Magenta: The Empty Canvas

Continued from here.

There was no getting around it – there was no way out. She was trapped alone in a sealed-off wing of the museum, and no one from her group would know where she had gone. “The sign on the door to this place said ‘NO ENTRY,’ it didn’t say ‘NO EXIT!'” said Magenta aloud, giggling to herself nervously.

She had a short freak-out. This involved spinning around in circles looking for lost doors and much pulling of her curly brown hair, and running through random doors only to always end up back in the room with the empty canvas. After encountering the room for the tenth time, the young woman stopped running. She doubled over and caught her breath.

“All right. All right. Why am I running?” the sorceress muttered to herself. “No one’s looking. I’ll just teleport out of here. I’ll reappear in a ladies’ room, then catch up with the rest of the class.” Magenta ran over the plan several times in her head. It felt almost too simple, but surely the worst that could happen is that someone else would notice her appearing out of thin air in the ladies’, and she could always modify memories if it came to that.

Magenta closed her eyes, as if the blank, framed canvas that dominated the room distracted her. She took a deep breath. Then she spoke the incantation for the Teleport spell.

She kept her eyes closed, but she couldn’t help but notice a distinct lack of that disorienting “Just warped through space” feeling. Maybe she was just too wired to feel it? No such luck, though. She had gone nowhere. Her eyes opened, and beheld that same blank canvas. Frustrated, she spoke the incantation again. Nothing.

This is ridiculous, Magenta thought to herself. She had passed the Examination with a perfect score. This was not an Egyptian tomb, cursed with long-lost sorcery. This wasn’t a cathedral blessed against witchcraft by long-suppressed rituals. In those sorts of places, wizards would expect their magic to go astray. But here… there was no excuse!

Magenta backed up against the far wall and spoke the incantation for a third time. She practically shouted it. And yet she remained, maddeningly, here. Just her and that bizarre empty canvas that some idiot had the audacity to frame.

At the top of her lungs, the sorceress screamed out a seven-syllable swear.

Scowling at the empty canvas, Magenta thought she could her outburst echoing around the wing. Then she realized her mistake. Someone else was talking, in another room.

“Hey! Hey! Over here!” cried out Magenta. She took two steps in the direction of the door to the next gallery, then stopped. The way these galleries led into one another in circles, she’d be just as likely to get lost as to find whoever was talking. No, staying put was the best policy. Staying put and shouting. “Who’s there! If you can hear my voice, come this way! Come this way!”

Busy shouting herself hoarse as she was, Magenta didn’t hear the footsteps from the other direction until the feet making them were only a few meters away. “Hey! It’s… hi!” said a voice, awkwardly. Magenta turned around.

Two people stood just inside the doorway – a man and a woman, both, Magenta figured, construction workers. They had dark blue helmets and bright vests, which just about gave their profession away. The woman, who had spoken, had a good twenty or thirty years on Magenta, and looked like she spent most of her time operating heavy machinery. A purple bandanna was tied around her neck, but it would serve better to cover up the case of hat hair she’d have if she ever took the helmet off, thought Magenta. Her companion looked to be about the same age. He had a professionally-trimmed beard of black hair that was just starting to show hints of gray, and he was wearing mostly “safety orange”. In his left hand, he was clutching a large pail (also safety orange), which still swung on its handle as he stood there, regarding Magenta.

“Hi!” returned Magenta, brightly, and with relief. “I’m sorry, I know I’m not supposed to be here, but I got a bit lost. Well, really lost,” she said with an apologetic laugh. “Anyway, I’m here with a tour group from my university, and they’re probably really worried about me. Do you… Could you show me the way out?” Magenta gave each of them a humble nod. “…Please?”

The two construction workers exchanged glances. “Lady, we’ve been lost in this wing for four days,” the man said.

“W-what?” Magenta exhaled.

“We don’t know the way out. We’ve been lost for four days,” the man said again. “We came with a group too, the group that’s supposed to do the work for this wing, you know, the renovations. It’s been that long since we’ve seen any of them. If it hadn’t been my turn to carry all the lunchboxes,” he said, holding up the pail, “we probably would’ve starved by now.”

“Yeah, we’ve tried pretty much everywhere, but we just keep going around in circles,” explained the woman. “We heard you walking around. We thought maybe you were some of our crew, trying to find us. But I guess if you’re lost too, you don’ t know the way out?” she finished, hopefully.

Magenta shook her head. “Not a clue,” she said, disgusted at their complete unhelpfulness. “All I know is how to find this room, and that’s… just keep walking, and you end up here.”

The three of them just stared at each other for a few moments. No one seemed to have any new ideas. Magenta turned away and frowned. Her eyes fell upon the empty canvas again. What was it doing here, anyway?

