Coffee plus first-time snowboarding was a hilarious disaster.
Talas had an even greater knack for pissing off Keria than I did, especially during our Star Derby game trials. He put our Hot Kollars name to shame. And what’s worse, he wouldn’t even antagonize Keria on purpose like I would. He just had to be himself. And by that, I mean use his newly awakened powers. With his Mind Release ability, he was able to tweak his physical performance by a factor of ten. Strength, speed, balance, etc. It took him one week under Jetes’s instruction to go from the worst payer among the four of us to the best. Even with my eyes able to perceive vibrations in the air, I was no match.
His chief objective was to use his powers to refine the game rules. I’m no genius mathematician, so I can’t explain the intricacies of his process but he essentially mapped his performance using his powers and again while he wasn’t to determine what an average performance would reasonably be capable of. Allow me to brag on behalf of myself and Keria for a second and point out how he didn’t consider us average. And to whoever’s reading this, do not think for a second we were below average. That’s just rude.
Anyway, our group was perfect for getting Star Derby off the ground. Talas, as mentioned, crafted the perfect ruleset. Keria inspired hardcore competition. I, myself, promoted more casual playstyles. And Roman, the loudmouth he was, brought more life to every game with his commentary.
He’ll have to pardon the pun but he became even more of a livewire after his Sudita. And he’ll definitely have to pardon this but it’s too funny not to mention. It started as a clear, sunny day at Jetes’s estate while we were supposed to be tending his land. Instead, Roman and I decided to, um- okay, if you’re not at least sixteen reading this, then find another journal- “goof off”. I gave him his first kiss and his powers activated. A singular storm cloud popped into existence and separated us from the sun. The rain it dropped fell only on us. The ground was the only thing it dampened that day. Roman and I–
Nuria shuts the journal so hard that the clap echoes throughout the archives. The boiling in her gut ratchets up quicker than it’s ever done before.
And it’s that jerk Norris’s fault. All his stupid first kiss talk. BLAH!
She caresses the cover of the journal, her fingers tracing the diagonal crimson stripes across the field of white.
But I’m glad she got to enjoy hers. She snickers. And Roman, too. I hope I get to enjoy mine.
The mere thought evokes more boiling and brings with it a pair of faces that race through her mind. She recognizes both and groans, holding her head to support it against the ensuing headache.
Okay, that’s enough of that. Just focus on why you really came down here.
Nuria gets off the floor and replaces the journal where she got it from. She uses the towel draped over her shoulders to dab at her forehead. She dons the brand-new Star Derby jersey for the Vanusi team. The body of the jersey and shorts are white while the seams of the shorts and rings around the sleeves are lime green. And of course, the number on the back beneath her name is “813”.
I’m with you, Kirin. I love this game. But it’s just a game. I want everyone to have fun today. No stress. No attacks. And certainly no rain. As long as we have all that, we’ll be good.
Nuria hisses and leans back. “Ooh!” she exclaims alongside other students in the audience.
Down on the arena floor, Sticker leans her head back to staunch her bloody nose. Lauron blocked Shuri’s overhand strike incorrectly and sent the Star Derby ball careening into Sticker’s face. Drops of blood stain the white and orange sections around her collar. Lauron and Valine rush to her side, the former’s actions fueled by apologetic guilt.
“Aw, crap, that looks bad. Sorry, Sticker. You good to keep going?”
Sticker lowers her head to leer at Lauron alongside Valine.
“Just asking, geez. Okay, sub out!” She turns to the stands. “Evic, you’re up! Double-time!”
Evic sighs gustily. “Do I have to?” he asks Cwen.
“If you do, I’ll exempt you from next week.”
He sighs once more. “Fine.” He leads Cwen down the steps, moving to the arena while Cwen escorts Sticker to the locker rooms below. He tenses up the moment Lauron starts barking at him.
“All right. After an unfortunate accident, we have number seventy-three Evic substituting for number ninety-nine Sta-Sticker,” Tameri announces. “The game resumes with Ohaida leading against S’nue 870 to 690. Round start moves to S’nue.”
