Underdogs: Part Six
Art by nut862
Holbie Pinnock awoke with a start and found himself lying in a bed. Looking around at the stone walls and columns surrounding him, he remembered that he was trapped in a rocky cave. He had to save his teammates, or they’d never reach the Altador Cup in time to play this year. Pinnock jumped out of bed, expecting to bounce up off the floor; instead he landed hard on the stone tiles and let out an involuntary yelp as his bandaged leg twisted under him. He’d forgotten; he wasn’t a Kiko anymore, and he wasn’t in a cave. He had to get to Altador.
That was when he noticed the yellow flag hanging on the wall, with the Altador Cup logo printed in the center. The rest of the architecture in the room looked distinctly Altadorian as well. Somehow he had forgotten that he was in Altador. He still couldn’t remember how he had gotten here. But that meant that he only had one thing left to do.
“Hey! Is anyone here? Come over! Listen! Team Kiko Lake is trapped up in the mountains!”
* * * * *
The rescue workers kept moving, methodically working their way down the mountain. That Lupe had delayed them. They’d treated him as well as they could and sent one of their team members to carry him back to Altador where he could get more attention. He would be fine, but in the time they had spent with him, a stiff wind had blown up. Tracks in the snow would have been erased. The searchers moved slowly, stopping to poke around in search of other evidence of the Kikos’ passage through the mountains, but they found nothing. Tired and cold from a night spent poring over these cliffs, they could only imagine how much worse the Kikos were faring.
“Whoa!” The Kougra leading the search party stopped. A pile of boulders lay before them, blocking their path. “Looks like there was a rockslide here. Do you think the Kikos ran into this on their way up?”
“If they did, this is the point where they would’ve lost the trail. I’d say it’s highly likely. They probably hit the rockslide, tried to go around it, and got lost in the snow. They’ll be wandering out there somewhere, half-frozen.”
“Then we better move.”
The search party climbed around the boulders and crossed into the field of snow beyond, moving farther and farther into the white wastes as they searched for signs of the Kikos that lay imprisoned behind the rocks they had just passed over.
* * * * *
Three Kikos and a Peophin huddled in the cave, pressed against each other for warmth. They had pulled their hats down and wound scarves and padding as tightly around their bodies as they could, but they still felt as though they were freezing. Despite what Cellers had said before they began this journey, all of them were thinking about water now. They had already eaten the few crackers that had been in their captain’s equipment bag, but thirst was more of a concern. Most of their supplies had been lost in the rockslide, and they had no matches to melt the scrapings of snow lying in the corners of the cave. They had scooped up handfuls of snow to eat, but it was so cold that they could swallow only small amounts at a time.
Cellers was bouncing around, clapping her fins together every few minutes. “Come on, you bumps on a log,” she called to her teammates. “Get moving! Do you want to be out of shape when you walk onto that field for the first round of the Altador Cup?”
Her teammates didn’t respond. They found her displays of energy annoying; it was too cold to be expected to stay in practice for a game that they were now sure they wouldn’t be playing in, even if they did make it out of here alive.
The hole at the back of the cave was their window to the world outside, but it also let cold wind into the cave. Cellers had poked a brightly colored scarf through it as a distress signal. She had weighed the scarf down with a large stone that also blocked the hole, leaving them in darkness. They didn’t know how much time had passed since Pinnock had left, but it felt like ages. Cellers hadn’t told her teammates about the morphing potion, and none of them understood how he could have survived the conditions outside. Their outlook was grim, despite how confident Cellers tried to sound about his bringing help. It was unusual for their captain to be so positive, but perhaps she felt it was her duty to cling to the team’s last hope.
As for Cellers, even with her knowledge of Pinnock’s transformation, she wished she could be more confident. She could do nothing now but hope that Pinnock’s run for help succeeded, but she was mad at him for having attempted it at all. He could’ve asked her before taking that morphing potion. If anyone should’ve gone for help, it was the team captain. At least if Cellers had gone, she would have been in control of the situation, not left to wait here helplessly with no way of knowing the fate of the one on which all their hopes rested.
She glanced at her teammates and saw Ditan Colb’s eyelids drooping. “You’re not going to wake up from this nightmare by freezing in your sleep! If you’re so tired, at least lie on something instead of the cold ground, or next thing I know I’ll be using you to plug that hole in the wall.” Cellers shoved her equipment bag at him. She was as tired as all the rest, but she refused to give in to sleep, afraid of what might happen if she closed her eyes to her teammates for a moment. “I should be the one outside in the snow,” she mumbled restlessly to herself. “Why am I waiting around in here with everyone else like rats in a trap?”
“Because you know how much we all need you to boost morale,” Colb said, managing to grin as he lay down on top of the equipment bag.
* * * * *
In a place like the Space Station or Neopia Central or any land modern enough to use Virtupets technology, it would have been no major problem to communicate a message to a team of rescue workers. They would have been carrying portable radios that would have allowed them to talk with their base and exchange information. The Altadorian rescuers, however, were alone on their mission.
