Of Pirates and Pranks: Part Four
The second the whistle blew, both left forwards, Vickles and Hawkshanks, darted for the Yooyu. They both tried to scoop up the Petpet, but Hawkshanks made it first.
Vickles tackled the grey skinned, bandana-wearing Quiggle's sling, sending the Yooyu airborne. It neared the former captain's clutches. A quick jab to the gut sent him backwards as the Petpet rode in Dinksy's sling.
She darted about, narrowly avoiding the Darigan players. A wide angle shot narrowly missed the goal. Reshar tossed the ball halfway across the field, Shaye connected. Within a moment, he flung the Yooyu towards Bonnefie, who sidestepped an attempted tackle from Cassale.
Tormo's flippers waved twice as Sufhaux dashed towards the unguarded player, grey Grundo ears bent back. Bonnefie ground her teeth as she turned from side to side; Vickles had remained open. A long-distance pass sent the Yooyu soaring. Dinksy attempted to leap off the group and intercept, but missed. Bonnefie dashed back, ready to cover Hawkshanks.
Just as Shaye signaled Vickles to turn around, Dinksy came charging, Frein in tow. The Hissi bolted towards the goal, sling-arm held high. His eyes darted back and forth as his tongue flicked out, detecting the slightest difference in wind currents.
Hale was ready for him. Claws out, the goalie's eyes followed each of Vickles's movements.
Vickles eyed the goal, pulse pounding, opponents approaching... and he slung.
Garven leapt sideways, barely catching the Yooyu in time.
"Not today, Layton!" shouted Hale, covered in dirt from the narrow save.
Hissed words escaped under Vickles's breath, one of which caused the goalie's eyebrow to rise.
"Hah, you really are angry, aren't you?" he said whilst whipping about in a circle. Using the spin's momentum, he slung the Yooyu even further than Reshar. Even in the distance, one could see the Jetsam shaking his gloved fist.
The match considered this way for some time. Often the Yooyu would be volleyed between the teams. Once, Dinksy managed to slip by Shaye and score a goal. Reshar received a yellow card shortly after, granting the pirates a penalty shot. They scored easily.
Vickles managed to grab a fire Yooyu and spike it towards Hale's goal from across the field. Much to the relief of the Darigan team, the Yooyu reached the top right corner of the goal, scoring them their first point.
During the last ten minutes of the match, the Darigans were down by two goals with a score of 3-5.
Shortly after the Krawk's scored with yet another snow Yooyu, Shaye flagged the referee down.
"Ref! I'd like to call a time-out. Our team needs to regroup and plan."
He blew the whistle, twisting his snout slightly.
"Normally, I'd only do this if Layton asked me directly, but since he's nodding over there, I'll grant you all two minutes. No more, no less."
The Krawks groaned softly, digging their heels into the soil.
"Thanks, ref," he said before turning to the team. "Alright, guys, huddle up."
Reluctantly, Vickles slid over to the group.
"Can you make it appear that I'm doing most of the talking?" he muttered.
"No time, Layton." Vickles scoffed, crossing one hand over another. "Alright, so here's what we have to do. Dinksy is a threat; she is quick-witted and an efficient scorer, despite her small size. We need someone to cover her—"
"She's all yours, Shaye," Vickles said through a snicker. Shaye raised his eyebrow, unfazed and emotionless.
"I can cover her, but she out paces me. Bonnefie, you're our fastest member. Can I trus—"
"Of course... Boss."
"Yeah, what did I do?"
"Keep playing as you are, but be aware of the Krawk's shooting pattern. They seem to prefer the lower left quadrant of your goal."
"Oh," the Jetsam said before walking back towards the goal. "Yeah, yeah, I'll be more aware."
"Good. Next up, Frein. Cover Hawkshanks. Focus on passing to Layton. He'll be our primary scorer."
Vickles managed to crack a grin.
"Layton, I want you to shoot from the bottom right corner of the field by the goal line. Hale is slightly weaker at blocking corner shots." He placed a paw on Vickles's shoulder. "Can I trust you to carry this out for us?"
"... As long as you call me 'Boss' again, I'll do whatever at this point," he spat.
After a snort from the Gelert, Vickles made a low, almost silent hiss.
"You never change... Boss."
"No," he said between stretches, suddenly acting more limber. "And I never will."
