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Hidden 4 days ago 4 days ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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Comiriom, Charnel Citadel

The day was grim, heavy and damp like a shallow burial. A grey sky hung low over the earth, as though the heavens had been drained of their depth and colour and replaced by an indistinct void of impenetrable fog and faded clouds. Everything overhead seemed to meld together into a dim haze, faintly luminescent, yet not so strongly that one could have guessed that a sun still shone somewhere above it. The land had been smothered by a funereal shroud, and so it seemed to have always been, for years and decades. Every day here was the same choking grey mist, every day was eternal dusk with no dawn. All that broke this dreary monotony were the abyssal starless nights that plunged the world into even deeper darkness, and the coming and going of rain, though of late the sky had been weeping more and more often.

So it was that day. Large, murky drops hammered down mercilessly, dissolving the loose earth into a morass of clinging mud. The road was paved, but its flagstones had been knocked loose long ago, chipped away by time, cracked and worn out and never replaced. The muck flooded the many crevices, large and small, oozed onto the stones’ surface, making it viscous and slippery, splattered over the feet and legs of those who trod on them. Gaping puddles churned with every step, sending up splashes of filthy water to meet the falling rain.

The caravan did not seem concerned. It trudged ahead, oblivious to the scorn of the elements, its many feet stumbling among the battered flagstones, but never falling. Most of the figures that marched in its files made no effort to even cover their heads from the downpour, and if there had been anyone nearby to see them, it would have been clear why. The half-bare skulls mottled with rags of rotting skin, the purulent blotches of bare flesh, the verminous sores and missing eyes betrayed them as belonging to the ranks of the living dead. Nuisance, cold and illness were no more known to them than the vital breath and pulse of blood, nor was fatigue, for they forged wordlessly ahead under the burdens of chests and caskets without a word or a faltering in their step. Some were even bound like mules to the procession’s wagons, filled with reeking draped mounds.

Those were few, however, for the place of beasts of burden was allotted to even ghastlier beings. Neither quite human nor horse, the things that pulled the heaviest loads were a cacophony in the flesh, agglutinated forms of mankind forced, crushed even, into moulds between the bestial and the fiendish. They had limbs that were like mangled arms and legs knitted together at the very bone, leather and dried skin holding its putrid flesh and sinews tied, ending in hooves that were knee-bones flattened with chisels. Their flanks were ribcages drawn open, bloody pulp and decomposing entrails visible through their gaps, strewn in apparently haphazard order yet painstakingly sewn together at the seams. Their heads were vile masks fashioned with hands, stomachs, teeth, dull and witless eyes staring out of them at the most unlikely and unsettling angles. Ghoulish attendants led them with weathered cords and chains, as though they could hardly see where they were dragging their charges and their own carcasses.

The convoy crawled between flat, empty expanses of desolate land, following the winding road like a sluggish barge floating down a grey river. Here and there, a skeletal tree stood in the rank wastes, but there was no other sign that anything had ever been alive there, that it had not always been a land of the dead. At length, however, after what might have been days of unceasing, tireless travel, traces of motion began to break through the fog and rain at their sides.

Dark shapes crept about in the murk, some almost level with the soil, others striding high as if on stilts. As their numbers thickened the further the caravan went, it became clear why. Throngs of ghouls toiled in swampy fields, dragging about tilling tools or pulling ploughs in mobs, and each of them was mangled and deformed in some way. Some had no legs, or indeed anything below their torsos that was not a ragged wound, and clawed at the mud to pull themselves forward, rakes tied to what remained of their spine. Others had no arms, and they shuffled ahead of ploughs like bound beasts. Others yet had their limbs replaced by wooden poles tied to or driven through exsanguinated stumps, and stirred the ground by clumsily dragging them in lines.

Yet these hellish crowds thinned as the convoy advanced further yet, and a new terror came into sight. It could as yet hardly be seen through the rain and mist, but the terminus of the road began to rise on the horizon, a phantom slowly gaining shape as it emerged from the earth. Now its beheaded towers loomed high, no parapets or standards to crown them, like ancient rotten teeth; now its eviscerated walls coalesced from the surrounding grey, the wounds they had borne from the conquest of the shambling hordes no more healed than those of its unliving masters; now its once-magnificent estates unveiled their squalor as their bareness shone through their still imposing size.

