The Tales of Maraqua: Part Four
Art by desert_gp_dragon2oo5
Chapter Four: Healing the Scars
After that performance, we headed off the field. The pirates meanwhile basked in victory. We didn’t expect to win... Team Krawk Island was among the best of the Altador Cup, but still they concentrated on blaming me. Normally, Elon would scream mostly at Filo and Oten... I didn’t dare get in trouble with him, so I never joined into these arguments. Oddly enough, it worked... most of the time...
Elon rarely addressed me whenever we had a bad game. This time, however, it was really my fault. They all blamed me because I just stood there, doing nothing while Dasher and Ealyn ran past me. As great as a scorer Elon was, he couldn’t keep up. After the game, he glared at me and screamed, “Barit! What the heck was that!?” he then walked away, probably cursing something under his breath.
The others didn’t expect me to perform as badly as that... but that’s since we never faced Krawk Island during the first Altador Cup.
We were beaten by Meridell the first round. Our manager just made us linger and sort of just watch the rest of the matches. Sure, it helped a ton to observe the remaining teams, and socializing with the others was a very interesting experience... After all, I haven’t been out of Maraqua for five years.
I never got to know Team Krawk Island, though. I never observed their matches, even if they were well known as ‘The Most Exciting Team to Watch.’ In the first Altador Cup, my teammates didn’t really notice. They changed the rules for the second time around, though, and eventually I had to face them.
Our manager gave me a good scolding after that match. “If you’re afraid of the pirates, how come you never told me? You knew we were going to do this... We can’t have this happen every time we go against them!”
I tried to explain myself... But he simply didn’t understand. I was pretty depressed for the rest of the day... especially since I knew I had to face them again for Round Two. Tonie and Oten were quick to forgive me, though. Our former teammate, Jair, also asked me about it and gave me advice. We were all victims of the disaster. It was natural for some fear to remain, but I guess the others learned to deal with it back in Year 8. “Just because they’re from Krawk Island, doesn’t mean they’re all terrible pirates. You should get to know them more... They’re nicer than they look,” Jair told me.
“You were a victim too, right?” I tried to talk it over with Elon. He just rolled his eyes in disgust. “Aren’t we all? But unlike you, I’ve learned to deal with it. Grow up, Barit.”
That didn’t help.
I stood a chance of being fired if I didn’t step up the second time around. And I had to- Yooyuball’s my passion. I didn’t want to be kicked off the team just because of this. I learned a ton about Neopia from the first Altador Cup alone, and getting to do this for a living was simply a blessing. It sure beats catching squid and fish or being a waiter at Kelp. Since our own manager, Mr. Ysovechz, was pretty useless at giving me help, I asked the other managers for any tips.
Tonie told me to start off with other defensive teams. The folks from the Haunted Woods weren’t exactly that nice, so I first asked the manager of Altador instead.
“When you have three defenders on your side, you really have to put it to your advantage... With three on defense one can block the path of a forward, another can easily steal the ball, while the last one can guard the remaining forwards of the opposing team or pas-”
“Y-yeah, yeah, I get how important my position is. D-don’t you have any tips of facing your fears?”
Altador’s manager shrugged. “I... dunno. Umm... maybe it will help if ya punch them in the face... See, whenever I’m angry, I walk over to Terror Mountain’s common room and give their captain a face full of fist. You see it-”
Err... her advice wasn’t particularly helpful either. I wasn’t planning to punch anybody in the face... I was starting to get an awful vibe from the manager, anyway. I think she has a grudge against Terror Mountain or something. I think the little doll of Osielle with pins all over it and the Prytariel dartboard was enough evidence. I heard rumors that she was supposed to be on the team, but she got fired right before the start of the first Cup. Anyway...
I asked the managers of the offensive teams this time. With only one on defense, I’m sure that position became all the more important. I started out with our neighbors in Mystery Island. Their manager was... very strange. I’m not sure what his name was; even Bertie and Teylor can’t quite remember it... He’s a tall Rainbow Lenny with golden jewelry all over and a giant Faerie Pteri tail feather headdress... and, furthermore, he was pretty darned superstitious and claimed his ancestors were from Geraptiku or something. I didn’t know if he could even play Yooyuball. I couldn’t quite grip what he was saying due to his odd accent and poor grammar.
