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In This Together: Part One


by rainbow_daydreamer

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I stared up at the massive, delicately crafted globe, the newest edition to the vast collection of ornaments that filled the house. It was twice my height, even without its carefully polished hardwood platform, and I marvelled at it. A soft sound of pawsteps behind me let me know that someone else was here too; my big brother, Voltare, the most fabulous pet in the world. We looked at the painted object together.

     "What is it?" I asked, hesitantly, my baby voice sounding out of place in the elegant, echoing room.

     Voltare smiled down at me. "It's what the world would look like, if you were an ENORMOUS space alien. Nice, isn't it?"

     "Where's our house?" was my next question. My brother rested one dark, gentle, velvet-soft paw against one of the splodges of green, which I supposed were islands in the blue sea.

     "It's down there somewhere," he explained, "but it's too small to see."

     Too small to see? I thought of the size of our house, many times taller than I was. "The world's so BIG," I shuddered. "It's scary."

     "There's nothing to worry about, little sister," he told me, draping his paw around my shoulders. "You've got me. And we're in this together, don't you ever forget that."

     He repeated the words as I clutched his paw tightly.

     "In this together."

     *

     "Voltare? Vo-ol-tare!"

     That was my owner, shouting down the hallway. I didn't take much notice of her; I had a letter to write, it wasn't long until I'd have to come downstairs for dinner, and in any case, it was my brother she was yelling for.

     "Voltare_my_neo! Where is that Kougra? I told him to get back here for six NST! I've got bacon for dinner and it's going to burn!"

     Sighing, I got up from my writing-desk and came downstairs. Fiona, her red hair ruffled and a cookery apron fastened around her waist, turned at the clatter of my hooves on the wooden steps. "Oh, hi, Novella. You haven't seen Voltare, have you?" I shook my head and went to check the letterbox. Sometimes my brother would send a quick note if he couldn't get back for dinner, but there was nothing there today but an advertisement for the Neopia Central Beauty Salon and a misdirected letter meant for the Acara two doors down. It looked rather likely that I would be getting Voltare's bacon.

     I went back to my desk and to the letter I was writing to my penpal, a young Gelert named Ricky, who lived in Neopia Central with his sister. I had never seen the big city myself; before Voltare and I came to live with Fiona, we had lived in a house on the banks of Kiko Lake. I had been very young when we left that house, and I wasn't even sure I could find my way back to the lake. Voltare had travelled more than I had, but there were places that even he hadn't visited, like the Lost Desert and Terror Mountain. As for me, I let the city-wise Ricky be my guide.

     ...I don't know, Ricky, if I told you that I'm going to Neoschool classes now. They're holding lessons in one of the old castle towers, five days a week. Voltare always walks me there, and I learn my easier lessons while he studies things like astronomy, advanced history and geography. One day I hope to learn those things, too.

     The teacher at Neoschool can never remember my name. It wouldn't be a problem in itself, but another white Ixi joined our class last week, so she had to do something about it. Now she calls me Nieva, Minerva, Vinetta, Nykeva... she knows there's an N and a V in it, but that's about as much as she manages. I don't mind it much. Her best one was yesterday's: Savannah_my_neo. Don't know where that one came from! If she'd only call me Ellanova, like Voltare does, I'm sure it would be easier. I've always loved that name.

     Well, I must sign off now. It's time for tea. Do write soon, I'm anxious to know how your classes are going. And whatever did happen with your sister and that angry Usul?

     Talk to you soon,

     Novella

     I stuck a five-Neopoint stamp on the envelope and wrote the address neatly: Rickaira the Gelert, 189923 Kadoatery Street, Neopia Central. Leaving it sealed on the sofa arm downstairs, I went out into Meridell to have one last look for Voltare before dinner.

     A purple Bruce playing in the castle courtyard thought he remembered seeing a Darigan Kougra flying overhead, heading southwards. It sounded an odd thing for my brother to do, but I gazed down the southern path for a while, wondering where he was going. Maybe to the big city for some special item, like the smoothies and scarves he bought for me occasionally. Or perhaps he'd heard some report of a Neopet in distress and he just had to help, despite the fact that Fiona and dinner were waiting. My big brother was like that; always ready to help anybody who needed it. People got frightened sometimes because of his threatening appearance, but Voltare was the sweetest Kougra in the world.

     I shrugged, turned around and headed back home. Fiona would be waiting for me.

     *

     "Novella, be a good girl and pass me down the cocoa," Fiona told me, stirring something in a bowl with such effort that her elbows were jammed out at either side. I jumped obediently onto a chair and reached the jar that stood on the top shelf of the cupboard.

     "What're you making, Fiona?" I asked, carrying the cocoa jar across the kitchen in my mouth.