Comiriom, the dead city, awaited the yield of another graveyard to sate its endless hunger.

The caravan passed through the collapsed gates, its hinges rusted and empty, the mighty statues flanking it corroded and faceless. There were no guardians to bar its way, for who would enter those walls expecting anything other than ruin? Within, a silent animation haunted the streets, like a vicious parody of the life that had once flourished in them. Mutilated ghouls hurried about, hefting bodies barely recognisable as human with their broken hands and gnarled arms. More of the revolting beasts pulled carts of corpses, barrels and, sometimes, large clay amphors. Now and again, hulking shapes would shamble by - grotesque things with animalistic postures, loping on arms that had once been whole torsos like apes or toads.

In silence, without heeding the chaos of forms that surrounded it, the cortege made its way through plazas and courtyards, all barren and despoiled, yet perhaps even busier than they had been when the city truly lived, towards the towering bulk of a crumbling edifice. One of its walls had been torn down outright, and the ghouls passed directly into the hall within. It was a husk as barren as its exterior, its whole impressive size emptied of anything but dust and its high ceilings, once frescoed, black with dripping mould. A great circular pit had been roughly dug in its center after uprooting the paved floor, and a cloud of flies to rival the ones covering the sky buzzed above it, drawn by the vile stench of decaying meat. More ghouls idled about it, oblivious to the bloated insects touching down on them and nibbling at their exposed gashes.

Acting as of one mind, the caravan-bearers began to discharge their trove directly onto the ground. Caskets were loosely stacked as unwieldy dead claws would allow. The flesh-beasts were turned about, not without effort as their bloated forms slammed into one another in graceless motion, and the contents of their wagons - more and more bodies, already mouldering, many but a confused head of bones with some tatters clinging to it - were crudely shoved down.

No sooner had the bearers finished unloading their bounty and begun to amble their way out of the hall than the expectant ghouls finally stirred from their posts and converged onto the disorderly mounds. With mindless diligence, work was joined. The undead sifted through the macabre wealth, shoving the corpses to various sides in masses distinguished by their state of corruption. Those that were little more than a slimy mass, of which there were a great many, were hurled into the pit, where they fell with a splattering sound that gave a sinister hint of how deep the well of liquescent decay must truly have been. Loose bones were flensed, limbs were assembled together like oats after a harvest.

Although it seemed there was nothing in the grisly piles but filth and ancient gore, it was a wholly inadvertent motion that revealed otherwise. An ungainly shove by one of the ghouls pushed a decomposed skull to the ground, opening a gap in one of the heaps, and something fell alongside it, clattering lightly and glistening with a flash of light that cut through the dank penumbra. The ghoul stooped down and picked something off the ground, and when it rose, the light rose with it. A soft amber glow radiated from its hand, though there was no such luminescence about that could have been reflected. Transfixed in its simple mind, the ghoul stood and stared, incapable of tearing its eyes away from its strange find.

“What is that you have there?”

A dry, rasping voice from a darkened corner broke through the shuffling and squelching, and a tall, lanky figure emerged into the center of the hall. Its body was, though not much better preserved than those of the ghouls, for the most part intact, save for patches of skin eaten away by rot, and covered in old ragged robes. Some strands of faded overgrown hair even remained dangling from the top of its head. The revenant crossed over the chamber in a few long strides and snatched the ghoul’s find away from its clutch, bringing it close to his own crusty eyes.

It was a rare thing indeed, even among once opulent walls. A slender golden chain held a tear-shaped precious pendant, a thing of exquisite craft whose likes had rarely been seen in Leria since the Necromancer’s conquest. Yet it was not the pendant itself that immediately sprang to the eye, but the large amber gemstone in its center. It was unmistakable that it shone with an inner light of its own, one that could have no natural source; and as the revenant held it, he could feel, more as a thought than a sensation in his dead skin, perhaps, but feel nonetheless, that a warmth and a strength resided within it. It was difficult to describe, or even name, what manner of might that was, but it was certain that it was potent, and that, like a snake tightly coiled on itself, it awaited release after who knew who many centuries of entombment.

