Flea 1: The Odd Couple
Shandori coughed as the arid sands of the shattered Northern Barrens caught in her throat. Her hacking sounded like a smoker's bad lung but she was loathed to taste tobacco. Since the great cataclysm, the sparse grass that held the land together all but died out in the north where new life bloomed just half a day's travel towards the Thousand Needles. Travelers often found themselves caught in sand storms that rivaled those of the great desert Tanaris. Shandori weakly spat onto the crackled ground as she rested her well-worn sabaton on a large rock on the side of the road. Her dark blue hair, haphazardly bound just before the sandstorm hit, seemed to be coated in a haze of orange. She could feel her lavender skin baking as the noontime sun began to hit its peak.
"I knew we shouldn't have bought those pistons in Tanaris. Can't trust goblins." She spoke with a gruff voice that resembled the landscape. Her companion huffed from beneath their motorbike. As his fel-ravaged fingers worked to find the problem, he was rewarded with a flow of fine sand falling from the engine casing. Had he not been wearing his goggles, his glowing green eyes would have been inundated with debris from the failed engine case.
"Its not the pistons. It's the engine full of sand." He coughed. Christoffel Stingblade did his best to remove the grains but a nagging feeling in his gut suggested that they were stranded. He shuffled out from beneath the motorbike and dusted off his leather garments. Sweat poured down his chiseled brow as he raked back loose strands of soaked black hair. He turned the key and was granted a slight lurch before the sound of wind and Shandori's occasional cursing met his long, pale ears. "Fuck."
"Now what do we do?" Shandori crossed her arms as small beads of sweat ran down her back.
"There's an oasis not far from here. There will be water and shade at the very least." Christoffel sighed as he turned to look at the first bike he'd ever bought since he began his new life as a wandering rogue. He would have to abandon it to the sands. He bowed his head for a moment before returning his attention to his scowling travel partner.
"And your horde buddies and centaurs and Elune knows what else. I'd rather not."
"Well its either posing as my slave again in the shade or five more hours in the sun. Take your pick." Christoffel opened the carrier hatch on the back of the motorbike and began packing their valuables and supplies. Though their coin purses were lighter than they would have liked, they were rich in dried fruits, cured meats, medical supplies, water, and dwarven grog. The strange pair left the road with their provisions and walked towards the supposed oasis. Shandori had her doubts but after a few minutes the tropical trees did appear just as her heavy plate armor began to weigh on her strong but exhausted frame. Their last few steps were the quickest as they found an agreeable spot along one of the pool's banks to set up camp. The sun, though starting its decline, was still an imposing presence. They opened one of the sacks of dried fruit and canteens and began plotting their next move.
"How far do you think we are from Ratchet?" Shandori sighed as she pealed the plate armor from her soaked undershirt.
"Not far normally, but too far in this heat. We should wait until nightfall. I trust you can spot anything sneaking around if we run into trouble." He raised his slowly nodded as she turned to the inviting pool. She inwardly cursed at her inability to swim but that did not stop her from cupping the cool water and letting it fall on her dusty brow.
"Glad these eyes are good for something. How far a trip from Ratchet to Booty Bay?"
"If we're able to get on a passenger ship, a few weeks. But I have an associate in Ratchet who owes me a few favors. If your payment is right I can have you in Booty Bay in a few days." Christoffel had no moral reservations about helping what should have been his enemy at birth. Money seemed to follow the night elf known only as "Shandori", and their working relationship proved most profitable. Her warrior spirit and destructive talents got their jobs done four times as fast as the rogue could have mustered alone. And though he did have to share his commissions, the side rewards tended to make up the difference.
"Screw you demon sucker, I've made you plenty of money on the last job. If I land this big gig in Booty Bay we'll both be set for another year." Shandori nodded. It took much self control not to lick her lips at the prospect. Money was the only worshiped deity in Shandori's life and she was about to prey harder than even the most devout to her new employer's payroll.
"So what exactly have you gotten us into now?"
