It is a fact widely acknowledged that Brightvale is one of the smartest places on the face of Neopia, and even beyond. Of course, no greater is the prestige than that of Brightvale University, the premier educational institute for Neopets everywhere.
There isn't a subject that Brightvale University doesn't teach, from Advanced Chemistry to the Geopolitical Consequences of Scamander Population in Pre-Historic Tyrannia. Though of course, there are some courses less popular than those. One in particular struggles to gain students to the point where enrolment is often considered a punishment by some. The topic, of course, is Necromancy.
Magic in general is well respected in Brightvale and many graduates go on to have glittering careers in post grad institutions like the National Neopian Museum in Neopia Central or the legendary Order of the Red Erisim. But the Necromancers, even among their own kind, are treated with mistrust and disdain. Very few graduates remember their time at BU fondly. It was therefore a matter of some consternation when they were invited to a reunion of alumni.
"Isn't this exciting!?" the Moehog skull said, bouncing up and down on the carriage seat with the effort. "To see all the old faces again! I just can't wait!"
"Thrilling," a ghost Zafara said dejectedly from the seat opposite.
"Viktor," the grey Wocky sat next to the skull said. "You died centuries ago, you've been a skull for as long as I've known you - there won't be anyone at the reunion you remember."
"Don't be so sure!" the skull insisted. "There have been plenty of undead Necromancers over the years. You think Rasputin is the first ghost to take up the mantle? There have been bothersome spirits in our craft since I was a child!"
"I am an academic professional," the ghost opposite stressed. "Not a bothersome spirit."
Viktor attempted to look as if he was rolling his eyes.
"I must agree with Rasputin, I'm afraid," the Wocky said. "My time in Brightvale is not the fondest memory I hold."
"Nerd," Viktor muttered. "Bullied, I bet you were, Friedrich. You've always looked the type."
"Just what is that supposed to mean!?" Friedrich demanded.
Viktor opened his jaw to explain exactly what he meant, but thought better of it.
"It's not even that," Rasputin said. "There's never been a reunion before and then this, suddenly? Why now? And why am I invited? I transferred to the Museum's necromancy department after I died - I took Advanced Arcanology at University. I shouldn't be here."
"I'm sure they just wanted to cheer you up," Viktor replied. "This is a meeting of the most evil sorcerers on the planet, what could possibly be strange about that?"
The carriage reached Brightvale just before sunset. The three wizards, all that remained of Neopia Central Museum's Necromancy department, we're heading straight to the party. It was to be held within Brightvale University's campus, in the Scrollbottom memorial hall, the great space where each year, the university's chancellor would give a welcoming speech to all of the incoming undergraduates.
"I remember the chancellor, old Ribbleticket back in my day," Viktor clacked from Friedrich's arms. "He made a grand speech about togetherness, and then at the end of it old Hopscotch Garret opened a portal to the netherworld that swallowed most of the faculty whole. Ah, Hopscotch, a fine fellow, he was. Pity I had to destroy him in my quest for ultimate EEEVIL!"
Friedrich and Rasputin exchanged a glance while Viktor cackled. They had privately decided that much of Viktor's supposed evil acts were heavily embellished in the retelling. The most evil thing they had personally witnessed him perform was the theft of a pencil sharpener.
In the foyer they found a desk set up with an array of name badges, and took some time first locating each of the three and then deciding just how Viktor and Rasputin would wear them.
They eventually settled for taping the badge to Viktor's forehead and Rasputin carrying his in his hand for the evening.
Beyond the foyer, the main hall awaited them - the place was normally filled with rows of chairs for lectures, but on formal occasions such as this the paraphernalia of education were removed and replaced with round circular tables. A long buffet table was set up near the doors, while at the far end of the hall on the stage, a band was playing. None of the three wizards knew who it was, as they hadn't followed popular music in a great many decades, or centuries in Viktor's case. An area of tables had been cleared in front of the stage, forming a dance floor. Friedrich could not imagine it would be used - Necromancers were not the sort for dancing. Above it all, a great banner hung across the hall that proclaimed 'Welcome Necromancers!!!'. Rasputin notably deflated at the presence of so many exclamation marks.
