“So here’s the thing. Elves won’t go to school with orcs. They say that, in their holy book, orcs stole the Light of the Twin Boughs and fed it to Ariachne the Star-Devourer. So naturally, that means that their kids can’t learn about geometry together.”

“And the orcs?”

“There are enough velfor tots around to show that they’re one and the same once you get past appearances, but a lot of the orcs are a little hostile on account of the fact that the elves saw fit to condemn them to an eternity of servitude after the defeat of their dark master Malktozt the Enemy. So the orc parents are likely to agree to shared bussing but their damn kids get in trouble with the elves. And of course neither of them likes the velfor.”

“I see what you mean about this being complicated.”

“And ours is an easy lot! District 12 is 15% dwarves and 5% hoblings. Now any student of history knows that they have a common origin, but thanks to the Dwarf-Hobling conflict in the Middle West, they get hysterical at any idea of shared schooling. And naturally, the dwarves believe that orcs are unclean thanks to the Dimming of the Two Bushes (subtly different from stealing the Light of the Twin Boughs you understand), while the hobbling are a bit peeved at elves thanks to the Harrowing of Hoblingshire, during the war, when 50% of their people were killed by elves for no good reason I’ve ever been able to uncover.”

“So you can’t bus orcs and elves, orcs and dwarves, hoblings and elves, or hobbling and dwarves. That’s beyond complicated.”

“Oh you can try. Many have. What you wind up with is the elves pulling their kids out to go to expensive private elf academies, the elves move away and stop paying taxes, and then you’re got a school that is 90% orcs again.”

“Makes me glad I’m an goblin and reproduce through budding.”

“You and me both, buddy. You and me both.”

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The Orcs practiced a syncretic religion that was related to the worship of the Creator, as in the Sepulcher of the Creator, but also Muolih the Spreading Darkness, as in the Goblin and Dwarven faiths. Furthermore, many minor spirits were recognized, from ancestors to those posessing trees and streams, though the primary surviving codices note that they all emphasized the paramountcy of the gods of good and evil.

In Orcish, Muolih was called Tirat, the Rebel, while the Creator was called Nyir, which literally means “that which has created.” Their faith was, as a result, sometimes called Nyirtirat, literally “creator-rebel” but more accurately “the rebel and the rebelled against.” It’s important to note, though, that despite commonalities each Orc community and band had its own extremely local interpretation of faith and disagreements up to and including violence were all too common.

Naturally, this changed with the introduction of the Hamurabash by Hamur, which replaced the former religion with a set of ethical and atheistic strictures and emphasizing the memory of departed kin. The bashamalurs who succeeded Hamur were generally successful in eradicating all traces of the former Orcish religion with only a few isolated (and well-fortified) communities harboring so-called taiwa or apostates.

Even as Hamur’s successors agressively spread his message of atheism, equality, ancestral memory, and the militarization of society, there remain significant Orcish ruins in the high desert of the Lrira, predating the Hamurabash, and in many cases even the Sepulcher, deeply carved and embossed with the memory of the old faith.

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[swipe]

Smoker? Ew no.

[swipe]

That tattoo looks like it was done in prison. By a blind man. And he misspelled the “little” in “My Little Pony.”

[swipe]

Oh God, not another goblin.

[swipe]

Nicely built elf, love those ears…could do without the duckface but whatever. Wait, what’s that on his shirt? Kinky Boots?

Gay.

[swipe]

Ugh, no sword pics.

[swipe]

God, another goblin.

[swipe]

Oh, what’s this? Well-built, handsome, half-orc but with style. Might be something there! But than again…those teeth…

[swipe]

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“The Gob Legion, all ten thousand of them, deserted their posts and sailed south to Naix. We have come on behalf of the Most Serene Republic of Pexate to learn why.”

The orcish bashamalur stroked his chin. “We have seen your legion,” he said. “They helped us spread the truth of the Hamurabash to the yoxia, the men, in the city of Gaiza. You have heard of it?”

“Heard of it?” said Myn. “I can’t even pronounce it.”

“Mind your tongue,” the bashamalur said. “Hamur has set our nation forth to spread the Hamurabash, the only code for living a truthful life, free of false gods and idols. For too long have the men of the coast and the trade routes defiled these our lands with their nonsense.”

“Yes, yes, but the gobs, what about the gobs,” said Myn. “They helped you?”

