"I’m home!” the human called as she slammed the door shut.
“Finally!” I yelled back, sprinting downstairs. I plopped myself on the living room couch and was quickly joined by Milly, my youngest sister.
“Hey Thea!” she greeted my owner cheerfully, suppressing a yawn.
“What took you so long?” I asked. “You and Flo went out to restock the shop ages ago!”
“We got a little held up,” she said vaguely.
“What do you-?”
“Thea! You’re home!” Heather, another one of my sisters, interrupted me from the top of the staircase. She bounded down to join us. “I thought I heard-WHOA!” the baby Bori exclaimed as she tripped over her own tail and tumbled down the rest of the way. I sent a blast of air her way and caught her before she hit the ground.
“Thanks!” she said with a grin, still suspended in mid-air. Her eyes widened innocently. “But don’t you still need to get a license in order to use magic? I mean, after nearly destroying two buildings and getting a month long suspension from the Faerie Queen, well….”
“Or I could just let you fall,” I grumbled, cutting off the air current.
“Ooof!” she moaned as she slammed into the ground.
“Hey, where’s Flo?” I asked, suddenly realizing that the halloween Cybunny was nowhere to be seen.
“Flo? Oh. She’s just out running some, uh, errands,” my owner said carefully. I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. I wondered if she knew that she was as terrible at lying as I was at making questioning faces that looked threatening.
“Errands? At one in the morning?”
“ANYWAY,” Thea said, “I have a surprise for you guys!”
“Huh?” the three of us inquired curiously.
She held up a hand and slid out the front door. After a few moment’s hesitation, I opened the window a crack. I peered through the small opening, but I was only able to see two dark shadows cast by the streetlamps nearby. I slipped my blue ear through the space instead, motioning for my sisters to do the same.
“I can’t hear anything over the wind!” I grumbled. Why did Faerieland have to be storming now of all times? It was spring for Fyora’s sake!
“Shh!” Milly suddenly hissed, slamming the window shut so fast that my ear was nearly caught.
“Hey!” I protested, but she shushed me again, quieter this time, and slightly tilted her head toward the open door.
We all fell silent. Footsteps began to sound distantly, growing increasingly louder with every step. My sisters and I quickly flopped back on to the couch like nothing had happened as our owner approached the front door.
A pretty Maraquan Ixi fluttered through the doorway behind her, struggling with a pair of Maraquan Fin Wings. Heather, Milly, and I stared, perplexed by the newcomer. Something was evidently off. She flapped her wings awkwardly, like she was having trouble staying in the air. I received the impression that she hadn’t flown before as she stumbled into a clumsy landing. “Uh, hi!” she said brightly, attempting to break the silence.
Thea jumped in. “This is Lily,” she said. None of us reacted as we stared at the Ixi, who was quickly turning red.
“Your new sister,” she said, attempting to sound nonchalant.
Those three words did the trick. Dumbfounded, my sisters and I stood frozen with shock, eyes wide.
“WHAT?!” * * * *
The clock on the living room wall read a quarter to two in the morning, but all of us were wide awake. Thea had sent the newcomer, Lily, up to her “new room” - Flo’s room - a little while ago. This whole thing made me feel uneasy, and I wasn’t sure why.
Heather, Milly, and I refused to let Thea go back to her world until she explained what the heck was going on. Who was this new girl, and why was she here? And where in Neopia was Flo? We bombarded her with question after question, receiving only the knowledge that this new girl had come from the Pound. After nearly an hour of our fruitless attempts to wheedle any useful information out of her, she merely claimed that she was tired and should be heading home. When we protested, she just gave a salute in farewell and vanished with a small *poof*.
There was only one thing left to do. If Thea wouldn’t give us any answers, then we’d have to confront the new girl.
* * * *
The next morning, the three of us were looking for a good time to pounce. Thea hadn’t visited since our attempted interrogation, so we’d decided to take matters into our own hands.
