When Orcs were first discovered, they quickly made a reputation for themselves as bloody barbarian who committed one of the largest massacres, when not including the bloody history of the elves. They were first found on a north eastern continent and they spread out from there using swords, spears and their own large bodies to slaughter their way through the land that was at the time controlled by humans. The humans back then still controlled most of the planet, having only recently started to find the other races, and had confidence in their technology as a method to maintain supremacy. The Orcish invasion showed them that their technology meant nothing and caused the human race to start accepting the other races out of necessity.
A two meter tall Orcs was considered short, and their bodies were wide enough that the height felt normal. They also had large heads to match the large bodies with dark or pale green skin differentiating men and women. Though their bodies were mostly similar to muscular humans, they lacked physical ears, and instead heard through their whole skulls. Furthermore, while they couldn’t differentiate colours, they were able to see in the infra-red spectrum. Their complex auditory system, and the spatial awareness that it granted, and ability to see heat was the result of their adaptation to underground environments. One of their greatest resources as an enemy to humanity, however, was their innate rage. One they became enraged, they would continue to fight, even after their hearts were crushed and brain was damaged. Since their whole body sustained its functions during a rage, the only option was to wait for it to end.
The modern Orc however, had long since discarded that image. A century after the bloody massacre, an Orcish emperor declared that their only way forward as a species was to coexist and learn. He created learning institutions and it was quickly discovered that their large heads had equally large brains, capable of rapid learning. In fact, their bodies could sustain themselves after death during rage because they actually had brain cells mixed throughout their entire bodies. Furthermore, their short lifespan and rapid growth period let each generation pass far faster than humans could have imagined. Within three decades, they had replicated all of humanities technology and even surpassed them in some areas.
That wasn’t going to change how they were thought of, however, as their reputation was already soaked in blood. Even if they invented the first 3D-printer capable of printing new vaccines, they would still be remembered as a warrior race. Even if they made new methods for improving agriculture outcomes, they would still be called raging barbarians. For them, the battles were more than ten generations ago, but for the humans, some of their grandparents were survivors.
Even after the fall, despite their efforts in stalling two of the calamities, they were still looked at by humans with the same eyes as monsters. That same reputation, however, was one of the reasons they got along so well with Draconian. As much as the short lived Orcs wanted to forget, the long lived Draconian couldn’t stop the praise for them. Amongst the eldest Draconian, there were still some who were there to see the fields of blood. They insisted that Orcs always get favourable treatment in negotiations in honour of those scenes, and so long as they lived their words would be followed by even the youngest generations.
The open respect meant the two races had strong trade partnerships that often took precedent over land and religious conflicts. If two factions were at war, it wouldn’t be odd to see Orcs and Draconian within those factions to still come to an agreement. Despite their close relationship, Orcs were one of the races that had the fewest Draconian half breeds. The respect was directed towards their past achievements, their logical and borderline pacifistic approach won little respect on a personal level.
Another issue with them was that they never slept. They simply didn’t have to, and that meant that their villages were active, bright and noisy at all hours. For races that required sleep, being near them for long periods of time would wear them, and their sleep cycle, out.
When Daniel, Leah and Loralei saw the village they were somewhat exited. The village was flying a neutral trader’s flag, meaning they would trade with any party and wouldn’t ask unnecessary questions about why Norse warriors were in Celtic territory. It was a good opportunity for them to get an updated map and resupply on things besides essentials. Leah hoped that there would be a decent armourer, as she was somewhat tired of fighting with just jeans and a loose shirt for protection. She had confidence in her scales being nearly as hard as diamond, but given there was a lot of her body that they didn’t cover she would feel safer with something like Daniel’s riot gear.
They signalled the ship over the radio and received permission to board. A side section opened like a draw-bridge in front of one of the turbines to invite them in. They were expected to simply drive in while the ship remained in motion. Since the momentum of the large vessel was so great, changing speeds, such as stopping and starting, would drain the energy must faster. Rather than risk draining their power every time someone wanted to get on, they instead let visitors risk being buried in loose sand if they got too close to the engines.