“Their leader, a gob named Lodii, promised to help us take the city and to lead her men in taking up the Hamurabash among her people. Long have we sought to capture Gaiza, and longer still have we sought to break the vty, the goblins, out of their superstitions. If they would only come to the Hamurabash, you see, they would be welcomed as equals. This was an opportunity we could not turn down.”

“What happened?” said Myn. “I’m guessing Lodii didn’t keep her word.”

“The vty helped us storm the walls with their dishonorable weapons, and then marched south into the desert, following the great Intermittent River. We hold Gaiza even now, but must now seek the vty and hold them accountable for their betrayal.”

“Yeah,” said Myn. “Good luck with that.”

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“I do not believe you for a minute,” said Ockham the Red. “You are surely one of them.”

He had an impressive countenance as a full-blooded orc, made all the more so by his immaculate sky-blue uniform with crossed white belts and brass polished to a mirror-shine. It was undermined somewhat by the fact that he and the other two Vallia guardsmen, Vakt the Rosy and Pyse the Peach, had been locked in the jail of their own stockade, blindsided by the insane cultists of Jovan and their attendent skeletons.

“Didn’t you see the light show downstairs?” said Tinuviel the halfling. “Our cleric Chanel just channeled enough positive energy to be seen from the Caldera rim and it double-killed four skeletons all at once.”

Ockham harrumphed. “You lie. I wouldn’t believe you if you laid the severed heads of those Jovan-addled brigands downstairs at my feet.”

“Funny you should mention that,” said Tinuviel. “Adenan, let ‘erm rip.”

The two halflings each unfurled the dripping bundles in their hands, revealing the severed heads of the brigands that they had just killed. Adenan rolled the head of the white-kerchiefed brigand who had sicced the skeletons on them into Ockham’s cell. Tinuviel spun the red-kerchiefed head of the villian who had stabbed poor Iffy to within an ich of her squishy life into
Vakt’s prison.

Ockham picked up the dripping countenance and nodded curtly. “I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong,” said he. “This is definitely one of the foul brigands from the hills who turned of late to Jovan-worshipping insanity. Truly you are not one of they.”

“Damn straight,” groused Adenan, handing the cell keys to her halfling compatriot. She was still upset that her threat to hurl Ockham into the river had been laughed off.

Tinuviel unlocked Ockham’s cell, and then Vakt’s. That guard, given the gift of the dripping head of his enemy, looked down at the tiny halfling opening his cell with starry eyes. He fell to his knees as she opened the door.

“T-thank you, my lady,” he whispered through trembling besotted lips. “I have never seen a woman as…short…and as…formidible…as you.”

Tinuviel winked at him and tossed him the weapon the Jovan-crazed villains had deprived him of. Already on his knees, Vakt swooned a bit and awkwardly blew her a kiss.

The halfling mimed catching it, and placed it in her pocket before traipsing off and opening the last cell.

“I hope you realize that you’ve just made that poor guy fall in love with you,” groused Adenan.

“It’s cute,” said Tinuviel, dismissively. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Adenan looked back at Vakt the Rosy, who was busy composing a love poem on the blood-soaked kerchief of the severed head in his cell. “What indeed,” she sighed.

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Elves are of course known for their slow metabolisms and rather different rate of aging. Compared to others like humans and orcs, they do indeed age at a slower rate, with puberty occurring at age 24-26, adulthood and full maturity at 36-38, with geriatric elves being 130-140. The oldest elf on record since modern figures were kept lived to 257 years, a full 20 years longer than any since. Tales from less enlightened ages about elves being immortal or living to the age of 1000 years or more are, of course, ridiculous.

The slow rate of growth and slow reproduction (with a gestation period of 18-24 months and a refractory period after birth of 24-36 months preventing a further pregnancy during that time) has had a profound impact on elven culture, which tends to prize safety and stasis and is slow to adapt to sociological and technological change. These same factors have made them highly valued as bureaucrats and administrators in various empires that have arisen and fallen, with elves present in human, orcish, and other empires throughout history. Indeed, Hamur himself specifically set elves apart from his Hamurabash, granting them protection but exempting them from its provisions (though many modern orcs refuse to associate with elves who have not embraced the Hamurabash).

Though history is full of elven usupers and elven dynasties ruling empires largely made up of other peoples, the lower numbers of elves in general means that they have never ruled large empires of their own, nor have they ever formed colonies. Their metabolism generally precludes direct combat, as the exertions from sustained and intense movement exhaust them easily and drain their reserves of energy. This makes them unparallelled siege artists and defenders; Hamur the orc recruited a legion of elves he referred to as his Crocodiles (“their eventual strike being all the more brutal for the long patient inaction which preceeds it”).

