Even back in Year 4, Neopia Central was a busy place.
Bustling crowds of shoppers hurried from one store to the next with their Neopets, stopped to eat, or unfolded that week's copy of the Neopian Times to read the conclusion to their favourite series.
Amid the throng, a young teenage girl strode with purpose. She was a simple light-skinned human, with her long brown hair tied back and her blue eyes hidden shyly behind glasses. Certainly, she did not stand out among her fellow owners.
But one thing made her different.
She was alone.
By herself, she wended her way down the street, listening to excited chatter about a new species of Neopet, the Tonu, that had just been discovered in Tyrannia, and of the rewards being given by a dark faerie named Jhudora, whose cloud in Faerieland had recently been opened to patrons.
Tyrannia and Faerieland. They felt worlds away from the girl's home in Neopia Central. How badly she longed to see them, to explore everything Neopia had to offer.
But this world also had its fair share of dangers, she knew from her reading. She would need a Neopet companion for the journey.
And now, she felt she was ready to take the plunge.
Finally she came to her destination. She clutched the straps of her rucksack and craned her neck up at the Create-a-Pet Centre, an enormous building made of elegant curving glass and spires of gold. It was the oldest structure in Neopia Central, and it was said the faeries created it eons ago.
The girl took a deep breath, clenched her fists, and stepped inside.
The large foyer held a mass of owners, some already with Neopets in tow, that milled about and formed queues to the counter on the other side of the spacious hall.
Taking her place at the back of the shortest queue, the girl watched longingly as a young man squeezed the paw of his yellow Kyrii. "You're going to love your new sister!" he said to his Neopet.
"I can't wait!" the Kyrii replied.
The girl looked up at the sunlight dancing through the crystalline ceiling. Today was the last day she would ever be alone.
Slowly, the queue inched toward the counter. Behind it stood a row of faeries admitting owners, one by one, through sets of arched doors on the far wall.
At last, it was the girl's turn. She stepped up to the counter and looked timidly up at the tall earth faerie receptionist, waiting for instructions. She had never done this before, after all.
The faerie smiled kindly down at her and said, "Name, please."
"Um, Terra," said the human, pushing her glasses up her nose.
"Your Neopian registry name, I mean," the faerie said gently.
Terra flushed in embarrassment, feeling like she'd already messed up the first step. "Oh—" Reaching into her trousers pocket, she pulled out a card that listed all of her vital information as a Neopian citizen. She placed it on the counter for the faerie to see, pointing to her registry name. "Cosmicfire918," she said.
"Thank you," the faerie said, writing something on a scroll behind the counter. With her quill, she pointed to a door to her right. "Please proceed through the third door."
"Thanks," Terra said. Taking her card and pocketing it, she hurried out of the way of the next owner and shuffled nervously toward the door. It was over twice her height and worked with elaborate symbols, which just served to heighten the sense that important things happened here. Terra did not take lightly the idea of bringing a Neopet into existence. From what she had read, it was old and powerful magic—perhaps the oldest and most powerful of all magic.
And, when she left this building, it would be with a creature that Terra desperately hoped she could call a friend.
She swallowed hard, pushed open one of the doors, and stepped inside.
Somehow I knew that I always had, but I felt as though I had just now become aware of the fact. Whatever happened before felt slippery and vague, too hard to remember.
Now I was floating in a sea of light. No up or down, no sounds or smells or tastes, just light clotting all over my body, filling my lungs, matting my fur against my skin.
I had fur?
Yes—yes, of course. I was a Zafara. That truth permeated my mind and gave me something solid to cling to in this eternity.
"Red. A red Zafara."
A voice shocked through my head, young and female, and my heart swelled with familiarity. She was someone important to me for reasons I could not understand, but just knew.
The voice resounded again. "Female, please." Yes, that was right as well.
