Disclaimer 1: Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy X belong to Squaresoft. The world of Spira and all associated characters belong to Squaresoft. This story is written and published without permission or consent of Squaresoft. This is a fictional story made for purely entertainment purposes. The author of this story does not claim to own the world of Final Fantasy, or any characters or likenesses. Any relation to events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Author's Note: The Al Bhed in this story are speaking Al Bhed, unless otherwise noted. While they have a language all of their own, all prose and dialogue will be in English (or Yevonite, if you prefer), with a few notable exceptions.

For Love Of The Game
(c) 2003, 2010 Mayumi.H

1 - The Tournament Calls (Nimrook)

Nimrook stopped and stared.

A temporary dais had been constructed in the city square, specifically for the annual Blitzball Tournament. A huge dial provided the frame, and on each of its six rotating concentric rings there glowed a stylized emblem for each of the tournament's teams. It didn't surprise him that the most spectacular of these belonged to Luca's local team, the Goers, but it gave him a little surge of pride to see the sigil of his own Al Bhed Psyches up there. Each emblem drifted lazily on its own axis around the centerpiece, which seemed to give off a light all of its own. For mounted there, in all its glory, was the Championship Cup.

The Psyches hadn't won the Cup in too long. In his five years as goalie (the last two of which he'd been captain of the team), the closest they had ever come was third place. Luca had taken the Cup for most of those years, interrupted only briefly when the Kilika Beasts had played particularly well four tournaments ago. This year, Nimrook was determined to break the Goers' winning streak once again.

Subconsciously, he cracked his knuckles beneath his goalie gloves, which he had taken to wearing nearly every waking moment since he'd been named captain. Like seeing the Psyches' emblem up there on the dial, the gloves were a source of pride. They had been a gift from the departing captain, Rin, who was leaving the game to devote his time to his flourishing travel agency business. His teammates had called him superstitious, but Nimrook liked to think that his abilities had as much to do with the gloves than his own proficiency. As it was, he was arguably the best goalie in the league.

He smiled at the trophy as if it were a long-lost friend, and, for a moment, he'd found his peace.

A commotion off toward the docks distracted him. Even this far away, he could hear the telltale cheers of blitzball fans echoing off of Luca's buildings. He looked up past the trophy platform, at the large viewscreen suspended over the road. Presented on the sphere was the transmission of the arriving Kilika team. Vuroja, their captain, led the way down the steps, and the assorted members of the Beasts waved and smiled to their fans.

Despite himself, Nimrook sighed. No Al Bhed, not even the Psyches, would ever be welcomed in such a fashion in a Yevonite city. Though there was relative equality and tolerance between the teams - with the exception of some of the cheeky bnelgc on the Goers team - the fans were a different species altogether. Most of the locals ignored the Psyches, at best; at their worst, situations could get very ugly.

This year, the Psyches had arrived in Luca with little fanfare; only a few Al Bhed who happened to be in the area had come out for their arrival. Even that was infinitely preferable to last year's debacle, when Nimrook himself had nearly gotten a face full of rotten fruit. He had shrugged it off at the time, because he was captain and he had to set a strong example, but later that day, he had locked himself in the locker washroom and cursed every Yevonite until his voice hurt from the strain.

The voices of the tournament announcers blared over the city square's loudspeakers, and Nimrook knew enough Yevonite to recognize that they were just announcing the Beasts. The sphere transmission shifted, to another boat, where the Guado Glories were stepping down into the crowd.

The Glories were greeted with barely more excitement than the Psyches. There weren't many Guado who lived outside of Guadosalam, but there were a few loyal human fans who cheered them on anyway.

The announcers laughed at something, and Nimrook squinted at the screen. The sphere had shifted yet again, and this time it focused on another group of humans in pale, manila clothing.

"The Aurochs," someone next to him chuckled. He looked to his side, where Berrik stood with his arms crossed.

Berrik was the Psyches' midfielder, a tall, lean Al Bhed with blond hair that stuck up on either side of his goggle harness. He had been on the team as long as Nimrook, and they had worked their way up from second string together. Like Nimrook, Berrik was another of the old guard, from the days when Rin was captain.

Shifting his attention back to the screen, Nimrook watched as the captain of the Aurochs, a large, burly fellow with a shock of flaming red hair that stood straight up in front, stepped down onto the dock. The man seemed oblivious to the laughter around him, as if he didn't know, or care, that most everyone was mocking his team. Instead, he waved, and then he and his team disappeared into the crowd.

"Who do they think they're kidding?" Berrik asked with a snort.

Nimrook shrugged and smiled. "It takes all kinds."

Berrik smiled back, the corners of his eyes crinkling around his goggles. He held up a hand and affected a heavy accent. "The blitzball does not discriminate."

Nimrook laughed softly. That had been one of Rin's sayings. He would say that at every tryout, and at every practice. Nimrook guessed that it had been Rin's way of making any player feel welcome, no matter his strengths or weaknesses. Rin had been a good captain that way.

Nimrook pointed at the Championship Cup. "Let's hope that doesn't discriminate, either."

Berrik nodded, then put a hand on his shoulder. "Come on. Maybe we can get in some practice before dinner."

Nimrook favored the Cup with one last, longing glance, and then he followed Berrik back toward the arena. Maybe this year, they'd bring the Cup Home. Maybe this year, he'd make everyone proud.