“Ahhh, Brightvale!” Blynn said. “The wondrous land of a bunch of stuff I’m not allowed to touch!”
“In a kingdom where one of the main exports is glass,” Hyren said, “you had better bet you’re not allowed to touch anything.”
Hyren, Blynn, and Gwyneth had traveled out of Meridell after breakfast the previous day. Hyren made sure to give them plenty of time to rest along the way, especially important because Gwyneth was still recuperating from her injuries. Anshu’s medicine helped, even though they had to disguise it in the Ganuthor’s food.
Although it was only the beginning of Awakening, the past couple of days had been sunny, and rather warm for winter in Meridell. It seemed spring would come early this year. The skies were clear and the bare, wintery ground free of snow, but mounds of clouds loomed on the western horizon, promising rain soon if it didn’t get cold enough again for frost.
They spent a leisurely night camping in a fallow field off the side of the road, kept warm enough by their fire mote and Gwyneth’s thick fur, and set out again in the morning once everyone was good and ready. Blynn remained exuberant as ever, but Hyren wanted to make sure to allow Gwyneth all the time she needed. The fact that he had led her into injury still ate at him, and he was determined to find some way to make it up to Pharazon. If they ever saw each other again.
By mid-morning, the green-roofed spires of Brightvale Castle appeared above the bare treetops. As the din of Neopets at market drifted down the forest path, Hyren was struck with the realisation that he had no idea what they were supposed to be doing here.
“So, what’s the plan, chief?” Blynn asked as she chased a Lady Blurg in circles around Gwyneth.
“Well, we should replenish our supplies first thing,” Hyren said, trying to disguise his unsureness.
“Then what?” Blynn asked.
“Brightvale Castle,” Hyren said. “That’s what we saw in the oracle, and if anyone can help us here it’s the Knights of Brightvale. We should start asking around in town, too.”
Blynn pawed at the Lady Blurg as it finally flew out of her reach. “Ooh, can we go to the fruit shop?” she asked.
“Yes, as long as you don’t touch anything!” Hyren said.
Thankfully, damage at Brightvale Fruits was minimal, and Hyren only had to reimburse the shopkeeper for a single crate of passionberryjam and a shipment of grenannas. Afterward, the Grundo suffered through more shopping with his sister as they stocked up on other travelling necessities. Granted, Hyren had no idea how much longer they’d be searching, but being prepared was always his modus operandi.
Everywhere they went, they inquired after Terra and Pharazon, but were met only with the shaking of heads and sympathetic looks. Only one other Neopet recognized Pharazon’s name, but the Kougra admitted that it was only because he had become briefly acquainted with the Draik during one of the family’s visits to Brightvale last year.
“Hey—why don’t we go to the book shop?” Blynn asked from her position reclined on Gwyneth’s back. They had taken a lunch break before heading for the castle and were sitting at the fountain in the market plaza. The Zafara peeled a grenanna and took a bite of the pale green fruit. “Oh bleh. I forgot how bitter these were,” she said.
Hyren looked up at her from his seat on the fountain’s rim. “Why would we go to the book shop?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I’ve got a good feeling about it,” she said.
Hyren sat and thought, watching young Neopets cavort in the square, chasing each other and jumping in puddles while their parents shopped. He knew better than to dismiss his sister’s intuition—especially after what had happened in Shenkuu. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
The bookstore was a warm and inviting place, full of so much paper and print that it smelled eternally of musty pages and ink. Books not only packed the shelves, expertly stacked and organised so no space was wasted, but had overflowed into piles on the floor that customers perused. One area of floor space had been set aside for a collection of plush chairs and lamps. The shopkeeper himself, a bespectacled brown Ixi, sat there, his muzzle in a thick tome.
Even though Hyren would not classify himself as a bookworm, he was still awed by the amount of information that places like this contained. No wonder Pharazon liked it so much. Every time they visited Brightvale, the Draik would spend hours here and have to be practically dragged away by his tail, clutching his armful of purchases. Maybe they really would find him and their owner here, Hyren thought. What a miracle that would be.
