An Ordinary Night in the Haunted Woods
It had become an annual tradition with the Haunted Woods Yooyuball team to go on an off-season romp through the Haunted Woods; it was a thinly veiled excuse to practice for the next Altador Cup. They all shared the same sentiment: they wanted to make the history books by being the first team to win two Cups. It would take lots of practicing, though. Krell Vitor, the team's long-time Kyrii captain, organized their rendezvous on the periphery of the eerie town of Neovia one cool, fall evening. The evening agreed with their regular nocturnal slumbers -- Zo Junior, the speedy forward, was especially irritable if awoken prior to sunset.
Zo yawned with a screech. "Why don't we get to vote on which path we take?" he asked.
"Because I'm your captain," Krell replied. "So I decide where we go."
"Really now... we barely made ninth place this past summer."
"Just who was voted Most Valuable Player, Junior?"
"Round one goes to Krell Vitor," announced Fanetti, the team's agile goalie.
"Thanks for the help, Fanetti," Zo snapped back.
While the banter went back and forth, the fifth and final member tried to sneak into the team's circle before the captain noticed. He wanted to paint himself as a stealthy individual, but he was far from it -- his heavy breathing gave his position away.
"You're late, Mortigan," Krell growled, confronting the tardy defender as the rest of the team cast each other sideways glances. The Kyrii was a stickler for punctuality. "As always."
"Braaaaains," replied the Zombusul. The team came to understand the Usul's cryptic language and was even able to translate it to outsiders; Zombiespeak was a fairly uncommon language among those living in the Haunted Woods, though it was the most popular one among other Zombies.
"Always an excuse, Mortigan," Krell muttered. He addressed the rest of the team in a stern tone. "At least you're here in one piece this time. Are we all ready to go?"
Fanetti raised a paw. "Where are we headed?" he asked.
"I thought we might take the well-traveled road tonight," the Kyrii said, glancing at Zo. "We'll go through the Deserted Fairgrounds and past the Stone Dome."
Resounding approval, minus Zo's own, spread throughout the rest of the Yooyuball players. Zo sprinted ahead with his renowned speed, Krell howled and trailed after him while "Brains", Fanetti, and Wan Dirx, the quiet Techo defender, followed at a jogging pace.
Zo and Krell reached the outskirts of the Deserted Fairgrounds first. The Kyrii was fairly impatient however, and instead of waiting for the team to get settled in, he revealed the team's practice Yooyu from his rucksack and tossed it at Zo. The Korbat nearly dropped it, but luckily for the Yooyu, his reflexes were quite quick.
"Hey, Vitor! At least let me put on my sling before you throw the Yooyu around like that!" Zo cried out in annoyance. He tossed the Yooyu back in favor of his most prized sling. "Maybe you should work on your aim and score some more goals while you're waiting."
The camaraderie between the teammates was like a Clockwork Yooyu: they were always friendly toward one another, but in the heat of an important match, or during witty, escalating banter, it was only mere seconds before someone exploded with anger. Krell was more notorious for losing his composure, as he would stalk off the pitch in a huff until he cooled down. Wan would always mitigate the situation to keep morale -- and spirits -- high.
"Maybe if you guarded better, I wouldn't have to work so much on my scoring techniques," Krell bantered back.
"Just who led the team to victory against the Lost Desert back during the fifth Altador Cup, hm?"
"... You win round two, Junior."
By the time "Brains", Fanetti, and Wan caught up to them, Zo and Krell had their equipment on and flexed their slings. "Nice of all of you to join us," Krell growled.
"Well, errrr, "Brains" was momentarily distracted on the way over here," Fanetti replied. "Let's leave it at that. But we're here now, yeah?" The Meerca's two sharp, shiny teeth glistened in the moonlight as he smiled.
"All right, get your gear on and we'll go," Krell said, rolling his eyes.
Once everyone's equipment was in order, the true romp through the woods commenced. It tested their agility, stamina, and fundamental Yooyuball skills; they needed to avoid tripping over the vast, thick roots belonging to the gnarled trees and to keep out of the public's eye. "Brains" was often mesmerized by the flash of the reporters' cameras and it was difficult to get him to snap out of his Zombusul trances.
"Hey!" Zo exclaimed, watching the Yooyu sail over his head. "Brains" gave him a blank look. The Korbat sprinted ahead to retrieve the overthrown Yooyu, but stopped short when he came to a clearing. It had rolled right next to the infamous Brain Tree, wise and always thirsting for more knowledge. Zo crept over to the terrifying tree, who was seemingly sleeping, and picked up the frightened Yooyu. However, the rest of the team failed to notice their surroundings and additionally failed keep their voices down, so thus the Brain Tree was awoken.
"FOR YOUR DISRUPTION, MORTALS, YOU MUST DO A QUEST FOR ME AND SATE MY DESIRE FOR KNOWLEDGE," the Brain Tree boomed.
Krell spoke for the group, despite the demanding tree interjecting. "Well, Brain Tree, we need to practice for --"
"-- nothing is more important now than to obtain this vital piece of information for me: when and where did Frank Mynci die?"
