A Trek With Team Lost Cause 2: Coltzan's Curse
"You do not have any draws left!”
“I don’t have any what now?—I swear I had four left for the third round—”
“There are no more available moves!”
“Well, maybe if you hadn’t given me three eights in all the corners of the pyramid…”
Vonde Cayle, Team Lost Desert’s left defender and off-season solitaire devotee, was having a particularly bad streak. The first day, he had pretended it was a small spell of awful luck when Sakhmet Solitaire gave him ten losing games in a row. Day two, he figured it could just be a hint of heat stroke keeping him from properly assessing the cards during Pyramids.
It was day eight now. His ratio of losses to wins was more than 100:1. He felt like he hadn’t won a card game since before the last Neopian purge. Maybe even before the destruction of Qasala. It had been… a long time.
For someone who scored as many goals as he did during the Altador Cup, he thought he deserved to be just a little bit better at some good old-fashioned desert cards.
“One more game,” Vonde muttered, embarrassed to admit he was sweating a bit. He flicked the mass of his Wocky tail to one side and adjusted his little black wig over his forehead. The sweat might have had to do with the sheer density of his fur, but still. The little Sakhmet Solitaire Chomby received a very mighty glare all the same. “Here we go. Here we go.”
He didn’t even manage to get a single ace up on the board by the time he ran out of draws.
Vonde slammed his paw on the table. “Forget it,” he told no one in particular. “It’s time for the Fruit Machine.”
He didn’t like the look of the Fruit Machine Neopets today either, honestly—the gold on their outfits gleamed in the sun with a buttery-bright malice that made his eyes hurt. Their smiles looked stretched over their faces. Their eyes were lifeless. They held up their question-mark cards like they were full of more sinister possibilities than just pictures of fruit.
This was not going to be a good time.
Still, Vonde gave the Neopets a polite little smile, said hi when they recognized him from the team, and inclined that he would like to give the machine a go.
He closed his eyes the entire time it spun, muttering, “Please, Coltzan, come on,” under his breath.
And…open. In front of him was a Bagguss, then a Tchea Fruit, then another Bagguss. Two of a kind—but not in order. It was somehow worse than if he had gotten no matching fruits at all.
“Really?” Vonde snapped, and huffed away from the stand. The heat was making him prickly—well, melty. Dripping with annoyance. And perspiration.
This was starting to get suspicious; such bad luck could not be merely natural, not in Neopia, where coincidences were usually cover-ups for suspicious Meepit activity. Something had to be cursing Vonde with a whole plateful of bad luck.
He checked his pockets. No evil charms had been slipped in. He ran a hand through his tail. No unruly petpets or cursed little scarabs. There was nothing to suggest that one of his friends, teammates, or sworn Altador Cup rivals (lookin’ at you, Mr. Black Hole) had done something to affect his normally-modest fortunes.
Even wracking his brain for minutes in the shelter of the Scratch Cards stall, Vonde couldn’t imagine what he might have recently done to deserve a curse. He wasn’t the one who had put a Scarabug in Derbi’s favorite practice shoes.
Vonde honestly rather thought he was overdue for a spell of perfect luck—especially after Team Lost Desert had been booted out of the middle bracket in the final Cup standings this year, for Coltzan’s sake.
Vonde frowned, and felt his shoulders sag down to his furry toes. There could only be one cause for this calamity.
Derbi Azar ground her teeth together, gloved hands out and ready, anticipation making her scarlet Scorchio wings wriggle. “Come on, come on,” she muttered under her breath, squinting down the Yooyuball field before her. Any moment now, the next Yooyu would be pitched.
She faced her invisible enemies with all the poise and grandeur of an actual season game, because that was the kind of player she was. There was no rest here, no dozing and counting Babaas, not even in the Month of Hiding, not even when the next cup was practically a year away. She could not half-heart a moment of practice.
The whistle blew. Out swung her next practice Yooyu.
“Darigan again,” Derbi griped, but focused nevertheless. She lunged forward and grabbed the Yooyu with both hands, ignoring its eternal gleaming smirk, and ran it down the empty field toward the goal.
