Of Pirates and Pranks: Part Two
Weaseling through the stands took a good twenty minutes as the stadium's bowl shaped interior made it especially hard to navigate. As Neopia's largest sports arena, officials often bragged how easily it could be seen from the Virtupets space center. It towered over even the highest buildings present in Faerieland and made up approximately one-sixteenth of the city's total area. Identical marble columns surrounded the coliseum, giving it a uniform appearance.
Christopher wandered off on multiple occasions; he stared in awe at the stadium's every detail. Once, while pointing out the gently swaying golden and yellow banners hanging from the ceilings, intricate marble floor tiling, and detailed tapestry with illustrations representing the eighteen teams, the Tonu began to cry.
"Hey there, Christopher, you okay?" Vickles asked with concern in his voice. "I didn't say something wrong again, did I?"
The Tonu shook his head, wiping away each tear slowly, as if cherishing the emotion. His eyes glittered like little stars on a moonless night.
"I'm good, Layton, just happy. I just... I never thought that I'd meet my favorite player in all of Neopia and see the stadium in the same day."
Vickles sighed, looking Christopher straight in the eye with brows furrowed.
"Oops," he said, rubbing a hoof behind his head. "My bad."
"It's alright, I guess, but didn't your parents take you around the stadium? Here I thought you practically lived and breathed Yooyuball."
"Well, I do," he replied, voice cracking slightly, "but... my Dad doesn't like Yooyuball and my Mom is really busy all the time and doesn't like it when I wander off." When Vickles raised an eyebrow, the Tonu quickly blurted, "oh, but don't worry. I'm sure she'll be fine with me hanging out with you!"
"Yeah, I hope you're right, kid."
Luckily for the many Neopian spectators, the weather had cooperated throughout the majority of the cup. Today, sunlight poured from the partially cloudy sky, warming both seat and field alike. Only during Maraqua's match versus Moltara did it downpour for over half the game. Needless to say, the magma members of Moltara did not appreciate the fickle weather.
By the time the duo made it to their cushioned seats, the game was already 1-0, Krawk Island in the lead. Vickles picked out the VIP section when he spotted many finely dressed Neopians grouped together; most refused to give them eye contact as they dined on fine Meridell cheese, Kreludorian chicken cordon bleu, and herb baked bread provided by the bakers of Brightvale.
"As you can tell, I'm quite the popular one."
"But... Layt—I mean, Uncle Shaye, if they knew who you are, they wouldn't be acting this way..."
"Eh, doesn't matter to me either way. Darigan knows I'd rather stay under the radar as much as possible..."
A few of their neighbors stood up suddenly, requesting to be moved with more 'high class' Altadorians. The one wore a black suit and top hat, the other an evening gown and matching emerald earrings.
"More room for us!" cheered the Tonu. "We don't need those fancy pants!"
"Bwahaha, guess you're right, Christopher. They're just impressed by my Darigan charm--it works every time."
The both of them cackled, causing the so-called VIP Neopians to squirm even more.
After he finally had a chance to look over the field, it hit him. When the ticket salesman said he would give them the closest seats, he meant it. Hale stood only fifty feet away and wore the pink and grey jersey that he had ruined only hours before. Guilt swept over the Hissi, making his stomach churn.
"... Okay? ... Hey! You okay?!" Vickles could feel two little hoofs pushing him from side to side. He shook his head, causing the wig to wiggle back and forth.
"I'm... fine. Don't worry about me. Just feeling a little queasy, that's all."
"But... it's not even your match. Are you getting nervous or something?"
Vickles grimaced, bowing his head down.
"See that guy with the washed out jersey down there?"
Christopher titled his head before nodding slowly. "Yeaaah, I do. So why's he wearing pink and grey? He kinda looks like a Faerielander." Vickles began to mutter under his breath. "Don't the pirates wear red and black? I mean, the rest of his team is."
"It's my fault," he muttered into the Tonu's ear. "That's why."
"B-but..." the Tonu began to make a pouty face, letting his ears turn downwards. "Wouldn't that be really mean?"
Vickles winced, choking out each subsequent word. "Yeah, I guess it would be, kid."
"Aren't you gonna say 'sorry' to him?"
