Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition
The first thing you remember is the sun. Or you're fairly certain of that, at least. In the deep slumbers that follow your more troubled days, you feel like you can almost remember these things, though they occurred before memories were any concrete thing.
As your egg tooth pierced the shell of your calcified prison, and your snout emerged through the breach, you felt its warmth before your eyes were even clear of the debris to see it. You knew brightness, you knew panic and survival instinct, you felt the need to hit sand and seek shelter before predators you did not yet have names for could notice you. And then, as your face followed suit in to the open air, you saw it.
Riding high and bright at the crown of its arc, it was the most beautiful thing you had ever seen; an observation that was not to be diminished by the fact that it was also the only thing you had ever seen. You wondered, as you learned more about survival and the ways of nature, if you had not almost imprinted on it somehow.
Your parents had come in to view then, old and proud. Scratching and cracking noises all around you heralded the arrival of brothers and sisters, rolling and flailing on to the bright, hot beach. Panic subsided. There were no predators. Only parents. Only clan. Only the stone ring of the enclosure your father had built, and the open sky and sun above.
Escaping your egg was simply the first of many adventures.
You spent the first year of your life learning all you could from your kith and kin on those shores. You had siblings who wandered afield faster than you did. You had some that met unfortunate ends, though not many, for the Tortle moot you all lived near protected their own. But in the end, you were the last to leave. Your mother, predeceased by your father by two full seasons, returned to the earth, and while you felt a great affection for the other clans occupying their own compounds up and down the beach, your own now seemed no different than your egg, and no less ready to be escaped from.
You set off then, carrying as many of your family's heirlooms on your person as you could. You had no particular direction, other than an inclination to keep the ocean at your back, or the sunrise, once the ocean had faded from view, to ensure that whatever you discovered, it would absolutely be new. Your parents had made mention of a town on a bay if you kept the sea to your right, but had cautioned you to never go there, for your kind was only welcomed as food. Or so they had heard, having been told the same by their own parents, and never choosing to tempt fate.
Over weeks of struggle, you crossed through dense jungles dotted with sinister ruins, and spent a not insignificant amount of time within your shell as fearsome cats and feral lizard people attempted to figure out how to eat you. You emerged into fetid marshes, some corrupted twist on your beloved home waters, where confused midges and mosquitoes bounced harmlessly off of shell and thick, leathery skin. After many sleepless nights beneath a starless miasma, and a few unsettling moments where you believed your own weight might descend you in to the murk and mire forever, you pressed onward, filthy but undeterred, in to green, rolling valleys.
The air here was sweeter, the grass a lovely texture beneath your feet after the shifting mud of the swamps, and you lived under these stars for some time, documenting their positions in your book by night and mapping the terrain by day, moving back and forth across the land in structured, ordered, sweeping motions. These were maps you would pass on to your own offspring someday, Sun willing.
Slowly, surely, a chill crept in to the air. Winter approached, and the temperature made you feel sluggish and weak. Much remained of this world to be seen, so you descended, more southerly this time, in to the plains below the valleys.
It was there you met the farmers and simple merchants of the agrarian heartland -- humans and halflings, whose species you had heard tales from your parents, and whose lifetimes of trading in the region had left them no fear of you; a tortle on his pilgrimage was a rare, but not unfamiliar sight, and your kind so rarely started any trouble.
They tended to animals that had wool like you had a shell. They kept warm fires, around which they drank fermented grain juices and sang loud songs you did not understand the humor behind, but enjoyed the way they laughed about them anyway, and laughed more heartily along with them the more of the fermented grain juices you drank. Their relaxed temperament complimented your own, their simple priorities a kind of life you could understand, and you wandered through their lands at great length, befriending who you could, and learning what they were willing to teach.
Though your own people had developed a keen instinct for living off the land as they wandered about, you found you could learn much from these sedentary, longer-lived creatures. They knew much about the ebb and flow of seasons in the world, of which you had only seen a handful. They taught you things your parents could not, the elders deeply amused by your insatiable curiosity. You helped them harvest their foods, and they taught you about living in the bigger world. One of them even began to teach you how to play an instrument of theirs, which you had first mistaken for a demonic, shrieking creature that he was wrestling with, attempting to come to his aid. He called it a "bag pipe" and, once your ears adjusted to it, you found the noise strangely beautiful, in its own, cacophonous way.
