Gadgetzan would never command the sheer volume of traffic enjoyed by its competitor on the eastern continent, Booty Bay. It sprawled across the arid dunes of Tanaris, low buildings blending so well into the sand that from a distance they seemed like round, unnatural formations of the landscape. The dusty domes were, in many cases, merely the sheltered entrances of cooler underground dwellings and shops. Like the tenacious creatures of the desert, those humanoids who made their homes among the dry wastes had learned to take shelter below the earth, where the punishing sun could not reach them.
Yet, for all its remote inhospitability, it was still a hub of trade and an oasis for travelers. There were few neutral settlements between the marshes far to the north and the deadly Un’Goro basin to the west. Traders and adventurers alike stopped in Gadgetzan to acquire supplies and precious water for the gruelling ride across the sands – at a price, of course. With goblins, everything had a price.
Entertainment here was as brutal as all other aspects of life in the desert. Long before brawling had become a popular pastime in capital cities, Gadgetzan had featured gladiatorial fights to the death. If there was one thing goblins loved more than trade, it was gambling – and gambling on death-matches was incredibly lucrative.
A towering man in a steel mask stood at the wire fence that separated the brawling ring from the spectators. His arms were crossed over a broad chest encased in dark leather armor. The other spectators at the fight were giving him a wide berth – no one seemed to want to approach. It wasn’t so much that he was actively threatening. His features and expression were hidden, and the only suggestion of violence that he offered were the long knives worn comfortably at his waist. Rather, the goblins and humans jeering at the pit fighters seemed to willfully overlook him.
All but one man.
He was short enough that from a distance, one might mistake him for a youth. Upon closer inspection, however, his face was leathery and creased with age. Too tall to be a dwarf, and too short to be a human, he spurned the company of either group and approached the masked man, who towered over him. The small man leaned against one of the support beams for the fence and crossed his arms as well. Several moments passed. A bell rang, signaling the end of a brawl. The pit crew emerged to drag the loser out of the bloodied sand and clear the ring for the next fight. Only when the fighters for the next brawl emerged did the shorter man speak.
“If that’s who I think it is, I owe Rogers a hundred gold.”
The short man was watching one of the people entering the brawling ring. A slender elf dressed head to toe in blood-red leather moved to the starting line and crouched low to the ground, waiting. A mask covered the lower half of her face – unadorned except for the pouting red lips painted over the place where her mouth would have been. The mocking pout did not match the cold look in her green eyes as she sized up her opponent. A massive orc, sunburned from the dome of his bald head to his thick waist, roared at her and brandished a hammer as big as her torso.
“It is never wise to bet against Rogers,” the masked man replied without looking at the newcomer. His voice was hollow and echoed strangely from behind his steel facade. It was not a confirmation of the small man’s accusation, but the other seemed to take it that way. With a harrumph, he turned to view the waiting combatants in the ring.
“How do I know you don’t just have an army of blonde elfies who look like Thirteen? I wouldn’t put that sort of thing past you.”
The bell rang again, and the orc surged forward. The muscles of his neck and shoulders rippled as he brought the hammer whistling through the air to slam into the packed sand where the elf had been crouching. He roared as she darted up one of his trunk-like forearms and slashed a blade across his shoulder before dancing away before he could grab her.
The fight was hideously one-sided. Over and over, the orc swung his mace through empty air where the elf had been. And each time, she flitted around him like a moth, leaving bright trails of his blood wherever she went.
At first, the small man thought perhaps her weapons weren’t long enough to pierce the orc’s thick hide. As the fight continued, though, he saw that she was deliberately avoiding a killing blow. Three separate openings passed, three chances for a mortal strike, and she merely danced around the behemoth.
“Enough,” the masked man said. He didn’t shout, but his voice carried into the ring. “Finish it.”
In the blink of an eye, the hilts of two daggers appeared on the orc’s chest, their blades sunk deep between his ribs. He stared for a moment, incredulous. A third dagger, its hilt a strange, pale green color, slammed into one of his eyes, and Thirteen vaulted free of the lumbering orc as he sank to the ground in a pool of ichor.
The bell rang, signaling the end of the fight. Only then did the masked figure turn to regard the small man with empty eyes.
“What do you want, Biggs?”
The small man tore his eyes away from the red-clad elf in the ring, who had turned her icy green gaze toward them. “I need an extension. You’ll get the full shipment, but I’ve been having trouble moving it through the north.”
The immovable mask revealed nothing. “Your inability to perform is not my problem,” the masked man said. “Why should I give you an extension?”
“Because you don’t have anyone as good at securing the more… exotic goods.”
There was a short pause. “Perhaps not. You may have one additional week. I expect the full shipment plus interest. The original twenty units promised, plus three for my generosity.”
A drop of sweat formed on the smaller man’s upper lip. He tugged a stained bandana from one pocket and wiped his face with it. Though he looked inclined to protest, he stopped himself short. “Very well. Twenty-three units.”
Thirteen appeared beside the masked figure, her cold eyes still fixed on Biggs. He glanced at her, then back at her master. A little sheepishly, he smiled.
“You must command incredible loyalty,” Biggs said to the masked man. “For your people to return after such a long absence.”
The masked man gestured, and Thirteen sank into a crouch at his side. Every line of her posture spoke to tension and readiness. She was coiled as tightly as a spring, or a rattlesnake. Biggs thought about the way she had toyed with her opponent in the ring and swallowed visibly as the masked figure put one hand on the crouching elf’s head. “Even the mangiest cur is loyal to its master.”
The elf woman’s expression did not change, though to Bigg’s trained eye he saw a faint tightening at the corners of her eyes. He was silent for a long moment as he tried to puzzle through the faint sense of wrongness about her.
“Twenty-three units by Friday,” the masked man said again, breaking the shorter man from his reverie. “Or you’ll enjoy a private visit from one of my hounds.” He patted the elf’s head and her eyes blazed with fury. Biggs took half a step back before he realized that the fury was not for him. If looks could kill…
Biggs shook himself out of such thoughts. Whatever was going on here, he wanted no part of it. “Friday,” he agreed. “Thank you.”
When the small man had disappeared from sight, the masked figure looked down at the elf in red.
She followed him silently through the crowd toward the outskirts of Gadgetzan. Only once, when he paused to exchange a word with a bruiser at the western gate, did her gaze wander to the mountainous border of Uldum visible at the distant horizon. A faint flicker of longing flashed across her face, replaced almost immediately by the cold, tight rage as her master bid her follow him once more.