Blackrock Coast Circuit
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Cacophonous noise exploded on the track as the gathered machines roared to life. The crowd screamed in unison, barely heard over the thirty-one thundering engines melting rubber onto pavement in a primordial display of showmanship. Packed into tall, precariously leaning metal rows was the myriad and mutated mess of Blackstone Island's most pitiable citizens; the racing fans. They writhed and shoved against each other, shouting bets that were drowned out by the squealing tires mere inches away. Credits, coins, and bits of food were launched across the road to the reaching claws, paws, and suckers of wrinkled old money changers. Scattered food stalls wafted scents of hot, greasy fair foods, cooked insects and synthetic protein charred golden-brown.

Squeezed between dark yellow clouds piling up on the horizons, harsh light poured down onto glistening asphalt. Glares from curved windshields and chrome siding half-blinded the few bold souls that stood amidst roiling gray smoke on the starting line. All three dozen (minus one) drivers sat, occasionally spinning and thinning their tires as a ten-foot-tall behemoth of a brass golem approached.

In one massive orange claw, white cloth snapped in the headwind. Behind it ran whooping teenagers, jabbing at the metal monster with poles and long bent pipes. It shuffled slowly to the middle of the assembled menagerie of rumbling metal and swayed to a stop, pincer stiffly extended. Flag fluttering, a massively bloated and sweating Cyclops in a striped purple suit wrestled a pole from a child. With all his wobbling weight behind it, he shoved the rod viciously into the joint of the copper crab's claw. White flag fell, and the track vanished under a spreading cloud of exhaust as thirty-odd engines revved.

The pure excitement of the crowd washed over the varied vehicles as they pulled out past the stumbling automaton. Through a haze of dirty exhaust, each racer blew through the line, leaving dull skid marks and the remnants of cheers behind. By the time the filthy cloud cleared there was only a dust cloud stretching off towards the first turn.

As most of the crowd was settling back down in anticipation of the first pass, a smooth orange spot was spotted on the runway leading up to the starting line, approaching fast enough to kick up its own cloud of dirt and debris. What final few were left gathered on the starting line were idly poking the overturned metal crustacean. They dived away as the orange oval peeled across the line, inches away from the fallen Foundry. The crowd murmured in confusion as the teenagers laughed and ran futilely after the rapidly disappearing dot.

From just under the lowest layer of looming clouds drifted a genuine relic of a long-lost age; a dilapidated dirigible the size of a small isle. Nearly hidden on its smooth canvas underbelly were tiny round portholes, from which multitudes of curious creatures peered down. Below the blimp lay the island of Blackstone, so named for the basalt mountain range that erupted from the western coast straight into the metropolis. The rugged cliffs cast wide shadows across the island that hid hundreds, if not thousands, of massive schisms and crevices that tore completely through the islands' core. Some of the more inebriated guests aboard the flying machine bragged that they could make out the faded marble shoulders of the behemoth Holder far, far below.

However, it was not the kneeling giant that those privileged passengers were watching. Around the islands' edge wound a gently twisting circuit, passing through the ruins of downtown and heading along the choking gray fields of the industrial graveyard beyond. Billowing trails of dust, tiny to those high above, marked out the front of the pack as vehicles slid through the first turn. Certain eagle-eyed aristocrats towards the rear of the blimp chuckled over millennia-aged wine. They'd assumed the racer in spot thirty-one was the slowest of the bunch, but now from even further back was a bright orange glint, only now approaching turn one.

The roar of the engine, the vibrations as they bounced across rubble and potholes. The acrid smell of exhaust slipping through cracks in the dashboard, a tiny breeze swirling around a cramped and dark interior. The driver of the orange machine couldn't feel any of it. He'd painted the car like a brilliant sunset, the brightest shade of orange he could find. He was here to race, to be seen. The color screamed out his passion while he remained ever silent. A smooth operator, they'd joked while pulling him out of another pointless wreck. Now he'd make the affection into a reality.

Rubber squealed as he pulled into the first turn, shoving useless memories aside as new stimuli demanded attention. Time slowed inperceptively as his brain shifted from recollection to analysis. Through sensors he saw the turn approaching, piles of loose silt gathered on the inner portion of the road. The weathered concrete curb came into focus. Small chunks of gravel flew from spinning tires as he leaned on the wheel, taking the corner closer to the inside than most others would've dared. His right front axle ground against concrete, sparks flying as the orange vehicle slid around the wide turn.

