Draik Expectations: Part Two
Pharazon's ears drooped as he looked up at the enormous stack of parchment that had been set in front of him with a hefty whumph! "...When you said 'a copious amount of paperwork', you weren't kidding," he whimpered to Celice, taking a quill from the bored-looking Purple JubJub receptionist.
"Well, I don't lie, if that's what you're implying," Celice sniffed from her position on a nearby couch, where she was reclined and jotting notes on her own parchment. "Would you rather wait a few weeks for Master Seradar to return from Tyrannia? Or, would you like to seek him out and probably get stepped on by one of those boors from the Brute Squad in the process?"
The Draik sighed and began trying to lift the column of paperwork. After several vain attempts, he settled for picking it up portions at a time and carrying it piecemeal to a wooden chair by the couch.
"Keep them in order," the receptionist snapped, barely glancing up from the book she was reading. "If you wind up putting Form 230-A before the Arcana Non-Disclosure Agreement, it could result in the unleashing of eldritch horrors! Or worse... Fyora could take away our accreditation!"
"Uhh, r-right, right," Pharazon stammered, looking through the sheets and hoping he'd kept them all collated. Everything seemed to check out, so he began the agonizing task of reading through and filling out every document. The admissions lobby was stiflingly silent save for the scratching of his and Celice's quills, and the occasional turning of the page by the receptionist. The room was warm and sleepy and a Buzzer droned near the window outside, and more than once Pharazon had to shuffle around a little to keep himself from nodding off.
"'Have you ever been a) zapped by Boochi, b) handed a transmogrification potion by Dr. Sloth, or c) bought stocks from Skeith Feeding Ltd.?'" Pharazon read the question out loud and then looked up at Celice questioningly. "What does that have to do with education?"
She gave him a bored glance. "You'd be surprised."
A few pages later, Pharazon blurted out, "Would you rather have lunch with the Brain Tree or the Esophagor?"
"I don't know, would you?"
Pharazon flipped through the last few papers. "I'm sorry, some of these questions just seem rather... irrelevant. Like which member of Wock 'Til You Drop I most identify with."
Celice's tail waved lazily. "Trust me, they don't even look at half of those forms. They're just required by old Faerie law. Simple rigmarole, that's all."
"'Simple rigmarole' sounds like an oxymoron, if you ask me..." Pharazon muttered.
"Well, I'm sorry life isn't all sunshine and Cheery Blossoms for you." Her gaze grew distant for a moment and she lifted herself off the couch, yawning and stretching. "I'll be back; I've got some business to attend to," she mentioned as she sauntered out the door.
Pharazon continued to fill out forms in her absence. His stomach was starting to grumble when he finally finished the last page and heaved a huge sigh. He waited a few moments for the ink to dry and then turned it over on top of the previous sheet, trying to ignore the cramps in his legs, wings, and tail as he gave the stack back to the receptionist. She didn't so much as look up from her book.
It was at that moment that Celice came back through the door, her ears perked up and tail held high and confident. "Ah, you're finally done, I see? Well, now that that's over with, it's time to test your aptitude." Swinging an arm around the Draik's shoulders, the Lupe steered him out of the lobby and down a new hallway, wide with a vaulted ceiling.
"... Are you sure I'll do all right with this?" Pharazon felt a knot of worry growing in his stomach. He'd never thought of himself as particularly magical past his Faerie coloration. Even what little magic he possessed from that was entirely unconscious.
"Oh, positive," Celice assured him. "The results ought to be very favorable." She grinned toothily.
At the end of the hall were two great oaken doors engraved with images of great sorcerers and their magical accomplishments, further intimidating the Draik as Celice turned the handle on one of the doors and led him inside. The interior was dim and windowless, and he could barely see his own two feet on the smooth wooden floor, but he heard whispers in the air around him and he gulped. What had he gotten himself into?
They stopped abruptly. Celice took a piece of black velvet off a lantern, revealing a Light Mote inside that cast a sharp glare on their surroundings. They were standing in the middle of a circular arena, completely vacant except for themselves and the small table with the mote. Above the arena were more rows of seating than Pharazon could discern, filled with Neopets of all species and colors, most of them wearing ornate robes of varying fashions. His tongue suddenly felt like a wad of cotton and he thought he was going to be ill.
