Hidden in the woods, four cloaked figures huddled around a low fire. They sat in a camp masked from the outside, and their fire was hidden in a makeshift stove to mask its light; the warmth did not reach far, but there are more dangerous things in Morgrave than frostbite.
An unlucky rabbit slowly stewed over the flames, and the four each pulled out small mess kits to prepare for their meal. One also grabbed a flask from his hip.
The man who pulled out the flask began ladling the stew into each person’s kit. He moved with the efficiency of practice, yet at the end was left with a fifth portion’s worth of stew in the pot. He looked at it with confusion, and then sorrow. One woman in the group saw his expression, and glanced to an open spot in their circle before meeting his eyes with a sympathetic look.
Moving past it, the man reached into a pouch at his side and took out a pinch of salt. “I dedicate this meal to the battles we fight tomorrow. Life to life.”
The man next to him tapped salt from a glass shaker into his own stew, as did each of the others in the group from their own supply of salt. “Life to life.”
“Life to life.”
“Life to life.”
They set to eating, quiet and focused on the sensation of warm and savory liquid satiating the hunger built up after a long day’s stalking through the woods. Whenever they spoke it was in low voices, and each of them was sure to keep an eye to the woods at one another’s backs.
As the stew was finished, and night began to fall, the flask came open and was passed around once. The man with the flask clearly hesitated before speaking, “we’re out of regroup spots to check. It’s been almost two weeks. The sergeant knew what he was doing when he told us to split off… it’s time to get home.”
“He’s gotta be out there still!” the second man replied forcefully, before getting a sheepish look as everyone around glared. At a lower volume, he continued, “he’s the best tracker and archer I’ve ever seen. Nothing is finding him in the woods, nothing. I don’t feel right leaving when we know one of our own is out there.”
The woman spoke next, “the ones chasing us were moving smart, they have something directing them. The only way that search party wouldn’t find us is if something else was making a point of being found instead…”
“And with the right ground and enough legwork the right person could clear what we saw out. Sarge-”
“Isn’t invincible!” she hissed. “I hate this too, we all do, but let’s not be idiots.”
“Fine. You’ve got first watch.” With that, he went over to where his bedding was prepared under a camouflaged shelter, and removed his leather gorget. “We’ll leave first thing in the m-glkch!” his voice was cut off as he stared down at the shaft of an arrow blooming from his throat, and dropped.
Rangers rushed to weapons, scanning the darkness for movement as arrows flew from the shadows, each one finding its mark. Grabbing her spear, the woman threw herself behind cover, then cried out in pain as an arrow caught her foot where it stuck out.
The man with the flask blindly returned fire into the dark, spinning with an arrow knocked as he heard a crack of branches behind him. With an arrow knocked he prepared to fire, but stopped in confusion, followed by fear.
Standing in front of him was a grim skeletal figure in the familiar garb of a ranger. Not an ounce of flesh adorned the face in front of him, but he recognized it all the same. Panic filled him, and he froze as his former sergeant casually drew back an arrow and released it. As the man died, he could swear the skeletal grimace of his former comrade seemed to smile.
Revenants are among the most deadly of Morgrave’s undead inhabitants. They carry all the cunning and skill of the living, but with the unholy strength granted to them in undeath and a preternatural ability to strike fear into the hearts of their foes. Gather your resolve, the grave is calling.
The clang of blades and the screams of the wounded filled the air outside a quiet abandoned town. Makeshift barricades from old unused beds and tables blocked off alleyways and created raised nests for archers, while men and women hurried back and forth behind the lines running bandages, arrows, and wounded back and forth.
A woman with a high collared cassock and the stole of a priest directed defenders to the various points along the line that seemed to need it, but quietly she was worrying. Lookouts had spotted a significant enemy force; not enough to overwhelm this position, but enough that they could make a solid attempt. Everything thus far had seemed like probing.
Most likely the undead beyond the barricades were simply looking for the best avenue of assault, but they had already found the more vulnerable portion of the line. Their last push there, even light as it was, resulted in a number of casualties, and further fighting at that spot would be sure to produce more.
There wasn’t anything to do for it; ceding the ground would give the undead too useful of a vantage point for attacking the rest of the town, and so long as they kept paying the price to keep it the position wouldn’t fall.
While that section of line had been pressed a few more times, each adding casualties, the majority of the attention from the enemy seemed to be moving further and further away from it. Perhaps they were attempting to draw defenders into under protecting the weak spot, but if so no one was falling for it.
Night began to fall as yet another enemy push that seemed to achieve nothing resolved itself. Reinforcements would come, the defenses would grow, and the weak point would be patched, but in the mean time the priestess watched as a body was carried across the town to the abandoned barn where the dead were being housed. A bit of anger burned in her heart at the loss, and it flared up to a roar as the warning horns called out yet another attack.
