"No," she gasped. Her eyes grew wide in the darkness as she felt around her wrist, searching for her beloved bracelet.
Beside her, Corin stopped. "What is it?"
Ursula took a longing glance behind her and shook her head. "Nothing, let's move on."
And so they trudged on into the darkness, twisting along the narrow passageways. Neither of them spoke, for they were each focused solely on making it through the underground maze.
But as they walked, Ursula's mind wandered. She started to ask herself... Why had she left the bracelet behind?
The answer came to her easily, much more easily than she would have expected.
Ever since she had won her first Gormball match, with that very bracelet hanging around her wrist, she had never played a game without it. It was her good luck charm, and without it she didn't feel confident enough to get through the game.
She had to change that. She could no longer depend on the bracelet to win the games for her. She was a talented Gormball player; her success had nothing to do with her bracelet. She had to win a game to prove to herself that she could be a champion, without the bracelet.
Even if it meant losing her most prized possession.
Ursula had lost track of time when she had been lost in thought. But she noticed the narrow pathway was curving upwards, toward the surface. In the distance, she could see a small shaft of golden light shining into the tunnel.
And beyond that, Ursula could sense the Gormball stadium. It was just beyond that shaft of light. She could almost feel the excitement of the fans and spectators, and she tensed as she thought of the pressure of the game itself. When she closed her eyes, she could hear the roar of the crowd and smell the fragrance of popcorn, hot dogs, and various other foods whose aromas filled the stands.
And she could almost see Farvin's smirking face as they faced off against each other in the Gormball match yet to come.
Ursula's eyes snapped open, and they were filled with an incredible ferocity. She would battle against Farvin today. And she would win. After all that he had put her through, she would bring him down. There was no way she could lose today.
"Come on, Corin. I've got a Gormball match to win."
* * * * *
The excited eyes of the fans followed Ursula as she wound her way among the crowd.
"Hey look, it's Ursula the Usul! The famous Gormball champion!"
Ursula paid no attention to them this time. Determination was flowing through her veins, and her mind was set on a single thing. Winning the match.
Corin followed her obediently, busy rambling on about things like cheese and the weather. Eventually, even he could feel Ursula's ferocity and quieted himself.
They reached the gate. This was where they would separate. Ursula would venture to the playing field and Corin would journey to the bleachers to cheer his friend from the sidelines.
"Well," the Techo said cheerfully. "This is it!"
Ursula nodded. "So it is."
"Good luck on winning your Zurroball game!" Corin exclaimed.
Ursula gave him a fierce glance but didn't bother correcting him. "Don't worry," she said. "I don't intend to lose."
And with that, Ursula walked through the gate. Beyond her lay the Gormball field. And soon, the game would be on.
"I'll win," she muttered to herself. "I'll bring you down, Farvin. Just you wait and see..."
* * * * *
"So, you finally decided to show up, eh?"
Farvin greeted her with a smirk. There was a vicious look in his eyes as he glared ferociously at Ursula.
The Gormball players had gathered in a large circle. Some were laughing and talking to one another, but all could feel the tension in the air. Soon, a game would be played. And only one of them would rise as the winner. Only one of them would be proclaimed Gormball champion.
Ursula glared back. "Seems like it. Are you ready to lose? Again?" She added the last part with a sneer.
Farvin let out a low hiss but quickly regained his smug composure. "Of course I am. By the way, what happened to your lucky bracelet?"
"Why do you want to know-" Ursula narrowed her eyes and glared daggers at the alien Aisha. "Wait, you took it, didn't you?"
Farvin grinned evilly and withdrew a small piece of string from his pocket. Ursula's eyes widened slightly in surprise, even though she had been suspecting this.
Her lucky bracelet twirled in Farvin's grasp, the violet bead sparkling beautifully in the sunlight.
"Look who has the lucky bracelet!" Farvin taunted in a singsong voice. He smirked at her. "Not so great now, huh?"
"That's where you're wrong."
"Yeah, I though so- Wha?" Farvin blinked. His eyes swelled in confusion. Things obviously weren't going the way he wanted. "Y-you mean you're not worried?"
"Why should I be?" Ursula answered confidently.
"B-but... Your bracelet-"
"Is just a bracelet. I am still the Gormball champion. And I will win, lucky bracelet or not."
