That's it! You finally landed a job. Those who said a former blitzer with more concussions than games played could never recycle can now suck it! You're a traveling salesman - or at least an apprentice one. Oh, you're aware that the company you're working for has some kind of sulfurous reputation, but one has to start somewhere.
Out of training, this is your first mission flying solo and you're decided to make the most out of it. Even if your supervisor said that in the actual conditions, bringing back one customer would be a victory, you don't want to keep the bar low. It's not because one's a novice traveling to a third rate Blood Bowl game in the back end of Sylvania's backwaters that one cannot be professional.
As you dust off from a long ride on rambling cart, you set your bag on your shoulder and walk decidedly towards what looks like a circus, or an Underworld encampment. Your first stop is what can only be the drinking tent, in regard of the noise emanating from it. After all, how hard could it be to distribute some leaflets and a couple of sales pitches to a bunch of drunks in a traveling honky-tonk? As you duck in, the peals of laughter, crackling of castanets and guitar riffs was over you. Fiddling with your satchel and preparing to get your leaflets out, you swear to yourself that Bargain Boozer's Armor Emporium will never make that much clientele from a single sales trip after this day!
- Underworld's hideaway... olé! -
Hey, you. Yes you. You can seat here if you want, I will make room for you on the bench. What’s that in your satchel? Are you mad, lad? Put those leaflets away fool, if you want to escape this tent alive. I know this place does not look like much, but they still have their pride! I offered you to seat with me so I look like I have a drinking partner and be more conspicuous, not the other way around. Why? Don’t ask, it's too long to explain. Just get something to drink. A menu? Ahaha, no. Just get hold of one of the serving goblins that move around, it will tell you what they have to offer. What am I drinking myself? I am not quite sure. I was trying to communicate behind the bar but they would shut down any of my requests. I told them to stop giving me old fashioned looks and that got them all snickering. Now I am set with what looks like some whiskey with a citrus rind. Between you and I, I quite like it.
First time in an Underworld drinking tent? Me as well. It is apparently a tradition for them to move with the whole shebang when playing their games away: tents for eating, tents for sleeping, tents for drinking, tents for fu... You catch my drift. I had heard rumors about it but it is my first time to personally witness the madness of an Underworld drinking tent: Skavens behind the bar, Goblins working the room, they even have Trolls in the kitchens! If you pay enough for your roasted meat, one of them will come out to sprinkle it with warpstone salt for you, they call him the “Salt Bae”. They know how to put on a show for the crowd.
Yes. Warpstone is really their thing. And it must be quite something to be able to unite Goblins and Skavens. Did you know that the first Underworld teams came out of the jungle of Southern Khuresh? It was because only Goblins and Skavens were mad enough to venture in there and get the warpstone meteorite fragments that pepper the wilderness. They say warpstone uses are endless: from chemistry catalyst to table salt. It for sure made them thirsty: I’ve seen Skavens speakeasies but Underworld really cranked the booze religion up to 11. I have heard stories of strange rituals in the ruins of a city long reclaimed by the jungle. A cult of Underworld high priests, always sober, takes the advice of several oracles, always drunk and high on warpstone, and write down their obscure divagations. Sorry, divinations. That's where their insane knowledge of bartending supposedly comes from. They call the scroll where it is written “Scroll 22”. Why? Who knows with them stoners…
How do I know all of this? I heard that during my time in Cathay. Yes, I lived in Cathay; until not so long ago in fact. How I ended over there? Well… it’s kind of a long story…
- East/West, a cautionary tale on shanghaiing -
You see, after traveling for a while, I was back in my native Bretonnia but the place quickly became too small again. I had to take to the sea once more. So, one day, I ended up on the docks of Bordeleaux, my trunk at my feet and a small capital, earned through a small venture in the hospitality business, in my pocket. I was perusing the list of departing ships when a local bourgeois came to ask me where I was trying to go. I did not offer him anything more than a vague answer and he offered an apology before explaining himself.
He was Joe Kelly, a gentleman trader hailing from a small colony of the New World. He was in Bordeleaux to negotiate some deals about wine imports destined to the local nobility across the ocean. Only a couple of weeks away from securing a supply of famous Bretonnian vintages, he needed to send news back home to warn his partners. So, if I was heading to Arnheim, maybe I could do him a favor and carry a letter. He also offered to introduce me to a captain sailing in that direction no later than the next day. Said captain, Maxwell Crimp, was having dinner in a nearby inn. Still wary, I accepted to meet up with the captain, who turned out to be a rather humorless fellow sat in front of a rather sad dish of mutton.
He confirmed that he was sailing on the morrow and was accepting passengers, especially gentlemen like myself. After sharing the most horrible dish of roast mutton I ever had - ill-fed, ill-killed, ill-kept and ill-dressed - I made my mind about the captain: humorless but serious and honest. I decided to tempt fate and signed the passenger manifest before the captain returned to his vessel, preparing to leave the next day. The sieur Kelly then offered me the letter I was to carry in his name, plus another he had just written to introduce me to his circle of business-minded friends. Then he ordered a couple of rounds of wine to celebrate, and I did the same, and then it was his turn again and then ...
When I woke up the next day, I was still lying on the table and prodded by the stick of a dock officer. Behind him captain Crimp was looking at me in his typical humorless fashion. The official screamed at me about impressment. I tried to explain the situation to him but could not lay my hands on any of my possessions: trunk, letter, money… they were all gone. Captain Crimp then waved a paper stating I had enrolled as a volunteer sailor on his ship. It showed my signature at the bottom. The situation was ludicrous.