Celice spread out her arms. "Ladies and gentlemen!" she shouted officiously. "Thank you all for coming to my thesis demonstration on the unique properties of Faerie Draiks! My findings in this area should be quite illuminating to scholars specializing both in painted pet studies and Faerie magic!"
Pharazon turned and looked up at her. "Wait—what?! I thought this was my admissions aptitude test!"
She glanced down at him. "You promised to help me out, remember? This can count as showing your magical aptitude, you know!"
He sighed, his ears drooping. Suddenly he felt a pinch and looked over to see Celice picking up one of his wings, splaying it out for the crowd to see. "Observe," she began, "the unusual wing structure compared to baseline Draik physiology. Also observe the stark contrast between this and the wings of other Faerie-painted pets, especially similar species such as the Krawk and Scorchio. This leads me to believe that Water Faeries may have had a hand here, as the design is strikingly aquatic."
"Um, excuse me, could you kindly let go—" Pharazon began, but Celice cut him off.
"And now my subject will perform a demonstration of the unique flight qualities of Faerie Draiks," she said, dropping his wing and gesturing to him with a paw.
"I suppose I owe you the help..." Pharazon sighed again, flapping his wings and sending aqua-colored sparkles flying as he began to rise off the floor. He cringed in embarrassment as he heard snickers from the crowd, and he wished there was somewhere he could hide, some hole he could crawl into. "Look, I don't make them do that!" he protested, dropping himself back onto his feet. "It just... happens!"
"Why, a Draik that sparkles is hardly a Draik at all!" an elderly, purple Draik in the front row chortled into his sleeve.
Pharazon felt tears welling in his eyes as his shoulders slumped, and he looked up to Celice for help, but she seemed to be ignoring his distress as she spun around him dramatically, looking like she was enjoying the attention they were getting. "As you can plainly see, his Faerie coloring has infused him with some degree of magic, which I have reason to believe may have affected his internal fire-generating abilities as well," she continued, nearly ecstatic. "I will now have him attempt to blow fire." She folded her arms and looked down at the Draik.
He stared at her hopelessly. "...Do I really have to do this?" he asked her in a pleading tone. Judging from the response his wings had gotten, this wasn't going to end well for him at all.
The Lupe's nostrils flared and she placed her paws on her hips. "Look, you promised you would help me. What's fair is fair."
Pharazon gritted his teeth, turning away from her with a sour frown as he took a deep breath and puffed out his chest, rearing his head back. Breathing fire wasn't something he did on a regular basis, and it was for a reason. Feeling the familiar warmth in his belly, he dug his claws into the floor and steadied himself, and opened his jaw. What came out was not the usual stream of orange flame to be expected from most other Draiks, but a wispy, glittery puff of lavender that dissipated into the air, leaving behind the scent of flowers.
At this, the entire room filled with uproarious laughter, and even Celice chuckled. "I must say, that was quite unexpected. Good show."
Pharazon had enough. "That does it!" he suddenly shouted, stomping his foot. It wasn't enough to silence the laughter, but he didn't care. "I thought you were honestly trying to help me," he began as he glared up at the Lupe, "but now I see I was always just a research subject to you! I am not some sort of performing Petpet in a circus! And yes, I'm a Faerie pet, but I still deserve to be taken seriously!"
Celice rolled her eyes. "Please. Did you really think you had any chance of being taken seriously at this school? The Academy is for only the most elite echelon of intellectuals in Neopia. If we haven't already heard of you by the time you walk into our doors, you might as well go study on Roo Island." She sneered at him. "I just let you go through the application process because I wanted to study you for my thesis. It was clear from the start you would never be accepted."
The Draik placed his claws over his heart, then furrowed his brow and spewed out another sparkling purple breath in rage. "If that's really the way this school feels about me, then I don't want any part of it! When I came to Brightvale I supposed I would be associating with sincere, open-minded individuals, not a bunch of arrogant elitists!" He stood up straight, his long tail whipping on the floor. "I wish you all the best in your studies, ma'am," he snapped with a tinge of sarcasm, "but I shall never darken your doorstep again!" With that, he turned and ran out.