Without so much as another word to the ghoul, who, deprived of its distraction, returned to its task as though nothing had happened, the revenant jolted back, tearing away his gaze from the jewel with an effort, and, thrusting it into the cover of its robes by some half-living intuition, hurried through the breach in the wall and out into the street. With the same long, half-striding and half-scurrying steps, he made his way among the monstrous throngs of Comiriom. Once, without so much as looking who the horrors around him at that moment were, he barked out “Where is the master?”, and a few withered hands were raised to point the way. Weaving among the lumbering crowds, he made his way to what had once been a barracks, and now stood as little more than a dilapidated shell, with a gate awning like a toothless mouth.

Inside, it was dim and grimy, but eerily silent. Few dared approach the hideous Harvester of Flesh if they were not driven by some pressing errand, and for a moment the revenant hesitated, nightmarish visions of his master’s ire at being distracted from his work coursing before him. But the thought of rewards and a better post than watching over that dreary chamber - perhaps he would even be sent to Necron itself! - rose over them, and he dove into the shadows. Winding and dirty corridors brought him past hallways and courtyards, and at last into a large room in one of the building’s wings.

There, in the unsteady light of a handful of torches, a gigantic figure stood hunched over a table against the far wall. The table itself was one such that many men could have sat around it at once, yet even it seemed dwarfish before the colossus. His skin was stretched tight over his fantastically large body, so much so that underneath its unnatural construction could be seen. The strands of flesh were not laid over the bones, whatever horrors those might have been, but tied and woven among themselves like cords in ropes, giving the nauseous impression of knotted worms writhing below the giant’s hide whenever he moved. At his left hand, a pair of ghouls had just hauled in a cart of dismembered limbs from a side entryway that gave on a courtyard, and the behemoth fingers, each almost as thick as a forearm, were carefully feeling the ones on top.

The revenant hesitantly scraped a bony foot against the floor, and, heavily, the monster turned about to look at him. The mouthless, noseless face could betray no feeling, but there was a menacing glint in the arid eyes when Ghural spoke in an inhumanly deep voice issuing from somewhere in his throat.

“Yes? What is it, maggot?”

Beckoned by an immense hand, the revenant edged closer. Even greed was now hardly enough to bring him forward, but it was too late to draw back.

“I have found this in the latest haul, master.” He held up the jewel, and under its unexpected glow Ghural’s enfleshed sockets twitched, trying to wince with absent lids. “There is a power inside - an enchantment, no doubt. The Great Necromancer will want to-”

A cavernous growl interrupted him. The hand came forward, and he surrendered his prize with just a twinge of regret. As long as he held it, he felt as though he could bargain as he better pleased, though being in the Harvester’s presence had strongly dampened that.

“An enchantment, you say,” Ghural rumbled, raising the pendant closer to his eyes, but still quite far away. “Who else has seen it?”

“No one but the ghouls.”

The glint in the desiccated eyes grew into a wicked flare, though it was no doing of the jewel’s light.

“And the Great Necromancer will not see it either.”

The giant hand darted forth again, far quicker than it would have seemed possible, and in a single motion closed around the revenant’s head in an iron grip, crushing his skull to paste with incredible strength. As the decapitated body collapsed, Ghural motioned to the ghouls, and they impassively began to pull it apart and stick its pieces into the cart. In a few moments, all that remained of it save a bloody stain was gone, its remains indistinguishable among scores of others. The Harvester returned his gaze to the jewel, though still avoiding looking into the gem in its center directly.

No, the Great Necromancer need not know. Whatever uses he would draw from this bauble were beyond Ghural’s imagination, little versed in matters of incantation, but what was clear enough to him was that not much would come of it for him. But if he could get this to someone, living or dead, who both knew its value and would trade evenly for it; if it could earn him a prize from the far mainland, of rare salves, devised by minds who cared still for living flesh, that could be turned to incredible works of reconstitution; then… Who would say that his works would not in time surpass those of Eagoth himself, in their many forms and their magnitude? Yes, the Necromancer Lord would do well to be wary of what he could accomplish with such a bargaining bit in his hands. He would need to act fast, and in secrecy.

And for such things, he knew, the Whisperer was the best recourse.
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Hidden 3 days ago Post by Cyclone
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Cyclone Chicanery be damned! I need neither mask nor wit.

