For the Love of the Game
It was the first day of the Cup and my nerves were starting to get the best of me. I had barely gotten any sleep the night before and I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating. I knew I was going to pay for it later but there was nothing I could do about it now. I rode with my teammates on our way to the Colosseum. It was early in the morning but the heat was already intense.
Then there were the crowds. The streets were packed and the excitement in the air was palpable. The colours of various teams-including our own-could be picked out in the crowd. They cheered as they saw us pass, waving banners with their faces painted and decked out in hats, wigs and jerseys. It was infectious and I couldn’t keep the grin from my face.
At the Colosseum, my teammates led the way towards our locker room. It was a good thing I entered last as I came to a dead stop once I entered. I think I forgot how to breathe as I took in the room. It was a vision of ice blue, white and grey, the team logo on almost every flat surface. I swallowed hard, a sudden lump in my throat as I took it all in.
My dream had finally come true.
“Like what you see, rookie?” Osielle asked with a grin.
I could only nod, my tongue frozen in shock.
Osielle rolled his eyes before turning back to his locker.
“Your locker’s over here, Elbin,” Minae said with a wave of her hand.
My locker was next to hers, ice blue in colour with a gold bench in front and my jersey on full display. It had ice blue and white vertical stripes with my surname printed across the space between my wings. My pants were ice blue and I had a white fur hood, shoulder pads and mukluks. Thick leather straps secured my shoulder pads and around my waist. I had thick black gloves and my racket was ice blue with black trim.
“Elbin, gear up!” Prytariel’s order snapped me out of my daze, though there was a look of understanding in her eyes.
I changed into my gear, the familiar actions helping to steady my nerves…until Prytariel started talking again.
“Alright, team!” Prytariel announced, hands on her hips as she faced us, her usual smile gone from her face. “We’re kicking off the Cup against Darigan Citadel.”
Groans of dismay swept through the rest of the team.
“They won the Cup last year!” Rinok exclaimed.
“We don’t stand a chance!” Minae shook her head sadly.
Osielle scowled. “They’re a tough team but so are we!”
Prytariel dipped her head to Osielle in silent agreement. “Right! This is a new season with new strategies and a new teammate. So let’s show those Citadel show-offs what we’re made of!” Prytariel pumped her fist in the air.
The rest of us did the same, the cheer doing the trick of hyping us up for the game ahead.
As I followed my team out onto the field, my mind began to sharpen in preparation for the game ahead. My nerves faded completely now. I had trained for this. I was ready. Or so I thought.
I was almost deafened by the roar of the crowd as we entered the field. I had never heard such noise! We faced off with our opponents that day: Team Darigan Citadel. They leered at us with dark eyes and toothy smirks, as if already confident of their win. Shaye looked especially cocky, standing tall as the crowd chanted his name.
They definitely had the intimidation factor going for them.
I felt a rush of relief as we turned away to take our places on the field. I cast a glance at Rinok, my fellow defender, but he didn’t look at me. His gaze was focused on our opponents. Despite training together for weeks, I had yet to make a real connection with my teammates. I missed having that easy camaraderie but pushed my misgivings aside.
We had a game to win.
It got off to an explosive start, literally, with a clockwork Yooyu. Vickles got the Yooyu first but Osielle kept him busy at the center of the field and didn’t let him anywhere near our goal. The seconds ticked off and the Yooyu exploded. A puff of smoke obscured the field and my heart pounded. I had never played with a clockwork Yooyu before and even though I had been expecting it, I was still shocked by the explosion.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and the game continued. With a normal Yooyu now in play, Vickles once more reached it first. This time, he made his way down the field. I prepared to confront him. No surprise, he slithered straight for me.
What did surprise me is that he slipped right past me, almost faster than I could blink. The goal was scored and I growled, frustrated.
“Vickles is slippery,” Minae said. “Don’t beat yourself up about it.”
I scowled, trying to figure out how to counter such a sleek opponent.