Nuria cups her hands around her mouth and cheers. “Whoo! Go, Evic!” She smirks when he awkwardly turns away, no longer tense.
“Rooting for him over Shuri?” Carnya asks. “After what he called you.”
Nuria shakes her head. “Water under the bridge. Long under.”
She watches the game resume, the team of Shuri, Fain, and Pan holding the lead despite Fain’s and Pan’s clumsy performances. Lauron and Evic try their best but their lack of unit cohesion costs their side several hundred points. Nevertheless, Nuria cheers them on till the final buzzer.
“The inaugural game of Star Derby for this class’s junsen year sees the Ohaida team victorious with a score of 580 to 220. But make sure to give both teams a round of applause! It was an excellent, spirited game!” Tameri says.
“Whoo! That was awesome!” Nuria cheers, her sentiment repeated by several other students.
The only disappointed party left is Lauron, scuffing the gym floor with her sneakers. Her sour attitude doesn’t clear until Shuri marches over to her in his white and burgundy uniform. When she refuses to shake his hand, he smirks fiendishly. He twirls his fingers and collects a rotating air current that sweeps Lauron off her feet and suspends her two feet off the ground.
“Shuri, I swear I’ll beat your ass if you don’t put me down!”
“Language,” Tameri thunders into the mic.
“Not until you agree to shake my hand for a game well played. And you better hurry, unless…”
Nuria wishes he didn’t whisper the rest, dying to know what can make Lauron bac down so instantly. She shakes his hand and then smacks him upside the head.
“Jerk,” she mutters.
“Takes one to know one,” Shuri counters, jostling her arm.
Nuria’s gut gets to boiling again when the pair sit beside Evic, their bickering ongoing.
By Drijad, this is getting out of hand! I don’t even want to kiss anyone right–
She jumps when she feels Koren’s furry palm land on her shoulder. “You- Sorry, didn’t mean to spook you. You ready to play?”
“Yeah, are you?” Carnya teases. Nuria can tell she’s intuiting her thoughts.
“Shut up,” she says flatly.
Tyra raises an eyebrow. “You got what she was getting at?”
Nuria groans when the boiling persists. “T, what’s our lineup?”
“You, Koren, and Norris were my original plan but since Devito still hasn’t convinced him to show, then Carnya, do you mind?”
“I’m on it, captain.”
“And now for the Vanusi vs Sulublei game! Team captains, name your three players!” Tameri commands.
“Nuria, Koren, and Carnya will represent Vanusi House,” Tyra declares proudly, her voice booming without the mic.
“I’m sending out Donovan, Mac, and Sutar,” Wallace says dryly.
“Come on, man. Put some energy into it,” Donovan whines.
“Seriously? Was that the best you could do?” Sutar says.
“I think it was perfect,” Mac says.
Wallace hangs his head and sighs. “Just…just go.”
Nuria narrows her eyes, scrunches her nose, and worries the right side of her lip, annoyed by Wallace’s antics.
“Come on, Coach Nuria. Keep it moving.” Carnya helps the phoenix leave Wallace in her wake.
“Where do you want us?” Koren asks, pointing to both ends of the arena floor.
“Carnya, you’ll be our goalie, so stand at the green square in the back there. Koren and I will be the zonemen.”
Carnya takes the rear green spot, sandwiching Sutar and Donovan inside blue squares with Nuria and Koren on the opposite side. Mac faces them down as the blue team goalie. Her green square is the only space she can traverse while the game is active. Same as Koren and Carnya.
“Good luck, guys,” Nuria tosses over her shoulder.
“Thanks,” Sutar replies.
“You, too,” Donovan says.
“Let’s make it one to remember,” Koren says.
“The scores are set and the players are ready! The Vanusi vs Sulublei game begins now! Round start moves to Sulublei!” Tameri announces.
