Flash Friday 01/11/2013: Weapon of Choice (Part 10)
Dennis and his party came to a tunnel through a mountain.
Dennis was looking forward to this part. Nobody would even dare call their voyage a ‘quest’ if it didn’t contain at least one dark, damp cave. Some people even took detours through mountains if they were coming to the end of a quest and hadn’t once come across one. They always contained hidden rooms with treasure, angry bats, and the occasional abyss-dwelling demon or two. Unfortunately, as they walked the path through the depths of the rocks, they discovered that all the chests had been opened, the bats had been slain, and that some arsehole with too much time on their hands had not only defeated the demon, but locked it away for a thousand years.
“This is what I mean,” Livia said. “You come to these kinds of tunnels during adventuring seasons and everything’s already done. You have to come during the low tides to get a good experience. I thought you’d know this.”
“This is my first time I’ve ever been adventuring,” Dennis said. “Give me a break.”
“Well, next time you get another quest from fate itself, pay good money for a tour guide. They know all the best spots.”
“Well, there’s no need to worry,” Dennis said, pointing ahead in the tunnel. “I think we’ve found something.”
It was quite a strange something. It looked like an orc, but orcs were well-known for their muscle and bulk. This one was seated on the cold stone floor, his back against the wall, a staff in his right hand, and looking thinner than Dennis himself. He certainly didn’t look malnourished, however; it was more like his body was refined, as if all the muscles had been made as lean and compact as possible.
“I wonder if he’s a side-quest giver,” Samuel said.
“Me?” the orc said, with a rough voice. He used the staff to get to his feet. “I hear you are a party that is after my warlord. I have taken it upon myself to prove my strength to the tribe and earn a higher rank.”
“Oh,” Dennis said. For an agent of the enemy, he was very well-mannered. “Are you quite high in rank?”
“You could say that, yes. A lot of the orcs respect my strength.”
“I thought that ranks went to those who had more brawn than brains,” said Livia.
“True, but I went down a different path. While others rely on pure muscle, I focused entirely on endurance. Thus, I put myself at my warchief’s whim; I made a promise to him that I would only eat when he told me I could eat, or else I would be expelled from the clan. Orcs being orcs, he couldn’t resist abusing his position of power. I have trained while I starved, and honed my mind to endure the worst of tortures.” He span the staff in his hand, bringing it to an abrupt stop to point at Dennis. “I have not eaten in two days. If you can beat me while at my most focused, then you will have earned the right to pass. Until then, I cannot let you pass. Well, then, hero? Will you fight me, or will you flee?”
Dennis blinked. He cleared his throat. Finally, he turned to his party. “So, how was that roast we had back at the inn?”
“The roast?” Edmond said. “Oh, don’t get me started again, or I’ll high-tail it back there. The honey was done just right, and the potatoes were the best I’ve ever had.”
“A nice sentiment,” the orc said, “but now we should fight.”
“I had some of the bacon,” Livia said. “Have you ever had bacon where the smokey flavour falls off onto your tongue? It was very well made.”
“Please,” the orc said, his staff shaking slightly along with his voice. “The fight.”
“And I can’t wait until we hit the next place,” Dennis said. “I hear they do lovely beef stews. Can you imagine that?” He made eye contact with the orc. “Lovely beef chunks that melt in your mouth.”
“Can you please all stop talking about food?!” the orc said. “And you! Stop doing that!”
“Doing what?” Samuel said, through a mouthful of chicken leg.
“You–augh! No, you know what? My endurance is better than this. I can get through this, and not think about roasts, or beef stews, or the chicken leg that idiot has, or how it smells delicious, or–”
There was a rumble from the orc’s stomach.
In a moment, the orc had dropped the staff, falling to his knees. “Please, just a bite,” he whined. “Some bread, some bird food, anything!”
“You can have this lollipop, if you like,” Dennis said, drawing it from his bag. “Apple flavoured. Also, might have a bit of dragon dribble on it. I hope you don’t mind that–”
The orc obviously didn’t mind, as he snatched it from Dennis’ hand and popped it in his mouth with extreme speed. A wave of relief washed over the orc’s face as he rolled it around his mouth.
“So,” Dennis said, “are we still fighting, or…?”
“I have consumed food without the warlord’s consent,” the orc said, with far less care than he perhaps should have put into that sentence. “Therefore, I am now expelled from the tribe on my own honour. It means I have no more ties with the clan, and thus have no quarrels with you. It also means I’m getting the first cooked breakfast for eight years. Man, I almost forgot what those tasted like. Thanks for breaking me out of it, kid,”
“Thanks,” Dennis said, “I guess. Which way is your old tribe’s camp?”
“Straight through the tunnel, keep going ’til you find the arch-nemesis appointment center. Make sure you say you’ve arrived. Nobody likes a hero who doesn’t make a booking.”
“Thanks,” Dennis said, leaving the orc to his sweet treat. Perhaps he was doing some good in the world after all.
With apologies to Lazette Gifford, whose in-chat suffering was the inspiration for this story.
Book Spotlight: Friend Ship — a novellette about the first ever human-level AI, complete with all the worst humanity has to offer.