Title: The Freelancers -- A True Story That Never Happened

Author: Rowan Seven (Gorakinos)

Rating: PG-13

Teaser: The Freelancers learn that there are some contracts they'd be better off refusing.

Disclaimer: The following story is set in the world of Blizzard's Warcraft series. All characters, concepts, and environments are copyrights of their respective owners. I am not making any money off this piece of fiction. Information is used freely from the Warcraft games, books, and RPG series, and spoilers may be present in the following tale.

Author's Notes: The desire to write something about my main "World of Warcraft" character and the Freelancers guild on the U.S. Cenarion Circle server has been with me for some time now, and this idea suddenly appeared in my head with such intensity that I felt compelled to begin. To my fellow Freelancers, I hope you enjoy this tale. It has been a joy to play the game with you, and although the guild has since disbanded we had some pretty good times we can be proud of.

Addendum: I started writing this story in the Fall of 2005 (back when Zul'Gurub was relatively new content) and finished several months ago.

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The following events never took place. The Freelancers did not accept a contract from a former agent of SI:7. Gorakinos, Maggotface, and Terminos did not book passage on a vessel from Ratchet to Steamwheedle Port, and they were nowhere near Silithus during the dates in question. And tauren rogues do not exist.

With that understood, I hope you enjoy the story.

------

The day started out like any other in Orgrimmar, a mighty warrior city carved out of canyon walls and the very earth itself. Powerful orc warriors patrolled the districts, ready to fight to their very last breath and die in service to the Horde. Cunning troll priests prayed to their dark gods as they traveled down the path between light and shadow. Shamans of both races communed with the Spirits, listening to the news and needs of the natural world and growing ever more concerned about the whispers of death spreading from the north. Tauren travelers and traders stirred, thanking the Earthmother for another day of life and the many blessings she had bestowed on them. The rare Forsaken scuttled about, going about their business and remaining mostly out of sight. Goblin inventors and merchants tidied up their labs and set up their shops, preparing for another day's work. Noble wyverns flew overhead, ferrying adventurers from all over Kalimdor to the orc and troll capital. And if one tried very hard, the hawkers trying to sell their goods through an irritating combination of yelling and repetition, the dancing trolls on mailboxes offering enchantments, and even the suffocating crowds pouring into the auction house could be ignored. Maybe.

Regardless, within this city and nestled snugly in a nook that kept it out of common sight stood the Orgrimmar Legitimate Businessmen's Club, headquarters to the mercenary group known and (mostly) respected as The Freelancers. Its many members prided themselves on being able to do any job for the right price and generally having a fun time doing said job. The Club was their home away from whatever a mercenary calls home, a place to unwind, relax, and seal future contracts with old and prospective clients. Oblivious strangers who wandered in from the streets were politely shown to the door. The staff of the Orgrimmar Legitimate Businessmen's Club took their duties seriously, and if you had no business being there then you would be 'persuaded' to leave. Simple as that.

It was in this setting that the story began. The club's orc bartender, Goremug, hearing approaching footsteps, looked up from the glass he was cleaning with a rag and examined the newest 'guest'. She was undeniably a woman, and by woman mind-bogglingly gorgeous is meant. Tall but not imposing, demure but confident, long hair black as night and smooth like spider's silk, skin pale as snow, and eyes blue as the ocean, she also had a body that boldly asserted in no uncertain terms that yes, gods do exist, and they decided that she would be born so they'd have someone to sleep with. Master architect Franclorn Forgewright himself could not have designed more seductive proportions for the human body, and looking at her one got the impression that it would be easier to push the entire Horde back through the Dark Portal and into the demon-infested remnants of Draenor than for her black leather, one-piece suit to go another second without losing its battle against her extraordinarily well-formed, enticing body and bursting at the seams. A single breath would be all that was required.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint), she was undead and didn't need to breath. Goremug, despite his professionalism, was thankful for this because it would make dealing with the lady easier since, unlike a certain orc warlord who seems to have spent far too much time in wastelands surrounded by enemies, he wasn't into necrophilia. With a silent nod in her direction as she sat down on a stool at the bar counter, he walked over to her and opened his mouth to take her order. "Choose your poison, madam."

"A cup of thistle tea with one-no, two sugars," the woman ordered nonchalantly, words confirming Goremug's silent suspicions about her as she covertly surveyed the room out of the corner of her eyes. She was obviously a rogue. Few professions carried themselves with the same grace she displayed in abundance, and those that did were more likely to order alcohol than tea.

