Taking Sides: Part One
“Guys, Guys! This is it! It’s started! It’s finally started again!” an overly thrilled Christmas Pteri yelled, darting into the living room of his ramshackle Neohome and skidding across the floor. He stumbled to a halt and panted, grinning insanely at his sister – the first sibling he’d encountered.
The short, slender desert Wocky, who was sitting at a round furry table eating her breakfast, scowled at him. “Sheesh, Skittles,” she moaned, swallowing a mouthful of sausage omelette. “It’s way too early in the morning to be that happy and loud.” She leaned her elbows on the table and rubbed her temples.
The Pteri rolled his eyes, his grin fading and shoulders dropping, “You are SO not a morning person,” he muttered.
“Right as you are, lil’ bro’ - Tehama’s got a point,” remarked a well built Pirate Lupe as he strolled into the room, his finely tuned hearing allowing him to pick up on the comment. “What’re you hollerin’ ‘bout, Skit?”
“This!” Skittles beamed, unfolding a letter and holding it up proudly at wing's length. The Pirate Lupe snatched it up, his eyes scanning over the page. Tehama looked up from her half eaten breakfast, slightly more intrigued than before.
“What is it, Anza?” she questioned the Lupe. He gave a toothy smirk and leaned against the back of the family room’s sofa. “What? What is it?” the Wocky pestered, scrambling across the room. “Is it a letter from the council complaining about Sheep’s Babaas again? Is it? Well?” She peered over her brother’s square shoulders, kneeling on the seat to see. “Ohhh...”
“What is all the commotion about?” queried a pretty blue Uni, trotting into the room from the Kitchen. She had a flowing golden mane and was wearing a floral wreath and quirky smile. “Tehama, your breakfast is only half eaten.” She frowned, nodding at the unfinished omelette. She turned to her siblings, who were all gathered around the letter. Skittles was now perched atop the sofa, his grin wide as ever. “What’s that you have there, Anza?” the Uni asked, noting the paper clutched in his massive paws.
“You’ve gotta see it, Anyetta!” The Pteri beamed, unable to contain his excitement, “It’s back! It’s back!” he sang, flying down to the Uni and pulling her along by the front hoof.
“What’s back?” she laughed, allowing herself to be dragged along. Skittles snatched the note from Anza’s paws with his beak and wafted it in Anyetta’s face.
“Zis!” he said, spitting out the letter. “Yuck,” the Pteri mumbled, pulling a sour face before continuing his gleeful announcement. The Uni peered at the brightly coloured piece of paper that had floated down to the floor...
“The Altador Cup is back!” the Christmas Pteri trilled.
Anyetta’s smile grew as she read the information on the poster. “Wow,” she breathed. “This year's tournament is going to be better than ever!”
“Hey look, Shenkuu is in it again this year,” Tehama pointed out, leaning over Anza to also read. “No doubt cousin Keira will be psyched about that! She’ll be the first in line to sign up with their team, I’ll guarantee it!”
“There’s a point,” said Anza, looking around at his brother and sisters. “Whose team are we goin’ t’ join?”
Everyone exchanged glances. Tehama was the first to speak. “Pfft, it’s obvious, isn’t it? We’ve gotta support the Lost Desert.”
“What?!” exclaimed Skittles, ruffling his feathers defensively. “No way am I going to support a Desert team – I’m a Christmas Pteri if you can’t tell! I say we choose Terror Mountain.”
“Ha!” Tehama mocked. “Good one. Anyetta chose last year; therefore it goes to the second eldest to choose this year’s team. And that, little brother, is me!” she retorted with political confidence. “Besides, I’m not going to support a Christmas team – I’m a Desert Wocky, if you can’t tell!” she added childishly.
“Wockies are originally from Terror Mountain, Spardle head!” Skittles fumed.
“Stop bickering, you two!” Anyetta interrupted, “Like Tehama said, I’m the eldest, and I say what goes. And right now I decide neither of you are allowed to speak for the next five minutes!” The Uni glared at her siblings daring them to disobey. Both Tehama and Skittles however, remained silent, and directed their displeasure into pulling faces at one another. “That’s better,” Anyetta said calmly. “Now, regarding the Teams...” The cobalt Uni picked up the poster and placed it on the round furry table for easier viewing. Anza, Tehama and Skittles all followed and gathered around, the Pteri and Wocky not once ceasing to make unpleasant faces at each other.
“The tournament begins on the seventeenth,” Anyetta announced, “which gives us only a few days to practice. I for one do not wish to spend the time squabbling over the petty detail of whose team to join and missing that valuable training period. To keep it simple,” she continued, the others listening intently, “I believe we should stick with the team we supported last year. My own personal choice: Brightvale.”
