The Tomamu Dilemma
“A Tomamu Petpetsitting service?”
“I know, right? What a great idea!” Crystal peered expectantly into the faces of her two siblings. The green Ogrin was almost jumping up and down with excitement.
“So, let me get this straight... as a Neopoints-making scheme, you want to set up a Petpetsitting service... exclusively for Tomamus?”
“Yeah! Why, is there a problem with that?”
Lune, the Ogrin’s older brother, sighed. Crystal fumed inwardly. This was just like the shadow Kougra, always ruining the moment with his pessimism. Of course, Lune called it being “realistic” and “smart”. Well, no matter. There was no way he could shoot this idea down.
“It’s the perfect plan!” Crystal insisted. “Come on, guys! Don’t you even want to hear the details?”
“We did promise to help fundraise for her Purple Paint Brush, Lune.” This quiet comment had come from Amie, a starry Xweetok and the youngest of the three siblings. “It was a pact we all made. Remember? That we wouldn’t stop until we were all painted.”
Crystal silently thanked her sister. “That’s right! I helped you guys get your paint brushes, and now you have to help me get mine! Isn’t that logical, Lune?” She nudged him.
“Oww! Fine... but I still think the scheme’s hair-brained.” The shadow Kougra started licking his paw, the image of disdain. “Run it by me again?”
Crystal, cheered by her brother’s defeat, launched enthusiastically into her sales pitch.
“It’s super-simple! All we have to do is lay out a blanket, put up a sign that says, ‘Leave your Tomamu to be cared for here’, and play with other people’s Petpets all day! We’ll rake in Neopoints by the bucketful!”
Lune sighed again. “Okay... why Tomamus?”
Crystal grinned. “Because! They’re dirt cheap, they restock in droves... they’re everywhere! Pets will be lining up within seconds!”
“Come on, Lune,” said Amie, soft-spoken as usual. “The least we can do is give it a try.”
“I already said okay,” he snapped. “I just want it remembered that I was the one who said that this Petpetsitting service was a bad idea.”
That was good enough for Crystal. She knew that that was as close to an approval as she was going to get from her brother.
“Alright! Let’s get started, shall we?”
“Hold on, Captain of Crazy Schemes.” Lune put out a paw to stop his sister. “You’ve forgotten one thing. Where exactly are we going to set up this service?”
Crystal smiled broadly. “Oh, my dear, intelligent brother, I thought you would have figured that out by now. We’re going where the Tomamus are, of course!”
* * *
“Ack! Watch where you’re shaking that thing!”
“Oh, Lune, I’m sorry!” Amie finished laying out the old, dusty blanket that Crystal had found in the basement of their Neohome.
“That’s okay,” Lune grunted, his face full of dust. “Just be more careful next time.”
Blushing, the Xweetok ducked her head and started smoothing the wrinkles out of the blanket that was now lying on a flat stone plaza.
“What a good spot Crystal got for us!” she murmured. “Right beside the Cyodrake’s Gaze and everything!”
“Yes, it is a good spot,” Lune had to admit. The view was excellent. From up here, he could see almost all of Shenkuu. The city’s famous network of bridges, suspended between the buildings, swayed gently amid the morning mist. Overhead, the celebrity ship that Amie had mentioned creaked in the wind. Maybe this day wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
“Hey guys! Done setting up yet?”
Crystal’s jovial voice woke Lune from his reverie. The Kougra looked up to see his sister clattering down a bridge towards them... with a Tomamu in each arm, one on her head, and one waddling along behind her.
“What’s this? Do we have customers already?”
“Well, no... not exactly,” Crystal said as she reached them. “I thought it’d be a good idea to start with some Tomamus on the blanket. Then, when people see how many clients have entrusted us with their Petpets, they’ll line up even faster!”
Lune had a bad feeling about this. “So, if these aren’t client Petpets... where did they come from?”
“I bought ’em!” said Crystal happily. “From Fanciful Fauna, the Petpet shop just over there!”
“You mean, you spent Neopoints?”
“Wasn’t today’s objective to make Neopoints? Not lose them?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry. The investment will come back to us, just wait and – oww!”
The Tomamu sitting on Crystal’s head had bitten one of her ears. The siblings hadn’t noticed while they were talking, but the Petpets in the Ogrin’s arms were struggling and flapping their wings, and the one that had previously been following her was wandering around the Cyodrake’s Gaze’s plaza, squawking loudly.
“Uh-oh. What’s the matter with them?” Anxiously, Amie went over to try to calm the wayward Tomamu.
“Umm, I think I read somewhere that Tomamus like water,” said Lune, wracking his brain for something that might help. “Maybe we should get them a basin or something?”
“What does their description card say, Crystal?” Amie called from the other side of the plaza, where she had still not been able to lay a hand on the now rather panicked escaped Tomamu.
“Description card?” Crystal wasn’t having the best time of things, either. The Tomamus in her arms were showering her with a blizzard of white and black feathers, and the one on her head had long since hopped down to peck at her feet.
“The description card!” Lune told her as he moved to try to pick up the Petpet that was attacking the Ogrin’s toes. “You know, the description that the shopkeeper gives you when you buy an item?”
“Oh! Let’s just see... Ahh!!” Manoeuvring to reach the card, Crystal let go of the flapping Tomamus. Seizing their chance at freedom, the distraught Petpets landed on the plaza and started waddling in circles. Giving up, Lune released the one he was holding as well.
“Here it is – the description card.” Crystal cleared her throat. “‘This Petpet loves to sit and squawk at passersby. If you want to keep it happy make sure you have lots of fish on hand.’” She looked up at her brother. “Nothing about them liking water.”