"Tch, you're as stubborn as always." The Gelert rolled his eyes before staring at the frozen clock. The announcers spent a good minute recapping the match up until then. "Can you let the ref know we're ready to play again?"
"Yeah, yeah, your highness," he yawned, slapping Shaye's leg with his tail.
Within seconds after the game timed in, the Darigans went into position. Anytime Dinksy caught the Yooyu, Bonnefie would do everything in her power to tackle and steal the ball back. Reshar managed to block two shots from Cassale, who had taken up a more offensive position since the break.
Still, Vickles managed to score thrice within a period of nine minutes, tying up the score 6-6. In the last 30 seconds of the game, a winged Yooyu appeared on the field. It's dark purple plating and black splotches matched that of many native Petpets to the citadel.
The entire stadium cringed. Such Yooyus never seemed to cooperate, often heading in the completely wrong direction. Sometimes they even rebounded into the unfortunate player's face. By some stroke of luck, Shaye not only grabbed the Yooyu at the tossup; it almost flew in the correct direction, only around 20 degrees off.
Vickles craftily scooped up the Yooyu and dashed towards the goal.
Ten seconds to go.
Most of the time, Yooyus remained curled up like a ball, but sometimes, one can see a mischievous grin coming from a Darigan Yooyu. It is said they only grin before they wish to cause a player considerable pain, no matter their team.
Vickles sent back his sling-arm and turned around before shooting the Yooyu towards the opposing wall.
It bounced back with such force that it rebounded from the opposing wall.
The Yooyu entered the goal—barely passing Hale's clutches—in the middle of the referee's whistle.
The scoreboard still said 6-6, but the referee turned towards other Altador Cup officials holding clipboards and rule books. Nail biting and nervous quaking ensued. The audience's fever pitch died down to near silence.
The Scorchio walked out to the middle of the area with a very dapper looking Mynci.
"I am going to need both captains here at the center of the field," the golden suit wearing Red Mynci said, fiddling with his monocle and long black mustache. "Whoever I raise the arm of will be our semifinal match winner. As this is a semifinal match, there will be no tie-breaker rounds. The judge's decision will decide the match."
"Go, Boss," mouthed the Gelert silently, causing a deflated Vickles to perk up, if only slightly. "They don't have to know."
Both Hale and Vickles tried to hide their nervousness with smug smiles and crossed arms.
"Eh. You ain't bad, Vickles, even if you are a Darigan turncoat."
"Hah," Vickles slammed the ground with his long arms. "If I'm a turncoat then you're a Faerielander. Pink kind of suits you, Hale. I think," a fang hung over his lower jaw, "you should consider switching jerseys next year. Who needs red and black, anyway?"
"Pfft. You're a jerk, Vickles."
"Eh, least I'm not a Faerie."
"Ehem, gentleman," the referee poked them both the side with a writing quill while clearing his throat. "The winner's announcement?"
"Go on," said Vickles, swishing his tail from side to side.
"Without any more interruptions, I hope?" Both Neopians huffed angrily, but said nothing. "No wonder you're friends," he muttered, grabbing hold of both of their claws.
"Neopians, I would like to present without further ado a most crowning achievement in these Altador Cup games. More than 1000 years before Y1 in the New Neopian Calendar, our fair Altador Cup was born. Originally created by—"
"We get it, now get on with it, Pops," said Hale, who squirmed when the official gripped his claw even tighter.
"What uncouth behavior to come from an Altadorian athlete!" He openly scolded the captain, causing Vickles to burst out laughing. Of course, the official wasted no time in scolding Vickles as well. "Now where was I? Oh, right, Altadorian history. Back in the year...."
He continued to blather on in a monotone for almost 20 minutes. At this point, the audience members started to become vocal, some even threw empty slushie cups. Excluding Hale and Vickles, all of the players sat down on the Yooyuball field, balancing their snouts and chins against metal rimmed Yooyu slings. Reshar and Hawkshanks nearly fell asleep sitting up on multiple occasions. Bonnefie had to keep pinching her teammate's back to keep him from snoring. Once, the Jetsam had shouted at her to 'knock it off!' but the official seemed so engrossed in his riveting material that he continued without even a moment's pause.
"...And that, my fellow Altador enthusiasts, is why the spirit of the game must continue if we are to continue these wonderful games."
Hale's eyes glossed over as a loud yawn escaped his snout.
"Humph. I bet you'd like to now the results Mister Hale and Mister Vickles?"
"Yes..." the both moaned in unison.
