Unlikely Allies: Part Four
"Hey Ciona, Kep wants to go shopping in Altador Main Square tomorrow, and wanted to know if we'd go with her." When Delma had gotten back from swimming, Ciona had been sleeping, so the Zafara had waited until breakfast to bring it up.
Ciona looked up at Delma. "Well, I guess it sounds like fun. I probably should pick up a souvenir for my brother. He can't make it to the Cup this year because of work..."
Delma nodded. "I was going to ask Kakoni what he had planned. Do you know if he said what practice he's got in mind?"
Ciona shook her head. "I really don't know. But we've got to be there soon. Let's get going."
"Delma, today you're going to practice with Babolino," Kakoni instructed her. Delma glanced at the Kacheek and then nodded. She knew he'd score more often than not. She liked to think of herself as at least moderately good of a defender, but Babs was a strong scorer. Still, working with the Kacheek would motivate her to work harder.
She raised a hand in response and Kakoni pressed the button on the sidelines, setting the pitch to "active" mode and alerting the practice Yooyus in the chamber below that it was game time.
Kakoni, Ciona, and even Valtonous faded into the background as a normal Yooyu was released from the hatch in the middle of the field, and Babolino immediately took possession, dribbling it toward her without a hint of hesitation. This was what it was like, she thought grimly as she widened her stance slightly. Playing against your friends, knowing that you couldn't hold anything back just because of a friendship because they wouldn't hold anything back against you. Not worrying about whether or not their feelings would be hurt, but knowing that you had to try your hardest or be disappointed in yourself. She wondered if any of the other teams found it hard to play against each other.
Babolino was approaching in a line straight for the goal, so Delma sprang into action, moving more quickly than he'd expect and stealing the ball from him neatly with one quick swipe as he hesitated. She ran with the ball a fair distance away before passing it back to him. This was when he'd go score on the other team. Their plays were centered around the scoring abilities of the forwards; if the opportunity arose for either her or Ciona to take a shot, they were expected to, but in general their goal was to steal the ball and pass it to either Kakoni or Babolino. Babs dribbled closer but this time feinted left; she fell for the trick and he maneuvered around her easily, lining himself up to score against Valtonous.
Delma glanced over at the other side of the field as Valtonous dove for the Yooyu. Ciona and Kakoni were practicing with each other as well. Delma turned back to Babs, determined to steal or block the next shot.
She was consciously aware of the timer ticking down as Babolino approached her with the ball, again and again. The repetition was useful for simulating in-game situations, she knew, but she felt pressed for time, which gave her a rapidity she didn't often display. When the buzzer rang, she collapsed in the grass, gasping for breath and exhausted.
Babolino offered her a hand and helped her to her feet with a little grin. "That was pretty intense! It was a good practice."
Delma could only nod in agreement as they walked back to the sidelines and she grabbed her water bottle to quench her thirst. Doing the same drill for two hours was unrealistic, since matches were only three minutes long, but at the same time, allowed her to hone her technique from round to round. Delma leaned against the water cooler, feeling more than exhausted.
"That was a good practice," Kakoni said as Valtonous reached them. The Bruce's practice uniform was stained with a long grass mark, and Delma guessed that Ciona must have kept him on his toes. "We're getting better overall."
"Can we have tomorrow off?" Ciona asked abruptly. The Kyrii took a long swig from her water bottle before looking back at him. "We've been working hard all week."
Kakoni looked taken aback. "Well..."
Valtonous was watching Ciona closely, but Babolino spoke up. "She's right," he said in a tone that betrayed his uncertainty. "We've all been doing extra exercising on our own as well..."
Kakoni shrugged. "Sure, you can have a day off. We'll meet Saturday in the gym for some strength and endurance training instead of more field work. Don't forget to stretch at least, to keep your muscles loose." Whatever else the Bruce wanted to say seemed to have fled his mind, so he just blinked and then gave himself a little shake. "Have a good day then... stay hydrated... Do some exercise if you have time."
As Delma carried the water cooler off the field, she hoped that the day off would at least be as rejuvenating as Kep had said.
"Good morning, Delma. I hear you're going to join us for a day out?"
Delma looked up from her bowl of porridge to see Tandrak taking a seat across from her. She glanced across the room and saw Kep helping herself to what looked like pancakes. "Yes, Ciona and I are going to come shopping with you... Is it just the two of you?"
"I think so." He offered a friendly smile. "I think Layton said he was going to challenge Kakoni to a game of Crisis Courier, and Tormo and Reshar both turned down Kep's offer as well, so that makes four of us."
"So it does," Delma replied with equanimity.
They ate in silence for a few minutes until Kep joined them. Delma offered the Buzz a friendly wave. "Thanks for inviting us out today. I think a break will be nice."
"I think it'll be a great day. The daily report said that the weather would be clear and warm, so I think it will be a good trip." Kep glanced at Tandrak. "What're you going to look for?"
"I haven't decided yet," Tandrak said with a shrug. "Maybe I will see something I like."
