Of Pirates and Pranks: Part Three
Meanwhile, in the practice room...
"Did you hear that?" questioned Bonnefie while punching the Chia dummy in the face.
"It's a good thing I thought to plan ahead, right, Shaye?"
"We get it, Frein, you can stop reminding us," muttered Bonnefie.
Shaye's right paw dug through the short red hairs covering his head.
"Well, guys, it looks like we'll be facing our greatest rivals today." The Gelert's ears flopped to the side, his face worn. "Normally, this would be a joyous occasion, but not today. Either way, we will just have to make the best of a bad situation. Even with one Neopian down, we're still the meanest, most diabolical team this side of Neopia, right?"
The Buzz laughed. "Well, in the eyes of many of our opponents and their fans, sure."
"As interim team captain, I say we run through some drills and get as much practice in as we possibly can. We have fifteen minutes to get ready before the match of our lives begins." He turned to each of them, they subsequently nodded. "Alright, team, let's do this."
"When I get my claws on him..." Vickles grumbled, slithering along the passageways, a group of security officers, Christopher, and his Mother following in close pursuit. Every twenty or so feet, a random Neopian would approach him, some asking for autographs, others for an interview.
"Some other time," he would say after every request, pushing the press aside as if they were opposing Yooyuball players.
As they approached the 'employees only' section of the stadium, Vickles turned to the group.
"If you want to come along, feel free, but I have to meet with my teammates and do something to fix this mess. But I'm just warning you in advanced, if I run into a certain Yooyuball player..." His eyes narrowed into slits. "Let's just say we may be staging our own games..."
Christopher's mother gasped, but her son quickly ran over to Vickles' side.
"I want to stay with him, Mom. He's going to need some back up."
Vickles just shook his head as he jetted into the internal passageways. The Tonu shuffled about. "You're one strange kid, you know that?"
"Yuuup! That's what everyone tells me!"
"Well, in an effort to make peace with your mother," he chuckled from a distance, "do whatever she wants."
The staff merely turned to the two, sighed gruffly and muttered, "Since you're press and he's with you, so it should be alright for the two of you to follow Captain Vickles, but please try not to make a scene."
She pushed the glasses up against her hazel eyes. "Oh, don't worry; I know how to be professional. It's that captain you should be worried about."
Vickles sprinted along the passageways as if dashing towards an opponent's goal. Underneath the stadium were seemingly endless hallways surrounded by concrete ceiling and floor. White and grey covered the walls. Not nearly as decorated as the touristy area above, it looked muted and mundane. Occasionally, a door would pop up, each bearing the logo of a competing team.
As Vickles passed by the door to the Haunted Woods' practice room, it swung open. A small grey furred Korbat bearing the Haunted Wood's logo stepped out of the room, beady eyes blinking in confusion. Known as the Woods' most consistent scorer and centre fielder, Zo breathed heavily, his face flushed. Even the vivid flames painted upon his wings seemed duller than usual, as if they had a mind of their own.
"Vickles!" he breathed. "I'm so terribly sorry that our team put you through this at the last... minute..." the Korbat trailed off, fanning himself with two long, bat-like wings. When Vickles did not respond immediately, the Korbat continued. "So... what's with the Krawk Island jersey?"
"It's a long story, Zo." The Hissi leaned against the wall, heart pounding into his chest. "What is up with this injury?"
The Korbat noticeably tensed up. "Well... Mortigan seems to have broken his leg. Captain Krell and the rest are trying to stitch him back together now."
"WHAT?!" shouted the Hissi in an exasperated tone. "How could he do that to a fellow Altadorian?"
Echoes bounced throughout the halls, causing Zo to cover his long, pointed ears. After tumbling a bit, he managed to keep his balance.
"Gees, Vickles," whispered the disoriented Korbat. "What in Neopia are you talking about?"
Vickles shrugged, face emotionless.
"You see, Mortigan has a habit of losing limbs," he said thoughtfully, "although it has been some time since this last occurred. He'll be alright in time, though. We just need to reattach it with some glue and he'll be good as new."
"Eh?" Vickles blinked a few times, trying not to be affected by the weirdness. "So Hale didn't sabotage you guys?"
