|By Aaron Blaise|
Queen of the Black Waves and White Whales. Lady Leviathan. Mistress of the Deep Places. Orca collects titles like barnacles. Her reign is unquestioned and unchallenged by god or man, and has been as long as the stones can remember. Smart men fear her, wise men respect her, and fools come to learn why.
Orca is like an old queen cat: Her house, her rules. Follow the rules, and she doesn’t much care. Bring a petition forward and she might listen, but she probably won’t. Break the rules and she will suddenly care a whole lot.
The first rule of her house: dead of the northern seas are hers by right.
Sailors in the north pay their souls to Orca in advance: a measure each of blood, oil, and ambergris before each season begins. With the payment made, a man might ply the queen’s territory in her good graces until his heart is content and his purse is full. When he dies (and each of them shall die – the good graces of the Queen will protect them only from her anger, not her apathy), he shall be taken down beneath the waters to the Queen’s cold, black domain and join her legions of dead. If a sworn man dies upon land, his body must be returned to the sea by the night after next to uphold his part.
It’s a fair enough trade as anyone can tell you; A man can provide a comfortable living for his family on a whaler’s income, and Orca’s shade of undeath is not particularly dreadful in comparison to others.
Those who forgo paying the cost of their souls up-front pay with their lives later. Either Orca’s servants will hunt them down, or they will be killed and offered up to her by more sensible people. Orca is not above sending an entire nor’easter to claim a single man, so a little human sacrifice is not too great of a moral conundrum for those in the hard-bitten north.
Someone foolish enough to cross Orca must have a death wish, after all.
While other oceans have a great many rulers, any competition Orca may have had was long gone by the time man settled in the north. Since no power has stepped forth to claim they were exiled, it is safe to presume death.
Orca has four chief children, the illhveli. Unlike their mother, the hell-whales are not so apathetic towards mankind, and act with gleeful cruelty towards ships in their path. Orca provides no protection to her sworn men, but likewise she provides nothing for her wayward sons if some inspiring men wish to hunt them down. So far, none have succeeded, and many have been driven mad in the attempt.
The illhveli are:
Keel-Breaker – Oldest and wisest. White like snow. Shark-tooth necklace. Stone-cold killer. Willing to attack the shoreline.
Squid-Masher – Lonesome and bleak. Dives deep, returns with trophies. Wears a mantle upon his head like a bishop’s miter, tentacles tied under his chin. Believes himself to be mother’s favorite.
Scar-Bearer – Old wounds like a net of knotted ropes. Teeth broken on rudders, a crown of shattered harpoons. Wildest of the four.
Biter – Youngest. Vicious and condescending when alone, cowardly and submissive when in the presence of his brothers.
|from Darkest Dungeon|
The Dread and Dead Servants of Orca
Worms – The body of a hagfish, the head of a man. This is the punishment for not paying the proper respect. They will eat fish shit forever.
Dregs – The souls of those who have reneged on their oath and were not given to the sea by night after next. Shattered bones, bodies half-buried in silt. Movement is possible, but only with incredible pain. Their graying guts are bloated with burrowing Worms.
Draugr – A sworn man of Orca. Pale hair floating in a ghostly halo. Flesh gone white and doughy, but strong as stone. Barnacle armor. Those who die aboard ship are marked with a tarred club and a sailcloth robe: those who drown are tinged a royal blue and carry stones.
Beyond the dead of the northern seas, Orca is served by a motley array of other beings: leopard-selkies, darkwater nymphs, rusalka, bergmen, frilled serpents, great albatrosses.
The Black Amazons
Orca’s cult is maintained by the black amazons of the far north. Few other humans will worship her, in the same way that the sight of a man with a sword is rarely a reason to light incense and chant litanies.
The black amazons are still human, despite the vast differences in appearance: they stand around eight or nine feet tall, with a broad build and protective layer of blubber. Their skin is jet black and hairless, with white upon the abdomen and flanks. Their noses are smoothed down and protrude only a little. To the unskilled eye it is difficult to determine that they are female at all.
Men are rare among the black amazons – animic leftovers that occasionally resurface in the eggs, with a slightly higher but still slight chance when hatched by another amazon. Those that are born are sickly albinos rarely surviving birth or the years to follow. Those that do manage to survive are made eunuch-priests, who handle interactions with the dead and Orca’s other servants. Every need and desire of theirs is met, but they are not permitted outside of their people’s strongholds. Many live from birth to death within the same temple chambers, never stepping outside.
The black amazons raid settlements across the north by both land and sea, seeking honor, tribute, and wives. Their souls are given over to Orca from their conception, and as part of her blessing they are returned in the form of ambergris eggs, ready to be incubated and reincarnated. With no fear of death so long as their mistress lives, the amazons throw themselves into combat with songs of black humor.
Captives taken in raids are treated relatively well (by enslavement standards – we’re still talking about “don’t damage your property” as opposed to “people who aren’t us have the right to not be enslaved by us”), but the tradition paints does little to improve relations with their neighbors.
However, the amazonian concept of battle-cost acts in the favor of those who are victim to their wars: with the loss of life a temporary setback, wars are fought for material goods, and may be ended when one side pays the other a mutually-agreed-upon amount. This is a lopsided trade when fighting against non-amazons (as you will still be down however many men are killed), but a spirited defense might see captives released and supply stores returned. Things get complicated when the amazon tribe in question has already paid a town’s booty to another tribe before a second round of combat. (The tale of Utte Hamvardr is a good illustrative point here, as he had to fight his way through five amazonian tribes to recover his wife)
Outside of war, the black amazons are known for fermented fish snacks, elaborately-woven carpets, comedic bardic traditions, bear-boxing, and a sleek breed of landwhale called the shumaoo.
The black amazons name themselves the dhorch’maeh, the empire of Darvatius named them the orcinae, and in much of the world now they are called by a twice-removed mispronunciation: orcs.
A Final Note
Drunken whalers in Tin Jacob’s Town claim that she was once married to Mundo the Seal. Mundo says it's true, but he's a lying bastard. He's also always honest. Asking Orca about it is considered a bad idea.