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 were a distraction from the task at hand. She takes a deep breath and blows it out slowly, keeping herself 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 guy who was in the middle of talking about his last night’s escapades is a great way to do it.
Find the talker. This group is more cautious than the last one; five orcs rather than four, and three of them are doing a passable job of actually surveying the fallow, dried-out fields around them. But the talker is right there in the front, and the green lunk next to him seems completely engrossed in whatever story he’s telling.
She goes through other steps in her mind, keeping her movements slow so as not to give up her position too soon. Her eyes scan the yellowed grass to get an idea of the wind. The sunlight is not a factor, though it is a bright, shiny Westfall day that belies the dark work she’s doing.
Light forgive me. She squeezes the trigger, and her crossbow bolt flies off, arcing through the air, kissed by the wind.
The talker is mid-sentence when the bolt strikes him through the head. He falls forward, carried slightly by the force of the bolt’s hit, and is dead when he hits the ground in front of his audience. The four other orcs go from shock to rage in under two breaths. Tiffin is already sliding forward out of her perch and into the light when she hears them spot her.
Guttural shouts of rage follow her as she dashes at an angle down the hill. Give them quarry, and they’ll give chase. Getting them mad helps with forcing them to make mistakes, but as much as Vice and Hector want to make them all out to be thoughtless brutes, Tiffin insists that they’re more clever than they seem. That’s why it’s not a matter of leading them into an obvious trap and hoping their rage blinds them to the clues; it’s making them trap themselves.
Tiffin is not a tall girl for her age. The crossbow is heavy when she can’t shoulder it, a cinched sack of weighty steel bolts is 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 are twice her height and seem to be crafted entirely out of muscle and rage, so it’s not even a contest about whether they could catch up, but when.
What the orcs see is a human girl with a big crossbow running scared. They see her turn her head to look back at them in terror, and then they see her ankle turn on a rock. They see her tumble with a cry over the lip of a ridge that they know slopes down towards a dried-out riverbed.
The four of them crest the ridge, expecting to see their wounded quarry on the ground. Instead, their quarry is standing in the riverbed with her crossbow up, three other hunters with readied weapons alongside her, and before the orcs can stop their descent down the slope, the humans have all fired once.
Only one orc is still alive when their bodies arrive at the bottom of the slope, and true to form, he is instantly up swinging with his oversized barbed mattock. His rampage is cut short, however, when Hector jumps off the rock he was crouched behind and buries his axe in the orc’s shoulder. The orc goes down in a heap, which Hector then victoriously stands atop to ensure his victim doesn’t get a second wind.
Tiffin is already giving orders as she walks towards Hector, and the other hunters move immediately to their tasks. Hector, satisfied that the orc is good and dead, extracts his axe and moves to sit down and clean gore off his axe. He looks up as Tiffin approaches, and speaks through a grin on his face. “Well met, rabbit.”
Tiffin isn’t smiling. “They’re strengthening the patrols.”
Hector rolls his eyes. “You can’t take a moment to appreciate victory?”
One of the other hunters squeals as the corpse he was checking reaches up and grabs him around the neck. Tiffin’s crossbow twangs, the bolt goes thunk under the orc’s ear, and the hunter gasps for breath as he lands on the earth again.
Tiffin rounds 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 throws 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 gives a lazy salute, wisely choosing to not argue. Tiffin makes sure her hunter is all right, then heads 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 knows it won’t be the last. But the orcs will get wise to the same trick if you play it on them enough times.
That’s why she chafes when Vice and Hector talk 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 pushes the thought away and nocks another bolt, just in case.