In This Together: Part Four
Running away from home, alone. It's all very well in stories,
isn't it? To me it had always seemed something of a dramatic, romantic thing to
do, even if it was one that I'd never seriously consider doing on my own. Now
I was in the middle of the reality, with aching hooves, tears in my eyes, and
being rained on and buffeted by gusts of wind after only a few hours away from
the home I'd loved.
"I was right all along about one thing, though,"
I sighed as I made my way along the track road. "I was not cut out to be an
adventurer. Why couldn't this have been the other way around?" I was sure that,
if I had got into some spot of trouble far from home, Voltare would've gone
after me without a moment's hesitation and rescued me-- fabulously, as ever--
before Fiona had even noticed he was gone. Well, so much for that. Voltare wasn't
going to help me out, and I had to do this myself as best I could.
I could see buildings on the horizon as I walked.
Looking over the top of the hill I'd just climbed, I gasped aloud; there were
more houses, shops and strange-shaped buildings than I'd ever seen in my life.
This had to be the massive capital city I'd heard so much about: Neopia Central.
I made my way into town through one of the enormous
wallgates. A scruffy blue Kyrii was playing the guitar on the steps of a shop,
and although I had almost no Neopoints, I threw a toffee into his hat. He grinned
as I walked on.
The crowds! I couldn't believe there could be
so many pets and people in one city. A pretty rainbow Pteri bumped into me,
then fluttered past without even bothering to apologise. It was still raining,
and I wondered if one of the glittering, enormous shops around me would sell
me an umbrella, or a mackintosh, if I promised them something in return. Probably
not; the shopkeepers didn't look the sort to barter.
I didn't know where the Adoption Centre could
be. I'd read stories about it in the Times-- who hadn't?-- but none of
them gave any hints as to its exact location. Uncertain, I carried on searching
as the happier citizens of Neopia Central began to shut up shops, pulling down
blinds, picking up cases and hurrying home for their tea.
As I stood in the market square considering my
next move, I felt a leathery wing touch my shoulder. I jumped.
"Little Ixi, where are you going?" snapped the
Korbat, his face stern.
What could I say? "I know where I'm going, thanks,"
I told him, tossing my ears back carelessly, like someone who'd known Neopia
Central all her life. "I don't need any help."
"Hmmm, okay." He nodded. "I thought you must
be lost, a little girl like you out on her own. Run along now." He paused. "You
know, you have quite an unusual accent. Where do you come from?"
"Meridell," I admitted. It was the truth.
"That's a long way for such a small Neopet,"
he marvelled. I was beginning to be fed up of the constant remarks about my
height, but he meant well, so I kept quiet. "You'd better get going if you want
to be home before nightfall."
Which is where I made a big mistake.
"But... I'm not going home!" I told him. "I've
His eyes widened, and for a minute he looked
more sad and afraid than stern. "Oh, little one," he said. "You're ownerless...
I can't... I'm sorry, my dear, but you'll have to come with me."
I followed him. What else could I do? He had
his wing firmly clasped around my shoulders, and now he was steering me through
the streets in the direction of... a tall building, at least fifteen storeys
high, with metal bars at the windows. Was it my imagination, or was someone
looking mournfully out of that top window, resting two blue paws on the ledge?
"Wh-where are you taking me?" I stammered, suddenly
"I'm sorry," he said again. Something in the
way he said it reminded me of Fiona, poor Fiona, the night she'd had to tell
me Voltare was gone. "It's the law here in Neopia Central. You're not old enough
to take care of yourself, especially not in a big city like this. You have to
be taken to the Adoption Centre for your own protection before night falls.
We don't want you getting bitten by Count Von Roo, my love, or attacked by thieves."
The Adoption Centre. How ironic; I was going
to be a prisoner in the very place I'd tried so hard to find. Visions crossed
my mind of my former owner who had never deserved me at all, never mind Voltare.
My brother had taken me away from that home, carrying me in the shelter of his
beautiful wings until we found Fiona and sanctuary. But supposing that that
girl were here, looking for a new pet!
My heart began to race. No! I would never
be locked up there!
Kicking my back hoof high into the air, I struggled
out of the Korbat's grip. He let out a startled cry, but I had already gone,
sprinting down the street and splashing water everywhere as my hooves went into
puddles. I had to run, it didn't matter where, just to get away.
A whistle blew. The flustered Korbat was calling
in reinforcements. Knowing that he was no stranger to this town, that it was
probably a useless chase, I ducked round corners and skittered across slippery
roads. He was gaining, I was sure of it.
Suddenly he shouted. I risked a look over my
shoulder, and saw that a Miamouse had run across his path, jumping playfully
and nipping at his dangling feet. He flapped and yelled in panic, unable to
see what it was. Thanking Fyora for the diversion, I ran as fast as I could
to make the most of the few extra seconds the Petpet had bought me.
Then I saw the street sign on the wall, high
above my head. It was grubby and faded, but it shone on me like a Faerie's blessing
as the words leapt out to me.
