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Adzil's Freedom


by battlesunn

--------

Adzil yawned and stretched in his dingy cell, inching his dusty blue paws along the cement floor and smacking his lips noisily. The Gelert grinned as he looked out the cell's small window.

     "Rain!" he barked. "Fantastic! I love it when it rains. So inspiring!"

     Something from the adjacent cell banged against the wall, accompanied by another pet's hoarse scream of, "Shut up, you nutbar! We're trying to sleep."

     Adzil chuckled. "Sorry!" he called back, receiving no reply save for a few discontented grumbles. The Gelert shrugged and padded across his cell to the large stack of papers that slouched in one of the corners. Humming to himself, Adzil picked up a few sheets of paper and a pencil and began to write, losing himself completely in his work.

     Adzil continued to write for hours, his long, scraggly ears twitching every now and then. He would've written without a single break for the rest of the day had it not been for Dr. Death's regular interruptions during which the Gelert's daily meals were tossed into the cell. Adzil wolfed down the food as quickly as he could, hardly tasting it. He didn't care what he ate; an omelette and a cake were more or less the same thing to him.

     Adzil was one of the few pets who enjoyed life in the Pound. As far as he was concerned, it was more convenient for a pet of his artistic ambitions to live in a place that was virtually free of distractions. He shuddered to think what would happen if he was adopted. Pets that lived with an owner were heaped with obligation-- they had to be deferential, over-affectionate slobbering robots, and what for? Food, shelter, the occasional toy... Adzil was perfectly comfortable in his small cell and was never in want of food, and he had no need for toys. His work was far more fulfilling than any Plushie or puzzle could ever hope to be.

     Adzil fancied himself as a regular Poet Laureate. He whittled away his days writing poetry in all forms; ballads, limericks, haikus, sonnets, free verse, blank verse and, if he was feeling particularly ambitious, epics. The Gelert regularly submitted his poems to the galleries in the Catacombs via his only real friend, Ivan the Pteri, who, despite having an owner of his own, was a frequent visitor to the Pound. Ivan liked to drop by regularly and chat with the pets waiting to be adopted, and it was during one of those visits that he met Adzil. The Pteri had managed to convince Adzil to read him a few of his poems and had been astounded--the Gelert could write, and after carrying on several conversations with him, Ivan discovered that they possessed many mutual interests. They both liked stormy, overcast days, they both had a fine appreciation for poetry and they both were in want of a companion. Neither of them cared to admit it, but even Adzil could not exist without a single friend. Ivan was the same way; he had been unable to relate to anyone. Until, of course, he met Adzil.

     Ivan went fluttering into Adzil's cell (through the window) every week or so for a visit during which Adzil would show him his new work, Ivan would report a bit of news on the current political situations in Neopia, and they would both talk about nothing in particular for a few hours. When he left, Ivan always took a few of Adzil's best poems and submitted them to the poetry gallery (under his owner's name) so that Adzil's work could be widely read. It was an arrangement that suited them both equally well, though Ivan always felt a bit guilty about taking all of the prizes and acclaim that Adzil's poetry garnered for himself and his owner. He told Adzil this, and the Gelert simply laughed and said,

     "What need would I have for trophies and Neopoints? I'm just happy that people are reading my poems. Keep the prizes, Ivan. Your owner needs money to buy food and things for you-- the Pound supplies me with everything that I need."

     Adzil was still immersed in his work when he heard a faint tapping on the stones that bordered his window. The Gelert glanced up and grinned.

     "Ivan! Come on in, I've been wondering when you were going to arrive."

     The Pteri launched himself down into the cell, landing at Adzil's paws. He shook himself quickly, sprinkling water from his damp feathers. It was then that Adzil noticed something different about his friend.

     "Ivan, look at you, you've painted yourself with stripes!" he exclaimed. Ivan chuckled.

     "You like it? I don't know, my owner wanted a change, and the prize from that last poem gallery was a striped paint brush, so..." He shrugged. "It's all right. I think that I liked being starry better, but this is good too."

     "It suits you. And-- oh, you brought me more paper, thank you very much. I was running a bit low; Dr. Death can only spare me so much."

     "It's the least I could do, Adzil." Ivan frowned. "I can't help but feel a bit guilty for taking all of the prizes and things that your poems win." He drummed his feathers thoughtfully against his beak. "What if I brought you a paint brush? You'd look good in shadows, or maybe as a silver Gelert."

     "Are you kidding me? If I was painted then I'd be snapped up by some newbie trophy hunter before I could blink. And you know that that's the last thing I want. I'd be nothing but a second fiddle to a fuzz-brained philistine, and I'd much rather be my own Gelert," he snorted.

