“Sil! What are you doing?”
The cloud Shoyru looked up from the picnic table he sat at, Neodeck cards spread out in front of him. Turning, he came face-to-face with a rather disgruntled skunk Shoyru.
“Zen, I’m just sorting through my card collection...”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the Faerie Employment Agency right now?”
“Already finished for today. I was promoted recently too, you know.”
Zen sighed in exasperation and dropped onto a seat at the picnic table, resulting in a thump that shifted all the cards to the left. Sil rolled his eyes good-naturedly and drew the cards into a stack.
“Did you at least buy my Fried Shrimp?”
Sil nodded to a messenger bag leaning against one of the picnic table’s legs. Zen snatched it up in a flash, opened it, and tossed a Fried Shrimp into his mouth and chewed contentedly. He then searched the bag for more, finding two other Fried Shrimps and... some Neodeck cards?
“...Sil?” Zen asked, stuffing another Fried Shrimp in his mouth and waving the Mystical Hissi Knight accusingly.
“What?” The cloud Shoyru offered a small smile. “No worries, it was the money I earned myself from the Employment Agency. It’s been so long since I’ve looked at my cards, and so long since I last remembered buying a new one.”
“But why bother? They just sit in your Neodeck and collect dust. And you don’t really collect them anyways.”
Sil shrugged and took the card, placing it in his stack. “Well, I guess you could say that I don’t collect, but I just happened upon a good deal today... and I’ve been wanting the Hissi Knight for some time, I just never got around to buying it.”
Zen threw his hands up in the air. “As if the flowers weren’t enough. We live in Darigan, and you wanted to plant a pretty, fragrant flower garden. Now this. Boring old cards you can’t do anything with. You’re weird, Sil.” The skunk Shoyru huffed, his eyes darting towards a stray Buzzer hovering near Sil’s patch of White Lulus.
“As the older brother, I suppose I’m entitled to a bit of weirdness.” Sil smiled again, shuffling the deck and spreading out the cards on the table again. “But you’re wrong if you think you can’t do anything with a collection of Neodeck cards.”
The ends of Sil’s scarf fluttered on the wind as the cloud Shoyru continued dealing out the cards on the table, spacing them so that the character featured on each card could be seen. “We’ll need another player... hm...”
Sil looked around, and saw a translucent head sink down under the cascading golden fountain. “Aster, is that you? You normally hang around the Dragonbuds when you’re sneaking around...”
The head of a ghost Hissi popped up and made an annoyed noise. “Tch, those things smell funny. You know what, all the flowers you grow smell sort of strange, Sil.”
Completely ignoring the comment about his flowers, Sil waved the Hissi over. “We need another player, mind joining?”
Zen scoffed. “We”?
“I’d rather play Key Quest, but sure...” Aster slithered over, glancing over the picnic table and automatically swiping the Mystical Hissi Knight. “Hey, Sil, you actually bought it.”
Again the cloud Shoyru grinned. “Yep. Alright, Zen, choose your character. I’ll be the Adventure Master for this game.”
Character? Adventure? Master? What?? Zen groaned inwardly and looked through the cards, trying to find a Shoyru. Antikia Lighten? No. Wesley Clearheart? Aster would probably laugh at him for that. Flying Shoyru? Why not. Zen picked up the card. “...now what?”
“Now, the adventure begins...” Sil said in an ethereal and somewhat creepy voice. Zen glanced at Aster. Aster reached out a wing and cuffed Sil on the shoulder.
“...ouch? Well, anyways...” Sil fidgeted with his scarf for a moment, then gathered up the cards into a stack once more. As he shuffled the cards, he continued, “Your character will need to battle other characters that you “encounter”. Aster, why don’t you go first, to show him how it’s done?”
The Hissi grinned and set his card in front of him. “Bring it on.”
Sil dealt the first card from the deck: The Battle Faerie, card 245. Aster paled slightly—but then, he was a ghost Neopet. It might have just been the sun.
“So what happens now?” Zen asked, glancing at the card.
“We do battle. So the Mystical Hissi Knight was wandering through the Haunted Woods, in search of a fabled opponent whom he would challenge to claim eternal glory. But while on his quest, he runs into none other than... the Battle Faerie. She challenged him to a duel, let’s see how it ends up... Zen, look at the card number and add up the digits of the number. 245... that’s eleven. Aster, what’s the Hissi Knight’s power level?”
“Card number’s 363... so, twelve. Nice.” Aster swiped the Battle Faerie card and placed it by the Hissi Knight. “Every time you “defeat” an opponent, they join your side as an ally,” Aster explained. “If you’re defeated, both cards go back in the stack and you draw a new lead character card. Of course, if you go up against a particularly strong opponent, you might have to sacrifice an ally card...”
