Temptation: Part Two
As the door swung open, Sweetpea let out a gasp, and Kayli felt her jaw drop. The room, which had once likely been a storage closet, was filled to the ceiling with swirling, shifting colours. There were shades of red, orange, yellow, blue, and every other colour imaginable twirling through the air and mixing together, much like Kayli imagined the Northern Lights to be. They coiled and spun, mixing together to create new colours, and then splitting apart and going in different directions. And there, standing in the middle of everything, was Artro. The White Acara had a wild grin on his face, his hair mussed as if he'd been working for a while. There was a large stain on the sleeve of his white robe, something he'd likely spilled and then forgotten about during the incantation. Artro let out a laugh as he saw Kayli and Sweetpea frozen in the doorway.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Come on in!" Artro laughed and threw his arms in the air, sending a wave of red colliding with a patch of yellow.
"What... What are they?" Kayli asked, now intrigued by the strange colours. Sweetpea carefully stuck out a hoof, mixing an area of blue with purple.
"It's like smoke." She gave Artro a questioning look. "But what does it do?"
Artro laughed. "Why nothing, of course! But that doesn't mean it doesn't teach us anything."
Kayli and Sweetpea slowly entered the room, their eyes wide in amazement. Kayli stuck out her wings as she walked, sending every colour spinning off in different directions and creating several new colours. She imagined this is what it looked like inside one of those Rainbow Swirly Things Fyora sold in the Hidden Tower.
"So what does this teach us?" Kayli asked, eager to get on with the lesson. Artro frowned thoughtfully.
"Well, what do you two think?" Kayli shrugged and glanced at Sweetpea. She'd never been one for speculation; why guess at something you could know for sure?
"They teach us... that magic can be fun? And that not everything has to have a purpose?" Sweetpea guessed.
Artro nodded thoughtfully. "Certainly. They also remind us of the beauty of magic, something that's easy to forget when we use magic in our day to day lives. We, as Wizards, get so focused on the next spell, on moving forward in our careers, we often begin to take magic for granted. It's good to take a step back every once and a while, and just be reminded of this gift we've been given." Artro waited a beat, letting his words sink in, and then clapped his hands together.
"Alright! Now, on with the lesson; I chose to have you meet me here to show you that magic can make even the most ordinary and drab setting exciting and wonderful! Don't you agree? Good, now it's a bit small in here for our regular lesson, why don't we move into the forest? Yes I believe that's a good idea, quite a good idea. Come along now girls..."
"Um, Artro? Shouldn't we clean up before we leave?" Kayli glanced around at the swirling colours, and couldn't help but smile at the idea of a janitor stumbling in on them.
"Clean up? Oh yes, of course, of course. Okay girls, pop quiz. What's the quickest was to reverse an incantation?"
Sweetpea's wing shot straight up in the air. "Repeat the spell backwards."
"Correct! Revision; what if you don't know the spell that was cast?" Artro looked back and forth between the two girls, who glanced, baffled, at each other.
"Um... complete a counter spell? One that fights the affects of the spell in progress?" Sweetpea glanced helplessly at Kayli; she wasn't used to guessing. Artro nodded thoughtfully and strolled back into the room.
"True. That could work, but it would be messy. The more spells in progress, the more likely something could go wrong. It would be much easier to reverse the original spell entirely." He waited a beat as the girls frowned at each other, trying to come up with the correct answer.
"But... if we don't know the spell, wouldn't it be easier to stick with what we do know? Complete a counter spell that would eliminate the effects? If the spell is completed correctly nothing should go wrong." Kayli shuffled her hooves as Artro studied her thoughtfully.
"Of course in theory nothing SHOULD go wrong, but one can never know what will happen in practice. Even in the most controlled situation, mistakes are made and trouble arises."
Kayli frowned. "But that's true for any kind of magic, so isn't the risk worth the result? The risk of screwing up is worth the result of a successful spell." Kayli said this more confidently, sure of her answer here. If everyone was worried about messing up a spell, no one would ever cast anything.
Artro inclined his head thoughtfully. "In some situations yes, but I would never say that rule applies to all magic." Artro studied his two apprentices, and suddenly turned, and with a flick of his wrist the colours were gone. They were once again in a boring old storage closet. "Alright students, I think there's something I must show you. Leave your materials here, we'll come back for them and you won't need them where we're going."
Artro marched out of the room; Sweetpea and Kayli had to run to keep up with his long strides. Sweetpea shot Kayli a baffled look, but Kayli simply shrugged. How was she suppose to know what went on in Artro's head? It's not like she was a mind reader. Besides, she thought darkly, even if she had a spell for mind reading Artro would never let her cast it. Too many "risks". Never mind that she was probably the most powerful apprentice in the school...
