The shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area experiencing a partial eclipse.
The spirit, the power within you. Your essence.
Penumbra Amokachi brimmed with it, the philosopher-queen of Nephara, and she had a good name for it too, the expression of her power.
She was self-taught, an autodidact both in football terms and in literary ones. It was a well-kept secret that Adnan Szalai, another footballer who'd come in off the streets, wasn't actually literate. Clever, definitely, but he couldn't read or write. Didn't seem to interest him, either.
Amokachi's parents were skint, but they - her mother especially - loved to read, and they passed that love onto her. By fifteen she was already reading Bantu philosophy, and that had stuck with her her whole career, given her strength.
The energy of this place was strong. Ninety-five thousand and twenty-one people could fit into this stadium and sure enough ninety-five thousand and twenty-one tickets had been sold, many of them twice. Guayabalense packing one end of the field, bellowing and lighting flares. Nepharim at the other, universally standing with banners waving and curse-laden chants sung from the off. A wall of neutrals blocking them on either side, because there would be blood were they not seperated.
She stepped out onto the pitch, cradled her mascot, sang the anthem, shook hands, walked to her position, waited for the whistle, rolled the ball to Theodora Covenant. Covenant hit a raking pass acrossfield to Szalai, Szalai ran freely down the right - Guayabal played narrow in the midfield and defence, a weakness, Moreira hesitantly broke formation and Szalai slipped a pass beyond him to Covenant who fired low and hard and wide. Danger.
Terrazas probably had it covered anyway.
The fabric clung to her skin, in its traditional green, black shorts around her waist, green socks underneath white boots. A good, strong kit. A shirt with a strong kuntu, a force to it.
She felt strong wearing this. She hadn't done too well against either Llamaland or Ko-oren earlier in the tournament, and she felt - and she'd said, though some had laughed but veterans like Ashdown and Bottlegreen had nodded - that she hadn't felt as strong in orange. No, this final was good - they'd had their green, San Jose Guayabal had their white and blue, just as it had been a year ago when Nephara had won 5-1 and Amokachi had scored twice.
To think that their opponents were back now! To think that the bookies favoured the Guayabalense!
The battle - for it was a battle, all sound and fury, passes flickering along the lines at a breathless pace - raged on around them, Amokachi doing her part with her strong spirit blazing forward, Rainsford clipping a masterful ball over the top past Salume who tried to grab at Amokachi's shirt which seemed to reject his touch, slipping away from him as she followed suit but-
The touch was heavy. She swore as she tried to follow it, hooking out a sliding foot to try and hit in a cross but Passarelli took it on the shin and belted it away.
Amokachi swore. Next time would be better.
Time passed. Ballard made her presence known when Bregoo tried to slide a shot past her from distance, stretching across and palming the shot wide, getting quickly to her feet. She was 33. Win or lose, this was her last game for Nephara. She'd done superbly so far in the tournament.
Time passed... until dos Santos, in for the injured, iconic Fanya, had the run on her Moths teammate Sasha Christener. No messing from Christener, who scythed him down. She didn't offer him a hand. Now was no time for sportsmanship. She was booked.
Time passed. Amokachi kept feinting, kept threatening, kept running and floating and driving forward, drifting away to find Vyntra's pass before turning and rifling the ball into the box for Ashdown's forward run but it hit Moreira and bounced out for a corner, which ended up sailing over everyone.
Amokachi swore again. But she kept doing her job.
So did Valencia, who was infuriating Rainsford. Tanith also had n'golo, her muntu blazed bright and could sometimes boil over. Amokachi was the same, but she knew how to meditate. When she'd offered to teach Rainsford, the brusque Northerner had had none of it, so here she was, answering Valencia's attempted (and failed) nutmeg with a spiteful little kick to the shins while the referee wasn't looking. It went unnoticed.
