Of Pirates and Pranks: Part One
"Vickles, this time you've gone too far!"
A tall, stout Bori wearing a blood red bandana burst out of a locker room door, teeth bearing. A golden ring bobbed back and forth from his ear with every step. His silver-grey fur bristled as one claw curled into a fist. The other claw held a grey and pink pinstriped uniform with a skull-and-cross-bone shaped shoulder pads. The words 'Garven Hale' appeared in bright pink lettering along the creased fabric.
"Come on, Hale," sputtered a thin, purple-skinned Hissi with a trail of spikes leading down his back and bright green eyes. "It's just a joke! You know I mean no harm, buddy—"
"Don't 'buddy' me, Layton! Putting hot sauce in my teammate's grog is one thing—I have to admit, that was pretty funny—but destroying my team jersey is another!"
Hale held onto the uniform, staring at the scrunched up fabric in his claws. He sighed gruffly, shaking his head as his arms drooped to the side.
"Layton," he began more quietly, laying the uniform against a nearby chair. He grabbed a towel from a wall and dipped it in a bucket of water. A stream of cool water dripped down his forehead and nose, making it glisten in the low light. His eyes remained fixated on the chair. "I thought we were friends."
"Lighten up, Hale," grumbled the Hissi, attempting to punch him in the shoulder with his wing-like hands. "This isn't like you." Garven looked up at the last second before catching the Hissi's wing. Within a second, Vickles felt a strong push, sending him sailing to the ground. Vickles began to laugh, fangs easily visible. "Now that's the rival I know! Iron Claws Garven!"
"No. You don't understand, Layton—"
"Yeah, you're right. I don't understand." The Hissi began to raise his voice, slithering back up to a standing position. "What's the big deal about bleaching an old, beat up jersey? I'm sure there are extras somewhere."
"And that," he turned away, starting to walk towards the door, "is where you are wrong. For one, my team's jerseys are on order right now, so I guess I'm going to be out on the field today looking like I'm from Faerieland." Vickles noticeably cringed. His green tongue flicked out and quivered shortly. "And that 'old jersey' that you ruined was given to me by Dasher Soley, my retired teammate."
"I..." Vickles began to slither towards him, only for Garven to block him with an outstretched claw.
"I don't want to hear it." His claw wrapped around the doorknob as it swung open. The metal knob slammed against the wall, resonating like a gong. "And if I were you, I wouldn't speak to anyone from the team for a long time. "
Silence hung in the hall. The metallic scream still rang fresh in Vickles' ears. He stood in the spacious locker room for what seemed like hours staring at the door.
The sounds of clicking metal unfroze Vickles from his daze. He jumped back as if bracing to catch a flaming Yooyu without it searing him with its flaring heat. Pulse-pounding heartbeats felt like ice against his scaly skin.
The door opened slowly.
"Look, I'm sorry, Gar—"
A slender red-furred Gelert stepped cautiously into the room, turning sleek black wings away from the closing door. His head and ears tilted to the side.
"Uh... hey, Boss. You alright?" called a silky smooth young voice.
The Hissi shook his head vehemently, causing the Gelert to jump back.
"Fine, Shaye, absolutely fine. Why wouldn't I be fine?" Before the Gelert could respond, he blurted, "Where's Garven?"
A black eyebrow rose, as did his right ear, causing him to look like a rather confused Cybunny.
"You mean Krawk Island's team captain? Yeah, I saw him a little bit ago." Vickles held his breath. "It's odd, really. Usually he's pretty personable, but today he walked past me without even a second glance. Eh," the Gelert shrugged. "Maybe he's just nervous about an upcoming matches or something."
"No, it's not that." Vickles' placed his wing upon Shaye's shoulder. "A prank of mine... backfired. I don't think Hale's going to live it down anytime soon."
"You put hot sauce in that Moehog's grog again? 'Cause if she's still annoyed about that, I—"
"No, no. That's pranking done right." He gave a half-grin before averting the Gelert's eyes. "I... bleached Garven's jersey 'cause I thought it would be funny. Moreover, because he's had that old jersey for so many years, I thought he'd find the prank funny as well. Guess I was wrong."
The Gelert's eyes bulged, looking at his own jersey before staring back at the towering team captain. "You did what?"
