It was the day after Lutari Day, and we were taking the day off to enjoy a trip to the beach. Bannok, my young and eternally curious Kyrii, was beside himself with excitement. One moment he was dashing around the rock pools and exclaiming over every shell and colourful seawe
ed he found, the other he was paddling at the edge of sea, demanding that I, "Look, Mummy, look! It's up to my knees!" shortly followed by, "It's at my waist! Mummy, it's at my waist! You're not looking, Mummy!"
I waved appreciatively from my seat on the beach towel to assure him that I was indeed watching his impressive foray into the water (and, in fact, keeping quite a close eye on him. Bannok and I lived in Brightvale, and beyond the odd splash in one of the rocky creeks that skirted the forest, Bannok had never been swimming before. I was sure he knew not to go too far out, but – well. I worry too much.) It was a cool, shady day, and the beach was deserted. With his thick fur to keep him warm and the endless energy that small children possess, Bannok wasn't bothered by the chill, but I was happy to stay a bit more wrapped up with the towels and my book. Callum, Bannok's petpet, clearly agreed with me; he was curled by my side with every inch of himself as far from the sand as it was possible to be without levitating above it. I'm not sure the vacana was overly fond of the beach, truth be told.
"Did you see?" Bannok asked, running up towards me. "I went out so far – I bet you could barely see me, I was that far away!"
"I saw," I assured him. "Did you have fun?" I rummaged around the beach bag for another mat for Bannok to sit on.
"Lots! Are you getting the ice cream?"
I paused, and checked my watch. Half twelve... It was a bit early, but we could have lunch now. "I've packed you a sandwich for lunch," I said, laying out the mat.
"But Muuuum, we're at the beach!" Bannok protested.
I raised an eyebrow at him. "And?"
"And beaches are for eating ice cream, everyone knows that!" he said, giving me a look that I'm sure every parent is familiar with. It is equal parts the look of one being denied something entirely reasonable, and one pleading for something they know is really rather outrageous. It hovers just on the edge of put-on hurt with, on a good day, the slightest shine of tears just beginning to gather.
I sighed. Maybe someday they'd invent a faerie ability that rendered you immune to such things, but until then Bannok had me wrapped around his little finger, and he knew it. "Sandwich first, then there's an ice cream for pudding," I said.
"Yay!" The tears were gone in a second, and Bannok bit into his sandwich happily. Callum rolled his eyes, well used to his master's antics. "Hush you," I mumbled at him, unwrapping the tangella slices I'd packed for the petpet. "You'd understand if you ever had kids." Or foals. Whatever baby vacana are called. Callum snorted in disagreement, but took his fruit nonetheless.
There was an easy quiet, broken by various munching sounds as we continued our lunch. I found myself staring blankly out to sea, my mind wandering. As ever, my thoughts turned to Bannok; since his rather sudden arrival into my life, they had rarely had chance to leave him.
I had not planned to adopt a neopet, it kind of just happened. I had not really planned anything, just wandered into Neopia and opened an account without quite realising what I was getting myself into. It hadn't been easy, at first – I was terrified of doing wrong by Bannok, by that tiny ball of blue and white fur that was entirely dependent on me for everything. We had been frequent visitors of the Soup Faerie, without whose kindness and patient sympathy I would most likely have been unable to cope those first few weeks, living in the Neolodge and trying to work out which way was up and how to get around this crazy land.
Now, I considered myself a competent Neopian. There was a lot I still had to learn, and a lot still to see – although I was fairly familiar with the more mainland areas, this was our first visit to Mystery Island, and I'd never been to some of the more exotic places such as Moltara – or even Terror Mountain! But all in all, I was competent. I knew my way around Brightvale, I could put together a decent dinner out of the local cuisine (and had learnt the hard way to keep the windows closed when cooking with faerie food), and for the most part, Bannok and I were doing well.
"Mummy?" Bannok asked, breaking me out of my reverie. "Are you going to eat that, so we can have ice cream?" he said, gesturing at my half eaten, forgotten sandwich.
"Sorry Bannok, Mummy was just thinking," I apologised and resumed eating.
"Well," I said, swallowing a bite of sandwich, "about how big the world is, and about how lucky I am to have such a brave Kyrii like you to live with me in it.
"Muuuum," Bannok said, wrinkling his nose. "You're being silly. And girly."
I laughed. "That's what Mums do, Bannok." At least, that's what I do – I can't speak for the rest of us. Some owners I'm convinced are superheroes in disguise; I have my hands full enough with Bannok and Callum, I can't imagine how people cope with four pets. Or even 20, if side accounts are included!
The rest of the day passed quite quickly; Bannok's ice cream melted all over him and required an emergency bath in the sea to rinse his fur out. He then roped me into building a sand castle with him, getting sand all over himself in the process and needing another dip to clean up afterwards. I carried him up the beach in a towel to try and keep his fur sand-free after that, and stood him up on the rocks to dry off. Despite my best efforts, his feet were still sandy when I came to put his shoes back on, so I put them in the beach bag on one shoulder and carried Bannok in the other arm. He babbled on excitedly for a bit about all the things he'd done and the fact that his sand castle would be there for eternity, but it wasn't long before he was yawning more than talking.
