The Orc Shadow Assassins

Codex Inversus
3 min readApr 23, 2024


Honor is one of the cardinal principles of the orcs: people must be righteous and virtuous, otherwise shame will fall upon them and their families for generations. Honor means to be honest, brave, hard-working, and fair: being honorable means having nothing hidden behind, but everything has a shadow that follows them.

The Itzalak are the shadows: the people who will do the dirty work that warriors and lords are too honorable to do. They are the spies, the assassins, the saboteurs, the blackmailers: the ones who lie, take shortcuts, strike from the darkness, and exploit the weaknesses.

The Itzalak are a figure cloaked in rumors and mystery. There are many stories about their origin, each contradicting the other, but it’s known they all come from the Unworthy caste, the lowest of the low, and from that they have climbed the dark side of society.

The Itzalak are mercenaries hired by nobles and warriors to do their dirty deeds with plausible deniability: that rival may or may not have taken his own life, that bandit that proved unbeatable may or may not have died in an epidemic; that meddling ambassador may or may not get lost and ended in a crevasse.

Sometimes, a client may want to send a message but not sign it, of course, and only those who have to know will understand what a poisoned attendant or a slaughtered pet means.

Itzalak are masters of many “techniques”, magic disciplines that make them able to cast spells without traditional incantations. It’s unclear where legends end and the truth starts, but one of their more sophisticated “arts” is documented by many outsider sources: the Itzalak can become shadows.

During the war, many Infernal Officials and Dwarven Strategists perished under the blades of warriors coming out of the shadows, literally: according to witnesses, darkness itself became like a door, from where the killer sprung out.

Modern arcane scholars, thanks to the recent studies in orcs’ magic tradition, have an explanation. The Itzalak move in the Void, just beneath Reality, “swimming” in the border between space and nothingness. Since they are partially “absent” they appear completely two-dimensional and adequate clothing and face paint make them dark as shadows. Their partial detachment from the Material World makes them able to slide on walls and ceilings, unaffected by gravity but they are still real and present: a common precaution during delicate meetings is to stab the shadows of incoming guests.

The number of Itzalak is unknown and possibly unknowable due to their secrecy. They are hard to contact and most of the time they will come forward, appearing from the darkness with a “business” proposal, well-informed about the predicaments of the prospective client. They have a code and will try to fulfill a mission at the risk of death, but not many other rules seem to apply to them. Many Itzalak are, or at least are believed to be, behind criminal organizations, especially gambling houses and brothels.

The Itzalak have always elicited popular imagination and, folk tale after folk tale, they have become boogeymen: mothers threaten their children to sell them the Shaows if they don’t behave: girls warn each other about the brooding and mysterious suitor that will kidnap them and force them to bear his child; taverns are full of stories of beautiful women seducing a drunkard that it is then never seen again.



Codex Inversus

A world-building project. Art and stories from a fantasy world. All illustrations are mine: collages and rework of other art.