"Don't like this very much, Scotloff" muttered Karl. He sniffed the bitter air and wiped his red nose. "Not many possibilities for what could've happened, and I don't like any of them."
"Aye" agreed Scotloff. She squinted, lifted a hand against the white glare of snow. A cabin stood in the distance. Squat, made of stone, built against a hillside. Thached roof sagging with snow. It's windows were dark. No smoke crawled from the chimney.
They walked together to the cabin. Karl held a woodcutter's axe at his side. He shuffled his boots in the crunchy snow. "Poor old thing. Living on her own" he remarked. "Shameful that no grandkids took her in."
"No good fretting" said Scotloff. "What will be will be." She stopped suddenly by the hill. Frowning, she pointed to the ground. "Take a look."
Karl scrunched his moustache in horror. "Bloody chickens're frozen to the ground."
They advanced to the cabin's oaken door, skirting delicately around a rooster and white hens, frozen upright. Karl thumped the wood with a woolen mitt. Accreted snow shook free from the planks. "Oi, Ol' Nan. It's Karl and Scottie out here. Just checkin' in."
"Karl, don't kid yourself" Scotloff grumbled. She grabbed the door's latch and jiggled it. It didn't budge.
"Frozen." She looked at Karl expectantly. "You want to use that axe, or shall I?" she said. Karl looked miserable. "Oi, nah, I'll do it" Karl mumbled, eventually. He hoisted the axe.
Scotloff stepped back, treading on a chicken. She kicked some snow over it.
Karl let into the door with the axe's weighty steel wedge. There was a crack of ice. Boards splintered. After a few more whacks, the door swung open crookedly in its frame. Karl stepped back, axe held uncertainly. Scotloff stepped up, patted him on the back. "I'll take it from here."
She stepped through the doorframe. It was dark, save for the sunlight which fell through behind her. A cobble-brick fireplace opposed the door. It's mouth was dark and cold. Facing it was a wicker rocking chair. A still figure slumped there.
Scotloff crept to the figure, boots tracking snow over the creaking floor. She crept around the chair, looked down. A white-haired figure slumped there, chin tucked to bony chest. It stirred slightly.
The figure stirred again, jerking its chin. Scotloff realized her error. She scrabbled backwards to the door.
There was a tattoo of thin heels striking the floor, and a thin crash as the wicker chair tumbled. The figure seizing in the dark. Scotloff heard a wet tearing of flesh. Sticky, partially-coagulated liquid spattered against the floor.
Scotloff stumbled out the door and into the snow. Karl looked to her with concern. "What's the ma-"
"Ghoul!" Scotloff screamed. Pointing to the cabin.
Through the doorway scuttled the twisted body of Ol' Nan, propelled by six cartilaginous, bladed legs. It's arms and legs waved limply, obscenely. Grave water gushed from a pair of mandibles which jutted from under the lolling grey head.
Karl raised his axe as the thing bore down on him.
NecrophagusNecrophagus is a family of human-pathogenising Phage. It's strains, known simply as "phage," are notable for causing reanimation in the host after their apparent death.
Life CycleThe means by which phage transmits remains a mystery. No usual mode of transmission has been identified, save for direct contact with necrocytes. Rather, it is thought that groundsoil itself spawns or contains phage pathogen. This theory would seem to be correct, seeing as children born to seemingly uninfected parents may later perish and metamorphose as a result of a phage. Most human individuals are infected from birth.
With a few exceptions, strains remain latent in an infected individual until the time of their death. Once normal brain activity stops, the virus activates. Full pathogenesis of the decaying host-body commences. During a period of metamorphosis, the corpse's physiology alters to become a necrocyte unique to the infecting strain.
Different strains of phage alter their hosts into different, unique lifeforms. Usually, these forms depend on the strain's favored mode of hunting or pathogen transmission. Phage strains such as N. insecta create a six-legged, combative necrocyte which ambushes human prey, infecting and killed them simultaneously. Hosts of other strains, such as N. succubus, undergo few outward changes. These necrocytes are more subtle, using sexual means to spread their pathogen.
Though the physical structures of necrocytes may vary between strains, they share a unifying characteristic: during metamorphosis, pathogenic corpses will develop black, swollen buboes in place of their digestive organs. These growths are suspected to be fruiting bodies, which exude fluid in an attempt to spread phage pathogen. Metamorphosing corpses may be identified by the presence of these buboes.
Post-metamorphosis, the necrocyte becomes a capable viral agent. It will commit the remainder of its existence to slaughter and the spread of contagion.
PreventionNecrophagus may only be mitigated using grisodate salt, a powerful antibiotic. This gray salt, which may be taken via any number of means, neutralizes latent phage in the body. It is also consumed as a preventative.
Grisodate is used in combating necrocytes. A variety of weapons exist for this purpose: Sieve-like clubs filled with salt elixir. Hand grenades laden with salt shrapnel. Salt-encrusted gunspring bolts. All of these cause great hart to necrocyte organisms, as they destroy pathogenised tissue on contact.