"Uh... no? I mean, I saw the two of them chatting shortly before the incident, but Mortigan didn't seem alarmed or anything." The Korbat tilted his head. "Either way, I wanted to wish you guys the best despite everything. Thanks for your concern and I'm sorry again for all of the trouble..."
"I guess it's alright," he said between grumbled hisses.
"And ease up on the shouting, will you? Some of us are pretty sensitive here."
"Right, I'll do that sometime," he blurted before storming off. Pains shot out from his side as both clawed wings dug into his skin. The rest of the group had just caught up when Vickles made a beeline for the team, leaving Zo completely flabbergasted.
"I'm... going to go back and practice or something," he said while gripping the door and closing it slowly. The group eyed him wearily. Before the Korbat could shut the door completely, it shot open once again. Both paws cupped around his mouth, forming an impromptu megaphone of sorts. Vickles had just turned the corner. "I'll see you in the finals, okay? Do your best out there!"
Shortly after the Korbat's cheer, the door shut tightly. A loud clunk could be heard from the other side.
By the time the group had reached the Darigan training room, Vickles' was already inside. Even from a distance, shouting could be heard.
Inside the room, Reshar was threatening to lob a Darigan Yooyu at his captain's face, calling him a traitor for wearing another team's jersey. Bonnefie, although usually calm and collected, shouted at Vickles, calling his behavior 'irresponsible, especially before a match.'
"It's not like I planned on changing up the schedule," he spat, grabbing an extra sling from the goal.
"All in favor of letting the captain sit out, say aye," responded Frein. "I mean, we have a formation planned and—"
"All of you! Stop acting like this." Tandrak's tail whipped against the ground, colliding into one of the practice Yooyus. It whipped into the empty goal. "If you guys would stop shouting at each other for just a moment, you would have noticed that we have guests."
Christopher gripped onto his Mother's legs, peering over at the group.
"And who are you, little guy?" questioned Bonnefie in a nervous tone. Her long, upturned wings began to twitch in all directions.
"He's our biggest fan," replied Layton flatly. "Christopher, meet the team. Team, Christopher."
"Oh." Shaye bit his lip, shuffling from side to side. Instead of speaking to Layton, he turned to Christopher, who whimpered quietly. "Well, little guy, this is team Darigan Citadel! We're really happy to have a guest as cool as you around."
Quiet murmurs escaped the Tonu's mouth, but no one, not even his Mother, could understand.
"What was that?" asked Shaye in a calm, collected voice. "We're sorry to have startled you. We, uh, get this way sometimes."
Christopher shuffled from behind his Mother's legs and twiddled his hoofs in clockwise circle.
"You're not going to be banning Uncle Shaye 'cause of me, are you?"
"What?" said Shaye while eyeing Layton suspiciously, especially when Vickles' face noticeably flushed.
"I mean..." he paused, tensing up a little. "Captain Vickles spent the entire afternoon with me and... I don't want him getting in trouble 'cause of me..." The Tonu began to pout.
"Uh..." Shaye said, managing to keep his canine teeth from sticking over his gums. Christopher wiggled about; his eyes looked wet. "Alright, alright, I guess we don't really have a choice. Seeing as we have ten minutes before the match, we'll include Layton on two conditions."
"As the captain, don't I get a say in this?" the Hissi crossed both arms over each other.
"Condition number one: I know you had your reasons, but, your actions could have caused disaster for the team. As such, I nominate myself to be the temporary team captain until the end of the season."
"How can you—"
"Either this or you're out, Layton. I'm sorry, Boss."
"Seconded," Bonnefie said while twirling a Darigan Yooyu around her claw.
"Third... ed," chimed Frein.
"...Fine. But no one can know about this." His gaze shifted over to the journalist.
"Yeah, I figured as much. Nothing's going my way today. So... great and powerful captain, what else do you want me to do? Walk around in a Blue Wocky suit and pretend I'm a team mascot?"
"I'd actually love to see that." Reshar wiggled his eyebrow, grinning maniacally.
