Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 196,828,660 Issue: 944 | 17th day of Gathering, Y23
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For the Love of the Game


by 77thbigby

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The month of Running Y10

     Terror Mountain.

     This was the team I was to play for. Their left defender had retired and gotten me in her place. My excitement to play professionally had not left me but I knew I was gonna be tested here in more ways than one. An icy wind cut right through me, setting my teeth to chatter as I gripped my coat tighter around me. One of the biggest challenges I would have to overcome was the weather.

     As a Shoyru, I thrived in the heat. I had left the temperate Neopia Central region for this winter wasteland. A place where snow never melted and the sun rarely shone. I’d heard that the sun set for months at a time. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle that.

     Despite being bundled head to toe in winter clothing, the cold seeped through to my very core. I struggled my way through the drifts, duffel bag in hand as I made my way to the Terror Mountain team’s-my team’s-headquarters. At last I stumbled through the main entrance; the difference between the outdoors and in was shocking.

      “Surprise!”

      I had walked into a party. My new teammates greeted me enthusiastically, taking my duffel and helping me get off my outerwear. I was trying to get my bearings, registering that we were in a lounge. It had been decorated with Terror Mountain paraphernalia with a large welcome banner above a darkened hallway. I was touched by their thoughtfulness, warmth tingling through me and not just because the feeling was finally coming back to my extremities.

      I knew all about my teammates but seeing them in the flesh was a different thing altogether. I took them in one by one as they surrounded me.

      Prytariel. A female cloud Aisha and the team captain. She would forever have my respect and gratitude. It was her decision to add me to her team. She was one of those rare athletes that could handle defence and offence. I didn’t want to let her down.

      Minae Mitora. A female blue Chia and the team goalkeeper. Since my focus was on defence, I knew I would be working closely with her. She looked friendly and I hoped that meant we would get along. Perhaps even become friends down the line.

      Rinok Fitel. A male white Bori. Also on defence, he and I would be working closely together. Like me, he was on the young side, in his early twenties. Also like me, he was known for his toughness. We would get along just fine.

      Osielle Lidel. A male blue Buzz. On offence, it would be my job to defend him. I tried not to let my disappointment get the best of me. He had the position I wanted and excelled at.

      Overall, these ‘pets appeared to be ones I could get along with. I hoped to find my place with them and show that I could be a valuable member of the team, even if it meant I had to settle for defence. This had been my dream for the past couple of years. It still didn’t feel real that I was here. I was in the big league now!

      “What’s the matter? The cold freeze your tongue too?”

      “Give him time to warm up to us.”

      I realized I had been staring, probably with a star-struck expression on my face. I snapped out of my daze with a sheepish grin. “Sorry ‘bout that! I’m excited to be here!”

      “We’re excited to have you, Elbin,” Prytariel said.

      “This is quite the welcome.”

      “We want you to feel at home here.”

      We walked over to the refreshments table.

      I loaded my plate with Crystal Tacos, Icy Baked Beans and Snow Rolls with a Super Frosty Ice Shake to wash it all down. I was still cold and eating frozen food wouldn’t help but that was all they had to offer. I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot so I didn’t say anything. I took the nearest seat, my teammates settling around me. This was my life now.

      I turned to Prytariel. “I just want to thank you for the opportunity to play on your team. I know I’m inexperienced but I’ll do my best.”

      “Our scout spoke highly of you, Elbin.” Prytariel smiled at me. “Your style and energy are exactly what our team needs.”

      “I won’t let you down!”

      “We have high hopes for you.”

      The conversation ebbed and flowed around me. I nibbled at my food, hoping that no one noticed my lack of interest. Even if I had found the food appetizing, I wouldn’t have been able to eat it; my stomach was in knots. I was too focused on my new teammates. They had this easy camaraderie with each other that had been built on being part of the same team for the past couple of years.

      As the newest member of the team, I would have to prove that I belonged here with them.

      “We’ve got an early start tomorrow. Minae, show our rookie to his quarters, please,” Prytariel directed.

      “Of course!” Minae popped up with a warm smile in my direction.

      I quickly followed after her, saying goodnight to the rest of the team. After a long day of travel, I was cold, tired and hungry. I was thankful for the early night.

      We walked under the welcome banner, the darkened hallway lighting up as we entered.

      “These are our rooms. Down the hall to the left is the gym and locker room. To the right is the field. Here we are.” Minae stopped in front of an unmarked door, opening it to reveal a sparsely furnished room. “My room is right next door so don’t hesitate to reach out if you need something. I’ll leave you to settle in. Spring training starts tomorrow!” Minae winked at me before walking further down the hall.

