A Day At The Races, Part I. WoW Fan-Fiction
Okay, here's the deal, folks.I entered a fan-fiction contest held by Blizzard way back in September. Normally I don't bother with fan-fiction because, since I don't own the copyrights to the characters, I can't publish it with legitimate groups. But the winner is supposed to have his work made available to every World of Warcraft player out there, as well as get taken to lunch with Chris Metzen, the creative genius behind WOW. Personally, I couldn't care less seeing as I don't play WoW anymore. I brought the darn game home back when I was in middle school, played it for five minutes, decided I hated it because it handicaps players who prefer to play alone rather than work in groups, and that was the end of it... Until my mother discovered it. She's logged a couple thousand hours since then, gotten top tier equipment, and is ranked in the top 10 of her server, so I guess what they say about old folks not getting new technology pretty much flew out the window there, but it means I'm kept current on games news. And with an inherent audience in excess of 10 million people, winning that contest would do wonders for marketing myself.
So I wrote out a parody of a hardboiled detective novel in the game universe and submitted it. Truth be told, I kinda ran out of space, so I had to rush the last few sections, but them's the breaks. If I've ever got the time, I might write out the long version I had in mind, but I doubt I'll ever manage that, what with having a half-dozen incomplete novels sitting on my "To Do" pile.
Anyway, they never got back to me about the contest. I was supposed to hear from some one at the beginning of October, and there's been no announcement of a winner since. So, I figure either they were swamped with more submissions than they could possibly have expected, or they just decided to scrap the whole contest. Either way, I'm tired of waiting for the opportunity to showcase my work. If I ever hear back from them, that might change, but for now, here's the first installment of my Warcraft short story: A Day At The Races.
The Mirage Raceway is an oasis of civilization in the vast wasteland of the Shimmering Flats. Out here, the ancient enmity between gnome and goblin artificers has turned into one of the greatest spectacles on Azeroth. Every day, a few huts, storefronts and tents are swamped by hundreds upon hundreds of spectators. They’re drawn by the undying plumes of smoke rising from the pits, by the aural assault of the outlandish machines that come roaring off the starting line time and time again.
Of course, this necessitates accommodations: food, shelter, drink, souvenirs. A market is created, and many flock to fulfill those needs. And let us not forget the purveyors of ever-present vice and their hangers on: gamblers, loan sharks, card sharps, gentleman killers, grifters, snigsmen, cutpurses, thieves, persons of negotiable virtue. And that’s just on quiet days.
What had begun as a secluded place where goblin tinkers and gnome engineers could show their skills, for no other reward than the pride of knowing they’re the best in their business, had become a thriving shanty town. Completely ungoverned. Chaos, in other words.
Enter the Mirage Raceway Independent Oversight Committee (MRIOC). They take a portion of the earnings for every card dealt, drink poured, and bet made in these parts. In return, the Mirage Raceway maintains some semblance of order.
That’s where I come in. My name’s Kronkrider, an Ironforge brat born and bred. I’m the designated Race Master. My word is law as far as a few miles of barren alkali flat are concerned. How did I come to such an important position?
I was the only one dumb enough to accept the offer.
* * *
My day began like any other: The entry flap to my tent twitched aside, leaving the sun to sear my aching retinas and me to bellow in agony, scrabbling for my flintlocks.
The twin booms that followed—and added two more holes in my tent—gave me some idea of what having my skull cracked open, filled with Go’rishi fire grubs, and then given a good stir would feel like. The ulcers in my gut stewed in sympathy.
Morning routine on schedule, I groaned and dragged myself into a sitting position on my cot.
A middle-aged gnome with magnifying glass-spectacles marched in, waving away the smoke.
“Late night?” he asked brightly.
Drag Master Miglen is my second. Beneath the oversized leather armor he insists on wearing—to command obedience, he claims—beats the alphabetized and cross-referenced heart of a clerk. From the self-inking quill always in one hand to the fastidiously groomed mustache and ramrod straight posture, he was a paper-pusher born. Don’t know what I’d do without him.
Probably get some sleep.
Useful as he is, I still wanted to tell him to die in a fire. It was the feeling that I’d been caught underfoot in the mosh pit of a Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftain concert that prevented me. I settled for reloading my flintlocks in what I hoped was a menacing way.
I’ve got to admit, it gave no minor sense of satisfaction to see Miglen, who was about to pull off the protective helmet he usually wore when waking me and draw the clipboard from the wide-mouthed scabbard on his back, decide to leave well enough alone. For the moment.
I sheathed the twins in their holsters at the small of my back, went looking for my boots, realized I never took them off last night, and stumbled for my basin and mirror to see about a wash.