"Go to sleep, sweetie," I said gently.
"But Mum, I want to see the boat!" he protested sleepily.
"I'll wake you up when it comes," I promised, kissing him on the forehead.
"Kay," Bannok mumbled, eyelids already drooping. Within minutes he was fast asleep, his head on my shoulder and his hands balled into fists in my shirt. I resettled him slightly on my hip, smiling softly.
We walked along for a time in silence, Callum trotting contentedly along the rocks beside me. He seemed pleased to be going, and just as determined as ever to avoid the sand, often taking the long way around over the rocky outcrops that lined the beach rather than step down onto it. I knew better than to offer him a lift – the vacana was far too proud to put up with such an indignity.
We were nearly at the end of the beach when Callum stopped. He began sniffing curiously around a particular rock pool, stretching his neck out over the still water.
"Found something?" I asked quietly, mindful of the sleeping pet in my arms. Callum huffed, blowing his long fringe out of his eyes. I began walking back towards him, wondering if someone had dropped something in the pool.
"What is it then?" I said, kneeling down carefully to have a look. The rock pool water was dark but clear, and shallow enough that I could see the various stones and shells nestled in the sand at the bottom. There didn't seem to be anything strange there as far as I could tell. "Are you seeing things, Callum?" I asked. The vacana snorted derisively at me, and I grinned in return.
"Well, come on," I said, levering myself back to standing while taking care not to dislodge Bannok. "I'm not sure how often the boats run back to Neopia Central, but I'd hate to miss the last one." Callum huffed reluctantly, still staring into the lake, but obediently began following me.
I had barely taken a step away from the pool when the water exploded – that's the only word I can use to describe it. Callum skittered sideways, bleating in distress as water splashed in all directions, and I very nearly went over on the slippery rocks trying not to stand on him. Something small and red shot out of the water towards me and clung to my ankle, sharp claws digging into my skin until I thought they might draw blood.
"What –" I started in shock, but I was cut off as my new passenger began wailing, it's surprisingly loud voice rising almost to a shriek as I tried in vain to shake it off. Bannok jolted awake, eyes wide as he flattened his ears down against his head and flailed his arms in fright.
"Mummy, Mummy, what happened?" he yelped, squirming and twisting to try and find the source of the ear splitting noise.
"Bannok, careful!" I pleaded, struggling not to drop him. The small creature on my ankle had wrapped itself so firmly around me that I couldn't put my foot down without standing on it. I hopped backwards, praying to Fyora that Callum wasn't directly behind me and trying desperately to stay vertical. I didn't last long – as the rocks gave way to the beach, I tumbled over backwards and hit the sand hard, instinctively clutching Bannok to my chest to protect him against the fall.
For a moment, everything seemed blissfully calm and silent. As the ringing in my ears faded I became aware that Bannok was kneeling next to me on the sand, shaking my shoulder.
"Mummy, Mummy, get up, Mummy," he was saying in a quiet, hiccoughing voice that sounded on the edge of tears.
"I'm up," I groaned, levering myself onto my elbows. My head spun a bit and I had to blink a few times to clear away the dots dancing in front of my eyes, but other than that, I seemed ok. Shaken, but still in one piece. "You ok, love?" I asked, turning to Bannok.
"I'm ok," he assured me. I noticed with a vague sort of annoyance that his fur was covered in sand again. "What happened?"
"I'm not quite sure," I answered. I couldn't hear the – whatever it was that had been in the rock pool, and wondered briefly if it has got scared and run off. My theory was shortly disproved as I tried to sit up fully and felt a weight against my side, pulling down on my shirt. I looked down, and there it was; small, red and soaking wet, curled into an almost spherical shape on the loose fabric of my shirt. It stared up at me with liquid, honey golden eyes, the only part of its face visible above its tail.
"What are you then?" I asked softly, reaching carefully down for it. I half expected the creature to turn tail and run, but it pushed its head eagerly into my hand. I almost thought I heard it purring.
"Is it a petpet?" Bannok asked, leaning over me to see it. His words made me think of Callum, and I looked around with a flash of panic – but the vacana was fine, sitting on top of the beach bag and watching from a safe distance.
I gently scooped the small bundle up and onto my lap. "I don't know," I answered Bannok. "He might be."
"Or she," Bannok corrected me, staring at it in fascination. The possible petpet stared back at him just as curiously, whiskers twitching. It mewed imperatively when I set it down, its head shooting forwards faster than I could see to catch my sleeve and drag my hand back.
"Or she," I agreed, resuming my careful stroking. It closed its eyes, and this time I was sure; whatever it was, it purred. It had fur, I could see now, though it was short and very slick due to being wet. It looked rather catlike in form, though its ears were tiny and its legs far shorter than any cat I had seen. Its paws ended in wicked looking claws, as I had noticed earlier when it was clinging to my leg, but they were now very demurely curled underneath it, half hidden by its thick red tail.
"So what are we going to do with you then?" I asked it, not expecting an answer. It blinked slowly at me, continuing its rumbling purr.
"Can we keep her?" Bannok asked hopefully.
