Moonrise: The Origins of Team Kreludor
Chapter One: Moonshot!
On a crisp spring morning in the mountaintops of the city of Shenkuu, the sweet aroma from the blossoming cherry trees that lined many a walkway and courtyard filled the cool mountain air that wafted throughout the land. With only faint wisps of cloud in the distance and the ubiquitous mists far below the settlement, locals took the opportunity to wander around the many paths and bridges to view the pale pink flowers in their prime before any late frost caught them. Sat atop one of the highest peaks, the grounds of the Lunar Temple had even been opened by the Wise Gnorbu to allow families and youngsters to explore the blossoms within.
He wasn't entirely convinced that it had been his... wisest idea. As families sat on the grass below the tumbling petals and gazed up at their beauty whilst having a nice sip of something warming, the Master of the Temple had a group of unaccompanied children pretty much-running rings around him. Nothing particularly malicious you understand but a bit too... excitable this early on in the day. Deciding that he might as well use this rare chance to engage with the younger generation about just what the Lunar Temple did, he cleared his throat somewhat loudly to grab their attention. "It is great to see you all so excited about being here today," he began softly, "and I'm sure you have many questions about what we do here..."
Not really. They were mainly there for the free refreshments that had been provided by the Temple's Staff. At the back of the ragtag group though, a tiny purple paw eagerly shot up into the air. Sighing softly to himself in relief that at least somepet had come for something other than some herbal tea, the Gnorbu pointed to the young one as the crowd parted. Pulling her paw back down, the little Purple Gnorbu used it to nervously pat down her frizzy orange fringe before tightly grasping both straps of her beaten-up backpack. Taking a deep breath, she belted out far louder than she had intended, "Y-You keep the Moon company when it's lonely at night."
Cue laughter from her peers.
As the Wise Gnorbu tried to settle them down, Derlyn silently slipped away.
Located in a prime position in the main marketplace, the Fonnet Family Shopfront was known throughout the city of Shenkuu for the rare wares which it stocked that originated far beyond the borders of the sprawling empire. With living quarters above the store and a small courtyard behind, it was to the boxed-in sandy surface that Derlyn retreated to after her latest faux pas. Kicking a football over and over again against the wall of her home, the Purple Gnorbu's cheeks still burned with embarrassment. She was just so awkward. Around everypet. No matter how hard she tried. She was never going to fit in. These thoughts kept circling around her head until finally she sighed heavily.
Picking up her football, she sat in the corner of the courtyard and rested her chin on it. It was fine. She didn't need to fit in - she liked being different. She just wished that she had somepet she could play football with. Her father was originally a travelling merchant from Neopia Central who settled in Shenkuu after meeting her mother... not that he'd let on to anypet else where he got his exotic stock from though. He liked football so Derlyn liked football. The neighbour kids however played cuju and since she couldn't even manage to talk to them, she had no idea how to join in. And with her parents regularly away on business, she was often alone.
But never lonely.
The Moon kept her company. No matter what she said, no matter how painfully awkward or utterly ridiculous, it always listened and it never judged her. It was just always there. No matter what. Sometimes she felt sorry for it, being all alone in the sky all night. But when she was even littler, Derlyn had promised that she was always going to be there for it just like it was with her. She had even promised it that one day she was going to find somepet to play football with.
In the ever-lengthening shadow of the imposing bronze Poet Statue which marked the entrance to the Deep Catacombs beneath Neopia Central's Main Shops, a steady stream of football fans headed home from the final game of the season at the newly crowned Champions' stadium. The Coin Shop Collectors FC, or just The Collectors to their fans, had just been presented with the Division One Trophy in front of a boisterous crowd after having won back-to-back titles for the first time in the Club's history. They were a young team led by their even younger Captain, Derlyn Fonnet, but they had managed to pull off something quite special - and something that their fans could hold on to given the uncertain future that could very well lay ahead.
