There are many things I love about my life in Neopia. I love the adventure, the huge variety of lands. I love the food - it makes everything back home seem uninspired, you know? I love that there's magic everywhere, that there are faeries and magic potions and the odd book of spells lurking behind the door. Most of all though, I love my pets, the two bundles of fluff that keep life interesting and give me reason to smile each day.
I reminded myself of this at one o'clock in the morning. I love my pets. I do.
"Muuuuum!" Bannok wailed, jolting me awake. I scrabbled frantically at the bed to stop myself falling out and blinked at the darkness. The sound of hiccoughing sobs came from down the corridor, and my heart fell. "Mum!"
"I'm coming!" I yelled back. I grabbed a dressing gown from the back of the door on my way out and tried to put it on without getting my arms too badly tangled in the sleeves. It took me three tries. I don't function well when I first wake up, not without at least two coffees to start the day.
The sobs were getting louder, and there were two of them crying now - Samitan must be awake as well. Sure enough, when I stumbled into their bedroom they were both there, sitting on top of their quilts and glaring daggers at each other.
"Sammy kicked me!" Bannok accused as soon as he saw me. He pointed one hand dramatically at his younger brother, the other cradling his stomach. I scanned him worriedly, but he didn't seem hurt - probably just startled.
"I didn't mean to," Samitan hiccoughed miserably and hugged his stuffed gathow closer to him.
"You kicked me!" Bannok repeated, and Samitan started wailing again. I fought the urge to put my head in my hands and go back to bed. You love your pets, I told myself. You can deal with this.
"Boys!" I said sharply. They fell silent, two pairs of shiny, tear filled eyes fixed on me. "Thank you. Now, Bannok - tell me what happened."
"I was asleep," he said, "and then Sammy kicked me and I woke up." He gave an exaggerated sniff and made his eyes as big as they would go. "He kicked me really hard, Mummy."
"It wasn't!" Samitan protested. "You're just being a baby."
"Sam," I said, as soothingly as I could. "Did you kick your brother?" He shuffled. Ducked his head and tried to avoid my gaze. "Sam?"
"Yes," he mumbled finally. "But, but I didn't mean to."
"Ok. What do you say when you hurt someone by accident?"
He was all but hiding beneath his gathow now, but the words were clear enough. "'m sorry."
"Ok." I let out a puff of air, relieved that the crying had stopped and they seemed to be calming down. "Ok. Sam, what were you doing in Bannok's bed?" There were words in his answer, I'm sure, but I couldn't make them out. "Come again?" I said, ignoring my urge to yawn.
He snuffled a bit, but repeated himself louder. "Was a nightmare."
"Oh," Bannok breathed out. He shook himself and slipped out of bed, hurrying across the room on padded feet to curl around his younger brother. "Why didn't you say so, doofus?"
"I did," was the emphatic answer. "But you ignored me. You snored at me!"
I sat on the edge of Samitan's bed, resting a hand on his head. "I think that Bannok may have been asleep, darling," I said. I wanted to ask him about his nightmare - he'd gone through a spate of them about a year ago, but I thought he'd mostly stopped having them. I knew better than to ask now though; he wouldn't talk about it with Bannok there. Besides, now that they were settling again, I wanted to get them back to sleep and try to minimise any tiredness in the morning. "Do you want a bed time story?" I asked.
Two heads popped up, wide grins spreading across their faces. "Story!" they chorused, scooting up to make space for me against the headboard. I settled in with an armful of fluffy blue Kyrii curled up against my side and a purring baby Lutari curled up on my lap - with his gathow, of course, firmly tucked under one paw.
"Ok then fellas," I grinned. "What story are we going for tonight?"
"Pirates," Samitan insisted. Bannok made a face.
"You always ask for pirates," he complained. "Can we have a story about Jhudora? Or! Can we have a Haunted Woods story, Mummy?"
Samitan twitched in my lap. Ah. I'd taken the boys to the Haunted Woods at the weekend - Bannok was utterly enamoured of everything spooky at the moment, and even Samitan had been excited. He'd seemed quiet after, and I know he hadn't liked the puppet show at the gypsy camp, but at the time I honestly thought he'd been fine. Guilt stabbed through me - how could I have missed that he was shaken up enough for nightmares?
"Bannok, poppet," I said carefully. "How about we let Sammy choose this one, hey?"