"We can't just take it – her," I corrected at Bannok's reproachful look, "home with us. What if someone comes looking for her?" Although, it was odd; we hadn't seen another soul on the beach all day, so it seemed unlikely that the strange little creature had just wandered off and got lost. "Or what if she's a wild petpet?" I tried, though her obvious friendliness suggested otherwise.
"But Mum, she likes us!" Bannok protested. "And I promise, I'll look after her and feed her and everything – you won't even know she's there!"
"And what will poor Callum think of being usurped?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I can look after them both!"
I sighed, putting the little red creature down on the sand so that I could stand up. It meeped in annoyance and squirmed out of my hands; before I could blink, it was back on my lap, curled up in exactly the same position as though it had never left. I tried again, but it hooked its claws into my shirt, crawling (rather painfully) up my chest to settle determinedly under my chin. Bannok giggled delightedly.
"Look," I told it, tilting my head so I could see it. "If you're going to stay up here, that's a really inconvenient place to be." It ignored me, burying its claws further into my shirt. I rolled my eyes exaggeratedly, making Bannok giggle again, and stood up. Surprisingly, the creature stayed put, spread across my front like a thick scarf. Its eyes were closed and it was still stubbornly purring.
"We'll have to stop at the petpet shop on the way home," Bannok said, shooing Callum off the bag and dragging it over to me. "And the neohome store, and we'll need some food too. What do you reckon she eats? Would she eat green stuff like Callum does, or I can give her some cake – I bet she loves cake!"
"Bannok, slow down," I said. "We don't know that we're keeping her – or him. We don't even know that she's a petpet!"
"But Mummy, she'll be cold if we leave her out here!" Bannok protested, gesturing emphatically at the deserted beach. "And, and lonely!" I felt her – it – tensing on my chest, the fur on its back standing up a bit as it did so.
"We're not leaving her here," I reassured them both. "She can stay with us tonight, but tomorrow morning we need to take her in to town and find out what she is and whether someone's looking for her. Now, hand me the bag Bannok and let's go home, hey?"
"Kay," Bannok mumbled. I slung the bag over my shoulder and reached down with my other hand to hold his paw.
We walked along in quiet for a couple of minutes, Callum once again choosing the rocks over the sand. Once it was clear that we weren't leaving it behind, the furry red creature relaxed enough to crawl up to my shoulder and settle there, tail spread across the back of my neck. I wondered if it was a petpet, and if so what kind – there was a petpet shop on Mystery Island, called, ironically, the Rock Pool. I had heard though that they specialised in aquatic petpets; dartails and ghotis and other such petpets. It was possible that our foundling had escaped from there, but it seemed unlikely. For one thing, we were at the other end of the island.
"Mummy?" Bannok said in a small voice.
"Mhmm?" I asked. I already had a fair idea as to what was on his mind.
"Are we really going to give her away?"
I paused, trying to work out how I was going to say this. "We don't have much choice if she's a petpet, Bannok," I said gently. "The Petpet Protection League is very strict about only letting pets have one petpet, and we can't get rid of Callum, can we?"
"No," Bannok said dejectedly, head down and eyes fixed on his feet. We had approached the harbour now, and though the coconut JubJub who ran it waved a friendly greeting, the boat was nowhere in sight.
"Looks like we've got a bit of a wait then," I said cheerfully, trying to lighten the mood. I lifted Bannok up to sit on the edge of the quay, and took out a towel to brush the sand off him. "Left foot, Bannok," I said, reaching for it with the towel. He obediently lifted his foot and held it still as I brushed the sand off and buckled his shoe up, then did the same for the other one. Shoes on, he got up and wandered down to the other end of the quay, sitting on the farthest out part with his feet dangling over the water.
"Well, this has ended on a downer, hasn't it?" I asked rhetorically. The little thing that may or may not have been a petpet mewed curiously, pushing its head against my cheek until I raised a finger to stroke it. "Here's hoping you're not a petpet," I said quietly. "I don't think anyone would be happy to have to get rid of you, least of all Bannok." It purred in agreement.
I debated for a moment whether to go up and join Bannok or not; Callum was with him, the stoic vacana sitting next to him and staying a far safer distance from the edge of the quay than Bannok was. They seemed like an odd match, those two – Bannok being usually so full of energy and liking nothing more than to get properly muddy (much to my chagrin), and Callum being one of the most persnickety and long suffering petpets I have ever come across. But they wouldn't be separated for the world, and I knew that Bannok would never give up Callum for a new petpet.
Just then, the boat appeared over the horizon. The coconut JubJub bustled up to me carrying a rattling, metal box.
"Tickets, please!" he said cheerfully.
"Oh – we got return tickets this morning," I said, opening my bag. "Hang on a sec... There." I fished the two slightly crumpled tickets out of my purse and handed them over to him.
"Thank you, thank you – and one more, or are you buying the third as a single?" he said, flipping open the lid of the box.
"Third?" I asked blankly, not comprehending.
"For the young Kyrii with the petpet – he is with you, no?" the JubJub asked. "It's 25 neopoints for a single ticket, please."
"Right," I said, handing over the neopoints, still trying to work out why I needed a third ticket. "Wait, could you tell me –" I began to ask, but he had already deposited the coins in the box and gone back to his hut.
