The Scientist's Apprentice: Part Nine
Sir Hartwick appeared to be in a good mood the next morning, or so Parlan thought. At breakfast, the sorcerer conjured up parfaits, much to the astonishment of most of the apprentices. "We never have dessert for breakfast," Thomas whispered in awe. The red Nimmo stared at the thin glass of layered whipped cream and strawberries as if it were made of solid gold.
Sir Hartwick even carried his good mood into the midmorning lesson. "Today we're going to work on Fyre," he announced when they were all assembled in the basement.
This was met with even more disbelief from the apprentices. Fyre was an advanced conjuring, more resilient than typical flames and much more difficult to control. The beginner spell books Parlan had read on the Angleton Isles only referred to the casting in reverent whispers.
"Marlo," Sir Hartwick called out.
The orange Wocky jumped, looking up at Sir Hartwick with wide blue eyes. "Yes, sir?"
Sir Hartwick held out a piece of chalk, and Marlo took it with a hurried nod.
Parlan bit the inside of his cheek. Even though Marlo's hair was conjured back to its short cut, Parlan still could not rid himself of what the Wocky truly looked like. It seemed so obvious now; he wondered how no one else could see that she was merely masquerading as a boy.
But while Sir Hartwick looked to be in a good mood, Marlo did not. She glanced around at everyone, the chalk held tightly in her grip. When her eyes fell on Parlan, her eyebrows narrowed slightly before she glanced away. "Yes, Sir Hartwick?" she asked.
Hartwick held out his large spell book, open to a specific page. "Please draw the circle."
Marlo nodded, kneeling down to draw the chalk design on the floor. Typically her movements were confident, but today her hand was shaking. She kept smudging out errors with the side of her fist, trying to keep her lines steady but having a hard time doing so.
Sir Hartwick's grey eyes swept over the shaky handwriting; his smile inverted to a frown. "Is everything all right, Marlo?" he asked.
Marlo nodded, her head bent, the hood of her robe hiding her face in shadows. "Yes sir. I'm fine."
When Marlo completed the rune circle, she handed the chalk to Hartwick and rejoined the apprentices. Bennie leaned into her. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Marlo nodded stiffly, avoiding the brown Poogle's eyes. "Yeah. Just had a rough night's sleep."
Parlan didn't think that was entirely a lie. He had heard a lot of shifting that night coming from Marlo's bed. He didn't think she had slept at all.
"Join hands everyone!" Sir Hartwick said with a clap and the apprentices formed a circle around the chalk design. Parlan reached for Marlo's hand, but she nudged him out of the way and grabbed Thomas instead. Parlan settled for holding onto Bennie and the hand of a green Uni who lived in the Stellar Dorm.
Sir Hartwick taught them the spell chant. It was just a simple sequence of syllables, and after a few moments of practicing it slowly, Sir Hartwick raised his hand: the signal to begin casting. Parlan drew on his power as they all began the chant: "Halla chev sai lagrim lassu fae. Halla chev sai lagrim lassu fae. Halla chev sai lagrim lassu fae..."
As thirty voices rose in unison, the air began to crackle. Parlan felt his skin grow warm and beads of sweat pooled on the silver Shoyru's forehead. He even felt his amulet heat up, as if sucking in the power around him. And slowly but surely, he watched as the air in front of him condensed, becoming thicker and more opaque until finally, it formed a rope of dark red flames.
The flames grew larger, swirling to the ceiling of the basement like a spiral staircase. We did it, Parlan thought in amazement. We summoned Fy—
Suddenly, the Fyre lashed out of its configuration, darting to the edge of the circle opposite Parlan. One of the apprentices screamed and stumbled backwards, breaking the circle of clasped hands. The Fyre swerved, spraying this way and that like a loose water hose, forming crazy spirals that broke out of the confines of the circle. All the apprentices dropped their hands, staring up at the flames in horror...
Hartwick shouted something and held up his hands, palms out. He muttered a long string of syllables as the apprentices shrunk back. Slowly, the Fyre stopped writhing like a snake and began to shrink. It took a long minute, but it finally condensed into nothingness and disappeared.
All of the apprentices exchanged terrified looks. Parlan even saw a few neopets shaking; he himself was doing his best to stop his legs from trembling.
Parlan glanced over at Sir Hartwick, expecting him to be furious. Instead, the grey Gelert just ran his fingers through his beard thoughtfully. "It seems that was perhaps a bit too advanced for us... but no matter." He clasped his hands together. "I think that's enough work for today. You are all dismissed."
* * *
Parlan could tell that everyone was grateful that lessons were cancelled for the rest of the day. As they all trudged up the staircase out of the basement, the apprentices around the silver Shoyru whispered to one another, but it wasn't too hard to hear what they were saying.
"That was so intense. For a second, I thought the Fyre was going to hit Samuel and..."
"I know. It was terrifying. Why do you think it lashed out like that? Do you think someone messed up the chant?"
"I bet it was Marlo's writing. He was shaking when he wrote the rune... he needs to be more careful. Samuel almost died."
Parlan glanced over at Marlo, hoping that she hadn't heard the exchange, but her hood was down and she wouldn't return his glance.