Pharazon sat on a stone bridge on the outskirts of Brightvale, staring down at his own miserable reflection in the river below, punctuated by falling tears. How could he have been such a naïve fool, he thought. To think that he, a simple Neopia Central pet who had never been on any grand adventures or done anything of note in the world, would have been accepted by such a prestigious institution. And the one friend he thought he'd had there turned out to be just as cruel as the rest of them. It was just heartrending.
Maybe he wasn't cut out to be a scholar, after all, he thought, if it involved putting other people down and being critical and mocking of everything he studied. And yet he loved knowledge and learning so much. With a sigh, he picked up a thin yellow leaf that had fallen from a nearby tree and dropped it into the river, watching it sail off to the sea beyond the horizon. He envied it then. Its existence was so simple compared to his.
A furry paw clapped on his shoulder, making him jump, and he turned to see Celice standing over him. Tearing away from her, he pushed off of the bridge and twisted to hover in front of her with his Faerie magic. "What do you want?" he hissed. "Haven't you already humiliated me enough?"
To his surprise, her expression was apologetic, her ears low and head bowed. "Pharazon... I'm sorry. I was wrong to string you along and hurt you like that." She fidgeted with the broad hem of her sleeve and pushed her spectacles up her nose, unable to meet his gaze. "Please forgive me. I feel awful about this."
Pharazon regarded her suspiciously. "Why are you sorry now? You seemed so happy about it back there. How do I know you won't turn on me again?"
Celice shoved her face in her paw. "I was an idiot. I was trying to play the Academy's game—all I really cared about was prestige. I stopped caring about other people in my quest for recognition." She sighed and sat down on the bridge herself, folding her paws in her lap. "It wasn't even about the knowledge any more. It was just about being better than everyone else. And in striving so hard for that, I lost myself. But the look on your face wouldn't leave my mind after you left."
The Draik watched as she pulled out her thesis parchment. "I need to start from square one," she announced, ripping the parchment in half and dropping it into the river. The paper became waterlogged and wrinkled, the ink swirling into the current, undoing all of her work.
Pharazon looked up at her in shock and she smiled at him. "I'm going to go traveling for a while, get back to my roots. I need to remember what it was that made me really want to be a scholar." She stuck out a paw for him to shake.
He smiled back at her and took it. "I wish you all the best in your travels, then. Perhaps we'll meet again someday."
Unexpectedly, he found himself pulled into a hug. "You're a good friend, Pharazon. And that's more important than the fanciest education in Neopia." When Celice pulled away, there were tears in her own eyes. "I ought to get going. I'm hoping to catch the next transport to Kreludor. Kreludan geology has always intrigued me."
"Do let me know what you discover about faeryllium levels in the regolith!" Pharazon requested as he watched her depart across the bridge and into the woods.
"I'll Neomail you, I promise!"
Pharazon had never gotten Neomail from Kreludor before. He wondered if it was delivered by Robot Weewoos. The thought made him smile.
"Heyyyy, Pharazon!" A familiar voice made him turn to see Blynn and Hyren approaching the bridge, skipping and trudging respectively. They were both covered in the juice and pulp of various fruits, and Blynn was wearing part of an Echtooh Melon's violet rind on her head like a helmet. "We had an awesome day at Brightvale Fruits!" she shouted jubilantly.
"Yes. Just awesome," Hyren reiterated flatly, looking thoroughly worn-down as he scooped some orange Skeem pulp out of one antenna.
Pharazon smirked. "So much for damage control, eh?"
"So how was your day?" Hyren asked him. "Less sticky, I hope? Did you get into the Academy?"
Pharazon paused for a moment, and then shook his head, alighting on the bridge. "Nah. It's not really the best fit for me. I think I'll stick around with you two for a while yet."
"Good, 'cause I saved some Squibble Berry Jam for you!" Blynn shoved a jar of the purple-blue jam in Pharazon's face and he took it with a smile. He knew someone who would shortly be on Kreludor and would appreciate a small taste of home and a gift from a friend.