While Nicolaj Bur seeks redemption for the “Nearly Men” of Europe, the world continues to turn. Join us now for the “The Ballad of Toothless Bob,” a Football Manager story which explores the broader in-game world, away from the pitch.
Because far more is at stake than the Champions League. In fact, the fate of the entire world may rest upon the shoulders of a half-mad Leeds United supporter with questionable personal hygiene. What lies beyond the twisted redstone doorway, hidden deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabéu? More importantly, who is on the other side…and what do they want? Read and find out.
Previously, on the Ballad of Toothless Bob:
Volume 1: Nicolaj Bur risks disrupting the space-time continuum with a casual roll of the dice, while a Leeds United supporter known only as Toothless Bob prepares his army of children for the new season.
Volume 2: Toothless Bob and his army of children are forced to flee Yorkshire, one step ahead of the law.
Volume 3: A dark dream haunts Toothless Bob, who has grown complacent living with his child army in the French countryside, away from the prying eyes of the authorities. A dark dream, pulling him to Madrid.
It was the ideal night. At least, it seemed to be.
A big European night for a club that has had far too few such nights in recent years. A distraction, in and of itself. Perhaps the perfect distraction. The madridistas could be expected to maintain their focus on the pitch, as their side host the upstarts from Reims in a make-or-break match to determine who will progress to the knockout rounds.
Champagne football? Bob chuckles softly to himself as the elevator slows, approaching their destination.
Why would you want to ruin a perfectly good football match with champagne? A pint is all a man really needs. Well, multiple pints, really.
Pulled at the Old Peacock back in Leeds, all the better. Poured by Betsy. Gods, Betsy…now there’s a woman.
The elevator doors open with a soft ding, bringing Bob’s mind back to the task at hand.
A sharp intake of breathe, as Bob and Ethan, his young protégé, step into the hallway, deep beneath the Bernabeu. The sounds of the Champions League anthem, now echoing around the pitch five stories above their heads, cannot be heard.
There’s no one else there. A deep sigh, as the tension releases.
After all, why should there be anyone down here? As best as Bob and Ethan could determine without setting foot on the stadium grounds, there shouldn’t be anything down here other than storage space.
Then again, rumors abound that additional layers lie beneath the stadium, from the days of the Campo de Chamartín. That the Bernabeu was simply built atop some of the old foundations. And whatever was already beneath them. A true unknown, although the rumors speak of labyrinthian catacombs.
This is where all of their planning hits a wall. Where instinct must take over.
Bob and his young protégé lock eyes. They’ve thought this part through, to the extent possible.
They each nod. 15 minutes. No more. No less. Fifteen minutes to begin scouting, to find a hint of what they’re looking for. Then, regroup. Re-assess. Change the plan, if need be.
The reality is that neither Bob nor his young protégé know what they’re looking for – at least, not exactly.
The recurring dream that led them here is full of ambiguous signs and symbols. Deep within Bob’s mind, he wonders…have they misunderstood? Is this the path?
That is why a distraction was needed. Why time was needed. 90 minutes. To search. To hopefully find what they’re looking for.
The usual distraction – characterized primarily by various forms of induced chaos and mayhem – is enjoyable in its own right, of course.
Nothing quite like a bit of the old ultra-violence.
As the saying goes, you can take the boy out of Leeds, but you can’t take the Leeds out of the boy.
But a full-frontal assault on the Bernabeu…that’s another matter entirely, no matter how up for it young Ethan and the others might be. No, this job requires stealth. Subtlety.
Neither of which is a hallmark of this crew, Bob and young Ethan both realize. But Ethan has planned well. Again. He’s too clever by half. Bob knows it is only a matter of time before Ethan challenges his authority. But that’s an issue for another day.
Bob knows he has to focus on the task at hand. The recurring dream that has led him here. If he closes his eyes, he can see it clearly.
Nine shadowed figures, surrounding a kneeling figure. At times, the kneeling figure in the dream has worn the visage of Sergio, the Son of the Son. At times, it is another face… Another face, but somehow the same face. A chant, repeating in a droning monotone, beating against his skull.