I bolted down the long avenue, watching the house
numbers as I sped past them. Suddenly the one I was looking for passed me. Pulling
out of my dash so fast that my hooves screeched on the cobbles, I hammered on
Please be in. Please be in. Please be--
The Miamouse, which had followed me, crashed
against my side at the same time as a yellow paw pushed the door open. I grabbed
the Petpet, figuring I owed it a favour. Then I shot through the door and closed
it behind me.
"Oh, my word," breathed the Baby Gelert who'd
opened the door. "Who in Neopia are you?"
"Are you." I couldn't breathe deeply enough.
"Rickaira?" He nodded. "I'm... Novella..."
My penpal just stared.
The house was cosy, filled with toys and books,
soft carpets and huge, welcoming armchairs. Ricky passed me a mug of hot cocoa.
"I'm keeping house," he told me as he scrabbled for a spoon. "Sis is out of
town. Watching some Lenny in a Beauty Contest."
"Thought she wasn't into them," I responded,
sipping the beautiful warmth of the cocoa.
"No, not normally. She won't explain," he said
with a shrug, handing down a chocolate biscuit. One thing I'd known before I
got here was that Ricky and his sister were both crazy for chocolate.
The Miamouse lay curled up by the fire, drying
out her fluffy green fur. I was basking in the glow myself, enjoying the feeling
of being warm and dry once more. Somehow, I'd managed to convince Ricky that
I was his faraway penfriend and that I had a reason for being here, cold,
wet and seeking shelter.
As I drank, Ricky asked me about my quest. He
knew I'd never been to the city before, and his eyes were wide as I told him
about Voltare, Fiona and my brush with the law.
"Wow," he said. "Novella, you're almost as brave
as my Sis." Coming from Ricky, there was no higher praise. He idolised his beautiful,
faerie-winged sister more than any pet or human in the world. Then again, he
had never met Voltare.
"I can walk you down to the Adoption Centre in
the morning," he offered. "They know me here, and there'll be no problem with
us visiting the place. We can find your brother there, or if he isn't there
any more, we can find out who's picked him up."
It was such a simple, wonderful solution that
I could have cried with relief. Instead, I smiled back at Ricky, hoping he'd
know how I felt.
The next morning came sooner than I'd expected,
and Ricky put on his smart green collar to go out into the city. I washed my
muddy fur and tried my best to groom myself; for a rich and obviously quite
pampered Gelert, Ricky had surprisingly few grooming items. A swift search of
the house turned up a glittery brush, some two-in-one shampoo and a bar of sweetly
scented soap-- he was sure that there was a comb somewhere, but he wasn't going
to waste valuable time looking for it. He and his sister didn't care much for
grooming beyond what was necessary for looking smart.
We walked down the main street together, Ricky
in the lead. In the warm light of the morning the Adoption Centre didn't look
so frightening, and the street officials didn't look twice at a smart, well-brushed
white Ixi who obviously knew where she was going.
"Good morning," I said to the pink Uni who stood,
her desk covered in papers and her front hooves resting on the table, in the
front room of the Centre. "I'm here to enquire about a pet. A Kougra named Voltare_my_neo?"
She looked blank. I suppose that when pets are coming and going every day under
your nose, you can't remember them all. "He arrived in the last couple of days?
A Darigan Kougra with a nick out of his right ear?"
"Oh, that one!" she interrupted with a
visible shudder. "Yes, I remember now. He came in and tried to knock poor Dr.
Death into the middle of next week. Some of the staff had to restrain him."
"He's my brother," I told her pointedly,
"and I want to take him home. Where is he?"
She checked records for a while before looking
up in surprise.
"I don't remember giving him out to anyone,"
she explained, "but he isn't here. Someone must've adopted him."
Ricky pulled at something on a high shelf and
got down the enchanted book that held the Faerie Census. "All pets in Neopia
are in here," he told me, flicking it open. "You just need to speak the name
of the pet you want to see."
"Voltare, underscore, my, underscore, neo," I
The book shimmered for a moment, then green writing
began to curl itself across the page:
Sorry, no such Neopet exists.
In a place well used to the howling of lonely
Neopets, my scream shook the building and brought staff running to see what
was going on.
I walked back to Ricky's house in a kind of nightmare
daze. I didn't even see where I was going, who was passing me. He let me in
without a word and left me sitting in the armchair while he got me a drink.
Tears spilled from my eyes as I contemplated my own clasped hooves. Voltare--
somehow-- was gone, vanished from the face of Neopia. And I had no idea how
to get him back.
When someone began to bang at the door, I wondered
distantly who had found me. Ricky went to open it, then startled me by bounding
through the house calling my name a moment later. "Novella! Novella!"
There was a red Acara standing at the door, dressed
in the uniform of the Neopian Adoption Centre. "I came as fast as I could,"
he panted. "I heard you talking, and then I saw this..."
It was a copy of the Neopian Daily News.
The paper was crumpled, as if it had been passed around several staff members
before reaching the young Acara at the door, but the headline was still clearly
Darigan Kougra Robs Defence Magic Shop
"Ricky," I said, looking up with a faint smile,
"I think the Great Voltare Hunt is back on."
To be continued...