This story is dedicated to DesertKauDawg, the poor pet I left behind when I neglected my now-alt account.
"Hi there, welcome to Neopia! My name is Yolanda and I'll be walking you through registration today." The red Grundo smiled enthusiastically at the newbie at the counter. She was older than most new Neopians, but who was Pet Central to turn anyone down? Sliding the forms and a pen across the counter, Yolanda continued. "Just fill out these quick forms and activate your Neomail; the instructions are on the last page of the form. In the meantime, I'll get the Pet Creator ready!"
"That won't-" the woman began to say, but Yolanda didn't catch the rest as the Creator's startup hum drowned out all noise from the registration room.
The Grundo returned when everything was set to find the forms filled out. She picked them up and scanned the pages briefly to make sure all the information was filled in. "Looks like everything's here! Wonderful!" Yolanda took the human's hand and began to lead her to the Pet Creator console. "Now it's time to meet your first pet!"
"Do you have any questions?"
"Wonderful! Just sit right there and make your dream pet!"
"I'd... I actually have a dream pet in mind al-"
"You do? That's-"
Before she could get out another "Wonderful!" the newbie crossed the room to the exit door. "I think I'll just go to the Pound and-" She stopped, tugging on the door handle. The door wouldn't move.
"Oh, you can't go out yet, sweetie," Yolanda said, laughing a little nervously. Oh, sweet Fyora, this wasn't a newbie at all. This was a returning owner starting anew, with opinions and expectations of Neopia fully formed. "You need to have a pet to go outside."
"What? Since when!?" the woman protested, hand still on the immobile door.
"I... I don't remember exactly, dear, but it's the law now. Come create a pet..."
The not-so-newcomer gave an exasperated sigh. "All right. Just give me whatever it spat out first."
Despite her attitude, the woman seemed to enjoy playing with her pet's name so much that she left the registration office with not one, but two pets in tow. Yolanda gave a relieved sigh now that she was gone and returned to her desk, eager to introduce real newbies to Neopia.
Laraina flew alongside her new owner at about shoulder level through the modern neighborhood, shivering in the frigid Lost Desert night. "They don't call deserts 'lands of extremes' for nothing, huh?" the Pteri quipped, puffing up her scarlet feathers to stay warm.
On their owner's other side, Claudiu laughed at his sister. "You look like a JubJub with wings!" he said between breaths, stumbling into a lope to keep up.
Laraina stuck her tongue out at the yellow Bori and flapped her wings to surge ahead, even though she had no idea where they were going. She was content to let her brother ask those questions. And once the trio had left behind the sphinxlike Neohomes of the Lost Desert and were wandering the more varied streets of the Classics, the Bori delivered.
"Hey, where are we going?"
"...Somewhere I haven't been in a long while," their owner said quietly, her voice husky with sorrow and muffled against her plush scarf.
Laraina made a tight loop to look at her owner, but said nothing as she settled back into flight at her shoulder. Claudiu murmured a quiet, "Oh," and didn't pry further. The trio lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, broken only by the slight sounds of their visible breathing, feathers rustling in flight, and of shoes and Bori claws on the limestone pavement.
The pyramids cast shadows in the soft light of the full moon as the three turned onto Pyramid Parade, and the human of the bunch started walking even faster. It was nearly midnight by now, and Laraina's body was starting to feel heavy with fatigue. They'd done so much moving already.
Next to an abandoned two-story silver Neohome was a simple wooden one, disuse shown in the cracking boards and the creak of the door as their owner opened it.
"What are we doing here?" Claudiu whispered nervously, glancing at the moldy, crumbling heart-shaped toast sculpture against the wall.
"I'm... getting some old things," said their owner, rummaging in her purse. She produced some old, crumpled credentials, and held them up with one hand. Suddenly, the rotting Neohome came to life around them, lights flickering on. Dangling Spyders quickly retracted on their webs to the ceiling, scurrying into the nearest hole in the wood they could find.
Claudiu shuddered. "Eww. This was yours?"
"I took better care of it when I was still here."
"I'd hope so!" Laraina chimed in. She whistled appreciatively at the trophies on a Shoyru-themed shelf attached to the wall, hovering over them to read their plaques. "Neopian Times, Cheat, Poetry Competition first place! Why'd you leave this place?"
"That's what I want to know," a lower feminine voice, choked with tears, said from the doorway. "Kirsche, where did you go?"
Laraina landed next to Kirsche to watch the mangy Desert Lupe pad in with the click of overgrown claws. Her coat was matted and dirty with sand. She moved with a defensive hunch of too prominent shoulders, tail hanging limp. She turned to the side to regard the three, her emaciated frame all the starker in profile. A Fangy stood in her shadow, uneasy on too-long hooves.