Saucedo had better things on his mind, anyway. A forward run, a pass that Katskalidis tried to deal with but could only deflect it straight back at Saucedo, the shot fired low and hard and parried into the floor by Ballard, Scharner getting across to hoof it into the stands moments before Zelaya. Throw-in. Moreira's, to Fraser who hit a cross through to dos Santos out on the right, Amokachi tried to run back because she could see things crumbling but it was too late, Rainsford stretched to intercept the pass to Bregoo but not far enough and Bregoo found Zelaya cutting away from Katskalidis and it all happened so fast and he forced the ball, smashed it, past Ballard.
Amokachi turned behind her, to the jubilant Guayabalense fans. She'd show them. It was only the 32nd minute.
She'd show them.
She kicked off to Covenant, and the Cormorants tried to respond immediately by redoubling their efforts along the flanks, the first beneficiary Scylla Vyntra who Amokachi herself, drifting off Salume, found with a neat pass but the shot couldn't get past Terrazas. Covenant shot, and missed. Ashdown rifled a shot against the post. The momentum threatened to fade.
And then the Guayabalense pressed on again, looking to take the momentum for themselves, Saucedo trying his luck this time and smashing a ball against the foot of the post. Katskalidis turned on a five-pence piece to hook the ball not just away, but forward.
To Adnan Szalai, maybe the fastest man on the pitch, who took the ball on his chest and hooked it beyond Nunyez and ran onto it, Rainsford moving in, the two playing a neat one-two to beat Valencia - unsurprisingly, Rainsford was pleased by this, and more pleased when she got the ball back, holding midfielder or otherwise finding herself among the furthest players forward.
Amokachi burst forward and then checked her run, jerking back away from them as Covenant charged forward and Cawdor made her way to the far post, escaping notice among other spontaneous dynamism, Rainsford hit it across to her and she took it on her studs as she turned, a split second to shoot and she did, finding the bottom corner from memory and deep-seated instinct and praying and, yes, Terrazas clawed desperately but wasn't far enough.
The shot was perfect.
To hell with meditation - the shirt came off as she ran the length of the Guayabalense crowd, enraging them as she whipped the shirt over her head before eventually tossing it to a local Valladar girl of six or so, mobbed by her teammates around the corner flag. They had their goal. They had their goal!
More would have to come.
Elaine - feminine given name
From an Old French form of Helen. It appears in Arthurian legend; in Thomas Malory's 15th-century compilation 'Le Morte d'Arthur' Elaine was the daughter of Pelleas, the lover of Lancelot, and the mother of Galahad.
"Five-one, lads," Elaine seethed, punching the wood of the tunnel. "Five! F-cking! One! F-cking remember that and we can't f-cking lose!"
They had one out of the five now, that was something. The scoreline was even after Penumbra's pinpoint strike and it deserved to be.
Theresa Riether's team-talk had been a lot more cerebral, much more... well, Riether-like. Of course it had been. But times like this... you needed your captain to grab the team round the scruff of the neck and beat the lesson into 'em. Elaine Ashdown mightn't be an old-school player, all languid stride and elegant crossfield passes, but make no mistake - she could stick the boot in when she had to. Not that complacency was ever going to be allowed to set in here.
They needed another goal. If they didn't get it, San Jose surely would. And that was her job.
But the second half worked to frustrate her. Everywhere she turned, white shirts were in her way. A dozen times she tried to pick out the right pass, jinking, turning past one player then another would clatter her, and what she was hoping would be her podium was turning into a slugfest. But the Cormorants always gave as good as they got. Beside her, Rainsford was not a whirlwind of energy like Valencia but instead a more decisive, powerful presence, scything fearlessly in to get the ball and plenty of the man out of the way, raking crossfield balls in where she could.
And it might well only take one.
Fraser moved forward, Christener staring him in the eye and matching him step for step, but he outfoxed her and stepped inside and fired. The phalanx closed - Ballard probably had it, but it was Scharner who hurled herself across with a diving header away, the ball rolling towards midfield. It looked like Bregoo's but somehow it was Rainsford's and she fought her way back through the Guayabalense pack, stabbing out a foot just as Saucedo smashed into her.
