The Art of Finding
There was a dark time when Whimsicalwhatsits was obsessed with her avatar count. She was obsessed; she collected all the easy clicks, and then maniacally began calculating how to get the pet avatars. Some, she lucked into due to very sweet people on the boards and generous help from friends who did not realize the depth of the obsession they were fueling. She cared about no one and nothing but the numbers of her avatar account. She despaired if it did not change from a week-to-week basis. She pounded pets with nary a care, only as patient as the one transfer per month her rather young side accounts were allowed.
Then came Sweet_Neptune.
Sweet_Neptune was a perfectly fit blue Lupe who, like so many others, had the misfortune of being an adequate fit for an avatar. Having fulfilled her purpose for her first master, she was cast away to the pound, where the process would repeat itself. By the time Whimsicalwhatsits found her, she was lonely and despairing. She knew what was coming. She tucked her tail between her legs and followed resolutely behind her new mistress, who beckoned to her from the brightly lit doorway. In time, Sweet_Neptune would learn that Whimsicalwhatsits had a perfectly good Lupe of the same breed as herself (a blue-eyed beauty, cast away to a side account) who had missed out on her chance to be transferred that month. Unwilling to wait to gain that oh-so-easy avatar any longer, Whimsicalwhatsits had turned her eyes to the pound.
Sweet_Neptune wasn't surprised when it happened. She was half-led, half-dragged to the Battledome, where her challenger awaited her. She was left to fend for herself without even the simplest of shields or weapons with which to defend herself. "It doesn't matter if you win or lose," Whimsicalwhatsits told her impatiently when she pointed this out. "Either way, I win. And they're weak. You won't get hurt too badly, even if you do lose." And she did. Whimsicalwhatsits called out careless orders which confused Sweet_Neptune, and the only way she thought it could have been more humiliating was if she lost to the Inflatable Balthazar. She whimpered as she licked her wounds, and Whimsicalwhatsits was at least nice enough to restore her health and give her a few pats on the head along with a "Good girl." She even got some clothes to wear, even though they were hand-me-downs from her other pets, which they seemed only too happy to share. The way the other pets looked at her made Sweet_Neptune uneasy. There was curiosity mingled with the fear in their eyes. She could tell they had never seen the pound before.
Life, for a couple days, seemed good. But she knew, as it always, that it was too good to last. She could tell by the way Whimsicalwhatsits fed her on jelly instead of through the luck of the Healing Springs and the generosity of the movie theater that she was feeling guilty about what she was about to do next. But that didn't stop her from doing it. She didn't have to drag Sweet_Neptune back to the pound, but she didn't have the heart to look the she-Lupe in the eye as she scratched her on the head and handed her over to Dr_Death, who glared at Whimsicalwhatsits as she walked away. He always tried to comfort the pets left in his care, but there were always too many demanding his attention and he was too jaded from his years on the job. He couldn't keep up, and before long Sweet_Neptune was left alone to await the next owner who would use her for the avatar count before leaving her again.
But, for all the pets that she had pounded and traded away in her quest for those distant avatar heights, Whimsicalwhatsits could not forget Sweet_Neptune. Unknown to her former pet, she peeked in on the pound several times over the course of the next few days, asking Dr_Death if she had been adopted by another owner yet. But each time, he just shook his head, and she left without another pet. The fourth place in her Neopia family remained vacant, and the other pets began to question it. Not to her, but to one another. Whimsicalwhatsits could hear their whispering when they thought she wasn't paying attention. She left them home alone one day, saying she had errands to run. She'd return with toys, she promised, and some new clothes. But meanwhile, couldn't they keep an eye on the construction workers while they worked on the house? The pets agreed, for this was nothing so out of the ordinary that they should question it, and Wise_Athena was bossy and would keep the others in check. Whimsicalwhatsits had faith in that.
When she found Sweet_Neptune, the Lupe was curled up in the corner of the room asleep. Other neopets played together on the floor, while two Usuls shared one of the bunk beds. Sweet_Neptune heard someone say that they were sisters, had never been separated. Her ears perked up at the sound of the door opening, but she didn't so much as open her eyes. She assumed it was Dr_Death or one of the assistants going about their rounds, making sure there weren't fights or excessive tears (for those upset the younger pets, especially, and made them more difficult to contain). But then Dr_Death nudged her shoulder; when Sweet_Neptune lifted her head, she found a rare ghost of a smile on his lips. "Time to go home, pretty girl," he said affectionately. He had seen her in and out of the pound many times. He had stopped giving her delusions of "home". Every time she came back to his door step, it hurt him as much as her. He couldn't put himself through that again. So when he used the word "home", Sweet_Neptune was confused. She looked past him, expecting to find yet another unfamiliar face eying her for her value to their collection. She was shocked to find Whimsicalwhatsits, standing there with a shopping back on one arm and her purse on the other, her hand inside reaching for her neopoints.
"I thought you could use your own clothes," she said when she saw Sweet_Neptune staring, misunderstanding. "There's a treat in here for you as well, if you want." That was the first time Sweet_Neptune heard something resembling hesitance in her owner's voice. Like now that she was at the pound, Whimsicalwhatsits was second-guessing whether Sweet_Neptune would actually want to leave with her, who had sent her into battle and used her and then disposed of her as though she was nothing. And Sweet_Neptune considered rejecting her, turning around and going back to sleep. But then they heard sobbing coming from somewhere in the facility, and shivers went down her spine. Whimsicalwhatsits heard them too. Sweet_Neptune saw her shoulders stiffen as she tried not to let the sound get to her. But it did. She looked a little pale, like she was wondering how many side accounts she would need to make to house all the abandoned, lonely pets. Sweet_Neptune got up and stretched, yawning widely before trotting over to stand beside Whimsicalwhatsits. Her hand found Sweet_Neptune's head almost by accident, scratching behind the ears until Sweet_Neptune's tail wagged with pleasure.
"Excellent," said Dr_Death. "Now there's just the matter of your fee to discuss." His 'pleased' voice still sounded rather tired. It would take more than one or two occasional happy endings to change that.
Whimsicalwhatsits smiled humorlessly, and Sweet_Neptune looked up at her. Her neck muscles were tense, and her fingers had stopped moving behind Sweet_Neptune's ear. She was thinking. She knew that, not all, and certainly not most, but a lot of Dr_Death's cynicism and overwhelming sadness was due to her own careless actions. "Of course," she said agreeably. "C'mon, girl. Let's go."
It would be too good to believe if we were to say that Whimsicalwhatsits completely changed her ways and abandoned avatar questing in favor of spending all her hard-earned neopoints on spoiling her pets. Certainly, she has--and continues to--always made sure that they were nothing short of delighted and at full health, but those who have been with her for some time now are accustomed to her obsessive tendencies. It has supplied them with toy boxes overflowing with plushies that Wise_Athena complains she has outgrown, a full pantry of sweets and calming teas, and countless other luxuries. They understand that it doesn't mean that she loves them any less, and sometimes she lets pets go in favor of a more dedicated owner. As for Sweet_Neptune, she has since found a comfortable corner in the main living area where she likes to sleep instead of in the bedroom. She likes falling asleep to the sound of her family talking over the trickle of the fountain in the garden just outside.
*Names have been changed. Username and Neopet names have been changed, and any names shared by those in the Neopet community are accidental.
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Before she could say anything else, I turned and sprinted off into the Haunted Woods, ignoring my sister as she continued to call my name...