After ACX: Part One
After AC X: Part One – Snow
At the start of every game of Yooyuball, the Goalies shake paws and take their places on the pitch, awaiting the rest of their teams. The roars in the stadium build to a crescendo as the rest of the players file out. As they take their places in front of their goalie, the commentators scream their names to the adoring fans. Tails twitching furiously, slings being rubbed for luck, they stare their counterparts down as they await the referee.
The players take their starting places, and then the real star of the game emerges. Not from the tunnel, like the other players, this one, spectacular being rises like the star it resembles from the centre of the pitch and bursts, beautiful, into its own position. After the briefest moment of adulation, the Referee blasts her whistle, and the Yooyuball curls, ready for the game to start.
Without the Yooyu, the game of Yooyuball would not exist. Other ball games do not have the excitement or energy required to become a unifying event.
When it comes to the Altador Cup, there is no shortage of comment pieces from a wide variety of sources. From the players to the commentators, the fans to the managers, everyone who is involved with the AC has an opinion, and their own views on the games that unite Neopia. But in every story, one viewpoint is missing. This is that missing viewpoint. * * *
The Snow Yooyu stretched and flexed. With a few gentle bounces, he got ready for the pre-game rituals. From the Snow pen, he watched the 11 referees joking and jostling as they lined up before Snargan. The Meridillian Skeith whipped the bowler hat off his head, grabbed a fistful of fake neopoints and tossed them in, proffering the hat to the first ref in line. The Yooyu shuffled closer to the front of the pen, gently bumping his friends out of the way so he could watch the mysterious referee selection process.
For the last three weeks of the tournament, he had been trying to work out how the referees were chosen for each match. As far as he could tell, each of the fake neopoints had a pitch number on it, plus two that were blank. One by one, the referees would reach blindly into the hat and retrieve a fake coin, shuffling to the side and gingerly peeking at their result. The Snow Yooyu wondered which matches they wanted to get, maybe they wanted to referee for particular teams? Some of them celebrated, some sighed with disappointment, some with relief as they checked their paws for the answer. The two who had the blank neopoints on this day high-fived, and left for the seats in the stands set aside for them.
The Snow Yooyu turned his back on the referees, pulling on their shirts and preparing themselves for the day’s work, and looked at his friends. Not for the first time, he thought it unfair that as Altador Cup Yooyus, they didn’t get names. Although he could remember his friends faces, interaction in the pens would be a lot nicer and simpler with a name.
“Hey,” said one of his friends, gently bumping him from behind. “Did you hear? Snows are being focused on the Alabriss bracket today.”
“Do you think the fans in the stadium know that the choice of us Yooyuballs isn’t entirely random?” he asked his friend. She flexed her arms gently, thinking hard.
“Do you think they should?” she countered.
“I don’t know. They put so much emphasis on keeping the choice of referees impartial, but they send us in large groups to one place or another. Doesn’t really seem fair, does it?”
“I guess,” but he could tell she didn’t really care about it. “I’m just hoping for Maraqua, you know how easy it is for us with them!”
“That’s another thing. Do you think the spectators know it hurts when they tackle and steal us?”
“Probably not. Why would they think about us?”
The Snow Yooyu started to respond, but he was interrupted. Snargan had arrived at their pen.
“Right, ladies and gents, let’s separate you up. Half to Alabriss, that can be you lot,” he grinned, drawing an imaginary line down the centre of the pen. The Snow Yooyus dutifully rolled apart to make the division more apparent. “And the rest, split between Minitheus and Vaeolus, alright? Let’s hustle folks, make it a good one!” he chuckled, wheezing slightly as he ticked something off on his clipboard, and turned to the other pens.
“Let’s go. If we can be first on the pitch, they won’t be desperate to tackle us!” muttered the Snow Yooyu, shunting his friend quickly towards the exit. The Snow Yooyus flooded towards the exit, ignoring the referees who hopped onto benches out of their way.
“Hey, I was thinking,” began his friend, as they peeled off into the first exit, making their way towards the first pitch. “Do you reckon next year will be easier or harder?”