"Not really sure. I got the tip off while I was in Desolace waiting on your ass. While you were busy buying crap in Thunderbluff, I was drumming up work. Someone left a notice on one of the tag boards; they needed some muscle on a big job. Luckily the one who posted it was still in town. I got to talking with him and he told me to meet him and some others on the job at Booty Bay. He gave us a forward on the cash, which I already spent, but let me say it was a pretty haul. I needed some new armor and I still have some gold left over." Shandori spoke with her shoulders and face held high. Christoffel shook his head.
"Buying armor from vendors…"
"What? I was lazy and I didn't feel like hammering out a new breastplate…" Shandori tensed at the sound of a cracking twig. Suddenly the air around them seemed to drain away. The beads of sweat on the back of their necks seemed to rise. Their muscles tensed for a moment, and like a well-coiled trap, they sprung to their feet. Rough-hewn arrows darted from between the crisp leaves. Shandori narrowly dodged one of the projectiles as Christoffel cut through them with his fel-imbued daggers. From the foliage came the haggard, growing faces of a centaur hunting party. They came, furry bodies covered in dirt and dust, hoping to find their own respite from the heat. They instead found seemingly easy prey as thoughts of crisp elf meat made their stomachs growl. The male centaur stowed their bows and unsheathed crude looking but very sharp knives. The one female among them, a magician, began concentrating. Shandori rushed to grab her two great swords. They were heavy but she was strong and managed to cut through one of the centaur's legs, sending him to the ground. The pair were too occupied with the slashing males to look up and see a localized thunderstorm above them. It wasn't until the sound of thunder rung in their ears did they find a moment to spare to spot the spectacle.
"Look out!" Shandori grimaced and with one great lung, sent both her and her adversary careening out of the way of a vicious thunderbolt. Christoffel nimbly avoided the lightning only to be sliced in the arm by a wicked blade. His armor held well enough to save his arm from being severed but the blow did break the skin. He growled a little and thrust the tip of one of his dagger towards the centaur attacker. The blade missed vital spots but nicked the centaur's arm. Immediately, the great hoofed beast felt himself slow as a haze flooded his vision. Christoffel had ample time, with his crippling poison administered, to rip the centaur apart. The intact males, having seen what one scratch of Christoffel's blade could do, backed away and ran back into the foliage. That left the lone female to claim the Elvin prizes. But in her vulnerable casting state, the brutish mercenaries easily overtook her.
Sweating, hungry, and beyond exhausted, the pair quickly gathered their things. They would have to leave the oasis early; the smell of fresh meat would surely attract more things with fangs and teeth that neither wanted to deal with. But their journey to Booty Bay and the possible riches that awaited them across the sea seemed to trump all muscle aches and heated breaths. Soon they would be in Ratchet where the real story would begin…
The sound of a clinking coin purse got his attention. The barkeep's wrinkled green expression turned a little less sour as a sinister looking smirk formed on his withered face. He put the stein he was spit-shining down, stood a little straighter on the stool he used to peer over the edge of the bar, and gave the newcomer his undivided attention.
"What'll be yer pleasure noble sir?" The barkeep's crackly voice seemed to slither through his crooked yellow teeth. The man, a human, whose coin purse's song was so lurid gave a curt nod.
"The best you have and some on reserve. I have a long journey ahead." The new comer's smile seemed to indicate astute knowledge of the bar keep's "prayer cache." While most of the patrons only stopped for a cheap grog or ale, once in a long while someone with finer taste and a lot less options as far as bars went would stumble along. And far be it for a goblin bar owner of 30 years to be unprepared for the rare but occasional guests with finer tastes.
"Ah that'll be the Elvin wine. We have three bottles. Will that do, sir?" The barkeep hesitated for a moment as the human smiled beneath his gold and crimson cowl. The man lifted his cloth-gloved hand to open the satchel which opened to the sight of glittering gold pieces.