Goremug turned and went to work behind the counter, quickly making a pot of thistle tea with the skill all first-rate bartenders in notorious establishments are famed for. When he returned to hand his customer her drink, the orc found her gazing intently at him and shivered. The woman's eyes were...disturbing. They were as deep and endless as the ocean, but in their depths a terrible storm was brewing. Then again, Goremug thought, trying to reassure himself, a lot of Forsaken had that brink of madness look to them, and a customer is a customer, regardless of race, gender, and mental stability.

The woman accepted the cup with a grateful nod of her head and took a sip, savoring the beverage's warmth as it slid down her throat and, more out of reflex than anything else, exhaling contentedly. "Not bad, especially considering what the demands of your regulars likely are. Compliments aside, though, I think you can guess why I'm here." Her eyes narrowed calculatingly. "Who does a lady speak to in order to hire the services of the Freelancers?"

The bartender hesitated for a moment, looking around the room. His vision was first drawn to the mighty Forsaken warrior Mafo Jushilit of Stratholme -- better known as Maggotface the Glutton -- slumped over a table with a mug of beer in one hand and a bottle of something even more potent in the other. Every now and then undead human would stir from his alcoholic stupor and take a swig, not spilling a single drop despite the stark absence of a lower jaw, before returning to the land of drunken dreams. The orc then focused on the white wolf sleeping under a nearby table and occasionally scratching itself with a back leg. A half-second later he shifted his gaze again and desperately searched for someone else. His efforts were in vain. With the battles occurring in Zul'Gurub, many of the Freelancers had taken up temporary residence in Booty Bay and Grom'gol, leaving the Club unusually quiet. Sighing, Goremug looked at Maggotface, then the wolf, back at Maggotface, the wolf again, and unhappily made a decision. "Excuse me for a moment, madam. The Freelancers will be right with you."

Getting out from behind the bar, Goremug walked over to the wolf, kneeled down, lowered his head to the creature's right ear, and spoke loudly but respectfully, "Master Gorakinos, there is a potential client waiting to meet with you!"

The wolf's eyes immediately opened, and the animal, still shrugging off sleep, instinctively bolted upwards, slamming its head against the bottom of the table and collapsing painfully on the ground. Now wide awake, the wolf howled and returned to its true form, that of the orc shaman Gorakinos who, thanks to his massive bulk, accidentally slammed his head against the table again. Rather embarrassed, the orc very carefully crawled out from under the table and slowly stood up, dusting himself off and giving Goremug a sour look. The bartender, none the worse for wear and having derived some small amusement from his superior's clumsiness, hid his smirk and politely indicated the Forsaken chuckling mirthfully at the bar.

Getting the gist of what Goremug was asking of him, Gorakinos did his best to compose himself and, with all the dignity he could still muster, walked over to the bar counter and sat down next to the new patron. "Welcome to the Club, and I'm pleased to hear that you're interesting in contracting with the Freelancers. I'm Gorakinos the orc shaman. What type of business do you have with us?"

"Threnody D'usque," the Forsaken identified herself as, tone serious now that actual negotiations were beginning. "Of the Undercity." She took another sip of her tea, simultaneously examining the person she was dealing with from underneath lowered eyelids, and nodded her head imperceptibly, having reached a decision. "How much do the Freelancers normally charge for a retrieval operation?"

Gorakinos, trying very hard and only partially succeeding at keeping his eyes focused on her face and not elsewhere (He REALLY needed to get out more), mulled the question over for a second and chose to err on the side of caution. "That would depend on the difficulty of the job. What...exactly do you have in mind?"

"During my...life, I made a comfortable living in Stormwind looking after the family business. However, misfortune struck while I visited Lordaeron on a related matter. I was killed when the Scourge overran the kingdom, but they denied me peace and resurrected me as a mindless, undead slave through their vile plague," the Forsaken woman recounted angrily, expression darkening as she remembered her past. "I remained as such until the Dark Lady freed me, and I pledged myself to the Forsaken's cause. I now have a new life in the Undercity but...I don't want to let go of my old life completely."