“Because we have only one on defense we make sure we only have great player on defense! But just because you have three on defense does not mean you become lazy!”
“Uh-I- I am not lazy! It’s just that I don’t know how to get over my fear of pirates!”
“Ah, pirates? You a Maraquan, right? With big whirlpool?”
“Yeah, yeah, a pirate cursed us some years ago, so that’s wh-”
“No no no! Whirlpool is a punishment from Him! You foolish Maraquans!”
“Uh- what do you mean?”
“It is obvious! Look at you, lazy Techo! It is obvious that you and your lazy fellowmen angered Great Feathered Hissi of Thunder!”
“What are you talking abo-”
“Great Feathered Hissi of Thunder was not pleased with you lazy Maraquans! He send punishment to you!”
At this point I walked out of the discussion. I’m not exactly sure what he was talking about, but according to Bertie this ‘Great Feathered Hissi of Thunder’ was a Geraptiku thing. I’m not sure whether or not I’m going to believe the manager’s claims of being from Geraptiku, but he’s kinda convincing. I decided to skip out on asking Team Tyrannia for help. That was enough awful grammar for the day.
“When we first met up with Team Darigan, things were very rough between us.” Team Meridell’s manager was a kind old Camouflage Draik. He was sort of playing with a sling and Yooyu as he talked. Despite his old age, he was very good with handling the Yooyu. He must have had much experience playing the game. “We have been in a truce for a long time already, but it’s hard to let go of grudges. In the end, however, we all learn something. When Yooyuball was made, it united Neopians across the hemispheres. You have to keep it that way.”
“In the off season, we’d invite Team Darigan, and sometimes Brightvale too, over to Meridell for a good game of Cheeseroller... with a twist.”
“What kind of Cheeseroller?”
“There’s no time limit, but... let’s say it’s like playing Cheeseroller in the same place someone’s playing Extreme Potato Counter. It’s all good fun, and it really improved conditions between our teams. We’ve still got quite a rivalry, but it’s all friendly. That’s the spirit of the event. There’s no need to be afraid of the pirates.”
“Ealyn is one of the nicest players around. Dasher is very well-loved. They’re all jolly ol’ folks.”
Kiko Lake’s manager also came up with good advice- I’m surprised I didn’t ask him earlier... He’s a Maraquan too. He’s this Kougra who everybody thinks is Maraqua’s manager, despite his green-and-brown-and-black tie. Managers can always be identified by their ties... Mr. Ysovechz has Blandfishes on his. If they’re not wearing one, the team they work for is already obvious... just a tip.
“Thanks, Sir... I knew you’d understand.”
“Of course, Barit! We’ve been through this together... but surely, your manager would understand...”
“No. He doesn’t want to listen to me... I’m not sure, but Elon says Mr. Ysovechz never lived through most of the trials of Maraqua. He spent most of the time in Mystery Island.”
“But the King told us not to go to the surface, didn’t he?”
“According to Elon, our manager went to the surface long before the whirlpool ended... He never received the King’s orders.” Yes... I’m not so sure why Mr. Ysovechz is our manager... he’s not the most sympathetic guy out there. He has no experience of the War for New Maraqua. He played no part in rebuilding. But once New Maraqua opened its gates to the rest of Neopia, he came right back and pretended nothing happened.
That’s what I thought of him, at least.
“So is it true that you hate the pirates?” Oh boy. Shenkuu was new at the time. Their manager was this short, tidy Brown Moehog. She was signing some papers, but she had the time to listen to me. She chuckled, “Oh, no! Not at all. I’m not sure where this rumor came from. It’s true that pirates hate ninjas. But Shenkuu actually doesn’t have that many ninjas. Most ninjas come from Mystery Island. I hear there’s a secret training school there... and besides, not all of Krawk Island is pirates.”
Hmm. That sounded familiar.
“Actually, we’re not that different from the folks in Krawk Island. We’re mostly merchants here... And we have pirates in Shenkuu, too.”
“Sky pirates. Yep. Our ships fly... and so do our pirates. Just ask Taggio.”
