“Oh, you are kidding me!”
Elora slapped the railing in fury, sending a jolt of pain through her hand that went unnoticed. She was in enough pain already watching the Crystal Glacier players hug one another as the Colossos goaltender sullenly dragged the puck out of the net.
At her side Spyro watched her bemused. Elora was always calm, collected and patient, as she should be for a faun of her stature, but not when it came to ice hockey. If she wasn't on the ice herself, crushing the opposition against the boards, then she was in the stand screaming until her hair stood on end. Deep down he wondered if this was some kind of medically-prescribed therapy for her, but he didn't dare ask, not now that she had the referee in her sights.
“Referee, are you watching this damn game?” she roared as he skated by. He paid her no heed. “He tripped him! How did you not see that? You're spoiling the game, man, open your eyes!”
She grabbed her eyelids and stretched them open for emphasis. Spyro stifled a laugh, which unfortunately she heard.
“I'm glad you find this funny!” she hissed at him, sitting back down in her seat, “Our season hinges on this game. If we lose this the only way we'll make the playoffs is a win at Frozen Altars, and that ain't happening, and at this rate we sure as hell won't win this either!”
She slapped the rail again, Spyro dutifully nodding along. She had a point, the scoreboard didn't make good reading. 4-1 down with seventeen minutes left to play, and on the rink that certainly didn't look like changing. Four of the team switched out at once and on scrambled four sets of fresh limbs, but they carried with them the same defeatist look as the skaters they'd replaced. The game felt lost, and judging by the people Elora could see sneaking out the exit the crowd felt the same way. She scowled contemptuously at them.
“Come on!” she roared at her team, more fire in her blood now. Her scream stung Spyro's eardrums. He placed a claw to his throbbing lug just in time to dampen another roar of fury as a Colossos player was dispossessed by a rough bodycheck.
“Referee!” she shrieked, but he wasn't interested.
The Glacierman claimed the puck and passed it to the centre in front of him, and unmarked he charged towards the Colossos net. The defenceman came out to meet him and deflected the puck behind the goal. One on one they charged for it, and with a slam into the boards Crystal Glacier claimed it. The centre charged back in front of goal. He deftly tapped his stick either side of the puck, and the goaltender lowered himself, ready for the strike, but his concentration was so intense that he could do nothing when the puck was laid off to a wing skating in from nowhere and struck it firmly past him and into the net.
The crowd somehow shrivelled smaller as the scoreboard ticked over to five. All except Elora, whose chest swelled with venom.
“Are you kidding me?!” she roared, banging the railing to try and get someone's attention. Coincidentally the referee skated by, and she took her chance. She leaned into his face and roared, “That was a foul back there, referee! It shouldn't be a goal. You're a disgrace!”
“Be quiet,” he mumbled, and skated off.
“Hey, I'm not done speaking to you!”
She reached over the rail to grab his shirt, but Spyro quickly leapt and pulled her back.
“Woah!” he said, “Let's calm it down.”
“That ref's a joke!”
“He is, but you can't grab him!”
“We are losing because of him!”
“Calm down, it's just a game...”
“Oh, it's just a game!” she flapped her arms, “Spyro, hockey isn't a matter of life and death. It is much, much more important than that!”
“Elora, people are staring. Could you just tone it down a little?”
“No, I can't,” she said aggressively, “You don't get it, do you? We lose this it's over; we go another year without a trophy. 33 years goes up to 34. This isn't like your stupid skateboarding, this is actual sport with actual consequences.”
“Hey, leave skateboarding out of this,” he said, half-jokingly, but Elora took it as genuine. She leaned into his face.
“No, because skateboarding is stupid. It's a bunch of dorks wearing oversized pants falling off a board with wheels glued to it. And they all call each other 'bro', and make out like it's the most manly thing in the world, but what is it? Doing spins and twirls and stuff. It's identical to the damn figure skating they do in Icy Peak!”
“And sometimes you're just like that,” she said, jabbing a finger into his chest, “You're all cocky and arrogant and 'don't sweat it', just generally a downright jerk.”
“I mean it. You can be a real, colossal jerk at times, Spyro. You treat everything as a competition and you brag about it when you win; when people tell you to do things you'll often drop it in an instant to go and pursue some little trinket that's caught your eye, no mtter how important the task is, and your first reaction to any problem is to attack something, and you're always distraught when you can't. So yeah, Spyro, I don't appreciate taking lectures about being calm and respectful from you, because you're twice the jerk that I will ever be!”
