Chapter 1 of The Barrow Caller, a fanfiction of the World of Warcraft.
The inn of Gadgetzan was dim and smoky, reminding the blood elf seated at one of the long tables of an ogre den somewhere in the ruins of Alterac, where once--when he was a much younger man--he had excavated for iron. He sipped absently at a cup of something fermented. He couldn't put a finger the name of it at the moment, and what it was slowly doing to his lower intestine was just as unknowable. He watched the door though, blowing an ungentlemanly burp out of the side of his mouth, waiting for his contact.
"Is he coming, or are we merely here to sample the fare?" a voice rumbled like a pile of boulders falling from a cliff, though it attempted a whisper.
"He is coming. I have never known black market smugglers to be punctual. Do not speak. He will suspect something if he knows you are there, or if he can see me talking to myself."
Zennith Shadowblast spoke without turning his head, and brushed a strand of black hair from his face, absently noting the need to dye it again. His bone white hair refused to absorb the color. It did nothing to ease the pallor of his skin, but paleness was not an unknown trait to blood elves, and was rarely questioned. He tucked the strand back behind his ear and sipped his dangerous drink again.
Without preamble a heavily bearded man sank into a chair across from the blood elf. He wore faded armor that might once have belonged to an Arathi guardsman from some far-away outpost. His beard was matted and tangled, and he was very dirty. He had a scar above his left eyebrow. Whoever this was, he was far from Alliance territory and without a doubt the awaited contact. The blood elf sat back and smiled wryly inside his cowl.
"Are you Zennith," said the man with a distinct Elwynn accent to his Common tongue.
"Cut the crap," the human sneered, "Do you have it?"
Zennith reached into a deep pocket of his robes and removed a small cloth bag, synched shut with silk ties. He held the bag at arm’s length and opened the ties, showing the man across from him the contents of the little bag without revealing it to the whole room. The man visibly lost his tough façade and a look of pure lust crossed his face.
"How much is it worth on your side?" he rasped.
"Not worth the getting," Zennith said with a shrug, "It will not fetch even eight thousand at auction. It will be worth vastly more to you, minus the finder's fee."
"And how much is that?"
Zennith smiled again, "A thousand sounds reasonable."
Actually a thousand was far from reasonable, considering how easy it had been to obtain the totem, and considering it wasn't worth five hundred gold at any auction house.
The man saw through him though faster than Zennith had expected.
"Are you mad? A flyer like that? Worth a thousand gold share?"
"You specifically asked me for this steed," Zennith balked, "I’m sorry that I have an advantage in the market for flying mounts."
"The hell you do," the man blurted, "What makes you think that’s worth me paying you a thousand gold?"
"I’m not running a charity house, no matter the circumstances."
Zennith leaned across the table and hoped his eyes were visible in the darkness, “No matter the demeaned fortunes of a tried and convicted smuggler, down on his luck and wanted in twelve territories. I think a thousand is fair for not taking your head to the guards here in Gadgetzan for the bounty on your head--”
A surprisingly strong, gauntleted hand shot across the table, taking the blood elf in the throat. Zennith managed a strangled gasp, dropping his menacing face. He pulled with tapered, gloved fingers at the gauntlet, his feet scraping the floor of the tavern. Drinkers and card players turned to stare at the altercation.
“Someone needs to teach you blood elves your place,” the smuggler said, “and I’m not talkin’ about the Lich King.”
"I wouldn't if I were you," Zennith choked.
Zennith held his head up and managed not to look desperate as he strangled.
"I think it's a great idea," the human growled, raising his other hand in a balled fist.
Zennith shut his eyes and ducked his head. The shadows behind him suddenly lurched, and a hand larger than the human’s upper torso descended upon the smuggler. Looming out of the corner, a fel guard—three heads taller than the blood elf and colored slate gray and rusted iron—lumbered forward, holding the smuggler’s face in its huge fist. It lifted the smuggler over Zennith’s head and with a quick twist, broke the man’s neck. It dropped the body to the floor. Zennith, now irritated, stood up from the table and adjusted his robes, rubbing his throat. He bent and picked the little purse up from the table and returned it to its place in his robes. He then stooped over the smuggler and removed his purse and sword. Sifting through his pockets turned up nothing.
"Well," he muttered, glancing about. To a creature, the common room of the tavern carried on as if the scuffle never happened, "I did say 'please'." He tucked the man’s purse away and belted on the sword. As he was returning his cowl to its place, "Did I not say 'please', Mace?"
"Aye, Master. That man clearly heard you beg him to stop," the fel guard answered, "I will testify for you before any tribunal."
