Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 123,711,044 Issue: 249 | 21st day of Swimming, Y8
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Some Kind of Shelter: Part One


by rainbow_daydreamer

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It was late afternoon.

     In a quiet suburb of the growing city known as Neopia Central, the rose-furred Uni girl sat calmly nibbling the flowers she held in one hoof. In front of her, on the stone steps where she sat, an inky bundle of papers lay, its bold, hanDDrawn pictures lending new life to its lovingly written columns. Flicking the pages, the Uni waited for her friend to arrive.

     He wouldn't be long, she thought. If there was one thing she could count on, it was the reliability of her best friend.

     The Techo was a tall, slim Neopet, reading glasses perched on his nose and a thick book under his arm. As he walked over, the magazine caught his eye. "Rosiebel? What's that you've got?" were his first words.

     "It's a new magazine. I picked it up from a stand down in the Catacombs." She offered it to him, chewing another flower. "Says it's stories written by humans and pets all over Neopia."

     "Wow. What do they call it?"

     "The Neopian Times."

     He sat down, opening the book he'd brought. "Will you test me?" he asked, handing it to his friend.

     "Dear me, I don't know if there's any point," Rosiebel giggled. "You know that book from cover to cover already."

     "I have to pass my exams if I'm going to be a Petpet veterinarian," he snapped, slamming his hand down on the book with each stressed word. "So test me!"

     "All right." Shifting her hooves and settling back on the steps, she opened the book at a random page. "Tell me the medicine you should use on a sick Spyder?"

     "Rowse syrup, every two hours, unless it has dark spots on its legs, in which case give it boiled water with starberry juice in it," he replied easily. "Ask me another."

     "What would you do if a Magaral came in with its fur turning orange?" she asked, reading the next page.

     "Um... brush it down with sponderola oil," he guessed, and smiled when she nodded.

     "You'll be a Petpet vet in no time." She grinned, and they sat together in the evening sunshine.

     As the two of them chatted, a young Usul looked shyly around the corner. She paused for a minute, before taking a deep breath and walking towards them with determination in her eyes.

     "Um... sir..." she began, lowering her eyes. "Do you have... any Neopoints I could have?"

     Awkwardly, the Techo felt in his pocket and produced a couple of coins. His friend did likewise. The Usul accepted the money wordlessly and nodded her thanks, before running back into the shadows with her treasure clutched tightly.

     "It's a pity," he mused as the two of them walked through the streets and alleyways, in the direction of the more crowded city centre. "There's so many pets like that, runaways, lost Neopians... Nobody knows what to do about them."

     "I know." Chewing on her last rowze, Rosiebel sighed. "Hey, did you know the old library's been shut down? They're going to demolish the building if nobody buys it."

     "Shame. I liked that place."

     "Yeah, but since the Faeries decided to enchant all the books, it's next to useless..." They passed the library as she spoke, looking up at the boarded windows, the paint-smudged walls.

     "You'd better get a ride home," the Techo pointed out as they turned the corner into Neopia Central. "It looks like it's going to pour with rain."

     "OK. See you tomorrow," Rosiebel smiled, climbing aboard the nearest public-taxi Eyrie and reciting her address. She was still waving one hoof as the Eyrie lifted her out of sight.

     *

     Neopia Central was scattered with raindrops by the time Rosiebel reached her home. She galloped through the hallway and into the main room. "Mother! I'm home!"

     The human who owned the pink Uni, a middle-aged woman, seemed to be packing some of her expensive crockery into boxes-perhaps she was preparing for a spot of late spring-cleaning, Rosiebel thought. She turned to her Uni with an oddly shaken expression. "Oh, Rosiebel, there you are." Throwing her arms around the Neopet's neck, she ruffled one hand in her delicate mane. "I was wanting to ask you. Can you stay home from school tomorrow? I need you to help me. We're having a sale."

     Rosiebel's sister, a six-year-old Tonu named Missie, was already at the dinner table, her hooves washed in anticipation of her evening meal. The Tonu's face changed as she saw the dinner on the table. "Plain omelette again? Awwww! Can't we have slushies? I want cookies and ice-cream, Mother!"

     "Shut up!" Rosiebel had never seen her owner looking so furious with Missie. "Eat your dinner, and don't complain."

     The two pets obeyed, wondering why their owner seemed so upset. She didn't come over to the table, instead sitting with a notepad, scribbling figures with a tattered pencil. Then, without warning, she left the room, slamming the door behind her.

     "Missie?" Rosiebel's sister looked up. "You can finish my dinner. I'm not hungry."

     Shutting the door carefully, Rosiebel climbed the stairs. Her intuition proved right: her owner was sitting on her bed, her head in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably.

     "What is it, Mother?" Rosiebel whispered.

