For The Horde. Part Five. World of Warcraft Fanfiction
The needs of the faire kept Girin busy well past noon. Flik had found his frogs sold if he included free antidotes with each purchase; people invariably ignored his warnings up until the point the “harmless little blue and red frogs’” toxins soaked into their skin. Professor Paleo believed in the authenticity of his actors’ performances, even during rehearsals. Suffice to say, Girin had to make two trips for all the palliatives and bandages they used in a day. Sayge curiously preferred that Girin leave his daily mana potions outside his tent’s flap rather than cross the gnoll fortune teller’s threshold.
He will know our pain.
He was backstage at Kerri Hicks’ sideshow—The Strongest Woman In The World! could only do so much with muscle alone—when Silas arrived. Not that Girin could see him from the wings of the wooden plank stage. Too many people, too small to spot. But the widening part in the waiting crowd could only be caused by Burth, the hulking Dunemaul ogre, Silas Darkmoon’s personal bodyguard.
Brain and brawn, the two were a picture in opposites, yet similar in purpose. Burth wore little more than a loincloth to show off the wode blue of his clan tattoos, pushing people aside with simmering eye contact alone. Silas barely came to Burth’s knee. The gnome was middle-aged, wore a dapper suit of midnight blue that was supposedly all the rage in Stormwind, and achieved the same effect in moving the crowd with just a working man’s nod and a few choice, softly spoken words.
Clanless and dispossessed.
He walked with a cane, though he wasn’t lame. He wore a fedora, though he wasn’t balding. He had a gold tooth, though he rarely smiled.
The reason for that last part of his solemn, solid demeanor became all too apparent when he joined Girin backstage. He’d barely sat down on a pile of unused sandbags, Burth a brooding mountain behind, when Lhara stomped up from stage left. Didn’t even bother to hide from customers’ sight. The orc weaponsmith was so angry the handle of her hammer creaked under the strain of her grip.
Silas preempted her with a raised hand that would brook no argument. “I heard,” he said. “Make a game of it for the customers. If they can pull a weapon from a tree, it’s theirs to keep. One gold piece for three tries. I’ll be having… words with Maxima later.”
Lhara flounced off, anger tightening every step.
“Think Maxima will see out the night, boss?” Burth asked.
“She’s fine. If Lhara were going to kill her, she wouldn’t have come to me first. Proven motive now.” Silas propped his arms atop his cane and rested his chin on them. “But, then again, if she killed Maxima first and then came to me, she’d be so clearly guilty, anyone who’s sat through one of Paleo’s plays would think anyone but her did it.”
Cast us out as well.
Burth chewed a rubbery lip for a second. The observer would take his quiet, brooding confidence for animal contentment, his laconic nature for stupidity. The observer would be wrong. He rarely took interest in others because forty years of vying for dominance among his Dunemaul brethren had taught him, like it had taught many kinsmen, that something was rarely worth worrying over unless that something happened to be charging with a readied battleaxe. He seldom spoke because he was busy watching, taking in, and assessing for possible threats, because one thing he’d learned that many of his kinsmen hadn’t was that sometimes the axe came from behind. It made him more observant than most.
“No blood on her hammer though.”
“But maybe that’s what she wanted us to think”—Silas stopped mid-flow and slid a hand over his eyes—“And now I sound like one of them. Ugh. I’m one troll’s blood elixir away from filling my suit with deep-fried candybars and taking a flying bellyflop from the top of the stage…! That reminds me, how did Morja’s new routine go yesterday? I missed it. Had to stop Paleo from giving his actors real poison just before the death scene to ‘heighten the experience.’”
Shoulders like tectonic plates rose ever so slightly, Burth’s face as neutral as ever. “Eh. Broke a couple planks with her face on impact. Other than that, nothing I’d pay to see.”
Silas pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes screwed tight. “Burth, the only thing you’d pay to see is everyone you’ve ever met thrown into a meat grinder.”
“Wouldn’t pay to see it happen to you.”
Deaths of your families.
“That’s because without me, you wouldn’t get to make people nervous and be paid for the opportunity.”
