Super Secret Club: The Cup Card Calamity
In the garden of number forty eight, Rainbow Lane, Neopia Central, stands a tree house. But this is not just any treehouse. This treehouse is the headquarters of the Super Secret Club. It’s Super (of course) and Secret (naturally) and the Club risk their lives on difficult, dangerous missions, like retrieving the ball that fell into Mrs-Jenkins-Next-Door’s garden, and taming the wild Warf that somehow managed to crawl through the hedge. There’s no mission too big, no task too terrifying. They will work tirelessly to ensure that justice prevails in the garden. Until nap time, that is.
Late spring is a special time in Neopia Central. A time that creeps up ever so slowly, like a thief in the night. It begins with whisperings on playgrounds, streets, in parks and offices.
Out come the cards, hastily swapped beneath desks, and surreptitiously purchased beneath shop counters. Neovision re-runs slip into the schedule, mixed in with past interviews, highlights reels. Shops hold sales on last year’s merchandise.
And then, when it can’t wait any longer, Neopia explodes.
Posters are tacked on every wall. Bunting bearing the colours of eighteen teams is draped overhead. Stalls selling action figures, child-sized equipment, and colourful kits pop up on every street corner.
Yes, it’s Altador Cup season.
Nobody is safe from the relentless fever. Not even the Super Secret Club.
“So, are you excited for the Cup this year, Al?” Vyla asks.
“Uh-huh!” the Baby Grundo nods emphatically. “We gotta get some more cards for my c’lection.”
He drops a heavy binder on the treehouse floor with a thud. ‘Al’s Cardz,’ is written on the front in his very best handwriting.
Taros thumbs through it, awe-struck. Vyla rolls her eyes.
“Oh my Fyora. Is that a vintage holofoil of Xila Kitae? She’s one of the rarest of all the cards.”
“Hold on, let me see that.” Suddenly, they don’t seem so boring. “Where did you get this? All I ever got from those packs was Vignacio, and not even the shiny ones.”
“They’re called holofoils, Vyla.” Taros corrects. “Because the foil makes the picture-“
“Yes, holographic, I get it…” she sighs. “Oh, look. There’s one missing. Where’s the shiny-
Taros clears his throat.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Holofoil vintage Wegg card?”
“I don’t got that one.” Al sighs. “Mama’s tried an’ tried to find it, but they only made…” he pauses, counting on his stubby fingers. “Not a lot.”
“The vintage cards had a limited run, since the cup wasn’t as popular then. They made a hundred of each team captain, and of the corresponding team members, and never printed them again.”
“Tha’s not fair.” Al moans. “Wegg’s my fave’rite. He’s super funny.”
“Wait a minute. How do you know all of this?” Vyla points at him accusingly.
“I’ve got a cousin who works at the card shop. Say, how about we pay him a visit now? He might be able to nab us a couple of packs.”
“Alrighty!” Al beams, clutching his binder to his chest. “Let’s go!”***
“Al, why did you feel the need to bring that thing? The Cup hasn’t even started yet.”
“’Cuz it’s fun.” He states, as though it’s the simplest thing in the world.
He holds a vuvuzela, decorated in orange and purple, close to his mouth, and lets loose an ear-splitting toot.
“Well, it’s good to see you showing your support for your team. They’re lucky to have you on their side, buddy.”
“Uh-huh.” Al agrees. “Oh, an’ guess what? Mama’s gonna take us to see ‘em playing next week, when the proper games start.”
“What? She got hold of tickets for the first game of the cup? How does she do it?”
“She’s a writer, remember?” Taros reminds her. “I’ll bet she’s got an upcoming project up there anyway.”
“Yup. I’ve been practicin’ my cheerin’. Wanna listen?” He takes an enormous breath, not giving them time to respond, then roars. “GO, TEAM KRELUDOR! YOU GOTTA WIN!”
“I reckon they heard you all the way in Altador.” Taros grins. “Good job, Al.”
“Why are ya coverin’ your ears, Vyla?” Al looks at her, mystified. “Don’t ya like my cheerin’?”
“No, no, it’s…er…lovely…” she replies, entirely unconvincing. “Oh look, here’s the card shop. Man, it looks packed…”***
“Layton Vickles again?” A Wocky shouts. “For Fyora’s sake, I want a refund!”
“I’m looking for Ciona Broan,” bellows a Moehog. “Anyone want to trade for my Elbin Towse?”
“No, because Towse was awful,” Snaps a Jubjub. “I want at least a holofoil Dasher Soley for her.”
“Holofoil Soley? You’re kidding, right? He retired five years ago!”
“That’s not my fault is it?”
“Hey, kid.” An acne-covered teenage Meerca blocks their path to the checkout. “Neat binder. What do you want for it?”
