Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 196,905,205 Issue: 951 | 24th day of Celebrating, Y23
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Fireworks, courtesy of Team Kreludor


by pikapi20

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Much like the patchwork of lands that made up Neopia below, the festive season on the moon of Kreludor was a time of great merriment where friends and families came together to celebrate the year that had passed and look forward to the year that was yet to come. Prior to the independence of the Grundo and contact being established with the Kreludan Moon Base, both the Day of Giving and New Year's Celebrations were unheard of in the outpost with the inhabitants having their own festivities linked to their own very unique calendar system. Since being introduced to them though, the Committee that ran Orange Central had welcomed them with open arms and New Year's in particular was marked with an exuberant fireworks display using exploding rockets. Lots and lots of rockets.

     It was this impressive show that drew together the playing staff of Team Kreludor at the Kreludan Yooyuball Federation's Headquarters, the complex being located just east of the Orange Central Moon Base and offering a fine view of the festivities that were due that evening (by Neopia Central Time). The team members had spent the Day of Giving away with their loved ones but had returned for what had become an annual tradition of watching the fireworks together. A tradition not exactly enjoyed by all. The food was good but given the large explosions involved, certain pets who had been hit in the face on more than one occasion by exploding Clockwork Yooyus found the whole thing more of an ordeal.

     The goalkeeper Jurin T. was not one of them. Striding down a short corridor towards the Headquarter's Cafeteria, the Red Ruki felt recharged having just returned on a chartered shuttle from spending the festival with his parents in the sands of the Lost Desert and was looking foward to what lay ahead. Not just the fireworks display though. It was in the upcoming weeks that his Captain and defacto Head Coach Derlyn Fonnet set out the plans for the year ahead and he just knew that this time the Altador Cup was coming back to Kreludor. He could smell it. And mixed spice. With a hint of... burning? Jurin stopped for a moment, somewhat perplexed. Through the door to the Cafeteria in front of him came his teammate Ealyn Hawkshanks, with a grave expression. "Wouldn't go in there if I were you, mate."

     Shaking his head, Jurin chose not to heed his friend's warning. Entering the purple pod that contained the Cafeteria, the Red Ruki surveyed the scene and was more than a little taken aback by what he found. The room came with many cutting edge food assembling devices for the convenience of the team but crouched in front of the less than high-tech oven was none other than his Captain Derlyn Fonnet. That would be surprising enough given that she hated cooking but that wasn't what had caught her goalkeeper's eye. The Purple Gnorbu was dressed in a full black tuxedo, a satin bow tie lying untied underneath the collar of her white dress shirt. It was the outfit she only usually wore for awards ceremonies. And baking, apparently.

     Oblivious to her colleague's presence, the defender donned her purple oven mitts and extracted what was supposed to be a fruit cake from the depths of the oven. On her third attempt, Derlyn had just about managed to make a fruit cake. Even if it was burnt on top, it was still a fruit cake. The perfectionist in her wasn't pleased though and she slapped her gloves down next to her creation before sighing heavily. The Purple Gnorbu had spent her festive season on Krawk Island with her old teammate Coco Metrone, exploring the Spotted Ogrin's new base of operations at Warf Wharf as well as acquiring this recipe in the process. She was disappointed that she hadn't done her friend justice.

     "I think it's... overdone," piped up Jurin, meekly.

     Derlyn turned to him. "I can see that," she replied bluntly.

     With a sympathetic smile, the Ruki spoke, "Can... I ask what the occasion is?"

     Sighing again, his Captain reached into the inside pocket of her tuxedo jacket before pulling out a hastily folded up piece of thick card that was trimmed with an ornately cut lace-like design. Handing it to her goalkeeper, Jurin opened it up and was confronted by equally intricate calligraphy that was pretty indecipherable. He got as far as 'You are' before giving up and looking to his friend for a translation. "Basically," Derlyn explained, "the Haunted Woods Team have been invited to attend Neovia's annual New Year's Eve Ball. They're all allowed to bring one guest and Brains thought he'd invite me to the formal dinner." She pointed to her concoction. "As long as I bring cake."

