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The Hunt

Bray

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A small army of ghouls sat around a recently constructed camp, thin, pale figures in the distance feasting on blood red corpses. Flesh eating degenerates, their presence answered any questions Caith could have about why the scouting party they were out searching for had not returned. His town's colors laid on the ground, green and black heraldry strewn about next to damaged weapons. 

 

"Alarielle's breeze…" Caith cursed, the aelf taking his eye from his telescope and turning to Luz, "Probably a few hundred ghouls there, and a couple of zombie dragons. This… this isn't good."

The Ghyran city of Blackfort, where Luz and Caith hailed from, was a bastion of defence. A small city with thick walls and thicker gunlines, a place where duardin technology and aelven magics kept people safe, though this army was not their fear. The flesh eater courts were delusional, not stupid. What they had lost in sense they kept in strategy, as much as their bodies decayed their sense of war stayed sharp. This was only a forerunner. A forerunning force four hundred or so strong with two dragons.

 

And now they knew there was a city close enough to send a scouting party. 

 

"How long before you suppose they bring more?" Luz inquired, squinting as he tried to observe the far off force.

 

"An army that size…" Caith considered, "Depending on how far back the main force is, two days minimum."

 

"Perfect, just enough time for the Stormcast Eternals to arrive and find our flayed corpses." Luz sighed, "What of the sylvaneth?"

"Still pissed at Lady Oakenhart after last month's forest fire. I'm afraid our thin ice has melted." Caith spat, "Not that I'd trust them anyways, Alarielle would just love one less city full of aelves."

 

"I doubt she'd approve working with the forces of Death." Luz reasoned, "Lady Oakenhart could probably convince the sylvaneth to help."

"No offense, but I think they hate your mom more than they hate me." Caith chuckled, "Guess we just pass the information up to her and hope for the best. She's the Lady, after all. Strategy isn't our job."

 

Luz eyed the battlefield again, the mage looking for some fatal crack in their defences. He and these ghouls were both born of Shyish, after all. He knew the dead well enough to identify a crack in their defenses. Finally he saw something, a slow moving figure thin as a ghoul but far less frantic, a corpse walking yet untwisted like the flesh eaters.

 

"Caith, telescope!" Luz beckoned, snatching the eyepiece from his friend's hand and zeroing in on his target. He was an old man, a hair whitened by age unlike Luz's naturally pale locks. He limped about the camp using his staff as a walking stick. This man was old, clearly far too experienced to be roaming around with ghouls in search of glory, a man like him shouldn't be without at least a small undead army at his back. And yet there were no skeletal warriors patrolling, no shambling hordes of zombies, only the twisted ghouls.

 

And two zombie dragons.

 

"I have a plan!" Luz grinned.

 

"Bloody what, mate?" Caith questioned.

 

"We're killing every damn ghoul right here, right now."

 

"Luz, we're two guys with not a gun between us. Sigmar, Teclis, and bloody Grungni could all be looking down at us and we'd still die charging in there!" Caith pointed out, "Unless you can pull an army out of your ass, we're just gonna have to let the town guard take care of this."

 

Luz returned the telescope to Caith, pointing his pale finger in the direction of the necromancer. 

 

"Maybe not an army, but how about two slightly dead dragons?"

 

"You think that guy's controlling them?"

 

"I'd bet my life on it. I am betting my life on it!" Luz affirmed, "I'll get back there and give you a signal, do you think you can put an arrow through his head?"

 

"Yeah, two hundred feet back with half the number of eyes in my head!" Caith laughed, his tone having now suddenly lost its gloom, "How are you getting back there?"

 

"Walk up and ask nicely." Luz answered flatly, "Second they hear me speaking Bretton they'll believe every word I say."

 

It took an hour or so for Luz to circle the army, moving through the cover of trees to approach the army from behind. Slowly and with immense caution the Shyishian wizard approached a group of ghouls surrounding a fire. A man's torso hung on a spit above the flame while they ate away at flesh and sinew cut away from the cadaver.

 

His presence immediately made the monsters growl, looking at him with wide, hungering eyes. Those that had weapons readied them, others simply raising their horrid claws. Luz fought every instinct in his mind and somehow kept a calm composure, the beating of a nervous heart would be nothing more than a dinner bell to these creeps.

 

"Thank Nagash, a noble band of knights!" Luz feigned relief, panting as if he'd been stuck in the woods for days. He spoke in the best Bretton he could muster, hoping to Sigmar they wouldn't realize he was not a native speaker.

 

Immediately their hungered stares and glares of hatred turned to warm recognition and unintentionally horrid smiles. 

 

"Aye, friend!" One, a lady with long claws and blood soaked hair, spoke in frenzied Bretton, "What is wrong, are you lost?"

 

"Yes, a horrid fate… I was with a band of wondrous Nagashi warriors, only to have the damned forces of Chaos cut us down!"

The mention of Chaos sent them into a series of loud wails and horrified screeches, the sound of lunatics in anguish.

"You poor thing!" She grabbed Luz's hand, leading him to the fire and offering the wizard a wooden plate stocked with cooked flesh and bone. Her well intentioned grasp was cold, the slimy, chilled touch of a dead man, "Come, friend, eat!"

