Kings and Queens of Altador
Also by broviral
When we were younger we would pretend that we were the heroes of Altador. Those bronzed, god-like statues were a mystery to us: they weren't living (although at times they seemed real enough to reach out and touch you) and had no story or history then, like they do now. They stood in a circle like knights on a round table and seemed to stare in to ours and each other's eyes, begging to tell us their adventures.
I would spend long days sitting in the centre of their circle, the orange Yurble janitor watching me vigilantly, dreaming up our city's history, until we started with the game.
I don't remember how everything started anymore, but I do remember meeting a yellow Lupe in my usual dreaming spot, and a conversation about If Only We Had Lived Then.
And how the group grew after that, until we equalled the statues in the hall.
When you're young and fantasy could be reality, it doesn't take long for fanciful ideas to become a real game. I remember Madi, a Chia, suggesting it first, but in retrospect I think everyone was thinking the same thing.
We chatted there until our parents called us home, claiming roles and sharing our stories. By the time it was dark we'd already decided: I would be Gordos, Madi would be Fauna, Lacy could be Florin, Unch would be Sasha, Harry would be Marak, Natalie would be Torakor, Phoenix would be Psellia, Tracy would be Siyana, Essie would be Kelland and Ryan would be Jerdana.
Viral, the yellow Lupe that I had met in the Hall of Heroes, took the role of King Altador, the Hunter, himself.
Viral was the last Neopet in all of Altador that anyone would expect to play the role of a king, even in our childhood game. He had an obvious stutter that became more severe the more upset he got, and he was often upset. Even to this day I have never seen anyone cry as often as Viral has, and definitely not any boys.
His crying was one of the reasons he even played the role of king; from then on, should anyone want to play The Hunter, he would burst in to tears and throw a fit until the rest of us got so annoyed we just let him have his way, and tried not to let it detract from the stories we were creating. He became so immersed in his role that he might as well have painted himself Royalboy.
For the most part we liked Viral and his style of "monarchy", and we quickly became comfortable in our roles.
Except for one young blue Tuskaninny, Ven. Although the rest of us varied in age, she was still two years my junior, making her the youngest in our little group. At first we were reluctant to let her in, but it wasn't our choice, apparently. You know what parents are like.
We forced the role of The Darkest Faerie on her, which she was none too happy about.
But somehow we were still surprised when she came out and said that she wanted to play King Altador.
"I'd make a much better King than Viral ever would!" Ven yelled, stomping her foot into the ground. Everyone was gathered and talking together like usual, but Ven hadn't joined in their conversations that day. She'd stood off to the side and stared at them, keeping her gaze focused on Viral. Her outburst was completely unexpected.
So, naturally, everyone turned to look over at her, staring blankly at the Tuskaninny. So Ven stomped her foot again and continued, "He's a stupid hypocrite and he stutters and whines! I'd be a much better King!"
A few of the others glanced at Viral, keeping quiet, though many of them looked like they were about to maul Ven with clever words, Essie in particular. But they kept silent, wanting to see how Viral would react. He didn't disappoint their expectations. His face twisted at first in annoyance, but soon tears were falling from his eyes.
“Y-you would not!" he stuttered. "I am King, we already decided this! You can't be King! You can't!" He sounded like he was on the edge of a breakdown.
“You're only here because your parents make us play with you!" Essie declared.
Ven shoved past Essie and the other Neopets and put her face close to Viral's. He took a step backwards, his expression an odd mix of anger and despair. Ven just looked angry. "It's not fair! You aren't good enough to be King! You have to get your stupid lackeys to do everything for you!" she yelled. Viral looked like he was on the verge of tears again.
“Isn't that what Kings are supposed to do?" Madi asked curiously.
“I thought so," Harper agreed.
Ven spun around to yell at them, but when confronted with the angry faces of ten Neopets she thought better of it, and turned back around to look at Viral. He was smiling smugly, even with a tear-stained face. Ven made an angry noise and stomped away, leaving the Hall of Heroes.