Ciona entered the small dining room; Delma caught her eye and waved. The Kyrii approached with a smile; she held a pamphlet loosely in her hand. "How's breakfast? I already ate."
"It's good," Kep replied, and Delma nodded in agreement.
"Well, we should get going soon, before the heat of the day sets in," Ciona replied as she took the seat next to Delma. "I snagged a map of the area from the Manager, so we're all set otherwise..."
The winding alleys and crooked streets had a charm that the neat, ordered Faerie City lacked, Delma thought to herself. The sun was shining brightly and foot traffic filled the pathways. They had all dressed incongruously, but even so, Delma felt certain that somebody would recognize them. She herself was keeping her eyes open for any of the other teams, wondering if they had arrived in Altador yet (surely they had) and whether or not they would be maintaining any status of anonymity (less certain).
Kep wanted to go into a small shop on the corner of the square as they arrived, and as Delma entered, a bright display of wind chimes caught her eye. She moved over to examine them as a fleeting smile flitted across her face at the musical tinkling that emerged as she brushed her hand across the hollow tubes. They were painted in a variety of colors, most of them very eye-catching.
She turned around and moved across the small, crowded shop, to where Ciona was examining what appeared to be an eclectic mixture of books about Altador. "Find anything interesting?"
"There's a few trinkets," her Kyrii friend replied wanly, "but not enough to warrant spending the prices they're asking. Even after haggling... I think I'm going to keep looking."
"The wind chimes were nice," Delma informed her with a grin.
"Have a nice day," the shopkeeper called after them as they left the store.
"Did you find anything?" Ciona asked Kep.
"No, I think I'm going to keep looking," the Buzz replied before jamming her hands into her pockets.
"I think I'm going to get a slushie," said Tandrak as they passed a cart. "I'll catch up to you in the next store."
"Alright," Kep agreed and kept walking. "This store looks interesting... Do you mind stopping?"
"Not at all," Delma agreed as she fanned herself. The weather was surprisingly humid and stepping inside was a welcome relief.
This store boasted not only a wide collection of books, but also a fine collection of inks, parchments, pens, and other writing materials. Delma smiled as Ciona tugged on her arm. "Come look at the books with me!"
Ciona had always been a bit of a reader for as long as Delma had known her. However, it was Delma who decided to get a book as they walked past bookshelves stacked high. "I think I'd like this one," Delma announced to her friend as she read the back of the thick volume. "It's a cookbook..."
"Oh, let me see!" Ciona examined the book. "Wow, this looks really good. You'll have to invite me over for dinner when we get back to Faerieland." She shot Delma a grin and Delma laughed aloud.
"Do you think you're going to get anything?"
"Well, I want to look at the paper section. I really like the handmade heirloom paper I got when we were in Altador last year but I don't know if they have any in this store..." Ciona trailed off as they approached the paper section. Kep was in the next row over, looking at inks, but Ciona remained focused on searching for her paper.
"What'd you find?" Tandrak had come up behind Delma.
She turned around and gave him a bright smile. "An Altador cookbook! I can't wait to try some of the recipes."
"That sounds interesting," Tandrak said, glancing at the cover.
"Aha!" Ciona's exclamation made Delma look up. "I found it!"
"Is it the kind you wanted?" Delma asked curiously.
"Yes! This is great. I can't wait to try it." Ciona was walking back down the aisle. "Did Kep find what she was looking for?"
"Yes," Kep said, beaming as she approached them. "I got a quill and some ink for my sister... She'll really like them."
"That's great," Delma said, smiling at the Buzz. "I'm going to go pay, I'll be right back..."
Ciona followed her with her slender box of paper clutched closely to her. "I can't believe I found it," she said happily.
The shopkeeper was an elderly Ruki who smiled at them. "Have a good day," he said as they finished.
As the four athletes emerged blinking into the sunlight, Ciona turned around and smiled at Kep. "That was a great idea. I'm glad that you wanted to stop there."
"Hey, look, it's the sea!" Tandrak pointed beyond the low row of shops on the other side of the lane. Delma saw the sun glinting off of the flat water and exhaled quietly. Much as she thought that Faerieland had its merits, she had to admit that she always enjoyed the sea whenever she left her homeland.
"Let's go walk on the beach!" Ciona grabbed Kep's hand and tugged the Buzz toward the ocean. Kep looked alarmed but followed nonetheless.
Tandrak smiled lopsidedly at Delma. "Well, we'd better not let them get too far ahead."
Delma enjoyed walking by the ocean with her friends. There was a pleasant breeze rolling off the water, and the smell of salt and sand filled the air. The sun rolled high in the sky, and they exchanged the kind of small, meaningless words best enjoyed with friends.
Ciona stopped at the edge of the beach, where a small shack stood. "Isn't this just adorable?" She asked Kep with a broad grin. Delma noticed that she was holding a tiny shell in her hand. "Do you have this in other sizes?" She asked the figure running the booth. "I'd like to get one for my brother."
Delma smiled as Ciona made her purchase, and they kept walking, kicking up sand and enjoying the sound of the waves. She lost track of time until she felt her stomach complain loudly, growling its hunger.