Kayli's gloomy thoughts were interrupted as Artro came to a sudden stop at the edge of the forest. It was now well past sunset, and the forest seemed particularly spooky tonight. Kayli had always been nervous entering the forest at night, but Sweetpea and Artro never seemed to share any of those fears. Artro turned as the girls approached, his expression more serious than Kayli had ever seen.
"Now I want you two to stay close, alright? We're heading to a dark part of the forest, and there's no telling what's lurking at this time of night..." Sweetpea and Kayli exchanged a nervous glance, but hurried after Artro as he stalked into the forest.
"So... We're not going to the cabin?" Sweetpea asked as she anxiously wrung her wings together. Instead of living on school grounds like most teachers, Artro chose to live in a small hut hidden deep in the forest. Had this been a regular training night, the girls would have met Artro at the cabin, where they would then proceed to practice their magic, collect ingredients for Artro, or help their mentor in any way he needed. They'd only gone off into the forest a handful of times, and always for a very specific and clear purpose.
Artro spared Sweetpea a reassuring smile. "Not to worry young one, our night has taken a rather interesting turn. Kayli has reminded me of a lesson I should have taught you both long ago." And with that he turned and marched ahead.
"I'm beginning to wish I hadn't said anything..." Kayli murmured to Sweetpea. The girls locked wings so as to stay close and once again ran to catch up with their instructor.
Kayli was so focused on watching her hooves so that she wouldn't fall, she almost ran straight into Artro's back when he suddenly stopped. She glanced up quickly when she heard Sweetpea's sharp intake of breathe.
"And this, children, is what happens when we do not consider the consequences of our actions." At first Kayli couldn't make sense of what she was seeing. It looked as if they'd walked straight into the Haunted Woods, although she knew that that was impossible. Everything around them, from the grass to the trees to the flowers, was completely dead. No, not dead, Kayli amended, more like... drained. The flowers were still alive, but they were a sickly grey colour and drooped to one side. The trees looked like they'd been stained with ink, they were so black and gnarled. The whole forest seemed to have this eerie, dark feeling, like something terrible was lurking just around the corner. Kayli felt Sweetpea shudder beside her.
"What happened here?" Sweetpea asked. Kayli cautiously reached out and touched one of the trees, its trunk scarred and shrunken. A piece of bark chipped off, leaving a black mark on Kayli's hoof. She quickly wiped it on her robe and turned back to Artro.
"Foolishness." Artro shook his head sadly and leaned down to touch a nearby flower. After Artro muttered a few words the flower brightened and straightened up, taking on a brilliant red colour. It seemed as if Artro had brought the flower back to life, until he removed his paw and the flower wilted, its lively red colour fading to a dreary grey.
"Many of us have tried to return this forest to its former glory; however the magic residing here appears to be too strong for even the best of us." Artro turned to his wide eyed apprentices solemnly. "As you know, we Neopets receive our magic from the Faeries, who in turn receive their magic from nature, whether it be from the earth, the water, or one of the other elements. Even the dark faeries have their place in the universe, drawing their powers from the dark side of Neopia."
Kayli glanced around. "A faerie did all this? But how?" Artro studied Kayli thoughtfully before shaking his head.
"No, this wasn't done by a Faerie. Follow me, there's something else I'd like to show you."
The girls trekked along after Artro, carefully studying the surrounding forest. There was something sinister about the woods, Kayli thought, something besides the sickly state of the plants. Everything seemed too.... still. And too quiet, she decided. It was if she were walking through a picture, and not a real forest. There were no birds, no petpets running by. It was as if the forest was frozen, waiting for something to change, someone to return. Kayli shivered and hurried to catch up with Artro, scolding herself for her paranoid thoughts.
They didn't have to walk far before Artro stopped again. They were now at the edge of a clearing, a place that had likely once been a meadow. It now looked more like a crater, or some kind of barren wasteland. Artro led them across the clearing to a large rock, carefully placed between a pair of towering pine trees, their needles black and covered with soot. As they approached Kayli realized with a start that the rock was actually a gravestone. Okay, things had definitely been taken to a new level of creepy. Kayli glanced over at Sweetpea and saw that the other Uni had come to the same conclusion.
Artro gestured silently to the gravestone, inviting the girls to take a look. Sweetpea looked nervously at Kayli, who simply shrugged and approached the grave. Not like things could get any weirder at this point. She leaned down and wiped away a layer of dirt and grime, before carefully reading the inscription out loud.
"Here lies Tamara, a bright young Wizard and a loving daughter. May she now find the peace she could never find in life." Kayli glanced at Artro, who remained as silent and thoughtful as usual. She frowned and pushed herself up.