"I pray you would not," Zennith retorted, "I would hang in under ten minutes."
Mace rumbled his mirthless laugh as Zennith led the hulking, high-mannered fel guard out of the tavern and across the busy street. Alliance and Horde milled in the streets, at vendors, at the tavern and at the only neutral auction house between Tanaris and Stranglethorn Vale. Zennith showed the sigil of his class to the bruiser outside the auction house and took the long steps down into the underground room, cool and dry in the hot desert. Zennith let his hood fall away from his badly dyed hair and strange red eyes and glanced subtly about the room. He was approached quickly by another human, only this one was well-known to both warlock and fel guard. He wore dark blue robes, covered by a thick cowl and cape that trailed the auction house floor. Little of his identity could be seen, but Zennith knew that inside that cowl was a man of quick wit and intelligence. He was not yet thirty five summers, though his long black goatee was flecked with gray. His eyes were as green as a jungle cat's, curious and dangerous.
"Cometh thou to Gadgetzan?" the human asked in the demonic tongue, his face plainly surprised--and glad, if Zennith was not mistaken--to see him, even if the fel words did not allow him to express it.
“I came only for purpose,” returned Zennith.
"Of course," the human said, "I trust thou hast that thing under control."
After a fashion, Zennith thought, careful not to flick his eyes over his shoulder.
The human smiled and produced a totem from a pocket of his own robes, and revealed to the blood elf the stone figurine of a fel hunter, and Zennith smiled.
"I am impressed, Silas," he said, still in the demonic, "Thou art progressing quickly for a human."
"Our species is inferior to blood elves?" Silas asked wryly.
Zennith felt heat flush his high cheek bones. The demonic tongue skewed their words, but allowed the warlocks to speak without being noticed or understood by every spy in Tanaris.
"I spoke of your short lifespan."
Silas Merricorn, lately an adventurer in Outlands and no stranger to the wiles of the demonic tongue, smiled and acknowledged the compliment, "I seek ore in Gadgetzan. This place is of proper conditions for certain exchanges."
Again, no direct translations could be made, and demons did not possess words for auction houses or trade.
"Silas, wilt thou unite with me at a later time--" Mace suddenly stifled a laugh. Zennith felt flush again, and was grateful to the shadows as he realized the error of his words, "and we will continue our conversation."
"That is agreed," Silas Merricorn said, also raising an eyebrow in merriment. Zennith sighed in resignation and returned the other's bow. The two warlocks parted ways and Zennith made for the auctioneers. Mace now openly laughed at his master.
Zennith approached the goblin appraiser and unbuckled the unlucky smuggler’s sword. He pulled the small purse from his robes and presented it. The goblin eyed him warily and peeked into the purse. He passed it to the auctioneer on the box directly above him and then inspected the sword. The little goblin pulled it from the scabbard and peered at it, then removed a pair of spectacles from his breast pocket and continued to peer at it.
"Where did you get this?" he barked.
"I found it," Zennith said.
"Sure ya did," the appraiser screeched, "I trip over unimaginably valuable stuff all the time. That’s why I’m sooooooooo rich."
Zennith’s brows drew together incredulously. He started to reach for the sword again, but the goblin laughed and handed the sword in its dirty scabbard to the auctioneer above him. The other goblin began to call Zennith’s auctions. "
"Dammit," Zennith muttered.
"One mint condition totem of Ebon Flying Wyvern. Starting bid is fitty gold. Do I hear fitty? Fitty I’m bid! Do I hear fitty-faive, anyone? Going once, going twice, sold for fitty gold to the itty bitty dwarf in the back with the big ol’ bushy beard!"
A dwarven hunter strode boldly forward to claim his prize and present his payment. The auctioneer handed Zennith the measly profit, minus the house cut. Zennith snatched the bag up and shoved it angrily into a pocket.
"Next item up," the auctioneer called, "the Sword of Unholy Might, part of the Blades of Strife, still in working condition! Yeah you heard me! Item is contained inside its original packaging. Starting the bid at fitty gold!”
The bidding began quickly.
Oh my, thought Zennith, a greedy smile spreading across his face, That human was a maroon.
The auctioneer was moderating two strong bidders, the gold escalating to almost five thousand without much effort. A well-armed and wizened night elf stood towards the side wall, his stance eager, and judging by the smell and unwholesome slathering sound coming from behind him, he possessed a ghoul. Zennith had only to look at the man’s icy, glowing eyes to see he was a death knight, or at least a former death knight. Severing ties with the Lich King had not mattered, and the title stuck. No amount of time or gold would ever erase Arthas' touch. Zennith often felt a deep sympathy for them. Outcast and lacking even the past to return to, they relied solely on their swords, for all other doors were closed to them.