Elvish beliefs are quite unique, and are responsible for much friction with other peoples, though as with any group there are many who hold others or none at all. The majority of elves follow precepts that they call the “Eternal Way” which is predicated on the notion that all beings ascend to godhood over lesser creatures given time. Others often misinterpret this as meaning that the elves fancy themselves gods over the other peoples of the world, something which their aloofness and percieved wealth and inaction does little to dispel.

But a better rendering would be that the elves consider themselves gods of lesser creatures, ascended from their number. The elvish philosopher Tsianlwyn put it thus: “We are from and of the lesser creatures, and as their gods owe them mercy and justice. Our ascension to godhood over them is a trust which is binding. Other peoples are, whether they know it or not, bound to the same sphere and must exercise their godly dominion over life with the same trust and restraint.”

It would therefore be more accurate to say that the elves consider all sapient peoples co-gods, and their philosophy doen not concern itself with–but does not discount–the existence of “gods above the gods.” Still, this has led to grievous misunderstandings over time, the elves being contnually villified as “worshipping themselves” and beliving themselves “gods over men.” Human religions tend to consider such beliefs self-centered at best and blasphemous at worst, while the orcs are often insistent that elves deny their beliefs in their own divinity and embrace the atheist and ancestor-centric Hamurabash.

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The lands of Haymet, crossroads between the oasis-hopping trade routes between the vast interior deserts of Rutas and the fertile valleys nearer the its coast, have been fought over for millennia. It was a motley collection of city-states and petty principalities when Islamic invaders swept through the area led by the great emir, and later self-appointed Caliph, Karim Al-Usman. The Usmanid Emirate embraced Sufism to an extent unrivaled elsewhere, and was therefore viewed as schismatic or bid’ah by other emirs and rival Caliphs, each of whom had good reason to covet Usmanid lands.

Haymet was also among the earliest conquests by Hamur, the great unifier of the orcish peoples and promulgator of the Hamurabash code under which most contemporary orcs live. Orcish memory halls are still rife with references to ancestors who fought at the great battles of Alyd, Garyssh, and Al-Khopesh, at which the Usmanid armies were annihilated and the last Emir, Tariq Al-Usman III, was captured and executed.

Hamur therefore inherited lands with a centralized administration and an institutionalized religion. Hamur himself was an atheist and his Hamurabash allowed private worship but harshly punished proselytizing. This was a problem for Haymet in particular, as the new orcish rulers found themselves suddenly in charge of an overwhelmingly human, and overwhelmingly Islamic, population. Hamur took an indulgent route, with relaxed standards on what he considered proselytizing; only areas that resisted the imposition of orcish rule had their imams massacred and their mosques converted for use as orcish memory halls.

After the death of Hamur, betrayed and murdered by his lieutenant Ramuh in his moment of victory at the Battle of the Kyssel Pass, Haymet was ruled by one of the cadet lines of his house headed by his son Aluhamur. In the years that followed, however, the fragmented Islamic rump states on the coast of Rutas were reunited and energized by the Fahimid emirs. The Fahimids launched a series of lengthy assaults on Haymet and gradually brought more and more of it under their control. This resulted in considerable strife on both sides: the orcs who had settled in the areas, as well as humans who had begun adhering to the Hamurabash, discarded Hamur’s tolerant stance and began aggressively seeking to suppress Islam in their territories. For their part, the Fahimids refused to consider adherents of the Hamurabash as Ahl al-Kitab, People of the Book.

As a result, anyone following the Hamurabash in the reconquered lands was viewed not as a dhimmi who was eligible for protection so long as they paid the jizya tax. Instead, such humans were regarded as apostates and orcs as musrikun, idolaters, who were required to convert or face execution. These two stances–the orcish authorities’ increased persecution of Muslims as “proselytizers” and the Fahimids’ insistence on the Hamurabash as apostasy and idolatry–led to an unprecedented slaughter and wave of violence throughout Haymet.

Though the Fahimids managed to conquer 85% of Haymet at one time or another, and counterattacking orcs in turn retook up to half of their former lands in return, the conflict eventually became known to both sides as “the open wound,” inflicting ruinous violence and occupation costs on both the Aluhamurids and the Fahimids. In time, both states collapsed; the increasing desertification of the interior of Rutas ruined the orcish state, which had no solid access to the coast, while the Fahimids fragmented in a series of dynastic struggles and were eventually all but occupied by foreign powers.