With a grunt of exertion, Derbi flung the Yooyu to the imaginary goalkeeper’s left. The Yooyu, on the other hand, decided to fling itself toward an imaginary opponent on the right.
Derbi gritted her teeth again—she was going to have to see a dentist if this game kept at its antics—and followed the stray ball back down the line.
More shots: whip—fwoosh—zing—“are you kidding me?!”
It took a full thirty seconds to manage a goal, and by that time, Derbi was sweating something fierce, and she swore she was seeing red spots behind her eyes. “Again,” she rasped, to whoever was directing the Yooyus behind the scenes.
Fate did not smile upon her. In fact, to be honest, it was spitting.
And the one after that—Darigan. A full minute of its little winged shenanigans, Derbi hightailing it back and forth across the court like a Meerca chasing Fish Neggs.
By the time the three-minute timer was up, Derbi had scored five points. Five. That was her average goals-per-game rate when there was a whole opposing team against her, plus four other players to compete—er, cooperate—with on her side of the field. This was just Derbi Azar, alone in front of a bare, unguarded goal practically sticking its tongue out at her.
Four Darigan yooyus in a row, she griped to herself. I haven’t had a game this bad since that year I played through a case of Chickaroo.
She got cleaned up and changed, chanting inspirational pep-talks in her head to drown out the cyclone of negativity ripping its way through her thoughts. There had to be an explanation for this Darigan spell. Was this the kind of thing Vonde or Rhee could organize? Had they bribed the Yooyus with extra snacks to ruin her practice session?
Derbi crossed her arms. No matter who had given her this curse, it was inexcusable. They had to be stopped, lest she lose her shooting skills entirely before the next Cup.
And there was only one Neopet who could stop it.
Tiki Tours were supposed to be relaxing. Pleasant. Dare Rhee Solters say, beachy keen. Tiki Tours were a fresh glass of Banango Punch edged with a warm summer breeze and the distant thrum of island drums. Tiki Tours were a safe space to escape Luvea’s incessant Sand Shake slurping and the amount of times Derbi could slip the word “Yooyuball” into an off-season conversation.
Tiki Tours were not a place to get hit in your soft, bruisable Kiko head by falling coconuts, or to get your water bottle stolen by an angry Gratlik on a rampage. Even allowing that, Tiki Tours were the last place you ever should have had to worry about nasty little petpetpets rummaging about the beach, climbing the Tiki Tour cart, and biting you right on your fingers.
But here Rhee was, experiencing every single one of these events in near-perfect rapid succession.
“Are you not going to do anything about this?” she whined at the tour guide, who was whistling and very pointedly not looking back at Rhee’s direction. “I’m being attacked.”
As if to emphasize this point, a Lizark cackled at her from somewhere beneath a palm tree, waggling its little claws.
“If you look to your right,” said the guide, “you can see the statues on the island that’s home to the Rock Pool, where refugee Maraquan petpets seek new loving owners. The statues themselves were thought to have been created over two thousand years ago.”
Rhee did not look to her right. Rhee looked at the petpet below her and tried to punch it with the strength of her gaze alone.
There were a whole gang of them, now: hooting and chucking fruit at her like they were trying to make her into something the Tropical Foods market would put on sale. Their masks contorted with laughter as they followed the cart. A Chokato bonked between Rhee’s eyes.
“Seriously?” she snapped at the guide, who was still pretending to not notice the commotion on his cart. “This has never happened to me on one of these things before. This is my ‘me time,’ not the Battledome.”
It was exactly the type of trick Derbi would play on her—hire some Lizark entertainers to follow her around and give her grief for vacationing when she could have been practicing. Except for the fact that Derbi was nowhere in sight, and would be too busy practicing herself to bother Rhee about practicing.
This was no ordinary team prank. This had to be sabotage by the enemy, a ploy to render Team Lost Desert’s star defender unable to play. She had to report this to her team captain immediately.
Luvea Trivon just wanted a Sand Watermelon. It was all he desired in the whole world. The summer heat was exhausting, and he couldn’t think of anything more refreshing than fruit flavored like the dry, grainy ground Lost Desert residents walked on.