Spyro's face tightened. His lips stretched into neutrality, but he couldn't so effectively disguise the hurt in his eyes. Elora didn't notice it through her rage.
“Look,” Spyro said, “I think I'd better leave you to calm down. I'm going to go get something to eat. If you need me I'll be somewhere up there, but I doubt you will.”
He slunk off up the stairs and disappeared onto the concourse. Elora nodded approvingly as he went, then turned her attention back to the game.
There were three new Colossos players on the ice and they carried with them much better body language, but that wasn't enough to sate Elora. She looked up at the scoreboard. Ten minutes left, they needed a miracle now.
“Come on!” she roared, and for once the crowd joined in. Chanting broke out as Colossos collected the puck behind their goal and began to advance. The Glacier players retreated into their territory. Colossos exchanged a few passes, always moving, looking for an opening. The puck was flicked on, behind the Glacier goal, and carried around to the other side of the rink. A Colossos player was waiting in front of goal, and the puck was duly laid off to him. He drew back his stick to slap it and a defenceman lurched across to meet him, but with a deft swing the Colossos forward dummied it past him, leaving just the keeper to beat.
“Go on!” Elora cheered, heart thumping. He drew back his stick again, but before he could strike the dummied defender stuck put his stick and tripped him over.
“Referee!” Elora screamed, as did most of the crowd. This time he was on her side. He pointed to the penalty box.
A roar went around the arena, but no-one cheered louder than Elora. Powerplay, just what they needed! And a penalty shot too! Her heart began to thump as the number of skaters on the ice depleted to two, and she held her breath as the Colossos forward collected the puck at the centre circle.
He charged forward, switching the puck every couple of centimetres. The goaltender dropped into stance. Elora's lungs begged for a breath. No, not until she knew. This had to go in to have any chance of salvaging this game. The forward reached shooting range, but he kept going. The goaltender came out to meet him, but as his arm flailed the forward chipped it over him. Elora's pupils shrunk, watching in slow-motion as the puck rose, evaded the tender's hand, dipped and struck the back of the net.
“Yes!” she screamed along with the crowd, punching the air and almost giving the cheetah sat next to her a concussion. She didn't apologise, but she switched to her other arm instead. It punched thin air, there was nothing there to punch.
The game resumed, and Elora returned to clockwatching. 9 minutes to get three more goals. Could they do it? Not if they didn't win back possession. The Glaciermen were trying to keep the puck in opposition territory, calmly passing it around, but the crowd was growing louder and more raucous. The confidence in them seemed to shake. A few substitutions were made, but with a man down and the crowd's roar deafening them the overhit pass that gifted the puck to Colossos was inevitable.
The noise grew louder as they charged forward. With a man short the Glacier defence was a scramble, marking whoever they saw first and not watching their teammates' movements. Colossos took the puck out wide, dragging a defender out with them, creating a gap that was passed into and collected by a forward breaking free of his marker. Elora's pulse quickened again as he drew back his stick and slapped the puck. It rocketed upwards, over the goal, and over her head. She ducked instinctively, but it was too high anyway. It whizzed up onto the top concourse, where it impacted with something with a whack! A flurry of people surrounded what it had hit, and a few heads in the back and middle rows turned to watch the commotion, but Elora only had eyes for the game.
A new puck was in the referee's hands, and he stood between a face-off ready to drop it. Another glance at the clock, 7 minutes left. They couldn't afford to lose possession again. The referee dropped the puck and sticks clashed. It sent the puck sideways towards the boards. The Glacier defenceman lunged for it, but the Colossos wing managed to hook it back towards goal. It hurtled towards a Glacier player, who readied himself to break with it, but in his concentration he didn't sense the Colossos centre break from behind, swerve around him and collect the puck just as it reached him, and smash it into the back of the net. The crowd went into raptures, and for the first time in several hours Elora smiled. Could they?
Behind her she heard a commotion where the puck had hit something. She heard chunks of conversation, something about getting their friend for them. She didn't hear much else, though.
On the ice the puck was thrown back into play. Six minutes to go, and one minute left before the powerplay expired. Elora bit her lip, they needed one more goal before he returned to give them a chance. She started cheering again, but for the first time she was drowned out by the cauldron of noise the rink now was. Colossos were playing with conviction again. They stood tall on the ice and skated with energy, and the substitutes even moreso as they were hastily brought on. Now it was Crystal Glacier's turn to look nervous. Their defence looked haphazard, so eager to dispossess the Colossos attack they fell for every dummy, but their heightened nerves gave them enough energy to repel the pressure.