Denial only brought more stick prodding. Arguing and anger at the discovery of being the victim of a scam only brought screams from the innkeeper, the docks officer and the captain, in addition to more stick whacking. Trying to snatch the evil bludgeon off only landed me a vicious beating and I was barely conscious of being carried by a couple of longshoremen to the ship. There, lying on the deck and trying to recover from the beating as the ship lifted anchor, I learned we were not even sailing to the New World as previously advertised, but to a distant city in Cathay: Shanghai.
- The literary forays of Gentleman Xhoni -
Yes, those were not the best way to travel, I'll give you that. Alas, crimps seem to be in line with the sort of fellow my life makes me gravitate around. Oh, I’ve met a couple of prime men in my travels, don’t get me wrong. But rogues, blackguards, villains and other rakes are apparently destined to fill up my life. Here’s another example.
It became common knowledge that the Guild of Bandits (and associated trades) decided to sponsor the Tempelhof Vampire team, the Land Sharks. Of whom I have the dubious honor to be the official coach as well as unofficial perpetually aggravated man. The Guild patrons many a squad in the Blood Bowl world, but few have been selected for their off-the-pitch activities, such as the Land Sharks. Which comes with its perks and handicaps.
You see, the dastardly deeds of the Sharks off the pitch originally became first known in well-informed circles, then rumors started to seep in the “civilian” world. Which did not seem to faze the players at all. After all who would be mad enough to pick a beef with a criminal network-backed bloodsucking sociopath who weekly enters a Blood Bowl pitch for shits and giggles? Especially once backed by the all-powerful Guild of Bandits. But it also gave the boys a few… less than brilliant ideas.
The story of Gentleman Xhoni pirating Bloodweiser stocks and babes had apparently been making rounds around taverns. Which led to a few wannabe scumbags to turn to the Guild in order to learn how to pull that trick off. Which now led our Gentleman Xhoni to decide it was time to capitalize on his infamy. With the help and the know-how of one of our Thralls well versed in printing presses, they created a new meta take on their “Mystery Shopping” trick.
They went on and printed the “Gentleman Xhoni Guide to Party Trains”. From what I heard it contained a few tips on which industries to target, how to do such and a list of items one would need to pretend to be a mystery shopper. They then let know such “kits” existed for interested fellows. Which drew in a bunch of low-level crooks more than ready to spend a few bucks on a guide to become rich. Let’s just say that the proceeds were… appreciable. The Guild took his cuts, and the boys partied. The story could have ended there. But why would it?
The problems started to rack up when said buyers tried to pull off the trick themselves and got arrested in droves. Some of them even tried to pull that one on Chaos Dwarves in order to get some stout barrels… Let’s just say they couldn’t escape that one with their kneecaps and all their fingers… The regular waves of arrests and complaints was what got the Guild heads pissed off. Ripping off other crooks was clearly sailing the gray areas of dishonor among thieves. And this stunt generated way too much public attention. For, after all, the Guild is not unlike insurances company: they like to reap their premium on a regular basis, but do not enjoy when the public eye turns to them. So they got mad at the Sharks, which means mad at me, and then the Underworld game happened…
- Facing the Denizens from Down Under -
So there I was: the boys on the tear once more and the Guild rather pissed off and on my back. The past few weeks, following the sponsorship, the Guild had had its share of our winnings, per our agreement, but they now wanted more to compensate for the stupid stunts of Gentleman Xhoni.
Which meant I had the pleasure of another breakfast chat with Anton Crantz, the local Guild spokesman, his glass of awful local white wine and unbearable lip smacking. His statement was simple: the Guild wanted return on investment on top of penalties. With the behavior of the teams off the pitch and only two victories at our credit during the previous weeks, it was time to deliver. Or else. Luckily for me our next opponents were a team of Underworld denizens, lurking at the bottom of the rankings. Easy.
On game day, the Underworld team started on offense, planning to take advantage of their two hard-hitting blitzers and their particularly nimble thrower. But with a perfect defense from the Vampires, the match seemed to start on the good foot for the bloodsuckers.
A few blocks later one thrall already had decided to rest on the sideline, while the Denizens sneaked their way past the aggressive Vampire defense. With a one-two combination, the thrower tossed the ball to a rat dashing towards the endzone. His fall and fumble on the last step gave me hope, but the ball stayed inbound, and he quickly stood up to score.
Vampires then went on a scrappy offense to equalize, losing Ping in a Poke in the process. But who cares, the lad couldn’t even write his name properly on the sign up form. Denizens, on the other hand, seemed to be made of rubber and bounce back off Vampire blocks.
The second half seemed promising, despite the rampant case of rubber Goblins. Until the midden hit the windmill: the bloodsuckers decided that half-time oranges were not enough and plunged into thralls neck faster than Eldril Sideliner to the CAS box. With players out of position, the ball was only lazily protected by a half cage...The stadium went silent at the view of the Underworld reaction, sensing a turning point in the game. This is the moment when the Underworld mercenary wizard decided to strike. Calling a lightning bolt on the ball carrier, he made him crumple to the ground and the ball bounced loose. The Underworld coach did not let the opportunity slip by and ordered his players to submerge our formation. A few moments later the ball was in their hands, out of reach of the fragmented Land Sharks.
2-1 for the Underworld from Down Under. Game done.
The locker room atmosphere was rather morose as you can imagine and I did not linger on as the players planned their after-game orgy out of habit more than passion. A letter addressed to me was pinned on our locker room door. The curt message stated that Anton Crantz would be expecting me at the Firefly, posthaste.
So. If you please, I am now going to get meticulously drunk and pray they do not come around looking for me.