Friday, August 24, 2012


Leaving the northern darkness in its wake, our vessel drove southwards through the waves.  Great paddles churned without pause, each day a little warmer than the one before.  I stood at the prow beneath a blazing sun, remembering the feel of wind on my desiccated flesh.

Some part of me still shuddered at how close I’d come, and memories of his cold voice echoed in my skull.  Yet the Lich King was dead, and would never again trouble the world. 

Relief rendered me insensate.  No longer did Northrend’s frozen cage hold me prisoner.  The entirety of Azeroth, with all its riches and wonders, seemed to open up its arms in expectant embrace.  The ship, named Fortune’s Albatross, was well appointed for what was essentially a tramp steamer.  We’d boarded from the recently reclaimed Garrosh’s Landing in the Borean Tundra.  The Warchief wanted to keep the affair low profile; a full diplomatic retinue would likely to alarm the Alliance.

As one might expect of a seasoned orc, Skorg preferred a simpler environment.  He did not broadcast his preference with complaint, but expressed it through simple action, in a manner that made his style all the more appealing.  It was for good reason that the Warchief had appointed him the Horde diplomat to the Bilgewater Cartel.

Skorg, a few others, and myself made up the envoy carrying the Warchief’s interests to the south.  I was something of a last-minute choice, serving more as an advisor than anything else.  The Warchief would only allow a personable Forsaken to attend, and fit the description that he’d wanted.  I can’t honestly claim to have represented Undercity—indeed, I am inclined to disavow any connection to the wretched place—but my presence served a useful symbolic function, if nothing else.  It would be unwise to indicate the deep divisions within the Horde.

The Old Horde counted the Steamwheedle Cartel among its members—perverse, given the modern cartel’s strict neutrality and reputation for fairness.  The relationships made during the Second War long outlasted the conflict.  Given the Alliance’s technological edge, it is entirely right to say that the Horde still depends on goblin ingenuity. 

Now, the Bilgewater Cartel enjoys numerous exclusivity contracts with the Horde, its operatives fine-tuning our war machines and infrastructure for distant battles in Outland and Northrend.  Not all are happy with this arrangement.  The Bilgewater Cartel has a questionable reputation, seen even by other goblins as cutthroat and dishonest.  However, the Steamwheedle show no interest in rejoining the Horde, and the Venture Company’s many crimes make them an unacceptable choice.  Whatever their misdeeds elsewhere, the Bilgewater engineers at least seem able to make reliable products.

I, for one, would not mind seeing goblin greed and individualism temper the Horde’s increasingly brutal warrior ethos.  Greed is a sin, and for good reason, but in reasonable amounts it can have a moderating effect on other vices.  Before a government starts a war, it should first check to see if it would benefit from doing so.  Honor is a poor excuse for bloodshed.

Storms loosed their fury as we neared the tropics, torrents of rain and thunder crashing down from the black and heavy clouds.  Skorg stepped out of his cabin during those squalls, his aged but still mighty arms spread wide to greet the tempest, his joyous laughter a rival to the crashing thunder.

And then it would end as soon as it begun, the roiling clouds splitting open to reveal the golden southern sun, cooking the metal ship with its heat.  Goblin crewmembers flooded out from the broiling lower decks in those times, looking for lighter work up on top.  Those on break gathered in the shadows of cabins and looked out onto the steaming ocean, bragging of their plans for shore leave.

We could tell that we neared Kezan.  Around the island, the sea brims with myriad fishing boats, haphazard metal constructions whose continued existence defies centuries of shipbuilding theory.  The ocean takes on a different hue, oily in some spots and clouded in others, the effluvium of progress.  Hazy clouds of smoke reflect the tainted waters.

The dispersal of a late afternoon storm at last brought the island into sight.  A mountain of light against the darkening sky, the first glimpse of Kezan feels almost spiritual.  Getting closer, one sees the madcap tangle of metal towers and electric wires, a burning symphony of energy.  Smog shrouds the island, but never so thick as to entirely dim the city’s artificial constellation. 

I stood with Skorg as Kezan spread up form the horizon, his eyes inscrutable.

“Never before have I set foot in Kezan.  They say that anything that exists can be bought in its markets, but that the men are without souls,” he said.

“A rather harsh judgment, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps.  The Horde needs the goblins; I do not doubt that.  I only hope that Trade Prince Gallywix is worthy of the Warchief’s interest.  From what I am told, there are other trade princes who’d be better fits.”