I twisted a bit in my private universe and realised the light was beginning to fade—or rather to clump into discrete blobs so I could see the spaces between them. Far, far away glowed a different sort of light, dim and cool.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of something magenta. I reached for the feather-shaped object and tugged. My spine stretched in response.
It was my own tail. And that was my own paw pulling at it.
A grin lit up my muzzle as I splayed my long toes and waved my floppy ears. I had a body! I let out a whoop and turned cartwheels, tumbling in the void.
The light was still diminishing, and another voice faded into audibility. "What will you name your Neopet?"
"Blynn." My favourite voice again. That voice and whoever possessed it belonged to me. I was sure of it.
"That name is taken in the registry, sorry."
My ears drooped.
"Blynn679," said my favourite voice.
"That name is free."
"I'll take it."
I couldn't protest. Those numbers had a nice ring to them. The whole thing felt just perfect, like a puzzle in the end stages of being solved.
The lights had faded to tiny sparks now and I found myself surrounded by walls of crystal. Beyond them I could make out two figures standing close by. One was tall with yellow wings and hair, the other smaller with brown hair.
It was to this latter entity that my eyes were drawn. She was the owner of my voice—I just knew it. I had to get to her.
I threw myself against the crystal and it shivered with the impact. I had to reach her, the need was as desperate as life itself. Baring my fangs, I let out a breathless shout and lunged at the barrier again.
With a vicious grin I leaned back, mustered all my strength, and slammed my hind paws into the crystal.
In a flash of magic it shattered, spewing shards everywhere. The remnants of light were flung away from my body and faded into nothing. I collapsed onto the broken fragments of my prior existence, sucking in cool, dry air for the first time.
And there she was.
"Terra!" The name-sound sprang from my muzzle as I leaped at the creature I knew belonged to me, filled with so much joy I thought I might burst.
Though she looked shocked, she opened her arms and I collided with her torso, sending her staggering back. A moment later those thin arms wrapped around me and held me close and I knew she loved me.
"Blynn," she said, and my name coming from her made all of existence harmonise.
I flung my own arms around her neck. "I'm here," I said, and I love you.
And just like that we were bound with the strongest tie Neopia has: that between an owner and their Neopet.
I looked over her shoulder and saw where I must have come from, an enormous machine made of clouded crystal and gold that took up most of the floor space in that large room. Budding off of it were several smaller crystals—deep in their hearts, I could see a faint white glow. More unborn Neopets, I realised. Their owners would come for them. Just like mine had.
Still cradling me in one arm, Terra smoothed back the tuft of hair on my head and looked up at the light faerie beside her. "Thank you," the girl said, her voice cracking, her smile wide enough to split her face.
That smile lit up my entire soul and I found myself grinning like a maniac. In that moment, everything was perfect and wonderful.
The faerie nodded, a demure smile gracing her own features, and waved her hand to usher us around the machine and to a door on the far wall.
The next few minutes were a blur. I barely registered as we exited the room and made our way out of the building's vaulted halls. Everything was so new and overwhelming and all I could really focus on was that I was created, I had an owner, and we loved each other with an unspoken pledge so strong and fierce that it made me feel like I could do anything.
And then we emerged into bright sunlight and my world expanded past anything I had ever imagined. Colors, sights, sounds, and smells flooded my awareness and my eyes bulged as I scrambled to take it all in.
"Are you hungry?" Terra asked.
I broke away from watching other Neopets splashing in a rainbow-hued pond to look at my owner. "What?" I asked.
"I, um…" she said as she dug around in her pocket and took out a small leather pouch whose contents jingled. "We should get you some food, okay?"
"Sure!" I said. I was just happy to share the world with her—it didn't matter so much what we did, as long as we were together. "Where do we get food, Terra?"
"Over there," she said as she pointed to a building shaped like a hamburger, around which other Neopets and owners crowded.
"Then let's go!" I said. I bounded out of her arms, grabbed her hand, and tugged her toward the food shop. Neopia was ours and I was determined to enjoy every bit of it.