"Layton," said Shaye as the Hissi continued to rub his scaly face. Before the Gelert spoke again, he ripped the sunglasses off of the former captain's face, motioning for the leather jacket as well. Although hard to make out, the Hissi's eyes appeared to puff slightly.
"Darn Altadorian sunlight," muttered the Hissi. Leather hand protectors belted him in the head, causing him to howl in pain.
"Well, best get used to that Altadorian sun, Boss. You'll be doing so while wearing that Krawk Island jersey."
"Now get ready, we're heading out in two minutes. Odds stacked against us or not, we have a game to win."
Vickles slithered through the dimly lit hallways. More than a couple of times, Shaye nudged him to move faster. The floor felt cold and biting. Usually before a match, there would be nervous chatter and exchanged words of encouragement. Not today.
The Hissi kept staring down at the floor expecting to see an excited squirt with a head of doughnut hair and a bright purple jersey. Amidst protests from the Tonu, Christopher and his Mother remained in the Darigan training room. The team's personal chef seemed excited to speak about his culinary expertise and the recent, dramatic happenings.
"Hey, Shaye," the Hissi's head drooped towards the ground as he spoke. "Can you at least give me the dignity to direct you all on the field today? Then I could at least play the part of a captain." The word 'play' stung of bitterness and resentment. One could almost feel its biting touch, even from a distance. "If you ever valued my contribution to the team at all, let me retain at least some self-respect."
Shaye's entire body tightened up. His free paw curled into a first as each stride made less and less of a sound.
"Layton, on a normal day, I would have said yes."
Vickles punched the wall, wincing as his winged free hand throbbed.
"We have no time to waste on arguing." Shaye's words were cool and detached. "You'll be my backup today, our designated slinger."
One rounded eye glared back at him.
"As our team's most reliable scorer, we're depending on you to shoot accurately." He brushed a bunch of red fur away to one side. Tufts kept standing on end, even after being held down. Bonnefie's gaze fixed on the Gelert's busied paw.
It was shaking.
"Layton, please understand this is for the best." Bonnefie's wings drooped against her back.
"I'll try to remember that next time I'm humiliated."
The shouts of eager Yooyuball falls became louder as the playing field grew nearer. They mixed with a clamor of other sounds, including that of an overly energetic male announcer. Based on the bubbly chatter in the background, he was in the same room as the other announcers, including the one who reported the Krawk's last match. Vickles grumbled under his breath, muttering something about the 'stupid press' just as they approached the automatic gate standing between them and the field. All of a sudden, a group of figures approached.
"Um... hey, Tandrak." The sound of shuffling footsteps scraped against the concrete floor. "Are you... ready for a fun match?"
"Dinksy, he's not really in the mindset to be talking right now," blurted Frein.
"I... sorry." The Shoyru floated into the air, hovering in front of Tandrak's face. Frein scowled, twisting his beak to the side, but said nothing. Only after snapping her paws a few times did Shaye's head shake. Blinking a few times, his pointed tail unwound from a bent leg and dangled limply in the air.
"Oh, hi, Dinksy," he said weakly, forcing a smile. "Yeah, today is going to be a ton of fun..."
"Are you okay, Tandr—"
"Dinksy!" shouted a commanding voice, causing the Shoyru to jump back and quiver. Vickles raised his head, flicking his tongue out in the dry air. "Come here now; we need you to go into formation."
"R-right away, Garven..."
"Hale." Vickles' hand dug into the Yooyu sling, imprinting on the metallic handle.
"Why so glum, Vickles?" his tone seemed innocent enough, but it had a sort of smarm that hinted otherwise. "Aren't you excited to play us? I mean, you certainly seemed excited when you were cheering for us from the stands."
The Darigan team stared wide-eyed as the Hissi sucked in his breath.
"I feel sorry for Mortigan, Vickles, but I'm sure he'll be fine soo—hey, let go of me!"
"Not until you tell me what you did to Mortigan." The Hissi managed to grip both of Hale's arms. The goalie flailed about, knocking Vickles against a wall.
"I told him the truth, Layton, that's all." Hale lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper. "He happily agreed to help us play our favorite rivals."
"How much did it cost you?" the Hissi sneered, receiving a growl in response.