A close look at Kezan reveals the churning chaos of creation, a city built on madcap dreams.  The city makes no secret of its commercial ethos, its skyline festooned with lurid advertisements of light and glass.  So clear are the intents of such ads that the wild Goblinish script on display is nearly redundant.  More striking are the images, painted faces grinning like gargoyles on the billboards, proclaiming to the world the wonders of the product in question.  Hope is a close cousin to greed, and both are evident among the sooty spires.

I felt unease nearing the city.  I could already tell that the Steamwheedle ethos, with its tough-minded ethics of hard work and clever deals, had little place in Kezan.  Far too many pretentious scholars describe goblin commercialism as prostitution.  Actually seeing Kezan can bring no other word to mind.

Fortune’s Albatross chugged to a stop at dented metal dock, the surface splattered with seagull droppings.  Thousands of tiny green forms ran up and down the harbor and through rubbish-strewn beaches of black tar.  A greasy flame burned steady atop an oxidized smokestack, puffs of oily smoke adding to the stagnant gray sky.

I sensed Skorg’s discomfort at the sight.  As he was a shaman, I can only imagine what he thought of Bilgewater Port, the section of Kezan in which we’d landed.  Certainly a paradise compared to Icecrown, I will concede that the goblin homeland is not exactly welcoming.

Three diplomats were in the envoy aside from Skorg: Shaluran Eversong, of the Sin’dorei; Kaholo Runetotem, of the tauren; and Haluk Bloodedge, another orc.  The Darkspears had not requested to send a representative.  Besides them and myself were five lesser officials there to aid the ambassadors.

We gathered as a group on the port side, no one entirely eager to make the trip down the battered ramp connecting to the dock.  Dead fish float on oil-slick water throughout the harbor, untouched by the seabirds that prefer to gorge on trash.  A goblin approached us, dressed in a loud, yellow jacket, his black hair slicked back to reveal a prominent forehead.  He looked up at us, his face hard.

“Welcome to Bilgewater Port, the Jewel of Kezan!  You must be the Horde representatives.”

“We are—“

“Trade Prince Gallywix is busy.  He sent me—I’m Gozzig Obnoggil—to take care of you.  As a measure of generosity, the Trade Prince is setting you up on the best hotel around, the Grand Exchange.  I’ve got a fleet of trikes ready to drive you all up there.”

“We are on important business, Mr. Obnoggil.  When can Gallywix see us?  It is not wise to keep the Warchief waiting.”

“I’m not the Trade Prince’s secretary.  If he’s not here, it must be for something very important.  You want some help with your bags?”

“That will not be necessary.”

“Suit yourself.”

Gozzig took us to the three-wheeled motorcars he called trikes.  Polished chrome clashes with bodies of weathered steel, the drivers’ eyes hidden behind green glass goggles.  When the engines start, corroded pipes at the back belch out smoke.  Sitting with Skorg in the threadbare backseat, I began to feel increasingly doubtful.  Surely the Steamwheedle could have been persuaded to join?

I looked to my right, where a filthy goblin clad only in rags stood at the top of a scrapheap, balancing a rotten melon on his knees.  Scooping flesh out from the shell, he lapped the pulp off his hand, his eyes on the sun as it sank into the metallic ocean.


Vast and airy by goblin standards, the lobby of the Grand Exchange cannot help feeling cramped as far as larger races are concerned.  Though not exactly comfortable for us, we still recognized the luxury on display.  Teak chairs and couches beckon to weary travelers, the black frames an uneasy match for the bright yellow upholstery.  Pink sandstone walls give the entire room the feeling of sunset, enhanced by the soft light shining from flower-shaped sconces of cloudy glass.   Above, a wooden ceiling fan keeps circulation in the torrid air.

Gozzig returned from the check-in desk, handing us keys.

“Here you go.  Two guests per room, might be a little bit small for you but rest assured that this is the finest Kezan has to offer.  We kicked out a few guests to make sure you fellows had space, so show your appreciation when you finally do meet the Trade Prince.”

“You kicked out a guest?”  Gozzig pressed a brass key into Skorg’s green palm, shrugging at the question.

“Hey, you’re important.  Enjoy it!  As for me, I have to run.  We’ll send someone to let you know when Mr. Gallywix has time to talk.”

“Wait, could you show us—“

“If you have any questions, ask the concierge.  He speaks Orcish—everyone here does.  Like I said, I’m not Mr. Gallywix’s secretary.”

