“What do you see below us?” Fangbreaker threw a handful of foul smelling leaves into the bonfire. A bright blue flash illuminated the gray face of the heavily armed orc beside him.
“I see thieves,” Grish the Bloody Handed’s scarred face contorted with rage. “I see hate! I see our people tortured and hunted like dogs!”
The wizened shaman nodded and cast another handful of leaves into the fire. The heat did little to keep the cold of the mountains at bay. His own scars ached and his long gone left hand itched each time the other Orc spoke.
“What else do you see?”
“I see our future!” the Warchief bellowed. His cry echoed from the host arrayed in the darkness around them.
“Then go! Take back what the filthy usurpers took from us!”
Another cheer rose from the host.
The Warchief leaned down to the shaman and whispered so only the two of them could hear, “I will make them pay a thousand fold for what they took from us grandfather. This I vow!”
Fangbreaker smiled and patted his grandson on the arm. Thick steal armor prevented actual contact but Grish smiled back and nodded. The Warchief turned from the fire, from the only home he’d ever known, and faced the host.
“For justice!” His gauntlet pumped into the air and the host again joined their rage to his. With a gesture they marched away from the mountain fires to disappear into the dark canyons below.
The shaman remained behind. He regarded the valley. He remembered when his people still lived there, when they were rewarded by the Old Masters with the best land, when they had been loyal slaves. His face darkened along with his memories.
A hooded figure stepped from the shadows and made its silent way to the shaman. It stopped just beyond the dying fire’s light.
“Are your plans in place dark one?”
“Do you doubt me Orc?”
Even though she used the rough mountain tongue of the shaman her voice was smooth and delicate. He was intimately familiar with its casual cruelty and as he turned to regard her he couldn’t help but remember the suffering she’s wrought in ages past.
She pulled back her hood and bone white hair fell to her shoulders. A pair of angry red eyes glowed from the smooth ebony of her face as she cocked her head to the side and smiled. He noticed her long ears bob as she did so and something in him shuddered.
“Rest easy shaman. My brother and some of your people have already crossed through the gate. Even now they ease the way for the rest.”
“This magic, it tastes too much like before, when others held our souls. My people did not throw off one master only to find another…”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself ‘Fang Breaker’,” her laughter was delicate and cruel. “Whatever you need to tell yourself…”
She bowed her head without taking her eyes from his, the air shimmered, and she was gone.
The Unbroken Orcs
Unlike the other races of The Known World the Orcs remember what they were before the Iron Scale enslaved them. They are unbroken though not unbowed. Because of that simple truth they occupied a place in the world second only to the Old Masters themselves.
When the Iron Scale conquered the world they did so with ease. All the other races, or so the story goes, broke upon the wheel of Iron Scale cruelty as a matter of course. When the Iron Scale set their sights upon Orcish tribes they discovered a people capable of resisting them. The war was brutal, asymmetric, but after the heads were tallied and the blood mopped up the Iron Scale did something they had never done before and extended an offer. The Unbroken joined the Iron Scale empire as their enforcers.
As chief among slaves the Orcish families were not separated and spread around the world as was done with the other races. They were granted the some of the best farming territory and prospered under Iron Scale rule. As long as Orc soldiers crushed all opposition and slaughtered whomever the Iron Scale dictated they would live in relative peace.
It is unclear what role the Orcs played in the fall of the Iron Scale but when the Empire came tumbling down the their favored servants were left behind. The Orcs had been cruel, because they needed to be. They had been vicious, because it proved their loyalty.
The other races took their vengeance. They weren’t interested in why, weren’t interested in forgiveness, all they wanted was blood. The Unbroken fought against the entire world. Those that survived fled to the savage places to live however they could. In The Vale the genocide was absolute. Those that held the knives are still venerated as heroes there.
The Orcs of today are a shadow of what they were but they remember and they will not forgive.
Not all of the Unbroken want war with the other races. In some places these more peaceful minded Orcs have established small communities and forged bonds with their neighbors that go beyond hatred and rage. It is here where the unthinkable happens and love sometimes blossoms between Orc and Human. Half-Orcs are universally outcast from both Unbroken and Human settlements. At best they are treated as second class scum. In The Vale they are quietly hunted down and exterminated. A few Half-Orcs have managed to find a place in the world, however, and make their way as mercenaries, adventurers, or craftsmen.
Orcs are not considered a playable race as they are universally despised in every Nation. Half-Orcs are playable but fall into the uncommon racial category. Playing a Half-Orc means facing racism, bigotry, and open hate from an entire world. That story is absolutely worth telling but it is not for the faint of heart. If you are uncomfortable with this element of the world it can be ignored, of course, but just like racism in our own world ignoring it out of discomfort does nothing to help abate it.