Kayla bounced through the door in a whirlwind of squeals and twirls and general over-excitedness and I knew we were in trouble. I looked over at my sister, Tink, and rolled my eyes.
Tink smiled weakly and laid her head on the kitchen table, clearly resigned to hearing our owners' latest hare-brained scheme. We were used to Kayla coming home, all revved up about a new project or adventure. We usually went along with most of them, just to see what would happen, although both of us obstinately refused to go Grarrl-hunting in Tyrannia. Neither of us cared for the prospect of a prolonged hospital stay and I, personally, liked having four legs.
I looked at my owner expectantly. "What's up, Kayla?" I asked, keeping my tone only mildly curious.
She let out an ear-splitting 'SQUEE!' and finally came to a stop at the edge of the kitchen table. She looked at us with dancing eyes and a wide grin on her face. "I met another owner today!" she started, visibly shaking with her excitement. Tink and I looked at each other before looking back at Kayla. "She had the coolest pets!"
I suppressed a sigh. Every so often Kayla would embark on a new mission to morph or paint my sister and me a certain way after she'd seen it in the news or met another owner with that pet. Normally she'd lose interest in the project after a week or so of saving and we'd end up using the accumulated Neopoints for an expedition to Maraqua or to restock the library or something.
My sister and I waited in anxious silence for Kayla to tell us what her new goal was. It didn't take more than thirty seconds.
"She had seven pets," she continued. "And they were all BABY!" She clapped her hands with glee as my stomach suddenly twisted.
I looked back to Tink and saw my own mounting horror mirrored in her eyes. I opened my mouth to say something only to snap it closed again a minute later when I couldn't think of a tactful way to voice my objections.
"That's unusual," Tink said feebly; apparently she couldn't bring herself to crush Kayla's delight either.
"That's not the best part," Kayla said, doing a happy little jig. Tink and I looked at her uneasily. "She was soooo nice when I said it was such a good idea! She had a Baby Paint Brush in her Safety Deposit Box; she was saving it until she could decide which pet she wanted next and choose the perfect name. She said she just couldn't decide so I could have it to get me started on my own Baby family. Can you believe it?" She started dancing around the kitchen again, making her dress flair out.
I really, really couldn't. I knew that this person thought she was being kind and I suppose she was seeing how excited Kayla was but I really didn't want to be Baby. And from the look of wide-eyed terror on Tink's face, she didn't either.
After a couple of minutes, Kayla twirled to a stop in front of us again with a wide smile on her face. "So, I was thinking I'll paint you now, Tink," she said grinning at my sister before turning to me. "And then I'll save up for another Baby Paint Brush for you, Barney. What do you guys think?"
I looked at Tink. She looked petrified, but I couldn't think of any way out of this without upsetting Kayla. It would be unforgivable to disappoint someone as bubbly as our owner.
"Sounds great," Tink said, trying to muster up a smile for the young girl. I smiled sympathetically at her.
"Great!" Kayla exclaimed, bouncing n place. "Let's go now! And then we can hit the Games Room to start Barney's fund."
Kayla skipped happily out the door as Tink and I trudged dejectedly behind her.
"Maybe it won't be so bad," I whispered to my sister as we followed our owner down the street towards Neopia Central. Tink looked at me skeptically but I ploughed ahead. "Think about it; we'll be super-cute and I doubt anyone will be able to say 'no' to us."
Tink just shrugged and continued down the street, I knew how she felt – I wasn't convinced either.
We finally reached the Rainbow Pool and Kayla joined the back of the queue. Tink waited anxiously next to her as they inched closer to the Pool.
After ten minutes they reached the edge and Kayla knelt to dip the Brush into the Pool. I watched as she turned to Tink and touched the tip of the Brush to the Xweetok's head. I saw Tink flinch reflexively and seconds later the Paint started to flow from the Brush into her coat. Less than a minute later she was completely covered and the Brush 'poofed' in a cloud of Purple smoke. When I looked back to Tink, my jaw dropped.
She was about a third of the size she had been and almost sickeningly cute. She looked around with her big, amethyst-tinted eyes as Kayla let out a giggle and scooped her off the bank of the Pool.
Kayla hurried over to where I was standing and held out my sister to me. "What do you think?" she asked, her joy evident in her voice.
I floundered for an instant, unsure what to say to appease Kayla without upsetting Tink. "Ummm... she's... er... cute?" I hedged, glancing nervously between the two of them.
Tink pressed her lips together in obvious irritation but Kayla beamed at me and bounced in place. "I know!" she squealed, hugging Tink closer. "She's soooo adorable! I can't wait to go show Jen."
