Claws of Karanak
The Claws of Karanak are worshippers of the daemonic beasts of Khorne known as Flesh Hounds. Like the Flesh Hounds, this Khornate cult hunts down those who earn the Blood God's ire, reveling in the extermination of cravens and are utterly relentless when running down their chosen prey.[1a]
Across the Mortal Realms, few forces are as feared as Khorne's Bloodbound. The warhordes worship the most wrathful of the Ruinous Powers, and seek his favour through acts of heinous slaughter. The atrocities of the Bloodbound are infamous, from erecting huge pyramids of skulls ripped from butchered foes, to inducting new warriors through cannibalistic feastes and spilling enough blood to turn tracts of land a grisly crimson. Even then, however, there are those who fall further still. Seeking to earn a place of honour at the foot of their god's throne, they embreace animal madness, driven on by the baying of bloodthirsty daemons. Such souls are inevitably drawn to the Claws of Karanak.[1a]
Era of the Beast
Some say that the Era of the Beast has led to an upsurge of this feral cult, while others attribute this to Khorne's rage at the resurgence of his hated brother Slaanesh's armies, and his demand for warriors to hunt Hedonites. The 'hound-marked' are instinctively drawn to others of their ilk, forming packs ruled by fell-handed Packlords and guided by the half-daemonic goliaths known as Hounds of Wrath.[1a]
Unlike other warbands converging upon the Gnarlwood, the Claws of Karanak did not come solely for the purpose of finding Talaxis. While hunting anything from hated Azyr was uniquely satisfying prey, it was a secondary concern against the totality of battle the Gnarlwood offered. Khorne did not seem inclined to have his disciples miss this conflict and as the slaughter intensified, a psychic roar ripped across the Ghurish Heartlands, drawing Khornate warriors by the hundreds. They would cleave the south-western reaches of the forest, spilling so much gore that it transformed into the Bloodmad Ravage. Loping at the fore of this invasion were packs of Claws of Karanak, snarling and salivating in anticipation of the coming massacre.[1b]
It was during these hunts the Claws of Karanak encountered the Askurgan Trueblades. These Soulblight vampires are especially loathed foes, for they steal the Blood God's crimson tithe while having no gore of their own to offer. Although their monstrous nature grants admirable savagery in battle, these undead have committed the most unforgiveable of crimes - they sought to restrain their bloodlust, and to defy the beast within. This could not stand, and the Claws were sent into a frenzied rage as they sought to topple Vampires' treetop strongholds.[1b]
The presence of Flesh Hounds or - most sacred of all, the three-headed monstrosity Karanak, the Hound of Vengeance and Khorne's ultimate hunter - spurs the Bloodbound to new heights of violence. These daemonic beasts are dispatched to chase down foes who have earned Khorne's personal enmity, and so to find and slaughter this prey might see a mortal warrior earn great boons from the Blood God. However, certain souls such as those of the Claws of Karanak had become infused by the dark energies surrounding Flesh Hounds, and consumed by the call of the hunt. For them, the echo of daemonic howls never entirely fades, a barking at the edge of perception that rises to a primal cacophony in the moment of the kill. Their loathing for any they deem to be cowards becomes blinding, and when the howling in their minds subsides long enough for these warriors to sleep to sleep, they dream of fire and pursuit - visions, it is said snatch from the consciousness of Flesh Hounds as they track their prey. There is no way to predict who will be awakened by a Flesh Hound's roar. From Bloodbound warriors to tribesmen dwelling across the wastes of the Mortal Realms - and even, on occasion, mortals living within the outposts of civilisation - any can be swept up in Khorne's red hunt. They stalk the wilds that surround Bloodbound war-camps, and are largely left to indulge their murderous urges as they see fit.[1a]