Vickles scrunched up his right wing-like hand. "I'm going to try. But seriously, Christopher, stop with the sad talk. Just enjoy the game like a normal kid, okay? I need to think for a while."
"Oookay," chimed the Tonu, his legs swinging back and forth under the chair.
For a while, the two watched the game in silence. The Yooyu sped from player to player, often exchanged between teams. Dinksy seemed especially energetic as she darted about the field like a robotic toy. At one point, she tackled one of the Grundo brothers (Vickles could never tell them apart) and slung the fiery Yooyu towards the Kreludorian goalkeeper, a red Ruki named Jurin.
His dive would have been great for a normal Yooyu, but the breakneck speed of the flaming Petpet proved too fast for the goalkeeper (and, based on the way he cradled an arm, it may have done far more than singe some hairs).
The match continued 2-2 for quite some time. The Yooyu remained towards the Kreludorian goal, but their defense would not let up easily; after being tackled multiple times, the Krawk's offensive squad seemed to be losing steam. Within minutes, they were barreled over and the Yooyu neared Garven's goal.
Vickles could feel himself chewing at his claw tips in anticipation. Cassale and Sufhaux, the Island's Moehog and Grundo defensive team, kept the offense at bay, but struggled when Metrone, Kreludor's right defender and a spunky spotted Ogrin, made a sideways sneak attack and stole the Yooyu from Cassale's clutches.
Just as Metrone neared Garven's goal, the Ogrin began to laugh, making the usually stoic Hale seethe with rage.
"What's the matter, Hale?" Metrone made a shot that Hale quickly blocked and repelled. The Ogrin caught it once more. "Did you accidentally swap tear gear with the Faeries or something?" This time, the Yooyu flew easily into Garven's goal, causing him to fall to his knees and slam the ground. Booing could be heard all around the stadium from Krawk Island fans.
Kreludor's captain, a purple furred Gnorbu with orange specks dotting her face, could be seen hovering near the Krawk's goal, shaking a paw at the misbehaving Ogrin. Her curly, fiery orange hair bounced after each word.
"Metrone, Kreludorks do not show poor sportsmanship to their opponents. Unless you want to be replaced next season, I suggest you shape up your attitude along with your scoring abilities." Metrone rolled her eyes before stealthily sticking her tongue out at the fallen goalie. He began to noticeably shake. "Is that clear? If so, then move out, the next Yooyu is coming soon."
In the meantime, Vickles stood up from his cushioned seat, cupping both hands around his mouth.
"Iron Claws, don't let her wind you up! You can do better than that—I would know!"
Hale whipped around, methodically scanning the horrified audience behind him. Slanted eyebrows and gleaming teeth met each one of their faces. Suddenly, he stopped.
"Vickles? Is that you?" Hale mouthed silently, scrunching his claws into fists.
When their eyes locked, the Bori's facial expression changed from that of pure rage to complete shock. His mouth dropped half a foot and eyes widened to that of saucers.
The Hissi removed his teammates' sunshades and sat with both wings crossed over his waist.
"The one and only," Vickles mouthed back.
"Hey, you!" shouted a red Scorchio referee touting a vertically striped black-and-white shirt and a gray tin whistle. A multitude of Neopians stared at him, some from across the stadium. "Don't interfere with game play!"
Vickles slumped back into the chair, avoiding eye contact.
"Mission accomplished," he murmured.
"You're crazy, you know that... Uncle?"
"Hah. You'd be surprised."
"Hey... um..." the Tonu lowered his voice to a whisper," Layton, it looks like your friend is talking with the referee. For some reason, they both look happy."
The Hissi raised twisted his mouth to the side. "You don't say..."
"I... I think he accepted your apology."
He patted Christopher's shoulder. "Eh, here's hoping. Cost me a fortune to get these tickets."
The rest of the game, Garven did not miss a single block. In the last five seconds of the game, Hawkshanks and Dinksy managed to score two more goals, bringing the score total to 4-3. Right as the buzzer sounded, the Kreludorites attempted to make a last second goal, but Hale deflected the Yooyu, sending it 20 feet into the air.
"That's my rival!" shouted Vickles, who noticed that almost all of the stuffy "high-class" Neopians had vacated the area.
Christopher even added his own branding of cheering: "Watch out, it's hurricane Hale! He's bringing all the storms and the Yooyuball gales!"
