Newly Added

Altador Cup Stories -- Each team will have a short story written in the spirit of the Altador Cup! Available: 18.

Story Gallery

Each story title has a small summary underneath it. Please note that these are short stories and are about 500-1200 words long. Italics mean dialogue. Enjoy your time reading!

Story Count: 14

A Different Kind of Sharing

Elena and Reina have been friends forever and always relied on one another. However, not even Reina can help Elena out on a major writing assignment... Read more?

An Evening with Teo

Yooyuball stars Fiorina and Ilsa Ellits can handle anything- but can they survive an evening watching their Captain's cousin? Read more?

A Pile of Leaves

Don't ever forget to have fun! Unfortunately, Mike forgot this lesson and his younger brother had to re-teach it to him. Read more?

Chopsticks

Learn more about Skyler's family history revolving around chopsticks! Maybe this would provide more insight for your family history. Read more?

The Counting Jar

A good attitude and patience are two virtues needed in order to be awarded any toy! Can Aidan do that long enough to collect enough Neopoints? Inspired by Counting Stars by One Republic. Read more?

Lost Treasure

Amelie lost her green notebook and must now partake in a perilous mission: cleaning her room! Read more?

Miraculous*

Astrid dreads going back to school because of all her unsuccessful friendships. Will she be able to put faith in herself to make friends again or remain independent? Read more?

Mural of Friendship

Two best friends that happen to be artists make a vow: to work on a mural together. The end result can be anyone's guess! Read more?

No Frowning Allowed!

Felix was always the quietest student in his class but when he was forced to redo his book report, he must learn how to speak up and learn how to smile to succeed. Read more?

My Hero

Camille's hero is Leera Heggle, Captain of Team Lost Desert but there might be someone else she should consider her hero. Inspired by Hero by Enrique Iglesias. Read more?

My Younger Sister

Chloe hadn't spoken to her sister Fae in four years. What happened that made them talk again? Read more?

Plant Life

What better way to prove you deserve a Petpet by taking care of a plant? Katy is determined to fulfill her dream of owning a Petpet with the help of her plant. Read more?

Practice Makes Perfect

Experts aren't born- they're made over time. This story features a young pet trying to achieve famed Yooyuball status but it's not going so well... Read more?

Sweet Happiness

Can sugar cookies baked by Allen lift his grouchy teacher Ms. Waltz's mood? Inspired by Sugar by Maroon 5. Read more?

Altador Cup Content

Down below are the team logos for the stories currently available. A story will be written for each team so please do not fret if you do not see your team! Enjoy and good luck during the Altador Cup!

Pre-season Stories




Glorious Heroes

Underneath the blazing setting sun, gathered in the Hall of Heroes, was the illustrious team of Altador, ready to host the Altador Cup for another year. All five members had their heads bowed, down on one knee as they murmured their prayers to King Altador and wished for another successful year. One it was over, they stood up and prepared to exit the Hall.

Salayne and Winberto walked ahead with Lyvon hurrying to catch up to them to join in their conversation about Yooyuball formations. Trapper remained for a second to stare up at the glorious stone statue of King Altador and requested another wish: for his team to remain strong together. Although their newest team member Foltaggio was settling in nicely, it was easy to tell he was still uncomfortable, even if it was slightly. Noticing the one-eyed Mynci was walking alone, Trapper called him out to stop him.

Foltaggio. He turned around and watched Trapper hurry toward him. He nodded politely to his captain and they started walking together again.

You should know why we pray each day the week before the tournament, right? Trapper asked him. They went through his last year but he wanted to make sure.

Foltaggio nodded. It's to honor them and let them know we play in their honor and win in their honor. If they accept that then they'll grant us our wish: to win the Cup. He paused for a moment. We do something similar in Shenkuu. Well, I'm pretty sure they still do that.

Trapper straightened the laurels on the top of his head. Do you visit often?

As often as I can. But with practice and settling in here, it's not all the time. Foltaggio shrugged. I'm still loyal to the team.

No one could question his team loyalty. He was quick to adapt to Altador's way of playing Yooyuball, was helpful to Winberto when he was adjusting to the two-two formation and didn't betray any secrets from Shenkuu.

The team exited the Hall, noticing a lack of Neopians crowding the streets. With the Cup set to start in a week, visitors were beginning to travel and occupy the hotels and sell team merchandise. Trapper walked toward his team with Foltaggio walking a pace behind him. Where is everyone headed?

Lyvon answered first. Home. I'm expected to be back for a family dinner.

Salayne and I are meeting with a few of our friends at the harbor, Winberto answered. Did you have plans for us?

No, I was curious, Trapper replied. Foltaggio? Do you have anything?

He was silent for a moment before answering, The colosseum. I just wanted a look around for a bit.

I'll go with you, Trapper offered. Foltaggio made no comment, just nodded and walked down the street. The team separated at his dismissal.

In silence, the two teammates walked down the empty street toward the grand colosseum. Team Altador was the only fortunate team to be able to practice in the colosseum daily whereas the other teams could only play during the tournament. After identifying themselves as members of Team Altador, the security guard let them in and they walked toward the playing field.

The ancient stone walls and benches lit up underneath the setting sun. Shadows were casted on the ground that was already marked with boundaries and two colorless nets were set up on opposite sides of the field. Foltaggio stood in the center of the field, looking up. Trapper couldn't see what he was looking at so he simply stood where he was, shuffling his feet.

I always hoped I would be there when Shenkuu wins the Cup, Foltaggio said quietly. Trapper looked up, noticing a certain gleam in his eye. But now I'm not. Right now, I hope to be here when Altador wins the Cup.

All team transferees always felt conflicted about their team loyalties, including Foltaggio. But with those words, Trapper knew he was finally comfortable with his new team. I hope so too.


Studying for Victory

All was quiet within the Royal Library in Brightvale. Several scholars stood in front of tight-fitting bookshelves, their eyes quickly scanning the titles on book spines to find the book they need. Many of them hurried out of the library once they found their book, not wanting to disturb their land's Yooyuball team studying at the tables on the first floor.

Countless books were strewn all over the table as a book occupied the paws of each of the players. Orie had a bored look on her face as she lazily thumbed through a book on the history of Yooyuball. Reb was attentively reading his book about the history of Yooyuball and its equipment while Kayn pretended to read his book about Yooyus. A drowsy look claimed Gordo's face as he fought his sleep. In the end, he closed his eyes and started snoring immediately.

Reb jumped out from his chair at the first snore from Gordo, dropping his book in the process. His teammates watched him as he blinked confusedly before realizing what that was. Slowly, he bent down to retrieve his book. My word, does he always snore like that?

Yes, Kayn answered him with a slight grumble. He offered living space to Gordo when he first transferred to Brightvale and had to suffer through his snoring for weeks.

Where is Montecito? Orie asked loudly. She put her book down with a resigned sigh. He tells us to study and then he doesn't show up to make sure we actually are. What did he say he was doing?

The two forwards shrugged. Their captain was usually vague about his whereabouts whenever he arrived late to practices or study sessions. It was a habit he had and without Squeaky to keep him in line, he was free to be as tardy as he wanted.

Sorry I'm late! A familiar voice echoed throughout the empty library. Everyone but Gordo turned their heads to see Montecito hurrying toward them. He sat himself down in the empty seat at the front of the table with Gordo on his left and Orie on his right. He was flicking his tail back and forth. I had uh, some business to take care of.

None of his teammates looked surprised. That was the excuse he used often and they never asked him to clarify. Why are we studying? Orie asked him. We're leaving for Altador in three days. Surely we should be focusing on our tactics instead?

Montecito shrugged. King Hagan told me we need to be familiar with the field rules and all that before we go. Besides, there are still three more days left until we leave. Plenty of time to practice.

A snore escaped Gordo, causing Reb to jump once again. Montecito glanced at the slumbering Grarrl and turned back to his team. This year, we're going to aim for higher than eleventh. We were eleventh last year and the year before that. This year, we're going for anything better than that.

Reb nodded. That sounds logical.

I thought that was obvious, Kayn muttered under his breath. Reb quickly silenced him by lightly hitting him on the shoulder with a book.

So we're going to aim for the Cup, Montecito added. I have a feeling it'll be our year this year.

He said that yearly, even under Squeaky's leadership but so far, he was wrong. Orie could only hope he was right this year.

Gordo started snoring yet again but Reb didn't jump like before. Instead, he opened a book and started reading. Should we wake him up and tell him to study?

Montecito looked mischievous. I say let him sleep. When he wakes up, we'll make it look like we left already. That'll teach him his lesson.

Even though Orie preferred Squeaky as their captain, Montecito still knew how to have fun with his team. That was what she was grateful for and fun was what they needed before the Cup.


Writing the Future

There was still a day left of traveling before Altador was within walking distance. The lack of proper transportation to take the teams to the glorious town for the tournament was almost laughable but Kep didn't find it too tedious. She enjoyed the three-day journey through the other lands of Neopia before reaching the town. Layton had done his best to keep each year's route different but this year, he chose to use a route they had used before.

This route was particularly nostalgic. They had first taken it when it was Reshar's first year on the team and he was still trying to find his place. Layton was thoroughly irritated with him by the end of the journey and Tormo had twisted his ankle and could not play to the best of his abilities for the first few days of the tournament. Tandrak had recovered from a cold beforehand and caught another one at the end of it. Kep was the one who kept everything under control and she had arrived in Altador exhausted and ready to return home. It just happened to be the same year they had won the Cup as well.

Layton didn't believe in luck but Kep suspected he chose to use this route to see if its luck would spread and sink into them and give them a good standing this year in the tournament.

Night had fallen and a heavy rainstorm had prevented them from continuing on further. Tormo had found them a cave to shelter in and Reshar got a fire going. Layton cooked their meal and divided the portions. After eating, they got their sleeping bags out and settled around the fire.

We should tell ghost stories, Tormo announced. Reshar shoved him roughly and he nearly fell out of his sleeping bag. What! Is that a bad idea?

It isn't a bad idea, Reshar admitted. I think we should just be talking about tactics or something. He glanced at his captain for his approval.

I have nothing againssst that, Layton said with a slight shrug. We should relax while we can. Go ahead, Tormo.

With mischief gleaming in his eyes, Tormo turned to look at his teammates before leaning forward to tell his story. The fire popped and cackled for effect. One night, in the Haunted Woods, there was a strange pet walking through the Deserted Fairground all alone. There were no other pets out that night either because of the full moon. There's a rumor that bad things will happen if you walk outside during a full moon.

Is that a retelling of the Tale of Woe? Kep asked. If it is, I'm going to sleep.

No! No, of course not. This is a real ghost story. Lord Darigan told me himself, Tormo insisted. Kep rolled her eyes skeptically but gestured for him to continue. Okay, so there's a strange pet and they're walking through the Deserted Fairground alone under the full moon. Clouds start to gather and it starts raining before the pet could find shelter. They run into the woods and they find a cave. They venture all the way down it and sit down against the wall. It's cold and wet and dark so it makes things hard to see everything. They don't know how long they stay there for but they eventually fall asleep.

He paused for effect. His teammates leaned forward slightly to hear the end of it. What happens afterwards? Tandrak asked.

That's the problem, Tormo replied. Lord Darigan never told me. He said that was how the story ended.

It isssn't a ghossst ssstory then, Layton pointed out. It'sss a retelling.

Or a waste of time, Reshar muttered.

Tormo shook his head. No! It's neither of those. Actually, I said the last one to Lord Darigan and he got really upset. He meant it that the story can end any way you want it to. We have to write our own ending. Does that make sense?

His teammates exchanged looks. Kep blinked slowly while considering what he had said. It applied to them as a team overall. They had to practice and continue to push themselves in order for them to obtain the ending they wanted to have. The future was unpredictable but they could write it any way they wanted to if they took the necessary steps.

Everyone else seemed to have understood as well. Tormo looked proud. So, how do you think the story ends?

Well… his teammates spoke in unison. They stopped and looked and each other again, smiling thinly. One by one, around the circle, they shared what they thought how the story would have ended. Most of them were positive, fortunately. That meant they had the mentality to win and the desire to fulfill their dream.


No Doubt About It

The day before the start of the tournament was a buzz of activity. Different vendors sold items for each team, many stalls sold food items unique to a Neopian land, and many fans marched up and down the rows of booths to experience everything they could at once. Since the tournament started tomorrow, all of the teams had already arrived and were doing their best to avoid the media so they could make last-minute preparations. Team Faerieland was no exception.

Kakoni couldn't afford his team to slack off now, unlike all the other teams he had seen in the complex they were staying at. His team was second-last to arrive and after unpacking briefly, they had hit the field to practice their tactics one last time. It was dangerous practicing in front of their opponents but he had no other choice but to do so. They were determined to win their first Cup, unlike several teams who were determined to win their second, or Haunted Woods winning their third.

Kakoni! Ciona called out from the field. Kakoni shook himself and raised his head to look at his teammates in formation. Let's get practice over with so we can get something to eat!

He jogged onto the field and strapped his sling onto his arm. His teammates watched him, noticing he was tenser than usual. Don't be so nervous, Elbin said in an attempt to comfort him. We'll just have to do the best we can like every year.

I know. Kakoni looked at each of them. I don't doubt any of us. We practiced hard this year and I think we can improve our rank. What do you think?

I think we can win, Delma said determinedly. We can definitely aim higher than last year. Those rumors about the Altador Cup Committee having a grudge against us are just rumors. We can show them!

Kakoni smiled wanly. He appreciated Delma's positivity but sometimes he had to be the breaker of bad news and reject it. I don't know…they seem pretty serious about hating us. We hadn't placed anything higher than fifteenth since the beginning. Is it about our strategies? Or our fans? We're certainly letting them down by disappointing them year after year…

He trailed off, realizing his words were dragging the mood down with him. He started shaking his head and said quickly, Sorry! Sorry, I didn't mean to make you guys feel bad. We don't need a Cup to prove how hard we've been working. Our fans will support us and we support each other.

Exactly, Ciona said, nodding in agreement. We just play for fun. I mean, it would be fun to win once in a while but we're pretty good how we are now. Can we start practice now?

The team practiced briefly but it wasn't long until Elbin's stomach growled loud enough for Kakoni to hear on the other side of the field. He bit back a laugh but when he heard Valtonous' stomach grumble behind him, he burst out laughing. His teammates quickly joined in since his laugh was known to be infectious. Elbin blushed embarrassedly and Valtonous merely scuffed the ground with her hoof.

I think that means we should get something to eat and practice later, Kakoni said, his laugh subsiding to a smile. Let's go!

He led the way out of the practice field and toward the dining hall. This was what he loved about his team. He loved the close relationships they had formed from years playing together, how they relied on each other almost more often than each other's families, and how they understood everything about each teammate. He loved his team and that was that.

In that moment, he didn't care if his team won or not. So long he could stay with the same team for the next few years, he would be fine with any rank they placed.


Dueling Cards

Captain is in over his head. Zo stretched his wings and kept them stretched for a minute or so. His two teammates Fanetti and Crade were playing Dueling Decks while Brains was…somewhere. Zo had lost track of his whereabouts after they locked themselves in their hotel room to stay away from the reporters waiting outside their door for Krell's return.

As soon as the team had arrived in Altador, Krell passed his bags off to Brains and marched off in the direction of the colosseum, shouting he would be back in an hour or two. Three had passed and his teammates were starting to come up with outrageous excuses for his absence but then they started playing cards and hadn't stopped since then.

Suddenly, Fanetti tossed his cards on the table. His tail-tip was twitching with frustration. That's the third game and I still can't beat him, he complained. Why are you so good at this?

I won against Zenco once before, Crade said with a smirk. He collected the cards and started shuffling them. You have to know how to play the game to win.

Zo dragged a chair to join them at the table. I want to play. Let's play Cheat! or something.

Still smirking, Crade got out a regular deck of cards from his bag and shuffled those next. Fanetti and Zo watched his movements, taking note of how fast he was, how the cards obeyed him. He dealt them out with a swift flick of his wrist, acting as if he had been dealing cards for years. When he finished, the three of them picked up their cards and started arranging them in order.

Did you win a Cheat! trophy too? Zo asked to break the silence. He glanced up, noticing Crade already had his cards arranged. He was just waiting for them to finish.

Yep. Long time ago, Crade answered.

So were you a card player before a Yooyuballer? Fanetti asked next.

Crade's wingtip twitched. You can be both. Zo knew he had a point. He was quite a charming little Korbat back in school and an exceptional forward at the same time.

A card game is a lot like a game of Yooyuball. When Fanetti finished organizing his deck, Crade slid his first card down on the center of the table. You'd never know what your opponent might do. He drew his arm back. One king.

Fanetti placed two cards down. Two queens.

One queen. Zo didn't hesitate to put his card down. Crade paused before making his decision. Zo asked, Are you going to go all philosophical on us?

Well, cards are sort of the reason why I took up Yooyuball. Your opponent is usually completely unpredictable, right? he continued from his previous point. As a defender, you have to defend your goal. One ace. He slid one card on the pile.

Fanetti placed two twos down. Zo, after a brief pause, placed a three down. Crade went with another three and Fanetti went up with a four. Zo was stuck.

So you get your opponent in a trap, Crade said.

Zo chose a card at random and slapped it down. One four, he said with as much neutrality as possible.

And then you attack. Cheat. Crade smirked. Zo glared at him and flipped his false card over before taking the cards in the pile.

They continued playing. Crade continued his explanation. So your attack was successful, right? You start over and try to go for a goal. He played a six in response to Zo's five. Fanetti put down another five and Zo placed two sixes down.

You fool the defense and score. Fanetti called cheat on Crade when he placed an eight down in response to Fanetti's seven. His card was an actual eight. See? Just like a card game.

Or just like Cheat!, Zo pointed out.

That too. But it can be said with any card game. Probably not Dueling Decks since that's different.

They continued to play despite Krell and Brains' absences. Crade won the first game, naturally, so they challenged him to another. Zo was determined to win and he kept the explanation in mind. He knew, if he could win this game, he could use the same mentality when on the field and that would propel his team forward into winning this year as well.

Three Cups total? It was now a possibility.


Second Thoughts

Endless twinkling stars were visible through the windows of the Yooyuball indoor practice facility, the only building on Kreludor that had a gravity generator working for majority of the day. Another successful practice session had ended and Derlyn was ready to call it a day. She sat on the bench at the edge of the field with her water bottle in hand and watched her teammates disperse and leave to their respective activities.

She was still adjusting to the swapping of the two players- Ealyn Hawkshanks from Krawk Island for their Coco Metrone. Although the pirate Quiggle was quick to adapt to his new team and their strategies and plays, Derlyn was still struggling to hold a solid defense on her own. Three out of five straight goals were scored during this particular practice session and although Derlyn was impressed with her team's offense, she was worried more about their defense.

Her team was emerging from the changing rooms in an orderly fashion. Ealyn was flanked by both Grundo forwards Qlydae and Zenor. All three of them were engaged in conversation but the team's goalkeeper Jurin remained behind, struggling to fit all of his gear in his bag. Derlyn wasn't exactly sure what the trio was talking about.

…But then he forgot the key to the spaceship so he had to go back to the station to get them, Qlydae was saying. So it took us forever just to get to Neopia. Thank Kreludor we weren't disqualified!

Aw, that's nothin'! Ealyn declared. One time we were out sailin' toward Altador see, an' ol' Garven forgot to tie the sail. So when we go out an' all, we couldn't go anywhere an' we sorta drifted here an' there. Then ol' Garven says 'I forgot the sail!' an' we couldn't stop throwin' equipment at him an' all. It was a mighty waste of time.

Zenor snorted. That's lame. How would Garven forget something like that? Isn't the sail the most important part on a boat?

So you know boats, eh? Ealyn sounded only slightly impressed. Thought ya Grundos never get boats up here.

Qlydae shook his head. Just spaceships. Give us some credit, Ealyn, we did get some sailing lessons when we were in Altador during the last Cup. Those were fun.

The trio exited the practice field, leaving Derlyn alone. She stood up and started walking out herself but bumped into Jurin, causing him to drop his water bottle. She shook her head and bent down to pick it up. You're the clumsiest Ruki I've ever seen, Jurin.

He looked embarrassed when he accepted the bottle from her. Thanks. And I know, I am. But that doesn't affect my performance, does it?

No, Derlyn conceded. But that doesn't mean I can pick on you about it.

Jurin smiled sheepishly and shoved the water bottle into his bag. So, what do you think, Captain? Was the trade a good thing?

While she told the media the trade was an upgrade for her team, she couldn't help but feel some regret. She liked Coco and Ealyn was tolerable so her regret was miniscule compared to the rest of the team. She just liked having someone to confide to. Yes. We'll do a lot better with three forwards.

What about your lonesome self as defender? He asked.

I've got you. You're one of the best goalkeepers in the competition. Derlyn shook her head. What's done is done. There's no point in complaining now. I'm just glad Qlydae and Zenor are making Ealyn comfortable with the team. Their offense is unbreakable.

He nodded. Let's hope our defense is too. Do you want to come with me to get some food?

Derlyn shook her head again. I'll stay here for a bit to clean up.

All right. See you tomorrow. Jurin picked up his bag and walked out of the practice field, leaving his captain alone.

