Waiting for Anna: Part Eleven
The Brightvale chapter of the Association of Neopian Entertainers sits on a corner, as much as there are corners in Brightvale. It is a small, squat building. The green and gold pendant of Brightvale is accompanied on the front of the building by a pendant with a bright design, which is no doubt intended to represent Neopia's entertainers.
Anna hesitates before the door, and then turns and hugs Biblius fiercely.
"Thank you," she whispers in his ear. "For everything."
He chuckles and hugs her back. "My pleasure."
Biblius opens the door for her, and gives her a reassuring smile.
"Are you Anna? That is, are you the magician?"
The Aisha glances at Biblius, then looks around at Brightvale, and steps into the room. The door falls shut behind her.
"I'm Annabelle," she tells the receptionist. "The magician."
Everything happens too quickly after that.
When Annabelle catches up with herself, she's sitting on a faerie train. The countryside flashes by outside. A representative from the Association--a green Uni--sits across from her.
"Your first time out of Brightvale?" the Uni asks her kindly.
Annabelle looks out the window. "Sure." She lets the silence come. Someone bustles by in the passage outside. From somewhere down the corridor comes the clinking of silverware and porcelain.
"When would you like dinner to be served?"
The Aisha glances back at the Uni. "Whenever is convenient." She looks back out the window. Is it still Brightvale, or the edge of the Haunted Woods, or the empty grasslands between the two? She remembers seeing a map of Neopia in one of Biblius's books.
"We'll be staying on the train tonight. Your luggage is in your compartment."
To placate her, Annabelle says, "All right. Thank you." She puts her paw up to the glass, rests it there. Even Brightvale seems very far away already. Meridell is only a vague memory. She turns away from the window, her head aching suddenly. "Where is my compartment? I'd like to rest, please."
Thanks to her nap of the day before, Annabelle is one of the first passengers up on the Brightvale - Neopia Central train. The employees were up long ago, of course.
She watches Neopia Central approach, leaning against the window to catch her first glimpse of it. All she knows about it is what she learned from Biblius's books, and she didn't read many about the rest of Neopia. She mostly read Faerie tales.
Annabelle turns away from the window and goes to the corridor. "Excuse me, sir?"
A Nimmo in sharp black and white stops. "What is your wish, ma'am?"
"Ah--I'd like breakfast, please."
"Very good, madam." He bows and continues on his way. Annabelle recedes back to her seat, feeling put in her place without being quite sure where that place is.
When the Uni comes in, breakfast is there and Annabelle is up, dressed, and eating.
"That looks good. May I have some?" she asks.
Annabelle looks up and frowns. "Of course." She pushes the dishes carefully towards the Uni, one by one, so that she can serve herself.
It's midmorning when the train pulls into Neopia Central Station. The passengers pile off in carefully diverted streams, Annabelle and the Uni among them.
"You'll be staying in the Association's rooms, at least at first," the Uni tells her, walking slightly faster than Annabelle is able to. The Aisha is carrying her own luggage; she insisted. It grounds her, in more ways than one. "We let all performers stay there for a few weeks at the very least, to let them get their feet. Since many of our members and residents come from around Neopia, it's hard for them sometimes to adjust to life in Neopia Central."
Annabelle isn't listening. Instead she is staring up at the buildings. Each is taller than the one before, it seems, with more glass and steel.
"This way." The Uni turns a corner sharply, and Annabelle hurries to catch up. "Your first show will be in about a week--you'll have to look at the schedule for the exact date. No one will be expecting it to be amazing. It's a very low-pressure event. A few of the higher-ups in your profession will be invited, as a sort of evaluation. By then you will have signed our contract, of course, so it's not like we're going to kick you out if you're not good enough. The only reason for the evaluation is to help guide you to become a more experienced performer. Right here again."
The Uni leads her through a series of confusing turns, down streets of dizzyingly tall buildings squished together and then up avenues with just a few low, grand constructions. The Association's headquarters turns out to be one of the latter. It has red carpet leading up to the doors, which are glass with gold trim, and a high lobby with chandeliers.
"Welcome home." The Uni opens the door for Annabelle herself. The Aisha glances down to make sure her feet aren't getting mud on the carpet, and then steps inside.
