When: Four Years After the Dark Portal
Where: The golden fields of Westfall
Picking her first target was Tiffin’s least favorite part of waiting. The building adrenaline, the tension, the fear… it all made her mind race down little mental box canyons that distracted from the task at hand. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, keeping herself still on her shadowed bit of hillside, the crossbow loaded but her finger far from the trigger. Time to focus.
Someone who’s engaged with the group. When the task is to draw attention, it means you need to choose the person that everyone in the group is looking at, or at least has in the periphery. Every group has a talker, someone who’s trying to fill the drudgery of a patrol with entertainment of some kind. When you want to send a message, especially when that message is “look at me, i’m over here, killing you one by one,” then picking the one in the middle of talking about his last night’s escapades is a great way to do it.
Find the talker. This group was more cautious than the last one; five orcs rather than four, and three of them doing a passable job of actually surveying the fallow, dried-out fields around them. But the talker was right there in the front, and the green lunk next to him seemed completely engrossed in the story.
She went through other steps in her mind, keeping her movements slow so as not to give up her position too soon. Her eyes scanned the yellowed grass to get an idea of the wind. The sunlight was not a factor, though it was a bright, shiny Westfall day that belied her dark work.
Light forgive me. She squeezed the trigger, and her crossbow bolt flew off, arcing through the air, kissed by the wind.
The talker was mid-sentence when the bolt struck him through the head. He fell forward, carried slightly by the force of the bolt’s hit, and was dead when he hit the ground in front of his audience. The four other orcs go from shock to rage in under a breath. Tiffin was already sliding forward out of her perch and into the light when she heard them spot her.
Guttural shouts of rage followed her as she dashed at an angle down the hill. Give them quarry, and they’ll give chase. Getting them mad helped with forcing them to make mistakes, but as much as Vice and Hector made the orcs out to be thoughtless brutes, Tiffin insisted that they’re more clever than they seem. That’s why it wasn’t a matter of leading them into an obvious trap and hoping their rage blinds them to the clues; it was making them trap themselves.
Tiffin was not a tall girl for her age. The crossbow was heavy when she couldn’t shoulder it, a cinched sack of weighty steel bolts was troublesome even when strapped to the small of her back, and even the minimal leather jerkin wasn’t nothing when she needed to put down as much foot speed as possible. The orcs were twice her height and were crafted entirely out of muscle and rage, so it wasn’t even a contest about whether they could catch up, but when.
What the orcs saw was a human girl with a big crossbow running scared. They saw her turn her head to look back at them in terror, and then they see her ankle turn on a rock. They watch her tumble with a cry over the lip of a ridge that they knew sloped down towards a dried-out riverbed.
The four of them crested the ridge, expecting to see their wounded quarry on the ground. Instead, their quarry stood in the riverbed with her crossbow up, three other hunters with readied weapons alongside her, and before the orcs could stop their descent down the slope, the humans all fired once.
Only one orc was still alive when their bodies arrived at the bottom of the slope, and true to form, he was instantly up swinging with an oversized barbed mattock. His rampage was cut short, however, when Hector jumped off the rock he’d crouched behind and buried his axe in the orc’s shoulder. The orc went down in a heap, which Hector then victoriously stood atop to ensure his victim wouldn’t get a second wind.
Tiffin gave orders tersely as she walked towards Hector, and the other hunters moved immediately to their tasks. Hector, satisfied that the orc was good and dead, extracted his axe and moved to sit down and clean gore off his axe. He looked up as Tiffin approached, and spoke through the ready grin on his face. “Well met, rabbit.”
Tiffin wasn’t smiling. “They’re strengthening the patrols.”
Hector rolled his eyes. “You can’t take a moment to appreciate victory?”
One of the other hunters squealed as his assigned corpse reached up and grabbed him around the neck. Tiffin’s crossbow twanged, the bolt went thunk under the orc’s ear, and the hunter gasped for breath as he landed on the earth again.
Tiffin rounded on Hector. “It’s not victory until every single orc body is out of our city for good. Now listen: strengthening the patrols means they suspect trouble out here. We need a new plan. Picking off low-tier grunts isn’t a long-term strategy.”
Hector threw up his free hand in defeat. “You feel free to take that up with Vice. I just take orders.”
You should be taking orders from me. “Well, Vice ordered you along with us so we could haul the bodies back. I’ll keep an eye out.”
Hector gave a lazy salute, wisely choosing to not argue. Tiffin made sure her hunter was all right, then headed back up the ridge she theatrically tumbled down to lure the orcs into the trap.
It wasn’t the first time she’d done it, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last. But the orcs would get wise to the same trick if you played it on them enough times.
That’s why she chafed when Vice and Hector talked of the orcs as if they were merely brutes. We lost our kingdom to these brainless green bastards, so if they’re so stupid, what does that say about us?
She pushed the thought away and nocked another bolt, just in case.