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The ship’s cabin rocked and lurched with the motion of the waves, yet the captain inside sat upon his desk and scratched endlessly at parchment letters and updating ledger books. Time was valuable, after all, even if he now had an eternity of it. Ever meticulous about tracking the details of his many inventories of goods and their coming and going and fond of arithmetic and accounting, he was consumed by the mental toil. His work was fazed neither by any seasickness nor by the cabin’s near complete blackness that was broken only by a few tiny cracks of feeble moonlight that wriggled through gaps between the planks. His eyes no longer cared much for the light; a good thing to be sure, for light itself was now a scarcer thing in these waters so near to Leria.

A brief flash followed by a whip-crack of thunder punctuated the midnight hour. A storm was coming, but it was still a ways off, and he was not long from his destination. They would make it to safety yet before the brunt of that storm struck. But he was getting ahead of himself -- it was about time for his daily ritual.

The smuggler set aside his quill and papers for the moment, rose from his chair with steady feet on the rocking floor, straightened his silk robes, and made his way out of the cabin and onto the deck. His ship was a sleek galley, its sides painted a dull gray to blend in with the dark waves at night and not reflect the moonlight. The sails were dark too, but they were furled up now as the ship made its way directly into the northerly wind. There was a rhythmic splashing of oars as the ghouls below deck rowed at double time in perfect unison, without the slightest hint of fatigue nor need for shanty or drumbeat to keep them in time. No living rowers could have ever competed, be they hardened galley slaves whipped into shape or free oarsmen who made a profession out of the work.

Besides the incessant sounds of the oars, the sea, and the distant storm, there was utter silence. Deckhands dressed in flamboyant yellow, green, and orange stood statuesque along the sides of the deck, gripping the railing or the rigging. When there was not work that needed to be done, they always maintained a silent vigil over the horizon, keeping watch for any ships of the living. Fortunately the oncoming storm had driven away any blockading fleets that might have dared to prowl so close to the Meridions, sending them back to calmer waters and to their safeharbors across the White Straits. For that reason the Merchant was in a sense grateful for the poor weather; there were always silver linings.

As he came to the edge of the deck beside one of the ghouls in his Motley Crew, the undead sailor turned its head to silently face its master. Its visage was a ghastly sight indeed, crusted with brine and with a gaping wound where one eye had been gouged out by a brave seagull, and yet regular dousings of aqua vitae had staved off rotting for the most part. Faustus saw his ghouls as any other sort of equipment, and so he spent what it took to keep them well maintained. In this case it had the secondary effect of making the whole ship reek of potent spirits, though the cloying odor of liquor was doubtless a familiar and friendly companion to many a living sailor as well.

Faustus untied the turban wrapped around his head and then tore off the wax mask that had been underneath to hide and protect the rest of his face, handing both over to the expectant ghoul beside him. The cool sea-spray brushed against his now exposed face, embracing him like a long-lost lover. He grimaced at the water’s touch upon his skin and at the near-forgotten memories of life that it evoked, then leaned over the rail, opened his mouth, and retched. A cascade of vile fluid darker than the night poured out into the sea, though of course there was no bile or bits of food to be seen in the revolting mixture. He retched a second time, with less fluid coming out. Then again, sputtering out only a few drops, and again, until there was no more. At no point did he ever gag; with undeath had come complete and unnatural control over all the muscles, even those in the stomach and throat, while most of his sense of taste and his ‘natural’ reflexes had vanished.

Having purged those spent fluids, he skulked back into his cabin with the sailor holding his turban and mask close on his heels, but also followed by three or four more deckhands. Faustus reached into pouches and pockets hidden in the folds of his extravagant robe to procure a collection of vials filled with strange salves and tinctures, laying them all out on the desk. He used a handkerchief to wipe off the bit of seaspray that had clung to his face, and then one of the several sailors acting as his attendant stepped forward in the cramped room to almost hover over its master. Faustus removed his gloves and handed them to that one, then began removing his robes to toss to another. Then came free the clothes under those robes, and the suit under that, and so on, the revenant shedding clothes like a moulting insect until he was left near naked in nothing but his undergarments. His body was abhorrent, but not in the manner of most undead. There was not a scrap of bone nor spot of rot to be seen; instead, his appearance was merely...bloated. He looked near-immaculate with no old wounds or telltale signs of meatworkers’ hands anywhere to be seen. The flesh was soft and supple like that of a baby, and paler than the yellow moon. Unnaturally pale -- whiter than even milk, if that were possible.