"That should be more than enough. I take it the vintage is of the finest quality? And given Elvin tastes, the bottles should include gold in place of wax on the neck, correct?" The human's voice was cut by the sharp hand motions of the barkeep. He held one gnarled green finder to his pursed lips and motioned for the man to follow him into the back, coin purse in tow. This action had not gone unnoticed. The tavern itself was far from the most refined establishment and kept equally dreadful company. But weary travelers who may not know the ins and outs of Ratchet often found its dusty tables and rickety chairs "quaint." Among the patrons were a tall, gruff looking night elf woman and her brooding green-eyed associate. While the human dressed in red could seemingly afford their people's finest vintage, they were forced to gulp down what would be bilge water in comparison. Shandori didn't take her eyes off the store room door as she took another swig of her drink. With a strained look she swallowed the final bitter gulp when the red-dressed human reemerged with a large sack of clinking contents and a lighter coin purse.
Shandori sat her stein on the old wooden table with an almost echoing clunk. She gave Christoffel a quick glance but he'd already long disappeared into the shadows. She threw a few silver coins on the table, picked up her bag, and headed to the exit. The streets of Ratchet's main drag were bustling with traders, traitors, travelers, and trained pick pockets. But despite the filthy undertones the air seemed full of cheer and industry. The storms had died down but grains of grit and dirt still fell from Shandori's clothes from the day before. But she had a boat to catch and it would take more than sand and bad ale to keep her from Booty Bay and the promise of renewed wealth. A flash of red caught her eye. The red dressed human was making his way to the east dock with a shadow at his heels. Shandori's sharp sight saw a small, green orb in the center of the shadow; it was Christoffel's necklace. With a snort and a smirk she made her way to the east dock, careful to keep a distance as not to alert the red robed human of her presence. Her smiled widened when she saw him approach the embarking area of "The Interdictor" the very same ship she and Christoffel would be riding to get to Booty Bay. While the pair would ride at the cost of a favor from one of Christoffel's associates, the red robed human gladly paid full fair. And even tipped extra for the deck hand to help him with his bag. The transaction seemed almost painfully out of place in such a street-savvy place like Ratchet.
"What a fuckin' wibble." Shandori snorted, using the term she chose long ago for the naive and clueless in the mortal population. She boarded the ship with a knowing glance to the fair taker and made her way to the lower deck, still following the red robed man. She noted that the human had a fond taste for females, what few were available on the small ship. His smiles and charms provided thoughts that lead to a possible plan in Shandori's head. But while the small green orb still followed the flirtatious mage, Shandori made a sharp turn down another hallway. The paper she received that morning from Christoffel's contact said her room would be in cabin 2-B and that is where she was headed. After finding her lodging she began to change into more comfortable clothes. She replaced her heavy plate with a tight fitting shirt with see-through sleeves. The shirt itself was just long enough to cover the feral scars on her stomach. The small mirror she used to brush out her long indigo hair reflected a face that had seen much in the short span of 50 years. A face scarred by experience and a hunter's vicious tiger; 4 slash-made scars marred her right cheek. But scars fade and after a few moments a shadow that was lurking in the corner of the room began to take shape.
"If you're going to watch, I charge." She scoffed. Christoffel slightly recoiled.
"I averted my eyes, thank you. Anyway, the human is in room 3-C. We should act fast, I think there are other rogues on board and they'll be sure to notice Captain Coin-purse." Shandori nodded, as she strained to put a pair of pearl earrings through nearly closed up holes.
"Just so long as I get my cut. How long do you think it'll take you to clean him out?"
"When I shadowed him, I could smell the arcane energy on his clothes. He had a strange aura too, something similar to mages. That human might be stupid like a fox, so I'm going to have to move slowly. Give me 20 minutes and I should have everything searched through." Shandori nodded, tying a violet silk scarf over her nose and mouth; it completely covered her facial scars.
"Alright, I take it doing this at night will be better. I'll go to his door after dinner and keep him occupied." Shandori spoke with a slight shake of her hips. Christoffel appeared unimpressed by the sensual motion. He crossed his arms and nodded.
