A Dangerous Gamble
A rousing Eyrie bash was underway in Neopia Central. Eyries from all around the planet had gathered to throw a gigantic party together. Crimson-eyed Eyries from the Darigan Citadel shared stories with the glimmering scaled denizens of the Maraquan deeps, and Eyries from the snowy peaks of Terror Mountain stood together with their island cousins. Everybody at the party was having a great time. Everybody, that is, except Branston the disco lord.
Branston was miserable. He stood in a corner by the refreshment table by himself, enviously watching the crowd of cheerful Eyries talking and laughing with each other. Each time Branston tried to engage anybody in a conversation about disco dancing, the game of Cheat, or how wonderful he was, they always made excuses and found a reason to leave him. How insulting, he thought to himself as he picked up a strawberry Eyrie cookie from the pastry tray and angrily bit off one of the cookie’s wings. It seemed like everyone was going out of their way to avoid him. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing! He was the most handsome Eyrie in Neopia, not to mention the best dancer and the best gamer too. He took a moment to bask in his glory as the acknowledged champion of Cheat, the greatest game ever played.
A loud laugh cut across the noise of the crowd, and Branston looked towards the entrance and stiffened with anger. Deadeye had entered the party with a crowd of rowdy sailors in tow. That arrogant Eyrie pirate was the bane of Branston’s existence, and they shared a mutual hatred brought to a boil by their infrequent encounters. The disco lord hissed in rage as the pirate’s boasts were momentarily carried above the commotion of the crowd.
“Why, of course, I’m the best Eyrie gamer in Neopia! Just look at me! I’m the toughest Bilge Dice player, which is by far the best game in Neopia, and don’t forget how dashingly handsome I am.”
“Well, look what the Neopian Navy dragged in!” Branston snarled as he pushed his way through the crowd towards his rival. “First you steal treasure from sailing ships, now you steal the title from an honest hardworking Neopian!”
“Oh yeah?” the pirate retorted. “What title? You mean the title of ‘Best Eyrie Gamer in Neopia’? I’d be insulted by your comment, but I realized that you couldn’t hold that title with an extra set of hands. Why, you’re still ranked in the lowest tier of that idiotic card game.”
Branston gaped in rage at his audacity, and then angrily replied, “Everyone knows that is just so I get a good spot at the next championships. Why don’t you prove your worth, Eyrie to Eyrie?”
“I will!” Deadeye snarled back and put up his fists. “Scared to come any closer, coward?”
“You wish!” The disco lord snapped back as he edged closer to his opponent, his fists held protectively in front of his face.
“Stop it, both of you!” a commanding voice rang out across the noise of the crowd, and the two rivals were momentarily frozen in surprise as the master Eyrie archer Talinia stepped between them. “I’ve had enough of your idle boasting. I’m sick of listening to both of you brag and insult each other about your gaming skills. Why don’t you challenge each other to a match and be done with it?” Deadeye and Branston both stopped and stared at her for a moment.
The pirate was the first to overcome his shock. “Alright, I challenge you to a game of Bilge Dice,” Deadeye said confidently.
Branston gave him an evil glare. “So you pick the game that you’re best at? Well, in that case I challenge you to a game of Cheat!”
“That’s enough!” Talinia growled, clearly fed up with their bickering. “Pick a game that neither of you have played before.” Both players glared at her for a moment, and then turned to glare at each other.
“Slot machines,” Branston snapped.
“Takes no skill. Even you could win at it.”
“Oh yeah, then you suggest a game!”
“Krawps,” Deadeye said coldly.
“So you pick a dice game and play to your strengths? Then I suggest Scarab 21!”
“Never! I’d rather play Pick-your-own!”
“And get stuck with mud up to my wings? I think not.”
“Make a decision,” Talinia growled coldly. Both players turned away and quailed when they noticed the gleam in her eye. They turned back to each other.
Branston thoughtfully rubbed his beak, and then abruptly announced, “Coconut Shy. Three rounds. Whoever knocks the coconut off first, wins.”
Deadeye nodded quickly. “Okay. Coconut Shy it is. But how do I know you won’t cheat at the game?”
“Are you saying I’m a cheat?” Branston yelled. Talinia sighed in desperation and stepped between them again.
“I will watch the contest as an impartial observer,” the master archer announced. “Anything to stop this quarrel.”
“I guess that would be fair,” Deadeye said grudgingly. He began to turn away, paused, and then turned back to Branston with an evil grin. “And what say we make the contest a little more... interesting. I’ll lay my pirate medallion on the line for your disco medallion. If I win the contest, I get to keep both.”
“WHAT? Bet my medallion on this silly contest?” Branston snarled, outraged by the mere thought.
The pirate grinned. “I should have known you’d be too chicken to do it.”
“ME? Chicken? Of course not! My medallion for your medallion! If I win, I get to keep both.”
“And what if neither of you braggarts can knock off the coconut?” Talinia asked sarcastically.
“Then we both lose and you get to keep them,” Branston retorted automatically. He ran his fingers through his golden mane and said confidently, “I’m ready. There is no way that I could possibly loose this contest.”
