The Magic Quill #70: The Rescue

by Robbie Fischer

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 objects — blades.

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. I’m busy rescuing you. I didn’t 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 didn’t know what it was designed to do, of course, since he hadn’t read the inscription on the vampire’s 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 Rigel’s 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 Slavik’s 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 machine’s demise was at least as deep, and therefore nearly as eerie, as the silence of the machine’s 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 Karl’s arm.

“Mine is still working,” Merlin pointed out. And it was true that without its light, they couldn’t see much beyond a radius of a few meters. Even Rigel’s 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.”

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