He'd burned through half his stockpile of booster fuel to catch up on the starting straight, after arriving nearly twenty full seconds late. The ship that'd carried him and his sunset ride to the island had been both outrageously expensive and outrageously slow, arriving just minutes before the scheduled start of the circuit instead of days ahead.

He'd rocketed forward until the very last moment, when he'd slammed on the brakes to slide around the run-down intersection at the entrance to downtown. Now, as he straightened back out, still riding too close to the curb, the slowest racers came into view. Speed was bleeding from the contact with the concrete. He moved back into the street. Three vehicles ahead, all large, clunky, and rust-pitted. Off-roaders, most likely. Not the type of vehicle that was built for speed, though they'd performed well over the scattered chunks of buildings spread over the metro system. Clouds of dark fumes poured from chrome tailpipes as he accelerated off his tight turn. He dived behind the rearmost to steal what slipstream he could, then swerved forward to the next. A skinny-looking teenager in an oil-stained jumpsuit shouted obscenities as he flew past. The other two, older and dirtier, were hammering madly at their dashboards to somehow eke out more speed as the orange machine pulled around them, his own smooth tires outpacing their all-terrain grip on the dark pavement.

Before the trio had even faded into the dust behind him, the next racer was in sight. The road had straightened out after the first turn and was now a blistering line through the center of the ruined city, trolley lines crisscrossing the black tar to send the blue truck ahead of him bouncing. Its suspension sagged as it impacted the pavement, and the back tires spun wildly as it fishtailed. The unfortunate driver slid into the first floor of a boarded-up restaurant, cheap patio furniture careening across the sidewalk.

His own vehicle hardly jolted as the rail lines flew underneath. Being so low to the ground saved him the trouble of unwanted airtime. He sped down the now-empty stretch. The small radio he kept on the dashboard cackled to life, spitting out the announcer's credentials before launching into a vivid and exaggerated replay of the starting line. He mostly ignored the voice, only listening for changes to the circuit. This island was falling apart from the inside out, and parts of the track falling away were a distinct possibility.

When the voice started repeating itself he flicked the radio off, concentrating fully back on the road. He'd closed the gap between himself and the next group of cars, and now at the start of the second turn he eased the gas and gently maneuvered around the furthest back of the group. He took the turn wide, drifting out towards the edge of endless yellow clouds. The rest of the group, three more cars of similar size to the truck from before, stuck to a severe line through the inner corner. No space for his machine to fit through. He exited the turn back onto cracked and blistered asphalt inches behind the three others.

He saw nervous eyes peering back at him from the truck ahead, likely unused to such a short and compact vehicle tailgating it. Getting caught in the rear wheels would be a death sentence for both of them. Using that fear, he slid around the truck on the inside and dived towards it. The truck, already unfocused on the road in front of him, swerved wildly to the outside to avoid getting tangled with the smaller vehicle and spun out on the shoulder, drifting to a stop facing the wrong direction on the open highway. Using the gap left from the truck's vacated position, he caught a draft off the leading trucks and sped by them on the inside. The leader of the little group tried pushing him to the left shoulder as he passed, but with a deft application of brakes he slid between both trucks, just barely fitting the gap. The leader pulled into the rougher pavement of the shoulder and lost considerable speed, taking itself out of the running as the compact little car pulled ahead.

His car's design was unique, mostly because it would be a nightmare for most sentient beings to drive. The cockpit was narrow and long, and could only be operated by a bipedal if they lay flat on belly or back. The roof of the car only rose three feet off the ground, with a curving solid front lacking windows of any kind. That was where tiny sensors hidden in the headlights informed the driver through various screens of the outside environment, a setup that was both difficult to learn and to operate in action. While looking like a torturous ride for most, it suited him well enough. What it lost in size it gained in acceleration and top speed. He'd named it the 210 Horizon, and had spent all he had improving it after they'd ended up, lost and broken, in this whirlpool of islands at the end of all worlds.