She looked at the field and then at the window, noticing the dozens of twinkling stars. Soon, her team will be going to Altador for the Cup and they'll show the rest of Neopia of their new strategies and formation. It was something to look forward and there's nothing anyone can do to change it.


Dreaming Reality

Garven was dreaming.

In his dream, he was shouldering his way through a sea of reporters and adoring fans, all wanting to stop him for a minute to ask him a question or get his autograph. He was beaming proudly, his superior smirk causing several fans to squeal aloud and a few of the reporters to faint. He lumbered up to the platform and stood behind a wooden podium with his team's emblem carved into it. Cameras flashed in every direction as well as fans shouting his name like a chant. Garven! Garven! Garven!

He raised a paw and the crowd fell silent within seconds. His smirk turned into a full grin as he addressed the crowd. I was ne'er one fo' speeches but here goes nothin'. He paused to take a breath and collect his thoughts. My team an' I had fought hard these last few years, y'know? We practice day in an' day out, workin' to bring home the gold fo' Krawk Island. There were some bad turns and some good ones but we ain't gonna settle for the good ones. We want the great ones. The excellent ones. Lissen up, Krawk Island, because we're bringing home two Cups!

Two shining Cups glistened in his paws and he raised both his arms to let them shine beneath the golden sunlight. The crowd cheered his name, the fans screaming praise, the reporters snapping photos. He laughed heartily, pumping his arms excitedly. We did it! We won!

Oi! Hale! Get a hold on yerself! a harsh voice and a decisive swipe over his head sliced through Garven's dream. It dissolved into a million pieces when he blinked his eyes open, a bleary figure standing beside his bed. It looked like a Krawk. A Krawk with a heavy scowl on his face, something shiny in his paws.

Uh? What's the big deal? Garven slurred, mind still foggy with sleep. He yawned and blinked to focus his eyes. He realized it really was a Krawk standing by his bed with something shiny in his paws. Garven leaped out of bed when he recognized what it was. Why in Krawk would you go hittin' me with that Cup o' ours, huh?

Dasher lifted his arm again, a gleam in his eye telling Garven he was unafraid to hit him again. Hold your trunks, ol' Dasher! I wasn't doin' anythin' wrong-

Nothin'? Dasher roared. Ya mean hollerin' like some made Bori ain't nothin'? he was poised to strike again but Garven didn't bother defending himself. All he had to do was twist around at the last second and Dasher would hit his shell instead. But, what if the impact destroyed the Cup? As he contemplated what to do, the older Krawk let out a sigh and lowered his arm and the Cup.

Hale, Hale, Hale. The former captain almost sounded disappointed. That nonsense y'were mutterin', about getting' three Cups an' all…it ain't possible. Vitor can but you can't.

Garven rubbed his paw over his scarred chin. What d'ya mean, ol' Dasher?

I mean what I just said! Dasher barked. Three Cups ain't possible. It just ain't. You were dreamin', Hale. Get that outta yer head.

We can dream all we want, Garven pointed out. My team an' I worked hard this year. We're gonna get that second Cup, no doubt about it. We got fourth last year, ol' Dash! Fourth! That musta count for somethin', right?

Dasher lifted his arm to examine the Cup. It looked big compared to the Krawk's overall size. Retirement had been faring him well and the team still invited him to their practices to ask for his expertise and advice. Fourth ain't first, Hale.

I know that, Garven retorted. I'm just sayin'-

I know what you're sayin', Hale, Dasher cut him off. An' I'm sayin' you needa stop talkin' in yer sleep or I won't get enough sleep! he turned and started storming out of the room. Over his shoulder, he shouted, Go to Altador an' bring home gold! then he disappeared down the hallway.

Garven sat down on his bed. He didn't know how to explain Dasher's cryptic mood- first he dispelled his dream and then told him to go to Altador and get gold. So what did that really mean? Of course, he and his team would do their best as always. Everyone wanted to win and they wanted to win again. It was a dream they shared after Team Haunted Woods won last year.

He made a fist. He couldn't just dream, it seemed. He had to make it a reality. That was how they would prove to Dasher he could make their dreams come true.


Small Bounces

A peaceful calm laid over Kiko Lake as the last Glass Bottom Boat Tour finished for the day. Visitors were beginning to settle down in the Kiko-shaped houses and activity overall gradually ceased. It was time to prepare for the next day.

Bouncing up and down the path that led to their individual neohomes, Team Kiko Lake was clustered around each other while listening to their captain. Poke had his stern look on his face as he addressed his teammates.

That was a good practice session today. None of you lost control of the yooyu, he said somewhat jokingly. It had been several years since any of his teammates struggled with bouncing up and down the field without dropping the yooyu. They were all professional Yooyuballers.

Ditan bounced slightly higher than usual to hit his captain lightly on the head. Who do you think we are, amateurs? We know how to play the game, Captain.

Poke grinned. I know, Ditan. I was joking. Anyway, he returned to his original point, we'll be leaving for Altador tomorrow since it takes us longer to get there. We're going to take home the Cup this year, no questions asked.

Do you think we can? Meela asked doubtfully. He was always the negative Kiko on the team but he made it up with his excellent abilities as right forward alongside Poke.

Erli glared at him. Don't doubt us! We might've placed fourteenth last year but we can obviously make a recovery. We just play the same teams over and over again so we'll eventually find their weaknesses and expose them. Then winning the Cup will be as easy as bouncing.

Exactly what Erli said, Meela! Poke said enthusiastically. He didn't doubt his team- it wasn't what captains did. If he doubted them since the beginning, he would've considered retirement years ago. We'll get to the top, even if we have to bounce all the way up there.

They arrived at the lake and paused briefly to watch small waves travel at the top of the still lake. It looked so peaceful along with the houses surrounding it. Poke looked at each of his teammates and turned to look at them.

Listen. Everyone says they'll win this year and this year doesn't have to be our year. Getting thirteenth is still a nice accomplishment, you know? So long we don't get last, we can keep moving up. Get back up to sixth like two years ago. Then focus on third. Then first. Start small. We're Kikos- we can't get too far, no matter how hard we bounce. Get it?

So now you're just telling us we should give it up, Ditan said under his breath.

His captain rolled his eyes. No. I'm saying this'll take time. If not this year, then the next. And the year after that. Got it? Come on. He thrust his arm outward. Come in, everyone. On the count of three.

One! Two! Three! Kiko Lake! his team raised their fists and shouted as loud as they could to disrupt the slumbering residents. They wouldn't mind- it was their Yooyuball team simply getting hyped up for the tournament. They knew they wouldn't disappoint and so that's why they cheered as hard as they could for them.


The Last Speech

There were a lot of things Leera and his team can overcome. A raging desert? No problem. An angry king? Just keep smiling and bowing. Merchants accusing you of sneaking an extra Bagguss into your shopping basket? Deny everything. A swarm of fans dying to get your autograph? Brush their pens and notepads away as politely as possible and continue moving by using your shoulders to get by. News reporters shoving microphones, recorders, cameras, and notepads in your face to try to stop you to get your comment on the upcoming tournament? Lower your head and keep walking. There was nothing worse than turning your fans away but after just arriving in Altador- and being one of the last teams to do so- Leera and his team didn't have the energy to deal with them. Not yet, anyway.

During the off-season, the media always left the teams alone. There may be odd interviews here and there but it would only be conducted by one or two reporters, not dozens over dozens of news outlets throughout Neopia. As the tournament date would approach, the media would start declaring that they were the top source for Altador Cup news and did their best to fight for the title from other news outlets. Each news outlet was biased toward a different team however, and so not any one of them could be considered the "top source" in any way.

A trail of sand followed Leera and his team as they entered the housing complex that all seventeen teams were resting in (Team Altador was exempted since they had their own individual neohomes). The manager at the front desk raised an eyebrow at the grains of sand pouring from the team's shoes and creases in their clothing and bags. He did his best to hide his irritation but the twitch of his tail-tip told Leera he wasn't looking forward to calling for a janitor to clear it.

Your rooms are this way, the manager said, gesturing for them to follow. He walked down the hallway and the team passed by other familiar faces from the other teams. A few of them paused in their activity to watch them pass by, some even waving to greet them. His teammates waved back but Leera kept his eyes focused ahead.

His team had two rooms- a large one he shared with Vonde and Luvea and a smaller one Rhee and Derbi shared. The manager turned and walked back to the front desk as Leera turned to face his team. Unpack, get something to eat, and meet me in my room, he told them. We have to start getting our stuff together for tomorrow's tournament.

Leera unlocked the door to his room and stormed inside. His female players entered their room beside theirs, closing the door behind them. Vonde jumped onto his bed and let out a noisy sigh to announce his fatigue. What time do we have to be back here?

Just whenever you're done. Leera examined the room as he usually did. He didn't know what he was expecting- a reporter lurking in the shadows, a fan jumping up from under the bed, a pile of fan mail on the table. Instead, he found empty beds all made for when they rest, a large table that could hold his team and more, and windows looking into the courtyard. He could see Team Tyrannia running around as if they were playing a game.

He sat down by the table and waited for his team to gather. Luvea brought back some food for him, thankfully, and he devoured it swiftly before addressing his team. We don't have any time to practice one last time since we just arrived so I'm going to say this now: tomorrow, we're going to go out there and have fun. We can definitely aim for another medal or maybe even our second Cup but I wouldn't get our hopes up if I were you.

Vonde shook sand out of his clothing. This isn't like you, Captain. I thought you were going to be like, 'yeah, we're going to win and beat everyone from here to Kreludor!' not 'we're not going to win so we shouldn't bother'. You're not really for sappy speeches.

I thought you were going to get us pumped up for tomorrow too, Rhee said, agreeing with what Vonde said. Now I don't feel motivated to play.

Winning isn't everything, you know! Leera insisted. We always psyche ourselves up about winning and everything but we haven't won anything in years. I think it's about time for me to say to focus on having fun instead of aiming to win. Team morale always goes down halfway through the tournament because we're not winning. If we don't care about winning but fun then it should keep morale high.

Luvea and Derbi exchanged looks. You might be right, Derbi said slowly, and you know we'll do our best no matter what happens. Whether we win or not though depend on how well our morale is.

I know you'll do your best. I know we'll have too. Just don't forget that. Leera lifted his head to sweep his gaze over them. Tomorrow is the day. We can relax now but remember to have fun for me, okay? Enjoy yourselves out there. That's all there is to it.


Solid Defense

As soon as Elon and his team had arrived in Altador by boat, he had lost his teammates. He had told them to meet him at the pier after settling in their hotel room but so far, no one had showed up. He scowled to himself, knowing better than to trust they would actually take his order seriously. When did they? The year had been full of so many interruptions he couldn't even remember what some of his earliest strategies they had practiced were. He supposed winning was no longer a priority to them.

It was for him. It always was for him. When it came to Yooyuball, he didn't joke. He didn't play around or give anything less than a hundred percent. He couldn't say the same about his team though.

He kicked a bit of loose gravel over the dock and stormed down to the beach beside the pier. If there was any member on his team he could rely on…no, there wasn't anyone anymore. Before, he could rely on Dorina but then she retired for "other reasons". Actually, she always had an eye out for him, making sure he wasn't being rude to the news reporters, had good sportsmanship in front of the other teams, and kept him in line the entire time. Without her, he had more freedom to do whatever he wanted but his teammates didn't bother stopping him, just rolled their eyes in exasperation.

He thought about each of his teammates. He had known Oten, Barit, and Tonie the longest since they had been with him since almost the beginning. He was still figuring out Lamelle but he knew about her abilities since she had played for Team Lost Desert being coming to his team to replace Dorina. She was an excellent defender, he had to admit. Good enough on the field but outside of it, she was shy and reserved. There was an obvious divide between his teammates for different reasons but he knew they would eventually come around and build a stronger defense than the shabby one they had now.

Taking a seat on the sand, he looked out to the ocean, admiring the waves lap at his feet. His team had spent so much time under it he rarely had the chance to appreciate the sight of it. The only time they came up above water was for the tournament. Sometimes, when he let them have some vacation time, his teammates would go to other Neopian lands but it was rare. They usually stayed close to home since being above water on your own had its own dangers.

I thought you said we were meeting at the pier, not the beach. Elon knew that voice anywhere. It belonged to his goalkeeper Tonie, the huge Koi towering him in height. Elon scrambled to his feet to reclaim his superior air of authority as captain.

I waited but no one came, Elon snapped. I wasn't that far away. Where are the rest of you?

Tonie shrugged. I didn't see them. I knew I would be the first one to be here anyway. He started heading toward the pier. Over his shoulder, he asked Elon, What do you think about this year?

What do I think? I think we're not going to win, Elon snorted. You all were slacking off during the year. We barely got any practicing done. Our defense is still shabby. I got passed them three times. At least I can count on you to defend the net, he added almost reluctantly. In case those three can't do their job you can still keep the Yooyus out.

Well, I try. Tonie didn't sound entirely pleased by the compliment. I think our defense is pretty good already-

Your definition of good is a lot different from mine. If I can get by them on my own then we're in trouble. What about the teams with three forwards? They'll be scoring for the entire match. I tried telling them that but you guys don't even listen to me. Elon shook his head. I don't really care if we win this year or not. Clearly, none of you guys care either.

Tonie stopped once they reached the pier. Of course we care! It's just…with everything happening, it's kind of hard to stay motivated-

If you need motivation, you should've just asked. I would've made a replica Cup in all your neohomes to taunt you with. 'Practice hard and this might be yours'. Or something like that. Anyway, you-

A large shadow emerged from the water and landed on the pier, causing Elon and Tonie to take a few steps back. Droplets of water dripped down from his defenders' fins, grins of mirth plastered on their faces. Elon took a few seconds to blink in dismay at them before recovering and returning to his stern look. What was that for?

It was a wake-up call, Barit said. We're just as determined to win as you are, Elon.

We did practice on our own when you weren't around, Lamelle added. The last time we practiced Oten wasn't feeling well so our defense was off. When we get to the colosseum though, we'll play our hardest.

Don't count us out just yet, Oten said. We'll help you bring the Cup home. Just wait and see.

Elon looked at each of his defenders, then Tonie. He didn't know what to believe- that his defender actually practiced without his guidance or that they might have the slimmest chance of winning. He turned and started stalking back to the hotel. Let's go, then. We've got some serious planning to do.

That's our Elon, Barit commented with a grin. He led his teammates after his captain and they returned to the hotel together.


For Skarl!

It was another peaceful day in the kingdom of Meridell. The citizens were content with the bright weather and cloudless sky, a peaceful aura hanging over them. However, there was always a spark of competition lurking over the rolling hills in the kingdom…

Pass the yooyu, Ilsa! Fiorina shouted at her teammate. The giant Ixi pulled his arm back and swung, the rubber yooyu sailing into the air. With a grand leap, Fiorina caught the yooyu in her sling and passed it off to her teammate. Ethel!

Ethel raised her sling and caught the yooyu before moving up the field. The team captain Wizard sped past her toward the goal. I'm expecting a good goal, Captain! she shouted loudly while lobbing the yooyu over her head.

Wizard caught it easily and faced off with his goalkeeper Yoris. The net seemed large compared to the small blue JubJub but size did not matter- speed did. He raised his sling, aimed for a second and threw the yooyu at an unguarded space in the net.

Not this time! Yoris reacted quickly, lunging off his foot to the left to catch the yooyu in his sling. He stopped it easily and glanced at his captain with a grin. I won't go easy on you all the time, Captain.

I know, Yoris. If you did, the other teams would be scoring on us all the time. Wizard raised his arm to signal his team to gather. Come closer, everyone!

Last year was an average year for his team, Wizard thought personally, since they placed sixth place overall. It was definitely a drop from the usual places they held in previous years but they were still within the Top Ten. With the addition of Ethel Boortz, their fanbase had increased just slightly, which was enough to cheer them on for another year. Now that the Cup was approaching once again, they needed a definitive strategy.

After looking at each of his teammates in the yes, Wizard began. In a few days, we'll be leaving for Altador for the Cup. We've been practicing all year and now it's time for that practice to pay off. It's our year to bring home the Cup for King Skarl.

Ilsa nodded in agreement. Right. We've been in that range for long enough. We're going to get that Cup before we drop even further.

I'm looking forward to playing against the other teams, Fiorina piped up. We've improved this year. They won't know what's coming.

Wizard nodded. My thoughts exactly, Fiorina. All we can do is play the game fair and play it right. Winning will be easy like that. He stepped back slightly and outstretched his sling. Put your slings in, everyone. On the count of three…one…two…three.

Team Meridell! Raising their slings in the air, the team shouted as loudly as they could, allowing excitement to course through them. The time had come to claim victory and each of them were willing to work as hard as they could to ensure the Cup was theirs to take home.


Fiery Passion

Through narrowed eyes, Zax raised his sling to signal his fellow defender Vere on the left side of the field as the two forwards neared them with the rubber yooyu sitting in Aldric's sling. She nodded and moved into position. The defenders moved up to meet the forwards so the play could begin.

Move up! Aldric called out to Tulah. She quickly sped toward the net where Harlis stood with his huge paws out in front of him, ready to block any incoming yooyu. The practice field was on a large stretch of rock floating on top of lava but none of them felt the heat rising up. It contributed to the air of concentration and excitement.

Catch! Raising his sling, Aldric prepared to throw. Zax took two steps to catch his momentum and jumped just as Aldric threw the yooyu. Zax caught it easily and tossed it at Vere.

Vere judged the angle of the yooyu as fast as she could before running toward its landing position. Tulah, the fierce magma Wocky she was, tackled Vere to the side and caught the yooyu before it hit the ground. With a superior smirk, she moved up.

Get open, Aldric! she shouted. She started running toward the net while Vere shook her head to clear it.

Zax moved swiftly, staying as close to Aldric as he could. He weaved around him to distract him and attempt to block him from catching the yooyu. Vere, block her!

Tulah threw the yooyu as hard as she could when she saw Vere advancing toward her. Catch it, catch it! she moved toward the net once again.

Aldric jumped up and caught the yooyu, whirling around before Zax could tackle him aside. He made an immediate beeline toward the net with narrowed eyes. He contemplated shooting it on his own or allowing Tulah to do it. He caught her eye and she merely glared back at him. He decided he could do it himself.

Harlis was large and his body blocked most of the net, making it difficult for someone to find an opening. A distraction hardly worked on professional players but sometimes they worked. Aldric stood at the edge of the line, scanning for an opening. Harlis was immediately in front of him and he quickly passed the yooyu to Tulah. Score, Tulah!

You don't have to tell me twice! she caught it and scored in the same motion. Harlis though, had the fastest reflexes Aldric had ever seen and lunged toward it, catching it with his paws. A goal was attempted but stopped. He truly was an amazing goalkeeper.

Game! Come in, everyone, Aldric shouted. He waited patiently for his teammates to gather and he placed his paw on Harlis' shoulder. Good save.

Harlis merely nodded in response. He was still uncomfortable after being traded last year from Tyrannia but was slowly adjusting. He just didn't say much but Aldric thought he was never really talkative in the first place.

With his team gathered around him, Aldric turned to them. Last year, we pulled out of our slump and placed fifteenth overall. After our win against Krawk Island in Yooyuball a few years ago, we've definitely improved our abilities not just in Yooyuball but in every aspect. Just keep in mind we can still move up, slowly but surely.

Tulah nodded in agreement. Yeah! We can show them how an underdog team goes things around here.

Good. Aldric stuck out his sling. Let's do it altogether now! Three…two…one…

Team Moltara! Their cheer reverberated throughout the hollow cave, spiraling upward toward the sky. Everyone will know of Moltara's efforts now.


Undeniable Passion

A beautiful sun blazed down on the sunny island where islanders roamed freely, avoided the abandoned city of Geraptiku and saved up countless codestones to be trained by the finest ninjas in Neopia. And there was volleyball. Lots and lots of volleyball.

You won't be able to get it! Volgoth declared. He tossed the rubber volleyball high into the air and slammed his fist into it, setting it over the net.

Selmon waited in anticipation for the ball, judging where it might land. He approached it and used his paws to hit under the ball so it would fly straight up. Go, Vela!

I got it! Vela shouted. He jumped up and slammed the ball downward. Take that, Volgoth!

Fortunately, Teylor managed to block the spike, moving beneath the ball so it would land lightly on his paws. Volgoth moved toward it to hit it back over the net.

This time, Vela set the ball and Selmon spiked it downward. Volgoth blocked it with a set and Teylor spiked it down. Both sides went back and forth for several minutes until Lor shouted at them.

How long will you guys are going for? He complained. He was dripping wet, meaning he had gone for a swim while they played. He hated volleyball and he made sure his team knew it.

Distracted by Lor's sudden outburst, Teylor didn't put enough power in his set. Volgoth rushed to bump the ball over the net but it was an easy point for the defenders. Vela jumped right against the net and hit the ball lightly. There was barely enough room for Volgoth to hit it back without crashing into the net so he let it go. The defenders cheered and Volgoth glared at Lor.

Couldn't you have waited until after we finished playing? He complained.

Lor raised his paws as a gesture of apology. Sorry. I was just impatient.

Sure you were, Teylor grumbled. He joined his captain and soon the defenders came along as well. We all know you hate volleyball but we're trying to have as much fun as possible before the Cup.

