The Race – Dan Van Werkhoven

Spring, 2871
Gromadnyy Range, Serovnya

If there was one thing Yuri Trubnikov knew, it was he hated walking. In actual fact, he knew more than that, such as, if he stopped walking right now, he’d die.

Yuri panted through his half-mask. Every breath condensed into a cloud of fog that obscured his vision as he continued to trudge up the snowy mountain pass. It wouldn’t be a literal death. But it might as well be. His father was clear it’d be the depths to pay if Yuri didn’t reach Zimagrad before the Loban Trading Company.

A dozen Guilds waited at Zimagrad’s gate for the first traders to arrive. First there sold all their stock at whatever price they desired.

Yuri glanced over his shoulder at the four slavock towed carts behind him. Eight of his father’s traders and his sister, Vera, slogged through the snow beside them. Four carts of Alchemist speed extract would fetch a nice price. Perhaps enough to buy better transport?

Yuri crested the ridge, and the world sloped away from him. At least they were over the worst of the Gromadnyy range. Straight ahead to the east, a mere fifteen miles of foothills and tundra were all that remained between them and Zimagrad.

“ ‘Take over the family business,’ ” Yuri muttered. “Said nuttin about slogging hundreds of miles over mountains.”

The slavock he was leading nuzzled at his coat, looking for the bread he kept for it. Yuri cast a withering glare at the lumbering, six legged creature. It thrived in the mountains, and if its flat, satisfied face and large saucer eyes were anything to go by, it actually enjoyed being cold.

The slavock flicked its large, bat-like ears and lowed mournfully.

Yuri sighed and pulled the bread from his pocket and tore off a chunk. The slavock snatched it from his hand with its long tongue and eyed the remaining piece as it chewed. Yuri shook his head and pocketed the bread. “Greedy beast.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Vera hurrying up the line. Her heavy trader coat dwarfed her petite frame and swished against the snow riding high against her boots.

“Hey, sis,” Yuri said as she fell into step beside him.

Her expression was unreadable beneath her hood and half-mask.

“The men are concerned the Lobans will catch up,” she said.

“The men are concerned? Or you’re concerned?”

“Both.”

“We’ll be fine,” Yuri said. “We didn’t leave a week early for them to beat us now.”

“Shall I tell them to pick up speed?” Vera asked.

Yuri growled and shot her a narrow-eyed glare.

She met his gaze without flinching.

“No,” Yuri said at last, “I’ll tell them.”

He tramped down the line. “If we don’t hurry we’re all going to be guildless muckers. If the Lobans make it to Zimagrad first, Father will make us pay for his stock.”

By the time he finished he had to jog to reach the front. The serrated slavock hoof inspired soles of his boots ensured he didn’t slip on the ice and snow.

Yuri led the convoy down the steep path and half-an-hour later, the ground levelled out and they picked up speed.

“Trubnikov!”

The trader who called him pointed back up the mountain.

“Oh you guildless little worms,” Yuri said as the Loban Trading Company crested the ridge behind them. Yuri smacked his slavock’s rump. “Come on, time to earn your keep!”

He hated how the Guilds had turned the trading companies against each other. Promising the highest price to the first company through the gate motivated traders to push themselves, but at what cost?

Oh well, he didn’t make the rules, he just played by them.

Most of the time.

Yuri pulled a phial out of a coat pocket. Father would be furious if he found out Yuri gave the slavocks speed extract. Yuri glanced back at Vera marching beside the second slavock. She’d be mad too. A thrill of excitement ran up his spine and he grabbed the loaf from his pocket, uncorked the phial, poured it over the bread and fed it to his slavock.

Yuri watched the slavock as it chewed the bread and swallowed. Any moment it should speed up and put the Lobans horses to shame.

Any moment…

Half a mile of walking later and the only change in the slavock was when it farted it reeked even more of old sweaty boots than usual.

Yuri growled with frustration. Stupid animal. He’d been so sure the extract would get them to Zimagrad first. He looked back at the Lobans two miles behind them.

“Keep the slavocks moving,” Yuri yelled.  “We can beat them.”

The Lobans closed the distance while the towering peaks of Zimagrad grew before them. Yuri spent his time divided between trying to encourage his slavock and contemplating fighting the Lobans. If they lived, they’d have twice the extracts to sell.

But no, he’d have more chance flying than convincing Vera to fight.

And the Lobans outnumbered them.

“I see Zimagrad’s gate,” Vera said, pointing ahead.

Only three miles remained.

Yuri eyed the Lobans a mile behind. “You know? We might just make this.”

The slavocks seemed to sense the traders excitement and their backs arched high as they lurched forward, their six legs moving in pairs. Though, it was more likely the sensed the end of the journey and a chance to sleep.

A mile from Zimagrad’s gate, Yuri allowed himself a smile. They would make it. The Lobans were still half a mile away.

“Those cursed, rich guildless!” Vera said, pointing due north. “They bought one of those new airships.”

Yuri followed her pointing finger to see the long, grey bulk of an airship sweeping over the tundra only miles from Zimagrad. Blue and green stripes decorated the gondola hanging from the mainframe. The Orlov Trading Company’s colours.

Yuri blew out a long breath. “At least we can rub the Lobans’ faces in it.”

Vera continued cursing as the Orlov’s airship landed by Zimagrad’s gates.

Yuri tried to ignore the sound of his father’s voice in his head, berating him. They’d lost. Hundreds of miles of trudging and they’d lost on Zimagrad’s doorstep.

“Well,” Yuri said, “I don’t care how much it costs, or what the old man says. We’re buying an airship.”


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About the author

Dan Van Werkhoven began his journey much like everyone else did: by being born. But that bit is really messy and you probably don’t want to read about it, so we’ll skip forwards a few years.

If there was one thing Dan loved while growing up, it was creating things. At 10, Dan’s passion for creating manifested itself in a love for music. In his mid teens it also developed into novel writing.

Some days his audience will find themselves in a far distant land, wars raging around them as they watch the hero fight for his life. Other days they’ll be surrounded by the beauty of a field in the rolling hills, watching the heroine win back the hearts of her people. No matter his medium, Dan loves to take his audience (namely Stevie, the gecko who hangs out on his wall while he writes) on a journey.

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