Working as a notary clerk for some rich Empire merchant you are regularly sent across the Old World to iron pesky details out of trading contracts. For your first mission in Sylvania, you are sent to a series of local towns. As you arrive to Tempelhof you can hear the finishing cries of a Blood Bowl game and look for a place to stay before the sun goes down.
The Club Firefly is noted as one of the best plac to stay, in the "Smart Salesman Traveling Guide". Heading there you find a crowd already filling the place up, but the staff quickly finds you a place a the table of a man conscientiously tackling his diner plate.
- Club Firefly: home in Tempelof, Sylvania-
Hm? Sorry friend I did not hear you clearly, I was attending a Chorf concert last week and my hearing is not quite back yet. Sure, take the seat. Hope you don’t mind if I finish my plate while you get your order. Any recommendations? Well… You’re in Sylvania so I wouldn’t expect culinary miracles, you know. Still the ham and cabbage are decent if that is your sort of thing. Local beer is decent but nothing cloe to a Chorf stout. Wine is good, just do not order any white, trust me on that one.
What brings you to Western Sylvania? I hope you’re not here soliciting any real-estate business, honhonhon! Sorry, just a local joke. A first timer then? Well if I have to give you any advice is to stay around here only as long as it takes to finish your business. Avoid villages, they never see foreigners and are as likely to chase you out as to burn you at the stake. No joke here. Cities are endurable, if you don’t mind the lingering damp and the looming castles. That is a sight you will not miss, Vampire sure like their castles.
Me? Oh, I’m sort of stuck here. Local Blood Bowl coach, as it happens. Yes sir, I have the dubious owner of wearing the twofold hat of owner and coach of the Land Sharks. Yes it’s a local Vampire team and, before you ask, no we’re neither famous nor successful.
The players are from around Lahmia but decided to settle here in Tempelhof before the start of the season. Apparently the town didn’t have any team since the Tempelhof Tyrants decided to become the Drakenhof Despots a few season back. Which might explain how the local authorities let us set up here and the population keeps cheering on despite the meager results.
On the plus side, that makes me some kind of local figure now. Which as the double advantage to keep the bloodsuckers away for the moment, and let me stay here at the Club Firefly when not on the road with the players. Not bad as far as gentlemen clubs go: the bar at the front, a large dining room with leather chairs and solid tables, parlors in the back and rooms upstairs.
Food and drinks are decent if somewhat unimaginative, this is as close as home as a place can be for me. And trust me, I’ve seen my share of roadhouses, taverns and inns. I’ll confess this one kind of grows on me and I like the staff’s deference. Plus they let me run a tab as long as an Imperial decree. Which is handy when you have to forget you crossed path with High Elves…
- A shift on the Shifting Isles -
You see, few things aggravate me more than High Elves. Scoundrels for one, but we’ll get back to that later. Blood Bowl in general is another one. Necromantic teams and Nurgle teams in particular. Chorf teams as well…
Alright, alright! Let’s just say High Elves have a special place on that list. It’s sort of a long story between them and yours truly.
After a rather uninteresting Bretonnian youth spent between wheat fields and Blood Bowl pitches, I managed to get out of there by the classic way: signing up on a ship. I quickly discovered that I was not much of a sailor; which did not help when a pirate out of Sartosa captured us for the grain we transported. My fists did some bargaining and, instead of walking the plank, landed me on Sartosa proper, where I saw my fair share of exotic situations. Which ship did I sail on there? The Lofty Fin, hahaha! Ah, yeah you could not understand that one either… It was a transport barge re-purposed as - you guessed it - a Blood Bowl pitch.
Anyway, after a few years of working into Blood Bowl event planning, I finally managed to accumulate a small capital and paid my way on a smuggler ship, onwards to the New World Colonies. Only I never arrived and instead was tossed overboard during a storm, and I'm pretty sure I drowned to crown everything. But as my luck would have it, I washed away somewhere on the Shifting Isles and that was my first proper contact with High Helves, or Asurs as they call themselves.
You see the Shifting Isles are a strange mix of islands off Ulthuan, the land of High Elf kingdoms. You find islands of all sorts: some mere glorified sand banks, other carrying sharp and steep volcano peaks. The whole area is almost permanently shrouded in mist, which already makes them a nightmare to sail around.
But the real kicker is that islands actually shift places; no one knows why and how, but it happens. You could be looking at the vague shadow of a neighboring peak for weeks until one day you get nothing but waves and fog to gaze upon. Most isles are deserted for what I gathered, while other hosts temples, altars and all manners of religious artifacts. Some are also used as garrison places, and this is on such place that I landed.