Flinging his right hand outwards in what I realized was a backhanded wave, Gozzig stepped through the door (opened by a pair of silent bellhops) and disappeared into the noise of the street.  Skorg sighed, rubbing his eyes.

None of us had expected to instantly be ushered in to see Gallywix; negotiations take time after all.  Rather, it was Gozzig’s dismissive attitude that Skorg found so galling.  One should always try to negotiate from a place of strength.  The goblins sometimes do this by showing off their wealth and business, the idea being that a goblin with constant demands on his time is a goblin of considerable substance.  I must confess to a bit of schadenfreude at seeing an orcish warrior stymied by a goblin merchant.  However, I liked Skorg, and was feeling increasingly uneasy about the Bilgewater Cartel.

I shared a room with Skorg.  The great orc instantly crashed into slumber on one of the beds, his arms hanging over the sides.  Putting my pack down, I decided to explore the city.

The Grand Exchange opens out onto Swindle Street, the great shopping district of Bilgewater Port.  The name is apparently a marketing ploy, the idea being that prices are so low that the customers are swindling the merchants.  The thoroughfare itself is a relentless sensory assault.  Advertisements cover every spare inch of the mildewed yellow walls, bright colors fighting each other for the customer’s eye.  A thousand voices screech to be heard, buyers and sellers clamoring for better deals.  Beneath the chatter is the engine rumble of motorcars, moving inches at a time through the crowd.

Goblin towns are not generally known for beauty, but Bilgewater Port possesses a peculiarly oppressive quality.  Haze dampens the light of electric lamps, and the foul air robs the mouth of breath.  Plates of steel have been fastened onto the walls and roofs of larger buildings, the surfaces pitted with dents and scorch marks.  A sense of danger slinks through the streets, reflected in the hard eyes of the natives.  The bold entrepreneurship of Booty Bay and Gadgetzan gives way to a consuming desperation.

Wading through the packed goblins, I made my way to a two-story establishment named Szabo’s Outfitters (the sign written in Orcish and in Common).  In a decidedly surreal touch, four-by-four patches of artificial grass covered the lot in front of the store.

A dozen goblins milled about the garish interior, their gaits unsteady and voices slurred.  Racks of clothing filled the showroom: suits, dresses, hats, and anything else a goblin might want to wear.  A red-haired goblin in a fine black jacket caught sight of me, his eyes narrowing.

“I don’t know you, are you with the Bilgewater?” he demanded.  He looked back over his shoulder and gave a nod to another goblin, who rolled up his sleeves in preparation.

“I’m with a Horde diplomatic envoy in talks with the Trade Prince.  I thought I’d take advantage of my time here to explore the city.”

“Oh!  Welcome to Szabo’s Outfitters!  You’re new here, so let me show you around.  Now, I don’t think we have anything your size on stock, but we can get something fitted for you and make you the most stylish undead in Kezan—hell, all of Azeroth!”

“I was actually just browsing, I don’t know if I have the funds to purchase—“

“Fellow like you doesn’t need money.  You’ve got influence.  Any friend of Gallywix’s is a friend of mine!  This is the best Bilgewater sartorial merchandise around!”

“So this is a store owned by the Bilgewater Cartel?”

“Everything in this part of Kezan is.  Gallywix personally picked me to handle this operation; he knows I have an eye for style!”

“There aren’t any independent stores?”

“’Course not!  What do you think this is, Booty Bay?  No, Bilgewater is in charge, which benefits you since no one else can offer our level of quality.”

I allowed a small swarm of busy goblin tailors to take my measurements while I processed this information.  I learned that the Bilgewater Cartel only allows employees to run stores in their namesake port (unlike the laissez-faire Steamwheedle cities), and that only Bilgewater merchandise can be sold.  When I asked Szabo what happened to those who tried to strike out on their own, he grinned and cracked his knuckles.

“When that happens, the bruisers get practice.”

I left the store feeling profoundly uneasy.  Had I completely misinterpreted goblin society?  What I saw in Bilgewater Port seemed a parody of what I’d seen elsewhere.  Goblins, as I knew them, were ruthless but meritocratic, callous but creative.  I saw little of their more admirable aspects in the homeland.  Employees of rival groups are forbidden in all but a few circumstances, and independents are only permitted in a handful of fields, like shipping (Fortune’s Albatross did not belong to the Bilgewater Cartel).