“Nothin’. Al scowls. “It’s mine. My Mama got all these cards for me.”
“Hey, hey. What about, er…holofoils. You know what those are, right? Yeah, holofoils of the entire Practice Team. How about that?”
“Nope.” He shakes his head firmly. “My c’lection is special. I gotta Hollyfoil Xila Kitae.”
Behind him, Vyla silently screams in horror at his honesty.
Taros taps him on the shoulder. “It’s ‘Holofoil’, you know, Al.”
“Tha’s what I said.” He agrees. “Hollyfoil.”
Taros chooses to ignore him in favour of raising his voice to the Meerca. “Besides, everyone knows the Practice Team cards are all fakes.”
But the crowds behind him have ears only for Al.
“Did that kid say he has Xila Kitae? I thought her cards were a myth.”
“It’s got to be a vintage one, too. His owner probably spent, like, a million Neopoints on it.”
“Hey, kid! Don’t listen to that creep. I’ll give you the whole Haunted Woods Deck.”
“No, trade with me! I’ll give you the whole Haunted Woods deck…in Holofoil.”
“I’ll give you both decks…and I’ll throw in Virtupets as well. That’s fair, right?”
“What are you cheapskates talking about? It’s worth far more than that. Tell you what, kid. I’ll give you my entire collection. I’ve got 150 cards.”
“Don’t be silly, he clearly wants 300!”
“I DON’T WANT ‘EM!” Al shrieks, giving his vuvuzela another blast.
“What on Neopia is going on?” A Grey Skeith appears from the back of the shop, carrying half a dozen boxes. “Clear off, all of you!”
As the crowds part, their mutters of disappointment magnified into thunderous dislike, his bloodshot eyes fall on the Super Secret Club.
“Cousin T. I didn’t expect you to be causing this mayhem.”
“It wasn’t me, Elias, I swear.” Taros holds up his broad paws, trying his best to look innocent. “Those maniacs were harassing my buddy, Al.”
The Tyrannian Skeith lifts his friend up so he can see over the counter. Al shrinks away from this even larger, scarier version of Taros.
“Um…can you help me an’ my friends? We’re lookin’ for a card.”
“Yes, that’s generally why people come here, mate.” His mouth looks like it might curve into a smile, but to no avail. “Which one in particular?”
“Er…a…Holofoil Vintage Wegg.” Taros cringes.
As it turns out, the very boxes Elias has been carrying are full of vintage card packs. He’s only too happy to give his cousin the first pick of the rare merchandise.
Well, happy might not be the right word. His expression doesn’t change at all as he consults a lengthy, and very boring spreadsheet, looking up every few seconds to watch Al tear open another pack.
“Oh, look, Vyla. Vignacio again.” He giggles. “Fonnet, Kevix. ‘Nother Vignacio. And Kevix again-Hollyfoil this time.”
“That’s the 90th Holofoil Kevix I’ve sold.” Elias tells them, sounding entirely uninterested to the untrained ear. But Taros spots his cousin’s enormous paws flapping as he adds another checkmark to the endless spreadsheet. “Did you know that his art’s remained almost entirely unchanged since the start of the cup? That can make it hard to tell a vintage from a modern.”
“And I suppose you can tell?” Vyla sounds unconvinced as she places the pair of cards into the ‘Kevix’ pile.
“I can tell.” Elias confirms. Had anyone else said this, they might have sounded arrogant. There’s something hard to place in the Grey Skeith’s tone.
“Next pack, Al.” Taros prompts, handing him the metallic purple and orange package he’s excavated from the box.
“Don’t ruin the setup.” Elias pleads. “I put them all in piles in each box according to the teams.”
Taros sighs, turning his attention to the newest set of cards.
“Two of Fonnet. A Xila Kitae!” he exclaims, placing down the first card in the former goalie’s set. “A Kevix…Holofoil Vignacio!”
“At last.” Vyla lets out an enormous sigh of relief. “Mind if I keep this one?”
“That’s the 97th Holofoil Vignacio.” Elias supplies, without anyone asking. “For some reason, her cards are a much more common sight than the other Kreludor players.”
“C’mon Al, what’s the last card?”
“It’s…”he slowly pulls the final card from its wrapper. “It’s….Wegg!”
Elias looks ready to jump out of his seat at the counter.
“But he’s not Hollyfoil.” Al elaborates, uncharacteristic disappointment forming on his face.
“The odds of a Holofoil card appearing in a pack are roughly 1000 to one.”
“That isn’t helping, Elias.” Taros hisses. “We can do this, buddy. He’s got to be in here somewhere.”
“Ruin the setup, we know.” He pulls out another pack. “We’ll do this one together, yeah?”
Al nods slowly as the Tyrannian Skeith pulls off another wrapper. “This one’s gotta be it.”
