“Pardon me, is Master Seradar in?” Celice asked a passing Acara.
“I’m afraid not, Lady Anfel,” the Acara said. He was not dressed in mages’ robes, but rather in a smart tunic and trousers, his feathered cap at a jaunty angle. “He was called away on urgent business to Tyrannia by the Order of the Red Erisim.”
“Shame,” Celice said. “I’ve got everything I need to do my presentation. Would you inform the department chairs and tell them to meet me in the west demonstration hall?”
Pharazon only vaguely heard their conversation. He was too preoccupied looking around Brightvale Castle in amazement. The castle was warm and spacious, filled with light filtering in from immense stained-glass windows. Books lined the walls of every room and sometimes even spilled out onto the halls. Already they had passed through three libraries—it was enough to make the Draik swoon. Clearly King Hagan was a ruler worth his salt.
The Draik was jolted out of his reverie by furry knuckles rapping on his head. “Oh—sorry,” he said.
“Are all faerie Neopets as absent-minded as you?” Celice asked. “Or is that a trait intrinsic to Draiks?”
“Uh—I don’t know,” Pharazon said. “But wow, you have so many books here! I want to read all of them!”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Celice said. “Even I don’t have the proper clearance to handle some of the more volatile magic volumes. At any rate, let’s get you started on the admissions process, shall we? Fortunately for me, I’ll be able to witness your aptitude firsthand.” She readied her notebook.
Pharazon gulped and said, “Aptitude? I have to take an aptitude test?”
Celice patted him on the back, but wiped her paw on her robes afterward as though the Draik had just climbed out of the Meridell Rubbish Dump. “Nothing to worry about,” she said. “You’ve just got to fill out some forms and then display your talent in magic.”
“Magic?” Pharazon squeaked. “I-I don’t know if I can study magic, milady. I mean, I’m painted faerie, but I’ve never really done magic before, and I was hoping to maybe go into history or science—“
“Pah!” the Lupe said. “My friend, those musty subjects are for those who lack true genius!” She spread out her paw in front of him, as if gesturing for him to behold the panorama of his potential. “We magicians dabble in the realm of possibility. And I think you’d go much farther in magic than any of those other subjects.”
“Er, well…” Pharazon said as he twisted his tail. “If you say so.”
“Oh, I do,” Celice said. “After all, you’re faerie! Magic is in your blood! I mean that quite literally, by the way.”
“I know,” Pharazon said as he examined his paw. “I got a paper cut on my finger once. Weirdest thing ever. My owner said she’d never seen anything so sparkly.”
“You don’t say,” Celice said, scribbling in her notebook. “And besides, I want to see your skill in magic, not hear you recite historical facts. You’re supposed to be doing me a favour, remember?”
“Of course,” Pharazon said.
As they continued down the hall, he couldn’t help but feel disappointed. He’d never considered studying magic before and he still really had his heart set on history or science. But he didn’t want to let Celice down, not after she had been so accommodating to him. Still, an uncomfortable feeling grew in the pit of his stomach.
“When you said ‘a copious amount of paperwork’, you weren’t kidding,” Pharazon said to Celice as an enormous stack of parchment was deposited on the counter in front of him by a Jubjub receptionist.
Celice sat on the couch in the lobby, jotting things down in her notebook. “Would you rather wait a few weeks for Master Seradar to return from Tyrannia?” she asked. “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?”
“All right…” the Draik said as he began trying to lift the column of paperwork. After several vain attempts to heft the whole thing, he settled for picking it up portions at a time and carrying it piecemeal to a 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,” Pharazon said as he picked up the first page to read it.
Celice reached over and took the paper out of his hand, hurriedly sorting through the first several pages until she handed him one with blank spots to fill out. “Oh, don’t worry about the fine print!” she said. “It’s all legal nonsense anyway, and I’ve scheduled your aptitude test in half an hour, so be quick about this!”
“Sorry,” Pharazon said, ignoring most of the page except for where he needed to write things.
For the next few minutes, the lobby was stiflingly silent save for the scratching of his quill and Celice’s pencil, and the receptionist turning the pages of her book. Pharazon wondered what kind of hijinks Blynn and Hyren were getting into, and if Terra was feeling any better. He missed them already.
“’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. “What does Skeith Feeding Ltd. have to do with magic?”
“You’d be surprised,” Celice said. “Hurry! You’ve only got ten minutes to spare!”
A few pages later, Pharazon read, “Would you rather have lunch with the Brain Tree or the Esophagor?”
“I don’t know, would you?” Celice asked. “Are you really only that far in?”
Pharazon flipped through the last few papers and said, “I’m sorry, some of these questions just seem rather… irrelevant. Like which member of Wock ‘Til You Drop I most identify with.”
“Just scribble something in,” Celice said. “Trust me, they don’t even look at half of those forms. They’re just required by law. Simple rigmarole, that’s all.”
“’Simple rigmarole’ sounds like an oxymoron…” Pharazon said. “I wasn’t expecting just applying to go to school here to be so… annoying.”
“Well, I’m sorry life isn’t all sunshine and cheery blossoms for you,” Celice said. “Now hurry it up! You’ve only got five minutes! Sign your name at the end and then you’re done!”
Pharazon rushed through the rest of the forms, filling them out as quickly as he could and not even having time to properly read them. When he finally finished the last page, with just a minute to spare, he let out a huge sigh. Waving the paper so the ink would dry, he turned it over on top of the previous sheet. His wings had developed a cramp from sitting so long, and he winced as he gave the papers back to the receptionist.
“Took you long enough,” the Jubjub said, not even looking up from her book.
“He is dreadfully slow, I’m afraid,” Celice said, standing up. “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.
“Are you sure I’ll do all right with this?” Pharazon asked. “I’ve never even tried doing magic before.”
“Oh, positive,” Celice said. “The results ought to be very favourable.” She grinned so widely that her fangs showed.
At the end of the hall were two great oaken doors engraved with images of 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 Pharazon 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 sort of magic was he expected to know, and who would be judging him?
They stopped, Celice snapped her fingers, and a bright light shone down on them from above. They stood in the middle of a circular room, and around them were rows of arena-like seating filled with Neopets wearing ornate robes—watching them.
Pharazon’s tongue suddenly felt like a wad of cotton and he thought he was going to be ill. He never did well in the spotlight.
Celice spread out her arms. “Ladies and gentlemen!” she said. “Thank you all for coming to my 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!” he squeaked. He could practically feel the audience judging everything about him.