Pieces of Gloomheart’s mind are missing. He does not remember much before waking among the Yearning Courts, except that he was a great warrior savaged by a terrible beast. Such must have been the case, for he woke clad in his questing armour, blade in hand, the fang-marks fresh upon his neck. As he got to his feet, a throng of courtiers prostrated themselves on all sides.[1a]
Since that fateful day, King Gloomheart of the Yearning Courts has been seeking the monster that almost killed him. Riding on the back of his spectacular solar dragon Pyrosis, the king has scoured the Gallowdeeps, Nightlands and the Wraithwyrds. In his crusade to find the elusive monster that wounded him, countless great beasts have ended their days upon the feasting tables of the Yearning Courts. A few times, Gloomheart has even glimpsed his prey, but always reflected for but a moment in the eyes of dying men or the sheen of blood-spattered armour – and so his hunt continues.[1a]
A Dark Hunger
The Abhorrant Ghoul King Gloomheart and his followers scoured the Banewoods of Ghyran for food. However, cursed, diseased lands confounded the mordant court as they scavenged one ruin after another. Then, at last, they came upon enemy forces flying the banners of the Dark Gods.
Gloomheart’s court was starving. He had sent forth his Lord Liverbelch, the Crypt Haunter Urglom, to find food among the wilds of the Banewoods, but there was naught for the mordants to feed upon except the rancid leavings of the Dark Gods. Once, the Realm of Life had been a place of bountiful banquets, but no more. For days without number, the court had scuttled through the Empires of the Willow-Folk only to find their mangrove continents filled with nothing but squirming toxic worms that whispered Nurgle’s many names. Onto the Floating Plains wandered Gloomheart and his followers, where grasslands drifted upon clouds of flying insects. Here too they found nothing but spoiled provender oozing with virulent plagues, unfit for the king’s table. The king knew that if his court did not find sustenance soon, it would turn upon itself.
When Gloomheart’s court came to the Rotwood Road, its perpetually winding path lined with tortured trees, Urglom spied dark banners in the distance. Taking wing, the Crypt Flayers of the Deadwatch soared out, soon returning with garbled news about a well-stocked enemy army marching toward them. Gloomheart didn’t waste a moment, and at his barked order the Baron Gizzard led his Ghoul Patrol forward in a rush to lay an ambush.
Lord Hadrak Darkfist led his army down the snaking road through rotting, crumbing trees, his Chaos host fresh from slaughtering sylvaneth in the Oakadia Peaks. In burnished iron ranks his Chaos Warriors marched, heavy with plunder, their cruel weapons still crusted with blood-sap. Behind them came knights, the riders watchful of the rotting trees that lined the writhing road. At the rear of the column lumbered mutants bearing a pair of massive Warshrines, each profane altar pulsing with dark energy.
It was Lord Hadrak’s hounds that scented the ghouls first. Initially, their growls and yelps were met only with the backs of mailed hands or plate boots, but as their disquiet grew, Hadrak took notice. Chaos Warriors scanned the woods, picking out flashes of pale bodies and red eyes peering back until, with a great hiss, the first wave of ghouls burst forth, naked hunger in their manic gaze.
Had Gloomheart’s court been rested and well fed, he might have constructed a more elaborate ambush. As it was, the abhorrant accepted that his soldiers were eager for the fray and let them have their fun. His one concession to tactics was to bid his Lord Liverbelch, Urglom, to lead the warriors of the Abattoir in a blocking action. Urglom slunk off into the twisted wood, packs of the mighty Crypt Horrors accompanying him into the shadows to cut across the march of their enemies and bring them to battle. On the road, Lord Hadrak’s warriors turned the ground crimson with torn mordant corpses. Ghouls hurled themselves from the trees in howling knots, their piecemeal attack shattering against the disciplined ranks of the Slaves to Darkness. Atop the Warshrines, the Shrinemasters screamed out praise to the gods, driving the warriors below into even greater acts of violence. Amid his bodyguard of Chaos Knights, Hadrak smiled cruelly as he killed, pleased to have a distraction from the monotony of the road. Even when charging Crypt Horrors burst from the decaying forest, they were quickly cut down as a dozen dark fighters competed for the honour of claiming their skulls.
Out of sight amid the trees, the Lord Liverbelch knew what Hadrak did not. From the road, the Chaos army could see but a fraction of Gloomheart’s court. Further back, the ground heaved with hissing mordants, and as each moment slipped away, the haphazard ambush closed its reeking jaws. Urglom sent his footmen to block off Hadrak’s retreat, while a hulking line of handpicked Crypt Horrors advanced up the road toward the lead Chaos regiments, making any advance impossible.
Soon, the path back through the woods behind the Chaos forces was choked with lines of howling, biting ghouls. A wall of malformed flesh, the countless mordants tore at the rear ranks of the Chaos Warriors, filthy claws finding gaps in armour and sinking into the sweet flesh beneath, while the Deadwatch dived down into the boiling combat like great birds of prey. Meanwhile, Lord Hadrak was fighting simply to hold his ground, the smirk gone from his face as he realised he was surrounded. With a blast from his horn, the Lord of Chaos massed his knights, aiming to break out of the trap before his army was overwhelmed.
Urglom roared a command, breaking from the treeline with his mordant packs to stop Lord Hadrak and his knights from escaping. However, he had mistimed his attack. The wedge of Chaos Knights struck the mass of Crypt Horrors like a mailed fist, even as rancid fangs and filth-encrusted claws dragged down Hadrak’s warriors and their steeds, the grim sound of tearing flesh and snapping bone accompanying their fall. Driven by the momentum of their mounts and a pure hatred for their foes, the majority of the Chaos Knights smashed a hole in the mordant lines. For a glorious moment, the path to freedom lay open before the Chaos army and its lord.
Then, from the gloom-shrouded canopy of the forest, the abhorrant king swept down after the knights astride his Zombie Dragon. Branches snapping under its outstretched wings, the beast flew straight through one of the Warshrines in a blur of monstrous claws and fangs. The massive platform was hurled into the air, exploding into hundreds of spinning, broken pieces as its mutated bearers cowered in the dirt. As the dust was blown away, Gloomheart urged his mount down the road, eyes locked on the Chaos Lord.
The Lord Liverbelch gave a messy grin to see his splendiferous king joining the battle. Leaving the fate of the Chaos infantry to the hordes of the King’s Ghouls, the Crypt Haunter Courtier let out a chilling howl and, with the Abattoir, fell in alongside his lord. As Gloomheart and Urglom pursued the knights, the warriors around the remaining Warshrine fought on. Despite their heavy armour and dark ferocity, the Chaos Warriors could not compete with the sheer numbers of mordants still pouring from the woods. As pale bodies scaled the Warshrine to sink their fangs into the screaming Shrinemaster, the battle was all but done, and down below the ghouls were already claiming their spoils from the vanquished.