It was like a new team ritual. In the days before leaving for Altador, the team would take some time off each practice session for a game of volleyball. Games often lasted half an hour or so because it took forever for a team to miss the ball or misaim it. Lor never experienced the fun.

You should try swimming, Lor suggested. Swimming is much more fun than volleyball.

Volgoth folded his arms. Why don't you like volleyball, Lor? If you can move around easily on a Yooyuball field then sand is nothing.

He shook his head. I just don't like it. That's like the same thing as asking you why you like Yooyuball.

That was true. For some reason, Volgoth had never been able to express why he liked Yooyuball. Ever since he was introduced to it as a child, it had been his favorite sport ever since. No one asked him why because he didn't know himself.

But hating something is different from liking something, you know, Selmon pointed out.

Or it could be because you never tried it, Teylor said. Have you?

Volgoth shook his head. He did and he vowed to never play it again. It's just not your passion. Right?

Nodding slowly, Lor nodded. Right. It's not my passion. But it's my passion to play Yooyuball. And I think it's time to play. What do you think?

Captain, looks like someone's trying to compete with you for captain, Selmon said somewhat teasingly. Volgoth couldn't help but smile.

Yeah, yeah, you're not getting rid of me that fast. Yooyuball's my passion and I plan to stick with it. He raised his paw so Teylor could throw the volleyball at him. Back to practice we go!


The Yearly Pie

I'm still confused by this tradition your team had forged… Squeaky had his paws on the table in front of him, his teammates sitting across from him. They were assembled in Lilo's neohome, sitting in his dining room as he waited for him to emerge from the kitchen. This happened only once a year- right before the team leaves for Altador.

Fenny was swinging her feet back and forth underneath the table. What? It's not that hard to understand. Captain bakes a pie every year and every year, it tastes really funny. He never gets better at it.

Jair suppressed a small smile. Fenny, he's still improving…

No, he isn't, Fenny insisted. It might taste different each time but it tastes really weird! And it doesn't give me any luck during the Cup.

Squeaky broke in before they could have another argument. But why a pie? Does he like pies? Why not cookies or a cake or…?

Clutch let out a sigh from his seat across from Squeaky. The old Pteri always opted out of eating the yearly pie but this year Fenny managed to trick him to come. It's because Lilo can't bake anything else. Not that it'll taste good anyway.

Taste aside, he's just doing it to show his appreciation, Jair pointed out. We practice under his leadership each year and he does his best to keep the mood light. By baking a pie each year, it means we can eat it together. You know, like a family.

It was easy for Squeaky to understand as his former position as captain for Team Brightvale. Often, he felt as if his teammates were always drifting apart and weren't as close to each other as the other teams were. He knew now why Team Roo Island was always joking around.

But why a pie? He returned to his original question.

If you don't like pie, you don't have to eat it, Clutch said. I never do.

The door leading into the kitchen opened with a gentle slam and Lilo emerged, holding a steaming hot pie in his paws. A huge grin was on his face. The pie's ready! he announced.

Fenny let out a small groan and Clutch muttered something inaudible under his breath. Squeaky examined the top of the pie, which was baked to a golden brown color. Lilo quickly divided the pie into five equal portions and handed a plate and fork to each of his teammates. Enjoy!

What kind of pie is this? Fenny asked while poking the top of the pie with her fork.

Jair had taken a bite and made a face immediately. It's too sour for my taste.

Clutch didn't touch his slice. Squeaky was next to try it. He broke off a piece and bit into it, tasting it carefully. He could feel Lilo's hopeful eyes on him.

It isn't terrible, he said after a long pause. I'm hesitant to say this is one of my favorite pies I've eaten.

Lilo's grin never wavered. That's still a compliment! So long you're willing to try it out then that's good. I'm always trying to improve my pies.

Jair placed her fork down. Seeing you only bake one pie a year, you won't improve much.

But so is the Cup and we work all year long to improve, Lilo pointed out. We always think we're improving but the other teams or our fans might think not. We won't know until we try it out.

Squeaky took another bite of his slice of pie. He understood Lilo's logic clearly and using a pie as an image was a perfect example. He hadn't finished his first slice yet but he was ready for seconds, just to wonder if eating more would improve the taste. Applying that to the Cup, the more a team asked for other opinions, the better they'll be.


Determined Ninjas

A starless sky covered the merchant town of Shenkuu, a thin layer of fog beginning to sweep the mountaintops. Everyone was settled in for the night, preparing to rest for the next day of activity. But under the cover of night, the best of ninjas were always awake.

Timu approached the neohome of her captain, seeing nothing but darkness. She looked around, knowing she was late but no one was around her. She took a step forward and bumped into someone. It was Larcy, the team defender. Oh! Larcy! When did you get here?

We arrived a while ago, he told her. Standing in front of her were the defenders and goalkeeper. She didn't even see them arrive.

Xana reached for the door and pulled it open. Let's see what Captain has to say.

It was no surprise that the neohome of Mirsha's would be clean and tidy as well as spacious. She was seated in front of a rectangular table and gestured her team to join her. She didn't speak so none of her teammates did either.

They all sat in silence for a few minutes. Timu didn't know what it was supposed to do but she kept her head down the same as the others. She jumped when Mirsha spoke aloud.

We'll be leaving for Altador in a few days. Is everyone prepared for another year to win the Cup? Her question reverberated throughout the empty room. Her teammates answered her confidently.

Antola nodded. Of course. We spent the entire year training for this. We're going to win, hands down.

As harsh as this might sound, we're not going to win this easily, Larcy said somewhat sourly. We did jump quite a bit from two years ago and last year but we're not reaching the podium so easily.

Don't you think we can make it? Timu asked him with a frown. It was uncommon for a teammate to be so doubtful of their team's abilities.

Mirsha shook her head. Larcy enjoys pointing out our flaws to make us stronger. That's what you do when you're a ninja- learn from your mistakes. When the fans started them ninjas, it was because they really were ninjas who were expert Yooyuball players. Timu was still learning the ropes of the secrets of the art.

Either that or he likes putting down my ideas, Antola muttered under his breath. Larcy pretended to glare at him but that didn't last long.

Well, I have to agree with Larcy, Xana said with a flick of her fluffy tail. We can only improve bit by bit. If we remain patient, we'll be one of the popular teams again.

Mirsha seemed satisfied with Xana's reply. Precisely. That's what I hope as well. Since our debut, we were one of the stronger teams but they have improved on and we remained the same. That needs to change and last year, we did and we improved in our ranks. Now, it's time to do it again. We will take home not only gold but improvement.

Her teammates nodded. Timu was impressed by how calm her team was and how they were so willing to accept their mistakes and correct them. She was glad to be a part of an honorable team like Shenkuu.


Slippery Slope

Arriving in Altador earlier that day, Prytariel sat at the edge of a wooden pier while she waited for her team to arrive to the harbor. She had given them the entire day to settle down and find the quickest routes to places and to avoid the crowd when needed. With still many days left until the tournament began, there weren't a lot of fans lurking in the shadows so she chose the pier as their meeting spot.

As usual, Minae was the first to arrive. She sat down beside her captain with a huge sigh and Prytariel looked at her. What? Too hot for you?

Minae shook her head with an amused smile. No. Just sighing to tell you I'm here.

I always know who's coming from behind me, Prytariel pointed out. See? Now Evrem is coming.

Hey! As if on cue, the Tyrannian Scorchio ran toward them and sat down beside Minae. His Neopian tongue was improving after five years on the team but it was still somewhat difficult to understand him and he was occasionally clueless about new strategies and plays unless Prytariel explained them super slowly.

Prytariel turned around to face him. Hello, Evrem. Where are Rinok and Osielle? The three male members of the team shared a room at the hotel while she and Minae shared another.

Late. Evrem jerked his thumb over his shoulder. Probably still eating.

The two of them are often always late for practices and everything else as well. It got on Prytariel's nerves but there was nothing she could do to change it. We'll just have to wait for them then.

What do you think they're doing at the restaurant? Minae asked impatiently. Her patience lasted the speed it took for an ice cube to melt in lava. Eating everything on the menu?

I'm pretty sure they're coming, Prytariel said. I can hear someone coming now.

She was right. Thudding footsteps alerted them of a Bori thundering toward them and a light buzzing sound announced a Buzz flying. Rinok sat down on the other side of Prytariel and Osielle sat beside Evrem. Sorry we're late, Rinok said while panting. The waiter wouldn't let us go without giving him an autograph.

I've heard worse punishments, Minae said with a shrug. You should be lucky that waiter only wanted an autograph.

Prytariel cleared her throat to bring the attention back to her. She wanted to finish this meeting as quickly as possible so her team could finish settling in and be ready for tomorrow's practice. Listen up, everyone! You all should know how we're always in the middle of the standings but not this year! This year, we're aiming for the top, no matter what happens.

Minae pumped her fist in the air somewhat sarcastically. Yeah, this is our year. I can feel it.

We've always been a middle-tier team, Pry, Rinok said. We're just average next to Darigan Citadel or Krawk Island.

That's why it's time to move up, Prytariel argued. Because we're in the middle, we can go one way or the other. We can definitely go up the ranks, especially with our new plays. Don't you think we can improve?

Osielle nodded. I do. Come on, Rinok, you're always a thorn in Pry's side. Be more enthusiastic.

He grumbled something under his breath before saying, With three forwards, you'd think we'd be able to score more goals.

We will! Stop doubting us, Prytariel scolded him. That's all I want to say. We can do this, guys. Be ready for tomorrow's practice!

The meeting was short but Prytariel got her message across. She knows her team can improve and they will rise to the top of the podium and claim the Cup. This was their year.


Contemplation

Settled beneath the hot Tyrannian sun was its own native Yooyuball team. All five members were sitting separately with several feet of distance in between each other as they ate their omelettes in silence. Their departure to Altador was tomorrow so this would be the last time they would eat omelettes out in the open like this until the tournament was over. Loryche thought this would be a good time to do that before they left.

Everyone contemplated different things in the silence. Spikes contemplated his new design for the team uniforms, although Loryche had told him more than once that their uniforms could not be switched randomly without some sort of uproar. Mor contemplated whether or not he should follow his former team Moltara back home after the tournament to visit family but he couldn't help but worry what his new team would think of him. Scrap contemplated whether or not he should eat another piece but he couldn't since he could only take one omelette a day or else Sabre-X would chase after him. Wila contemplated whether or not she should braid her hair or leave it in a ponytail.

Loryche, as usual, contemplated about her team's performance. Now that Mor was more comfortable with them, they had created more advanced techniques to help with defense while staying alert on the offensive. She thought they had done them quite well and could take on more challenging techniques but the problem was that she hadn't thought of any new ones. In fact, she could only come up with one new technique this year, which was unlike previous years, when she had multiple. She was in a rut and it seemed awfully hard to get out of it.

Before she knew it, she had finished her omelette. The rest of her team had finished theirs as well. She knew, just by watching their darting eyes, that they wanted a second helping. She had to be honest- she wanted another one as well. Sabre-X sometimes popped out of nowhere but what if he was distracted and left the Giant Omelette unattended for a few seconds? That was all the time they needed to slice five more pieces for themselves.

You bet I can go and distract that ol' Lupe so you can swipe some more omelettes. Spikes stood up and brushed crumbs off of his uniform and grinned at Loryche. He had read her mind. Her team were impressive when it came to guessing what she was thinking.

He'll be mighty angry with us if he saw us, Wila pointed out.

Spikes rolled his eyes. What's the harm? We're pretty famous around these parts. He can make an exception for us.

If we were pretty famous, Mor pointed out, why are we the only ones here? he gestured the empty clearing that was usually filled with other Tyrannian pets waiting in line for their share.

Maybe they're just sick of omelettes. I can live forever with these things! Spikes started marching down the path where Sabre-X was situated. I'll lead him away. Grab the slices and go.

Loryche nodded and so did his other teammates. Spikes started down the path with a well-placed smirk and jaunty steps. A few seconds later, an angry howl split the air and the ground vibrated from the pounding of heavy footsteps. She shook her head. She knew she would have to apologize to Sabre-X before they left.

Let's dig in! Scrap said, leaping forward to start slicing the omelette with his tusks. His teammates surrounded him while keeping their ears open for Spikes' return. Loryche gathered the five omelettes he had sliced out and gestured for them to hide.

It was impossible for Mor to hide but he managed to do so by lying flat behind some bushes nearby. Loryche blinked, noticing the omelette had been reduced to several large crumbs, too small for a proper helping. When did that happen? Why did you see how much you were taking, Scrap?

I did! he protested. You took five, right? he gestured at the omelettes taken by his captain. See? I did count!

Do you think he'd notice if there was nothing here? Mor asked quietly. We were the only ones here.

Suddenly, Spikes burst into the bushes, tripping over Mor as he did. He hit the ground, muffling his grunt of pain. The ground vibrated again, alerting them of another pet's arrival. Sabre-X arrived, panting, his head swinging wildly for Spikes. When he did not spot them, he looked at the missing omelette, frowned, and turned away while muttering to himself. Loryche could tell he was going to go tell City Hall that the omelette is missing.

Quietly, Wila started to chuckle. Scrap joined in, followed by Mor, and then Spikes. Loryche smiled and laughed along with them, relieved they were not caught for their looting. She passed out the omelettes and they shared them together as a team.

Even though Loryche didn't have a solid strategy for her team, she could still depend on them to make every match fun.


Touchdown in Altador

One small step for Virtupets… Weldar lifted one foot into the air and prepared to jump off the spaceship. A paw shoved him forward, causing him to lose his balance and plummet to the ground.

One giant bruise for Weldar. Sela smirked and watched him straighten up, rubbing a paw on his back. She jumped down elegantly, her tail brushing his shoulder as she walked by.

Goltron leaned forward slightly with blinking eyes. That was not a step, he said. That was a fall at 0.45 kilometers per hour at a rate of-

Keetra patted his shoulder to prompt him to jump down. You're next, Goltron. She knew Sela well enough to know she would hit their goalkeeper if he had continued his sentence. After Striker jumped down, she joined her team at the bottom of the spaceship, turning to watch the latch close and then take off in a veil of smoke.

Another year had passed and the team was back again for the Altador Cup tournament. There was still a week before its official start but that was plenty of time for her team to get used to the gravity again and get excited again for competing and meeting familiar faces.

Last year's performance was stellar- second place. It was another reward added to their trophy cabinet, which contained their Cup and now medal. She was determined to bring home another medal or even another Cup. The title of being the first team to win another Cup had eluded them but that didn't mean it would this year.

Look! Sela's voice snapped Keetra out of her thoughts. She raised her head, blinking. The sun was rising over Altador, illuminating the buildings and surrounding area. She blinked again, noticing a brighter gleam around the ancient colosseum situated behind the Hall of Heroes. It looked glorious, even from a distance.

You can never see anything like that up at the Space Station, Weldar remarked. Striker nodded in agreement, Goltron opening his mouth to make another comment. Sela slapped her tail over it to prevent him from spoiling the moment.

Keetra smiled. Being up in space meant they missed out on simple pleasures like these- watching the sun rise and set every day, hearing the ocean lap at the shore, feeling a natural breeze, and basking in the sunlight. At the Space Station, though, the endless blanket of darkness and starts meant there was still so much left unexplored out there. Her team had a comfortable home up there and they reveled in the nature of Neopia every time they came down for the tournament.

We're lucky. Her teammates turned to look at her when she started talking. She walked toward them, stopping at Striker's side. We get to come and compete in a tournament every year and we get to experience all of this. Some pets up in the Space Station have never come down here before. We can always stay down here and live here but then we won't be Team Virtupets, would we?

No, we'd be Team Neopia, Sela said with a smirk.

Exactly. We have to fly back and forth for this tournament. So the least we can do for the folks up there is to bring another Cup home, right?

Weldar grinned. I like how you think, Captain.

Everyone would be pretty impressed, Striker added. Second team to win the second Cup.

The number two is pretty lucky, Keetra said with a smile. Let's go down to the town and get settled. Then we'll relax with some Yooyuball.

Sela swished her tail. Only you would relax with some Yooyuball, Captain.

Her teammates chuckled and started descending the hill. Keetra took one last look at the rising sun and followed, eager to get the tournament underway.


Miraculous: Writer's Note

I got inspiration for Miraculous while I was reading through my grade seven journal. A close friend of mine had moved away that year without telling me and in that particular entry, I wrote about how much I missed her. Then, I thought about it and wondered if I really did miss her. The truth is I didn't.

I'll refer to her as A. A and I were the best of friends for an entire year. After that, we were still friends but we grew closer to our other friends than each other. In the seventh grade, friend C told me A was moving. A didn't tell me because she thought I wouldn't care. She was right...in a way. I was devastated at the time though so I did care.

Two years later, in the ninth grade, friend C told me A was visiting but they were going to do something I really didn't want to do so I didn't go. Over the years, I stopped being friends with my old friends and made new friends. I buried my old friendships with them.

This year, though, a friend from elementary school showed me a photo on a book with a face. It was a photo of my old friends with A. A was back and staying permanently. I had never felt so betrayed before. Even now, I still feel an ache.

Writing Miraculous was a way for me to show how it felt to feel truly alone because I did feel alone for a long time. I had complicated friendships and now, sometimes I feel that I have no friends when I do. I have never had a strong friendship after A and I feel as if I never will.

Anyway, thank you very much for sticking with me and the time it took to write this. Miraculous ended in a way I never would have expected it to but I'm glad Astrid and Aliya had a happy ending. Thank you!


Miraculous: Final Chapter

Over the weekend, Aliya and spent the entire two days trying to get my plan into action. Our classmates were quick to help us with my plan and I was relieved they were willing to play along with us. With the entire class working together, it made everything go by a lot faster.

During the entire time we worked, I caught myself glancing over at Aliya every so often. Many years had passed since the day Miranda ruined our friendship and made me believe I would never have friends again. I blamed Aliya though for not telling me instead of Miranda. Miranda was just jealous. She grew snobby and became superior when she realized I was the one who was pitiful and sad. She liked that I was lesser than her. Without Aliya, I was nothing.

And she was right. Without Aliya, I didn't know how to be a good person anymore. Now that she was back, it felt like something lost had been given back to me. I could tell Aliya felt the same too. Before, when she was pretending, she had kept her distance because of what I said to her. The truth was out now and she no longer had to pretend. We could be ourselves again. We were hoping Miranda would be too, before she started this whole mess.

I used to hate her for everything she resembled. Aliya made me look at her differently, as a pet without friends, a pet with privileges but without someone to share them with. Her friends weren't her friends. Everyone should have a friend. I found true meaning in those words after Aliya came back.

Monday came and we all walked to school together. Aliya met me on the sidewalk where her street ended at the intersection. Darwin was delighted to see her again and she gave him a little high-five. He bounced happily all the way to the school and he even bounced into his classroom.

Aliya and I took the time walking toward our classroom. I caught every glance she shot at me and she blinked at me. Is something wrong? she asked. You look nervous.

Maybe I was. Maybe my plan was going to fail and maybe Miranda would win after all. Maybe I was just over-thinking it and maybe I should relax and be reassured that my entire class was behind me. I forced a smile on my face, looked straight in the eye at her, and shook my head. I'm fine.

She looked like she was going to accept it as an explanation but then she chose not to. Come on, Astrid, you can tell you. You don't have to be so secretive anymore. I'm here to listen to you now.

There was no way she would make me forget it either. I didn't know if I found it annoying or heartwarming. I am nervous, but not by a lot. I know Miranda like I know you but I don't know what she might do if this fails. Whatever she does do, I guess, I know you'll have my back and so does everyone else. Right?

Of course! she placed her paw on my shoulder. We're here for you. You're not alone anymore. I promise.

The smile on my face felt real. I was actually smiling. Thanks.

We entered the classroom. Miranda was already there surrounded by her "friends". They were helping out with the plan too and their job was to keep her busy while the rest of us prepared for it. Mr. Peters had his back to his students since he was writing the day's agenda on the board. Our classmates talked to each other as if there was nothing going on. Little did Miranda know, there was something very big going on. Just without her knowing. Even Mr. Peters knew what the plan was.

The morning went on the same as usual. Aliya did her best not to say much to me, pretending she was still obeying Miranda's words. I kept to myself and said little to everyone else. Our classmates called Aliya by her alias Lila to keep up with the lie. I willed for the morning to be over so we could get on with the plan.

Lunch came around. I was the first one to finish and the first one to come back up to the classroom. I put my lunch away and rubbed my paws together. Then I started to get to work.

As the lunch period went by, more and more of my classmates came to help me. Aliya was with Miranda but even without my friend by my side to assure me I was doing the right thing, I had enough confidence to put my faith in my classmates to help me pull this off. We worked quickly, preparing everything within the lunch period. When the bell rang, we got into position and waited for Miranda to show up.

The door was locked so Miranda and her friends had to wait for Mr. Peters to come and unlock it. The lights were off as we waited. I listened for Mr. Peters to appear, his jingling keys alerting us all of their entrance. The door creaked open and Miranda marched in. Mr. Peters flipped the light switch as she did.

