Unlikely Allies: Part One
The cool breeze lifted Delma’s hair and cooled the sweat beaded on her scalp. As she removed her helmet, she turned to the end of the field and watched Valtonous approach the rest of them at a quick jog.
“Practice and drills went well today,” Kakoni began as soon as Valtonous had joined them. “But with the regular season wrapping up and the Tournament coming closer, we’re going to have to start practicing other techniques.” The Bruce frowned. “Hopefully we can do well this year. We have a lot of stigma and prejudice to fight, though.”
Babolino pulled his hand out of his glove. “So we didn’t do so well last year. We often do better during the regular season than in the post-season tournament. One tournament isn’t a good tool to measure a team’s skill.”
Kakoni held up his hand as Valtonous opened his mouth, expression quarrelsome. “I know that we’ve often had a poor performance in the cup. However, I know that we aren’t usually one of the worst teams during the season. It just means that we need to start practicing early. It seems like the games played in the tournament are the same as the ones played during the regular season, but in reality, the coaches and I have been looking over some of the media and it seems like we’re going to have to start different tactics, alright?”
Ciona flicked her hair carelessly. “Are we going to have a different practice schedule?”
Kakoni frowned. “I don’t think so. We only have two matches left so we’re going to transition smoothly.” He paused. “Don’t forget to clock your time in at Grundo’s Gym when you go to do your weight training. Good practice today. See you all in two days.”
Delma watched Kakoni and Valtonous turn and head for the locker room before falling into step next to Ciona. Delma had liked Elbin, and would have liked to see him on the team longer to gain the experience he lacked, but she was not a coach and could not influence who was kept and who was let go. Ciona benefited the team in other ways as well. Privately, Delma was glad to have another girl on the team. A few uninformed fans had mentioned embarrassing comments before in Valtonous’s presence, implying that the whole team was composed of girls. Valtonous had corrected that mistake immediately. Delma smiled to herself, thinking of the Uni’s fiery temper.
“So, Delma, what’re your plans for tomorrow?” Ciona asked casually as they entered their locker room. The Kyrii took one last swig from her bottle of Krawkade before tossing the empty container in her duffel bag.
“Oh... I dunno. I suppose just work out at the gym for a bit. I don’t have many plans.” The faerie Zafara changed out of her sweaty uniform into a pair of pale grey sweats with lavender trim. “I can’t wait until we can go back to Altador.” Staying in the city was Delma’s favorite part of the Tournament.
“Yeah, Altador’s really nice. They’ve got some good gyms.” Ciona swung her bag over her shoulder and headed for the door. Delma followed closely behind.
“Well, I’ll see you in two days, then,” Delma said as she raised her hand in farewell.
“See you later,” Ciona replied.
“The trouble was,” Kakoni said, indicating with a small pointer the screen on the table of their shuttle compartment, “that we were unprepared to catch our rebounds.” The faerie Bruce fast-forwarded the footage more a few minutes, and Delma glanced around, stretching.
Their compartment wasn’t exactly cramped, but she wouldn’t have called it roomy. Their last two games of the season had been less than spectacular, with a draw and a loss, and they were now on their way down from Faerieland to set up temporary residence in Altador.
Babolino watched the screen with interest. “At least we brought it to the net that often. You can’t score if you don’t shoot.”
Kakoni shrugged. “Yes, but you also can’t score if you can’t block.” He pressed a button on his remote, and the vidscreen shut off. “We’re almost there. We’ll have the day off, and start practice tomorrow. We have to get used to the Altador field again, so we’re going to have a bit of work over the next week or two.”
Delma exhaled and leaned back in her seat. Next to her, Ciona took a calming breath and looked out of the window as their shuttle descended. “Altador’s an amazing city. I hope we have enough time to go to the marketplace this year.”
Delma sat back and listened to her friend’s voice and the gentle creaking of the shuttle’s carriage as they arrived in the city.
As the shuttle docked, Kakoni and Valtonous stood and moved to the front of the carriage. Delma and Babolino remained seated, while Ciona stared out the window at the shuttle station with interest.
“Your luggage will be delivered to your hall,” the Uni pilot’s voice filtered through the speaker. “Please have a good day. Thank you for making Neopian Shuttles United your choice today.”
