Lily was dead… the High Priestess of the Yema Cult, slained by a hideous and particularly nasty illness. At first she only coughed, then came the fever, then the boils, festering on and on. The disease spread as much, as her mind shrank away in feverish delusion. In the end death was inevitable. It was pure necessity to kill those who were infected. At the beginning his troops would support and drag those along on which the illness fell. That point was far behind them and multiple coughs ended with banishment into the rear guard, a group of sick, forbidden to enter the main camp. But of course Lily was different. After all she had been an esteemed High Priestess of Yema, hardened in a multitude of battles. The troops looked to her when their courage or determination was failing. A kind of look, that was painfully absent, when they looked at him.
Now Koralek was holding her Axe in his hands. Now Koralek was the leader of this running, sick army far away from support, far away from home. Somehow he had to save this ill-advised campaign. They had been send into the northern borderlands, the outskirts of the Wastelands, where they met with rolling hills and smaller mountains in the South. Said to be full of gold and even magical ores. Suffice to say, this was not what they had found. Apparently the Barbarians where not so free in these parts, instead of barbarian tribes roaming the landscape, they encountered slave villages, controlled by human-sized rats. Not only did they walk and stand on two legs, they also had vicious machinery, always glimmering in that sickly green colour, especially at dusk or dawn, when his Elven scouts were scouting out the area. A scout send to retrieve one of the items quickly died shortly afterwards, his skin seeming to burn and all colour left from his skin.
Even so, Lily would not budge. So they overtook a village with the hopes of claiming the slaves for them and working them in the nearby mines and fields. The first clash was easy enough. Some losses on the riders and skirmishers as they were hit by projectiles of the strange machinery. Two days after the village was claimed, the whole operation went to hell. Apparently the Rats had an ally. A host of heavily armoured warriors from the North. They were slow to advance but each and every one was a terrible sight. There did not seem to be one healthy warrior in them. A cloud of flies and stink encaptured the whole host. Some of those warriors were bloated beyond imagination, easily being the height of a horsed Elf and about as heavy. Strangely these plagues, festering wounds and other ailments did not seem to bother them at all. Some even had grotesque mutations. That’s when the coughing started…
The Elven host was prepared to make a stand, but shortly before the two armies clashed, the Rats emerged from some previously undetected tunnels in the mountains. Faced with the possibility to be annihilated between a wall of metal and a wall of rat flesh, Lily opted to retreat. Since then the Elves were on the run. Since then the elven forces died more from disease than from fighting.
After a week on the run Koralek nearly lost hope. A stand would be suicide, the others easily outnumbering them two to one. But running would kill them even so. Without some healers and those pestilent warriors near, the plague only spread. In the last two days, the mountains gave way to more grassland. With nearly all of his scouts gone, he could only rely on the Harpies and hope, that the enemies wouldn’t have some good marksmen (or marksrats) in their ranks. They returned with strange news, some kind of Goatmen had apparently butchered (and eaten) a vanguard of the Rats. One last glimmer of hope remained. If he could find allies or if necessary trick the Warriors into attacking the Goat people, the scales could tip into his favour.
The following days his Harpies where in the air non-stop, scouting the ranges in all directions. He had them strip all colours and markings, so the Goat people could not connect them easily to his host. After three more days of double marching, hiding and burning the corpses of the diseased, he had to make his plan come true or see his host vanish. His last unit of outriders were ordered on a suicide mission to facilitate a clash between two small warbands of the pestilence warriors and the goatmen. With the beasts aware of an incursion in their territory the moved as predicted, as did the Rats and Warriors still on the heels of his army. The Goatmen reached his encampment just when the Rats and Warriors were prepared to attacked his waiting host. Koralek saw the leader of the beasts. A huge ram with an enourmous axe in his right hand. This moment would decide whether his soldiers would have a chance to fight for their lives or not. Would the Goats recognise the Harpies and know they were being spied on? Any kind of doubt might shatter his plan into a million pieces. Luckily he spotted a sickly beast just besides the Goatmen, a huge boar, its hide speckled with blisters. He ordered his second-in-command to bring him one of the sick Elves. With him in tow he approached their general. He wouldn’t need words:
Koralek pointed on his sick warrior, skin almost green. He pointed on the sick boar, with its tusks nearly touching the ground and the body heaving heavily as every drawing of breath was obviously agonising. The he pointed Lily’s huge axe towards the pestilent force emerging towards the killing field.
His heart seemed to stop, while the ram took its time. It looked at him, then towards the Rats, bellowed a thundering war cry while pounding the absurdely large axe on his shield. The Goatmen now turned towards the pestilent host confronting him. Koralek turned around… and smiled.