By April O’Neil
I’d never seen him cry before. As a matter of fact, I’d never so much as a frown split his face. He was the epitome of confidence; the essence of swagger; a true superstar. But here he was, a writhing, self-loathing mess, lying vulnerably in a little nest in a Jurassic Park recovery room. I began to cry, too.
I was away in Bretonnia when it happened. Just Score had started sending me to cover Mousillon a lot in Season 4. The notorious Count Archibald Drumph had reinvented himself, along with Brettonian pride, and the Morningstars were his new posterboys…literally. I mean, the man covered the entire country with gigantic posters, billboards, murals, you name it, of his players and logos…and even larger ones of himself. He even went so far as to commission a statue standing 48 yards tall (coincidentally, also the length of a Blood Bowl pitch), on the eastern border of Bretonnia, of himself extending his oversized middle finger from his giant hand toward the Empire, home of Altdorf. As my editor would tell me before he would hop onto his new gyrocopter that he had surprisingly recently begun leasing on his relatively modest editor’s salary, the Morningstars were the new sexy team in the MML, and I was lucky to be covering them. Besides, Count Drumph had asked for me by name.
In contrast, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Lizards, who had kicked open the door to the MML last year, becoming true fan favorites and winning the Wicked Forest Conference in their first Pro year after an undefeated campaign on the Farm, had sputtered into a horrendous sophomore season, failing to secure a win through their first 5 matches. My editor insisted he was doing me a favor by taking me off coverage of “those losers” (where had I heard that phrase before?).
Still, TMNL was the only team that gave me the time of day when I was getting my start as a fresh, hungry reporter looking to break onto the Blood Bowl scene. Spermadactyl was the one who gave me my first interview. And I have loved him ever since.
The skink was magic on the pitch. He was as fast as a gutter runner, as agile as an elf, with all of the stunty moves of a skink…and he could throw…boy, could he throw. Even when the rest of his team was down and out—and there had been a lot of those games in Season 4—Spermadactyl put them all on his back and carried them into the end zone for a flashy score. Even opposing coaches loved him…despite trying to kill him. And while Praag no5 team didn’t manage to kill him, they may have ended his career.
TMNL was down 1-0 in the second half—at the beginning of Turn 11 to be exact—with half of their team either knocked out, ejected, or injured, and Spermadactyl the only skink left on the pitch, holding the ball. The lizards had huddled into a tight formation on the visiting sideline, fighting back to back as the dwarves rammed into them from all sides. Tyrannosaurus Flex attempted to repel the assault with a mighty blow, but the long beard Tonda easily ducked the lumbering hook and delivered an overhand right that sent the kroxigor to the grass. Excited by the crack of bones and the spilling of blood, the dwarves hurtled forward. Down went Smashceratops, a.k.a. Refrigasaurus. Headfirst into the ground hurtled Raarnold Drummond. Even the powerful Trippertaurus was felled like a sapling by a bulldozer. By the end of Turn 11, only Spermadactyl and Gruntosaurus remained standing for TMNL…and then they realized it: the dwarves had pushed up too far; they had overcommitted to the onslaught…and Spermadactyl could outrun them all. All Flex had to do was clear a small hole.
Spermadactyl pointed at Martin, the dwarf runner, the only thing standing between him and escape. “Qxuanta Nublar!” he shouted, and the krox jumped to his feet. All Spermadactyl needed was a crease; even a push would do. Flex cocked his massive fist to unleash a mighty blow…but again managed only a feeble miss, which Martin easily countered with a right cross to the nose, dropping the krox like a sack of Parstown X bells. The incredulous realization that he was trapped washed over Spermadactyl’s face right before Martin delivered the coup de grace, snapping his head back with a vicious overhand haymaker, making a harsh sound, like a bullwhip cracking. Spermadactyl immediately crumpled to the grass, as Martin triumphantly grabbed the ball from his limp hands. The entire crowd went silent. Both sidelines froze.
I have witnessed Coach Jest stop Team Apothecary Bennet Omaulu from resuscitating or treating too many other TMNL players to count over the last couple of seasons, but the coach actually threw the poor apothecary toward Spermadactyl as soon as the injury happened, barking from deep in his gut, “FIX HIM!”
The apothecary frantically examined his patient, poking and prodding him, asking him if he could feel this or whether that hurt. But it wasn’t long before Dr. Omaulu declared in exasperation,“I can’t fix this. His neck is broken. He’ll never be the same.”
“Nooooooooo!” The sound was alien. A deep, guttural sound, from deep within the confines of the prone skink. It was the sound of a heart breaking. Doctor Omalau was holding Spermadactyl’s head in his hands, working on immobilizing his spine to prevent further damage, when Spermadactyl’s body twisted in one direction, tensing. Coach Jest immediately realized what was happening, and swiftly restrained Spermadactyl before the little lizard could whip his own body around and kill himself. “Kill me!” he cried, as he was carted off to the Jurassic Park Medical Center. “Kill me!” he kept repeating, until the words faded into tears and sobs.
The crowd began booing. If this showing was poor before, with Spermadactyl gone, the crowd was utterly disgusted with TMNL. Even when Refrigasaurus managed to knock the ball out of Martin’s hands, and Raarnold dove to knock the ball into the sideline crowd, hoping for a friendly placement upon its return to the pitch, the fans, TMNL fans, threw it toward TMNL’s own end zone , within reach of Tom, Praag’s other runner, for another easy dwarf touchdown to seal the victory.
I watched the whole thing on my mobile Cabalvision crystal ball while I was supposed to be covering Count Drumph hunting endangered animals set loose at Mousillon Memorial Stadium as a pregame warmup to the Morningstars’ match against the SupeR StreetFighter ElveS. But when Spermadactyl was injured, I let out an audible gasp, put the crystal ball away, and hurried toward the stadium gates. “Where ya going, honey?” Count Drumph addressed all women in condescending, paternalistic, sexist, and/or lecherous ways, including his daughter. Super creepy. I yelled back at him over my shoulder that I was going to see my favorite team play and flipped him my middle finger, which I pointed out to him was bigger than his…just like my hands were bigger than his. He yelled something after me that sounded like a threat that I’d never find work in the MML again.
Which brought me to this moment: watching my best friend in the MML, my former lover, my hero forever, sob uncontrollably, and with pleading eyes ask me, “What will I do now? Who am I if I’m not Spermadactyl, the star Blood Bowl player? I didn’t have an answer for him. I didn’t even have any words. All I could do was hold him, careful not to put pressure on his tender neck, and cry with him. He fell asleep in my arms just as Coach Jest walked into the office and somberly greeted us.
“April, would you please excuse us for a moment? Spermadactyl and I need to have a frank discussion about his future.”
TMNL v. Praag no5 team, S4 Wk5, available to view at: https://youtu.be/BtxTMlbBxsQ