An almost frantic note entered Threnody's voice as she continued. "Devastated by my death, my younger brother resolved to start over in the new lands of Kalimdor and booked passage to Steamwheedle Port on a vessel from Booty Bay. In addition to his own luggage, he carried a chest containing a personal possession of mine. Lamentably, the ship, the Morning Song, ran into a naga war party near Kalimdor and sank before it could reach Steamwheedle. Most of the crew and passengers -- including my brother -- perished, and the vessel now lies on the bottom of the ocean along the coast of Tanaris. I want that container and the part of my past it carries back, but my responsibilities deny me the time to travel to Tanaris myself and I can't put the Undercity's resources to such a...trivial use. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to travel to Tanaris, retrieve the chest, and return to Orgrimmar. You'll be able to recognize it by the Stormwind crest affixed to it, and it should be in the cargo hold with the rest of the luggage. In exchange, I'm willing to pay whatever price you ask, so long as it's within my means."

Slightly disturbed that the Forsaken appeared to care more about her box than her brother's death, Gorakinos nonetheless nodded his head. Even if he was uneasy about the value Threnody attached to human life, that was no reason to turn down what otherwise looked like a fairly simple contract. "Agreed, but how will the Freelancers contact you after we've completed the assignment?"

With a haughty laugh, Threnody finished the last of her tea, stood up, and grinned confidently. "I'll know when you've returned. Trust me on that." She turned to leave.

"Wait!" Gorakinos called after her, spinning on the barstool to face her shrinking back. "What about writing and signing a contract-"

"I always keep my promises," the undead beauty replied without slowing down, a hint of bitterness and resentment in her tone. "If you do what I've told you, you'll be paid. Don't doubt that."

Gorakinos opened his mouth to say something else, but before he could she walked through the doors to the Club and disappeared. Instead, the orc shaman lowered his head, sighed, and then glared at Goremug for a moment. "All right, Goremug. Why did you disturb my sleep when there are more senior Freelancers present?"

In answer, the bartender, who'd quietly slipped back behind the bar during the negotiations, pointed at the inebriated Maggotface. Gorakinos reluctantly conceded his point. "Okay, I suppose I can't fault you for waking me up...although I can be angry about it for a couple days. Good thing for you I'll be heading out to Tanaris soon. I don't suppose there are any other Freelancers nearby? Although I don't expect too much trouble, it would be nice to have some company, and it's always better to err on the side of caution."

"Except when it isn't," Goremug muttered, scratching the bottom of his chin as he searched his memory. "I think Terminos is somewhere in the Cleft of Shadow if you want to bring him along. Other than that, not particularly, unless you consider Zul'Gurub or Gnomeregan close." Seeing Gorakinos' surprised look at the mention of the latter, the orc shook his head. "Believe me, you don't want to know."

The shaman absorbed this knowledge and contemplated it for a moment. "Hm...much as I distrust warlocks, Terminos seems relatively trustworthy and unlikely to stab me in the back, eviscerate me on a sacrificial alter, sell my soul to a succubus, and the other things warlocks do to earn favor with demons or when they're really, really bored. He'll do. And if worse comes to worse, I can always drag Mafo along. He has to sober up eventually."

Goremug, muffling a chuckle as Gorakinos left, tactfully refrained from mentioning that Maggotface's last contract had been with Brewmaster Drohn who'd paid him in cold, hard liquor.

------

Terminos gazed evenly at the demonic visage standing defiantly before him, confidence unshakable as he observed his opponent through cold, calculating, unblinking eyes. The foolish creature would soon rue the day it dared challenge him. He was Terminos, master warlock. He had trained long and studied even harder. There was no foe he could not face, no spell he could not learn, and no force beyond his ability to bind to his own will. No, he had tread down the path of darkness and power for too long to let this puny, insignificant wretch stop him now.

With unwavering self-assurance and the slightest of grins, the warlock moved his lips and, softly, delicately, but with undeniable strength, intoned a set of ancient syllables that formed words that echoed across the dimensions, words of such power as to show who was truly master and who was slave in this contest between the damned.

Much to Terminos' horror, however, the demon, far from cowering before his might, smiled sinisterly, and his smirk grew until it filled the warlock's vision. The Forsaken, seeing the servant of the Burning Legion's mouth move to form words of his own, felt the first stirrings of fear as all his elaborate plans unraveled and the simple, undeniable truth that he had just made a fatal mistake dawned upon him.