* * *
That night, Parlan had a difficult time sleeping. Thomas's snoring kept punctuating the relative quietness of the Lunar Dorm, and thoughts of Darren kept him tossing and turning beneath the thin cotton sheets.
Eventually, Parlan slid out of bed, slipped out of the Lunar Dorm, and began to wander the mansion in his pajamas.
Hartwick Hall looked much different at night, but not in a terribly frightening way. It was even more beautiful in the half-light, Parlan thought. The lanterns that hung from the ceiling were still lit, just much less strongly; the flames flickered gently, only lighting the crevices of the ceiling and leaving most of the ground covered in a shroud of dusky darkness.
Parlan first spent some time staring at the hallway walls covered with the portraits of sorcerers, marveling at how realistic each painting looked; the attention to detail was phenomenal, and the brushstrokes were tiny and precise. There were little silver plaques beneath each image, bearing the sorcerer's name, but Parlan didn't recognize any of them. There's so much for me to learn, he thought as he continued down the hallway.
When he reached the main entryway near the front doors, he paused at the base of the grand staircase and looked up into the darkness near the top of the steps.
Darren must be staying somewhere up there, he thought, and he felt the sudden urge to go upstairs and try to find the blue Ogrin.
But just as Parlan placed his foot on the first step, he heard a sound coming from down the hall. The silver Shoyru hesitated for a moment, unsure if it was against the rules to be wandering about at such a late hour, and then he ducked behind the bannister, hiding himself in the shadows produced by a large potted plant.
The footsteps drew nearer, and Parlan peered through the wooden bannister. The hall was dim, but he recognized the long, golden hair instantly: Marlo. But she was dressed in her traveling cloak, and a large bag was strapped across her back.
Parlan debated whether he should stay hidden or not, but as soon as he saw Marlo reach for the doorknob leading out of the mansion, he emerged from his hiding place; the leaves of the plant rustled. "Where are you going?"
Marlo jumped and spun around. "Parlan!" she hissed. "What are you doing here?"
"I couldn't sleep," he said truthfully, eyeing the bag she was carrying. "Where are you going?" he repeated.
Marlo pursed her lips. For a moment she didn't say anything, and then she looked him straight in the eye. "I'm leaving."
Parlan blinked in disbelief. "Leaving to go where?"
"I don't know," she admitted, clenching her fists. "Maybe home, maybe not. I just know I need to get away from here." Parlan could see that her blue eyes were rimmed with red. "I messed up, and I can't stay."
"I already told you I wouldn't tell anyone—"
"What if you slip up?" Marlo demanded, shaking her head. She had taken the glamour off, and her long blonde hair swished back and forth. "I need to leave now before people find out."
"I... I..." Parlan didn't know what to say. He just kept shaking his head in disbelief. "This can't be happening."
"No," Parlan said. "You can't go. I'll... I'll..." He racked his mind for something he could do to make her stay. Clumsily, he summoned a small red flame. "I'll stop you from leaving!" He held out his hand in a shaky sorcerer's fighting stance. The light of the flames barely illuminated Marlo's face, but he could see that she was smiling at him sadly.
The orange Wocky flicked her pinky and Parlan's flame extinguished. Parlan summoned another flame, and again, Marlo made it vanish with hardly any effort. He tried again and again, hoping that maybe his small antics would buy him some time to come up with a plan to convince her stay, but finally Marlo muttered a couple of syllables and Parlan found that he couldn't move his limbs.
"What... did you do to me?" he asked, straining to move his fingers.
"A binding spell. Don't worry; it's temporary. I just can't have you trying to stop me."
"But I... I don't want you to leave." He tried to shake his head, but his neck wouldn't budge. "Listen, I'm sorry for walking into the room. I'm sorry for seeing your hair down. Just... don't leave. Erase my memory. Make me forget about it! Do something, anything, but leave."
Marlo paused, looking at him curiously. Her eyes swept across his face, lingering on his cheekbones, before she shook her head. "I'm sorry Parlan, but it has to be this way." She reached for the silver Hartwick Hall pendant hanging around her neck, and she pulled it off over her head. It dangled in her hand for a moment, reflecting the lantern light, and then she slipped it into Parlan's pocket.
"Why are you giving me your pendant?" he asked, feeling the weight settle against his side.
She shrugged. "Because I'm not Sir Hartwick's apprentice anymore." She slid her hands into her own pockets. "Goodbye, Parlan."
And then she walked past him.
Parlan wanted to stop her, but his limbs weren't working; his right arm was held out awkwardly, and his legs felt stiff and cramped. So instead he just watched as Marlo disappeared out through the front doors and into the darkness of the Haunted Woods. She looked back at him, just for a moment, before shutting the door.
Parlan's stomach churned as he stared at the wood grain. It's my fault, he thought. If anyone deserves to be here, it's her. And it's my fault she's gone.
He was still berating himself when he heard someone whisper a string of syllables from the darkness behind him.
"Wha—?" Parlan asked. He tried to turn towards the sound, but Marlo's enchantment held him still. But now, in addition to the stiffness of his joints, his body felt very heavy and his thoughts grew foggy and thick.
Two seconds later, he collapsed to the floor and descended into darkness.
To be continued...