These farmers valued and praised the sun, as you did, although they kept referring to it by names, like Lathander, and Sune. You made note of this in your notebook, but it still just looked like the Sun to you. Some among them took this praise deeply to heart, and you sat with them in their meetings and they taught you their prayers and rites, of which you took meticulous notes. For the offspring. You found yourself reciting these prayers and chants almost absent-mindedly at each sunrise, thanking it for its warmth on your shell. It never even occurred to you that it might be listening.
It was your second gentle Spring wandering far from home when you felt the attitudes begin to change. You had remained, in your own meandering way, on a generally westward path, keeping the sunrise always at your back when you first set out from whatever town you had learned all you could from. In the distance to your right, what had began as the faintest suggestion of a darker horizon was now the distinct, distant spine of a vast mountain range. Grass gave way to rockier foothills, which you skirted around, both because the grass felt nicer, and because even in the fledgling spring, winter still held court in the peaks, and the wind sweeping down from them was bitter cold. It made your blood feel slow, even beneath the layers of makeshift clothing you had accumulated from various bartering during your travels.
A somewhat dilapidated sign greeted you to the village of Shale, in the looming shadow of a mountainous offshoot. The architecture was new to you, which was intriguing, being gray and angular and functional where the heartland had been made of quaint, decorative inns and lovingly constructed huts. You would soon discover that the people of this village shared the same spartan demeanor as their facades, when a pair of irritated guards in mismatched armor intercepted you before you could even find your way to the main avenue through town. They treated you with the utmost suspicion, insisted they had never seen one of your kind before, and demanded you stay put while one of them went to retrieve the captain. Though you insisted you were only passing through, your inability to give them a fixed destination (as you certainly did not have one) and your pack full of maps and detailed notes of the area aroused their suspicions further. Something had hardened these people, made them fearful and paranoid. They kept glaring at you, and in hushed tones, when they thought they were out of earshot, a term you were unfamiliar with kept recurring.
Gone were the heartland offers of good ale and good fires and good company. Instead, you were escorted to the sheriff's office under armed escort. Along the way, you were met with only scowls from the scant passerby on the streets, save for a lone street urchin, no older than 10, who risked a smile at you while no adults were looking, which you obligingly returned.
Placed in a cell with a straw bed and slick gruel for dinner, you were to be held until word could be sent to the nearest sage to verify that you were what you said you were. This confused you greatly, as you did not know what else you could be, but that term kept being used. "Orc." Sometimes as a question, sometimes as a statement. Resigned to let local customs and justice take their course, certain you would be vindicated in the end, you pulled your clothes as tight as you could against the creeping chill of the stone walls, and prayed to the Sun, whose light was angling through the bars at a broad slant, as she gathered the oranges and purples of twilight around her in preparation to hand the world over to Sister Moon, whom some of the humans had called Sehanine. But it still looked like the Moon to you.
Meditation gave way to sleep. You did not know for how long. But sleep gave way to screams. Screams and the clashing of steel. The smell of fires, and the sounds of violence.
Craning your considerable neck, you still could not make out many details beyond the bars in the window, but the noises were unmistakable. No guard was stationed in front of your cell now, and you were certain that, under the circumstances, they would forgive you for trying to help. Taking a few lumbering steps back, you charged the door to your cell, set shoddily in to the stonework on top and bottom. Twisting at the last moment, your shell struck the cage like an organic battering ram. The hinges gave way with a shriek, but not much else in the way of protest. You gathered your belongings, and wandered in to the streets.
The small town was in chaos. Fires burned in piles of furniture and splintered wood, though the buildings themselves were largely spared by their stone construction. You could see bodies, lying motionless, sprawled among the flames. On some, the firelight flickered off armor, sword and shield. On others, it illuminated only dirty peasant clothes, or work aprons and boots.
