A little plushie Xweetok moved quickly through the crowds. Neopia Central was always crowded around dinner time, but Kate never really got used to the thousands of people milling about. Not to mention the pets. There were at least two pets for every owner. Some looked poor and hungry, mainly those around the Money Tree, while others looked rich and important. Kate didn't really fit into either groups. Her clothes weren't special, like the crowds around the NeoCash Mall, but at least she wasn't wearing a potato sack. She pulled her wool coat closer around her shoulders to try and block out the winter wind. Snowflakes drifted down and caught on her lashes. She smiled. She had always loved the winter, especially the snow. She made her way towards a small road to the left of the Bank, keeping her head down to avoid the stares of the passing owners on their way back from the boards. People always stared at her when she passed. Plushies rarely wandered the streets on their own. She knew most of them were looking for her owner. Truth of it was, so was she.
She wasn't looking like some pets looked for their owners, those poor souls who had been left behind by owners who never came back for them. She was honest to goodness trying to find her owner. Let's see... Kate thought. She usually hangs out by the Avatar Boards, I'll try there first. She walked over to the Avatar Chat and cupped her hands around her mouth. Kate was about to try and shout over the chaos of the board when a hand came to rest on her shoulder.
"Read to go, Broskate?" She turned to face her owner, who had a weird look on her face. She never called Kate by her real name.
"I guess..." Kate said, looking at her owner with a puzzled expression on her face. "But where are we going?" Her owner didn't say anything. Instead she turned and the both made their way calmly back down the path that Kate had run down a few moments before. Kate shuffled her paws in the fluffy snow that had piled up on the parts of the path where it hadn't been trodden down by the hoards of owners coming to and from the boards. Her owner looked down at her and smiled, and Kate smiled back. But there was something in her eyes, a debate of sorts. Kate didn't understand it then, but soon she would. Soon she would learn to hate that look.
The walk was a long one. They left Neopia Central and its bustling crowds for the dark and somewhat threatening shade of the Haunted Woods. Her owner never said a word. They took a winding path through a part of the woods where the trees loomed closer and the shadows got longer until they came to a clearing with a house. It wasn't an unfriendly house, but to Kate it might as well have been a graveyard. There was another owner standing in the doorway of the house, just watching them. Kate looked at her once and nearly jumped out of her skin. She could've sworn the girl had red eyes. Her owner walked up to the porch and motioned for Kate to follow. She didn't move.
"That's Broskate," her owner said, pointing to Kate. "Where's the Draik?" The girl in the doorway nodded behind her. That was when it all clicked into place for Kate. She was being traded. Her eyes got large and she shook her head, taking a few steps back. A blue Draik walked out of the house carrying a suitcase. He looked happy, not scared like Kate did. He smiled at the girl in the doorway and walked off with Kate's owner.
Kate hadn't moved; she couldn't move. Her feet wouldn't let her. Her mind retraced its steps back to the boards. She'd seen the girl in the doorway before, she had been talking to her owner before they left. Kate wanted to turn and run, to go chase after her owner. But she couldn't make herself move. The girl came over to her.
"Would you like to come inside, Broskate?" she said softly, and Kate just stared at her.
"No," she finally managed; it came out as a hoarse whisper. "No, I don't want to come inside."
The girl looked at her for a second and put a hand on her shoulder to lead her inside. Kate pushed it off and ran. She didn't know where she planned on going, anywhere but with this girl. This girl that was not her owner, who would never ever be her owner.
She didn't get far. Almost as soon as she started to run, the girl was in front of her, as if she had expected the reaction. Within seconds, Kate found herself inside of the house. She heard the quiet but unmistakable sound of the front door locking and turned to find the girl calmly hanging up a coat that had been left on the ground.
"She didn't tell you, did she?" the girl asked, and Kate backed up a little and shook her head.
"Didn't tell me what?"
"Why she adopted you," the girl said, and Kate's heart sunk to her paws. She got angry. Really angry.
"She would never--"
"She adopted you to paint you plushie and trade you."
"You liar!" Kate screamed, backing up and nearly running into a snow Xweetok who had been coming down the hall. The Xweetok had her eyes down towards the ground.
"She's not lying," the Xweetok said, her voice quiet but firm. "Owners do that sometimes."
"But my mom--she wouldn't--" Kate insisted, her voice a little softer than when she had been shouting at the owner.
"I know it's hard to think about but she did. You're here now; we're not going to hurt you," the other Xweetok soothed, and Kate's shoulders slumped a little in exhausted surrender.
The rest of the night passed in a blur. Kate could remember sitting down on a white coach by a fire and listening to the owner explain what had happened and how the trade had been arranged months before. That was why her owner had adopted her from the pound, because Librarian--the owner--had asked for that Xweetok to be painted plushie. The trade was set long before the actual swap took place. She learned that the snow Xweetok's name was Anna and that she was blind, and she also learned that there was a spotted Xweetok named Seans living in the house as well. She was to sleep in her own room in the attic and Librarian planned on taking her shopping in the morning. Kate listened with half an ear. She had already decided she didn't like it in this house and that she was going to leave, whatever it took.
That night she slept in the attic. The bed was comfortable enough and the thick quilt Librarian had given her was warm, but she didn't sleep well. Her dreams were tormented with nightmares. Nightmares about her old owner and blue Draiks that came to steal her away and owners with red eyes. She didn't want to be here; she never would want to be here.
She woke up that morning and painted on a smile. But underneath she was planning. She didn't know how long it would take, or how long she would have to wait, but one day she would leave. One day that owner with the red eyes would wake up to find the attic bed empty. And there was nothing she could do about it.