All living things know hunger. All that is flesh must consume. But for those who partake of the flesh of their own kind, a door is opened and a ritual begun. For the act of cannibalism is an invitation to a ravenous spirit that covets the flesh. It is known by many names to many peoples, but its purpose is always the same, to inhabit the flesh so that it may consume.
Each cannibalistic meal widens the door for this spirit, allowing more of it to pass into the host, twisting its body as it does. The bones of the host are warped and elongated; jaws widen and jagged teeth burst forth, shredding the lips and knocking the original teeth free to be swallowed in insatiable hunger. The spine is curved so that the host must crawl instead of walk, and claws puncture the toes and fingertips, as suited for digging as for rending flesh and bone. The more human flesh is consumed, the more the host is reshaped, until it begins to crave this meal above all others. Its hair falls out in clumps. Its eyes are overgrown with folded tissue. Its nose, now replaced by nasal slits, can detect the scent of flesh, even buried deep underground, yet still the hunger grows, maddening, all-consuming, until the host knows little else.
As the union of spirit and host strengthens, ever more flesh is required. Should the host fail to sate this monstrous hunger, the spirit will abandon them. But for those that manage to consume enough, the merger is made complete, and a new entity is born… a Ghoul. Though the host’s body is ultimately killed by this full transformation, the ravenous spirit sustains it in undeath. To ghouls, the battlefield is a smorgasbord of body parts. Blood-soaked muscles wrapped in creamy fat give way to crunchy sinews and succulent organs, and no bone is discarded without first slurping out the marrow. Just as it fueled their original metamorphosis, the flesh continues to empower Ghouls, strengthening them, reshaping them.
A full stomach is no reason to cease the feast, and a Ghoul is happy to purge a previous meal if it spots something particularly tasty, if only for the sheer pleasure of eating again. To the living, and to many undead, Ghouls are but mindless scavengers, but to a Ghoul, the rest of the world are just picky eaters. Either way, their ferocity and adaptability are an undeniable asset to Deadhaus, and it takes little convincing to enlist the aid of a Ghoul in war. After all, that's where the freshest meat is found.
Of Ghouls - I
Fourth of Attor, in the year 218 after Deadhaus
Today, I write of a great victory in my personal project against Deadhaus. I have at last convinced the Emperor to allow the capture of an animate specimen. For too long has fear prevented this most crucial of studies, but the loss of ever more territory to the south has helped him to see things my way. And I am pleased to report that after only a week of searching, my network found something worth investigating.
Word was sent from a small township in the Eastern Reaches that a grave had been plundered, the remains taken. I set out at once. While common thieves may sometimes take from the dead, they typically leave the dead behind. Upon reaching the cemetery, I found the grave site dug up, and the coffin shredded. By the claw marks on what remained of the lid, and the strength required to accomplish such a task, I knew I was dealing with a Ghoul. It is known that Ghouls are wont to feed upon corpses, and often ransack cemeteries for this very purpose. As luck would have it, there were no other towns for many miles. These graves would be its only source of sustenance. It is here that I would lay my trap.
Knowing that the Ghoul would stay hidden away from the village by day, I used that time to prepare for its arrival the following night. At first, I set a series of rudimentary bear traps along every entrance to the cemetery. Night came and passed, yet on the following morning, none of the traps were sprung, and a second grave was plundered. Did it notice my traps? Did it somehow recognize what they were and purposely avoid them? All accounts I’ve read on Ghoul behavior suggest that they are purely instinctual creatures, driven only by a voracious hunger for flesh… surely someone would have noticed if they were intelligent. Perhaps it was not entering by the same paths a human would. Perhaps it was climbing over the walls?
The next day, I repositioned my traps directly above each grave in the cemetery. Anything trying to dig up the earth would inevitably be snared. But, just to be absolutely sure, I covered them all with a layer of leaves. Night fell, and dawn broke. Not a single trap was sprung, but another grave had been dug up and emptied. The concealed trap was found some feet away, as if it had been purposefully tossed aside… but surely not!
On the following night, I waited in the cemetery myself. The mayor offered to lend me his guards, but he was clearly terrified, and I suspected that the Ghoul wouldn’t show if a crowd was present. I hid myself as best I could in shadows at a far corner of the cemetery. I waited all night, but it never showed. Was this a coincidence? Do Ghouls need to feed every night? It could be that it wasn’t hungry that time.
My next attempt was to string twine near the ground through various pathways. Each line would run out of the cemetery and some distance away, where it would would be hung with little bells. If something snagged a string with sufficient force, the distant bells would ring. This time, I took the mayor on his offer to provide me guards, and instructed them to wait with me for the sound of the bells. That night, many hours passed in wary silence, listening. When the bells finally rang, we crept into the cemetery.
We saw it under the light of the moon--an emaciated, hunkered creature with thin wisps of hair. Where it should have had eyes, lobes of folded flesh had overgrown, yet somehow it spotted us nearly immediately, shrieking in inhuman outrage before it scrambled for an exit. One of the damned guards got caught in one of the damned traps trying to chase it.
I devised a much more thorough strategy of approach into the cemetery for the following night, but it didn’t matter. The bells didn’t ring this time, and yet the following day, another grave was emptied. There was no doubt this time; that thing was far more clever than I was led to believe.
Many days and nights came and went. Many traps and plans were formed, and many graves were emptied. If anyone was present, the Ghoul would not appear. Numbers and force were counterproductive. I realized that more drastic measures would need to be taken, and approached the mayor with a new plan. All of the bodies in the cemetery were to be exhumed and burned--all except one. Of course, the simple man was horrified by this. Had I not come to prevent the bodies from being taken, he asked. Having very little patience left from being consistently outsmarted by something that goes about on all fours, I simply invoked imperial decree.
The bodies were burned, as per my plan, and the last one was left out in the open, inside an iron cage that had been fitted with a mechanism to close once anything had entered. Three days passed, and three nights, yet the body remained untouched. The mayor urged me to reconsider, like the sniveling little coward that he is, but where ingenuity may fail me, patience does not. I knew that time was on my side. I knew with each day that passed, as clever as the Ghoul might be, that body would look ever more appetizing.
And on the fifth night, I was awoken by a clanging and howling. I could not help but smile. I came to the cemetery to find my quarry thrashing within its cage, shrieking so that the guards balked at a distance. But I was not deterred. I approached and looked upon the Ghoul.
“Are your accommodations not to your liking?” I asked, and the Ghoul’s cries lowered, as if it registered that I was speaking to it. “We’ll see if we can’t make you more comfortable at the capital.”
- Alaric von Beller,
Grand Inquisitor of the Thacean Empire
Unlike most other undead, Banshees were not once part of the realm of the living. They did not once draw breath, nor were their spirits ever bound by flesh and bone. They are wholly native to the realm of the dead.