Soon comes the day all shall be free; even you, and even me…
Soon comes the day all shall die; even you, but never I.
This is the mystery that has driven them to this place. On this night. In search of answers.
Bob nods to Ethan. “Take care, lad. 15 minutes. Then we reconvene. Right here.”
Ethan nods. His face devoid of emotion. Devoid of expression. “Yes, Boss. Right here. 15 minutes.”
One last look passes between them. Unreadable.
They go their separate ways.
Bob heads to the left, passing doors and hallways that extend into the unknown, taking several flights of stairs down into the depths of the Bernabeu, and whatever it is that lies…beneath.
He walks without thought, letting fate play its hand. He knows that Ethan would not approve of the careless, haphazard approach. But that’s something the young ones never seem to understand…sometimes, the lack of a plan is, in fact, the most important part of the plan. Sometimes, you must let fate and chaos rule.
Lost in thought, Bob wanders aimlessly. Thinking about Betsy. Lost in his memory.
Until he stumbles over some unseen obstacle, pitching face forward into a pile of dust-covered debris.
Looking backwards with disgust, Bob grunts. Debris is scattered in the hallway behind him, covered in a thick layer of dust. His footprints, weaving through the debris until the fatal moment of contact.
But that isn’t what has caught his eye. No, it is the other footprints in the dust. Not his. Surely not his.
Someone else has passed this way recently…more than one person, it appears.
Bob looks ahead, seeing only darkness punctuated by soft, flickering lights, the other footsteps fading into darkness. The sound of dripping water echoes from somewhere further along the hallway.
Bob pulls out his cellphone, fumbling with his sausage fingers to get past the lock screen. He sees the time. It’s already been 12 minutes. Ethan will be angry. He raises the phone, using the flashlight function to see what lies ahead.
Bob sighs. He looks back towards the hallway he came from, realizing that even if he tried, he couldn’t find his way back to their meeting point. Not in the next few minutes, certainly.
Bob shrugs. And steps forward, further down the hallway, following the footsteps in the dust.
The minutes pass as he wanders down hallways that are from a bygone era. Far overhead, an earth-shattering roar rumbles, albeit muted at this depth. Dust swirls as the foundations shake. Somewhere behind him, Bob hears the unmistakable crash of something falling over.
The muted roar eventually dies down, but the dust remains. Floating, obscuring his vision. The sound of dripping water, ever closer.
Bob stumbles forward, following the footsteps even if the light from his phone cannot pierce the swirling clouds of dust.
So much for Ethan’s plan to get in, get out. They’re committed now…assuming, of course, that Ethan has not abandoned him.
A flash in the distance, as the light from Bob’s phone reflects off of something near the far end of what appears to be a large room.
The footprints in the dust lead directly towards it, whatever it is.
Slow settles the dust as Bob steps forward, squinting, raising his cellphone high in vain hopes of illuminating more of the room.
As he steps closer, a doorway looms, standing freely towards the back of the cavernous room, seemingly made of carved redstone, surrounded by the random debris which is scattered throughout the room.
The footsteps lead directly to the doorway. Through it.
Bob steps closer, looking more closely at the door, which appears to lead…nowhere, in particular.
The footsteps that lead directly to it, however, do not appear on the other side.
Another roar from above. Muted. Distant. Not that Bob notices. He is too busy studying the doorway, the frame of which is twisted, preventing his eyes from following its edges, which blur and do not seem to join with each other as they should.
Three rows of inverted triangles are carved into the sides of the redstone frame, joined by what appears to be lightning, arcing between them. The carved lines reflect a deeper, darker red than the exposed stone.
Bob circles the door, slowly.
Looking at the dust on the floor. The footsteps walking up to and seemingly through the door.
Knowing that he only has one option available to him.
He steps forward, crossing the threshold.
A blinding flash of red light.
A deafening, disorienting roar strikes him, like rolling thunder.
Bob stumbles forward, still blinded and disoriented by the red light and the crashing sound.
As he regains he senses, a low chuckle emanates from somewhere nearby, the source unseen.
“Welcome, Bob. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Next time, on the Ballad of Toothless Bob:
More questions than answers lie beyond redstone door.