Bitter 593

The blue orcs came stomping across the cavern. The one Lin had hit still had the arrow sticking stuck in his head — the point coming out of one ear, the feathers coming out of the other. It had gone straight through but it didn’t seem to be an impediment.

Little Claw’s eyes were filled with surprise and shock at the realisation she was being framed for a crime she did not commit. “No. It wasn’t… What? Why? Are you—” Her words stumbled over each other in her rush to get them out.

“There’s only two of them,” said Lin, completely calm, “and three of you. This will be your best chance to beat them, and if not, you will be able to respawn at your last save point. You said you’d be putting on a show for us. Don’t waste this opportunity.”

The people on the other sides of the bars stared at her, completely at a loss. How were you supposed to react when demanded you dance for their entertainment?

“Don’t forget to use your weapons,” Lin added.

The reminder snapped the three players out of their stunned state. They drew their weapons, Little Claw dropping the incriminating bow to take out daggers.

Britta was impressed. Lin played down her status around Britta, but that was just an act to put her at ease. In reality, she was the very prominent child of an extremely wealthy mogul who was used to being treated with respect and reverence. She had turned it on so effortlessly.

The orcs had grabbed their tridents on the way. It was all very well provoking them, but that didn’t mean they would demand satisfaction in a duel. They could just as easily poke their prisoners to death through the bars without ever getting close enough to risk getting hit in return.

The angrier orc, the one with the arrow through the head, charged straight at the middle cage that held Little Claw and Kupa. The other didn’t really know what was going on but roared his approval of whatever the first was going to do to the captives.

The orcs were massive and their tridents were in proportion. There was no intention to open the cage door to make this a fair fight. The orc turned the trident so the prongs were vertical and thrust it through the bars.

Little Claw leapt backwards to get to the rear of the cage. Kupa threw himself to the side to avoid getting hit. The trident was aimed at Little Claw and was easily long enough to reach her. She dodged from side to side as the trident attempted to skewer her. She was amazingly fast and nimble.

As the trident swung towards Kupa flattened against the side, he grabbed the shaft and pulled it towards himself, slamming it into the bars above his head.

Shop, in the next cage, grabbed the top prong from next door and pulled it so it slid through, the back corner slightly wedged between bars.

The orc screamed something unintelligible and leaned back to free the trident but it caught on the bar meaning he would have to pass metal through metal. He pushed forward and it rammed into the bar in front. He tried to angle it off the side, but the two men strained to keep the trident where it was, muscles bulging and veins popping with the effort, although it didn’t seem like a viable long-term plan.

The second orc dropped his trident and grabbed the first by the waist. Together, they heaved with all their strength. The players let go of the trident, Kupa spinning it as it shot past him. The prongs were now horizontal and slammed into the bars of the cage door, too wide to get through. The force was so great, the door was wrenched off its hinges and fell open.

The orcs fell back, the one in front jerking his head backwards to slam into the face of the one behind, who fell to the ground.

The first out was Little Claw, running straight at the orcs and then skipping to the side to get past. Kupa followed, not skipping to the side. He looked like he was aiming to shoulder charge the orc, who was double his size.

Little Claw moved with unbelievable speed. Her target were the keys. She grabbed them and threw them hard at the floor. They went bouncing across the room like a stone skipping over the surface of a lake. Shop, still locked in his cage, was on his knee, ready to field them as they arrived in his hands. He seemed to know exactly where she would send them. He was up and undoing the padlock in an instant.

Kupa had reached the staggering orc by this time. Rather than use his momentum to barge into him, he jumped. One foot on the orc’s knee, the other on his belt, like he was running up a wall.

Little Claw hadn’t wasted any time congratulating herself on getting to the keys. She was running at the orc’s back, so fast she was able to get there at the same time as Kupa was climbing up the front. She jumped into the air, her small light body seeming to float, and grabbed the greasy black hair at the back of the orc’s head, yanking it down.

At the front, the orc tilted his head, exposing his throat. Kupa slashed out with a blade — too long to be a dagger, not long enough to be called a sword — and cut the throat wide open. Blue blood gushed out along with a glut of red numbers.

Shop was out now and charged into the fray, giant sword dragging along behind him. Just as the second orc sat up dazed, Shop swung the sword like a golf club, from the floor straight into the air, and caught the orc on the bottom of his chin. His face was sheared in half.

Britta and Lin watched from their cage. It was over in only a few seconds but the coordination between the team of three was extraordinary. They knew what the others were going to do and how to exploit it without ever having to say anything. Was this how you were supposed to play the game? The in-game tutorials hadn’t covered anything that would tell you how to be this good.

“Impressive,” said Lin.

“Did they have to kill them?” said Britta. She would have liked a chance to speak to the orcs but that would be difficult in their current condition, and the other orcs probably wouldn’t take kindly to their treatment. It was an unreasonable quibble, though, considering the situation. And it wasn’t like anyone had really died, as she kept having to remind herself.

“I don’t think they’re dead,” said Lin.

The orc with the cut throat sat up, his wound covered in congealed blue jelly.

“Blue orcs regenerate,” said Kupa. “You’ll be safest here. We’ll come back for you.” And then he left. All three of them just ran off.

“They left us behind,” said Britta. She was pretty sure by ‘safest’ he had meant ‘out of our way’.

“It would appear so,” said Lin. “What would you like to do now?”

Britta sighed. She had wanted a chance to be alone with the orcs, but being abandoned still hurt her feelings. She took Lin’s hand and teleported them out of the cage.

“Oh,” said Lin, staggering a little. “That felt weird.”

“You get used to it,” said Britta, a little unsteady herself, “I’m hoping.”

The first orc was gingerly touching his throat. The other had also sat up and was trying to squeeze the two halves of his face back together.

“Excuse me,” said Britta. “Wait, wait. We’re not with the humans.”

The sudden angry glare her presence had produced (once she’d been noticed) subsided to a bemused curiosity. The orc tried to speak but nothing came out. He touched his wound. Unnecessary realism, the hallmark of a misguided game developer.

“Is there someone in charge we could talk to?” asked Britta. “I’d like to make a deal.”

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