I apparently washed up somewhere south of the kingdom of Eataine, on a small island home to an old volcano, a colony of seagulls and a bored garrison of Seaguards. I say bored because that’s how they come of, most of the time you know. And yes, before you ask, High Elves are everything you heard: tall, thin, long white hair, fair skin and pointy ears. Strong, agile, smart and wise; but they don’t like to speak anything else than their own language so it does not really come out. Plus they consider us humans as something between unruly puppies at best and dangerous lunatics at worse. Which does not help for communication.
But I quickly learned that Elves do love their Blood Bowl, as everyone does apparently.
- Once more onto the pitch! -
Until they decided what to do with me, I was parked with a crew of Nipponese that had apparently washed up in a similar fashion a few weeks before me. They called us flotsam. We were locked in some old barracks at night and had the run of the central yard during the day, as long as we didn’t keep underfoot. Two meals a day, mostly something fished from the sea, and only the spectacle of Seaguards in their gorgeous armor to break the monotony of the succeeding days among permanent fog.
The Seaguards used to patrol the shore daily, practice their passing game in the yard before dinner and sometimes sing on certain night, always sad melancholic songs that tugged at your heart. But once a week, they lined us up in the yard for Blood Bowl practice: no melancholic chants then, but cheers and grunts all around.
Our team captain was named Shiryu, a Nipponese pirate that was the crew’s quartermaster. Years of sailing around Nippon gave him a knack to devise convoluted plans and strategies. Me? I had learned a few things during my days in Bretonnia and Sartosa, but the Nipponese only had slightly less disdain for me than the Elves had.
That’s how I was inevitably tasked with trying to hold up a Seaguard or two on the far side of the play. Have you tried to keep hold of Elves on the pitch? That’s like trying to catch a flying fish bare handed, they keep spilling right and left and you always end up running after them.
How they humiliated me! Weeks after week, dodging past me or flying unreachable passes over my head. I raged and raged until I eventually developed enough skill to stop them from dodging, but that’s when they started punching me instead. I ask you: what good is it to learn to tackle when you spend most of the game bleeding on the sideline? I think we only won a couple of games as long as I was there, we were definitely no match for those Elves.
Time passed, ticking along dull meals, foggy days, endless strategy sessions and pitch side humiliations. I will give them a few things: aloof as they were they always gave me remedies for my pitch injuries, treated us with careful indifference and let us watch while practicing their passing game. Now I know why they call it the Beautiful Game… I also caught some Eltharin around them, just enough to speak simple words. That’s how I learned the nickname they had for me: the Salty One. Fortunately, my stay on the Shifting Island only lasted for a year.
One afternoon we were called in the yard and marched to the shore. There, the garrison commander had a few words with Shiryu before putting us aboard a couple of long rowboats. I remember those soldiers fading away in the fog as the rowers took us away from the shore and it still pinches strangely at my heart when I think about it.
Further ahead a large ship with strange sails waited for us in the orange fog of the sunset. The rowboats pushed alongside it and we were made to climb on deck before they drew away. While I was still trying to understand what was going on, Shiryu was already conferring with a couple of hazy silhouettes. He returned with a wide smile on his face: this was a Nipponese ship! And Nippon was his destination…
- An early visit at the Club -
While I keep a special place in my heart for the High Elves, I have more pressing cause for aggravation these days. Here, while they refill our cups, let me tell you about something that happened to me in this very room only a few days ago.
One very early morning, as I was still in bed and nursing what promised to be a rather nasty hangover, I was called out of bed by the staff. Apparently a visitor of some sort was settled in the dining room and asking for me. I slithered out of bed and splash some water on face my before dressing up and opening the door. I must have made for quite the apparition as the waiter at the door took a step backward when walked out.
Downstairs, a single customer was sitting alone at a table with a short pile of documents and a cup of local white wine, a foul thing whose only purpose is to hit you right in the gut. As I approached the table I tried to get a better grasp of my visitor. Not very tall but on the lanky side, all squeezed in an indistinct gray suit. Waht was left of his hair pulled in what could only be a pale imitation of a comb over, a serious face with dull brown eyes staring back at me. I beganr fearing a ReBBL administrator coming to expel us; imagine how relieved I could have been when I heard him utter “Anton Crantz, Guild of Bandits (and affiliated trades).”
He did not stand up nor offered any hand to shake. Instead he waved at the seat across from him and swallowed the rest of his glass before calling the waiter. “Two more, for this gentleman and myself.” I could not but grimace at the idea of getting anywhere close that vile white. Without giving me time to open my mouth, he started again: “Sir, I believe you are the owner, and acting coach, of “A Shiver of Land Sharks”, the local Blood Bowl team. Correct?” I cleverly replied with a non-committal grunt.
