“We should start back,” said Tebros, pointing to a swift military formation scratched onto a scroll. The scrimmage yards told a grim tale: third and eight after an incomplete pass. His fellow Paytriotes shrugged and shuffled their feet across the Training Camp’s field of battle, like timid trolls scared to enter a line dance with vixens.
Not that Tebros had much use for hags, or even maidens. For one thing, he was of pure soldier’s intent, focused solely on leading the charge down field. For another, he was a dragon, and thus only weird girls dug him. You’d have to be pretty freaky-deaky to want to see any firebreather’s scales unsheathed, though Tebros was revered by some as handsome: a portrait-ready shade of green. Still, Tebros by choice remained a virgin – at least by public record – and an immaculately conceived one at that. That, a set of clean teeth, and the providence of the Gods had granted Tebros this day’s final chance at leading his own army.
“What ho, hot-hoofed comrades?” said Tebros, adjusting the crucifix on his necklace to avoid nipple chafing. “Does the fire of victory still warm your loins? Or have thine loins chilled into limp complacency? Where thine loins at, temperature-wise? Speak dogs, speak!”
In the salty, profane talk of sportsman’s huddles, Tebros was no natural. He need only look at the shaking head of his behemoth defender, an orb of a man whom they called Wilfork the Tackler, to know that his speech had not rallied his troops.
Verily, these were uncertain times in the Niffle Wars. But Tebros was accustomed to cloudy waters and murky motives, having been raised in the swamplands of the Flowrider Provence. Where most Quartermages attended grand academies, Tebros had learned everything books had to offer at home in his elders’ Flowrider cottage, home schooled in between games of catch with his only friend, a talking tree named Brandon who wore Under Armour gloves on his limbs. The Quartermages of this new dawning were expected not only to complete passes, but to run like trusty steeds, avoid the pass rush, and sell TiVo.
Cloud cover shaded the battlefield. Mud was sure to bring with it a bad case of Slippy-Foot. The locker room caverns would house malice, in the form of towel whipping, and perhaps even tongue-lashings. Tebros’ check-ins with the heavens came with greater frequency these days, mirages that arrived like clockwork each time Tebros cradled the pigskin in his reptilian claws.
Yet despite an open line of dialogue with all powerful deities, they chose a different Quartermage to wield their love and wrath. The one they called Tomas.
Tomas preened in the proscenium stands, smiling at the huddled masses, decked out in a pair of UGGs and matching berserker’s jacket of saber-toothed pelt and tusk. Beside him squatted the army’s sweatshirted general, the Duke of Belichick, who years earlier had been turned into a toad by a trickster wizard after dining on a gluttonous number of frog’s legs. The knaves loved Tomas. His indefinably foreign princess wife. His relentless jawbone. His obscene talent. But mostly it was his shoes and face. Tebros could stand no more. This was his last stand.
“Whoever believes in me shall not perish, or be traded to Jacksonville,” said Tebros.
Yet none stepped forward.
“Why hast thou forsaken me, receivers?”
Doom’s festooned tune played on. Tebros was blitzed and brought to his knees. And not in the nice prayerful way. The kind of kneeling which signals that one has been heartily sacked, and is bound to urinate blood forthwith. In this moment of doubt in the divine prophesy that had guaranteed him charge of the Paytriotes army, Tebros snorted smoke through his nostrils and gazed over to the sidelines. There, a band of four archangels stood, with faces of pale white etched with black features over their eyes and mouths. One such mouth sported a tongue which if unleashed would give the lashing to end all lashings. This quartet signaled the End Times: rounding out one’s career in Arena Football. Were they the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Neigh. This crew of hell-spawn were something much more sinister. They were the KISS Army. The Demon, the Starchild, the Spaceman, and the Cat. If they had arrived, Tebros knew his days commanding a respectable army were over.
Still, joining up with KISS wasn’t all bad. With them, he wouldn’t remain a virgin for long. Or he could take that offer from the Black Storm gang to play in Russia. Moscow is said to be lovely in winter, and lo: winter was coming. On both sides, the wages were acceptable, if not hearty. If all else failed, he could always pray for Armageddon.”