While they wandered farther and farther from their goal, a messenger from Altador went running through the snow, following their tracks and clinging to the hope that he could overtake them in time. Holbie Pinnock had given all the information they needed to find Team Kiko Lake, but the rescue party still didn’t know it. The Altador Cup Committee was busy running the tournament now, and wasn’t about to pay for another search party to be sent out. The officials had done their job in hiring a rescue team; now it was that team’s duty to find the missing Kikos.
Right now they had succeeded in saving one of them, even if he wasn’t a Kiko anymore. The Lenny messenger hoped desperately that he’d be in time to rescue the others.
* * * * *
Two days passed before the Lenny caught up with the rescue party. He sank down in the snow at their feet, panting. “Message from Altador,” he gasped. “Team Kiko Lake sent a Lupe messenger to tell us that they’re trapped in a cave that’s blocked by rocks. They were caught in a rockslide on the way up.”
The rescuers looked at each other, realization passing between them. They immediately turned and began heading back towards the rockslide they had clambered over before.
By the time they reached the pile of boulders and began moving them away, nearly a week had gone by since the original disaster. They worked grimly, not sure what they would find.
* * * * *
A light was shining into her eyes. Cellers opened them with a start, realizing she had finally given in to sleep. She looked up and heard voices, saw the boulders shifting. Her heart leaped, and she rushed to her teammates and began shaking them awake.
A blue Kougra poked his head into the cave. “I see them! They’re all right!”
Before she knew what was happening, the Kougra had reached in and lifted Cellers onto his back to carry her out of the cave. She was so exhausted and relieved that she didn’t protest. They were saved. Pinnock must have made it to Altador.
Reporters were waiting outside the cave, eager to gather news that they could relay to Altador Cup fans. “What do you have to say now that you’re not going to be participating in the Yooyuball tournament this year?”
Until now, Cellers hadn’t wanted to admit to herself that they had missed the Cup. She had been half hoping that they’d keep registrations open, but she realized how unrealistic it was to expect the officials to delay the Cup for a whole week just for a low-tier team of nobodies from Kiko Lake. Not only that, but they were in no condition to play Yooyuball anymore. She bit her lip and faced the reporter. “We'll just have to regroup and give it another shot next year. In the meantime, though, we might want to look into finding another route to Altador, preferably something a little less dangerous.”
* * * * *
Food, warmth, and water did much to heal Team Kiko Lake’s wounds. The roar of the crowd during the constant daily Yooyuball matches could be heard anywhere in the city, reminding them of what they were missing. It felt strange not to be playing. They spent all year training for this month, playing Yooyuball day in and day out, and now during the time when everyone expected them to be out on the field, they were walking down a marble hallway to visit their friend in the infirmary.
The yellow Lupe sat up in bed and smiled at the troop of Kikos coming in to see him. “Hey, I’m glad you guys all made it.”
Cellers grinned. “You still owe me a morphing potion, by the way.”
“Are you kidding? I just risked my life to save you all. I’ll tell you who owes who a morphing potion. You owe me a Blue Kiko Morphing Potion, Poke.”
“Fine, I’ll take it out of your payroll.”
“I’m not on your payroll!”
“I’m talking about next year,” Cellers said. “You’ll be back in the game next year for sure, remember?”
“Only if I’m a Kiko. There’s no way I’m playing Yooyuball with all these legs. I still say the things are overrated.”
“All right, all right, I’ll buy you a morphing potion. But you’ve got to be ready to play your legs off in the matches next year.”
“I will for sure, Poke.”
“You better be.”
* * * * *
It was one year later. The fourth Altador Cup was about to begin. The teams took their places on the field, and the crowd roared in response, waving flags and screaming the names of their favorite players.
Holbie Pinnock and Meela Kitah took their places at the front of the field. “Poke” Cellers hung in back on defense, with Ditan Colb opposite her. Their new goalkeeper, Erli Quinnock, hovered in the goal. On the other end of the field, Team Maraqua stepped out to meet the cheers of the crowd.
And yet today the cheers were not one-sided. In the stands, flags waved bearing Kiko Lake’s colors of green, brown, and black. Kikos had turned out in force, filling the stadium seats to show that they could clap and cheer as well as any pet with arms and legs. Some pets who weren’t Kikos were still cheering for their side. And even the Techo Fanatic could be seen waving a green and brown flag and screaming his lungs out. Cheering for them--for Kikos.
They weren’t tall or strong, but they could handle a Yooyuball, and their team had something that larger, more impressive teams didn’t. Theirs was a small, close-knit group of players dedicated to the game, who would continue to fight against all the odds against them. The public supported them now not despite the fact that they were Kikos, but because they were Kikos. They were a bunch of Kikos who had learned to play Yooyuball well enough to get into the Altador Cup, and that was more impressive to see than the endless battles being fought out among the biggest and strongest players in the best teams.
The bright blue Kiko turned to grin at the team captain, and she smiled back.
“Break a leg, Holbie.”