"I thought so," he chuckled before addressing the audience once more. "Now, without further ado..." at first, the Mynci began to raise both arms, causing Vickles to gulp loudly. Hale's arm rose faster than the Hissi's, causing him to completely deflate.
Then, out of nowhere, Vickles's arm shot straight up into the air.
The referee grinned widely, adding in a few laughs for good measure. "Come now, gentleman," he said, barely audible over the shouting Darigan fans. "What is a good results show without a little suspense?"
"We... we won?" the flabbergasted Hissi melted towards the ground the rest of the way, arms falling limply to the side.
"They won?" muttered Hale, yawning once more. A gloved claw slapped his face from below, causing him to jolt awake. "You wanna start a figh—Hawkshanks?"
"You expecting the mayor?" the Quiggle questioned, clutching onto his other glove. An aged scar ran down the right side of his face. It rippled when he smiled. "You looked tired, so I ran over here to wake you up. Aren't I a great pirate?"
"Enough roughhousing, you two," started the referee, who staggered a bit between shooing waves, probably from taking a nap during the official's speech. "We have an official announcement to make."
The crowd died down, but only a little.
"For those of you who could not see the official's decision, this match goes to Darigan Citadel!" The shouts became so loud that speaking over them proved nearly impossible for over a minute.
"Captains," he turned to each of them (or at least who he believed to be the captains). "Shake hands, er, claws for a fine match." Although the two of them faced each other expressionlessly, they forced a tightly squeezed handshake. Layton winced, shaking out his winged hand. "Also, an announcement for the Darigans; get ready to play in approximately three hours from now. The next match will be between the Haunted Woods and the Lost Desert!"
"Get ready to see some sparks fly, Altador Cup fans! And don't get lost while making your way to the snack bar!" added the bubbly announcer.
The ten Altadorians made their way towards the hallway. Dinksy's wings fanned across her back, but she still wore a slight grin. The other Krawks, excluding Hale, seemed to be muttering to themselves. Cassale openly criticized any of her small misplays, causing the captain to elbow her in the side.
"Eh, we did our best, pirates. That's enough to be proud of, I guess. Least there's plenty of grog to go around in our practice room." He turned to Vickles, who seemed to be walking between the two groups, hissing words under his breath. Before the Hissi could react, Hale jabbed him in the gut. Vickles howled in pain, turning back to reciprocate the blow, but... Hale's sincere smile made him have second thoughts.
"Layton," a pile of the team's Yooyuball equipment now slung over his muscular arms. There was anger in his tone, but some of it seemed strained, comical even. "Your team had better win later today. Only we can destroy you guys; no one else has that honor."
"Tch, we'll win, Hale. Mark my words; our citadel will be taking its second gold trophy today."
"Not if we take your trophy from your storeroom."
"Hah, real funny, Hale."
"But in all honesty..." the pirate began to flex his claws. "Win it for us, 'kay, Darigan?"
Vickles rubbed his sore stomach, reminded again of its stinging pain.
"We'll win it for the Krawk Citadel."
Members from both the Citadel and the Krawks burst out laughing. Hawkshanks even murmured, "Who in Neopia came up with that title?"
"Eh," the red-faced Vickles said with a shrug, "a little nuisance who taught me not to be such a jerk to my teammates... and friends."
"Sounds like junior has a good brain," blurted Frein. "Perhaps his is even better than yours, Layton."
While Vickles and Frein argued, Hale began to stroke his beard.
"Wonder if his Mother would allow me to sit with him and watch your match..." Hale said while flicking at his golden earring. "It's about time he learns about plundering, treasure hunting, and sailing the many Neopian seas. You got those tickets still, right?" Vickles nodded quizzically, flashing the tickets stubs. Hale quickly grabbed up both of them, causing the Hissi to grumble. "I can teach him all about our wonderful and completely non-floating landmass."
"That and grog," quipped Reshar.
"The lad might be tad young for that," laughed Cassale.
"Oh, and one more thing, Layton," the captain said while opening their practice room door. Before Vickles could respond, he punched the Darigan captain in the side, causing him to double over in pain.
"What gives, Hale?!"
"If you must know, that's for destroying my jersey. I sort of forgive you." Reshar and Bonnefie gasped, staring hypnotically at its washed out colors before shaking their heads and walking away. Only Vickles and Hale stood in the hall. "That and I want to team up with the kid and show him why he'd be a great pirate someday. Who knows, he could even be a rookie player in five years' time."