His aides held all of his clothes all with ginger hands, trying not to taint the lavish cloth too much with their scent or rot. He began with his routine, going through the array of embalming fluids, disinfectants, moisturizers, and other, stranger poultices and tonics. He drank many, gargled a few, put a few drops of some clear solution into his eyes, merely wet his lips with dabs of others, rubbed some into the skin all across his body. One more thing was left -- a vial reeking of metal, filled with a carmine broth. He downed the contents of the whole thing, licking his anemic lips, and then was finished. He set about wiping off the bits of remaining poultice that hadn’t been rubbed all the way into his skin, and then he slowly clothed himself once again with the assistance of the ghouls. When it was finished the sailors filed out and closed the door, leaving their master to his devices in the cabin once more. He put the assortment of vials back into their places, then resumed his work.

An hour or two later, there was a light rapping of bony knuckles upon his cabin door. They’d nearly arrived. Quickly packing up the papers and ledgers that were the only personal effects he’d cared to bring besides the clothes upon his back, Faustus carried out an armful of those things as he left the cabin to oversee the ghouls’ careful maneuvering of the galley onto its dock. A small assembly had waited like statues upon the deck in expectancy of their master’s return. They stirred to life as the ship finally bumped against the dock and the Motley Crew slammed down the gangplank, laid anchor, and tied down the ship.

Among the waiting ghouls upon the dock were many guards clad in well-oiled steel plate that gleamed with each flash of ever-closer lightning. In life they’d all been fighter-types of some sort, and even now in death they retained their skill. Their bodies were mostly intact, whatever wounds that had killed them having been stitched shut and carefully repaired by skilled meatworkers. Faustus had enough wealth to have his choosing of ghouls, and he only paid for the best. As with the sailors, he used abundant aqua vitae to keep their muscles and flesh from decaying too badly. Sharpened blades and pikes filled their hands as always, for the ever-ready guardsmen had no need for sheathes.

With Eagoth’s coquest of Leria had come the so-called Pax Mortis, with infighting forbidden and commerce allowed to go more unimpeded than ever before in history. That had bred an air of apathy bordering arrogance in the minds of many a revenant who thought himself untouchable, who no longer feared for the security of himself or his many things. Faustus was an exception to this; he had always kept a healthy paranoia and skepticism. It was better to be safe than sorry, for the occasional squabble between greedy, quarrelsome, or frankly just opportunistic rivals could lead to goods being requisitioned and loyal ghouls going...missing. Besides, it wasn’t as though these guards demanded wages, so he kept a great many of them and he kept such guards stationed at all of his many staches and warehouses across Leria. The paltry fee that was required for their aqua vitae and maintenance was well worth the security and peace of mind that they brought to him, and it was always good to have eyes across the lands ready to watch for any intrigue, and sharp blades standing by should they ever be needed.

But not all of these lost souls assembled on the dock before him were armed guards; there were also several dozen ghouls that were unarmed and much more harrowing in appearance, wearing little more than mere tattered rags if anything upon their backs. Many had crude prosthetics grafted to their bodies or were outright missing entire limbs -- these were cheap labor, mere porters. By virtue of their being so expendable, Faustus didn’t care much for their appearance or make efforts for their preservation and long-term maintenance.

Faustus was the first to stalk off the ship, his bulk making surprisingly light footsteps as he paced down the gangplank with his ledger books clutched tightly between his arm and breast, his papers neatly folded and tucked into his pockets. As soon as he cleared the gangplank, the porters sprang into motion and moved to shamble up onto the ship. The Motley Crew opened the hatch that led below deck and retreated down into the darkness, leaving the porters to follow them down and haul out all the ship’s cargo.

A half dozen of his waiting guardsmen broke off of their formation without being told, leading the way down the dock for their master at a quick trot. At the end of the pier was an old but sturdy warehouse, windows thoroughly boarded up and a heavy lock upon the double doors that were the only way inside. One of the guards, never so much as loosening the grip on his drawn blade, used a free left hand to produce a rusted key and unlock the doors. The combined strength of four of the surprisingly powerful ghouls was enough to quickly throw the doors wide open, and after pushing their way in they stood to the side. Faustus advanced into the darkness within, followed a few minutes later by the dozens of ghouls carrying heavy crates and filled chests, every container being slowly moved and always supported by no less than a dozen hands and shoulders lest one of the mindless ghouls bearing the burden suddenly have a leg give out or a muscle fail. It was inefficient perhaps, but Faustus still had it done that way out of an abundance of caution. The cargo could not be dropped or made to risk damage, after all; for its value was a hundredfold that of the ghouls which carried it.