Burth didn’t bother wasting breath when the truth of those words was so plain.
“Now,” Silas continued. “Since we seem to have had a breakdown in communication, let me make it clear: Did. The. Children. Like. The. Show?”
“Bellyaches wall-to-wall. Trk’hsk sold out of dyspepsia cures before the encore.”
“Brilliant. Excellent,” Silas said, thumping his cane into the stage. “We’ll schedule her to headline tomorrow. Seems someone gave her a hair of the dog this morning, which, knowing her, turned into the whole damn mutt, and now she’s not much good to anyone today.”
Girin, who’d been sitting patiently, shifted, bringing Silas back to the matter at hand.
“Right. Girin, seems—”
Like the banshee she was, Selina Dourman’s cry preceded her. The feel that fingernails had just scraped down a slate in the confines of the skull set shivers down their spines. Her semi-decomposed physique simply added to the unnatural tremors. Still, she was the best ticket vendor the faire ever had. The bony crossed arms, horn-rimmed spectacles, faded cardigan, and squint like she’d been eating lemons for the last few thousand years called to something deep within, inspiring a pathological guilt in even the most innocent soul. Playing the disproving mother to the inner child, it turned thieves honest and drunks decent. Only Silas seemed immune to her guilt stare. Whether that was because he had no inner child or no soul was the source of much speculation whenever faireworkers were sure he was out of earshot.
“What is it now?” he said, sounding very, very tired.
“We’re out of ticket rolls and coppers for change, Mr. Darkmoon. What do you propose to do about it? I mean, really. Must we persist in these intolerable working conditions day after day? No home to call our own, moving from place to place, setting up shop for every wayward wretch with the coin to gain entry. It borders on the barbaric!”
“What’s wrong with barbarism?” Burth asked. “S’always worked for me.”
“Gods help me,” Silas said. “Will it never end?” As was his habit, he smoothed the brim of his fedora, his fetish against the building gout of verbal frustration he so wanted to unleash, waiting for the numbing sense of apathy gained over years of playing nursemaid to the half-mad and the completely certifiable. As might be expected, his fedora’s brim was worn down to the thread and his thumb was permanently stained midnight blue.
“Alright,” he said, back to being the four-square showman who never lost his cool, at least not in front of paying customers. “Morja’s too legless for her afternoon show anyway. Ms. Dourman, please be so kind as to tie her to a wagon so she doesn’t fall off, point her at Shattrath City, and tell her Paleo’s thinking of using her in his next play unless she gets back before dark with change and more ticket rolls. For today only, everyone gets in for free. No entry fee—”
“But then anyone can come and go as they please!” Ms. Dourman shrieked, and when a banshee shrieks, people take notice, or, more specifically, plug their ears and dive for cover.
We shall topple.
When the dust settled, Burth brushed himself off while Silas and Girin stepped out from behind him.
“You alright?” Silas asked.
“Might need to have a few tattoos re-inked,” Burth said. “Nothing serious.”
Silas turned to the banshee, who shook with such moral outrage her bones rattled. “Ms. Dourman, please calm yourself. I know full well these are not the best working conditions, but we take it upon ourselves as showmen—”
She coughed meaningfully.
“—And show women,” Silas continued without missing a beat, “to entertain the masses, regardless of our personal views of them. To bring a few moments of joy to this otherwise harsh and dull world is practically our sacred duty. Besides, let us think of this occurrence as a windfall of sorts. An opportunity, if you will.”
“Oh,” Ms. Dourman said, caught off guard by his verve. “How so?”
“Because now that you’re relieved of your duties in the ticket booth, fairegoers will have the benefit of your delicate, delectable, and oh-so-discerning company. I do know how you love to socialize.”
Silas almost smiled, and reached up to kiss her hand. The size of his fedora saved him. He’d learned the hard way how to avoid accidents when it came to physical contact and the undead—skin flaked away so easily—but the taste turned his lips every time. Ms. Dourman, who thankfully couldn’t see his face for the instant it happened, began to fan herself.
Pain of torture.