It was early morning, barely past dawn, and the four of us were discussing our situation in hushed voices at the kitchen table while the Maraquan Ixi slept soundly upstairs. Flo still hadn’t returned, and all of us had lost sleep over it, frustrated that there was nothing we could do.
“But why don’t we just go out and look for her?” Heather suggested.
“We have nowhere to start!” Milly replied. “I don’t have a clue where she might be. We can’t search the entirety of Neopia for her. She could be anywhere!”
“I’m worried about her,” I said. “I want to do something. She could be in trouble!”
“I doubt it. Thea must know where she is. She was the last person Flo was with. If Flo was in any kind of trouble, she wouldn’t have left her. Thea might like to mess around, but she’d never go as far as to put any of us in danger,” Heather said, bending down to lift the pink Miamouse that eagerly darted around her legs.
“That’s true,” Milly said. “But I’m not going to feel better until I know what’s going on. And I can’t shake the feeling that the new girl has something to do with all of this. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
“Me neither,” I agreed, “but we can’t make any accusations when we don’t have any facts. We’re not going to do something rash based on hypothetical reasoning. The best thing we can do right now is wait and see if we can piece things together.”
“Well,” Milly said distractedly, staring at the pink petpet as it happily bounded away, “I guess you’re right….” She looked up. “I have an idea,” she said. “Why don’t you get Avis to go out and look around Faerieland for her?”
“That’s smart,” I said. “She’s pretty fast. She’ll be able to cover a lot of ground in no time at all while we’re here getting more info. I’ll go and ask her.”
A few minutes later, I trudged downstairs, shaking the smarting pain from my paw. Avis had blearily accepted the task, giving me a somewhat rough nip of affection, slightly annoyed with me for waking her up.
When I re-entered the kitchen, I was surprised to see Lily sitting at the table with Heather and Milly. The two of them looked at me expectantly as I approached, and I flashed them a quick thumbs-up when Lily wasn’t looking. Milly winked back at me.
“Hey Lily,” Milly said sweetly as I sat down. “We just thought we’d officially welcome you to the family by telling you a bit about ourselves! I thought it’d be a nice way for you to get to know us, your…” she stopped and cleared her throat. “New. Sisters.” she finished. I saw her paws clenched into tight fists under the table.
“Well…okay then,” she said, her voice going up as if she were asking a question. Something about her voice bothered me, but I wasn’t sure what.
“Awesome! So, why don’t you start by telling us where you’re from?” I prompted, understanding what Milly was trying to do. I flashed a forced smile at the Ixi, which she regarded with an uneasy expression.
“Uh, well...I don’t really know actually,” she said slowly, as if she were choosing her words carefully. “I was in the pound for a long time. I don’t remember anything before it. Then, a few days ago, I met Thea. She adopted me, took me to the Rainbow Pool to paint me, and well, I guess you know the rest,” she said to the floor, ears tinged pink.
I suddenly stood up. The other three looked up at me in surprise. “Sky?” Heather questioned.
“We’ve, ah, got to go!” I said quickly.
Milly frowned. “We do?”
“Yes! Come on!”
“Where are you going?” Lily asked in confusion.
“I almost forgot. We have, to uh, go to Neoschool!” I invented. “Yeah, we’re going to be late for our Neopian History class!”
“You don’t have any bags, or books, or anything though,” she countered.
“They’re in our...lockers,” I said with a wide-eyed glance at Milly and Heather. They nodded vigorously in confirmation.
“Right. Can I also mention that it’s Saturday?” Lily said, an eyebrow raised.
Lily shrugged in defeat. “Alright then,” she said skeptically. “Have fun, I guess.”
“Thanks! See you!” I said quickly, rushing out the door with Milly and Heather close behind.
“Wait! Does Neoschool even exist?” she called after us.
