Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 108,522,844 Issue: 217 | 18th day of Storing, Y7
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The Marketplace Artist


by winged_sandals

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Aric rubbed his temple, trying to relieve the aching that wracked his brain. He had been awake for twenty-four hours, scouting for jobs in every corner of Neopia Central; from a waiting job at the Food Shop to simple cleaning businesses. But it was all to no avail. No one wanted to hire a scraggly, ill-looking Zafara for their store.

      He absentmindedly ran his fingers through his white fur, letting out a sigh. It looked like he'd be doomed to a life of poverty forever. His owner had been foolish, gambling and playing the lottery with neopoints he didn't even have, until one day he got himself into such a rut that he fled from Neopia entirely. Then, without anyone else to pay his owner's massive debts, Aric had been forced to give up everything he owned, every last neopoint he had to his name. Which left him here: in a dusty flat on top of the Kadoatery with yowling petpets day in and day out and an equally ominous landlady.

      Aric sighed again, shaking his pained head. There was no use in feeling sorry for himself. If he kept thinking about his situation, he would just sink into despair and never come out. He took a deep breath, fighting back tears, and let it out again. He just had to relax. As hard as things seemed at the moment, they would eventually get better… Wouldn't they?

      A Kadoatie's howl from downstairs jerked him away from his thoughts. For once, he was thankful for the noise. As soon as his mind was off of his troubles, he put up a wall around himself and refused to think. It was really the only way he could be happy.

      Longing for a setting more cheerful than his cramped, ugly room, he stood from his seat at his desk and hurried downstairs. The Kadoatery was filled with Neopets and owners, cuddling and feeding the many Kadoaties that littered the room. Aric was thankful for the crowd and attempted to sneak to the door. But right before he'd made it to freedom, a plump hand grabbed his shoulder.

      "Aric Bloom!" came the all-too-familiar voice of his landlady. "I'm still waiting for that rent!"

      Aric reluctantly turned around, looking defeated. The Kadoatery owner, a chubby red Aisha, was looming over him, looking a little too sour to fit in the room full of happy Kadoaties and cooing owners. She was giving him a glare that was enough to make Lord Darigan cower.

      "Sorry, Mrs. Glinder," Aric mumbled. "I haven't got it."

      "You haven't got it?" Glinder screeched. "You haven't got it? How can you not have it? I've been asking for the rent for a month now! I can't just let you stay in my shop for free, Mr. Bloom. I have needs too, you know!"

      I'm sure you do, Aric thought sarcastically, before he could stop himself. You have those Kadoaties to feed… Oh wait, I forgot. You just stuff them into little cages and let other people feed them!

      "I'm sorry, Mrs. Glinder," Aric said, his voice impressively steady. "I promise I'll have it to you this week. I'm just having a bit of a rough time…"

      "Did I ever say that I cared?" Glinder interrupted. "Just get me that rent by this weekend or you're out of here!"

      And with that, she stomped away. Aric sighed, concentrating on putting up his wall again, and exited the shop.

     ***

      Aric had only truly loved two things in his life: his owner and drawing. The previous was now associated with bitterness and harsh memories, but the latter still gave Aric a bit of peace and joy. Now, as he was walking through Neopia Central, he pulled a small sketchbook and pencil from his tattered coat. He sat down on a rock near the Money Tree and looked around for something to draw.

      It was a beautiful day. The sun smiled down on the marketplace and all of the shops (and the shoppers for that matter) seemed to shine. Aric let the warmth soak into him and started sketching the sky. It was flawlessly beautiful, at least to him, with perfectly placed clouds and endless blue. He only regretted that he couldn't color it.

      As he was consumed with his drawing, he didn't notice as a young Neopet approached him. It was a Cybunny, a beautiful one, with luxurious pink fur and velvety ears. And yet, she looked even more miserable than he. She sat down near him, obviously as unaware of his presence as he was of hers, and tears started to roll down her cheeks. At last, Aric heard her sniff and looked up.

      His green eyes widened slightly.

      The Cybunny's appearance was so pitiful that he felt obliged to help, but he wasn't sure how. He tapped his pencil against his sketchbook nervously, biting his lip. Then, finally, he cleared his throat.

      "Um… excuse me?" he said.

      The Cybunny looked up, her watery eyes setting on the Zafara for the first time. She looked a little surprised, but her sadness was still dominant on her face.

      "Y-yes?" she sniffled.

      Aric started tapping his pencil again, searching for words. "Er… I'm sorry to bother you…" he said. "But… well, you seem a bit upset."

      He internally winced. Saying that she seemed "a bit upset" was probably as big an understatement as saying that the universe was rather spacious. But she didn't seem to mind.

      "I-I suppose…" she said. Her voice was stretched thin, close to breaking.

      "Well, what's wrong?" Aric asked, regaining what little composure he had.

      The Cybunny looked at him, her wet eyes confused.

      "I was just wondering…" Aric answered the unasked question. "It makes me sad that you're so upset."

      The Cybunny smiled a little. "Thank you," she said. "But really, I don't think you can help…"

      Aric closed his sketchbook and gave her his full attention. "Try me."

      "Alright…" the Cybunny said. "Well, the thing is that… my owner left me."

      Aric felt a pang of familiarity and sorrow hit his chest. "Why?" he asked.

      "She's gone to Terror Mountain!" the Cybunny wailed. "And she didn't take me with her!"

      Aric had to fight to keep his jaw from dropping. That was it? Her owner was just away on a little trip? He felt like shouting, but he kept his head level. The Cybunny had no idea of what he had been through. Therefore, he had no right to be mad at her.

      "Um… I see," he said. "Well, she'll be back soon, right?"