She stumbled after me. "O-okay!" she stammered.
"So what do you like to eat, Terra?" I asked as we browsed the selection on the shelves.
She shrugged, her hands in her pockets as she watched me. "Oh… pretty much anything, really," she said.
Something intriguingly multicoloured caught my eye and I grabbed it. "Ooh! What about this?" I asked. I looked at the attached tag and found that the symbols on the paper easily resolved themselves into words and numbers. Reading was something Neopets seemed to be inherently created with. "'Rainbow carrot'… 7,150 NP."
Terra's eyes widened and she took out her bag of Neopoints, glancing at it hesitantly. "Uh… that's kind of expensive," she said.
"What's 'expensive'?" I asked.
My owner gave me a helpless look and said, "It means, um… if you want any of this food, you have to give the shopkeeper some of your Neopoints." She jangled the bag. "The more rare or something an item is, the more Neopoints it costs. I only have about two thousand right now, so…" Looking aside, she mumbled, "Maybe something a little cheaper."
She looked ashamed to have to say no to me, I realised. My heart sank. I wanted her to be happy, not feel bad, especially not on my account. I reached out and gave her hand a squeeze, putting on my brightest smile. "Gotcha!" I said. "I don't want this ol' rainbow carrot anyway!" I tossed it back onto the shelf. "It probably tastes super nasty!"
She managed a weak smile and nodded. Please keep smiling, I begged her silently. It breaks my heart to see you down about anything.
Swiftly, I scanned the other price tags for something more manageable. "Oh! How about this!" I said, pulling two cheesy meat wraps off the shelf. "Only 227 NP each!"
Terra's smile widened as she said, "Okay!" As we headed for the counter, she looked down at me and said, "I can get more money after this. I'm sorry I didn't have enough this time."
I shook my head and said, "It doesn't matter. You do what makes you happy. That's what'll make me happy."
She nodded, but still looked unsure. If only there was some way to convince her, but nothing was coming to mind.
We purchased our food and headed for a nearby park, where we sat at a bench and tucked in to our cheesy meat wraps. At the first bite I was in heaven, my mouth full of savoury, soul-satisfying meat and cheese accented perfectly with the buttery, flaky bread that surrounded it.
"Terra," I sighed, leaning back on the bench, "food is amazing."
"I know, right?" Terra said, her own cheeks stuffed with food and sauce on the corners of her mouth.
The tip of my tail swished at seeing her in better spirits. Taking another bite of my wrap, I looked out at the swath of green before us. Neopets and owners played on the grass and chatted with one another, and here and there I spotted groups of multiple owners talking and laughing.
I looked back at my own owner and asked, "Where are your friends, Terra?"
Immediately her demeanor drooped. She followed my gaze and then her eyes dropped to her shoes. "Um… I don't really have any," she said.
"What?" I asked. "Why not?"
She kicked her feet absently and said, "I have a hard time with other people. They… don't tend to like me. I'm too different."
"Why would that make them not like you?" I asked, gazing out at the other owners and feeling thoroughly confused. "I mean, I'm different from you, but I've got no problem liking you!"
Terra chuckled a bit. "Thanks," she said. "I just… I dunno. Every time I try to make friends it goes badly. The other kids think I'm weird."
"That's a stupid reason not to like someone," I said, taking another fierce bite of my meat wrap.
"I wish they thought that way, too," Terra said with a sigh. Looking at me sidewise, she offered a faint smile. "But that's okay. I have you now."
"That's right," I said. "I'm your friend, Terra. Through thick and thin—I promise… egh…" A strange sensation started at the base of my neck and shivered down my spine, and reflexively I reached up a paw to scratch at it. I was itchy, I realised. Unbelievably itchy.
As my paw pads scrubbed furiously at my skin, I felt a small bump—the source of the itching?