I had never seen Miranda surprised before. The look on her face was priceless. Her jaw fell open in the blink of an eye, her eyes blinking rapidly as if she couldn't read what was written on the banner that stretched across the classroom. She knew the handwriting on the banner. It belonged to me.

I emerged from my hiding spot behind a desk. Everyone else remained hidden. I walked down the aisle and stood in front of her. I hoped I looked calm because my heart was racing inside me. I know it was you who did everything you could to ruin my friendship with Aliya, I said. My voice was steady. That was a good sign. You stopped her from telling me. You told everyone else to keep it a secret. You were happy that I was alone and friendless but you were always like that. You laugh and pretend everything is okay when it really isn't. You pretended you had more friends than I did and okay, that is true. I only ever had one friend and after she left, I had none. But, she came back. I used to hate her but actually, I didn't. I didn't hate you either. It's because we're friends and I can never hate my friends for very long.

Aliya slipped into the classroom from where she stood just outside the doorway. She walked to my side and stopped beside me, placing her paw on my shoulder like she did that morning. We can be friends again, Miranda, I said. All three of us. You, me, and...and Aliya.

Miranda said nothing in response to that. Her eyes darted back and forth to me and Aliya. I couldn't tell if she was genuinely surprised or if she was just faking it. A lot of pets were good at pretending, including her. We were friends at one time, Miranda, I added slowly. I know how exactly you think and I know you wouldn't let this go. We can be friends again. Only if you want to.

That seemed to snap her out of her silence. She looked up at me, her dazed look masking her other emotions. So you did all this just to ask me?

I shrugged easily. That was the signal for our classmates to pop up from their hiding spots, all of them holding a gift in their paws. It is your birthday. A real friend wouldn't forget it.

After school, my mother came to pick up Darwin upon my request. She took him by his paw and me and Aliya walked in the opposite direction toward the library. I had walked down this sidewalk so many times to go to the library but this time, with Aliya by my side, I remembered that day all those years ago when Pandora came to me and told me about the party I wasn't told of. I didn't go back to school or to the library as I wanted to. I had run home and destroyed everything related to Aliya.

A strange smile appeared on my face. Aliya caught it, as usual, and she did her best to hide her own smile. What are you thinking about? she asked.

Nothing, really. I remember that day after school when Pandora came to tell me that you were moving and they threw a party for you. I didn't go because I was so upset you didn't tell me. I was walking to the library when she found me.

What did you do after that?

I ran home and got rid of everything you gave me. I let out a breath, anticipating her frown or some other sort of negative emotion. She didn't sound upset though. She merely smiled. What? Is that funny?

She shook her head. No, of course not, but...well...I didn't think you would've gotten rid of everything. You don't seem like that sort of person.

No. You're right. I kept one thing. I reached into my pocket and took the object out. I showed it to her, my eyes on her face to watch her reaction. She blinked at it, surprised. Then, she reached into her pocket and took out a similar object.

A long time ago, as most friends had, we made our own friendship charm. They were awful, messy keychains of cardboard cut-outs of a Wocky and Blumaroo, our names written on them, and a simple vow to always remain friends. I guessed, in my heart, I always knew we would be friends again, no matter what happened or what came in our way.

But why did you keep it? she asked. She didn't sound curious or mad. Her voice was neutral.

I don't know why. I guess...well...I don't know. I shook my head. Maybe I never did hate her for real. I just wanted to put the blame on someone for this and she was the most obvious one. I stopped walking to try to get my words straight. I knew you wouldn't tell me without a good reason. You knew I would care and I knew you thought of me as your friend. I always...always...knew we would be friends again, even if I didn't think of it every day. I was kidding myself. As usual.

I pocketed the keychain in my pocket again. Everyone needs a friend. Without one, you're not whole. I wasn't whole without you but now, I am.

Does that mean you...you forgive me? she blinked at me. I continued walking forward with the same mysterious smile on my face. I didn't have to answer that. She already knew the answer. She always knew I had never blamed her. That was friends were for. Right?


Miraculous: Chapter 7

I remembered very clearly what I said to Lila that day when she asked me if I would forgive Aliya. I said no.

But now that she was sitting right in front of me, I wasn't sure what my answer would be now. Did I still hate her after being with her again for the last few months of school? Personalities were a strange thing- some pets could have similar personalities but with different interests, and some could have similar interests and different personalities. That was why I never thought that Lila could be Aliya.

Besides, Aliya was a pretty Wocky in pink, not striped. The color of a pet was important too.

She didn't say anything for a long time. We were wreathed in awkward silence for a few minutes. I didn't know if she was waiting for me to say something or if she was just waiting for me to digest that she had been Aliya this entire time and Miranda knew since the moment she stepped into the classroom that first day. I regretted saying I was observant now. I should've been able to spot this a long time ago.

Astrid, she said hesitantly, are you okay?

I think so. I hoped so. I let out a breath and shook myself to focus. There was nothing really to focus on except her so I raised my head to look at her. She blinked her large eyes at me, an emotion creeping into them. I didn't know what it was. Sadness? Fear? Shame? Why…why did you come back?

She didn't answer me right away. I thought of another question that might've been easier to answer but I didn't think of it until after I asked her that. She answered, My aunt wanted me to come back. I only moved in the first place because our neohome was getting renovated.

But…your neohome…it said it was 'for sale'… I didn't say anymore without sounding awkward. I couldn't admit I had watched her neohome for weeks after she left in case she came back. She didn't.

It wasn't really. I don't know what that sign was for. Social experiment? Aliya let out a nervous laugh, watching me. I still looked the same: dumbfounded. Astrid, I'm sorry I didn't tell you-

With those words, something inside me snapped. I didn't want her to be sorry. I didn't want anything from her but the truth. The whole truth. No, I said sharply. Don't say that. Don't apologize. I want the truth. Why didn't you tell me? Why did you move back? Why did you paint yourself and change your name? How did Miranda figure it out before I did?

Aliya didn't say anything for a few minutes. I could tell she was gathering her thoughts and choosing words that would offend me the least. Then, she explained her story.

My mom told me I had to leave for a while because our neohome was being renovated. She told me we were going to live with my aunt on Roo Island for a while and since I thought it really was a while, I didn't tell you. Miranda overheard me telling our teacher that I had to leave a few days before the end of the school year and she told everyone. I tried telling you but she kept interrupting me from doing that. I didn't want to leave without you knowing. I was going to tell you the reason why at the party but you never came.

I remained still. It wasn't my fault I didn't go to the party. I had thought she didn't care about me so not going seemed like the best way to convey it.

The neohome still wasn't done when summer ended. I really wanted to go back but I couldn't since there was nowhere for me to live. I wanted to ask you if I could live with you and your family but my aunt told me to stay because she already enrolled me in a private school. I hated it there.

She was never a fan of private schools. We complained about them enough times.

I could only come back now because I had to leave the school. It was so hard for me to keep up with the work and the extracurricular. Everyone was better than me. I couldn't keep up anymore. I begged my aunt to send me back. And she did. And I came back to this school.

I opened my mouth to ask her why she had painted herself when she looked so pretty pink but she kept going, anticipating my question.

Miranda saw me that first day I came back. I don't know why I chose to paint myself but I did. I guess…I guess it was because I wanted to start a new slate with you. Shame entered her tone. I saw you and Darwin walking around before school started. You looked so dark and sad. You never smiled at your brother. You looked really sad. I wanted to change that.

I couldn't deny I became a lot darker after she had gone but watching me like that sounded a lot like something I would do.

I changed my name and painted myself striped so you wouldn't recognize me. Miranda, though, knew who I was because she saw me before. She told me to stay away from you or else she'd tell everyone who I really am.

Why would she do that? We used to be… Friends. Yes, I was friends with someone like her in the past. It was a dark time in my life.

I don't know. I think…I think she might be jealous. Aliya hesitated. She has a lot of friends, you know, but she doesn't know any of them personally. We did. We were so close to each other and she tried being close to you but you didn't like her. Now she's just trying to get back at you.

I flicked my tail, unsure what to say to that. It sounded a lot like what she would do. Okay. What are we going to do about her, then? I mean, we can definitely tell everyone you're Aliya and all…

I know. But Miranda said if I did that then she would do something else. Something just as bad to us.

I took a moment to think about it. Miranda, the popular one, the one who had everything. Everything but friends who cared for her. I couldn't be friends with her ever again and neither could Aliya. There was only one thing we could do. I have a plan. I'll need your help, though. Will you… my voice failed me for a moment. Will you help me?

Aliya looked at me. Her lips gradually curved into a smile. Of course. Friend.


Miraculous: Chapter 6

Before:

The bell had rung for the last time before summer vacation. Students spilled out onto the yard and playground, hugging friends in farewell, exchanging gifts, and playing with friends for the last time. Parents chirped similar farewells to the parents of their children's friends or started walking in the direction of home to prepare for their summer vacation.

I walked in the opposite direction of home because I wanted to go to the library to find books. I was looking forward to a summer of reading books with Aliya and playing with the other pets on the street with her. We were setting up a mock Yooyuball tournament for the pets in the neighborhood at the end of the next month. I was excited for it, even though there was still a month until it came around.

Adjusting my backpack around my shoulders, I thought back to the last hour in school. Ms. Whistler gave everyone a cupcake she had baked from home. Many of the other students had also brought sweets from home to share. I had helped bake a cake with my mother and shared it. We had a party because of all the sweets brought in. I shared everything with Aliya, laughs, cookies, smiles, and all. It was the best school day I had ever had.

Astrid! I recognized the voice to belong to Pandora. I turned around and watched her run toward me, her long tail swishing behind her. When she stopped in front of me, she was breathing hard. She adjusted her glasses. Astrid, where are you going?

To the library? I pointed in the direction I was walking with my tail. Why?

How can you be going to the library at a time like this? Pandora exclaimed. Aliya is leaving tomorrow and all you care about is reading? How can you be so selfish? You-

Wait. What? Aliya is leaving? I was confused, so confused. She never told me anything about leaving. She told me we were going to spend the summer together!

Pandora shifted her feet uneasily. She...she didn't tell you? Not a single thing?

I shook my head, too confused to say anything.

Well...she told the rest of us...she told everyone. The whole class is going to throw her a party after school because she isn't coming back. She's going to be gone forever and-

Stop, Pandora. When did she tell you this? Why...? Why didn't she tell me?

Pandora looked at me. You really...don't know anything about this? I shook my head again. She told us all at the beginning of the month. I...we thought you would know because you never said anything about it. We were planning a farewell party for her for weeks and you...Miranda said not to invite you since she said you were going to throw her another party or something.

I didn't know what to say. My heart was racing and I was blinking rapidly. There were so many things for me to say but I couldn't voice them no matter what I did. I focused my gaze on Pandora, noticing she was staring at me. Why didn't she tell me?

Who? Miranda?

No. Aliya. My voice grew hard. Why didn't she tell me?

I don't know! Why are you asking me? Pandora wailed. She paused suddenly as if she remembered something. Oh. I think I remember. I think someone asked her and I heard it. She said you wouldn't care. I think that was it.

Me? Not caring? Not caring that my friend was moving away? Not caring that I would never see her face again? Not caring that I wouldn't care to see her one last time before she left for good? I shook my head in disbelief. I couldn't believe it. Pandora must've been lying. If not her, it was Aliya herself. We had been friends for years and this was how it was going to end?

Astrid- say something, Pandora said, sounding frightened. You...are you okay? Are you going to go to the party? It's not too late-

Her words snapped me to the present. I squared my shoulders and looked at her directly. My mind was completely blank. I felt cold inside but it was sunny on the outside. Was this how betrayal felt? Was this a kind of heartbreak I would experience in the future? I'm fine, I said. She flinched at my harsh tone. No, I'm not going to the party. If Aliya think I wouldn't care about her then fine. I won't. She has all of you to say good-bye to. I'd just be in the way.

Astrid, you-

I'm going to the library. I'm going to find books and read them. I won't care about Aliya if she won't care about me. That's only fair? Right? I started walking away to hide the quiver at the end of my sentence. Pandora shouted out after me but did not follow. I started running when she turned to walk back toward the school.

I ran the long way back to my neohome, avoiding the school as best as I could. When I reached it, I slammed the door to my bedroom and fell onto my bed crying. The tears dried after a few minutes and were reduced to sobs. Then I spent the next fifteen minutes tearing and throwing away everything I had related to Aliya: photos, presents, letters, cards, and jewelry. I swore to never have a best friend ever again because they would all leave me in the end.

Then I went downstairs to eat dinner with my family as if nothing had happened.


Miraculous: Chapter 5

It had been a very long time since I felt relieved to have a partner to do partner work with. Mr. Peters was a fan of it and I was often the odd one out because everyone grouped up perfectly. He sometimes placed me in a group or let me do the work by myself. Since Lila's bold declaration, I hadn't the problem anymore. She was always there for me.

I would've thought she would be annoying but she wasn't. Even though she was there for every instance I needed a partner, she kept her distance. She didn't ask too many intruding questions. She played with Darwin whenever he asked us. She often talked to me during Yooyuball practices while talking to her fellow defenders. When we played together, we often knew what the other would do. She always passed the yooyu to me and I always passed it to her if I was in a tough spot. We would walk home together afterwards. She invited me into her neohome at one point. I invited hers to mine to return the favor.

The third month of school came and I thought everything was going smoothly. I had a friend and that was that. Everything became so wrong so quickly I almost didn't notice it. I thought it would pass but it obviously didn't.

Lila did trick me. She led me into believing falsely we could be friends and she left me there. It was a trap and I knew it was a trap. I didn't know it would hurt so much because I never knew how it would feel.

When she didn't sit down with me at lunch, I didn't think anything was strange. I thought she was just finishing up her assignment or talking to a teacher. I didn't see her around the school either for the rest of lunch period and she avoided my eye during class. At the bell, she marched out of the classroom without a word to me. I didn't follow her.

During practices, we communicated through glances, gestures, and the occasional call-out for the yooyu. Other than that, she kept her distance and I decided to keep mine. I didn't know what else to do. I didn't know how I was supposed to behave around her. All I could do was numb my feelings of betrayal and go on with life as if nothing had happened.

It bothered me at the end of each day. I had to wonder why Lila was avoiding me, had stopped talking to me, hadn't looked my way in between lessons. She completely vanished during break and lunch and walked home so fast I could never cross her path.

On Sunday, I was at the library to look for books to read. I saw Lila standing in front of a bookshelf, admiring one of the books I had read before. She looked up, seeing me. She flattened her ears and pushed the book back into its place. Then she turned and marched toward the exit. I didn't even stop her. I reached for the book she was looking at and glanced at the cover. It was the kind of book Aliya would like to read. She was the one who recommended it to me, actually. I put the book without another glance.

Another week passed. The same thing happened at school. I didn't see her at the library though. I was disappointed. Then, finally, after another week, I decided to confront her and ask her what was wrong. I was nervous because I didn't know how she would react when I knocked on the door to her neohome. I didn't even know if this was the right thing to do. I never had such problems back when I did have friends. This was the first time doing anything like it.

I dropped off my backpack in my neohome and walked back the way I came from, turning onto the street where Lila's neohome was. There was only one neohome that was yellow on her street. I knocked on it.

A yellow Wocky with wireframe glasses perched on her nose answered it. I blinked, taking a surprised step back. The Wocky recognized me as well. Astrid. I- I wasn't expecting you.

No. I was...I was wondering if Lila is home? I asked hesitantly. She lives here, right?

Lila? Of course. She's my daughter, Lila's mother answered slowly. She stepped to the side so I could move into the hallway. Upstairs. First room you see. The door should be open. Lila doesn't like closing them.

Just like a friend I once knew. I thanked her and climbed up the stairs, my tail swishing anxiously against the staircase. Like she had said, the first room had its door opened. I knocked on it before angling myself to look into it. A timid voice said, Come in.

I stepped into view. Lila was sitting on the floor with a photo album opened in front of her. She looked up at me, blinking her huge eyes. She looked almost sad. I was wondering if coming was a bad idea after all.

Hi, Astrid, she said. I...I was thinking you would come eventually. You're a good friend but stuff like this doesn't seem like what you do.

No, I agreed. I thought...well, I thought you might need me to help you. There's obviously something wrong and if you consider me your friend, I should help you the best I can.

I consider you my friend. Do you? She was clearly remembering my little outburst after that first Yooyuball practice session. I flicked my tail before sitting down in front of her, picking my words carefully.

I don't know, honestly. I consider everyone my friend. Except for Miranda and her followers. I was friends with everyone at some point so I know them and they know me. I know you too. Maybe not as much but it's still something. And...and whenever there was something wrong before, there was always someone who came to me and asked me if there was something wrong. I only had one friend who did that: Aliya. We knew each other so well but then she left. I had never felt that way to anyone else ever since.

Lila ran her paw over her page of photos. I couldn't see what kind of photos they were from my angle and they were of a bad quality. Are you sure you want to help me? You barely know me, like you said. I'm just a stranger to you.

No. You're not. You're the first new pet to try to be friends with me. No one else had done that. You knew who I was right away and you live on the same street Aliya did. You play Yooyuball. You draw beautifully. You wanted to be friends with me and no matter how many times I said no or tried to avoid you. My brother loves you. I... I stopped there, unsure how to continue this. Lila watched me. I...I think I know why you've been avoiding me. It has something to do with Miranda, doesn't it?

She looked at me. How can you tell?

I watch others. It's what I do whenever I'm alone. You can tell me, Lila.

She was silent for a minute or two. Then, she let out a breath. A few weeks ago, Miranda came up to me. She...she's blackmailing me.

Blackmail? I didn't think Miranda was capable of doing that. She didn't seem smart enough. Why?

She told me to stay away from you and stop being friends with you, Lila continued quickly to avoid my question, or else she'll tell everyone who I am.

You're...Lila... no, I was fooling myself. She wasn't Lila. She was someone completely different. I only thought she was Lila because I wouldn't be able to face her again. If I did, I wouldn't know what to say. She was waiting for me to say it. So I said it. You're Aliya.


Miraculous: Chapter 4

Every photo I had with me and Aliya had been ripped in half and thrown away. On the day she left, I had gone on a rampage for about fifteen minutes, destroying everything I had related to all my ruined friendships. Then I had gone downstairs to eat dinner with my family and acted like nothing had happened at all.

Since my "tour" with Lila, she had been quiet around me. She spoke to me only when she needed help or had a question. She still chose to eat with me at lunchtime and started following me on my walks around school grounds. Sometimes, when Darwin spotted me and invited me to play with him and his friends, she would swing by and ask to play with us. My brother happily allowed her to and, I must admit, she was excellent at make-believe. She acted as the role of our aunt while Darwin and I still remained siblings, even in make-believe.

Three weeks into school, sign-ups for the Yooyuball team started. I signed up as soon as I could and as I was heading out of the classroom, Lila marched in. We almost bumped into each other. I straightened up and blinked at her before moving out of her way. Sorry.

It's fine. She shook her head. Did you sign up already? You said you always play forward so that's the position you want?

Yes. Why? Are you...? I never imagined the new student would get involved with Yooyuball in their first year, even though it was also their last.

I used to play Yooyuball before I moved, Lila explained. I was a defender so hopefully I'll get the position. Maybe we'll both be on the team together. With a smile, she squeezed passed me and headed into the classroom.

At lunch, I caught myself looking for Lila to show up. I wanted to talk to her about Yooyuball, about her old team, and why she said she wasn't very good at it the last time she brought it up. I wouldn't know if she was good at it or not until I saw her play. Hopefully she was because Coach was very picky about choosing players for her team.

I was almost done and Lila still didn't join me yet. I frowned and craned my neck to see if I could spot her at the head of the cafeteria line. She wasn't there. I surveyed the lunchroom, noticing small clusters of girls and boys separated by benches. She wasn't with any of them.

As I was about to turn away and pack up my lunch, I heard Miranda's group laughing. I turned instinctively in her direction and noticed something.

Lila was sitting with them. She looked like she was having a good time- or pretending to, at least. The smile on her face looked forced but her laugh sounded casual. She ditched me for them. Again.

Outside, I saw her walking with them. Not trailing behind them but beside them. She looked like she was enjoying herself. I pushed away the stab of jealousy piercing me and turned to walk in the opposite direction.

It was stupid of me to think she and I could be friends. She was easy to talk to- very easy to talk to. She was a good listener and had many stories to share during her time on Roo Island. She liked playing with me and my brother, just like Aliya did. The only different was Aliya didn't leave to go hang with someone else like Lila did.

When Yooyuball tryouts began, I didn't have to participate. Coach knew me from previous years and she knew I was one of her best forwards. I watched Lila play, defending the net in perfect harmony with the other defender. She was excellent at it, despite what she said before. I wasn't surprised when Coach let her join the team.

We had a quick practice session just to see how the old players were compared to the new ones. Our goalkeeper was tough and quick-witted. The other forward was fast and accurate. The defenders read each other's minds without practice. I was nimble and precise. Our back-up members were more or less the same.

After practice, I threw my equipment into my bag, zipped it up, and started walking home. I forgot Lila walked the same way I did so when she called out to me, I jumped, turning around to ask her a skeptical question. My confused look vanished when I remembered where her neohome was.

That was fun, she puffed, still catching her breath from her jog catching up to me. Are practices always like that? We'd just play against the other players?