The ball came to Ashdown. Conscious of Valencia rushing in, Zelaya coming deep, she turned and fired instinctively over to the left wing where she knew Andrea Cawdor, her beloved compatriot, was lurking.
Valencia crashed into her, too late. Ashdown got up quickly, staggering and stumbling to her feet and breaking into a loping stride, hoping to catch up with the play.
Cawdor's first touch had been almost perfect, jinking it past Moreira just a little too strongly. But Ashdown's triumphant stride into the box slowed, as she realised it was going out of touch.
It was just that kind of game, wasn't it?
That was Ashdown's game - long battles split by moments, little spots frozen in time. A dangerous free-kick lashed against the crossbar that made a global audience gasp, Terrazas stranded - what if she'd put just a little more dip in it? A clever forward pass that Passarelli read perfectly to clear safely into touch... maybe if Amokachi had been that little bit quicker. Another fantastic forward ball that caught Bottlegreen, the fresh substitute, just inches offside - what if she'd waited?
But you couldn't put a what-if on the scoresheet.
The final whistle blew, with a promise of another half an hour on the cards. Ashdown wanted to sink to her knees, to cough and wheeze like her lungs were begging her to, to buckle and bend and fall and admit she was, in fact, human.
But she couldn't do that. She couldn't be seen to show weakness, not in front of her players and certainly not in front of the Guayabalense. So, as others crumbled and collapsed, Ashdown stood tall, calm, strong. Vigilant.
Her time, she knew, would come.
In Greek mythology, Scylla (/ˈsɪlə/ SIL-ə; Greek: Σκύλλα, pronounced [skżl̚la], Skylla) was a monster that lived on one side of a narrow channel of water, opposite its counterpart Charybdis.
Extra time had come and gone. Nephara looked spent in attack, despite the fresh legs of Cantor and Bottlegreen, while the defence (bolstered by the fresh Rosewood, his first appearance of the tournament) had stayed strong. Guayabal, on the other hand, were stronger than ever. More than ever, the Cormorants owed Diandra Ballard, the veteran heroine shielding their goal.
She smiled grimly. They'd held out, though.
Funny to think how they'd got this far. Defeat to Eura, a 4-3 goalfest the neutrals had lapped up, then a 3-3 goalfest against Polkopia that the neutrals had, well, also loved. But it was a hugely disappointing result for them, and scraping past Super Llamaland was little consolation.
Their saving grace? Pasarga had failed to top the group, meaning that they played (and ultimately crashed out to) Eura in the following round.
Next had been Ko-oren, seemingly a soft opposition but it had taken penalties to bring them down. It had taken her penalty. She'd see if she couldn't repeat the feat.
Then, the quarterfinals. The Royal Kingdom of Quebec. Another goalfest, and yet again, Nephara had somehow grafted their way through. And, yes - it had been her goal to seal it in extra time.
So the final four, and surely this time they were out, right? This Nephara side that looked poorer on paper than the true golden generation of a few years back, yeah? Against Eura, who'd already beaten them once? The Cormorants had only had one regulation-time win all tournament! And they went 3-1 down by half-time and all the pundits nodded knowingly and now Nephara were in the final and Eura weren't.
The Cormorants had a fantastic squad in some respects, some wonderful players, but they weren't getting through this by playing well. They were just finding a goal where nobody thought they could, grafting and scraping and battling their way through based on the immortal principle of 'we're gonna score one more than you'.
And now they were at the summit, one little penalty shootout away from winning. The f-cking. Cup.
Vyntra was fifth again. She was giddy, in a grounded and professional way. She enjoyed the spotlight, and how much of it she'd had lately. She was already a hero. God, imagine if she won this...
She visualised it. Last time... she'd hit it low and hard to her left with her right boot, with a small stutter. This time she'd hit it low and hard to her right with her left boot, without a stutter.
God, being two-footed was great sometimes.
"C'mon, Scylla," said Tanya, gently, from behind her. The fullback nodded, stood and linked arms with the other Cormorants.
