War of the Worldwound
Half Orc Warpriest
A heavily muscled half-orc with green skin and calm, steely eyes.
When the Arcadian legion arrived, it was just as Chief Arnax had said—there would be no mercy; it was kill or be killed.
The Goretooth tribe had been raiding through Galt and had pushed westward over the last couple months. Chief Arnax said a new kingdom had moved in to the north, and that it was soft and weak. But the object of the raids was always the same. Gold, food, and slaves. In particular, Chief Arnax preferred beautiful human women, who he kept in his colorful tent at the center of the tribe’s camp. I often wondered whether my mother was still in there, or whether she was one of those who had been sold to the other orc tribes after she was . . . used.
It was become quickly apparent that the new kingdom, this Arcadia, was not as weak as Chief Arnax thought. Arrows flew from the surrounding trees, the archers unseen, and strong warriors dropped to the ground with blood gurgling from their lips and wooden shafts protruding from their throats.
Then the ground started shaking.
From the far tree line, a cavalry emerged, but it was unlike any I had seen before. Instead of riding horses, these riders rode wingless birds whose long beaks suggested a vicious death. Chief Arnax lined the arches up to fire on the riders. Then, a ball of fire erupted in the center of the archers, leaving nothing but burning bodies in its wake.
I looked up and saw a man flying high above us. The few surviving archers sent up a few pitiful arrows that did nothing.
The thundering grew louder so I ran deeper into the camp. My brethren, other half breeds, were girding themselves for battle. They had not seen what I had seen. They did not understand that the Goretooth tribe was soon to be no more. I was ready to take a stand, but it was not going to be defending the orcs that had brutalized me my entire life.
I made my way towards the back of the camp and ran into Tharsus, the nearly blind shaman and the tribe’s spiritual leader. It was said that he had recognized the mark on my neck at my birth, a mark that signaled an inner strength and wisdom. It was said by some, but it was mostly said by Tharsus, who repeatedly reminded me during savage beatings that he alone was responsible for lifting me up beyond the station usually reserved for half-breeds when he made me his apprentice.
Tharsus had been unrelenting in his “training.” The savage tattoos he imprinted on my skin raised harrowing memories of pain, yet he assured me that these would link me to the gods in a way the others did not understand. He further taught me some basics of the Art and how to weave prayers into otherwise mundane items. This knowledge was hard-learned, however. Often, as Tharsus was striking lessons into me with a gnarled oak staff, I relished the other half-breeds consigned to manual labor.
“We’re fucked aren’t we,” Tarsus said. Though his reddish eyes were leaking fluid, I noted excitement on his face.
“Yes. I’m going to save the young ones.”
“You’re stupid. That’s the human talking in you. They are going to kill you. Might as well drag a couple to the Nine Hells with you.”
“I will make my stand, but it will be in a place of my choosing.”
“By Gorum’s sweaty balls, you are stubborn. Have it your way. I’m going to have some fun.” The shaman hopped towards the sound of battle, leaning heavily on his staff.
* * *
I reached the tent with the other half-breed children just as the strange cavalry hit the outer ranks. The sound was unforgettable—a thundering roar followed by rending and screaming. Chief Arnax was no doubt in the middle of the fray, swinging his gigantic axe about him, but even he could not last forever. I heard more explosions and then a crackle of lighting. I had seen Tarsus cast bolts of lightning before and the results were not pretty. But that was not my concern.
I stepped into the tent and several female half-orcs looked at me warily. They suffered at the hands of the orcs, as well, but in different ways.
“I’m here to help.”
I was met by mute silence. Their faces told me everything. They knew they were going to die, but they were more worried about the dozen half-breed children in the tent. I realized this was not the time to give false hope and, silently, faced the door. I hefted my greatsword, which hummed with the prayers I had imbued into it.
There was more screaming and dying. I thought I recognized some of the voices. Some of the attackers perished as well, but not enough to make a difference. As someone flung the tent flap open, I steeled myself for a glorious death in Gorum’s name.
The man was my age, maybe a little older. Blood covered his chainmail, more blood than I could attribute to the wound on the side of his face. He tightened his grip on his longsword and his shield. I held my greatsword aloft and we stared each other down. And stared. And stared. For some reason, he was not pressing the attack. Perhaps it was fear.
One of the half-breed children started wailing. The man’s eyes flicked to the floor of the tent and that’s when he saw what I was guarding. It was only a moment, which was all I needed. I made ready to bring the greatsword down on the man’s skull, but I stopped myself. It was as if a voice in head was telling me to hold.
The man was startled when he looked up and met my eyes. He knew at that moment he had let his guard down, but he also recognized that I had not killed him. He stood warily at the entrance and shouted, without turning his eyes from me, “Captain, you need to see this.”
* * *
Chief Arnax was nearly a god to me. His word was law in the Goretooth camp and to question him meant a quick and messy death. But now he was dead. I saw his torn body as I was led out in chains. He was surrounded by several of the dead birds, many missing a head. Arrows stuck out from his body from all angles and grievous wounds had rent his frame.
I also saw Tharsus while marching out, his body blasted by magic and stabbed by steel. Long stretches of burnt grass and blackened bodies attested to the might of his lightning bolts, but he would conjure the anger of the gods no more.
At first, I was certain I was destined for slavery, but it was something different. A human translator speaking halting orcish explained that we were given a chance to redeem ourselves. Prove our devotion and value to Arcadia for a year and find freedom and a new life. Abuse the leniency we were granted and we would be hunted and killed. The choice was easy, though there were times I regretted it in the year to come.
* * *
I was taken to Blackrock spire where I did not see the sun for a year.
The place was a huge network of caves that bore deep into the ground. Even underground, though, the place bustled with activity. Carts with weapons, armor and other forged goods were continually shipped to the surface. Dwarves seemed to be in the majority down below. They stared at me with suspicion. I could not blame them.
I was placed in the lowest reaches of Blackrock Spire, where I met strange creatures that resembled the dwarves, but had blackish gray skin. I soon learned the creatures were called duergar. Over time, I became friends with them, sensing that they shared my experience as an outcast without a place to truly feel home. But I was mistaken—they had found a home in Blackrock Spire and they were not outcasts. Instead, they had become a crucial part of the greater kingdom of Arcadia.
As the duergar explained, it was all as Astoroth willed. The duergar were the first to mention his name, but not the last. I soon came to learn that Arcadia had been founded by Astoroth and his companions, also known as the Primarchs. After long “days” of working the forges, we would huddle together and a wizened old duergar would describe seeing Astoroth enter Blacktooth Spire when he forged his mighty crown on the Forge of Fury. The duergar also described the powerful, otherworldly Szygy. The description of this creature initially sent chills up my spine, but I soon realized that its power was a boon to all the citizens of Arcadia.
Astoroth had not been seen for decades, but I was told that he would answer my prayers if I prayed to him with a clean heart and absolute devotion. So, I started praying.
It was not long before I noticed small changes. My smith hammer landed true more strokes than not. The sparks from the forge did not burn me as often. Something was changing and, in my heart, I knew it was linked to the mark on my neck, still visible under the spidery network of Tharsus’s tattoos.
When I was finally released from my time below Blackrock, I considered whether I should stay with the duergar. In the end, however, I realized it was time to venture forth and find my way in Arcadia. While I could contribute at the forges below, I knew I could do even more above. With Astoroth at my side, anything was possible.