Meridell for the Cup!
Asgarrd rearranged the streamers he had wrapped around his halo, grimacing at the image in the mirror. It was bright and showy, all for Meridell for the Altador Cup. Others he saw were wearing masks, entire costumes with foamy lances or die-cut knight tunics. Asgarrd didn't have the coin for that kind of costume, but he insisted to himself he didn't need it. He was a real knight, after all. No need to pretend. Just show team spirit.
And that was what the streamers were for.
Fandral and Hogun were just as excited and had, in fact, put up for the rooms to stay near the Altador Cup stadium so they wouldn't miss one bit of the action. As for Lowkhi, well... let's just say he wasn't ready to walk out the portcullis in five minutes.
Asgarrd didn't have to look hard to find him. He was always at the castle library, his stuck-up Ixi snout buried in a book of some kind. As Asgarrd guessed, his suitcase was filled only for a day or two's excursion when they planned to stay for weeks. There were five books stacked alongside—all hefty volumes—that left no guessing as to whether Lowkhi would actually be watching the Yooyuball Tournaments or not.
"Are you even ready to go?" Asgarrd scolded, picking up Lowkhi's bag and taking a closer look inside.
"Great Fyora help us," Lowkhi breathed, having looked up from his book. Asgarrd glanced behind him to see what had caused Lowkhi's outburst, but saw nothing of interest... until Lowkhi asked, "You're not seriously wearing that."
Asgarrd rolled his eyes in equal measure of derision at Lowkhi's choice habiliments. "Never mind you have five of the same exact tunic in your wardrobe." Lowkhi had already looked back at his book, ignoring everything Asgarrd said about his clothing. It was probably just as well, Asgarrd thought.
"Hogun and Fandral are waiting for us," Asgarrd pointed out.
Lowkhi nodded, it seemed, only halfway paying Asgarrd any mind. "They aren't dressed like you, are they?"
Asgarrd shrugged demurely. They probably were not. Hogun was too quiet to even cheer, and Asgarrd had never seen him wear anything but his guard's armor, anyway. Fandral, however, liked a spectacle of any kind, and he would take the Altador Cup in a pinch. It meant that he could visit his friends in Altador. Anyway, Fandral was prone to be excited, especially if everyone else was, too.
Especially Asgarrd. He had been waiting all year to cheer Meridell on, dress in a red and blue costume, bond with friends and family over the sound of the Yooyu thwacking the net for a score.
"I don't think they're dressed like me," Asgarrd finally said. "Why?"
Lowkhi sighed in relief before explaining, "Some of us have dignity to protect." Asgarrd was about to insist that he had plenty of dignity, he just liked to have fun, too; when Lowkhi picked up his bag and said, "Well, let's go."
Lowkhi followed Asgarrd out of the castle and down the road to the countryside. Asgarrd fairly flew over the landscape, he was so excited. Lowkhi drudged along behind, almost not bothering to pick up his feet. The disgust and irritation emanating from him was nearly palpable, but Asgarrd had a hard time concentrating on it since he was too occupied with watching the streamers and glittering patches he'd sewn on his clothes fly when the breeze picked up or glint in the sun.
This was going to be a great Altador Cup. Meridell was going to win. And, Asgarrd thought, casting a short glance over his shoulder, Lowkhi might just enjoy himself! But that would probably take Asgarrd more work than all the team captains put together were going through right now...
As they neared the stadium, the crowds got thicker and louder. It looked like virtually all of Neopia had turned out for the event! Asgarrd waved at a few pets he recognized, sad to see that none of his closest friends were rooting for Meridell like his family was, but nonetheless skipped over to exchange friendly greetings. Lowkhi followed half-heartedly. Assuming he had a heart in the first place, of course.
As soon as all his friends dispersed to their bleachers to cheer for their respective teams, all that remained was for Asgarrd and Lowkhi to find their seats and wait for the rest of the family to show up. Lowkhi first pulled a book from his bag and started reading, while Asgarrd sulked. Lowkhi was just intent on not having fun, wasn't he?
"You're just sore that we aren't rooting for the Darigan Citadel this year," Asgarrd declared after a while.
Lowkhi looked up from his book, narrowing his eyes at the empty field. "Why would I care about who we root for in your dumb game?"
"Because," Asgarrd answered weakly. "You're petty like that."
"There they are!" they heard Fandral announce from far away, pointing at them and directing Hogun toward the empty seats that Lowkhi and Asgarrd had saved. "Excellent day for sports-watching, isn't it, Low?" Fandral asked, taking a seat beside Lowkhi.
Lowkhi grunted in reply, and Asgarrd elbowed him in the ribs. "Stop it!" Lowkhi objected, standing and pulling his cape up next to him. "I only barely tolerate being here—should I have to sit next to you, too?"