I had always been unclear on exactly how any of the different goblin trade groups were organized.  A cartel is, by definition, a group of competitors that agree to set prices, typically within a single trade.  The Steamwheedle is not really a cartel at all (I suspect that the name was a mistranslation that ended up sticking; the rarely used original Goblish word, iznho, is a blanket term that means any commercial group), though the Bilgewater might be closer to the mark.

Forming a formidable skyline of glass and steel, the hive-like factories and apartments of the Bilgewater Cartel hide Kezan’s interior.  The greatest markets lie beneath the earth in Undermine.  A dizzying network of roads springs from this urban source, twisting all through the island like the roots of a mangrove tree.  Sometimes raised on concrete pillars they rise high and dip low, three-wheeled motorcars racing on the surface.

So great is the density of these roads north of Swindle Street that it becomes a veritable desert of hardened tar, an unseen sun roasting it through a screen of smog.  Walking towards it, I involuntarily trembled as the vehicles zoomed by, as fast as galloping horses and far heavier.  I felt as if I stood on the edge of a cliff.  Nothing grows next to the roads.

Only then did I see a gap between two thoroughfares.  I walked towards it, sharp stones giving way under my feet.  Beneath the roads, blotted out by smoke and shadow, lies an entire city.

Curiosity getting the better of me, I carefully made my way down the slope, pipes spilling out from the dirt like petrified guts.  The air below is nearly black, stinking of sweat and burning garbage.  I saw goblins crouched on beds of trash, cooking discarded food on chemical fires.  Huts of corrugated tin cluster like barnacles around the speedway supports.  At the bottom of this pit spreads an oily cesspool, all the trash and water sinking down to the center.

“You’re a long way from home,” observed a voice.  I turned to see a goblin covered head to toe in dirt, crouching on a bent tire.  Appraising me with yellowed eyes, he ran a finger up the edge of the metal shard he gripped in his right hand.

“The whole world’s my home, so I’m never far,” I said, summoning fire in the palm of my hand.  The goblin laughed.

“I like you.  So what are you doing in Drudgetown?  I’m Snid, by the way.”

“Destron Allicant.  I’m exploring this Drudgetown.  I’ve never heard of the place before now.”

“Not much worth seeing here.  Drudgetown’s where the debtors hide when creditors come to collect.”

“Is that why you’re here?”

“Yes.  I’ll be out soon enough.  Just need enough coin to get back into Bilgewater’s good graces.”

“Have you considered working for a different group?”

“Hard to do.  Barterbolt used to send reps down here, but Bilgewater troops cleared them out, burned down half of Drudgetown.”

“I didn’t know that the competition turned violent.”

“Well sure, how else do you expect it to be?  Gun’s a good way to get acquisitions.”

“What about business sense?”

“Heh, I can tell the only goblins you foreigners ever meet are Steamwheedles, always talking about the good old days.  I used to do work for Ms. Agnia Nokfozzel; grand old dame of yesteryear.  Always talked about how things were better before the First Trade War.”

“First Trade War?”

“Yeah, you call it the Second War.  Trade princes fighting each other in the streets, blowing up entire neighborhoods—that’s why half the shops here have big metal plates on the walls.  I’m not really an expert; Ms. Nokfozzel knows more, if you’re curious.”

At my request, he gave me directions to her house in eastern Bilgewater Port.  I did in fact know that Kezan had been a theater in the Second War, though I was unfamiliar with the details.

“Why don’t you go do work for her again?” I asked.

“I’m not with the Bilgewater Cartel at the moment, so she can’t hire me without paying some huge bribe to the bosses.  If you live here, you only do business with Bilgewater and select foreign traders.  Anyone else, and you’ll get your fingers broke.”

“I thought Kezan was the great marketplace of Azeroth.”

“Maybe it used to be.”

“What about debt slaves?”

“Best not to go into debt slavery for the Bilgewater.  Down here you can still make your own business without paying baksheesh to the bullyboys.  I’m going to get enough money selling scrap and cutting purses, and then pay off my debt.  Good as new in a year or so.”

At least goblin optimism remains undimmed.  I reported my findings to Skorg the next morning, further frustrating the shaman.  He reminded me that no official alliance would be made between Bilgewater and the Horde until later; this was just an exploratory effort.

I asked the concierge about Agnia Nokfozzel, and told him to give her a message on the wire; telegrams are a goblin invention that the Horde has begun incorporating into its infrastructure.  She responded quickly, saying I could join her for lunch.