"All aboard!" the Kougra called from the boat, and I noticed that his current load of passengers had already disembarked. Bannok was, of course, sat right up in the bow, already swinging his legs in excitement. "Come on, Mummy!" he yelled.
I gave up wondering – 25 neopoints wasn't going to break the bank, and I didn't want to hold the boat up by going to ask. "Have you got Callum?" I asked Bannok as I stepped down into the boat. He nodded, pointing at the covered section at the back of the boat. I could just see the vacana through the window, sat on one of the seats in there.
"Just the three of you, then?" the Kougra asked jovially. I nodded, and he released the rope with quick, practiced movements. "Right-o, on to Neopia Central!"
"I don't suppose you could stop in at Brightvale, could you?" I said.
"Sure thing, any preference whereabouts?" the Kougra replied.
"South side, please – we're near the Faerieland Road." He nodded his affirmation, then kicked the engine into gear. I went to put the bag inside with Callum and give the petpet a stroke, then moved up towards the bow to sit with Bannok.
Strange – the Kougra had also thought there were three of us. It made no sense; we were four in total. Maybe he hadn't seen Callum? But then why would the JubJub at the harbour charge us for three tickets, since petpets travelled free? Could it be that the little red petpet sat on my shoulder was not a petpet – was, in fact, a pet?
It was getting dark by the time we arrived home, and Bannok was nearly dead on his feet. I half thought he might lie down on the front door step and go to sleep in the time it took me to unlock the door.
"Come on, sleepy head," I said fondly. "Let's get some tea in you, then I think it's off to bed."
"But Muuum," Bannok protested. He managed to avoid the classic 'I'm not sleepy,' lie interrupted midway by a yawn, but just barely. I dumped the beach bag by the door and headed straight to the fridge; it wasn't the time for cooking, but I had some alphabet soup in there that would do nicely. I'd eat my own dinner a bit later on.
"No buts," I said firmly, pouring the soup into a pan on the hob. An inquisitive mreep from my shoulder reminded me that I had an extra mouth to feed tonight. "I'm out of soup," I told my passenger, not sure whether my words were understood or not, "but there's plenty of omelette in the deposit box if you'd like?" It snuffled hopefully, leaning down to sniff the heating soup. I laughed, and went to get another plate and some omelette. "I hope you like eggs," I told it. "Bannok hates them, so there's always plenty going spare.
There was something very comforting about having a warm weight on my shoulder as I busied myself putting tea together; kettle on for a cuppa, buttering some bread for Bannok to dip into his soup, giving the omelette a quick once over in the frying pan to perk it up, scattering some bomberries into Callum's bowl of petpet food. I had to prod Bannok a few times before he noticed that his bowl was in front of him, but the little red thing (who really needed a name – or at least a gender – if it was going to stay) needed no prompting, practically leaping down onto the table to devour its omelette.
"Hungry, were we?" I asked it. Its head was too far buried in its dish to answer, but I could just hear it purring. I smiled into my cup of tea, noting that I'd need to add a high chair of some sort to my shopping list – it couldn't keep eating on the table like that...
"Whoa, slow down," I told myself, shaking my head. I still didn't know if we were keeping it – and besides, if it was a petpet then it was only fair that it ate on the floor with Callum. If I found a way around that Petpet Protection League rule, that was, though I knew it was there for a good reason. Still, I wasn't convinced that it was a petpet – but on the other hand, who ever heard of just finding a pet abandoned on a beach? And such a young pet as well!
The curiosity was too much – I had to know. I looked over my shoulder at the neighbour's house, and nodded in satisfaction when I saw that their lights were on. Two pets lived there, and though their owner was rarely around they were friendly and usually happy to babysit Bannok for an evening.
"I'm just going next door," I told Bannok. "Keep an eye on everyone for me?" He nodded into his soup without looking up. I ruffled his hair as I passed him on the way to the door, but he was too tired to do more than shake me off with an annoyed squeak. The other two were both too engrossed in their food to acknowledge me leaving.
It was getting a bit chilly outside, and I hesitated for a second before deciding against taking a jacket. I was just heading next door, after all. But after a few minutes wait on their doorstep I began to regret my decision.
"Come on," I muttered, ringing the doorbell again. "I know you're in..." Sure enough, there was a clattering of feet on the stairs and then the door swung open.
"Hello!" Paddy, the spotted Zafara who was the younger of the two living there greeted me. "Sorry, had my music on. What's up?"
"Hey, Paddy," I said. "How're things going?"
He grimaced. "Not too bad. I've got a six thousand word paper due in next Thursday which... well, I'll get it done."
"Paddy," I admonished. "Have you at least got a plan for it?"
"Yeah no, it's fine. I've got like half the introduction written, and six thousand is more like an upper limit than a target, so it'll all be good." He nodded along to his words as if by being positive he would make them true. I shook my head disapprovingly, but I was grinning as I did so.
"And you'll do it the night before but get an amazing grade and make the rest of your class jealous, as usual," I predicted. He grinned roguishly back at me.
"Anyway, what did you come round for?" he asked.
"I was wondering if you'd be able to look after Bannok for a couple of hours, but if you're busy with your paper then I can ask Rob?" I said, referring to the faerie Xweetok that Paddy lived with.
