Britta felt even smaller than usual. The orcs, one in front and one bringing up the rear, were huge compared to a human, and enormous compared to her. It made keeping up with their pace quite difficult.
Fortunately, they didn’t have far to go. The branch office was down a tunnel, a left turn through a large room with tables, possibly the staff canteen judging by the plates of half-eaten food, although no one was there at the moment. They probably had to rush off to find the adventurers on the loose.
On the other side of the canteen was a smaller cave with what looked like a desk in it. On closer inspection, it looked more like an altar.
It didn’t look like the finely crafted altars Britta had seen in other places, this was much cruder and thrown together — a couple of large rocks, wooden planks that looked like they had been hewn from giant trees across the top — but there was a large orc kneeling in front of it.
“Save point?” said Lin under her breath. It was both a question and a suggestion.
“Ah, Honourable Gaiden,” said the orc, “um…” Now that he had brought them to his boss as promised, he didn’t seem to know quite how to explain why. He had, after all, escorted prisoners here without permission. It was probably an employees-only canteen.
The kneeling orc stood and turned around to reveal a woman. Her features had the same piggy quality as the others orcs, but her eyes were large, her lips fuller and her hair looked like it had been washed.
“Who are they?” she said. “Why are they here? Wait, aren’t those the escaped prisoners? Did you recapture them? Good work.”
She wasn’t waiting for answers, she was going straight to her own conclusions and assuming they were right. It helped get the conversation past the uncomfortable first step.
“They want to speak to you,” said Britta’s go-between. “She has an offer.” He pointed at Britta and gave her a hopeful look. I hope you don’t get me fired, it seemed to say.
“Hello,” said Britta. “I’m a gnome.”
It wasn’t exactly what she had meant to say — she wasn’t sure how to start, to be honest — but it felt important to make it clear she wasn’t a human. It had worked with the guards. It wasn’t looking as effective with the boss lady.
“I don’t care if you’re a dwarf in a dress, what do you want?”
“Um, oh, well.” Britta was panicking. She hadn’t really thought it would be this difficult. “Nice altar. Are you a priest? Or a shaman?”
The female orc grimaced. “What’s it to you?”
“Nothing, nothing. I know a couple of shamans. There’s a kobold called Derik over at the Korlath—”
“You know Derik?”
“You know him?”
“He’s my cousin.”
“Great,” said Britta, glad to have found they had something in common. She didn’t ask how orcs and kobolds were related. “Look.” She raised her hand where the faint kobold tattoo was still present. “He gave me that.”
“I never liked him,” said the female orc. “Thinks he’s better than everyone. You’re his friend, are you?”
Britta lowered her hand, and put it behind her back. “Not close friends. Not since he turned into a necromancer and got involved with the banshees and the darkness and the untold evil under the mines. We hardly even speak anymore.”
It had seemed like knowing Derik was a good way to show she was friendly, but family rivalries had appeared and all she could do was backtrack as quickly as possible.
“Yes,” said the female orc. “The Shaman Guild aren’t very happy about his antics.”
There was a guild for NPC shamans? Britta wondered if they got together at yearly conventions and swapped stories about the players.
“So you are a shaman? Do you worship the Great Orc in the Sky? I hear he's very… nice.” She’d never heard of the Great Orc in the Sky, but who else would she worship? Seemed like a safe guess.
“Who are you?”
“Oh, yes. Sorry. I’m B. This is Loreli. Nice to meet you.”
“You came with the invaders.” It was more of an accusation than a question.
“Yeeees. But not to fight. We’re here for the… experience.” Which was true. “Have a look around, see how you do things. Broaden our horizons.”
“We don’t have any openings,” said the orc shaman.
“That’s fine. We aren’t looking for paying work.”
“Oh, you’re here for work experience?” said the shaman. “We might have an intern position. No pay, plenty of experience.”
It wasn’t the sort of experience she was after, but it was related. “Okay. We don’t mind working our way up from the bottom. What do we have to do?”
“Wait — it’s not that simple,” said the shaman. “You normally have to go through the recruitment office for this sort of thing.”
“Do you? Sorry, we didn’t know you had one. What does it involve? Filling in some forms?”.
“You have to prove your worth. But I can see you’re keen, and I do have some discretionary privileges. Why don’t you show me how much you want this?”
“How?” said Britta.
“Those invaders you came here with, kill them.” She said it with teeth showing and a look of smug satisfaction, like she’d just played the deciding move.
“I can’t do that,” said Britta. “I don’t like killing people. I find it’s usually more trouble than it’s worth. And messy.”
“There is that,” said the orc standing behind her. She heard his jaw slam shut when the shaman glared at him.
“How about I just kick them out of the mountain, I mean, the volcano?”
The shaman’s eyes moved from side to side as she thought about it. “Alright, I’ll give you—”
She reappeared in front of Kupa. He was crouched in a dark corner of a tunnel with his weapon drawn and his eyes wide with surprise. “How—”
“Just a sec,” said Britta. Her teleport ability could take her to the location of any person she knew. It could also teleport a passenger. She touched his shoulder and took him to the middle of Shona, outside the temple.
“Hold on,” said Britta. She disappeared again and returned a moment later with a shocked Little Claw.
Britta was gone before either could say anything. When she reappeared with Shop, Kupa lunged for her and drove his blade through her chest.
She had expected him to try something like that and had made a copy of herself as she arrived. She was gone before she got to see the look on his face when he realised he’d been tricked.
“Okay,” said Britta to the orc shaman. “They’re gone. Any chance of a look around?”