Raising The Spirit
Delma Harrence was all alone in the girls' locker room, everyone else now packed with their gear and heading for their respective homes. Altador Cup IX recently ended, the winners announced and the Closing Ceremonies completed. Once again, Team Faerieland placed low in the standings: 17th place.
Of course, their low placing received more than a cheap medal but also the ridicule and pity from the fans and other team members, and the Faerie Zafara was frustrated at it all. She hated being called a loser, a failure, and always being told "well, there's always next year", year after year as the Altador Cup came to its end.
"I really thought we had it together this year..." she muttered to herself, "I thought we could make it to the podium. But again, it slips through our fingers. I mean, I shouldn't be getting this upset over it, but... ugh!"
She slammed the door to her locker so hard it echoed throughout the room before turning and collapsing against the wall in a slump. She folded in her knees and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin upon them. Her wings folded in around her as if to hug her and give herself some sort of comfort.
"I shouldn't be getting this upset. I mean, we always lose, but we do our best. That should count for something right?" she asked aloud, knowing no one would answer.
Tears began to form in her eyes, and she hastily wiped them away with the back of her paw. She leaned her head back against the wall, "I want to say we'll make it next year... I want to truly believe that. I mean, Altador made it to second place last year, and Moltara made it to third place this year! They always place low like us, but this year they made to the podium. Next year has to be our year! It has to be! It... it just has to be..."
Delma sniffled and wiped away more tears that started to form. "Why... why can't we win just once!?" she sobbed, "Just once I would want Faerieland to be victorious, and we can be praised instead of ridiculed! We're not losers, we're not failures... we're... we're...!"
She buried her head into her arms as she began to cry louder, her sobs echoing loudly in the empty locker room, every bit of frustration she felt finally coming to a head.
She didn't hear the loud footsteps outside of the locker room, and never noticed as the sound got louder and louder as they approached her scrunched-up frame. She paid no attention to the boots that stopped in front of her or the shadow as someone crouched down in front of her.
Delma did hear the voice; it was one she recognized. One she loathed.
Despite herself, the Zafara raised her head, her lips forming a scowl. "What are you doing here, Tandrak?"
Knelt before her was Tandrak Shaye, one of the best players on Team Darigan Citadel, and someone Delma regarded as a personal rival. The two often exchanged words and insults, although the Zafara was often held back by her teammates before she could take out her anger on him. She even once made a bet with him, that she ultimately lost and was forced to deal with his comments as she gave all the members of Darigan Citadel free slushies. And now, in her moment of grief, he was the last pet she wanted to see.
The Darigan Gelert shrugged his shoulders. "I was walking past here on my way out, and heard someone crying. Didn't expect it to be you," he stated. "I was pretty sure almost everyone had left by now."
Delma sniffled, wiping her nose with her arm. "Yeah, well, not me. You should be lucky there isn't anyone else in here, or otherwise you'd be getting punched by some pretty angry girls."
Again, Tandrak shrugged his shoulders. "Eh, I would've dealt with it. So why were you crying?"
"Is it any of your business?"
"Probably not, but I'm curious."
"Well, be curious somewhere else. I'm not in the mood to indulge you."
Delma began to stand up, but Tandrak grabbed her shoulders and kept her still. "Nuh-uh. Delma, I've been playing against you for years. I've never seen you cry when you get hurt on the field, and I don't remember anyone ever saying they saw you cry. To me, that tells me there's a reason behind it," he stated bluntly. "So tell me why you were crying."
"Like you'd understand."
"No, you WON'T understand."
"Again, try me."
"You wouldn't understand!" Delma screamed, breaking herself from Tandrak's grip and standing up in a huff. "You have no idea what it's like, not being able to stand on that podium year after year, having to hear from other teams and the fans that you're a loser, that you're a failure, that we should just quit because we're not good enough!"
Tandrak stood up and stepped back as the Faerie Zafara raged on, watching as her wings fluttered back and straightened out. "Every year I try to be positive, try to tell myself at the end of the year 'we'll do it next year, we'll make it next year', only to be disappointed when we don't. Last year Altador made to the podium, this year it was Moltara, and I'm happy for them! I really am, but now... what about us? What about Faerieland finally making it?" Delma continued, her voice becoming hoarse and tears falling freely down her cheeks. "I want to say we'll do it, but... but what will happen if we don't? I just want, just one time, for people to call us winners, not losers!"
She buried her face into her hands and began to sob again. Tandrak was silent, watching her pour out her feelings. Yes, she was right; he doesn't quite understand how she felt, since his team did win the Altador Cup, and has made it to the podium several times.
However, he did understand why she was so upset. Hey, he may be a Darigan Gelert, but that doesn't mean he was heartless!
With a sigh, Tandrak reached out his hand and placed it on top of Delma's head. The Zafara squeaked at the touch, quickly lifting her head and staring at Tandrak as if he did something weird.
"Yeah, you're right. I don't understand how you feel, and I never will," he said calmly. "But I do understand why you're upset. I doubt you believe me, but I do understand that."
He took in a deep breath and exhaled before continuing, "If ever repeat this to ANYONE, I will venomously deny it, but... despite what I may have said before, I have utmost respect for Faerieland. You guys come in last place every year, yet you don't give up. You keep fighting, even when everyone else have already dealt you out. I... admire that."
Delma's eyes widened; did Tandrak Shaye, the pet she shared years of insults and anger towards, actually stated he ADMIRED her team? Did Moltara just freeze over?
"Oi, don't act like you can't hear me," he growled out before sighing once more. "I do admire how hard you guys fight to try and reach the podium. And I think you guys now have something to inspire you. If long, low-standing teams like Altador and Moltara can make it to the podium, then so can Faerieland. I believe in you and your team."
He rubbed her hair playfully, chuckling as she cringed slightly and her ears flopped against the back of his hand. "You're a fighter, Delma. All of you are. So don't give up on that fighting spirit, okay?"
The Zafara was stunned and couldn't say a word. She could only stare as Tandrak smirked at her, removing his hand from her head and started to turn towards the exit of the locker room. "See you next year, Delma. I can't wait to see what you can do then," he said as he began to walk away
She watched him, still stunned, but then she sniffled one last time and smiled. "Oh, next year, just wait! We'll put Darigan Citadel to shame! Then you'll be the one delivering smoothies to us!" she yelled after him, to which Tandrak waved his hand as if to brush it off.
Once he left, Delma wiped what remained of her tears from her face, grabbed her bag of gear and slung it over her shoulder. "Thanks, Tandrak," she muttered to herself, lifting her head high as she began to walk out of the room.
"Next year... next year we WILL make it."