Corpse Paint

Author: Armand Rosamilia

Vladimir Dragov shivered as the sun began its descent. On the snowdrifts before him were dozens of dead Northlanders from his tribe, broken and lifeless. With the waning light the cold crept into his body. His movement grew harder, especially after the battle he had fought today.

A shrill call broke the silence of the snow-covered woods in the distance. Another followed, much closer to where he stood.

Vladimir thought about hiding among his tribal brothers and feigning death, but he knew the Ghourlesh would find him. The monsters would smell his fear and his blood pumping through his veins.

His fur boots iced up with blood and melting snow. A stray flake dropped from the darkening sky, fading into his leather armor. The storm had moved away from the battlefield.

Was anyone else alive? At fourteen winters this had been his first taste of real battle. He had done well, killing five Ghourlesh. Father will be proud.

The Ghourlesh had not been seen this close to the outlying villages in a decade, but scattered sightings had abounded and the Northlanders knew they were there.

Watching and waiting.

That time had come, and they attacked in large numbers against the tribes, striking one village at a time. Within three days seven villages had been put to the torch, bodies piled in sacrificial pyres. Even with the snowstorm running rampant through the area, they had attacked.

Like ghouls they had come, rising from the whiteness of the snow with their painted faces and white hide armor, frosty hair pulled taut behind them.

And so the Northland tribes had united and sent forth one hundred fighting men to stop the Ghourlesh. Vladimir’s father, Ivan Dragov, was the leader of the largest Northland tribe. He had been proud when his two sons, Vladimir and Dimitri, volunteered to fight for their people.

The two groups had met in the woods in the dark morning, with clouds of snow falling from the sky. Chaos had erupted through the blinding storm, Northlanders and Ghourlesh slipping and fighting in the snow. It was one-sided, though, as the Ghourlesh had sheer numbers, dozens facing off against each Northlander.

At first Vladimir was frightened, worrying about having to kill another man. Deer and rabbit were one thing; he had never killed another person before and didn’t know how he would do it. His cousin Oleg, a tribal leader from a nearby village, saw his face and laughed. “These Ghourlesh are not men, like us, they are savages who kill our women and boil our young for stew. They’ve made a pact with the evil of the forest, destroying the trees and the plants with their vileness.”

With a smile and a shrug of embarrassment, Vladimir had gone into battle as a warrior. He hoped that he had left it a man.

Snap.

Vlad turned to see a Ghourlesh a dozen paces away, raising a sword and dagger.

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