Thrashlar clung to the dark branches, high in the tree-top canopy. His yellow-tinged eyes stared with loathing at the figures that moved along the twisting path far below. Dark Elves. He hated Dark Elves, as he hated all things, living and dead. Their very existence seemed to mock him, taunting him for all that he had lost. He despised his own twisted form, and cursed the long-departed soul of his creator for making him become this malformed, fearful creature. He noticed that the Dark Elves had a group of human prisoners, chained together like animals as they were led through the trees. Thrashlar felt his insatiable hunger pull at him from the very core of his being – he would feast well this night.

* * * * *

The grey-bearded man fell heavily to the ground. He lay still on the wet, black soil of the forest floor, breathing heavily. His chest ached, but the pain was nothing compared to the despair that he felt inside himself. It mingled with the overwhelming rage that burned through his very being.

He was roughly dragged to his feet as the chain clasped around his neck was yanked into the air. He opened his swollen eyes, staring straight into the cruel, reflective eyes of his captor as he gasped for air. The sharp-featured face grinned wickedly at him.

"Don’t struggle. You’ll like it where we’re going."

The callous figure said something sharp in his evil-sounding tongue, and its companions nearby laughed cruelly at the words. The old man riled at the cynical tone in their voices, and he longed to throttle the Dark Elf with powerful hands, snapping its delicate neck in hatred. But he knew that he was powerless against them, and he felt so tired. So tired. He was pulled along by the Dark Elf corsairs, just one in a long line of captives that were joined together in a twisting procession that made its way through the trees. Rain fell heavily on the forest canopy far above, dripping down through the branches onto the miserable parade below.

Kir-Kaanath smiled quietly to himself as he drew his heavy, black scaled cloak further around his shoulders. His men had captured twenty four humans in their lightning raid, a fair bounty by any standards, losing none of his own men in the process. Many of the human guards had fallen before they had even realised they were under attack. Some of them were a bit old though, he thought. He might have to kill them, but no matter. There were some hardy-looking men amongst those he had captured, and he was certain that they would prove to be good workers.

He shouted to his men to hurry up. He was anxious to get the captives back to the Black Ark so that he could return and join in the raid that was already underway at the nearby village. Khaine looked favourably on him tonight, he thought, images of glory filling his twisted mind.

Kir-Kaanath jumped down to the cool, white sand as he left the dense cover of the trees. Despite the rain that poured down through the darkness, he could see the dark shape of the Black Ark looming on the horizon out to sea. Turning, he once again shouted impatiently at his men.

A muffled cry could be heard, followed by a distinctive sound – crossbows being fired. Kir-Kaanath swore. If his men were killing the prisoners...

He slid his twin longswords from their sheaths and leapt back up into the trees. The Dark Elves at the back of the line were shouting to each other, and the sounds of crossbows firing continued. The prisoners were wailing, and another sound could be heard through the cacophony, a bestial cry as crossbow bolts struck home.

The prisoners were looking around them into the darkness, their eyes wide with fright. Kir-Kaanath shoved the first prisoners to the ground roughly, trying frantically to see what was going on at the back of the line.

The old, grey-bearded man lay on the ground as the Dark Elves shouted and ran around him in confusion. A rescue! He gripped the heavy chain tightly in his hands, waiting for a chance to make his move, to aid his rescuers, whoever they may be.

Twisted shapes leapt from the undergrowth, latching onto Dark Elf limbs with sinewy, taloned arms. The Dark Elves recoiled in horrified disgust, hacking frantically at them with their weapons. Kir-Kaanath recognised the loathsome foulness of the creatures.

Ghouls! They were filthy, near-naked creatures who fed on flesh, living or dead, their depraved forms twisted into horrid parodies of men. Kir-Kaanath swore as he saw the ghouls ripping through his troops, their bestial faces twisted into hideous masks of hatred. He saw one of the foul creatures bite a chunk of flesh from the face of a corsair, who screamed, recoiling in horror.

Reversing the grip on his swords, Kir-Kaanath struck them point first into the moist soil, drawing his repeater crossbow in a fluid motion. He fired dark bolts into the back of the foul creature, which was knocked to the ground under the force of their impact. It thrashed around in the mud, trying frantically to dislodge the wicked bolts from its hunched back. Its struggles were ended abruptly as one of his men hacked into its neck with a vicious blow.

Pulling his swords from the ground, Kir-Kaanath leapt amongst the twisted ghouls, his blades weaving a delicate, bloody dance. He ducked beneath the wild slashing arms of one of the foul creatures, its evil, filth-encrusted claws passing harmlessly over him. Thrusting upwards, he ran his sword through the body of the twisted creature. As it fell, he ripped his blade free of the deformed creature and swung the blade upwards to parry a wild attack from another ghoul, his barbed weapon cutting deeply into the creature’s arm.