Then the sensation twinged again, on my leg this time. Another furious scratching, and another bump. This one, I could see, was red and so prominent it showed through my fur.
"Huh, that's weird…" I murmured, lifting a hind paw to scratch another bump behind my ear.
Terra glanced over at me and did a double-take, her fair face turning even paler. "Blynn!" she said.
"What?" I asked, twisting around to attempt to reach a particularly inconvenient bump near one of my back spikes.
"Y-you're sick!" Terra said. She repackaged the rest of her cheesy meat wrap and stuffed it in her rucksack, and picked me up under the arms. "It's okay—I'll take you to hospital—"
"Well, we could at least finish lunch," I said as I took another bite of my own wrap. No amount of itching could suppress my appetite. Being created takes a lot out of you, after all.
"You eat, I'll be fine," Terra said, breaking into a run down the sidewalk. Her voice strained with anxiety and she clutched me to her as though I was slipping away before her eyes.
She pushed her way frantically through the crowds of downtown Neopia Central, barging through the hospital doors and refusing to let go of me even as she filled out paperwork and we were admitted to see a doctor.
"Itchy Scratchies," said the green Gelert in a crisp white coat once we had showed him my strange skin condition. "Have you been taking proper care of her? Spun the Wheel of Excitement lately?"
Terra looked utterly bewildered, wringing her hands and trying to shrink into one corner. "I—I just created her—" she said as if she was being accused of high treason.
"Unfortunate Random Event, then," the Gelert said with a sigh. He turned to the counter and scribbled on a slip of paper, which he then handed to her. "Go on over to the Pharmacy and purchase some Itchy Scratchy Cream."
"Thanks," Terra mumbled, pocketing the paper. With her head hung, she feebly took my paw and led me out of the examination room.
"Hey, that's good news!" I said as I tackled a particularly fierce itch at the base of my tail. "What a quick fix."
My owner silently nodded. Past a few stray strands of hair I saw her chin tremble.
Outside the hospital doors, I stopped her and asked, "What's wrong?"
She looked at me with glassy eyes. "I'm a bad owner," she said hoarsely. "I let you get sick."
"Didn't the doctor say it was a Random Event?" I asked. "You couldn't control it."
I reached again for that obnoxious bump on my back, and she knelt down to scratch it for me. "Good owners don't let their pets get sick," she choked.
The tone in her voice made my heart clench. How could I help her? I swiveled around and grabbed her wrist, ignoring my itching for now. "No," I said. "It doesn't matter that I got sick. What matters is that you did something about it. That makes you a good owner."
She met my gaze for a moment, and then faltered and looked down. Hunched over on the sidewalk, she earned many an annoyed glance from inconvenienced passers-by, who I shot pointed glares at.
Tugging at her arm, I managed to get her to the alleyway beside the hospital so we were out of traffic. "You're good," I insisted, itching a persistent bump on my wrist. "This isn't a big deal. See?" I grinned wide. "I'm doing great!"
She glanced up at me, looking entirely unconvinced, and said, "It is a big deal." Sitting with her back against the wall, she curled her knees to her chest. "I—I just wanted so badly to be a good owner… and now I've failed—" Her head sunk to her knees and her shoulders shuddered.
I studied her for a few moments. She had such high expectations for herself, and now she was being hard on herself for something that wasn't even her fault and she had no control over, when in reality she had done everything right in the situation.
But how could I help her see that?
Finally I couldn't think of anything else to do but put my arms around her. "You haven't failed," I said. "I promise. I love you, and you're doing so much better than you think. You only fail if you give up." Not that I knew that from experience, but it just sounded like the right thing to say then.
Her head lifted and she looked at me with those deep blue eyes for a moment before taking off her glasses to wipe the tears from the lenses. "But… I feel so bad that you're sick," she said. "You probably hate me now."
