Brothers in Wing: Part One
It's been years since the Battle for Meridell, but the war's after effects still linger on in the slums and markets of the Citadel. Young neopets beg on street corners—for NP or for adoption by pitying humans—while the smarter, older ones steal to survive. Simple items like shoes or coats are treasured in the winter months, though it is not uncommon to see many walking the streets barefoot, even in the snow. There were just too many of them, and nowhere for them to go on a citadel floating in the sky.
For those pets lucky enough to have owners or the ability to support themselves on their own, the orphans—or the thieves, as some called them—made the Citadel a dangerous place, especially at night. One living there was quick to learn to never go out alone in the evening, and to not wear or be seen with anything of even remote value. Crime and theft ran rampant on the streets of the Citadel, and the war had affected all levels of society. While the orphans numbered in the hundreds, the guards only numbered in the dozens on a good day.
All of this was part of daily life for Layton Vickles. He had begun training to be a professional Yooyuball player after the recent events in Altador, affording him a decent pay and a ticket out of the slums, at least. But the markets that bridged the gap between the slums and the nicer neighborhoods were the hub of the city, so life forced him to make trips there at least every few days. He had long grown used to the sight of beggars and poor pets in ripped, old, unfitting clothing. He was fortunate, perhaps, to not own anything of particular value, so he was rarely a target for the thieves.
Fortunate until today, that was.
Yooyuball's most important equipment was, of course, the yooyu, a moderately rare petpet hailing from Altador. The newly founded Darigan Citadel team was fortunate enough to import three from the distant land, allowing for their current potential members to train. The coach recently realized, though, that the team did not need all three yooyus to practice, and subsequently gave one to Layton. For bonding purposes. Right.
And so it was with his new petpet in tow that Layton slithered into the market that afternoon, set on purchasing some new leather for the team uniforms and a small dinner for himself. In minutes he could already feel the astonished and confused gazes of the townsfolk and orphans alike. Some of the townspeople had perhaps already heard of the yooyu, while others—mainly the orphans—had no idea what the strange creature was. The yooyu walked along beside him, upright on two legs, and stared back at the townspeople with as much amazement as they were gazing at her. One particular passing Gelert stared at the yooyu for some time, entranced by the foreign creature. Layton sized him up in the meanwhile. His blue fur was dirt-stained and his clothing ripped in several places, and he wore no shoes. Just another orphan, no doubt, and Layton glared at the Gelert when his staring became too much.
The little petpet wasn't too much of a bother, Layton ultimately decided, but the attention wasn't welcome. When the Hissi stopped at a stall stacked with vegetables the Lupe shopkeep glanced curiously at the petpet for a moment, but quickly turned to address Layton. Business was all he needed to worry about, not strange petpets his customers might have.
While Layton and the shopkeep were busy discussing the Hissi's purchase, the yooyu wandered off, but not too far. Her Hissi owner didn't seem to care enough to notice her absence, anyway, and the sparkly windows of that shop were just so inviting...
A high pitched squeak caused Layton to wheel around, his eyes darting along the ground for his new petpet. Nowhere in sight. He inwardly scolded himself—he should have known better, he should have paid more attention-
There! Down the street was the blue Gelert from earlier, dashing away with his yooyu in hand. Layton immediately dropped the vegetables he'd been holding and slithered away from the stall as fast as his tail could carry him. Shouts from the shopkeep about ruined merchandise reached his ears, but he wasn't listening. He had to get that yooyu back.
The swift glide of his tail over the dirt roads of the Citadel had Layton easily closing in on the thief, who's soft and vulnerable paws were most likely tired and blistered from their lack of shoes. The yooyu in the Gelert's arms constantly struggled, and one well placed kick to the jaw by the yooyu shocked the Gelert so much that he dropped her. Layton watched as she squeaked in happiness at escaping the thief's rough grasp, but he did not fail to notice how the Gelert thief did not slow down, but sped up his run, leaned down, and swiped up the yooyu with ease, never missing a step. He made sure to hold on to the petpet tighter, this time.
The thief's burst of speed paid off as the distance between him and the Hissi chasing him widened. Layton snarled as the Gelert rounded a sharp corner down an alleyway. The Hissi grabbed hold of a nearby wall to fling himself around the corner, but stopped dead in his tracks when he was faced with an empty alley.
Was the thief that good? Was his yooyu really stolen that easily? Layton refused to give in to some lowly urchin off the street, and the sound of scuffing feet and a grunt of exertion gave him the answer he desired. He glanced up just in time to see the thin blue tail of the Gelert disappear over the rooftop. With one powerful flap of his wings Layton was airborne over the small shops in the marketplace, and in hot pursuit of the thief once more.
