Thursday, 12 May 2016

Commander Ludwig Nicstaed’s ‘The Creatures and Monsters of Esdaria: A Bestiary Written in Blood’, Part Six of Six

The following section needs a little background. As stated in the introduction to this particular text, during the time Ludwig was stationed there, the province of Westernaea was gripped with rebellion that lasted over a decade. Some of the most detailed passages in his work are in the section on the undead. As a result, there will be fewer academic notes on each type of the undead – partially because they are not needed, as Ludwig’s accounts are very accurate.

Ludwig’s account hints that the undead he often faced were, in fact, the reanimated corpses of foes he had already once slain, which makes his account deeply personal. No-one fully understands the circumstances which cause a corpse to rise again. Many scholars have identified particular links in the events that run up to the deaths of certain individuals that rise from the grave – see the note for wraiths as an example. However, the cosmic or magical forces which enable a spirit to traverse back into their former body are completely unknown, but whatever happens warps the spirit and makes it hostile to all living things. No-one also completely understand why, during this decade-long rebellion in particular, the undead appeared in such number.

It is not uncommon for one or two sightings of the undead to be recorded following a battle, and the simple number of folk-tales and stories that include the undead are testimony to their existence. However, in the Westernaean Rebellion, large groups of walking corpses would frequently engage in battle with both the Vidorian Legion and the Westernaean insurgents – sometimes in such great number that the forces of the living were defeated. No-one knows what prompted such a terrible phenomenon.

Ludwig’s style here also takes a different approach. No-longer is his organisation of creatures alphabetical. Instead, he seems to group them in a ranking of sorts: spirits, the most primordial and basic form of the undead, come first. The lich, which Ludwig terms ‘the most terrible and dangerous form of the undead’ comes last. In-between these two, the various categories of undead he identifies seem to rise in some sort of hierarchical fashion – perhaps in power and danger; or maybe in his encounters with the undead, the creatures displayed some sort of social hierarchy that is lost on us living creatures.

Undead - Those that Rise from the Grave

Spirits are unseen to the eyes of the living. One cannot touch a spirit, nor can one talk with a spirit – unless, so I am told, via the Heathen Art. However, one can feel spirits after a battle, lingering and fading. They manifest in a terrible uneasiness, a cold breeze on a warm and clear day, and then they vanish. A spirit, in its invisible form, is completely harmless. It cannot communicate with the living, like the living cannot communicate with it, and it also cannot harm the living.

However, a spirit becomes dangerous once it is driven to return to the corpse which it left. Once this happens, the corpse can reanimate in all kind of terrible, monster-like forms, all of which I have ever encountered are listed below.

This is all theory. Ludwig merely identifies that there is some kind of power which exists within an undead that causes it to animate. He terms this a ‘spirit’.

The Ghoul
Ghouls, like all the undead, are frightening creatures to witness. Most true to the appearance of their former selves, ghouls will reanimate bodies as they were. Those which are forced to return to the world of the living as walking dead-flesh in the form of ghouls look only a little different to how they did when they died: they are Man-like, or resemble the Halfling-folk as their corpses did before they were forced to move once more. There are some differences, however: for one, their eyes begin to glow with a terrible blue fire. Their teeth and fingernails also transform, becoming hard and elongating into needle-like points.

If they are allowed to continue to move, their corpse continues to rot and decompose as it had been when dead. After a time, their limbs will begin to become unusable and fall off. Flies will feast on their flesh and maggots will eat their skin. Once they are reduced to only bones, the carcass is no-longer able to hold the spirit which it was bound to, and it passes into the Netherverse.

When ghouls attack, they do so in great number. One ghoul alone is of no threat, although they can hurt with their teeth and claws. When they appear in groups of half a dozen or more, they become a danger, as their collective strength and depravity enables them to kill viciously. They are the easiest of the undead to destroy, as one simply needs to damage their body to such an extent that they can no-longer support the spirit trapped inside it.

The circumstances under which one comes back as a wraith are, at this present date, unknown. In appearance, a wraith looks like the two-week old cadaver of a woman, dressed in funeral rags and wearing her burial shroud as a cloak. The wraith has a ghastly, pale complexion, makes a terrible, weeping sound, and lashes out at any and all around it, as if stricken with inconsolable grief. It has lank hair, unwashed and uncared for, always in the colour of the individual whose corpse it possesses [note: wraiths, as later discovered, only ever repossess their own bodies] and has huge, stretched eyelids that hang down from the luminous orbs of light which replace their eyes. They do not walk on their legs, and instead hover a pace or so above the ground as if caught in an unseen, unfelt wind.

