The image of the pyres was still burned into the back of his eyes and he could see them as clearly as if he were there again, blazing against the impenetrable blackness of the night sky. Palls of smoke had filled the air and his blackened lungs could even now barely draw breath. In quiet moments his ears still rang with the screams of dwarfs, elves and men, piled sometimes eight or ten high, burning alive.
The Dhawii Zharr Rockets certainly knew how to celebrate a victory.
It was the night after the Pink Horrors’ final game of the season, the night after they had been denied a place in the league play-offs, the night that Coach Lysenko was being dragged to see the thing in the Skin Tent for the very last time...
The man-goat pulling him along suddenly hoisted him off the sodden ground by his chains and threw him through the heavy flaps of the tent. He shuddered, knowing that every inch of that tent’s material had once been the skin of one of his predecessors. Now it was nothing more than tanned hide, sewn roughly together by the hands of who-knew-what.
On reflection, the coach didn't think he’d done too badly this season. After all, his team had only lost three games out of ten. But sadly for Coach Lysenko, he thought to himself as he landed face-first before the broiling fire, whatever thing which dwelled beneath the heavy, mouldering robes opposite him didn't take stock in numbers and statistics. He, as he was named, reckoned in blood and offal and things which no mortal could count without going mad.
And, imagined the coach, He would not be happy.
The Horrors had been thrown from the outset. Looking at their opponents lined up at the start of the match, the Dhawii Zharr Rockets seemed like little more than huge beards in tall hats, carried awkwardly on stumpy legs. What they sadly found once the fists started flying was that the Chaos Dwarfs were tough. Really tough. In the end, it was only the Oozing Gash who managed to use his Warrior’s strength to garrotte one of their hairy rivals with his escaping innards. It wasn't long before Ermintrude the minotaur was knocked out cold and had decided, on reflection, that even he was out of his depth and perhaps he should spend the rest of the game recuperating.
Despite receiving the ball in the first half, no matter how hard the Horrors tried, they simply could not get it down the field. It was a long and slow grind through the centre of the dwarf line, ending in dispossession and a sigh of relief at half-time that the Rockets hadn't managed to sneak ahead before the break.
The Horrors were two players down at the start of the second half, facing a nigh-unstoppable team. They couldn't help feeling that this was exactly the situation that the term ‘damage control’ was invented for. The Chaos team put up a good job of defending, but in the end couldn't stop Centaur Moomin Papa from smashing through their line and scoring.
Even as the Cloven Elf, the Horrors’ star man-goat, prepared to snatch up the ball after the resulting kick-off, Coach Lysenko could see the ref checking his hourglass and putting the whistle to his lips.
Coach Lysenko’s time was up; the match and the League were over.
And now, here he sat, staring upwards, watching billows of thick smoke escaping through the smoke-hole of a tent made out of hewn skin; a tent of which his own skin would soon be a part of. Indeed, he had to admit, Blood Bowl could be a funny old game.
The man-shaped shroud of robes behind the dancing flames shifted, grew taller.
‘YOU. HAVE. FAILED.’
The coach thought about speaking, but before the words had even reached his lips, a clawed fingers appeared from beneath the robes and pressed itself where Lysenko could only imagine the creature’s mouth to be.
The coach’s lips snapped tightly shut and he looked up to the hole in the roof, imagining his own dismembered face staring down.
‘YOU HAVE ANGERED GODS. ALL OF THEM. THAT NOT EASY, EVEN FOR BILLY-PLUMB TICKLER LIKE YOU.’
Lysenko didn’t dare speak. He just whimpered instead.
‘VERY DISAPPOINTING.’ Was he..? Yes, He seemed to be slowly shaking his head. ‘I AFRAID... WE...’
Here it comes, the coach thought. A sad end to a mediocre coaching career.
‘WE... GOING TO HAVE TO FIRE YOU.’
Finally, Lysenko broke his silence. ‘But wait! Wait! Hang on, you don’t – What?’
‘WE MUST FIRE YOU.’
‘Fire me? Is that all?’ Lysenko laughed. ‘Fire me! Phew! I thought for a minute there, you know –‘
The coach pointed up at the smoke-hole. ‘I thought you were going to stick me up there!’
The creature He laughed. It was a rare and uncomfortable sound.
‘YOU? NO! ONLY BEST COACHES ADORN MY MAGNIFICENT TENT!’
‘Really? Oh, well, glad to disappoint you then I suppose...’ Lysenko clambered to his feet, which was tricky, chained as he was. ‘I’ll just be off then...’
The coach hopped about-face, trying not to trip over his ankle chains only to find himself face-to-face with the Oozing Gash. Lysenko tried to conceal his shock with a surprised grin.
‘WHERE YOU GOING, ‘COACH’?’ sneered He.
Lysenko turned around to see, for the very first time, the thing in the Skin Tent standing – or at least as best it could in the confines of the tent. Despite being hunched forwards as it was forced to be, the (former) coach could tell that the creature beneath the robes must have been twice the size of a man, if not more.
Lysenko’s heart began to race. Something felt very wrong.
‘But I thought...’ he pleaded.
‘GASH. FIRE HIM.’
The Warrior was faster than he looked. Before Lysenko knew it, Gash had looped a length of his fetid intestines around the coach’s neck and had pulled it tight. Lysenko gasped for breath, clawing at the slippery entrails that were throttling him. A huge, meaty fist grasped his hair and the Warrior pushed down hard. Lysenko’s legs buckled under the force and he found his face just inches from the dancing blue flames of the fire.
He knew it would be useless to struggle, but then what else was there to do? He tried to grab Gash’s hands, to claw at his very flesh if he had to, but dripping as they were with the pus from countless weeping sores, his own feeble grip just slid away from them.
All the while, he was being inched closer and closer to the searing coals, He’s laughter ringing in his ears as his cheek began to blister and crack. The coach could do nothing but cry out in pain and hope that the end would come quickly...
But as with most things this season, the end didn't come quite how he expected.
TO BE CONTINUED...!