“Oh, my. Mr. Darkmoon, I do believe you could charm the spots off a tiger.”
Burth was about to rumble out a correction, caught Silas’ eye, and thought better of it.
“You’re too kind, Ms. Dourman. But might I enquire if your virtues extend toward forgiveness?”
The walking corpse stiffened. “Why what do you mean?”
“I mean I hope you will forgive me if I ask you to drop by the concession stand and tell Stamp to add plenty of salt to the food, sell it for half price, then triple the cost of beverages. We’ll take ‘em the old-fashioned way.”
Silas raised a hand to stop her protests. “I know it’s dishonest, but please understand that, what with no cover charge, our clientele will not be up to its normal high standards of conduct. And we do have to make a living, present company excepted of course.”
“Hmph! You’re absolutely right. It’s little more than the barbarians deserve!” the banshee declared, and marched off to bring misery in general and do battle with all things ill-mannered in particular.
Silas leaned back against a crate, shook his head, and thumped his cane on the ground. The slow building of power was like being surrounded by mosquitoes, their buzzing just on the cusp of hearing. A lit cigarette flared into being between his lips, and he inhaled gratefully.
“She’d kill me if she caught me,” he said to Girin. “Just my luck I only want to smoke when I’m around her.”
“Dried up old biddy’s afraid of going up like a bonfire,” Burth said.
Silas shrugged. “Probably. Anyway, Girin, now that we’re alone—”
Burth cleared his throat.
It took a long time for the rumble to die away, and by then Silas had noticed Kerri hanging at the edge of the curtains, hoping to eavesdrop. Strongest woman in the world, maybe; biggest gossip, definitely.
“Haven’t you got a crowd waiting?” Silas said, nonplussed.
“Oops, sorry!” she said, and darted through the curtains to a hail of applause.
Silas exhaled a cloud of blue smoke, and waited. He looked around, turning in place, arms out to invite all-comers.
“Nothing?” he said. “No one else wants to pop out of the woodwork?”
“Huh. Alright. Now, since the gods have been kind enough to allow me one damn minute without another interruption, where was I?”
Burth snorted, the closest he got to a laugh. “Finally alone.”
“That’s right. Girin, you’ve been with us for a year now, and it seems you haven’t quite settled in yet. We’ve apprenticed you to all sorts, but for one reason or other, it hasn’t worked out.”
No matter how well trained.
Girin’s perpetual smile waned. “Wasn’t good enough?”
The cigarette fired across the stage. Girin stomped it out while Burth slapped Silas on the back. He was hacking out something between a cough and a laugh, face turning as blue as his suit. “Good?” he said when he got his breath back. “Son, you’re too good. The people in my faire are my dearest friends, family even. They’re certainly at one another’s throats often enough to qualify, and it’s my job to keep them happy. And they aren’t happy when someone shows up who’s better than them. No job security worries ‘em.”
None mourn the loss.
“Well, Sayge says the spirits are anxious when you’re around, so fortune telling’s out. You made Lhara nervous when you forged that blade so thin you could see through. When Ms. Dourman had you working the ticket stall, you came away with more than a month’s profit in a day! That wouldn’t have been so bad, mind, but we did have to pack up when the Theramore Guard came round because of ‘serious complaints.’ And law enforcement is never good for business.”
Hope managed a little flutter in Girin’s chest.
Silas shook his head sadly. “Morja’s a decent acrobat, but it draws more of a crowd when she’s tipsy. Funny that way. You pull off stunts no one’s even heard of and the crowd just stares. They don’t know what to think of it. Goes over their heads.
“As for the cannon ride… Let’s just say that distance comes second to the customer being able to ride more than once.”
Who were not strong enough.
Tears formed in Girin’s eyes, and Silas sidled over to give him a fatherly pat on the back.
“It’s alright, son. I’ve come up with a job we actually want someone to do well.”
Girin sniffed. Silas gently tipped the dwarf’s chin up. The calm, unflappable strength Girin found there froze him with its intensity.
“Tell me, son,” Silas said. “You ever cooked before?”
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- For The Horde. Part Four. World of Warcraft Fan Fiction
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