Also by kittygirl5170
When I first met Kal, I hated him. He was a pompous, conceited, and overall selfish Darigan Eyrie so self-absorbed that he couldn't walk five feet before praising himself in one way or another. And people called him a Gormball Legend? Fat chance. So when I heard that this was his last year of competing in the Gormball Championships on the Virtupets Space Station, I knew I had to beat him. I had to show everyone that not only was I a good enough player to win a championship, but a good enough player to beat the champion.
This season had been good to me. I entered the game as a rookie and managed to place in every competition I participated in. Most people passed it off as beginner’s luck. I thought that too originally, but with every win I began to stop doubting my skills and realize that I really was one of the best players to come to this game. I once read in Gormball Monthly that I, Dirk Thompson, was the player with the brightest future ahead. Me! And I was going to show that jerk Kal Only-Needs-One-Name-Because-He's-So-Gosh-Darn-Famous that I was not just a fluke. I was here to stay, and more importantly, I was here to knock him off his incredibly high self-raised pedestal.
When I arrived at the Neolodge holding the competitors, I was more than a little angry to find that my AstroVilla room neighbored Kal's. That meant every day as I came and went from my room I might have to endure meeting the self-absorbed champion, and as I relaxed in my room I would have to listen to his booming voice talk about himself.
And that's what I was listening to as I placed my suitcase down on the bed. I tried to ignore the thunderous voice complimenting himself as I unpacked. As soon as I was done, I went to find the official Gormball playing field. You could never practice enough, I told myself. Grabbing a Gormball from the locker rooms, I began tossing the ball into the air and going after it as quickly as I could.
This was where I belonged. Every time I had a Gormball in my hands, it was if we were speaking to each other. So many other people I spoke to couldn't hear anything at all but I could. I closed my eyes, and waited for the Gormball to start talking. It was asleep. I threw it up in the air. Catching it, I knew it was awake. Lobbing it up a few more times, I could tell the Gormball started panicking. A few more tosses, and just when the level of panic reached explosion rates I threw it away. It exploded mid-toss. I smiled. That was more than just “beginner’s luck.”
"You're good, kid," a voice said from behind me. I turned to see who it was, my black and white Shoyru wings fluttering. Facing me was the champion himself. "You’re good, but not good enough to beat me."
I scoffed. "You think so?" I said, glaring at the Eyrie. I could make out the wrinkles on his face, the scars he had received from rogue Gormballs exploding, the age that showed rather prominently. I noticed that none of these features were on the scads of posters and pictures made in Kal's likeness. How different he looked in real life.
"Yeah, kid. You're not going to be able to beat me," he said matter-of-factly. "But look at it this way: you're a rookie; you'll have years to improve. You'll have your year soon enough. This year, well, this year's mine."
"We'll see about that," I said angrily. "Upsets have happened. It is a game of luck, after all."
He winked. "Heh, luck, you say. You can have all the luck, kid. I won't need any of it. Be seein' ya in the game, eh?" Smiling, the Eyrie turned on his heel and left the field.
I was now more determined than ever to beat Kal.
The first game of any championship series is incredibly nerve wracking. There are eight people total in the first game, and there is plenty of time to get distracted as the others hold the ball. And that is exactly what happened in my first match. A Gormball had just exploded on that annoying Usul. The crowd had gone crazy. “Why would they support someone who is so obnoxious?” I wondered as the Gormball was thrown to me. I was surprised; I hadn't even realized we were playing again. I was so surprised I couldn't refocus enough to play, and the ball exploded all over me.
It was the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to me. I couldn't believe it. The whole crowd laughed, and as I looked around, the one laughing the hardest was none other than Kal. "Dirk," he said later as we went back up to our rooms, "Good catch there, you almost made it seem like you’ve played this game before." The Darigan Eyrie laughed again and disappeared into his room.
But the next day I vowed not to break concentration once. The Usul had been eliminated in the first round and it could have just as easily been me. Even though the six other people allowed for a lot of time to be distracted, I wasn't. I won that match. And the next match. And the one after that. I had won five matches total by the end of the semi-finals. No one had ever made a record of 5-1 in their rookie year. Not even the great Kal. The Neopian Times was all over me, and it was hard not to bask too much in the glory. But I hadn't won yet. The hardest match was tomorrow, against Kal.
There was a knock at my door. It was late, very late. I wasn't able to fall asleep and had spent the night tossing and turning, trying to drift into drowsiness. But it hadn't come. I threw the sheets off and went to the door. I was surprised to find my opponent on the other side.
"What do you want?" I asked, quickly recovering from being caught off-guard.
The Darigan Eyrie frowned. "May I come in?" he asked.
What in the world was going on? Silently, I stepped back and allowed the hulking Darigan Eyrie through the door.
"I have a favor to ask of you, Dirk," he said as he sat on the edge of the bed. "Now hear me out before you say anything, okay?"
He looked at me with an expression I had never seen him with before. I realized it was a look of real emotion. It was unsettling to see him so differently. I nodded for him to continue.