Elora glanced up at the clock again. 30 seconds of powerplay left. She screamed louder, banging the railing until her hands went numb. Colossos pressed harder, but Crystal Glacier were just about holding on. A pass went down the line and behind the Glacier goal. A clash of bodies won it back for Colossos, who darted around in front of goal. In the penalty box the penalised player was readying himself to return. A Glacier defender charged out to block a shot, and the Colossos forward was forced to lay it backwards. Time up. The fifth player returned to the ice. The puck fell to a Colossos forward, who gave it an almighty whack. It shot through the air at blistering speed, dodged the goaltender's flailing hand and hit the back of the net.
Elora screamed in delight, jumping up and down. Surely not? Five minutes left on the clock to at very least take it to overtime, and with the confidence surging through them at the moment...maybe, just maybe. She clapped and cheered along with the crowd, willing Colossos on, but with the fifth Crystal Glacier player back the pace of the game slowed. On equal footing it allowed the opposition to string a few passes together, to hold up possession and try a shot or two to cement their lead. On the concourse above the commotion, still dominated by someone asking for their friend, had been joined by one or two medical staff.
Elora watched with a sinking heart as the clock ticked down. Three minutes. Two minutes. One minute, and Crystal Glacier had the puck and certainly didn't look like losing it. She sunk into her seat, probably the first time since the first period, and balanced her chin on the railing. All that hard work, and it looked like it wasn't going to happen. 45 seconds, and Colossos were stuck in defence. A Glacierman hit a beautiful pass towards the centre of the rink that was swooped on by a teammate. Her heart stopped, but it went just wide.
“Get it!” she screamed, and it seemed to work. It was one on one for the puck, but a vicious bodycheck saw Colossos claim it. 30 seconds. Crystal Glacier desperately retreated as Colossos surged forward, goaltender along with them. The crowd roared them on.
They stopped just past the halfway line, taking their formation. 20 seconds. The puck was sent out wide and carried along the edge of the rink, the Glacier defender pinning his opponent into the wall. Stuck, he hit the puck behind the Glacier goal. 15 seconds. Another bodycheck won the puck for Colossos, who switched it to the other side of the rink and then back in front of the goal. 10 seconds. The Glacier defence desperately surged to block a shot, but in their haste forgot their strategy. Three surged at once, and sensing the opportunity Colossos sent it into the space they had left. A forward, the same who had scored the penalty, collected it. 5 seconds. He was one on one with the goaltender.
“Go on!” Elora screamed, her voice reaching a pitch she'd thought impossible. The crowd was equally loud. He hit another chip, the same he had used in the penalty. The crowd went deathly silent. 2.5 seconds. The goaltender's mitt missed it. Elora's heart stopped. The puck flew, and it bounced upwards off the crossbar. The crowd kept holding its breath as the Colossos player raised his stick. 1 second. He whacked the puck downwards as it fell, and into the empty net.
The crowd burst into raptures. The entire Colossos team spilled onto the ice and surrounded the goalscorer, jumping on top of one another to celebrate. The only one not jumping up and down and hugging strangers was Elora. She was watching the referee with wide eyes.
“Please don't...” she whispered, but he had not been on her side all evening. He waved his arms to draw the players' attention, then gave the signal she dreaded.
“The puck was struck from above goal height,” he said, “No goal.”
The crowd roared in fury. The players swamped the referee, and the people next to her screamed abuse and banged the railings, but she just sat slumped in her seat. That was one thing she couldn't argue about. From her vantage point she had seen clearly that he wasn't wrong. The protests continued for a good long while, but the decision wasn't overturned. The puck was dropped back into play, and Crystal Glacier held on for half a second to claim victory.
Dismayed, the crowd slowly began to crawl out of the stadium, heads held low, some angrily calling for the coach's head after a crushing loss in what should have been a routine game. Elora remained in her seat. She sat slumped forward, chin resting on the rail, arms curled in front of her mouth, watching as the team skated around applauding fans who were no longer interested. She gave them the feeblest of waves as they passed.
As the people filtered out the arena grew quieter, and that allowed Elora's pulse to drop. Soon she could no longer feel it thudding against her chest. Silent, like the now empty arena around her. It gave her the conditions needed to reflect, and within a second she had lowered her head in embarrassment. In her head she watched her roar and lunge at the referee again, and her cheeks turned red. Dear God, had she really done that? If the papers got ahold of that her career...no, it didn't bear thinking about. Not when Spyro had just entered her mind.