Vickles bit his tongue, quietly moving towards a nearby bench. As the captain sat down, his tail swished from side to side against the cement floor. Shaye had remained quiet, brow furrowed and face twisted in a mixture of shock and sorrow.
"Hey Boss, either way, we should probably—"
"Tandrak, can you keep a secret?"
Shaye's nose wriggled.
"I thought of a way that I can make up for this, but you're gonna have to cover for me in practice."
"I what?!" Echoes reverberated about the small room. Hushed voices could be heard from right outside the door—probably the press (or those 'irksome quill holding Petpetpets,' as their Jetsam teammate Reshar always said).
"Look, Shaye," the sounds of a dripping faucet and Tandrak's tail slapping against a metal locker (he subsequently yelped in pain) nearly drowned out the Hissi's whispered voice. "Eesh, careful with that tail of yours." Huffing pouts murmured from Shaye's mouth, although he tried to smile either way. "Like I was saying... I'll be missing practice today and-before-you-say-anything," narrowed eyes responded, "this is even more important than winning a game."
"... And just how do you want me to cover?" he spat.
"Say... I'm doing something of dire importance and that I entrust team the team with you, for now."
"You know they're not going to believe that, Boss. Nothing's more important to you than the team," his eyes darted between the captain and the floor, "or so I thought."
A hissed grumble later, Vickles bounded from the bench.
"After the Krawk's game, I'll be back downstairs, ready to practice. Just this favor is all I ask, Tandrak."
"Fine. But I don't approve of what you're doing."
"Eh, neither do I, but as long as no one knows who I am... we'll be peachy."
"What do you—"
"Trust me, Shaye; as long as I have an Altador Cup VIP pass around my neck, I got this covered. Oh and... I'm gonna need to borrow some of your street clothes, too."
Shaye left the locker room grumbling under his breath. A few Altadorians walked by, some of them waving. He glanced at them, nodded with a semi-smile, and continued along the underground passageway.
A light punch collided with his shoulder. After a sigh, the Gelert turned around, only to jump back slightly. Krawk Island's right forward, a grey-furred bandana-wearing Shoyru known as "Dinksy" gripped her Yooyuball sling tightly, wearing a mischievous grin. When Shaye did not return her playful punch, she whimpered, holding a paw in front of her mouth.
"Are you upset at me?" she questioned cautiously, letting her sling arm rest to the side.
"It's not you, Dinksy." He massaged the punched shoulder. "I'm just thinking about Layton."
"Oh..." her tail swished from side to side. "Hale's pretty upset at him, you know." A paw rested on her chin. "But to be fair—"
"So, I heard you're facing Kreludor today?"
"Huh?" the Shoyru paused for a brief moment, mouth agape. "Oh... I gotcha. Speaking of that game..." Her wings darted out to the side as she burst up into the air fist first, "I'M SO PSYCHED! This is going to be an awesome match, I just know it!" She drifted back to the ground, bounding up and down. "You'll cheer for us, right?"
The Gelert laughed, holding out a fist towards her.
"Only if you cheer for us too! Pound it, Dinksy."
"You know I will!" Her small paws rebounded off Shaye's. "We bad guys have to stick together."
"Haha... let's hope we can." The Darigan Gelert began to shift from side to side. "Well, you have a game to catch and I... I have a team to coach."
Dinksy's eyes widened. "Wait, isn't that Vickles' job?"
"Not today, apparently," he replied in a flat, dry voice. "I only hope he knows what he is doing..."
It was hard enough convincing Tandrak to lend his Twisted Roses cap, black-rimmed sun shades, and suede leather jacket, but it even harder trying to sneak past mobs of excited Altador Cup fans.
I only hope Shaye does his job, thought the captain. If anyone from the team finds out what I am doing... it could mean trouble.
Out of nowhere, a sudden pain shot up the Hissi's back. It originated from what appeared to be a footprint on his tail.
"Ouch! Have you ever heard of watching where you step?"
A little, blue Tonu wearing a Darigan Citadel T-shirt, black pants, and black shoes walked to his front, bowing slightly. An elastic band held his scraggly mane in place, forming a small ponytail that loosely fell upon his back.
"I'm sorry, mister..."
Vickles shifted the glasses above his eyes slightly, eyeing the little one down.
"Yeah, you should be. Watch your step next time."
