Jaan explained as he handed out the wands, and Slavik interpreted for him.
“He says wands are probably only good for one or two spells. To make proper wand, that does not burn out, you need wand.”
Merlin shook his head, confused. “I thought the whole reason we were making wands was that we needed them.”
“No,” Slavik said, exasperated. “That is not what I mean. Without spells cast by a wand, you cannot make very good wand.”
“Then it must have been tough to invent the first wand,” Merlin muttered.
Rigel answered aloud, “Why didn’t he use the first wand to put the spell on the second?”
Slavik asked Jaan this question, then translated his answer: “He says each wand needing several charms. Would use up all wands just to get one that works. This way, we each getting wand. But, we have to be careful. Wands are only good for one, maybe two spells.”
“So we save the wands until we see an opportunity to use a spell to get out of here,” said Rigel.
“Or until it is a matter of life or death,” added Anatoly.
Grimly, the six wizards bade farewell to the pleasant wand tree preserve where they had passed so many pleasant weeks. Squeezing once more through the portable hole, they continued following the curving passage that had led them there from the Gallery of Seven Tunnels. The passage sloped gradually upward, and here and there they passed windows that looked down on the preserve. The smell of leaf-mold and the cries of birds tugged at them; it was like leaving home, or losing the outside world again. The reality of being lost in the deepest, strangest parts of Gringotts Wizarding Bank came back to each of them in full force.
Finally the windows stopped, and the upward slope became a stair. The effort of climbing silenced the bits of muttered conversation that passed between them. Up and up and up they climbed, following Rigel. Their only light was the glow from his cloak of visibility, and from the back of the line Merlin could barely see that.
Suddenly, that light went out, and the wizards were swallowed by inky darkness. As Merlin swore in consternation, he heard the others crying out in various languages. Then a thought came to him like a drop of icy water running down his spine. “Rigel?” he called. “What happened? Are you there?”
No one answered.
Their sense of direction almost obliterated by the darkness, the remaining men felt their way up the remaining steps, feeling the walls and each other’s robes with their groping hands. At times they went on all fours. Then the stairs ended, and they came out in a level place…a round room. By the way their voices echoed back at them when they hallooed, it seemed to be a fairly large room, with smooth stone walls and floor.
Merlin tried calling for Rigel again, but still there was no answer.
“This is ridiculous,” he said, and he pulled out the wand Jaan had given him. “Lumos!”
The result was not what he expected.
Certainly, the wand gave some light. Even the little light it gave seemed like a great deal after a quarter-hour of impenetrable darkness. But what the wand gave off, mostly, was water. A fountain sprayed out of the tip of the wand, soaking the front of Merlin’s robes until he held it out at arm’s length.
Merlin saw the others’ faces turned toward it, marked with signs of fear, relief, and sadness. Only four faces – Rigel was missing. What he could see of the room suggested a perfectly round space, about the size of a classroom at Hogwarts. Arched entrances led into it from four directions, and in the middle of the room stood a statue surrounded by stone benches…no, a fountain, only without running water. In the center of the fountain stood a lithe female figure, carved from a whitish stone. Even as the men walked around the statue, the only working fountain continued to be Merlin’s wand. The water ran toward the nearest archway in steady rivulets.
“He is not here,” said Anatoly, shivering.
“Is not nice, that statue,” Slavik observed.
The stone woman really did have a nasty look about her. Her stone eyes seemed to be looking at them hungrily, and between her parted lips was a row of predatory stone teeth. Her fingers were tipped by claw-like nails, and her body – which seemed to be draped in silk, though it was made of the same whitish stone – had something of the look of a bird swooping down on its prey.
“Here is plaque,” Slavik declared.
The others gathered quickly at his end of the fountain, where a large brass plate was bolted to the top of the stone rim around the fountain. It read: “Ursulina the Unwholesome. Undead Relations Liaison, 1345-1672, 1794-1912, 1941-1983. Co-Founder of Gringotts Transylvania Branch. First Non-Goblin to Chair the Blood Bank and Trust Division. Tragic Victim of Friendly Staking Incident, 1983. In Memoriam.”
“Oh, a vampire,” said Anatoly.
“How can there be such thing as ‘friendly staking incident’?” Slavik wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” Merlin replied absently, as he walked round the fountain again. Something did not feel right. “I suppose somebody ran out of the break-room, holding one of those wooden stir-sticks…”
His voice trailed off. His mouth went so dry that his tongue seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth.
On the back of the pedestal beneath the vampire statue’s feet, a second placque was attached. It read: “We hope you enjoy this fountain of blood, designed in Madam Ursulina’s honor by the firm of Nosferatu & Tye, London. To activate fountain, please deposit one (1) victim in trapdoor in the twenty-ninth step down from any entrance to this memorial. Display will begin within approx. 20 minutes.”
“Oh, please, no,” Merlin groaned. “Rigel! How long has he been missing?”
“About fifteen minutes,” Slavik said.
“Then we have to hurry!” Merlin screamed, and he ran toward the nearest archway, slipping in the water that continued to spout out of his lit wand.
What happens next? Send us your idea in 150 words or less, and tune in next week for another installment of the Magic Quill.