"Go Murloc," the imp Noktog crowed triumphantly, chortling at his master's disgruntled expression as he angrily reached across the table and added another card to his already laughably large hand. -Master warlock he might be,- the demon thought, -but when it comes to cards a dragon whelpling could play a better game.-

"Lousy pest," the Forsaken muttered under his breath, sulking and eying Noktog's significantly smaller hand of cards enviously. If the imp wasn't so clearly winning, the sight of the demon holding a set of cards half his size might actually be funny. Of course, since his demon familiar was winning, Terminos found no humor in the situation at all and glared balefully at all the passersby whose eyes were caught by the unusual scene, silently threatening them with the powers of shadow and flame should they DARE say anything or even chortle.

"Hail Terminos! Ah, losing again I take it?" called a familiar, annoyingly cheerful voice, and the warlock reflected that there were some minds so dense that even a shadow bolt to the head couldn't penetrate them. Foolish, insufferable, aggravating-

"What do you want, Gorakinos?" the Forsaken grumbled, watching the approaching orc shaman suspiciously. Although not a Freelancer himself, the warlock willingly associated with and aided the mercenary band, knowing the use of allies in these troubled times. Still, it was rare indeed for a shaman of all people to seek him out, and he wondered what would compel one normally diametrically opposed to his calling to pay him a visit. Noktog, deciding it was better not to call attention to himself in front of the spirit speaker, set down his cards and phase-shifted. He could always beat his master at cards later, anyway.

Stopping at the table's edge, Gorakinos looked down at the undead human and answered his question. "As it turns out, the Freelancers have been hired to retrieve a chest from a sunken ship off the coast of Tanaris. I'd handle the job myself, but the woman who sought us out seemed rather...suspicious, and I'd rather be safe than sorry. Unfortunately, you're the closest thing to help in the area unless you count a somewhat...indisposed Maggotface. So, will you seek gold and riches with me or remain here and lose more of your dignity to your impish friend?"

Terminos suppressed a groan at the orc's horrible pun but, gazing once again at his dismal hand of cards, decided the shaman had a point. "Fine," he rasped, sounding rather displeased, "I'll accompany you on your journey. However, Mafo, present state notwithstanding, will also come with us. Just as you'd rather be safe than sorry, I'd prefer to have a skilled warrior with us, just in case." -Just in case you decide to stab me in the back, purge me into nonexistence, cremate my remains, and toss my ashes into the ocean,- the warlock thought distrustfully. One did hear things about the actions of very zealous or very, very bored shamans.

Gorakinos frowned pensively but, after a moment's consideration, shrugged nonchalantly. "Sure, why not? Maggotface can probably use the fresh air, and even drunk he is a skilled warrior. Besides," the orc commented, unaware of the large mistake he was about to make, "what's the worst that can happen?"

An inconceivable distance away, an indescribable entity of incomprehensible power stirred, turned its attention to Azeroth, marveled at the natives' total lack of understanding of the principles of causality, and returned to its slumber.

------

"Are...we -hic- theeeeere yet?"

"No!"

"Neuga, ziena, zieber, zom..."

Mounted on a mighty skeletal warhorse, a trusty wolf, and a demonic felsteed, respectively, the three figures and one tiny demon rode through Razorwind Canyon, unaware that they were being followed.

"Ahh...are we –hiccup- there ye-e-e-et?"

"For the thousandth time, no! I'll tell you when we're there, okay? So please stop asking the question!"

"Now the chosen time has come..."

From the heights of Thunder Ridge, a figure looked down at the trio of travelers from his tallstrider mount and scrutinized them. Although clothed in inconspicuous traveler's garb that seemed to blend in with the surroundings, the watcher's sheer size and bulk should've been enough to put an end to all attempts at stealth faster than a tank of ale can disappear in Ironforge. The tracker was perfectly aware of this and used it to his advantage, maintaining a careful posture that made the idea that someone of his size and bulk could be stealthy so laughable that, even if somebody had looked in his direction, the subconscious would immediately reject the idea that he was there successfully being stealthy and completely ignore him.

"O-o-o-one bottle of...-hic- grog on the wall, one bottttttttle of gro-o-o-og! Ta-a-ake -hic- one down, pass it around, o-o-"

"That's not any better!"

"Exchange this world for-!"

"Don't summon the giant pink porcupine, master!"

Unnoticed and unseen, the watcher sighed and urged his tallstrider mount on to greater speed. By the sound of it, this was going to be a long assignment.