Yes. We're one shift and they're another. We alternate. I guess we're not strong enough to play all the time. I shrugged.

That can't be true. I heard Fenny Vail from Team Roo Island joined the Yooyuball team when she was only thirteen. Thirteen! We're not that much younger than her so we should be able to play the entire time.

I think Coach just wants more pets on the team so there would be more chances to get on. Anyway, I said, trying to change the subject, you said you weren't a Yooyuballer. Were you lying?

She was caught off-guard by my question. She glanced at me very quickly and then started shaking her head a bit. I wasn't really lying. I mean- I just- I don't know. I didn't get into Yooyuball until a few years ago. I took a break and just started playing again. I guess I forgot I played.

I didn't look at her. Some of my old friends joined the team with me a few years ago but they all quit because of other activities, or they didn't like the sport. I only had one who stuck with me the entire way through until she left. It seemed like everything went back to Aliya for some reason.

Do you know any of the members on the team? Are they your friends?

I adjusted my bag strap around my shoulder. Not really. We used to be close but now they talk about stuff I don't know about. I don't really care.

Lila was silent for a few seconds. Then she said softly, I'm glad I made it on the team. At least you'll have one pet to talk to.

Do you think we're friends? I looked up to glare at her. It wasn't a very nice glare but I didn't put too much effort into it either. Classmates, maybe, but not friends. I hadn't had a friend since my best friend left me without saying so. Then I realized how harsh I sounded and how new Lila still was. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap-

It's okay. Her voice was soft. Look, Astrid, I can say I'm sorry on behalf of your friend. She probably didn't mean it, but…she wouldn't want you to be so sour about life and everything after she left. She'd want you to move on and find someone else.

Move on. Find someone else. Those were the two things I couldn't do. She was my only best friend and she left. There was no one else who could even fill a third of her paw prints.

Let me try to be that friend, Lila continued. I know you might not get used to it but I want to be there for you, and you should be there for me. Okay? You should leave school with at least one friend by your side, Astrid. I want to be that friend.

I didn't know what to say. I wanted to challenge her words with what I saw about her and Miranda. I wanted to ask her if she was just trying to get my hopes up and then leave me to fall flat on my tail after I'd been fooled.

I didn't say anything. Instead, I nodded, accepting her words. Dependence. I forgot how it felt like. I wasn't looking forward to it.


Miraculous: Chapter 3

The first week of school went by smoothly. No one moved and the only empty desk was the one beside mine so that was where Lila sat. I tried not to pay attention to her but it was hard to ignore her. It wasn't in my nature to ignore other people when they were clearly talking to me. She wasn't very good at math and language arts seemed to be her best subject as well as art. I saw her drawings once when she was just doodling. It looked beautiful.

I had friends who drew beautifully. They always drew my birthday cards by hand so whenever I looked at them, I always thought of bittersweet memories. Pretty much every friendship I had was bittersweet.

During lunch period on the third day of the second week, Lila placed her lunch tray in front of me. I looked up, pausing in mid-chew. She sat down across from me and smiled at me. Do you always eat alone?

Yes. The lunchroom wasn't very big and we shared the space with the younger students. Their teachers watched them while we watched ourselves. There was a large gap between the group of girls that sat at the same table as me. They paid no attention to me. I returned the favor by not eavesdropping on them.

Well, let me sit with you. Lila picked up her fork and started eating her salad. Don't you have any friends to eat with? she asked. You're always alone.

I had watched her sit with Miranda and her group of friends. Miranda talked majority of the time and the rest of the girls just listened and laughed when it was appropriate. Lila was quiet, not participating with the rest of them. When I walked around the school grounds, she had half-heartedly trailed behind them as well. No one questioned her or tried to include her.

I almost felt bad for her. It was hard for new students during the last year to make friends because no friendship group would accept anyone new. I guessed they would gravitate toward the outcasts of the class.

I was friends with them all at one point. I shrugged, hoping I sounded nonchalant. But then we never clicked so now I just keep to myself. Why? It doesn't really matter.

Of course it matters! she shook her head as if she was disappointed in me. We all need to have a friend. You can't always rely on yourself. It doesn't work that way. Why don't let me be your friend? You can show me around the neighborhood after school. Are you busy today? I had never been here before so I don't know where anything is.

I wished I had an excuse to get out of it but I didn't have one. Yooyuball season didn't start until next month so I was free after school until then. If I got onto the team, that is. Sure, I mumbled. I'll take you around the neighborhood.

She smiled at me. Thank you. Her smile was brilliant, radiant. I was almost jealous of it but I pushed it down. We all had our strong points. Her smile was hers.

After school, we met up together in the schoolyard. I told my mother and Darwin where I was going before walking off with Lila. She greeted my mother before following me. Your mom is really nice, she said. Was that little Blumaroo your brother? He's so cute!

A lot of pets called him cute. I didn't know why. He is. I nodded. His name is Darwin.

Darwin and Astrid? I don't see a connection.

Names don't usually have to have a connection. Sometimes a name can just be a name. I chose a direction at random and walked down the sidewalk. The other students were walking home with their friends, parents, or guardians. Many walked in large groups, a few walked in pairs, and very few walked alone. I used to walk alone to and from school when Darwin was too young to go to school but now our mother walked with us.

I showed Lila the public library, the art gallery, the Money Tree, and the Neopian Bank. There were other important places I could have showed her but chose not to. I turned around and started walking toward the school again so she could find her way back.

Do you play any sports? she asked me. I knew she was trying to start a conversation. I didn't feel like talking though.

Yes. I play Yooyuball.

Oh! You do? she sounded pleased. I love watching Yooyuball. I'm not very good at any sports though. What position do you play?

Forward.

Wow, that's impressive. How long have you been playing? Did anyone teach you or did you learn on your own? Are you on the team?

I patiently answered her questions, keeping them short and minimal, not really offering any details. She didn't seem bothered by that though. She sounded as if she really did want to hear about my Yooyuball playing. She was a good listener. She laughed and made comments whenever necessary. She was like me- a good friend.

I couldn't get my hopes up though. I knew how this friendship would end up as: a failure. My laugh was cut short when I told myself this. This friendship, this happiness- it was all temporary. It wasn't here to stay. Lila and I would soon fall out and she would leave me and be someone else's friend. All Lila would ever be to me was somebody that I used to know.

We arrived at the school. We said good-bye and I started walking forward. Lila kept trailing me. I looked over my shoulder at her and she gave me a small smile. I live in this direction, she told me. What about you? Where's your neohome?

Just down the street from here. It's pink.

Oh. Really? I guess we don't live too far from each other. I remember a pink neohome on my street too. That must be yours.

Probably. I shrugged and looked away. Our walk returned to be silent again.

She spoke again after an uncomfortable pause. You don't sound like you want me around, she said slowly. I'm sorry. I just thought-

All of my friends left me. I didn't mean it but my tone was bitter. Well, they're still at the school, still in my class, but they pretend they don't know me. I know all of them because they were all my friend at some point. I'm just...I don't know. We just never had anything in common. We just drifted and then I'd be alone again. My one true best friend moved away without telling me. Since then, I gave up having friends.

Lila was quiet while I spilled my frustration onto her. I felt bad for doing so but I couldn't help it. She asked, after all. I gave her an answer. When she spoke again, her tone was quiet and gentle.

I'm sorry. That sounds awful, to have been pushed away by everyone. It must hurt even more for them to pretend they were never friends with you. That friend that moved away without telling you...where did they move to?

Roo Island. Have you met her while you were there? Her name is Aliya.

She shook her head. No, I had never heard of it. Your friend- Aliya- I'm sure she's sorry that she didn't tell you. She must've regretted not telling you.

I doubted that. She told everyone else- told all of her classmates- but not me. Not her best friend. No, I don't think that.

Well, would you forgive her, then? If you saw her again, would you forgive her for never telling you?

I thought about it for a minute. I had never thought about it so I didn't know the answer. No, I answered at last. I would never forgive her. She...she was my only friend and she just left out of nowhere. I can never forgive her for doing that.

Lila stopped walking somewhat abruptly. It took me a few steps before I realized she wasn't by my side. We reached an intersection and it looked like she was crossing. My neohome is down that way, she said, gesturing with her paw. Thanks for the tour, Astrid. It was really helpful. I'll see you tomorrow. Without another a word, she hurried down the street. I kept walking, letting my own words repeat in my mind.

I had lost my only best friend because of her own fault. She never told me she was leaving and I never held it against her. Now I did, after I thought about it for a while. It was her fault my social life was in ruins. It was her fault no one liked me. It was her fault I was always alone.

I really couldn't forgive her no matter what she did.


Miraculous: Chapter 2

When I entered my classroom, no one greeted me. Until we were in our new classes, we were supposed to go back to our old one. I didn't miss it at all but there was a chance I could have Mr. Peters again and have the same classmates like last year. Staying or moving didn't matter to me. I hated both options.

The desks were arranged in five rows of four. There were twenty of us in total but only ten or so were early. The girls were clustered together in the top-left corner of the room chatting, laughing, and gossiping. In the opposite side of the room, the boys told stories about their summer, their vacations, and made jokes whenever they could. Their collective laughter was melodic.

I sat down in my old desk at the front of the left-most row. My tail-tip curled as I eavesdropped on both conversations going around me. Mr. Peters, a yellow Chia with glasses and a mustache, was talking to another teacher at his desk in the corner where the boys were. That was also where the cloakroom was, the place for us to hang our jackets and backpacks. There was also a smaller room beside that. It was supposed to be a book room but there were no books in there, just a table and chairs and a sink that no longer worked. The boys clogged it last year.

I placed my paws on top of my desk and looked around. The room looked more or less the same except it was emptier since all of our old work had been taken down. He had posters to promote punctuality and common spelling errors taped on the wall above the windows at the back. He also had two globes of Neopia in two different corners of the room. I liked spinning it and pretending I liked somewhere else instead of Neopia Central. I always wanted to see Maraqua but it was impossible to live there without being Maraquan. I wouldn't mind. Maraquan Blumaroo don't look too bad.

The reason why I sat closest to the left wall was because it was lined with bookshelves. Mr. Peters had a collection of moldy novels we read in class as well as textbooks. Whenever he lectured and I was close to falling asleep, I would take one closest to me and read it under my desk. Since he never looked my way, I could get away reading every time.

Laughter from both the girls and boys mixed into the air. I looked over my shoulder at the girls and then the boys. I knew them all and I could name who was laughing individually. It might sound strange but that just tells you how I tried befriending all of them and failed to keep their friendship.

The bell rang at 9 AM. Mr. Peters said good-bye to the teacher he was talking to and stood at the front of his classroom behind his lectern. He waited for the two groups to dissipate and return to their desks, still whispering among them excitedly. I couldn't hear what any of them were saying though.

Welcome back, everyone, he announced. I hope you all had a good summer. Let's go up and down the rows and see what everyone did. I'll start.

He launched into a quick story of traveling to Mystery Island and how he visited the lost city of Geraptiku. He ended the story with his time relaxing on the beach. You can go next, Miranda, he said, nodding at the pretty white Gnorbu sitting in the first row on the right.

Miranda was the popular pet in the class. She was loved by everyone and all the girls wanted to be friends with her. No one believed me when I said we were friends once upon a time, and now she pretended I didn't exist. It didn't surprise me that she had traveled to Faerieland and met with Queen Fyora herself. It sounded like something she would do.

Half of the class had gone away for the summer while the other half stayed in Neopia Central but did their own activities. A group of boys had gone camping in the forest. Three girls had participating in an acting camp together. One lucky boy had watched the Altador Cup, cheering for Team Darigan Citadel.

When it was my turn, almost no one paid attention but some of the nicer students and Mr. Peters. I quickly described my time in Yooyuball camp and then Mr. Peters finished the rest of his welcome-back speech. He was looking forward to seeing the class list and whether or not he would be teaching us again. We wouldn't know until the end of the hour. That was when the principal came around to give him the list. He would then announce it to us and we would go to our new classes the next day.

For the rest of the hour, the girls and boys went back into their separate groups to continue talking. I stayed seated, examining the spines of the books on the shelves as usual. I had memorized the order months ago since I was always staring at it. I considered taking a book and rereading it but thought against it. I could suffer through thirty-two minutes of nothing. I did that every lunch period. This was no exception.

I suddenly wished I brought something my notebook and pencil. Sometimes I wrote in it, sometimes I drew in it. It depended on how I felt like. Instead, I pretended to draw something with my paw. It was enough to pass the time until our principal came to deliver the class list to Mr. Peters. I watched them talk quietly and then the principal headed back out into the hallway to finish delivering the lists. Mr. Peters scanned it.

Everyone, can I have your attention, please? Mr. Peters called out. We slowly quieted down and turned to face him. He cleared his throat and looked down at his list. We have our class list for the year. I will be your teacher again.

No one cheered but no one protested either. He and Ms. Rose were the only teachers teaching final year classes and there were only two. If he wasn't teaching us, she would, but it looked like they were both keeping their class from last year.

None of you will be leaving, of course, but feel free to sit somewhere else for a change. I'm looking forward to teaching you new things this year. He smiled. We'll do everything we didn't do last year and much more. We also have a new student joining us-

Before he could say anymore, someone knocked on the door and stuck their head in. I looked up from where I was lazily tracing the outline of a Buzz and blinked in surprise. I had a feeling but I thought she would be in Ms. Rose's class, not mine. I had wished she would be in the other class.

It was Lila.


Miraculous: Chapter 1

I was never the Angelpuss in the school. You'd be surprised by how many friends I have: zero. Zilch. Nada. Not a single friend. I don't know what I did wrong. I was loyal, I paid attention to whoever was talking, I offered advice and laughed at jokes. I remembered all of their birthdays and their petpets' and whatever else they thought was important. I was a good friend.

Even so, I didn't have any friends. I guess there was no one in the school that didn't like me and there was no one who I could relate to. I knew everyone in my class personally because I was friends with all of them at one point. I don't know how we managed to drift apart. I guess I would be lying if I said I didn't want friends. Everyone wanted them. Including me.

Summer ended and it was back to school. I heaved a sigh when I looked at the calendar, noticing someone had circled the date with a fat red marker. I didn't like school partly because I didn't have any friends and partly because I didn't like it period. The teachers were boring and ignorant. The other students were even more ignorant and totally one-sided. Maybe that was why no one liked me. I ran my mouth a lot. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.

My younger brother Darwin was ecstatic to go back to school. He was in his third year of school and he loved it. Of course he did. He got to play every day and he was too young to make judgments. For me, on the other hand, I was in my last year. I knew enough and I could make judgments on my own. I judged everyone and decided they hated me. I was pretty determined to think that too.

Usually our mother walked us to school but the school was a ten minute walk away from our neohome and I was old enough to take him there. He bounced all the way there on his tail. I walked behind him, my tail-tip dragging against the sidewalk. Neither of us had backpacks since it was the first day back. We were only going to be there for an hour. It wasn't a big deal.

For him, it wasn't. For me, it was.

The schoolyard was filled with students, both new and old. The youngest students held onto their parent's paws, anxiously looking around to look for familiar or friendly faces. Older students waved good-byes to their parents or older siblings and hugged their friends, exclaiming about the time they spent away from each other. Some of the middle-year students were running around, swinging on the playgrounds and chasing each other in circles.

I steered Darwin into the school building before he could be called away by his friends. He looked over his shoulder at me, happiness shining in his eyes. Are you going to pick me up after school too? he asked me. His voice was still high-pitched and squeaky like a Mazzew. He was still young.

I tried to give him my best smile. He wouldn't notice how much it hurt. Of course. You go have fun, okay? Say hi to your friends for me.

His classroom was the third one on the right from when we entered the building. His teacher, a tall red Gelert we call Ms. Whistler, noticed him enter and smiled at him, giving him a quick hug. She noticed me standing in the hallway and gave me a nod and smile. I replied with a nod and turned to climb the stairs up to the second floor to my classroom.

Oops! I collided with someone as they flew down the stairs. I stepped aside in time, pulling my tail out of their way before they tripped on that too. I looked up, meeting the eyes of a striped Wocky. She had a flustered look on her face and she nervously flicked an ear. I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?

No. I'm fine. Her clumsiness reminded me of someone I knew. A friend. An old friend. Are you?

She nodded quickly. Yes, I'm fine. Do you- do you know where the library is? I'm new so I don't know where anything is.

Oh, you are? She could've fooled me. I flicked my tail and turned to walk down the hallway. The library was in the next building and it took up the entirety of the first floor. The second floor was for teachers and other staff members only. I walked out of the door and out into the open to cross the field to reach the next building.

Yes! I moved here from Roo Island, she told me. I was in a nice school but I couldn't get along with anyone. So I came here to live with my aunt.

I didn't pay too much attention to her. I gave up trying to warm up to new students to try to befriend them since all my other friendships ended so dourly. If I gave her the cold shoulder now, she might never talk to me again but that was okay. I didn't think anyone else would talk to me anyway.

Hey, what's your name? I'm Lila. She surprised me at that. I wrapped my paw around the door handle, ready to yank it open. I glanced over my shoulder at her.

Astrid. I opened the door and gestured her inside. She didn't enter though. Instead, she stuck her paw out for me.

It's nice to meet you, Astrid, Lila said, giving me a smile. I let go of the door to shake it. Once, twice, three times. I broke away first and turned to open the door again.

Our school library had almost more books than the public Neopian Central library. Bookshelves almost reached the ceiling and were arranged in a maze-like shape. The librarian Ms. Red greeted me and I gestured at Lila. She's new. Her name is Lila.

Ms. Red clasped her paws together excitedly. It's good to see you again, Lila! Come, follow me, and I'll show you where the other new students are. You'll meet your new classmates soon enough.

Okay. Thanks, Ms. Red. Lila stepped toward the librarian. I turned around and left her there, my tail-tip lightly brushing Lila's leg. She looked over at me but I was already walking away.

I had friends who moved to Roo Island. I never kept contact with them. I wondered if Lila knew them, was never friends with them. It was better for me not to know and I didn't want to know. Not anymore, I guess.


Miraculous

Writer's Note

Since it's spring break, I'm here again to entertain you with a short series story. This story is based off of a real life experience I had. I will reveal my story at the last chapter of Miraculous or else risk spoiling it here. I will only say this: be grateful you have friends. Despite the fights and drama, they will always be there for you.


Sweet Happiness

No one knew why Ms. Waltz was always so grouchy with her students. She snapped at them whenever they made a mistake on the board, stumbled on a word during reading, remained silent during class discussions, or for fooling around.

Allen understood the last part- no one should fool around. But for making mistakes? You can't snap at someone for doing that. It wasn't fair.

Like yesterday, for example, Allen stared at the word "imprudent" for the longest time when it was his turn to read a passage from their class novel. Ms. Waltz glared at him until he stuttered it out. Im…im…impru…imprune…imprudent?

Ms. Waltz only grunted in approval. Do you know what it means?

He did not but judging by the word, it had something to do with prunes? There…there aren't any prunes left?

His classmates giggled at him. He felt his tail-tip twitch in embarrassment and he smiled sheepishly, cheekily, to try to escape Ms. Waltz's wrath. It did not work.

Imprudent means not sharing care for consequences. For example, Allen is very imprudent because he tattletales on his friends.

I do not! he protested as his classmates started laughing. Ms. Waltz only slapped her pointer stick against her desk thrice to silence them and get their attention. She told him to continue reading and he did, thankful he did not stumble on any other words.

Today, after school, he decided to bake cookies for Ms. Waltz and try to cheer her up that way. That was what his mother told him: everyone deserves some sweetness in their life, including grouchy teachers like Ms. Waltz. Allen walked home determinedly, his tail flicking back and forth.

No one else was home when he opened the front door. He put his backpack on the couch and marched into the kitchen. He started by washing his hands and then searched every drawer and cupboard to look for a cookie sheet. His mother baked often so he knew they were somewhere. He was on his knees and on the tips of his toes trying to find it. He could not.

I'm home! his mother announced from the front door. She walked into the kitchen and noticed it was starting to become messy. Oh, my, look at this mess! What happened here? she spotted her son's tail-tip twitching from behind the refrigerator. She let out a small gasp. Allen! Get out of there at once!

Mama, do you know where the cookie sheets are? he asked, still not moving from where he was on his paws and knees.

I will not tell you until you come out from there! she said sharply. Reluctantly, Allen crawled back out and stood up in front of her. Look at you! You made yourself filthy. You should wash and change into new clothes. Now, what's this about a cookie sheet?

I want to bake cookies for Ms. Waltz, he explained. She's always so grouchy so I thought sugar cookies would be good. I can't find the cookie sheet though. Do you know where they are?

His mother sighed. I do, Allen, but you should wash and change. You wouldn't want dust getting into your cookies, do you? I'll clean up here," she added when he looked like he was going to protest. We can bake them together.

Allen's tail swished happily as he turned around and ran up the stairs to his room. His mother watched briefly before turning to clean up the mess.

Once he returned, they started baking together. His mother taught him how to make accurate measurements and set him to mixing the dough thoroughly. She showed him how to mold the dough into whatever shape he wanted and he made smiley faces with them while she made flowers. Their cookies went on to two separate cookie sheets and entered the oven. Allen set the timer before stepping back to admire his handiwork. That was fun!

