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Afternoons at Exquisite Ambrosia

by cosmicfire918


Yooyuball season is upon us! At the start of every summer, Altador comes alive with the love of its national sport. Fans flock to the city-state, the economy responds in turn, and everywhere you look, people are arguing about which team is best. Ahh, athletics at its finest.

My own family is not immune to the wonder and the glory that is the Altador Cup. We’ve been following Team Kreludor since the first modern (post-Darkest-Faerie) Cup, and we’ve gained an appreciation of the fine nuances of Yooyuball, aspects that might not be readily apparent to the casual observer. Not only are the players’ stats fun to track and their athletic feats awe-inspiring, but the Altador Cup has a more personal side to it as well. It’s about Neopets of all walks of life coming together to enjoy the game they love. It’s about teamwork, sportsmanship, and staying positive in the face of difficulty and loss.

Which means the players are lauded as heroes by their fans and homelands, something I think they rightfully deserve. While some let the fame and adulation go to their heads, many other professional Yooyuballers remain humble—which just makes them that much more admirable.

That means nearly everybody wants to meet these stars of the sports world, which can lead to a lot of stress for individuals who would rather not be swarmed with legions of strangers asking for autographs. It’s always best to give Altador Cup athletes their space and approach them as you would any other Neopet. Most of the time, that means just leaving them alone so they can concentrate on their job.

But a few weeks before the Altador Cup, before the mass migration of spectators, the teams themselves quietly slip into the city to gear up for the tournament. They train in the stadium and discuss logistics and regulations with the Altador Cup Committee—and when they need some downtime, they head to Exquisite Ambrosia.

The oldest and most popular restaurant in the city, Exquisite Ambrosia is a favourite eatery of many prominent figures, including several of the Altadorian Council—I hear King Altador is especially fond of their Ionic Bread. But this place isn’t as exclusive and uppity as, say, Kelp. It caters to anyone who walks through its doors, and the head chef does his best to keep his establishment feeling casual and friendly.

So those of us who live in Altador have gotten quite used to seeing some familiar Yooyuball-playing faces dining there in the last weeks of Hunting.

Now, I’m all for giving Neopets their personal space, but when you find yourself a table away from Layton Vickles, it’s kind of hard not to overhear some conversations. I’m not exactly brazen enough to interrupt someone’s dining for an impromptu interview—but I certainly recorded what I’ve been seeing at Exquisite Ambrosia these past few weeks, as my Neopets and I may or may not have been waiting for some Team Kreludor players to show up.

First off, the aforementioned Mr. Vickles. At first he was sitting at a table by himself, nibbling at some grapes. Which I thought was odd. Why were none of his teammates with him?

Then someone called his name, and he looked up and smiled—at a yellow Eyrie. My eyes bulged to see Fiorina sit down across from the Darigan team captain, especially when the two started chatting and laughing like old friends.

As the conversation progressed, it became clear to me that the history and politics of their two nations has not prevented Layton and Fiorina from developing a tight friendship. Far from what one would expect, Team Darigan is actually on quite good terms with Team Meridell, whose fiercest rivals are really Team Brightvale.

Despite rumblings of unrest that still echo from the Meridell Wars, Layton and Fiorina wish for both their countries to put the past behind them and learn to work together. It brought a bit of moisture to my eyes to see a Hissi whose family had served in Darigan’s military and an Eyrie farmgirl who had witnessed firsthand the devastation of Meri Acres sitting down to share a plate of Spicy Hummus.

From their conversation, I learned that they have co-founded a charitable organization that aids veterans and victims of the Meridell Wars, on both sides. They also seem to have no patience for Meridellians or Draconians who continue to antagonise the other country, and hope that their teams’ respect for each other on and off the field will inspire similar feelings of amity in their homelands. It really opened my eyes to a side of Team Darigan we rarely hear about.

Another time, I walked in to Exquisite Ambrosia to find Foltaggio with his new Altador teammates clustered around him, listening rapt to what he was saying. I soon followed suit from the next booth over, as I realised he was telling stories about “old Altador”—before the time bubble sealed it off from Neopia for a thousand years.

It turns out the shadow Mynci is actually from ancient Altador. Back in those days, he was still playing Yooyuball, and when the Darkest Faerie attempted to take over, he was accidentally flung nearly a millennium into the future.

Finding his beloved city gone, Foltaggio wandered north, into Shenkuu, where he started a new life for himself and began teaching the locals about his favourite sport. Thus, when the nation was rediscovered by the rest of Neopia, they already had a local Yooyuball league going, primed and ready to take on the Altador Cup.

For the first few years of the Cup’s return, Foltaggio continued to play for his new home, but he never stopped wanting to return to Altador, and finally in the Y13-Y14 offseason, he and Team Altador were able to negotiate a contract.

Now, as technically the oldest member of the team by at least several centuries, Foltaggio enjoys a level of veneration that he never really commands. Rather, he just loves getting to teach his teammates all he’s learned about their sport.

