Bitter 590

“Don’t wander off,” said Kupa from behind them. “Even if you’re immune to damage, the orcs might run off with you and do all sorts of nasty things to you.”

Britta looked over her shoulder at him, frowning.

“Just looking out for you,” he said with a smile. “Friendly warning.”

They were in a tunnel that was lit by large torches planted in the walls every thirty paces or so. It was a high tunnel, and very wide. The party was moving two abreast but the tunnel could easily fit four people walking side by side.

There were no signs of monsters, or that anyone lived down here, apart from the torches.

“Have you ever seen an orc before,” Britta asked Lin.

“Only in movies,” said Lin. “I assume they look more or less the same.”

That was probably true. The devs would have taken inspiration from the usual sources. And by inspiration, Britta meant stolen wholesale. Orcs were usually green, ugly and violent. And generally a bit stupid. If she wanted to start a dialogue with one, she’d probably have to dodge a few blows first.

“How big are they?” Britta asked Kupa over her shoulder.

“See our leader up there?” He nodded towards Convenient Local Shop who was at the front of the group. “About twice his height.”

Shop was the tallest person in the party, well over two metres. If the orcs were double his size, they would completely fill the tunnel, which would make it hard to fight. Was Kupa exaggerating to make them nervous?

“Not huge, then?” said Britta.

“You’ve seen bigger, have you?” said Kupa in a mocking tone.

“Yeah. I was in a fight with a zombie giant. He was at least six or seven metres tall. Made up of lots of little zombies, which was kind of disgusting.”

Kupa’s mouth dropped open. “You fought the Zombie King?”

“Me? No. Mostly I ran away and tried to avoid the smaller zombies. They were surprisingly fast. Not like the slow ones you usually see.”

Kupa didn’t say anything after that. Perhaps Britta had made him rethink his view of her. Perhaps he didn’t believe her.

“I saw the video of you in that fight with the giant zombie,” said Lin.

“Oh, did you?” It was such a long time ago, Britta had all but forgotten about it. Of course there would be a video of it, as there was of pretty much everything that happened in the game. She certainly hadn’t expected anyone to watch it, though.

“You did more than run away. They wouldn’t have defeated the giant without you.”

“It was just a lucky hit.” Britta was sorry she’d mentioned it now. It really had been just luck. And everyone had been mad at her for pulling aggro on so many zombies and then bringing them straight towards them. She didn’t want Lin to think she was some kind of warrior-mage. She would start to expect things from Britta she had no way of producing.

“Halt!” came a call from the front. “Quiet,” was added in lower tones.

Britta listened for any sounds. She thought she could hear a drumming sound, but she wasn’t sure. Everyone waited for the next instruction.

“The two of you aren’t quite what you appear, are you?” whispered Kupa. “Who are you, really?”

“I’m not a gnome in real life,” Britta quietly confided.

There was a shout Britta couldn’t quite understand but everyone was up and moving, so it had to be some kind of order.

“Run,” said Kupa, staying behind them as he urged them on. Britta only just realised his job was to look after them. Probably why he was so upset with them being here, taking him away from the action.

The whole party, twelve people, were charging down the tunnel. Britta had no idea why, or where they were going, but she did her best to keep up. Her strength and agility gave her the energy, but her short legs meant she had to more work to cover the same ground.

The tunnel opened into a cavern. It looked natural, no signs of habitation, but there were large rock formations everywhere, some with large torches stuck on top to provide illumination. It reminded her of the raid in the Korlath mines.

“Faster,” shouted Kupa. “We have to get to the high ground before them.”

Her height made it hard to see with all the rocks in the way, but Kupa shepherded them up one of the sloping outcroppings, Britta finally saw the orcs. They were charging from the other end of the cavern, and they really were as big as Kupa had said.

“What?” said Kupa as they reached the top of their little mountain. “What are they doing here?” He sounded shocked.

“Who?” said Britta.

He was staring goggle-eyed at the charging orcs.

“I thought you were expecting them,” said Britta. Judging by the mad scramble of the others, who had leapt to the tops of the other rocky outcrops like they had springs on their feet, this was not going to plan.

“I was teasing you,” said Kupa. “These are blue orcs. They don’t appear until the end of the dungeon. Why are they here? Why are there so many of them?”

The orcs were blue, but Britta had assumed the devs had gone with a different colour palette so they could claim some sort of originality. But if these were more powerful than they should have been, maybe even mini-bosses, then that meant L-15 had made a few changes, most likely for her benefit.

It didn’t come as that a big surprise. Once he agreed to let Britta join this party, he would want to test her. She wasn’t that worried about herself or Lin — Lin was unkillable and Britta could teleport away from danger — but the rest of the party needed to survive. If they all wiped, they’d be kicked out, Britta and Lin along with them. That was the arrangement. Twelve people in a ten man dungeon, but the two of them weren’t really here, and couldn’t stay without an escort.

“Stay,” said Kupa as the fighting started. “Don’t move.” He ran straight down the near-vertical incline.  

From their vantage point Britta could see the entire battle. It wasn’t going well.

The Chinese team were connecting with weapons and spells, but the orcs didn’t even seem to be trying to dodge. They took the hits and large red numbers — 200, 300 — flew off them without having much effect.

The six huge orcs carried spears in one hand and a net in the other. They prodded with spear and kept the nets ready, but didn’t throw them.

Whatever the plan had been, everyone seemed to be improvising now. Attacks came from all directions and were becoming more and more reckless. Four of the team died in quick succession. Nets were thrown, trapping two. Rescue attempts led to two more deaths. The last two were quickly caught, thrashing around but unable to break free. It was all over in a few minutes — not even close. They were dragged off towards the back of the cavern.

“Looks like they didn’t see us,” said Lin quietly.

“Hey!” said Britta, standing up. “What about us?”

The orcs stopped and stared. One raised a spear to throw.

“Wait! We surrender.” Britta slid down the slope on her backside with Lin following. “Can we come, too?”

The largest, bluest orc came stamping forwards. His face looked a bit like a pig, with a snout and floppy ears. He growled and then threw a net which covered both Britta and Lin. They were pulled off their feet and dragged along after the others. The ropes of the net were so thick, the ground didn’t touch their skin.

“Was this your intention from the start?” asked Lin as they bumped along.

“No,” said Britta. “This is even better. Now we don’t even have to walk.” She lay back and enjoyed the ride.

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