“Bye!” we yelled over our shoulders as we zipped away. * * * *
A few minutes later, the three of us were all huddled in our “secret hideout”. It’s basically an abandoned user shop that hasn’t been used in years. It’d be almost impossible to find for anyone who didn’t know where it was, since it’s...well, not exactly a physical place anymore. When someone leaves Neopia for a long time, all their possessions begin to lose physicality over time. The longer they’re gone, the less their things become, until eventually they fade away entirely. It’s inevitable, unless the person comes back. The moment they set foot in Neopia again, their fading possessions would pop back into existence, so long as they hadn’t yet faded entirely. They’d be exactly the same as their owner had left them.
Whoever had owned this shop had been gone for so long that it’s no longer a place that can actually be “found”. If you just happened to pass by its former location, you wouldn’t be able to stumble upon it. It’s lost so much of its physical form that it can only be reached if you know where to look and what to look for. It’s hard to explain...but since we know it’s there, we can find it with ease. But it wouldn’t even exist if you didn’t know you were looking for it. Make sense?
Anyway, Heather, Milly, Flo, and I all knew where to find it, but we might be the only ones. Once we figured out that only we could see it, it became our hideout. It was the best kind of hideout too. One that was truly hidden. It won’t last forever though. Everyday it came closer to fading entirely. Eventually, we’d have to find another. But for now, it did just fine.
Anyway, I’m digressing.
That’s where we were now. The three of us huddled together in a corner to avoid getting wet, as the rain audibly pounding on the worn roof of the shop was leaking through in several spots. The storm from a few days ago still hadn’t let up entirely, and our cloaks were drenched as a result.
“Why didn’t we bring an umbrella?” Heather pondered, teeth chattering. “I’m going to get sick!” She let out a little cough for emphasis.
“We were kind of in a hurry,” I replied, draping my coat around her shoulders. Her shivers became less violent, and my little sister snuggled her body against the inside of the jacket and promptly fell asleep.
“Yeah, what was that about anyway?” asked Milly, lost in thought. I shushed her with a pointed glance at the baby Bori. “Oh,” she mouthed with a wide eyed look, no doubt remembering the catastrophe that occurred the last time we woke Heather up.
“But why’d you drag us out here?” she whispered. “What’s up?”
“Something’s not right,” I began, “about Lily. It just doesn’t make any sense. She appears and Flo disappears. It just got me thinking….What if Thea abandoned Flo to adopt Lily?”
“No way!” Milly exclaimed. Heather stirred fitfully on the dusty floor. Milly glanced down at the baby with a look of fright and turned back to me. “No way,” she said again, quietly. “She wouldn’t do that. Would she?”
“I don’t know. It was just a thought.”
“Well…” Milly trailed off. She began to pace the old shop, then recoiled as the wooden planks groaned loudly beneath her yellow paws. Heather mumbled something unintelligible and shuffled a bit in her sleep.
“I hate to say it, but...it makes the most sense,” Milly sighed after a few minutes of thinking. I nodded solemnly.
“So what should we do?” I asked her. “I mean, we have to do something. We can’t just let something like this happen.”
“But we can’t do anything until we know what’s going on! You said it yourself earlier - we’re not going to do something rash just because of a theory,” Milly replied.
I sighed. “I know, you’re right. But how would we know for sure?”
Heather opened her eyes and rubbed them with her knuckles. “Know what?” she asked sleepily.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said absently.
"Aw, come on," she whined, pouting. "What is it?"
“TELL ME,” she ordered, eyes flashing.
Milly and I explained our theory to her. “But we’re not sure how we can prove it. And we don’t want to do anything until we know for sure what exactly we’re dealing with,” I finished.
“How do we even know that she’s there? Maybe she and Thea got into a fight and she ran away,” Heather offered.
“That wouldn’t be it. She’d never be selfish and leave us without telling us. She wouldn’t make us worry like this,” I said.
“But didn’t you do that once?” Heather said, smirking.
Heather sighed. “Well if we really think she’s in the pound, why don’t we just go to Neopia Central and look for her there?” she suggested.
Milly and I exchanged a look. I raised an eyebrow and gave a small shrug.
