Knepf Master Undead of Mekhet
A myriad of monsters creep under the soft light of Hades’ pseudo-suns … their baleful green streamers stretching out in all directions. These solar mockeries stare down upon cyclopean citadels of unbroken stone surrounded by fields of bone, piles of flesh, pools of offal, and streams of ichor. Undead in riotous forms wander the mires of the Underverse performing abstruse tasks for their Midnight Hag rulers, all under the watchful eye of foul overseers. These master classes of Undead are unique to each of the Hags, a culmination of millennia of necromantic exp
The Midnight Hag called Mekhet the False, most powerful member of the Coven of Hanbizu, has created spider-like overseers: the Knepf. These loathsome beasts are powerful Undead, each raised from a long-deceased humanoid of legendary deeds. Knepf retain some of the might of these fallen anti-heroes, in addition to their own dark power. Mekhet prefers to preserve a derivative of that humanoid’s name as well. Biphos the Cruel, for example – warden of the Maggot Pits and thus keeper of Mekhet’s coffers – was crafted in part from Befurgusot, a Bugbear champion of wide repute.
Each of the Knepf represents years of intensive experimentation and arcane technological development. Within the bounds of Mekhet’s empire, only the infamous Hecatnichepf are more complex and powerful Undead … and precious few were ever made. Knepf represent a significant investment in materials: organic components from a great number of deceased carcasses, exotic metals, ultra-rare crystals, and noxious solvents for their instrumentation and weapons. A single specimen has the worth of a small fiefdom. Each may take centuries to construct; a procedure of such intricate patience requires the exacting care that only a near-immortal can provide. With the spark of intelligence and hordes at their command, Knepf are Mekhet’s chosen emissary in many situations outside the realm of Hades, and one is ever close to hand at home.
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As the task masters of the shambling hordes of Mekhet, the Knepf are more refined creatures than most of their servitor Undead. Their construction is cleaner, their tissues less rotten, and their minds are sharp and bright. From outward appearances it is clear that each is composed of the parts of bugbears, ogres, or trolls, but closer inspection reveals that parts of even more exotic races are required during their foul creation. Four sets of spider-like arms sprout from a humanoid trunk that seems too small to connect so many limbs. The jaw of their vaguely humanoid head is cracked open, allowing large, grotesque arachnoid fangs to burst forth. A number of compound eyes stud their broad foreheads, though they seem to be cataracted to uselessness and may serve some other more esoteric function. Each bears necromantic grafts that bestow subtle venom and unique cementitious spittle. Despite all of this tinkering, Knepf remain much more intelligent than most Undead, enough to be entrusted with huge work parties and important tasks. What they lack in strategic intelligence they more than make up in situational awareness, tactical aptitude and a fearless cunning.
Smaller than many of the powerful Undead horrors produced in Hades, Knepf nevertheless weigh about as much as a fattened wild hog, and are nearly as large. Their limbs are leathery, covered in hide thick enough to deflect arrows. The skin of their torsos is thinner, stretched by heavy use and the articulation of so many arms; Knepf resemble nothing so much as puppets made from rotting fruit. Despite long limbs that make them look more delicate than they truly are, dense tissues and heavy hide combine with the weight of extensive augmentations to make the creatures rugged indeed. Knepf are creations of dichotomy; their tissues are sustained by Negative energy but they retain the semblance of life, and even breathe to gain the necessary chemistries for their venom and spittle. Bristle-studded grey skin resembles dried cadaver meat, but implants and weapons gleam elegantly. The juxtaposition of necromancy’s filth and the purity of the Hags’ high technology is unavoidably apparent in the Knepf.
The intrinsic senses that Knepf possess are lackluster in comparison to the senses of Mekhet, and to the panoply of “sensors” which it has at its disposal. Dense implanted wiring in the reanimated brain tissue affords a Knepf the capacity to hijack the senses of its Undead servants, though an individual can only see through the eyes of its own “marked” thralls. They rapidly flit between the visions of those in a nearby group, and integrate the whole into a cohesive picture of their surroundings. Mekhet fields a number of specialized Undead along with Knepf to expand their abilities: exotic horrors such as the blood-sensing Painanggal, the muscle-drinking Ghesshu, and the foul breath-stealing Ruachhund. Their peerless awareness makes the Knepf much more tactically effective than their rather limited intellects would otherwise allow. The range of this connective ability is unknown, but accounts from several sages suggest that they can see through the eyes of Mekhet’s simplest zombies within an hour’s walk.
Kneph have forgone typical vocal communication because of the excess tissue wedged in their mouths. They are eerily silent creatures, capable only of uttering low gurgle. Instead, Mekhet has found it more effective for these master Undead to use hand signals that have been painstakingly imprinted upon their thralls’ neural tissues. These visual signals are combined with a more complex system of snaps and claps to create an efficient instructional language. This form of communication is enhanced by the Knepf’s multiple arms and allows for multiple commands across several groups of Undead simultaneously; thralls are “programmed” to look to their master frequently for instruction. A Knepf’s hands are always moving as they issue flurries of commands to nearby thralls, use the tools of their command, and employ their sensitive fingers to explore unfamiliar objects and environments.