The Claws of Karanak are amongst the most savage examples of a culture that respects only savagery. In their devotion to the Lord of Rage, they have relinquished that which elevates mortalkind above beasts. When one swears themselves to Khorne, mercy and compassion are the first qualities to be lost, but champions may still retain enough of themselves to salute every worthy foe, or to force alliances - even if these will inevitably be broken when the need for bloodshed outweighs the strategic benefits. These are notions that no longer hold relevance to the members of this Chaos Cult. Those they pursue are not just foes; but prey, to be ru down and torn asunder as a Frost Sabre would the slow-witted longhorns of Thondia. Their most blessed champions are swollen with muscles and rag until it is almost impossible to believe they once belonged to humanity, and must be bound by great brass chains when not in battle. When the call to hunt seizes them, many may stop to run on all fours like slavering beasts, and plunge without hesitation into the most twisted hellscapes.[1a]
To establish dominance amongst the Claws of Karanak, a hound-marked warrior must prove themselves through a primal ritual. Over time, one marked for potential greatness may find the stench of blood on the wind to become overpowering, and their minds forming an instinctive psychic link with the Flesh Hound - sometimes the same entity whose howls first touched the mortal - on the hunt. The chosen must then run down their quarry before this unnatural hunter can do so, and present the mutilated remains to the beast upon its arrival. For tense moments, man and daemon will hold one another's pitiless gaze. Should the Flesh Hound clamp the corpse inits jaws, growl in acknowledgement and lope off, the warrior will return to the cult seething with Khorne's power and soon be acknowledged as a mighty Packlord. Should the daemon instead attack in rae, only those truly favoured by the Blood God can hope to survive. It is this ritual that establish the hierarchy within the cult:[1a]
- Packlords: The bestial chieftains of the Claws of Karanak.
- Hounds of Wrath: Warriors so infused with bestial energies and strength they must be bound between battles.
- Brutalisers: Veteran members of the cult.
- Blood Whelps: The lowliest of the Claws of Karanak. Those who have been awakened by the roar of a Flesh Hound, but have yet to take on a personal soul hunt or display any favour from Khorne.
The Claws worship Khorne as the apex predator of reality, whose jaws eviscerate the cowardly and whose roar drowns out the lies bleated by false deities. They view themselves as being charged with inflicting the god's vengeance upon the weak and craven, and as kindred spirits to the Flesh Hounds that they revere with a rabid intensity. Their lairs are found in stinking caves, where bloody bones are piled around crude, three-headed canine totems.[1a]
Their chieftains largely forego speech, using growls, snarls and animalistic body language to enforce their brutal will.[1a]
Packlords are the bestial chieftains of the Claws of Karanak. Each has hunted down and butchered many choice foes in the name of the Blood God, cementing themselves as elite predators before asserting rulership over their kin through displays of brutal violence. Their appearance reflects these primal leanings. A Packlord's armour is hung with blood-matter fur torn from living prey and skulls arranged to imitate the three heads of Karanak. Their brass helmets - crafted by Skullgrinder blacksmiths when they believe Khorne desires it , and left outside the vavernous lairs of the Claws - are wrought in the visage of snarling canines. Packlords do not require these helms, however, to voice their infamously terrifying roars. These bellows are unleashed when the scent of weakness surrounding an enemy reaches a fever-pitch, and one last furous assault is needed to break their spirit. The Packlords have a natural sense for this tipping point, and a howled command to their underlings can see even the proudest warriors be quickly overwhelmed.[1b]
It is the Packlords who represent the Claws of Karanak when dealing with fellow Bloodbound, though slavering growls and the serrated teeth of their axes are the preferred tools of communication. In battle they immerse themselves in Khorne's rage, the flaring crests attached to their armour blazing with infernal flame. Nothing stokes the fury of a Packlord like the presence of a sorcerer, whose stink fills their nostrils and drives them into an agonising frenzy. The anger of these champions , it is said, burns hot enough to incinerate even mystical assaults. Those who dare wield such underhand powers against Khorne's chosen are run down and messily butchered, their flayed skin serving as a ward against the arcane when lashed to a Packlord's mantle.[1b]
Hounds of Wrath