      I stepped into the modest room taking in my surroundings. It had a bed, dresser and closet but no window and felt a slight twinge at this fact; I liked seeing the sky. I did have my own private bath though which made up for the lack of a window. My duffel was on the bed but I only shifted it to the floor, too tired to unpack just then. I briefly debated taking a hot shower to warm myself up but decided I didn’t have the energy for that either.

      I quickly changed into a t-shirt and pyjama pants, my skin rising in little bumps from the cold. That was definitely something I would have to get used to. I quickly set my alarm for six the next morning before burrowing under my blankets. I shivered, waiting for my body heat to push away the chill. At last, I fell into a dreamless sleep.

      The next morning, I awoke with the first sound of my alarm and hopped up, wincing at the iciness of the floor. I’d definitely be getting a floor rug, slippers and fuzzy socks as soon as possible. I didn’t have enough space to hover which was just as well; prolonged hovering burned a lot of energy. I didn’t want to wear myself out before I’d even started my first day of official training. I settled for darting about on tiptoe, changing into my workout clothes.

      I met Rinok and Osielle in the hall and we all headed for the gym. Prytariel was already there working out. To my surprise, I did not see Minae but didn’t mention it. I headed for the nearest machine and began working out in the way I was familiar with. At last, I was thankful for the ever-present chill as I worked up a sweat.

      Minae joined us almost half an hour later with no apology or explanation for her tardiness. Prytariel didn’t reprimand her and the others didn’t bat an eye. Apparently, this happened frequently enough not to warrant a reaction. I couldn’t believe it! For being a professional team, they seemed to be far more chill than I was expecting, surrounded by ice and snow that we were.

      After a couple hours, we’d worked up an appetite and headed for the dual dining and kitchen area that was next to the lounge. I had oatmeal with dried fruit and a slice of buttered toast. Prytariel and Minae had slices of toast with peanut butter and bananas along with iced coffee. Rinok and Osielle had protein shakes. We sat around the table, Prytariel directing the conversation.

      “Elbin, I know you’re new so after we eat, we’ll head out to the field so you can familiarize yourself with the space and equipment we use,” Prytariel began.

      “Oh, so training for the rest of us will be later,” Minae said with a hopeful look.

      Prytariel shook her head. “Nope! It’ll do us all good to get a refresher. We should all be out there to support our rookie. The team that trains together-”

      “Stays together,” the others finished.

      “Exactly!” Prytariel smiled. “We all have tips and tricks to share. So finish up here and meet me on the field.” With that, our captain excused herself from the table.

      Rinok and Osielle didn’t take much longer. I didn’t want to keep them waiting so I finished off the last spoonful of oatmeal and washed my dishes. To my surprise, Minae lingered over her peanut butter and banana toast and iced coffee.

      “Um, Minae, aren’t you coming?” I gave the goalkeeper a confused look.

      Minae hummed, having just taken a large bite of toast. She nodded her head and waved me off.

      I shrugged my shoulders. “Alright, I’ll see you out there.” If she wanted to take her time, it wasn’t my place to argue with her.

      I made a quick stop in my room to grab my parka and mukluks before heading out to the field. To my utter shock, Prytariel was out there in shorts. Though we all had short sleeve jerseys on, our gear and exercise would help keep off the chill. But shorts?!

      “You have a question, rookie?” Prytariel asked with a cocked brow.

      “Um, Captain, aren’t you cold?”

      Prytariel chuckled. “It’s not cold. It’s a great day for training!”

      An icy wind swept across the bare expanse of the open field. I couldn’t suppress my shudder.

      Osielle patted my shoulder. “You’ll get used to it, rookie.”

      I nodded my head. I had to.

      Prytariel stood behind a row of equipment: racket, gloves and pads. The only thing I didn’t understand the purpose of was the snowball at the center.

      “Like every Yooyuball team, we use the standard gear. The main difference is this.” Prytariel lifted the snowball in one hand. It unrolled into a snow Yooyu.

      I had heard of snow Yooyus and seen them in pictures but this was the first time I was seeing one up close.

      “Tell me, rookie, what are snow Yooyus known for?” Prytariel asked.

      “Snow Yooyus behave like normal Yooyus. The only difference is that they move at a fraction of the speed,” I explained, pleased to know the answer.

      Prytariel nodded, tossing the Yooyu from one hand to the other. “So what then is the advantage of a snow Yooyu?”

      Here I hesitated. Snow Yooyus seemed like a hindrance rather than a help. Having never handled one, I couldn’t think of a single thing they could be good for.

      “They can handle the cold, for one thing,” Minae said, finally joining us.

      “They’re easy to intercept,” Rinok said.

      “They’re ideal for close-up shots,” Osielle said.

      “The snow Yooyu is our speciality,” Prytariel said. “The other teams don’t train with them like we do.”

      This still seemed like a problem to me. Specializing was all well and good but making it our sole focus would weaken us in the long run. Though, I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want to stir up trouble. I had to trust that Captain knew best.