The Hissi rolled his eyes before continuing forward, only for the same Tonu to stop him again
If that squirt was a Yooyu, he'd be flung half-way across the room by now, but... that would give too much away.
"Yessss?" he hissed quietly.
"You look just like Layton Vickles!"
A couple of passersby turned to look and tilted their heads thoughtfully as if thinking the same thing.
"Uh, yeah. I get that all the time, kid. Now vamoose."
The Tonu began to tear up.
"... I was just gonna say he's my hero, that's all. Sorry for making you mad, Mister..."
"Erk. Uh... okay, okay." He bent over towards the child's ear whilst other Neopians gave him sour looks. "Just between you and me... I am Layton Vickles, but I'm on a super secret mission. No one can know about it, alright?"
"You're the actual L—"
Before the Tonu could blurt out his next few words, Layton had covered his mouth.
"Yes, yes, now quit making a scene!"
But a scene they had made. A crowd of fans had now come to look at what had transpired. Vickles could feel his blood pressure rising as his heart knocked against his chest.
"Seriously... Toby." The Tonu twisted his face in confusion. "You know you shouldn't beg Uncle Shaye for stuff. I mean, I work hard day after day so that you guys can come to the cup every year and this is the thanks I get?" Vickles brought up the sunshades and winked.
"Uh... sorry, Uncle Shaye, I'll stop being so loud."
"Of course you will, you little rascal!" he said, lightly patting the Tonu's head twice. "You don't want Uncle Shaye getting in trouble, right?"
"Uh..." the Tonu was attempting not to smirk. "No, Uncle."
A few of the Neopians raised their brows in confusion before turning away, yet others still eyed him down as if they recognized him somehow.
"Right." Tandrak turned his head in both directions before whispering in the Tonu's ear once more. "If you can keep a secret, I'll buy you something in the gift shop."
"Ooookay," he responded, winking slowly, "Uncle Shaye."
Vickles's eyes narrowed. "And stop with the emphasis. It's suspicious."
"You got it, Uncle!"
While Vickles carried out his plan, Shaye had other things on his mind. He gingerly opened a metal door labeled with the Darigan Citadel logo. The room was small, but had everything an athlete would ever need: treadmills, punching bags, Jelly Chia dummies, and of course, a miniature field complete with a goalie's net. Their chef, a blue Mynci sporting a large white chef's hat and smock, stood at a small wooden table preparing purple and black sandwiches complete with Darigan Krawkade.
All of the Darigan crew was busily practicing. Bonnefie, Darigan's fearless left defender, took turns tackling different Chia dummies. Her slender body made it easy for her to slip between opposing players, even with long, transparent wings. At one point, the Buzz scooped into the air before knocking the dummy to the ground.
Frein, the spiked-collar-wearing Darigan Bruce with a relatively short statue, picked up practice Yooyus (what some Altadorians call "Yooyus in training") and flung them at Reshar's goal (made to scale). Any time he scored, the purple skinned Jetsam would fling his glove to the ground, shouting all sorts of Darigan obscenities.
"For goodness' sake, Reshar," Bonnefie said, eyeing the Jetsam with her fist sized red eyes between practice tackles. This time, the dummy hit the ground with such velocity that it left a small dent against the carpeted floor. The chef jumped back, sending plates of food flying to the ground. Needless to say, he was not happy. "Think about the little ones in the audience! Some of them view you as a hero, you know!"
"Feh," spat the Jetsam as he missed another goal. "Well they oughta learn that heroes aren't everything they're cracked up to be. Best they learn how the world really works early on, am I right?"
"I'd disagree with that, Reshar. And you know Layton would too, hard-headed as he is."
"Hey, it's the big red guy himself!" shouted Reshar, much to the dismay of his teammates. "Here I thought you weren't gonna show up for practice! I mean, I know how much you hate practicing with a big, tough Jetsam like—"
"Speaking of hard-heads," interjected Frein with a sneer, "where is he? Layton, I mean."
The Gelert froze.
"Shaye?" Both of his long wings drooped to the side, making Bonnefie eye him suspiciously.
Shaye gulped, shuffling about before opening his mouth to speak. "Guys, he's not coming to practice today."