     "All right, all right, I understand that. Blue's a good look for you, anyway. But what about... Oh, I don't know, some fancy food? I could bring you red wine or chocolate or whatever you want. You can't possibly enjoy the slop they feed you here."

     "Food isn't something to be enjoyed, it's something that I eat so that I have enough energy to write. Once it's past your mouth it all tastes the same, anyway."

     Ivan ruffled his feathers and sighed. "You're impossible! Look, I just want to do something to make myself feel less... Ungrateful." The Pteri brightened up suddenly. "Hey, I know! What if I brought you a copy of the Neopian Times, or some print outs from the Poems Gallery? That way you could read other people's work, it'd be great!"

     Adzil considered the offer, intrigued. "That's an interesting idea. It would be fun to read other people's poems, just to see what else is out there. Yes, yes, that's an excellent idea! It could be very inspiring, I think." He chuckled. "It might spur me on to be even better."

     Ivan chirped happily. "Fantastic! I'll bring around a few issues of the Neopian Times and the Catacombs newsletter." He smiled. "And I know that it'll feel great to see your own work printed out in something official, something authorized."

     Adzil twirled the end of his tail idly between his paws. "That would be fun. You'll have to tell me which stories in the Neopian Times are your favorite, though. I'm afraid that I don't know any of the authors."

     Ivan clasped his wings together. "They're all wonderful. And, hey, here's an idea! Maybe after you read some of the stories you'll decide to write one of your own."

     "One step at a time, Ivan. Besides, I doubt that I've had enough experience to write a very enthralling tale. And it would be somewhat embarrassing to write a terrible story and then have everyone see it."

     Ivan shrugged. "Whatever curls your tail, I guess. Anyway, you want to know what's going on right now with the Maraquan War, don't you?"

     The two pets spent the next few hours chatting animatedly about current affairs-- the War in Maraqua, the rumors of the Jelly World, the new species of Neopet, (which Adzil referred to as "Grotesque" after seeing the picture that Ivan had of it), and everything else that had happened in the last week. Finally Ivan glanced at the large wall clock that hung in the Pound's foyer and exclaimed that he had been due home an hour before, shouting a quick "Goodbye" over his shoulder as he flew panickedly out of the window. Adzil watched him leave, feeling a little melancholy as he always did after Ivan's departure. He was able to ignore it, however, with thoughts of the stories and poems that Ivan was going to bring him next week.

     ***

     Adzil twitched as he awoke from another long night. He scratched languidly at his scraggly ears and yawned, twisting his head to the left so that he could glance out the window. It was another overcast day, the sky a mottled shade of payne and ivory. The Gelert smiled, remembering Ivan's promise to bring him the Catacombs newsletter and a few copies of the Neopian Times. It was roughly a week's removal from the Pteri's last visit, and Adzil was eagerly awaiting his friend's return.

     He had found it difficult to write during the past week. For the first time in his life, Adzil had something other than his standard, monotonous routine to look forward to, and thoughts of the poems and stories that he would soon be immersing himself in shunted Adzil's muse to the back of his mind. The Gelert had not been overly concerned with this. He had lost the inspiration to write many times before, and had found that a few days' reprieve could be the perfect rememdy for a dried-up idea well. Adzil was used to amusing himself, and passed the time wondering what other authors wrote, and if they were as good as he was.

     The Gelert perked an ear and grinned. He heard the frenzied scrabbling sound of gangly claws scraping against mortar stone that could only be Ivan, having finally arrived to deliver Adzil's cornucopia of Neopian literature.

     Adzil's manner was almost puppyish as he jumped and barked about the cell, excited at the Pteri's return. Ivan sniggered.

     "Calm down, Fido, I haven't got any biscuits," he said, shouldering off a bulging backpack. Adzil eyed his burden hungrily.

     "You must have brought quite a bit," he said, advancing on the bag. "It looks heavy."

     "It is heavy. But you deserve it, my friend. Here, dig in." Ivan unzipped the backpack and tossed Adzil the most recent copy of the Catacombs newsletter, which Adzil caught in the air and began to read. The Pteri fluttered down to sit on his friend's shoulder as he read.

     "I think-- yes, one of yours is in that one," he commented. "That ballad you wrote about the Peophin three stalls down from you, I submitted it for the Peophin Day special. There it is." Ivan patted Adzil's head. "It must be nice to see your work in print, eh?" Adzil didn't answer.

     "This is incredible," he said softly. Ivan glanced at him.

     "Seeing it in print?" he questioned. The Gelert shook his head, an almost surprised expression on his muzzle.