The metropolis suddenly peeled away, skyscrapers growing shorter before turning into nothing more than shacks spread out over the desolate plain of the industrial graveyard. Massive smokestacks and chunky factory centers broke up the otherwise empty plains, some still leaking thick, dark fumes. A faint metallic scent drifted across flat, empty land, sweat mixed with dirty steel and rust. To the outside of the monotonous highway was the unstable cliff-side of the island, with absolutely nothing to signify how close the void came to the shoulder. He kept close to the inside during this straight, preferring occasional potholes to the uncertain fate of diving into the disintegrating forces of unknown off the edge.

The next turn approached. Keeping to the inside, he slid over black skid marks. They painted an unbroken line from the center of the turn off the outside shoulder. A turn taken too wide, and with the lack of reappearing skids as the turn straightened, it seemed he'd been right to stay further in.

The abandoned factories drew close now on the left side of the road, littering the landscape with husks of stripped-out semi-trucks and crumpled trailers. Piles of torn tires filled both shoulders, narrowing the road further still as the edge of the coast still loomed off to the right side.

Sensors blared with sudden warnings, brakes squealing. The twisted wreck of at least four vehicles clogged up the road ahead, several still smoking from ruined hoods. The drivers stood leaning on an overturned trailer, blocking one shoulder while the other was stacked with hubcaps and rusted axels. Between lay the crash site, and the Horizon was careening forward on a collision course. The injured drivers waved arms and tendrils, none of them recognizing the tiny car that somehow slipped into a gap between the wrecks and slid out the other side, dodging haphazard chunks of metal and rubber as it went. The movement was smooth and calculated, even gaining more speed as it crested a raised patch of dirt and tore back down it. It sped off down the highway, leaving them choking in the spreading dust.

At the foothills of the basalt slopes stood a tower made of pure, carved obsidian, inlaid with marble carvings in runes old and faded. At its zenith lay the forgotten Prince Nadir, whose physical form had long since withered away. His spirit watched the land from the tower's peak, and it watched now as metal beasts charged across his territory. This injustice was one too many. The ancient Prince gathered what remained of his power and scattered his remnants into the wind, blowing a fell breeze across the long, dark road at the edge of his domain.

The blimp drifted slowly over the island, keeping easy pace with the leading pack as it sped past the desolate fields of burnt factories leading to the mountain pass. As scantily clad dancers began a routine on the main stage, those with fingers in the betting pool still kept a close eye on the track, and were the first to notice when terrible black light began to seep from the highway surrounding the racers.

Shouting out, the rest of the meandering nobility sauntered to the windows, gasping aloud with delight as eldritch horrors covered the track. Cars spun out one by one, the stalled vehicles lifted and crushed by demonic hands the size of houses. Screams, both living and undead, drifted up to the blimp on the wind, carrying with it a foul stench that curdled the drinks of at least one bourgeois.

Far below the applauding nobles, the Horizon had gained more time and was approaching the main group lagging directly behind the leaders. The race was more than half over, and still, there were more than a dozen places between him and the finish. Pushing the compact engine to its limits, the slick sunset-toned blur gained on the pack, reaching out for a slipstream boost when the road to either side exploded.

Thick black columns of a viscous, tar-like substance rained down in gobbets on the windshields and roofs of the pack, blinding several of them and clogging up the wheels of more. As cars began to drift into each other, the Horizon took the right shoulder despite the implicit threat of the void. Weaving between the goop and the rocky cliffside, the orange car sped forward, lack of windows letting the ichors splash harmlessly onto its bright body. As the main group descended into chaos the Horizon pulled back out, a moment too soon. The back left wheel splashed through a puddle of the gunk, locking up the wheel and sliding the rear of the car into a long slide alongside the shoulder.

As more columns of the foul substance spouted just behind, the Horizon vented excess heat from the engine through panels on the sides of the car. Normally meant as an auxiliary cooling system, it served to melt the black goo from the wheel well. It accelerated just as the columns caught up, and managed to outpace them to rejoin what few racers had made it through.

The final group passed into the mountains. A blood-curdling scream echoed behind them. The final remnants of tainted ooze detonated, sending streams of the filth rocketing towards the clouds above. More wine was spilled as the gunk impacted the round portholes of the dirigible. It quickly ascended further, leaving the racers to navigate the winding mountain road alone.