"He'd be a better Darigan, but yeah."
"Hah! Dream on, Layton."
"Tch, I will. Now, if you don't mind, I have a game to practice for."
The Darigan team hardly paid attention to the ongoing semifinal match.
Yooyus flew in all directions, dummies tackled, juice spilled (much to the displeasure of their Mynci chef), and Christopher's Mother (according to the raving chef, she preferred to be called Margaret) asked questions left and right. Vickles received a large majority of these inquiries.
While the lot of them talked, Christopher attempted to score a goal, but fell short on throwing power.
"Gees, kid." A Yooyu bounced back to the Tonu from a laughing Reshar. "You have a pretty good technique. Give it another couple of years and the power will be there too."
"Really?" Little twinkles bounced about in the Christopher's eyes.
"Hey, would I lie to you?"
"Wow, Reshar. Who would have thought," Bonnefie paused to body slam a dummy, "that you'd have it in you to be nice to the little ones?"
"Yeah, yeah, but he's no regular kid. He's a future All Star—a Darigan one at that."
"Aaaah!" shouted the Tonu, hopping up and down. Margaret glanced towards him, turned her lips up for a half-second, and continued to drill Vickles with questions.
"With... all due respect," interrupted Shaye in the middle of her interview, "I think we may be requiring Layton's services for a little while."
"Of course, Captain. I'm sorry to have dragged him away from practice for so long." Shaye's tail wrapped about his leg as he narrowly avoided eye contact with Vickles. He could still feel some form of animosity radiating from the Hissi, even from half a room away.
They continued to do drills for the next hour before taking a break for a quick meal.
"You're lucky I still cook for you all," the Mynci spat, serving the five their meals—a tropical fruit sandwich with purple and black vegetables. When Christopher began to whimper, the chef rolled his eyes before making him a plateful as well.
Jubilant chatter went about the table, despite the earlier tension. Christopher pulled up a chair next to Vickles, noisily babbling about his experience with the junior Yooyuball league in Brightvale. Vickles opened his mouth to take another bite of the (surprisingly) good sandwich when the door flung open.
The sandwich fell to the floor, bread and all. Margaret screamed, jumping out of her seat and dashing behind Shaye.
"H-hale?! What are you doing in that outfit?"
"Pfft, like you didn't sneak into the stands wearing Krawk Island fan gear, cheering like some sort of crazed Techo fanatic."
Most of the Neopians in the room eyed Vickles angrily, chewing each bite slowly and deliberately. They then turned to Hale, completely flabbergasted by his poofy purple and black wig, Darigan Citadel team face paint, and even a purple and black scarf, which dangled loosely around his neck.
"I take it you're here to admit your alliance to our citadel? Or are you just a fan of the colors?"
Hale cackled. "Dream on, Vickles. I'm here to invite the little tyke to cheer in the stands with me. I mean, come on, who wouldn't want to spend time with not one but two team captains in the same day? Sounds like a pretty good deal to me."
"Ohmygosh," the Tonu began to flail about his hoofs, running about the room while Shaye coughed quietly into his napkin. "Can I, Mom? Please, please? He's sooo cool!" Hale snickered, levying an eyebrow in front of an unamused Vickles.
"I suppose I have no other choice since you'll probably run off either way," the journalist said, eyeing him angrily. "But Misters Hale and Vickles," she quickly sifted through piles of organized notebooks as the pirate captain adjusted his almost hidden bandana. "You and I are going to need to chat again sometime later."
"Fine, you'll see me after our match..." sighed Vickles.
Hale chortled before pointing both claws towards the door. "Shall we?"
Based on some reports, the Haunties played extremely well—almost a shutout. Azar, the desert's elegant right forward, used her fancy footwork to outpace the Woods' defense, scoring three goals within four minutes. Each time the Scorchio scored a goal, her golden shawl danced about in the breeze. Some even said that, at her happiest, her brilliant red scales shimmered in the sun.
Zo, as usual, did a majority of the Woods' scoring.
The final score was 9-3.
30 minutes of practice prior to their finals match, Shaye tossed the former captain a brand new Darigan jersey, rips and all.
"... You don't have to do this for me. I've been nothing but terrible as of late."