Some Neopets just have the ability to turn heads wherever they go, and Crade Talvos is one of those Neopets. Wraith Draiks are imposing to begin with, and being on Team Haunted Woods gives Talvos that extra air of menace that makes even the waiters approach him with caution. So as I dug into my order of Baked Quince and watched Crade eat lunch with his team, I wondered what I could glean about the Draik behind the terrifying visage.

Talvos continued to be a bit of an enigma, even though he seemed to open up slightly to his teammates as the afternoon wore on. It seems he’s a bit overwhelmed by his immense popularity with fans, which can sometimes border on creepy—evidently there was a past incident where a human owner attempted to trade her well-named UC Royalgirl Kyrii to the team in exchange for Crade. I can understand now why he’s so distant.

Still, the rest of the team was trying their best to help him feel at home in the limelight. He and Fanetti were discussing defensive plays, and I think I even heard a few witty asides from “Brains” Mortigan, whose plate was empty while the others dined. Apparently Mortigan gets his sustenance elsewhere. I tried not to think about it too much.

It’s also always interesting to learn about Yooyuballers’ hobbies when not playing their professional sport. Some might surprise you—like Leera Heggle’s love of Cobrall charming.

I spotted the massive Camouflage Kau captain with a few of his Lost Desert teammates one bright afternoon, sitting on the outside terrace of Exquisite Ambrosia and enjoying the summer sun while snacking on figs. Heggle was telling Vonde Cayle and Rhee Solters about the Petpet Cobrall he had as a boy, and to this day he keeps several at his Lost Desert home, where his family cares for them during the Yooyuball season.

Leera’s size belies his calm, patient, and approachable demeanour, as from his conversation he is really quite good with Petpets of all sorts, and regularly donates to several shelters for abandoned Petpets throughout the Lost Desert. He mentioned that after his eventual retirement – emphasis on eventual – he would like to focus more on his Cobrall charming.

I was also interested to learn that Vonde Cayle enjoys cooking, and for the Desert Wocky, one of the highlights of the Altador Cup is getting to check out all of the restaurants and food suppliers in the city. He always goes home with new ingredients and new recipe ideas, but not before trying them out on his teammates. Not that it’s a very onerous chore for them, as Cayle seems to be quite the chef.

Unfortunately, not all teams get along with each other so well. Team Maraqua is notorious for its lack of camaraderie, due entirely to one big-headed little fellow by the name of Elon Hughlis. His self-centered antics on the field are legendary, and I am sorry to report that the way he treats his teammates off the field is not much better. At lunch he constantly demanded their attention while he spoke of sponsorship deals and relived his greatest plays, and complained loudly when he discovered Exquisite Ambrosia did not serve Spicy Radish Salad.

The other team members looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and I tried my best to hide my grimaces with bites of baklava. Oten Runeu has recently made big news in the press by stating that he would like a female team member, someone easier to get along with—and of course that has everyone speculating that he was implying that he would like to replace Hughlis.

After watching the Maraquan Acara’s performance at lunch, I might actually have to agree with those theories. The only things keeping Hughlis on the team are his skill and his fame, but I think the Acara is due for a wakeup call. The rest of his team just has to take the plunge and stop fearing his tantrums.

After that debacle, I was in dire need of a palate cleanser—and that’s when Team Kreludor walked in. I nearly choked on my baklava. There they were, the five Neopets my family and I would be cheering for all next month. The ones whose team colours we would proudly bedeck our house with, much to the annoyance of our neighbors.

It’s funny how public figures can seem larger than life until you meet them in person. On the field, Yooyuball players, even the Kikos and Chias, can look monumental. But when they walk past your table at Exquisite Ambrosia you realise that they’re just normal Neopets like everybody else. Well, except for excelling at Yooyuball and getting paid for it.

Derlyn Fonnet, interestingly enough, has come under fire from some fans and analysts for her petite stature and the fact that she did not start playing Yooyuball until she attended university. However, I think that claims that her size and inexperience make her a liability are unfounded. She puts as much effort and spirit into her sport as Neopets twice her size, and as I watched her eat with her teammates, I noticed how cohesive they all are.

Team Kreludor travels the farthest to the Cup of any of the teams—even Team Virtupets is closer, as the Space Station’s orbit is in a gravitationally stable point between Neopia and Kreludor’s orbit. Because of their status as literal outsiders, Team Kreludor has banded together and really become a family in an admirable fashion. Even Ealyn Hawkshanks, who originally hails from Krawk Island, was treated like the rest of the team had known him their whole lives.

It once again served to remind me what the Altador Cup is about. It’s not really so much about who wins or loses—I mean, just the fact that these teams make it to the Cup year after year shows how skilled and dedicated they are. Rather, it’s about having fun, playing your personal best, and coming together to accomplish as a team what no one Neopet can do alone. Truly, most of the Altador Cup athletes are an inspiration to us all.

And if you’re wondering, yes, I did get Team Kreludor’s autographs that day.

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