Her chin sunk so far into the rail she could almost feel it touch the bone of her jaw. No, she hadn't said that, she couldn't of. It was against her as a person. Fair enough chastising him for his indifference to hockey, people like that were utterly brainless, but calling him a selfish, narcissistic jerk? Why the hell would she do that? The subdued crawl of once fiery blood through her veins told her. Her and her temper, would he forgive her for it? Probably not, those weren't things you could say to loved ones and get away with. She sighed and closed her eyes. Great, she had lost much more than the game today, and at least the game wasn't her fault.
She felt a tap on her shoulder. She looked up, expecting to see a steward looking to escort her out so they could finally go home, but was shocked by the sight of two medics, stood either side of a woozy purple dragon with a great red welt bulging out of his forehead.
“Ma'am,” one of them said, “Do you know this dragon?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, stunned by Spyro's appearance. Far from his cocky leer, he looked shaky and unstable and not well at all.
“Ah, that's good. I'm afraid your friend's suffered a bit of an accident. While he was getting food a stray puck flew out of the arena and hit him in the head. Luckily there's no serious damage, but as you can see he's a bit concussed. He said he had a friend here who he wanted to see, but it took us a while for him to remember what you looked like. Just as well you're still here.”
“He wanted to see me?” she said, suddenly uplifted.
“Yep, and if you don't mind is it okay if we leave him with you? We've just had an emergency call.”
She folded down the seat next to her and the medics helped Spyro into it.
“Thank you. If anything happens just tell one of our colleagues, they'll still be here. Otherwise take care of him and make sure his needs are catered for. Alright?”
With a dutiful nod the medics carried on their way. Elora watched them for a long time, until she was brave enough to look Spyro in the eye. That proved difficult, as his eyes were twitching every couple of seconds, but guilt made her persevere.
“Hey,” she said softly. She grabbed his claw and squeezed it, “You okay?”
“I think,” he said unsteadily, “I don't feel very well.”
“I can imagine.”
“My head hurts.”
She stroked his hand. It felt limp.
“I'm sorry,” she said suddenly, “For not coming to you. If I'd known it was you...”
“It was okay. You couldn't have known.” He narrowed his eyes at the scoreboard. “Did we win?”
“Oh well. Still, there's always next season.”
“Any chance of getting me a season ticket?”
Elora's eyes narrowed at him in surprise.
“You know how to get me a season ticket? I've enjoyed this game, getting hit in the head aside, and I want to see more.”
Now she was certain he was concussed.
“Erm...yeah, but I'm not sure why you'd want to go again.”
“Well...didn't you see how I behaved?”
“Ah, that was just passion,” he grinned a lopsided grin, “I think it's kinda hot, personally.”
“Well...” she stopped to laugh, “Well...didn't you hear what I said to you?”
Spyro thought for a moment, the effort twisting his face as it battled through his concussion. Then it fell.
“Oh,” he said, disheartened. It broke Elora. She reached out her other hand so that she held his with both.
“I'm so sorry,” she said, “I'm so, so sorry for saying all of those horrible things. I don't know what I was thinking, I was just angry with the referee and I let it get the better of me, but that's not even the worst thing, because none of what I said is true,” she smiled apologetically, “You're not self-centred at all. A bit cocky, maybe, but not in a horrible way, and even if you were you more than make up for it with how great you are. I mean, you let me drag you along here and put up with my screaming, and I love you for that.” She gave a helpless laugh, “You're not a jerk, but I'm pretty sure it's obvious who is.”
“That's not true.”
Elora scoffed. “Prove it.”
Spyro smiled. “You invited me along to a hockey game. You love hockey, but you've never invited anyone to a game with you before. You've known Hunter and Zoe way longer than me, but you've never invited them along, so I think it's nice that the only person you've ever been willing to share it with is me.”
He leaned forward and planted a kiss on her jaw. He had aimed for her cheek but concussion skewed his aim, but it was no less meaningful to Elora. She let go of his claw and pulled him into a hug.
“You're the best, Spyro, don't let anyone say otherwise.”
“I'll make things up to you somehow, I promise.”
“Well, you could get me that season ticket.”
She laughed. “Consider it done.”
5 months later, the arena filled up again for the return of the season. Once again it was Colossos versus Crystal Glacier. Spyro sat through the game with a season ticket in his claw, and Elora kept her cool. They held hands throughout.
Colossos won 5-0.