"Another one? What's this one?"
Annabelle is following the Uni up a flight of stairs, and trying to look as if she's surrounded by such extravagance every day by way of staring down at the floor, but at this exchange she looks up.
A young Ruki is hanging over the balcony on the next floor up, staring frankly down at her. Annabelle stares right back and keeps climbing, following the Uni up the rest of the stairs.
The yellow Ruki comes to meet them at the top.
"My name is Kell, and I'm a musician," he tells Annabelle. "I'm going to be famous one day. Where did you come from, Meridell? You look like a peasant."
"Now, now, Kell," the Uni says, but not very reproachfully. "This is Annabelle. She's from Brightvale."
"Oh!" Kell goes wide-eyed. "I heard those people were all smart. Will you help me with my algebra homework?"
"We have lessons?" Annabelle asks the Uni.
"Of course we do," Kell says before the Uni can say anything. "Don't you have lessons in Brightvale?"
Annabelle has to think about this. "I never went to any," she tells him, which is, at least, the truth.
His eyes go round again. "Really? I'll have to tell Mr. Nashy that! Every time I tell him I don't want lessons, he tells me that in Brightvale they have to go to school every day, even weekends and summer!"
The Ruki runs away, four feet helping him move quickly along the hallway, and disappears into a room.
"That may not have been the wisest move," the Uni murmurs to her, but she's smiling faintly.
Annabelle glances after the Ruki--Kell--and shrugs. "Where did you say my room is?"
That evening at dinner she's introduced to the whole family. In addition to Kell, there's an actor, a singer, two comedians, and a few dancers, none of which she can keep straight.
The next few days go by too quickly. Annabelle tries to figure out the schedule, but it seems impossible. Every time she thinks she has it, someone runs past, telling her in a shout that they'll both be late for something. The Aisha grows adept at dropping everything and running, and starts keeping a pen and a small notebook in her pocket just in case the place they're running to is lessons.
The teacher, a grey Kacheek, frowns at Annabelle at first, mostly because she's always late but partially because she knows only what she read in Biblius's books. But at the end of the first week, it's Mr. Nashy who beckons her over at the end of lessons and gives her a sheet of paper with her schedule written out on it.
After that, Annabelle makes a point of being on time.
Run off her feet as she is during the first week, she doesn't even have time to think about the "first performance" the Uni told her about. When it comes up, she goes to the theater with her props and does the same show that she did for the Brightvalian talent show. She knows that one by heart, now.
Something is missing from the performance, but Annabelle doesn't realize until the end that she didn't see her brother out in the audience.
They don't show her the feedback, but two of the five professional stage magicians on the panel make a point of stopping her afterward to compliment her.
The first month she only does two shows. There is no time for more than two, and even that is pushing it--though Annabelle uses the Brightvale routine for both.
After that, she's allowed to skip certain of her classes. Instead she works with a different magician every month. At the end of each month they put on a show together. Annabelle learns about the different styles of doing stage magic, and how to switch how she works. She learns how to improvise, and most of all, she learns new tricks.
The crayon scribbles on the backs of coloring pages seem very far away as she memorizes the latest card or silk scarf or coin trick. Here she learns by rote, not by creativity and free thinking.
At six months, she puts on a show by herself. When Biblius comes up to compliment her afterward, she almost doesn't recognize him.
She forgets him again easily enough, however, and falls back into the routines of her new life: practice, learn, practice more. Weeks pass, and then months. Performances lose their anxiety for her. They are nothing more than yet another rehearsal--so there are people watching. So what? Annabelle the Magician never loses her calm. Nothing ruffles her.
She is practiced, smooth, and shaped entirely by those around her. Her talent is still her own, but they have molded it.
The second month of the year--the Month of Awakening, year six--comes, and Annabelle is worrying about a performance. Reports of the war in Meridell are vague even in newspapers, and the few rumors that do get through don't manage to work their way through Annabelle's anxiety.
A year after arrival, all new Association residents put on a lavish show. Their six-months show is private, and small as far as performances go. Mistakes can pass; it's more of a formality than anything else.
Their one-year show is huge. Everyone is invited, and everyone knows you afterward.
What you do there influences what happens for the rest of your career in the business.
To be continued...