Yes, his mother agreed. She started gathering the equipment they used. We should bake together more often. You have natural talent.

After a few minutes, the cookies were done. His mother's cookies, of course, were beautiful. His, on the other hand, didn't look too bad. He took out and took an experimental bite. His eyes widened in surprise. Oh, no!

What is it? his mother asked, glancing at him.

I forgot to put sugar in the batter! he exclaimed. Look! There's no flavor at all!

His mother broke off a piece of the cookie he bit into and chewed slowly. She swallowed with a frown. You're right. Don't worry- I know what we can do.

Quickly, she whipped up some whipping cream and prepared some sugar. She smeared the whipping cream on top of the cookies and sprinkled sugar on top. There, she said. There might not be any flavor inside the cookie but there will be some sweetness.

Thank you, Mama! Allen threw his arms around his mother. You're the best.

She smiled at him. Don't thank me yet. Thank me when your teacher says she likes them. When you give them to her, use both your paws, okay? That's polite.

I will. Allen nodded. She'll love them!

The next day, Allen carried the cookies in a small box in his paws. He entered his classroom, noticing Ms. Waltz was at her desk marking papers while muttering under her breath. He approached her. Good morning, Ms. Waltz! he chirped. I have something to give you.

What is it? she asked irritably, looking up at him. He handed her the box with two paws. What's this?

They're cookies, he answered proudly. My mother and I made them together.

Ms. Waltz stared at him suspiciously. She accepted the box and pried the lid off carefully. She took one flower-shaped cookie and examined it carefully. She took a careful bite and chewed slowly. Allen watched her swallow just as slowly, her eyes never leaving his. A bit too sweet, she grunted, but good. Thank you.

You're welcome! Allen smiled at her, unable to contain his happiness. He went to sit down at his desk just as the bell rang to signal the start of the day.

He noticed his teacher did not snap as much as she usually did and actually corrected someone when they stumbled on a word. She praised them for their correct work for the math problems they did on the board and gently reminded her students when they left a mess behind after they finished painting. Although she still looked grouchy, she sounded sweeter and friendlier. It was probably because of the cookies Allen gave her and because the act had touched her to make her believe not all children were bad after all.


Writer's Comment

Odd song to be inspired by, right? Well, lyrics aside (other than a few that really inspired me), I like the concept of sugar being more than just a sweetener that's bad for you. It can lead to happiness and that's my theme for this story. I hope you enjoyed it!

Lost Treasure

Where did I put that notebook? Amelie asked herself irritably. She glanced at her messy desk, then at her unkempt bed, and finally her littered floor. She flicked her tail impatiently and started rifling through her closet. Clothes, trinkets, and books flew all over the place as she tore the space apart.

Amelie! What do you think you're doing? her mother demanded. Amelie looked up and saw her mother's tail-tip twitch with frustration. How many times did I tell you to keep your room neat and tidy? Just look at this! It looks like a tornado came through here.

Amelie shook her head, knowing very well her mother was only teasing. Mom, I'm looking for my notebook. It's green and has a Kau on it. Have you seen it?

No, her mother answered sharply. You have so many notebooks! Do you think I would know where you put it? Clean your room and look for it yourself! she turned and stormed back down the hallway and down the stairs, leaving Amelie alone.

Taking a deep breath, Amelie finished examining her closet and then started putting everything back the way she had found it. She found old clothes that didn't fit her anymore and an old trophy from when her school Yooyuball team won city finals. She placed that on her desk so she wouldn't lose it. It fell over because there wasn't enough room on it. With a sigh, she stood up and started cleaning that as well.

There was just too much junk in her room! Amelie ran down the stairs and into the kitchen where her mother was preparing dinner. Mom, do you have any boxes I can use?

Her mother's tail pointed to the storage at the end of the hallway passed the staircase. Thanks! Amelie hurried toward it and took out as many boxes as she could carry at once. She dropped them outside her door and placed one on the floor of her room. She started piling unwanted belongings into it.

Eventually, the amount of junk slowly dwindled down to random piles scattered around her room. She taped boxes shut and carried them outside, exchanging it with another box. She found old photos from when she first started school, photos of her friends and family, photos of her favorite Yooyuball athletes from Teams Brightvale and Maraqua. She put those in a separate box.

She found a case that was heavy and small. She pried it open, realizing there was a pair of glasses sitting inside a wrap of cloth. When did those get in there? Then she remembered they belonged to her mother, who had lost them last week. She probably set them down when delivering laundry in Amelie's room and forgot where she put them. Amelie placed it on her table.

Next she came across her younger brother Rex's favorite Judge Hog action figure. He had cried when he lost it and she had promised him she would find it for him. She smiled when she placed it beside her mother's glasses case. That was one promise fulfilled.

As she continued cleaning, she found more items her family had lost over the years- her father's best pens, her mother's oldest sweater, her brother's coloring book, and even her aunt's scarf. How did they all end up in her room, though? Amelie guessed it was because it was so messy no one would think to look in the mess to try to find it again. It could take hours.

Amelie ran out of boxes to use. She went downstairs to get some more. Her floor was cleared, her closet was organized, and her desk was clean. The last thing that needed clearing was her bed.

First, she folded her blanket. She struggled to match the corners with each other so she gave up and rolled it into a messy pile. She tossed her pajamas in her laundry hamper and gently placed her Brightvale Altador Cup Team Yooyu Plushie onto her desk. She placed her pillow on her chair and then proceeded to going through the pile of notebooks, books, papers, and cases on the corner of the bed.

She found all her old notebooks. She used them to take notes in school, write short stories, and sometimes complained about her family. She flipped through one of them briefly, cringing at how big her writing was. Fortunately, she no longer wrote like that but reading through them was always a treat. She placed them on her desk, stacked neatly on top of each other.

A few old photos were also hidden in the pile. Most of them were photos from the last summer holiday when her family traveled to Brightvale and she had the chance to meet with the Yooyuball team. She placed those on her desk as well.

Once everything was cleared, she replaced the bed sheets with new ones, throwing the old ones in her laundry hamper as well. She put her pillow and plushie back and found new places for her notebooks and photos. With a breath of relief, she sat down in front of her desk and looked down.

The items she found in the mess were sitting on top of her green notebook- the one she supposedly lost. She suppressed a chuckle but ended up bursting into laughter. She went through all that for no reason but she was grateful she did. If she didn't, she wouldn't have found anything, especially not her family's lost items. She scooped up the items and left her room, her tail swishing back and forth with happiness as she went to deliver them.


Writer's Comment

Like Amelie, I lose things very easily because my room is an absolute mess. I often find my family's missing belongings too but none of them get caught up in my mess. I hope you enjoyed the story!

Plant Life

I want a Petpet of my own. I really do. All of my friends have one. They always plan tea parties without me because I don't have one. It makes me feel sad but my mama says I can't have one yet. I don't know why. When I ask her, she doesn't tell me. She just flicks her tail and tries to shoo me away. I only got an answer from her once.

If you can prove to me you can take care of a Petpet then I'll let you have one. Until then, don't ask.

So I tried to be the most responsible pet she has ever seen. I saw her hide smiles when I offer to wash the dishes after dinner, to water her plants when she's busy, to babysit my younger brother when she has to go somewhere.

Then, one day, she beckons me to her with the tip of her tail and I leave my homework on the table and bound toward her. Sitting on the kitchen table is a Mystery Island Plant. It looks beautiful, three stems snaking up from the bed of soil with lush green leaves sticking out. I touch it gingerly, surprised to feel how soft it is.

You're a very responsible young girl, Katy, my mama tells me, so you're ready to learn how to take care of something else. I want you to watch this plant and treat it like a Petpet. If I think you can do that properly, then I'll let you have a Petpet. Is that okay?

I nod solemnly. I sit down in front of the plant and stare at it. Can I give it a name?

My mama nods and I pause to think of a name. Only one comes to mind. Charley. It is the name I want to give to my real Petpet but I can think of another.

Charley. My mama sounds pleased. He's your to take care of now, Katy.

She helps me carry him into my room and put him down. I open the blinds a bit so Charley can get some fresh air. I go back downstairs to get my homework and come back so I can do it with him watching me.

It's almost bedtime now. I touch Charley's soil and my paw comes back dry. I go to the kitchen and use a cup to get some water for him. I sprinkle it over his leaves and soil. He feels moister now. I smile and tuck myself into bed. My mama turns the lights off for me after I drift to sleep.

The next morning, I check Charley again. His soil is still damp so I leave him alone. I remember to open the window for him and turn the lights off. I scamper downstairs to get breakfast with my mama and baby brother.

My friends ask me if I have a Petpet and I reply no, I have a plant named Charley instead. They tease me but I try not to let their words get to me. I try to forget about them and play with someone else. I hurry home after school.

Hi, Mama! I chirp when I enter our neohome. My mama is in the kitchen cooking and my baby brother is playing with his blocks in the living room. I drop my backpack off and join him. He is happy to play with me.

After we eat dinner, I do my homework. My mama helps me and keeps a wary eye on my baby brother, who is trying to build something that touches the ceiling. He almost falls from standing on top of three chairs stacked on top of each other and my mama catches him. She scolds him and he complains about never being able to do anything fun. I hide a smile and promises to take him biking one day. He lights up right away.

I enter my room, ready to go to bed. I notice Charley and water him before moving him onto my table. I tuck myself again and go to sleep.

The same thing happens at school. My friends tease me so I play with someone else. They make jokes about Charley, saying he isn't real and he isn't a Petpet. I ignore them again. At home, I watch Charley for a bit and then go back downstairs to play with my baby brother. I notice Charley is growing a bit.

Then, the next day, one of my friends comes to school crying. I ask her if something is wrong and she, in between sobs, tells us her Angelpuss had disappeared during the night. My teacher calms her. The rest of my friends are panicking. Only I remain calm. I don't have a Petpet to worry about, only Charley and I know Charley won't run away from me. But he can rot and decay. I realize with a pang of guilt that I haven't been taking care of him as I should.

I go to the library after school and find books about plants. I choose a few and borrow them. At night, my baby brother asks me to play with him but I shake my head and tell him I have to finish reading. He is disappointed but doesn't say anything else. I go to my room to finish reading.

Charley doesn't greet me but I greet him. I examine him as I read and learn when to water him, where to put him to get the most sunlight from inside my room and the type of nutrients he needs. I'm happy to oblige.

My mama enters my room but stops short when she sees me reading a book and watching Charley. She is about to tell me something but she doesn't. She goes back out of my room and hides a smile. I turn my head in time to see it before she vanishes behind the wall. Her tail is curled with approval.


Writer's Comments

I chose to write in the present tense as practice. I get confused with past/present tenses and I wanted to try something new. Charley is the name of my houseplant and his name comes from Ace Attorney. I hope you enjoyed it!

The Counting Jar

There it sat in the display case. It sparkled beneath the fluorescent lights at the top of the ceiling inside the shop, making the red paint gleam. Aidan pressed his paws against the glass that separated him from the item he so desperately wanted. He pressed his face against the glass, his eyes staring at the item, his mind drifting off to his fantasy. But then, it was snatched away from him so quickly as his mother started dragging him away from the Toy Shop. He started whining.

But Mama, why can't I have it? he whined. As his mother dragged him further away, the item in the display window vanished from his sight.

She let out a sigh of exasperation. She had heard her son whine for days about it but her answer was firm. No means no, Aidan. You have lots of toys at home. You don't need another one.

Everyone at school has one, Mama, Aidan pouted. I want one too!

It's too expensive, Aidan. Maybe another time. You know we don't have the same Neopoints as your friends, his mother reminded him.

Aidan started stomping his feet. But Mama…!

His mother began to tug on his tail even harder. Young Xweetok, behave yourself this instant or you won't see another toy ever again.

That made him quiet- even if it was for a few minutes. They entered their neohome, his mother locking the door behind her while her son ran into the living room where his father would be. Papa! Papa! he called out. Mama won't let me buy it!

Lazily striding into the living room was Aidan's father, a green Xweetok with a pair of glasses balanced at the tip of his nose. He sat down on the couch and picked up a discarded edition of the Neopian Times beside him and watched his son jump up and down in indignation. Can't you buy it for me instead, Papa? he pleaded.

His father exchanged looks with his mother but she shook her head and disappeared into the kitchen to prepare for dinner. Their conversation lingered over her.

Why do you want one so badly? his father was asking. What about the one I bought you a few weeks ago?

That was old! Aidan snorted. Now everyone's moved on to the new one! I want it too! It's really cool and all of my friends have one so I want one too.

His father swished his tail against the couch. Hmmm. I don't know what new-fangled toys you kids play these days. Be patient and wait until we have some more Neopoints than before, okay?

Sullenly, Aidan walked up the stairs to his bedroom with his tail trailing over the staircase. His father entered the kitchen and sat down. What are we going to do about him?

The movements of his wife slowed down as her mind worked for a solution. I think I know what to do. It's about time to see if he's capable of being responsible…

That night, before Aidan was put to bed, his mother entered his bedroom holding a jar. It was taped with construction paper, including the bottom. He watched in wonderment as she placed it on top of his table at patted the top of it. Aidan, if you really want that toy, you need to show your papa and me that you deserve it.

What's that for? he asked curiously. He reached out to touch it but his mother slid the jar away from his curious paw.

Whenever your father or I see you do a good deed around our neohome or at school, we'll put a star in the jar. His mother showed him a paper cut-out of a star. It'll slip into the jar from the top. Each star is worth ten Neopoints.

Aidan tipped his head to the side. How do I know if there's enough to buy it?

That's up to you, his mother answered. If you don't have enough though, your papa and I will take away what you earned and then the jar will be empty again.

Then I can never buy it, Aidan pointed out with a frown.

His mother shook her head. No, if you wait long enough then you might have enough. We can add one star in the jar if you go to sleep.

Scrambling back into bed, Aidan threw his blanket over him and closed his eyes. With a smile, his mother turned the light off. Good night, Aidan.

Good night, Mama. At his farewell, she slipped the star into the jar and closed the door behind her as she exited his room.

The next morning, Aidan awoke on his own, tossing his pajamas on his bed and changing into his school clothes. Before he could run out of his bedroom, his mother stopped him.

Good morning, Aidan, she said cheerfully. She glanced over him to see his messy bed. Is that how a good pet makes his bed?

Aidan opened his mouth to protest but then his eyes focused on the jar on his table. He nodded, turned around and started making his bed. He smoothed out his blanket, folded his pajamas and set them aside and placed his Snow Yooyu Plushie in front of his pillow. He marched out of his bedroom, looking over his shoulder to see his mother deposit a star in the jar.

At the breakfast table, when he finished eating, he volunteered to wash the dishes without his father prompting him. With raised eyebrows and a shrug, his father sat at the table with the newest edition of the Neopian Times while his son scrubbed plates and cutlery. He walked to school with his mother beside him.

He was unsure how his mother knew if he was well-behaved in school or not but he made himself promise to not get into any mischief that day. When he left school at the end of the day, his teacher was chatting with his mother happily. He bounced on his toes when his mother returned to his side with a smile.

It looks like you were very good today, Aidan, she remarked.

Uh-huh, he nodded proudly.

Do you think you can keep that up every day?

Sure! He was willing to do whatever was needed to buy his toy, after all.

That night, before dinner, Aidan and his father puzzled out his math homework together and ate with his mother when she finished cooking. He volunteered again to wash the dishes so his mother could clean the kitchen and his father could finish constructing his table to be sold at the Furniture Shop the next day. When Aidan finished, he continued doing his homework and read alongside his mother. He didn't complain at all when it was time for bed.

Alone in his room, he did everything he could to figure out how many stars he had earned that day. He shook it but there was no noise- the stars were made of paper. He tried looking for holes in the construction paper surrounding the jar but his mother did a very good job covering every visible bit. With a defeated shake of his head, he put the jar back down and crawled into bed, holding his plushie in his arms. I'll get enough for that toy, he promised himself. Closing his eyes, he drifted off to sleep.

For the next three weeks, Aidan continued volunteering to wash the dishes after every meal, held a respectful and positive attitude at school and listened to his parents whenever they told him to do something. The thought of his toy was pushed to the back of his mind when he realized he had a project for school and it required a lot of attention. He didn't even notice the jar was missing on the morning of the third week when he climbed out of bed, tidied it and changed into his school clothes.

How are you, Aidan? His father asked him at the breakfast table.

Aidan gave his father a toothy grin. Good. How about you?

I'm good as well, thank you, his father answered. He scanned an article printed on the first page of the Neopian Times. Do you have everything with you for today?

Yep! Aidan nodded. He went through his mental checklist, remembering he put his project materials in his backpack the night before. I put them in my backpack before bed.

His mother smiled at him. That's good. You better hurry and finish your breakfast then.

He nodded and continued eating. Once he finished, he placed his bowl in the sink and hurried out. I'll be right back!

Both of his parents watched him hurry out of the kitchen, his thudding footsteps echoing hollowly. They exchanged looks with each other. Where did you put the jar? his father asked.

Mischief gleamed in his mother's eyes as well as in her smile. I put it back in his room when he left. I was wondering to think he forgot about it.

Nope! I didn't! Aidan's voice startled her. She turned her head, seeing her son holding the jar in his paws. He placed it on the table. I don't know how many stars are in there or if it's enough to buy me that toy but it's okay. I don't really want it anymore.

Silence met his words. His father asked, Why not? You wanted one really badly not so long ago.

I know, Aidan replied. But I already have so many toys. I don't need another one. And…helping out is fun too. I don't need to count how many stars I have to make me feel better. I have enough.

Well, his father said, looking pleased, should we count how many stars are in there anyway?

His mother took the lid off the jar and started counting the stars. There were over a hundred stars in the jar, totaling to about one thousand Neopoints. That's quite a lot of Neopoints, Aidan. You can buy a lot of toys with that.

No, thanks, Mama, Aidan shook his head. I'm fine with what I have. You and Papa can use those Neopoints for something else. It's almost time to go, he added. Do you want me to wash the dishes, Papa?

Standing up, his father shook his head. No, son, you better get going. I can do them today. Are you sure you don't want to spend it?

Aidan started walking out of the kitchen. Nope! It doesn't matter how many stars I have. I have lots of toys and parents. That's all I need. He hurried back upstairs to grab his possessions.

His parents exchanged looks once again but both shared a smile. His mother exited the kitchen to walk her son to school while his father washed their morning dishes. If counting stars managed to make Aidan see what he has and doesn't have, then his parents could do the same as well.

His father wiped his paws dry on a dishcloth and put the paper stars back in the jar, twisted the lid shut on top and placed it on the shelf. He scribbled the words "Counting Jar" on it as a reminder to him and his family that good discipline can often lead to good outcomes.


Writer's Comments

Other than the fact Counting Stars is an amazing song, its lyrics really stuck out to me. "Instead of counting dollars, we'll be counting stars" is the line I used for the theme in this story. I hope you enjoyed this story and please listen to the song if you can!

A Pile of Leaves

Yahoo! along with his rake, Ron jumped tail-first into a gigantic pile of red and golden leaves sitting on his neohome's front lawn. He used his paws and rake to pat away the leaves, resurfacing with a toothy grin. Unfortunately, his older brother Mike didn't find him very funny.

Why did you have to do that? he frowned and pulled on Ron's tail to drag him out. That took me hours to rake and pile up!

Hey! Stop pulling! Ron complained as he jerked his tail away. He curled it up to prevent his brother's muddy paws from pulling on it again. I was just trying to have some fun!

Mike gave him a long look and then started to rake the leaves again. Well, go have fun somewhere else. I have work to do.

His younger brother started bouncing with indignation. I'm supposed to be helping you too, you know!

Then stop fooling around and start raking! Mike shouted. He realized a few seconds later that his voice still echoed throughout the empty neighborhood. He looked down at Ron, whose head was down and tail had drooped. Sorry. I didn't mean to yell. I just want to go back in and finish my homework, you know?

Ron's head snapped back up. All you care about is work, work, work! Haven't you ever had any real fun?

Mike stopped raking to look over his shoulder at the red Meerca. What counts as fun?

I don't know…playing with a ball? Playing with friends?

Does jumping into a pile of leaves count as fun?

Yes! Ron started bouncing again. He stopped for a minute to use his long tail to drag in loose leaves into his miniature pile. Here, watch me!

The cloud Kyrii sighed and turned around. Ron bounced a few feet away from his pile of leaves, dropped down to his feet and ran toward the pile. He jumped slightly and landed on his back to the leaves. He stood up again, shaking off wet and crinkly leaves that were stuck to his jacket. See? Doesn't that look fun?

No, Mike answered. He turned back to his work, hearing his brother raking once again. Why do you have to act like such a kid?

Uh…because I am one? Ron answered questioningly. I'm only eight years old. Kids like me need to have a lot of fun!

Mike slowed down his raking to figure out if his brother's comment meant older pets like him and his parents needed to have lots of work to do. Ron took Mike's silence as a sign and quickly said, I-I mean, you can have fun too! Lots and lots of fun!

I'd rather not. Mike quickly shook himself to bring back his original focus on his task. If you have too much fun, you'll get bored. When you're bored, you'll start complaining. Hurry up and help me finish raking.

