The Magic Quill No. 162: Mirror Seeds
Contest winners: Dragonic & greyniffler
Spanky, Ilona, and Lionel Niblet marched in single file with their hands tied behind their backs. Behind them walked Minimilian, Hugo, Allie O'Modo, and a considerable following of henchwitches and -wizards, all abristle with wands and under orders to curse the prisoners at the first sign of resistance. Behind and below them lay the wooded valley with the mercenary camp and its outlying magical orchards. Above and ahead, the trees thinned toward a bare ridge that hid the gnome proving ground on its far side.
"It was very clever of you," pontificated Allie O'Modo, "to turn the tables on us so. Too bad for you, we turned them back . And when you turned the tables on us a second time, we turned them back again. It only shows that the side with the better preparedness has a right..."
"Seeds away!" cackled a voice from above. Captors and captives alike ducked as a broom rushed close overhead. The flyover was followed by a hailstorm of hard little seeds that instantly took root, even on this rocky slope, and began to shoot up at an eye-boggling rate.
While Allie O'Modo struggled to free her feet from the roots of a rapidly-growing yew seedling, Minimilian frantically searched the skies. "Drubbins! Goonsworth! Stop the prisoners getting away! Everyone else, bring down that broom!"
His instructions were too late to stop their attacker's second, shrieking pass. More seeds rained down, pinching and biting any flesh they encountered before reaching the ground. Minimilian howled with red-faced fury, looking more than ever like a spoiled child.
"Patience, love," Allie murmured after finally wrenching her boot free of the plant's roots. Already their party was surrounded by the walls of a waist-high yew maze. Several of their co-conspirators were getting tangled in the branches as they tried to wade through to their escaping prisoners. "Grimly, go with Drubbins and Goonsworth. Track our guests through the maze. Keep a wall to your right hand at all times. Don't get split up. The rest of you" - her speech was interrupted by another low sweep by their yipping assailant - "keep your eye on that broom!"
This time the overflight was followed by a rain of broken glass. Everyone cowered under their robes to avoid getting a faceful of jagged slivers. By the time they looked up, O'Modo's people had lost visual contact with their broom-mounted attacker.
"I never," Hugo breathed, as he observed what happened to the glass shards that reached the ground. For they, too, had started to spring up like plants, at a speed only magic could induce. The rising stalks were surrounded by a spiral staircase of leaves, thin and delicate to the point of translucency, and variegated like little stained-glass windows. As the stalks grew higher they wove themselves into the mesh of yew branches that, by now, formed a continuous shoulder-high hedge within and around the maze. Tiny buds swelled on the stained-glass vines, burst open, and unfurled shiny flowers whose clear, glassy gloss was backed by a silvery sheen. Mirror blossoms! "I absolutely never," said Hugo.
"You'd better start, then," snapped Allie O'Modo. "Hasn't anyone spotted that broom yet?"
It became harder to track the trajectory of broom flyover as the yew hedge passed the height of their heads; harder still when the next two passes came, in short succession, from quite different directions, suggesting that they had at least two aerial enemies to aim at; hardest of all when each broom sprayed them with a green, glittery gas, leaving them sneezing and waving the fog out of their faces.
"We have to get out of this maze," Minimilian shouted.
"Nonsense," said Allie. "It's cover, isn't it? Out in the open, they could hit us with anything!"
"Out in the open," snarled Minimilian, "we might be able to hit them."
"All right, then," Allie O'Modo relented. "You take Mugwump, Skink, and McCurdle and try to find a way out. The others will stay with me and try to shoot them down from in here. Oh, yes - and I would suggest that you all put on your safety-pins..."
"Right you are," said Hugo, pulling an ugly brooch out of his pocket (decorated with the skull of a small snake) and pinning it to his robes. The other members of Allie's squad did the same. "Now let's see those blighters try to curse us," Hugo added.
They saw the very thing Hugo wished for soon afterward, when Sir Lionel darted out of an unguarded gap in the hedge and aimed a jinx at Allie O'Modo's head. He immediately cried out and dropped his wand, or rather Drubbins's wand (but that's a long story), clutched his arm, and fell back out of range of the answering volley of curses.
"Crumple-horned snorkacks!" Sir Lionel swore, chafing his wand arm. Luckily Ilona, just behind him, had retrieved his wand with a quick summoning spell. "Spanky, old chap, don't jinx them! They've done something to make spells rebound!"
Spanky adjusted his tactics by aiming his spells at one of the mirror blossoms, in which he could see a reflection of one of Allie's henchwizards around the corner. Whatever spell he was firing at the wizard, it missed the first two times. Then he got the refraction angle just right... and the mirror shattered.
