Brothers in Wing: Part Two
It took just hours for Tandrak to grasp most of the concepts of Yooyuball. Layton told him he was going to be a right forward. Tormo said that meant he had to do two things—run fast and score.
Running he could do, and hooking the yooyu into the net wasn't too hard, but then Layton mentioned that he couldn't just throw straight at the goal forever.
"There will be a netminder, I hope you know, and they will stop your attempts at scoring. Try running up at a diagonal, like this." He demonstrated, grabbing a yooyu and looping around the left side of the net before shooting the yooyu at the right hand goal post. The ball only barely made it into the net, but it was a score nonetheless.
"Master that technique and run fast, and you'll get past those netminders easy." Tandrak nodded, taking the advice to heart, and continued practicing. After a few more practice shots Layton stood in the net, instructing the Gelert to try and get past him.
The team's days continued like this for a long while, practicing scoring techniques, guarding, passing, stealing, and running laps for endurance whenever Layton felt like it. A Skeith—Mungo Lifler—joined them after another week, taking up the position of the netminder. Tandrak found it much harder to score with the large skeith in the net. What Mungo lacked in mobility, he made up for in size. He barely had to move to block most of the Gelert's shots and his large hands easily snatched any yooyu out of the air.
Layton, as he always seemed to do, helped Tandrak remedy the problem. He taught him feints, how to leap up and score over the netminder's head, and even a few trick shots to fool the netminder into thinking he wasn't preparing to shoot.
Tandrak began to feel as if he never stopped practicing, the yoouball sling now felt like an extension of himself when he strapped it on each morning. Finally, the monotony of unending practice was broken when Layton walked into the locker room one morning with a small cardboard box tied shut with twine. He tossed it to Tandrak without warning, who caught it out of reflex, a puzzled look on his face.
"Sorry it took so long to get," the Hissi said simply, sitting down on a bench. Tandrak only glanced between him and the box, still confused by the sudden gift. Tormo hopped up on a bench next to the Gelert.
"Well, aren't 'cha going to open it? Come on! I want to know what's inside!" Tandrak nodded, and pulled at the twine bow that topped the box. The sting easily fell down the sides of the box, and Tandrak slowly lifted up just a corner to peek inside before gasping sharply and closing the box once more. The gasp attracted confused looks from his fellow team members, while his captain just smirked at him.
"Where in Neopia did you get this?" Tandrak asked in disbelief, his eyes wide and hands still cemented against the box, despite Tormo's best efforts to peek inside.
Layton laughed. "A little Korbat dropped it on my head." His sarcasm was obvious as he crossed his wings, amused at the Gelert's still shocked expression. The reference seemed to have flown over his head, but the other three teammates' expressions began to change from confusion, to understanding, to happiness for Tandrak.
"It doesn't matter where he got it, just open it already! I wanna see!" Tormo shouted at him again, even more eager this time. Tandrak finally gave in, setting the top to the box down on the bench and lifting the item out of the box.
He had only ever dreamed of seeing a paint brush, and especially one so rare. Tandrak stared with wide eyes at the sleek black handle that sprouted wings in the middle and ended in an elegant purple jewel. From the bristles dripped shiny purple paint. He looked back to Layton, unsure what to say.
"What, did you think you'd be the only one on the team not painted Darigan?" the Hissi raised an eyebrow at him, smiling. The Gelert said nothing. "Well, grab your things, team. We're travelling to Neopia Central today."
The world outside of Darigan Citadel was very, very colorful, Tandrak found. He had looked down upon Meridell and Brightvale from the Citadel occasionally, but all he could see where fields of green and small blobs of brown that he assumed to be houses, along with the giant grey blob that was Meridell's castle. It was nothing compared to the pink and purple clouds of Faerieland floating off in the distance, the rainbow of color sprouting up from Roo Island, and of course the never ending blue, blue sea that stretched out beyond Meridell and Brightvale.
Neopia Central itself was a swirl of color and activity. Pets from all over the planet and of every different color milled about its large markets. And smack in the center of the main plaza sat the Rainbow Pool.
It was mid-day on a weekday, so not too many pets surrounded the pool. Even travelling in a group of four darigan pets, the group did not attract many stares. Just looking around the main plaza Tandrak spotted two other darigan pets, so he supposed they didn't look too much out of place.
The fountain itself was two-tiered, crystal clear water flowing from the smaller basin at the top into the one at the bottom. Tandrak gazed at it for another moment before turning to Layton, who held the box containing the paint brush—his paint brush.
"How does this work?" Layton motioned to the fountain.
"Well, you have to get in first." Tandrak followed his instructions, slipping off his practice shoes before stepping into the knee deep water. It was cool, and felt refreshing after a whole morning of travel. "Now, stand under the water, and I'll toss the brush up into there," He pointed to the higher basin, "and that's all you have to worry about." Nodding, the Gelert moved under the waterfall that the fountain created, feeling the cool water immediately gush over his head. Would he have to travel all the way back to the Citadel soaking wet?
