The Princess and the Fanatic
“Faerieland in possession... Babolino passes to – no, Timu intercepts the Yooyu! How about that! Altador in possession... Timu passes to Remis...”
The crowds filling the coliseum were nearly silent as they followed the Yooyu that was being ferried toward the Faerieland goal by a green Poogle, where a faerie Uni stood ready to block the shot. Everyone was on the edge of their seats, and for a moment it was as if time itself slowed down as players decked out in pink and violet attempted to take back the Yooyu.
“Fae – wait, Altador still in possession, Remis shoots... ooh, the Yooyu just sailed over Valtonous Rea’s head!” the red Grarrl announcer bellowed dramatically as the audience reacted – those on the Faerieland side let out a unanimous groan, while Altador supporters stood up, stomping their feet, applauding or just screaming their victory. “And time’s up!” The unmistakable whistle of the Scorchio referee could still be heard over the cacophony. “Altador wins, fourteen to ten! What a game!”
“WE WON! WE WON!”
The excitement could even be felt in the special box where King Altador, his two daughters and his loyal council watched Yooyuball, especially when a young white Lupe stood up and jumped up and down, waving an orange and yellow flag vigorously. But nobody did anything to calm her down – after all, she had as much right to cheer as anyone else.
“Yes, that was a great game, Ari,” King Altador couldn’t help agreeing. “In fact – “
He paused as Arianne crossed the box and glanced down, where supporters were pouring onto the field, lifting the team on their shoulders and cheering. She waved and leaned over so much that her father thought that she would topple over the side and into the crowd; hardly good form for a princess. “Be careful,” he warned her, and he and Torakor hurried over to Arianne’s side.
“Don’t worry; she’s mastered the art of looking down from here,” the slightly smaller shadow Lupe answered with a straight face. “She always does that, no matter how many times we’ve seen our team, and even if we’ve already met the players quite a few times. I think she could actually be a bigger fan than that infamous Techo Fanatic.”
“The Techo Fanatic?” Altador repeated.
“He is a nameless Techo who is often seen cheering wildly in the crowds in just about every Altador Cup game,” the Grarrl answered before Dorianne could.
“He’s very enthusiastic,” Dori noted. “However, nobody really knows which team he really roots for.”
“Or his name,” said Kelland, shrugging.
“Maybe he doesn’t have one and enjoys the game for what it is,” said Sasha thoughtfully.
“Maybe he cheers for all of them,” Jerdana guessed with a grin.
Arianne turned to face them, no longer at risk of falling. “I’d like to know whose side he’s really on. I mean, he’s probably only bluffing.”
“Why would he bluff about his favorite team, though?” asked her younger sister.
“I dunno... but I hope the Altadorian Archives has some answers.”
* * *
Finneus, the archivist, scratched his head when the princesses came to him with their query.
“I’ve heard of the one called the Techo Fanatic, but I assure you, as he is practically a Neopian celebrity, anything about him would most definitely be recorded in my shelves, especially his name, whatever it may be. There are some rumors and information, but nothing on what team he would support. Lord Evander, would you happen to have anything in your family library – or at least, somewhere in your extensive stock knowledge?”
The blue Kougra frowned. “You have just about everything we have, so no.” Turning to the Lupes, he asked, “Why this sudden interest in him, anyway?”
“After the Faerieland versus Altador match, we brought him up, sort of,” said Dorianne. “Then we realized that even after all this time, nobody knows whose side he’s really on. He’s like the Altador Cup’s version of the Zafara Double Agent, except that he’s not the kind who’d get into espionage. You know, he’s too noisy for that kind of work.”
“We’ve found ourselves a mystery that we must solve!” said Arianne excitedly. “Don’t you all wonder where the Techo Fanatic’s true allegiance lies? Finneus, if you please, do you know his homeland?”
The Lenny adjusted his spectacles and opened the large tome he had been holding, entitled 1001 Eccentric and Notable Verities About the Altador Cup. He got to the page marked by a fine rusty chain instead of the usual ribbon or braided string, and read, “Unknown. Majesty, there’s not much about him we know, not even his name or age.”
“Then if we figure that out, we can figure out what team he supports!”
“Not so fast, Ari,” said Evander. As the princesses’ childhood friend, he was entitled to address them quite casually; in fact, Ari and Dori had long told him to hold the honorifics. “I’m sure there are many Neopians who wouldn’t cheer for their home team.”
The First Princess thought for a moment, scrunching up her face in concentration. “If I were him, I’d support Altador. It’s where Yooyuball and the Cup originated, after all, and where the Cup is always held.”
“But that’s just you,” Dorianne commented, fixing her tiara.
“But it makes sense!” Arianne insisted. “Who else has a coliseum like ours? And the Yooyus were discovered here too! See? All the roots of the Altador Cup lead back, obviously, to Altador!”
“But you would have to prove it. Just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it’s entirely valid,” Evander intoned.