"Layton!" shouted Tandrak as he stamped against the concrete floor. "Get in position. The gates are about to open and our fans will be watching. Use your aggression during the game, not before it!"
Vickles deflated, much to the surprise of scowling Hale. All the while, the rest of the team looked away and twiddled their thumbs; Dinksy even began to whistle a low, barely audible tune. Shaye recognized it as some sort of a seaworthy tune.
Melodious sounds filled the chambers. Prior to each match, the same triumphant tune played on a chorus of trumpets and bugles. Dubbed 'The Altadorian Anthem,' the tune was an ancient one. According to Altadorian historians, such a song played just as sweetly now as it had thousands of years ago, even with older technology.
Normally the song would inspire excitement and joy, but no sounds could be heard from the now hushed teams as they paced onto the dusty field. Shouts of excitement rose from the audience as Neopians played their vuvuzuelas and spun towels branded with the Darigan and Krawk Island logos. Unlike the 'VIP section,' the average Neopian seemed more animated, for better or worse.
Each team member lined up in a row in the center of the field. They stood on either side, silently eyeing each other. Vickles scrunched his sling-hand, looking towards the dumbfounded audience members with long, sad eyes. Many of them pointed at his out of place Krawk Island jersey, some even booed.
"Now, Altadorians," started the referee, who eyed Vickles with contempt between casual glances at the other team members. "I want only fair play today. Shake each other's', claws, and hands, and get into positions. At the sound of my whistle, we'll start game play."
Members of equal positions (Reshar would often shake fins with Sufaux, the Krawk's right defender) were always encouraged to shake each other's' paws in an attempt to encourage comradery between teams. It did not always work.
Shaye shrugged, shuffling off towards Dinksy. The Shoyru's wings fluttered at his approach; Hale eyed the two wearily, tapping his Yooyu sling against the ground. The two of them pounded fists, grinning goofily after turning back to their respective sides.
The rest of the team members seemed to weakly acknowledge each other's' presence, although Bonnefie forced a smile when her counterpart approached.
"To a great match," the Buzz said between shaking her hoof.
"Let it be as great as our lands combined, ay?"
The two of them laughed nervously, rubbing their free hands against the Yooyu sling.
"Ay," responded Bonnefie.
When it came time for Vickles and Hale to shake, the both of them spat at the ground.
"So, Captain," deadpanned Hale, "let's at least pretend to have a good time, eh? You know, for the kiddies."
A bunch of smaller voices could be heard shouting their names. One of them even said, 'you're my hero, Vickles!' causing the Hissi to recoil slightly before brushing Hale's claw away.
"Let's just get this over with, Hale. You've gotten your revenge on me now." His eyes narrowed. "I bet you feel just peachy 'cause of it too."
"Just as peachy as you felt for destroying my jersey? Well, I guess we can both look ridiculous now."
"Humph. Why do you think I did that stunt in the first place?!" He jabbed his hand towards the stands causing a few well-dressed Neopians to gasp. "I dressed that way to cheer you up, stupid."
"Just go, Layton. I don't want to hear it."
The referee scowled, palming a yellow card as the trumpets stopped their play and the players took their places. "Don't make me use this, captain."
"Don't worry," responded Vickles with an eye roll, "I'll play nice."
"You had better."
A familiar chipper voice resounded over the loudspeaker.
"Are you ready for some Yooyuball fun?!"
The crowd burst into uproarious cheers.
"The first match of the Altador Cup semifinals is about to begin. Playing on the left is the ever popular Krawk Island!" She paused until the deafening shouts waned. "And playing on the right, everyone's favorite misunderstood villains, Darigan Citadel!" Shouts exploded about the stadium. Yet again, one could hear a mixture of cheers and boos.
"Well, if you're ready, ref!" The referee waved towards a couple of individuals shrouded by a room with thick glass windows. "Okay then, let's get this match started!"
In the center of the field, a metal ring opened. Out of it came a Yooyu with a brown plated exoskeleton. It curled into a ball just as the referee brought a small tin whistle up to his mouth.
The whistle blew, loud and ringing.
"Let the games begin!"
To be continued...