A Hunka Hunka….
Smiler felt a huge knuckle prod at his shattered ribs; he couldn’t stifle a moan as the sharp fragments of bone grated on his insides. If he believed in the Gods he would’ve prayed that this beast ate only dead flesh, instead he made do with wishing it did. More than once he’d survived by playing dead, laying silent and still while his noisier comrades were ripped apart and feasted upon by their conquerors. More than once he’d survived by being the first to turn and run, leaving his slower comrades to die in the storm of teeth and claws that came exploding from beneath. He wished that he’d felt this storm coming sooner. The earth rumbled under his feet but before he could run the ground collapsed beneath him. As his stomach rose he saw a cracks spreading out all around him, the ground swallowing half of his platoon in a ragged hole forty strides across. Before he could brace himself he slammed into the ground at the bottom of the pit, the ribs along the left side of his back took the full force of the fall and Smiler felt each one shatter into his lung. He tried to move but the pain nailed him to the ground. His vision blurred as he fought to retain consciousness. He could hear his platoon screaming all around him. Then the ground began to shake again. The beasts charging through their tunnels to find their quarry, like spiders rushing to a struggling fly trapped in their web. The deep rumbling was followed by the beast’s high pitched screeching. Echoing, amplified and regurgitated by the tunnels, it started a flood of panic among the men trapped in the pit. Smiler gritted his teeth and began to crawl. He wasn’t sure where he was crawling to, but the screeching had awakened within him an inescapable drive to run away.
The first beast erupted from the ground somewhere behind Smiler. As it burst from the earth its echoing screeches became low hungry growls. Dust and stones showered down on Smiler. A nearby scream was silenced by a wet ripping sound, a warm wet spray landed on Smiler’s arm and neck. The sweet smell of blood corrupted and turned poison by the smell of shit, bile and fear. Panic turned his slow dragging crawl into a desperate scrabble to find any kind of shelter or protection. He took a deep breath and managed to get to his feet and start walking. Across the pit he saw salvation. Karron, his katana a shimmering silver mist around him was coming to save him. As he breathed out the shards of bone pinched into his lungs and guts, Smiler’s vision swam and he fell as if he’d been pole-axed.
The knuckle prodded him again, only it wasn’t a knuckle it was Karron. His face flushed, a thick yellow splattering of beast blood coating him from head to toe.
“My battle Father has become my battle brother. Each born when saved by the other. From this day to the end of days let it be known that we are now joined by blood. I am honoured to have a new brother called Smiler..”
“Smiler!” another prod, harder this time “SMILER!” a hefty kick to his ribs followed.
His head still swam from the pain in his ribs. He smelled smoke and roasting meat. Who was cooking in battle? He smelled vomit, felt it cold and sticky on his cheek. How long had he been unconscious? Why was there a wooden floor in the pit?
Smiler’s alcohol fueled dream faded as he awoke to find himself lying in a pool of his own vomit on the inn floor. The air was filled with smoke and the unmistakable odour of burning meat.
Smiler felt someone pulling on his arm “WAKE. UP. YOU. DRUNK. FUCK!!!” each word punctuated with a solid thump in his aching ribs.
Kye was sobbing between each shouted word. Smiler’s eyes slowly opened to see their newest recruit in a fit of rage. He was shaking uncontrollably, breaths coming in short panting bursts. The hair was gone from the front of his head, in its place a red and weeping sore, charred black around the edges. Both arms were blackened, blood oozing from deep black cracks in the flesh. His nightshirt hung in smouldering tatters around him. Before Smiler’s eyes Kye stopped shaking, all traces of his rage disappeared and his face settled into a gentle smile.
“Karron…” he managed to say in between silent shallow breaths. “Karron…”
The drunken fog raced from Smiler’s thoughts as he sprinted up to the room he was supposed to have shared last night. The air was thick with choking black smoke, the unmistakable smell of Kopanese lamp oil mixed with burning meat. Smiler fought back his primal urge, took a deep breath and ran to the burning room. The heat increased with every step he took along the corridor and as he stepped in front of the doorway his hair ignited. Inside the room Smiler saw Hell. The tight white flames of the oil clinging to a burning log, so bright it hurt to look at it. Orange flames, loud and wild coating every other surface in the room, black smoke and incredible heat billowing everywhere . Smiler inched into the room, where was Karron?
Under the log he caught a glimpse of something. His eye darted to it, recognition flashed but disappeared before he could grasp it. He struggled to open his eyes in the heat, but he must find Karron. He was his battle brother, he was the reason he was still alive, he was the finest man he’d ever known. He was the only person who accepted Smiler; he was the only person Smiler had ever loved. Like a bolt of lightning recognition of the glimpse hit Smiler. It was the tip of Karron’s katana. Karron only ever drew his blade for battle, Smiler assumed he polished and sharpened his blade but he’d never seen it done. When it was drawn the blade was never still, it flurried and surged around Karron. Enveloping him like a filigree silver net, protecting him like a wall of Greenskin Iron. Karron was his blade. The blade was Karron. Why was it left poking out from under a burning log?
Beaten by the heat and smoke Smiler retreated from the infernal blaze. He beat out the flames on his hair and clothes as he ran from the room. He looked at his charred clothes and skin. He was in agony but he knew from experience that meant he was alive. When wounds didn’t hurt or just felt warm, that was when you were closest to death.
Smiler raced back down the stairs just in time to see Kye fall in a heap on the floor