A cabbie working for the Grand Exchange drove me to the Nokfozzel domicile in a wedge-shaped bronze automobile.  An upper-class vehicle, it even included a record player under the driver’s seat.  I could barely hear the music over the sound of the engine, though I caught hints of a brassy and frenetic style.  During the trip, the driver asked if I’d ever had Kaja-Cola.

“It’s the key to goblin brilliance!” he shouted.  “Our ancestors used to be slaves to the trolls, mining stuff called kaja’mite.  It made us smarter, and we got rid of the bums.  The Bilgewater owns the plants that distill kaja’mite into beverage format, sells it at a bargain.  Every drink gives you ideas, makes you smarter.”

“Really?”  I wasn’t sure how to respond; the whole story seemed patently absurd.

“You bet!  We’re running low on kaja’mite, and it doesn’t have the same bang it used to.  Folks are getting stupider.  Sad but true.”

“Seems like a lot of inventions are still made here.”

“They’re not as good though.  Lucky we’ve got enough Kaja-Cola for a few more generations.”

We stopped at a two-story house overlooking a vast pit mine farther east.  The driver claimed that was one of the biggest kaja’mite mines still in operation.  He told me he’d wait for as long as I needed.

Going past the wall, I stepped into the closest thing that Bilgewater Port has to a garden.  Potted plants line tin shelves, growing in spite of the awful air.  Agnia’s house is made of pale yellow brick, the windows tall and narrow.  Stepping up to the door, I knocked.

I nearly bolted when a violet-scaled murloc opened it from the other side.  The murloc bobbed its head and stepped aside.  I caught just a whiff of the old goblin cosmopolitanism I’d once fallen in love with, back in Booty Bay.  Thanking the murloc, I entered a lavish foyer, framed advertisements hanging between red velvet drapes.  Lights from an electric chandelier glinted on the black marble floor.

“Ah, Mr. Allicant!  So glad you could make it.”

A wizened goblin woman hurried down the stairs, her white hair done up in a tangled bun. 

“I must confess that I was hoping you’d look a bit more dead.  I’ve never met a Forsaken before today.  But no matter!  Here, have a seat, lunch is just about ready.”

Lunch turned out to be fried plaintains and mackerel, finished off with glasses of capirinha, a popular liquor derived from sugarcane.  I could barely get a word in during our meeting, Agnia’s age not slowing down her desire to talk.  She spun wondrous stories of her old conquests, how she single-handedly turned Boltwick Limited (a defunct trade group) into the envy of Kezan.  Her print advertising had once guaranteed that every goblin knew where to get the best products in the world.

“What happened to Boltwick Limited, if I may ask.”

“The First Trade War.”  Agnia sighed, looking suddenly forlorn, the wrinkles around her eyes deepening.  “Goblins are a ruthless people, but we once had rules.  Never murder, because dead people can’t buy your goods.  Never steal, because bad money drives out the good.  When we followed them, we were like titans.  Every goblin who got to the top reached it because she was the best!  Not because she murdered and robbed the competition.”

“I’ve heard a bit about the fighting on Kezan.  Some of the trade groups supported the Alliance, though they never officially joined.”

“Stormwind was Kezan’s great trade partner.  I remember as a little girl going with my father when he sold fine rugs to the nobles of Stormwind.  But times changed, and the Horde took over.

“Now, back in those days, the Steamwheedle Cartel really was a cartel, a bunch of security and detective agencies.  Arranged prices to lower risk—stupid, the whole point of life is risk!  Beautiful, beautiful risk, all the crazy ups and downs it brings!  But they didn’t see it.  The Steamwheedle sold their services to the Horde.

“A lot of us didn’t care for that.  So goblin blockade runners sold armaments to the Alliance.  The dwarves were surrounded, so they couldn’t get gunpowder to the Alliance very easily; we took care of that instead.  Plenty of runners worked for Boltwick.

“Then the Steamwheedle started enslaving the giant turtles, using them as submersibles to sink our ships!  Even attacked our harbors!  That’s how the First Trade War started.”

“The histories do mention the goblin blockade runners, though they tend to downplay it,” I said.  She snorted.