"Eh, we all want you to play your best, Boss. Besides, bygones are bygones." He offered a fist bump, which Vickles grudgingly accepted. "We mostly agree that you're learned your lesson, but," Shaye lowered his voice, causing Vickles to exhale loudly, "until the end of the match, I'll still be acting as your captain."
One of the Hissi's hands pinched against his purple scaly skin, causing him to wince. Tandrak shuffled his feet about, scraping against the carpeted floor.
"Never forget, however, that we are Darigan strong. We either win this together or not at all!"
Vickles rubbed his shining eyes, massaging them slowly. "I guess you're right, Shaye; we have a game to win."
Tumultuous applause could be heard for miles as the melodious Altadorian theme played. Fans from all over Neopia took sides, and it seemed like an even split. Some especially indecisive Neopians wore a mixture of fan gears hailing from Haunted Woods and Darigan Citadel. They touted cartoonish signs resembling speech bubbles and had the words 'Go Haunted Citadel!' written in capitalized black, orange, and purple letters. One 'Haunted Citadel' sign even said, 'thank you for the inspiration, Vickles!'
"Looks like you started a trend, Boss," Shaye grinned while pacing ahead of the Darigan team. Vickles trailed behind, feeling heat rise through his face. Looking away proved difficult when so many Neopians now cheered his name.
"Better to be adored than hated, Boss!" Vickles's tail wiggled in the dirt, but he remained still. "Wave to them, Layton, they'll love it!"
"Are you serious?" he mouthed to a shrugging Gelert.
"Hey, how often is it that we make it to the finals?"
"Pfft, not often enough," interjected Reshar. "So if he won't play nice with the kiddies, I guess I will." With a strut, the goalie raised his right flipper to the sky, shouting, "For Darigan Citadel!"
Quiet settled over the crowd, causing Reshar to throw his goalie glove to the ground and mutter all kinds of angry things.
"It's no good, Boss." Shaye's ears bounced up and down, matching the movement of his brows. "They want to cheer for you, the Krawk-jersey-wearing hero of our previous match."
"I don't really have a choice in the matter, do I?"
Shaye grinned, but said nothing.
"Fine, but if you comment about this later..." Vickles muttered as he brought his sling arm up into the air. It rose slowly as if it needed time to warm up. Shouts became louder as his right fist reached its pinnacle.
"Always the showman, aren't you, Captain?" came a hovering voice. Cool air blew from above.
Vickles looked up to see the Wood's center forward holding up his Clawmatoe sized left paw in the exact same pose, only mirrored.
"Stealing my thunder, eh, Zo?"
"What are friends for?" he gave a thumbs up before facing the stadium's logo with a huge grin. The gigantic circular plaque was surrounded by multicolored semicircles that stood for each of Neopia's many worlds. Bright sunlight poured onto the symbol, making all of the team logos shimmer. "Besides, this is the first time in almost a decade since we faced you guys in the finals! I know the team's been dying to play you all again."
Zo hovered within reach of the ground, but just high enough that Vickles could speak to him without staring straight down.
"Let's have a great match, eh, Captain Vickles?" He offered a paw, which Vickles firmly gripped. Their elbows met just as the referee asked for the remaining team members to do the same.
"Don't we always play great matches, Zo?" Vickles responded with a shrug. "Historical rivalries are there for a reason, you know!"
"Oh, I know," said the star scorer with a wink concealed to all but Vickles. "We are just aiming to claim our second title in the same way we did our first—by defeating the greatest citadel this side of Neopia."
Before Vickles could respond with a sarcastic quip, he felt a tugging sensation along the nape of his long, scaly neck. Shaye tapped his boot against the ground, eyeing a position approximately 30 feet away—left forward.
Throughout Vickles's and Zo's prolonged dialogue, the announcer's had introduced both teams.
Without a word, the former captain raced to his position and the first Yooyu lifted, like some sort of miracle, up into the sky. It hovered there for just a moment before the referee blew his whistle.
The finals had begun.
Within a second, Zo's breakneck speed reinforced his consistent goal-per-game average. Without a second's hesitation, the Yooyu rocketed towards Reshar's goal. A well-timed jump sent the Petpet hurtling towards Bonnefie. An aggressive tackle from Zo nearly knocked her to the ground, sending the Yooyu flying. A return tackle left the Yooyu back in her midst and the Korbat skidding across the ground.
Shaye eyed his teammate from a distance, patting his right arm three times and tilting both ears towards Tormo. Just as the Yooyu connected with the stout right defender, a lumbering figure stood in his way, making it difficult to see the field.