Lying on the turf one final time, the Purple Gnorbu's eyes couldn't help but be drawn to the newly risen Moon. She was going to miss the grass. The defender had travelled all the way from Shenkuu to Neopia Central to ply her trade as a five-a-side footballer, something her parents didn't entirely approve of. Things had been going so well but now? Crowds were down. A new game called 'Yooyuball' had taken Neopia by storm and there were rumours abound that the Leagues were changing to this new game. She was willing to make the switch but she knew it wouldn't be easy. Sitting up, she spotted the team's Manager on the touchline speaking to... somepet. Raising an eyebrow, she scrambled to her feet before heading to the goalmouth behind her.
"Hey!" she called out to her goalkeeper as she approached, catching the Red Ruki off guard. Jurin T. stood to attention, mostly out of habit. It had been a long season. Reaching her teammate, the Purple Gnorbu opted for a much quieter tone so the rest of the stadium wouldn't hear, "Who's that talking to the Gaffer?" She tilted her head slightly before squinting, causing a small smile to appear on her companion's face.
"Seriously, Dee?" laughed Jurin, surprised that she didn't know. He finished packing away his towel and goalkeeping gloves into the kitbag that he kept on the outside of the goalpost during matches before continuing, "That's the President of the Kreludan Yooyuball Federation." A puzzled expression emerged on Derlyn's face. The Orange Grundo was a long way from the Moon. "The city of Altador is planning on having a Cup where the lands of Neopia play each other in Yooyuball. Kreludor has been sending scouts all over to try to put a team together. I heard they're struggling to manage it as there's fighting back home..." Her expression didn't improve. "Anyway, they're after you. I thought the Gaffer mentioned it?"
He had not. And she certainly wasn't going to be bounced out of what felt like the first family she'd ever had. Lowering her eyebrows, the Purple Gnorbu frowned, "Yeah, no. I'm not interested." Her goalkeeper was taken aback. "The Collectors need me. I'm not walking out on this team. If it..." She paused, collecting her thoughts. "If it wasn't for The Collectors giving me a trial when I first came to Neopia Central, there's no telling where I would be. Or even who." The Red Ruki frowned as his friend finished, "I'm not leaving for the first offer I get out of here."
Jurin crossed his arms. "I get that, believe me, I do," he tried to reason with his friend, "but Dee, be serious." He sighed heavily before reluctantly continuing, "We both know there might not be a team next season with all this talk about switching to Yooyuball." Derlyn looked to the ground. "And if there is, there's no telling if we'll be any good. I certainly don't know how to play Yooyuball! But you've actually got a job offer and a pretty good one at that. You could be a pioneer of Yooyuball on the Moon for Fyora's sake!" His friend looked up. "Also, it's kinda the Moon. You know, the Moon. You'll probably get to live there and everything." He wasn't jealous at all. Nope. "I just... don't want you to regret turning this down."
His Captain smiled. "So you'll be fine without me?"
"As long as I get your telescope. You won't need it any more, anyway."
"...Wait. Can you repeat that?"
Derlyn's head was spinning. Almost as fast as the ceiling fan above her in the office of The Coin Shop Collectors' Chairpet. The room had been commandeered for the purposes of a very unlikely pitch, both in origin and content. Not that a certain Orange Grundo thought so. "Absolutely!" Grinning, the dark orange-suited administrator repeated, "As the President of the newly-founded Kreludan Yooyuball Federation, I can attest that we have been scouring the many lands of Neopia for the best up-and-coming young players such as yourself to compete on our behalf in the inaugural Altador Cup competition." Clenching his fist dramatically, he continued, "Our scouts have determined that you would be both the perfect fit for our defensive line-up, as well as the very first Captain for our proud national team, leading us into our very first competitive fixtures this summer!"