Her siblings erupted in a volcano of complaints. “You HAVE to be kidding me!”
“I’m NOT supporting THEM!”
“That’s a girly team!”
“It’s even worse than Tehama’s suggestion!”
“You got something to say, bird-brain?”
“I just said it!”
“Tehama! Skittles! Cease your dispute-”
“Stow it, Goldey Locks!”
“Well, I never!”
“Shurrup, the lorro you!” Anza bellowed, slamming his fist on the table. Despite its fuzzy covering, he still managed to obtain quite a loud ‘thump’ from it.
The argument stopped, Skittles muttering a final complaint under his breath. “S’not my fault I was in Kreludor this time last year...” The Pirate Lupe glared menacingly at his brother, silencing him once more.
“You lot are so stuck-up,” Anza rebuked. “None of yeh stop t’ even think ‘bout what I might want, do yeh? No. ‘Sides, you’re all backing rubbish teams.” He held up a large clawed paw before any protest could escape his family’s gaping mouths. “Compared to Krawk Island anyway,” he finished coolly.
“Oh yeah?” Tehama blurted out.
“Yeah,” Anza replied simply. “For a start, none of your teams made it past the second round last year. Heck, Terror Mountain didn’t make it past the first round!”
“All the more reason to support them! They need more players!” whined Skittles. Anza softly growled him into silence.
“I ain’t finished,” the Lupe stated. “Krawk Island made it into the final four last time, so if anyone needs a lil’ more suppor, s’gotta be them! Think; we can be those extra few points that win ‘em the tournament! Why waste our choice on any sure losers when we can back a sure win like Krawk Island?” Everyone was silent for a few moments.
“What a load of rubbish,” Tehama scoffed.
“As you said, Brightvale and the Lost Desert still made it into the semi-finals! Who’s to say they won’t be the ‘sure wins’ this year?” Anyetta added haughtily.
“I hate all of you,” sneered Skittles in a huff, his wings folded and slumping sulkily. Anyetta granted a pitiful look to her youngest brother, and then frowned.
“I’ve had quite enough of this,” she muttered. “Everyone! We’re going in Sane!”
“Speak for yourself!” scoffed Tehama, tearing herself away from the menacing staring match she was having with Anza. The cobalt Uni rolled her eyes.
“I knew this would happen – Sheep thought she was being ingenious but I said it would end up causing all this confusion...” Anyetta rambled.
“What’s she on about?” Anza leaned over to ask Tehama, a quizzical look upon his face.
“Beats me.” The Wocky shrugged. “She already admitted she’s insane.”
“Not me – Sheep!” the Uni whined. She took a deep breath and slowly explained; “You all know our owner, Sheep, has been remodelling the house? Well, she decided she wanted a room of her own-”
“How dare she!” Tehama gasped.
“Anyway,” Anyetta continued. “In one of her ever-famous spurts of randomness, she decided to name to room ‘Sane’. That’s S-A-N-E. This was so when anyone asked where she was, we could say ‘She’s in Sane’ – the room - in the hope that they would then reply, ‘No, where is she – not what is she.’ So I guess in a sense it worked – only with a slightly different outcome,” she finished bluntly.
Her three siblings were silent and giving her disturbed looks. “Don’t blame me!” Anyetta said defensively. “It isn’t my fault we have a peculiar owner.”
“She’s a human,” said Tehama. “They’re all a bit strange, if you ask me.” Her brothers nodded in agreement.
“Anyhow,” Anyetta continued, shaking her golden mane, “we’re straying off the subject. I was going to suggest we go find Sheep and see what she thinks.”
“Not a lot,” quipped Tehama under her breath.
“Great idea!” chirped Skittles, ignoring his Wocky sister. Anza and Anyetta also appeared to ignore the Wocky, as they made the unanimous decision to seek out their owner’s advice. They all knew too well that Sheep’s opinion ruled under this roof.
* * * *
“This place is creepy...” came the echoed voice of Tehama, as the Wocky and her siblings made their way down a narrow, tunnelled stairwell into their owner’s newly built room. “What in the world are these steps made out of?!”
“Traditional Bone Thrones,” informed Anyetta, peeking her head into the room once she reached the bottom of the stairs in question. “Sheep had quite a collection in her Safety Deposit Box and decided to put them to good use.”
“How creative!” Skittles (a fellow artist) beamed, swooping in low over Anyetta’s head and landing in the middle of the Brick-walled room.
“Crazy, if you ask me,” the Desert Wocky said, emerging from the stairway with Anza at her heels. “Not like Sheep is capable of doing anything that isn’t crazy, though...” she muttered.