     The usually laid-back Jurin was aghast at this news and did a bad job of hiding it. He could understand his comrade wanting an excuse to skip the fireworks display as Derlyn was easily the team member that found the event the hardest to endure and yet she did so every year out of loyalty to her friends. That wasn't the issue. "You want to go... to the Haunted Woods... alone... at night?!" gasped the Red Ruki, his concern for the safety of his teammate manifesting slightly theatrically. Clearly forgetting that this wasn't her first visit to the actually quite pleasant Neovia.

     Derlyn lowered her eyebrows. "Brains" Mortigan, defender with Team Haunted Woods, had been her pen pal for many a moon having bonded over just that. The Zombie Usul had a fondness for stargazing from his crypt by the Deep Catacombs and it was a fascination that they both shared. They had actually hung out on many occasions - including sightseeing around Neovia itself. So the Gnorbu had no intention of standing him up this time. "I am not dignifying that with a response," she retorted sharply before snatching her invitation from the goalkeeper's grasp. Grabbing her now cooled fruit cake with her other hand, the defender left the Cafeteria. She had a chartered shuttle to catch.

     -----

     The Headquarters of the Kreludan Yooyuball Federation consisted of a large grey central dome surrounded on all sides by many orange and purple coloured pods that were connected to it and each other through a series of corridors. Underneath the central dome lay the main indoor training pitch that Team Kreludor used, its sandy surface mimicking the conditions they would face in the annual tournament in Altador. Though at the moment, training was the last thing on Jurin's mind. Having summoned his teammates to an emergency meeting to discuss the welfare of their Captain, he found himself facing his friends as they sat on one of the many benches that flanked the playing area. And they weren't best pleased.

     Taking a small intake of breath, the Red Ruki centred himself. "I supposed you're all wondering why I called this emergency meeting," he began as the twin Grundo terrors grumbled to themselves that he had delayed their lunch, "but I can assure you this is of the utmost importance." The trio were far from convinced. "As you can see, Dee isn't here with us. Well, instead of viewing the annual Orange Central Fireworks Display with us she has decided to accept an invitation from Team Haunted Woods to attend a New Year's Eve Ball in Neovia." They still weren't convinced. "She is attending this event alone and I am deeply concerned about her safety. There is no telling what sort of monsters are lurking just behind the trees not to mention the plethora of werelupes in those parts!"

     There was silence.

     Before his teammates burst out laughing.

     "Harrr, harrr, harrr!! You be too overprotective of the Capt'n, lad!" scoffed Ealyn, heartily.

     Wiping a tear away, Qlydae Wegg couldn't believe what he was hearing. The Orange Grundo quite happily piled on, "I'm sorry but I thought you'd met Derlyn Fonnet. You know. The Derlyn Fonnet. The myth. The legend. The scourge of the Yooyuball Field." The left forward was trying ever so hard to stop laughing but he couldn't quite manage it. "I'd happily wager that she is far more terrifying than anything you could find "lurking" in the Haunted Woods!"

     Zenor Kevix was clutching his sides at this point, having laughed so hard at his increasingly frustrated goalkeeper. So much for camaraderie. "Seriously Jay," the Blue Grundo eventually managed to muster, "Dee wouldn't look out of place ON Team Haunted Woods!"

     The laughing abruptly stopped.

     "She wouldn't... would she?" queried the suddenly less assured Wegg.

     "Don't be ridiculous!" countered the Pirate Quiggle, "The Capt'n be as loyal as they come!!"

     "...I wouldn't blame her if she did... we are... a lot..." mumbled a melancholic Kevix.

     A feeling of dread crept up the thorax of Team Kreludor's goalkeeper. He had been so looking forward to the upcoming campaign that the notion his best friend's future could potentially lie away from the moon had never crossed his mind. Until now. She had spent the Day of Giving with their old teammate Coco Metrone after all. What if she had convinced her that further adventures lay elsewhere? One thing was for sure: Jurin was not going to give up his Captain without a fight. "If Dee is thinking about jumping ship," he declared to his comrades, "then we need to do everything we can to convince her otherwise!" The trio looked at each other. "Who's with me?"

