The Magic Quill #108: The Final Causeway
by Robbie Fischer
Contest winner: TWZRD
Merlin paused to drain a smoking goblet before continuing with his tale. The others in the small parlor waited restlessly: one wearing a veil, one a fake mustache and glasses, another’s face concealed by the hood of his cloak, still another’s by a handkerchief, and the last disguised as a shapely young woman, though a shadow of a beard was starting to show on his face. At last, Merlin resumed speaking…
“Naturally, we all followed Rigel down the stairs that were revealed under the tomb of the goblin twins. By the light from the cloak of visibility, which it was Signor Boccachiusa’s turn to wear, we saw that the stairs descended onto a wide, smooth, stone causeway. The walls curved over our heads, no more than six feet up from the floor, so we had to stay near the center of the causeway – and some of us had to stoop a bit.
“The causeway curved to the right, quite sharply at first, but less so as we moved along. Young Karl observed that we were moving along a spiral, and on a gradual upward slope. There wasn’t much else to be observed – no doors, no steps, no features on the walls. Not much, that is, for the first few miles. Then Don Pagliai pointed out something shiny on the edge of the causeway ahead of us. As Signor Subito hopped forward to fetch it, Slavik screamed at him to stop. It was Rigel who saved him, by tackling the little clown before he could reach the pile of coins that appeared to have been left carelessly on the ground.
“’Explain why you have done this,’ snarled Don Pagliai, as he inspected his friend’s scraped elbows and torn trousers.
“’I just saved Subito’s life,’ Rigel snarled right back, and he marched off into the darkness – not far, by the sound of his dragging feet, but far enough to be able to pout in privacy. Even having once been a grown-up didn’t change the fact that he was a small child, after all.
“’He’s right,’ said Slavik, as Subito filled his lungs for what looked like another tremendous display of swearing. The small clown bit his tongue while Slavik explained. ‘Rigel must have realized at the same time I did – and it just shows that it pays to listen in magical history class – what this place is, and knowing that, we also know that you must never touch anything in here that looks like treasure.
“’This,’ Slavik continued, ‘is almost certainly the Final Causeway.’
“He beamed round at the rest of us, no doubt expecting loud exclamations of wonder and incredulity. When he saw nothing but blank faces, he rolled his eyes at us and said, ‘Have none of you heard of the Four Causeways?’ None of us had. ‘Everyone knows there are Four Causeways at Gringotts — four pathways that run directly from the surface level to the deepest heart of the bank. No one but goblins are ever meant to see them and live. Each one is connected with a certain, secret goblin ritual.
“’First, there’s the Material Causeway, whose location is most coveted by would-be thieves. It is said to lead to a huge vault containing the richest treasures the goblins possess. Guarding it, and even visiting it, are very special privileges even for goblins. Next is the Formal Causeway, leading to the Chamber of Avarice where the goblins’ governing board meets. Disputes are settled there, sentences passed, treaties ratified. Then there is the Efficient Causeway, which connects the bank to a sort of goblin Hogwarts – a place where young goblins learn whatever the old goblins want them to know. Business practices, maybe. Or the arts of war, maybe.’
“’Don’t bother telling us where the Final Causeway leads,’ I said. ‘We’ve just come from there. So this is the path they use for their funeral processions, right?’
“’Right,’ said Slavik. ‘The goblins are very clever. They have to be, in order to loot ancient tombs and temples without having their pointy ears blasted off by the security curses. And being clever, the goblins have picked up a lot of ideas from the places they plundered. Ideas they then applied to their own security. So unless Rigel and I are both quite mistaken…’
“’The booty in the goblin place of the dead will be protected by some serious curses,’ I guessed.
“Subito shuddered as we walked past another glimmering pile of jewels and gold. Then he squeaked as we approached a pile of bones — human bones — mixed with a few other things like a knife and a silver ring.
“’That narrows down the type of curse we’re faced with,’ Slavik said. ‘I believe that all this treasure is protected by the Somnium Cogo curse. Pick up one coin, and you’ll fall into an everlasting sleep. Or at least, the sleep will last until you starve to death. The bones we see there — and look! There is another pile of bones — mean that occasionally, a foolish burglar is allowed to find his way in here.’
“’Allowed?’ Don Pagliai asked, looking nauseous.
“’Why not?’ said Slavik. ‘They never get away with anything, do they? In fact, by leaving behind whatever they brought with them, they rather increase the amount of treasure collected here.’
“By now, we were far past being shocked by any horrid thing the goblins might do. Nevertheless, looking round at the other Durmstrang lads, I saw faces white with anxiety.
“Rigel rejoined the circle of light around Signor Boccachiusa, though he hadn’t quite finished with pouting. Karl persuaded Rigel to dig into his pocket-universe storage unit, where he found a basket of fresh fruit and some hard-boiled eggs. We stopped to rest and eat, then continued walking up the gentle slope, round the gently spiraling curve of the goblins’ Final Causeway.
“After several more rest stops of increasing length, including a bit of sleep, Karl spoke up again. ‘I belieff ve are getting close to the surface. Ve need to plan vhat to do vhen ve get to the end of this Causevay. Once ve are out in the open, ve von’t have much time to escape from the bank.’