Once Mac picks up the ball, Nuria puts all her focus on her movement. When he steps to the right, she whispers, “Block shot.” When Mac passes the ball in Donovan’s direction, changing the color to purple, Koren intercepts. He uses his right arm and leg as one vertical wall to block the pass midair. He whirls and kicks the ball- turning it red- straight through the goal.
Nuria grins as the crowd cheers for the early goal. She’s proud, however, that her plan works. Knowing communication would be key for victory, Nuria decided to make Koren Vanusi’s star player. With his Primal Sense active, all she or the others have to do is whisper plays and he’ll act accordingly.
And since he and I have gone over how to strike and block, this game’s ours. But that doesn’t mean we have to dominate. I want them to have fun, too.
“Watch back,” she whispers.
Koren nods and mirrors Nuria’s slight retreat.
Mac moves right again. “Donovan, here!” Mac bounces the ball in his hand to turn it white, then lobs it toward Donovan.
First, Nuria shouts,” Carnya, be ready to bounce block!” Second, she whispers, “Tail strike.”
Donovan accepts the pass, and juggles the ball as he rotates, keeping it white as he overhand strikes it. Carnya locks her fingers together to bounce the ball back down after blocking. She sends it Nuria’s way by striking it with her knee, Sutar missing the interception. Nuria disperses the energy with a soft lob, then passes the ball to Koren. He smacks the ball with his tail, scoring with the same white glow Mac aimed at their goal.
“Another impressive play by the Vanusi team! With Mac’s and Donovan’s penalties, the Sulublei team is down to 630 points! There are still four minutes and twenty-three seconds left in the first half! Plenty of time to turn things around!” Tameri states.
“Can we call a timeout?” Donovan asks.
“Yes, you may. Each team is allowed three timeouts per half,” Tameri explains.
“Yeah, we’re using one. Wallace, look alive! We need coaching!”
Nuria turns away when Wallace sluggishly goes to address his team. She waves Carnya over to consult her own. “Okay, guys, that was a great start! You two are crushing it! But…let’s pull it back a bit.”
Carnya says, “For real?” just as Koren says, “I’m in.”
Nuria’s elated by Koren’s response. One of the things she appreciates about him is his ability to curb his competitive nature. She doesn’t even notice the soft boil in her gut until Koren smiles back at her. And this time, she doesn’t shy away from it, aware now why his face was one of the two she pictured before. She looks toward where Lauron’s seated to view the other, genuinely conflicted as to what her response to that should be.
“Yes,” she tells Carnya, for real. It’s not fun if we just run them over. We’ve proven our strat works, and we’ll have time to improve it for next week. For now…”
“Yeah, yeah, okay. I’m down,” Carnya says.
“Good. From here on out, follow your instincts to play. There are no bad ideas anymore. We can go wild.”
“Sutar, stop!” Donovan shouts. He manages to keep her from hitting Mac.
“Looks like they are, too,” Carnya says.
“I’ll show you how hard a girl can hit!” Sutar hollers.
“Wouldn’t work. I’m not ticklish,” Mac argues.
“Dude,” Donovan struggles to say while keeping Sutar at bay, “not…helping!”
Lynald comes down to the arena floor. “Okay, everyone, deep breaths. What’s going on?”
“I told Mac to try passing to Sutar at the start of the round and he said that girls can’t hit the ball hard enough to score,” Wallace explains hesitantly.
“What?!” Carnya explodes.
Nuria steps in front of Carnya swiftly. “Easy.”
“That’s not even what I said,” Mac states. “I said she can’t hit the ball hard enough to score.” He points to Sutar and she tries harder to get around Donovan.
“Ah, okay, well, Mac…” Professor Lynald’s at a loss for words momentarily. “I understand that you and Sutar had a rocky start, but now’s the time to apologize. Both of you. I’ve given you time enough to handle it on your own like young adults. Originally, I’d hoped a game with a mutual objective might speed things along, but oh well. Who’s apologizing first?”
“I’m not apologizing to him,” Sutar argues.
“No chance, professor,” Mac says defiantly.
