Putrid green vomit spewed from the twisted dark grey mouth of the decaying nobleman. He had been infected only a few days ago and his shambling carcass was animated with only a hint of life. The forest at night had become eerily silent, as if it knew of the tragedy about to befall the village it surrounded. Behind the retching figure a dozen undead warriors approached. These were formally of the Princeps’ retinue and, like him, they now served a much darker and dread master.
The infection began as the Princeps enjoyed his customary nightly flagon of beer, this had, allegedly been procured from the prestigious Egyptian brewers’ resident in the city. Others who tasted the fermented beverage would swear it was from the issue of the rat population instead. The beer was of course, tainted. Mixed with the ale was the excrement of a freshly risen corpse. The effect was sickness, death and a hasty resurrection.
As the population of Nida slept, the undead troop edged closer. The Nightwatchmen, who had not dealt with any hostile incursions since the Germanic tribes had been quelled a few years earlier. Did not see the sloughing figures creep through the dense tree line. Instead, Quintus Marius, the town guard, dreamed of wealth, fame and finally winning the affection of the town beauty Larissa.
As the hours passed and the midnight blue hues of nightfall developed into the intense darkness of small hours, screaming could be heard. The undead forces had crept to the left side of the village and, through a gap in the aging wooden fences broken through. The rotting army was in the process of smashing through the homes of the merchants and citizens residing there as Quintus roused himself from his blissful reverie.
Climbing down the wooden ladder which led from his watchtower to the earthen ground it seemed to him that the screams were coming from all directions at once. The wooden frames of the buildings had begun to catch fire, no doubt as a result from a struggle against whatever force had caused the commotion. The town bell began to clang, faintly resounding over the screams and shrieks. Quintus drew his gladius sword as he ran towards the scenes of destruction.
Rounding the corner from the village bakery he saw bodies strewn across the ground. Some had been ripped apart, as if from an animal.
‘Perhaps this is the work of a bear’ he thought.
That vague notion dissipated as he caught sight of a centurion shambling from the guardhouse. In his hands was a human head, held like a prize. As if this sight had not been distressing enough, Quintus felt his late supper almost escape his stomach as the centurion stiffly moved the head towards his lips.
Feeling more anger and disgust that fear, Quintus rushed forward and slashed at the creature. Several of his blows were ineffectual due to the centurion’s armor. Quintus’s blade eventually hit home, more a product of luck than his frenzied slashing. As Quintus withdrew his blade, he could see that he had sliced through the centurion’s arm, cutting through to the bone. Something was wrong however, the centurion barely flinched. The only discernable reaction was the dropping of the head from his mouth. It was then that Quintus caught sight of the creature’s face. This had been a friend of his, they both served in the legion in Gaul together. His distinguished service had been recognized by becoming a member of the Princeps personal guard.
The creature’s eyes held his with a glassy stare, a low moan escaped its bloody lips.
“Adrian, in Juno’s name, what has happened to you?”
In response Quintus’ former friend lurched suddenly towards him. Arms outstretched, as if to embrace him. The creature bared its teeth and at this range, Quintus found to his disgust that he could see part of an eyeball resting on its tongue.
Realizing that there was no ability to reason with his former brother in arms, Quintus stepped back slightly and relaxed into an attack posture. The training of decades making it easier to focus even with the chaos unfolding around him.
Thrusting his sword forwards towards the creatures exposed head yielded a sickening result. The point of the Gladius pierced through the centurion’s skull and with a wet noise punctured into his brain. Thick black liquid gushed from the wound and the creature staggered backwards. Its armor clattered as it fell to the ground.
Staring at the liquid on his sword for a moment, Quintus attempted to try and piece the events of the night together. Was he still dreaming? The blissful daydreams of owning a tavern replaced with a hellish nightmare. If this was a dream, it certainly would have been the most convincing one he had ever experienced. The now muted screams, and the smells of burning flesh which penetrated his senses, gave the situation an undeniable reality.
A sharp stab of pain burst from his ankle, Quintus cried out and fell forward. The pain beginning to give way to a burning sensation which flooded his body. Turning on his back, Quintus saw the cause of his downfall. The Princeps glared at him with rheumy red tinged eyes, flesh hung from his jaw, exposing yellowing teeth and a purple-tinged thick, worm-like tongue.
The Princeps moaned as it crawled towards Quintus, the creature’s legs had been torn off and as it crept over the soldiers paralyzed body, Quintus could feel its entrails slop against his legs.
Quintus willed himself to try to reach for his sword, which lay only a few meters away. He found that the only muscles he could exercise were his eyes and mouth. The heat which had swept through his body was urging him to stay still, a trick of the taint which flooded through his blood. It was as if the bite of the undead contained a mixture close to that of the adder.
As the stench of the rotting mouth reached him, the fallen soldier had time to recite a prayer to his personal God, Mars, as he was used to in the battlefields long ago, before the foul teeth of what had been the Princeps pierced his neck and began to feed.