There was a silence after Ven left, finally broken by Unch's words: "I think it's time for a story.”
Days went by and there was no sign of Ven. The Yurble janitor shook his head when they asked if he'd seen her, and after a while the group gave up on wondering where she'd gone. There wasn't anything she could do, and it's not like they were very worried about her, so they went on playing their game. Ven was soon forgotten.
It was about a week before they saw her again. Ven made her entrance by storming straight through the group and right up to Viral. "I'm sick of you!" she yelled, and began to rant about how stupid and gross Viral was, and how she should be the rightful King. Viral just stared at her, glancing around at everyone else nervously, not sure how to respond to this sudden intrusion.
"Hey, Ven, come on, calm down," Ryan tried to soothe her by putting a hand on her shoulder, but Ven whirled around and whacked Ryan's hand away.
"I don't need sympathy from you," she said bitterly, and spun back around at Viral, clenching her fists and holding them up, "I'm going to get rid of you once and for all!" she declared before swinging one of her balled fists towards Viral's face. The Lupe stared at her, his eyes wide, and he ducked at the last second, before her fist could collide with his face.
"Stand and fight me like a man!" Ven swung at him again, and each time Viral ducked and backed up, looking panicked. Tears were falling freely from his eyes as he tried to escape Ven's vicious swings.
It didn't take long before Lacy and Natalie had grabbed Ven to hold her back.
Viral stood up slowly, trying to look regal and regain some of his dignity. He sniffed, but crossed his arms, looking thoughtful.
"We'd never support you, you know," Tracy spoke up, nodding, "even if you did become Queen."
"You're not our friend," Madi added.
Ven struggled to move and punch Viral again, but Lacy and Natalie had a firm grip on her. Viral gave a weak smile at their efforts to defend him, then nodded, indicating that they were to release her. Lacy and Natalie exchanged a glance, but let go of Ven. She didn't move to attack Viral again, and in fact, looked like she was crying.
"It's not fair," she cried, wiping her eyes constantly to make it look like she wasn't crying. "None of you are fair! I'm going home!" With that, Ven turned and ran out of the Hall of Heroes. Viral watched her go, then turned to look at his friends. He was crying freely, but he was smiling.
Of course, Ven's leaving didn't stop our storytelling. Had this happened today, I (we) probably would have coddled her, tried to come to some sort of agreement or arrangement that would make her happy and save us from feeling guilty, but then we just didn't care. We had set rules, and Ven broke them; it was just that simple.
At the time I wished I would never see her again, but that isn't possible in a place like Altador. Aside from noting her watching us as we rushed through quarries and forests defeating imaginary monsters and narrating it all as we played along, we couldn't avoid our relations. Most of our parents were acquaintances if not friends, and ironically, Viral's parents and Ven's parents had been close for many years.
It was torture for Viral, enduring her hatred each time the parents met and sent the young Neopets off to 'play'; it was torture for Ven to endure his rejection. Maybe the adults were oblivious, but I doubt it: in all other situations they had proven themselves omnipotent. Maybe they hoped that the two would learn to get along, for both their sakes. Viral spent his time obsessing over his monarchy and stories, while Ven spent her time alone, plotting revenge and hoping for acceptance.
In the end the parents were right, as always.
It only took until Viral's birthday party that year.
The air was so thick with tension and free-floating rage that it seemed difficult to breathe - anyone with good intentions entering that room would quickly have become intoxicated by the thick air immediately. It seemed it would only take a single word to cause an explosion.
But there wasn't even a spark that night.
It was already a scorching day in Altador, and the thick air wasn't helping, so someone, maybe Lacy, opened a window. The air circulated in and out, and before long chat had gone from strained to pleasant to familiar. Even Ven and Viral suddenly seemed to get along as if they were good friends, and for once everyone had enjoyed themselves.
I wish I could say that this had lasted. That after this night Ven joined our stories and that we still even discussed those old tales today, despite knowing the real history of our heroes.
After that night we never told stories again.