The human sat with his back to the wall, half hidden in the shadows of the World’s End Tavern. His drink sat, ignored, on the warped and greasy wood of the table in front of him. His nut-brown skin was deeply scored with age, like cracked leather after years of being left in the dusty sun. The lines on his face may have been the result of either wrinkles or scars, it was difficult to tell from a casual glance and no one was brave enough to ask. Twin eyes burned in his face like embers, alive and always moving, watching everything around him though his expression never shifted from the faint sneer that twisted his lips.
His opulent robes and soft, uncalloused hands declared his status as an experienced adventurer – only the wealthy could afford such clothing, and only a caster would have hands unmarred from the grip of a blade.
Any who speculated further were careful to do so quietly. There was an air of danger about this man. The fine silken robes could not hide the threat of violence that followed him like an ominous cloud. Even the enormous ogre that frequented the bar kept careful distance. The class of people that visited this tavern lived on the edges of society; the dregs of civilization. They knew danger when they saw it and word spread easily. One lightfingered pickpocket reduced to ash was all it took to find himself untroubled by unsavory attention.
Quane caught the eyes of one unlucky patron too slow to avert his gaze and held them. Eyes widening, the other man dropped his drink to the bar, the sloshing ale spurring a few gutteral complaints from nearby drinkers. With shaking hands, he spilled a handful of coin on the bar and hastily left.
The sneer curved upward, just a little.
A loud burst of laughter shifted his attention to one of the tables at the other side of the bar. A draenei sat in one of the chairs, like a massive blue brick of living concrete, taking up more space than the room really had to spare. His broad shoulders were accented with even broader chain shoulder armor, and his thick blue tail had already tripped the waitress three times as she attempted to walk behind him. The draenei laughed again, then reached down to give the ruddy boar at his side a heavy-handed pat on the head. “We won again, Oscar! This Po-ker is a fun game indeed!” Oscar, the boar, grunted twice then returned his hatchet-shaped head to the floor in an attempt to reclaim sleep. Privately, Quane wondered whether the draenei’s luck were due more to his overwhelming size and temperamental pet than to luck.
This particular draenei was a common companion on adventures, however, and more than once it had seemed he needed only to trip over a loose rock with his enormous purple hooves to find an epic weapon simply lying on the ground. Perhaps Nashangelo’s claims of luck and good fortune with cards was more than mere bluster.
A too-loud voice drew his attention. “Now there’s a nice bit of tail. I tell you, I’d bag any woman, horns and hooves or no, if she looked like that.”
Quane quickly identified the two men snickering at a nearby table, though the subject of their whispered conversation was never in question. The Lady Vonya sat near the entrance to the tavern, though perhaps ‘sat’ wasn’t the correct term. She graced the tavern with her presence, perched upon her stool like a priceless statue, taking small, delicate sips of her draenic water as though it were fine wine. Every movement the draenei priestess made was slow, graceful, and calculated down to the millimeter, every fold in her heavy robes artfully crafted.
The Ambassador. Or ‘Emissary’, as she called herself. It had taken almost two solid months of adventuring before she would even deign to look at him, before she acknowledged his presence at all. He’d gone from utterly ignored to sneered at, and he had the impression that it was a step up in her estimation. He grinned, the expression a white slash of teeth across his dark face. She thought she was so high and mighty. But everyone had a secret, everyone had a weakness. He knew hers. He had yet to find occasion to use it, but he knew what all of her courtly gestures and mannerisms hid. Or, rather, what they screamed to anyone with half a brain and eyes that could look beyond a shapely bosom and a slender waist.
For now he was content to bide his time, to bite his tongue. Patience was very much one of his virtues. Some might say it was his only.
The light streaming in from the open door was momentarily darkened as another figure approached. The fuzzy shape outlined the horns and hooves of another draenei, a female. She strode through the door with a purposeful step, and Quane straightened as she approached. A quick glance assured that Nashangelo was folding his cards and collecting his winnings, and Vonya was giving the barkeep a smile of gratitude as she slipped from the stool and sauntered over.
Seeing that she had their attention, the new draenei tossed a bit of parchment on the table in front of him, her plate armor gleaming even in the subdued lighting of the tavern. “We’ve got a job to do. Saddle up. Our contact is in Netherstorm, one of the energy mummies or whatever they call themselves. Their gold’s as good as any, and this time they promise to pay half up front.” The draenei, Noq, grinned impishly at them, the light of impending battle sparking life in her eyes.
Quane sometimes wondered if she were crazy, and just particularly good at hiding it. Whatever her story was, he hadn’t found her secret yet, but he would. He glanced around at his companions, the same three draenei that he’d adventured with for the last six months. He gave the paper on the table only a cursory glance before moving to stand. If Noq said they had a job, then they had a job. The details were unimportant, only the money at the end mattered.
Nashangelo gave a gleeful shout and shouldered his quiver, whistling sharply for his sleeping boar to wake and join them. “Ha! You hear that, Oscar! We’ve got a job to do!” The pig only grunted in the face of Nashangelo’s effusive cheer.
Vonya frowned and reached for the paper, but Quane knew it didn’t matter. She was ever-aware of her reputation among the various groups in Outland – the Consortium (or ‘energy-mummies’, as Noq called them) were one of her current targets to curry favor with. She would do the job.
Quane felt an easy warmth fill him and his face curved in a smile that was nearly genuine. He enjoyed the company of these people–yes, even the icy Vonya. It was as close as he’d come to friendship in almost a decade.
Even so, he was careful to make certain that he followed the others from the tavern, never turning his back to them and making himself vulnerable.
Friendship only took a person so far. That was important to remember.