Sweat stung Salit’s eyes as he staggered through the steamy jungle undergrowth. Blood seeped from deep gouges across his back and he gritted his teeth against the pain of each step as his brother’s unconscious body slipped in his grasp. He knew he couldn’t give up, to do so would be death for not only him, but Tamen too.
That morning’s excitement felt like a different lifetime. To be chosen for the hunt was the greatest honour that could be blessed upon a son of the tribe – and it had been their honour. Now it was a desperate race, blood-soaked and relentless, through the sweltering jungle for survival.
His own wounds were nothing compared to Tamem’s. Pausing to catch his breath he laid his brother on the ground. Tamen cried out, his eyes briefly flickering open. His brother’s hands pawed at the gaping canyon that split his stomach. A sea of scarlet flooded from the wound, a lump of his guts peeking through his skin.
It was a killing wound, a sure death. Salit knew that. A long and painful death too. It would be kinder to grant him the mercy of the afterlife. Salit knew that too, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not to his twin.
A predatory screech cut through the jungle, echoing from the impossibly tall trunks of ancient trees.
Salit turned, stepping in front of his brother, hands gripping his stone-tipped spear tight. He nervously scanned the wall of foliage before him as a hand drifted to the amulets at his neck. His fingers curled around a specific one, its spiked circular shape and cold material feeling alien in his hands, at odds with the bone carvings that made up the rest of the necklace.
A monster stepped into the clearing with him—a Reptilian hunter from mankind’s earliest nightmares. Taller than even the Sky Warriors, it moved on powerful hind legs that ended in hooked talons. Bony spikes erupted from its scaled skin – running in a spine from the crest of its head down to its tail.
It began to circle to his right. Salit noticed blood seeping from a wound in its chest, the snapped remnants of Tamen’s spear protruding from its flesh. Despite the frantic beating of his heart and slick palms, Salit smiled: his brother’s earlier courage was giving them a chance.
‘Sky Warriors, grant me your fury!’ He rushed forward. The raptor screeched in reply and leapt to meet him.
Impossibly fast, its head weaved past the point of his spear and barrelled into him. Salit felt his spear sink into its flesh, even as jaws closed on his arm. Teeth ripped through flesh and he felt them grind against bone. He cried out as the raptor shook him, tearing his grip from his spear. Blinded by pain, Salit lashed out with his remaining good arm, fists beating uselessly against his tormentor’s hide.
With a savage twist, Salit was flung to the floor. Vision foggy, he stared defiantly back at the raptor. Twin spears jutted from its chest, and yet still it stood. Salit groped around frantically until his fingers brushed across the sharp edge of a rock.
With a call of triumph, the raptor stepped over him, its hooked talons digging into his thigh. Salit grunted to hide the pain as it lowered its head to meet his gaze. The rancid smell of raw meat and blood filled his nostrils.
‘Die!’ Salit swung the rock with all the force he could muster. Blood splattered across his face as the raptor’s eye exploded. He swung again and again. The monster screeched as it stumbled back, its talons ripping his leg open.
Salit forced himself to his feet, the bloody rock shaking in his grasp. He screamed, an incoherent torrent of rage and pain, as he hobbled towards the wounded raptor. Blinded, teeth broken and smashed on one side, and blood flowing from the spear embedded in its chest, it replied with an ear-piercing screech before fleeing back into the jungle.
Salit collapsed as it disappeared from sight. Pain flooded his body and he closed his tearful eyes. He wanted it all to end, to be over. But he knew he couldn’t stop now. He had to save his brother.
Salit stared at the figures emerging from the stone circle up ahead. The Sky Warriors had come to meet them, giants with armour the colour of dried blood, save for the charcoal of their shoulders and helmets.
‘I did it,’ he whispered as he slumped to the ground. Tamen’s limp body fell alongside him. With one arm, he had dragged him to the meeting point. The Sky Warriors would see their worth now and raise them to their ranks. Save them. They had to.
One of the giants called out, but Salit understood none of it. It was no language he’d ever heard, the voice unnaturally deep.
‘I did it,’ he whispered again.
The giants parted as another approached. This one wore no red, only black, save for the skeletal visage of his mask. The ground shook as he approached. Salit stared at the symbol on the giant’s shoulder, the same as the strange one on his necklace: a toothed circle with a drop of blood in the centre.
It was the last thing he saw as his vision drifted to black.
Brother-Chaplain Varial stared down at the pair of aspirants lying at his feet. His scanners detected only the faintest signs of life in one of them. Assessing the wounds, it was clear they would need extensive augmentics to survive. Despite the commendable stubbornness the surviving one had shown to get back, those who failed the trials would not get that treatment.
Varial shook his head as he pulled his bolt pistol from its holster. No, they would not become Flesh Tearers.
‘Son of Cretacia, I bring you His Mercy.’ He pulled the trigger.m
About the Author
J.S. Savage is a teacher in the UK and has been an avid of all things 40k and Warhammer Fantasy since he accidently found his way into a Games Workshop store as a young boy. When he was younger, he was a keen writer but has only just started up again recently. Between work and being a parent, he doesn’t get nearly enough time to paint, read and write as much as he would like – or as much sleep as he needs!