“Try your might and come back a hero!” the sweaty merchant called out as he futilely fanned himself. The adventurers, ignoring the man’s small stockpile of goods, ran past without a second look. It was good business, setting up shop in the Northern Barrens, but between the heat and the dust, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever feel refreshed again.

The sound of new potential clients broke him from his momentary self-pity. A small band of travelers were making their way down the road, already arguing and sniping at one another; apparently the voyage across the Great Sea hadn’t been pleasant and now the heat was putting everyone on edge. Angry clients were often the best clients, the merchant thought—so long as they weren’t mad at him. Passion dulled the commercial senses and all but guaranteed him a sale.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” he began with a flourishing bow, donning his best smile. “May I interest you in fresh, cold water straight from the famous Barrens oases?” He held up a small leather wineskin. “Perhaps tents and other provisions to make a trek through these lands more palatable? Ointments and balms from the finest herbalists around?”

The night elf, her skin slicked with sweat and eyes narrowed against the burning sun, stepped forward. “Do you know these lands?” Her voice was clipped, foreign-sounding, and her tone brooked no pleasantries.

“Of course, fair madam,” the merchant lied, taking note of the mystical charms adorning her leather armour. “My mother, rest her soul, used to take me to learn from the wise druids not far from this very place. Their knowledge was boundless and from them I grew to appreciate—“

“Which way to the Wailing Caverns?” one of the elf’s companions spat out, clearly irritated with the long journey from the Eastern Kingdoms.

“You seek to rout Mutanus the Devourer?” the merchant gasped, bringing his fingers to his mouth. “You would do such good if we were finally rid of the chains his vile Fang Disciples have choked us with. Yes, I know the way,” he continued, making a show of withdrawing a finely-sealed scroll from his box of goods. “The Caverns are well-hidden but the old druids entrusted me with a map they say had been passed down from—“

“How much for the map?” another of the traveling band sniped, clearly chafing under his heavy plate mail.

“You didn’t even let him finish his story,” a slight Gnome prodded her much larger compatriot. “I want to know at least a little about the place we’re going before we get there.”

“Bad guys are in a cave and we’re the cleaning crew. What else do you need to know?” the warrior frowned back. “The sooner we get there the sooner we’re out of this blasted heat.”

“Normally I wouldn’t let this treasured heirloom go for less than a gold,” the merchant purred, “but my wife—she’s protecting the children—she told me I need to make at least some money today or she’ll let her mother move in!”

The gnome tittered while the rest rolled their eyes. “Fine,” spoke the last traveler, a man shrouded by his deep black robes, who seemed not to notice the oppressive sun bearing down on him. He withdrew a small pouch from within the folds of his cloak and tossed it onto the merchant’s box of goods. “Forty silver for the map, and we’ll take four armour repair kits, two sets of mining picks, a bag of herbal reagents, and six maple seeds. There should be plenty there to cover it.”

The merchant bowed profusely, taking only a moment to deftly open the bag and spy gold shining from within. “Of course my lord,” he thanked the mysterious man, “you are far too kind to a simple merchant such as myself.” He began gathering the requested items.

“How is it you never buy reagents for me any more?” the elf snarkily prodded the mage.

“Druid, I never bought you reagents,” he fired back almost idly, obviously well-finished with playful banter.

“Looks like I have everything here!” the merchant interjected before his latest customers could turn on themselves, disrupting the sale. “Everything you need, and a little something extra for the lady,” he winked at the gnome.

“Someone’s got a new friend,” the warrior laughed and elbowed the druid at his attempt at a joke.

“Don’t mind them, honey,” the waif smiled to the merchant with a wink. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

With a wave of her tiny fingers she started walking down the wide, dusty trail, her companions easily keeping pace. The merchant saw them break the scroll’s seal as they turned the corner around an iron-red hill, hoping to find fame and fortune in the depths of the Wailing Caverns.

He made a mental note—only seven scrolls left. He’d have to remember to have his brother make more before the weather improved and adventurers really started coming out in droves. Everyone wanted a piece of the Fang Disciples, particularly as they’d started moving in on operations in Butcher Bay. He wondered what Muranous’ bounty was up to; not that he would ever be tempted to go for his head of course, but that he wondered from an idle perspective—a larger cash reward meant more clients.

More likely than not, with no solid rest and plenty of intra-party drama, the merchant would be able to maintain his arrangement with the Disciples just a little longer—they get the sacrifices for whatever terrible fish-people rituals they cling to, while he gets to collect back most all of the gear he had sold to hapless and underprepared adventurers, profiting off the same gear twice or even three times by offering used equipment as a “deal” to passers-by.

Honestly? Not a bad day’s work.

This post inspired by watching some friends who are long veterans of the MMO genre play some of Blizzard’s “new” World of Warcraft: Classic

Header image from World of Warcraft