Although the captain rolled his eyes, he found himself laughing loudly, wiping a tear from his eye.
"Alright," said the referee, "this was a very close match, but in the end, Krawk Island proved victorious! Stay tuned to the playing field, Altador Cup fans! Krawk Island will be facing the Haunted Woods in a match to decide bracket one of the semifinals! Following that game, Darigan Citadel will be facing the Lord Desert in a match that is sure to be a semifinals smash!"
The crowd let a mixture of cheers and groans, but none cheered louder than the Darigan captain and his partner in crime. In the middle of their shouts, he could feel the icy touch of a cold hoof upon his shoulder. Within seconds, he was pinned against the chair.
"What givesss!" he hissed angrily. "What in Neopia did I do?"
"How about kidnapping my son!" came a shrill voice belonging to, at least what he could make out of the corner of his eye, a stern faced green Uni. Black-rimmed spectacles with sloping metal chains lined her face. She wore a collared Brightvale blazer and a nearly pressed green skirt. The Uni suspended her long blonde hair in a tight bun, reminiscent of many scholars seen in the Brightvale libraries. A lanyard strung around her neck, but he could not make out exactly what it said.
"Wait, Mom!" shrieked the child while being tugged away by security officers. Vickles turned to the Tonu aghast, mouthing the words, 'this is your Mom?' Seeing the Hissi speak, she held him down with ever greater force, making him cough loudly.
"It's my fault—please don't hurt him..."
She looked upon Vickles with distain, holding a hoof above his face. "You should be ashamed of yourself! Trying to steal away a reporter's child during the middle of a Yooyuball tournament—the nerve!"
"For Darigan's sake!" he shouted with a strained voice, frantically squirming about. "Your kid wanted to spend time with a real live Yooyuball player, so I purchased a ticket for him. Is that so bad?!"
"I don't believe—"
"It's true, Mom!" Christopher cried. Tears were streaming down his face. "Let him go... Please, just let him go! He's my hero!"
"Hero?" she spat, crossing her hoofs. Her scowl became even more severe as the spectacles slid down her snout. "You mean that workaholic Hissi with an attitude problem? This is him?"
"M'am," the Hissi stopped fighting back and glanced down at his VIP tag, which had still, miraculously, remained around his winged hand. "You might want to take a look at this. And can someone get this wig off of my head, please? It's getting caught in the seat."
She inched forward and turned over the golden backed laminated pass while a security guard carefully removed the ball of wiry material. A picture of a mischievously grinning Hissi wearing Darigan team gear stood above a name written in gold cursive letters: Layton Vickles, Darigan Citadel Team Captain, Left Forward.
A hoof slowly rose to her mouth as she waved off the guards.
"Oh dear, it seems I made a bit of a miscalculation..." Her hoof tapped at the laminated lanyard as she looked to be deep in thought. "Wait a second!" she began aggressively once more. "I'm a reporter from the Daily Brightvale, a local newspaper, and I would like a word with you on just why you're running around wearing Krawk Island fan gear and causing such a ruckus in the stadium."
"Some other time would be great," he spoke flatly, letting his green tongue dangle. "My team is waiting on me right now and if you weren't paying attention, I have a match coming up soon."
"Wait..." questioned Christopher, "but does that mean you—"
"Skipped practice on the day of an important match? Very perceptive of you. And if I don't come soon, I'll be breaking a promise I made with my teammate Tandrak."
"Attention, Altadorians, we have an urgent announcement!" the voice from the loudspeakers boomed across the stadium, causing the lot of them to freeze. "Due to a minor injury, the Haunted Woods team has asked to play against Lost Desert in two rounds. Thus, starting in 30 minutes, team Darigan Citadel will be facing Krawk Island for the upcoming semifinal match! Given their timeless rivalries, this should a match you don't want to miss!"
Vickles felt his entire body go numb. It almost felt as if the entire stadium was collapsing upon him.
Even Christopher's Mother seemed shocked by the news.
"I.... I guess we have no choice. But you will come and see me after the match, Mister Layton Vickles."
"That rotten little stink," muttered the Hissi.
"Excuse me?" questioned the Mother, scrunching up her snout.
"He did this... on purpose..." Vickles roared between bared fangs. "YOU DID THIS ON PURPOSE, HALE!"
To be continued...