The Kyrii glanced down at his brother with a thoughtful look. "Ok," he said finally. "But not pirates."
"Something on a boat then," Samitan said. Bannok nodded, and they both settled in comfortably. I wracked my brain - Samitan always asked for something to do with the sea, it was getting hard to think of new stories. Oh! I remembered an old story my mother had told me, something about a fisherman and his cat. I couldn't remember it completely, but I had enough of the story to make up the rest.
"Right then, you two. This is the story of the old fisherpet and his gathow. You ready?"
"Was he a Lutari?" Samitan jumped in. "A pirate Lutari? With a gathow like me?" He waved his stuffed toy excitedly, almost whacking me on the chin with it.
"He was a Lutari," I agreed, gently pushing the plushie away. "But he wasn't a pirate Lutari. He was a red Lutari, with red fur and red ears and little yellow spots on his paws."
"A red Lutari," Samitan murmured in awe, turning his paws over to study his own spots.
"Was he also called Sam, by any chance?" Bannok asked dryly. I stifled a smile - he could pretend all he liked, but I remembered when he was younger and he'd loved stories about Kyriis just as much as Sam loved stories about Lutaris.
"No, he was called Ben. Old Ben the Lutari, with his gathow called... Sarah. Ben and Sarah lived in a small fishing village near Shenkuu -"
"They should live near Krawk Island," Samitan interrupted. "Krawk Island is the best place for Lutaris."
"Am I telling this story or are you?" I asked with mock archness, raising an eyebrow at him. He settled down with a pout and Bannok giggled. "Hush," I told him before Samitan could bristle. "Ben and Sarah lived near Shenkuu, because Shenkuu makes the best sushi and gathows love sushi."
"Blue doesn't." Samitan gripped his plushie tighter. "Blue likes waffles. And hot chocolate. Can Blue have some waffles?"
"Maybe later," I said. "Now shush, you, and listen to the story.
"Now, Shenkuu is very far north - it's just across the sea from Terror Mountain, which, as I'm sure you know, is right on top of the world and is as far north as you can get. Sometimes, that far north, the great snowickles in the sea get into arguments with each other and cause terrible storms. They have such bad manners, the snowickles! Once they start arguing, they can go on for days and never stop."
"Doesn't their mummy get cross with them?" Bannok asked curiously.
"Snowickles are petpets," I explained. "They don't have mummies like you and Sammy, they have pets to look after them - like you look after Callum. But the wild petpets don't have anyone to look after them, so no one teaches them not to argue, you see?"
"Oh." Bannok frowned, trying to turn that over in his mind. I hid a wince; I recognised that particular thoughtful frown. I'd have to schedule a library trip tomorrow - Bannok had his researching face on. He opened his mouth and I braced myself for a barrage of questions about wild petpets, but luckily all he asked was, "Can I get Callum? I bet he'd like the story.
I wasn't sure of that myself. Bannok's vacana was curled up on his petpet bed in the kitchen, I suspected, and probably happy to stay there. "If he's awake," I allowed. "But if he's asleep you have to leave him there, alright?"
Bannok was out of bed in a flash, paws tapping against the carpet as he ran for the stairs.
"How come Callum has to stay downstairs?" Samitan asked. "Blue stays with me."
I blinked, caught out by the question. How do you explain to a small child that the stuffed toy he thinks is his petpet is actually just a stuffed toy? Not at half past one in the morning, was the answer. Maybe never. Sam loved his gathow to pieces; he'd got into enough trouble at school about other pets saying she wasn't real. "Blue sleeps better when she's with you," I said eventually. "She didn't want to sleep downstairs with Callum."
Samitan mulled that over, then nodded decisively. "Callum snores," he agreed. Bannok took that moment to tumble back into the room, one rather grumpy vacana bundled in his arms. "I brought Callum! You didn't start again without me, did you?" He tipped the petpet onto the bed and settled himself back under the quilt. Callum, bless him, just shook himself and curled up on Bannok's feet with long suffering sigh.
"Not yet," I promised. "Everyone ready?" They nodded - Callum closed his eyes and went back to sleep - and I picked up the story again.
"One day there was an enormous storm. The great storm snowickles caused trouble all along the coast, for all the fishing villages around Shenkuu. None of the fishermen could leave to go fishing because if they tried, the snowickles threw their boats in the air and tipped them out into the sea. The village ran out of sushi and fish pie, it even ran out of fish cake - soon it all had left were fish pops, and not many of those at all!"
