Hunting the Stalkers
Erastil lived for this. The hunt became everything. During these countless hours spent tracking his prey, nothing else mattered. He need not deal with politics, scheming nobles, constant problems brought before him. It was just him, his soldiers, and the quarry. And oh, was this a quarry.
The High Elves were not hunting for food this day, nor for sport. They were hunting a threat. A group of Stalkers, vile, twisted undead who loped across the ground on all fours had been sighted in the forest south of Aeredos. Undead presence in the Gnarlwood was no uncommon occurrence, as many Risen and Bonewalkers could be found in the old trees, having broken on the Anaetyne defences at the City of Lights, but Stalkers were rare to be found this side of the Sea of Mists.
That made this an Occasion. Erastil was accompanied by many skilled warriors, paragons of the different Ippotes Alluri (Knightly Orders), all eager to prove themselves to the Vaesilokh by slaughtering these aberrations. The had been riding for two days, and the sun was setting, it's warm light slowly fading as it sank beneath the horizon for rest.
Erastil held up a single clenched fist, signaling his riders to come to a stop. The Anaetyne ruler dismounted, and walked over to a nearby tree, where he had spotted something. As a few of his soldiers gathered around, they saw what the Vaesilokh did, a smear of black blood, sizzling faintly against the bark, about shoulder height up the tree.
“This is far to fresh,” said Erastil, “If they are this close, there should be other signs… unless…” He trailed off, and then quickly spun around and shouted “It’s an ambush!” He quickly pulled his spear off his horse’s saddle, just as dozens of twisted monsters dropped from the thick canopy into the midst of the unsuspecting troupe of warriors. What came next was chaos, blade and claw rent living and undead flesh, cursed and pure blood alike pooled together on the ground.
Erastil found himself backed up against an vast old oak tree, spear dripping with gore as three Stalkers slowly crept towards him. Erastil took a moment to breath and focus, and then brandished his empty left hand before him. A single ray of sunlight, the last to be seen before the sun vanished completely shone through the trees and coalesced into a shield of pure light in the elven rulers left hand. The holy light seared the flesh of the Stalkers as they covered their eyes to try to protect themselves. Three quick thrusts left them dead, permanently this time.
Leaping over their corpses, Erastil skewered four more Stalkers, freeing up several of his warriors to join him in forming a cohesive group. Together, they slaughtered more and more undead, including the Bonewalkers and Risen who were drawn to the conflict. Eventually, Erastil and his surviving warriors stood victorious next to a mound of slain enemies. He ordered all the creatures bodies and bones, piled in the center of the clearing and burned, the fallen soldiers would be taken back to Aeredos and given their proper rites, to ensure their spirits would move on. Only of a few of his warriors died, as most of them were very experienced and amongst the best equipped fighters in Anaetyr.
Erastil mused on what had happened on the slow ride home. Stalkers possessed a crude, cunning intelligence, but setting up an ambush like that, despite failing, was beyond them. Something more powerful, more intelligent must have been controlling them, but whatever it was hadn’t showed its face during the fight. Besides that, anything that could control that many Stalkers should have been able to control many more as well, if the goal was to slay the party of elven warriors, why had such a small force been sent at them.
Two days later, Erastil got his answer. The outskirts of Aeredos was soaked in blood, a horde of monsters had attacked while he was away, lead by a Wraith no less. The forces of Aeredos had repelled them, but only with the timely aid of warriors from the neighboring city state of Elatanis, led by Ildorn Iratokken, one of Erastil’s rivals, who had not sworn loyalty to Anaetyr yet. As Erastil made his way to his throne room, he could not help but wonder, what would this rescue cost him.