I spend the next twenty-four hours in a state of the most perfect bliss I have ever known. Every little thing makes me happy: the free flexion of my knees and fingers, uninhibited by plaster cast or staples, like chipper little stirrings of cicadas coming out of hibernation; the smell of a pot of sublethal locker room coffee, denatured into something digestible by sugar and hell’s own fires and served early with a side of bacon and toast-ed butter; a fresh newspaper, sports page open to the headline WAIT WHAT; the little engraving of the elf coach on the sidelines, three goals in and just starting to process the concept of disappointment; Bugman’s attitude adjuster in serious quantities. But this was all window-dressing. Like all really worrisome ascetics, my happiness isn’t created by what I did so much as what I understand. Something about our victory, our sweet, glorious victory, was clear:
It was definitely a fluke.
I’d worked my not-inconsiderable ass off to bring that cup home, and the fact that we did bring it home was a travesty of statistics that had doubtless produced a couple really stupid millionaires. Our success against the elementally superior elf bastards proved that the God of Blood Bowl was real, active, and probably racist. We deserved to win it–and we really shouldn’t have. It was surely all downhill from here. Perfect. I have to tell the men about this.
“It’s like this,” I tell the team in my speech that afternoon. Their celebratory feast was by now blurring the line between event and lifestyle; in a sign of ultimate respect, they chew more quietly when I speak. “Odds are good we’re never going to win like that again.”
That might be appetite-soiling misery, or it might mean I should keep talking. I plunge forward:
“We just pulled a season-clinching victory, and the season that we clinched–was the Clean Cup. You beat out some no-account elves to the worst trophy in the sport since Ragmar Bagmar stopped handing out brass hedgehogs to the players with the biggest athletic supporters. And that’s incredible. You won some fans for life. Me. My legs. My fingers. I could go on.”
Big eyes blink owlishly. Pervince swallows his mouthful.
“So now we’re moving on. I’m taking us to the next league. You know what that means?”
“A bigger trophy,” says Pervince.
“Close! It means you’re meatball-flavored chewtoys in the doghouse of the damned. It means your bodies are about to be reinvented as slushy maracas. It means you’re pudgy marshmallows who’ve slipped the skewers of mediocrity and leapt roaring into the white-hot fires of the Marginally Bigger Leagues. It means those teams out there are going to whip you so hard the cream in your bodies will froth out your ears and crown you like a blood strudel.” I throw them a thumbs-up. “You never should have made it this far! Congratulations, everyone. Just thought I’d give fair warning.”
“Why are you saying this?” says Pervince. “We’re going to keep trying to win out there!”
“Yes! You should. But you see–before, you had something to prove. Well, you proved it! You proved it, and I’m not even sure it was factually true. So from here on out it’s all delicious gravy. Nothing’s at stake anymore.”
“Everything’s still at stake,” he says.
“No, no, you don’t get it. It’s over!” This is great. He doesn’t quite get it. All I need to do is explain it really carefully and he’ll realize how smart I am and how whatever he’s upset about is stupid. “You were supposed to be sticking it to the elves, and you did, and now you’re done. You got your revenge. Now you get to relax and enjoy your careers without feeling like you’re a failure just because you lose the occasional–“
Pervince gets up and leaves the locker room. He leaves his food behind.
“Oh,” I say.
There’s a saying in coaching circles: “Never address your team while steaming drunk–or else you’ll end up sounding like that idiot who bought the halflings.” I never said it was a venerable saying.
I’m caught just a little bit off guard to discover, through my assistant coach, we’ve acquired…fans? It seems too familiar and humanizing a word. “Fan” speaks to scarves in team colors, good-natured foghorn voices bellowing the rhymes that aren’t too hard to remember, maybe the occasional petty crime that serves Spirit like a motivational speech drives a cavalry charge to nowhere. Blood Bowl fans tend to run the gamut from rougher folks of this kidney to the enthusiastically depraved. Our fans were the first group ground gingerly over heaping bowlfuls of the second.
“Kill!” I hear one yell down from the stands the next day. “Kill, you fucking cowards! Do not deny the beasts within you any longer! You! Take hold of the enemy before you and crush his throat with your bare hands!”
It’s a practice scrimmage.
“Should, heavens forbid, any of you perish,” calls another, “might I trouble y’all to sign over your feet hair as part of a revolutionary new wig oppor–“
“I have forseen this goal!” cries a halfling in the front row. “The Overarch wills it! All according to plan!“
“Excuse me,” mutters a wan fellow tucked, with his mute and hungry wife, in the remotest corner of the bleachers. “Are you…are you gonna beat any more elves today, mister?”
“It’s just practice.”
“So…what if we…got you some elves? Could you, you know, give them a seeing-to?”
“What kind of elves?”
“Well…we’re 1/16 elf, so…”
“So you are quickly re-evaluating the steps that have brought you to this point, excellent, enjoy watching the practice and for good luck I’m going to need you to never speak with me again.”
I look over the roster of big ugly bastards we’ll be facing this next month or so. What had I said yesterday? Whatever it was, it was probably true.
We could lose all these matches and it’d be nothing to be ashamed of. We’d already proved what we’d had to prove, right?
I mean. I had.
“Amazons,” I say. “Well, at least they’ll get disillusioned fast.”
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