Five touchdowns in two days had clearly taken its toll. Another price of being legendary.
I’d come back a see Han Tavirus a few days, and a few MML Pro games, after our first meeting. If I’m honest, I was reluctant to visit again. He’d scared me. Worse, he’d made me feel rather ill. But even worse than that, I knew he was right. I knew that as soon as I went back I would be confirming to him, and myself, that I wanted this too, that I wanted to be more than the Cheese Delivery Guy… that I wanted some of his fame.
I’d found him in the bathroom having an ice bath. I now completely understand where the term “drowned rat” comes from. Apparently, he’s made entirely of twigs and shag pile carpet.
He shivered as he spoke, the, er, top head doing all the talking, “Han guessed-knew man-thing would return. Han got story-tales together for man-thing, ready.” He shifted position and — oh God — two enormous, round, furry things bobbed to the surface. The thoughts How? and Ugh! ran simultaneously through my head. I guess there’s one thing MML fans now know for certain, Han Tavirus has very big b–
“Man-thing seems distracted?”
I was distracted. Distracted by the two giant orbs floating on the surface of the water!
Han’s eyes followed mine, a look of understanding, and he squeezed them back under.
Thank you. Normality resumed (well, as normal as a situation can be where a cheese delivery guy is standing over a Blood Bowl-playing rat having an ice bath), I asked him whose story he wanted me to start with? Rafi, the only other original? Dirtiest Randiest, the weakest of the Storm Vermin strains? The Cutter clon– I mean, twins?
He nodded. “Mumps.”
Mumps? That misfiring, liability of an over-sized mutated lump of lard? The one player you absolutely, one hundred percent, cannot count on in any given situation?
“Mumps is one of the most-most high-valued players on RAN’s roster. He is even paid the same as Hero-God Han!”
I’d never considered that.
“And Ogre-Rat can get more experience, get more fame, be worth-cost more than Han.”
Realisation dawned. But I hid it. I had no desire to anger him. I didn’t want him getting out of that bath. Instead, I asked him to tell me Mumps’s story.
Mumps is the middle child of three brothers, Crabs, Mumps and Shingles. Born in the slums of Skavenblight, they were nursed on wyrdstone dummies and milk from their green-addict mother. At an early age it was clear that they were no ordinary rats, a fact their mostly absent father used to earn money on the underground fight circuit. Crabs revelled in this, Shingles tried hard but with little success, but Mumps hated it. They called him soft. They called him a wimp. They called him a coward. And by they I mean his family. Crabs, in particular, took offence at Mumps souring his good name, but it ran deeper than that. Crabs was never quite right. He hated his brothers, hated the idea that they would ever usurp him. As pups, he used to steal anything that was given to them, even the food from their mouths. However, vicious and uncompromising, Crabs was so undeniably violent that eventually he caught the attention of the Rodentia Ad Nauseam scouts who were looking for a new physical edge for their team, and they invited him for a trial.
Despite his father’s protestations, the sudden opportunity for money and fame just for indulging in his nature was too much for Crabs. He went to the trial. It was run on the same day as linerat tryouts and, to save time, the coaches combined the two. Crabs didn’t care about the game of Blood Bowl (well, he cared about one of those two things) but he impressed so much with his pure wildness and unadulterated aggression that he was hired. This was the last time linerat and Rogre tryouts were held together. And also explains why the training pitch was moved due to being waterlogged in the middle of a drought.
What Crabs didn’t realise at the time, was that even though he didn’t care, Mumps did. Ever since he saw a Skavenblight Scramblers poster as a pup, he wanted to play Blood Bowl. Not just run around hitting people, but really play. He didn’t want to be a brute, he wanted to be a star. But it was Crabs who was living his brother’s dream.
Mumps went to every game, hiding up in the stands, incognito, cheering his brother on. Rodentia Ad Nauseam were his team now. He dreamt of playing in that red armour but, being of a good nature, he knew it wouldn’t happen. Crabs was playing. It was Crabs’s position. And he didn’t want anything bad to happen to his brother.
But still, Mumps spent all his free time practising. He could do the physical stuff sure, but he also had a Blood Bowl brain. He could block properly, rather than just swing a giant fist. He had technique. He was adept at helping others block too. He was a team player. He ran drills, followed Leeroy’s workout routines to the letter, never missed leg day. He figured if he couldn’t dodge like a rat he’d break through the tackles instead.
Mumps knew, deep down, that Crabs was too good to ever lose his place, but it made him happy to dream, so he kept going.
And then it happened.
Mumps groaned with the rest of the RAN fans as Crabs was carried off the pitch on a stretcher, his armour rent and buckled, one leg skewed at an awkward angle. But he was also torn; did he rush down to his brother’s side and risk his sibling’s wrath (either for Mumps’s compassion, or just for simply being there at all), or run home to ensure his double life remained uncovered. Unsurprisingly, he left.
Mumps waited for days, weeks, but Crabs never returned home. No-one was quite sure if it was the embarrassment of getting hurt, or the embarrassment of getting fired but he was never seen again. Reports say the exit was acrimonious and that several of the coaching staff were mortally wounded as Crabs left the building after his attempts to get the position of Rogre permanently removed from the team were rejected. To this day no-one knows where he went or what happened to him.
And then the call came. RAN wanted Mumps to replace his big brother. He didn’t say yes immediately. If he did, if he took his place amongst his idols, if he achieved his dream, his family would find out. And if Crabs was still alive, he would find out too. But the lure of playing Blood Bowl in the red of RAN was too much. He took his place on the roster. His brother’s place.
“Give-pass Hero-God a towel.”
I held it at arm’s length. Han stood up, stepped out of the bath and wrapped the towel around his thin body.
“Mumps star-star player. You look-see yourself. Man-thing come to Slaan Seers match. Look-see from the front row. Hero-God gift to man-thing.”
What a generous offer! I didn’t know what to say.
And then the towel slipped open.
Ugh, for the love of G—