"Very well then."
Romulus smiled as the pale pink wine seemed to lovingly caress his stomach. It was surprisingly dry but the tiny amount of imbued gold that hummed with sparking arcane magic warmed his throat. The much needed vacation from the drudgery of Dalaran filled his body with a renewed vigor. His blood red hair had found a new sheen and the deep black circles that appeared beneath his honey-brown eyes were all but gone. He paused a moment before taking another sip of wine. He almost didn't notice the soft rapping at his chamber door. His thick brow raised a moment before he stood, gingerly placing his wine goblet on the small table beside him. Romulus had a slight wobble in his step but it did not stop him from opening the door to a quite enticing sight. A lavender-skined woman stood before him with a sensual set of pale eyes fixed on him. Her indigo hair was shining in the candle light although she showed far less skin than what, Romulus believed, was common among her kind. Never the less the clothing she did wear fit her well and lay in all the right places on her curvy frame. Shandori took a deep breath before speaking in the sweetest, most delicate voice she could muster.
"Excuse me, sir. I know it must be so rude of me to bother you at this hour...but. I noticed you at dinner and- and I wanted to come over and speak to you. B-but it took me this long to muster the courage to do so. I mean, feelings like these for someone such as yourself..." Shandori began to feel a slight sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Though her ploy was lame by most people's standards, it more than captured the mage's attention. As she stuck her chest out a little more, shyly avoiding the mage's gaze, he made the mistake of stepping out into the hallway allowing Christoffel to slip into the room unnoticed. Romulus thanked the powers that be for his luck and decided to peruse the seemingly shy maiden's advances.
Meanwhile Christoffel was hard at work, digging through bags, cases and bags. The human appeared to travel light, save for one larger case filled with robes and other garments and a chest. Christoffel inwardly cursed, the lock on the chest had already been picked. The tell-tale scratches of a rogues tools were engraved on the bottom of the keyhole. When he opened the chest, only some cloth scraps and a few copper remained. That left the garment case. Christoffel opened the case to a buffet of arcane energies. It was almost enough to make him cry out with pleasure. But his self control held and he began picking the socketed gems out of the clothing. Clear rubies, emeralds, and sapphires would be the prizes for the night it seemed but the further he dug the stronger the arcane pull became. In the center of the suitcase was a glowing object wrapped in spider-silk blankets. He dared not drink in any of the energy pouring from the object, but instead placed it in his pack. When it seemed there was nothing left of value, Christofell made his way to the exit. He found the tipsy mage getting a bit too close to an increasingly tense Shandori. He smiled, wondering for a moment if he should let the action continue before mercifully sapping their prey. The mage stood there, stupefied as Shandori made her escape. The pair of thieves made their way back to room 2-B, leaving the mage dazed in the hallway. After the affect wore off, Romulus found himself in an empty hallway. But instead of cursing or an expression of stark bewilderment, a cool smirk came to his face. He shook his head and went back inside his cabin to inspect the damage.
Sure enough most of his clothing and other valuables had been destroyed but he felt no heat in his chest. He touched a broach he wore on his left lapel with his right hand. The broach began to glow as a conversation took place in the language of minds.
"Seth, are you there?" Romulus's mind broadcast the question and waited patiently for an answer. After a few minutes of silence, he tried again. "Seth? Respond, please." With a slight rumble a male voice began speaking in Romulus's head.
"This is Seth. Is it done?"
"I'm fairly sure..." Romulus paused and opened his looted suitcase. Sure enough the bundle in the center was gone. "Yes, the mercenaries took the necklaces. If they are among those who Bodyl recruited we'll know."
"Good. The others will be pleased. Stick around Booty Bay until you can confirm their involvement. Seth out." With a snap Romulus was alone. A quick glance to the table brought a renewed smile to his face. They took the gold from the bottle but his sweet mistress still remained. If he had to clean up the scattered mess left behind by the thieves he would decidedly do so in her warm embrace.