If Ixatopf are Mekhet’s elite guard, Knepf are its valets. Their intelligence and cruel but servile nature make them invaluable to the Hag, both as personal servants and as overseers of other Undead. In keeping with this value, they are almost never encountered alone. Most have retinues of a dozen other creatures at minimum, but may just as easily be in the thick of a shambling tide of a thousand Undead. In comfortable surroundings, the creatures keep a number of Undead in each area like mobile furniture. These “accessories” allow the Knepf to live in utter blackness as it prefers, an inclination derived from both comfort and security. While rarely away from their master’s dominion, the Knepf behave similarly when unsupervised, creating dark underground lairs blanketed with motionless Undead servants. This usually occurs when Mekhet has to collect unpaid debts, and a Knepf is sent as the Hag’s representative in the resolution of the issue – along with several tons of macabre muscle. On such missions, the Knepf generally eschew the originally-agreed-upon restitution in favor of collecting the debtor’s soul.
At home, there are none in Hades that know the palaces of Mekhet better than the Knepf. Equipped with jealously-guarded magical pendants, they can enter through the forbidding outer walls just as their master does. These devices also allow them to track their Midnight Hag master within its demesne, a boon indeed in complexes that can approach the size of a mortal city. They appear, too, to have an unerring sense of direction, and cannot become lost – even the most complex mazes do not faze them, with or without the mental map provided by the senses of their subordinates. As intelligent and free-willed Undead, Knepf do not simply stand quiescent between commands, but rather wander in search of new places and objects that they have not yet seen; even considering their long existences, this seems less strange when one grasps the true breadth of a Mekhet’s empire. Knepf minds require stimulation, and when engaged in long, monotonous tasks, they are likely to tear apart other Undead for entertainment.
In battle, Knepf change from solicitous managers to untouchable terrors. The extent to which they are equipped for combat is impressive even by the standards of the militant Hellion System – they wield a number of weapons and devices seen nowhere else in the Universe. Their main weapon, the Hamgazh, resembles a military fork except for a complex reservoir at the butt designed to capture the souls of their foes. Though this attribute alone is enough to make Hamgazh formidable weapons, the captured souls are used to power still other devices and abilities. For the sake of convenience, Knepf are wont to drain the soul from a nearby Larva or lesser Undead rather than engaging an enemy combatant without a charged fork, and many carry a Larva inside their body cavities to be regurgitated for that purpose alone. A fully charged Hamgazh can unleash black arcs of Negative “electricity” upon mortal targets. This long-ranged attack prevents healing and diminishes the victim’s life force. The soul energy stored in the Hamgazh also powers a strange gun that creates large and durable bubbles from the Styx. These potent bubbles float about the battlefield and stun mortal enemies by removing the most recent moments of their memory. In retreat, Knepf often leave a wide slick of such Stygian froth on the ground to impede pursuit. The soul energy wielded through the Hamgazh is also employed by an ingenious adaptation of portal technology, colloquially called a “retaliator,” that redirects incoming physical attacks back upon the enemy. Arrows return to archers, spells are reflected upon their casters, and in one instance even a ballista bolt was sent back from whence it came. A comparable version of this technology is sometimes seen on Hellion warships.
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Though an unequipped Knepf is just as vulnerable to swords and flames as a mundane zombie, they are safe even naked – for none travels alone. Knepf are as adept as mortal generals in commanding their Undead servants, and know the abilities and weaknesses of their soldiery as intimately as they know their own. Most Hades Undead bear bone weapons of strange and unique. The Shaetemmu often trade for arms with other Outsiders, commonly receiving shields and specialized armor from the Daemon Paragons in exchange for Larval Souls. Knepf bear one or more such weapons like their subordinates, though they prefer their horrid forks.
The creatures are designed to lead other Undead. Their adhesive spittle is a strong salve for themselves and Thralls alike, able to reattach severed limbs and close gaping wounds. Strange, crystal-studded gauntlets can repair and enhance the Undead at a distance with the power of Negative energy that radiates therefrom. In dire straits, Knepf can use their powerful fists to pummel enemies and the poison that sprays forth from their fanged maws to blind or paralyze, but a Knepf that is alone and unarmed is more likely to flee than to fight – they are in the end managers, not warriors.
More often than not, Knepf are encountered in the business of soul trading or in the endless management of Mekhet’s mines and maggot gardens. In the rare event that Mekhet, its simulacra, or its domain comes under attack, Knepf will be deployed with their subordinates to defend their master. These defensive teams usually consist of Painanggal or other specialized sensory Undead, Draugr, Khabissol’s arachnoid mercenaries (such as Dark Vinegaroon or Solifugid) and any additional creatures that happen to be convenient to seeking the threat’s source. Knepf attack from deep shadow, preferring to open their hostilities with a blow from their fearsome fork. They may attempt to incapacitate the most powerful foe with dark electricity or to steal its soul and refill the reservoir of the Hamgazh, depending on circumstances. They usually wait to engage from behind while a foe is already hammer-and-tongs with their hulking heavies, and will retreat and start to blow Stygian bubbles after one successful opening strike. Their awareness and cunning make Kneph very tough to pin down or trick, but the would-be slayer is wise to note that a Kneph’s reaction time slows significantly when integrating with an Undead servant’s senses.
Knepfs’ services are a rare but valuable commodity, occasionally traded to a Daemon Paragon or Archdevil in exchange for precious information or valuable parts. Knepf are normally rented for one-year intervals and insured against damage. Khabissol, in particular, retains Knepf servants quite often in return for unclear consideration; sages of Outsider lore theorize that they run a tremendous undertaking, though whether that be the creation of an army, the assimilation of another of Gehenna’s moons, or some other task is hotly debated. Kneph are widely noted for their capacity as guard creatures, and frequently posted to hold keeps alongside the resurrected corpses of the enemy slain after Daemonic forces have deigned to move on from their conquests. One may be summoned by the savvy conjuror, but the spell will concurrently call the attention of the creature’s owner – and Mekhet will demand payment for its lost profit and inconvenience.