I assumed 'Jen' was our favourite Paint Brush donor. I wasn't sure whether either Tink or myself was in the right frame of mind to meet her, so I quickly cleared my throat. "I thought we were heading for the Games Room," I said, and immediately regretted it. I'd just inadvertently given Kayla the impression I was eager to start earning for my own Paint Brush.
Her eyes flashed in excitement as Tink hid her face in Kayla's coat to cover her smirk. "Don't worry, this will only take a minute, then we can go play games 'til we drop!" Kayla replied, bounding off through the crowd.
It barely took five minutes to reach Jen's Neohome, situated on the edge of the Neopian Plaza. Kayla rapped on the door and a moment later in opened to reveal a tall, willowy girl currently cradling a baby JubJub in her arms. She had long black hair and big brown eyes, and when she saw Kayla with a struggling Tink in her arms her face lit up with a soft smile.
"Hi Kayla!" she said cheerfully. "Who's this?"
"This is Tink," Kayla said, holding my sister up for inspection before indicating to me and adding," and this is Barney. I just wanted to show you the results and say thank you again before we head off to the Games Room."
"Well, she's simply gorgeous," Jen replied, peering at Tink before looking back to Kayla. "You're going to the Games Room?"
Kayla nodded hyperactively. "Yep," she said. "I'm gonna start on a fund to Paint Barney."
Once again Jen's face lit up with a smile. "Do you mind if I come with you?" she asked. "I need to start another fund myself."
Kayla blushed slightly but nodded again enthusiastically. "Sure! Maybe you could give me some pointers? I'm not very good at a lot of the games."
Jen chuckled. "Neither am I for the most part, but I'd appreciate the company," she replied. "Maybe we can give each other tips? Encourage each other?"
"Sounds great!" Kayla said happily. "Maybe you can keep me from getting halfway there and going on a spending spree!"
"I'll restrain you if you'll restrain me," Jen offered with a wry smile. "Just give me a moment to settle this little guy down with a book and I'll be with you."
She disappeared into the house for a couple of minutes while Kayla stood on the step and cooed at Tink. I saw Tink roll her eyes at the infantile baby-talk Kayla was using and I had to stifle a snicker.
Jen eventually reappeared followed by a baby Lupe. "Lupo is my active," Jen explained when she caught Kayla looking at him in confusion. "He always helps me game."
It took us about twenty minutes to reach the arcade, during which Jen and Kayla debated the benefits of various Babies. I trudged along behind them with Lupo bouncing beside me, seemingly super-cheerful.
Once we reached our destination, Kayla thrust Tink into my arms. "Hold your sister while I play,' she said, already eying the games list.
Tink struggled for a moment, trying to get comfortable in her new perch. "This is quite possibly the worst day of my life," she mumbled to me, still looking utterly adorable even with the dejected expression.
Lupo eyed us carefully for a moment. "You were just Painted today?" he asked Tink as Jen and Kayla wandered off through the crowds towards the puzzle games.
Tink nodded, gazing at Lupo with a doleful look as he smiled sympathetically. "I'm guessing you weren't given any warning either?" Tink shook her head with the same mournful expression on her face. "It's not so bad once you get used to it," he continued. "It's just a big shock if you aren't expecting it."
"You'd know?" Tink asked skeptically.
Lupo shook his head good-naturedly. "My older brother and two of my sisters were all Painted one day out of the blue," he explained. "I wasn't around back then. From what they told me Jen was acting really secretively for a couple of months and then one day she came home with a big bag, wouldn't tell them what was in it and dragged them all down to the Rainbow Pool. Twenty minutes later they were cuteness-personified."
I gaped at him. "So Jen never even told them where they were going?" I asked.
Lupo shook his head. "Nope, course it caused all sorts of mayhem 'til they adjusted. By the time I joined the family they were all settled and it was kind of obvious I'd be Painted too so it didn't bother me."
"So you're all okay with it?" Tink asked, hope creeping into her voice.
Lupo nodded. "Yeah, although I will recommend you take some classes at the Training School. Some bigger pets tried to push me around when I was first Painted; it helps if you can take care of yourself."
I nodded thoughtfully; I'd always enjoyed training but couldn't really settle into a fixed schedule. I vowed to change that before I was Painted and from the glint in her eye Tink had decided the same thing.
It took over three hours for Kayla and Jen to play themselves out. By the time they'd finished, they'd both made serious dents in their targets and agreed to meet up again the next day to continue.
Tink and I said goodbye to Lupo, slightly less apprehensive than before although I can't say I was overjoyed at the prospect of becoming Baby.
We saw a lot of Jen and Lupo over the next few weeks as my own personal doomsday drew nearer and nearer and Kayla became progressively more excitable.