"Blimey," said Spanky.
"I think we should fall back," said Lionel.
They were all thinking the same thing. They could do nothing, at present, to resist their enemy's counterattack. Without another word they scrambled through the twisting and turning maze.
Now and then Ilona cut a blaze in the yew hedge, whose growth had stopped at a height of fourteen feet. Most of the time she did this as a reminder of where they had been in the tricky maze. Sometimes, however, she paused a beat longer - gauging the available time by the sounds of pursuit behind them - to create a booby trap. The pursuers, after all, were bound to stay on their trail, for the blazes would help them as well. Ilona smirked when, now and then, a dismayed yell indicated that a henchwizard had run into a snare, a concealed pit, or a barrier of fallen limbs and clutching vines.
Screams came, from time to time, from another direction. Spanky's party headed toward them, wondering whether they were running to rescue or more danger. He would have grinned if he had known that some of the screams resulted from a pot of very aggressive snapdragons, bred by Miles O'Roughage and borrowed for the occasion by his friend Sadie. In another case, the screams came from a witch who had failed to catch an eggshell full of Tickle Tonic thrown at her by Endora as her broom swooped low overhead.
"Their safety-pins must be running low on charge," Spanky speculated as the shouts and cries multiplied from both directions.
"We must be running out of maze," Sir Lionel added.
Instead, as they rounded the next corner, they came to a dead end.
"This can't be right," Ilona whispered.
"Oh, yes," said a tight, stiff-jawed voice behind them.
The three escaped prisoners turned as one and faced Allie O'Modo, who stood in the middle of their only way out of this bottleneck. Her chest heaved. Her face was disfigured, as much by fury as by the whiplash-marks left by one of Ilona's booby traps. She raised her wand.
Spanky's right hand was faster. "Expelliarmus!" he barked. But the spell rebounded in a flash of light, and the wand dropped out of his numb fingers.
"I've got enough safety-pins to block a few more curses," Allie laughed bitterly. Indeed, her robes sparkled with a multitude of tiny green gems, each individually hooked through the wool. She raised her wand again. "It's time for you to say your last words."
"Ow," Spanky said, massaging his elbow.
"It's not much to remember you by," said Allie O'Modo with an insane grin, "but I'll take it."
"Expelliarmus!" Spanky yelled.
Ilona couldn't believe he would try that again. Her head whipped around in time to see that he had aimed the jinx at himself, with his left wand held out at arm's length. The wand shot straight out of his hand and jabbed Allie in the eye.
"Ow!" she screamed - taking Spanky's last words, as promised.
Before she could recover from her stumbling, face-clutching agony, Ilona brought her facedown with her hands hiked up between her shoulderblades.
"Ow, ow, ow," Allie O'Modo insisted feebly.
"I believe you," said Ilona, kneeling on Allie's thighs.
Sir Lionel clapped Spanky on the back and crowed, "Well shot, my lad!" Meanwhile, two brooms darkened the sun for a moment, before their riders dropped into the maze beyond Ilona and her prisoner.
Spanky stared with joy at one witch with a veil covering half of her face, and another wearing a fake nose and glasses (complete with a curly mustache). "I can hardly imagine two faces I would be happier to see," he said.
"Well, you'll be happier to see this," said Endora. She held up her left hand, where the signet ring of Count Matthias shared a finger with her wedding ring.
Ilona gasped. "Where did you...!"
"The bad news," said Sadie, "is that Lee Shore, Il Comte, and Aunt or Uncle Leslie have all put spells on this ring. Endora can't get it off her hand. Since she used the ring to undo what Lee Shore was using it for, they know exactly where she is. I reckon we'll have some company in about..." Sadie checked a pocket watch she had nicked on her way out of the Ministry of Magic. "Right now, actually."
Another flight of brooms threw its shadow over them. Three pairs of feet touched down in the blind alley behind Sir Lionel and Spanky.
They all turned to face the latest arrivals.
"You were half right," said their old friend Harvey.
"It was only the names you got wrong," added Harvey's identical twin.
"I'll have that ring now, if you please," said their third visitor, smiling as Spanky's jaw dropped.
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #164 +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) at this blog, answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next.
SURVEY: Who is the third member of Harvey 1 & Harvey 2's party? (A) Harvey 3. (B) Robertus Magnus. (C) The real Sir Lionel Niblet. (D) Joe Albuquerque. (E) Orion Oldmanson. (F) Tip, formerly of Nasal Drip. (G) _____ [write-in candidate].
CONTEST: Chose a kind of animal and describe something silly that it could be trained to do, with the aid of magic.
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