Simultaneously, he slashed his other curved blade across the creature’s shrunken abdomen, disembowelling it.

A large, dark shape suddenly dropped like a stone from the twisted branches above. As it fell it spread its long, muscular arms, and a thin membrane of skin was unfurled, acting as primitive wings, slowing its descent. The beast-like figure landed on all four limbs in the very midst of the swarming conflict. The ghouls, apparently encouraged by the sight of this unnatural creature, redoubled their attacks on the Dark Elves.

The foul monstrosity was immense, bulging with over-developed muscles that rippled over its form as it raised itself to its hind legs. It lifted its bestial head, teeth the size of a man’s thumb jutting from its snarling mouth and its long dead eyes were filled with a burning, red hatred as they looked around at the Dark Elves and their human captives. The smell of the creature was unimaginable, the reek of dead flesh overcoming the Dark Elves’ senses. Kir-Kaanath recognised the foul creature. He had heard rumours of such loathsome beings, scorned by their unliving brethren, hunted wherever they were to be found.

‘Vampyros. Strigoi’, the Dark Elf whispered.

The foul monstrosity heard the whisper despite the distance between them, and turned its baleful gaze towards Kir-Kaanath. It bowed its hulking form into a mocking bow in response.

Kir-Kaanath sneered at the deranged creature, knowing that his death was near, but feeling only a rising anger and contempt at the thought. He dropped into a fighting crouch, his barbed weapons held loosely before him. He wanted to bleed this creature, wanted to see its form splayed out and cut open before him. His corsairs were being torn apart by the deformed ghouls. The twisted creatures were falling by the dozen before the skilled Dark Elf warriors, but countless more launched themselves out of the darkness and his men were being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of the ferocious creatures. He could see the foul beings crouched over his fallen men, tearing great strips of flesh from their bodies with hideous fangs. He gripped his swords tighter, his breathing becoming heavy as his anger grew.

With a snarl of pure hatred, the vampire dropped its long arms to the ground and launched itself towards Kir-Kaanath in a great leap, bounding towards the Dark Elf like some monstrous wolf-creature. It moved with astonishing swiftness given its size, yet Kir-Kaanath stepped eagerly to meet it. Its hellish eyes were locked onto the Dark Elf’s, and its gaze did not waver even as a corsair stepped before it, slicing downwards with his barbed sabre.

Without apparent thought, intent on the figure of Kir-Kaanath, the Strigoi bowled under the strike and kept moving, nonchalantly striking back with a huge taloned arm as it passed. The Dark Elf fell with a scream, its side ripped open, and bright blood gushed from the horrific wound.

Kir-Kaanath tried to side-step the thundering charge of the Strigoi, his blades striking out towards the creature’s thick neck. Matching his speed, the vampire stepped with him, pulling short its rush to halt just outside the reach of the Dark Elf’s weapons. They stood there for a moment, glowering at each other, the slender Corsair appearing fearless of the unholy fiend that towered over him. He spun his swords in a delicate twirl, and leapt to the attack.

The highly skilled Dark Elf moved with blinding speed, his blades weaving together in a mesmerising, lethal blur. The bestial Strigoi was faster still, its undead body invigorated with unholy energy. It stepped between the spinning blades, catching hold of Kir-Kaanath’s wrist in a crushing grip. Kir-Kaanath gasped as blood began to flow from his wrist over the vampire’s hand. He hacked into the toughened hide of the Strigoi with his other blade, over and over again, as the creature stared deep into his eyes, its fanged mouth twisting into a mocking smile.

The wounds on the creature’s back began to heal, closing over even as they were struck. The Strigoi leant in close to Kir-Kaanath, its fetid breath hot against his pale skin.

"You hate me, do you not, Dark Elf?" it spat. Kir-Kaanath continued to hack into the creature’s back in desperation.

"Yes, you hate me, despise me. So, I curse you, pretty being." The vampire leant in closer again. "Join with me. Become what you hate so much."

The Strigoi bit deeply into the neck of the Dark Elf who continued to struggle against him. The last of the Corsairs were cut down around the pair, the ghouls prancing around their master as he drained the blood of Kir-Kaanath. The Dark Elf ’s struggles became weaker, until he was a limp form held in the Strigoi’s arms. Still the vampire drank.

Eventually, he dropped the motionless body unceremoniously to the ground. It flopped into the mud, pale and broken. Still, life pulsed weakly through the Dark Elf’s body, and he stared up at the vampire with glassy eyes.

The human prisoners looked upon their saviours in growing horror as the sickly ghouls danced around their bounty with undisguised glee. The monstrous Strigoi vampire Thrashlar looked upon his cavorting followers with an evil smile on his blood-stained lips. Tonight was a good night for the hunter, he thought.