“What, Foltaggio’s a-”
“He sure is. Why else would he have an eye patch?”
“I thought he got poked in the eye by a-”
“Oh, Taggio- He lied to you, obviously.” The Moehog grinned. “Heh. Give them a chance. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
The day of the match came. I was ready for this...
“And it’s Team Maraqua versus Team Krawk Island! Here, we have Goalkeepers Tonie Plessix and Garven Hale in their positions...”
“...Now, from Team Maraqua, we have defenders Oten Runeu, Barit Jowes, and Filo Desenz, along with forward and Team Captain... Elon ‘The Black Hole’ Hughlis!”
We got into line. I was ready for this... I was ready for this.
“From Team Krawk Island, we have defenders Zayle Sufhaux, Nitri Cassale, forwards Ealyn Hawkshanks and Team Captain... ‘Dasher’ Soley!”
I was ready for this... I was ready for this... Our manager was watching us from nearby, looking at me expectantly.
The referee blew his whistle. “Positions!” Elon was ready. The three of us defenders got into our places. Krawk Island also went into their 2-2 position. The referee clarified some rules and, after a quick check of the field, signaled the start of the game. Elon quickly grabbed the Yooyu, true to his nature, and the three of us just waited.
“The Black Hole shoots and... Hale manages a close save!” The crowd erupted in boos and applause. Elon ran back into our side of the field...
“Hale passes to Cassale, and to Hawkshanks...” It was time to get on the defensive. Oten blocked Ealyn, and then Filo hurriedly stole the ball from the Quiggle. “Barit!” He passed to me, and then I passed the Yooyu back to Elon, who quickly made a run for the goal once more.
And that’s all I really did. I just received the ball and passed it to Elon. He managed to make a couple of goals, but eventually Krawk Island took advantage of the routine and intercepted most of our passes. I was still too afraid to block them or to steal the ball... but at least it went better than last time.
We lost again, obviously. Our manager didn’t really say anything of the match. But it was over... I didn’t have to face the pirates again until the year after.
-If Mr. Ysovechz didn’t fire me, that was. I was pretty sure he would fire me... I had been eavesdropping on some of his conversations with other managers, I admit.
“Yeah, there’s this promising player... Dorina Hals... I think she’ll make an excellent addition to our team.”
Nope. Apparently, I was going to stay for the third Altador Cup... Filo was fired instead. Dorina, indeed, fit in with the team very well. I guess Mr. Ysovechz wanted a peacemaker around... Filo and Elon never did get along well. I never cared about the arguments. Oten and Tonie learned how to cope with Elon’s insults. With Filo off the team, we stood a better chance of strengthening our relationships.
Dorina and I became fast friends. She’s good-humored. She made fun of Elon sometimes... and whenever he fought back she’d laugh it off. But Elon didn’t mind her little jokes too much. She wasn’t a pain in the neck like Filo was. She was genuinely concerned for the team, unlike our manager.
“Barit? Are you all right?” It was after our match against Krawk Island... I didn’t know why, but I felt terribly drained. I tackled Ealyn once... and then I panicked for the rest of the game. “Barit... wait!”
I ran off the field and headed back to Team Maraqua’s common room. Dorina was quick to follow me. She sat down next to me on the couch. “...Barit-”
“...I-I... Dorina... I’m terrified of them.”
I talked to her about my experiences after the disaster.
I nearly didn’t make it through the whirlpool- I was missing for two weeks. They were ready to stop looking... there was little chance. My parents did all that they could, though, to make the soldiers keep searching. Eventually, I was found. But a second trial came after the war. I was knocked out cold and, according to my mum, it’s a miracle I made a full recovery.
“...I lost a dear friend of mine in the whirlpool.” Dorina sighed. We kept talking about our histories... Eventually, Oten and Tonie joined in, too.
“The construction managers kept calling me slow and fat... Well, I was starving like everyone else, really. They, however, sat around doing nothing, and yet they ate very well each day.” Tonie sat down beside me.
“I volunteered at a medical ward after the war. It’s just painful. Outside, everybody’s celebrating... It was a different environment there. Many soldiers made quick recoveries... While some stay there for a long time. One patient we had... a Peophin... he was almost ready to go home to his family. But then, he fell suddenly sick... he didn’t make it. They were devastated.” Oten huddled with the three of us.
