likely entertained at the horror on Tock’s. He grimly turned toward the training dummy, checked his stance, and began to attack.


A goblin… Thermaplugg… An orc… Some traitor in the ranks of High Tinker Mekkatorque… It didn’t matter. Any of them would gleefully damage Gnomeregan even further, killing thousands of gnomes without a second thought. That was why he would fight.




The strikes came faster, more energetically. The pain in his hand didn’t matter now. What mattered was stopping this traitor.




This went on for a few minutes as the count climbed higher. “Why do you fight?” Oxplow called out over the din of attacks.


“To protect my loved ones!” was Tock’s reply between punches. “To take back my home! Thirty! For Gnomeregan!”


Oxplow’s expression had grown more readable. Tock was sure of it now…the pandaren was definitely frowning. Almost to thirty-five…


“Stop!” the pandaren master roared. Tock immediately did so. What had he said? Was it not good enough to protect his home, his loved ones? Robin looked up at Oxplow in concern as he pointed at the training dummy. “That is not a goblin. It is not a traitor, or an orc, or a spy. The enemy is YOU, Tock. Your ambition and inaction. What destroyed Gnomeregan?” Oxplow asked.


Tock blinked, but tried to answer in light of Oxplow’s words. “I-inaction?” he answered. “Inaction in the face of a traitor,” Tock answered.


“No!” Oxplow said forcefully, striking the ground with the butt of his staff. Tock jumped back in surprise.


“Ambition,” Robin said softly, looking at Tock. “Selfish ambition destroyed Gnomeregan.”


“Exactly,” Oxplow agreed. “You attack with anger.” He sighed.


Tock felt himself panicking. Had he already screwed up so badly that he would be kicked out of the program?


“Why do you fight?” Oxplow asked again.


Tock knew the pandaren had frowned when he answered earlier, but why? Was protecting his home not good enough? Whatever… He would answer honestly. It was better than lying just to give the “right” answer anyway. “I fight for Gnomeregan. To protect my loved–“


“That was Robin’s answer,” Oxplow announced. “And I am displeased with that answer.”


Robin looked up at him in surprise. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?” she protested.


“Because I was not sure why, myself,” he explained. “In more recent meditations, I have come to realize that to a point, I am dissatisfied with the question. Its answer is always the same: to protect home, and family. Perhaps the question to ask is: what is worth fighting for?”


Robin and Tock exchanged looks. She then gazed down, seemingly thinking aloud. “Well,” she mused, “that could be different for everyone. Every answer will have holes.”


“Maybe that’s the point,” Tock said. “Maybe the question isn’t meant to be answered…but to make us examine ourselves.”


A wide grin spread across Oxplow’s face. “Ah, the wisdom of the unwise.”


“Well, thank– HEY!”


Robin chuckled. “He didn’t mean it like that.”


“By the way…,” Oxplow asked, turning to Tock, “what was the count again?”


“Thirty-four,” Tock answered immediately.


“I thought it was twenty-eight,” Robin said.


“Or was it thirty-seven?” Oxplow asked.


“Thirty-four,” Tock insisted.


Robin shook her head. “No, I’m pretty sure it was twenty-eight.”


“All right,” Tock said, hopping into the fierce tiger stance, “Clearly the longer we talk, the harder you try to make me forget! Thirty-four!” He leapt at the training dummy. “Thirty-five!”


Oxplow looked down at Robin with a smile. “I like this kid.”

Author Rann
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