Jagged basalt cliffs rose steeply on either side of the uneven blacktop. Horizon was close on the tail of the three leaders. Once all three were in view, his analysis kicked in. In third was a hulking monster of a truck, its wheels twice as tall as Horizon's body. It had thick iron welded to its sides, armor for suicide rams most likely. Its size and armor were likely what had kept it in the running for this long, as its speed was noticeably worse than the other two leaders, who were pulling slightly ahead of it. A mud-splattered license plate swung precariously off the bumper, reading 'N1HL 4EVR' in blocky letters over the moldy metal rectangle. Riding in the truck's bed was a massive, muscle-bound body, gray-skinned and topped with what seemed to be a massive mushroom cap. The titan wore filthy robes over bulging muscles. It swung prodigious arms full of mechanical scrap out in front of the rolling tank, aiming for the wheels of the vehicles in front.

As the Horizon pulled up behind the truck, looking for a way past on the narrow road, the titan noticed the tiny orange car and let loose a crazed roar. Straining, it lifted an entire anchor covered in thick greenish-yellow barnacles out of the truck's bed, holding it aloft with a maniacal grin before slamming it down into the asphalt. Still connected to the back of the truck by a short chain, the rusted-iron anchor tore deep gouges into the pavement that the Horizon only barely managed to avoid. Its front-end was pelted by chunks of road and whatever metal bits the mushroom giant could fling back. Before it could take any more damage, the Horizon saw its chance.

The orange car swerved right, the left tires ramping off the chasm furrowed in the road and lifting it onto two wheels. Momentum carried it to the shoulder, where a hill of dirt poked out partially onto the extreme right edge of the road. Timed just right, the roof of the orange car bounced off the hill instead of slamming into it head-on. Dropping back onto all four wheels, and now firmly on one side of the still-dragging anchor, the Horizon used its speed to slide right underneath the massive truck. Sparks shot out as the abused roof of the tiny car scraped the uneven belly of the truck.

Barely sliding between titanic front tires, the Horizon slammed the gas and sped off. From behind, a much smaller and thinner mushroom-capped head, covered in wild white tufts of hair, leaned out of the truck's cab, hurling insults and bits of moldy detritus at the vanishing orange machine.

The final three racers grouped together as the light faded around them, darkening until they were in a veritable tunnel snaking between vertical cliff faces of black stone. Just before the light faded, the last two opponents had been neck and neck in front of the Horizon. In the dark, occasional scraping and brief flashes lit the tunnel as the two leaders traded paint. Unable to find a way through them, the orange car was stuck keeping pace with the two as they fought and slowed each other. In the rear, the tank and its crazed spore worshippers could be heard shouting, massive anchor still tearing up asphalt. They would rejoin the fight soon enough, spelling disaster for the smaller racer who would be caught between it all. There was suddenly a bright, long flash from ahead, much too large to be a simple scrape. With the tunnel momentarily lit, the two racers ahead were revealed.

On the right side was a silver bullet-shaped vehicle, perfectly smooth but for huge vents on either side that were spewing out light and heat in vast amounts. The heat was strong enough that the metal sides of the vehicle were beginning to glow red-hot. Small flames started to lick at the racer beside it, who swerved left to avoid being set completely aflame. It was a strange-looking donut of a car, with one massive round ball in the place of wheels. Jets on its underside helped balance the round racer as it sped along on the giant ball, funneling precision bursts of compressed air that allowed it to tilt hard in any direction to deliver a devastating strike.

The duo rejoined each other just as the Horizon attempted to sneak past in the gap between them. Slamming the brakes, the small orange car fell back again as the two collided and bounced off each other again and again. The tunnel dropped away, daylight splashing back down onto the road as the final stretch came into sight. The first few broken skyscrapers of the metropolis loomed over the racers as they sped into the ruined city. Colorful bits of confetti from shattered windows and fireworks from crowded sidewalks filled the sky, while the dirigible drifted lazily above. Cameras flashed as they careened past cheering spectators, still locked in a tie for first with Horizon in second and the tank accelerating in third.