“Aaaaah!” I screamed. “Ancestors below! What in the name of the merciful creators is that?”
Miglen was tapping his foot, arms crossed. “Race Master, are you quite done yet?”
“What?” I said. “Just getting the shock out of the way. Routine’s important.” I looked back at the mirror, razor in hand, wondering where to start. “I mean, have you ever seen a dwarf looking so bad?”
“I haven’t seen corpses that looked as bad, Race Master.”
“Careful, lawn ornament,” I said. “I’ve reloaded.”
He patted the dings in his helmet. “I’m not short. You just aim too high.”
I set the razor back down. Not much point really. Nothing short of an axe swung at neck height was going to make an improvement.
“Alright,” I said, pushed past Miglen, and tried not to whimper when the sun hit me full force. “Let’s get started. What have you got for me?”
Miglen’s boots crunched the crystalline white, packed earth of the main drag as he scurried after me, clipboard in hand.
“Orphan’s Day is scheduled next week, which coincides with the semi-finals—”
His voice was cut off by a rising rumble from behind. It was so early that almost no one come for the preliminaries was up yet. The bikers roared in from the Freewind Post road to the north on a bow wave of sleepers startled into wretched consciousness.
They rode heavy mekgineer’s choppers and mechano-hogs, sporting Thrall’s Angels patches on dusters and coats, scalplocks and war trophies flying. Chromium exhaust pipes spat flame and smoke. Spiked tires sprayed powder-fine dirt. Thirty of them cruised by, bound for Daisy’s at the end of the drag, caterwauling fit to wake the dead.
“Well,” I said when the noise died. “There goes any chance of a quiet breakfast.”
Someone coughed behind me. “Little help?”
Miglen was half buried by the roadside—an overturned tortoise in his armor.
I grabbed a flailing arm and pulled him upright. He began dusting himself off. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“You were saying?” I asked.
“Oh, right. With the orphan’s scheduled to visit, Brivelthwerp thought he’d get a head start on the ice cream demand. Made precisely 300 gallons.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “He conveniently forgot he’s only got enough cold storage space for ten?”
Miglen nodded, not looking up from his clipboard while we walked. “Got it in one, Race Master.”
“Guess he’ll have to pay Kravel to use the refrigerated compartment of his warehouse.”
“That’s the problem,” Miglen said, expertly avoiding a steaming pile of kodo chips. “Kravel’s tripled his prices.”
My ulcer gave a sudden twinge at the thought. “Profiteering on ice cream for orphans… Why haven’t I beaten Kravel’s head in yet?”
“It would be murder.”
Miglen contrived to fix me with a serious glare. It came out looking like a bug-eyed cherub with wrinkles. I dropped the notion of shortening the town’s shadiest dwarven buyer and seller of questionable goods by a head, if only because murder is an evening activity.
“OK. Kravel’s conducting lawful business. Even if he is heartless. Talk to Team Gnome’s pit crew; get them to remove the sub-zero heat sink from their racer and rig Brivelthwerp’s cellar for cold storage.”
Miglen sucked in a horrified breath. “But, Race Master, you can’t take the heat sink off the Mock 4! If Team Gnome wins this month, it’ll be renamed the Mock 5. They’ve never won five months straight before. The Brassbolt brothers have already got the new decals designed!”
“Miglen! Youare Drag Master first and a gnome second! Do I make myself clear?”
Miglen’s lip wobbled. “Yes, Race Master.”
“Good. The last crewman to touch that ‘heat sink’ of theirs froze off his fingers. Snapped like fresh carrots. It’s a coolant device, and that’s against this month’s MRIOC regs. If they want to build a real heat sink before the starting gun goes off today, tell the Brassbolts they can get free parts from Jinky Twizzlefixxit. And for her cooperation, Jinky will be exempt from MRIOC tribute this month.”
Miglen double-checked his clipboard. “Ummm… She hasn’t paid her tribute in the last three months.”
“I know,” I said. “Reminding her might guilt her into it.”
We were at the halfway mark to Daisy’s. Sometimes, I regret living on the outskirts of town. But it is quieter out there. Passing the rows of bars, machine shops, hostels, and vendor stalls was enough to set my head throbbing again.
“Nazz Steamboil was seen filching Magus Tirth’s chickens last night.”
“Again?” I said, and sighed. Even my beard ached. “I’m not going to jail Team Goblin’s driver a few hours before the preliminaries. Tell him he owes Tirth five times the normal price. And if he does it again, I’ll see him clean out Tirth’s chicken coops. Bare-handed.”
“Right,” Miglen said, and made a note to himself. “Quentin’s been trying to buy goblin fishing poles—”
My mouth was open to turn the air blue. Miglen talked fast.