Sakhmet’s Food Stall was always stocked full of Luvea’s favorite sandy delicacies. He was the type of desert Draik who liked the consistency of his daily disgusting treat, and he expected it to be there.
But today, they were sold out—of everything. No Sand Pears. No Sand Shakes. They couldn’t even seem to be able to scrape up the sand off the ground and sprinkle it on a sandwich.
“Do you know when you’re going to restock?” Luvea asked the Grarrl under the striped awning, in the most polite voice he could muster.
“Every eight minutes or so,” the Grarrl grunted.
“I’ve been standing here for half an hour, though,” said Luvea.
“Every eight minutes or so.”
This was not the sort of service Luvea had grown to expect from his favorite hometown stall. In fact, he wasn’t even sure this was the same Grarrl who usually sold the food: this guy had an odd, evil look to his eye, a glint that threatened to detonate at the wrong move, hidden behind a bored façade.
Luvea was so hungry. He didn’t have time for this creep’s clocks to be broken and the city to turn against him and his empty stomach. He didn’t have time for some old rickety desert doom magic to be following him around.
“Leera,” Luvea muttered to himself. “Leera is big and strong and terrifying and can protect me from the bad luck that has befallen me.” He considered this further. “And Leera always has extra Sand Grapes.”
One by one, they came to Leera Heggle’s desert abode, and one by one, he addressed them: “No, I do not have any extra Sand Grapes. I have no idea what it’s like to be pummeled with Drillaroots by a gang of rogue Lizarks, but I do know that our rivals do not have the time to arrange something like that. Having four Darigan Yooyus in a row does not affect me; I am a goalkeeper.” He took a breath. “And yes, Vonde, you are correct: it is a curse from Coltzan that has befallen our team.”
“Knew it,” Vonde said.
“A curse?” Derbi folded her arms across her chest and snapped her wings irritably. “On all of us? The whole team? Why?”
“After what happened the last time we visited the shrine?” Rhee offered.
“Coltzan should be apologizing to us after what happened last time,” muttered Derbi.
Leera closed his eyes to the sound of them and began rubbing his temples with his hooves. He was very tired. Emotionally. Last time (an event he regretted letting Vonde narrate to submit to the Neopian Times, issue 832), team Lost Desert had visited Coltzan’s Shrine in an attempt to garner some good luck for the Altador Cup finals, and their poor sportsmanship and constant bickering in front of their late king had instead resulted in a pile of scorched fruit, a plushie, and a devastating season loss.
“Can Coltzan even curse people?” asked Luvea. I thought the worse he could do was ‘Nothing Happened.’”
“How else can you explain the fact that we’ve all had an increasing amount of bad luck since we visited and made fools of ourselves?” Vonde asked, paws on his hips. “We need to go there and ask for forgiveness.”
“Good,” Rhee said. “Then maybe my Glass Bottom Boat tour won’t end in a tragic shattering accident.”
“I have a wing grooming appointment at four,” cut in Derbi with a frown.
“Well, unless you want our curse to cause your groomer to accidentally dye your wings neon pink, I suggest you come with us,” Leera told her.
Derbi wrinkled her nose like the idea was more repulsive than Eye Candy.
“It is only a twenty-minute walk to the shrine,” Luvea reminded them, and everyone groaned.
Leera thought back to a time a decade ago when he was not a captain and knew none of these Neopets, and he wondered if he couldn’t travel there, to those moments, just for a few weeks or something.
This time, instead of one-by-one, they all approached the shrine together. Vonde supposed it was a breach of protocol, or at least an unconventional method, but they were in this mess because they hadn’t been able to act like a proper loving team, and Coltzan had noticed.
It occurred to Vonde that he hadn’t seen any of his teammates all summer until their recent curse had brought them together—perhaps Coltzan was trying to tell them something about staying in touch with your friends. If so, Vonde thought he could have picked another way to do that. Like, inviting them all to a rad, fancy ghost party, or offering to split the million neopoints prize five ways if they all met here and behaved politely toward each other.
Just a few suggestions.