Despite its frequent use, the darkened warehouse was filled with decaying floorboards and cobwebs, with a floor littered with dirt tracked in from outside and with dead insects. Faustus was not as meticulous about cleanliness as were the mad zealots that dwelled in not-so-distant Luminara. His mind was the pragmatic sort and he cared about function above appearances, so despite the grime, the warehouse was kept well stocked and he had stockpiles of many different goods within, all well sorted and placed into sections of their own: there was everything from caskets filled with jewels, bullion, and coinage stamped with the marks a hundred realms, both Lerian and foreign, fallen and still-standing, to great crates filled to the brim with clay amphorae and glass bottles of aqua vitae and undistilled wines and beers. And oof course he had all sorts of other strange things between wealth and liquor, like weaponry and tools. The Broker had at least a hand to some extent in nearly every trade in Leria, even that of the ghoul laborers themselves. In one entire corner of the empty warehouse there stood a hundred animated corpses, packed shoulder to shoulder, arranged by states of decay that varied from being worse than that of the rotting porters to nearly as fine as the guards outside. The stockpile of ghouls all silently stood awaiting their eventual orders should Faustus find a purpose of his own for them, or else for their new master should he trade them away to another revenant.

As there was little profit to be made in the petty cultivation of grain or harvesting of iron, or even in the refining of those goods that came afterward, he chose to use his time to greater effect and bought those things in bulk when a good deal was presented and only peddled them for higher prices as a side-task whilst he was working on more important things and facilitating the movement of more valuable goods. None of these sorts of goods or petty forms of commerce were more lucrative for Faustus than the trade of information that had earned him the moniker ‘Whisperer’, or his other specialty, the acquisition of rare and exotic things specially requested by various revenants major to be imported from abroad, smuggled past the troublesome blockades. And right now, it just so happened that he had many special orders and shipments due to Necron, far to the north. Not trusting his ghouls to travel nearly so long a ways unsupervised, and not wanting to unnecessarily risk the naval blockades and the storms to sail his way so much further up the coast, he immediately got to work organizing a land caravan that he would personally lead. It was good to see the countryside on occasion, after all, and he could do some petty trading along the way just for the fun of it.
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Hidden 1 day ago 1 day ago Post by gorgenmast
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This is Hell, he thought to himself once again. I am dead, and this is Hell.

His thoughts echoed through the void. Even silence can reverberate through such interminable darkness. He couldn't say for sure what he had done to deserve an eternity of solitude in the endless void; he couldn't even remember his name. An unknowable amount of time was spent trying to recall his life before this. It was much like trying to recall a dream long after awaking: he could only faintly recall an unrelated collection of memories and sensations, unable to make sense of any of it.

Fleeting snapshots of scenes from his life were projected upon the empty blackness. Illuminated by candlelight, he watched his hand scribble into an open tome with a ratty quill. Another memory from early in his life: a flock of cackling seagulls scattering into the sky ahead of him as youthful feet splashed into seafoam on some pebbly beach. In one more mundane memory, he recalled evening twilight shining through multicolored facets of a window of stained glass. Nothing about any mortal sin that would condemn him to an eternity of maddening solitude.

As he tried to peer deeper into what little recollection he possessed of his life, the perpetual silence of the void was interrupted. A distant crunch, followed by the tearing of earth somewhere up above him. The sound gradually grew closer and closer, until a resonant thud reverberated right before him.

“Careful now,” he heard a voice call out somewhere above him. “These are old graves. Coffins are all half-rotted away by now and we don't want to hurt whatever's in there.”

A second thud, as loud as the first, rang out through the darkness.

“Enough! Gimme the shovel, Grumble. I'm not letting you get us sent off to the Locus 'cause you busted up another corpse. Dumb ghoul..."

The pittering of loose soil and gravel could be heard just before him. A groan and subsequent popping of nails as the coffin's lid was pried open, and for the for the first time in a long time indeed, he could see.

