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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 21st day of Swimming, Yr 26
The Neopian Times Week 79 > Continuing Series > What Came Before the Number Five: Part Two

What Came Before the Number Five: Part Two

by noremac9

Five months passed by, and life had changed for all that lived under the rule of Darigan. The crops were finally starting to look like they wouldn't survive another day, most of the pets had become somewhat hideous and deformed, and the sky overhead grew dark. Though life in the city went by as usual, it was just harder. Unfortunately for Arous, he was never able to return to Jelly World. He had to work more and more, since it was harder to get anything done under the kingdom's new-found curse. Every time he would make plans to leave, something would come up. Of course, in the five months that passed he had only made two attempts to move there, so it's not entirely surprising things had gotten in the way. Life was especially hard for all that saw Arous. He never changed, not even a little. His fur was yellow, his eyes were bright, and his attitude was chipper. He had every reason to be chipper, too. Unlike the other pets, he wasn't considered disgusting and unattractive. However, instead of making him popular, it made him hated. All were jealous that he had had the good luck of being gone when the Orb was stolen. He became hated so much. He could hardly talk to anyone without being snorted at, as if he was a worthless worm.

     Needless to say, life was tough for Arous.

     Finally, it was all too much for Initor. His jealousy was so great, so terrible, that he would have slain Arous to look as his friend did. But that wouldn't have accomplished anything, and so he didn't. Instead, a plan was forming in his mind, one that would rid him of his old friend forever, without a drop of blood spilled

* * *

     Three knocks on his door let Arous know someone was impatiently waiting. After opening the door, he was quite surprised to see the captain of the guard staring him in the face.

     "Come in," welcomed Arous, not at all pleased with his new guest. The Captain of the guard, a Buzz by the name of Arnoth, entered without so much as a "thank you," and hardly acknowledged Arous' existence. He immediately started opening drawers, looking in cabinets, lifting mattresses, and opening books.

     "Hey, hey stop that!" Arous demanded, confused by his unwelcome guest, "What in Neopia do you think you're doing?"

     The Buzz merely looked at him with his head cocked to the side. What happened next was the most confusing thing that happened to Arous in his life. The Buzz lunged forward and slammed Arous against the wall, bruising his neck badly.

     "WHERE IS IT, YOU NO-GOOD TRAITOR?" the Buzz virtually screamed at him.

     "WHAT? I don't know what you're talking about. I don't, I don't..." Arous pleaded, his head still firmly pressed against the wall.

     "HA! You say that, worthless traitor, but don't they all. I have permission to do things to you, things that aren't at all pleasant. If you don't cooperate, things could get ugly for you," the menacing guard threatened quite seriously.

     "I swear, you can search my whole house, you won't find whatever it is you're looking for. Then again, you haven't even told me what you're looking for, so I might be able to help you," he laughed nervously, trying to sound very helpful.

     The Buzz didn't find it very funny.

     "Oh, you know what I'm looking for. Show me the orders you got from Meridell, the seal of your allegiance to them, your orders to undermine Lord Darigan. Show me all that, and then we'll see how innocent you are." At this the Buzz finally let poor Arous go, and signaled for him to show him what he wanted.

     "I don't have any of that, I swear," Arous said as he paced from room to room with the Buzz close behind, "nothing at all..."

     But then the life of Arous took its greatest turn for the worse. As he said this, the Guard noticed something he had on a small reading table. There it was, clear as a Top of the Mountain Crystal, a seal bearing the word "MERIDELL." The hulking guard grabbed it and examined it closely, confirming what he had already suspected.

     "Then what do you call this, traitor?" the Buzz said, pushing the seal up to his face.

     "Oh, that," Arous laughed, relieved, "my friend, Initor, gave that to me yesterday. He had found it in the grass when they took the Orb many months ago. It's just a trinket, really."

     The guard was not amused. At all. He put the seal in his pocket and lunged for Arous again. He violently wrestled him to the ground, tying Arous' hands behind his back and lifting him up again.