“Personally, I can’t wait.” The Snow Yooyu muttered grimly, as the groundskeepers scooped up him and his colleagues by the armful. His friend followed him as they were dumped unceremoniously into a new pen. “Was that Shenkuu or Haunted Woods on our pen?”
His friend stretched, balanced precariously. “I can’t see, give me a boost.” The two strained forwards, “Haunted Woods!” and they collapsed.
“Can you remember what starting position they use most often?”
“Nope, not a clue.” He sighed. “Are you bored of doing this?”
His friend didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “Not yet. But I think I will be soon.”
“I understand. Still, one more year, right?”
“One more year.” They sighed deeply.
A thrill ran through the pen. “Was that the teams?” asked someone.
“Zo Junior, I heard.” someone else chimed in.
“Oh good, he’s their forward. They’ve got a three one system, it should be a fairly easy day.”
The roar of the crowd increased as the pedestal descended into the pit. As one, all the Yooyus in each pen looked up, waiting for the Peophin in charge of them to select the first Yooyu of the game. As always, the pink Neopet reached into the Regular Yooyu pen first, the Yooyu shivering with excitement as it was rolled onto the pedestal. The noise of the stadium above them gradually got quieter and quieter as the pedestal returned to the surface, and the game began.
“Place your bets now, petpets, who will be the focus today!” The Snow Yooyu listened to the clamour coming from the neighbouring Fire Yooyus pen. Of course it was a hideous stereotype, but the majority of Fire Yooyus were more often than not more outgoing than their Snowy friends.
The Snow Yooyu smiled slightly, remembering what it had been like to be so confident and so strong. He had loved being so fast, and loved that he was wanted on the pitch. As soon as he, as a Fire Yooyu, had arrived on the pedestal, a frisson of excitement had thrilled through the crowd, and he could feel the players focus all their attentions on him. It had been nice to be so powerful.
Contrary to popular opinion, it was harder to be Snow than Fire. With all the experience that came from being one of the seniors of the game, the strength from the years of defending oneself from desperate tackles with only seconds to go, it was hard to slow down. The instinct honed over the past five years begged to be used, the cold inside fighting to stop completely.
Neither the players nor the fans were ever pleased to see a Snow Yooyu bounce off the pedestal. It was obvious, the fans would slump back against their seats, the players didn’t charge quite as fast as they would have done otherwise.
Sometimes the players voiced their discontent, grumbling and shifting their slings so they didn’t come into contact with the ice cold petpet they were cradling. It wasn’t a nice feeling to be pushed away like that, but it was worse when they would directly address the Yooyu.
“Why did it have to be you, why couldn’t you have been Fire?” The vicious whispers were horrible, it wasn’t necessary at all, but sometimes not everyone was nice. The Terror Mountain team were nice though, they spent their training working with Snow Yooyu’s the most. They were always pleased to see a Snow Yooyuball appear on the pitch. Apparently, it reminded them of home, when they were baking in the Altadorian summer sun.
A mighty roar overhead interrupted the melancholic musings of the tired Snow Yooyu. The noise reverberated around the pit as the pedestal descended, ready to retrieve a new petpet. The Peophin swirled thoughtfully in a circle, surveying all the yooyu pens surrounding him. Coming to a decision, he advanced on the snow pen. With a sense of doom-ridden premonition, the Snow Yooyu could see what was going to happen, but managed to contain all but the tiniest of sighs, as he settled himself onto the pedestal. Three minutes, he reminded himself. That was the average game time for a Snow Yooyu.
The noise above him swelled to epic proportions as it grew brighter and brighter around him. The sunlight blinded him, and he instinctively uncurled and displayed his form, as the commentators screamed his species.
“AND IT’S A SNOW, ARE YOU READY FOR THE SNOW DAY?”
Taking a deep breath, he hovered, waiting for his cue. The audience waited with him, breathless with anticipation.
“ONE!” and the whistle shrieked.
To be continued…