“It was horrible.  Gangs of thugs running through the streets, marketplaces bombed, banks robbed, smoke and burning flesh everywhere—I wish I could forget it!  Those Steamwheedle bastards even got the Warchief to loose an entire regiment of ogres.  I saw my secretary—no, I don’t want to talk about it!  Ugly, ugly business!  Everything we’d built over centuries torn apart in months.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine that this is the same Steamwheedle Cartel of today.”

“They’re under new management now—like the Horde is, come to think of it.  I hate to say this, but Steamwheedle’s one of the last decent bunches left.  After the dust cleared, no one knew what to do.  Everyone had seen someone die; violence suddenly became an option.  We rebuilt, but the killers didn’t know what else to do, turned to extortion and robbery, raised their kids to do the same.”

“Why didn’t this happen with the Steamwheedle?”

“It did, just not as much.  I wouldn’t know why.  Maybe they were as shocked as everyone else at how cruel it got.”

“It’s called the First Trade War.  How about the others?”

“Five or six more, I can’t remember for sure.  Some got pretty savage, but they tended to be smaller.  We’ve got the taste of blood, and can’t get rid of it.”

“What happened to Boltwick?”

“We lingered on for a while, finally getting bought out by Bilgewater.  I still work for Bilgewater, technically, but I have enough money that they don’t bother me so long as I pay regularly.  I’m an old woman, ready to move on to the next world, if there is one.”

Agnia slumped in her chair, letting out a long breath.  I suddenly felt guilty for reawakening old wounds.

“But I’ll die rich!  That’s how you know your life was well-spent,” she laughed, taking a sip of her drink.

If Agnia’s story is accurate, the goblins of old followed social norms, however cutthroat.  They’d built a grand mercantile empire and achieved a level of technology rivaled only by the gnomes.  While not without bloodshed, their rise to power had been comparatively peaceful.  All at once, their world exploded into violence, the culture of old replaced with the law of the jungle.

Before I left, I asked Agnia about Kaja-Cola, specifically if goblins were getting stupider due to a lack of the stuff.  She guffawed in response, holding to the ebony post on the stair rail to keep from falling.  It took her a moment to recover.

“Oh, my, are they still selling that?  That’s just an advertising scheme.  I’m an old biddy who loves to complain, but I still remember when all the rich goblins rode plainstriders to work.  Now we have autos!  Seems like folks are getting smarter, if anything.”

“I had my suspicions about the drink,” I said.

“Kaja’mite did get us to thinking, but that was because the miners got exposed to it over generations.  I’ve had Kaja-Cola—it doesn’t taste bad, mind you—but it doesn’t make you smarter.  Sometimes it jolts your brain into action, but most of the ideas it gives are terrible.  The market, not some fizzy drink, decides what’s a good idea.”


Skorg’s patience wore thin over the next few days.  Gallywix had not so much as acknowledged us beyond Gozzig’s flippant greeting.  All attempts at reaching the trade prince failed, his wires unanswered and the man himself impossible to locate.  The cramped quarters and sharp air only worsened Skorg’s mood.

I found enough on Kezan to make my time there worthwhile.  Surrounded by befouled air and bone-deep corruption, I was at least free.  I watched a game of footbomb played between the Bilgewater Buccaneers and the Venture Pillagers.  Footbomb is an absurdly dangerous game in which teams use shredders to fling an explosive-laden ball through the opponent’s goalposts.  Casualties are frequent, but there’s never a shortage of willing players.  Success in footbomb results in considerable wealth and influence, and high-scoring players soon find themselves hobnobbing with trade princes.  I was relieved that no one died in the game I watched, a sentiment not shared by the audience.

Footbomb games are one of the few times that different trade groups can actually meet in a relatively informal setting.  Smugglers use this opportunity to sell products made by other trade groups.  Three different Venture agents approached me with deals before and after the game.  Needless to say, I refused.  I’d never before imagined that a goblin community would need a black market, but Bilgewater Port is full of surprises.

I also visited the headquarters of the Kajaro Trading Company, a major subsidiary of the Bilgewater Cartel that owns the rights to Kaja-Cola.  The KTC predates the Bilgewater by a good 153 years (after negotiating the formula away from the previous owner), and was formerly owned by Boltwick Limited, Agnia’s old company.  I couldn’t help but wonder if her sour opinion towards Kaja-Cola stemmed from the company’s change in ownership.

I coaxed Skorg to leave the Grand Exchange and join me in my trip.  He agreed, though seeing the outdoors in such a denuded state depressed him. 

“The spirits here are trapped.  The goblins made deals with them, binding them with lies and promises,” he sighed during the drive.