The Purple Gnorbu, folded her arms before leaning back in her chair opposite the Grundo's de facto desk, a frown having yet to leave her lips. "No, not that." Sighing loudly, she shook her head. The first half was pretty generic, the sort of bluster that was the norm for sport. It was the second half that she was struggling to get her head around. And was causing some serious reservations. Narrowing her eyes, she queried, "What was that about tactics and...?"
"Ah, yes," interjected President Rigel. Clearing his throat, he advised, "As the Captain of the Kreludor National Team, it will be your responsibility to devise gameplay tactics, playing strategy, overall Yooyuballing philosophy as well as training programs both on Neopia and with the cutting-edge technology at our disposal within the Orange Central Moon Base." Derlyn wrinkled her freckled nose. She had heard him correctly after all. Too bad he wasn't finished. "You will be able to mould our young, hungry group of eager recru-"
"Yeah, that." The defender could feel herself squirming in her seat. She didn't even know how to play Yooyuball yet the Federation was seemingly expecting her to put together then run an entire Yooyuball Program in the space of a couple of weeks. That just wasn't feasible. Sure, she was a Captain but she had no coaching experience and if they wanted to get anywhere then that was exactly what was needed. Granted there wasn't exactly a plethora of expert coaches outside of Altador but frankly any sort of sports coach would do. At all. Concern evident in her tone, the Purple Gnorbu probed, "Aren't you getting a Manager in... or a Head Coach... or somepet else...?"
President Rigel was puzzled. "Why would we need a Manager when we have a Captain?"
Derlyn closed her eyes. It took a moment for his words to sink in. Clearly, something was being lost in translation - probably owing to the chain of command on your average spaceship. The Captain was in charge, not the Manager. Arguing this point to somepet that was evidently not an expert in sports was just a waste of breath. The Purple Gnorbu knew that if she had any sense she would walk right out of the door and start making plans for whatever the next season with The Collectors brought. But something stopped her from doing it. In hindsight, she would blame Jurin for getting her into this mess. Opening her eyes, she fixed them onto the Orange Grundo ahead of her. "I'll think about it."
"Excellent!" enthused President Rigel, jumping up from his seat behind the desk. Bounding over to the defender, he shook her by the paw and declared, "I shall see you on Kreludor then!" Before Derlyn could point out that that was not what she had said, he had already left the office triumphantly. Shaking her head once more, she couldn't help but worry what off Neopia she'd got herself into this time.
Strapped into the backseat of a somewhat dated chartered shuttle provided on behalf of the Kreludan Yooyuball Federation and hurtling through space at many Mira per hour towards the moon of Neopia, the newly appointed Captain of Team Kreludor was having second thoughts. Partly about accepting such a position despite her complete lack of experience but mostly about that can of Neocola she had had with her breakfast. Rattling up and down at such a rate that she could feel her teeth vibrating, Derlyn Fonnet wasn't sure that she was ever going to get used to space travel. The spaceship was shaking so much that throughout the trip she never once opened her eyes.
Coming to a halt on the surface of Kreludor with a thud, the Purple Gnorbu couldn't wait to disembark. Hurriedly undoing her seatbelt, she just wanted to feel something solid under her feet once more. Jumping out of the shuttle... she bounced straight off the ground. And into the side of the Orange Central Moon Base. Landing in a pile on the rocky floor, the defender rolled onto her back and looked upwards to the starless void above. She was sure that's not what Jurin had meant by her not needing a telescope any more as the stars would come out during the lunar nighttime. But still. Not particularly welcoming.
"Maybe it's not too late to go back to The Collectors," Derlyn muttered to herself as she cautiously rose to her feet. Shaking the moondust from her orange mane, something caught the corner of her eye. Turning around, a crescent world of Neopia twinkled like a jewel in the vastness of space. The Purple Gnorbu could feel the fur stand up on the back of her neck. It reminded her of how she felt when she first looked up at the Moon as a small child growing up in Shenkuu. She could see Shenkuu from here. And now she was on the Moon. Her oldest friend.
To be continued…