Lake Tershi was much larger than Va’il expected. He had to climb one of the tallest trees in order to see the entire lake. Fervi had much larger lakes in the world, but being the first one Va’il had ever seen gave it a special meaning.
In the west, Va’il could see the giant structure known as Tuni, the flat mountain. It was so large and tall that if it had been in the east, it would cast a shadow over everything to the west of it until noon. It was grey and had four flat faces. It was called a mountain, but it was really a plateau. It was a rectangle of grey rock.
The forests surrounded most of the lake, and paths and cleared areas took up the rest. Even though Lake Tershi was popular, at this time the only people there were the students of Makeen. The first arrivals had already set up shelters and fire pits in one of the larger areas that had been cleared. Va’il’s group was one of the last to arrive, though no one seemed to mind.
“So this is Tershi,” Pete said. The group had just left the forest path a few minutes ago, and the clearing provided the first real view of the scene. Va’il had already climbed three trees, and was making his way down the last one. Harnes followed him from tree to tree, but she wouldn’t climb.
“Sensei, will we be able to catch some fish, at some point?” Rowlf asked. The bearan had come into his natural environment, and the sensation was exciting to him. Fresh fish was a thought that had crept into his mind and refused to leave. Not even a parfait could satisfy him now.
“Most definitely. Although, you don’t want to eat everything that can be found in Lake Tershi. Some of it might just bite you back,” Sensei said with grin. Rowlf laughed, and then walked over to a group of older bearans that also had the same ideas in mind.
“You had your head in a book the entire time? I’m surprised you didn’t get sick earlier,” Sensei said. Kelin looked like he had just swallowed a live frog. Kelin had read the entire journey, never once lifting his head up. His neck and back were aching, now that they had to move.
“It’s worth a little sickness. I finished the entire book. The series even; that was the last one. I’m happy. Excuse me for a while,” Kelin said. He started walking towards the woods, but was running by the time he entered them. Sensei chuckled a bit, and motioned for Hein to go after him. To make sure he’s safe, explained Sensei.
Va’il jumped from the lowest branch of the latest tree to the ground. Harnes was instantly standing beside him, but she was thankfully detached. He grabbed Pete and dragged him over to where the other kids had set everything up. A few were resting inside tents, a few were splashing around in the lake, and a group of older boys had started a fire. Kelin had appeared near the fire and was staring at it, mesmerized.
“He has a special love of fire,” Va’il told Harnes. She cocked her head to the side in wonder. She was wondering what could possibly be so fascinating about something you could never touch. “It’s because it’s always fire, no matter how small. It will always burn. Water becomes steam, wood becomes ash, wind disappears altogether, and metal melts. But fire always burns.” Harnes nodded at the explanation. She then walked off and into one of the tents, presumably to sleep.
“Va’il, you free now? Just that bird’s nature to be fickle.” Jo’se was holding a bundle of sticks.
“Yes. Are we going to get more wood?”
“Oh, no, this is enough. I wanted to see if you want to play a game.”
“Yes and yes!” Va’il’s silver eyes shined at the thought of a game. Jo’se smiled, and then dropped the sticks in a large pile already made near the fire. He went around to a few other boys, telling them about the game. Once enough people had been gathered, they all walked a little ways around the edge of the lake until the campsite was a couple hundred meters away.
Go’tei ball was a game involving teams, a ball, and a goal. There were two teams of seven. Four players would be offense, two defense. The last player was the scorer. The goal was a circle drawn on the ground that measured about four feet at its diameter. The ball was made of leather, filled with air, and round. It was large enough to be kicked, but small enough to be held, depending on one’s age.
Each team had five attacks per turn, and five turns each. A team could only score if it was their attack. Each attack could last no longer than two minutes. If they were tied at the end, then they would take another attack each until someone scored, which would make the scorers the automatic winner. If, at the two-hour mark, they were still tied, then each scorer would stand inside the circle of their own goal. They would then kick or throw the ball towards the other team’s goal. Whichever scorer landed closest to the other team’s goal would win the game.
In order to score, the attacking scorer must be stationary for a moment while in possession of the ball and inside the goal. No one but the scorer was permitted to enter the goal ring. The players are allowed to kick, hold, punch, and run with the ball, unless defending. The defending team can hold the ball for up to five seconds before releasing it. They must at that point try to throw the ball away from the offense, or the ball would be turned over. After the defending team has held the ball, they are not allowed to hold it again for ten seconds. However, hitting and kicking the ball with fists and feet were always permitted in almost all situations with either team.