I tilted my head so my ears flopped to one side and gave her a goofy grin. "Me? Hate you? Are you kidding me?" I asked. Taking a few skipping steps back, I spread my arms wide and danced about the alley. "Today's been such an adventure already! I was created and then we went for lunch and I got to see Neopia Central, and then I got sick and it feels really weird!" I hunched into an exaggerated itching pose for effect. "It's been the best day of my life!"
A smirk worked its way up Terra's face. "This has been the only day of your life," she said quietly.
"Well, I say," I said, jabbing a thumb at my chest. "I'm off to a great start!" There was another twinge on my back and I cringed dramatically before twisting around to scratch it. "Yep—this is definitely gonna go down as my itchiest adventure ever!" I wanted to milk this for all it was worth, so I ended up turning in circles, got dizzy, and fell down in a heap in the middle of the alley. "Welp, that didn't work so well," I said.
A pair of arms picked me up and Terra hugged me to her chest. "Blynn—" she said. Haltingly, a sound began to burble from deep within her. It shook her whole body and as it rose in volume, it echoed off the brick building walls to either side of us. It grew clearer and sweeter and made something in my heart swell, like a warm light I could feel spreading throughout my insides.
Laughter. She was laughing. I had made her laugh.
The light inside of me overflowed and spilled out my mouth in the form of more laughter, which made her laugh even more. She doubled over and I patted her back and we both reveled in our ridiculousness.
"Are you okay?" Terra finally asked once she caught her breath.
I looked up at her, my cheeks hurting from all the mirth. The tear streaks on her face were drying and there was a spark back in her eyes.
It was at that moment that I decided her laughter was what I lived for. I wanted nothing more than to see her rise above her fears and anxieties and be happy. And I felt faerie-blessed to be her helper on that journey.
"I'm great," I said, squeezing her hand. "Now c'mon! You haven't shown me the Pharmacy yet!" I tugged her to her feet and led her back out of the alley. "Ooh, what does Itchy Scratchy Cream smell like?"
"I don't know," Terra said. "Owners don't get Itchy Scratchies. Oh, but—" Her hand went to her pocket. "I don't think we'll have enough Neopoints."
"Not a problem," I said. "You said we could get them from playing games, right?"
To my relief, this didn't send her into another breakdown. "Yeah," she said with a smile. "Neopoints are easy to earn."
"Great!" I said. "Let's go!" Again I grabbed her hand and began to pull her down the sidewalk. "Oh yeah, where are the games?"
"The Games Room," Terra said. "It's, um, down the street and to the left. I'll tell you when we're close."
"Gotcha!" I said.
As we roamed down the street, I looked up and around at the tall buildings, the masses of owners and Neopets, and the bustle of carriages being pulled by Unis and Eyries. Above us stretched the clear blue sky, but try as I might I couldn't see anything down the street but more buildings.
I looked over my shoulder, absently scratching another bump, and asked, "Terra—is Neopia Central all there is?"
"No," she said. A gleam shone in her eyes. "There are all sorts of places outside of Neopia Central. Mystery Island, Terror Mountain, the Haunted Woods… I want to see them all."
"Me too!" I said, jumping up and down. "Let's set out right away—right after we get that Itchy Scratchy Cream, I mean!"
Terra's face lit up. "Okay!" she said. "Where do you want to go first?"
"Why don't you pick?" I asked.
"Okay," Terra said, "let's check out Terror Mountain first! I hear there's a Negg Faerie who lives in the Ice Caves!"
"Ooh, yeah!" I said.
"And then maybe after that," she said, "we could go to the Lost Desert! You know, because we'd probably need to warm up after being someplace so cold." She chuckled. "I heard last year, this bad guy called Dr. Sloth invaded the Lost Desert and a bunch of Neopets and owners fought him off."
I pumped my fist and said, "Sounds exciting! I bet there's lots of cool stuff to discover there!"
"You think so?" she asked.
"I know so," I said with a grin. "We've got some good adventures waiting for us there. Call it… intuition."