“I wasn’t aware that the goblins had any communication with the spirits.”

“You didn’t know?  Goblin shamans do exist, though they are not very common.  They are technically forbidden in Horde territories; the tauren find them abominable.”

“How do they operate?”

“The same way goblins always do.  They connive and scheme to trick the spirits into legalistic prisons.  A shaman promises a water elemental that he will clean the area if they power his mill, not telling them that the mill itself pollutes.”

“Can’t the spirit fight back?”

“At first, the spirit cooperates.  Then the shaman brings in elemental enforcers, or threatens to make the situation worse if the spirit refuses to continue working.  Those that do refuse the shamans find their homes destroyed.  The shamans of Kezan are a vile breed.”

This puzzled me.  While I don’t doubt that unscrupulous goblin shamans would act in such a way, I found it odd that the spirits would not fight back.  I also worried that Skorg’s annoyance would hamper our diplomatic efforts. 

KTC headquarters is not terribly interesting, though we did get a closer look at the ghastly kaja’mite pit mine, worked by troll slaves.  The KTC claims that the slaves are descended from the trolls who originally enslaved the goblin race, thousands of years ago.  Given that troll debt slaves from all walks of life routinely end up in the mine, this is an obvious falsehood.

Both Skorg and I knew that goblins use debt slaves, though the racial basis for the KTC variety made it particularly appalling.  Kezan has a significant troll population, ranging from the destitute to the fantastically wealthy.  Neither of us had expected to see actual goblin racism.

That night, Skorg announced that he would not recommend the Bilgewater Cartel for the Horde. 

“The Horde does need their technical expertise,” pointed out Shaluran.

“We can hire their engineers as needed, like we already do.  I will not send Horde warriors to die in the name of this hateful organization.  It is bad enough that we must defend Sylvanas.”

“Lady Windrunner is an essential part of the Horde,” protested Shaluran.

“One who’s proven depraved and unreliable,” I said.  The blood elf stared at me in shock, and Skorg chuckled.

Gozzig returned to us the next day, proclaiming with great aplomb that the trade prince was holding a party at his villa that evening.  We were to be the guests of honor.  Conveniently enough, my suit from Szabo’s arrived that morning.  It was a fine effort on his part.

Another cab took us to the Gallywix Villa, a walled compound built on the bluffs overlooking the tar-streaked beaches.  Over the metal walls we saw the silhouettes of leaning palm trees.  Strings of colorful electric lights hang between the watchtowers.

The doormen ushered us through the gates and into an expansive courtyard.  Goblins sipped drinks from divans placed under the shadows of palm trees, while others splashed in a swimming pool that held the cleanest water I’d seen since arriving.  Goblins helped themselves from tables laden with food and drink from around the world.  A dozen musicians blasted trumpets and beat drums, a fast tune in constant reinvention, the players switching from cooperation to competition and back again as they sought to excite the music with bold improvisations.  One could learn a library’s worth of information about goblin society just by listening to the music.

Gallywix himself turned out to be a remarkably burly goblin riding a modified gnomish multistrider, a sort of large mechanical spider.  He turned his vehicle and drove towards us, the legs clanking with every step. 

“Welcome, on behalf of the Bilgewater Cartel, and its owner: me!  I can’t tell you how glad I am to have the Horde’s best as guests.  You’ll be the talk of town.”

“The honor is mine,” rumbled Skorg.  “Your wealth is a testament to your abilities.”

“I know!  Anything I grab, I keep.  That’s my rule.”

Skorg occasionally tried to steer the conversation into more official directions, but at last gave up.  Gallywix was more interested in bragging, and kept calling guests over to see us.  Parts of Kezan are multiracial, but Bilgewater Port itself is unusually homogenous.  Most residents never leave the place; an official permit is needed to visit areas of the island not controlled by the Bilgewater Cartel.  Sadly, this is a common tactic used by trade groups, who often seem more interested in monopolies than in actual trade.

I wandered around the party grounds after taking a complimentary cup of coffee from a cafĂ© stand bathed in sprays of mist.  I eventually ended up speaking to an elderly goblin executive named Ozrow Wilnibogg, whose severe suit and close-cropped silver hair made him stand out from the proceedings.  He sipped a Kaja-Cola cocktail from an odd glass shaped like an upside-down cone on a narrow stem.