"Mortigan!" cried Tormo, desperately whipping his head from side to side in an attempt to pass the ball once more.
"Braaaaaains," he moaned while elbowing the Yooyu out of Tormo's sling, "is fiiiiine." A lob from the grey-skinned Usul sent his matted mane soaring into the air alongside the Petpet. No sooner did he mutter the words, "Aaaall yours, Zo," did the Yooyu start racing down the field once more.
Vickles could be seen flailing his arms about, eyeing Shaye with a mixture of anger and confusion.
"Poor decision making," he muttered. "This is going to cost us big time."
A few seconds later, the crowd burst into applause.
"GOOOOAAAAL!" shouted the referee. "That's one point for the Haunted Woods, zero for Darigan Citadel."
Any time the Yooyu made it back towards the Haunties' side, either 'Brains' or Krell, their shaggy furred captain with a long, almost sentient seeming brown mane and glowing green eyes, would take back the prize and pass it to their star scorer, who, like Vickles, had since succeeded in making it past the opposing team's torrid defenses.
An hour later, the heated match still raged with a flat score of 2-2. Just 30 seconds remained on the clock. Vickles tried desperately to make a shot at the goal, but instead felt the hulking presence of Brains who eyed his head like one might look upon a fine steak.
"Eeee, I'm sure plenty of players have more meat on their bones than I do! Why don't you just go after him instead?" he blurted while pointing towards Hale. Vickles voice shook as he tried to make an awkwardly positioned corner shot with 'Brains' in close pursuit.
"Faaaast fooood," replied 'Brains' with a grin just as another, very familiar voice rang out through the crowd.
"LAAAYTON! Miss this shot and I'll never forgive you!" the Hissi glanced up to see a fist-shaking Hale. Christopher sat on the edge of his seat pressed against the arm rest, lower lip exposed.
A green plated Yooyu with black spikes flew towards the goal. Fanetti, the black and grey furred goalkeeper with blood red eyes and short, stubby wings readied himself, watching the Petpet's every twitch.
Without warning, the Yooyu broke away, zooming towards the centralized timer. With some luck, Fanetti managed to tackle the rogue Yooyu and throw it back onto the field.
"Blasted mutant Yooyus!" shouted the Hissi while capturing it on the rebound. Yet again, Hale's piercing voice could be heard within the crowd. He then attempted to make another shot.
It flew in the opposite direction.
Dirx, the mummy wrapped right defender caught Fanetti's powerful goal throw. As the clock neared to zero, the Techo zipped along the field's periphery only to fling the mutant Yooyu clear across the field to an awaiting Zo Junior.
Ten seconds to go and the Korbat weaved about Darigan's defense.
Five seconds remained as he shot up into the air, quickly followed by Bonnefie. She eyed him carefully, swaying at the slightest hair of movement. Like a bullet he charged below Bonnefie's wings, scraping roughly against her cleats.
Amidst the stinging pain, he flung the Yooyu towards the goal watching as it magically sped up, likely copying the characteristics of one of its fiery cousins.
"GOOOOOOOAL!" shouted the referee at the very last second of the game.
Bonnefie floated in the air, turning her face away from Reshar who, as usual, showed no interest in holding back his frustration. Zo limped from the goal towards a cup official, paw gripping against his slightly torn and shuddering right wing. Bonnefie followed shortly behind, apologizing every couple of seconds.
Unaware of the other team's happenings, Vickles slunk to the ground, hiding his face behind the Yooyu sling. Its metal surface felt cool to the touch.
"To come so far and have lost..." he muttered, punching the dusty field. Some of the dirt splashed up, making its way into his beady green eyes.
A light poke tapped at Vickles's back causing a jolt to be sent through his system.
"I... I just wanted to thank you for the fantastic match, Layton."
The deep, booming voice resonated in Vickles's ears. Even after years of knowing their team, Fanetti's commanding orations always seemed odd when compared to Krell's rather high-pitched and youthful voice.
"Thank you, Fanetti." His voice trailed off as the audience displayed their typical range of emotions: some acted overjoyed, others bitter and resentful. The goalie offered his gloved paw to the fallen forward.
"Come on, Layton. It isn't like you to mope like this."
Vickles pushed away the opponents' paw, rising up with creaking scales and a limp tail.