Leaping over the gaps between the rooftops, the Gelert glanced back once more to find the imposing silhouette of a Darigan Hissi chasing him. Layton could see the fear on his face, as if he hadn't expected that Hissis could fly, and flapped his wings once more for another burst of speed. As the chase continued, Layton found himself appreciating the athleticism of the Gelert. The pursuit had gone on for some time, and only now was the thief truly beginning to tire. The daring leaps across the rooftops impressed him, also. One misstep could cause a fall and a bad injury, but the Gelert did not seem fazed by the task at all. He must have been very practiced at such a feat.
Though his athleticism was admirable for an untrained thief, Layton could see the Gelert beginning to slow, and decided it was time to end this ridiculous chase. He flew lower, closing in on the thief. He'd allow him to jump across one more rooftop before striking.
Layton's assumption about leaping across the roofs proved to be true. The last gap that the Gelert tried to clear seemed just a little too large. His paws just barely made it to the other rooftop, and the slant in the roof caused him to lose his footing. He tumbled forward into a chimney, dropping the yooyu in the process. She rolled into a ball the moment she left his arms and skittered safely across the rooftop before rolling to a stop.
Assured that his yooyu was free, Layton swept down upon the thief and easily pinned him to the roof. The Gelert let out an 'oouf' as the weight from the Hissi knocked the wind out of him, and held up his paws in surrender.
"Alright, alright, I'm sorry! Take your... thing and leave. Just don't hurt me..." the Gelert growled out. Layton furrowed his brows at the exclamation. He had been preparing himself to face a much more formidable foe. Seeing the Gelert up close, though, he began to understand why the thief was so willing to give in. He had little muscle to speak of, and Layton could very easily feel bone under his wings. This Gelert orphan may have been fast, but that did not seem to lend him any advantage in the slums.
He stared the Gelert right in the eye once more, but then slowly backed off and allowed him to sit up. The Gelert huffed, brushing dirt off his face before leaning back against the chimney to catch his breath. Layton's yooyu returned to his side, squeaking her pleasure of being reunited with her owner. Patting the yooyu on the head once, Layton turned back to the Gelert.
"So... you're one of the orphans?" has asked out of the blue. Despite living on the Citadel for more than two years, he had never spoken to one of the many pets that called the streets their home. Any sane townsperson had no reason to, after all.
The Gelert scoffed. "Obviously. Why do you think I tried to take your petpet over there?" He gestured to the yooyu. "I've never seen that thing before in my life, so I knew it must be rare. I figured if I managed to get away with that thing it could set me up for life." Layton's yooyu, though she could not understand the Gelert, began squeaking angrily at her would-be kidnapper and hid under the protection of her owner's wing.
Layton chuckled and quieted the petpet once more. The Gelert was probably right, the yooyus were still so rare that few had even heard of them, but a wealthy collector would probably pay millions for one.
"It is understandable, but I do not appreciate the attempted theft." The Gelert snorted at that.
"Well, duh. I don't think anyone likes having anything stolen from them. But it's how I survive. Gotta live somehow on these streets." He swept his hand over the sprawling marketplace.
The Hissi raised a brow. "Yet you are so thin that your clothing barely fits you. You are a good runner, but not a very good thief, it seems."
Frowning, the Gelert was quick to rebut the insult. "Well, what do you want me to do? Gelerts aren't known for being big and bulky. We're thin and fast, but those things don't pay off as well as you think they would in the life of a thief..." he lowered his gaze to the roof below him, "I get away with small things, but many other pet species—Skeiths, Grarrls, Lupes—can catch up and overpower me, leaving me to beg forgiveness and then slink off into the alleyways without dinner." His tone was sarcastic and tired, and it seemed that he was expecting Layton to leave him to the same fate.
A silence stretched between them for a few moments, and when the Gelert did not hear Layton slithering away, he glanced up with a tired, questioning gaze. "Well, aren't you going to leave?"
Layton stared at him for a moment longer before answering. A brilliant idea had just dawned on him. "Despite what you say, you're a very good runner and your ability to leap over there rooftops is impressive," the Gelert's expression grew only more confused by the moment, but Layton continued "I'm helping to build up a sports team for Darigan Citadel, a team for a sport called yooyuball."
The Gelert stared at him blankly. "I have no idea what that is."