“Ooh! They have colouring books!” Blynn squealed. She grabbed one from the shelf and started flipping through it.
“Because colouring books are going to help us,” Hyren grumbled as he scanned a shelf. He spotted a copy of Brightvale, a Complete History and pulled it out, turning to the table of contents to see if anything sounded relevant. “The Pre-Founding of Brightvale, The Founding of Brightvale, The War of the Typefaces, Administrative Divisions, Hagan’s Early Years, Hagan’s Early Beard…” The Grundo’s antennae fell. “Augh.” He remembered now why he hated this kingdom.
“How to Pick Flowers?” Blynn said from behind him. “Wow, Brightvalians really do know everything!”
Hyren shelved the history and pulled out the next most promising thing he could find—Knowledge of the Ages. He felt like he shouldn’t have been surprised when it turned out to contain pithy sayings from King Hagan and other eminent intellectuals. “Blynn,” he said, “I’m not sure what we’re meant to find here, but I’m not—“
“Blynn?” a female voice asked.
Hyren turned to see a white Lupe staring down at him curiously. She wore the green and gold robes of a scholar, and a pair of spectacles was perched on her muzzle. A few strands of white hair hung down from an otherwise immaculate bun.
“Er, sorry,” Hyren said, putting the book back. “I was talking to my sister.” He jabbed his thumb at the disco Zafara, who was currently playing with the decorative bookmark in a copy of Bori of Brightvale.
The Lupe blinked. “And you’re… Hyren, correct?” she asked.
Hyren’s antennae twitched and his mental level-one suspicion alarms sounded. “Do we know you?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the Lupe said as she put a paw to her chest and bowed. “How rude of me. I’m Celice Anfel. Your brother Pharazon’s pen pal.”
Blynn wandered over to the two. “Oh, hi! I remember you!” she said. “Pharazon always reads us your letters!” She had Mage Spells balanced on her head, and the book’s enchanted pages created a veil of sparks that flowed behind her. It would have been ethereally pretty if it hadn’t looked so ridiculous.
Celice laughed and shifted her own books to rest on her hip. “Does he? Well, I should hope they’re entertaining,” she said.
“That’s right!” Celice said. “I collected some excellent data on how the Pit’s magic affects Neopet physiology, and made observations of some lesser-known kelp species besides! Now I’m taking a short respite at home to prepare my findings for publication.” Her eyes lifted and searched the rest of the shop. “So where is Pharazon? Usually he’s easier to spot in here than an Elephante at a Jubjub convention…”
Hyren drooped. “He’s…” The Grundo paused and glanced around. The shopkeeper still appeared to be reading, and only a single Bruce browsed the shelves. “Can we talk about this somewhere private?” he asked in a hushed tone. “It’s… kind of an emergency.”
Celice’s eyes widened and she nodded. “Of course,” she said. “Come with me to my dormitory.”
Brightvale University was built into the castle itself, and after they turned Gwyneth over to the care of the stablehands, Hyren and Blynn followed the Lupe into the University’s vaulted stone halls.
“Scholars funded by the University may choose to live here even while not actively pursuing degrees,” Celice explained as she led them down a green-carpeted corridor. Several pets they passed greeted her cordially, while others were too focused on a book or scroll, or just lost in thought, to pay her any heed. “While I have learned much on my travels, it is nice to have a place to call home. Oh, good morning, Headmaster Seradar!” she called to a wizened purple Gelert with a long grey beard.
“Lady Anfel,” he returned before being swept through a doorway by a throng of eager scholars.
“Yup, I can see why Pharazon likes this place so much,” Blynn said. “Nerd paradise.”
Celice wrinkled her nose. “Please,” she scoffed. “We are not ‘nerds’, we are intellectuals—“
A desert Cybunny and a red Blumaroo scampered past them. The Blumaroo held a pile of books and sheets of paper, while the Cybunny clutched a pawful of many-sided dice. “C’mon, we’re going to be late for Neoquest!” he shouted to the Blumaroo. “I really want to see what you’ve got in mind for your next campaign!”