They'd come so far. They'd done so much.
But right now, they were just nine fans together, arms joined, watching the protagonists - Abraham Terrazas between the posts. Elaine Ashdown, armband on her bicep, placing the ball on the spot. Diandra Ballard watching and waiting on the edge of the penalty area.
Ashdown hit it perfectly, Terrazas had no chance. Adnan Szalai allowed himself a little fist-pump.
Fraser stepped up, as did Ballard - the Endeavour goalkeeper looked big, intimidating. Fraser eyed her, calmly... and hit a powerful penalty to his left, but Ballard saw it coming, sprang triumphantly over and, no room for error, parried it with both fists away from danger. She came immediately to her feet, roaring defiantly at La Selecta, daring them to do better.
Bottlegreen stepped up. Top right. Perfect penalty. Valencia was unperturbed by Ballard, sending her the wrong way and undercutting a little of her mystique. Cantor, predictable as ever, hammered it home with her left. Terrazas knew what to do but just couldn't get there fast enough. Passarelli - low and hard, 3-2. Rainsford, so cool under pressure, skimming it just agonisingly over Terrazas, a close call but she wouldn't let it faze her, it went in. Zelaya hard left beyond Ballard and... and... oh, sh!t. That was four apiece.
4-3. Two take- two takers left, if she scored, she...
She could win it all...
Ashdown nudged her forward, not unkindly. Vyntra almost pitched into the grass, but managed to make her quick trot forward look natural. Right, come on.
It was strange. The stadium was full, of course, both sides of the crowd screaming one way or another.
But her brain focused on one thing.
Low and hard to the right.
Unerringly, she struck.
Theresa - feminine given name
From the Spanish and Portuguese name Teresa. The meaning is uncertain, but it could be derived from Greek θερος (theros)"summer", from Greek θεριζω (therizo) "to harvest".
Riether stood apart from the rest as they stood, watching and casually applauding the Guayabalense as they walked to receive their runners-up medals.
This was it. She'd known it in the group stage as Nephara faced a humiliating second straight group exit, and this hadn't changed her mind. Though - she smiled - it was pretty bloody wonderful to be a part of.
The players weren't letting introspection get to them, though. They were sinking in the moment - their moment - as they should.
The last of the Guayabalense were shuffled off. Now it was their turn.
The PA announcer helpfully called out the names as they came up.
"Number 1, Diandra Ballard!"
Wild applause from the stadium. Ballard was a hero of the campaign, despite the lack of a clean sheet to show for it - she'd saved key penalties, she'd saved the day under pressure, she'd covered for the defence and often been left exposed at the back, never shrinking under the spotlight. Few deserved this more than her.
"Number 2, Sasha Christener!"
Sasha had stepped up just as the pundits had started to wail about Nephara's constant problem position at rightback. Close to a hundred caps later, nobody complained anymore.
"Number 3, Nikita Griffiths!"
Christener's teammate. She'd been capable when called upon.
"Number 4, Tanith Rainsford!"
More cheers around the ground. Uncompromising in defence, all class with the ball at her feet, Rainsford was the keystone of the squad.
"Number 5, Calliope Katskalidis!"
Much would be made of the number of goals Nephara had conceded, but Katskalidis was a great centre-half and only going to improve with time. Riether sincerely believed that Katskalidis and Scharner were the next Belfast and Marlowe - and those two had been allowed their rocky spells early on, hadn't they?
"Number 6, Daniel Kruse!"
Not to discount the efforts of some who had come before. Not everyone valued Daniel Kruse's contributions, and it was possible this would be his last major tournament - but he was a quietly effective professional with an undervalued ability to stride with the ball at his feet.
"Number 7, Adnan Szalai!"
Ah, Adnan. Such a fantastic player, weaving his blue-collar, street-football way past defenders, a proper 'asphalt player' as the papers had taken to calling his like. He'd go far. Fantastically far.
"Number 8, Elaine Ashdown!"
