Plex could feel the anger rising up inside him. He couldn’t believe that his coach had just threatened to tattle on him to the dragon, especially since he had no proof that Plex had done anything wrong. Coach Sprout was completely right, he knew, but there was no way to prove that he had botched that play on purpose. All the gnome had was suspicions, and he wasn’t about to let himself go down for them. Despite how his sister had acted, Plex’s priorities were his own welfare, and that of his family.
He wasn’t going to let anyone threaten that. Not his coach, or his teammates. It hurt him, because he had done his best to do everything he could for his team, except for that one play. Still, he found himself looking directly at the gnome with venom in his eyes and dripping from his words.
“Go ahead,” Plex spat. “Go run to the dragon and tell it that you think I am purposefully doing bad. There can’t possibly be another explanation for it. It’s not like a handoff has ever been fumbled between a quarterback and running back before. This is the first time ever. And let’s not forget when I made my receiver trip after throwing the ball, because I have complete control over that.”
Coach Sprout was about to offer a rebuttal, but Plex cut him off. “I know you outrank me, and I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m going to stop you right there. This is what’s going to happen: I’m going to go out there, run your plays, and I’m going to guide our team to victory. After that, I’m going to go to the dragon myself and ask it to put me on a team where my head coach doesn’t question my integrity.”
Plex turned and walked back to his teammates. He found himself shaking as he did. If Coach Sprout noticed, he hoped the gnome thought it was anger causing him to shake. The truth was that it was his nerves. He’d never done anything like that before. He’d never gone against authority. He’d never tried to turn an argument around on a person when he was the one at fault. It was so out of character for him that he wondered what he was capable of if there was an even bigger threat to himself or his family.
The rest of his teammates had gathered on the sideline and Plex did his best to give them a rousing speech. They all went along with it, cheering as he talked. He saw Coach Sprout off to the side eyeing him intently. Plex finished his speech just as the players were called back onto the field. He gave Glavven a pat on the back and a few words of encouragement as the minotaur ran out to receive the kickoff.
“That was a pretty good show you put on back there,” Sprout said after all the other players left the immediate vicinity, “but I don’t think for one moment that the fumble was accidental. You’re also free to go to the dragon, if you want to, but we both know that Lavalandinarial will probably just eat us both if one of us goes to complain. I’m willing to look past this incident if you are, but, if I think you’re not giving me your all, I’ll still pull you from the game.”
Plex looked down to see the gnome extend his hand and ask, “Deal?”
The elf shook the hand and then turned away from the gnome. He had nothing further to say.
On the field, Glavven had just received the ball around the ten yard line and was making a run for an opening on the far side of the field. He received help from two well-timed blocks and then he straight-armed an orc and was clear, with nothing but open grass ahead of him.
His legs churned and ate up the open field. An elf trailed a few yards back and was gaining on him but it didn’t look like he’d be able to bring down the running back before Glaveen crossed the goal line. And then, on the ten yard line, Glavven tripped.
It looked like his foot had hit a rock because his legs were nowhere near each other. Glavven went soaring forward and landed with a hard thud on the turf near the six yard line. For a moment it looked as if the ball was going to pop free of his hands but the strong minatuar held on tightly. The elf then tapped him on the shoulder as he caught up and passed, still in full sprint, to ensure the runner was down.
A funny feeling, a sort of queasiness, stirred in Plex’s stomach. He glanced towards Lavalandinarial. A small tendril of smoke rose from one of the massive beasts’ nostrils and a hint of a smile twisted its jaws. Was the dragon using its magical powers to interfere with the game?
He didn’t have time to ponder just then. Running onto the field he got the play from Coach Sprout and relayed that to his teammates. Glavven had remained on but wasn’t going to be used for the touchdown attempt. The minataur was still breathing heavily from the long run, anyway. It was probably best to give him a break. Though, they were going to use the runningback as a decoy.
When everyone was in position, Plex called out a short count and then hiked the ball. Glavven was running right behind him. He faked a hand off to the minataur and then continued to spin around and throw the ball out wide the opposite direction as the runner. The wide receiver caught the ball and easily charged in the final couple yards for a touchdown.
Rather than celebrate with the receiver, Plex clapped Glavven on the back as they made their way to the sidelines. The runner had done most of the work to get them in scoring. While Coach Sprout had called for a good play for the touchdown itself, Plex would have done the same thing. It was easy enough to catch the defense off their guard with a throw after using Glavven so many times in a row.
On the sideline again, Plex cheered as the point after attempt was made successfully. He wasn’t sure why the coach hadn’t asked him to go for two but he didn’t want to ask. He’d had enough of the coach for the time being. Instead, his attention was pulled towards the dragon.
The entire game had been played so far with the sound of Lavalandinarial’s breathing in the background. As the game had gone on, the crowd had become more interested in it and had began to cheer loudly at the end of almost every play. Once he realized that, he looked up at the dragon. He had very little experience with dragons, but if their facial expressions matched humanoid facial expressions, Lavalandinarial was happy.
Usually, Plex would take that as a good sign. After all, people had a tendency to die around the dragon when it was unhappy. It was what was making the dragon happy that was giving him pause, though, because it wasn’t what was happening on the field that was lifting the dragon’s spirits. It was the crowd.
In addition to returning the kickoff, the other team had run at least two plays and Lavalandinarial hadn’t turned her gaze to the field once. The entire time, the dragon’s eyes watched the crowd, soaking in their reaction to the game being played. It didn’t make sense. Why would the dragon care more about the reaction to the game than the actual game itself? Or, was his inexperience with the dragon making him misinterpret the entire situation?
Lavalandinarial’s eyes started sweeping his way and Plex turned his head quickly back to the field. He didn’t know if the dragon would have noticed him looking, but it was best to not tempt catching her attention. Plex looked at the position of the other team and saw them on his team’s side of the field. They were just in range of where their kicker, who had recovered after his first disastrous attempt, had made the rest of his kicks. Gilania’s team was still driving the ball, though.
It was third down and they had two yards to go. Plex was surprised to see Kalant run from the sideline to replace someone on his team’s defense. Coach Sprout must think that the other team will call a running play, he thought. That’s the only reason he would put the dwarf in the game. He glanced over at his diminutive coach. “I guess we’ll see if he’s as smart as he thinks he is,” he muttered to himself.
The ball was snapped. The quarterback handed the ball to the running back, confirming Sprout’s theory. Before the back got two steps forward, Kalant had put his shoulder into the side of the ogre’s knee. Despite being taller, and heavier, the running back fell to the ground without even making it back to the line of scrimmage. His team’s defense had stopped them from getting a first down.
A field goal was kicked on the next play, going through the uprights, and turning it back into a one point game at twenty-seven to twenty-six in favor of Plex’s team. As the defense ran off the field, he cheered for them and offered encouragement to those who came close to him. With that done, he watched as his squad set up to receive the oncoming kickoff. Glavven fielded it at the two yard line and ran up the middle of the field. He slipped past one tackler, but it put him in line with the next one, a fellow minotaur.
The other minotaur hit Glavven low, just as Kalant had done to their running back. Unlike Kalant’s tackle, which came in from the side, this tackle came from head-on. The other minotaur’s thick horned skull hit Glavven’s kneecap while his leg was planted. That was followed by a sickening pop and the sight of his running back’s knee bending in a way it was never meant to bend.