King Skull, as Vervai, is the most powerful man on Iocanthos and styles himself on the legendary warrior-kings from the planet’s history. In truth, the great ages of martial kingship are long past, with the old traditions have been bastardised into the modern, ruthless business of controlling the Ghostfire commerce. Nevertheless, King Skull’s army is many millions strong and dominates huge swathes of Iocanthos’s main continent at any one time. Skull himself is a tall, saturnine man clad in elaborate black steel armor, wielding a huge spear with a head cut from the flint of Iocanthos’s highest peak.
“Skull” is clearly a deliberately assumed name---the Vervai’s tribal banner is a bleached human skull---though there is little clue as to his real name, as his origins are very obscure and are the subject of considerable speculation. Some say he is a deposed noble who fled to Iocanthos to avoid some scandal or tragedy, others that he is a dangerous fugitive criminal who found his true calling among the warlords and madmen. Most rumors center around his supposed capabilities in battle. Skull is undoubtedly a tenacious warrior, but tales whispered in Iocanthos’s frontier towns hint at far more, such as allegations that he drinks blood to gain strength from his enemies, or is a powerful witch who can summon mighty storms of black lightning down on his foes.
Skull’s rule is based on the immense loyalty the core of his army feels towards him. Warriors must first prove themselves in battle before they are ever armed with the weapons and equipment that Skull acquires in return for the Ghostfire harvest. As they demonstrate prowess in battle, they are further armed and drawn towards the core of battle-hardened, well-equipped veterans of the Harrowguard who surround Skull himself. Skull leads these warriors into battle personally, and the sight of his black-armored form is enough to demoralize those unfortunate enough to meet the Harrowguard in battle.
Life in the HordeEdit
King Skull’s army welcomes all as long as they are willing to fight their first battles armed with little more than sticks and stones. Skull deploys huge numbers of new, expendable troops to swamp the enemy while the Harrowguard function as shock troops. Skull’s army in battle is a terrible thing to witness, with swarms of madmen hurling themselves upon the enemy while the better-armed sections of the army fire volleys of lasgun shots into the shocked enemy or charge alongside the Vervai himself.
Skull’s army travels on a number of huge, smoke-belching vehicles. The Throne is Skull’s personal transport, which was once a huge-tracked mining vehicle, refitted to function as a mobile throne room and prison for captured enemies. This soot-stained monstrosity is festooned with captured banners and other trophies, and Skull himself sits on a throne platform suspended over hundreds of cages where his prisoners languish. Skull sells these prisoners back to their families or comrades in exchange for Ghostfire pollen or offers them a place in the ill-armed hordes of his army. Those who are good for neither Ghostfire nor fighting are left to rot, their sobs and screams accompanying the Vervai everywhere he goes.
Another mobile landmark is the Sanctum, a tower supported by a raft of lashed-together Chimera vehicles. It is home to Gurgerin, the Vervai’s advisor and, it is widely assumed, a sorcerer whose divinations are essential to Skull’s plans. The Sanctum is a stone tower pulled from some long-forgotten mountain ruin, said to be full of bewildering and grotesque experiments (or captive aliens, shambling warp monstrosities or a cabal of the Calixis Sector’s rich and powerful, depending on which stories you believe). Gurgerin, a man of extremely advanced age with tiny glinting eyes like specks of flint, can sometimes be seen on the Sanctum’s uppermost battlements watching the vast throng of the army marching beneath him. Several other massive vehicles, used either to house the Harrowguard or to transport the precious Ghostfire crop, travel alongside the army, often hung with trophies or the weathered corpses of particularly hated enemies.