“You lied to me?!” Pharazon asked, his ears drooping.
“You promised to help me!” Celice said. “You can’t back out of this now! I need to research a faerie Draik and I don’t know when I’m going to come across another one!” She frowned. “Now’s your chance to mingle with real scholars, Pharazon. You’d hate to disappoint all of these terribly intelligent Neopets, wouldn’t you?”
Pharazon looked up at them, and they seemed to murmur in agreement. “Okay… fine,” he sighed. “What can I do to help?”
“Just stand there,” Celice said, “and don’t do anything stupid. You’ll make me look bad.” She picked up one of his wings, splaying it out. “Observe,” she said, “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.”
“But what about the application forms?” Pharazon asked. “Am I still going to get to go to school here—“
Celice dropped his wing. “And now my subject will perform a demonstration of the unique flight qualities of Faerie Draiks,” she said. She glared down at him. “Won’t he?”
“Oh—right,” Pharazon said. He flapped his wings, sending aqua-colored sparkles flying as he began to rise off the floor. Snickers arose from the crowd and he cringed. “I don’t make them do that!” he said, dropping back to his feet. “It just happens!”
“Why, a Draik that sparkles is hardly a Draik at all!” an elderly Draik in the front row chortled into his sleeve. “What a far cry from his majestic brethren!” It was obvious from his tone that he was mostly referring to himself.
Pharazon’s shoulders slumped, and he looked up to Celice, trying to figure out how to get out of this. “I—I think I need to leave,” he said.
“You can’t leave,” Celice said. “You filled out the Research Subject Waiver back in the lobby, not the application for admission.”
The Draik’s stomach dropped. “So that’s why you didn’t want me to read it too closely?!” he asked.
“Oh, please,” the sorceress said. “A simpleton from Neopia Central could never get into Brightvale University, anyway. I just needed to gain your trust, was all. As per the stipulations of the form, you can’t go until I’m done gathering the data I need for my dissertation—and that includes helping me with my presentation.”
Before he could protest, Celice looked back to her superiors. “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 said. “I will now have him attempt to blow fire.” She folded her arms and looked down at the Draik.
He stared at her. “I can’t,” he whispered.
“What do you mean, you can’t?” she asked, her ears perking as she frowned at him.
“I mean—well, I’ve tried before, but—“ Pharazon grimaced. “It’s not fire that comes out.”
“Well then, let’s see it already!” Celice said. “This is scholarly work, Pharazon! You are holding up the advance of knowledge! If you dare call yourself a friend of learning, you will show us what makes you tick!”
Pharazon gritted his teeth. Although he felt awful about all of this, he just couldn’t let her or these other intellectuals down. And he had signed the waiver, so now he had to follow through, right? He took a deep breath and puffed out his chest, rearing his head back.
Trying to breathe fire wasn’t something he did on a regular basis, and this was why. Feeling the familiar warmth in his belly, he dug his claws into the floor, 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 glittery wisp of aquamarine that dissipated into the air.
It was most embarrassing. A Draik’s flame was supposed to be fierce and powerful, but Pharazon’s magic-breath would never intimidate anybody. And coming from a male Draik, it looked downright ridiculous.
The room echoed with the uproarious laughter of the scholars. “I say!” the elderly Draik said with a guffaw. “This fellow’s as dainty as a baby Miamouse! Has no one ever taught him to blow a proper flame?”
“I don’t believe he can,” Celice said with a stifled chuckle. “It’s most fascinating, but it appears that being painted faerie renders his fire-breathing abilities ineffective.”
Pharazon looked up and around at these Neopets and realised they didn’t care about him at all. And he could either stay here and take their ridicule, or put an end to it. That thought was terrifying, but then he remembered his family and how much they loved him. He deserved better than this.
“That does it!” he shouted. It wasn’t enough to silence the laughter, but he didn’t care. “I’m not your research subject, Celice!” he said to the Lupe. “I was hoping we could be friends! But now I see I’ll never be a friend to you!”
Celice blinked. Slowly, the laughter in the room died down. “I—I never wanted your friendship!” the sorceress stammered. “You were a fool for going along with me, Pharazon! You only have yourself to blame!”
“That’s not true!” Pharazon said. “I trusted you and you lied to me!” He glowered out at the other scholars and spewed out another puff of magic in rage. “Now I see the true nature of this university, and I don’t want any part of it! You’re just a bunch of self-absorbed, arrogant wretches!”
Celice’s fur bristled and a growl rose in her throat. “How dare you insult us like this?” she snarled. “How dare you ruin my doctoral presentation?!”
Pharazon stood up straight and lashed the floor with his long tail. “Because coming here was a mistake,” he said, “and I’m going to fix it right now!” Not waiting for a reply, he turned and flew out of the room, faerie dust streaming behind him.