Welcome to the Machine
by Chris Herron
“High Executor Darthalia,
It has come to my attention that you have put in a request for transfer on no less than 14 occasions. While I understand that your position may not be the most glorious of of stations, without brave souls such as yourself spearheading the war effort the Horde would cease to function. Thus it is with great regret I must inform you that until you can provide a replacement, you must remain in the position of quest-giver.
May your blades never dull,
High Warlord Cromush”
Darthalia crumpled the scroll in a bony fist, cursing under her breath. Join the horde, they said. See the world, they said. Well all of the damn world she had seen so far was this tiny outpost at the edge of Hillsbrad. Hillsbrad! Nothing exciting ever happened in Hillsbrad.
And to make matters worse, she was a quest giver. Sure, the job sounds great. You get to boss around adventurers, send people into dangerous situations while you sit back and wait. But what the recruitment officers never tell you is that it’s dead boring. And as an undead herself, Darthalia would know.
Darthalia looked up from her workbench. A tiny, female goblin stood near the front of her tent. Hunter, by the look of her, another self-important adventurer looking for a quest. “Can I help you?”
“Maybe, are you the quest giver?”
Darthalia winced, salt in the wound. “Yeah, that’s me. Unfortunately… What can I do for you?”
“Nikkhi, reportin’ for duty! I was sent down by command of the warchief to help with the war effort. You need somethin’ doin’, I’m yer gal!” the goblin held out her conscription papers.
Ignoring the preferred document, Darthalia sullenly pulled out a massive stack of work order and began flipping through them looking for something particularly nasty. She was considering a quest involving murlocks when something clicked, and she retrieved the crumpled letter, smoothing it out and reading it again.
“…until you can provide a replacement…”
Darthalia’s demeanor shifted in a heartbeat, becoming sickeningly sweet. “Wonderful! I have just the thing for someone of your skillset!”
“But I haven’t told you my skillset.”
“Pshah! Your reputation precedes you, uh… Nikkhi, right?”
Darthalia plastered a giant grin across her pale, bloodless face and took Nikkhi by the hand, leading her into the open tent that served as her office. “Come in here, dear girl! Have a cigar. You’re gonna go far and fly high as a ranking officer of the Forsaken! Yes, indeed, this is the good life and you are going to live it!”
Nikkhi gave her a wide eyed look, “An officer? But… I just came here to help out.”
“And you’re doing a spectacular job so far, so I’ve decided to promote you to, get this, quest-giver!”
“Wowza! I always wanted to boss people around!”
Darthalia took her pile of work orders and plopped them in Nikkhi’s hands, her tiny arms barely able to hold the stack. “I want you to take these orders and dispense them to the lowly scrubs that come along looking for work. Who you give what to is wholly at your discretion.”
Nikkhi peaked around the stack. “You got it. Where do I stand, boss?”
Darthalia tapped her chin with a bony digit, thinking. Short stuff here would be pretty easy to miss unless they made her more visible. “Hmm… When you’re ready mount up on my trusty skeletal steed – so they don’t miss you – and start living the life! Which just means stand there and wait.”
It’s a wonderful thing to watch a goblin try to mount a horse. Better yet to watch them try and haul up a stack of work orders at the same time. But eventually the eager young adventurer made it up. Darthalia patted her on the shoulder. “Stand tall and proud, Nikkhi. Don’t let any of these scrubs give you any trouble. Show them who’s boss!”
Nikkhi gave her a confused look. “But.. you told me to sit on the horse. Now you want me to stand?”
“Oh, look, I see one coming now! Looks like a real winner. Keep it cool, Nikkhi. Keep it cool” And with that, Darthalia took a seat in the shade of her tent and watched.
Nikkhi squared her shoulders and did her best to look imposing. She glanced in the direction Darthalia had indicated to see her first quest taker. She slumped in her saddle.
What appeared to be a freshly risen Forsaken was manically zipping back and forth, talking to everyone stationed at the camp, asking for help and trying to hand them his conscription papers. Including the worgan prisoner currently held in the stocks. Slowly, he made his way through the camp until he reached Nikkhi.
“Hi! Hi! Help!”
Freshly risen indeed, the reanimated corpse still had a worm wriggling out of his ear. Nikkhi took the paper the Forsaken was thrusting toward her face. It seemed to be filled out in crayon. “Uh, hi there… Dumbass? …Du-mass?”
“Hi! I’m new! Big white light creature with wings made me alive! I serve the banshee queen! Yay! Help! Hi!”
Nikkhi gave him a quizzical, concerned look. “Maybe you should go take a nap or something. I don’t know if I have any work for you.”
Dumass gave a wide, empty headed grin. “Ok! Thanks! I’ll just wait here with you! Thanks! Ok!”
“W-wait a minute! It looks like something just came up.” Nikkhi pulled a random work order from her stack and scanned it. “Yes, right here on this sheet of paper. You need to head southeast to the Azurelode Mine and report to Captain Keyton. Southeast is that way” She handed the paper to the undead adventurer and pointed south.
Dumass enthusiastically waved the paper over his head, “North! Got it! Thanks! Bye! Thanks!” and preceded to head west along the road.
Darthalia leaned back casually in her chair. “These new Forsaken tend to be a little… um… stupid. It usually takes awhile for them to acclimate.”
Nikkhi started nodding her agreement when a voice boomed across the encampment.
“CAN YOU SMELL WHAT THE LOK’TAR IS COOKIN’?!”