Zen’s head started spinning. “...what? So... does the game just continue until someone has all the ally cards?”
Sil shuffled the deck again and drew out a single card, leaving it facedown on the table. “No. The game continues until someone beats the boss.” He nodded to the card. “Of course, you can’t challenge the boss until you have a certain number of ally cards... oh, and there are supporter cards as well...” Noticing the look of utter bewilderment on his younger brother’s face, Sil sighed. “We’ll explain as we go. Here’s your opponent, Zen.”
Card number 13. Flutter.
Sil grinned. “The Flying Shoyru was soaring through the air over the mountains of Altador, on a quest of his own, when he crashed unsuspectingly into Flutter. She was angry, and demanded an apology... do things turn out alright for the Shoyru?”
Zen stared at the picture of the Aisha with huge Faerie wings. Surely his character could beat this card. Thirteen... so, “power level” of... four. The skunk Shoyru glanced quickly at his lead character card. Card 242.
“Hey, I won! So... Flutter is my ally now... but... that card is useless...” Zen took the card and placed it next to the Flying Shoyru.
“No card’s useless, Zen. Every ally helps out, either to protect the lead character or to get you closer to the boss. And hey, if your power level is the same as your opponent, they automatically become your ally. Unless it’s the boss.” Aster chuckled to himself, stretching and then folding his wings.
“What’s this boss you keep talking about?” Zen asked, exasperated.
“This card,” Sil replied, pointing to the facedown card in front of him. “You need to beat the boss to win the game. But to challenge the boss... let’s say... for this game, you’ll need three ally cards. If your lead character challenges the boss and has the same power level, you lose an ally. If your power level is lower than the boss’s, you lose two allies. The game ends only when the boss is defeated.”
“And those “support” card things you mentioned?” Zen asked, prodding his cards idly.
“I’ll explain when we get to them.” Sil drew the next card from the deck: Gargoyle Troop, card 115. “Well, looks like we got to them.”
Aster smiled. “The card’s mine. Gargoyle Troop’s power level is seven, and my Hissi Knight’s is thirteen.” With a wing talon, the Hissi tapped the top right corner of the card. “See that Neoquest symbol? That means it’s used as a support card. There are two kinds of support cards.”
Sil nodded. “Cards with the Neoquest symbol let you add that card’s power level to your leading character’s power level for one battle only. That is, if you defeat them in battle.”
Aster swiped the Gargoyle Troop card and placed it by his other cards. “Of course, if you lose to a Neoquest card, it’s the same as losing to another opponent. Surrender an ally or switch out your leading character.”
Zen eyed the cards on the table, not believing how complicated the game had suddenly gotten. “Wait... so what’s the other support card type?”
“Some cards have characters with titles,” Sil explained, “such as “Nereid the Water Faerie or Otona, Protector of the Seas, or Sophie the Swamp Witch. Those characters, if you’re lucky enough to encounter them, automatically become your ally. They only add the last digit of their card number to your lead character’s power level, but that effect lasts for every battle you’re in.” Sil idly shuffled the small deck of cards in his hand, tilting his head with a grin. “You’re keeping up, I trust...?”
Zen shrugged. “So, the Mystical Hissi Knight valiantly battled the famed shadowy Gargoyle Troop and was victorious, and in the end... um... the Gargoyle Troop swore allegiance to the Hissi Knight and... uh...”
“Zen, that’s my job.” Sil waved a hand. “The Gargoyle Troop forged a pact with the Hissi Knight, that they would lend him their unwavering strength for one battle. But in the meantime, let’s see what the Flying Shoyru is up to...”
Sil dealt the next card. Darien, card 199.
Zen slammed his forehead onto the picnic table. “Are you serious.”
“The Flying Shoyru encountered Darien the up-and-coming Desert Scarab, but alas was unable to defeat him in a duel. In the darkness, the Flying Shoyru lost the Neopoints he had on hand...”
“Hey Sil, you notice that some of these don’t really make sense... I mean, based on card number Darien could take out the Battle Faerie...”
“Depends on how you play, really.” Sil replied lightly. “Sometimes Aster and I play with the first or last digit of the card number determining the power level. Whatever we feel like doing. The point is to make an interesting story, not necessarily to win.”
Zen shook his head. “Alright, I’ll say goodbye to Flutter.” He passed over the card to Sil, who shuffled both it and the Darien card back into the deck.
