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The Fearsome Faerie Five


by phoebemittens

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Gomoda leaned on her walking stick, waiting patiently outside the Altadorian Stadium and watching as a crowd of young Neopets spilled out. Some still wore their gauntlets and were gesticulating wildly with them, discussing the Yooyuball practice session that had just passed. Behind them followed the tall Lupe instructor with a trolley of 4 Yooyus chirruping together. There were 2 snow, a mutant and a faerie - Gomo nodded as she counted. Fire Yooyus, of course, are too dangerous for inexperienced players.

     Last to leave as ever was Amyriki, a young blue Bori and Gomo's guest for the summer. She would always hang back, stretching out practice time as long as she could, keen to make the most of every second. Amy lived on Mystery Island, but Gomo knew how Yooyuball crazy she was and had offered to have her stay for the summer while the Cup was on. Amy had not been slow to accept. The spare room in Gomo's small hut by the harbour was soon plastered with posters of Timu, Dayla and Bertie Shurtz. They had attended matches every day, keeping close track of the scores, and playing a few games together. As in most Altadorian neighbourhoods, there was a local amateur team where Gomoda lived, which she helped to coach. Most of these teams were very amateur indeed, but the West Harbourside Fishpops had several ex-professionals and took their matches quite seriously. With Amyriki as a substitute they were now ranked 4th in the city.

     It was nice to be part of a winning team. Back on Mystery Island, Yooyuball was rather more of a niche interest. But best of all, Amy had enjoyed signing up for the summer school with guest-coach Timu, a real member of the Altador team.

     Today, however, she didn't seem so elated. Her tasselled tail dragged in the dust as she mooched towards the spotted Wocky, bent over her stick. Gomoda stepped awkwardly forward to take her friend's kitbag.

     "How was practice?" asked Gomo. There was nothing but a shrug in return. "Are you ok? Should we just go home?"

     Well, it was nearly lunchtime. Perhaps Amy was just hungry, thought Gomo. As they left, she heard a voice calling out and turned. Timu was waving at them.

     "Gomoda, I thought you'd want to know Amy's doing really well! She scored two exceptional goals today - I think she's got the makings of a professional!"

     Gomo nodded her thanks, but Amy didn't even look up. She shrugged again and slouched away through the gate towards home. The Lupe and Wocky shared a worried look.

     ---

     "Hey, I made your favourite, tigersquash omelettes!" called Gomo. She set down the plates on the table overlooking the harbour with a tall jug of iced juppie juice. The small but tidy living room was filled with memorabilia, framed clippings, antique gauntlets and player's autographs. Over the mantelpiece hung one very old, damp-spotted team photo in an ornate frame.

     Yooyuball practice is thirsty work, but it was a full five minutes before the Bori wordlessly joined her at the table. They ate, and then sat in silence, looking at the sparkling blue harbour and tiny white triangles of sails gliding along further out to sea. At least, Gomo was looking at the harbour. Amy seemed more interested in her empty plate, running one thick black foreclaw around and around the edge with a noise that set her friend's teeth on edge.

     The Wocky sighed. "Amy dear, what is it? Is it just the end of the Cup?"

     Amy shook her head.

     "I know Mystery Island got knocked out in round two, but there's always next time!"

     Amy nodded.

     "Did something happen at practice to upset you?"

     Amy shook her head, her broad ears flapping. A tear rolled silently down her long nose. It was more than Gomo could bear, and she reached out impulsively to hug her. At long last Amy spoke: "Gomoda, you were on a team, weren't you? Did you ever win anything?"

     "Well, not exactly - I was on the Altador team, you know, and it's a funny thing, but we Altadorians tend not to be much good at anything we invented ourselves. Just look at the city plumbing! It's true we've let other teams overtake us somewhat. I think we won Player of the match a few times while I was on the team, and we usually scored a few goals, but aside from a few minor tournaments, no. Why?"

     There was a pause, and a snivelling noise. Amy's voice was very small. "Did you have many... girls... on your team?"

     "Only me, I think, for most of that time. What are you getting at?"

     Suddenly Amy broke free from the hug and slammed her large Bori's clenched fists on the table, rattling the crockery. An angry Bori packs quite some punch, and for a moment the elderly Gomo wriggled back on her chair and was almost afraid. "It's not FAIR!" cried Amy. "If I weren't a GIRL, I could be good at Yooyuball! Garth was right - he said I scored quite well for a girl and it's true. The best player in our practice group is Raith, the Draik, and he scored five goals today. What does it matter if I can score two? That's not good enough!"

     "Oh, now," said Gomo, taken aback. "You may as well say you'll never be as tall as Dayla or as fast as Palia Alback! There are plenty of girls on professional teams."

     "Yeah, but who won? Faerieland, with three female players, or Haunted Woods, with one?"

     "To be fair to Haunted Woods, no-one's really quite sure about Krell Vitor..." replied Gomo. Seeing that Amy was about to interrupt again, she held up a paw. "Now stop there. I can tell you've never heard of the Fearsome Faerie Five, my girl.

