I turned and fled, running for all I was worth. Mocking laughter chased me across the landscape.
"See how the Child of Light is scared of mighty Grom."
The cocky bastard was playing to his fan base now, the jeers and catcalls of his supporters rang out, cheering him on to victory and me to my doom.
Bruce looked at me with pitiful eyes as I ran, "I can help."
"No," refusing to meet his eyes, I dismissed his offer out of hand. Concentrating solely on putting one shaky foot in front of the other.
Focus, I need to focus. Panicking now will simply ensure that I die.
The taunting continued, "I really should thank you. You're going to make me a legend, The Orc who killed the Child of Light, no .. The Warlord who ended a prophecy!"
Glancing over my shoulder, I checked that Grom hadn't closed on me. He appeared in no hurry, enjoying his moment of triumph.
Racking my brain, I went through my meagre possessions. There was the M4, two pistols and the mobile phone, in my rucksack I had a change of clothing and a few breakfast bars.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, a can of pepper spray would have made all the difference. Why hadn’t I taken one with me?
I kept running, scanning the immediate area for anything that might keep me alive.
There has to be something, I refused to die like this.
Around me was spartan scrubland as far as the eye could see. The only things breaking up the desolate landscape were sporadic rocks jutting out of the ground haphazardly, like pimples on a teenagers face.
Suddenly despite everything I grinned.
If this were a cartoon, then there would have been a spark of light as the bulb over my head lit up. This wasn't over yet, and I had one last roll of the dice left in me.
My feet picked up the pace, sprinting towards one of the larger rocks. If this was going to work, I needed time to get into position on the other side.
"Run little rabbit; there is no escape," Grom called out in amusement. However, a minute later his feral smile faltered when he rounded the rock and found I hadn't fled further. Instead, I had moved back and to the left, and stood waiting no more than a hundred yards away.
"I wasn't running. I was choosing the battleground." My pistols were already in my hands, trained on my target. I inclined my head, inviting Grom to join me.
He slowed his pace as he left the rockface, moving cautiously forward. His eyes flicked around trying to ascertain the reason for my new found confidence. The Orc grinned in relief as my guns fired, bullets were something he had anticipated.
This time, however, there was no clang from the shield as I kept pumping bullets from the pistols—aim, fire, repeat. Having learnt my lesson my target wasn’t the Orc this time. Grom froze in place, face contorted in increasing confusion as a steady flow of shots flew harmlessly past missing him totally.
A series of crunching sounds rang out as each shot impacted on the rock beside him. Striking at an angle they ricocheted wildly back in Grom's direction. The deflections weren’t directed though, and it seemed that even the closest of the bullets would miss him by a foot or more.
My heart was in my mouth, the rest of my plan was down to luck, and perhaps a little bit of magic. Initially it looked like all of the bullets would go well wide, but as they flew a few jerked in the air. Pulled off their original courses by the magical snare of the shield, their paths bent towards it, much as before.
This time though, they had gone past the shield and were bending back around from the other side of the Orc. To reach the shield they would have to go through him! There were gruesome ripping noises as several bullets tore through his body and then the familiar 'plink' of each one hitting the shield. Grom didn't hear anything, though. He was already collapsing to the floor, dead.
Rolling him over onto his front, I saw that death had frozen his face in an expression of surprise. Murmurs of shock from his entourage reached me, as they peered cautiously past the rock. I ignored them, concentrating on rummaging through the Orc's gear.
It was a dirty job. Imagine ransacking a dead hobo, and you won't be a hundred miles away from the experience. The addition of blood and guts hadn't improved Grom's natural musk, but the Orc had possessed a magic shield, and I needed to check for other useful items.
Sadly there didn't seem to be anything nearly as exciting, some coins and a handful of roughly cut gemstones but nothing that stood out as enchanted apart from the shield and a necklace in the same style as those that Bruce and I wore already.
The gamer in me wanted to strip his clothing and try it all on, just to be on the safe side. In reality, however, no one wants to put on smelly Orcish underwear just on the off-chance they might be ‘enchanted Boxer Shorts of Protection.'
I'd rather risk a painful death than touch some parts of that corpse, ewww.
As I gave up rummaging and stood, a gentle chime rang out. The terse message that swam into view indicated that for once, my hapless math teacher had been correct - learning could be its own reward.
Necklace of power: Experience Gained.
Bruce growled, warning me as the late Grom’s entourage finally found the courage to advance on me. He needn’t have bothered. It wasn’t like I wouldn’t have noticed; their angry voices were hardly subtle.
“You could take her, Ugrull.”
“She looks clean, horribly clean.”
“Why should she be warboss?”
“We can’t have an ‘uman in charge. Orcs should rule Orcs.”
“You were Grom’s second Ugrull. It’s not right.”
My eyes narrowed; they were working themselves up to challenge me for the leadership of the tribe.
This wasn’t the school debate club, might was right in the eyes of the tribe. I might have superior weaponry, but if I didn’t take charge of this situation quickly, I’d find myself a bloody pulp on the ground.
Seriously can’t a girl get a break once in a while? This is why I hate Orcs. It’s not enough that they’re brutal, petty thugs - they’re brutal, petty thugs who won’t leave me alone.
Sighing, I slipped the Ruger from its holster and butted into their conversation.
“Ugrull, you were Groms second in command?”
The Orc’s head jerked in my direction. He was shorter and stockier than Grom had been. His dark green skin looked almost burnt, and impressive muscles rippled beneath tattered armor as he moved. “What’s it to you ‘uman?” Around him, hangers-on tittered appreciatively at his ‘wit.’
My jaw clenched, and I could feel a vein in my neck throb as I crossed my arms.
Sometimes you can just tell it’s going to be a ‘doesn’t play well with others’ kind of day.
“Let me state this in short, simple words that you might understand. Are you going to be my second, or do I need to find someone else?”
Silence fell over our diorama, and then Ugrull laughed, a nasty mean laugh containing the future promise of violence.
“Seize her!” he commanded.
It was the last thing he did. My Ruger lifted swiftly, and a bullet entered his eye, shattering his skull. He fell dead to the floor, muscles still twitching as they struggled to realize what had just happened.
Knowing this was a critical moment, I didn’t wait for another Orc to challenge me. Instead, taking the initiative, I waved the pistol threateningly across the group and spoke with what I hoped was a menacing tone.
“This isn’t a democracy. It’s a benign dictatorship. I tell you what to do, and you damn well do it. The sooner you get used to that, the less blood I’ll need to shed. Now, does anyone else have a problem with me being the warboss?” I was almost snarling with anger at this point.
Some days I have all the subtlety of a brick and the depth of a shot glass.
The remaining orcs looked at each other, suddenly reluctant to challenge the rabid lady with a violent temper. Several embarrassed, mumbled answers, all indicated that I had their loyalty.
“Are you sure?” I walked up to a particularly tall brute and rested the barrel of my pistol on his chest. There was the gentle sound of running water, as urine pooled around his feet. Raising an eyebrow inquiringly, I asked, “I didn’t hear that?”
“No, Yes. No. I mean, you are the warboss. You won the duel fair and square.” The Orc who had so recently been fermenting rebellion was now almost begging for his life.
With exaggerated casualness, I returned the pistol to its holster and brushed past the shocked tusked brutes as I started sashaying towards where Kent’s body lay.
“Are you boys coming?”