But the “open wound” of Haymet remains–a patchwork of orcs and humans, Hamurabash and Hadith, both hardened by centuries of warfare and massacres on both sides. Rivers of ink have been spilled over who was in the wrong, who was the aggressor, and who ultimately owns the rich and fertile lands of Haymet. One thing remains certain, though: it remains both a focal point and a sore spot in relations between the largest factions of orcs and humans on the continent of Rutas.

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The mamihamur of Padihamurah Tuul in Westingbrooke conducted weekly classes in the Memory Hall there, sharing his learned opinion on the interpretation of the Hamurabash with orcs and a few human and dwarf converts after the weekly Memory Service.

Sheniqua Washington leaned in the doorway, listening silently. She could understand Orcish thanks to her stepfather, and Mamihamur Rulih spoke slowly and clearly for the benefit of those who were still learning or who primarily spoke other dialects.

“I have purchased a rifle and a kevlar vest in order to protect my home and my family,” said one orc. “Does that satisfy the requirements of the Hamurahash?

“Let us consider that question carefully,” said Rulih. “The Hamurabash sayeth thus: every man and unmarried woman must be prepared to defend themselves and their community at a moment’s notice, and must therefore have their axe and shield nearby. Which is the most important part of that statement: the defense of self and community, or the bearing of axe and shield?”

“I am not sure,” said the petitioner. “My uncle says that I have betrayed the Hamurabash as rifles and kevlar were unknown in Hamur’s time.”

“Let me ask you this, then,” said the padihamurah. “If Hamur lived today, and he wished to assault an encampment of heretics, religious proselytizers peddling the concept of an afterlife to the weak and the poor, what tools would he use? Keep in mind that the heretics, knowing no Hamurabash, would bear firearms and body armor.”

“Hamur would turn the heretics’ weapons against them, as he would use them in the furtherance of order and the memory of his forebears,” said the petitioner. “I mentioned this to my uncle, though, and he claims that it would be more in keeping with the Hamurabash for Hamur to use axe and shield; he would still surely prevail without sullying himself with the weapons of the infidels, and if we were to follow his example, our memory would be purer for our choice of weapons.”

“Think of it this way,” laughed Rulih. “We honor Hamur through the act of defending and committing memorable deeds. It is preferable to use axe and shield, surely, but sometimes this is not possible. I would therefore keep your rifle and kevlar next to your axe and shield, bearing one to obey the spirit of the Hamurabash and the other its letter. For even if the enemy are armed with rifles, if they close to axe range, you will be at an advantage for having followed the Hamurabash.”

The assembled people in the Memory Hall murmured in approval of Rulih’s logic, and the petitioner seemed satisfied.

He didn’t seem like a dangerous radical to Sheniqua, that was for sure.

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The strictures of the Hamurabash were promulgated by the great orc warlord Hamur during his conquests, which gave rise to the largest and wealthiest empire the world had ever known. They largely supplanted traditional Orcish codes that had preceded them, codes like the Shamashabash or the Ajilabash, though older codes as well as newer ones are followed by minorities of Orcs even today.

In the process of uniting disparate nations (and races) under the banner of the Hamurataal (known as the Hamurid Empire or Hamurid Dynasty in many human texts), Hamur sought a careful balance between order, unity, and tolerance that stood in stark contrast to the xenophobic and violent states that predominated at the time. Passed down along with traditions and interpretations to the present, the Hamurabash forms the core of orcish life to this day, though many of its provisions are misunderstood:

Every man and unmarried woman must be prepared to defend themselves and their community at a moment’s notice, and must therefore have their axe and shield nearby.

Orcish mamihamurs, or experts on jurisprudence, have debated this provision extensively, disagreeing on how far “nearby” constitutes, as well as what may count as an “axe” or a “shield.” Liberal interpretations allow for the weapons to be kept at home, and extremely conservative ones insist that they must be within an arm’s reach. Many orcs carry small and ceremonial (often blunt) hatchet and targes at all times to obey the letter of the Hamurabash if not the spirit. There is also considerable disagreement on women bearing arms after marriage, with many traditionalists arguing that married women irrevocably surrender their weapons to their husband’s control.

Men and unmarried women may worship gods or goddesses of their choosing, but proselytizing and religious violence are prohibited and punishable by death.

Mamihamurs disagree on this provision as well. At issue is whether the act of worship in any sort of public manner counts as proselytizing, and to what extent the preeminent cultural position of Hamur can be interpreted as worship thereof. It has led to outbreaks of violence against public edifices of worship by orcs, mirrored by the growth of padihamurahs, or places where the Hamurabash is publicly displayed and read.