More cheers - the stadium was a cacophony of cheers. Ashdown clapped above her head to acknowledge them - she was shirtless, for the time being, a sport bra across her chest and Rudy Valencia's shirt draped over her shoulder. Ashdown was pure, pure class.
"Number 9, Michael Kellard!"
The only traditional big Nepharim centre-forward Riether had taken, but Kellard had been crucial when he'd been present. His style might not have fit the way Riether had taken the Cormorants, and yet... he was somehow still essential.
"Number 10, Theodora Covenant!"
A wonderful, undervalued player - the way Covenant was willing to drop deep to link up the midfield to attack as the wings pushed forward was what gave this side such a dizzying fluidity in attack. Riether hoped whoever came after her appreciated her contribution.
"Number 11, Andrea Cawdor!"
Cawdor had emerged from basically nothing, taking every chance she'd gotten with the national team as a callow Crisisbless United winger with a high squad number, made the position her own and now shaken off a firm challenge from Vesper. Riether had only the deepest admiration for her.
"Number 12, Lind Pressinger!"
With Ballard retiring, Nephara needed a safe pair of hands - Riether was convinced the fresh-faced blond from eastern Sabrefell was the right man for the job.
"Number 13, Tanya Bottlegreen!"
Bottlegreen was contemplating international retirement, but this might well be her last hurrah anyway - why not go out on a note like this? The veteran winger had always made an impact upon her arrival. She changed games, made them flow around her. And her club career was far from over.
"Number 14, Auburn Tarrant!"
Not being Elaine Ashdown wasn't a crime. Tarrant might be the last name people remember when trying to think of the full squad that came to the Cup, but without a doubt, had Ashdown flagged, Tarrant would have been ready to take up the mantle.
"Number 15, Igrene Cantor!"
A fantastic, emphatic, iconic young striker. Riether had been quick to cap her, and had been rewarded.
"Number 16, Lienke Vesper!"
Link was another exceptional talent in her own right - there were so many strong, young players in this squad, not just one or two to rely upon. This might not be the peak - this might only be the beginning.
"Number 17, Malachi Rosewood!"
But she wasn't the one to continue them forward, she knew that. That wasn't her job to take.
"Number 18, Kieran Ritter!"
No, she'd settle back into club management, maybe after a sabbatical. Less pressure that way, and more factors within her control.
"Number 19, Scylla Vyntra!"
The cheers broke her out of her reverie for a moment. Vyntra, the face of the tournament... the 24-year old leftback of a team who hadn't kept a clean sheet. She'd never have to buy a pint in Nephara again.
"Number 20, Isadora Caravella!"
Another loyal servant when called upon, though she was another aging face. She hadn't expected to taste glory this year - who had?
"Number 21, Penumbra Amokachi!"
Was she the tournament's top scorer? She had to be up there. Amokachi was the sort of wildfire talent oozing quality that Nephara never used to have. But now... Amokachi, Szalai, they were all proof that the system was working.
"Number 22, Malachite Scharner!"
And the system wasn't all about silky attacking skills. Nephara would always need their Scharners, too - latest in a long line running from Rook Harm through Karl Finnan, Brescia Stubbs and now Kieran Ritter alongside Scharner. Firm, nasty, cruel... but honourable, in their way. The great equalisers.
"Number 23, Marijana Kuralay!"
Kuralay didn't deserve to have the last number on the list, but nobody would complain less. Yet another wonderful young player backing up someone even better.
"And the manager, Theresa Riether!"
She didn't know the manager got called up to the podium.
She stood up, the crowd cheering, chanting her name, and collected her medal almost in a daze. The WCC chairman motioned her to the pulpit - oh, God. It was time to make a speech.
She looked out at the crowd. Back at the players. Down at her faithful assistant, Portia Thrift, and across the other staff as well. At the defeated Guayabalense to the other side. Back across the crowd, letting her eyes linger on the waves of green and black still standing by the penalty area where it had all been decided.
"Thank you all," she said simply. "All of this... all of what just happened, this was for you."