     There was another silence.

     "Pass," stated Wegg simply. It went without saying just how much the Orange Grundo valued Derlyn as both a friend and as a teammate, even if the truth was that he would never say it. Ever. He knew he would never live it down and, frankly, he had a reputation to uphold. He also knew that it was pretty much impossible to convince the Purple Gnorbu to do anything she didn't want to do. That stubbornness made her one of the best defenders in the game - but it wasn't great when it came to discussing training itineraries. He was not looking forward to whatever plans she had for the following year if she did happen to stay. With any luck, he'd be the next Captain and there wouldn't be any more hikes. Ugh.

     "The thing is," Kevix began softly, "I would of course love Derlyn to stay on as our Captain. I don't believe there is any pet here who wouldn't want that." The right forward paused before inadvertently articulating Wegg's stance. "However, there is also no pet here that is capable of convincing Dee to stay if she doesn't want to." There was a reason why the twin nickname had stuck. Unlike his comrade though, the Blue Grundo had a more considered position. "The main thing is that she is happy. Yes, we thought she was happy here but maybe she'd be happier somewhere else. None of us thought Coco needed a change of scenery but look how well she's done at Krawk Island."

     "That's the sea air for you, mate, much better than this here filtrated stuff," mused Ealyn mostly to himself. As a Pirate, the centre forward had both a healthy disrespect for authority in general but a fierce loyalty to both his crew and in particular his Captain. The Purple Gnorbu was single-handedly responsible for helping him acquire his spacelegs when he first moved to Kreludor and had allowed him to flourish in his new surroundings. His loyalty was resolute and he was sure that her's was too. "The Capt'n is not goin' anywhere. I don't know what has gotten into you scallywags! I'm certainly not missin' these fireworks on a wild Gobbler chase." Shaking his head, the Quiggle stated, "You be the first mate, lad. If you're worried about the Capt'n, that be your responsibility."

     Jurin frowned. "Fine, I'll go by myself." He paused. "But I'm taking your 'ship, Wegg."

     The Orange Grundo threw him his keys.

     "Don't let any "monster" scratch it. I just had it detailed."

     -----

     The festive season in the city of Neovia was a decidedly different affair to the one enjoyed by the inhabitants of the moon of Kreludor. As the celestial body rose above the treeline of the Haunted Woods, its light glistened softly on the snowfall that carpeted the roofs of the many stone-clad buildings that made up the settlement. A large, highly decorated evergreen tree that had been specifically imported from Happy Valley by the Town Council took pride of place in the Town Square and the surrounding buildings were equally festive in their decor with string lights abound. Revellers wandered the cobbled streets looking for the best view for the upcoming ringing of the Clock Tower's bells and fireworks display as carolers on street corners sang many a merry tune.

     It was in this atmosphere of goodwill and cinnamon that Jurin found himself exploring Neovia's lanes for the very first time. As usual, Derlyn was right. She had always said that it was somewhere worth a visit and he certainly agreed. The locals were friendly too... at least, he hoped that's what it was. The first shop he wandered into happened to be that of tailors Prigpants and Swolthy. The Red Ruki explained to them all about having to find his Captain and they insisted on selling him a chimney sweep's outfit to help him fit in. Flat cap, shirt, braces, trousers and of course a chimney sweep's broom. Walking around with it slung over one of his shoulders, he was starting to feel as though he'd been had.

     At least they were right about the Ball. Ahead of the goalkeeper was the Town Hall of Neovia, where he had been told the annual New Year's Eve Ball was taking place. You could tell because of the small crowd of high society pets loitering around the entrance who were either on their way home after a night of festivities or to a better vantage point for the upcoming show. The hustle and bustle allowed the Ruki to slip by almost unnoticed to any guards who hadn't clocked off for the evening and into the Town Hall itself. Inside, the room was festooned with decorations and string lights hanging from the rafters whilst the polished wooden floor was surrounded by many a table that still had some food left. There was still plenty of pets about for both that and the music being played by the band in the corner.

