Welcome to Neopia
"But I don't want a pet," I insisted for the thousandth time, trying to dig my feet into the floor.
"Oh, come now," Eileen, the motherly Wocky who ran the nursery scolded, giving me a reassuring pat on the arm. "Everyone has a pet in Neopia!"
"Not me," I muttered with a sullen pout. The two large Boris either side of me ignored my protests and continued dragging me down the corridor.
Maybe this was a mistake, I thought to myself. I was new to Neopia – only just finished filling in my account opening forms, in fact. It was a beautiful winter's morning, cold and crisp, and I wanted to go and explore this new land I'd found myself in. I wanted to go and play in the snow, or see the ancient ruins of Maraqua I'd heard so much about, or taste one of the many delicacies I'd seen in the shops.
Instead, I found myself pushed none too gently forwards into a large incubation room. "Gee, thanks," I said to the two Boris with a scowl, rubbing my shoulder. Eileen flitted past me and started checking on the eggs carefully.
"We've got almost every species in Neopia here," she explained, "All in the four common colours, red, yellow, blue and green – the basics, if you will."
"Almost every?" I asked, staring round at the rows and rows of eggs. Some were large, some were small enough to fit in your pocket. Some had dark, leathery shells, others were pale and delicate; there were smooth shells, rough shells, patterned and plain.
"The rarer pets are too difficult for us to get a hold of," Eileen said, making her way back to me with a large file folder. "Some only have eggs once a year, you see, and others not even that. But enough of them; do you know what pet you want, or would you like to look through here first?" she asked, presenting me with the file folder.
I opened the folder and glanced down at the information. There were photos of the pets, descriptions of habitats, even a couple of warnings – Skeiths, apparently, had a tendency to eat furniture, and Kikos preferred fresh water lakes to the sea.
I flicked through it listlessly, but my mind was still made up. I didn't want a pet at the moment. I didn't even have anywhere to live or money to buy food – how could I possibly be able to look after a pet?
"Nope," I said, closing the folder with a decisive thud.
"No?" Eileen queried. "None at all? There must be one pet you like!" She gave me a hopeful look.
"If I say no again, will you let me go?" I asked. The Boris by the door cracked their knuckles loudly, and Eileen continued to look at me hopefully. I sighed. "Do you mind if I just look around?"
"Oh, not at all!" she said happily. "Let me know when you've found someone," she added, all but pushing me towards the eggs.
"Yeah, yeah," I grumbled. The first set of eggs I came to were labelled Yellow Ixi, each one with a small bar chart showing how fast or strong the pet was. "How can they know if you'll be fast or strong before you're even born?" I asked the eggs. They shook a tiny bit in their soft cotton wrappings, but didn't answer.
I moved on. The next aisle had long tanks of water with small, jelly like eggs resting on the sandy bottom. Quiggles, the caption read. And the next tank, dark egg purses hidden amongst seaweed fronds; Peophin eggs.
I almost missed the small nest next to the tanks. It was woven from rags and large leaves, and half covered with a towel, tucked away in the corner as though someone had put it down and forgotten it. I looked around to see what shelf it might have come from, but this aisle was only for water pets – there was nothing like the small pale blue egg.
"So what are you then?" I asked it, picking the nest up carefully and looking for a label. It was a mistake – after barely a few seconds, the base of the nest disintegrated, and I only just managed to catch it before something disastrous happened. "Sheesh," I panted. "You almost gave me a heart attack!"
The egg shuddered in my hands, and I paused. I could feel my heartbeat in my palms, but I could swear there was something else... Yes, soft and gentle, a heartbeat from inside the egg. I stared at the egg with trepidation as it shuddered again.
"Don't hatch," I begged it, looking around wildly for help. "Eileen!" I called in something of a panic. Even the Boris would have been a welcome sight as the egg shuddered harder. "Please don't hatch?" I tried, but it was too late, and with a soft crack the shell split open, and the pet inside tumbled into my hands.
I don't know how long I stood there with that ball of damp blue fur in my hands. It was soft, so incredibly soft for all that its fur stood up in wet spike, and it was just so small. Its paws were large, and its ears were larger, but its body was just tiny and so delicate that some part of me was terrified of moving in case I broke it. It yawned, gurgling slightly as it took its first breath of air, and started snuffling around my palms with its eyes still tightly closed.
"You called, dear?" Eileen asked, approaching from the other end of the aisle. I nodded, unable to speak. "Have you found a pet you like then?" I gestured to my hands, and she looked. "Oh!" she gasped. "Oh dear, I am sorry," she apologised, and I wondered whatever for. "Here, give him to me and I'll put him somewhere out of your way," she said, reaching for it – him, reaching for him.
I took a step back, bringing the tiny pet closer to myself protectively. "He's my pet," I said, as stubbornly as I'd insisted only a short while ago that I didn't want any pet at all.
"Really, dear?" Eileen asked hesitantly. "He's rather small for a Kyrii – he was supposed to have been moved a few days back. If you like Kyrii though, then we have many others you can look at."
"No thank you," I answered. "I'll stick with this one." I thought back to the file folder. Had I seen anything on Kyrii? I didn't think so. It must have been one of the pages I'd skipped.
"Well, if you're sure," Eileen said. I nodded decisively. "Bring him to the front then, and we can get the paperwork sorted for you."
I filled in the forms at the front desk, signing ownership forms and a contract stating I wouldn't abandon him until he was at least a week old and able to survive in the pound. I stroked the fuzzy, pale fur down his back, and silently promised the tiny Kyrii that he would never be abandoned in the pound, not while I was still in Neopia.
"Just the name then," Eileen said, pointing the last blank space on the form. "What'll it be, dear?"
My mind went blank. I stared at the nameless ball of fur, stroking him absently as I tried to think. He snuffled, wriggling about to bury himself further into my jumper.
"Sam?" I tried, but it didn't feel right. Tarka was wrong as well, he needed a softer name. Something like...
"Bannok," I said quietly.
"Bannok it is then," Eileen said, writing it down with a flourish. The forms were sealed and filed and it was done; I had a pet, a blue Kyrii, and he was called Bannok.
I was quiet as the Boris lead me outside again, and only managed to nod in reply to Eileen's farewell. I stood in Pet Central, in a brand new world with Bannok cradled against my chest. I had no house, the barest handful of neopoints, and no idea how anything worked.
"This is going to be adventure, eh?" I said to Bannok. He yawned, then blinked his eyes open for the first time. They were warm and brown and slightly misty and as perfect as the rest of him. I couldn't help but smile.
"Hello, Bannok," I whispered. "Welcome to Neopia."