     "Chocolate cake for Voltare," she answered, not stopping her ferocious beating of the mixture. "If he can't get home in time for dinner, I'm not going to stay up waiting to cook him something. I'll leave him some cake and go to bed."

     True to her word, she took the cake from the oven and left it to cool on the rack before mounting the stairs. I followed her up, glad to get into my own comfy bed and rest my tired eyes. As I snuggled into the blanket, clutching my favourite Buzz Toy close to my heart, my final thought before sleeping was: Where can Voltare be?

     *

     I woke.

     It was still dark, save for a beam of moonlight that was shining through the gap in my curtains. Surely it could only be about two o'clock in the morning. Why had I woken?

     Then I heard pawsteps on the garden path, and I realised that it must have been the click of the gate that had roused me. It was Voltare, it had to be. He was back. Sitting up in bed, I peeked through the curtains out of the window, and saw to my relief the familiar shadow of a winged Kougra outside.

     Not wanting to disturb Fiona, I tip-hooved down the stairs and opened the front door as quietly as I could. "Glad you're back, big brother," I whispered. "There's some cake for you in the kitchen."

     He didn't say a word to me-- I assumed he was too tired-- but he seemed to enjoy the chocolate cake, which he wolfed down at the speed of a hungry Werelupe. I brushed his fur down as he ate; it was tangled and dusty, with leaves caught in it. Presumably he'd been rescuing some baby pet out in the forest, or helping someone's Kadoatie down from a tree.

     When the cake had been reduced to crumbs, I coaxed Voltare into going to bed, making sure that we both got upstairs as quietly as possible. Fiona had had a very busy day and she obviously needed her rest. Once he was in bed, still too exhausted to speak, I crept back to my room. The Buzz toy was where I had left it, the clock ticking towards half-past-two. I was asleep before I could think about tonight any more.

     *

     He was gone by breakfast.

     Fiona and I ate our toast and marmalade without comment, then she left me in the house while she walked to a friend's house. His Eyrie would be giving her a copy of the daily newspaper, newly flown in from the city on his morning run. That was how we tended to get our news; Fiona wasn't quite ready for the detached life enjoyed by other Meridell citizens, and she still liked to hear what was going on in the rest of the world.

     When the knock on the door came, I thought it must be her. Instead, a fierce-looking Moehog dressed in red and yellow stood at the door, surrounded by tough, muscular pets, all of them stern and unfamiliar. Frightened, I backed away from them, wondering if a closed door would hold the strangers off until Fiona's return.

     "Are you Fiona Skyler?" asked one of them, holding out a badge in his paw.

     "No, she's my owner," I told him, feeling slightly less afraid. "I'm Novella. Um, Novella_my_neo. Fiona will be back soon if you want to see her. Er-- who are you?"

     "Madam, we're the Defenders of Neopia," the leading Neopet said briskly. "We'd like to speak to your owner."

     "Wait here!" I gasped, and took to my heels.

     Fiona was chatting to the Eyrie's owner, a tall boy with coffee-coloured hair, while sipping a mug of berry fizz. I dashed into the living-room, knocking over a houseplant and almost stepping on a wayward Petpet.

     "Oh, Fiona!" I exclaimed, throwing myself at her. "The Defenders of Neopia want to talk to us! What could be wrong, Fi?"

     My owner stood up, lifting me off the ground with a gentle calm that reassured me. "It's bound to be nothing," she said soothingly. "Maybe somebody's lost a Doglefox, or they might want to talk about that Cybunny that's been eating my prize rowzes." Carrying me, she walked unhurried back to the house.

     When we got there, the Moehog in front caught Fiona's arm before she could go into the front room. Unlocking the door, she put me down. "Go inside," she said, "I'm sure I won't be a minute."

     I went in, flopping onto the couch in exhaustion as her voice alternated with the Defenders', too faint for me to hear the words. My owner's pet Waterfish watched me idly from the glass bowl on the dresser.

     Finally, she came. I jumped from the sofa to meet her, but she seemed to resist my hug of relief and welcome. Her eyes had lost their sparkle, and there was a worried look about her that I hadn't seen before.

     "Novella," she asked me quietly, handing over the newspaper she'd carried under her arm, "had you seen this?"

     I read the words:

     Mystery Assailant Robs Magical Battle Shop, Neopia Central

     Shopkeeper Injured in Incident

     "No," I admitted. "What about it? There was a similar story a few weeks ago-- a Lenny, wasn't it?"

     "There was," Fiona agreed. "But this story isn't about a Lenny, Novella. This one is about a Darigan Kougra, who attacked a shopkeeper last night and stole his stock. I'm sorry, but..."

     Fiona's eyes were brimming with disbelieving tears as she spoke.

     "Novella, the Kougra looked exactly like Voltare."

To be continued...

 
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