     "No, this sonnet here. It's about a Peophin called Harquin. It's incredible." His eyes hardened a little. "I could never write like this, nothing this good."

     "Don't say that, Adzil. Your poems are fantastic, everyone says so."

     "My poems are nothing compared to this!" He dove back into the bag. "I want to read more. How many did you bring?"

     "A few-- oh! That's a copy of the Neopian Times, last week's edition. I only brought one of those because they're rather heavy... Adzil?"

     The Gelert was flipping through the paper with an odd countenance to his face. "These stories, Ivan. I never knew that Neopia was home to so many talented people. To think that all my life, I've been sitting in this cell and basking in my own feeble attempts at poetry and prose when there was a whole empire of master artisans creating such brilliant pieces of work!"

     "Well, yes, there are some pretty good writers out there," Ivan began warily. Adzil cut him off.

     "Pretty good! If this is 'pretty good' then what am I? Terrible! That's it, terrible!" He flung the paper viciously to the ground. Ivan took to the air with a squawk of surprise.

     "Adzil, calm down! What's the matter with you? I've never seen you so worked up!" The Gelert looked despairingly at his friend.

     "Ivan, I'm horrible! All this time I've sat here, writing little ditties, thinking that I was a fine poet, that I had something great to offer, something that no one else could, and now..." His voice cracked a little. "I was wrong. I thought-- I thought that when I read the other poems they would be worse than my own, that I would get some sort of self-affirmation from them, and it's the exact opposite! I hate my work! I hate it! They're better than I am, and I hate it!" Adzil sobbed. Ivan fluttered down and placed a sympathetic wing on his friend's heaving shoulders, regretting having ever suggested that he bring over some other poems for Adzil to read.

     "Adzil, your poems are wonderful, really! I mean, they wouldn't accept them if they weren't good, would they?" Adzil continued to sniffle. Ivan sighed. "I'm sorry, Adzil, it's my fault. I shouldn't have convinced you to read them. I thought that you'd enjoy it, but I was wrong." The Gelert gently shrugged off Ivan's feathers.

     "No, no," he replied quietly, having regained some of his composure. "It's all right. This is good, I think. I know what I've got to do now, what I have to contend with." The Gelert's voice had taken on a strange tone. "I'll continue to work until I'm better. Better than I used to be, and better than them. This will give me some purpose." He smiled. "Thank you for bringing me those papers, Ivan. And-- if it's not too much to ask-- could you perhaps bring me next week's, too? I want to see what I'm up against in terms of poetry."

     "Well, sure, Adzil, anything for you. But..." Ivan frowned. "It's not a contest, you know." The Gelert laughed.

     "Of course it is! They call it the Poetry Contest, don't they? There are definite winners, and definite losers." He stiffened his ears. "I want to be one of the winners. I will be one of the winners. The best winner. You'll see."

     Ivan nodded warily, and then helped Adzil to remove the rest of the newsletters from the bag. Hoisting the newly emptied backpack over his wings, the Pteri bade goodbye to his friend and soared off, wondering if he was doing was right thing by nourishing Adzil's new obsession.

     ***

     Adzil paced restlessly in his cell, grinding his teeth and twitching his ears. He was waiting for Ivan, or, more importantly, waiting for the new Catacombs Newsletter.

     If Adzil had found it difficult to write in anticipation of reading other people's work, then it was nearly impossible after having done so. Every time he sat down and put his pencil to the page, his mind completely shut down. He couldn't derive inspiration from anything. Rather than write, he would spend hours and hours pouring over the poems that Ivan brought, picking them apart stanza by stanza, analyzing exactly what made them so great, and what made his own work seem feeble in comparison.

     Ivan came nearly every day, delivering a copy of the Catacombs newsletter to Adzil the second they hit the stands. The Pteri was operating on his friend's request; Adzil was adamant in his demands to read each new batch of poems as soon as they were published.

     While Ivan's visits had become more frequent, they had also been shortened. Adzil never wanted to chat about Neopian politics, mull over current affairs, or just banter for the fun of it. All the Gelert wanted were the poems-- it was an obsession that Ivan couldn't quite understand, but one that he didn't neglect to indulge.

     Adzil continued to wheel about the cell, scraping his claws against the floor. His head was down, and he padded roughly forward until he met with resistance-- his head had hit something hard, something cold. The Gelert raised his eyes and blinked back surprise.

     The bars of his cage were pressed up against his snout, filling his nostrils with the tangy scent of rusted iron. He had never been so close to the bars. He had hardly even noticed them before. The Gelert stepped back, and continued his retreat until, again, he hit a wall, the back wall of the cell--a surface of rough stone as opposed to smooth metal, but just as containing. Adzil was shocked.