There is no afterlife but the memory of others. Every man and unmarried woman must seek to enshrine their memory to the ages though good and selfless deeds.

Padihamurahs often contain “memory halls” dedicated to the deceased and their deeds. There is considerable disagreement over the extent to which this sort of memory can be bought, with the tradition of wealthy or successful orcs building private memory halls or elaborate shrines in local padihamurahs being alternately tolerated, encouraged, or denigrates.

Modesty is a virtue, as it preserves money and effort for good deeds and prevents violence. Men and women of childbearing age or older must dress modestly.

This provision is similar to those found in many human and dwarven religions, codes of etiquette, and so on, and it engenders the same levels of controversy. Critically, orcish ideas of modesty tend to be culturally focused toward covering the fingers but not the torso; as such, conservative orcish gangs have been known to beat orcs, humans, and others who are not wearing gloves, while at the same time orcish women wearing gloves but no shirt or hat (acceptably modest by orcish standards) have been the targets of violence and sexual harrassment.

Non-orcs are sheep to be protected, not lambs to be slaughtered: the enlightened shepherd shears his sheep; only the unenlightened flays them.

Hamur intended this to prevent the exploitation of physically weaker subjects by orcish conquerors; on that point, virtually all mamihamurs are agreed. The misunderstanding and disagreement stems from the claim by some traditionalists that orcs must seek to subjugate (and “protect”) others even today; vehement disagreements also stem from what might constitute protection or shearing. Can it be economic, or must it be political? What of areas in which orcs are a minority or oppressed? Mamihamurs debate this–and anti-orc xenophobes emphasize it–to an unrivaled extent.

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History
Orc culture is very ancient, stretching back to some of the earliest civilizations in the recorded era. Enormous orcish ruins can be found along major rivers and oases in the Interior Deserts of the Last Continent, and for a period they dominated civilization on the coast of the major continent, before the rise of more technologically advanced human and dwarvish civilizations.

The orc civilizations were eventually destroyed and incorporated into human and dwarven empires in the colonial era, with the orcs serving as laborers, soldiers, and one more than one occasion, rulers. Mixed with indentured human, dwarven, and elven laborers, they allowed for the massive mercantile empires that emerged around that time. This steep decline in orcish culture was arrested with the fall of the empires that had ruled them, and a number of powerful orcish kingdoms arose once again, though never reaching the preeminence they had once known. Orcish power was supreme in the Last Continent until the modern era; they have had difficulty adapting themselves to the modern era of nation-states, and many still work abroad as laborers and mercenaries.

Biology
There is considerable debate on the evolution of orcs as with all sapient life, with scholars from other races generally preferring an evolution from a common proto-sapient ancestor and the orcs themselves favoring either a local evolutionary origin or advancing themselves as the proto-sapients from which other species evolved. As orcs evolved in the very arid climates which dominate the Last Continent, they possess natural adaptations for deriving some energy and sustenance from the sun. This takes the form of chlorophyll in their skin, which converts solar energy into a usable form. This explains the greenish cast visible in most orcs, especially those with lighter skin; while orcs posess the same range of skin tones as humans, the presence of chlorophyll makes them seem to range from green to dark greenish-brown. They tend to be somewhat shorter than humans and elves, but stockier, and stronger on average. Despite specist tracts and opinions to the contrary, orcs are neither less intelligent nor more prone to violence than any other species.

Orc children are often multiple births, with twins nearly as common as single children, and triplets occurring in roughly ten percent of all orc pregnancies. Due to their faster metabolism, orc children reach maturity quickly, usually in about ten years. However, while their metabolism gives them greater strength and endurance, it also shortens their lifespan. Modern medicine has saved many that would otherwise have died, and prolonged the lives of others, but there is no record of an orc living beyond the age of seventy.

Culture
Orcs tend to value physical signs of wealth and power, along with demonstrations of such, and are often skeptical of those who cannot prove themselves thus. Traditionally, orcish women have been accorded very few rights and in many traditions are forbidden from leaving their dwellings; this has begun to change in recent history. They have a rich literary tradition of epic poetry which combines a list of (male) ancestors with their exploits; the head of every orc household is expected to prepare an updated copy of their family poem and hand it down to their eldest son. Because of this, literacy among orcs is extremely widespread (approximately 98%) and the distinct orcish scripts are a familiar sight in most multicultural cities.

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