     "Look..." Her owner threw the notepad at her. "The stock I invested in crashed a week ago. We've got practically nothing." Kicking out in frustration, she tipped over the box of ornaments she had taken from the shelves and windowsills. "Missie is complaining about her life now. What'll it be like when I run out of things to sell, Rosiebel? The two of you will starve here!"

     The Uni's expression seemed to ask the obvious question. Her owner sighed. "There's no way I can throw Missie out. She wouldn't understand what I wanted her to do... she'd be back home at dusk wanting to be let in. And it would be too dangerous anyhow. The weather is so cruel these days, and the pets out there are so vicious... she wouldn't survive on the streets."

     "I would," Rosiebel said softly. Her owner looked up, startled.

     "What?"

     "I can manage for a while on my own. And I promise..." Rosiebel wiped away a tear. "I promise I'll sort this out. Somehow."

     "Rosie..."

     "It'll be OK, Mum," the teenage Uni promised, stroking her owner's sleeve. "You always taught me to do the right thing. And sometimes... miracles do happen. You know that."

     *

     It was early morning when Rosiebel left, a rucksack slung on her back. Missie was still sleeping: later, her owner would try to explain what was happening, and put as kind a face as possible on where the pink Uni had gone.

     As Rosiebel trotted down the dark streets in Neopia Central, the faint glow from the lamp-posts picked out the occasional pet in the shadows: here a Chia curled in a cardboard box, there a Blumaroo sitting in a shop doorway. Homeless pets, Rosiebel thought with a pang of sadness, then realised that, for all her beautiful appearance, she was in the same situation.

     At last, more by chance and habit than intention, the Uni found herself outside her best friend's home: a smart house in the suburbs of town. Raising her hoof, she banged hard on the door. "DD! Are you awake?"

     "Rosiebel!" gasped the Techo, staring at his tear-stained young friend.

     The story was soon explained, and the Techo's owner called out of bed to see what was happening. The two pets recounted what had happened. "Martin, can she please stay with us until she finds a job? Please?"

     "Hmmm. Well, she can stay the night. After that, it's no concern of mine what she does." Martin, a slickly-dressed human with dark hair, looked none too pleased at waking up in the middle of the night.

     "What? But Rosiebel needs somewhere to stay," the Techo protested.

     "My money is not for spending on pets that don't have any more sense than to be on the streets, DD." Martin glared at his Neopet as if defying him to argue.

     "Rosiebel isn't stupid. She's selfless! Homeless Neopets need help, Martin!" Now the young Techo was yelling at his owner. "They're pets just like me!"

     Martin was furious. "You like those street-rats so much, why not run off and join them? Now let me get some sleep! I have to go and work at the Neodaq trading floor tomorrow!"

     He stormed off, leaving the two shocked pets standing in the living-room, the Techo in tears and Rosiebel trembling from head to toe.

     "I can't believe..." The Techo known as DD shook his head and flopped down onto the carpet. "Doesn't he see something's got to be done? I... I can't stand him!"

     "Then..." Rosiebel's voice was a whisper. "Then let's go."

     "Go? Where?" DD stared at his friend. "Where could we live that isn't dangerous for a homeless pet? Martin couldn't possibly have meant for me to leave."

     An idea struck the Uni girl. "We could live in the old library." She began gathering her friend's belongings together. "It's warm and dry in there, and we wouldn't have to worry about being attacked by street pets."

     "You're crazy." DD watched Rosiebel pack his books and stationery into her rucksack.

     "You're right." The Uni sighed. "I guess you don't want to leave. It's OK." A tear slipped from her dark eyes. "After all, I don't need anything right now except... some kind of shelter."

     DD listened for a moment. Upstairs, Martin had already begun to snore, sleeping the night away before a long day's stockmarket trading.

     "Um, Rosiebel?" the Techo put in, taking a deep, long breath.

     "Yeah?" His companion looked up.

     "Don't forget my blue Fuzzle. It's on the dresser."

     *

     The lock was broken on the door of the old library. Rosiebel pushed her way through, her hooves clacking on the floor of the huge, echoing room that had once been filled with books. Spyder webs were all the furnishing that hung on the walls, and nesting Weewoos the Petpets that shared the two pets' shelter.

     "We're here," she said to break the silence.

     "So we are." He lit a candle and began to unpack the blankets they'd brought. "We're officially homeless pets, Rosiebel."

     "Only until Martin comes to find you." She considered. "And we're not homeless pets, anyway." Setting her belongings and DD's medical books on what was left of the library shelves, she smiled. "What is this if it isn't our new home?"

     With candles lit and corners dusted, the place was beginning to look more comfortable, if still frighteningly large. Rosiebel and DD curled up amongst their blankets, and fell asleep almost instantly.

To be continued...

 
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