Layton untied the box and lifted the paint brush out of it, handing the empty cardboard box down to Tormo. Tandrak watched as he slithered into the fountain, moved close to the waterfall, and tossed the paint brush up into the other basin. The Gelert heard a 'plop' before the clear water turned purple before his eyes, and the transformation begun.
Being painted was a strange feeling, Tandrak decided. His whole body tingled, and after a moment glanced down at his arm. His blue fur darkened into a shade of purple, then lightened into a deep red. He watched his ears and tail turn to black, and felt his teeth and claws grow longer and sharpen. By far the strangest feeling, though, was the pressure on his back that grew and grew until his fur completed its color change. The pressure mounted, and right before it turned into pain he felt something burst from his back. An extra weight was suddenly present on his back, and he turned his head to be greeted by black, leathery, spiked wings.
The rest of the day was a blur for Tandrak. He stepped out of the fountain to his teammates patting him on the shoulders and congratulating him. Pets and owners passing by admired his new color. They went out to dinner in Neopia Central, and were then back at the Citadel by midnight.
His new wings were awkward, especially to sit or lie down with. His annoyance with the new appendages quickly changed to excitement, though, when Layton told him he'd teach the Gelert how to fly the following day.
Staring at the wall of the spare bedroom Layton had put together for him, Tandrak felt he truly had a good friend. He was friends with the whole team, of course, but he valued the Hissi's friendship over the others'. With little to his name and being the most inexperienced player on Darigan Citadel's yooyuball team, he was unsure how he would ever pay his friend back for all he had done.
It took Tandrak two days to learn how to fly.
It took a little more than two hours for him to soar into the headlines after his first professional Yooyuball game.
The media had been talking before the Cup, of course, about the darigan Gelert of the Citadel team that had appeared nearly out of thin air, but Tandrak never listened to any of it. He had no reason to, anyway. He knew nothing of the media and went into the cup hoping that Darigan Citadel would place in the top ten.
"We're not the best team out there," Layton had told the team a few days before the first match. "There are better funded teams like Faerieland and more experienced teams like Krawk Island, so all we can do is put up a fight."
And he listened to Layton, because Layton had stood beside him since the beginning, and Tandrak planned on standing beside Layton as long as he was on the team.
Layton stood beside him after they trumped Roo Island and secured their spot in finals. Waving to the crowd and smiling, reality hadn't set in yet for either of them.
He was there when Tandrak charged forward in the opening moments of the finals match and scored what would be Darigan's only goal. The Gelert was so ecstatic that he nearly tackled Layton instead of their usual passing high-five.
They stood beside each other, Kep, Tormo, and Mungo at their sides, as the silver medals were set around their necks by tournament officials. It wasn't first, but Tandrak couldn't have been happier when Layton slung his wing around the Gelert's neck and smiled for the dozens of cameras flashing in front of them.
Layton was there for him when, in a friendly match against Brightvale two months after the first Altador Cup, Tandrak suddenly tripped and fell, gripping his knee and howling in pain. It was probably a stress fracture, the doctors had said, and Tandrak did not take well to being bound in a cast and wobbling around on crutches.
"Layton, this is all I have! Yooyuball and the team, that's it! If I can't play next year, what am I gonna do? And what about the year after that? Surely you'll have to replace me, and—"
"Stop it!" The Hissi slammed his wings down on the dining room table of his apartment, effectively quieting the Gelert, "I know very well this is all you have, because I practically gave it all to you." He growled out before standing up straight and addressing Tandrak in a calmer manner, "Now, the doctors said it will heal as long as you stay of it, it will just take a good while. We have months until the next season starts, so stop worrying. You may not be able to practice as much as I would like, but your health is more important. I have no intention of replacing you, I assure you."
He later found out that Layton was, as he always seemed to be, right. Tandrak was shifted to center forward for the year 9 season, with Layton himself taking on a slightly more defensive role. Layton stood beside him again at the end of that season, this time hoisting a trophy up in the air as purple and black confetti fluttered down around them.
They stood beside each other—Darigan's unstoppable offense—for the next four seasons. Ups, downs, highs, lows—they were together through it all.
Relaxing in his hotel room on the morning of the first day of Altador Cup VII, Tandrak pulled up a chair next to the window that looked down on the famous stadium, tipping it back on two legs and balancing with the help of his feet on the windowsill. He could barely fathom the ordeals he had been through in the past seven years, but one friend, his best friend, had stood unchanging throughout it all. People have said that the seven years changed him—he had a big ego, an even bigger fanbase, and had become a monster on the field—but Tandrak knew that some things in his life will never change.
Even today, he could not put into words how thankful he was towards Layton, but he hoped that the Hissi understood his feelings through the never ending loyalty with which he played on the team. He hoped that Layton felt the same way he did, that at the end of the day there would always be someone there to prop him up.
He smiled, looking down over the stadium, causing his sharp fangs to peek out from his lips. He smiled because of his good friend, he smiled for the exciting match later that day, and he smiled as he grabbed his Yooyu sling off the desk, strapped on his spiked shoulder pad, and walked out the door to his team, the match, and his future.