As for me, I sprang up to the top of the wagon, took a leap to the back and leveled my crossbow at the orcs. If more of the others had stayed, I probably would’ve pulled out my violin and sang us to arms the way I was taught, but with so few I figured I better try to live up to the lies I’d been feeding the alchemist about my cross-bow-man skills. I really just wanted the high ground so I could take a look around. I took a second to make sure the rest of the orc band were legitimately fleeing, and not circling around to flank us, and to try and see what was chasing the orcs. I could see movement in the thick forest off the side of the road. Something big heading this way. Hopefully something friendlier. I fired but I suppose the tension on the bow was too tight because the bowstring snapped the quarrel in half. Teach me to ride with the bow drawn. Going to have to find some time to practice with that damn thing.
The orcs closed, double speed, but we got another volley off before they crashed into the half-troll. The half-elf buried another arrow into his orc, which still wasn’t slowing, and both the inquisitor and I winged two more. The half-troll lowered his shoulder and accepted the charge stoically, then lashed into them. Three of the orcs met him head on, the one the half-elf was peppering lunged for him and the last one circled around heading for the wagon and me.
The kobold took off backwards out of sight. I stomped on the top of the wagon and yelled at the alchemist to get moving to get some distance between us and them, then fired a bolt at the orc, winging him. Then, suddenly, there was a crack and something smashed into the orc’s shoulder, knocking him off stride. The shoulder-plate of the orcs make-shift armor sprang free and wobbled off into the trees. Both the orc and I took a glance where the shot had come from and found the kobold winding up his sling for another shot. That was a hell of of rock he had there. This was no normal kobold.
The kobold disappeared around the other side of the wagon, and the orc, apparently unwilling to believe a kobold just hurt him, ignored him and stepped forward to take a whack at me. Luckily I had the high ground and could avoid him easily, dancing over his axe as he tried to sweep me off the wagon’s roof. The half-troll noticed the wagon was being attacked and came running over, getting cut from behind. He charged into the orc attacking me, sending him stumbling away. Rend was hurt. I could tell. But he was still going strong, ignoring the wounds. Trolls heal quick, I was hoping half-trolls healed quick too.
Elsewhere, the Inquisitor had stepped back into the cover of the woods and was taking shots where he could find them. Beomar dropped his bow and drew that beautiful curved blade of his and, snicker-snack, just like that, he dropped his orc. That sword of his was like liquid sunlight. No, it was like the sliver of light you get when one of the sky-plates slides in front of the sun just before it goes dark. He stepped forward over the body to meet the rest. The orcs split, two of them flanking the half-elf and the other one coming over to attack the half-troll from behind. The kobold reappeared and sent another rock cracking through the air, whizzing over the half-troll’s head, missing his target. I’m afraid my efforts weren’t any better. Both the Inquisitor and I sent our bolts into the ground.
But the half-troll. Well, I think he’d had enough getting hacked at from behind. He swept the legs out from under one of the orcs and slammed down on top of it, burying his blade deep it its chest, practically eviscerating it. The other orc raised its axe up to try and finish the troll off, but the kobold’s third sling bullet caught it in the back of the head with a messy explosion. The orc fell forward on the half-troll who shrugged it off, turning to see what else he could kill.
On the other side of the combat, the half-elf and the inquisitor finished off one of the other two orcs leaving only one left. I figured if I was going to get any answers, it was going to have to be now. I took a glance up and saw that whatever was chasing them was getting closer.
I leapt down from the wagon and crossed the space to the last orc, casting a spell as I went. How was I going to play this? Creatures like this aren’t subtle. They don’t react well to niceties. They only know one thing, only respect one thing. Strength.
“Hey!” I called out, changing my accent, going for something a little down-town. Vulgar cant, the language of mercenaries and scum everywhere. Common peppered with goblin and lots of slang. “What’s your beef!” This guy wasn’t even touched yet, but he had to realize, even in his tiny orc brain, that things weren’t going his way. He turned, looking like he was trying to find a way out. I came up to him and pushed him, then stepped right in, getting in his face. Well. His chest. “What’s wrong with you!? We paid the protection! We’re paid up this month! What the hells are you thinking?”
I could see my charm spell take root in his foggy brain. He’d see me as something other than an enemy now, as long as I could keep him from thinking too hard about it. I just had to tell him who was boss.
“Huh? What money? You not give me money.”
“Of course not, numbnuts. I don’t pay you! I pay the boss!”
“Morgo not give me money either?”
“Of course not! He’s the boss! When boss ever give you money!?”
He seemed to consider that and shrugged. “Yeah. He boss.”
“Now what are you thinking, attacking us! What are you running away from?”
Realization dawned in the orc’s dull eyes. He turned to look back up the trail. “From soldier men.”
The trees parted and a band of armed soldiers on horses burst forth. Cops. Great. Exactly the last kind of attention I needed. Well I suppose it was better than a rival orc tribe. Or at least less likely to mean more fighting for us. Thoughts swirled in my mind. Chances are this was just a random raiding party, just killing and marauding through the local farms. But still. I had time for one more question, and there’s always the possibility of this being something else. They could’ve stolen something specific. They could be working for someone else…
“What? Why? Why are soldier men chasing you? What did you take?”
The orc turned back at me, his mind fogged over from my charm. He blinked, his brow furled. “Take? Take their gold. Take their lives!”
I sighed and stepped back, turning around and walking back toward the wagon. So typical. I shook my head sadly. Behind me, Beomar, who had been watching my interrogation half amused and half bewildered stepped up and sliced the orc across the chest. The charm broke, but before the Orc could so much as raise his weapon, the soldiers were upon him. And then it was all over
I chose to step back and disappear to the wagon, pulling the brim of my hat down and trying not to draw any attention to myself. I noticed the kobold doing the same. He scurried over to the orc he’d killed and began rummaging through his body. The Inquisitor was checking the bodies of two of the others. Probably delivering last rites. I could’ve told him that hell doesn’t stand on formalities. The half-troll was busy beheading the last two corpses and stringing them up from a nearby tree. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what he was doing, but he was humming happily while doing it. That left Beomar to talk to the soldiers. I listened in from the distance. They wanted to know where the others went and the half-elf vaguely waved his blade in that direction. The leader, who was wearing the signet of the captain of the guard, sent his men off then questioned the half-elf with the dull perfunctoriness of lawmen everywhere. Then he told us to haul the bodies into town. Perhaps there might be a reward or a bounty? Rend didn’t look too enthused about losing his trophies, but we piled the bodies into the alchemist’s wagon and headed town-ward, with two of the soldiers accompanying us. Perhaps I can get some answers from them, find out what the climate in town is like before we get there.
Despite it all, I felt a cold weight in my gut. Avendale. Would I find salvation here? Everything was dependant on unpredictable variables. Any first-year student can tell you that the more variables you leave unaccounted for, the harder the spell is to control. That’s good advice for the non magical world as well. Well, I had thrown my dice when I turned toward Avendale instead of crossing the sea. Time to see if it would be box-cars or snake-eyes.