 

"Oh, that's quite alright, I just ate." Luz tried to decline politely, not keen on eating from the flesh of a man he'd likely drank with back home.

 

"Nonsense!" She smiled, revealing two rows of sharp, disgusting teeth, "A young man like yourself, you must eat!" The way the ghoul said that made Luz uncomfortable, the light reddening of her pale, dead cheeks a hundred times more revolting than the bits of human corpse she insisted he ate.

 

"Can't eat meat, actually!" Luz lied, "Yeah, cursed to never eat meat again. Pissed off a wizard, y'know how it is."

 

"Oh you poor dear!" She wailed another horrible song of pain, that not quite animalistic noise only a ghoul could muster. 

 

Still, some part of Luz felt sorry for her. She was delusional, forever stuck in her living mind. What had she been so long ago, before her skin turned pale and her fingers formed into claws? What were the people of Blackfort to her? He tried to turn his mind away from these thoughts, he had to think of the living first.

 

Luz shied away from the ghoul lady, sinking into his cloak as he made his way towards the zombie dragons. Two once great monsters, each the size of a house and a hundred times stronger than the worst Ghurite beast he'd ever laid eyes on. Still, they were zombies. Their once great frames reduced to jagged exposed bone, and shimmering scales of iron now nothing more than skin like black, torn fabric. They were not elegant, it was quite obvious that if not for the necromantic energies surrounding them that these beasts would not be standing.

 

The unquiet dead required those energies to exist as they once had, every action from working the most advanced of magics to walking the Realms taking an appropriate amount of Shyishian magic, the healing force that stood overpowered by aeons of evil. Luz's damned craft, the same one his true mother practiced all those years ago, and the same one that allowed his true father to walk alongside her.

 

With great caution he placed his hand on the exposed bone of one of the dragons, his head bowing as he connected with where their soul should be. Nothing but a mass of fleshy energy, a tumor made by its master. As expected, this dragon was flayed completely of their soulfire. This was a glorified husk, one he could control. Luz's soul flowed into the dragon like a sea of black ink, easily overshadowing and drowning whatever small extension of himself their current necromancer had devoted to them. He was about to have company.

 

"Which one of you damned ghouls touched my dragon?!" An old, haggard voice shouted. Luz spotted the old necromancer, seeing the sweet pain of concern on his face. He knew damn well a ghoul couldn't do this.

 

Luz quickly moved onto the other dragon, an all too strong extension of himself flowing into its hijacked husk. This one was more of a challenge, in his panic the necromancer had grown his tumorous hold on the dragon, thick walls and webs of cancer keeping the beast under his control. Luz's inky black soul swirled and beat at the necromancer, tarry currents like knives cutting at his hold until it had fully dissolved. Immediately the necromancer recognized what was happening, focusing his entire essence on taking back his dragons. More cancerous growths invaded the dark seas Luz had created, horrible islands of flesh growing to continents of wilt as they fought. This man was aged, his strength as powerful as it was horrible, no doubt with just half of his force the necromancer could overtake him. Luz collapsed where he stood, muscles failing and shivering as his everything focused on the battle between souls.

 

Suddenly the necromancer's powerful energies dissipated, fading into nothingness as swift as they had appeared. Caith had delivered an arrow through the necromancer's brain. 

 

Luz now saw through the dragons' eyes, watching through primal, greyed vision as he took his first steps on their hulking decayed talons. The ghouls immediately rose to attack, looking to where the arrow had come from. They had no idea the true threat lied behind them. The dragons charged into the forming ranks of ghouls, thrashing talons and maws of knives ripping the half-dead apart, delivering them to a slurry of sinew and limbs. Shocked eyes looked to the dragons as they rampaged, the ghouls revering the beasts like regal lions that had just mauled their tamer. Claws and gnashing teeth pecked at the dragons ineffectively, tearing at what was still flesh. Weak weapons against beings that no longer knew pain. The infinite redness only grew under the dragons' step, every hastily made defense quickly falling under feet of rot and bone. Soon the entire force had met this fate, the drakes of decay finally stepping down for a last time, abused corpses finding a final rest as Luz's soul leaked from them and back into the wizard.

 

"Luz, mate, you alive?" Caith's voice penetrated blackness, the aelf having to grab onto Luz as he tried to rise. Immediately upon standing the wizard had to keel over, a stream of vomit bursting from his mouth and onto the ground.

 

"I wish I wasn't." Luz put a hand to his forehead, trying to nurse an intense pain.

 

"Did something go wrong this time?"

 

"No… Soulstuff is volatile, like ale." Luz explained through pained breaths, "And I am very hungover right now."

 

"Right, I'll break the news about the scouting party to Lady Oakenhart alone then. What do you want me to tell her about… this?"

 

"Exactly what happened!" Luz insisted, trying to cross his arms but stumbling back to his friend's shoulder to lay his weary head, "Ghouls died, I was dragons."

 

"Right then." Caith laughed, grabbing his friend and beginning to walk, "I'll try to ride slow on the way back… don't puke on my horse."

 

"I promise nothing of the sort."

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