Still, Vonde had to admit, it was nice seeing everyone. Luvea had finally managed to find some sandy snacks from a cart just out of Sakhmet, a sympathetic Rhee was telling Leera about Neopia’s best and most isolated vacation spots, and even though Derbi talked their ears off about Yooyuball the whole way there, Vonde enjoyed the walk. He enjoyed the heat at his back and the fireball sun waving from the sky. He even mused that he wouldn’t have minded if the walk really was five hours long, like Derbi had once insisted it was.
“Coltzan,” Vonde said, as they approached together. He laid one paw on Leera’s shoulder, the other on Derbi’s. She was to his right, like always. “This is Lost Desert’s dysfunctional disaster of a team.”
“Not the best start, maybe,” Derbi said.
“But we are a family,” Rhee continued, flashing Vonde a smile as she understood his angle. “We bicker and we slap each other and sometimes we steal cards from each other’s decks so that they lose at Solitaire—”
“We what?” Vonde felt a vein in his forehead twitch.
“—but we always have each other’s backs. Even when we lose, like, ten years in a row,” finished Derbi.
“There have only been eight Altador Cups,” said Luvea.
“I didn’t say ‘ten.’ I said, ‘like, ten.’ It’s different.”
“Right. My mistake.”
“Guys,” Leera reminded them, and nodded to Coltzan’s unimpressed pillar of stone. “Our King, we have made the mistake of assuming that your shrine could fix what was wrong with our team. I don’t think anything can fix what is wrong with this team. But,” Leera paused as Derbi stuck her tongue out at him, “no matter what kinds of bad luck we run into, we will remain a team for as long as we are able to play.”
“Yeah, so you don’t need to curse us,” said Derbi. “We get it: we should stick together.”
“And we’re sorry,” Vonde finished. “It’s been a hard summer after the loss, and maybe we should have been trying to get through it together instead of apart.”
“We are Team Lost Cause, and we don’t care,” Derbi and Rhee chimed together.
Coltzan’s Shrine began to glow, blue like the base of a candle’s wisp, and as the team held onto each other, Coltzan’s great adorned head materialized shimmering and majestic before them. There was a softness to his gaze that hadn’t been there before—unless Vonde was imagining that for the sake of a more classically-heartwarming team moment.
“Thank you for coming here…Team Lost Cause,” said Coltzan, voice an effervescent rumble that teased at an ancient humor around the edges. The Lupe smiled, just with the corner of his mouth, and it twitched his great beard upward.
They all smiled back at him.
“I hope this helps.”
The air grew softer, the sun lessening its death-glare. Vonde felt a surge of energy: first in his feet, then moving up through every hair of fur on his body until he felt electric. In fact, he looked to make sure he hadn’t just been painted Electric; the zing and zap was that strong.
And then it was gone. The team let out a collective gasp, and Coltzan’s figure flashed once and vanished, leaving nothing in its place. Not a plushie. Not a Scorched Suti Fruit. Not a gem, or a million Neopoints, or a rusty Dubloon coin.
“Is it a glitch?” Derbi asked, shattering the silence. “Shouldn’t there be a prize?”
“The prize better be fixing our curse,” said Rhee.
Then, right in the palm of her hand: sunscreen, a Glass of Phearade, and a ticket for the next Glass Bottom Boat Tour.
“Whoa,” Derbi gawked, right as a Yooyu materialized at her feet, smiling and already rolled up to play.
Vonde watched the rest unfold: a fruit basket of sand fruit into Luvea’s arms, a packed suitcase and a map of Krawk Island’s idyllic cove beaches for Leera, and a brand new deck of cards poofing into existence between the pads of Vonde’s paws.
He grinned, and saw everyone else doing the same. “Thanks, Coltzan!”
“I think we’re forgiven,” chirped Rhee, already applying her sunscreen with fervor.
“So long as we stay together,” Vonde reminded her. “We can’t just pretend we’re not a team until training starts up again. We’re family, like I said.”
“Aww, we are,” Derbi agreed, fluttering her wings. “Then we should do something to celebrate!”
“Leera,” Luvea said. “Do you have room for a few more on that vacation?”
Leera’s face visibly sagged, but he still managed a defeated sort of smile. “Well,” he said. “All leaders have to make sacrifices for the good of their team.”