Paddy hesitated. "Rob's like completely shut himself in his room working on stuff," he said. "I'm not even sure he comes down to eat or anything, so he's probably a no."
"Oh, that's a shame," I said, frowning and trying to think of anyone else in the neighbourhood who I knew well enough to leave with Bannok.
"And, like, I should be working too but I kinda need a break..." Paddy continued.
"You'd babysit Bannok?" I asked hopefully.
"There's an Altadorian sun cheese in the fridge, and a bag of chips in the freezer," I wheedled.
"Ack, no one can ever turn down cheesy chips," Paddy relented, and I cheered inwardly. "When do you want me to come over?"
"Thanks Paddy!" I said happily. "He's just finishing up dinner at the moment, so maybe ten minutes or so? Oh, also – I'm headed to the Library, do you want me to pick up any books for your paper?"
"Nah, but thanks for the offer," he declined. "I've got like loads out but I'm still reading through them at the moment." He stepped back into the house and lifted a hand to close the door. "Be round in a bit then for babysitting."
"See you then!" I said cheerfully. I practically skipped the few steps back to my house I was so excited to find out what species of pet or petpet the little red creature was. "Shoot!" I said, coming to a halt. "I forgot to tell Paddy that it wasn't just Bannok to babysit." I deliberated momentarily about going back to let him know, then shrugged – it wouldn't make much of a difference.
As I approached the front door I heard yelling and a high pitched squealing coming from inside. My heart leapt to my throat – I'd left them alone for less than five minutes, surely nothing could have happened? I fumbled with the key in the lock in my hurry to open the door, and nearly slammed it off its hinges in my panic.
"Bannok!" I called. "What's happen – ack!" The little red creature practically flew at me, latching itself onto my shirt in a single leap and chattering angrily at me. "Hey, calm down," I tried to say soothingly, but it only squawked loudly and scampered up to my shoulder to hide its head under my hair.
"Mummy!" Bannok said in relief when he saw me. "I didn't do it, I swear!"
"I – what – " I paused, trying to collect myself and slow my heartbeat. "Didn't do what, love?" I asked in as calm a voice as possible. "And why are you holding the broom?"
Bannok blushed, and immediately dropped his broom. "It was the petpet!" he explained hurriedly as I closed the front door behind me. "She noticed you were gone, and, and, she was crying – and then she went mental! And, and she was jumping everywhere and I tried to stop her but she threw the plate at me!"
"She threw the plate at you?" I asked incredulously. Bannok toed the floor guiltily.
"Well, not quite – but she made me knock it off, it's not my fault. I promise!"
"Look," I said, crouching to be eye level with Bannok. "I'm not angry about the plate, and I know it's not your fault. I just want to make sure you're alright, and no one got hurt, okay?"
Bannok nodded soberly. Over his shoulder I could see the pieces of broken plate gathered into a somewhat haphazard pile, and Callum sat in his basket with his head under the pillow trying determinedly to ignore the world. That at least was fairly normal.
"Right then, let's clear up. Did you manage to finish your tea?" I asked Bannok. He nodded. "That's good then. Run upstairs and get ready for bed; Paddy's coming over in a bit, so I'm going to put on some food for him."
"Paddy's coming?" Bannok said, perking up considerably. "Do I have to go bed, Mummy? Can't I stay up with him for a bit?"
"We'll see," I said. "It depends how good you are – he's got a lot of work to do, so you'd best be quiet if you are going to stay up."
"I'll be good!" Bannok promised, heading up the stairs to do his teeth. I smiled fondly after him, and set to cleaning up the kitchen.
"Oh, and you," I said to the ball of red fur on my shoulder, "You're going to be coming with me if you make this much of a fuss by yourself." It meeped sleepily and yawned at me, curling up almost completely hidden under my hair with its tail slung across the back of my neck. Somehow I don't think it minded that much.
It wasn't long before Paddy came over, and he and Bannok were both settled in the living room. Paddy's cheesy chips were cooking in the oven and as a special treat Bannok had a mug of hot chocolate – topped with mini marshmallows, of course. Even still, the little Kyrii was fighting yawns, and I doubted he'd be awake for long. I was feeling a bit tired myself, but the cool evening breeze woke me up on the walk to the bus stop. On my shoulder, the little red creature shivered a bit in the cold, wrapping my hair around itself like a blanket. I stood the collar of my shirt up as much as I could to give it some warmth, but luckily we didn't have to wait too long before the bus came.
"The castle, please," I said, handing over a few coins to the driver. He took them with a nod, then flicked his reins at the whinnies, and with a clatter of hooves the carriage was off again. There weren't many people around at this time of night, so luckily it was a fairly short trip up to the castle.
"Last calls at eleven, pet," the driver reminded me as I disembarked. "Or quarter past from by the armoury, you know the stop?" I nodded my thanks, and made my way down the stone paved path to the library, passing a few hopeful souls waiting in line for the throne room to impress King Hagan with their wisdom.