"So? What does Tamara have to do with Freaky Woods over here? Did she die when then forest was destroyed?" Again Artro remained silent, looking from one apprentice to the other. Kayli sighed and sat down, determined to out wait her mentor. If he wasn't going to give any answers she wasn't going to waste her time guessing. Luckily, Sweetpea seemed to be a few steps ahead.
"She was a Wizard," Sweetpea said thoughtfully. She glanced up at the sky, now covered by a blanket of stars. By Kayli's best guess it was now well past midnight. "Was Tamara the one who caused all this?"
Kayli started and glanced sharply at Sweetpea. "No way. No Neopet has that kind of power. This... this thing that's controlling the forest, it goes on for miles. No way a Neopet could create this. No one besides Fyora herself could create this kind of... thing!" Kayli looked to Artro for conformation and threw her wings up in frustration when there was no response.
"No... A Neopet couldn't create this with only their own magic. They would have to... take magic from someone. I don't know how, but it's like if a bunch of Wizards combined all their magic. That sounds stupid." Sweetpea sighed and also looked to Artro for an explanation. Finally, the older Wizard smiled at his apprentices and finally spoke.
"You're both right. No, no Neopet could have done this on their own, not without taking magic from somewhere else. And that's exactly what happened here." Artro glanced back and forth between his two apprentices. "Have I ever told you two about my roommate when I attended Wizarding School? Nicholas?"
Kayli groaned in frustration, tired of Artro's stupid life lessons. "Yes, yes, he was your friend, and then he got jealous of your magic and tried to destroy you and now you're no longer friends; can we please get back to what we were talking about?"
Artro's eyes danced in amusement as he studied Kayli's exasperated expression. "You missed the part where he filled my locker with Mortog legs, but yes that was the gist. What I meant to point out was that Nicholas became power hungry. He wanted more and more magic, and couldn't stand the thought of being second best to me, which is exactly what happened to young Tamara. She became obsessed with the idea of power, and having more and more of it. Finally, she found a way to become all powerful; through the use of Black Magic."
Artro chuckled as the girls exchanged questioning looks. "No, I don't suppose either of you have ever heard of Black Magic. They try to keep a lid on it back at the school. It actually stemmed originally from Dark Magic, however over the years it's become old fashioned and Taboo among the faeries. What it is, basically, is borrowing the magic out of the living things around you in order to increase your own magic. Sounds simple doesn't it? Like borrowing a friend's homework and then returning it before it's missed. Well, this is what happens when a Dark Spell goes wrong." Artro gestured to the forest around them, his expression once again becoming serious and his eyes hardening.
"Tamara believed she could 'borrow' the magic residing in the earth; however it proved to be too much for her and led to her eventual demise. Black Magic also has a tendency to drive its users insane. So, to consider Kayli's earlier statement; Is the risk always worth the benefit? Is the risk of destroying yourself and everything around you worth the possibility of ultimate power?" Kayli started to speak but Artro interrupted. "No my dear, I know this isn't what you meant. I just thought you two ought to see what can happen when a spell goes wrong. Tamara too, I'm sure, thought that she could perform the spell correctly. Well, I suppose we'll never know what she was thinking now. Come along girls, it's late and we must return to the school."
Kayli hung back as Artro and Sweetpea began to make their way back to the school. She studied the grave a moment longer before running to catch up to her companions. "Artro? Artro, who put that grave there?" Artro glanced over in surprise.
"Why, the girl's owner, I'm sure. Just because someone makes a mistake doesn't mean they're abandoned by the ones who love them." His expression softened. "If you should take anything away from this lesson, it should be that some risks are much too great, and some mistakes, although viewed as horrendous by some, can always be forgiven by the ones who love them most. Now." Artro clapped his hands together and smiled. "Who wants ice cream?"
Only Artro could follow something like that with ice cream, Kayli thought ruefully as she headed back to her room later that night. It was nearing sunrise and Kayli estimated that she could get a couple hours of sleep in before her next lesson with Artro. She pondered the interesting events of the night as she entered her room and collapsed face down on the bed. She thought about the girl Tamara, and the lure that the Black Magic must have provided her. What must it have been like to be in possession of that kind of power? No matter; like Artro said, she hadn't been as strong as she'd thought and the magic had instead taken control of her. As she started to drift off to sleep, Kayli idly wondered if she would have been able to control the spell. She quickly dismissed the idea, knowing that she would never be foolish enough to risk such a dangerous incantation. She pushed all thoughts of Black Magic out of her mind as she finally dropped into a dreamless sleep.
To be continued...