Ron nodded and brought his piles to Mike's to make a single large one. You can never get bored of having fun. If you're having fun, you're having fun. You shouldn't have to worry about anything else. Like jumping into a pile of leaves- that's fun, right?

His older brother rolled his eyes. No. I don't want to smell like rain and mud all day, thank you very much, nor have leaves caught in my fur. It'll be a pain to untangle them.

You know that I think, Mike? Ron asked suddenly.

What? Mike tried to turn his back to rake more leaves up but his brother scurried into his vision.

I think you care too much about working and about how you look. Right?

Ron, I don't care about how I look but I do care about working. Working is how you get good grades and if you get good grades, Mom and Dad will give you what you want for the Day of Giving.

If you don't care about your looks, then jump in a pile of leaves! Ron gestured to the pile both of them had created. No one is here to watch you anyway!

Mike wished his brother would be quiet. He would've been done a long time ago if it weren't for his brother jumping in his pile of leaves the first time. He didn't say anything in response but focused on his task instead.

Slowly, the two brothers managed to create one gigantic pile on the side of their front yard. The grass was clear from all the red and golden leaves that had spiraled down from the looming trees. Mike was about to call it a day but Ron started tugging on his jacket sleeve before he could run back in.

What? he looked down into his brother's big, pleading eyes.

Can I jump in it, Mike? he asked hopefully. Please? I'll let you have my slice of cake tonight.

No. Mike started walking toward the front door but Ron kept after him.

Please, please, please? I swear I'll clean it all up again!

No is no, Ron. Let's go back in before it gets dark out.

It's still light out, Ron pointed out. He carefully watched his brother's face. Come on, Mike…I know you want to jump in it as much as I do.

That got his brother. Mike whirled around, glaring at Ron. What? No, I don't!

Rather than flinching, Ron grinned. Ah-ha! I know you want to! If you didn't want you, you would've went inside by now! Am I right or am I right?

Mike sighed. Okay, okay, fine. Go jump in the pile and have fun cleaning it up all by yourself. I'm going to finish my homework.

No. Ron started tugging on his brother's jacket sleeve again. I want you to jump in with me.

What? Why? Mike groaned. He knew he wouldn't be able to get out of this one.

Because you're my brother. And because I don't think you ever jumped in a pile of leaves before, Ron explained with a mischievous grin. Let's go! We'll jump in together! I'll even hold your hand!

His brother quickly shook his head. No! I'm not a baby!

Slowly, they approached the pile of leaves. Ron stopped a few feet in front of it like before and glanced at his brother. Ready?

Yeah. Mike tried to sound unenthusiastic but it didn't seem to fool Ron.

Okay! On the count of three! One…two…three! together, they took three steps and leaped into the leaves, landing on them as if it weren't a soft cushion. Mike felt himself fall and then spring back up. He jumped out of the pile, kicking leaves up as he went and grabbed his brother's paw to help him out. Both of them looked at each other and laughed.

That was fun, right? Ron asked with a grin.

Mike laughed again. Yeah! That was pretty exciting!

Ron started bouncing with happiness again. Yay! Let's do it again!

No way, Ron. Mike picked up his rake and handed the other to Ron. It'll be dark soon. Besides, we don't want Dad to see that we didn't do anything yet. How about we rake them all up and then do it again tomorrow morning?

Yeah! That sounds like a great idea! Ron shouted. He quickly and excitedly raked up as many leaves as he could with his brother watching.

Mike smiled, glad that he managed to experience something as simple as jumping into a pile of leaves before he considered it too childish. Along with his rake, he joined Ron in cleaning the rest of the front yard while a fresh wave of leaves rained down on them.


Writers' Comment

It's been a while since I wrote something! I got inspired by the autumn-themed adoptables from Bisou. Now I really want to jump into a pile of leaves! I hope you enjoyed it!

An Evening with Teo

Hurry up, Ilsa! You do know what will happen if we're late, right? Fiorina whirled around and started to jog backward while watching a giant red Ixi charge toward her. Captain is expecting us right now!

Ilsa grumbled under his breath as he caught up to his teammate. I'm coming, I'm coming. Together, they jogged up a small hill to reach a lonely neohome sitting at the top. He pounded his fist against the door. Wizard? We're here.

The door opened and their team captain greeted them with a nod. Thanks for coming, you two, he said with relief. Come in and meet Teo.

Fiorina vaguely recalled that name from a memory too long ago to remember. Teo…who is that?

Wizard motioned them inside. I'll explain. I have to go soon but you guys need to know a few things.

Ilsa closed the door behind him and turned to his captain, giving him a look. So? What's so important that you had to call both me and her here?

I just got a neomail about an important meeting at the Meridell castle, Wizard began, but I have to watch Teo for my aunt. Can you two look after him while I'm gone? It'll only be a short while, I promise.

Of course we can, Fiorina answered before Ilsa could protest. She nudged him with her elbow. You go ahead and go to the meeting- little Teo is no match for the best Yooyuball players in Meridell.

Thank you. Wizard smiled. He's very friendly so you won't have any trouble getting him to listen to you. He should know you after all this time. Send me a neomail if you're in trouble but I don't think that'd be necessary.

Fiorina opened the door for her captain to leave the neohome. Of course it won't be. Have fun, okay? We'll see you later! she closed it shut and turned to Ilsa, who gave her an incredulous look. What? Captain deserves a break once in a while. He's King Skarl's favorite Techo.

Ilsa rolled his eyes. Whatever. Let's go find little Teo and see if he actually is very little.

They searched the living room, looking underneath couches and armchairs, behind closets and inside drawers. After exchanging confused looks with one another, Ilsa climbed the stairs to look on the second floor and Fiorina searched the kitchen. Ten minutes passed but neither of them could find Teo.

Huh. Ilsa scratched his head, clearly confused. Where'd he go?

Fiorina anxiously scanned the living room one more time and then looked at her teammate. This is bad. We might have to call for back-up.

Normally, pride would have me say no but I agree this time around. I'll go send a neomail to Yoris. Before Ilsa could head upstairs to borrow Wizard's neomail, Fiorina stopped him.

Why Yoris? Would Ethel be a better choice? the elderly Ixi was the newest member on their team and she had a strange charm when it came to children. I don't think she'd be busy today since-

No, Yoris would be better, Ilsa argued, cutting her off. He knows what Teo looks like; Ethel doesn't and neither do we.

His teammate tapped her chin. I remember seeing Teo before but I can't remember what he looks like or what species he is.

Well, while you do that, I'm going to get Yoris. Ilsa thundered up the staircase. He'll be here soon…unless he rolls down the hill like last time.

Fortunately, Team Meridell's goalkeeper didn't roll down the hill and arrived within ten minutes. Yoris looked at Fiorina in surprise. Oh, you're helping Ilsa out, Fiorina? I thought you were busy.

She rolled her eyes. When your Captain sends you an urgent neomail telling you to go to his neohome right away, you would cancel all plans and go, right?

You're very loyal to Wiz, you know, Yoris commented before looking around. So, what are we doing again? Finding Teo?

Right. Ilsa nodded. You should know what he looks like.

Uh-huh. Yoris headed upstairs. He's a baby Draik, so very tiny and can easily hide in small places. I'll look upstairs- you check out here.

Fiorina stopped him. We already searched the neohome. He's nowhere to be found.

Didn't you see him when Captain Wiz introduced him to you? Yoris hopped back down to them.

Ilsa shook his head. No, we didn't even see him. I guess he thought Teo was just playing but this isn't funny anymore.

Teo? Fiorina raised her voice in an attempt to lure out the elusive baby Draik. Are you here? Come out wherever you are, this isn't funny anymore!

Silence answered her. She expected it since Teo was a child and knew nothing more than playing jokes on serious adults. Now what? I still think we should call Ethel.

Come on, Yoris, you've got some brilliant plan in that tiny of head of yours, don't you? Ilsa picked up the goalkeeper from the floor. You're the biggest know-it-all in Meridell.

Yoris shot Ilsa a look for him to be released. The defender obeyed and the JubJub landed on the floor. First off, Captain Wiz and the nobles at the castle are the know-it-alls. Second, I know nothing about children. I just happen to know Teo because he came over to my neohome with the Captain after practice one day.

Fiorina shook her head. That does it, I'm calling Ethel. I know you don't like her, Ilsa, but she knows more about children than we ever would. She ran upstairs before her teammates could protest.

Ethel arrived ten minutes later. Fiorina and Ilsa took turns explaining to her what had happened and she quickly stepped into action. Ah, young'uns, so good at Yooyuball but not good at finding children, she said in her elderly voice. Tell me- on the Yooyuball field, what do you do to get the yooyu away from net?

Her teammates exchanged confused looks with one another. Uh…I'd steal the yooyu? Ilsa suggested. Pass it to Fiorina? Who'll pass it to Wizard and he'll shoot so fast the other team wouldn't even notice?

Maybe. You're close though. Ethel was talking in riddles. What would you do if you had a trap for them to fall into?

Um…lure them into the trap? Fiorina tried to recall a few strategies they had prepared for the Altador Cup. She couldn't remember any.

Exactly, my dear. Ethel smiled at Fiorina. That's what we have to do. Help me out in the kitchen, darling. The boys can wait in here.

She pulled Fiorina into the kitchen without giving Ilsa or Yoris another look. All of them were confused but obeyed the elderly Ixi's order.

An hour later, a freshly baked pie was sitting on the table in the kitchen. Ilsa's mouth watered at the scent and Yoris jumped onto the table to smell it. Mmmm…that smells good.

It's not for you, sonny, Ethel said, pushing the pie away from Yoris. It's for Teo.

As if on cue, a small baby Draik darted from underneath the couch and ran into the kitchen, stopping front of Ethel. For me? he asked with hopeful eyes.

Yes, dear. Ethel scratched his head. Eat up, sonny. Why don't you tell us why you were hiding this whole time?

Thought it was fun, Teo said in between mouthfuls. Playing jokes is fun.

Well, Teo, playing jokes on these lovely friends of Wizard's isn't very fun, Ethel told him gently. So don't do it again, okay?

The baby Draik nodded but it seemed like he wasn't really paying attention. Fiorina turned to Ethel. How did you know he would come out?

Well, children love sweets, Ethel explained, watching Teo devour the pie. I thought this would lure him out. On the Yooyuball field, you would lure your opponent with the yooyu and trap them. This is the same thing, but except with a pie.

The front door opened and footsteps alerted the players of someone approaching. Wizard stuck his head in the kitchen, his eyes focusing on Ethel, Yoris and then Teo. He looked at Fiorina and Ilsa. I'm back. What exactly happened here?

Fiorina let out a nervous laugh. It's a bit of a long story…


Writers' Comment

I thought it would be fun to write a fun story since I always sound so serious. Don't ask why I chose Team Meridell for this particular story, I don't know either. I hoped you enjoyed it!

No Frowning Allowed!

He saw it coming. His feet slowly dragged across the classroom from his desk in the back corner of the room until he came face-to-face with his teacher, Mrs. Teev. She was a Green Lenny with thick-rimmed glasses and was usually smiling. Not today, though. Something on her face told him he was about to receive a scolding.

Could you explain to me what your book report was about, Felix? she asked in a high-pitched voice. She only did that when she was fed-up with a student. You were so quiet and monotone; I couldn't understand a single word.

Felix shrugged. I did a report on-

What was that? Mrs. Teev leaned closer toward him, making him step back. Speak up, young man, I can't hear you.

He tried again. I read a book called-

She cut him off. Mister, I can't hear you and I'm fairly sure the rest of the class didn't hear you. Since you're such a good student, I'll let you redo the presentation tomorrow. Please try to speak up when you do, Felix.

The bell rang afterward, signaling the end of the school day. Students flanked him from both sides as he made his way back to his desk to grab his notebooks and papers before stuffing them in his backpack. Without looking at his teacher, he walked out of the classroom.

Felix couldn't help himself- he never really liked smiling and he was always so quiet. No prompt or tease could ever make him talk aloud because he ignored them and it made him one of the quietest students in his class.

Hey, Felix! Wait for me! a friendly voice stopped him front crossing the street. He looked over his shoulder and watched Arthur run toward him. He was a bubbly Starry Moehog and was friends with practically everyone. He enjoyed bothering Felix for some reason though. Let's walk home together!

Not even Felix could ignore him- probably because they lived next door to each other. The white Kougra waited for his classmate to reach his side before walking off. Both were silent for a moment and then Arthur started to talk.

Did you enjoy the book you did for the book report? I sure did! It was the best book ever! Arthur looked at Felix with a toothy smile. What book did you do? I couldn't hear you from where I was sitting.

I did a report on Kougra Tales, Felix answered in his quiet voice.

That sounds cool! What's it about? I couldn't hear you during your report. I bet it was really good, right? Arthur nudged him.

Felix took a step away from his classmate and resumed walking. Yeah…Mrs. Teev is making me do it again. She couldn't hear anything.

Aw, don't worry about it! Arthur sounded super cheery for reasons Felix would never know. You just gotta smile more- speak up a bit! If you smile, you'll sound way more alive. It works all the time.

His classmate shrugged. I don't know…I don't smile that much.

Arthur stopped him in the middle of the sidewalk and turned to face him. Come on, show me a smile! You smile all the time, don't you? Whenever you laugh, make a joke or when you're having a good time! Turn that frown upside-down!

His enthusiasm wasn't affecting Felix, unfortunately. He gave Arthur a tiny smile, which still looked like a frown. Arthur used his paws to push the ends of Felix's mouth up until he was smiling. Yeah, that's it! Keep that smile on!

The moment Arthur's paws retreated, Felix's forced smile turned back into a frown. He shook his head. Like I said, I don't smile a lot.

What about a joke, then? Those always work for me! Arthur started rambling off as many jokes as he could remember but none of them made Felix smile. Why do you keep on frowning? Do you want me to paint you Grey?

I don't know. Felix wasn't too sure of why he never smiled either. I don't have a lot of reason to smile, actually. It hurts after a while.

Arthur started to walk again. Maybe, but if you do it often, then you'll be able to smile way more! Come on, Felix! Show me some teeth! You brush them for a reason, right? Show them off!

Felix half-heartedly gave him a toothy grin, instantly feeling embarrassed when Arthur laughed. What's so funny?

Your smile! Arthur kept on laughing. It's so…so… he imitated it, showing off his buck teeth. It's so funny!

Even Felix had to allow a small smile at his classmate. You're right.

Hey! A smile! Arthur cheered. Finally! That's still a pretty small smile so let's keep working on it.

The rest of the walk home allowed Arthur to make Felix laugh in his attempt to bring out another honest smile. When they reached Felix's neohome, he finally succeeded and saw a real smile on Felix's face.

There we go! Arthur grinned. Yeah! We did it! I can hear you much better now too. See? When you smile, all of Neopia looks brighter, right? Right?

Felix nodded. Right. Thanks, Arthur. I'll try to smile more often now.

That's better! See you tomorrow, Felix! Arthur waved good-bye to his classmate and then walked down the street to the neohome next door. He was looking forward to the book report tomorrow.

Alright class, settle down! Mrs. Teev motioned the students back into their desks once the bell rang. School had officially begun and she was ready to start the day with a certain book report. We have one presentation to go through today. Felix?

Felix stood up from his seat with his book in his paw. He looked over at Arthur two seats in front of him and he turned around and gave him a thumbs-up and a grin. Felix nodded and smiled before moving to the front of the class. After Mrs. Teev sat down at her desk, he began to speak in a clear voice.

My book report is about Kougra Tales


Writers' Comment

Being the depressing person I am, I still do smile, if you can believe that. So turn that frown upside-down and show the world what you can do!

My Younger Sister

The last time I had a conversation with my younger sister Fae was when she was eight. We were talking about the latest Altador Cup when Fae asked me to play with her Usukis. I told her I had to do my homework and she kept pestering me until I shouted at her to stop. She started to cry and told on me and my mom gave me a harsh scolding.

Four years later, we were avoiding eye contact and barely exchanging a sentence with each other. Our parents gave up trying to get us to make up after a year or two but it didn't matter because I never liked Fae. She was annoying, talkative and too full of herself. I assumed she thought the same with me because I was always talking about getting good grades when I was at the top of my class. In a way, we mirrored each other but barely spoke to one another.

The silence broke finally one day after four years. My class had a test to do in the afternoon and the teacher allowed us to leave when we finished. I finished in about forty minutes and left the classroom. I had to pass by Fae's class to reach the main entrance and a pair of students were at the front with a classic homemade volcano sitting on a desk beside them. I knew she had a science presentation that day but I didn't stick around to watch. I left the school without looking in.

Less than fifteen minutes later, I was on my way back. I had forgotten something very valuable in my desk and I couldn't stand leaving it overnight. When I was about five minutes away from the school, I heard the fire alarm go off, making me trip over my tail. Students and teachers streamed out of the building with panicked looks on their faces. I couldn't see where the fire was exactly but I had to go back in and get my item. I ran passed the teachers and their students and entered the building, ignoring my teacher yelling, Chloe, get back here!

The fire was raging on the second floor but smoke already obscured my view. I held my breath the best I could, using my tail to cover my mouth as I climbed up the stairs, going two steps at a time. When I reached the top, the smoke was overwhelming, making it hard to breathe. I gritted my teeth, determined to retrieve my item. I jogged down the hallway, seeing the most of the smoke billowing out from the classroom before mine. It was Fae's, I realized. My mind went back to the students exiting the classroom but no matter how many times I examined their faces, Fae wasn't with them. That meant she was still inside the building.

My classroom was free from damage so I quickly ran to my desk and found the item I was looking for and pocketed it before running back out. I stuck my head inside of Fae's classroom and called out her name. Fae! Are you there?

There was no reply. Did she get out after all? I was about to run back out but then I heard a very faint voice.

Chloe…! it belonged to Fae, but where was she? I considered running into the burning classroom but I knew she wasn't in there. She was somewhere else, in a room behind me.

I ran down the hallway toward my classroom and found a door slightly ajar. I yanked it open and saw my younger sister, a delicate blue Acara huddled in the furthest corner. She was crying and her tears stained my jacket when she flung her arms around me. Chloe! You came for me!

Uh…yeah. Come on, let's get out of here! I grabbed my sister's paw and we ran back down the stairs, passed her classroom. She was coughing and I used my tail to cover her mouth. We came out of the building in time to see DoN arrive. I pulled Fae aside and allowed them to do their job.

Our parents weren't exactly thrilled to hear my heroic rescue but they were relieved all the same to see us safe.

What made you go inside a burning building anyway? Dad asked curiously. He pushed his glasses up until they sat on the bridge of his nose.

I needed to get something, I answered. I didn't see Fae so I thought to find her while I was at it.

Normally, you'd be in big trouble for doing something so dangerous, Mom said, bringing Fae closer toward her, but you did something heroic and you saved your little sister so I'll let it go this time.

I shrugged, pretending I didn't care. Our parents went back to the kitchen to finish up their cleaning and I went back to my room. Surprisingly, Fae followed me.

Hey, Chloe? she said in her innocent voice. I turned around and looked down at her. Thanks for um, rescuing me. I'd be in real trouble if you didn't save me.

Don't worry about it. I shrugged. Besides, I wasn't in there to save you. You just happened to need saving.

My sister looked curious. What did you have to get anyway?

My cheeks turned red. Uh…it's nothing, forget about it.

Come on, Chloe! It must've been really important if you had to go back in a burning school to get it.

Well… I let out a sigh. I put my paw in my pocket and pulled out the object I went to retrieve. It was this.

Fae examined it and then looked up at me in awe. Wow…you went to get the necklace I gave you for your birthday? Why?

You told me it was a lucky necklace so I had it with me when I did my test today. I put the necklace back. I forgot to get it afterward and it was really important so… I trailed off, unable to continue.

She smiled and gave me a hug. I was really lucky today, huh? You came to save the necklace I gave you and you ended up saving my life. Thank you so much, Chloe!

I hesitated for a moment and then hugged her back. Hey, isn't that what sisters are for? To help one another?

Yeah, she replied. And I'm glad you're my sister. I couldn't imagine anyone else.


Writers' Comment

Lately, I've been questioning the bond siblings have with one another. This is just one story out of a few I have on this topic. I hope you enjoyed it!

Chopsticks

Despite living his entire life in Shenkuu, Skyler still had no idea how to use chopsticks properly. He much preferred the fork and spoon and his father never bothered to teaching him. So long you don't use your paws to eat, you're fine, his father always said. However, every year, during the Month of Giving feast, his grandmother always scolded him for never using his chopsticks properly. Skyler always promised her he'd learn how to use them but he had yet to fulfill that promise for almost ten years.

A cool breeze swept through the town of Shenkuu as pets bundled in warm jackets hurried down the streets, their destination being their neohomes. Many were headed toward Skyler's neohome as it was his family's turn to host the Month of Giving feast. His relatives greeted the latecomers at the door, taking their jackets and gesturing them to sit down. Skyler and his cousins chased each other around the living room, a form of entertainment before dinner was served. His grandparents sat in front of the fire to warm their old bones, occasionally looking over their shoulders as a form of supervision.