      "M-maybe…" the Cybunny quavered. "But I miss her! I feel so lonely…"

      Aric smiled sadly. He knew a lot about how loneliness felt.

      "Well, why don't you stay here with me?" he asked. "I can keep you company until your owner gets back. How does that sound?"

      The Cybunny's face noticeably brightened. "Really?" she said. "You'll stay with me?"

      Aric nodded. A little voice at the back of his head said that he had to work on finding a job to pay the rent, or else he'd be living on the streets in a few days. But his heart told him that the young Cybunny needed him at the moment. So he stayed.

     ***

      For the rest of the day, Aric stayed by the Money Tree, chatting with the Cybunny and calming her. She was easily consoled and soon she was laughing and telling Aric a bunch of happy stories about her life. She talked about how kind her owner, Stephanie, was and how much fun they had together. All the while, Aric listened with a smile on his face, feeling happy despite the biting envy inside of him.

      Soon, the sun had fallen and it was time for Aric to return to his dusty flat. When he said so, the little Cybunny seemed to wilt.

      "Oh…" she said. "I guess I have to go back to my neohome too…"

      She sighed. Her owner still wasn't back.

      "Don't worry," said Aric. "I bet Stephanie will be back tonight. If not, then we can do this again tomorrow. If you're lonely, meet me here at this same place. I'd be happy to keep you company again."

      "Really?" the Cybunny asked. "Oh thank you! Um…" She blinked. "Oh wow. We've had this huge big conversation and I don't even know your name!"

      The Zafara smiled. "I'm Aric," he said.

      "I'm Lilly," said the Cybunny.

      And with one last goodbye, they parted and Aric returned to his gloomy room, surrounded by the loud snores of Glinder and the moans of the Kadoaties that hadn't been fed.

     ***

      The next day was Thursday, meaning that the weekend was only two days away. Aric knew he had to find a job, but his character didn't allow for him to forget his promise to Lilly. That morning, he took his sketchbook and went to the Money Tree, hoping that the Cybunny wouldn't be there. But she was.

      Lilly was sitting there, looking sad and lonely, but she grinned when she saw him. She got up and ran over to him, giving him a hug. Aric was too startled to hug back and just stared at her when she withdrew.

      "Stephanie isn't back yet," she said. "Thanks for coming!"

      Aric smiled, although he felt wildly troubled. The little voice at the back of his head that had bothered him yesterday was screaming now: DITCH THE CYBUNNY; GET A JOB! But seeing how happy Lilly was, Aric just couldn't bring himself to do it. He spent another day with her, listening to her happy stories.

     ***

      To Aric's great dismay, the next day was the same. Lilly's owner still hadn't returned. And so, he spent another day with her, doing the best he could to be kind and make the little Neopet happy. He drew pictures of her in his sketchbook and she admired them, doodling a few of him in return. When the weekend finally arrived, Aric returned to the Money Tree and saw that Lilly was gone. Stephanie had apparently returned. The Zafara's heart patted him on the back for his good deeds, but the rest of him scolded his foolishness.

     ***

      "Where's the rent?" Glinder barked later that night, her bulging arms crossed.

      Aric gulped. The two of them were standing in the Kadoatery; the shop was closed and the only things that bore witness to the conversation were the petpets peering curiously from their cages. The Zafara still didn't have any NP and the hands that held his sketchbook quivered.

      "I-I haven't got it…" he said, miserably.

      Glinder's eyes sparked. "WHAT?" she snapped. "I gave you three days! Where are my neopoints?"

      "I'm sorry…" said Aric.

      "Sorry isn't good enough!" Glinder howled. She screamed so loudly that the Kadoaties all squeaked and tried to squeeze themselves as far back into their cages as possible. Unfortunately for Aric, he had no metal bars to protect him.

      "I'm sorry…" he repeated, unsure of what else to say.

      Glinder grabbed his arm. "I told you what I'd do if I didn't get the rent!" she hissed. "And I'm always true to my word."

      And thus, Aric found himself on the streets with the door to the only home he had left slammed in his face.

     ***

      Aric did the only thing he could do: he cried.

      He sat by the Money Tree, in the same spot where he had met with Lilly on those days when he should have been helping himself, and he cried. All of the sorrows that had welled up inside of him, that he had kept so well-contained, burst forward, shattering his wall. He curled up in a ball, hugging his knees, and sobbed. He felt so lost, so alone, exactly how Lilly had felt. And now, just like then, someone came to the crying Neopet's aid.

      "Aric?"

      Aric looked up, his fur still matted with tears. Standing in front of him, worry and shock all over her face, was a familiar pink Cybunny. A human was standing beside her; a tall girl with black hair and an equally worried expression. Lilly and Stephanie.

      Aric tried to hide his tears, but it was too late. Lilly hurried over to him and hugged him, letting him cry into her fur.

      "Don't you have a home?" the Cybunny asked, horrified. "Don't you have an owner?"

      Unable to speak around his tears, Aric just shook his head. Stephanie kneeled down next to the two Neopets and wrapped her arms around them.

      "You're the Zafara that helped my Lilly," she said. "Now, let us help you."

      At those words, Aric melted with relief. Finally, he didn't have to worry. Finally, he had someone to help him. His tears stopped flowing and he murmured a quiet "thank you"…

     ***

      One week later, Aric completely loved four things in his life: his new home, his new sister, his new owner, and drawing.

      Stephanie adopted him and he lived with her and Lilly for the rest of his happy life. Years later, when he was a changed and joyful Zafara, he would walk by the Kadoatery and see that it was under new management. That a kind Blumaroo took over the shop after Glinder was run out of town by fierce Neopians, angry at her poor treatment of the petpets. And he would notice, with a smile, that fate had rewarded him for his kindness.

      And Glinder, just like him, had gotten what she deserved.

The End

 
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