Staring down a freshly-dug grave were two half-rotten wights against an overcast sky. Both caked in thick mud from the grave they had just dug up. One was missing its jaw; its tongue lolled out from under the skull as it stared dumbly down into the old casket. The other wight was better preserved, save for a missing right eye. With his remaining eye, he studied the contents of the coffin that they had just unearthed.

"This one's in rather good condition. Let's get him out."

The two wights extracted the contents of the unearthed casket, pulling a half-mummified cadaver by the shoulders out of the muddy pit up onto the earth, unceremoniously depositing him face-down onto the scraggly grass of an overgrown and forgotten cemetery. The disinterred corpse surveyed his new surroundings, too stupefied to even pull himself onto his feet.

"Where am I?" The cadaver croaked with much difficulty, having almost forgotten how to speak.

"Hmmm, this one can still think," said the one-eyed ghoul. "Been a while since we dug up one who can think."

"Where am I?" He asked again. "Is this Hell?"

"Hell?" The one-eyed ghoul gave a thoughtful scratch of the jaw with the tip of his shovel, leaving a smear of soil on his half-decayed chin. "I don't think so. I think the master said this place was an old priory... whatever that is." The jawless ghoul gave a nod of affirmation, causing his tongue to waggle back and forth.

The freshly-exhumed ghoul pushed himself up off the ground and gave a look around. They were in a clearing in the middle of a dense wood of gnarled, overgrown trees. It hosted a dozen or so ancient gravestones, piled high beside each was a tall mound of muddy earth; tailings from the wide pits dug directly in front of each grave marker. The mud-caked lids of caskets were tossed carelessly about the graveyard, unwanted husks cast off of from the prize within. And at the far end of the clearing, some distance away from the graves, was a moss-covered mass of rubble sprouting with weedy maple saplings - too large and too square to be a natural outcropping of boulders. In the dim light of the overcast sky, the exhumed ghoul noticed a few shards of stained glass amidst the rubble and vines.

The sound of hoof and footfalls drew the attention of the ghouls away from their surroundings. Approaching from a rut path in the woods came a procession of living dead toting shovels and other digging implements. Leading the procession was revenant minor seated upon the back of a withered horse with shreds of leather and sinew hanging loosely from a snout of exposed bone. A cuirass of rusted chainmail clinked faintly with each step of his steed. Two undead hounds flanked the rider, sniffing the crisp air regularly as they went along with their master.

"Did you find anything useful?" The revenant asked, trotting up toward the three.

"Yes!" The one-eyed ghoul exclaimed, casting a glance with his remaining eye to the corpse they had just unearthed. "This one still thinks."

"This region has rich soil and I am surprised to find bodies in good condition here. Surprised, but pleased."

"You there," snapped the revenant, turning in the saddle toward the new ghoul, "Do you recall anything from your life?"

"I recall this place," the exhumed ghoul said, remembering the shards of stained glass from the ruins of the nearby building. "I do not know how, but I recall this place and little else. I do not know how I came to know this place nor who I was."

The revenant glanced quickly to the headstone marking the grave from which the exhumed ghoul was dug. It was little more than a nubbin of weathered limestone poking out of the grass and moss like a worn, rotten tooth. Any name or markings had worn off a hundred years ago.

"Typical. Few of us remember anything from life," said the revenant. "This place appeared on some old maps as an abbey of some sort. Perhaps you were an abbot, which leads me to believe you are a mite smarter than this lot of dumb ghouls."

"Ah-uh?" The jawless ghoul moaned, trying to sound out 'abbot'. The horsed revenant gave a roll of his white eyes.

The abbot looked down to his hands once again, and noticed that his fingernails had fallen off of his grayed and desiccated digits.

"What happened to us? Are we dead?"

"Oh, right! We'll need to give this one the talk." The one-eyed ghoul remembered. "We need to tell him everything that's happened."

"The talk can wait," the revenant said dismissively. "Give him a shovel. For now, he digs."

Intermittent flashes of green lightning illuminated the land for brief moments in a sickly glow - the closest thing to sunlight that the gloomy environs of Necron ever saw. So dark was this country that all trees and vegetation had died long ago for want of sunlight. Barren snag trees sprouting polypores were all that remained of the verdant woodlands of the Rhanean hill country, and mushrooms and dense lichen beds covered the bare soil in lieu of wildflower-riddled grassland. The lichens and fungi, prolific as they were, did little to check the erosive damage of the frequent rains that fell upon this bleak country. Rain furrows carved deep gorges into the land all the way to slate bedrock which terminated in fetid, muddy ponds. Not that the erosion mattered; these lands were too sun-depraved to grow crops of any use to the undead who had ruled this country for so long.