“The Flying Shoyru was robbed of the Neopoints he carried with him, but Flutter valiantly decided to follow Darien in hopes of recovering the lost money. And so the Flying Shoyru continued his journey through the Altador mountains alone,” Sil told them as he shuffled. Zen groaned a little inside; his older brother seemed to really be enjoying this “story”.
“Meanwhile, the Hissi Knight and his companions...” Aster hissed, his tail tapping the ground impatiently.
“Right. Meanwhile, the Hissi Knight and his allies travelled the land in search of the final opponent. They search through the darkest corners of the Woods, past the specters that still haunt the gravestones in the shadows of night. Their search brings them deeper and deeper into the forgotten darkness when they suddenly run into—” Sil drew the next card with unnecessary flourish. “—Yes Boy Ice Cream?”
Zen fell off the picnic bench laughing, right into a clump of Scented Hearts Flowers. “...Oh no, I’m going to smell like perfume for the rest of the day again...” he muttered as he picked himself up. Aster, however, scowled.
“Yes Boy Ice Cream’s power level... Card 262. Power level of ten. Mystical Hissi Knight crushes the Shoyrus.” He gingerly relocated the card to his side of the table.
“Aster, just because you’re the only Hissi in a family of Shoyrus doesn’t mean...”
“I think the Knight deserves cooler opponents!”
“Would you prefer to encounter the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop Card?” Sil inquired, lazily flicking a stray flower petal off his scarf.
“Point taken. Zen, your turn...” The skunk Shoyru was still attempting to smother his snickering.
“So Yes Boy Ice Cream joined the Mystical Hissi Knight, probably serenading him with their music and also messing up his epic entrances with their stage lights and whatnot,” Sil recounted, playing the part of storyteller to perfection, while Zen continued to smirk and was promptly whapped over the head by an annoyed Hissi’s wing.
“The Flying Shoyru, in the meantime, continued his lonely adventure deep into the mountains of Altador, and found to his surprise someone hiding in a forest... who will it be?” The cloud Shoyru drew the next card.
“Psellia the Air Faerie.”
“Support!” Zen exclaimed, taking the card. “Card 239... so wow, the Flying Shoyru gets nine added to his power level!”
“And so the Air Faerie decided to join the Flying Shoyru on his journey to defeat the final opponent, lending her skills in battle. She trained him in flight, taught him to fly the currents of wind on the high peaks of the mountains... The Hissi Knight, in the Haunted Woods, continues his journey as well...”
“Sil, I have three allies. I want to challenge the boss,” Aster said bluntly. The cloud Shoyru looked inquiringly at his brother.
“Alright. So the Mystical Hissi Knight and his companions, the Battle Faerie, the Gargoyle Troop, and the unforgettable Yes Boy Ice Cream, found themselves at the entrance to the boss’s lair. At the Hissi Knight’s decision, they stepped forward to challenge the final opponent...”
Sil flipped over the lone facedown card on the table. “...none other than the Two Rings Archmagus! Card number 286, you were a bit unlucky this time, Aster...”
Aster growled. “I remember one time Flutter ended up as the boss... Sil won because I was too busy stockpiling supports...” He looked at his cards. “Alone, the Mystical Hissi Knight could not have faced the Archmagus and won, but he called upon the aid of the Gargoyle Troop,” Aster hissed with a smile.
Sil nodded. “Power level of sixteen versus the combined strength of nineteen... it was a victory for the Mystical Hissi Knight and his companions. And then Yes Boy Ice Cream sang a song to celebrate.”
“But the Hissi Knight decided not to put up with such foolishness and flew away.”
“Yes Boy Ice Cream kept playing and drew a crowd.”
“Then the rest of the party left to get on with life.”
“Aster, surely you can come up with something more interesting that that...”
“Hey! It’s the first time I won so fast. Let me enjoy the victory without you spoiling it.”
While his brothers bickered, Zen stared at the cards on the table. As much as he would’ve liked to deny it, he actually was sort of absorbed in the game. He sighed, swept his cards up, and handed them back to Sil.
Both the cloud Shoyru and the Hissi stopped bantering and looked up at the action. “You don’t watch a rematch, Zen?” Sil asked, taking the cards and shuffling them into the deck. “We can play a longer game if you’d like. Maybe five allies before challenging the boss; that’s what Aster and I usually agree on.”
Zen stared at the deck and the now empty patch of picnic table. Then he glanced up. The sky was clear and cloudless, the wind blew nicely, the fragrances from Sil’s flower garden drifted on the breeze, and it was warm sort of day, perfect for a nice nap...
“I think I’ll play one more game... but this time, can I be the Mystical Hissi Knight?”