     "WHAT? I DON'T UNDERSTAND!" cried Arous as he was dragged towards the door.

     "That's solid proof, worthless one. Lord Darigan won't think twice about sending you to the dungeons for the rest of your life. How can you deny it? No one else has a seal, and do you think it's a coincidence you were gone when they came," the Buzz paused, and then continued, "also, do you think it was a coincidence you never told anyone where you were? And, do you further think it was a coincidence you were the only one in the whole kingdom whose form has not changed? You insult me with your arguments..."

     Arous was stunned into silence. The evidence against him was insurmountably undeniable. There was no argument he could make against such claims, it all seemed to make such sense. And so, to his horror, he was carried to the heart of the castle, where he would stand trial in front of Lord Darigan.

     One hour later, he sat in a small wooden chair, directly in front of Lord Darigan, ruler of the whole kingdom. There were three witnesses to be brought forth; as was the custom for a Draconian trial, and then the captain of the guard would make his case, since he had found the proof. After that, based on all the evidence and the opinions, Lord Darigan would make the final decision. The three witnesses to be brought forth were Initor, since he was a friend, Arous' next-door neighbor, and an urchin whom often spoke with him (since he usually bummed around near Arous' house). The first to come fourth was Initor.

     "Do you think it is even possible for your friend, Arous, to be guilty?" asked the pet in charge of all court precessions dully.

     "Yes, I think it's quite possible," he started, "in fact, I think it's quite probable. Putting my feelings for him to the side, I must admit, all of the facts add up."

     Arous was in a total state of shock. He thought for sure that his friend would vouch for him, sure that he would stand in his defense. But what happened after that stunned him even greater.

     "He claims you gave him this seal," stated the Captain of the Guard, bring it forth.

     "Hardly," Initor stated, glancing at the seal, "I've never seen it before in my life."

     Arous felt as if all Neopia had fallen on him. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't move. All his senses were at a loss, and his mind felt weighed down. For the rest of the precession he couldn't tell what was going on. His heart pumped in erratic rhythms, and he could only gasp for breath. The only pet that could've redeemed him had now condemned him. Nothing could save him short of a miracle. The only thing he heard before he was sent to the dungeon was a bellowing sound from Lord Darigan.

     "Send this traitor to the dungeon, and never set him free."

     At this, all the strength Arous had left was gone, and it felt as if it would never return. The guards lifted his limp body and carried it down to the depth of the castle. A fresh - actually, it was damp, dark, and musty - cell awaited him in the dungeon. He was cast in to the prison cell, the door clamped tightly behind him.

     "I AM INNOCENT!" he cried at the top of his gasping lungs, over and over again.

     It echoed back to him endlessly in his tiny cell. Half of Arous' mind, body, and spirit left that wretched day.

* * *

"You are tired?" the slow voice of Master Vex, warden of the dungeon, inquired.

     "Don't play with my mind," shot back Arous, who had been in the dungeon for long enough to know what Master Vex was trying to do.

     "I am not playing with it, merely asking you a question. You have only been here less than a month, you don't know me as well as you might think," Vex replied in a casual, soothing manor.

     "I know you well enough, and more than I would like," mumbled Arous, who was in fact very tired.

     "You are tired?" Vex repeated.

     "Be quiet," Arous said again.

     "Tired?" Vex persisted.

     "I told you to leave me alone!" Arous cried.

     "Nevertheless, you ARE tired, no?" Vex relentlessly probed.

     "Yes, okay, I am! Are you happy, master?" Arous gave in.

     "So, you are tired?" Vex repeated.

     "I JUST TOLD YOU! Yes, I am tired!" Arous snapped.

     "So, you are most certainly tired?" Vex asked as he scratched his itching ear.

     "YES! I am most definitely tired! Are you happy?" Arous yelled.

     "Yes, I am happy, and you are tired. I am happy, while you are tired. Happy, tired," Vex stated.

     "Why do you do this?" asked Arous in a defeated tone.