He gave me blank stare for a few seconds, before continuing: “I have been dispatched by the local Guild branch in order to shed some light over some seriously worrying reports.” He stopped as the waiter returned with our drinks and I watched him, incredulous, as he took a sip from his cup and smacked his lips in contentment. He followed that by pulling out a paper from his pile and read from it in silence. I could only decipher the upside down title “Book 22”.
Without raising his eyes, he resumed his exposé. “We seem to be facing a case of repeated offenses. The non-exhaustive list I have here identify multiple counts of: predatory scientific publication, real-estate fraud in order to buy a stadium, misapropriation of Bloodweiser cargo under false identity and illegal auctions taking in advanced state of inebriation.”
I was preparign to talk when he stopped me with a glare and reached for his cup. Another sip, another lip smacking. “You are aware, sir, that such operations conducted without the consent of the Guild are highly illegal, and thus are subject to … retaliation. Unless the Guild is duly compensated, I am afraid our pound of flesh will have to be collected.” Slurp, smack.
- An eye for the prize -
In front of my stupefied silence he kept going, “I was on my way to solicit you earlier this week when another offense came to our attention. A case of Glim Dropping. What do you have to say about that?” I tried to open my mouth to reply but it felt as dry as a patch of Nehekharan desert. My only recourse was my own cup of white but my whole body rejected the idea of getting close to it.
My interlocutor must have seen the look of despair in my eyes. “Well, let me explain this one for you. The Glim Dropper is a classic move: a one-eyed fellow, ideally richly dressed, steps into a business place, preferably a pawn shop or an antique store. While perusing the goods, he suddenly claps a hand to his face and tells the owner that he just lost his glass eye and heard it roll somewhere. Of course said prosthetic is nowhere to be found. The fellow, blatantly distressed by the situation promises to the shopkeeper a generous reward if his eye his brought back to the address he’s currently staying at.” Slurp. Smack. His drinking way was driving me nuts.
“A few moments later, an accomplice steps in and pretends to find the glass eye. The shopkeeper then bargains to get it back, ready to offer a decent amount of cash in the prospect of landing a much larger reward. Of course, it goes without saying that the one-eyed customer is never to be found again and the glass eye to be of the poorest quality possible.” Slurp. Smack. I wanted to reach across the table and punch him in the face.
“This was the deciding factor. The Guild authorities were appalled by the gumption of your players, to blatantly and so unrepentantly continue their hustling spree was something almost unheard of. Appalled, Sir.
But must confess we also grew quite fond of them and their antics. Such impertinence forces respect. Consequently we came with an offer for you: our Guild will now sponsor your team and in return take a cut of any of their gains, on and off the pitch. Or you could always settle for the pound of flesh.”
Finishing his speech with a shadow of a smile on his lips, he pushed the rest of the documents in front of me. “Here is the contract, I expect to hear from you shortly.” He stood up, finished his cup in one gulp, smoothed down his suit and walked out with a springy step.
Still under the shock, I started to leaf around the Guild sponsoring contract. Thirsty as only a drowned man can be, I absently grabbed the cup and had swallowed half of that infernal wine before I knew it. I will never forget the burning sensation and the veil of tears that brought this morning visit to a close.
- The harrowing return of the hat enthusiasts -
As you can imagine the players heard about the stories, took this as an endorsement of their behavior and persuaded me to sign, despite the risk of losing more than a pound of flesh. But the plump sum of money convinced us unanimously with its promise of more drinks - for everyone - and possible investment in the roster or the stadium - for me. We then proceeded to celebrate as it was expected.
That’s how we ended facing a bunch of High Elves at home, everyone quite giddy after the drinking celebrations. As you can tell I’m not too fond of them Elves, plus we already had lost to that team of hat enthusiasts during a pre-season game. But I thought the wheel was turning and we could finally pull one over them.
Once again we started the first half on offense, which is not the boys forte. Pushing on the right wing, they decided to take some players down by sticking the boot in, which I can’t fault them for, but it did not seem to help much. The Elves were taking risky tackles with some of their catchers but coming out of it without any issue.
I was convinced the game was taking an interesting rhythm when we send one of theirs to the infirmary, unfortunately they replied by ending one of ours to the morgue. Forced to score quickly, a couple of our boys decided to rejoin the sideline after some nasty shocks and the Elves strutted down to the end zone despite an aggressive, if dubious, defense.
Things repeated in the second half with another thrall kicking the bucket right of the bat. The hatters came in outnumbered and still won the war of attrition, style and … basically everything. After a clumsy second half where the Elves stalled rather comfortably, they scored once more on us for an easy 2-1 win.
I had once more lost to those damned High Elves, this time with two definitive departures from the roster on top of it. I swear those arrogant knife ears will be the end of me!
I know the boys took to call me “Ole Salty” behind my back. But I tell you, if they do not quickly learn what strategy and tackling are, the Norse we have to face next week will certainly be happy to show them how it is done…