The room was indeed quite out of the ordinary. A large rug depicting Captain Scarblade lay as a centrepiece, surrounded by several replicas of Sophie’s Rocking chair. A Pineapple bed sat blissfully below a portrait of Dr. Sloth, and a whole wall was dedicated to an aquarium of Chaos fish. Anza peered into the glass tank, mesmerised by the quirky dance one particular fish was indulging in.
Skittles however, was drawn to stare at the other walls. The standard bricks were covered with all sorts of intricate drawings, sketches and paintings – Several of which were dedicated once more to Dr. Sloth, and many other famous faces of Neopia. There were several of Babaa herds, and even one or two of crazy-looking Aishas. A simple Shell mirror hung against a wall adjacent to where the Pteri was looking. Anyetta trotted gracefully up to it and began to admire her reflection.
“Where the heck is she?!” yelled Tehama in frustration, turning away from a Striped Christmas Tree she had been inspecting for chocolates.
As if on queue, a teenage human girl burst through an oak door beside the mirror Anyetta was posing in front of. The Uni reared in shock as the human girl slammed the door shut behind her.
“Sheep!” wailed Anyetta, holding a hoof to her chest, “You almost gave me a heart-attack!!”
“Sorry, Anny,” the girl said, pushing her long brown hair behind her ears and turning to face her distraught Uni. “The Babaas will follow me in if I don’t get the door closed quick enough. I suppose it wasn’t the brightest idea to build Sane next to the Babaa stables.”
“It’s not the brightest idea to have a herd of Babaas in the first place,” muttered Tehama. Sheep spun around to see the rest of her pets gazing at her – all wearing expressions of concern, bewilderment, or sheer terror. “Hey, what are you guys all doing down here anyway?”
“Look!” yelped Skittles before anyone else could get a word in. “The Altador Cup is back!” He glided over to Sheep’s desk and placed the advertisement for the tournament on it. The human examined it with interest.
“We’ve encountered a slight predicament concerning it, however...” Anyetta began, trotting over to the desk with Tehama and Anza. “We can’t decide on a team.”
“Well, who do you want to support?” Sheep asked calmly. Her pets all replied at once.
“Terror Mountain!!” Skittles glared at his older siblings, who were all giving each other dirty looks.
“Oh boy,” sighed Sheep, “should’ve seen that coming.” She paused in thought for a moment. “Hey...” she said slowly, “how about you lot get some practice in, huh?”
“We can’t until we choose a team! And besides, that doesn’t solve our problem,” griped Tehama, folding her arms.
“Oh, but it does...” Sheep smirked. “What do you lot say to your own tournament?” Tehama and Anza’s ears perked up, Skittles’ eyes widened and Anyetta beamed. Their owner carried on with an explanation. “You’ll each back your chosen team in one-on-one matches against your brothers and sisters. We’ll start with two matches – the winners of those two games will go head-to-head in a final Yooyuball battle.”
“I’m in!” cried Skittles excitedly.
“Me too,” Tehama agreed.
“Count me in ‘s well, Sheep.” Anza winked.
“Then let the games begin!” sang Anyetta, tossing her golden mane.
* * * *
Sheep held out her hand. Clenched in her fist were four white straws. Her pets leaned in to get a better look. They had all suited up to support their favourite teams:
Anyetta’s cobalt coat clashed stunningly with the emerald-green robe with golden trim she wore draped over her back. It had a large Brightvale logo across the top. The lower halves of her legs were protected by shin pads – also green in colour – and her hair was tied back in neat, white ribbons.
Tehama sported a golden tunic with a blue and yellow sash across one shoulder. Her feet sat snugly in brown leather boots, and her catchers-mitt was a striking azure. Her favourite silk head-dress co-ordinated nicely with the whole ensemble, which she wore with pride.
Anza’s attire was much more menacing. His black and red catchers-mitt and gloves were standard enough, as was the grey, patched sash he wore. It was the bone knee and elbow pads and skull shoulder protectors which could send shivers down your spine. His red bandanna was securely tied around his head, and he still wore an off-white shirt and grey trousers.
Skittles looked very snug in furry snow-white boots and a cool blue and white coat, which had the Terror mountain logo displayed clearly on the back. His catcher was cyan blue and stone grey and was slightly awkward to wear on his wing; but the Pteri adjusted well.
“Each draw a straw,” Sheep instructed. “Two have red ends, and two have blue ends. You’ll be versing the sibling who drew the same coloured straw as you. Those with the red-tipped straws go first. Got it?” her pets nodded, “Then... draw!”
They each snatched the straw closest to them and checked the ends immediately. Then they looked at what the others had got...