Skyler stopped chasing his younger cousin to look out the window, despite it being covered with frost. A thick layer of snow covered almost everything in his view and he looked forward to playing in it the next day. The door to the kitchen opened behind him, making him turn and watch his father hurry into the dining room, leaving a delicious aroma in his wake. Skyler's mouth watered at the thought of food, but he dreaded the moment when his grandmother spotted him using his chopsticks wrong again. He was more than ready to make up an excuse to leave the table before his grandmother saw.

Dinner is ready! his mother announced. All of his relatives leaped to their paws and scrambled into the dining room, scanning the long table for their seat. Skyler found his spot at the end of the table and sat on it, seeing multiple dishes of dumplings, rice, noodles and vegetables, neatly positioned in odd shapes and sizes.

Before anyone could start eating, Skyler's grandmother raised her paw for silence. She was an Elderly Aisha but was still strong enough to climb trees. She surveyed everyone before speaking. I would like to thank you all for coming. We are very fortunate to have family feasts, unlike some families in Neopia. Enough talk- let's start eating!

Everyone cheered and then grabbed their share of food expertly using their chopsticks. Skyler patiently waited for his mother to give him his share and then ate as slowly as he could, wondering if slow precision would fool his grandmother. By the time his cousins were asking for seconds, he was still on his first.

As the feast continued, Skyler could feel someone staring at him. He slowly looked up, seeing his grandmother watching him behind her glasses. He felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment, but out of respect for his elders, he put his bowl down and returned her stare. Yes, Grandmother?

Oh, Skyler, have you finally mastered how to use chopsticks? Chopsticks are very important to our town, you know, she said.

He reluctantly shook his head. No, Grandmother, I have not. I like using my fork and spoon more.

She shook her head in dismay. You'll have to learn sooner or later, young man. Not only are chopsticks easy to use and are better at picking up food, they are very important.

How so, Grandmother?

Well, instead of just telling you, I'll tell everyone. She raised her paw again. The table quickly silenced after a few seconds. I thought I should entertain you with a quick story. Why do we use chopsticks? They're difficult to master, yes, and the entire concept of it is strange. Why don't we use the fork and spoon? Let me tell you why.

For thousands of years, Shenkuu was hidden behind mist and fog. The rest of Neopia didn't know about our ancestors until a few years ago. Completely isolated from the world, our ancestors created their own traditions and ways of eating. This includes the creation of chopsticks. The people of Shenkuu still use them not only because it's tradition and they're much better than forks and spoons but to respect our ancestors and thank them for the traditions they forged. Does that make sense to everyone?

His relatives nodded while Skyler's cousins yawned and then resumed eating. Skyler, though, was in complete awe from the story. He never thought about chopsticks that way before.

His grandmother winked at him. Does that explain everything, Skyler?

Yes…I wish I knew how to use them, he replied wistfully.

She laughed. Well, I can show you.

After the feast, Skyler and his grandmother stayed at the table to teach him how to master chopsticks. After a few minutes, he was able to pick up a dumpling and more, making his grandmother beam proudly. When his aunt announced it was time to open presents, he hurried out to the tree, his grandmother watching him with a smile.

He patiently waited for his present with the rest of his cousins and received about a dozen packages. One small one caught his attention and he opened it first, seeing it was from his grandmother. He carefully peeled off the wrapping paper, his eyes widening at the present: a pair of chopsticks. He turned to her, seeing her nod and smile. He waved the chopsticks back at her, as if to say I'll honor my ancestors and you forever.


Writers' Comment

Family histories are important, and so are learning how to use chopsticks. I hope that this story provides a reason why you should honor your history.

A Different Kind of Sharing

She was panicking- or rather, close to panicking. Her eyes moved toward the calendar hanging on her wall across from her, seeing a fat red circle around the number 14. Today was the 12th day of the month and she had yet to start on her writing assignment.

Once a term, their classroom teacher would give them a large assignment that could help a student significantly or bring them down to failure. This term's topic was: write a 5-page fictional story. Elena wasn't worried about the amount she had to write- she was worried about the topic. Ever since the due date was announced, she had pushed it back until it was too late. She needed help.

Rather than getting inspired herself, she stood up and marched out of her bedroom and out onto the street in the direction of her best friend's neohome. She knocked on the door and a familiar-looking Pink Kacheek open the door. Oh, hello, Elena. What brings you here?

Elena entered the neohome. Nothing, really. I was bored so I thought I should visit you.

That's nice of you. I can use the company- my brother is about to do some really terrible singing. Reina laughed as she led the way upstairs toward her room. Elena followed, letting her fluffy tail drag over the stairs.

Reina closed the door behind her friend and sat down on the chair in front of her computer. Elena sat on the bed, looking around. Her friend was the biggest neat freak in school and her bedroom showed it. Nothing was out of place, except for a pile of papers sitting beside the computer. What are the papers for?

It's for the writing assignment, Reina explained, patting the pile with her paw. I just finished it last night. How is yours?

Her friend looked embarrassed. I haven't started on it yet.

What? Reina frowned. It's due in two days! You should get started on it soon- Mr. Foster won't accept any lates.

Elena shrugged. I know, I know. I'm not worried about how much we have to write; I don't have a topic. What did you write about?

Reina turned around to grab the first piece of paper on her pile and handed it to Elena. It's nothing exciting- just about a pet who lost her memory and she's trying to find it again. In the end, she did but something else happens and...

Before she could continue, another voice yelled for her. Reina! There's a message for you!

I better get that. I'll be right back. Reina quickly exited her bedroom.

Elena's eyes wandered at the paper on her paws. She quickly scanned the rest of what it said and then folded it and placed it in her pocket. She grabbed another piece of paper (which was filled with math equations) and waited for Reina to return. When the door opened, Elena put the paper back on the pile and hurried toward the door.

Reina watched her in surprise. Elena? Where are you going?

I forgot I had something important to do. Elena lied. I'll see you in school! She ran out of the room so fast, Reina barely had time to blink. She wondered what her friend had to do that was so urgent.

When Reina walked into the classroom on Monday morning- the day the assignment was due- she didn't see Elena anywhere. With a shrug, she gave her neatly stapled five-paged assignment to Mr. Foster and took her seat.

Ten minutes passed and then the bell rang, signaling the start of class. Mr. Foster opened his mouth to say good morning but someone ran into the classroom. It was Elena, holding a wrinkled package of papers in her paw. Sorry I'm late, she panted. My printer wasn't working so I had to write it out.

She handed it to Mr. Foster, who accepted it while wrinkling his nose. Elena sat in her chair beside Reina. She said nothing so Reina refrained from something anything as well.

At the end of school, the bell rang and the students filed out to leave. Elena hurried out without waiting for Reina, which was another odd thing she had noticed. As she was packing, Mr. Foster slithered toward her with two packages of papers on both his hands. She looked up, seeing a strange look in his eyes. Reina, I must speak to you.

She flicked her tail nervously. Okay...what is it, Mr. Foster?

He put the papers down in from of her. One of them was hers and the other was Elena's. I know you're not one to copy another person's work but when I read yours and Elena's, both are very similar, if not the same.

Reina slowly flipped through her friend's story, her eyes widening as she realized the similiarity in characters and plot. The only difference was the ending. I...don't know what to say.

Mr. Foster looked at her. Who was the one who copied the other? I trust you more than I do Elena; in fact, I have the feeling that she was the one who copied.

His student flipped through her notebook. Um...I think I have to say she did too. See, these are my notes. she showed him the page where she made character sketches and web of her plot. But...why? Why would she do that?

Perhaps you should ask her that yourself, Mr. Foster said. I will tell her tomorrow. Stealing another person's work is unacceptable.

Reina quickly packed and said good-bye, wondering if she could catch up to her friend. She ran down the sidewalk and ended up at her friend's neohome. She knocked on it and Elena answered it. Elena, I have to ask you something.

Elena yawned. Sure, what is it?

Did you copy my story for the writing assignment?

What are you talking about? I didn't copy anything.

Reina frowned. Don't lie to me! Mr. Foster showed me yours before I left- it looked just like mine. What do you have to say about that?

Her friend folded her arms and let out a breath. I didn't steal your work. Maybe you should hide them better.

I only showed you that one sheet of paper! I thought it'd help you, not for you to steal.

Well, if it's out in the open, then anyone can take it.

How can you say that? Reina scowled. I thought we were friends! Friends help each other, not steal each other's work.

Elena looked away. Well...maybe not anymore.

Reina stared at her. Fine. Be that way. We're not friends anymore- not ever. she turned and ran down the sidewalk.

She couldn't believe Elena. Stealing her work, thinking it was no big deal- she can handle the principal and the consequences that followed it. No one would stand by her side. Not anymore.


Writers' Comment

Lesson of the story: don't steal. Ever. I hope this story enforces that lesson a bit more!

The Mural of Friendship

I had a best friend named Danni. I don't mean to brag, but we were excellent artists, especially when we were able to work together. Danni would sketch the picture and I would color it in. Our teacher Mr. Fenton would give him a higher mark than me because sketching took longer than coloring but Danni argued that coloring took just as long. So we ended up getting the same mark, which was perfect for us.

Some of our artwork was put on display in the Neopian Art Gallery. A few pets even knew the pair of "Danni and Arnie", the student artists. However, a few years later, Danni moved and the pair was no more. But before he did, we started on a major project. We didn't give it a name, but I called it the Mural of Friendship.

On our way to Danni's house from school, I stopped him before we could cross the street to his neohome. Hey, Danni, I have something to show you.

What is it? Danni followed me further down the street.

I saw something I thought we could use, I explained. I stopped and gestured with my tail at the blank white wall in front of me. This blank wall...maybe we can use it for something.

Danni frowned. Arnie, that's called graffiti. Don't we need permission from the mayor or something?

My mom knows the pet who painted this wall white, I told him. She said she wanted something colorful for her building so she painted this white and asked my mom if we could paint something here.

My best friend examined the wall carefully. He brushed his paws over its smooth surface and nodded slowly as he made his way down. Hm...this is a really smooth wall. What did she want on it?

She didn't specify, but so long it's colorful, I think she'll be okay with it. I rummaged through my art satchel and took out a marker and tossed it to Danni. Why don't you draw something? I can paint it later.

Danni caught the marker and uncapped it. He tapped his chin while staring at the wall before leaping into action. His grip around the marker was firm as he swiftly yet carefully drew something with long strokes. That was his style- he was fast and precise and he always drew with long strokes instead of short ones. Before I knew it, he had drawn a rough sketch of a Techo. Look familiar? he commented with a grin.

I chuckled. Well, you can't draw me without drawing yourself!

He laughed before turning back to the wall. He drew an Eyrie flying above the Techo. There. Happy?

Yes, quite happy. I smiled. I'll come back after dinner to paint it, okay?

Danni handed the marker back to me. How about we both draw and color the mural together? It's too much work for one pet to draw or color the entire mural.

I raised my eyebrows. This is going to be a mural now?

Sure, why not? Danni smiled. Consider this an art project...except we're working together this time and not splitting the work. I can show you how to draw and you can show me how to paint. How does that sound?

I nodded. Sounds like fun. Let's start tonight after dinner.

Right. Bring your paint and I'll bring my pens. This is going to be a long but fun night.

That night, we worked on the mural as promised. We drew the neighborhood of Roo Island and the neohomes on our street. Pets that exercised in the evening would stop briefly to watch us create drawings to life when it was time to paint them. The funny thing was we never painted ourselves in. I never asked Danni about it though because he moved to Mystery Island before I had the chance.

What about the mural? I asked when he told me.

Danni curled his tail. Well...how about this: we can work on it once a month together? I'll make time to fly here myself.

I don't want to bother you, though, I pointed out.

You won't. I promised to show you how to draw- and you're getting pretty good at it- and to finish the mural with you. There's no way I'm breaking it.

I nodded slowly. I guess I can't argue. We'll stay best friends, right?

Danni grinned. Forever.

I watched him and his family move the day after we promised each other about working on the mural. He kept his promise well- he chose a day when I had nothing to do and we would work on it all day before he flew back to Mystery Island. That continued for a year until one day I received a letter.

The letter was a simple apology note. Danni had a very important surfing competition and couldn't come that day. I sent him a reply saying I would work on the mural myself and I did. I tried to stay positive but then I received another letter afterward, saying he couldn't come again because of school. I sent him another reply and then the month after that, when it was his time to come, he didn't send me anything.

I was expecting that, actually. Distant friendships never last long, but I still treated my friendship with Danni as everlasting. When he didn't send me anything else on the fourth month, I decided to walk out to the mural to see how it looked.

It was colorful and bursting of memories. The background was the sun setting with different shapes of our neighbors' neohomes carefully drawn and painted. There were also a few pets walking happily down the sidewalk eating ice-cream or bouncing on their tails. In the center of it all was an unpainted Techo and an unpainted Eyrie flying above it.

Looking at the mural almost brought me to tears. I took a deep breath and took out a marker. The corner of the mural was simply a bush so I bent down to write a message.

This mural was painted as a symbol of Arnie and Danni's everlasting friendship. It won't be completed now because Danni is too busy to come and Arnie can't finish it alone. All he asks is for Danni to read this message one day and if he agrees with their friendship being everlasting, please color in the Techo and Eyrie.

I stood up and walked away without another look.

The next time I went back to the mural was five years later. I stayed on Roo Island but I was in and out during that time frame because of my job as an art teacher at Neopian Central. I wasn't expecting much from the mural to be honest, so my mind was completely blown when I saw the Techo colored in red and the Eyrie colored in yellow.

I ran my paw over them to see if the paint was still fresh. Sadly, it wasn't. I frowned and thought it could've been the work of another pet, but when my eyes focused on the corner of the mural, I noticed writing. I thought it was just my own message but when I looked at it closely, I realized it wasn't. It was Danni.

Arnie, this is Danni. I'm really sorry about breaking our promise like that. I suddenly got really busy and made drawing the last thing on my mind. When I finally had time, I couldn't draw a single thing. I gave up drawing in the end and became a teacher instead. But when I looked back at all the awards I won for my drawing, I realized what I was missing out. So I came back and saw your message. I really am sorry for breaking our promise and so, I colored in the Techo and Eyrie. When I have time, I will send you a neomail but until then, never give up your dream, Arnie. You taught me how to paint but it looks like I never taught you how to draw. I hope you can forgive me.


Writer's Comment

Oh, my...I never expected this would turn out the way it did, but I'm kind of glad it did. I hope you enjoyed it as this is my longest story!

Practice Makes Perfect

Landon skidded against the stony ground again, a rubber yooyu bouncing and landing in front of him. He glared at it in frustration before slinging it away. He brushed gravel out of his tangled fur and sat down with a sigh. The sun was close to setting- he should head home.

The yooyu rolled harmlessly in front of someone else. Landon looked up in time to see his friend, Dexter, a talkative Starry Ruki. He picked up the yooyu and tossed it in the air. You're looking grey. Do you want me to fetch my Paint Brush?

Landon scowled and jumped to his feet. No, thanks. Can I have that back now?

Suit yourself. Dexter tossed the yooyu high in the air. Landon carefully judged the angle of the yooyu and it landed in his sling before bouncing back out. Grey Kyrii don't look too bad.

You're not funny. Landon removed his sling and grabbed the yooyu before turning around.

Dexter raised his eyebrows. I just wanted to help you, but if you don't want it, then I'll just be going.

Landon looked over his shoulder. What do you know about Yooyuball?

My brother is Gordo Gunnels of Team Brightvale. I'm pretty certain I know what I'm talking about. Dexter inspected Landon's sling. Your sling isn't buckled on properly and it's for left-handed players, not right-handed ones. If you fix that first, then I'll show you some pointers.

Landon shook his head. Thanks, but no thanks. I can do this on my own.

He walked toward his neohome again and Dexter followed. Why not? No one can be good without help from others. he said. It took my brother years of practice before he could be on Roo Island's team. Then he transferred but we stayed here because Brightvale just wasn't for us.

His friend didn't answer. Dexter continued on. Don't you know you have to practice before you can be good at something? Yooyuball's the same- sure, some pets have natural talent for it, but most folks would have to practice, like my brother. Like you. Experts aren't always born- experts become experts after they practice and improve.

I know that, Landon said. It's just...sometimes I wish I can be good right now. Does that make sense? Yooyuball tryouts are next week and Coach Bales told me I wouldn't have any chance of getting on the team.

Dexter chuckled. That's just how Coach is. Unless you really, really, want to improve, then he'll let you join the team. I guess that means you're mediocre. Mediocre players would never get on the team.

Then what am I supposed to do? Landon asked, exasperated. The conversation was going in circles.

Let me help you, maybe? The key to improving is by letting others help you and knowing yourself what you need to improve.

Landon was reluctant to accept his help, but he really wanted to be good at Yooyuball. Fine.

Great! Dexter grinned. Oh, can I ask you something else? Why do you want to be on the team so badly?

His friend glanced at his yooyu sling. Uh...well, I just want to be good at something and be known for it. I'm okay in every other sport, but if I could be good at one sport, then I can be really good at it. Does that make sense?

Sure it does. Dexter nodded in agreement. I mean, I've felt the same way. But now I'm just good at being a good friend, and I think that's good enough for me.

Being a good friend, huh? Landon tossed the yooyu in the air for Dexter to catch. Makes sense. We can't always be good at something, right?

Dexter caught it easily with his paw. Right. Practice makes perfect, after all.


Writer's Comment

This story reflects me in a way. I love site-making, but I wasn't good at anything and I wanted to be famous. But now, I know it takes time and practice before any site owner can reach celebrity status.

My Hero

I never knew who my hero was until the day Miss Canny gave us that assignment in school. Every student was buzzing with excitement about who to write about, but I simply sat there, staring at my piece of paper. My mind was completely blank. Who was my hero? I didn't even know.

My friend, Gloria knew exactly who to write about. There's only one pet in Neopia that I can write about, she announced somewhat loudly. That'd be Mr. Colchester! You know everything about him, right? Can you just tell me about him? It would be faster than reading through the Neopedia.

I shook my head. I actually don't know anything about him. We hardly talk. We meet maybe once or twice a month, if I'm lucky.

That's disappointing. Gloria frowned. Then who are you going to write about?

Not about Father, that's for sure. I tapped my chin. Maybe...Leera Heggle from Lost Desert's Yooyuball team? I think he's a really good goalkeeper.

Before she could reply, the bell rang, signalling the end of the school day. I gathered my books and fled the classroom as fast as I could so Gloria wouldn't be able to give me her daily lecture about how Team Mystery Island was better.

I kicked my feet through the grains of sand sitting on the beach on my way home to the Colchester household, located on a private beach. I reached the stairs leading to the kitchen and climbed up them, opening the door with my paw and entering it.

The kitchen was spacious with professional cooking equipment lined up against the wall. A closed door led to the other parts of the house that were usually covered in dust from disuse. A Red Zafara wearing an apron stood in front of the oven and looked up when I closed the door. Welcome back, Camille. How was school?

Miss Canny said we have to write about our hero, but I don't have one, I explained, putting my backpack on the table and sitting down in one of the chairs. I might write about Leera Heggle. He's an amazing goalkeeper. What do you think, Loretta?

She took out a tray of cookies and placed them on the table before sitting down beside me. You do know that there is one person who is closer than you think that you can write about, right?

I frowned. Do you mean Father? He's not my hero. I hardly speak to him. Jordie sees him more than I do!

Jordie is Mr. Colchester's assistant, Loretta explained patiently. Besides, he has done more than Captain Heggle has.

Did Father win the Altador Cup? I asked.

Well, no, but... Loretta paused for a moment. Alright, let me ask you this: what is a hero in your eyes?

I reached for a cookie but burnt my paw in the process. I pulled it back with a wince. Well...they have to be older than me...and they have to have done something amazing. They also have to be big, strong and really confident about what they do, and I guess they should've saved someone's life.

Loretta took her apron off. Mr. Colchester fits your description perfectly, dear. He discovered many things and is an inspiration for explorers everywhere. He also saved many people, including Neopia.

I shook my head. Captain Heggle is amazing too and he saved a lot of younger pets. It was in the Neopian Times!

Yes, I know, I read that article with you. It is true that Captain Heggle matches your description too, but your father has done more than that.

I picked up another cookie and bit into it. Like what?

He saved your life, Loretta said simply. You were abandoned and Mr. Colchester took you in as your own. If it weren't for him, no one knows where you could've ended up.

I listened in silence. I knew very well that I was adopted since I was a Cybunny and he was a Lutari, but that wasn't the point.

He can't stop from being an explorer- it's what he has been doing all his life. He could take you along with him, but he doesn't want you to get hurt. You may not know it, but he does love you as if you were his real daughter. He would give up exploring to spend more time with you, but since everything nowadays require Neopoints, there is no way he can support you without it. Loretta stood up. That's all I wanted to say. You can write about Captain Heggle if you want. I can't force you not to.

I watched her exit the kitchen. I stared at the plate of cookies while hearing Loretta's voice go through my mind again. It was true that my father had accomplished a lot in his short lifetime and I was proud of that- but was it real? I couldn't tell. What I did know was that I never thanked him for saving me that day. He fulfilled every wish I had and I repaid him with words he would never hear again. I opened my backpack and took out the empty piece of paper and a pencil. I knew exactly what to write about.


Writer's Comment

I wrote this on a whim, but I think it turned out okay. I hope you enjoyed it!




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