Merlin stopped tumbling headlong and found himself sliding down a smooth, curving chute. Its walls seemed to be made of dark glass, yet
ordinary glass would have put up more friction against his skin and clothes. He tried to slow his descent, but could not.
The next thing he knew, he was dumped out onto a moving conveyor belt made of densely woven...gag!...hair. Skeleton arms wrapped themselves
around his shoulders and knees, pinning him to the belt as it moved ahead, soundlessly, magically.
The oof sounds behind him told him that the Durmstrang lads had met the same fate, one after another. He could not turn his head to see
them, however. A fifth skeletal hand had risen out of the hairy conveyor belt and clamped itself across his brow. The only thing Merlin
could see was a network of pipes and tubes criss-crossing and intertwining above the machine; a number of small, faint, eerie flames
hovering here and there; and, when he rolled his eyes downward, a circle of approaching darkness in which glints of light reflected on shiny
Merlin was about to scream when a familiar voice spoke at his shoulder. Curse you all for fools! it muttered.
After trying (and failing) to turn his head toward the voice, Merlin squawked, Rigel!
Shut up. Im busy rescuing you. I didnt need any help, but here you all come charging after me. It will be a wonder if I can rescue all of
you in time!
As Rigel began applying the various gimmicks from his pocket universe storage locker, Merlin felt very foolish. But he had no time to
confess or deny his feelings, because Rigel was busy translating his remarks into three other languages, for the benefit of several
hysterical young men who, in times of crisis, forgot how to speak English.
A few moments later, the portable hole had freed them all, and they stood in the middle of a complex machinery that seemed to be made
entirely of bones, hair, deadly blades, and dripping pipes of all sizes. Its size and its silent, steady motion were equally ghastly
particularly when you considered what it was designed to do.
Rigel didnt know what it was designed to do, of course, since he hadnt read the inscription on the vampires memorial fountain of blood
upstairs. When Merlin explained it to him, Rigel smiled, nodded, and passed out.
Ignorance is the better part of valor, Merlin declared, as he splashed Rigels face with the water still flowing out of his lit wand.
Call it a miracle, or call it a habit of highly successful survivors, but none of the young wizards had dropped his wand either. Slavik
waved his wand at the machinery around them and above them, and then said something like, Guy-etch-knee klee-ootch. Two things happened at
the same time. First, steam shot out of the end of Slaviks wand with a teapot-like whistle. Slavik dropped it and they all watched as it
bubbled, warped, and splintered. A thin fog gathered around their feet and then dissipated.
But also, as they noticed afterward, the ever-moving machine slowed and then suddenly stopped. For the first time, it even made a noise a
shrill, complaining noise, followed by a stomach-turning sound like dried bones breaking.
The stillness that followed the machines demise was at least as deep, and therefore nearly as eerie, as the silence of the machines
magical operation. The shadows deepened at the same time, as the mysterious little hovering flames died away.
Well, that does for two wands, Rigel groused as he rose to his feet, supporting himself on Karls arm.
Mine is still working, Merlin pointed out. And it was true that without its light, they couldnt see much beyond a radius of a few meters.
Even Rigels cloak paled in its damp, drippy light. Who knows? Merlin added. I might get another spell out of this one.
Well, hold that spell steady for now, said Rigel. We need to find a way out of this horrid place.
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