“Did you kno-
“Fonnet again.” Taros cuts his cousin off. “And another Fonnet.”
“Someone ought to fire whoever does the packing.”
“I don’t believe it, another Fonnet. What do you think the last card’s going to be, pal?”
“Um…” Al considers for a long time. “Fonnet?”
“Go on, you take it out and see.”
Ever so slowly, he inches the card out, his eyes widening at the sight of a pair of orange antennae, orange eyes, and….and….
“I GOT IT!” Al roars, holding up the precious card in triumph. “I GOT HOLLYFOIL VINTAGE WEGG!”
“Oh my Fyora.” Vyla very nearly knocks over the piles of other cards as she stands up to look. “You actually have got it.”
“The 30th one I’ve sold.” Elias puts in. “Though Xila Kitae may be the rarer set, Holofoil Vintage Qlydae Wegg goes for a much higher price. Perhaps this is due to his lovable nature, and iconic look.”
“I GOT WEGG!” Al continues to bellow. “WAIT UNTIL I SHOW MAMA!”
“Don’t shout so much, Al, or you’ll lose your voice.” Taros warns. “You want to be on top form when you’re cheering your team on next week.”
Al races over to Elias, flinging his arms around the Skeith’s knees. “Thanks a lot, pal. You’re the greatest card shop helper in Neopia.”
Elias looks very uncomfortable. “I....er…there’s a tin in the back room. You can store these extras in there.”
“So, what did you think?” Taros asks as the Super Secret Club make their way back home.
“Of your cousin? Well, he’s a bit…”
“Yeah. But still cool, right?”
Vyla doesn’t answer, in favour of watching Al skip along the street, in the middle of composing a song about his miraculous find.***
“Al! Hey, Al!” Vyla shouts, bursting into her friend’s room. “Are you excited about the big day tomorrow?”
Taros follows her, carrying armfuls of merchandise “We got you some flags, and a seat cushion, and even one of those silly foam hands you like.”
Al doesn’t leap up to meet them. He lies in bed, looking thoroughly miserable.
“What’s the matter, buddy? Where’s your team spirit? C’mon.” Taros extricates a megaphone from the pile of orange and purple memorabilia. “GO TEAM KRELUDOR!”
In response, he opens his buck-toothed mouth, points inside, and shakes his head, looking as though he might burst into tears.
“You lost your voice from all the cheering, didn’t you?”
“That’s right.” Mama confirms as she walks in, clutching an enormous bottle of…something disgusting, Taros is sure. “Come on, sausage. Medicine time.”
Al shakes his head firmly, hiding his face behind a brand new Lesser Spotted Fish Plushie.
“So, does this mean he can’t go?” Vyla’s face falls.
“I’m afraid not.” She appears conflicted. “But there’s no way I can get out of this writing job this late. I’m going to have to call a babysitter.”
Al’s head-shaking becomes even wilder.
“No you don’t.” Vyla assures her. “I’ll look after him. You take Taros.”
“What?” The Skeith exclaims. “You mean it? But you really wanted to go.”
“Yeah.” She shrugs. “But there’s always next year, right?”
“Oh, Vyla, thank you.” Mama lunges forward to hug her. “For a minute, I was scared I’d have to call Mrs Jenkins Next Door.“
Taros looks up from checking his watch. “We better get going. The ferry leaves pretty soon.”
“Right you are.” She nods, then turns to Al. “Now you be good for Vyla, and remember to take your medicine, even though it’s yucky. And if you’re feeling better, you can go down and watch the matches on Neovision. How does that sound?”
Al nods, a tiny smile on his face. Mama reaches over to kiss the top of his head.
“Oh!” Vyla exclaims. “There’s one more thing you ought to take…” she leans over to whisper in Taros’ ear.***
“YES!” Vyla exclaims, almost overturning the bowl of popcorn on her lap as she leaps up to celebrate. “Did you see that one, Al? Hawkshanks was untouchable!”
Al nods half-heartedly, still looking morose. On any other day, he’d be thrilled to stay up past his bedtime. But now he just wants to go to sleep.
“Still sad, are you?” she guesses. “It’s far more fun to watch the game here, see? For one thing, you don’t get crushed by half a million ‘pets and their owners.”
He says nothing, taking a slurp of juice from a purple and orange souvenir bottle.
“They won’t be there for much longer.” She promises. “This is on catch-up, remember?”
A smile appears, ever so briefly, on Al’s face, but vanishes before Vyla can get a proper look.
“Hey, do you reckon Taros get you some cool stuff from the merch stands? I wouldn’t mind one of those vintage shirts myself.”
In the rare moments of quiet inside number forty eight, the door can clearly be heard being unlocked.