"I know you mean well,' he started, slithering towards the stadium center, "but I'm going to get up on my own." His face buried into the sling once more, hidden from both Hale and Christopher.
Within minutes, a team of suited Altadorians set up a podium. The same rambling Mynci took to the top of the stage carrying what appeared to be tightly bound golden scroll with a seal that resembled a shining sun. As he struggled to crawl up to the peak, the scroll's lock clicked open. Miles of parchment unraveled from the document as it rolled down the podium. It stretched almost half a goal's length away. Even the light breeze typical of the Altador region could not lift the speech more than a centimeter or two.
"We come here to celebrate these brave Altadorians in their valiant efforts on this tenth year of the new Altador Cup," he began in a monotonous droll. A good number of audience members cheered, although they too knew what was to come. "Back in the year 1000 BN, King Altador and ...."
The haunted champions deflated to the ground while the Darigans stared at the audience. Zo and Bonnefie sat next to each other, the latter still dabbing at her puffy compound eyes. Bandages covered the Korbat's wing, making him appear almost mummified. A sea of different colors surrounded them on all sides. Neopians of all description seemed to be dozing off; others shook their paws in rage. Needless to say, watching their antics proved to be more interesting than an Altadorian history lesson.
"... and that concludes my oration this year. May we have Krell Vitor, Layton Vickles, and Leera Heggle to the podium, please?"
A long trail of drool dripped from Vickles's sideways turned mouth; his eyes focused on a speck of dirt that seemed to be twirling in the wind.
"Layton Vickles, if you please?" the announcer cleared his throat loudly, causing Vickles to blink a few times, turn his head from side to side, and sigh when both of the other team captains made chortled whispers to each other.
Shaye elbowed him, nodded vigorously, and tilted his head towards the foot-tapping Mynci.
"My days of leading are over," he hissed. "Now get out there and stop looking so depressed, will 'ya?"
Vickles slowly paced towards the announcer.
"Without any further, ahem, interruptions... let us award these teams with their respective trophies. Please, Altador Cup fans, do not applaud until all awards have been given. Coming in third, based on play record, is Team Lost Desert!"
One sole Altadorian, a wide-eyed Techo wearing every desert theme item one could imagine, screamed so loudly even the distant team members cringed.
"Escort that Techo off the premises, please," he said to a bunch of nervously shuffling suits. They all shook their heads. One of them claimed him to be a famous Neopian citizen and one of the cup's most enthusiastic and powerful supporters, monetary power included.
"I see," huffed the official while turning to the muscular brown-furred Kau. His sleek silver horns stretched half the size of his face and a golden earring dangled from his left ear. "We of the Altador Cup committee would like to present you with this bronze medal and all the rights and responsibilities attributed to this honor." Heggle gripped the shining token in his hoof, craning his neck back to face the now cloudless sky.
"Next, Layton Vickles." The Hissi tightened up knowing that the entire audience now watched him. A medal engraved with the cup's symbol slipped above his bowed head and slithered down his neck. "We of the Altador Cup committee would like to present your team with the silver medal and all of the rights and responsibilities attributed to this honor."
Before Layton could sneak a closer peek at the award, he felt a tug at his collar. "And for goodness' sake, Mister Vickles, show at least some respect for the old traditions if you want your team of jolly pranksters to return next year."
Metal slipped through his hands and dangled in the air.
"Are we clear?"
"... Of course."
In the Hissi's mind was an image of the official spitting out rancid coffee from a seemingly normal cup. Perhaps next year, he thought. But why stop there? Perhaps a costume switcharoo is in order... He next imagined an orange wigged and apron wearing official making the cup's announcements. It proved exceedingly difficult to hold a straight face.
Meanwhile, Krell had been busily tapping out a rhythm on the wooden platform. Under his breath, he hummed some sort of slow, wispy song that resembled a long, drawn out howl.
"And finally, without any ado... Our CHAMPIONS!" he mustered some excitement during this exclamatory phrase while nodding to a group of Eyrie officials, all of whom had the honor of carrying buckets filled with celebratory décor. Blizzards of confetti drifted from the sky, coating Krell (as well as the rest of the nearby players) in multicolored paper snow. Between all of the excitement, the trophy nearly slipped from his confetti covered paws. The stadium became a flurry of excitement. No longer could anything be heard but the cheers of thousands of fans and clapping team members.
This cheers carried on for some time before spectators scurried back to their daily lives, officials carried out stadium decorations for next year's cup, and the many teams shook hands before turning their backs on yet another successful tournament.