The entire team groaned as a Darigan Yooyu appeared on the field. They are notoriously tricky to handle and most teams don’t have a strategy to combat them. Most teams excluding DC of course. We didn’t stand a chance. Shaye took the Yooyu with almost zero resistance and scored another goal.
“No way!” I exclaimed.
My teammates were equally horrified as a second Darigan Yooyu was released onto the field. We barely had time to react before another goal was scored.
“Oh, this is so much better,” I muttered sarcastically as a mutant Yooyu appeared on the field.
Mutant Yooyus are unpredictable little creatures but sometimes they behave like a normal Yooyu; key word being sometimes. Due to this, gameplay livened up as both teams tried to get it to cooperate. It shot from Vickles’ racket and I blocked it, catching it before it could zip past. My exultation didn’t last long, however. Unlike a normal Yooyu, I could feel it moving restlessly in my racket.
I had to pass it quick or risk losing it. Thankfully, I saw Osielle was open and threw the Yooyu his way. He caught the Yooyu and Prytariel kept Vickles and Shaye off him as they raced up the field. I held my breath as I watched, praying to Fyora the pesky little mutant would cooperate. Then Osielle nicked a power-up that expanded our rival’s goal.
It was our first goal in the game. DC was tough but this was a glimmer of hope for us. We still had plenty of time on the clock. Perhaps the tide was at last turning in our favour. We could still win this!
A fire Yooyu made an appearance next. I gaped in awe as Shaye made a throw from the center of the field. I could feel the heat of the Yooyu as it scorched past the entire team and directly into the net. My awe quickly turned to disgust. What a show-off!
Fired up by this unnecessary display, I relished the chance to face off with Shaye. I got what I wanted as Shaye hustled down the field. Despite the height difference between us, I used my wings to halt him in his tracks.
“You’re not getting past me!” I declared, braced to tackle Shaye the second he moved.
Shaye smirked down at me, amused by my challenge. “Is that so?”
My anger boiled, irritated that he was clearly not taking me seriously. “That’s right!”
“How do you plan on doing that, rookie?” He cocked his head, as if he were actually curious, lightly tossing the Yooyu in his racket.
I narrowed my eyes as I realized it was a faerie Yooyu he held. Faerie Yooyus flew in a curve and this could be combatted by two players standing diagonally to each other. I glanced quickly in my periphery and noticed that Minae was not in a position to block the Yooyu. Why wasn’t she paying attention? Without proper support, I suddenly lost my nerve.
Shaye saw the change in my expression and chuckled. “Well, this has been fun but I’ve got a game to win.” With that, he let the Yooyu fly.
In an elegant arc, it flew around me and directly into the net.
I groaned in frustration as Shaye strode down the field, arms raised in triumph. The crowd went wild as if he had won already.
The next Yooyu was snow and I smiled to myself. All that specialized training was about to pay off! I noticed at once that Prytariel was moving far faster than normal and knew she had picked up the feather that gave players a speed boost. It paired perfectly with the snow Yooyu. I cheered as my captain made our second goal of the game.
The rest of the game was a brutal blur, with almost exclusively mutant and faerie Yooyus in play. We gave it our all, unwilling to go down without a fight. With the help of a freeze power-up, we scored our third goal of the game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Darigan Citadel absolutely creamed us with a score of 3-15.
So ended my first day in the Altador Cup.
Even though my first professional game ended in a loss, I didn’t let it get me down. I told myself that today was a new day. This time, we were facing off with Team Meridell. They were a solid team but had yet to move up in the ranks. I felt much better about our chances with this game.
I almost couldn’t believe it when the game started off with another clockwork Yooyu. Once more, there was a brief scuffle over the Yooyu before it exploded in the center of the field. I held my breath as the smoke cleared, only releasing it as I saw no one was hurt. That would take some getting used to. I refocused on the field, hopeful that this game would be different from the first.
It didn’t get easier as a mutant Yooyu came out to play.