“And the young Lord is right,” Finneus agreed. “You would have to wheedle the information out of that screaming Techo if you want to be sure that he indeed supports Altador. But if he doesn’t, then maybe he has some other – ”
“He supports Altador,” Arianne declared with an air of finality befitting her position. “I will prove it, somehow. Or disprove it, fine, as long as I learn something.”
Dorianne, Evander and Finneus traded looks, knowing that whenever the First Princess used that tone, either she meant business, or trouble, or both.
* * *
To the Techo Fanatic,
Her Royal Highness, the First Princess Arianne of Altador, hereby summons you to the Morning Star Meeting Room at the Hall of Heroes one hour after the Altador versus Virtupets match.
Two guards bearing the emblem of the royal family will be waiting at the entrance of the coliseum as your escorts to the Hall.
Refreshments will be provided.
The blue Techo’s wide, bloodshot eyes darted around the room, taking in everything from the shelves with decorative plates depicting each of the Twelve’s constellations to the polished mahogany table decked out with different kinds of food, from Well Decorated Meat to Cheese Stuffed Olives, and in the middle of it all was a large pitcher of Altadorian Nectar and a single ornate goblet.
Strangely, he was quiet for someone who had been whooping and howling his head off at the last Yooyuball match not too long ago.
Outside, the guards watched him warily as the odd aficionado stood up from his chair, paced the rooms a few times, looked at his summons, and picked at the food on the table before finally wolfing down everything in sight, pausing only to pour some of the Altadorian Nectar into his goblet. Some of it dripped down his front as he took a swig.
The green Ogrin sentry nudged his companion with the base of his spear.
“Nutter, isn’t he? What does Princess Arianne want with him, anyway?”
The Quiggle shrugged. “Dunno; but her Highness is also an avid Altador Cup fan. She probably just wants a conversation or something.”
“Then she could always converse with more... erm, civilized enthusiasts!”
“The princess is probably tired of chatting with them.”
“I don’t think they’ll chat. That Techo just screams his head off. At least now he’s quiet, and my ears can get a well-deserved rest. Geez, he wouldn’t shut up even when we got here and showed him to the Morning Star!”
“I wonder what he drinks to scream that – “
“Shush! I think she’s coming!” the Ogrin said, dropping his voice into an almost inaudible whisper. The other guard stood straight as well, having either heard him or the approaching footsteps.
Their suspicions were correct; rounding a corner and walking toward them were Altador’s daughters, accompanied by their Kougra friend.
“Your Majesties, Princesses Arianne and Dorianne of Altador, and your Eminence... ah, and nephew of Lady Jerdana, Lord Evander Aurolia.” the Quiggle announced as he and the Ogrin bowed.
“You’re probably just as mental as he is,” Evander remarked to Ari, jerking a thumb toward the Techo Fanatic, who was already picking his teeth while surveying the polished plates and bowls he had left in his blitz of the provided refreshments. The pitcher, at least, still held a bit of the nectar, which was hurriedly poured into his goblet.
“Maybe I am,” the white Lupe quipped with a wink, flipping her light blond hair. With a considerable amount of theatrics, she added airily, “But soon, I shall have the answer to our burning question and plumb the depths of our dear visitor!”
Dori said nothing, but shrugged and watched as her sister marched forward into the Morning Star Meeting Room, looking very regal in her flowing blue gown and turquoise shawl. The shadow Lupe and Evander stayed behind with the guards to see what would happen next – and possibly in case they were also needed for damage control.
The Techo Fan hurriedly scrambled to his feet, gabbling something loudly that sounded like... well, it was hard to tell, but the jumbled words were most likely some kind of greeting. He did bow, however, and in any case, Arianne didn’t seem to mind as she took her seat at the table across him, blind to the mess he had caused on it and to the fact that he left not a single morsel for her.
“Good afternoon,” she said primly, folding her hands on the table and fixing her amber eyes on his bloodshot ones, which constantly flicked from side to side with an impression of extreme paranoia. “I’m sure you’re curious as to why I summoned you here.”
Arianne braced herself as her guest screamed, “Gyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
“I’ll... take that as a yes. I must say, I enjoyed the match today between Altador and Virtupets. It was a very close one, but Altador won in the end. By only one point! Oh, Winberto Seliz never fails to amaze me, what about you?”
She wondered if she should have brought her favorite pair of earmuffs – which would actually go well with her gown. “I’m definitely going to remember that shot of his for a long, long time.” Clearing her throat, she added before the Techo could yell again, “Anyway, I shall cut to the chase so we can wrap this up. It is only a very simple matter, really.” The Lupe noticed that he was already beginning to fidget, playing with his now empty goblet and arranging the plates in a very odd formation – were they Yooyuball formations?
The extreme enthusiast perked up, his eyes growing wider – if that was possible. As he continued moving the flatware about, accidentally knocked a plate over, and when it shattered, Arianne hoped that her father would be lenient with her punishment.
“HAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOOO!” he cried, pounding his fist on the table and standing up on the chair. A concerned expression crossed his face for a fleeting moment, just a fleeting moment after breaking the plate, before he plopped back down on his seat, gazing intently at the princess, who pulled her fingers out of her ears.
“Mister... um, what do you wish to be called?”
“Okay, that’s a little too hard to pronounce,” said Arianne, keeping her cool, knowing that outside, Dorianne, Evander, and the guards would be wondering how she managed to remain calm in the face of a raucous Altador Cup addict.
Maybe it helped that she was an Altador Cup addict herself, only a lot less insane.
“I would just like to know what team you support in the Cup.” She was finished beating around the bush. “Your favorite team. The team you want to see waving the cup for everyone to see in the finals. The team you’re really rooting for!” The white Lupe’s voice was steadily rising, however, but the Techo Fanatic didn’t seem to notice at all.
“So what team do you support?”
“MYSMERBRIDARROO KRAFAEKIKALTSHELOSKRE VIRTYRMARTERHAU!” he hollered, banging his goblet upon the table and shaking his free fist in the air. He repeated this quite a few times before trying a different but equally strident shriek. “YOUPRIBOXGOOOOOOOOOOD!”
Arianne scratched her head, her patience beginning to drain away. “Perhaps you could repeat that? What team do you love the most?”
“I mean, the name of the team. You know...”
The Techo Fanatic cut right through her words with no respect at all for Altador’s heir with more gibberish while she plugged her fingers into her ears again, counting slowly to ten in her mind. Breathe deeply, she reminded herself. You’re too impulsive, even Dori agrees, and your temper, control your temper, don’t let it control you...
“Who do you support in the Altador Cup?” she demanded, shoving her chair aside and scattering any and all notions of formality and diplomacy to the winds. She had only reached seven in her count. “I want to know! All of Neopia surely wants to know as well, and I’m asking on their behalf! You are facing a princess of Altador, kind sir, and you are obligated to ANSWER!”
The last word hung between them like a shivering drop of water about to make its splash. Arianne’s guest, for once since she had entered the meeting room, was silent. The Lupe wondered if Dori and Evander, and even the guards had started placing bets on when she would blow her top. The thought cooled her mood a bit, but only a bit. She knew she was gripping the table as though she wanted to snap it in half, her eyes were narrowed, and she had just yelled herself.
All the fanatic did was blink, blink his bulging eyes several times as Arianne glared at him.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, shaking her head. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. I’m really, really sorry.” She stretched out a hand across the table.
As for the blue Techo, his gaze moved to her hand; only one of her fingers was bereft of glistening rings. The one on her middle finger bore the Altador Cup emblem, the flag of Altador missing but displayed on another ring...
He reached out. Arianne smiled warmly, sincerely.
He leaned over and they shook hands. The First Princess let out a long sigh of relief as she gathered her formality and diplomacy again.
“YAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAA!” the Techo shouted, leaping up and landing on the floor on all fours. He cavorted about, waving and flapping his arms and marching in the most bizarre dance Ari had ever seen in her life. Somehow, she doubted that he was only relieved to be back on her good side.
“Wait, sir, so what is your favorite team?” she asked quickly. “Do you have one? I’m sure everyone does...”
Her fingers found their way back into her ears when he let out another piercing string of indeterminate, cacophonic screams.
“Uh, could you repeat –”
Whether he was doing what Arianne said or didn’t hear her over his own din, he kept on whooping and jumping around, waving his goblet.
At least he didn’t break anything else.
* * *
“Are you all right?” asked Evander as the Yurble janitor stomped past them to clean up the mess the Techo Fanatic had created. As for the fan, he was promptly escorted out of the Hall by the Ogrin and Quiggle guards after Arianne decided that she had enough.
The white Lupe shot him a dirty look. “Is that supposed to be a trick question?”
Evander shrugged. “Well, the entire thing was your idea. I assume you didn’t learn anything about his favorite team, unless you could somehow understand whatever he was spouting.”
“No. What I learned is that I can’t get along with him and that he’s a lot louder than everyone says he is.” Arianne massaged her temples. “Maybe he does like every team, and would like whatever new team would pop up in the future, if ever.”
“Well, if he could speak coherently, I think he would say he supports Altador,” Dorianne said matter-of-factly.
“Really?” asked Arianne, perking up.
Keeping a very straight face, the shadow Lupe replied, “I mean, think about it. You’re the First Princess of Altador, you were the one who sent for him, and you love our team to bits. I bet he thought that if he said any other team, he would get thrown into a dungeon or something, and many people usually just decide to go along with whatever the heir to the throne likes.”
And at that moment, the three of them instantly relived an old game they used to play – after pushing a few too many of Arianne’s buttons, Evander and Dorianne would run down the corridors of the Hall of Heroes, hotly pursued by an infuriated First Princess.