"Well, you're about to find out," Layton said with a smirk, holding out his wing. Part of him felt crazy for offering a random orphan a spot on his team, but he couldn't shake the potential he saw in this kid. "Mr... ah, what is your name? I'm Layton, in case you were wondering."
"Layton..." the Gelert repeated as he took the Hissi's claw and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. Now standing, he shook Layton's claw. One should shake the hand—er, claw—of the pet who just offered you a ticket out of the slums, right?
"I'm Tandrak. Tandrak Shaye."
The first time Layton allows Tandrak to sleep on his couch, the Gelert sleeps a solid day before waking. The first time Layton makes a meal for Tandrak, the Gelert asks for fourths. And he doesn't even want to get into showering. When the Gelert emerges from the bathroom his fur is a whole different shade of blue.
Over the course of two days Layton learns as much as he can about the former orphan. He doesn't remember much about his owner. He was created around a year ago, and his owner left him due to the rampant crime, poverty, and filth of the Darigan Citadel slums. One ticket off the floating Citadel was expensive, but two had been out of the question. A sad story, but one all too common.
"I didn't have many friends when I was a thief," Tandrak described to Layton at breakfast on the third morning, "Those of us who were older saw no point in it. The younger pets grouped together to take care of each other, but not us. Steal from merchants, steal from each other, whatever you needed to do to survive." He stabbed a mound of eggs with his fork, another new wonder of being off the streets.
Layton nodded. He was sure that the Gelert didn't want to speak much of his old life, as it was certainly not glamorous. They continue the day with menial tasks. Layton shows Tandrak how to wash dishes, so Tandrak scrubbed away while the Hissi sat at his small dining table sketching up uniform designs on paper. When the Gelert finished, he peeked over Layton's shoulder.
"I like the shoulder spikes," he mumbled. The Hissi turned to acknowledge him, and Tandrak looked closer at the designs, "But maybe only on one shoulder? Two makes it look so... bulky. I don't know. I guess I can't say anything, since I know nothing of the sport." He shrugged, drying his paws on a dish towel and moving away from the table.
Erasing the spiked pads off one shoulder, Layton stared at the design a moment before nodding. "No, you're right. I like it more now, actually. Thanks." Tandrak didn't answer, but the Hissi knew that the words mean much to him.
Later that night, Layton told Tandrak that tomorrow he will meet the team they've recruited so far and begin his first day of Yooyuball training. The Gelert only nodded, looking a bit distant, and went off to curl up on the couch. As he tried to fall asleep, Tandrak wondered what in the world he had gotten himself into. Lying in his own bed, Layton wondered the same thing.
The two arrived at the stadium bright and early at 7 AM the next morning, Layton in a purple and black striped shirt and Tandrak in a spare black T-shirt Layton lent him along with the ripped brown trousers he himself owned. The Hissi explained to him that he'd see to Tandrak getting at least a few more sets of clothing to practice in.
They were greeted by a Darigan Buzz and Bruce at the center of the practice field. Tandrak, realizing he was the only one not painted the expensive color, felt out of place.
"Kep, Tormo," Layton nodded to the other two pets, and Tandrak made a note of their names, "this is Tandrak Shaye. He'll be the fourth member of our team." The Bruce looked up at Tandrak with an almost maniacal grin, while the buzz gave him a small, but pleasant smile.
"Nice to meet 'cha. The name's Tormo Frein." He held out a clawed hand, which Tandrak took in a hand shake. For a small pet, the Bruce certainly had a strong grip, he discovered.
"Kep Bonnefie," the Buzz said plainly.
"Kep's an old friend of mine," Layton explained, "but Tormo is just—"
"Just the best player you've recruited?" the Bruce interrupted with a snicker.
Kep crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. "Oh, stop your babbling." She turned her gaze to Tandrak. "Tormo is just a rich kid from the Darigan upper class with too much time on his hands. His parents got tired of him playing pranks on them every minute, so he took up Yooyuball to avoid the constant scolding." She then smirked down at the Bruce, who scowled back up at her.
"Hey, shut up! Just 'cause I'm rich doesn't mean nothin'..."
"It means that your parents donate much needed funds to our organization, which we will always appreciate." Layton stepped between them to break up the argument with a smile on his face. "Now, shall we get to practicing? We have to teach Tandrak how to play Yooyuball. We've got a lot of ground to cover before the Cup starts..."
Layton began to push the two off in the direction of the equipment room and turned to look at Tandrak as a sign to follow. The Gelert did follow, a bit overwhelmed already by the team's fiery personalities. A lot of ground to cover, indeed.
To be continued...