      With this introduction, training began. My biggest adjustment was moving through the snow while in full gear. I felt big, heavy and slow. I struggled to keep my balance and not slip on the often precarious footing of the field. The field constantly changed, the wind forming and moving drifts and ridges. It also covered bumps and dips. I face-planted more than once, more thankful than ever for the protective gear I wore.

      I. Did. Not. Like. It.

      With every blast of wind and fall, I longed for those bygone summer days of my childhood. When I felt light as a feather and not a care in Neopia. The sun warm on my wings and joy in my heart. I had been free. My dreams of the future hadn’t been like this!

      Yet, I refused to quit.

      At the end of that first day, I gingerly stripped out of my gear. My body felt like one big bruise. I was wearier than I had ever been. As I lowered myself into a hot bath I told myself things would get better.

      So spring training went.

      Over the next several weeks, I slowly acclimated to my life as a professional athlete. If I could say nothing else about Terror Mountain, it’s that they’re a hardcore team. We trained day or night since darkness set in early on the mountain. We also trained in all sorts of weather be it falling snow or ice or both. Nothing could stop us!

      As Yooyuball season drew ever closer, our training changed.

      One morning during breakfast, Prytariel had an announcement. “Alright, team! From now on, we’ll be practicing with the local league to practice strategies.” Prytariel grinned at me. “Now we’ll see what our rookie can do!”

      Out on the field we met The Flurries. They certainly looked formidable despite their name. Dressed in grey and white, I recognized the looks of determination on their faces. Just because I was on a big time team now didn’t mean I had lost respect for local leagues. I couldn’t wait to see them in action!

      We took our respective places on the field. A referee started the game and we were off. One would think that having a game with only a snow Yooyu would be boring but that’s not the case. The thing about snow Yooyus is that they only move slowly when they are out of their element in order to prevent them from overheating. Surrounded by snow and ice, they move just like regular Yooyus.

      I watched as the Flurry forwards-a Christmas Cybunny and a cloud Gnorbu-ran down the field towards me. With deft, easy movements, they tossed the snow Yooyu between them. They were playing an expert game of keep-away against Prytariel and Osielle. I exchanged a glance with Rinok across from me. They couldn’t get past us!

      The Flurry forwards slowed as they neared us. They were smaller than me but even with my training, they were clearly faster and far more experienced than I was. Worse, they knew it. With nary a glance, they focused their attention on me. With the snow falling thick and fast, the Yooyu was almost invisible.

      I knew I was in trouble.

      Weighed down by my gear, I couldn’t move as I wanted to and I struggled to keep the two forwards in my sight. The Gnorbu darted to my right and I moved to block her. This left the goal wide open and allowed the Cybunny to shoot the Yooyu directly towards it. Despite his best attempt, Rinok couldn’t block it and Minae was too slow. The forwards exchanged a high five as the Yooyu hit the back of the net.

      Rinok glared at me. “Nice going, rookie!”

      I couldn’t blame him. I was upset with myself too. At least this was just a practice game. I had work to do before we got to the Altador Cup. We resumed our positions on the field.

      The next time the cloud Gnorbu made it close, Rinok moved into my area and I felt crowded by his over-guarding. The rival forward took advantage of this and scored another goal.

      “Rinok!” I snapped. “Go back to your area and do your job!”

      “I would if I could trust you to do yours,” Rinok growled.

      The retort stung because it was true. I wasn’t really angry with my teammate but with myself. So much for proving myself!

      This time, I faced off with the Christmas Cybunny. I was determined to not let her slip past.

      Sensing my resolve, the Cybunny flicked her eyes around as she debated her next move. Without warning, she hopped up, ready to throw the Yooyu over my head.

      Desperate to stop her, I leapt towards her to intercept the Yooyu. The Yooyu slipped right over the edge of my racket and, weighed down by my gear, I fell right on top of the much smaller Cy. The breath got knocked out of me but I was more embarrassed by my gaff than anything else. I scrambled awkwardly to my feet. I knew I was better than this!

      The Cybunny gave me a sympathetic look. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ll get the hang of it, you’ll see.”

      I turned away, still frustrated. I didn’t want sympathy. I was on a professional team. They were counting on me. I needed to be the best and right now I wasn’t.

      Despite my screw-ups, the game was neck and neck. Prytariel scored a last-second goal that brought us to 10-8 for the win. I couldn’t relish it though as I hadn’t done my part to earn it. The AC was mere weeks away. I had to do more!

      “Cheer up, rookie!” Minae encouraged. “We won the game!”

      “Yeah, no thanks to me,” I muttered.

      “That’s what practice is for. We know where to improve now and we’ll clean up our act before the season starts,” Prytariel said, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder.

      I nodded, my competitive spirit stirring up at the challenge. I could do this!

     To be continued…

 
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