Here is the next installment of the blog hopping story by Matticus and myself. Sorry it took so long to get it to you. There was a delay caused by a miscommunication between us. There’s no point in assigning blame (it was actually my fault, but since this is my blog, I’m still going to say it was his). Let’s just sit back, relax and enjoy Part 3.
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“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”
Plex jumped up reaching for a sword. The voice was so loud, and so insistent, that he thought they were under attack. When he was awake enough to take in his surroundings, he realized that he was in his team’s training encampment. It was his new coach who had awakened him. His coach was yelling into some cone shaped contraption that somehow amplified his voice.
A quick glance around showed that none of his teammates appreciated the wake up call, especially since it was still dark outside. Many of them appeared like they were going to protest this intrusion, but Plex doubted that it would come to that. The vision of what the dragon did to the minotaur when he complained was still fresh in their minds. They might grumble under their breaths, but they wouldn’t voice their displeasure out loud. They didn’t want to be Lavalandinarial’s next meal.
When everyone was finally roused, their coach led them in a series of exercises. The diminutive gnome claimed that these would help their flexibility and quickness. Coach Sprout walked among his players as they performed the assigned tasks, watching them as they followed his instructions. He stopped in front of an orc and gave a small shake of his head.
“Go on,” Coach Sprout told the orc.
“Tell everyone what you just grumbled about.” The orc, suspecting a trick, shook his head. “I’m not going to complain to the dragon,” Sprout assured him. “I just want them all to know your complaint.”
“I said your exercise is useless. I don’t feel more flexible.”
Plex stifled the urge to laugh. The team’s remaining minotaurs didn’t bother. They laughed openly at the orc, adding their commentary on the creature’s intelligence as they did so. Coach Sprout called for silence through his cone. It took a few moments, but the minotaurs finally did as they were told.
“The results aren’t instantaneous,” he explained. “It takes repetition, over the course of many days, before you will see a difference. And this is just one of my exercises. I have others. When we’re not in the arena practicing, we’ll be doing these exercises. I will not only improve your flexibility and quickness, but also your endurance, strength, and coordination. By the time we’re done, you’ll be a better you.”
That last statement brought snorts of derision from both the minotaurs and trolls. None of them dared to give voice to them, however. Plex was glad for that. He didn’t want his team to be going through constant changes because his teammates kept rebelling against their coach. There was no way to build a rapport with them if the dragon kept snacking on them.
“I also have a couple of team building exercises,” Sprout announced. “The dragon left us all scrambling after it changed everything. I know many of you aren’t happy playing for a gnome. I know most of you aren’t happy playing on a team that isn’t made up of your kin. I also know that unless we come together as a team, we won’t win this tournament.
“Personally, I don’t care if you all like each other or not. It would be helpful, but it’s not exactly realistic. But, we don’t need to like each other to work together as a team. If you all do as I say, and work together, I believe we have the best chance of all the teams to win the whole thing.”
After the exercises, Coach Sprout broke them into groups of players he called strings and had the attacking players face off against the defensive players in drills, much like the ones Plex had done as part of the all elven team. However, the coach kept switching players in and out from the strings and giving players instructions that differed from what their roles in each position should have been.
Finally, a dwarf, who had been told not to rush the quarterback but to pretend to rush and then drop back to provide extra pass coverage, stopped mid play, hands on his knees and breathing heavily. “This has to be a waste of time,” he grumbled between wheezes.
Coach Sprout blew his whistle and stepped onto the field to address the dwarf. He was talking directly to the dwarf but spoke loudly enough so the rest of the team could hear. “It’s not a waste of time at all. Against some defenses you won’t have the size or speed to break through and disrupt the quarterback. Did you look at any of the other teams while we were all in the stadium? Some of them have very large offensive lines. You won’t get through. You should still try but you should also learn to read the quarterback’s movements and know when you have the opportunity to drop back and disrupt the pass or tackle a runner or, or, or…
“That’s the point. If we can get all of you to be aware of what is going on around you, learn to help each other out, you will become more formidable than you would if you only played the one role you think you are best at.