“But there are hundreds of pets in the pound - maybe even thousands! How would we even find her? If she’s even still there, that is! A halloween Cybunny would be snatched up pretty quickly. And don’t forget, we’re not even sure if she was ever pounded at all! This could be a wild goose chase for all we know!” Milly protested, panting heavily as she concluded her rant.
“Do you have a better idea?” Heather countered calmly.
“Good point,” Milly and I replied in unison.
“So, first things first. How do we get to Neopia Central?” Heather asked.
“Well, it’s kind of far, but it’s still early. We could walk it,” Milly suggested.
“Not a good idea. It sounds like the thunder’s stopped now, but it might start storming again later. I don’t know about you guys, but I really want to get rained on for a four hour walk. Plus, we don’t know how long we’ll be there looking. We likely won’t get back to Faerieland until it’s dark out, and the route goes way too close to the Haunted Woods for that to be a good idea,” I said.
Milly shuddered. “True enough,” she said. “So, a taxi?”
“I guess so. I don’t have much money though,” I said.
“I have some,” Heather said, pulling out a few coins.
“Me too,” chirped Milly, fishing a small handful of change from her pocket.
“Perfect! Together it’s just enough for a taxi there and back. Let’s head to the city. We can probably hail one there,” I suggested.
We stepped outside our worn old hideout, delighted to see that the rain had let up a bit. Despite the situation, the sight of the sun emerging from the clouds brightened my mood.
“You look cheerful, Sky,” said a voice. A Maraquan Ixi emerged from the trees, shaking dew off of her wings. She smiled brightly at the three of us. “Hi Milly! Hi Feather!” she greeted cheerfully. Heather raised her eyebrows.
“So, is your Neopian History class over?” Lily asked with a slight smirk. I couldn’t tell if she was taunting us or not.
“Y-yeah,” I replied, confused. I exchanged a puzzled look with my sisters. “We were on our way back. But why are you here?”
She shrugged. “I was just touring the area a bit on my own. It’s a nice city!”
“Yeah, it is,” I said distractedly. I really wasn’t in the mood for small talk at that moment.
“So, where are you guys headed?” she asked, glancing from me, to my sisters, to the abandoned store behind us.
I narrowed my eyes. “We were just going to walk around a bit. How about you?”
“I think I’ll probably head home soon. See you guys later then!” she called over her shoulder with a wave as she fluttered away.
“Feather?” Heather irritably muttered under her breath once she was out of sight.
“Well, you’re roughly the size of one,” Milly taunted.
“Hey, shut up!”
“Stop it you two,” I snapped hotly. They looked up, surprised.
“What’s up?” Milly asked me.
“Yeah, what happened to little miss cheerful?” Heather muttered.
I sighed. “I just have a feeling,” I said after a moment. “Something about her is bugging me.”
“Well, what is it?” Heather asked.
“I don’t know!” I growled, frustrated. I thought back. “Does she...remind you guys of anyone?” I asked hesitantly.
Milly frowned, giving me a puzzled expression. “No, not really. Why?”
“Just an idea,” I said, thinking hard. “It was something about her voice that….”
“Oh, hey Avis!” Heather called out cheerfully. “That was quick!” I looked up distractedly to see the white Weewoo swoop down into a graceful landing on a tree branch.
“Did she find anything?” Milly asked me eagerly.
I put my train of thought on hold for a moment and turned to the petpet. “So?” I asked. She let out a series of chirps and whistles in reply.
Milly raised her eyebrows. “Uh, what?”
“Nothing.” I translated. Milly and Heather looked down in disappointment, but my mind was racing. “She checked all of Faerieland, even went outside the border a little, and didn’t see a sign of her.” I began to pace.
“Oh well, so much for that,” Milly said sadly. “So, are we still going to Neopia Central? Because we’d better get moving, or else we won’t have enough time to...Sky? Hey! Are you listening?”
“Sorry, just thinking,” I replied absently.
Suddenly, it hit me. Of course Avis didn’t find anything. There was nothing to find. It was so obvious.