Darthalia sighed. “Oh great… not this one again. I know this orc. He’s got no business being here, but since he’s a bottom-feeding pansy he likes to hand around here and prey on the helpless. Don’t let him bully you.”
Nikkhi squared her shoulders and put on a scowl that she hoped looked more confident than she felt.
An orc in thick plate armor rode through the pass toward her on the back of what seemed to be an undead dragon, a mount that inspired nearly as much awe as the warrior himself. His massive axe was slung across his back, and his piercing eyes looked over her from behind his horned helmet. Nikkhi gave an internal sigh of relief, THIS was the kind of hero she had been expecting, not Dumbass. Er… Du-mass.
“HAH! Looks like you’re running out of idiots to put atop this horse, Darthalia. This is the puniest one yet.”
Nikkhi narrowed her eyes. She might be short, sure, but ‘puny’ was just rude.
“What have you got for me today, weakling?! Point me to where the Alliance hide and I shall DOMINATE THEM!”
Nikkhi gave him a cold stare. “Papers?”
“I have seen the fall of the Lich King. Creations of the titans have fallen before my mighty axe. When called upon, I alone spearheaded a victory for the Argent Crusade against the beasts of Northrend. Now, I come for the ultimate challenge. What does Hillsbrad Foothills have to offer Kingslayer Orkus???”
“Right, Orkus.” She dug through her stack of papers. Despite trying, there was nothing remotely difficult enough for a warrior of this… caliber. Finally she gave up and pulled a sheet at random. “Um… Apparently there are bloodthirsty worgen running rampant in the south. Maybe you could help with them?”
Orkus shifted in his saddle, leaning in close to Nikkhi with a conspiritorial, slightly worried whisper. “Bloodthirsty you say? Is there any risk of death or dismemberment to me?”
The warrior pulled his axe free and lifted it high over his head in what nikkhi assumed was supposed to be a heroic pose. “Then Orkus WILL DO IT! YES!”
“Right, thanks. Just go ahead and head south. Far south. Probably off the coast.”
Orkus nodded, taking the slip of paper from Nikkhi. “Yes, cowardly quest giver, sit atop your pale horse while Orkus brings glory to the Horde! I shall return with a thousand skulls!”
Nikkhi shook her head as he charged away on his skeletal dragon. At least this one headed off in the right direction.
“Here’s to hoping he never returns.” Darthalia chuckled. “Maybe he’ll drown?”
Several minutes passed before the sound of self important, fake laughter came from just around the bend.
Darthalia gave a long, drawn out sigh. “Ah, crap. You’re on your own with this one, Nikkhi.”
A beautiful blood elf paladin came into view. Nikkhi would have said handsome, but lets face it, he was a blood elf. Beneath his long flowing hair was a pristine set of armor, polished to a gleaming shine. And he rode atop the strangest mount Nikkhi had ever seen. It seemed to be a small galaxy of stars held roughly in the shape of a glorious winged horse.
The paladin shot her a wide, condescending smile. “Johnny Awesome has arrived, philistine. Present me with your menial tasks so that I may complete them with only mild enthusiasm and most likely a complete disregard for any directions that you provide that are more complicated than what my map is able to display.”
Nikkhi could feel a migrain starting grow behind her eyes. “Any point in askin’ for yer papers?”
“Look at me, peasant. Heirlooms cover my body from head to toe, gifted to me by the greatest heroes Azeroth has ever known.” He sat tall in his saddle, stretching his arms wide so that she could gaze upon his magnificence. “Now look at yourself. Quickly, look back at me. Yes, this IS a horse made of STARS.”
Nikkhi’s mouth mad a flat line as she fought back the urge to throw something at him.
Johnny awesome took her lack of words as a start struck speechlessness and gave her a cocky chuckle. “What pointless series of tasks befitting a mentally deficient orc have you prepared for me?”
Nikkhi took a moment to search the most disgusting job she could find. “Well, we are having some problems at the Sludge Fields, located north west of here. Warden Stillwater could use your help”
Johnny took the paper without looking at it. “Fine, fine, what else?”
The paladin scoffed. “That’s all? One quest? Surely you jest. Are there no bear asses to collect? Perhaps a rare flower that I could pick from which you will make some mildly hallucinogenic tonic which you will then drink, resulting in visions of a great apocalypse? Perhaps the local populace of mildly annoying, ill-tempered gophers are acting up and need to be brought to justice? No? Nothing?”
“THAT’S ALL, JOHNNY AWESOME. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT!”
“I will do this ONE thing that yo ask of me, quest giver. Pray I find more menial tasks to accomplish or you will be hearing from me again and I assure you that my commentary on forums of public opinion will be most unkind.”
Nikkhi ground her teeth together as she watched him trot away, somehow managing to swagger in his saddle.
Darthalia walked over to the tiny goblin. True, the first three had gone a little rough, but this might be salvageable. “So how was it? Everything that you dreamed it would be? Exciting, no?”
Nikkhi gave her a flat look, her shoulders slumped in defeat and her eyes empty of any joy.
Nikkhi shook her head weakly.
Darthalia sighed. She could in good conscience sentence someone else to this hell. Hate it as she might, it wasn’t fair to stick Nikkhi with the job. “I can see that you’re a true hero. You need action. I guess a “desk job” isn’t for you.”
She took the stack of papers, but didn’t help the little goblin off the horse. She might have a conscience, but some things are just too funny to pass up. She handed Nikkhi a work order off the top of the stack and waved goodbye.
It wasn’t long before another adventurer approached. She gave him a winning smile and clapped him on the shoulder. “Come on in, I have just the thing for someone of your skillset!”