"Gee, sorry," Asgarrd muttered, slumping into his chair. This would never do.
He looked around Lowkhi down the aisle of seats and then down in the other direction. This was really not Lowkhi's element, but it didn't mean he had to ruin it for the rest of them, did it? Asgarrd jumped up from his seat and climbed over the back. Lowkhi snapped to attention and turned in his seat.
"What in the name of the Darkest Faerie are you doing?" he called as Asgarrd scampered back toward the concession stands.
"Nothing! I'll be right back!"
Asgarrd hopped up the stairs to the back of the stadium and shoved through the crowd until he stood at the beginning of a long line of Altador Cup merchandise. All for sale. Surely there had to be something here Lowkhi would like... He picked along a table of baubles and trinkets, finding nothing but disappointment and dreading going back next to his seat next. He heaved a sigh, turned, and walked straight into someone.
He looked up and his jaw dropped as the red Ixi put a hoof to his mouth. "Shh."
Asgarrd had never stumbled over his tongue so badly—but this was Ilsa Ellits! Team Meridell's Center Defender! He wasn't dressed like a center defender, though. No, he was moving around with all the other pets, looking at the merchandise in a normal old white collared shirt. He looked so normal with his red fur and everything. Sure, he was big, but he smiled a little and knelt down next to Asgarrd.
"I can see you're for Team Meridell," he said, flicking a streamer.
Asgarrd nodded, eyes wide. "Yeah," he whispered.
"What's your name, then?" Ilsa asked.
He smiled broadly. "Well, Asgarrd, thanks for your support. I'm sure you have lots of friends rooting with you."
"Yes! I mean..." Asgarrd paused and thought a moment about Lowkhi. Lowkhi wouldn't be rooting for anyone. Maybe. "Hey! I mean—would you mind? Might you come meet my—um—he's—Lowkhi?" Asgarrd snapped his mouth shut for fear of saying anymore.
Ilsa just laughed and nodded. "I'd love to meet your Lowkhi."
"He's an Ixi like you," Asgarrd said, pointing in the group's direction. Lowkhi's curved black hooves shone like scarabs under the Altador sun. Asgarrd sidled up to Ilsa and whispered, "But he's a Darigan. So I want to show him that Team Meridell can be cool, too!"
"We sure can," Ilsa agreed, nudging Asgarrd and strolling down the stairs to the bleacher. Asgarrd bounded along behind, skipping along in zig-zags after the mutant-Chomby of an Ixi. He fairly pounded the whole ground when he walked. Asgarrd would have hated to go up against such a big defender...
With Asgarrd's cheering and Ilsa's size... Meridell's gonna win, for sure! he thought.
Asgarrd jumped ahead of Ilsa and shouted, "Low! Hey, Lowkhi!"
Lowkhi glanced up for half a second before looking back down at his book. "What is it?" he asked.
"You have to look."
Lowkhi sighed and looked up again, first at Asgarrd, then at the enormous red Ixi beside him. Asgarrd looked up at Ilsa—he was smiling happily at Lowkhi—and then back at Low. "What?" he said again, rising from his chair and depositing his book in Hogun's lap. Hogun looked terribly confused for half a moment, but that apparently passed when Fandral flung a whole bag of popcorn in his direction.
"You must be Lowkhi," Ilsa said.
"Right. Who is this, Asgarrd?"
"His name!" Asgarrd started off shouting, but changed his mind and scampered closer to Lowkhi, lowering his voice. "His name is Ilsa Ellits and he's Meridell's Center Defender! He's an Ixi," he finished weakly.
"I can see that; thanks, though," Lowkhi sighed, and walked toward his Ixi-kin with a glance askance that looked like revulsion. Even still, he bowed obsequiously like he was still in court and not at a major sporting event. "I'm sorry if he's bothered you," Lowkhi said. "It seems to be his favorite pastime."
"It was no bother." Ilsa offered his hoof for a shake. Lowkhi eyed it carefully as though he'd never seen one before.
Perhaps this was a bad idea after all... Asgarrd sighed and looked down, wondering if there was enough space for him under the seats to hide.
"Have you been to Altador before?" Ilsa asked.
"Oh," Ilsa said, nodded, and then reached into his pocket, pulling out a little book. "Well, this is a travel guide I've been carrying around with me." He quickly handed it to Lowkhi. "In case you want something a little lighter to read between plays." Ilsa smiled at the enormous book Lowkhi had been reading.
Lowkhi looked down at the pamphlet in his hand. "Thank you." He said it like a question.
"My pleasure. Always good to see another Ixi around. Asgarrd," he said with a nod. "Keep cheering." Isla turned and walked away. Lowkhi started flipping through his new book.
Asgarrd looked back toward the field, then back at Ilsa. "You bet I will!" he crowed. "Go, Meridell!"