Farvin gaped at her and Ursula turned away, smirking.
"I will win, I swear I will," she whispered to herself.
The referee blew his whistle and there was a deafening roar from the crowd. Ursula twitched and broke into a confident grin.
The game was on.
The Usul watched as the turquoise ball soared through the air. It fell to the ground rapidly, aimed directly for her. With a grunt, the Usul caught it and swiftly threw it back to the sky in a single movement. The ball flew for a few seconds and fell to Farvin. The Aisha held it for a while before tossing it to the player next to him.
And the process continued. The ball soared through the air, only to come back down. The game of hot potato continued for a while, until there was a soft bang and the Gormball exploded into shimmery blue pieces.
The crowd let out a low groan as Kevin the Korbat walked away from the circle, head hanging low. The first player had been eliminated. Now the question was... who would be next?
The game resumed. In time, more players were cast out as the ball continued to explode. The cheers from the crowd grew louder, more intense.
And then... there were only two.
Farvin glared at Ursula, and the Usul returned the angry stare. They were the only two left. And only one of them would win.
"And that one is going to be me," Ursula hissed under her breath.
But what happened in the last few seconds changed everything.
For a moment, their eyes locked. And as Ursula gazed into Farvin's dark eyes, she saw something she hadn't been expecting.
Beneath the cold exterior and the nasty look that danced in his eyes, Ursula saw something else. She saw what Farvin was feeling at the exact moment... She could almost feel his humiliation of being beaten time and time again by the same person. Her. She could feel the exhaustion he felt after long days of training to be able to beat a single player. Her. She could feel the determination that burned inside of him, only to be drenched as another player brought him down. Her.
In those few precious seconds, Ursula realised just how much the game meant to Farvin. She saw how much a win would mean to him. She saw his dreams of becoming the Gormball champion. Dreams that were cast away by none other than herself.
And suddenly, Ursula didn't feel like winning anymore.
The referee blew his whistle and the Gormball was cast into the air. Everything seemed to go in slow-motion then.
The gears in Ursula's mind were shifting rapid-fire. She had two choices. She could fight against Farvin and claim yet another win for herself. She was a better player than him, so winning would be easy. If she really wanted to, she could claim yet another year of having the title Gormball Champion.
Or... she could step aside. Give up. Let the Gormball splash over her, let Farvin be declared the winner. She could step out of the spotlight. She could lose...
The ball was slowly spinning toward her. She had to make a choice. Now.
The ball was nearing her, rapidly shooting toward her. Any second now, and they would make contact. That's when Ursula made up her mind...
She took a deep breath, stepped forward and spread her arms. The Gormball hit her in the chest, exploding all over her.
The crowd let out a gasp. Never, in the entire history of Gormball, had someone given up a game like she just did. Ursula could feel everyone staring at her in disbelief, Farvin most of all. The Aisha's eyes were wide and his mouth hung open in disbelief.
Ursula smiled. "Congratulations, you're the new Gormball champion!"
And with that, she walked away.
* * * * *
Ursula groaned and sat up, rubbing her eyes. Who could that be at this hour?
She had barricaded herself inside her Neohome, hiding from the many reporters and fans who demanded to know what exactly had happened during the Gormball match that day.
She had hidden from them, not wanting to answer their questions. To be true, she didn't know the answer herself.
There it was again. The Usul was wide awake now, staring at her window. It was night now, she could see the star-spangled sky and the crescent moon shining beautifully behind her curtains.
She was sure of where the source of the strange noise was now. Someone was throwing rocks at her window.
Ursula slowly crept out of her bed and walked to the window. She opened it and called out, "Helllooooo?"
But no one answered. The only thing she heard was the soft whispering of the leaves as the trees swayed in the wind. No one was there. The night was quiet, empty.
And that's when she saw it. There, fluttering slightly in the breeze, was a blue note.
Ursula's heart skipped a beat as she reached out and grabbed the piece of paper that was firmly inserted through the loose boards of her windowsill.
She opened the paper and in the faint light could make out two simple words, written in blue ink: "Thank you."
Ursula smiled and looked up at the stars. And what she saw made her grin widen.
Hanging from the top of her window, dancing slightly in the wind, was her lucky bracelet.