Pharazon sat on a stone bridge on the outskirts of Brightvale, staring at the river below, his reflection punctuated by falling tears.
How could he have been so stupid? He, a simple Draik who had never been on any grand adventures or done anything of note in the world, a faerie pet who couldn't even use magic, would never have been accepted by such a prestigious institution. And the friend he thought he'd had there turned out to be horrible.
He frowned. If that was what made one a scholar, then he didn't want to be a scholar, after all. But his heart yearned for learning. He couldn't smother that important part of himself.
Pharazon picked up a thin yellow leaf that had fallen onto the bridge and dropped it into the river, watching it sail off beyond a bend, toward the horizon and eventually the sea. He envied it. Its existence was so simple compared to his. Everything was too confusing right now.
Someone behind him cleared her throat, making him jump. He turned to see Celice standing nearby. With a frown, Pharazon pushed off of the bridge and hovered in front of her, wings fluttering. "What do you want?" he hissed. "Haven't you already humiliated me enough?"
Her ears were low and her head bowed. "Pharazon… I'm sorry," she said. "What I did was wrong." She fidgeted with the hem of her sleeve and pushed her spectacles up her nose, staring at the stonework of the bridge. "Please forgive me. I feel awful about this."
Pharazon wrinkled his snout. "You didn't seem so sorry back at the University," he said.
Celice rubbed her snout with her paw. "I know. I was an idiot for playing the University's game—all I really cared about was prestige. I never stopped to think how it might affect other Neopets." She sighed and sat down on the bridge, folding her hands in her lap. "For most Neopets at the University, it's not even really about the knowledge any more. It's just about being better than everyone else."
The Lupe stared out at the river for a moment before glancing back to Pharazon. "But… what you said to me back there, about being friends…" she said. "I realise that I've lost myself. And I don't like what I've become."
From the satchel at her hip, she pulled out her thesis parchment. "I need to start from square one," she said, ripping the parchment in half and dropping it into the river. The paper became waterlogged and wrinkled, the ink swirling into the current.
"Oh—!" Pharazon gasped. "But—all of your hard work!"
"I came by that research dishonestly," Celice said, shaking her head, "and by manipulating my fellow Neopets. That is not the way a true scholar should conduct herself. And Master Seradar is already going to be furious with all of us when he returns from Tyrannia." She grinned. "I think I need a break from Brightvale for a while. Perhaps I'll go research manifestations of magic across the various Neopian lands. And… I hope perhaps I can keep in touch with you, Pharazon. I promise I'll be a better friend from now on."
"I never said we were friends," Pharazon said. He couldn't believe she had the gall to want to be his friend after what she had done.
Celice drooped. "Oh… that's all right," she said quietly. "I understand. I have been pretty awful to you. I wouldn't want to be my friend, either."
A pang of guilt pricked Pharazon's heart at the look on her face. Despite how angry he was at her, he realised his anger was hurting her and not making things any better for her, either. "I'm sorry," he said quickly, landing back on the guardrail of the bridge. "Of course we can be friends. You can Neomail me anytime you want."
She looked up at him with a small smile. "Thank you," she said. "I ought to get going. I'm hoping to catch the next transport to Kreludor."
"Good luck," Pharazon said as she left. He watched her until she disappeared out of sight on the woodland path. His anger had been replaced by peace. He vaguely remembered his owner telling him something about anger and forgiveness. Maybe this was what she was talking about.
"Heyyyy Pharazon!" Blynn skipped toward the bridge, Hyren trudging behind her. They were both covered in the juice and pulp of various fruits, and Blynn wore part of an echtooh melon's violet rind on her head like a helmet. "We had an awesome day at Brightvale Fruits!" she shouted.
"Well, that's one word for it," Hyren said flatly as he scooped some orange skeem pulp out of one antenna.
Pharazon smiled. "So much for damage control, huh?" he asked.
"So how was your day?" Hyren asked, evading the question. "Less sticky, I hope. Did you get into the University?"
Pharazon shook his head. "You know, I don't think it's the best fit for me," he said. "I've discovered I like my family a lot more. As crazy as you guys are."
"Good, 'cause I saved some Squibble Berry Jam for you!" Blynn shoved a jar of the indigo jam in Pharazon's face. "We got some for Terra, too! It's packed with vitamin C, so that cold'll be busted in no time! Let's head back to Meridell and tell her about our day!"
"Right," Pharazon said as he followed them off the bridge. He would have to be sure to tell their owner about everything he had learned today, too—and that he had made a new friend.