"Let me win tomorrow," he said quietly. "You'll have plenty of time to improve, but me, I'm done. This is it. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to lose at your last chance? Please, just throw the competition, for me."
I was appalled that he would ask me to do something like that. At first I shook my head disbelievingly. "No way," I replied. "No way would I do something like that. This is my shot to prove to everyone that I'm the best! I'm not going to throw it for you, when you've treated me so rudely the past couple days!”
"You don't understand," he said. “It's all over the news, I'm beginning to be a disgrace to my name, they're saying. Some are saying that I shouldn't have even come back this year. No person in this game has ever gotten so close to winning each game, without winning a single game."
"There was the first game, where you humiliated me," I said, trying to be helpful. It was hard to sympathize with my opponent.
"Everyone knows you were distracted." His head was hung, looking at his toes. "There's got to be something you can do.”
"Kal," I said. "No. You may have worked hard, but I did too, and this is the biggest thing that could ever happen to me. I won’t throw the game for you."
"This is the biggest thing that could ever happen to me too. The history books, the people, they won’t remember my great years. All they’ll remember was that I was the champion for a while, but in a huge surprise loss I let my fans down tremendously. The good part's just a side thought. Everyone remembers the bad. Always."
I frowned. What he said was true. But I couldn't let him win, not now, not ever.
"Sorry, Kal. I just can't," I said after a moment of the two of us sitting in silence. "I just don't play that way."
He nodded sadly, and stood up. "I suppose I understand. If I were you, I'd do the same thing. Well, goodnight, Dirk."
He quietly left the room, shutting the door behind him.
I knew I wasn't going to get any sleep tonight at all.
It was six o'clock when I threw off the sheets and got dressed for the day, not able to wait any longer. I hadn’t slept a wink, but it was understandable. Today was the biggest day of my life, and I was anxious. It didn't help that Kal had to come in and plead with me last night, but I tried to avoid thinking about that.
Fans were already lining up outside the stadium when I arrived to warm up. They cheered as I walked past them, smiling gratefully and waving. I entered the stadium to find the artificial grass neatly groomed and the Gormballs waiting calmly on one side of the field. I sighed deeply. I could relax here, at least a little.
I looked over at Kal. He looked like he always had, the self-centered jock. But it wasn't in his eyes. Maybe Kal hadn't slept any last night either, or the old was showing through in his eyes. I felt sorry for him.
But not sorry enough. I was going to win this game. Midnight chat or not, it was mine, because I deserved it. Right? Isn't it the right thing to do to show the world what a good Gormball player I am?
But that sounded like something a self-centered jock would say. Who had I turned into?
Had I really become the thing I despised? No, I wouldn't allow it. It was despicable to think like this; like I was the most entitled person in the world. But... I wanted to win so badly. I wanted it more than anything.
What in the world was I going to do?
The game was about to start, but I was nowhere near prepared for it. Mentally, I was completely out of whack. This predicament Kal had put me in was wreaking havoc in my mind. Kal, on the other hand, looked completely at peace although I could see a little disappointment behind his smile.
I closed my eyes, took a couple deep breaths and centered myself. It worked wonderfully. That is, until I opened my eyes and saw Kal again. His coach was talking to him. Although none of the fans could hear them, I could.
"Kal, if you lose this, you will lose all those marketing opportunities after your Gormball career is over. Millions of Neopoints rest on this game."
"I don't care about the money," said Kal, and he turned his head to look at the fans cheering in the crowd. "I've let them down." Kal's voice shook a little as he spoke..
Was Kal, the great and famous Kal, on the verge of crying? He was. I knew how much Kal protected his image. To let others see him shedding a tear was uncharacteristic of Kal.
When I heard Kal's voice falter it hit me how much this meant to him. His coach was right, even though he had the wrong perspective; the path the rest of Kal's life took depended on this game. He could live in shame, or in honor and glory. Everything was resting on this.
But it was unlikely that Kal could win against me. He didn't have the skills he once had. But if I, for some reason, suddenly had less talent, I could improve the way Kal would be remembered. He wasn't quite as annoying and macho as he pretended to be. I could sympathize with the Eyrie whose voice faltered; I could want that Eyrie to win.
I wanted Kal to win the final game.
So I helped him win it. I made mistakes deliberately, I tossed the ball to him squarely in the chest, so he could pass it back to me as quickly as possible with less chance of the Gormball exploding in his hands, but most of all, I made it look as if I were really trying my best. I could see his pride and confidence swell as he saw me make mistake after mistake while he played the best he could, which was still incredibly well.
It ripped my heart out to make all these mistakes, but I forced myself to. I had to. I would have more years; more chances. I had a career ahead of me. Kal's career was coming to a close. He deserved to leave the game a legend, and I hoped that maybe, just maybe, I could follow in his footsteps and manage to do the same thing. I aspired to be the next Kal, and I would do my best to reach that. And with that in mind, I caught the Gormball one final time and held it tightly, squeezing it as I gripped it for one, two, three seconds.
And it exploded. And Kal was the winner. And he brought the house down.
And my heart and conscience could rest.