Chapter 16 – The Quest
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After agreeing upon a reward of twenty gold coins with the group of adventurers, they set out from the guild. Before they can embark on their quest to sneak into the orc encampment, they first need to stop at their headquarters to prepare. Amara follows the group, and soon, they come to a miniature hut on the western rampart of the town.

At first glance, the building seems to be aging poorly, with its siding falling apart and a tattered roof on top. However, upon looking closer, Amara notices that the wood seems to be almost new. Taking note of the dissonance between the professional-looking adventurers and the scrappy headquarters, Amara asks about it. “What’s up with this place? Why is it so—”

“Economical?” Ivan, the lanky assassin, says while he adjusts his glasses. “It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it? Guess what, I was able to have it built for only seven gold—”

Eliza slugs the man in his face, knocking him on his butt. Looking at the man, now lying on the ground, she lets out a puff of air and then speaks. “This guy! It’s always about the money with him. We’re lucky he even lets us spend it on gear.”

“Well, I don’ blame ‘im too much, far as the ‘eadquarters goes,” Jofre, the dwarven man, says, “Listen, Amara, we may be operating out of ‘ere for now, but one day we’ll form a guild in the capital—”

“And for that, we’ll need a lot of capital,” Ivan speaks while rising up from the ground, seemingly defying gravity. As usual, his hand rests on the bridge of his glasses. “Hence, the one platinum price.”

Amara bursts out laughing at the odd group of adventurers. Some may feel dejected by their bizarre dynamic, but something about their strange nature puts Amara’s heart at ease.

The tiny building is only a single cramped room; in it are four rickety bunk beds. At the back of the room is a tool rack, modified slightly to hold weapons. The weapons vary, but it seems that there is a spare weapon for each of the adventurers. Below the rack is a large chest filled with armor. Most of the armor is leather, but there are also some other chest plates and assorted guards.

“You made it a point that you’re coming with,” Eliza speaks with a smile, “so we’ll loan you some equipment.”

“Thank you so much!” Amara responds and gives a slight bow.

“Listen, you have to be very careful. You aren’t an adventurer. You really shouldn’t be coming with us. That being said, as long as you don’t get reckless, we will protect you, I promise.” Eliza looks towards the other three adventurers and makes a shooing motion. “Alright boys, get out. I gotta help get Amara set with some armor.”

Ivan seems a bit disappointed, but after Jofre grabs his arm, he doesn’t put up a fight. Adria gives a shrug and then decides to leave with the guys. Amara and Eliza take their time getting set up with equipment.

A shining silver breastplate, over skin-tight leather clothing; Eliza even went so far as to braid a small portion of Amara’s hair, giving her just a bit of extra flare. Armed with a mid-length dagger, Amara is all suited up and ready for an adventure.

The group set out south and are stopped at the gate for a short amount of time. Lutz looks over them wearily, giving a bunch of generic warnings, but after inspecting the groups’ guild cards, he reluctantly allows them to pass. Even after allowing them through, the guard seems to wear a pained expression.

The group walks a short way until they eventually find a small place to sit and rest. They need to wait until sundown and the cover of the dark before they can begin their operation.

Amara sits against a huge maple tree and feels her heart beating in her chest. At long last, she is finally going to set out on an adventure, her wildest dream. A complex soup of emotions boils in her belly. Would she find her mother? Would the mission succeed? Would they fail? Would they die? Once the mission begins, a threshold will be crossed, which she may never be able to return from. Her hands shake as she holds the shiny dagger in her hand.

“How are you feeling?” Eliza says as she has a seat next to Amara. “You look to be holding together pretty well. It’s okay, though; you don’t have to hide your feelings. Everyone’s first adventure is always the most terrifying.”

“Actually, I just well… This is a lot.” Amara buries her head in her hands. “What if I’ve made the wrong choice? I’m dragging all of you into what could very well be our death.”

“I’m glad that you’re able to recognize that plenty of clients just treat us like tools.” Eliza gives a smile. “That feeling is enough. You don’t need to agonize over it. You asked us for help, and we all agreed to accept the risks. We all made the decision to help you.”

“Well, what about Adria?”

“She’s here, isn’t she? We’re a team, and even if we act like idiots, we stick together.” Eliza says, patting Amara on the shoulder, “Thick and thin, that’s what friends are for.”

“Friends…” Amara says before getting tangled in thought again. Her mind returns to her ‘friend’ who turned out to be a demon. Was that really the right thing to do? I mean, she was a demon in the end, and demons are unrelentingly evil. It was just a manipulation, right?

The sun soon sets, and darkness emerges, swallowing the forest. The time for their grand rescue mission is near. Upon reaching the edge of the forest, the group looks out at the orc encampment. Many tiny log houses dot the plains; they’re peculiar as though they were basically just piles of twigs. Several flames light the encampment, and torches dot the area.

“Amara, you need to stay here at the edge. It’s the safest place.” Eliza hands Amara a small horn. “If you see anything out of the ordinary, blow this horn and run.”