"So... does anybody else want lunch?" she asked sheepishly, glancing back at the town.
Kep smiled at Delma. "Sure. Let's go find a café."
Delma grinned at Ciona as the Kyrii glanced back at her. "This has been such a cool morning! I hope Kakoni and Babs and everybody else had fun," she said loudly.
Delma looked up at the narrow lanes as they climbed the slope of the hill off of the beach. "A café sounds good," she echoed Kep.
Delma immediately missed the ocean breeze, even as they stepped inside a small, well-lit establishment that had a large menu on display. As they sat at a table eating, Delma found that she didn't feel as though the day had been wasted. Though she thought she'd been working hard, she hadn't realized how much she really had wanted a break, and was enjoying herself immensely.
The minute they stepped outside, however, Delma noticed a difference in the air. Kep glanced upward, scowling. Clouds had rolled in and the bright, sunny weather had been replaced with an overcast and rather gray sky.
"Didn't the news say it'd be sunny all day?" Tandrak asked just as a raindrop hit Delma's cheek.
"We'd better get inside. Is there anywhere you see that you want to shop in?" Delma didn't mind the rain and had played countless matches and practices in it, but she didn't want her book or Ciona's papers to get soggy. The raindrops began to fall harder.
Kep shrugged, so Ciona turned down the street and seemed to pick a shop out at random. "Let's go in there." What had been a few raindrops had become a heavy sprinkle, and as they walked quickly, increased to a fully-pelting rain.
"Oh, goodness," Delma muttered as the door to the shop swung shut behind her. She knew that her hair was soaked through, and water dripped off of her arms as she held her bag up. Luckily, her book seemed to be fairly dry. "Ciona, did your paper make it?"
Ciona looked in her bag and breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes."
Delma nodded at Kep and then looked around, gasping in wonder as she did so. The entire store glittered with the weak light entering the wide windows. Crystals hung from the ceiling and perched delicately on the shelves. The Zafara approached the shelf nearest her and saw a set of intricate bookends, crusted with small jewels. Another shelf was filled with goblets of various shapes and sizes.
Delma grinned at Ciona. "This is an amazing store!" She suddenly decided that, although she'd gotten the cookbook already, she wanted something beautiful from this store as well. The glittering of jewels from every direction dazzled her, and she didn't know where to begin. Ciona had begun walking down one of the aisles, and both Kep and Tandrak were examining the shelves at the front of the store, so she approached them to see what they were looking at.
"Isn't this pin exquisite," Kep said, holding up a brooch of some exotic-looking flower that glittered as she lifted it.
Delma nodded appreciatively. "There is so much in here that is beautiful," she replied, examining a set of picture frames that had been embellished with gemstones. A small boutique like this tucked away in the corner of Altador Main Square would have a fair bit of business, she thought, but nevertheless they were the only ones in the store.
The rain pounded against the glass of the storefront but Delma felt cozy inside, surrounded by her friends. She came to the last aisle and hesitated, hand hovering over a gem-encrusted pen, when her eyes landed on a delicate, sparkling hair comb. The more she looked at it, the more she felt fairly certain that she'd like to buy it. She picked it up and examined it closely. The crystals adorning the handle were white and purple, with smaller blue ones. She imagined wearing it at the Opening Ceremonies with one of her rare dresses and smiled to herself, tilting it so that the crystals sparkled in the light. Yes, it was lovely. She would most certainly buy it.
The shopkeeper placed it in a lined box that made it seem much more special. Delma slid her neopoints off the counter, quite happy with her decision. The Cybunny shopkeeper smiled as she turned away.
Ciona was looking at jewelry when she walked by. Delma stopped and looked over her shoulder. She appeared to be examining necklaces.
"Which one do you like better?" Ciona looked over her shoulder and then pointed out two necklaces, one with crystals in varying shades of pink, and a second one with blue and green crystals arranged in a pattern.
Delma considered for a moment. "Well, I like the blue and green one. But you should get whichever one you like better." She offered her friend a smile and continued through the aisle, returning to the front of the store. The rain continued to shower down outside and showed no sign of letting up.
Tandrak came to stand next to her. "Did you get something?" he asked, noticing the extra bag in her hand.
"Yes." Delma looked up at him. "Did you?"
"I was just here for the company. I don't think I'll get anything this year, at least not today." He smiled at Delma and she smiled back.
Kep approached them. "Is it still raining outside? Ciona is paying right now. I think we'd better hail a cab to take us home; there's no way that we'll stay dry if we try to walk home in this."
"I'll get a cart," Tandrak volunteered, and exited the store.
Ciona appeared next to them. "This was really fun."
Kep smiled at her. "Yes. I had a good time too. I'm glad you both could come. What did you get?"
“A necklace,” Ciona replied. “Delma helped me pick it out.”
Delma smiled but said nothing, watching out the window. She didn't mind getting wet, but she didn't want her book to get ruined.
Finally, Kep opened the door and huddled under the awning while Ciona and Delma followed her. "Let's go home."
To be continued...