“You’re going to love it!” the Blumaroo replied. “It takes place in the ancient Lost Desert, before Qasala was cursed…” She trailed off as they rounded the corner.
“Yeah, you’re nerds,” Hyren said.
Celice’s dormitory was a good-sized suite, encompassing a study, bedroom, washroom, and kitchenette. Tapestries and décor from her various travels made the stone walls less foreboding, and the large bay window on one wall of the study faced south and let in a constant stream of golden sunlight. Blynn set herself to sunbathing on the lush forest-green rug, rolling onto her back and scratching her belly contentedly.
The Lupe scholar sat herself in one of the high-backed chairs near the hearth. “So what’s going on with Pharazon?” she asked Hyren, gripping the chair’s arms. Her ears quivered and she seemed unusually tense.
Hyren collapsed into the other chair. “He and our owner were kidnapped at the Shenkuu Lunar Festival night before last,” he said.
Celice’s ears dropped. “Oh, no,” she breathed. “Who do you think did it?”
“That’s the thing, we have no idea,” Hyren said. “Our only lead is that an oracle told us to come to Brightvale.”
“She was a nice oracle,” Blynn said, holding her toes as she rolled around.
“I had a dream about Pharazon last night,” Celice admitted, tapping together the paw pads at her fingertips. “It was very brief, but enough for me to discern that it was magically facilitated. It… gave me cause for concern.”
Blynn and Hyren sat up. “What did you see?” Hyren asked.
“Not much,” Celice said. “Just his face. He called my name… He looked scared.”
The Grundo felt his stomach twist and he sank back into the chair. “I don’t even want to imagine what he’s going through right now…” he muttered.
“But that means he’s still alive, right?” Blynn said, sitting down on the rug beside Hyren. “So that’s good! Besides, Pharazon gets scared about everything. Maybe he saw a Spyder.”
“But what about Terra?” Hyren asked as he ran a hand over his face. This new bit of information just caused him more stress than before. Pharazon was alive, but afraid. Nothing about Terra’s condition was known at all. Not exactly promising.
“I’m sorry,” Celice said. “That’s all I know for now.”
Hyren groaned. “Is that it?” he asked. “Is that all we came to Brightvale for? This is just another dead end!” Hope felt more and more slippery by the second.
The Lupe was silent for a moment, and then she said, “Not quite. He can contact me magically now, apparently. I don’t know how, or why, but he managed to open that communication. I think it’s highly likely he’ll try it again.”
“And let me guess, you want us to wait until he sends you another vision?” Hyren asked, massaging his temples. Just when he thought something was going right, it just got more frustrating.
Blynn’s tail thumped on the carpet. “Got any better ideas?” she asked him.
“It was too brief, and the magical echoes faded too quickly, for me to be able to attempt a scrying on the source of the communication,” Celice said. “That, and it was one in the morning and I was sound asleep. If he does it again, though, I can be ready to track his mana frequencies.”
“Or, you know, you could ask him to tell you where he is,” Blynn said.
“Or that,” Celice said.
“If he even knows,” Hyren muttered, pushing himself off the chair and going to pace by the window. “So it’s a waiting game again. I hate waiting.” He didn’t want a repeat of the last time he was impatient, though. The prickling agitation under his skin would just have to deal with it.
“The University is open to you in the meantime,” Celice said, rising and going over to shuffle a stack of papers at her desk. “Please, make yourselves at home. I’m going to do some research on magical communications and see if I can find anything relevant.”
“I’d offer to help,” Hyren said, “but I don’t know the first thing about magic. I think my time would be better spent questioning knights… and making sure Blynn keeps out of trouble.” He snatched a poofy feather quill away from his sister’s clutches.
Celice looked down at him and gave him a small smile. “That oracle knew what she was talking about,” she said. “There’s still hope yet, I think.”
“At least someone believes that,” Hyren muttered.