The other bidder, in a strange twist of fate, wore daggers in his belt. A leather pack slung across their back was nondescript. What use the average adventurer had for such an unholy relic was a serious question. Zennith hoped they had less gold than he appeared. It was hard to discern the race at first, but upon closer inspection, the being had a very hollow chest. At the place where the larynx should have been revealed that they were missing most of the throat and lower jaw. It was disguised beneath a shawl or wrap that cost easily as much as the sword they was bidding on. They were undead, likely trolling the neutral zone auction house for gear they could not find anywhere else easily or cheaply. Zennith switched his allegiances despite his previous feelings. He had many friends among the Forsaken.
"Sold!" the auctioneer finally cried, "to the scowling zombie with the really ugly dog for seven gees!"
Zennith had to hand it to the undead. They made the death knight pay dearly for the relic.
The night elf strode forward on long, heavily plated legs to claim his prize. The auctioneer handed it to him with barely a glance, then turned to toss a grinning Zennith his earnings, minus a generous house cut. Still, Zennith could live with six thousand gold and two hundred silver. Indeed, his day had turned out more profitable than he’d imagined.
Unable to contain his excitement, the death knight hauled the sword from its scabbard. In his hand, it suddenly began emitting a strange mist, green and yellow. A smell suddenly sprang up in the auction house. Zennith choked. The Scourge itself, it seemed, had come to Gadgetzan. Zennith harkened back to Undercity, and the apothecary that often sold him hallucinogens as a young student. The death knight smiled at the weapon, oblivious to the turned heads and gasps for breath.
"Hey! Put that away before someone throws up!" cried a bruiser from the door.
That death knight is going to be bad news the world over, Zennith thought.
The death knight replaced his own sword strapped to his back with the new one and tossed the other to the floor as if it were trash. Auction patrons sprang forward to grab the easy profit. Zennith and Mace followed him out of the auction house, tucking his own purse into one of his many pockets. He dared not approach the man, for though he was a skilled warlock, he was no match for a death knight alone, especially with an unholy relic of The Scourge in his hands. If the death knight was disinclined to converse, he would have a problem, demon fel guard or no.
"Woe to the living this day, Master," Mace rumbled.
"Wisdom was never your strong suit, but I concur. One day we will be forced to reckon with the changing world."
"In the mean time," Mace said, "You made a sizable profit today, and a sexual liaison to boot."
"I will come up with a punishment suitable to that remark."
The pair moved through the thronging streets back towards the city gates. In the past, Silas had shown some amusement at meeting in the city graveyards. Zennith was not surprised to find him seated there upon one of the sand-wrecked tombstones. A brown, unremarkable horse poked its head among the dunes outside the white-washed walls. They greeted each other again in the common tongue.
"Afraid of sand worms? Zennith asked.
"Nah," Silas said, combing his black beard, "It's the chafing that worries me."
"True," Zennith said, leaning against a grave marker opposite him.. He summoned a brightly embroidered pouch from the air and plucked half a loaf of bread and a flask of water from it. It vanished quickly again. He offered to share his meal with his friend, but the other warlock politely refused.
"I...lost my appetite," Silas commented. His voice was too gravelly for his age. The gray at his temples also told lies, but the stress of their calling often brought age quickly to humans.
"You saw the death knight?" Zennith asked.
"Indeed. I saw him in the auction house earlier, trading glyphs of unspeakable power. I declined to ask anyone if they knew where he’d gotten them. I could sense them even if I could not see or read them. He walked with a dread purpose"
"They all do," Zennith said, "I was given the impression that he knew exactly what he was going to do with that sword."
"What sword?" Silas asked.
Zennith chose his words carefully, "The one he bought in the auction house. I saw him while I was selling some minor items. It was unholy, to say the least, a relic of power."
How it came to some despotic soldier, I’ll never know.
"You could sense it?"
"It conjured its own aura. I’ve seen it before in runeforged weapons, clerical items, enchanted items, totems, but never from such a battered, blackened looking thing. He brought it to life again in his hands. The look that crossed his face…perhaps it was the one he wore when he was reborn to the Scourge."
Silas did not reply but continued to finger his beard. Zennith glanced down at his food, untouched in his hand.
"Well," Silas went on in a lighter town, "I hope you did well at auction."
"Surprisingly well," Zennith said, smiling thinly, "And you?"