“We’re baaack!” Mama trills. “Taros, help me with all this, will you?”
Al barely has the energy to get up and see what’s happening, but it sounds as though they’ve come bearing gifts. That always makes him feel much better.
“Wow.” She peers into the sitting room. “Looks better in here than it did at the stadium. Did you help with the decorating, Al?”
He nods, grinning at her from beneath the mound of bedclothes on the sofa.
“And I’ll bet you were a good boy and took all that icky medicine, right?”
“Yes, Mama.” He attempts, his voice coming out as the tiniest of whispers.
“Well, I think that deserves a treat, don’t you? Taros, come in here, and show them what we got.”
On cue, the Skeith bounds in, laden with all sorts of bags. “I thought we’d just watch the match, and be done with it.” He admits, breathlessly. “But it turns out, the writing business Mama had beforehand was with Team Kreludor themselves.”
Al’s eyes grow to the size of soup plates, and Vyla chokes on a mouthful of popcorn.
“When we explained the situation, they were really eager to know all about you guys, and how much you help in the neighbourhood.” Mama beams. “So, er…I kind of told them everything.”
“But, rather than explain, we should just show you.” He rummages around in the half-dozen bags now decorating the living room floor. “Ah, here it is!”
He hands Al an envelope, stamped with Team Kreludor’s logo. Al twirls it around in his stubby fingers, ever so carefully retrieving a folded piece of paper from its depths.
“Want me to read it out?” Vyla suggests
Al nods, smoothing out the paper as he passes it to her.
Dear Al (and friends),
We were ever so dismayed to hear about your poorly-timed illness. After hearing what your Mama told us, we were really looking forward to meeting our biggest fan.
She explained all about the Super Secret Club. (We won’t tell anyone, we promise) and all the things you do to make Neopia Central a super safe place to be. Have you considered branching out? Because Kreludor could use ‘pets like you for reassurance.
Now you’re a nationally recognised organisation, we reckon it’s time you had your very own uniforms.
From the bag, Taros retrieves three ever so familiar purple and orange shirts. The backs are emblazoned with the initials ‘SSC’ across the shoulders, and below that are each of the members’ names, in glittering silver letters.
“No way.” Vyla gasps. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Keep reading!” Taros commands, helping Al into his brand new uniform.
Did we get the sizes right? There was a lot of estimation involved.
“Estimation?” Vyla exclaims. “They’re perfect!”
“Ssshhh!” Al hisses. “I wanna hear!”
We hope you carry on doing what you’re doing, because though it might not seem like it, you three are really changing Neopia for the better. Your Mama told us that we inspire you. All we do is kick a ball well, but you do good things without expecting anything. Right now, it’s fair to say, you inspire us. Not just to play well, but to be better all around.
“Oh my Fyora.” Taros whispers in awe, covering his face with his hand.
Team Kreludor has long prided itself on promoting peace and justice, on a planet that’s had more than its fair share of struggles in the past. Since you three exemplify those values, how would you feel about becoming the team’s mascots of sorts? Just as long as we can be honorary members of the SSC, of course.
“Is this for real?” Taros cries. “Mascots? Of the best team in the whole of Neopia?”
“Yeah, it’s real all right.” Vyla answers. “Listen to this:”
We need to thank your Mama for bringing your organisation to our attention. It’s great to know there are people out there who care so much about the world we live in. We hope your summer is filled with adventure, mystery, and most of all, fun.
From your Friends
And Qlydae Wegg.
“Those are their signatures alright.” Taros beams. “Elias will be so jealous.”
“I wanna frame it.” Al enthuses. “It’s the best letter ever!”
“Wait there’s something else!” Vyla points to the bottom of the page. “P.S: Check out your binder.”
“My cards!” Al cries, as loud as he’s able. “I wanna see, I wanna see!”
“I wonder what they meant by that?” Taros muses, thumbing through the pages until he reaches the Kreludor section of the album. “Oh…Oh my….” He looks as though he might faint.
“What is it?” Vyla asks, peering over the Skeith’s shoulder.
Each card in Al’s collection has been signed by the corresponding player, complete with messages of support.
‘You’re never too small.’ From Kevix.
‘Ye don’t have to be a pirate to be tough.’ From Hawkshanks.
‘Today you’ll save Yooyuballs, tomorrow, the world’. From Jurin T.
‘It takes a great leader to lead a great team.’ From Fonnet.
“But hold on…”
The spot the striker usually fills has been replaced with three thicker-looking cards, each with the logo of the Altador Cup.
“What are those?” Vyla asks, as Taros slides them out of the binder.
“No…No…He’s never gone and given us annual passes…”
“I think he has. Look at what he’s written.”
Scrawled upon Qlydae Wegg’s card are four simple words.
See you next summer!