"More than a year, Kirsche. You left me here for more than a year!" The Lupe choked back a sob, tears streaming from her painted eyes and flowing down her mask. "Where did you go? Was it where all the humans go? Did you have any control over it? I thought you wouldn't get bored of me!" The Lupe stalked closer. Laraina fluttered back. Claudiu tried to hide behind her even though he was taller.
"Desi..." Kirsche knelt down and held out her arms to embrace the Lupe. "Desi, I'm sorry..."
Desi didn't move into the hug. She stayed put, glaring darkly from under her mask. "You promised," she continued, voice a mix of anger and sorrow that made Laraina feel heavy on the inside. "You promised you wouldn't abandon me! You promised you wouldn't give up on me! What happened to that? What happened to you!?"
"I... I left, Desi. At first it was because of work, but then... but then everyone started disappearing. The guild emptied, I didn't know any of my Neofriends, and... and it all felt so hollow I couldn't bring myself to come back. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry..." Kirsche had started sobbing, too. Claudiu stepped out from behind Laraina to nudge her arm in comfort. She rested a hand on his head.
Desi seemed unmoved. "And you abandoned me."
"I know... I'm so sorry. But I'm back. Ready to make a fresh start."
"Why? Why give up everything you've worked for here?"
"I told you... it doesn't feel right anymore. Desi... I hurt you. I did something stupid. I should have at least checked in even if I didn't do anything. At least picked up omelettes and jellies and fed you. At least maintained this place. It was the least I could have done to stay with you. And I didn't. I was lazy. I was selfish. And I'm sorry. Please forgive me."
Desi was silent, watching Kirsche and her pets warily. Laraina didn't blame her for being skeptical. This was definitely something about her owner she could have gone without knowing.
"You're my dream pet, Desi," said Kirsche, crying openly now. "You have been for four years. Even the one I wasn't here for. And I may have a new owner's account and a new house, but I still want you to stay. Please?"
Desi stood silently.
"Please, Desi, please. I swear, I'll send over some jelly to eat every day until the four-month mark. And then I'll transfer you over and we can live together again."
"I want to believe you."
"I mean it! I promise, I won't go away completely like that again!"
"Weren't you a hermit before you met me? That means there was someone before that! How many other pets have you abandoned without warning!?"
"I've... I've known about Neopia for ten years, Desi. I was thirteen then. I was young and selfish- more selfish. I didn't think of my pets-"
"You still don't." Desi turned to slink away. "Come on, Fortuna." The Fangy pranced uneasily along.
"Desi, wait!" Kirsche got to her feet and ran after her.
Laraina felt sick. So this was the kind of owner she'd been saddled with... She knew she could handle it, but Claudiu was too optimistic and trusting to take such an abandonment. And knowing Kirsche could, at any moment, abandon them for a year or forever and hurt her brother like that... her facial feathers were damp.
"Come on, Laraina, we have to follow them!" the Bori exclaimed, bounding after their owner. Laraina spread her wings and followed.
They hadn't gone far. Desi's overlong claws wouldn't permit her to run comfortably.
"Desi!" Kirsche sobbed as Desi walked away. "Desi, I came back for you!"
The Lupe stopped and turned. "Why?"
"Because you're my dream pet. Because I made a promise to you. Please, let me take you back. I'll make it right. Please... Just give me another chance!"
"You gave me hope, Kirsche, when you adopted me that day. When you made your promise. You broke that promise."
Kirsche had clearly run out of things to say, crying instead.
Claudiu stepped forward. "Hey, uh... look. Kirsche seems really nice to me. I don't think she'll abandon us."
Laraina sighed. Her brother's optimism wasn't worth anything here. She had to say something. "You know, even if she does, isn't staying with us for however long she's here this time better than starving out here living by the grace of Coltzan out of a rotten Neohome?"
"We live at Kiko Lake, by the beach!" said Claudiu, grinning wide. "We could play in the water and relax in the sun! I have a flying disc we can play catch with, too!"
"I'll... I'll still root for the Lost Desert this Altador Cup," added Kirsche, wiping her eyes. "Just for you, because you're stuck here. And we'll visit Coltzan every day and... and everything we used to do together. So... please forgive me?"
For a moment, it seemed like Desi would give them more of the silent treatment.
And then she bounded forward to meet Kirsche's embrace. "Don't ever do that to me again!" she sobbed.
Kirsche wrapped her arms around the Lupe's neck and buried her face in her dirty headdress. "I won't, I promise. Come on... let's get you and Fortuna fed and groomed. And I'll keep you that way. And I'll take you home in four months. I promise."
"Kirsche?" Desi lifted her head away from her former owner's arms.
"Don't promise anyone anything again."
"I hear that!" Laraina exclaimed. Claudiu gave her an odd look.
Sniffling, Kirsche nodded. "All right. I'll start moving our stuff after you're taken care of. And I'll move you when I can. I pr-" she stopped short. Desi smirked. "...I mean I can't wait to pick out furniture for you."
Laraina couldn't help but laugh. Desi joined in - bitter, but with a touch of cautious hope.