The Brightvale Library was grand, with high, vaulted ceilings and a royal purple and gold carpet down the main hall. Curving back either side of the entrance were stair cases made of a dark coloured wood and covered with gold carpet and golden gilt on the bannisters; rumour had it that all wood in Brightvale Castle was finest quality sapient pearwood, a species of tree closely related to the Brain Tree. The stair cases lead to a stone balcony with marble rails around, dotted with statues of Neopia's great thinkers and lined with tapestries of the Brightvale Standard. At the far end of the hall was a large circular window filled with every colour of stained glass – the pride of the Brightvale Glazers.
The library itself was in a room off the main hall, through a double pair of doors with a golden crest emblazoned on the front. It was a peaceful, tranquil place with sounds being muffled by the thick green and gold carpet and the various leafy plants dotted around the room. The ornately carved book shelves were interspersed with low tables lit by glittering crystal chandeliers; towards the edges of the room were desks with built in ink wells and long weewoo-feather quills laid neatly next to them.
And to think – this was my local library! There were times I found living in Neopia harder than I expected, but there were things that more than made up for it – and the library was among the best of them. I could quite happily live here if given half the chance, spend my life curled up in an alcove beneath a stained glass window with an endless supply of books.
"Mreep?" the little red creature on my shoulder asked questioningly. I shook myself out of my reverie.
"Sorry," I murmured quietly to it, raising a hand to stroke its head. "I tend to get a bit distracted in here." It purred softly in response."
I wandered around the library deliberately trying to look as lost as possible. It was the only successful way I had found of finding Lore, the orange scorchio who was the librarian here; the library was so large that he could be anywhere among the miles of shelves. And yet somehow, he always managed to appear wherever he was needed.
"Welcome to the grand library of Brightvale!" Lore said, right on cue. "How may I be of assistance?"
"I'm looking for a reference book," I said, "I'm trying to identify someone who may be a pet, but I'm not quite sure – could be a petpet."
"Oh – Book of Ages?" Lore asked, leading me further into the library. "It's got an entry for every notable Neopian from all the lands of Neopia, far more complete than that Neopedia they have in Neopia Central."
"Not quite, I think. Do you have one that identifies pet and petpet species?"
"Well," Lore said, frowning a bit. "One would usually go to the rainbow pool for such a thing, no?"
"Yes, it's a possibility," I said, choosing my words carefully. In truth, Neopia Central was too far to go at this time of night and I was too impatient to wait until tomorrow – but that wouldn't go down well with the prickly scorchio. "But I wanted to be absolutely certain, and everyone knows that Brightvale's library is better than anywhere else."
Lore almost visibly swelled with pride. "Well, yes, of course it is. Come on then, this way." He gestured down one of the aisles. "Brightvale has the originals, of course; the oldest books that they copied the rainbow pool records from, you know. Ah, and here they are." He pulled two old tomes down from the shelves and carried them over to one of the low tables for me.
"Now, you know the rules?" he said before he put them down. "No detailed reading cover to cover without first requesting anti-vanish protection, keep it out of the sunlight, and absolutely no removing it from the library, hm?"
"Absolutely," I said, nodding. The librarian was quite draconically protective of his books; they were layered ten feet deep in ancient magic to stop them disappearing once read, but he took no chances.
"Excellent then. Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with," Lore said cheerfully, and vanished somewhere into the ether of the library.
"Right then, my furry friend," I mumbled, settling myself down in a kneeling position on the plush cushions that surrounded the table. "Let's find out what you are, eh?" The little red thing ignored me, but I hadn't really been expecting a result.
I started with the petpet book, as it was on top. There was one petpet in there that looked plausible, the lutra; unfortunately it was naturally blue, and only able to be painted pink or white. To be on the safe side, I checked the maraquan painted versions of every petpet, but no luck – and by this time the sun had dipped below the horizon and I was reading by a flickering gas lamp that Lore had brought round.
I reached for the book on pets with a sinking heart. I might not be an expert, but I'd lived in Neopia long enough to recognise most of the species, and none of them matched – and the size as well! Pets varied in size, it was true, but they were rarely small enough to fit in your pocket unless they were only a few days old. And – well, that couldn't be the case; it was illegal to abandon a pet that young.
I flipped listlessly through the pages, only skimming the illustrations and not bothering to read the texts. None of them looked right. I reached the last page and almost closed the book on auto pilot before I noticed.
Lutari, the page said. "Lutaris are alert, friendly creatures that enjoy playing games outside," I read out loud to myself. "They are excellent swimmers and spend much of their time in the water... Yes, this could be it!" I said excitedly, then immediately covered my mouth as though I could take the words back. I waited for a minute for Lore to turn up and kick me out for being loud, but it seemed that luck was on my side.
I glanced down to check the colours available, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw not only red – of course; it was a standard colour – but baby, and the picture of the baby Lutari could have been a photograph of the little pet asleep on my shoulder it was such a close match. I read the rest of the page with gleeful excitement, grinning as each new fact lined up. Lutaris were very attached to their owners, had an immense fear of being abandoned – no wonder the poor thing had panicked when I'd gone next door earlier today! – and, best of all, Lutaris were only ever born on Lutari day – the 19th day of the month of Eating. Today was the 20th; it fit perfectly.