     "The Fearsome Faerie Five were playing before you were created, back when I was a young Wocky. They weren't all Faerieland born, like the current team. There was Kim, the faerie Peophin, in Goal - with her tail she could smack a Yooyu right back into the opposition's goal. They had Gamill, a faerie Aisha, and Chelaerian, a faerie Chomby, in defence, but their playmaker was a cloud Cybunny named Farami, and their star striker was a striped Ixi named Harinemai. Harine was a terror once she got the ball. There was no stopping her - she'd been thrown out of her homeland team of Meridell for "accidentally" swiping a Blumaroo team-mate's tail with her gauntlet. The theory was that she was angry at having to play second-striker to him; apparently he was getting near retirement age but refused to give up the Captaincy of the team. She maintained it was an accident all the way through her career.

     "When Harine came to Faerieland, it was less than a year until the next Cup and they didn't even have a coach for their team. The reason was just as you might guess - no-one wanted to coach an all-female team because no-one thought they could win against mixed teams. Harine volunteered, and brought in an entirely new regime of strict training unlike anything anyone had seen before. When other teams came to the stadium to practice, it's said they were seen to laugh.

     "In those days the Punch Club was almost as important as the Cup, and most players took equal pride in both. The pace of the game was, understandably, slower. Harine didn't allow her players time off to drink punch and eat pie. They ate a strict diet and exercised from dawn until noon every morning and held secret tactical meetings every afternoon. And Harine was always there, exercising along with them.

     "In despair, the team's third defence player, a spindly sort of Gelert girl, decided to fold only four weeks before the tournament began. As if she had been waiting for that moment, Harinemai stepped in."

     Gomo glanced across at the wide-eyed Bori. She was afraid she had let herself get carried away in her memories, but Amy's spellbound face reassured her.

     "To the astonishment of all, they reached the final, to play against the Haunted Woods. The stands were as packed as they have ever been. By that time, I think, in their heart of hearts, everyone, even the Haunted Woods fans, wanted the Fearsome Faerie Five to win. The Neopian Times had already run player profiles on the whole team. It's a very powerful thing to have the crowd behind you, of course, and I'm sure it helped. But the artistry of their game was truly a thing to behold.

     "Harine knew there would be stronger and often faster players on other teams. She tried to compensate for that by encouraging the Five to work together, using tactics to outsmart their opponents. It wasn't a policy that could work every time, but she was the first to think of it and at that tournament no-one had ever come up against such a game. No-one knew how to counteract their strategies. They fairly danced past the other players, scoring goal after goal, and it was beautiful to see. Haunted Woods were good - they are now, as you know - but they were simply left standing. When the match ended and the Fearsome Five were the winners, the roar of the crowd was so loud, I'm told you could hear it in Faerieland itself. It certainly left my ears ringing."

     Amy gasped. "You were really there? At the final?"

     Gomo nodded. "I was only young, but yes - I was there. I ran onto the pitch afterwards to take a photo of the winning team, and later I had it signed by each of them. In a way it was the start of my career. I think, before then, I had always imagined that I would be an amateur player. But they showed me that female players can rise to the top of the game. Sometimes the very top."

     Gomo smiled at her guest. There was no trace of apathy or sadness on the Bori's face now. Gently, Gomo turned to indicate the dim, dingy photograph over the mantelpiece with her paw. "That's my souvenir. Have a look."

     Amy bounced out of her chair and across the room to make a closer observation of the picture. She had never really noticed it before. She saw a brawny faerie Peophin with a tossing mane grinning with bared teeth, a delicate Aisha hovering on filmy wings above a shy, winsome faerie Chomby, and a blurred Cybunny caught mid-hop. In the centre of them all stood a slightly sagging Ixi standing on her hind legs, her right foreleg leaning on the gauntlet that rested on the ground and her left pressed to her side against a stitch. She did not wear the same incredulous, beaming expression as the rest of her team. In her eyes was a glint of pride, and her exhausted smile was small, but heartfelt. Across the edges of the picture were the signatures - Kim, Gamill, Chalaerian, Farami, and in the top right corner, the name: Harinemai.

     The feelings of frustration that had dogged Amyriki all day had vanished. She knew why Raith had scored at least two of those goals - her friend Garth, the Yurble was a deft player, but so in awe of the Draik that he would rather pass to him than try and score himself. What she needed was to stop trying to prove herself on her own. Next practice time, she would talk to Garth, and Raith, and maybe Myriama, that haughty Pteri girl... The equipment in the faded picture looked so old and outdated. In the background, the Colosseum was missing its third tier. Still Amy felt the immediacy of the moment so much that she could almost hear that legendary crowd, shouting for the victors across the years.

     Standing behind Amyriki as she gazed, Gomoda spoke softly. "If you'd like to take it home with you, you may. I know you'll keep it safe, and I'd like you to have it."

The End

Author's Note: I was inspired by looking through the teams in the Altador Cup - I thought having female players too was really cool!

 
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