“Well, maybe we need to get them some water for them to ‘sit around and squawk at passersby,’” Lune insisted. “Because they sure aren’t sitting still now. The squawking is pretty much covered, though. Hey, Amie!” The Kougra waved to his youngest sister, who was having no luck catching any of the Tomamus. Out of breath, the Xweetok joined them.
“I’m going to head back to Neopia Central to get some basins of water for the Tomamus to sit in. I need you to find some fish. Lots of fish. Get it wherever you can.”
Amie nodded, her expression grim. She turned and hurried off the plaza, down a bridge. Lune went to follow her.
“Wait!” Crystal cried after him. “What about me?!”
The Kougra turned to survey the plaza.
“You stay here and look after the Tomamus.” He watched the panicked Petpets circle his sister for a few seconds. “That is... just make sure they don’t leave the plaza, okay?” Crystal gave him a worried half-smile. Worried himself, Lune turned and bounded down the bridge.
* * *
Moving with precision, Amie caught yet another Blandfish in her wicker basket, and waited for more fish to fall out of the branches of the Money Tree. Her basket was more than full – just one more fish, and she could start heading back to Shenkuu. It really was amazing, the amount of seafood that people threw away.
She was in luck. A few metres to her right, a Scrawnyfish spun out from the dark space between two branches. Amie quickly moved into position, lining her basket up so that this last morsel would fall right into the centre. Finally, her job was done. She hoped that Lune and Crystal wouldn’t be too mad at her for taking so long...
The Xweetok’s thoughts were interrupted by a red Grarrl claw that filled up her vision and snatched the falling Scrawnyfish out of the air just above her basket.
“Hey! That was mine!”
“Well, it’s mine now,” said a deep voice. Amie looked up. The voice, and the claw, belonged to an enormous red Grarrl, the biggest she had ever seen. The Xweetok could feel a crick in her neck just trying to look him in the eye.
“Well, I can see that,” Amie said sweetly. “But the thing is, my siblings and I really need that Scrawnyfish. It’s kind of an emergency. So I would really appreciate it if you would give it to me, please, so that I can be on my way.”
“Hmm, let me think about that,” the Grarrl boomed. “Umm... no.” And he guffawed as if he had just made Neopia’s best joke.
“But that’s not fair!” Amie cried, indignant.
“No? And what are you going to do about it, Pipsqueak?”
He should not have asked that question. Tiny, sensitive Amie, who was quiet and shy to a fault, also happened to be her family’s Battledome pet.
Gently, the starry Xweetok set her basket of fish on the ground.
* * *
Walking slowly so as not to spill, Lune carried a long, shallow basin of water across Shenkuu’s network of bridges towards the plaza where the Cyodrake’s Gaze was tethered. As he approached the plaza, he heard raucous squawking.
Well, it doesn’t sound like Crystal’s made any progress in calming the Tomamus, he thought. Taking his eyes off of his precious cargo only for a second, the Kougra looked up.
What he saw almost made him drop the basin.
The plaza was overrun with Tomamus. They were squawking, flapping, waddling around, leaving their feathers everywhere. Crystal was nowhere to be seen. Lune picked up the pace, moving as fast as he could without spilling any water.
“Crystal! Crystal, where are you?” The squawking of the Tomamus was deafening.
“I’m here,” came a desolate voice. Peering through the sea of feathers, Lune finally caught sight of his sister, sitting cross-legged on the blanket Amie had laid out earlier that morning. Carefully, he put his basin down. Then, taking care not to step on any frenzied Petpets, he made his way over to Crystal.
“What happened?” he asked her.
“What? I can’t hear you! The Tomamus are too –”
“What happened?! Did we get customers?!”
“No!” Crystal shouted.
“Then what are all these Tomamus doing here?!?!”
“That nice Koi from the Petpet shop dropped them off! She asked if, since we were already watching some Tomamus, we could look after the ones she had down at the shop! It turns out they don’t sell that great!”
Lune was having trouble comprehending what Crystal had just said. “Didn’t you... didn’t you charge her?!”
“She was so nice, before, when I bought those first Tomamus! I told her all about the service... I was so excited! I thought it was the least we could do!”
Lune seriously entertained the thought of finding a wall to repeatedly hit his head against. Instead, he asked, “Crystal, how many crazed Tomamus do we have here right now?”
“Umm, twenty-three, I think. Why?”
“And how many paying customers did we have today?”
“Err... none, but –”
“And how many Neopoints did we make?”
“Around... negative twelve thousand?”
The shadow Kougra smiled grimly. “I’m not going to say I told you so.”
Whatever Crystal was going to say next was interrupted by twenty-three anxious Tomamus all flocking to a basket of fish that had just arrived on the plaza in the arms of an extremely surprised starry Xweetok.
“Aiiee!” Amie squealed. “What on Neopia is going on?!”
* * *
Thankfully, the shopkeeper at Fanciful Fauna had been more than sympathetic when three very humbled and very apologetic young pets had come to ask her for her help. She had even given Crystal back the twelve thousand Neopoints the Ogrin had spent on the original four Tomamus.
“You know,” said Lune, “we never did find out what made the Tomamus so upset in the first place.” He and his sisters were halfway done sweeping up the feathers and pieces of fish skin that littered the Cyodrake’s Gaze’s plaza.
“I guess it’s just one of those things,” Amie said quietly. The little Xweetok had seemed oddly triumphant ever since her return to the plaza with the basket of fish. Her siblings had also noticed that she seemed to have several cuts and bruises that they did not remember being there before.
Exhausted after their trying day, each sibling continued to clean in silence. Then Crystal snorted.
“A Tomamu Petpetsitting service,” she said. “Whose lame idea was that, anyway?”