"Oh, great," Zo said. "Not a Brain Tree quest!"
"The rewards will be worthwhile. NOW GOOOOOO! Go to the one that feeds for nourishment and return with the information for me."
The rather vague message wasn't too difficult to solve -- another infamous creature residing in the Haunted Woods called the Esophagor was hungry for all sorts of spooky foods -- but the quest would cut into their yearly romp. They were reluctant to do the Brain Tree's bidding in lieu of training, but the promise of a reward piqued their curiosity.
"Brrraaaaaiiinns braiiiiinnsss," said the Usul.
"Why not?" Wan said, shrugging.
"I'm not petrified of any tree," asserted Krell. "Time to take a detour, mortals."
The team headed off toward the southeast to find where the hungry creature resided. Much like his counterpart, they were greeted with a booming voice.
"Can you tell us where and when Frank Mynci died?" asked Zo.
"IIIIIII AAAAM HUUUUUNNNGRYYYYY! FEEEEED MEEEE," the Esophagor drawled in a loud voice. "ANNNNND IIII WIIILL REEEEEWAAAARD YOUUUU."
"What do you want to eat, Esophagor?" Krell asked tersely.
"IIIIIII DEEEESIRRRRRE SPOOOOOOKYYY FOOOOODSSSS, MANYYYY FOOOOODSSSS..."
Wan wrote down the highly sought treats on a spare piece of parchment while Zo volunteered to retrieve it all from the Deserted Fairgrounds. It was a lengthy list with both expensive and uncommon foods, but the Korbat was familiar with the Spooky Foods shop and its owner. The Esophagor was very hungry indeed, so time was of the essence for the speedy forward.
"'Brains'!" Wan shouted, noticing how his teammate was eyeing the practice Yooyu in his hands. Another blank look emanated from the Zombusul. "Yooyus are for practicing!"
"Don't give me that look, Mortigan. Dirx's right, we don't eat the Yooyu," Krell added.
Fanetti changed the subject. "What do you think we'll get?" he asked.
"Braaaiiinnssssss braainss braaaainss braaains," the Zombusul responded.
"I hope it's more than that," Krell said, rolling his eyes. "This quest is taking a chunk out of some valuable practice time."
"Maybe it'll be something to help us for next year," suggested Wan.
"It wouldn't be a waste of time, then," Fanetti imputed.
"Don't hold your breath," Krell said. "Anyway, where's that slowpoke Korbat? Did he take the scenic route there and back?"
The Esophagor was growing just as impatient as Krell, his large stomach growling and shaking the ground beneath them. "WHERRRRRRE ISSSS MYYYY FOOOOOD?" he yelled.
"Right here!" said Zo, panting as he emerged from the surrounding woods. "I've got your food!"
The Korbat handed out each of the food items to everyone so that they could throw them into the Esophagor's gaping mouth. "Ready, Esophagor?" Zo asked.
"FEEEEEED MEEEEE!" bellowed the Esophagor.
A barrage of spooky food was flung toward the Esophagor, who was enjoying each morsel thrown at him. They exchanged looks as the creature licked its mouth.
"Mmmmhhhmmmmmm deeeeliiiiciiioussssssss," the Esophagor commented.
"When and where did Frank Mynci die?" Fanetti asked.
"Fraaaaannnnkkk Myyynnnnnciiiii diiiieeeeeddd innnnnn 38 BN," the Esophagor replied, as promised.
"And where?" Krell pursued.
"More food?" Krell growled, growing more and more irritable by the second. "What more do you want?"
The Esophagor looked at Wan. "YOOOOOYUUUU!"
Wan grimaced and held back their practice Yooyu. "Absolutely not!" he exclaimed. "I have a spare bag of Peanut Butter Spiders, if you'd like."
The Esophagor pondered for a moment. "OOOKAAAAYYYYY!"
Wan took the Peanut Butter Spiders out of his pockets and threw them into the Esophagor's mouth. "Where did Frank Mynci die?" he asked.
"Maaaaaraaaaaqqqquuuuuuaaaaa!" the Esophagor bellowed, completely sated at long last. "NOOOOOW GOOOOOO AWAYYYY!"
"Thanks, Esophagor," Wan said.
"He's grateful..." Zo muttered.
The five returned promptly to the Brain Tree's domain with answers, a formidable feat. The Kyrii captain stepped forward when the Brain Tree greeted them for a second time.
"Back so soon? When and where did Frank Mynci die, mortals?" The Brain Tree surmised this from their hasty return.
"Frank Mynci died in 38 BN, in Maraqua," Krell replied, with conviction.
The Brain Tree was satisfied, his tendrils and large brain pulsing with the new knowledge. His red eyes gazed upon each member of the Yooyuball team -- the gaze lingered briefly, observing them quietly -- and spoke again.
"For your resourcefulness, I shall reward each of you with a gift," the Brain Tree declared, motioning with his branches. "They are in the chest that is underneath my leftmost root."
Fanetti was the first to pull out the chest from underneath the root the Brain Tree had indicated. The others huddled around as the goalie tugged on the latch.