Tink was actually adjusting well under Lupo's tutelage and had already started to use her new looks to her advantage – giving Kayla the 'Lupe eyes' whenever she wanted something. It was highly annoying when she used to tactic to get the last piece of cake or to get out of doing the dishes.
I just couldn't see myself adjusting as well as my sister had despite Lupo's assurances.
Tink and I had both been taking lessons at the Training School on Mystery Island after we'd convinced Kayla it was worth the Neopoints. She'd initially said she didn't want to spend the points when she was trying to save, but Jen convinced her that she'd be less likely to go on a massive spree if she was buying something every day.
Three weeks into their new routine, Kayla arrived home practically quivering in excitement as she bounded into the living room.
I looked at her in nervous anticipation, my stomach already twisting in dread. "Is everything ok?" I asked, needing to know what had her in such high spirits.
"Yep!" she said, bouncing out of the room and into the kitchen to start making dinner. I scooped Tink off her bean bad and followed her.
"I'm almost there!" Kayla continued happily as she twirled around the room, setting pots and pans and food on the countertop before she whirled towards the fridge. "Jen too. We'll definitely have enough by this time tomorrow. Isn't it great?"
"Absolutely!" Tink chirped, sliding a sly glance at me when Kayla wasn't looking.
I bit back a growl and nodded along, trying to smile for Kayla's sake. "So where are you going to get it from?" I asked, trying to sound casual but interested.
Secretly I was hoping she'd buy it from the Trading Post; at least then I'd have a few more days' grace while the seller responded and they haggled.
"Jen said we could all go together to the Hidden Tower," Kayla said, throwing ingredients into a pot. "Won't it be exciting? I've never been in before!"
I hadn't either, and in other circumstances I'd have been almost as excited as my owner, but I couldn't forget what we were going there to buy.
"And I might even get an avatar as well!" Kayla continued rambling cheerfully as she darted around the kitchen.
I didn't taste dinner that night; I couldn't even tell you what we ate. I was too busy trying to quell my angst over becoming Baby.
Eventually we were ushered off to bed, but my mind wouldn't shut down. I dreamt that night of cots and diapers and bibs and tiny jars of colourful mush that smelt revolting.
I woke with a jolt to find light streaming through my window. I let out a despondent sigh as I rolled out of bed and staggered to my bathroom.
After washing and brushing my fur, I wandered downstairs in search of food and found Tink sitting alone at the kitchen table eating oatmeal.
I looked around, confused; Kayla was always here in the morning.
"She left early to meet Jen," Tink explained without looking up. "She wanted to get there early so she'd have time to take us to Faerieland to get the Brush."
"Oh," I said, my heart sinking. She'd certainly thought of everything.
"It's not all bad, you know," Tink said carefully. I could tell she was trying not to edge into patronizing territory. I still looked at her doubtfully. "Really, it's not. I mean, sure you're smaller, but like you said, no one says 'no' to me anymore. I get more sweets and toys now than ever. And look at all the training we've been doing; if nothing else, it's motivated us to try at something for once."
I nodded thoughtfully, although I wasn't wholly convinced and Tink could tell. "You'll see," she said with a sigh.
I dug a sausage omelette out of the fridge and poured a glass of orange juice. My chair scraped loudly as I dragged it out and plopped down into it. Tink raised her eyebrow at me but didn't comment as I moodily started pushing my breakfast around the plate.
I finally finished my breakfast, not feeling much better for having a full stomach and put my dirty dishes in the sink. I plodded into the living room and flopped down on the sofa to stare at the ceiling.
Five minutes later, Tink scuttled into the living room and curled herself onto a nearby bean bag. She didn't say anything and I could tell she was trying to offer a show of silent solidarity for which I was grateful even in my sullen mood.
Two hours later, Kayla threw the door open and bounced into the room with a squeal of delight. Jen and Lupo followed a little more sedately, although they were both smiling from ear to ear. Kayla stopped in the middle of the room and looked at me with a huge grin. I tried to return her smile with some enthusiasm.
"We did it!" she exclaimed, picking me up and spinning around the room with me. "We did it!"
Jen giggled from the doorway. "We did indeed," she said with a grin. "Now, I'm gonna go create my Ogrin. Do you want to come with or shall I meet you back here?"
"Oh, we'll come with you!" Kayla said happily, plunking me down on the floor only to scoop Tink out of her seat. "Then we can go straight to Faerieland."
Jen simply nodded and led the way out of the door. Lupo and Tink kept up a more or less constant chant of 'it'll be fine' all the way to the Creation Centre. We all stepped into the cavernous entrance way and were immediately greeted by an extremely chipper Grundo.
