The Scientist's Apprentice: Part Eight
Darren estimated that he was locked in the dungeon for about two days before he was finally was face-to-face with his captor. Food had magically appeared in his cell six times—twice around breakfast, twice around lunchtime, and twice around dinner, he'd assumed. At first the blue Ogrin had glared at the plate, mistrustful of the scrambled eggs, the bowl of sliced tchea fruit, and the tall glass of black currant juice, but eventually he had caved in and eaten. It was about an hour after his desert bowl had magically vanished on the second day—a small dish of vanilla ice cream—that Darren finally heard the sound of footsteps accompanied by the swishing of fabric against the stone floor.
"Sir Hartwick!" Darren said as the grey Gelert came into view. He wasn't too surprised to see the sorcerer before him. In fact, he would have been much more surprised if anyone else had been his captor. "What is going on? What have I done?"
The grey Gelert rolled both of his wrists, conjuring a wingback chair out of thin air, and sat down on the other side of the bars. "I'm rather sorry for the cell, Sir Rickshaw," Hartwick said as he smoothed the creases of his robes. "I originally was going to have this conversation in your room, or even in the library, but I figured it would be safer this way."
"Safer?" Darren repeated in confusion.
Sir Hartwick held up his hands. "I did not want a friendly sorcerer-to-sorcerer chat to get ugly. Believe me, this is simply for safety purposes."
Darren blinked. He still believes I'm a sorcerer. He had not expected that. He had thought the reason he was locked in the dungeon was because Hartwick had finally realized that he was a fraud, not that he was dangerous.
"And," Sir Hartwick continued, "once we come to an agreement, I will let you out with my full apologies for inconveniencing you in such a manner. And I will offer recompense as well."
"Oh." Darren stared at the sorcerer. Things weren't as bleak as he had originally thought. Perhaps this is how Hartwick carries out all his business? "Well then, please continue."
Sir Hartwick laced his spindly fingers together. "Ever since you've arrived here, Sir Rickshaw, I've been doing a bit of research on lightning. It seems that getting struck by lightning is not as rare as I initially thought. There are several accounts of neopets being struck in my histories in the library. And yet none have mentioned anything about time travel. Scars and deaths, yes, but nothing about time travel." He leaned forward eagerly.
"Er... well," Darren fumbled, fiddling with the sleeves of his button-down, "this is as new to me as it is to you. As far as I know, this is the first recorded event of time travel... ever, and we... um... are not exactly sure how... it's done...?"
Hartwick smiled at him, a sort of condescending grin that made Darren feel like he was three years old again. "See, this is where I predicted we'd disagree. Because I strongly believe that you do know exactly how it's done. Perhaps lightning is involved. Perhaps it isn't. Either way, you do know, Sir Rickshaw, and I would like it if we quit lying to one another and you told me the truth."
Hartwick continued to stare at him as Darren grasped at words. "Sir... please. We shouldn't be talking about this. Even if I did know—which I don't," he lied, "the consequences... the whole timeline could be grossly altered. This could cause irrefutable damages to the future... my whole time could be changed!"
"But who's to say that your timeline is the correct timeline?" Hartwick mused, pressing his fingers together. "It's funny, the philosophy that has sprouted around time travel. It can't be done. You can't mess with time. And yet, now that we've discovered that you can in fact do it, who's to say which timeline is correct? You may think that the proper course of history is to ignore that time travel even exists, but perhaps it's meant to be the other way around. Perhaps time travel is supposed to be common knowledge. Perhaps the advancements in your time are meant to take place now."
Darren shook his head vehemently. "Sir... I can't. I just can't. I'm sorry. You have to look at it from my perspective. What if something changes so that I never exist? What sort of paradoxes will that create? What sort of holes or loops or..." Darren's head was spinning, and Sir Hartwick was just staring at him with a look of amusement.
"I understand, Sir Rickshaw," he said. "You have a lot to lose. Which is why I have not one, but two offers for you."
"Of course!" The Gelert smiled kindly. "I am a reasonable man, if I do say so myself."