"WHAT?!" the three of them shouted at varying intensities. Reshar spared no time grabbing the Gelert's collar, growling in his face. After a few tense moments, Bonnefie found herself peeling Reshar away (with some help from Frein), leaving the Gelert shaken up.
"R-right, then," with the help of everyone else in the room, the team managed to calm down, although it was a sort of uneasy calmness. "At least the extra tear in my uniform looks thematic. Moving on, Layton told me to run the practice session today; said he had some important business to resolve. I know this is a big day for us being our last chance at the finals, but... we can still win this."
Bonnefie exhaled loudly, kicking the dummy a couple of feet away. "And just when is he coming back?"
"Well, that's the thing," Shaye started. "Apparently, he'll be back shortly after the Krawks finish their game."
"Then we had better work on a three Neopian strategy just in case," spat the Bruce. "You can fill both offensive positions, right, Shaye?"
"Then we better get to practicing. This is going to be a rough day for all of us."
After nearly giving away his identity, sneaking to the gift shop proved relatively easy. The Tonu's gabbing made it all the easier to slip by unnoticed, although it would have been great if he would stop asking about the Darigan team.
"So, so... can you tell me all about Bonnefie? Can you, can you?" he hopped up and down. "I'm a huge fan of her."
"Kep? She's a great player," Vickles whispered under his breath. "She's got a good slinging arm, is an effective tackler, and can catch anything that comes her way. You should have seen the way she tackled Mirsha in our last match! Er..." a few Neopians seemed to be curiously listening into their conversation. "I mean their match."
The two of them came across a small store within the stadium walls. It seemed oddly quiet for a half-hour prior to the Krawk's match, especially since it had all sorts of memorabilia displayed in the transparent glass windows.
"Might as well go in," he muttered while ushering the Tonu into the store.
Altador Cup logo lights dangled from the ceiling, light flickering from one symbol to the next. Assorted and sundry plushies decorated shelves lining the walls representative of all seventy of the current team members. Well, all of them but Shaye. On a lonely shelf surrounded by a glass box was a plushie version of Dasher Soley. 'Now with real swashbuckling phrases!' chimed an excited tag dangling from the object's squishy arm.
"Eesh," said Vickles with a sigh, rubbing his left wing against his sweating forehead. "Even the gift shop gives me guilt."
In the back corner of the room was a section with a label that read, "Cheer for your favorite team! New this year: team specific face paint, cleats and funky wigs!"
Vickles eyed the 'funky wigs,' all of which looked like gigantic painted meatballs.
Well, at least no one would ever recognize me if I wore one of those stupid looking wigs, he thought dryly.
"Hey, Layton!" chimed the excited Tonu, who continuously tugged on Vickles' arm. "I want one of these wigs! They look sooo cool!"
"Kid! What did I tell you about calling me by—"
The store owner stopped ringing up an order and stared.
"I mean... come on, little fellow, you know I don't like being called anything other than 'Uncle Shaye.' And... you want that wig? Would that make you happy?"
So you can get off of my back? he mentally added.
The Tonu nodded.
"Right, then." Vickles went to grab the purple and black wig and handed it to the youngster before turning towards all of the Krawk Island merchandise. With a deep sigh, he picked up a black and red wig, a Krawk Island jersey, and Krawk island wrist cuffs.
"Hey, um... Why are you getting those? They're for Krawk Island!"
"It's a long story, kid—"
"And by the way, Uncle, the name's Christopher, but you should probably know that already," he chimed between giggles.
An eye roll later, Vickles started pushing the kid up towards the counter.
"Just these things," he muttered while looking down at the ground.
"Shopping for your nephew?" asked a purple Xweetok wearing a bright yellow hat and apron. She punched in a bunch of numbers into a register, chuckling slightly at the team variation.
"Something like that."
"That'll be 500,000 Neopoints, sir."
Vickles slumped over, flicking out his tongue repeatedly. Gees, I could buy half of Neopia for that kind of money!
A pile of Neopoints bounced onto the counter, many of them purple and black.
"Neopoints with a picture of Lord Darigan's face, eh, sir? So you both are from the Citadel?"
"Actually," burst Christopher with a beaming smile, "he's from the Citadel. I'm from Brightvale, but I've always liked bad guys over learning!" Vickles wing slid down his face, curling more as it traveled.
"We're not all bad guys..." Vickles muttered under his breath.