I began to laugh.
“...might not be able to get a taxi to Faerieland after….” Milly broke off. “Hey, what’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I said, chuckling bitterly. I shook my head in disbelief. “It’s just...don’t worry about it, Milly. We’re not going to Neopia Central.”
“Huh? Why not?”
“Because I guarantee you that we could search for hours and not find anything. No, the answer’s been in front of us the whole time. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. Come on.” I turned back and began to walk quickly, Avis flying right ahead.
“Where are we going?” Heather asked, jogging to keep up.
“Home.” * * * *
“So, are you going to tell us what’s going on or not?” Milly asked impatiently, watching Avis fly up to my open bedroom window.
“Trust me, you’ll see,” I told her as I unlocked the front door.
We stepped inside the house. “Well, we’re home,” Heather said. “What now?”
“This,” I replied, cupping my hands around my mouth. “Hey, Lily? We’re home!” I announced.
She appeared at the stairwell, fluttering her wings. “Oh, hey guys!” she said cheerfully. “How was-”
Before she could finish, I marched up to her and smacked her clean across the face. Dead silence rang throughout the room. My sisters stared in shock. The Ixi gaped at me, surprised. I smirked back.
Heather broke the silence. “Uh. What was that for?” she asked in disbelief.
I smiled humorlessly. “For tricking us,” I replied simply.
The Ixi’s eyes widened. “I don’t know what you….” she broke off. A beat of silence passed.
Suddenly, she began to laugh. The Ixi let out a quiet chuckle, then a louder one, until she was roaring with laughter. “How long have you known?” she asked once she had sobered, wiping a tear from her eye.
“Does anyone care to explain what the heck is going on?” Heather yelled furiously.
“I’ve been suspecting for a little. But I think it was when I realized that you could see the shop during our little conversation by the hideout.”
“I knew you would notice that!” she said with a short laugh. “I thought it might give me away, but I wanted to give you guys a hint.”
“Can you guys stop being dramatic and tell us already?” Heather yelled.
“I get it,” Milly said. “Flo was never actually gone. I bet when she and Thea went out to ‘restock the shop’, they were actually out at the Trading Post buying a Maraquan Ixi morphing potion.”
“How long have you two been planning this?” I asked.
“A few weeks now,” she stated proudly. “But I never thought you guys would fall for it! You’re even more gullible than I thought! Or maybe I’m just the master of deception. Probably both.”
“Gee, thanks,” I said, unable to hold back a smile at her gloating.
“So it was all a prank?” Heather asked, narrowing her large orange eyes.
“Yep!” Flo said smugly. “April Fools!”
“That’s not how it works!” Milly protested.
“Yeah, April Fool’s day passed already. You’re a few weeks late.,” I chipped in.
“Ah, whatever,” she grumbled, caught up in her own victory. “You two don’t make the rules!”
“No, we don’t,” I agreed. “Society does.”
“Ah, isn’t this heartwarming. A moment of family bonding,” said Heather, rolling her eyes.
And we all laughed, any pre-existing tension already forgotten.
See, that’s the nice thing about family. No matter how rough things get, at the end of the day, you’re still a family. Through thick and thin, you’ll be there for each other. You won't be alone, not when you need someone to stand by your side. Family is forever. And that will never change.
“Hey Sky?” said Heather nervously once the laughter had died down. “Now that you’re in a better mood, is this a good time to tell you that I uh...accidentally spilled ink all over that portrait of Faerie City that you drew? The one you were planning to submit to the Art Gallery?”
She cringed, expecting me to be furious, but I just began to laugh again. She looked up in surprise.
“Well, duh!” I giggled. “You destroy everything you touch. Do you really think I would trust you with the real thing? That was just a sketch. The final drawing is in my sketchpad.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” she said, relaxing. “For a second I thought - wait...in your sketchpad? The purple one?
“Funny story about that!”
“What have you done….”
Indeed, family is forever. Perhaps the one thing in life that will never change. No matter how much you want it to sometimes.