It was dawn.
The Pound entrance was already littered with owners, drifting aimlessly in the misty sun, endeavouring to obtain a glimpse of us pets. Us painted pets.
I stretched, rainbow coat rippling in the morning light, before settling back down, my head nestled in my ultramarine paws, eyes listlessly roaming the gathered masses.
I was over this, much too old to get that queasy, excited sensation in my stomach. I knew I was going to be adopted. I had a nice enough coat. Sure, it was not worth Maraquan or Faerie, but it was better than Christmas.
My obsidian orbs slid to the assembled Christmas clan. Most were new, some older, wiser. They were twittering amongst themselves, arms gesturing wildly in excitement; the younger ones high pitched – sensitive. The older tired, weary.
I inspected a expressionless Bruce, still disturbed from yesterday. When he was created, painted, and abandoned. Stripped of his clothes, deposited in here. He was obviously perturbed, more so than the pure white Zafara he’d affixed himself to. He looked just like a blue Bruce. He had no chance of attracting attention. And with that name – xxx_BabyCakez_xxx. He would be in here a long time.
A blonde haired girl caught my gaze as it left the quivering pet. Her brown eyes slithered down my colour, sizing me up. Determining what she could get for me at the Boards. I twitched an ear, unsurprised, turning from her greedy gawking.
That was normal.
That was why I was here.
It wasn’t that my previous people were cruel, brutal. No. They were affectionate enough, sweet even. They fed me, clothed me, played with me, took me places. Until the novelty wore off.
Until they saw a pet they wanted more.
Then was the inevitable trip to the Boards, where I stood, proud, teary in my assigned Topic, while my owner avoided my forlorn expression, calling for a Baby Lupe or a Basic Krawk. And always settling for less. Oh, they would promise to write, visit, keep in contact.
And they would, at first.
Then contact would peter out. They would forget about their first pet – the one they themselves painted. Or the one they traded mercilessly for another, a better. A pet with a four letter name, a nicer coat, and rare species.
Eventually, the new one would be sick of me, and no one would show interest in my colour at the Boards. I’d end up here, and the cycle would continue.
I didn’t believe in SoulOwners.
That’s what they called them here. Whispered, embarrassingly to a fellow pet, in the fear that someone would taunt them, laugh at them for such a vapid concept. I would. I’d been through so many humans.
Ironically, people were never any different. Always the same – regardless of hair, age, gender, personality. They always got bored. Moved on.
At least, in my experience.
I sighed, twisting my head as a collective gasp left the mass, trapped outside our sanctuary. My twirled ears perked at the noise, acidic orange forehead furrowing. There were only two reasons for such an occurrence. Either the Pound was closing down – unlikely, with the overcrowding. Or...
My scarlet jaw dropped as I beheld her. Her vibrant purple coat, translucent wings glittering in the mist. Her expression was serene, almost detached, as if in denial. A Faerie Ixi. Abandoned just that minute? A Pound Trade? No – too early for that. They usually waited for other people to dissipate from the Pound before pound trading. Less opportunity of some random seizing the pet. She clopped past me, and I turned away. She was perfect.
But why was she here? She was a Dreamie, a dream pet. I’d never seen one abandoned before.
If someone had ditched her in the Pound, then I’d never be loved.
It had been hours since the Pound opened, and I was still here. The sun was warm, buoyant, casting light on my damp mood. The Ixi was gone. Not adopted – just gone. The humans had multiplied, demanding the poor receptionist for their Ixi.
It was mayhem.
With all this interest, we older Pound Hoppers had already admitted defeat. That deplorable pet had stolen our opportunity to be adopted. To some, she’d even pilfered their chance at a SoulOwner. I scoffed, pattering off to find a more secluded part of the Pound. Preferably my little hidden glade.
It was situated in the Pound gardens, past where all the regular, unpainted pets gathered – ashamed of both colour and name. I had to crawl beneath the Pound walls, through a little tunnel snuggled under a holly bush. I didn’t come here often. Not only as it was technically past the Pound’s parameters, but because I didn’t want to ruin my coat.
I froze, bewildered eyes widening. Someone was in my concealed space? Someone had found my clearing? I frowned, murderous. This was my place! I yanked myself through with rage, claws digging at the wild grass as my body slipped in, coming nose to nose with the Ixi.
She blinked, fear glowing in her irises.
I was unsurprised. Of course the perfect pet would find my only claimed spot. Now I had nothing over her.
My expression must’ve been as dark as my thoughts, for she began to wail again. Water droplets trickling down her now violet cheeks, hoofs masking her damp face from me. I gaped. She was almost hideous like that, wet and helpless and distressed.
It made her real.
“It’s okay!” I blurted out, flinching at my outward display of kindness. Usually I spat 'Get over it', and left them to cry. Kindness wasn’t necessary. If they were going to become a Pound Hopper, they’d have to get used to it. But still, the words gushed from my mouth, against my will. “I won’t tell them! Where you are, I mean. I uh, I’ll just go, now.”
