*a few weeks after the Farmer's Guild became champions, Mason's guild training field*
It was more common than an outsider might expect, Angel thought idly as she ground her boots onto the unfamiliar ground. Training ground's needed work every now and again, especially with the extent of the drills Corsair had been hammering into the team like waves on a cliff. So, here they were, sharing a pitch with the training Mason's guild. Both teams seemingly too focussed on training to pay the other any heed, every player watching their back.
There was never going to be any new tactics unveiled here, no grand strategy or brilliant counterplay. This was a standard drill, keeping the Fishermen match-fit and harpoon accurate. It was a simple enough drill. Sakana and Jac took turns tackling one another in the midfield, dribbling forward and passing to either Angel or Shark, who would then avoid Corsair's swing and score. Simple. The problem being that in such simplicity, the Pirate Taskmaster wasn't taking anything less than perfect as an option, and Jac struggled to get away from Sakana on at least 2 occasions. The first seeing him lose the ball back to Sakana, the other seeing the whipcord Numasi open Jac's heel as he moved away. Angel winced as Jac went down a third time, locking his trident for too long with Sakana's spear, giving Sakana time to get the ball away from Jac and send it to the sidelines. Slumping to the ground in a brief respite while Corsair bellowed at Jac, she noticed just how different the pitch was. The ground was harder, she missed the slight smell of salt on the air and there was no sound of the usual seabirds that accompanied her usual surroundings. This was to say nothing of their gracious hosts. On the other side of the pitch, possibly in response, the Masons were working on clearances.
From where Angel was, the drill seemed to be focussed on Tower, the drill being to get the ball away from an oncoming Flint, and clear it to Harmony or Brick. Seeing the two teams side by side was, remarkable. The Masons and specifically Tower were virtually unrecognizable from Angel's first encounter with them, where she had managed to knock the ball between towers legs. The embarrassed, bashful young man was gone, most of the First Lady's team was. In their place were embittered champions of yesterday, vicious and aggressive in their stolen pride. Tower, in particular, was different. The young man had started on a beard, being young it was little more than a wispy goatee. It'd suit him, eventually. The changes went deeper, he was clearly more serious now, punctuating each swing of the hammer or kick of the ball with a snarl or a growl.
The contrast, she decided, was most visible in how each team trained. Corsair drilled his players hard and wasn't afraid to call Jac one of the longest sentences of swearing she'd ever heard out of her captain's mouth. But the Masons were fighting, properly fighting. She winced sympathetically as the swipe of Tower's hammer sang off Flint's breastplate, who avoided the attack but almost lost the ball, ending the drive. A success, she thought, and cause for acknowledgment. The glower that passed between the two men was nothing short of poisonous as the drill was reset, Tower shaking out his shoulders and squeezing the sweat from the ghost of a moustache stubbornly shading his top lip. Given how Corsair was properly into his rant about dead weight it seemed, and Shark was now dueling Sakana near the halfway line, it wouldn't hurt to kill a few seconds.
"You're committing too hard, Mason. It's what did it for you against me." She shouted jovially. Expecting, or at least hoping for a wry grin from his teammates and for Tower's ears to go red, a return to the old days. Instead, Tower stopped, his fingers flexing inside his gloves and his shoulders rose, slowly. Flint gathered the ball, looking at Angel with a wary expression, kicking it off to one side as the 2 passing targets closed in. Something was wrong, and Angel took a step back, it wasn't Tower she was looking at, it was Flint, who looked worried.
Tower slowly spun around, his face hard and scowling, a muscle twitching in his left eye. He didn't speak, his face barely moved. He slowly walked over to Angel, wearing a butcher's glare and hiking the hammer a little higher in his hand. As he got closer, his face came into sharper clarity. There were the telltale signs of sleep deprivation, the twitch at the corner of Tower's mouth and set jaw causing her to step back again, flinching away from the oncoming defender. Her back collided with someone and she gasped, whirling round to see Sakana, backed up by Shark, his own glare fixed on the oncoming Mason, the end of his pole outstretched. Tower met it at the same slow walk, letting it push in a little and leaning on it, before stopping and boring those same eyes into Sakana.