Darren couldn't exactly agree with that statement, but he didn't say that aloud. "All right." He grasped the bars of the cell. "What are your offers?"
"One is for you to tell me the true spell for time travel."
"Sir, I just said I can't."
"That is fine," Sir Hartwick said with a nod. "That leaves option two."
Sir Hartwick grinned. "Tell me the secrets of the future." He held up his hand and began listing on his fingers. "I want any new spells you can recall. Any alchemical advances. Any inventions or historical data of any sort from between my time and yours."
Darren's heart felt like it was going to burst out through his chest. "Sir, that puts me in the same position as the first option. If I tell you that... it could alter the future."
Hartwick nodded. "I understand the risk for you, which is why I'm willing to offer compensation. We will be partners. Every neopoint we make from each invention, from each spell, will be split 50/50. You will be wealthy, Sir Rickshaw, wealthier than you could ever believe. And you will be regarded as one of the greatest sorcerers of our time... of all time. Think about that."
Darren's throat felt tight. "I... I can't."
For the first time, Hartwick frowned. It frightened Darren. "This was the response I was truly afraid of," he said, standing up from his chair. His long fingers laced together. "Speaking of fear... what exactly are you afraid of, Sir Rickshaw?" When the sorcerer's grey eyes flitted to Darren, they were now sparkling darkly.
Darren let go of the bars of the cell. "Wh-What do you mean?"
Sir Hartwick smiled. "For example, are you afraid of bugs?" And before Darren could answer, the sorcerer snapped his fingers and Darren's cell was filled with hundreds of tiny petpetpets. Red Aboogalas scurried over one another on their eight spindly legs. Several orange and grey Zytches inched towards Darren, their pointed snouts shining red, as if with blood.
Darren yelped, flinching back into the corner of his cell, to the only patch free of any bugs.
Sir Hartwick's smile widened. "What about snakes?" And with hardly a twitch, now there were Cobralls in the cell as well. They ranged from deep green to fire red, and the rattling hisses that emitted from their throats made Darren's hair stand on end.
"Or perhaps you're afraid of fire?" Hartwick mused, his grin growing as tendrils of flame flourished from his fingertips. He casually blew on his hand and the fire leapt off his fingers, swirling through the air around Darren. Some of it even singed his fur; he frantically batted at the embers until they died away.
"Please," Darren begged, his back pressed against the wall of his cell. "Don't do this. I can't tell you these things! Please let me go. Send it all away. Please."
Darren did not expect the sorcerer to respond, but with a clap of Sir Hartwick's hands, the bugs and snakes and fire vanished, as if it had never been there at all. "I'm sorry for that," the grey Gelert apologized, slinking back down into his chair as Darren's chest heaved. "It was most ungracious of me to do that to you, Sir Rickshaw, but you must understand that my position is firm. Either give me the time travel spell, or give me the secrets of the future. If not, I will resort to force."
Darren was sick of being intimidated. "I won't cave in," he said solidly. "Your spells won't make me tell you. I won't tell you. I can't."
Sir Hartwick's fingers twisted through his long beard, wrapping around long grey strands. "I understand, Sir Rickshaw. Believe me, I do. You're too strong to fall for my parlor tricks. And yet, you are not the only one in this mansion who has seen the future." His grey eyes narrowed suddenly, as sharp as flint. "Tell me: how long do you think Parlan will last in a cell with all of his nightmares laid before him? A young sorcerer with hardly any formal training. How long until he cracks, and then blames you for not saving him?"
Darren felt his skin drain of all color. "You wouldn't."
"I would." Sir Hartwick smiled, and suddenly, there was a quill, an inkwell, and a piece of parchment in his hands. He passed the supplies through the bars. "Now, if we could quit stalling, please write."
Darren's heart pounded wildly in his chest as he took the quill with a shaking hand. He thought of Parlan, somewhere in the upper floors of the mansion, unaware that the greatest sorcerer of his time was a madman. And he thought of himself, and how helpless and scared he truly felt.
With a sinking feeling in his chest, he pressed the quill to the paper and began to write.
To be continued...