"So that's it, then" I said happily to the newly identified Lutari on my shoulder. "You're a baby Lutari, which means that there's no petpet protection league to say that you can't stay with us." It lifted its head sleepily and yawned at me. I took the hint and collected the books to put back on the shelf; time for both of us to head home. Tomorrow I'd go into Neopia Central to complete the registration process, but we were done for tonight; time to go back and relieve Paddy of his babysitting duties.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, and I found myself humming as I flipped the faerie pancakes. Bannok was still dead to the word; he'd stayed up past his bed time with Paddy last night as always happened when the Zafara babysat, and I was letting him have a bit of a lie in today. I'd let the baby Lutari sleep in my room last night, in one of Callum's old petpet beds. He hadn't stayed there of course, and was currently curled up into a tight ball on my pillow – or so I thought.
"Oi!" I said as I turned around and caught the Lutari red handed in the act of stealing a pancake. It froze for a second, looking at my with big puppy eyes – then, almost faster than I could see, shoved the entire pancake in its mouth in one bite and scampered under the table to eat it. "Little monkey!" I said, moving the rest of the pancakes back onto the counter where I could keep an eye on them.
Luckily I was spared the danger of leaving the hungry pet alone with the pancakes to go and wake Bannok up as he shambled in a few minutes later in his pyjamas. Callum was not far behind him, looking far better groomed and ready for the day.
"Morning, love," I said cheerily, putting a plate of pancakes down on the table with a pot of blackened honey. "Sleep well?"
"Yeah – I had the best dream, Mum!" he said excitedly. "Do you want to hear it?"
"Tell me then," I said, absently swatting the Lutari away from Callum's bowl of bran and fruit mix.
"Well," Bannok said around a sticky mouthful, "in my dream I was in the Defenders of Neopia, and I was like Judge Hog but I could fly like Lightning Lenny and I was amazing, and I saved Jhudora's life from falling off a cliff and everyone cheered!"
"You saved Jhudora's life?" I asked, sounding suitably impressed. "I bet she was pleased!" Bannok nodded furiously. "Yes, alright – here you are," I said to the hungry Lutari who seemed on the verge of exploding if he didn't get his breakfast soon. He fell on the plate of pancakes before I could even drizzle honey on them, practically engulfing his food.
"Uh huh," Bannok said. "She said I was the bestest neopet ever for saving her from mean old Illusen!"
"She's not that old, Bannok," I reprimanded gently. "And she was lovely to you when we went to see her last month, remember?"
"Yeah, but she's mean to Jhudora, so I don't like her," Bannok said with finality. I smiled into my tea, and used my fork to bat the young Lutari away from my pancakes.
I'm not quite sure how we managed to leave the house in one piece; once Bannok learned that we were going to formally adopt the little red newcomer into our family he was beside himself with excitement, and could barely stand still long enough to get dressed. Brushing his mane of white hair was optimistic at best; I finally admitted defeat and just pulled a hat down over it until Bannok calmed down a bit. His excitement was contagious it seemed – the Lutari was haring about like a thing possessed, trying to be helpful by dragging every item of clothing Bannok owned out onto his floor and almost eating the tube of toothpaste before I caught him.
Finally though we left, Bannok bouncing along beside me with the Lutari in its now customary spot on my shoulder. We left Callum behind for the day, and he seemed glad of the peace and quiet.
"Can I name her, Mummy, please?" Bannok asked, tugging on my hand. "Please please please?"
"We don't know that she's a she yet," I reminded him.
"But if she is, can I name her? And if she's a he, can I still name her then?" Bannok pressed, refusing to be swayed. I was distracted for a minute counting out the fare to the carriage driver, and Bannok seemed to take that as assent.
"Tilly," he said as we wove our way towards some seats at the back.
"Mossy," as the carriage clattered towards Neopia Central.
"Oooh, can we call her Lightning Lenny?" as we stopped in Kiko Lake.
"Or, or, Bannok-ina!" as we passed through the gates into the market place. I had given up even mm-hmming at this point, and was slightly more concerned with making sure the young Lutari in question didn't fall from its precarious perch. It was fascinated by the world going past the open window of the carriage, and was standing with his hind legs on my arm and his front paws on the edge of the window, head darting backwards and forwards as it tried to take everything in.
"Jhudora!" was Bannok's latest suggestion as we headed towards the Pound – I wanted to make sure that we wouldn't be taking the baby Lutari away from another owner before I formally adopted it.
"Wouldn't that be confusing for Jhudora, if your sister was called the same thing as her?" I asked Bannok. He frowned, thinking about it.
"Maybe," he said finally, drawing the syllables out. "But Jhudora's really clever, so I don't think so."
"What about Samantha?" I suggested. Bannok made a face immediately.
"That's a girly name!" he protested. "She's going to be a cool sister, not a pink and girly one!"
"Well, maybe she will be pink and girly," I said, holding the door open for Bannok as we entered the Pound. "But still, I quite like Samantha. Or Sam."
"Sam's a boy's name, Mum," Bannok said. "And Samantha's girly and she won't be girly so she can't be called that!"
I laughed. "I'm sure she – or he – will grow up to be whatever she wants to be," I said, reaching up a hand to the little Lutari on my shoulder. "And I don't know, Sam could work for a boy or a girl, hmm?" The Lutari purred its approval as it stroked its head against my finger. I grinned – Sam it was.