“Then until you both decide to act maturely, you’re on house arrest effective immediately. You will be escorted to and from class by security and are only allowed to visit Reverse Iceberg during meal times. Is that–”
“Fine. I’m sorry,” Mac says, clearly flustered. “I’m sorry about the doctor stuff. I’m sorry about the game just now. I’m just sorry.”
“You sure are,” Sutar says.
Nuria lifts a brow when Mac struggles to contain his retort, making a jumble of noises. Before he stares at his feet he glances nervously into the stands. Nuria follows his gaze and witnesses Norris and Devito have arrived.
Why’s he so terrified of Norris?
“Su, come on. Just bury the hatchet. If you did it with me, you can do it with him,” Wallace pleads.
“You never insulted Dr. Avery, either.”
“Oh, and I should mention that the house arrest will interfere with your video conferences. Your attitude has a time and place, Sutar. It’s time to determine where that place is and how much you truly value Dr. Avery’s teaching,” Lynald states sternly.
“Fine. But I still don’t want to play with him after.”
“Then…I’ll sub in,” Wallace says begrudgingly.
Sutar swallows hard and looks at the top of Mac’s head since his eyes are still glued to his feet. “I. Am. Sorry. That I. Punched. You. There, I said it. It counts. Have fun, coach.” She taps Wallace’s shoulder twice before vacating the arena.
Professor Lynald laughs meekly. “Sorry for the interruption, everyone. Good luck, Wallace.”
“Thanks,” he says wryly.
“And following the timeout, number seventy-seven Wallace will be taking number eighty-two Sutar’s place! Does the Vanusi team wish to make a substitution as well?”
Nuria looks at the discordance on the Sulublei team and thinks of the synergy of her team. She wants the game to be even and fun, even if she has none. She turns to the crowd, nonplussed to see Tyra already standing.
“Hey, coach, take me out. I’m tired!”
“I’m sending in Syl to take Nuria’s place,” Tyra says boldly.
“All right. Number eleven Syl will be taking number 813 Nuria’s place!”
Nuria high-fives Syl on his way to join Koren as a zoneman, one of the preliminary scorers on any Star Derby team. Once she sits, she cheers like she did for Evic. “Let’s go, Syl! Make us proud!”
“G–” Sutar hesitates in the middle of her cheer before she steels herself to through with it. “Go, Wallace! Go, Donovan!”
Barry and Dig join in but neither of them mention Mac’s name either.
Nuria whirls on Norris and Devito. “You guys can cheer on Mac. It’ll suck if he’s left out.”
“Nah, it’s his fault for acting like an ass,” Norris says.
“I’ll cheer him on next time,” Devito says.
Nuria can’t argue their logic, so she doesn’t. Still, she doesn’t want anyone left out. “G–”
“You can do it, Mac!” Shuri cheers. “Play your heart out!”
Nuria grins and stands. “That’s right1 Don’t make it easy on us, Mac! None of you! Show us what you got!”
“Ah, what the hell,” Devito says. He stands behind Nuria. “Let’s go, Mac! Make my team sweat!”
From there, the cheering becomes infectious, everyone cheering for everyone, save Sutar for Mac, but the game ends up closer than expected. Syl’s and Wallace’s mistakes bring laughter. Donovan and Koren trying to one-up each other brings the hype. Carnya and Mac pull off some clutch saves. Professor Tameri commentates all of it with more flavor than Nuria imagined her capable of. It doesn’t matter to Nuria that Vanusi wins eighty to ten. Even if the score were reversed, she would feel proud.
This is the kind of game Kirin would’ve loved to see.
When everyone gets up to leave the arena, whether it be for food, to do homework, or even to participate in Sutar’s post-game physicals, Nuria stays in her seat. All that she’s experienced and learned today, she wants to savor for all its worth. Once she leaves the arena, her mission will resume, and the hardships to come are daunting.
Eventually, Rum and I will face each other in this room. If I don’t make amends by then, today’s celebration won’t survive for long.