“I’m against... Skittles?” proclaimed Anyetta in slight surprise. The Pteri looked down at his blue tipped straw. Sure enough, Anyetta had one just like it.
“That means I’m against knuckle-head here!” groaned Tehama. She snatched Anza’s straw and matched it to her own.
“Easy-peasy!” howled the Lupe in laughter. Tehama scowled at him. “Lookie ‘ere, lil’ sis’ - appears we’re first up, too!” He grinned patronisingly, patting the Wocky’s head and pointing to the red tips on the straws she held.
“Bring it on!”
* * * *
“First into the fray are Anza Bandanna – playing for the Krawk Island Living Legends, and TehamaTeho – playing on behalf of the Lost Desert Devils!” Sheep announced as her Lupe and Wocky strode into the open grass of their (surprisingly large) back garden. White lines had been painted on the grass to mark out the pitch, and goal posts had been erected at opposite ends of the make-shift playing field.
“You have four minutes of play – trust me, it’ll fly by,” Sheep said with a wry smile. She made her way between her pets in the centre of the pitch, an Inflatable Fire Yooyu Ball in her hands. She looked at Anza, then Tehama...“Begin!” the teenager yelled, tossing the ball in the air.
Anza’s height gave him a starting advantage as he leapt high and caught the ball in one swift motion. Darting down the pitch the Lupe didn’t need to look back to tell Tehama was close at his heels. The nimble Wocky soon overtook him and swept the Yooyu from his massive paws. Making a sharp turn, she made a break for Anza’s goal.
The Pirate Lupe crossed the pitch in large strides, gaining on his sister. Tehama risked a glace behind her, and saw his fast approach. Doing some quick calculations, she took aim and hurled the ball towards the goal.
“And Tehama takes an early lead with the first goal of the match going to the Lost Desert!” Sheep commentated with a cheer. Anyetta and Skittles - who were sat on the sidelines - applauded the impressive swiftness of their sister. Although Anza was big and strong, Tehama was agile and speedy.
“And we’re off again, Anza getting first Possession of the ball once more!” Sheep stated running off the middle of the pitch, after re-tossing the ball at the centre point. Anza wasted no time in shooting this time, but he was too far from the goal; The Inflatable Yooyu ricocheted off the side bar and straight into Tehama’s arms as she leapt in front of the Lupe. Turning to run to the opposite side of the pitch, she was greeted by none other than her Pirate brother towering over her. Stopping bluntly in her tracks and hesitating, she tried to decide which way to go. Dodging sharply right, the Yooyu fell from her catchers-mitt and landed straight into Anza’s awaiting paws. Running a little further down field, he shot the ball with full force straight into the back of the net.
“A spectacular shot by Anza makes the score a draw, with just a little under one and a half minutes left!”
Both pets went at it with all their vigour in the final crucial minute: Tehama had managed to grab the ball when Anza misjudged his leap during the re-toss and knocked it down by accident. Ducking through the Lupe’s legs as he landed, the Desert Wocky darted down the pitch. Anza sprinted after her, the fire of the game burning in his eyes. Once in close enough proximity, the Pirate skidded down onto his side and knocked Yooyu high into the air.
With Tehama sufficiently bewildered, Anza sprang into action and snatched the ball from the air mid-leap. Rocketing down the field, the Lupe made it to the half-way line and took a shot – knowing the final seconds were drawing close. The Inflatable Fire Yooyu Ball seemed to soar in slow motion, as it hit the top bar, and rebounded backwards into the net.
“GOAL!” screamed Sheep, Anyetta and Skittles cheering madly behind her. “Batten Down the Hatches! With four minutes up, Anza takes an incredible win with him into the finals of the ‘Four Unlikelies’ family Yooyuball play-offs!”
Anza was unable to contain his joy, and lapped up the attention with a low bow to his audience. Tehama jogged up behind him. “I could’ve beaten you, you know,” she whispered in his ear as he re-surfaced from his bow.
“You keep telling yerself that.” The Lupe grinned toothily. Tehama tried to resist smiling.
“Who do you think’ll win out of Anny and Skittles?” the Wocky asked, changing the subject.
“Good question,” said Anza, taking another bow and waving to his audience, “Anyetta’s got speed none can match, but Skitt is a slippery lil’ Pteri with flight on his side.”
“It’s a shame Anny’s wings are too small for her to fly as well; otherwise, it’d be a mid-air match!” Tehama laughed, dragging her brother out of the spotlight. They made their way to the side-lines and their awaiting family.
“Aye, one thing’s fer certain, though: T’will definitely be a memorable game!”
To be continued...