“’They will catch us again,’ Don Pagliai wailed. ‘I can’t stand it!’
“’Ve need a diversion,’ Karl declared.
“’What good is diversion unless we know layout of place where we come out?’ Anatoly countered.
“’They are too many for us,’ said Don Pagliai. ‘We are big, slow, and weak.’
“’We can take them by surprise,’ said Slavik.
“I said, ’Haven’t you learned by now that there is no way to surprise the goblins?’
“’Where does that leave us?’ said Slavik. ‘We have to escape. We have to at least try.’
“’They vill try to stop us,’ said Karl. ‘And they are qvite good at it.’
“’Let them try,’ Rigel said, determination ringing in his high childish voice. ‘Nothing is going to stop me now.’
“A second later, Rigel was stopped in mid-stride with a sudden smacking sound. He fell flat on his back, yelling, with a nick on his chin, a bruise on his forehead, and a bite-mark on his tongue.
“’Well, that’s that,’ Don Pagliai said bitterly as his hands felt around in what looked like empty air. ‘It’s as solid as stone. In fact, I would swear it was stone. Must be another of those invisible walls.’
“Karl came forward and made his own survey of the blockage ahead of us. ‘No, feel here,’ he said. ‘Here is a door. The knob turns…’
“A sliver of light flooded into the tunnel. Jaan threw himself against the concealed door and pressed it shut, hurling curses at Karl that I couldn’t pronounce if I tried.
“’Don’t be a fool,’ Slavik translated. ‘If you open that door, goblins might notice us before we have a chance to do anything. They could attack while our eyes are adjusting to the light.’
“’I have idea,’ said Anatoly, who by now was taking his turn at caressing the disguised wall. ‘This is ordinary wall, painted to look like corridor goes on. But is not ordinary paint. See — perspective holds even up close, from every angle. Is magical paint, camouflage.’
“’That really helpth a lot,’ Rigel sneered. He was understandably in a bad mood; his tongue was swollen where he had bitten it.
“’What if we disguised ourselves same way?’ Anatoly said, ignoring Rigel’s remark. He looked more eager each minute. ‘I used to draw and paint well. With wand, perhaps I can copy type of coloring spell used on this wall.’
“’That would be a good idea,’ said Slavik, ‘if only we had a wand.’”
“Jaan smacked himself on the forehead, then tried a few halting sentences in English, before giving up and pouring out a stream of rapid words in a language he shared with the others. By now I could actually understand about a tenth of what he said at his usual speed, but this time he was talking so fast that I couldn’t make out a word.
“’Of course!’ Slavik cried. ‘Rigel has the last wand in his pocket locker! It’s been there since he was — er…’
“’Reborn,’ Don Pagliai suggested.
“Rigel turned red and fumed, but his tongue was too swollen to say anything we could understand. All the same, he dug out the wand Jaan had made ages ago, and which had never been used before Rigel’s little mistake with the Yesterday Pills. The next part was a bit ticklish and embarrassing. Each of us took his robes off, one after another, so Anatoly could cover every inch of our bodies with a camouflage spell. It didn’t help that, after tinting Rigel and the clowns, the wand started shooting ice pellets at three-second intervals.
“’One more thing that comes of using an Augurey feather as a wand core,’ Jaan said ruefully, with Slavik translating.
“’At last we were all covered with animated tattoos that made us blend in with the walls and floor. The effect was less than invisibility but more than Disillusionment. If you looked directly at one of us, you could see his general shape because of the way his movements distorted the image on his skin. Our eyes, the insides of our mouths, and our hair were still visible. In addition, the Durmstrang lads and I were covered in welts from the ice pellets, and shivering from the cold as well. It felt insane; we were about to walk out into some unknown part of Gringotts, completely naked, and all we could discuss was whether or not to use the wand one more time to make our hair go away.
“Stay close to the walls until you see a door that leads outside,’ Karl instructed us. ‘Then run like your life depends on it.’
“’It does,’ said Don Pagliai.
“We were leaving everything behind now. Rigel’s robes with the pocket locker and all the handy things in it. The cloak of visibility. The silken ladder. The portable hole…all of it would be left behind in the Final Causeway, to tempt future treasure hunters to their doom. We all knew that if we were caught again, we would not survive long without these things. No one had to say anything about it as we looked at each other’s eyes, strangely floating along with disembodied heads of hair and an occasional glimpse of teeth and tongue.
“’Night of the flying hairpieces,’ Rigel joked. Some of us laughed nervously.
“Then Karl gave us a count of three, and threw open the concealed door…”
+++ A MESSAGE FROM ROBBIE +++
In the last few months, demands on my time have increased, while response from readers has dropped off. So the “Challenge” for this time is: Go to the Feedback Form and tell me if you think it is worth our while (yours AND mine) to continue “The Magic Quill.” Frankly, when I only hear from a handful of readers on a regular basis, I wonder whether anyone would notice if TMQ quietly went away. So, if you want this column to continue, please shoot me some feedback on it!
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