“It is very strange, the Kezan of today.  This shows just how important Kaja-Cola is to our society,” he said.

“How so?”

“Kaja-Cola is the source of our brilliance!  When I take a sip, I instantly get an idea, like a dozen lights going off at once in my skull!  But it’s lost its effectiveness over the generations, and the kaja’mite content must be raised in order to bring about the same effect.”

“But surely the inventions of modern times are more sophisticated than those of the past!  I was speaking to a woman around your age, and she was telling me goblins used to ride plainstriders around Kezan instead of driving.”

“We’ve only been able to reach this by building on the brilliance of old.  So much of it is gnomish technology—I hate to admit it, but it’s true.  Everything now is derivative.  That’s why goblins steal.  I’m not trying to moralize here, I do the same—whatever one needs to get coin, right?  But it is tragic.”

“Is it really so bad to be borrowing from the gnomes?  I’m no engineer, but I understand that they also derive a great deal from the goblins.  Doesn’t learning from others make you stronger?”

“Perhaps, but in the past we did not need to learn from others!  We taught ourselves.”

“I’ve heard kaja’mite supplies are running low.”

“They are.  The KTC is doing everything it can.  I don’t work for the KTC, but I often work with them in scouting out new lodes, which is harder and harder to do.  I know there will be enough for me, so I’m not terribly concerned.  A few generations from now… we’ll be slaves of the trolls again.”

At his urging, I tried a glass of Kaja-Cola (for which I had to pay).  A faint sweetness fizzled out on my tongue, without any surge of brilliance.  The KTC says that the drink promotes mental activity, and users swear that they can instantly formulate grand ideas after a single drink.  The goblin (assuming he’s a Kaja-Cola believer) may then try to capitalize on the idea.  When one considers the sheer number of failed start-ups based on preposterous ideas, I can see why goblins like Agnia are skeptical.

Nonetheless, Kaja-Cola grips goblin society like a vise.  Thousands of goblins stockpile it, the wealthiest of all buying it in bulk, drinking the stuff, and selling the resultant ideas to buyers (the reasoning being that, since the goblin is already rich, any ideas he gets must be of high quality).  So great is the demand that Kaja-Cola, a Bilgewater product, is sold in every part of Kezan, even in areas where other Bilgewater products are forbidden.  It has only failed to penetrate the Steamwheedle colonies (though it’s not prohibited), where coffee is still the preferred beverage.

Some of Ozrow’s lamentations have merit.  Goblin technology underwent a tremendous expansion during and after the First Trade War, as they experimented with new methods to defeat the competition and quickly reestablish trade routes.  The end of the Third War saw the progress slow down; indeed, many of the most innovative ideas have come from the gnomes in the years since.  However, I am not sure that this is due to decreasing intelligence, or more because of the increasingly monopolistic and static nature of goblin society.  Though to hear Ozrow talk, the societal decline is itself a result of kaja’mite’s diminishing returns.

The party offered an interesting cross-section of goblin (or more particularly, Bilgewater) society.  In addition to high-ranking employees, there were also the cooks and entertainers.  Talking to several, I learned that being hired for a Gallywix-hosted event was considered a career milestone.  Social connections are made and names earned in the glitz.  Professional socialites are a reality in Kezan.  Hiring just the right socialites for a party can do wonders for a goblin’s reputation, and is one of the few areas where it is considered acceptable to hire independents.

Greasy darkness flowed across the sky as day gave way to night, the lights brightened to fight the smog.  Goblins continued to gorge on hors d’oeuvres, and I grew weary of engineers offering to improve the functionality of my left hand.

“All it needs is some tweaking, maybe pop-out blades for when you need to teach a yegg a lesson he won’t forget!”  I smiled and told him I would consider it.

It was past midnight when we left, almost empty-handed in terms of diplomacy.  Trade Prince Gallywix had insisted that we visit him again a few days later, during which we would talk engage in more formal diplomatic discussion.  The party was obviously a test to see how well we’d acquit ourselves in a social situation.  Skorg had reluctantly agreed to see Gallywix a second time, despite considering the trade prince patently untrustworthy.  As I was not an official ambassador, I would not attend the second meeting.

Skorg went to the second meeting with Shaluran and Kaholo.  Whatever his faults, Trade Prince Gallywix must have a gift of persuasion matched by few.  He somehow convinced Skorg to tour the Bilgewater facilities on an obscure tropical island north of Kezan, where one could see the true power and wealth of the cartel.