When they successfully pulled into the lower deck, they were instructed to park in one of the nearby bays. The tanker had three layers, the lower, upper and outside decks. The lower deck was split into two sections, with the engine room at the rear and the loading area/warehouse at the front. The middle deck was mostly living areas and other vital areas. It was all off-limits to strangers, with the exception of the only inn on the boat. The outside deck was used as a common area and a bazaar. Traders would set up there and the local militia would train in any unused space. With the soldiers so close to the merchants a good public order was maintained.
Having placed a force field over the car’s rear tray to secure their items, the three of them made their way up to the markets. At the entrance to the stairs, they were checked for weapons and told that if they wanted to travel on the middle deck to anywhere besides the inn, they would need to have a local with them. While they didn’t really have any business in that area, that they were being directed away from it made Daniel want to check it out.
The bazaar was set up in a figure eight with two rows of stalls and mats forming two stretched circles across the deck. In the centre of each circle were overlapping rugs that could be used as public seating. The busy bustling sounds of the market were almost melodic when compared with the violence of the previous days. Taking a moment to simply enjoy the atmosphere, they began to look around casually before getting to business.
“Ah, I remember you.” As they looked around, one of the store owners suddenly called out to him. The man was an Orc that was about fifteen years old and as such was a venerable old man with more wrinkles then skin. His dark green skin was littered with brown spots and his muscular body was hunched over. “A few years ago I was a part of a group making a trade deal with the Southernmost Den. I saw you during the security check. What’s a security officer doing all the way out here? Are you with the other group from that den?”
Eidetic memories were normal amongst Orcs, it was to the point that not having one was considered having a learning disability. Given that, it wasn’t surprising that the old man, who had seen him only once before, recognised him. What was more surprising was that the trader mentioned another group from the Southernmost Den. They were a considerable distance away and the land they were in was held by both an enemy sects and a rival den. Either they were in a different place to where they thought they were, or something was wrong with his Den.
Although he hadn’t left on the best of terms, and was too disgraced to return there, it was still the home he had fought to protect and the house of his family. Knowing that it might be important, he asked the trader what he knew. The Trader was happy to answer and replied with a chuckle.
“They were a scary lot, even for Draconian. They were armed to the teeth and had some serious armour. Not like yours there, serious stuff with better materials and layers of enchantments. I’d never seen gear like that; I can’t imagine how much a set would cost. And, each of the four had a set. They turned up as they were passing through two days back in an actual hover car. Old world tech, that, and not cheap to maintain, either. Whatever they’re after, they need it quick and they’re not afraid to spend money on it.”
From what the old man said, it seemed that Daniel’s den had deployed its most elite fighters. The armour that was mentioned was the best the den had, and they only owned six of them. It was the kind of armour that only the strongest of matriarchs could own. Before she became a member of the council, Daniel’s mother had owned a set, but with her appointment she had to pass it on to another promising warrior. The day she had to hand over that armour was the only time he had ever seen his mother cry. Granted, it was only a single tear, but it still showed how attached she had been.
On top of the armour, they were deployed with the den’s only hovercraft, it was the fastest vehicle the den had, but it chewed through power and couldn’t take any damage. He couldn’t imagine what they were after with a force like that; he didn’t think anything could put up much resistance. Thinking about it like that, they would probably be done before he could be of any use. Also, if they worked for the council then they would probably not want to see him.
He thanked the old man and they continued throughout the market. At the edge of the training grounds they saw a slight commotion. A young looking Orc woman, that looked about late teens/early twenties in human ages and wore a lab-coat, was getting pushed aside by a militiaman that was trying to train. “For the last fucking time, Mel,” the men yelled, “we don’t have time for your shit. If you want to go, go by your fucking self.”
Both the arguing parties seemed very agitated. The woman, whose name was apparently Mel, yelled back, “Fine, I’ll just drive to Enoksen myself; all alone in the wastes. Then, once I’ve been eaten by a sand worm, I hope you’ll be able to sleep well at night.”
With a childlike tantrum, she stormed off, heading for the stairs. The man seemed to let out a heavy sigh, while hunching forward. “That’s why I’m telling you not to go” he said under his breath.