Maille-Meridell’s left forward-reached the Yooyu first. Small and fast, he gave Prytariel and Osielle the slip and neared our goal. He came in on Rinok’s side and took the shot but the Yooyu didn’t cooperate. My fellow defender blocked the Yooyu but didn’t think to catch it. I groaned as Maille scooped the Yooyu back into his racket for another shot at the goal, this time making it in.
Next onto the field was a faerie Yooyu. There was a scuffle for control of the Yooyu as it was passed between Meridell’s three offensive players. Prytariel and Osielle were being run ragged out there, badly outnumbered. This time, Windelle came directly at me but before he got too close, he let the Yooyu fly. Though I did my best to stop it, the Yooyu curved directly into the goal.
Our offence got a chance to catch its breath as a Darigan Yooyu wreaked havoc on the field. Both sides did their best but the Yooyu wasn’t having it. It flew haphazardly across the field, bouncing off walls, rackets and goalposts alike. For once, I was thankful to be on defence. At last, by pure chance, it flew into our opponent’s goal.
A couple fire Yooyus helped to bring up our score with another Darigan Yooyu to make things interesting even though this one scored in Meridell’s favour. Then another clockwork Yooyu made an appearance on the field. This time, Osielle grabbed a glove power-up and scored a goal from the center of the field. I cheered, pumping my fist in excitement. This game was going much better than the first.
The game was half over when a fire Yooyu came into play. Osielle reached it first. Trying to offset the three opposing forwards, they tried to initiate a strategy of keep-away but it backfired. Fiorina-Meridell’s right forward-intercepted it and raced down the field, sharp eyes intent on our goal. I braced myself to stop her.
Unfortunately, so did Rinok. As Fiorina came charging towards us, we both leapt in front of the goal to block her. We collided painfully midair and landed in a heap before our goal. I felt the heat of the fire Yooyu as it sailed over our heads and into our net. Rinok growled in frustration, roughly shoving me off as if it were my fault; I ignored him as we resumed our positions before the goal.
It was a close game, with several more clockwork Yooyus making it onto the field. Most of them exploded but my team managed to score with some of them. We held our own against Meridell, up to the last second. A mutant Yooyu finished the game and Meridell managed to score with it. Despite our best effort, we still lost.
I comforted myself that two losses meant nothing in the long run. Things had to get better from here, right?
I was wrong.
The season wore on. Some games were easier than others and resulted in wins. Others we were completely wiped by clearly superior teams. Each loss got harder for me to take. Yet, I persevered; my team was depending on me.
At the end of the Cup, we had finished in twelfth place, a whole two rankings below Terror Mountain’s place from the previous year. My first year as a professional Yooyuball player did not go as I had imagined. I had not been the fresh young talent they were hoping I would be. I had only made things worse rather than better. I felt sure that I would be released from the team and sent home in disgrace.
“Elbin, we need to talk,” Prytariel delivered the dreaded words as she stood in the doorway to my hotel room.
I nodded glumly, knowing what was coming.
“This season did not go as I had hoped.”
“I know and I’m sorry, Cap-”
Prytariel raised a hand to silence my apology. “This was your first year in the big league. I know how overwhelming that can be.”
“I don’t blame you if you let me go. I know I didn’t live up to your expectations.”
“It’s no surprise that you struggled and none of us blame you for our less than stellar placement this year. At the end of the day, it’s not about any one player’s performance but the team’s overall. We either win or lose together and unfortunately we lost.”
I shook my head, uncertain what to make of this. “So, what are you saying?”
“We’re keeping you on the team, Elbin. Given more training and more experience, I still believe you’ll be an asset to us.”
“Thank you!” I leapt up to hug Prytariel in gratitude for a second chance.
Prytariel laughed and hugged me back. “No need to thank me, Elbin. Just do your best. That’s all I ever ask of my teammates.”
I released Prytariel, determination surging through me. “Next year will be our year!”
To be continued…