Burning Bodies

Posted: May 23, 2017 in 1. Norasburg, Rears Its Ugly Head, Tall Tales
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Shan watched the smoke rise off the burning pile of bodies.  The smoke was thick and black, oily in texture and stank worse than anything she could ever remember smelling before.  She couldn’t place the foul odour but the description of ‘unnatural’ rung true in her head.

‘Unnatural’ was an apt description of everything about these monsters.

From a distance they looked human.  It was as you got closer that you started to notice the oddities.  The most obvious oddity was the sickly green cast to the skin and the lack of hair on the head.  They were garbed in shreds of tattered, rotted clothing.  They smelled of fresh blood mingled with decay.  Long claws protruded from their fingers.  Their mouths were packed full of sharp fangs.  Their eyes flickered like the flames of a fire.  They seemed to communicate with each other through a series of loud sharp hisses punctuated by the occasional inhuman shriek.

This was their way of celebrating a feast, Shan was told, on a hunt they were silent.

They could hear the shrieking before they ever saw the monsters.

“Use your bows,” Craig instructed the four soldiers that accompanied them.  “Samuel will be moving in from the other side of the camp.  Fire at their heads or their legs.  Knock them off their feet and we can crush their skulls.  They can be killed like people but they aren’t people… they can take more of a beating than the average man.”

Craig, Abeth and the four bowmen led the way to the camp.  Shan followed closely behind with Esther and Thomas.  The hissing joined with the shrieks as the camp came into view.  The smell of decay mixed with fresh blood reached their noses before they saw the first of their enemies.  The stench was so strong that they could taste it as they came face-to-face with their foes.  Shan would learn as they gathered the bodies together for cremation that even the taste of their skin was perverse; a bizarre mix of rough, stiff leather and soft, rotted flesh.

They slowed down almost to a crawl as they entered the camp.  The soldiers kept their bows at the ready as they entered into a world taken straight out of a nightmare.  The ghouls were in a frenzy, oblivious to anything but their feeding.  They hissed and shrieked at each other, their claws slashed and tore at each others’ flesh.  Teeth snapped at anything that got too close.

But they were all together, the six, in a small area.

“Make your shots count,” Craig whispered, “they move fast.  You might not get a second shot.”  He nodded to Abeth and the two men moved toward the distracted creatures.  They had taken only a couple steps forward when the soldiers let loose with their arrows.  Despite the situation the soldiers’ aim was true and their volley dropped four of the monsters with arrows piercing their skulls.  The two remaining ghouls barely had the time to look up before their skulls were penetrated by projectiles fired by Samuel and the soldiers who accompanied him as they arrived from the opposite end of the camp.

“That was easy,” the scout boasted.  He slung his crossbow on his back as he walked to join Shan’s group.

“We need to collect the bodies,” Craig commanded.  “Pile them up, we’ll burn them all together.  Loggers too.  Just to be safe.”

“Bring me any survivors,” Esther added before the group broke up.

They found no survivors.  They didn’t even find any whole bodies.  The ghouls proved to be very efficient at ripping people apart.  There was little wonder in Shan’s mind on what had happened to the occupants of the other camp.  The only concern now was how many other camp’s met a similar fate.

“We got very lucky,” Esther came up beside her.  “They are not normally so easy to dispatch.”

“I still can’t believe what I witnessed,” Shan responded, her eyes were still glued to the pile of burning corpses.  “Goddess preserve us.”

“They are a corruption of Nature,” Esther agreed.  “But this group won’t be spreading its sickness anymore.”

“How many camps did they destroy?” Shan wondered.

“Just the two,” Esther answered.  “We just barely missed the raising.  We may have missed catching the necromancers responsible but we were on these creatures’ trail long before they entered your lands.  They didn’t reach any other camps.”

“That’s… a relief,” Shan admitted.  She felt shaken.  She hadn’t expected the claims to be true and the reality had been worse than she could have imagined.  Her soldiers had been exemplary but they were starting to show signs of shock.  What they had witnessed was beginning to conflict with their common sense.

“Captain Abeth,” Shan called the veteran soldier over.  “Have the men catalogue the valuables in the camp.  Organize it.  We’ll take what we can carry to the main camp and send the wagons to collect up the rest.  No sense letting anything go to waste.”

“As you wish, Illuminance,” he bowed and left to organize the effort.

“What of you?” Shan questioned Esther.  “What are your plans now?  Will you come to Norasburg with me?  The Guiding Light will have questions you’ll be better able to answer than I.”

“No,” Craig broke into the conversation.  “We’ve done what we set out to do.  I wish to go home to my family.

“We have been away for a while,” Esther agreed.  “I am eager to be back to my domain as well.  Perhaps we will meet again in the future.”

“Or,” interrupted Samuel, “perhaps you’d like to travel back with us.  Ghouls don’t travel long distance to eat.  Something, or someone, compelled them to come here.  The questions to be answered are who and why.”

Shan had to admit he had a point.  She had been considering those questions herself.  She knew there would be few, most likely no, answers here.  She felt she knew all she would learn from the camps:  the walking dead were real and they were hungry.  The real answers lay on the other side of the forest.

“I need to send an update,” she said.  “To set up a guard at the river crossing.”

“We can leave in the morning,” Craig agreed.

Esther nodded, smiled, and patted Shan on the arm.  Both women turned back to watch the bodies burn.

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