I backpedaled, trying unsuccessfully, to push myself through the tiny entrance. She stopped bawling. “N-No, it’s okay. I, uh, I’m obviously in your area. I, ah...” she tapered off - her voice smooth, frail, like she wasn’t used to talking. Like she was used to merely looking pretty.
I paused awkwardly, half in and half out of the peaceful dell. We examined each other, me nibbling uncomfortably on my bottom lip, while she frantically mopped up her face.
My curiosity got the better of me.
“Why... why are you here?” I winced, praying that she wouldn’t plunge into another bout of sobbing. She held herself together well. She was stronger then I had perceived.
“Why do you think I’m here? I’m the exact same as every other pet.” Her words were harsh, but her tone held no malice. She wasn’t trying to offend, purely offering a genuine reason.
I should have taken the hint. But I didn’t.
“But, you’re beautiful – uh, um,” I stumbled uneasily, flush indiscernible from my painted crimson face.
She waved it off, oozing a tense laugh. I took an internal breath, tugging my rear end out to avoid her saturated gaze. “It’s a long story,” she breathed, leaning against the unfeeling wall, sapphire irises centering on some distant point. I parked myself beside her, keeping my distance. I didn’t want this to be any more unpleasant.
“I’ll listen.” I shrugged, calming down as the breeze ruffled my tail. It was a lovely day to be outside. She seemed reluctant, but too polite to say no.
“I um, guess I’ll start at the beginning, if I must. I was um, a blue Ixi, before. I was pounded by my first human – he wanted a Zafara, not me. So...” she shrugged. I glanced at her to see opaque tears forming. My paw dipped into the soggy dirt on the ground, and I pulled up a handful of the stuff, inspecting it numbly. She continued.
“The lady who adopted me was a, uh, well, one of those people who paint pets and then put them back in here, so that another owner can adopt them and ‘Spread the Colour’. Or something like that. That’s what she used to say, at least.”
Ah, a petitarian. They were common, and almost as bad as the Board users.
“She painted me this colour, Faerie-” she dribbled off, whimpering, exquisite muzzle in arms. I inched alongside her, bumping her with my shoulder. She glimpsed up at me, donning a grateful smile. I returned it stiffly. I wasn’t used to smiling. “And then dumped me back here. I-It was pandemonium. Everyone grabbing me, shoving money at that lovely Uni, screaming, wailing, demanding that they had rightful claim to me. That they were the first to see me. I’ve n-never been so scared.”
“I can imagine,” I muttered, gazing at the ground, ashamed that I, not two minutes ago; had been judging her for her colour. As if it were her fault.
“A lady got me in the end. She was so excited, she chatted nonstop as we left the pound. I thought that I was f-finally.... But she wasn’t taking me to her neohome.” The Ixi shuddered. “She took me straight to those Boards. She didn’t want me.” She spat in disgust. “She wanted my colour, to get herself a Plushie Zafara. I was nothing to her. But she didn’t get one. No one else wanted me. T-They...” She paused, and I tilted one ear. Voices?
“I saw him coming this way. Yeah, then disappeared. No, the Ixi might be...”
She went rigid, mouth making a dainty ‘O’ shape. They’d trailed me to find her. I gulped, remorseful, and she returned from her (probably morbid) musings. “They didn’t want me because.... because of that number...” She rested a hoof, harsh, against my fur as the sounds drifted closer.
“What number?” I ushered her on, spine prickling with adrenaline. They were going to take her, capture her.
For a moment I entertained the thought of escaping, us both. Following through this glade into the wide world of Neopia. Hiding out. Moving from place to place. Free of this endless torment.
But I knew the consequences of running from the Pound.
I was a coward.
“M-My name. It’s... It’s...” She wheezed, a word barely forming on her lips. She was humiliated, mournful. Just like that Bruce. Just like those unpainted pets. Just like us. “It’s Marisol... Marisol__1. T-The one’s why they didn’t want me, because I... I...!” She broke off, unintelligible gibberish as a face peeped out from the entrance.
I growled. She squealed no. Over and over. But to no avail.
I observed her new owner. Pale, flushed with excitement, Marisol in her tight grasp; and exhaled. The lady appeared happy. Who knows how long that would last. She didn’t seem the type to abandon the poor pet again. But you never can tell.
Marisol’s fearful orbs connected with mine. A silent promise. I hoped that we would stay in contact. That some how, I could help her. And perhaps, one day, be adopted with her.
The human moved through the gate, Marisol disappearing into the mid afternoon sun. And possibly from me forever.
I wished that she would find a person to love her. Someone that would see past that number. I wished, beyond all hope, beyond all desire, that she would find her SoulOwner.