Life in a Snowy Shadow: Part Four
I had no idea where Turmaculus lived, or how far from Nikki’s Neohome it was. I just knew that it had to be quite some distance away, because Nikki was taking a very long time. I waited and waited and waited, for who knew how long. Time seemed to pass so slowly, and worry was welling up inside me by the second. Come on, come on. Hurry up, Nikki. What’s taking you so long? Bring Marzely back, so that I won’t be so worried...
And then, at last, I heard footsteps, as Nikki approached the door. My heart was pounding loudly as I heard the clunk of a key being pushed inside and turned, then the door flung open.
Nikki was standing there, slim and tall as always, her black hair draping over her shoulders.
But Marzely... was not with her.
I stared at Nikki in shock. How could it be? She was looking calm, composed and even happy. How could she behave that way when Marzely had been... I couldn’t think about it. I wouldn’t think about it.
Now I realised that in her hand was a shiny new avatar. The picture on it was grim. Turmaculus in its enormity, a Petpet I couldn’t recognise trying to avoid its mouth, and the letters ‘Mmm...’
How could she stand to have something so repulsive?
I answered my own question. Because the world is cruel... because in Neopia Central, Petpets are treated as though we are objects. Like we have no feelings. We mean nothing to her.
Well, that was it. I was going. I had considered running away before, but having food, a roof over my head, a bed and Marzely as my friend had stopped me. Now that Marzely had gone, though, all the other reasons to stay seemed to be less than a speck of dust in comparison. I felt hot tears prickling my eyes again, but ignored them.
The door was open. Nikki hadn’t closed it properly as she came in. Now was my chance. Without hesitation, I bounded forwards and out through the gap in the door.
* * *
The streets were a flurry of activity, as Neopets and owners went on with their business, to school, or otherwise. I could barely see anything at all. It was so intimidating to be outside, and so vulnerable, by myself. But it was better than being stuck inside with that cruel Nikki.
I walked through the streets quietly, keeping an eye out for any Petpets I could find. But all I could see were Neopets and owners. Panic started to well up inside me. What could I do? I had acted without thinking. Danger could be anywhere on the Neopia Central streets. I hurriedly ducked an owner who was just about to step over me, and crawled into a hidden corner.
Think, Kay, think! I told myself. What to do next? Hide in here, and wait for help? Possibly. Go back into Nikki’s Neohome? Not for twenty bunches of carrots. Try and find my way around here, to search for other stray Petpets that could help me? That seemed very tempting, but I wondered if other stray Petpets existed at all.
A Neopet was staring at me! I jumped and tried to run, but it was too late. I was caught around my waist and lifted up.
“Aww, are you alright?”
I recognised her as a Blue Bruce, from what Marzely had told me. She was wearing the strangest clothes I had ever seen, and that included all the crazy garments that Cecilia wore. A black jacket with about ten pockets, and a long, blue dress. On her jacket was a label saying ‘PPL’. I felt a squirm of fear. Pulverise Petpets Lengthily? Prejudice to Petpets League?
“I’m Mera,” the Bruce said, “And I’m from the Petpet Protection League.”
The Petpet Protection League? I couldn’t believe my ears. How could that be true? There were Neopets out there who actually wanted to protect Petpets? Maybe... she could understand me? I took a deep breath, and said, “Do you really protect Petpets?”
She looked at me in concern, but didn’t seem to understand. Ugh. It was no use that she tried to protect Petpets, then, if she couldn’t understand me.
“Let’s take you to the Headquarters, eh?” she said brightly. “You look in the need of some TLC.”
TLC? I shuddered. What could that be? Terrifying League’s Conspiracy? I whimpered, but stayed silent after that, as Mera carried me gently across through Neopia Central.
I saw many strange and interesting sights on the way, all of which I’d missed when Owen had first carried me here. The Neopian Plaza was a hub of activity, with many Neopets and owners crowded around the Wishing Well, dropping in coins and stating their wishes. The Neopian Food Shop, with delicious hot dogs, cakes and other foods stacked on the shelves. And then, of course... the Neopian Petpet Shop. There were numerous Petpets stuck in tiny cages, barely big enough for them, cramped and with looks of misery on their faces. I wanted more than ever to free them. But I could do nothing... I was being taken to the PPL headquarters for this mysterious ‘TLC’.
In a few minutes, we arrived at a tall, grey building with the words ‘PETPET PROTECTION LEAGUE’ marked clearly on a sign at the top in enormous letters. I shivered. Now, I’d see if they were telling the truth about protecting Petpets, or if it was something genuinely bad that they were going to do to me...
Mera opened the door and walked inside. As soon as she had closed it, her paws loosened around me, and I jumped onto the ground to look at what was in the building.