"So he's going to be wearing Krawk Island gear and you're going to be wearing a Darigan wig? ... You're an odd pair, you know that?" asked the shopkeeper with a laugh.
"We get that a lot," spat the Darigan as he placed the money on the counter and pulled the jersey over his head. It was tight and caught on each one of his spikes. The wig tickled his scalp and seemed to swallow up Tandrak's Twisted Roses cap under a pile of springy material. At least the wrist cuffs only slightly chafed his wings, but only after pinching him twice.
"Uh... here's your change," called the Xweetok, handing back golden coins with a sun etched into them.
"Right." The Hissi snatched the coins from her hand and stuffed them into his Neopoint bag. He turned to Christopher. "Let's go."
Out in the crowds yet again, Vickles turned to Christopher, purple and black wig in tow.
"Happy now?" he asked in a low, growling tone.
"Well... I know you're on a secret mission, but... I was hoping to stay with you a little longer."
"Can you not?"
"Well... I kinda don't know where my Mom is right now. Can I stay with you until I find her?"
"For Darigan's sake, kid!" he shouted, thumping his long tail against the ground.
"I... I don't want to be alone. There are a lot of people here and..." Vickles was already shaking his head. "I was really hoping to spend time with my hero."
He started to tear up, holding a paw in front of his mouth and looking out towards the side. "And here I thought you were cool. Guess not. What kind of a Darigan are you if you're wearing another team's colors?"
Vickles removed his shades, feeling a definitive sting as he stared directly into Christopher's eyes.
"Heh, guess you're right."
Sniffling began to subside, but he still refused to look back.
"The reason I'm dressed up like this is because I did something stupid to a friend of mine on the Krawk's team. I felt the only way I could make up for it was by looking just as ridiculous as he will..."
"What do you—"
Waves of Neopians flooded by them, sprinting to find their seats. A loud voice chimed over the intercom, resonating about the stadium.
"The match between Krawk Island and Kreludor will start in fiiiiive minutes!" a female voice sang. "This is sure to be a match you don't want to miss! So grab your seats and get ready for the match of the century!"
Dueling swords on the cuffs' center caused a metallic sheen to bounce off Vickles' eyes.
Just like old Garven and me, eh? Always battling since the very beginning.
"So, Christopher, you really want to spend time with a jerk like me?"
Christopher wiped his face and mane eagerly, displaying a wry grin. "Only if that jerk will let me."
"Yeah, he will." Vickles nodded, motioning towards the ticket booth. "But we had better hurry! I don't want all of this to be for nothing!"
"Then we better go... For Krawk Citadel!" the rambunctious Tonu shouted.
"For what now?" the Hissi slithered along the ground towards the ever-nearing booth.
"Well, I thought," Christopher began with loud breaths in between, "since you're wearing Krawk Island's uniform and I'm wearing Darigan Citadel stuff, the two of our teams together would be called 'Krawk Citadel!' Cool, huh?"
Vickles' was moving at least twice his speed and pacing behind him proved difficult.
"Sure, kid." Layton turned towards a shuttered box office window with red curtains flowing down its windowpane. On the curtains were the cursive golden letters 'VIP.' "I'll have two VIP box tickets, please? Down by Hale's goal."
"Do you even have a VIP pass, sir?" came a rather stern, snobbish voice. "Those seats are reserved for only the pinnacle of Altadorians. And excuse me for saying this, but you hardly seem like a pinnacle citizen."
"Feh, you suits are all the same." He pulled at a lanyard dangling from his neck and carefully maneuvered it around the spacious wig. Slapping it against the counter, he pushed it inside the shuttered window. Removing his shades, he spat, "how's this for pinnacle?"
Loud gasps filled the inside of the room. One of them even shouted 'my word!' while others scrambled about.
"M-my sincerest apologies, Mister Layton, s-sir. I-I didn't recognize you in that a-apparel."
"Yeah, yeah, I lost a bet. Don't remind me. Oh, and tell no one I'm dressed like this or I swear I'll tell the Altador Cup committee about your less-than-professional behavior."
"A-as you wish, Mister Layton. And my greatest of apologies to your esteemed guest as well."
Vickles grabbed the tickets and wrapped the lanyard over his wing, holding it like a Yooyuball sling.
"Come on, Squirt, we got a game to catch."
To be continued...