The red Scorchio blew his whistle. Foltaggio stopped running, and one of the Haunted Woods’ defenders ran into him. Foltaggio dropped the Yooyu he was holding and shook the little Korbat’s hand.
“Good game,” the pirate Mynci said. It hadn’t been. Shenkuu had gotten trampled over. Well, not literally, but an 8 to 1 loss never looks good for the first game of the Altador Cup.
Foltaggio approached the other members of the Haunted Woods’ team and said the necessary congratulations to look polite, and to show his team spirit, and then he headed for the locker rooms. On his way, he put on a sly smile and winked at the fangirls in the stands. They went wild screaming. That made him feel a little better.
But in the locker room his frustration came back to him. They had lost. They had lost the first game of the season. If people hadn’t been forced to stay committed to one team, they probably would be dropping out right now and finding a new team to support.
Mirsha walked into the locker room and faced her team. “Guys, I know we didn’t do well, but we have more chances. I know the first game of the season can be nerve-wracking but we’ve just got to get over our fears and win the next one.”
“Yeah!” said Larcy. But he was the only one to show enthusiasm. “Oh, come on guys,” he said. “We can’t let this get us down.”
Foltaggio got up and threw his gloves in his locker. “I’m going back to the hotel room,” he said and stalked out of the room.
The Mynci made the mistake of leaving the coliseum through the front door and was met with the press. He was forced to hide his anger and put his smooth exterior for the reporters.
“Oh, losing is always hard, but Haunted Woods is a hard team and we’re sure we can do better next time,” he said nonchalantly. He smiled and waved to some of his fans.
“I’m sorry, no more questions at this point,” said Foltaggio. “I have to go back to my hotel room. But I hope to see all of you at our game tomorrow.” With another wink, he excused himself from the crowd.
The media attention was really getting to him. So many people asked him what happened to his eye. No one ever asked questions about actually important things such as whether he minded that his position of goalkeeper had been wrenched from his hands only to be given to some Lutari who got nervous easily.
His bitterness was only worsened by the fact that all eight shots that Xana had let through, Foltaggio knew he could have stopped. Foltaggio was the rightful goalie; he had played goalie his whole life.
But it was not to be. Captain Mirsha had decided that Xana had “a natural talent” and she was going to play goalie for the Altador Cup. It was the biggest set of games the team had played in. It was the biggest sporting event in all of Neopian history. What kind of team captain changes the roster a week before the big games?
Foltaggio sighed as he flopped down in his hotel bed. This Mynci was made for being goalie. Xana certainly wasn’t. The Lutari had gotten nervous and her hands had started shaking every time one of the Haunted Woods forwards had come towards her. Nerves were probably the worst qualities a goalkeeper could possess.
Foltaggio got up, changed out of his uniform. Foltaggio didn’t even consider himself a good forward. Why had Mirsha put him there?
A knock on the door brought the Mynci out of his inward rant. He reluctantly let Mirsha in.
“Did you get shorter, Foltaggio?” she joked, looking down at him.
“I’m not that short!” he snapped.
“I was only kidding.”
“Oh, sorry, Mirsha. It’s been a really long day. What do you want?” Foltaggio asked, lying down on his bed.
“Foltaggio, you need to show a little more faith in your team. You leaving after the game really lowered team spirit.”
The Mynci didn’t respond.
“Oh, come on. The rest of us are upset too. Do you realize Xana’s over in her room right now crying?”
“I should hope she is,” muttered Foltaggio.
“What do you mean by that?” challenged Mirsha.
“She lost us the game! She let every shot through.”
“Foltaggio, cut her some slack. It’s her first game as goalkeeper, and she gets nervous. And besides, four of us have to fail the team before the Yooyu even reaches the goalie.”
“She wouldn’t get nervous if she were playing forward like she should be.”
“Foltaggio, I can’t believe you’re still upset about this. You play great forward.”
“Mirsha, I need you to leave,” said Foltaggio. “I need my sleep.”
Mirsha saw through the lame excuse, but before she left she said, “Please go see Xana. She feels horrible. You’re so charming; you can make her feel better.”
Then she left. Foltaggio lay on his bed, still sulking.
Finally, feeling guilty after hearing Mirsha’s words echo over and over again in his head, he got up and headed over to Xana’s hotel room.
“Xana?” Foltaggio asked as he opened the door. The Lutari was sitting on the floor, tears falling from her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Foltaggio. I’m sorry. I failed the team. I’m a horrible goalie,” Xana sniffed.
Foltaggio sighed. He couldn’t stand to see his teammate in this state, but Xana had let him down. The Mynci’s kind side won out and he went and put his arm around Xana.
“Don’t say that. Hey, I was in a new position too. I’m no good at forward.”
“You scored the only point,” said Xana. “You came out looking like the team’s only good player. I came out looking like the worst.”
“That’s not true. The whole team has to fail you before the Yooyu even reaches you,” parroted Foltaggio.
“That’s Mirsha’s line. You don’t really believe that,” she said as another tear slid down her cheek.
There was a moment of silence.
“Okay, fine,” said Foltaggio, getting up. “I think I could have made a better goalie than you.” The Mynci’s nice side had lost this battle and the anger in Foltaggio’s voice was quite clear.
“Well, I could have done much better at forward than you did,” said Xana. “I hate being goalie. But I trusted Mirsha’s decision. I may have lost the game, but I didn’t make a big fuss and lower team spirit like you did.”
Foltaggio bit his lip and looked away.
“Mirsha’s the best tactician on the team. Please, trust her,” pleaded Xana. “Because if you don’t trust Mirsha, the team won’t trust Mirsha and if that happens, we’ll never win.”
Foltaggio could see some wisdom in this. In fact, there was a lot of wisdom to this. He had seen teams fall apart when the players tried to go against the team captain. Foltaggio wouldn’t let himself be the sole reason Shenkuu lost the Altador Cup. Foltaggio decided that playing forward wasn’t as bad as he had made it seem, and he certainly wouldn’t risk the Cup for it.
“Well, I guess it was good to run around for once during a game,” said Foltaggio. “And you’re right. Mirsha really is the smartest person I’ve ever met. Fine, I’ll go along with this. A change can be fun.”
A smile spread over Xana’s face. She grabbed Foltaggio around the neck in a hug. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” said Foltaggio, feeling a smile grow on his face too. “But tomorrow I expect you to do the smart thing and kick the Haunted Woods’ forward in the knee; it’s weak and he’ll be out for the rest of the game.”
Foltaggio and Xana laughed.
“And I expect you to use your charm on their goalkeeper,” said Xana.
“Oh, but if I wink at her, she’ll just think I blinked,” laughed Foltaggio, gesturing towards his eye patch.
“Oh, Foltaggio,” said Xana, more serious now. “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t come over here tonight.”
“Don’t be dramatic,” he said. “All I needed was a little wake up call and a good dose of team spirit. You gave me both of them.”