“Hey, Elon.” The door to the hall outside was open, and Elon happened to pass by.
“...What the heck are you doing?” He headed into the room, still clutching some paperwork... Team Captain duties.
“...Elon, why are you so... err...” I couldn’t flat out tell him that he was a complete jerk, but he probably got the message anyway. “...Were you like this before the whirlpool?” The rest of the team also leaned towards him to hear what he had to say.
Elon pondered for a moment. He glanced around the room, and then locked the door behind him. He placed his paperwork on a nearby desk. He warily pulled the neck of his jersey and brought out a necklace with a single Maractite ring on it. “What’s that?” Dorina asked.
“...It’s the last thing I have left from Old Maraqua.” Elon sighed, and quickly put the chain back beneath his jersey. “Hang on, do you always wear that?” I asked him.
Elon nodded. “Everything else is gone. You know what I mean.
“As for your earlier question... It wasn’t the whirlpool that changed me... not directly, at least.” He took the papers from the desk.
Dorina went forward. “What do you mean, Elon?”
The Acara grabbed a chair, and browsed through the paperwork as he talked. “The whirlpool? I accepted my losses and... moved on. That didn’t change me. When we started building New Maraqua, though... that’s when I changed.
“They made me mine Maractite... The pay was great. But the competition was dangerously fierce... Every day was a riot of pickaxes down in the mines.
“...I did some pretty terrible stuff back then when I was a miner. It didn’t end well... I’d rather not talk about that. I lost my job...
“But I’m kind of glad I did.”
He placed the papers back on the table. “You’re never in good company down there... There are some gangs just waiting to wreck havoc. When some of them were reassigned to be construction workers, they didn’t do any building, no; they just destroyed whatever they could... If I stayed, I would have never been able to play Yooyuball... I would have... well...” Elon trailed off. He stared distantly at the floor while clutching his jersey. “Elon?”
He quickly looked up at us, and then hopped off the chair. “Y-you guys should be glad I’m here. And you guys should be glad I’m not as t-terrible as I used to be.” He stormed off the room, but not without a final word. “...You... should just... forget all about it...” He then slammed the door shut.
The four of us remained in the room, just resting for a bit before dinner.
Mr. Ysovechz slithered in. He was carrying some papers. “Hey, um, have any of you guys seen Elon?”
“No, sir... but, umm... Can I ask you a question?”
He closed the door behind him with one of his many tentacles. “Sure, what is it, Mr. Jowes?”
“How come you left Maraqua?”
The Jetsam dropped what he was holding. “Elon told you.”
Mr. Ysovechz picked up the papers he dropped, and then tidied them. He quietly headed for the door.
“...I left because I was afraid.”
By the time the fourth Altador Cup came I had finally got over my fear of the pirates... I mean... well, Team Krawk Island. I wish I had sooner. Like everybody told me... they were some of the nicest folks in the Altador Cup, Dasher especially.
“Ah, I’ve been Yooyuballin’ since I was little. Me dad thought me how t’ play... And me mum would scold me whenever I got scrapes on me knees aft’rwards.” Dasher chatted with me one time. “Ealyn and I ‘ave been partners fer a long while. Ah, but he gets along with almost ‘nybody.”
“Yooyuball’s me passion. I keep tellin’ everyone that I would retire soon... But each time I play, I feel t’ same... I want just one more game.”
We brought home fifth place and we made an incredible improvement from the previous years. Furthermore, Krawk Island won the Altador Cup that year, and I’m glad they did. With that, Dasher was retiring for real. At the farewell dinner, everyone honored Ol’ Dash- Especially the managers. Team Meridell’s manager stood up. “In my life I’ve watched many big Yooyuball matches... and some of the best were from Mr. Soley here... I’ve been watching him since his professional debut, well before many players playing in the Altador Cup today were even born...”
With a grand farewell like that, it was surprising to see Mr. Soley return this year for the fifth cup. “...Me replacement broke ‘is wing.”
Krawk Island fell victim to the infamous ‘winners curse.’ Still, though, Dasher was optimistic. “Aye, ‘tis is nothing. We’ll come back next year...”