"Walk away. Now." Sakana's accented voice was measured and calm before Towers Rising Temper, keeping the spear lodged in the young man's shoulder as the rest of the Masons team closed in, still keeping their distance from the standoff. Tower seemed to chew the words briefly before smiling, for a moment, he was Tower again. It didn't last.
Many things happened nearly simultaneously, Tower's smile turned into a grimace with all the warmth and tranquility of a storm at sea, and in turn into a snarling warcry as Tower lunged, forcing the speartip aside with his shoulder he swung his fist round in a tight left hook. Angel ducked out and to the side, Sakana, wrong-footed by Shark's proximity, wasn't so lucky, taking the blow to the cheek, leaving the Numasi sprawling on the ground with an ugly purple bruise blossoming on his cheek and blood welling at his lips. Tower strode over Sakana, bringing his hammer and a rather uncertain looking Flint to Bear against the Fang of the Sea. From the corner of her eye, she saw Jac, breaking from his conversation with Corsair rush forward to drive off Tower, instinct taking over with a frontal trident charge. A shadow crossed Jac and he turned rapidly to see the monstrous form of brick bearing down on him, the knuckleduster lifting Jac almost off his feet as the countercharge landed. Only for Brick himself to be tripped by Corsair, who had followed Jac in and had more than enough experience to put the Juggernaut on the floor. Time seemed to slow once again as a sound so unfamiliar to the situation reached Angel, and she turned, her anger flaring as she saw the architect of these new Masons.
Hammer swaggered, even now, even defeated and with a fading black eye from the incident in the final. He still had the gall to swagger, hammer slung over his shoulder and a wide, cold grin plastered across his face as he clapped his breastplate with his free hand. He was laughing, slow and sneering as he looked at all assembled. Following his path back, Angel could see the kicked up earth from where he had been pacing, Hammer had seen the whole thing.
"Tower, heel. Let this old pirate carry on dancing." -He stopped and looked down at Sakana.- "You've made your point." He strode over to Corsair, treading deliberately on one of Sakana's hands, slowing only to grind the hobnails into Sakana's knuckles as he approached corsair. "Let Brick stand up, and keep a better eye on your team pegleg." Hammer's voice was acidic in its politeness, oozing from between his smug smiling teeth like pus. "Don't want my side to bruise them anymore, not before we play you again." He turned to pace back and forth. "Let's not forget who's guild is renovating your training ground," Hammer said idly, now not looking at Corsair. "Or, who was gracious enough to give you a space to practice while we work." Hammer stopped and turned, no longer smiling. "Let's hope your renovations go as well as mine have." He shot a nasty look to Tower, who was still facing down Shark.
"I said back!" Hammer's voice rose as he addressed his team. Now the commanding bark of a captain addressing his crew. Eventually, Brick and Tower relented, Brick slow because of needing to stand up, Tower still clearly reluctant to back down. As they walked away, Angel stared at the back of Tower's head. Or whatever it was now wearing Tower's face. Hammer slung his arm around Tower as they walked away, not in the warm embrace of a friend, but in the style of a whaler keeping his favored harpoon close by. Tower seemed to repress a shiver at the contact, turning back to Angel with a look of a wounded shark, furious, and yet fragile. The Fishermen turned back to their drill, now working harder than ever. They barely spoke, the pace picked up, and the drill became more accurate. Angel considered briefly that the focus of having a real enemy could really drive a team.
This illusion was dispelled after yet another hour of drill that Sakana fumbled the pass to Angel, who turned, ready to scream at him, before stopping herself and sighing. Whatever had infected the Masons, had almost taken her too. Looking around, the whole team seemed more on edge with one another. It was infectious, and Angel had seen what it could do.
It had taken a friendly rival away from her, and a champion's title away from an entire guild.