"Well enough. The humans and night elves in Stormwind aren’t buying Netherweave when they can have whole bolts of Frostweave off of dead soldiers in Northrend."
"You could be taking that to the bank yourself, Silas," Zennith smirked.
"You know I’m no match for Northrend."
"I disagree," Zennith said in earnest, "You are easily as skilled as some of the halfwits I’ve seen in Dalaraan."
"I’ve heard Thessarian makes daily forays into Icecrown Citadel."
"Paid forays," Zennith said.
"Yes, but that’s the desperation talking," Silas countered, "You can’t even persuade adventurers in the name of king and country to get that close to Arthas."
"Thessarian is merely taking advantage of the best, brightest, greediest adventurers the world could turn out, and we’re not just talking the Alliance. The Horde has turned out in spades to reclaim lost honor in battle and whatnot. The wealth and booty are not a bad incentive either."
Silas laughed, "You seem to take an optimistic view. Tell me, brother, have you been to Icecrown?"
Zennith stared at his bread again, "Yes."
When he said no more, Silas dropped the subject.
"Well, what brought you all the way to Gadgetzan?" Silas asked after the silence became too awkward even for the demon seated behind Zennith, who began to shift like a grindstone on the sand.
"What takes me anywhere?" Zennith asked, "Some healthy exercise, a little goblin ale, an Alliance smuggling racket. The usual."
"I had forgotten about that," Silas said, "Your 'minor' items?"
Zennith only smiled. Silas smiled back and tore off a hunk of the untouched bread loaf, which lifted Zennith's mood and warmed the chill that had suddenly settled into his bones. They enjoyed their meal in relative silence. At length, Silas stood.
"Going so soon?" Zennith asked.
"Yes. I had hoped to mine for ore until sunset. I shall not be able to spot it in the twilight. I had best be off now."
Zennith stood as well and grasped the human's wrist. They said little in the way of good-bye. Silas mounted up. Zennith watched him pick his way through the tombstones on his way to the desert.
"You grasp the arm of a man who should be your enemy," the fel guard pointed out after Silas was out of earshot.
"It is strange, is it not, Master? How can you be friends with that human while the rest of your kin contest their borders on the field of battle?"
"You speak of that which you do not understand," Zennith said, "We were not always enemies with our human neighbors. Our fate was the result of one man's betrayal."
"You certainly have risen above any self-righteousness haven’t you?" Mace asked with fel acidity.
Zennith paused and collected himself, "First of all: I am not obligated to explain myself to you. Second: I did not always feel that way. It took years of study amongst the warlocks of Orgrimar before I learned that my true calling did not lie in wanton destruction. That is the way of the soldier. I am a scholar. I am master of my addiction. Silas and I seek to better ourselves, and gain strength through study experience."
"How did you meet Silas Merricorn?" Mace asked.
"That is not a story for the likes of you," Zennith
"Suit yourself, Master."
Zennith knelt in the sand and put his hand to the ground. His lips moved in quiet recitation. He felt the flames of fel fire emerge, though he did not see them. His eyes were closed in concentration of a spell. He finished his incantation and stood, placing his left foot in the stirrup of his dreadsteed’s saddle. He smirked to himself as he mounted, remembering Silas’ unremarkable brown mare.
He has a great deal still to learn. I am glad he is still relatively young.
He waved a hand absently over his shoulder at the fel guard, "Be gone. I shall summon you again when you are needed."
Mace's chuckle was the grate of the granite lid of a catafalque over sightless eyes.
"One day, all your spells will not be enough to protect you from me. I have merely to wait."
Zennith made a gesture in the air, keeping his face averted so that Mace could not see the frown that furrowed his brow, and Mace slowly faded into the ether. Zennith let his shoulders sag, for the moment completely alone and able to sulk in his private thoughts. He felt his dark mood return, with a gnawing at the edge of his mind that made him slightly nauseous. Often he felt the pull of the ether when he dismissed his demon, as if Mace mocked him with his own arcane addiction, taking a measure of his control with it. Zennith felt his hands shaking on the reins. He began some meditations, something that would not distract him as he rode. He gave the dreadsteed a rough kick and started across the desert at a strong, steady gallop.
***Wrath of the Lich King, World of Warcraft, and Warcraft are trademarks or registered trademarks of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., in the U.S. and/or other countries. The characters Zennith Shadow Blast, Silas Merricorn, and Mace are my own invention. It is not my intention to pass the setting of World of Warcraft as my own original content; all user-generated content is created with sole intention of sharing the love of the lore and setting with my friends and fellow writers.***
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