“...But, Dash, you’re not-”
“-Of course not. Aye, Dinksy’s wing is healin’ pretty quick. Me team, I mean. Li’l Dinksy’s a promisin’ player. I’m sure ‘e can handle it. We’ll get back on top.”
“...So, um, Dasher... Don’t you mind how you’ve been performing lately? Especially when compared to last year’s...”
“It’s nuthin’. Now... listen... back in the ol’ days Ealyn and I were the biggest players in the seven seas. Then we had our first big match outside Krawk Island, against Meridell. Aye, we lost. Terribly. But ye can easily forget about these. It was a big blow at first... but aye, after playin’ for all these years... It’s just part of the game.
“My real loss, aye... it’s not that we’ve done poorly lately, but it’s that I’m retirin’... simply that. Yooyuball’s part of me life. I’d hate to leave it, aye, but the doctors are already tellin’ me I should retire. Aye... I’m gettin’ old. But I saw it coming.
“I’m losin’ something truly important to me. These are the losses that y’ don’t forget. This is a loss that’ll affect me fer a while. It’ll be hard to move on.”
I reflected on his words for a while. I certainly lost something... I lost some part of myself. No one in my family died in the disaster or in the war. But I became afraid. And I didn’t quite understand why.
“...Ye look like someone who has lost a lot,” Dasher commented.
“...Yeah. But now I guess I... got over it.”
“That’s good.” The old Krawk smiled.
We maintained fifth place this year. Krawk Island fell to seven. They accepted their participatory medals happily, though. Dasher had a much less formal farewell this year. I wanted to thank him, though I didn’t have the guts to do it in public. After the awarding ceremony, I went to Krawk Island’s common room to show my gratitude in private.
“Aye, thank ye, Barit. Glad I made a difference.” Dasher was packing up. He was already in his regular clothes. He carefully placed his sling in a case, but not before giving one last good look at it. “I’ve been usin’ this since I started Yooyuballin’ with me dad...”
“...I’m sorry you’re retiring, Mr. Soley...”
He wiped a tear from the eye. “...I’ll manage to move on. I’ll still be there for me team.” Dasher grinned. “Always.”
There was a sudden knock as Dasher zipped the sling case to a close. To my surprise, Elon came into the room. Like Dasher, he had already changed into regular Maraquan clothing. “-Barit, what are you doing- never mind.”
“Anyway... Umm, Soley.” Elon slowly extended his tentacle towards the Krawk, “Umm... I don’t think I’ve ever shook your hand... ever... from the First Cup 'til now...” The Acara scratched his head with his other tentacle. “...err... sorry that you’re retiring.”
Dasher glanced at Elon, and then to the tentacle. He then gladly extended his own arm and shook. “Aye, no worries. I’ll still be here in Altador next year... just not as a player.” He chuckled and gave Elon a pat on the back. “Err... Thanks, Soley.”
A voice echoed through the hallway. “Ol’ Dash!”
“Aye, aye, aye, I’m ready.” Dasher slammed his suitcase shut. “Thank ye, Maraquans. Aye, I must go now.”
“Thanks, Dasher. See you next year.” I waved goodbye. Elon managed a small smirk and wiggled his tentacle a bit. “Goodbye, Soley.”
We were left alone in the now bare Krawk Island common room. “Barit, I suggest you go dress up. We’ll be making the long swim soon.”
“Sure, Elon...” I headed out to the hall. “Aren’t you going too, Elon?”
“I just need some time alone.” Elon made sure I left first, and then pushed the door to a slight close.
I was about to head to the Team Maraqua common room, but curiosity got the better of me. I dashed back into that hall and lightly pushed the door back open. There, Elon was contemplating over his necklace.
He quickly turned to face me, and hid the necklace back under his clothes. “Barit... What?”
“You look like someone who has lost a lot.”
“...I-I... I am.” He sat down on a chair. “Why?”
“You haven’t gotten over it yet, haven’t you?”
He clutched the Maractite ring from under his shirt and quivered. Tears swelled up in the Acara’s eyes.
“No, I haven’t yet, Barit. I’ve lost so much...”
“We,” I corrected him.
To be continued...