Touching other players was only permitted based on what position they had. A scorer’s goal is to score, and so the only real rule restricting the scorer is how they must stop with the ball inside the ring to score. Also, they could only play while their team was on offense. Otherwise, they could always go after the ball in almost any means if it wasn’t in their team’s possession during an attack.
Violence was a penalty in all situations for all positions, and each penalty means the loss of an attack for the offending team. In Go’tei ball, a single penalty was enough to give the other team a completely overwhelming advantage. Accidents would not be a penalty if they were obviously accidental.
Attackers were permitted to engage attackers, but attackers were not allowed to engage the defenders. Attackers were allowed to impede the scorer by trying to take the ball away from them; however, an attacker could do nothing to a scorer that did not have the ball. No one was allowed to grab or be forceful with other players.
Attackers tried to get the ball from other attackers or from the scorer. Defenders blocked scorers that were not inside the goal. Defenders were limited in where they could move by a large circle that surrounded the goal. Because they were not allowed inside the goal itself, the area that the defenders could move in was really a thin ring. The other limitation was that the defenders were not allowed to cross paths with each other. That also meant that they could never be behind the other defender.
Va’il’s head was spinning at the long explanation of the rules. He had just been put in a team with a few older boys and Jo’se, and the boy who was going to serve as referee was explaining. Yan’s deep voice and natural dignity made him a perfect fit for referee, the boys decided. He secretly wanted to play much more than judge, but he was nonetheless proud to make sure that no one got hurt.
The fourteen boys made up the two teams. Va’il, Jo’se, and Rowlf were the three youngest, and all on the same team. Joining them were four older boys, two were two years older, and the other two were three years older. The other team was made up of four people two years older than Va’il, and the other three were three years older. Va’il and Jo’se were the only lupus and avian, respectively, and there was only one other bearan besides Rowlf. The rest of the boys were deeri, felis, swine, slitherer, and human. The deeri absolutely loved Go’tei Ball, as they were very swift and agile.
Va’il was chosen as the scorer for a few reasons, most of which he exhibited on their second attack. He was small, fast, and agile. His hands were better suited to holding the ball. And he had trouble remembering the rules. The scorer only had a couple rules to follow, so Va’il was happy to forget everything but “get the ball!”
Yan dropped the ball for the first attack. Jo’se picked it up and ran with it towards the goal. Va’il ran ahead, past the attackers, and came upon the two defenders. Va’il’s plan to enter the goal and have the ball passed to him failed, however his team had already lost the ball. Soon the time limit was up. He watched the other team struggle to do something similar and fail.
The second attack went much differently. When Jo’se grabbed the ball, Va’il ran in front of him. The first attacker, a deeri, ran head on towards Va’il. Jo’se threw the ball to Va’il. Va’il grabbed it and ran right up to the attacker, who was much taller up close. Too tall, because Va’il held the ball too low for the boy to grab at. Va’il dove under the boy’s right arm, and then zigzagged his way past the next attacker. One of the other attackers had gone after the attackers on Va’il’s team, and was unable to stop and turn around when he realized that Va’il hadn’t lost the ball. Va’il came to the last attacker, a slitherer. The long arms were annoying, and Va’il wasn’t able to find a way past his reach. He had pivoted a few times back and forth while the boy instantly covered the open spots. Va’il’s back was facing the boy. And then Va’il disappeared from his sight.
Va’il had dropped into a squat while holding the ball to his stomach, and then did a backwards somersault underneath the other boy’s legs. Once past the boy Va’il turned and jumped from a squat into a sprint. He took a few long strides while holding the ball close to his body. He arrived at the defender’s ring where the swine-human combo awaited him. Va’il ran right at the large swine. The human boy was to the left, so at the last second Va’il changed direction and ran to the right. Neither of the other boys could keep up, and so Va’il managed to get into the goal and successfully stop.
It was an exciting start, and set the pace for the rest of the game. Va’il managed to make a couple more goals, however later on it became apparent that his team’s offense was better than its defense. Try as they might, the other team was composed of older children. The final score was four to three, Va’il’s loss. None of that mattered though, since the boys were enjoying themselves immensely. No one was as happy as Jo’se, though Va’il did come a close second. The thrills of chasing an object and competing with others were unexplainably joyous in the minds of every young boy of any species or upbringing.