After a few hours, no one but the janitorial staff remained. They dusted off the fields, placed covers over the goals, and dragged them into storage.
Vickles sat in an empty seat on the stadium's periphery staring at the scene. He no longer donned the typical Darigan wardrobe, but instead wore a black short-sleeved shirt with a small cartoonish skull print in the center and... the Krawk Island crazy wig. Bags full of training gear leaned against his tail, carefully balanced.
Shaye on the other hand always spent time post-cup with the pirates.
He's probably just raiding their snack stash, the voice in his head assured him. Every other team, for the most part, already picked up their Yooyuball equipment and left shortly after the winner's announcement.
The Altadorian sun was slowly setting, painting the sky in a dazzling pallet of color. Stars peaked through wisps of pinks, purples, and oranges. Clouds lazily rolled by, dotted with the undertones of disappearing hues.
Vickles watched in silence as every color burst and fade, shined and decayed.
Sounds echoed throughout the stadium as the last lights fell. Amidst the near darkness, a small figure with an enormous head skipped about and hummed what sounded like a swashbuckling song. A mist escaped from the Hissi's mouth as he sighed.
"Uncle Shaye!" laughed the familiar voice of Christopher while straightening the giant purple and black wig. "We were looking all over for you!"
"No doubt your Mother wants to ream me for skipping out on our interview?" Vickles slumped further into the plastic rimmed chair wishing he could melt into its surface (or at very least camouflage).
"Well..." The Tonu shuffled his feet, smile fading.
"No wonder you're here so late," he responded flatly. "Eh, she can bug me when we're back at the Citadel. I just want to sit here for now." He paused, staring at the field for a few seconds. "You know, reflect and such."
"What's wrong?" pried Christopher while jumping over the railing and into the neighboring seat.
"Kid!" he roared, quick to catch his breath and apologize. "Look, I... I just need to think."
"... Things, stuff, what does it matter to you?"
"I'm your biggest fan!" he pointed to the Darigan Citadel jersey, then to the wig. "And... you're still my hero."
Vickles softly rapped at the arm rest, looking towards what would have been the Krawk's goal.
"A hero that really messed up, that's what I am."
"A hero that made his closest friend seethe with rage, his teammates nearly abandon him, and nearly made you cry. You don't want me as your hero, Christopher. I'm no role model, I'm—"
"You're what, Layton Vickles? 'Cause if you were about to say a bad guy, don't."
Vickles whipped around (nearly elbowing Christopher in the process) and saw a gruff figure, arms crossed and teeth bearing.
"Hale?! What are you doing—"
"Looking for the Darigan doofus I call my friend. Why else do you think I'd stay here so late?"
"But I... I failed you, Hale! I failed everyone."
"Stop it with the moping, Vickles. This isn't the rival I respect even if he does sometimes let a prank go too far."
"I... I'm sorry—"
Hale gripped Vickles's shirt, lifting him into the air from above.
"If you stopped being such a Star of Paradise, you would have noticed I forgave you hours ago. Well, at least for the prank. The other... you're just gonna have to make it up to me."
"A Star of what?" he choked, arms dangling to the side.
"A froufrou flower, that's all." Vickles plunged back into the seat with a thump.
"... Fine, then, I'm a Star of Paradise. So tell me, Hale, how can I make it up to you? We lost the championship!"
"Same way you always do—practice like crazy. That way we can beat the snot out of you next year in the championship round."
Warm air blasted from the Hissi's nostrils. "Like we're going to let you take the title that easily, Hale."
In the background, Christopher giggled, holding a hoof in front of his mouth.
"You guys really do make a good team," he chuckled, eyes shining. "'Krawk Citadel' for life, right?"
Both captains exhaled as Vickles slowly lifted himself out of the chair. Christopher followed, tilting his head in confusion. As the three of them neared the passageway, Hale punched Vickles in the shoulder, the Hissi reciprocated.
Vickles bent over and whispered a few words into his rival's ear.
"You really want me to say that, Layton?" Vickles nodded.
"We'll say it together."
"Hah, why not? It'll make the kid happy." Christopher hopped up and down, babbling excitedly.
"On the count of three?"
Garven counted down three of his clawed fingers until the third claw touched his palm. The two captains pounded their fists together before holding them high in the darkened sky.
"Krawk Citadel forever!"