Amara gives a slight nod, and the group begins its mission.

The remaining group members split up to search the encampment for survivors; they have their work cut out for them as the encampment is the size of a small village. Eliza sneaks along through the darkness. She finds a group of orcs surrounding a massive bonfire. She carefully listens in on their conversation that’s riddled with grunts.

“Heh, this ale is really somethin” A burly orc who’s sitting next to fire snorts.

“Ahh, it’s crazy how good it tastes.” A slightly thinner orc oinks. Despite being skinny, he is still bulkier than any human. “I wish the chief would let us attack humans more often.”

“Heh, yeah, but even then, he won’t let us eat them. Rules are: only the strong get to feast.”

Despite having heard orcs talk about it before, Eliza can’t help but feel the disgust rising from the pit of her stomach. Still, she won’t let it get to her; she has to keep moving. The orc chief? If only the chief gets to eat humans, then prisoners would probably be near him.

The adventurer continues to sneak along in the darkness. As she scans the houses for anything out of place, she sees what might be the chief’s residence. Approximately one-hundred meters away is a large building about two stories high with a sizeable barn-like door at the front. The grand, well-made appearance seems to be too good to compare with the regular orc huts.

Jackpot. The building slowly grows closer as Eliza crosses the darkness as silently as possible. Finally, once she gets close enough, she sees it, a small pit dug into the ground on the other side of a clearing from the chief’s house. Above the pit are crisscrosses of logs forming what seems to be a sort of cage.

Eliza sneaks up to the pit and gazes down inside, looking for any kind of person. Unfortunately, the light level is too low for her to make out anything. Giving a cursory glance around her, she decides to speak into the pit. “Is anyone there?”

“A human?” A weak voice floats up from the pit.

“Yes, my friends and I are here to rescue you,” Eliza says, trying to keep it as quiet as possible. “How can I open the cage?”

Eliza’s spine tingles as she feels a thick hand grab her by the shoulder. A deep voice can be heard, along with a heavy breathing sound. “Heh, I’ll open it for you.” Eliza turns her head and catches a glimpse of the orc that has her In a tight grip.

Several other orcs come around, and soon a loud, thundering horn can be heard from near the chief’s house. Orcs around the camp run around back and forth, looking around for the adventurers sniffing the air as if they were bloodhounds. It doesn’t take long before the other adventurers get caught and brought to the pit.

Once all of the adventurers arrive, Eliza reaches up and breaks free from the orc’s grip. She jumps into the air and then off its shoulder. Running toward Jofre, Eliza knocks an arrow and takes aim at the most formidable-looking orc she can see. Her arrow flies, hitting its target in his eyes.

Jofre swings his hammer with great force, smashing the rips of several nearby orcs. The orcs fall to the ground, but shortly after, more orcs take their place. The hammer comes once more as Jofre crushes the skull of the closest orc. This causes the other orcs to keep their distance from the wild dwarven man.

Adria runs over to Ivan and draws her sword. She slashes at the orcs giving their greedy assassin some room to prepare. Ivan drops down into a crouch doing a few stretches and then, through gravity-defying acrobatics, jumps over an orc, lodging his dagger in its neck. The orc falls over and dies, gurgling from the blood loss.

With the orcs surrounding them defeated, the four join together once more. Jofre smashes the cage’s wooden bars with his hammer, and they try to get the person inside of it out. Unfortunately, their mission is cut short when another—even larger—wave of orcs arrives.

Both the orcs and the party freeze. The battle is interrupted by several loud quakes, the barn door to the orc chief’s house slowly grinds open, and an absolutely massive orc stands in its place. The orc chief walks out of his residence slowly, his body jiggling. He’s portly, almost disgustingly so, but his muscles tense and pulse with strength. He seems too big for even the two-story building; the creature takes up as much space as eight orcs combined.

The adventurers’ faces turn pale as the hulking giant arrives on the battlefield. The monster speaks, which seems to make the air tremble. “Hoh, are you here to challenge me? I haven’t had a challenger in many moons; you’ll have to forgive me. I’m quite excited.”

A tough-looking orc approaches the massive orc chief, looking like nothing more than a child in comparison. “Tuvaki, it seems they’re here to free our remaining sacrifice?”

“Free the remaining sacrifice!!!” The massive orc bellows, causing the other orcs to tremble. “Nonsense!”

Tuvaki punches the ground with his massive fist, causing the ground to shake and leaving behind a small crater. He speaks again with a quieter voice. “That’s disappointing. Well, humans, I will ask once again. Are you here to challenge me?”

The adventurers look at each other for a brief second shaking their heads before Eliza addresses the orc. “N-no sir, we wouldn’t want to fight you, you’d win….”

“Truly disappointing” The large orc lowers his head to the adventurer’s level and speaks while staring directly into them. “You come into my camp and kill my children, and you won’t even fight me? Throw them in the pit. Looks like we have four more sacrifices.”

“Tuvaki, make that five more.” An orc says while walking in; the orc has his arm locked around Amara’s neck in a chokehold.