The ball slid around the road on the left, and flames licked across the pavement to the right. The Horizon was out of options, and the finish line was now only seconds away. The huge, heavy truck had caught up and was bearing down on the smaller car. The driver's red eyes were wide with rage as his huge sibling hoisted the pitted brown anchor over the cab, aiming to crush the orange car into the road.

With the finish line in sight, the driver of Horizon would've smiled if he could. This was what it meant to be alive, he was now certain of it. His circuits burned hot, slowing the world outside as he slammed on the brakes and pulled the wheel hard. The hulking mushroom-topped Hercules behind smashed the anchor down in front of the truck, narrowly missing Horizon as it swerved next to the truck on the right shoulder. The massive anchor sank deep into the road, and the truck hurtled into it, colliding hard enough to send the massive tank flipping end over end.

While the truck sailed overhead, Horizon activated the last remnants of booster fuel it had saved since the very start. White tongues of flame trailed from the smaller car's exhaust as it surged underneath the falling tons of steel. The two ahead still ground against each other, with both drivers presumably distracted at the gigantic vehicle defying gravity above them. An orange blur dove underneath the jet-balanced car on the left, then pulled hard to the right as it tilted down to push the tiny opponent into the asphalt. The silver bullet's flames spat out on either side of the streamlined vehicle, but just under its nose was clear space, and the Horizon slipped into place directly under the cockpit of the silver machine. Behind the wheel of the bullet sat a young, gaunt-looking woman in dyed leather armor, mouth agape as she stared down at the little car between her front tires.

She pulled the wheel hard to the left, trying to crush the little orange car, but her jet-balanced rival slammed into the side of the silver bullet hard enough to completely stop the swerve. Now fully aflame, it was likely that the rolling ball was no longer capable of steering, as they continued to grind against the silver car in the final stretch. Horizon gained enough ground to speed away as the huge truck came crashing down on the back of both former leaders, a massive explosion of scattered steel all that remained of the truck.

Horizon crossed the finish line to screams and applause, while just behind it crawled the heavily damaged silver bullet, followed by the burning wreck of the rolling ball. Spectators rushed onto the road to pull the drivers out of the smoking husks as Horizon gently pulled to a stop. For the first time, the crowd got a good look at the late entry, its orange paint scuffed and its hood smoking from overheating on the final straight.

The crowd surged forward, surrounding the first-place finisher. The silver bullet, having claimed second place, crawled its way to the stands. The engine sputtered out, and the cockpit sprung open as white smoke billowed up. The young woman, forehead bleeding from a shallow cut, hopped down and knelt before a figure standing stoically in the spreading smokescreen. It reached a heavy, gauntleted palm to her bowed head, armor flashing briefly with a simple healing spell. Feeling her forehead and finding it smooth again, she accepted the armored hand and stood as her Withstander companion inspected what was left of her racing machine.

Meanwhile, the blaze that had engulfed the one-wheeled car was raging on. Small geysers of flame burst out as the fire found its way to the jets' fuel tanks. Though it had lost control before the final stretch, it had still managed a third-place finish. The driver sat nearby, wrapped entirely in bandages, only small tufts of gray fur sticking out between layers of gauze. The medic assisting them had a charred tube of fairground meat clenched between blocky teeth, munching away even as it slathered more gauze across the helpless lump of fur.

As for the tank that had caused the massive collision in the final moments, only bite-sized pieces of the engine block and cab were scattered around the finish. The muscle-bound brute of gray skin stood holding the mushroom cap of his brother, one arm and much of one leg torn to pieces in the crash. Parts were already beginning to reform, gray strands slowly twisting into muscle and sinew. The head was still spitting vitriol at the other racers as his hulking sibling quietly padded off the course.

Fully encircled by manic fans, Horizon's engine died down. They pressed together, eager to witness the legendary driver that had not only claimed victory on the circuit, but even survived that incredible crash at the very end! The backwoods island had never seen a more exciting race than this. The crowd cheered again when the side door hissed upward, and a human figure clattered out onto the road, before standing stiffly and looking back at the now silent, staring masses.

On his chest was printed 'Crash Test Dummy 210' and on his blank, yellow plastic face rested a pair of dark sunglasses and nothing else. He stood there in silence as the jets exploded on the one-wheeled wreck in the distance behind them.

And the crowd roared.

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