There was a desk with a Yellow Moehog in a jacket very much like Mera’s behind it. He was scribbling on bunches of paper, and talking to a frightening Red Skeith. He looked up as he heard the door click into place, and gazed down at me.
“A stray, huh?” he said, his eyes still fixed on me. (Why did Neopets and owners like staring at me that way?)
“Yes,” Mera said. “She’s one of those Snowbunnies that were given out on the sixth day of the Advent Calendar. Rumour has it that they were captured from their home at the top of Terror Mountain.”
I gasped. She knew! I nodded vigorously and this, at least, the two Neopets could understand. And Mera had called me ‘she’, not ‘it’, as well! I couldn’t understand why those two small things made me feel so happy, but they did.
The Moehog looked sad as he turned back to me, taking in my nod. “Well, she needs to be cared for, in any case. She looks to be quite young -- not a baby or a adult, I guess, but maybe in between. We should leave her in the playroom, and let her meet the other Petpets.”
Mera agreed, and I followed her without hesitation as she beckoned for me to come after her in the corridor. She led me past numerous rooms, all of which had Petpets in them -- some looking happy, some sad. Finally, we stopped at the largest room of all.
Inside were so many Petpets that I didn’t even know the name of half the species. Snufflies, Faellies, Boweens, and more! A few turned to look at me and they gave a small smile. I did my best to smile back.
“I’ll get you some food and water,” Mera said kindly. “You can stay with the other Petpets for now.”
I gave a small squeak of happiness which she seemed to understand, smiling at me before walking away.
As soon as she disappeared from sight, though, I wasn’t sure what to do. Thoughts of Marzely had returned to me, and I didn’t know if I even wanted to make new friends after what had happened to him. I sat down in the corner quietly, thinking that no-one would disturb me if I was isolated and hidden.
I was wrong, however. Mere seconds later, a Blue Catamara hopped over to me. “Hi!” she said enthusiastically.
I raised my head slowly. “Um... hi.”
“Who are you? You just came here, right? How come you’re so sad? How did Mera find you? I haven’t seen a Neopet like you before! Are you going to stay here? What's your name?”
“Um...” I stared at her blankly. “Well, erm... I’m Kay. A Snowbunny.”
“Snowbunny! Oh, that’s right, I heard that they were given out at the Advent Calendar! Captured from the top of Terror Mountain by Neopets, right? So how did you end up here? Did you run away? Where did Mera find you?”
“That’s right,” I replied. “I ran away from the Neopets because... because...” I felt like there was something blocking my throat, and couldn’t speak.
“Because what?” Her voice was curious, and had just the slightest hint of hesitation behind it.
“Because, today...” I began, and ended up telling the whole story of what had happened with Marzely. When I had finished, the Catamara no longer looked excited and joyful. She looked almost as sad as I felt, and her voice was very sympathetic.
“I -- I’m so sorry.”
“It’s OK,” I mumbled. Trying to take the conversation in another direction, I asked, “So... what about you? How did you end up here?”
“I’m Rita. I used to be in the Petpet Shop at Kiko Lake,” she replied impassively. “One day, an owner came to buy me, but I slipped out and got lost, ending up here in Neopia Central. Hugo found me, and I’ve been here ever since!”
“Hugo?” I said blankly.
“You know, that Moehog outside?”
“Oh, right,” I said, and nodded. “So... um... what do we do here? Can we just keep living here?”
Rita grinned. “Yup! The PPL used to just keep hurt or abandoned Petpets and then find us good homes, but lately it’s been harder and harder to find owners and Neopets who will actually look after us. So we can stay here. There’s even a Psimouse who’s part of the staff! Sometimes Neopets also come and adopt us, like with the Neopian Pound. But the PPL checks them first to make sure that they won’t just abandon or harm us.”
That was a lot to take in so suddenly, but I was grateful for the information. I was mostly safe. The Neopets and Petpets here would look after me and I’d make a few new friends. Life had become so much better, except... I would never see Marzely or my Snowbunny friends and family again. The thought was depressing, but I forced myself to think of the positives.
Although I hadn’t really doubted her, it was a relief when it turned out that Rita was absolutely right. Mera and Hugo were incredibly kind to us, along with the Psimouse staff member, Eyna. The ‘TLC’ turned out to be ‘tender, loving, care’ and I had that and more at the PPL.
So I passed a year with the Petpet Protection League. Life wasn’t boring at all. We did paw-painting, played games, and learnt about the history of Petpets. Eyna the Psimouse was almost able to communicate with the Neopets of the PPL, due to her psychic powers, and that made daily life better than ever. Although I was happy, and Rita was a great friend, I often thought of Marzely and my family, with that small sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach every time that happened. I tried not to most of the time, though, and just have fun with everyone else.
But then, on December 3rd, Year 5, the Snowbunny avatar was released.
To be continued...