“Well, there’s no way that I could lose this contest,” Deadeye growled as he adjusted his pirate uniform. “I’m ready. Let’s get this it over with.”
“I can’t believe I lost,” Branston moaned as he watched the grinning Quiggle pick up the fallen leather balls lying on the floor. Not even a single thrown ball had even touched a coconut, or even came close to hitting one.
“I can’t believe I lost,” Deadeye moaned as he watched Talinia twirl the two golden medallions around in a circle. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from his beloved pirate medallion, now resting in the hands of the master Eyrie archer. “This isn’t fair.”
Talinia laughed. “You both agreed to the conditions. And you foolishly said that I could keep them if neither of you won the contest.”
“I can’t believe I lost my medallion,” the disco lord groaned as he rubbed his head. “I’m ruined. I’ll never live this down.”
“You think you got it tough?” Deadeye lamented as he looked down at his pirate uniform. “I won’t be able to show my face in Krawk Island again! No pirate worth the name ever loses his medallion.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Talinia said smugly. “Since I’m a nice person, I’ll give you fools one last chance to get your medallions back. We’ll play Cheeseroller. All three of us.”
“So if either of us gets a faster time than you, we’ll get our medallions back?” Branston asked hopefully.
“Nah, I’m going to make you work for it. The only way you can get them back is if both of you get a faster time than me.”
“Both of us?” Deadeye gasped. “How are we going to do that?”
Talinia shrugged. “Not my problem,” she said with a grin as she turned to begin the trek to Cheeseroller Hill.
“Sixty-two seconds!” The Techo timekeeper called out as Talinia reached the bottom of the hill, puffing with exertion. Deadeye turned to Branston shared a hopeless look.
“What are we going to do?” he whispered.
Branston gave a shrug. “I don’t know how we can hope to beat a score like that.”
“Wait a minute,” the pirate murmured as he glanced at the course. “I think I know how. When you’re running the course, I’ll call out commands so you can avoid the obstacles and get a faster time. And then you do the same for me.”
“Do you think it will work?” Branston asked hopefully.
Deadeye warily eyed his rival. “We'll have to work together,” he said cautiously.
“If it will get our medallions back I’m willing to give it a try,” Branston announced. “Let’s do it.”
Branston climbed the hill, and stood at its peak and looked down the long slope to the finish line. He gulped in dismay as he noticed all of the obstacles littering the slope, but looked over to Deadeye, who gave him an encouraging thumbs-up. The disco lord took a deep breath, and waited nervously for the countdown to start.
“Three, two, one, GO!”
Branston gave the cheese a gigantic shove and then ran down the hill after it, using his hands to push it faster and guide it on the fastest path to the bottom. He was so caught up in guiding the cheese he almost missed Deadeye’s shouted command.
Branston shoved the cheese to his right and hopped over the large hole.
The disco lord dove underneath an overhanging branch.
He narrowly avoided a patch of mud.
Branston jumped over a rock jutting out of the ground.
“Fifty-eight seconds,” the Techo timekeeper announced as the disco lord reached the bottom of the hill, puffing and panting.
Deadeye trotted over and patted Branston on the back. “Good job. I’m going to get my cheese and head up to the top of the hill.”
“Okay,” Branston said as he caught his breath. “I’ll be ready.”
Deadeye collected his cheese and headed up to the top of this hill. He stood and fidgeted impatiently as he waited for the command.
“Three, two, one, GO!”
The pirate Eyrie slammed his body against the cheese and took off after it.
“Dive left!” Branston yelled, and Deadeye gave the cheese a shove to the left and jumped over a pothole.
The pirate narrowly dodged a jutting rock.
Deadeye jumped sideways and escaped a tangling tree branch.
He shoved the cheese away from a sticky muddy hole.
“Faster!” the disco lord yelled, and Deadeye gave the cheese a final push and then crossed the finish line.
“Fifty-seven seconds,” the timekeeper announced calmly as Deadeye and Branston danced around with joy.
“We did it!” Branston yelled as he happily pounded the pirate on the back.
“Alright!” Deadeye shouted with a playful shove at his former rival.
Talinia watched the victors celebrate with a smug smile. “Here you go, boys,” she said as she tossed the medallions back to their respective owners. “And if I hear another word from either of you bragging or insulting each other, I will tell all the other Eyries how bad both of you are at Coconut Shy.”
“We promise,” the two victors chorused, and the master archer laughed and walked away.
“Should we head back to the party?” Branston asked.
“Sure,” the pirate agreed happily. “And I guess since neither of us actually won the contest, we’ll have to share the title.”
“So we both are the ‘Best Eyrie Gamer in Neopia’?”
“Yup,” Deadeye replied.
“Huh,” Branson said thoughtfully as two former rivals strode back to the Eyrie party in silence. As they neared the party and the cheerful laughter of Eyries enveloped them, Branston felt he had to get one last comment off of his chest. “I hope you realize that I’m still better at games than you are.” Deadeye turned around and glared at his new friend. The disco lord grinned as he said, “Just kidding.”