     "Three paces?" he wondered aloud. "Can I really only go three paces in here?" He tested it-- walking three paces in all four directions. Sure enough, the third step led him right into a wall.

     "Three paces," he murmured, lowering himself to the cold ground. "I never realized how small it was."

     Adzil glanced towards the left corner of his cage. There sat his supply of scrap paper, along with a few worn pencils. The paper was untouched, coated with a thin sheen of dust. The Gelert crossed to the papers and nudged them with his paw, sending a tide of white scrap spilling over the stone floor.

     The cage had never seemed small before. Adzil often stayed in one spot for hours on end, making no movements aside from the occasional twitch of his tail and the pass of his paw over the page. He hadn't paid much attention to the bars, either. They were insubstantial when you were in your own world, as Adzil was when he wrote.

     The Gelert growled and jumped back to the bars, pawing at them mercilessly. The bars were so distracting now. How could he concentrate on writing--and on getting better-- when they were standing there and casting irritating shadows over the entire space?

     Adzil was interrupted from his reverie by Ivan's unannounced entrance. The Pteri glided down to the Gelert, dropping the new Catacombs newsletter into his paws. Adzil fell upon the paper with all the voracity of a starved Lupe, scraping his eyes over the page and furrowing his brow in contemplation. Ivan watched in silence.

     "Well?" he finally prompted. Adzil snapped his head up.

     "What?"

     "Have you written anything new?"

     "Of course I haven't!" He pawed the ground in frustration. "How can I? Look at this place! Look at those bars! I can't concentrate on anything with them here." Ivan raised an eyebrow.

     "The bars have always been there, Adzil. You just never used to care." Adzil ignored him, continuing his tirade.

     "And how can I finish anything when it's just going to be terrible? What's the point? There's always something better in this newsletter."

     "So? That never used to bother you!" Adzil turned to him, eyes blazing.

     "How could've they bothered me, you idiot? I didn't even know that they existed!"

     Ivan was stung. Adzil had never spoken to him that way throughout all the months of their friendship. The Pteri lowered his head and ruffled his wings, preparing to take off. Adzil faltered.

     "Ivan-- I didn't mean that, I'm just under stress right now because I can't write." He sighed brokenly. "You don't know what it's like, Ivan. I feel worthless, like I can't do anything at all. What's my life worth? I do nothing. I used to write, and that was fine, but I can't even do that now. And even if I do manage to finish something then it's something horrible. So everything that I defined myself by is something that I can't do, or that I can't do well." He looked at the bars again. "I'm scared, Ivan. I'm trapped. I don't want to feel this way any longer. I don't want to die alone in this place, with nothing to my name but two old pencils and a heap of unused paper." Ivan widened his eyes.

     "But Adzil, your poems are good!" he said in bewilderment. Adzil clenched his teeth.

     "They're not good enough. They're not as good as theirs," he stated. Ivan was silent for a moment, before the Pteri finally spoke, his voice quavering.

     "I'm sorry Adzil. I don't know how to help you. I, um, I have to go." He flew up to the windowsill. "But I liked your poems."

     Adzil watched him leave, feeling strangely numb about everything that had just occurred. The Gelert leaned his head against the bars, finding an odd sort of comfort in their cool, unflinching presence. Looking out, he noticed that many other pets were doing the same thing, they were all resting against the bars and gazing despairingly over the compound. He was suddenly struck by a thought.

     "Hey!" he shouted, addressing a haggard Acara. The Neopet surveyed him blearily.

     "What?"

     "What do you want to do?" Adzil asked simply. He felt a bit foolish after the question, but he was genuinely curious. What did these pets have to live for? The Acara's nostrils flared.

     "Get adopted, stupid. What do you think?" he replied brusquely. Adzil nodded, and then receded from the bars, melting into the deepening shadows of his cage.

     "Get adopted," he echoed, rolling the words around in his mouth. "I guess I don't have anything better to do."

     Adzil's hard features eased into a more neutral expression, an blissful smile stretching over his face. "I should look cute," he mused. "That's what I'll do. I'll look cute and smile and get adopted and leave, and then I won't be distracted by those darn bars."

     The Gelert yawned and crawled back to the front of the cage, resting his head on his paws and curling up into a contented ball. "I never really fancied myself as an author, anyway," he murmured to himself. "Such a waste, holed up in here writing nothing, when I could've been free."

     Adzil's mind cleared as he fell asleep, and the next morning, he was adopted.

The End

 
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