After what I'd swear was the fastest pet-creation known to Neopia, Obri the Yellow Ogrin was ushered out to join us. Jen knelt down to hug him and whisper in his ear. He looked at her, wide-eyed, for a moment before smiling shyly and trotting over to join the rest of us.
Lupo greeted him enthusiastically as we were herded out of the door and over to the taxi rank. After a lot of arguing it was decided Jen and Obri would share an Eyrie cab, then Kayla and Tink, and finally I would share with Lupo. We clambered aboard and moments later were swooping upwards.
It didn't take nearly as long as it used to to get to Faerieland, and in what seemed like no time we were touching down at the gates of Faerie City.
Fortunately Jen knew where she was going, so we didn't have to wander around like clueless tourists, hands and paws out in front of us, looking for an invisible building. She led us straight from the front gates to the castle and around the side. She paused and smiled at us for a moment before taking one pace forward and disappearing on the spot. I gaped incredulously as Kayla squealed and Lupo snickered at our reaction and followed Jen.
We all followed after them and found ourselves in an opulent hallway. Jen grinned at us and led us down the corridor toward a huge set of wooden doors, which she shoved open to reveal the Hidden Tower proper.
She made a buzzline to the shelf with the Baby Paint Brushes on it and plucked one off. Kayla immediately followed suit and trailed after Jen as she made her way back towards the door where the counter was situated.
A bored-looking Light Faerie took Jen's Neopoints and turned to take Kayla's. As she took the bulging bag, a small scroll poofed into existence on the countertop. The Light Faerie rolled her eyes and handed the scroll to Kayla, who promptly unrolled it and squealed in delight.
"I got the avatar!" she said, doing a happy little jig as Jen ushered us out of the doors.
Before I knew what was happening, I was back on an Eyrie, bound for Neopia Central.
"You'll be fine," Lupo assured me when I couldn't suppress a whimper at the thought of what was going to happen next. "You'll see."
I rolled my eyes at the assurance that he'd uttered a thousand times since he'd met me. At least he had the common sense to let me stew in silence for the rest of the ride.
Too short a time later, we were sliding off the backs of our Eyries just outside the entrance to the Rainbow Pool.
Tink and Lupo went over and scrambled up onto one of the benches that were dotted around the Pool complex to wait. Jen, Obri, Kayla and I all joined the queue. I could feel Kayla trembling with excitement beside me and I tried to muster up some of my own excitement for her.
We gradually edged nearer the front of the line and finally the time came to step onto the banks of the Pool. I watched as Kayla knelt down beside the Pool and dipped the Brush in as she had with Tink's Brush. I took a deep breath and steeled myself, trying not to flinch as she touched the tip of the Brush to my head.
I suppressed a gasp as I felt the cold Paint flow over my coat. I had the oddest sensation that everything was getting bigger, although in reality it was me that was getting smaller. I watched the Brush poof in a cloud of green smoke and looked back to Kayla who was looking at me with glee.
"Oh, Barney!" she said, with a huge smile. "You look sooooooo cute!"
She scooped me off the ground and planted a kiss on my head as she carried me over to where Lupo and Tink were waiting. Everything looked so much bigger! It was a little intimidating even though Lupo had warned me. Moments later Jen joined us, cradling a happily burbling Obri in her arms. He seemed so content!
"We should probably get these guys home so they can adjust," Jen said, bouncing Obri in her arms.
"Good idea," Kayla said, still exuding almost palpable delight.
"We can meet up tomorrow for a coffee?" Jen offered.
Kayla nodded enthusiastically. "You can help me decide on my next goals!" she exclaimed, bouncing at the thought.
We parted ways at the gates of the Rainbow Pool and Kayla was unusually quiet as we walked home.
She deposited me and Tink on the sofa in the living room and looked at us seriously.
"I was thinking that my next goal could be petpets for you guys," she said after a moment. "What do you think?"
Tink and I looked at each other for a beat before nodding vigorously in approval. Kayla beamed at us.
"Great!" she said. "We can go back to the Pool tomorrow so you can decide on species and colours."
Without further comment she bounded into the kitchen to start on dinner, whistling a happy tune.
"How are you feeling?" Tink asked timidly.
"It's not so bad," I conceded. "I still feel like Barney, but everything is so big!"
Tink snorted. "I know," she replied. "We should probably suggest making this place more Baby-friendly. You know, putting things on a lower level so we can reach?"
"Jen might mention it tomorrow," I said thoughtfully.
I brightened at the prospect; if I could still do most things myself then this might not be so terrible after all! And if I got my very own petpet, then maybe Kayla meeting Jen and being inspired to create her own Baby family wasn't such a bad thing.
Only time would tell....