Ghouls

Posted: May 17, 2017 in 1. Norasburg, Rears Its Ugly Head, Tall Tales
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“Ghouls are primarily ruled by their stomachs,” Shan was only half-listening to Thomas as they marched toward the second logging camp.  She could see Abeth and Craig at the front of the column talking quietly with each other.  Two of her soldiers marched directly behind the two men and another pair of soldiers guarded the rear.  The last two of her six soldiers were with Samuel scouting ahead of the group.  Shan was accompanied by Thomas and Esther in the centre of the march.

They didn’t delay too long at their base camp.  The strangers were given a chance to grab a quick meal that consisted of dried fruits and hard breads.  While Captain Abeth issued orders to the troops Shan had taken the time to write a brief summary of events to send back to the Guiding Light.  She sent the lumberjack back to the tower with her report, she saw no value in keeping him with them and using him as a courier meant she didn’t need to use one of her soldiers.

She had hesitated at including the mention of ghouls.  The thought of putting to paper what amounted to delusions was not appealing.  Monsters, the ravenous dead, were myths from the time before the Goddess.  They were tales told to amuse and frighten the uneducated.  No one had ever seen a ghoul, these were just nightmare figures from a fevered fantasy.  There was a real-world explanation that just hadn’t been uncovered yet.  She decided, in the end, to include it just for the sake of completeness.

“Although they tend to be found in packs,” the large man was sharing, “they don’t have any pack structure.  There were no leaders, no commanders, no thought, no strategy.  Only hunger.”

“The hunger binds them together,” Esther added.  “It guides them.  Without it they would wander aimlessly, alone.  Ripping open graves to feed.  A single ghoul is a tough opponent, a pack is dangerous.  The longer it has been since they last ate, the more dangerous they become.  Ghouls aren’t rational to begin with, a starving ghoul attacks anything it can with its claws.”

“Not that one in the middle of a blood-lust is a pushover,” Thomas commented.

They were an odd pair, Thomas and Esther.  Husband and wife, Shan was informed.  She had never seen a value in that type of permanent mate pairing.  To be fair, she saw no value in socializing with the male gender at most times.  They were good to work with, she preferred a squad of soldiers to task with rather than a group of the faithful, but her off time was better spent with the Goddess.  Listening to hear Her instructions was a better use of her time than fraternizing with men, even if she had never heard a whisper from Her.

She didn’t doubt the existence of the Goddess.  Shan felt Her presence on a daily basis, in small ways.  She felt her guiding hands as they steered her in the right direction.  Intuition, Shan had heard it called, but it felt like more than that to her.  It was why she had decided to trust the strangers that appeared from the forest.  Their fantastic story aside, the Goddess would not have brought them to her without reason.  She trusted that the answers that she was looking for would come from these people.  Light Koarl would give her as much freedom as she needed to pursue any lead she chose.

“Their teeth,” Shan drifted back to the conversation as Thomas began a lecture on the physical structure of ghouls,” are sharp and broken.  Vicious fangs.  Perfect tools for tearing flesh off of bones.”

“Their claws are the more dangerous of their weaponry,” Esther interrupted.  “Long, curved, sharp.  They are capable of slicing through leather as easily as a sharp knife cuts through paper.  Coated by a toxin that can paralyze a man instantly, allowing the ghoul to feed at its leisure.  If the ghoul doesn’t eat you, the toxin will transmute its victim into one of them swelling the pack’s numbers.”

That didn’t sound good to Shan.  She thought about the lack of bodies at the camp.  Could they be walking into a camp worth of foes rather than a mere handful?

“How many of the camp were turned?”  Shan asked.

“All or none,” Thomas shrugged.

“What my husband means,” Esther glared at the man, “is that there was probably no new ghouls made.  The tracks leading from the camp seem to match those going in.  There was no way the entire camp was turned.  I doubt there was more than one or two abominations added to the pack.”

“How do we stop them?”

“That’s an easy one,” Thomas laughed.  “You just hack or beat them until they stop moving.  Same as anything else.”

“Except,” Esther corrected, “the bodies need to be turned to ash.”

“Right,” Thomas agreed.  “Break the body then burn it so it can’t return.”

“There is a strength, a life, to this land,” Esther commented.  “We didn’t know life could exist this close to a tower.  Not like this.”

“There’s no life near that accursed place,” Thomas mumbled.

“For miles around the ruined tower, life struggles to survive,” Esther explained.  “No animals enter the land.  What vegetation that grows near it is tough, twisted, discoloured and inedible.  A mockery of life.  The soil is hard, angry, evil.”

“Our towers are the centres of our life, both plant and animal,” Shan offered.

“It is a shock to see,” Esther said.  “Where we come from people would rather risk the desert then go near the tower.  It is a true wasteland.”

“The towers are the focal points of the Goddess’ power,” Shan explained.

“There is no divinity in that tower,” Thomas whispered.

“Looks like we’ve had some luck,” Craig announced as they approached where he waited.  Shan saw the three scouts disappear into the surrounding woods.  She hadn’t noticed their return, she didn’t realize they were so close to the camp.

“They are still here, Illuminance,” Abeth filled in.  “The scouts counted six.”

“Excellent,” Shan replied.

“We’ll go in and try to hit them as fast as we can,” Craig directed.  “Stay with your partner.  Keep each other safe and we’ll all make it home.”

“Goddess protect us all,” Shan finished.  She took her war-hammer from her belt and started toward the camp.

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