The wraith can be heard from miles away by the heart-breaking, song-like wail it makes. It sounds like a woman’s sobbing moans, and carries with it a faint, chilling echo that strikes fear into one’s very bones. One must always act with extreme caution when in the presence of a wraith, as their continued existence is often bound to either an object or physical body part. This body part is usually glowing, as if throbbing with the energy of the very soul is encased within it. Objects of binding, on the other hand, can be much more difficult to discern. These objects can be jewellery worn on death, a trinket of personal significance, or the bones of a loved one. The themes identified is that these were objects close by or on the person when they either died or were buried.

Unbeknownst to Ludwig, ‘wraiths’ are actually a particular group of undead, which have many complex sub-sets and are caused to repossess their former corpses for many different reasons. Ludwig’s generalisation of all such undead suggests that he only ever encountered, or heard of, one particular type of wraith. These wraiths, by his account, appears to have been murmurs: the souls of grief-stricken individuals who committed suicide, given their ‘terrible, weeping sound’ and the ‘huge, stretched eyelids that hang down from the luminous orbs of light which replace their eyes’.

A wight is a particularly deadly form of the undead. Though it lacks any rational thought, a wight is devilishly strong. When the spirit returns to the corpse destined to become a wight, it undergoes a transformation, as does the wraith. It grows, becoming around a head taller than the tallest of Men, and broader and stronger to match. Their hands and feet grow particularly large to accommodate the claws that next grow there and, just like the ghoul, its eyes begin to glow a terrible, unearthly blue.

As a wight grows, its skin does not expand with it. Its muscle swells, bolstered by terrible, otherworldly powers. Its skin pulls tight over its now larger body, then splits. Long, dark fissures in its flesh will appear, but these will not hamper its ability to fight. They are strong – stronger than trolls by far, though no-more intelligent in their savagery. The favoured corpses to be turned into wights are those of fallen warriors, so a wight may also be half-encased in the armour of the fallen figure. Often, though, during the metamorphosis from corpse into wight, the wight outgrows its armour, so its new flesh and muscle-mass grow over and around the armour if it will neither break nor move.

The method of defeating a wight is straightforward. Like ghouls, one merely needs to do enough damage to its physical form in order to allow the spirit within to be released. Wights, however, tend to be formidable fighters, and it will take at least three skilled warriors to defeat one.

Similar to the wraith, a revenant’s continued existence is bound to an object. In a revenant’s case, it is usually its withered heart.  One of the reasons speculated as to why revenants are so rare is because of the absence of the heart when a spirit returns to the body – either removed, destroyed, or rotted away. However, should a revenant animate, one should be very careful. Usually, they are slightly larger than wights. They often share an appearance to a degree, though a revenant tends to be more skeletal and further on in the process of decomposition. Revenants have an uncanny ability to heal themselves: limbs hacked off can be picked up and reattached. As a result, it is key to destroy a revenant’s heart as soon as possible.

The revenant is one of the rarest kinds of undead creature one can encounter. Unlike the previously listed undead, a revenant maintains some of its rational thought, and some have even communicated with the living – though only ever in threats and curses. Revenants cannot be reasoned with, but they can be distracted by speech – only temporarily. Even in the most skeletal of forms, a revenant can continue to fight. Its physical body is held together by some form of the Heathen Art, probably the same which stops it from dying, though I know this not for certain, as I am not learned in the way of the Heathen Art, nor the dead.

Unlike nearly all other kinds of undead, bar the revenant, liches are unique in the fact they seem to retain some form of rational thought – though it is completely twisted and warped by a hatred for all life. They often appear in the form of a dishevelled, near-skeletal Man, dressed in a ragged robe and holding a staff or stick of some form. They appear weak in body, but have an uncannily apt ability with the Heathen Art, and can conjure terrible tendrils of shadow from their rotting fingertips and whip life away with a wave of a hand. Under no circumstances should one ever look for a fight with a lich, as their ability with the Heathen Art renders them the most terrible and dangerous form of the undead.

I have seen a lich, with my own eyes, direct the flow of a group of undead from one place to another. They seem to be the leaders, the lords, the earls, and the emperors of the lost souls which they command. As a result, when all of the undead have been slain, a lich will simply vanish. Because of this, neither I nor any of the men under my command have ever slain a lich. We have theorised, however, that they are not themselves spirits that have departed bodies in The World. Instead, they are some manifestation of the old gods, vengeful and brimming with hatred of the true fires of the Divine Empress, who slip through into The World in times of strife to control the corpses of the fallen.

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