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The Magic Quill #39: Chokechain’s Labyrinth, Part 2

by Robbie Fischer, concepts contributed by: Angel & Christy Hinterlong

“Just tell us about the maze,” said Joe impatiently.

“Fine,” Merlin sniffed. “To begin with, it was made of eleven-foot hedges of Devil’s Snare, which made it dangerous to get close to the walls, until we started carrying balls of magefire.

“Then there was the size of the labyrinth. It covered several acres and was absurdly complicated, but every turning looked the same. I think there were spells on it to prevent anyone from getting out without the leave of its owner. Or at least, there were booby traps that would cause you to become disoriented, or that would transport you instantly to a different point in the maze. The four-point charm wasn’t much help, because we had no idea which direction led to the way out. And then there were the creatures.”

Endora gulped.

“Creatures?” said Spanky. “You mean, besides Vesper?”

“I mean like manticores and chimaeras, and imps and trolls, here a griffin, there a red cap, even a boggart that lived in a smelly old drain. You could never tell which ones were illusions that were only meant to scare you, and which ones were the real thing. But once Rigel brought out his thestral, everything turned out all right. Nothing else seemed to want to come near it. There wasn’t room for the beast to spread its wings, so it couldn’t fly out, but that was all right. Vesper never hesitated for a moment, but led us round one turning after another, and in under half an hour we found ourselves before an enormous oaken door with brass fittings. Standing in our path before the door, playing with a ring with a brass key on it, was an enormous sphinx.

“‘Oh, how do you do?’ said the sphinx, when it noticed our approach.

“‘Er,’ said Rigel. ‘I say, do let us pass.’

“‘What, without a riddle?’ yawned the sphinx, who had a beautiful face fringed with a mane of ginger hair. ‘At any rate, only one party is allowed to go through at a time. So unless you’re traveling together, I will only deal with one of you, and the other must go back to the center of the maze.’

“‘I don’t even know this man,’ Rigel said, jerking his head in my direction. ‘I found him following me around, but I’ll have nothing to do with him. Send him away, and I’ll answer your riddle.’

“‘Don’t be a fool, Rigel,’ I said. ‘Can’t you see that this creature will hurt you if you don’t answer correctly? Let me have a try.’ I turned toward the sphinx and added, ‘I’m a family retainer, madam. I’ll risk your riddle for both of us, and if I fail, my companion will at least have another chance.’

“‘I am touched by your courage,’ the sphinx said to me–sneeringly, I thought. ‘But since I have the key, I will set the terms. I think that if you answer my riddle correctly, I will let you both pass, and the beast besides. If you fail, I will devour you all! Now then, would you still like to speak for the whole party?”

“‘Of course he doesn’t!’ Rigel squeaked. ‘I’ll take my own chances another time!’

“‘No, I think I can risk it,’ I said, shooting an evil look at Rigel. I hadn’t come this far to let him out of my sight, that’s all I can say.

“‘Very good,’ said the sphinx, with a blood-chilling smirk. ‘Here is the riddle; answer it if you dare. What is bright red, hangs on a wall, and whistles?’

“For a while I paced around, wracking my brains, while Rigel chewed his fingernails. Then I stopped and blurted out, ‘It’s a herring!’

“The sphinx gave me a sly look. ‘Are you sure?’

“I nodded. Out the corner of my eye I could see Rigel pressing his face against Vesper’s mane, bracing himself for whatever the sphinx would do next.

“‘What gives you the idea that a herring is red?’ the sphinx demanded scornfully.

“With perfect calm, I replied: ‘What other color would a herring be, when a sly creature like yourself drags it across my path? Perhaps you painted it red.’

“An angry line appeared between the sphinx’s pretty, catlike eyes. ‘And since when does a herring hang on a wall?’ she growled.

“‘I gather that to be since you nailed it there,’ I said, ‘no doubt to remind yourself of all the fun you have had, deceiving weary travelers to their deaths.’

“By now I could hear Rigel muttering under his breath, ‘Let him be right, father, and I’ll never pull the wings off another doxy!’

“‘And why, do you suppose,’ the sphinx thundered menacingly, ‘I should say that a herring whistled?’

“For a long time, I said nothing, but stared into the deadly eyes of the sphinx, while Rigel began to snivel behind me. Finally I said, ‘I believe you threw that in to make it hard.

“‘After all,’ I added graciously, ‘it is otherwise such an easy riddle that no one can blame you.’

“The sphinx roared with fury, then with a swipe of her huge paw, swatted the keyring into my hands. ‘Get out of my sight!’ she cried. ‘The both of you, and take this ill-omened beast with you! It will take me ages to figure out a new riddle that will buy me as much food as that one did, you filthy despoilers! Off with you!’

“We did not delay in doing as we were told. After unlocking the heavy door, I tossed the keys back to the sphinx. She caught them on one long, bared claw and shook them at us as we fled through the doorway, flushed with both terror and the elation of being free.

“A moment later, we turned another corner and found ourselves in a corrider lined with vaults. Several heavily armed goblins were stationed in front of us. Another goblin, armed only with a stopwatch and a clipboard, looked up with a disgruntled expression. ‘Drat,’ it said. ‘That took you no time at all. You, Bilejug, take this animal and sell it to Jude the Insecure! It won’t do to give our test subjects too many advantages!’

“‘Yes, sir, Mr. Nailspike, sir,’ said the goblin guard.

“‘What are you going to do with us now?’ Rigel asked in a dispirited voice.

The goblin grinned wickedly. ‘We’ll think it over,’ it said. ‘Meanwhile, Mr. Chokechain wants to keep you in this empty vault. Don’t worry, you’ll find a chamber pot, a loaf of bread, and a flask of pumpkin juice inside. Good evening to you, gentle wizards, and worse luck to you tomorrow!'”

+++ Pause for RIDDLE TIME! +++

Thanks to reader Karissa for supplying us with a new riddle, to puzzle careful readers of the series. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this myself!

Riddle #26: From the “Sound of One Hand Clapping” Dept.

Prisoner of Azkaban clearly stated that nobody knows what a boggart really looks like because when it comes in contact with a human, it turns into that person’s worst fear (or what not). But, in Order of the Phoenix, we see Mad-Eye Moody use his magical eye to find a boggart hidden in a cabinet on the second floor from his spot in the kitchen. In this case, wouldn’t he have seen the boggart’s true form? Or, would it have immediately turned into Moody’s worst fear even though he was nowhere near it?

What happens next? Send us your idea in 150 words or less, and tune in next week for another installment of the Magic Quill.