At least they were not alone. The hall was already reasonably busy, mostly full of crusty old Neopets who looked like they needed a good bath, shave, or in some cases a full decontamination shower. Polite chatter was ruling over several of the tables. It was Viktor's turn to deflate - there were no heated arguments or magical battles. No ultimate acts of evil being perpetrated between the open topped sandwiches.
Friedrich, being the only one of the three with a functioning stomach, went off to gather supplies from the buffet while Rasputin took Viktor to find a table.
They reunited shortly after, the pair having found a table with an ancient looking Quiggle. The old wizard stared at Friedrich as he sat down.
"Manzazuu, isn't it?" he asked.
Friedrich swallowed hard. He had hoped he wouldn't be recognised, but at least the Quiggle didn't appear to be a former classmate.
"Yes," he answered. "Doctor Friedrich Manzazuu. You are?"
"Gregor Floudheart," the Quiggle answered. "We've not met, though I've heard about you. You took over the Neopia Central Museum's Necromancy division after Lombardo left, didn't you?"
"Yes," Friedrich answered, somewhat cheerier knowing he wasn't a former acquaintance.
"I have to say, I didn't like the way Lombardo ran the place," Gregor said. "I've heard nothing but good things since you took over."
Friedrich was so unaccustomed to praise that the Quiggle's words took him aback at first. Viktor opened his mouth to say something, no doubt about how he preferred Lombardo, but it was Rasputin who cut across him.
"You clearly haven't heard much then," the ghost said. "We blew up half the city and summoned an arcane abomination a few years back."
"All in a days work, I'm sure," Gregor replied with a knowing smile.
"And what is it you do, Floudheart?" Viktor asked.
"I have a tower in the desert," he said. "I'm loosely affiliated with the Order, attempting to research Geb magic."
Friedrich was aware of the study of Geb magic, scholars hoping to unlock the mysteries of why their civilisation vanished. To be frank, he had normally considered the topic quite dull. But Gregor was the first wizard in a long time to show genuine interest in Friedrich, so he was willing to indulge the topic if his ego benefitted. Friedrich attempted to make some minor enquiries into his research, but the Quiggle seemed far more interested in the Museum's work, so Friedrich was happy to speak.
Viktor and Rasputin, meanwhile, were clearly not impressed. Eventually Rasputin floated off to lurk sadly in a corner, but Viktor had no such luxury of an escape. He was forced to sit there as the pair droned on and on about Friedrich's moves to make the department more streamlined and efficient. That had mostly involved getting rid of all the eldritch equipment and gothic candles - something Viktor had complained about at the time. They weren't strictly needed for the magic, but they added atmosphere.
Viktor was immensely happy when, after about an hour, another figure joined them. Friedrich, however, did not seem happy in the slightest. Viktor could see the blood draining from his face.
"Manzazuu, isn't it?" the purple Lupe said with a grin.
"If you'll excuse me," Gregor said, standing up. "I have others I must catch up with."
Friedrich gave him a pleading look which he seemed to miss.
"You're Manzazuu, right?" the Lupe repeated.
"...Yes," Friedrich replied quietly, suddenly staring at his lap.
"I knew it!" the Lupe said, suddenly booming with laughter. "Old Smelly Manzazuu! How long's it been?"
"Far too long, Sergei," Friedrich replied very unconvincingly.
The Lupe sat down. Friedrich wished he hadn't. Viktor immediately understood - this was one of the bullies he had been dreading.
"So what are you doing now, Smelly?" Sergei asked.
"I'm... Head of Necromancy at the Museum in Neopia Central," Friedrich answered.
Sergei boomed with laughter again.
"That dusty old place!?" he laughed. "No one who goes there ever amounts to anything! Mind you, the place does stink of the sewers, so I hear. A perfect fit for you! Me? I'm working for the Order at their headquarters in the Haunted Woods. I'm in charge of their response to the Wraiths - I've got my own desk with a plaque, 'Sergei Archvernon, Head of Interdimensional Breaches'. Pretty good, eh?"