Down the avenue, you saw the urchin, the only creature here who had shown you any kindness. He was sprinting toward you at a full clip, beside the guard captain, both bobbing and weaving in a pattern you did not understand until the first wicked, black arrow skittered barely past the older man's leg and slid across the cobblestones to rest at your feet. Seeing this the captain, who had so willingly imprisoned you this morning, grabbed the child by the shoulder and, to your horror, shoved him backward, behind him, a human shield between himself and their assailants. The next arrow was more true, and it erupted from the front of the urchin's shoulder as the barbed arrowhead carved cleanly through his narrow frame. Stunned and carried forward by the force of the impact, he fell, groaning and writhing in a slowly expanding pool of his own blood. The guard captain did not even stop, did not even slow down, until a similar arrow pierced his leg, impaling his thigh and sending him spilling on to the curb. Behind him, at the far end of the street, two wicked, grey-skinned creatures chuckled, pig noses twitching, nocking arrows and taking aim at the prone figures before you.
In one motion, without really thinking about how or why, you charged forward and swept the wounded boy in to your arms, spinning at the same moment to let the arrow lodge itself in your shell, painful but ultimately harmless. His companion's arrow found its mark somewhere to your left, with a sickening thud and a desperate gurgle. A fitting end to a weak man. Setting the boy back down, you charged the archers, travel cudgel in hand, and set about dispatching these new monsters, these "orcs," you presumed. Muscles tense, heart racing, you reached out in silent prayer to Sister Moon...
...and began to glow a opalescent silver, as a sense of peace and protection filled your mind. The orcs stopped, just as confused as you were, for a brief and critical moment. You were upon them, then, arriving all at once with the full 450 pound force of your body, cudgel and shell and claw raining down upon them until they were broken upon the street, and you stood alone, glowing in the pale moonlight.
You returned to the urchin then, to see his breathing was shallow, rapid, his skin paler than it should be, even in Sister Moon's gaze. You prayed over him, then, a prayer you had heard in the heartlands, where they had been nice to you, and there were no pig monsters. The glow around you spread to engulf, encompass, embrace the child. His breathing became more regular, and though the arrow was still lodged firmly within the bone of his shoulder and you dare not move it, the flow of blood around it was visibly staunched.
In rapt attention you watched all of this occur, unsure what to think of what you had seen. A guttural shriek brought you out of your reverie, as you watched a guard from the opposite direction of your own valiant charge ram his sword through the chest of another orc. He came at you then, dripping sword raised, seeing you knelt over the wounded boy, when a voice cried out from the shadows. One of the guards who had originally stopped you that morning sat slumped against a wall, unseen in your haste, bleeding from a wound to his abdomen. He attested to your deeds, apologized for your treatment, and asked if you could find it in your heart to offer him your clerical services as well.
Cleric. Cleric. You had heard the word before, in the abbeys of the green lands, but not thought much of it. Surely, it did have a nice ring to it though. It would make a fantastic story for the offspring someday, Sun and Moon willing.
Laying your hands on the injured guard, the wound went from jagged tear to manageable cut, which you bandaged with materials from your pack. The glow faded from you then, and you felt tired in ways you had never known. The guard captain lay dead, with an arrow through his throat, beyond any skill you possessed. Or any motivation you had to attempt such a thing, having seen him attempt to sacrifice a child for his own safety. This was not how guardians acted. This was not how you protected the offspring.
The orcs were repelled that night, though casualties were heavy. The townsfolk coherent enough to speak shared tales of increasingly frequent orc raids, with no sign of the Imperium moving to stop them to be found. You slept in a real bed for what little remained of the night, regaining your strength. You awoke and offered your daily prayer to Mother Sun, and felt the same familiar blessing from the previous night fill your mind, albeit warmer than Sister Moon's cold light. You healed who you could, gave comfort to those you could not, and felt proud for your ambassadorship of tortle kind among these stoic creatures. Cleric, they called you. And Cleric you were, of Mother Sun and Sister Moon, whatever silly names they wanted to give them.
When the work was done, you moved on, as you always did. But you would head north this time, braving the cold, both temperature and welcome. If this Imperium was so weak as to not be able to protect its own people, then perhaps it was nature's will that it be overrun by these creatures. It was simply how the food chain worked, after all. But you were torn on this, now, having seen how the orcs butchered people you believed to be innocent, if not helpless. You would reserve judgment on this debate between natural selection and morality until after a good lunch, and a lot more research.
You set off in to the mountains, mapping and praying, scaring off all of the native creatures with your bagpipes.