Hearing her intended destination, Daniel became interested and approached the soldier for details.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear, why is she so keen to get to Enoksen?”
“Ah, don’t worry about it,” the soldier spoke, “it was our fault for yelling so loud. And that stupid woman wants to go there since she was offered an internship at a lab there. The lab here is too small and the fact that we’re constantly moving affects a lot of experiments, so she’s dreamed of working at a large lab in a city.” After speaking he once again sighed heavily.
“What was the argument about, then? Something about her getting there?”
“Yeah, we don’t have anyone free to accompany her. She knows the way, can navigate better than most and has her own little sand-sled, the only thing stopping her from leaving is the hoard of monsters between here and there. It might sound bad, but this is one time that I’m thankful that she’s such a coward. I know she’s three years old and adult enough to make her own choices, but as her friend I can’t help but worry.”
Daniel was momentarily distracted by that, as he was once again reminded of the stark differences between their races. An Orc could die of old age at an age where a Draconian wasn’t yet an adult. Once he recovered his mind, he asked the soldier if he could escort them to find her.
“We’re headed for Enoksen, so we could guard her for you while she navigates.”
The Orc’s eyes lit up at the offer, like his prayers were answered. He quickly told another militiaman where he was going and escorted them to the middle deck. The space was efficiently used in the middle deck, with very little room unused. From a human perspective it would definitely feel cramped and overcrowded, but for the Daniel and Leah it reminded them of their dens. They found Mel in her house, a two by four meter room with space for a bed, some storage and little else. Calling it a room was generous, as it was only one meter high, which allowed for another such room to be placed on top of it. Eating and bathing were done in public mess halls and bathhouses, so there were few things that the rooms actually needed. The only reason the room was as wide as it was, was to accommodate relationships.
As they slid open the folding door, the militiaman explained their offer to Mel. She seemed especially grateful, and deeply embraced the guard. She introduced herself to the three Draconian and swiftly threw all of her limited belongings into a single small bag. With her room cleared out, they went restocked non-essentials at the market and prepared to leave. Mel had her own vehicle and said that she would prefer to use it and would dive ahead of them as their navigator.
Her sand-sled was essentially a kayak that had been modified with turbines, similar to the ones on the oil tanker, and a small cabin that housed both her and the engine. Looking at it, they were doubtful that it could keep up with their car, but instead found they had to radio her and tell her to slow down. If it were a race, there was no way they could catch it.
That evening, as they set up camp, Daniel took some time to bond with his eggs and gently pass mana through them to check on their health. During the day the eggs spent most of their time in Loralei’s lap. With her own light sensitivity, she was the best equipped to know when the eggs had had too much light. Leah recognised that it was the best solution and wasn’t about to fuss over someone else looking after her eggs. They wouldn’t hatch for another two and a half years, so there wasn’t any chance that they would mistake who their mother was.
Seeing the eggs, Mel became surprised. She had heard stories about the properties of the eggs and her curiosity as a scientist was flaring up. After observing for a few minutes and asking an endless barrage of questions none of them had answers to, she seemed to form a determined expression.
During the night, Mel volunteered to take the first watch. Orcs required a single hour’s sleep each night so it only made sense for her to do so. Since they trusted her to wake them up at the first sign of trouble, they left the job to her.
Not long before morning, they heard the sound of the sand-sled’s engine starting and they awoke to find Mel driving away. Taking a look around camp, they found she had taken the eggs. They fought off their cold blooded lethargy, and had the camp packed in under two minutes. Since there was no way to catch up to her their only option was to track her.
Since Loralei was too cold to drive Daniel was the only driver and Leah maned the turret instead. She had the M77 equipped but with her mana capacity, she would face mana exhaustion after loading it with six shots. It was mostly being used for its scope, making sure that they didn’t lose track of her and that nothing took them by surprise.
As morning came and their bodies began to warm up, they saw a tall tower in the distance. It looked to be about seven floors above the ground and the structure was littered with shattered windows and metal frames that were dulled with sand. It was easy to tell with a single glance that it was a tower that had been conquered and had its heart drained or broken; it was a dead tower.