“—but Team Goblin said they needed the explosives for their new fuel mixture. It’s taken care of.”
I grunted, shaking my head. “Don’t know why I didn’t run the flower-eating Greenpiece activist out of town when I had the chance. The Steamwheedle derrick is helping to fund the races, for ancestors’ sakes!”
“Says he’s a legitimate businessman now,” Miglen said, and pulled something from his pocket. “Sells these.”
I took the offered tin. The lid was painted with blobby leaves and blobby roses. Across the front, a blobby slogan: Quentin’s All-Natural Night Elf Effervescents. 12 per pack.
It contained oblong lozenges that smelled vaguely of peppermint.
They were glowing.
I counted eleven.
“When was the last time you slept?” I asked.
He gave me a slightly unfocused, manic grin. “What day is this?”
“Uh-huh. Just as I thought,” I said, pocketing the tin. “I’ll hang on to these. You know I don’t approve of stimulants.”
“But coffee is a stimulant, Race Master.”
“Coffee, dear Drag Master, is a gift from the ancestors. And the only thing separating me from half the town’s bloody end.”
Miglen shrank behind his clipboard, as if it were a shield.
I was just passing the jailhouse when someone ran full tilt out of the adjacent alley. I got the impression of unwashed robes, passed spirits, and someone’s groin slamming into my forehead, with just the tiniest hint of chicken feathers.
Then Magus Tirth was on the ground, clutching himself, tears of pain leaking down his cheeks.
He’s not the first one to learn I’m hard-headed.
“Oops,” I said. “Terribly sorry. Must be going. Coffee calls.”
I was just about to sidestep when Tirth managed to say something: “Hrnrgh.”
I stopped and sighed. Duty called too. “Need a minute?”
By the time a little color had returned to Tirth’s stringy, loose-skinned face, even my ulcer was clamoring for bitter black bliss.
“Race Master, Plucky’s gone missing again!”
“I see,” I said. “And remind me why a chicken seller has need of an apprentice.”
He tried to wink conspiratorially. Both eyes. Didn’t work out well.
“Got to pass on the secret of raisin’ ‘em. Fastest chickens in the Shimmering Flats.”
I massaged my temples. “They’re the only chickens in the Shimmering Flats.”
Miglen laughed behind me, and, owing to a dark-eyed glare from the old mage, started choking.
There was bucket of grain Tirth left lying in the dirt. I picked it up. Still full. His chickens hadn’t had breakfast yet.
I could sympathize.
“Gimme your bottle,” I told him.
His leathery brow rose. “What makes you think I got one?”
“No one sober can talk the shit you do.”
Chagrinned, he produced a flask. The smell burned off my eyebrows. Cuergo’s Gold this was not.
I poured the flask into the grain, passed both back, and said, “Go feed your chickens.”
He might’ve given me a confused look. I didn’t know. Or care. I was already walking past the row of mechano-hogs and mekgineer’s choppers, up the porch of Daisy’s, and into its blessed confines.
Thrall’s Angels were packed around the tables, gobbling up their breakfast and pulling from steaming mugs. One glare from me and a stool at the counter magically emptied itself.
I took it reverently, like a supplicant before the altar. And from the veil of steam, through the rattle of cutlery and sizzle of pans, my goddess Daisy emerged. Busy though she was, my radiant savior spared me a warm, white-toothed smile.
“Coffee, please,” I said to that wonderful purveyor of the nectar of consciousness.
The smile faltered.
Acid stewed in my gut. My chest tightened. I suddenly felt cold.
Her gaze swept past me to Miglen at the doorway.
“I thought you told him?” she said.
“Told me what?” I said.
“I didn’t get the chance,” Miglen replied to Daisy.
“Told me what?” I repeated, anxiety sending a dreadful chill up my spine.
Daisy’s long-fingered hands reached out to cradle my thick, stubby ones. Her face turned sympathetic; an attempted smile pulled into a pained grimace. And I knew in the core of me what horrific news she harbored.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she said. “The Freewind Post supply caravan is overdue. Trackmaster Zherin’s ridden out to see what happened, but, for the moment, we’re out of coffee.” She indicated the hulking orc next to me. “He got the last cup.”
I nodded automatically, and sat there for a moment, staring at nothing. And then it hit, like a bullet between the eyes. The shriek came up from the very depths of my anguished soul.
The next thing I knew, I was looking at the rough timber spars of the ceiling. Thrall’s Angels clustered around, Miglen slapping me awake.
“Some tea’s brewing!” he said. “You’ll be alright. Just hang on!”
“Tea? Hah! Kill me now!”
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