     Carefully making his way to a window without drawing too much attention to himself, Jurin then surveyed the room to find his Captain. It wasn't too difficult as she was the only pet there wearing a tuxedo. She was in a crowd of pets containing Team Haunted Woods near the band. He was about to go over to her when she started laughing at something Brains had said. He stopped himself. What was it that Kevix had said? At that moment, the Ruki couldn't remember the last time he had seen his friend laugh. He couldn't even remember the last time she had looked so happy. It wasn't to last.

     "For Mira's sake," Derlyn muttered to herself upon spotting Jurin out of the corner of her eye. He froze. He'd been rumbled. Silently slipping away as Brains made the rest of the crowd laugh with another one of his witty anecdotes, the Purple Gnorbu nonchalantly made her way over to her teammate before doing her very best not to make a scene. "Please do not tell me," she whispered as quietly as she could given her annoyance, "that you did not get on a spaceship all the way to Neovia to make sure I wasn't eaten." The Red Ruki opened his mouth before closing it again. "I would like to remind you, that I am the most terrifying defender in the modern history of the Altador Cup." Subtly gesturing to her fellow players, "And yes, I include present company."

     Her goalkeeper hesitated. "I..." He stopped before changing tact. "The team and I were concerned..." he eventually got going, "that you were being scouted by the Haunted Woods." His Captain looked bewildered, to say the very least. "I came here to convince you to stay with us but..." Derlyn's expression did not improve. "...you just looked so happy with those guys. The happiest I've seen you in a long time." Jurin's eyes dropped to the floor. "So, if you want to join the Haunted Woods I won't stand in your way. You're my best friend and all I've ever wanted is for you to be happy."

     To say Derlyn was taken aback was something of an understatement. "Happy?" she mused, crossing her arms, "How can you expect me to be happy when I have to put up with you lot all the time!" She winced as she watched her comrade's face crumble in an instant. "Oh, wow." Her own face dropped. "Um." Clearly deadpan humour was something to be left to Brains. "Look..." she comforted before swallowing slightly, "...I... love you guys. And Kreludor. And there isn't a thing in this galaxy that could drag me away from all of it. Let me be clear: I'm not leaving. Ever." She was serious. She was already planning on how to become Chairpet of the Federation when she retired. "That said... you guys are a lot, sometimes." Playing 3+1 didn't help. To her relief, a smile finally appeared on Jurin's face.

     "Iiis thaaat yooouuu, Juuuriiin?" crept a familiar voice from behind the Gnorbu, Brains having noticed the disappearance of his counterpart during his riveting social commentary regarding tombstone pricing. The Zombie Usul, sporting a fetching dress coat and his finest pantaloons, tilted his head ever so slightly before noting, "Haaalloooweeeeeen waaas twooo mooonths aaagooo!" The two defenders laughed as the Ruki did his best not to blush. Putting it down to his friend mistakenly thinking this was a masquerade ball, he changed the topic of conversation. "Weee'reee heeeaaadiiing dooown tooo theee Caaataaacooombs fooor aaa quuuiiieeeteeer viiieeew ooof theee fiiireeewooorks. Yooouuu caaan joooiiin uuus iiif yooouuu waaant."

     The chimney sweep grinned in delight. Soon enough the remaining crowd within the Town Hall began to filter through the entrance of the grand old building and head off into the cold winter's night. Watching as his friends headed towards the door, Jurin was about to set off with them... when he felt a sharp tap on the top of his shoulder. Turning around, he saw what could only be a member of the Town Council hovering over him with a clipboard in his paw. "Ah, good," muttered the well-turned-out Aisha, complete with a fine moustache and accompanying top hat, "You've turned up early. Excellent. The Hall's chimney really ought to have been done months ago but we can't have everything."

     Jurin's eyes widened as he was grabbed by one of his many arms and led away.

     "Oh... Mira."

     The End.

 
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