Approaching the line, she readied incants on the tip of her tongue and hoped to burn away some of the evil that kept costing her lives. Innocent people whose only “fault” was stubbornly refusing to leave the fight to someone else would never again see their families, because some corpse across the field wanted to harass a fortification it couldn’t actually take.
Taking position behind the line where they had repeatedly been hammered, the priestess lit into the enemy aggressively. Undead were torn apart before her, and the line did not flinch as the enemy engaged it. In fact, after a long day of struggle, it almost seemed too easy. Confused, the priestess looked back and saw a runner coming from further down the line.
“Heavy push to the West, we need you there! Specters!”
The priestess swore and took off running with a few additional soldiers. She feared that she had underestimated the strength of the enemy’s numbers, but upon reaching them saw that they had not gotten far past the initial line.
In addition to the usual monsters a small cadre of ghostly white warriors flowed back and forth along the line. Blades connected, yet somehow also didn’t find the solid flesh they were meant to strike, and wherever the specters went the cold followed as their weapon. The enemy commander was obvious in his ghostly armor, and with a snarl the priestess lashed out with magic.
Wounded by her attacks, the specter called a retreat. Eager to retaliate for the harm it had caused, and sensing its weakness, the priestess started rallying for a push before a soldier ran up to her, calling her attention to the rear.
Just across the street from where the specters had pushed, a lone structure burned; the barn that housed the dead. Anger was replaced with dread, and sorrow. The specter had sought the bodies, to commit them to ash. This was how it would make more of its kind.
In Morgrave they don’t burn the dead; an undead with no body to stab is in fact much harder to kill than one with a body to stab. Mistakes of the past haunt the north in the form of ethereal and cold specters, ready to torment the living. Guard your dead, the grave is calling.
“Rally your people, get them inside and bar the doors. Now.”
The commands were issued by a large man in armor to a stout one in civilian attire. They stood at the center of a small village hall, and gathered around were a few dozen people. Many carried makeshift weapons or crude spears, but none were warriors.
“Yes my lord! Everyone to the hall! You heard him! Make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind!” He started corralling people toward the building, concerned but focused. A few villagers, mostly younger ones, made as if to join the knight but were steered away.
As the villagers filed into the building, the knight nodded to an old villager with a missing leg who lingered by the door. “You said there were four of them? No big ones?”
“Yeahup. Sure as I can tell, anyway. Not saying there aren’t more out there… sure you’re good with just y’self?”
The knight looked the villager up and down, making a judgment and deciding to be honest. “No. Keep them calm in there, and have them ready to kill any that get past me.”
“Can do, sir.” With that the one legged man tipped his hat to the knight and hobbled in with the last of the villagers.
Scanning his surroundings, the knight strode to the center of the village square and bellowed, “come on out! Only me here!”
For a while it was silent, but the knight could see silhouettes circling in the dark. Finally with a shriek and snarl five ragged undead burst from all directions, rushing the knight. He reacted fast, charging the one furthest from the others and putting his shield in its path as he swung low, taking out its leg.
Stepping past it and strafing left the knight spun on the pair of ghasts that reached him first, lashing out with a flurry of blows at each, cleaving one in two. In the midst of his assault the other got in close and ripped at his arm and leg with its claws, trying to hobble him. Shifting in his armor, the knight kept his footing and threw the monster back, wounding it in the process. The knight’s greaves had come lose in stopping it from fouling up his leg, and the next two were closing in.
Planting a foot the knight drove all his might into running through one of the two, killing it as the other collided with his shield. Hanging off his shield it scraped and scratched around it, attempting to bit over it. As the knight struggled, the wounded ghast returned to the fray and lunged. The knight stepped back, then around, dancing in circles with one undead monstrosity on his shield and the other being held off by his blade. Before he could catch it his footwork brought him in range of the crippled ghast, and it lashed out at the dislodged armor of his leg. With a cry of pain the knight dropped to a knee, reacting in time to bring his shield down on the head of the ghast that wounded him.
From his compromised position, the knight was unprepared when the two remaining ghasts pounced, forcing him onto his back. They scraped and clawed desperately at his throat, eager to rip it apart, but a strong Morgravian gorget held them at bay. A wet thud sounded from above and one ghast went still. An arrow stuck out of its back, and its dead weight slid off the knight allowing him to shove and slash at the remaining beast.
It leaped back, wounded, and scanned around, spotting a lone villager, a young man in a plain tunic with a simple bow. As the beast rushed him, the boy panicked and his next two shots went wide. The beast wasted no time and went straight for his unprotected throat, dropping him instantly in a bloody pounce.
While the ghast charged the knight had stood and hobbled as fast as he could to where the ghast now slashed at its victim. A few heavy strikes later the monster was dead and the knight hurried to stop the peasant’s bleeding.
Not much can match the brutality of the ghasts of Morgrave. Intelligent, yet mad with hunger, these wretches lash out at the soft and vulnerable like skilled predators. Armor your throat, the grave is calling.