While the Packlords rule the Claws of Karanak, it is the Hounds of Wrath who are their spiritual heart. This does not entail wisdom or enlightenment on their part - from from it in fact. The malicious gifts of Khorne have sunk deep into the flesh of the cultists, seeing it bulge with corded muscle as their fingers lengthen into iron-hard claws. Their eyes, set deep within maw-like visages, flash with madness, any vestige of sanity drowned out by the Blood God's bottomless hunger. While most champions view these creatures as little more than rage-addled brutes, the Claws recongise the whiff of the daemonic about the Hounds of Wrath. Indeed, such individuals have bonded with a Flesh Hound in the only way acceptable to the Blood God; by overpowering the daemon, and feasting uon its infernal flesh. If Khorne looked upon this kill with approval, the warrior will be wracked by a terrible warping of both body and mind - rising again after only eight days of agony and loping back to their former packs, reborn as living instruments of the god's will.[1b]
Though they are venerated as embodiments of Khorne's creed, the Hound of Wrath must be kept chained between hunts, for otherwise, they would soon slaughter their packmates. Yet when they cease howling to raise their heads and purposely sniff at the air, other cultists take note, for none are as attuned to the spoor of weakness and the sin of restraint as they. When the quarry is located, these daemonkins' chains will be shattered, the beast released to carve a brutal path through the wilds, their kin baying at their heels. Hounds of Wrath can amass truly terrifying momentum, slamming into their targets with bone-shattering force. The claws of these creatures - that have both grown on their hands and those strapped to their armour - are fearsomely sharp, and they can fight on past seemingly fatal injury. These boons stem from the power of the Flesh Hound they have devoured - the same power that allows them to unleash gouts of burning hell-flame from their maws, the very fires of Khorne's domain summoned to smite foes.[1b]
The casualties amongst the Claws of Karanak are monstrously high as a result of their relentless aggression against all odds. As veterans, then, the Brutalisers have proven themselves warriors of terrifying ability. Each has consistently displayed their fury and prowess in battle, and so deep is their predatory rage that their minds constantly burn with visions of the kill. To mark their esteemed status within the cult, they are granted the honour of wearing brass helms with the visage of their patron daemons, the Flesh Hounds. Like the jaws of a terrible wold mauling the flesh of its prey, these zealots favour weapons that gouge rip and lacerate, reduing foes to mangled ruin. Brutalisers become even more dangerous the longer a battle goes on, for the scent of spilt blood drives them into a frenzy that even other devotees of Khorne stand in awe of, and the flurry of shredding blows they unleash can put down even the most tenacious adversaries.[1b]
Blood Whelps are the lowliest of the Claws of Karanak, those who have been awakened by the Flesh Hound's roar but are yet to embark on a personal soul or display any tangible favour from the Taker of Skulls. Skulking in the shadows of their alphas, they are prone to being beaten, maimed or even devoured whenever the masters of the pack see fit. For all this, the Blood Whelps are nothing to be taken lightly. Khorne's gifts bolster their strength and endurance, and they excel in working as a pack to bring down larger prey. The moment an enemy begins to waver, the Blood Whelps are upon them with barbed spears and hooked flails lashing out to rip through ligaments and leave them utterly helpless.[1b]
In battle, the Claws of Karanak fight like natural-bone pack killers, each warrior possessing an uncanny sense for the movements of their kin. With wolfish instinct they surround their prey, bleeding and rending them with each vicious strike. Gradually, they stretch their harried foe's nerve to breaking point - until at last they rout, and the Claws surge forth to tear them down in their moment of panicked flight.[1a]
Jagged, tearing weapons are favoured by the cult, the better to mangle flesh and shed blood in great volumes. Their armour is crowned by hound-faced helms and muzzles, as well as leathery crests torn from reptilian beasts, so that their appearance imitates that of their daemonic kin.[1a]
- 1: Warcry: Warband Tome - Predator & Prey