Early Christmas Presents
I was in the pound, you know. Just one of the abandoned basic pets, sitting in a cage just like everyone else. I was a red Peophin, hungry and cold, listening to the owners and pets that walked past our cages chatter cheerfully about holidays. A few glanced at me, but noticing my name wasn't capitalized, they hurried past.
Then one girl stopped to look at my name. She looked at me, then at the name, then at me again. She seemed to hesitate and took a few steps away, glanced at some other pets, and then came back to look at me again. I looked at her curiously, wondering what she was thinking. This wasn't how people usually behaved. She flicked out her Neomail communicator - not the newest model from the Space Station, but serviceable-looking - typed in a message and sent it, glancing at me while she did. Soon the communicator beeped and she flicked the message open, skimming it quickly. Then she looked at me again and tilted her head.
"Hmm... you know, you have a truly beautiful name," she muttered to me - her first words.
"But it isn't capitalized," I pointed out, trying to keep my hope down. Maybe she just hadn't noticed.
"So I see. And yet... hallana..."
Suddenly she seemed to come to a conclusion and waved to the pink Uni in charge of the adoptions.
"This one, please," she said as the Uni hurried forward and passed the required neopoints to her hooves. The Uni smiled brightly and bent to unlock my cage.
The cold winter air hit my face as soon as we walked out. The girl was wearing a fur-rimmed cloak, but I didn't have anything warm. Such luxuries were not for pounded pets. She drew me close to her and covered me with her cloak the best she could while leading me through the snow-covered streets of Neopia Central.
"Don't worry," she whispered. "Soon we shall have you all nice and warm. I have a surprise in store for you.
I became curious about my new owner. Light blonde hair, pale skin... there was something wintery about her look.
"You know, I wasn't really planning to adopt a pet today," she chuckled. "If I had, I would have come better prepared. But your name reminded me very much about the word halla... in my language that means frost."
I nodded and tilted my head.
"What's your name?" I asked her curiously. She glanced at me, surprised, and burst into a delightful laugh.
"I forgot to tell you, didn't I? My full name is Lady Snowfaerie, but you might want to call me simply Snow," she replied as we turned into a yard and mounted wide marble steps. Neolodge.
"Don't worry. I'm not looking for a way to dump you away somewhere. It's just that I tend to be frightfully absent-minded and I don't want my pets to suffer for it," she explained as she booked me in. Then she led me to the dining hall and ordered a steaming minestrone soup for me, leaving the waiter with the instruction that if I wanted anything else, she'd pay for it when she came back.
"Don't worry, Halla. I'll be back in a few minutes. I have some shopping to do," she said with a smile on her face and I nodded, eyeing the hot soup eagerly. I couldn't even remember when I had last tasted something warm.
True to her word, Snow did return within ten minutes. I had just gulped down the last of my soup and ordered a caramel hot chocolate, which I was sipping as she reappeared.
"Here we are," she said as she sat down in the chair opposite to me and laid a bag full of things at her feet. I set down the cup and looked at her curiously.
"Now, first I must ask you: do you enjoy being a Peophin?" she said, looking at me kindly. I looked at her surprised. Why would she ask that? Peophin was what I had always been; you could as well ask a person if they enjoyed being a human. However, her eyes were serious, so I considered.
"Well... I love swimming. I always have. But the tail can be a bit clumsy on land and when it's cold outside, I really can't go outdoors at all," I finally replied and she nodded.
Then she reached down to the bag she had brought and lifted something on the table. It was a potion bottle shaped like tail and paws, full of orange and cream liquid, with blue stripes going around the exterior. She smiled gently and explained: "This is a Kougra morphing potion. Orange, since that is the cheapest colour right now. I won't force you to drink it, but I hope you'll at least consider?" The end was clearly a question.
I took the bottle from the table and held it in my hooves, gazing into it. Kougra? I wouldn't be able to swim with the same ease as before, but... I looked at the snow falling silently in the darkening evening outside. This was not the season for Peophins, and who knew? I might end up enjoying it. I met her eyes, nodded, opened the bottle and drank its contents in one go. Immediately I could feel my aquatic tail splitting, my nose starting to shorten and my hooves puffing into paws. Snow bent to grab the empty potion bottle from mid-air as it fell from my changing hands. Before I even really understood what was happening, I was sitting on the floor with my new four paws, blinking and trying to figure out how this new slim tail worked. Snow smiled and pulled me up from the ground, helping me back to my chair.
"So, how do you feel?" she asked curiously as I worked out how to pick up my hot chocolate with my new paws.
"Not too bad," I admitted, sipping at my drink again - although I found drinking was much easier if I lapped the liquid with my tongue instead.
"Good. I hope you'll enjoy your new form. If you find it absolutely unbearable, tell it to me and we'll find something else for you," she replied with a smile and I nodded, licking the last bits of hot chocolate from my nose. She giggled at the sight and her amusement made me laugh, too. For a while we just laughed together at the silliness of the situation and I started to think that I was definitely lucky with my new owner. When the waiter came, she happily paid my bill and we headed out again.
"Snow, where are we going?" I asked as we hurried down the streets.
"Your second surprise awaits," she replied smiling mysteriously as she led me on past the Money Tree that happily waved its branches at us in its holiday decorations. We rounded the hill the tree grew on and stepped on a snow-covered lawn stretching out towards a small, colourful pool nearby.
"The Rainbow Pool!" I gasped, my jaw falling open. I glanced her and saw that she was busy getting something out of her bag.
"This is your second surprise. I shall try to get you your clothes as soon as possible, but in the meantime you'll have a thick fur to keep you warm," she said, giving me something I had never expected to see in my life. A paint brush. A Christmas paint brush.
"Are you sure?" I muttered, looking at her completely astonished. Even in my wildest dreams I had never imagined I'd become painted one day. Painted pets had been the luckiest ones in the pound, no matter what their name was they never stayed for long. Snow smiled to me and nodded.
"Go on, Halla. You know what to do."
Paws trembling with anticipation I approached the pool and stopped at the very brim of it. I cast back one final glance and saw my new owner standing on the snowy field smiling at me encouragingly. I smiled back as widely as I could and stepped into the pool, using the brush to spread the colour all over me before taking a long dive in the magically warm water. I still smiled when I surfaced, drawing the cold winter air into my lungs. The brush had melted into the pool, its magic spent. I climbed back onto the snow and wasn't even fully surprised to find my long white fur was as dry and warm as you could imagine. Snow ran to me and closed her arms around me as we kneeled together on the snowy bank of the pool, under the twinkling winter stars.
"Welcome home, Halla," she whispered to me, her fingers running through my soft, fluffy fur. "Welcome home."