“I’m the coach here and I need you to trust that I’m doing what is best for the team. Do you think I don’t want to win every bit as much as you just because I’m not on the field with you?”
Before any of the team could answer, a second gnome ran onto the field and whispered something into Coach Sprout’s ears. The coach smiled and nodded, then padded the second gnome on the back and blew his whistle to call the whole team in.
“I’ve just got some great news. I’ve managed to arrange a practice game with one of the other teams. Their dwarven coach and I have been friends for years and, luckily, he agreed that it would be smart to play against each other before the games start to matter. A friendly tune-up, if you will.
“Let’s break for now and get some lunch. We’ve done some good work this morning. After lunch we’ll do the same exercises from this morning and then I’ll lead you through one of the team building things I mentioned earlier.
When none were forthcoming, Coach Sprout said, “Good. Let’s head in. I told the cook you’d be tired and hungry and need some special food for lunch today.”
Plex didn’t like the sound of that and, looking around, he saw a lot of wide eyes in the players around him. It seemed that they all were a little worried about what their coach had planned for their meal. His stomach was already protesting the lack of food, so he decided to just go along with it and got in line with everyone else.
He immediately regretted it.
He didn’t know what was being made in the pots at the front of the line, but it had a foul stench. Plex had come across rotting animal carcasses in the forest that had a more pleasant aroma. His appetite continually disappeared the closer he got to the front of the line. With nothing else to do except wait for his food, Plex took the opportunity to size up his teammates. As he did so, one thing became clear.
“This is the team building exercise.”
“What was that?” asked a gruff voice behind him.
Plex was startled. He hadn’t realized that he had said it out loud. Glancing over his shoulder didn’t immediately reveal the speaker. Not until he looked down a little, at any rate. The person who asked the question was the dwarf who was out of breath during the drills earlier.
“I said that this is the team building exercise the coach was talking about.”
“Are all elves this daft? This is lunch. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
“A lunch that smells worse than death itself? I don’t think so. Look around. What do you see?”
“I see a bunch of people waiting in line for food.”
“Yes, but what else are they doing?”
“Nothing. They’re just standing in line, complaining about the smell.”
“Exactly. Yesterday, none of us would even look at each other, let alone talk to each other. Now elves are talking to dwarves, orcs to trolls, gnomes to goblins, and minotaurs to ogres. By making whatever monstrosity is creating that smell, Coach Sprout has given us something to bond over.”
The dwarf looked around and shrugged in what Plex took to be agreement. Then, after a moment of silence, the dwarf asked, “You’re the quarterback, aren’t you?”
“I’m one of the quarterbacks. I don’t know if he’ll have me starting, though. We haven’t really practiced enough yet for him to have made that decision already.” Extending his hand, he said, “My name is Plex, by the way.”
“Kalant. Middle linebacker.”
“You were doing pretty good against the run. You even tackled the minotaur a couple of times.”
“When you’re going up against someone who’s that much bigger than you, all you can do is go for their legs and hope you trip them up.”
The two of them talked about the game until they got to the front of the line. Plex was handed a bowl full of some type of stew. After Kalant received his, the duo walked to a spot upwind from the cook’s to begin eating. When they stopped, Plex took a spoonful of the stew and brought it towards his lips. He paused right before putting it in his mouth and took a deep breath. A chuckle came out. He was right about it being a team building exercise. The stew smelled like stew.
They were halfway through their bowls when they heard a heated discussion behind them. Turning around, Plex saw Coach Sprout talking animatedly with one of the dragon’s Honor Guard. It was the large ogre from the previous day. Their coach and the ogre were too far away to clearly hear what was being said, but it was obvious that Sprout wasn’t happy. The ogre said something with a shrug of his shoulders that made the gnome back up and turn his tone apologetic. The ogre laughed and walked away.
Coach Sprout stomped his little feet as best as he could as he stormed over to them. “Hurry up and finish your lunch,” he huffed as he went past.
“What’s wrong, Coach?” Plex asked.
“What’s wrong is we need to practice as much as we can today. The dragon is making us play our first game tomorrow.”