“I’m Orla,” said the woman construction worker. It took Magenta a few moments to remember there were other people. “Huh?”

“I’m Orla,” said Orla again.

“Oh, yeah. Right. I’m Magenta,” said Magenta.

“Elroy,” said the man. “I guess we may as well get to know each other, if we’re going to be stuck here for a while?”

Magenta didn’t think much of this. She was not going to be stuck with these two, eating sandwiches out of a pail. No way, not this witch. “Do either of you know what this is?” she asked, pointing to the framed canvas.

“I don’t know anything about art,” shrugged Orla, and Elroy also shook his head.

“It’s got nothing to do with art,” muttered Magenta. She frowned at the canvas. What she needed to do – should have done long before, really – was cast a magic-detection spell upon this canvas. Maybe this canvas had some kind of enchantment on it that prevented them from leaving. If that turned out to be true, she might be able to figure out how to lift the spell and get them out of here.

Magenta looked back over her shoulder. Orla and Elroy watched her intently. The rules about using magic in front of ordinary people weren’t that strict, but all the same, it wouldn’t do to start chanting spells right in front of them. Magenta brought back the training she received as an apprentice in the art of Silent Spells. The memory of that lesson distracted her for a moment. It was one of those embarrassing memories that the mind refuses ever to let go of. Thinking about how easily she had obeyed her awful master’s whims made her shiver, even today, three years later. But that was then, and this was now, and she was Magenta the witch, not Hot Pink the apprentice, and she had. A. Job. To. Do.

With her mind clearly focused on the present, she cast the Arcane Sight spell in complete silence. And, sure enough, there was magic in that canvas! Powerful magic, too! She pursed her lips in understanding, and nodded absently as she tried to work out what this magic aura meant.

“Are you an art student?” asked Elroy, curiously. He must have realized she’d seen something. “Art history,” said Magenta, without really thinking. She realized after she’d said it that she majored in psychology, and was just here as part of an art history class. It didn’t matter either way. This magic… it seemed to emanate not from the canvas itself, but from something behind it. But with the frame, it was impossible to look behind the canvas unless she actually took it off the wall. So that’s what she started to do.

“Hey, what are you doing?” interrupted Orla. “Don’t touch that!”

“It’s okay. I’m an art history student. That means I’m practically an expert in handling paintings and stuff.” Magenta could see her words weren’t going to be convincing by themselves, so she added a little magic to them. “I’m an expert. You don’t mind if I touch the paintings.”

“Sure… you’re the expert…” muttered the construction workers. Magenta beamed at them. She went back to trying to lift the painting off the wall. It was just small enough that she could get her hands at both edges of the frame, but it was too heavy to lift. Another silent spell, this one cast over herself, transformed the sorceress’ arms and back into something a bit more muscular, as if she too had spent the last decade of her life working with heavy machinery. Magenta tried again to take the framed canvas off the wall. She failed. She began to wonder if maybe the frame was part of the wall.

“Hey, would you two give me a hand here?” asked Magenta. Orla and Elroy came over, and all three of them tried to take the painting down. This time, Magenta wasn’t surprised when they failed to budge it. “All right,” she said, taking a step back. “Tell you what. Let’s just… pull this canvas out.”

“Are you sure…” began Elroy, but he stopped when he saw the look on Magenta’s face. “Sorry. You’re the expert.”

“I am. Besides, it’s just an empty canvas,” said Magenta, quite reasonably. “It’s not like I’m destroying a priceless piece of history, here. I might as well just grab,” she said, and she grabbed at the canvas, making to pull it out from the middle.

Only, the moment Magenta’s fingers touched that odd canvas, she lost her balance and felt herself falling – falling forwards. It felt like someone had pushed her forwards, off a cliff, and down into an black void.

Magenta tumbled headfirst downwards, completely shocked. She might have cast a Feather Fall spell, if it had occurred to her. It didn’t – not until the very last second.

So it was with a loud and painful thump that she landed in the light again, ending up splayed out face down on an marble floor. But she was still alive. Magenta checked. She still had all her bones, and nothing felt broken. She was bruised, probably, but she was too dazed by the fall to care. The floor she currently stared at was bright, cold, and most importantly, different from the place she had left. She had escaped! The only question that interested her now was, how had she done it?

“Witchcraft!” cried an outraged voice from above her.

“Oh, that makes sense,” thought Magenta, mildly. “I am a witch, aren’t I.”

“Seize her!” another voice roared.

At this, Magenta lifted her head. Six armored knights stood over her, the steel ax-blades of their  halberds aimed directly at her head.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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