"Yes... Yes, I suppose..."
Viktor had heard enough. This Sergei was after all insulting the Museum.
"Archvernon?" he asked, taking the Lupe by surprise as his jawline sprung to life. "As in, Hessian Archvernon?"
"My father," Sergei answered with a proud nod. "He was head of the Order once, you know?"
"I do know," Viktor said with a delighted click of his teeth. "I know that he embezzled money from the Order's Keep for his own ends, so they kicked him out. They kept it very quiet, of course, but to those in the know it was a right scandal. I attended University back in the day with one of Hessian's ancestors - Jovial Archvernon. Scrawny scrap of a lad. Unfortunate flatulence issues. Would you like to know what we called him?"
Sergei had gone bright red.
"No... No, that won't be necessary," he said, standing up. "Nice to see you again, Friedrich. And your... friend."
When he was gone, Friedrich whispered across the table.
Up on stage, the band had stopped playing, and someone was tapping a microphone. To Friedrich's surprise, it was Gregor.
"Thank you all for coming," the Quiggle said. "It seems like everyone who is attending is here at last, and I am so glad so many of you could get here. You see, it was I who invited you all here. I who arranged this alumni evening. I, Gregor Floudheart."
His name didn't appear to mean much to the other occupants of the hall either.
"You see, the truth of the matter is this... I am not a graduate of Brightvale University!" Gregor said, as if gasps should follow - they didn't. "I applied, but was turned down, and forced to go to my second choice, the inferior Space Station University."
Many of the gathered necromancers stifled chuckles at this. Within the magical community, VU was considered something of a joke. Graduates from there rarely went far.
"So I have gathered all the graduates from Brightvale in one place, to once and for all prove that I am better than you all! That I, Gregor Floudheart, am the most powerful necromancer ever to live!"
He provided a dramatic cape flourish.
The other necromancers were slightly nonplussed by the whole affair until Gregor began to gather up some magic. That got their attention.
A rip seemed to open in the dancefloor, a rip in the very air, and through it the darkness poured. At once, Friedrich realised the reason the dancefloor had been there - Gregor had known it wouldn't be used. Instead, it was there to give him a wide space in which to work his magic.
The more unskilled wizards were making for the doors leading out of the hall, only to find them magically sealed. Some of the more senior members were moving forwards, preparing their own magics to seal the rift again. They didn't fare much better - tentacles were emerging from beyond the rift, a monster that Gregor was calling forth. They wrapped themselves around the approaching wizards and dragged the Neopets back into the darkness.
"We need to stop this before he draws it through!" Rasputin wailed as he floated over.
"Yes," Friedrich agreed, slightly sad that the one person who had seemed interested in his work had turned out to be an evil maniac. "Any ideas? We can't get close enough to seal the rift."
Across the room, Sergei and a few others were hiding under the tables.
"There!" Viktor clacked from the table. "Gregor, he's muttering!"
Up on the podium, he was busy casting his spell.
"So?" Rasputin asked.
"So he's casting an active spell!" Viktor replied. "If he stops, the rift will close! A fireball might work!"
"A fireball might get drawn into the rift and make it bigger, more like," Rasputin said. "We've got no way up there, either."
"Maybe we have!" Friedrich said, picking up Viktor. "Viktor, you are about to save the necromancer community. I'm sure you'll make an evil tale about it, somehow."
With that, he threw Viktor in a high arc above the rift. The skull sailed over the dance floor, and came down hard on Gregor's head. The Quiggle stopped muttering abruptly, gave a surprised look for a moment, and then collapsed. The rift, its summoner taken care of, closed in on itself with a satisfying sucking sound.
There was silence for a moment before the necromancers got back out from under the tables. Gradually, they began to applaud. Friedrich noted that even Sergei joined in.
After that, it was a far more enjoyable affair - Friedrich went back to the buffet a further two times and Viktor was able to regale the others with several tales of his evil acts. Rasputin even once, very briefly, cracked a smile.
At the end of the evening it was generally agreed that they would have another reunion in ten or so years.
There's nothing quite like proving yourself better than a rival University to bring a group together.