     "Do you notice something about either of those words?" asked Vex, ignoring the prisoner's question.

     "No, nothing," he sighed, growing tired of his warden's mind games.

     "Five. They're both five letters long. Five. Five. You like five, no?" the warden continued, enjoying the mind games he played with the prisoner.

     "Sure, I love five," Arous said, losing all hope of resisting Vex's will.

     "Good," Vex said, and walked out through the door.

     This was not the first visit of this sort, nor the last. Vex would come in every so often (for Arous it was impossible to judge the passage of time. He never saw light, so he could only guess at how long it was) and play his mind games. Arous never understood the meaning of the visits, but Vex seemed to enjoy it. No matter what Vex pestered him with, it always came back to the number Five. It was starting to drive Arous mad, because Vex was merciless during the visits. If only Arous knew what it was all about, then his mind would be much more at ease. But he didn't.

     The only thing Arous had left to cling on to was his memories of the Jelly World and its inhabitants. So happy they were, so careless they stayed, and he had had a chance to share their bliss. But he had chosen a different path, and there was nothing he could do to change that. He would sit on his bench and reminisce about the orange buildings, the happy creatures and the wonderful food. Sometimes, when he actually saw his cellmates, he would tell them about it. They didn't seem to understand, but he didn't care.

     One day, his meeting with Vex went very differently. Vex presented him with a board, and many, many small circular tiles. He said the game was "Cellblock."

     "This," he said, "will bring me hours of enjoyment. But for you, if you beat me, it will grant you freedom."

     Arous was filled with joy. One day, eventually, he was sure he could beat him. He only had to do it once, just once, and he would be free. And how did Vex know he was better than him, anyway? Arous was sure things were looking up, and for the first time in the six months he had been in the dungeon, he had hope.

     "And," continued Vex, "it involves your favorite thing: the number five."

     The number five. Arous liked the number five. He had learned to like it, Vex drilled it into him time after time.

     "Yes," Arous said enthusiastically, "five,"

     After Vex had finished explaining the game to him, they played. They played. Over and over they played game after game, Vex the victor of every single one. Five, Arous thought, trying to get his tiles in a row of five. They played nearly twenty games, Vex the winner of every single one. Vex seemed to enjoy this much more than mind games, and always had something witty to say after his victory. Five, Arous kept thinking, five! He was concentrating hard, he had to win. He must win to gain his freedom.

     Finally, Vex said it was time to call it a day. Thirty-three victories for him, none for Arous. Arous begged ad begged, but Vex wouldn't play another game. He left, not to quit for the day as he told Arous, but because there were other prisoners he had yet to play.

     That night, all Arous could think about was making five in a row. Five, he kept thinking, I must come up with a way to get Five in a row. All night he concentrated (actually, it was day, but it was always dark there) on strategy, and the number Five Five! All night (day, actually) he thought about it, forgetting why for hours upon end. He concentrated harder on it, he had to find a strategy.

     Vex came back and played. Every few days he would come, but Arous never won. Five, he would think, I must figure out a way to make Five! It went on for weeks, he had to keep concentrating. He would sit in his cell, chanting over and over again.

     "Five! Five! Five! Five!" He would cry out.

     Slowly but surely, he forgot about why he was even thinking about it. Vex didn't come by for weeks at a time (he enjoyed playing some of the other, more challenging prisoners). All Arous could think about was Five When Vex saw him, he hardly talked, but he kept thinking about Five He forgot all about strategy. He only thought of Five Occasionally, when he saw his cellmates, he would sit murmuring, Five Five Five over and over again. Eventually, they simply referred to him as Number Five He scarcely thought about Jelly World anymore, but when he did he would merely cry out "JELLY WORLD!" at the top of his weathered lungs. Everything was about Five His obsession became that number, his mind never straying from it. Vex played him less and less, weary of "Number Five" Vex knew most of it was his fault, but it didn't haunt his conscience.

     Arous was never spoken of as Arous again. He was simply, "Number Five"

The End

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What Came Before the Number Five

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