Wan spoke up. "Should we really do this? I mean, what if it goes sour? That's what happened to those Neovian folks --"
"-- that's just a scary story, Dirx. Besides, we traveled all the way to the Esophagor and back," Krell interjected.
"I ran all the way to the Deserted Fairgrounds, too," Zo added. "I want my reward, obviously."
"I am no dishonest tree," said the Brain Tree, seemingly offended at Wan's insinuation.
"Fine, fine, go ahead Fanetti," the Techo acquiesced.
The Meerca fiddled some more with the latch until it gave way, and the items nestled inside were revealed without another word of protest. The other members peered over the Meerca's wings, trying to get a glimpse of the Brain Tree's reward. It was Krell, however, that reached into the chest first, his eyes catching the glint of something shining in the moonlight.
"A Golden Yooyu Staff," said Krell. He held it upright in his right paw, observing its unique design. The staff possessed a brilliant, golden Yooyu standing upon a rubber, regular-type Yooyu inside of an enclosure. "It's worthy of a MVP winner!"
"Careful, captain, your head's getting bigger," Wan said. He was an expert at quelling a dangerous ego, as it tended to get out of control quite quickly.
"Nah, that's just how it always looks," Zo commented.
"Silence, mortal!" Krell exclaimed, pointing the staff at the Korbat. "Claim your prizes!"
Wan and Zo's attention came back to the chest as Fanetti revealed the next item: a blue bowl of Yooyu-shaped food. "Brains" reanimated with a swish of his tail.
"Braaaaiiiinsss braaaainnns braaaaainsss!" the Zombie defender exclaimed.
The goalie handed it off to the Zombusul, and no one protested. "Brains" happily nibbled on the food substance while he observed the next prize, which went to Fanetti himself. He pulled out a heavy, thick piece of armor.
"A Keepers Chest Guard, imagine that," Krell wondered aloud. Fanetti modeled it off, though it was a bit large for the small Meerca. "Lucky you, Fanetti."
"What about us?" Zo said, his eyes beginning to glaze over.
Wan, after setting the practice Yooyu upon the ground gently, took the initiative and pulled the last of the rewards out from the chest. The Techo noticed that the Yooyu Ball he lifted out was crafted in their team's likeness, which would be perfect for his Altador Cup gallery. To Zo, he handed off a shield-like object. The Korbat looked confused.
"I recognize that, it's a Yooyuball Goal Net Shield," said Krell, grinning. "Even the Brain Tree is telling you to work on your guarding, Junior."
"It's not fair!" said the exasperated Zo, throwing up his wings.
The Brain Tree commanded their attention once the prizes were all distributed. He blinked his red eyes sleepily and shook his branches.
"Use them wisely," the Brain Tree boomed. "I desire sleep now."
"Thanks, Brain Tree," replied Wan.
"Time to go, then," said Krell. "Back to practicing! Keep up, Fanetti!"
The goalie attempted to follow his teammates, but the heavy armor caused him to immediately face plant into the ground. They all laughed, Fanetti included. The ordinary evening and ordinary yearly romp had certainly turned quite interesting after all.
Nearing the end of their yearly romp, the Haunted Woods Yooyuball team decided to cut through the town of Neovia to get back to their starting point. It was on this path that they stumbled upon another distraction: the distant streetlight illuminated an interesting pair standing beneath it. The taller one, the Ogrin, addressed them first as they approached.
"Have any of you seen a monster around here?" he asked.
"There's one standing next to me," quipped Zo. Krell gave the Korbat a sour look.
"No, we mean a really ugly monster. It was blue and had horns, and it also has quite the nasty temper," said the Wocky. "It started rampaging here in Neovia, and then we lost track of it."
Wan's eyes widened. "I told you!" he exclaimed.
"It's not related, Dirx!" Krell shouted. "But we haven't. Who are you, anyway?"
"I'm Kell, and this is Corbin," said the Wocky, motioning toward the Ogrin. Simultaneously, they showed off their official identification cards. "We're hunting for that monster. Send us a message if you see anything?"
"Yes, we will," Fanetti replied. "Zo's the fastest one."
"Great," Corbin said. "Be careful, now. I'd recommend that you get off these streets immediately."
The pair took their leave, presumably in search of their elusive monster. The Haunted Woods Yooyuball team just looked at each other with bemused expressions.
"Should we call it an evening?" asked Wan.
"Yes, I could use a Skeith Juice Cocktail or two," Krell said. "We did enough Yooyu practicing tonight anyway. We'll meet up again soon, yeah?"
"Yeah," chimed in the rest, except for the Zombusul's Zombiespeak answer.
"Likewise, Mortigan," Krell replied. "Excellent. Good night, gentlemen."
And so the Haunted Woods Yooyuball team disbanded for the evening; for such an ordinary night, it turned into a most extraordinary one. They gained valuable prizes from the Brain Tree, as well as a proper warning about a monster running amok somewhere in Neovia. Nevertheless, it was definitely an unexpected adventure -- traveling through the Haunted Woods was never a dull moment, truly.