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The pig’s carcass hit the butcher’s block with a SLAM.  Marrow’s eyes shot open.  She had fallen asleep standing up.

“Get your ‘ead on straight, girly.  You may ‘ave been called up to the pitch last night but your arse is still a bloody butcher.  The work won’t bloody do its bloody self, so get fuckin’ choppin’!”

Every fiber of muscle in Marrow’s body hurt.  She slowly stumbled to the table, retying her apron around her back.  She stared at the corpse in front of her.  The pig was still warm.  It had been bled, but no one had taken the time to gut or skin the damned thing. 

Of course not, she scoffed.  Why would they when the bloody rook’s here to take care of it. 

“Every job ‘as its dues,” her mother would have said.  “Ain’t nothin’ so special ‘bout you as to make you skip payin’ yours.”

She took a skinning knife from her belt and ran its edge along an oiled whetstone.  The song of metal on stone filled the room, mixing with the low ringing in her ears.  In the ringing she heard the crowd.

She had never experienced anything like the roar of that crowd.  Since she was a child she had gone to the games and sat in those stands.  She had cheered herself hoarse for her team, the Butchers, but nothing, no Cup wins nor bitter defeats had prepared her for what it would be like on the pitch.  The ground shook from the cheers.  Her stomach was in her throat.  She had never been more scared in her entire life.  What did she think she was doing?  She was an alternate’s back up’s replacement, barely even a rookie!  But that night, the stars aligned.  Her team needed her, and she was not about to let them down.

Marrow cut in a circle around the pig’s anus, then used the bladed hook at the knife’s tip to slowly slice down the pig’s length, concentrating painstakingly on keeping her stiff hands steady.  One slip of the razor-sharp blade could puncture an intestine and ruin the meat.  She cut until her knife hit ribs, then reached in, and gently removed the offal.  The heart, liver, and stomach she set aside, the rest she dropped unceremoniously into a large bucket.

An intestine ruptured hitting the bucket and the room filled with a rank odor.  Marrow gagged, willing her meager breakfast to stay in her stomach.  The horrid stench hit her almost as hard as it had the night before.

The action on the pitch was too fast and brutal for Marrow to follow.  She had no idea how disorienting the real thing would be.  A quick save from Tenderizer was the only thing that saved her from committing the grave sin of an own goal.  The shame and embarrassment of what could have been still burned her cheeks. 

A few plays later and a chance to redeem herself was presented.  Grey-haired Ox charged Graves, stripping the ball from the Mortician and knocking him down.  Marrow was open and started running down the pitch.  Ox kicked, placing the ball perfectly in her path before returning to his butchery.  Marrow caught the ball and sprinted forward, but was hit by a solid wall of stench.  She collapsed in a heap, the ball scattered away and was recovered by the Union striker, Mist.  The stench got worse, and she lay on the ground retching while Mist effortlessly shot the ball past Tenderizer and into the Butcher’s goal, making the score ten to six.

A shadow fell over her.  Marrow looked up slowly.  A giant stood above her, a wooden coffin raised high over his head.  She rolled aside just in time as the pine box slammed into the ground next to her. 

Marrow shoved the noxious smelling bucket to the other side of the room.  Distance helped a little, but she still felt sick.  She pushed through and turned back to the carcass.  She slid the blade in a circle around a foot and began slicing gently down one leg.  A spasm ripped through her arm and her knife slipped, cutting deep.  Blood from an undrained artery splashed across her face, still warm.  She grinned, muscle pains forgotten.

Marrow looked down in shock at her white-knuckled hands, her knives hilt deep in the striker’s stomach.  Mist stared back at her, his haughty smirk replaced by a grimace of anguish.  His blood dripped from her brow.  Then she remembered.  The ball!  She glanced around and found it, just a few paces away.  The rest of the Morticians were descending on her, she had to act now.  She kicked her blades free and dodged away.  She recovered the ball and sprinted as fast as she could.  She was quickly surrounded, there was no way she could make it to the goal.  With a whistle, Shank appeared from the wings.  She saw a gap and kicked with every remaining ounce of strength.  The ball sailed through the oncoming Morticians right to Shank.  He leapt, and with a single deft movement, kicked the ball directly into the goal.  The crowd went wild.

A take out and an assist to win the game.  Marrow had never been so proud in her life.  A knock on the door shook Marrow from her memory.  She turned, expecting the supervisor.  Instead, she found herself face to face with the Captain himself, an ancient dog stood shadowlike next to him.  He stared at her, wordlessly. 

“Captain!  How can I help you, sir?”

The young Captain looked down at the dog besides him. 

“After your performance I had my reservations about bringing you up, Rook.  But Princess here convinced me otherwise.”

He grinned at her.

“Finish this pig and report to the practice field, Marrow.”  He took a step forward and patted her shoulder with a wink.  “Welcome to the Butchers.  It’s going to get much worse from here.”

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