"Oh, that's just typical!" an angry voice said to my left. I looked over my shoulder, not expecting the person to be talking to me, and was surprised to be hit by a fully fledged glare from the girl who had spoken.
"I'm sorry?" I said in confusion, wondering if I'd bumped into her by accident.
"You!" she said, pointing dramatically. "You're just like all of them, wanting a limited edition pet on the day it comes out then trying to get rid of it before it's even a few days old!"
"Oh, that's not – " I said, trying to explain her misconception.
"And what's worse is you can't even pound Lutaris!" she continued. "So you're stuck with a pet you don't want and how is that at all fair to it, huh?"
"I, uh," I said, trying to keep up with the situation. "What do you mean you can't pound Lutaris?" I settled for asking.
The girl rolled her eyes. "Lutaris run away if you try and pound them, everyone knows," she explained. "They only ever have one owner, and that owner's for life!"
"Oh," I said, thinking furiously. If Lutaris could only ever have one owner, then either I was Sam's first owner or she – or he – had run away from her previous owner within the first day... Either way, I was fairly certain that I didn't need to check if Sam had a previous owner any more.
"Thank you, you've been very helpful," I told the girl, taking Bannok's hand and turning to leave the Pound. She stared after me for a bit, then humphed and went back to her family.
"Where are we going now?" Bannok asked. "Don't we have to adopt her from the Pound like you said?"
"Turns out I was wrong – we need to go to the Create a Pet office, I think," I explained.
"Hello, dear!" the Wocky at the desk greeted us as we entered the building. "Oh – don't tell me, it's... Bannok, isn't it?"
"Yes," I said, taken aback. "How did you know?"
"Oh, I was here when he was born, dear!" she said. "Don't you remember old Eileen?"
"Eileen!" I said, thinking back to that day. "Of course, how could I forget?"
"Don't you worry yourself – everyone does," she said with a dismissive wave. "So are you here to add another pet to your family then?"
"Not quite – I was hoping to officially adopt Sam here," I said, lifting the baby Lutari down from my shoulder. "And, I wondered if you could tell me if she's a boy or a girl?" I asked. Sam squirmed in my hands, claws out and scratching as it tried to get back up to my shoulder.
"Well then, let's have a looksee, shall we?" Eileen said, reaching for Sam. She scooped it up, and immediately it was calm in her hands. I looked on jealously as she turned it over onto its back, stroking its tummy softly.
Bannok tugged on my sleeve. "Was I really born here, Mummy?" he asked, looking around at the sterile white walls.
"Yes, you were," I said, ruffling his hair under his hat. "I'll tell you about it some other time."
"Well, dear," Eileen said, depositing Sam back in my hands. "Your little Lutari is a healthy baby boy, that's for sure!" Sam shook himself, then scampered back up my arm to my shoulder. He settled himself with his head tucked very firmly under my hair and humphed.
"What? No!" Bannok said, standing on tip toe to peer over the edge of the desk. "She's my sister, she can't be a boy!"
"I'm sorry dear," Eileen said with a motherly smile, "but it turns out your sister is your brother! Isn't that fun?"
"I suppose," Bannok said doubtfully. "But I wanted her to be my sister!"
"It's not that bad Bannok," I said soothingly. "Sam's going to be a really cool brother for you!"
"Ah yes," Eileen said. "Unfortunately the name 'Sam' is not available; I could add some numbers on the end of that for you if you'd like?"
"Not numbers, I think," glancing at Sam on my shoulder. He humphed again, still clearly put out about being handed over to Eileen. "How about... Sammy?" Eileen shook her head. "Samuel?" No, not that either. "Samwise? Samian? Samitan?"
"Samitan I can do!" Eileen said. "Would you like me to put that down?
"Yeah, I think so," I said, looking at Bannok and Sam's tail for approval. Bannok smiled excitedly and... Well, Sam didn't seem inclined to agree or disagree, but at least he wasn't overtly disapproving. "Samitan it is then. And, can you put his date of birth as yesterday? That's when we found him."
"It's a bit unorthodox, dear," Eileen said doubtfully. "All Lutaris are born on Lutari day, you see."
"Bannok, puppy eyes," I said out the corner of my mouth, bending down to lift him onto the counter.
"Please?" Bannok said, pulling out all the stops. I'm pretty sure his eyes would have engulfed his face if they got any larger.
"Well, all right then," Eileen said with a smile at Bannok and inked it into the forms. She stamped her official seal on with a flourish, and it was done.
"There you go," she said, handing me the forms. "Congratulations to you and Samitan!"
"Thank you very much!" I said, smiling, tucking them safely into my bag.
"Not at all, dear," Eileen said, waving us good bye as we left the building. I couldn't stop grinning as I reached down for Bannok's hand.
"Come on then, family – let's go shopping, eh?"
"Aww, Mum!" Bannok groaned in response, and I couldn't help but laugh.
You are currently reading Where We Are
I reminded myself of this at one o'clock in the morning. I love my pets. I do.
In which Bannok and Samitan have a fight in the middle of the night, of course they do.