Difficult though it might have been to imagine, this depauperate, utterly-exhausted country was in fact the nexus of the undead empire. Indeed, the ebon towers of Necron could be seen rising out of the eastern horizon like skeletal fingers up to the roiling tempest that hung perpetually above the city. Easily dwarfing all the other edifices of Necron's skyline was the Spire of Rutile, which served simultaneous as fortress, Eagoth's residence and library, and also as a mammoth lightning rod. Even here, some three leagues out of the sprawling undead metropolis, the Spire could still be seen. It illuminated the surrounding lands with stochastic flashes of lightning that struck it so frequently along with the the only other structure of import in this otherwise empty place: the Westward Way.

This was the main overland route into and out of the undead capital. It was a wide stone-paved highway that wound through the gentle hills west of Necron before turning south toward Comiriom and the Neck. Typically, the Way received a considerable amount of traffic - wagons full of supplies for the myriad industries of the undead capital passed couriers and others on official business for the Great Necromancer. Today however, the Way was traveled only by Theleden and his entourage.

Shod hooves clattered upon the slimy cobblestones over the distant rumble of thunder from the Spire of Rutile as Theleden's destrier cantered along. His steed, though unliving - of course, had few signs of decay and most of those were covered under a sheet of fine horsemail. Flanking the Theleden on either side were a cadre of mounted revenants. Each held high a lance affixed with a banner of black grubsilk. Embroidered on the fluttering banners was the right hand of white skeletal bone: Theleden's sigil. And behind them, on foot, were the halberd-wielding Skeleton Guard clad in their heavy platemail. With impossible synchrony, the Skeleton Guard marched in unison - their bootfalls sounding all at once as they kept pace behind Theleden and the horsed revenants minor. Some revenants major found the unified march of the Skeleton Guard maddening, particularly when accompanying them on long journeys such as this. Theleden, however, appreciated their rhythmic footfalls and much preferred it to the random peal of thunder that was heard constantly throughout Necron. He found their marching more conducive to thought.

Not that Theleden had any trouble with that. After all, it was thoughts that had prompted this journey from Necron to begin with: disconcerting thoughts that the Right Hand of Eagoth could simply not forget. Or perhaps 'vision' was a more appropriate word? Such distinctions were far outside of his area of expertise. Theleden knew his duty was to govern Necron and the subordinate provinces of the undead empire in his master's stead - nothing more. But to serve Eagoth in this function, Theleden needed total concentration. It was a challenging charge that the Great Necromancer had left him with and there was no room for distraction.

But what were these visions? Some were memories from life, vestiges left behind that the Cleansing had failed to remove, and those were unpleasant enough for Theleden. But some visions Theleden was quite sure were not from his life before. Were these visions of things that had yet to come? Or things that might have been? Theleden had to silence these thoughts, if not know their meaning.

Ostensibly, Theleden had undergone this journey to check the progress of Eagoth's revenants major and ensure that the collection of resources for the war against the living was proceeding smoothly. There had been no dishonesty when he reported his desire to make this journey to the Great Necromancer. But most important to Theleden was to end these maddening visions. Theleden had omitted that detail. Certainly not out of dishonesty - but for the sake of brevity. The Great Necromancer need not concern himself with such trivial things. Instead, Theleden would seek the counsel of the authority among the dead in matters of visions.

On the right side of the road came an old granite milestone from before the Undeath. A thick blanket of frilly orange lichen covered much of its surfaces, but the inscribed distances had been wiped clear either by ghoul laborers or travelers. It seemed some alterations had been made since the time of Eagoth, as some locales had been crossed out and others crudely added by an uneducated ghoul.

Narren - 18 Leagues
Comiriom - 54 Leagues
Vardo's Bridge - 72 Leagues
Ludire - 88 Leagues
Yzen - 109 Leagues

"How far is it then, master?" Asked one of the horsed revenants.

"At this pace," Theleden paused for a moment to consider, "it will take ten days to reach the White City."
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