For generations, the Ghen’khaz tribe had stalked the Great Grass Sea, carving a blood-stained orbit that it followed year after year. They moved between the settlements of other humanoid races, burning, killing and eating on each visitation then taking valuables and slaves before moving out onto the steppe once more, allowing each township to recover enough wealth before their peregrination brought them back and they fed from it once more.
Complex networks of interbreeding, alliances, truces of convenience and demonstrations of strength with other gnoll tribes prevented a state of permanent internecine war, but alliances were betrayed and truces broken on a regular basis and vicious conflicts would erupt between the Ghen’khaz and their brethren.
The only things that united the tribes of the Butcher’s Brood were their worship of Yeenoghu and the presence of the striped centaurs with whom they shared the Great Grass Sea. Away from the eyes of the civilised world terrible battles were fought between these ancient enemies. Fortunes would ebb and flow from one side to the other over the ages but neither ever gained a final victory.
Then, 70 years ago, something happened that would seal the fate of the Ghen’khaz forever. K’hidyr, the son of the tribal chieftain, was leading a raiding party against what he thought was a small band of foraging centaurs. Seeing the centaurs in a shallow valley he led the pack down for what should have been a swift and easy victory. But as they made their descent a line of centaurs appeared at the far end of the valley and the innocent-looking foraging party picked up weapons that had been concealed at their hooves. Realising he had been led into a trap the chieftain’s son barked the retreat to his pack, but more centaurs rose up from the long grass on the hillside, blocking their retreat.
That day the Ghen’khaz suffered the worst defeat in tribal memory. Only a handful of survivors managed to escape the battle and it was their task to tell the chieftain that his son had not died a warrior’s death and gone to join Yeenoghu’s fiendish pack in the Abyss, but had been caught in a centaur’s net and had been carried off as a captive.
Shamed by this, Dho’ghu, the chieftain, announced that he had no son and that K’hidyr’s name was never to be spoken again. On his death, he said, the succession of tribal chief would be decided by combat between the fiercest warriors. Then he ordered the tribe to strike camp and they moved off across the Great Grass Sea without looking back.
K’hidyr himself was taken to the centaur camp. The centaurs used slaves as well, and made good money from selling captives to traders from the cities of Tiangao in the East and Parsantium in the West. But gnolls did not make good slaves – even armies wouldn’t always take them as soldiers because other units refused to fight with them because of their tendency to feast on the flesh of the defeated enemy. So K’hidyr’s fate was not in the bazaars of the towns he had preyed on with his tribe; he was to be a sacrificial offering to Metîn – an aspect of Mormekar, the god of death and rebirth.
The khan of the centaur clan presented K’hidyr to the high priestess of the Metîn cult, for him to be prepared for sacrifice on the following day. Because the victim would be going to meet Metîn in the underworld, the centaur rites required that he underwent a ritual cleansing the night before the ceremony, culminating in the offering’s eyes being plucked out at midnight – done because no unbeliever could be permitted to look on Metîn’s glory. The victim was then left to spend the rest of the night alone, contemplating his fate.
But as K’hidyr sat there in the dark, weeping blood into his matted fur, he heard the voice of the centaur god speak to him. Metîn told him that he was going to use K’hidyr as his instrument and that he would be blessed with four deaths.
Before dawn the centaur high priestess, Ariya, came to K’hidyr, anointed him and led him to the place of sacrifice. The centaurs dismembered their offerings before cremating the remains, and K’hidyr had his arms and legs tied to four centaur priests who each faced one of the cardinal compass points. The high priestess cried out in prayer to Metîn, raised her arms to the heavens and called to the priests who lunged forward. As his limbs dislocated, his tendons ripped and his skin tore open K’hidyr howled out to Yeenoghu to help him. But his body burst asunder and great cry of joy went up from the assembled centaur clan.
With care the centaur priests gathered up the various pieces of K’hidyr’s body and brought them to the waiting pyre. Ariya, the high priestess, lit the bonfire and K’hidyr’s broken form was finally obscured by smoke and flame. The clan knelt around the pyre to complete the ritual, the scattering of the ashes to the winds of the steppes.
But as the fire died down the clan were struck by disbelief, shock and, finally, horror. Lying amongst the embers was K’hidyr, whole once again, and apparently peacefully sleeping. The high priestess approached the bier with trepidation, and as she did so the gnoll’s eyelids flickered, opened and he looked directly at her. Remembering how he had called out to Yeenoghu in his final moments Ariya feared it was a demonic trick to desecrate the ritual. Calling for the priests, she had K’hidyr seized and she swore that the ritual would be completed, even though it meant starting the entire process of purification again. K’hidyr was forced down before her where he was once more blinded and taken away to be prepared.