“Hey,” Kakoni warned the others. They all came to stand by the door, behind their captain. Delma expected the flash of bulbs and the wide, blank lenses of the press’ cameras, but it was still hectic after the relative silence of the shuttle.
“—as the Faerieland team steps off their shuttle,” a purple Aisha in a smart business suit said into a microphone, facing a camera.
Other voices clamored around them. “Captain Kakoni, do you have any comment about the state of your team after facing a disappointing end to the regular Yooyuball season?”
“Babolino, can we get a comment on the team’s relationships? Are the rumors of a disagreement between Kakoni and Valtonous true?”
“—and there is the new defender, Ciona Broan, bringing up the rear. Her performance during the season was reliable, bringing Faerieland supporters hopes for the tournament...”
Delma marveled at the spirit. It was weeks until the tournament, and already, it seemed, every major news station in Altador—and those that broadcast long-range—were gearing up for the presence of the teams. Kakoni had reminded them all to ignore the press until their first official meeting, which would take place in two days. Delma smiled for the cameras, though.
Kakoni paused mid-step as the reporters swarmed on either side of their small group. Valtonous stared past him, bewildered, but after a moment his eyes focused on a group identical to their own, surrounded by flashbulbs and cameras as well.
Delma stepped to Babolino’s side to see what Kakoni was staring at. The team was clad in deep purple and red, in contrast to their own pastels and wings. Delma didn’t need to stare, though, to identify them as Team Darigan.
“I can’t believe they’re here already, too,” Kakoni muttered quietly to Valtonous. While neither team displayed open hostility to the other, it was no secret that Darigan had trounced Faerieland in last year’s Cup, and Delma knew that Kakoni was more than eager to give them a fair showing this year. “I guess we can’t expect to get any extra practice in.”
Layton Vickles looked up and caught sight of the Faerieland team. His wide smirk gave Delma a chill. “Kakoni, can’t we just go find our hall,” she whispered in the Bruce’s ear. “You can talk later...”
Kakoni turned around and gave her a look, then shrugged, and without any warning they continued to the ferry dock, where they piled into one of the barge-like structures and set off on their way to their temporary residential hall.
“This is so amazing!” Ciona had contained her wonder until they arrived in their suite, but Delma was amused at the Kyrii’s reaction nevertheless. “It’s so big!”
Delma opened the door to their suite and poked her head out. The main hall stretched off in either direction, devoid of life and full of echoes as one of the hall’s maids cleaned one of the suites at the end of the hall. Delma returned to Ciona’s side, letting the door fall shut once more.
“It is very different from Faerieland.” Delma had missed the soft cloud underfoot and the high, floating arches and ceilings of the buildings back home the first year she had come to Altador. However, she had since grown to appreciate Altador’s unique architecture.
Ciona looked over her shoulder at Delma from her spot by the window. “Delma, this year we’re going to have so much fun in the same suite!” Before Ciona had arrived, all the boys had booked one suite, and she had taken the other, by herself. This year, Valtonous, Kakoni, and Babolino had all wanted to share a suite again, so she had been assigned the second one with Ciona again.
“Yeah. It’s so nice...” The suite was huge, with both a sitting area and a separated bathroom along with the usual bedroom furnishings.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Ciona said as she opened the curtains widely to display the sloping green lawn beneath their window. The path to their practice green lay just out of sight.
Delma smiled at Ciona’s eagerness and moved over to the sitting room, where their luggage had been stacked neatly. She separated her bags from Ciona’s and began to unpack while Ciona remained at the window, looking out.
“Hey, I think I see Team Darigan,” Ciona said suddenly, startling Delma as she stacked her clothing in the dresser.
“What do you mean?” The Zafara hurried over to the window to see.
It was undeniably Team Darigan, approaching the hall from where their ferry had dropped them off at the curb. Delma watched openmouthed as the five players, the coaches, and the managers entered the Hall.
Delma stared until they were out of sight. She then moved over to the door and opened it quietly.
Down the hall she could hear the Lutari who had been cleaning one of the other suites say pleasantly, “I hope you enjoy your stay. Don’t hesitate to ask if there is anything we can help you with.”
Delma’s mouth fell open in disbelief. They were going to be sharing a hall with Team Darigan?
To be continued...