Samitan gasped, horrified by the prospect of running out of food, and gripped Blue tighter. I nodded at him. "It was a desperate situation! But Ben was a Lutari, you see. Even if the great storm snowickles threw him in the sea, he'd be able to swim back to shore. So Ben set a candle in his window so that he could see his way home and went down to his boat. He was going to catch enough fish to feed the whole town."
"But what about Sarah?" Bannok asked. "She can't swim."
Samitan stuck his tongue out. "She can too. Gathows love swimming."
"Some gathows like swimming." I grimaced, thinking of the many times I'd had to put Blue through the washing machine after she'd 'gone swimming'. "But Bannok's right, Sarah doesn't like it all. So when Sarah came with him, Ben tried to send her back into the warm house. But Sarah wasn't going to leave her pet to go alone, so she sat in the front of the boat and refused to move. Ben gave her his hat to stay dry under, and promised he'd try as hard as possible to avoid the snowickle so she wouldn't get thrown in the sea.
"So Ben sailed out as carefully as he could, sneaking behind the snowickle's backs and throwing his nets in the sea when it wasn't looking. But disaster! The snowickle saw them!" Both of them squeaked at that, staring in wide eyed horror. "It came roaring over to them, determined to throw their boat in the air and dump them out in the water. Ben rushed over to hold onto Sarah so he could keep her above the water, but she had a different plan. You see, if Ben was trying to keep her dry, they'd lose all the fish - and there'd be no more sushi and no more fish pie. Only fish pops!" Bannok moaned, clutching his stomach in sympathy.
"Sarah looked straight at the snowickle, and when it came close, she bopped it on the nose." I demonstrated, first on Bannok then on Samitan, tapping my finger against each of their noses. Samitan huffed out a chittering laugh. "The poor snowickle had never been bopped on those nose before. It didn't know what to do! So it stood there, staring at Sarah and her Ben. And Ben crossed his arms and said, as sternly as he could, 'It's past your bed time, little snowickle.'"
"Do the voice, Mummy," Bannok demanded. "You have to do the voice."
"And sing!" Samitan chimed in. "If it's the snowickle's bed time, then Ben should sing him a lullaby."
"In the voice. Sing in Ben's voice."
"No," I protested, suppressing the urge to laugh. "Ben can't sing -" or rather, I couldn't sing in Ben's voice - "but Sarah can."
"You still have to do the voice," Bannok grumped, and I ruffled his fluffy mane.
"Bossy," I told him playfully. "But ok." I cleared my throat and tucked my chin in, then growled in as deep a voice as I could manage, "'It's past your bed time, little snowickle.'" Bannok grinned, and Samitan wriggled in glee. "'It's time to go to sleep.' But the snowickle didn't want to go to sleep, and got ready to jump on the boat and splash everywhere. So, Sarah went up to the front of the boat, and she started to sing."
I paused to resettle both pets more comfortably, then began one of my - and their - favourite lullabies. "Hush a-bye, don't you cry, go to sleep my little baby..."
It didn't take long before Bannok was yawning and even the ever-excitable Samitan was struggling to keep his eyes open. By the time I'd finished the song he was snuffling gently into the quilt, fast.
"And so the great snowickle fell asleep," I whispered with a soft smile, stroking one hand over his short fur. "And Ben and Sarah sailed back into town with all the fish they could eat." I lifted the quilt and slid out from underneath it, moving slowly to avoid waking him. He rolled over as I tucked him in, and I pressed a soft kiss to his forehead.
"Come on then, sleepyhead," I said quietly to Bannok, lifting him into my arms to take him to his own bed. "It's past your bed time."
"'m not a sno'ickle," he grumbled.
I laughed quietly. "Night night, love." I smoothed his mane down behind his ears and retrieved his pillow from where it had fallen on the floor. "Sweet dreams."
I paused at the door way, one hand on the light switch, and looked back at the vacana sitting patiently on Samitan's bed. "You coming?" I asked him, but the petpet snorted and settled back down. I grinned. "Keeping the nightmares away from them, hey?" Callum flicked an ear at me and closed his eyes. I shook my head with a fond smile and turned the lights off, pulling the door to behind me as I left.
There are many things I love about my life in Neopia, but there are none I love so much as my mad little family. Even at half past one in the morning.