The Magic Quill #168: The Revolting Ones

by Robbie Fischer

Contest co-winners: Linda Carrig, Joe, and _houdini
Runner-up: greyniffler

Rigel had survived being chased by merhags, wereyaks, and enemies on the rooftops. After running through zigzagging alleys and across several bridges without hearing pursuit behind him, he began to think he could survive anything. Then he saw light ahead – an open square! No one would think of attacking him there…

He put on a surge of speed, in spite of his weariness. The lure of open space called to him. It was almost close enough to touch, if he stretched out his arm…

…and then the ground disappeared beneath his feet.

He landed in a shoulder-roll, his fall cushioned by what seemed to be sacks of dried beans piled in an underground storeroom. Looking up from where he came to rest, he saw the hole he had fallen through as a rectangle of starlight in an otherwise pitch-black sky. Was this some sort of Venetian sewer with the manhole cover left off? It didn’t smell like one. In fact, it didn’t even smell damp – which, for an underground passage in Venice, could only mean one thing. Magic.

Rigel sat up and tried to look around. No good; there wasn’t enough light to see anything. He pulled out his wand and began to say, “Lumos!” But he had scarcely opened his mouth when the wand was wrenched out of his hand.

“I say,” he protested to the darkness. “Give it back while I’m asking nicely.”

“Why should we give it back?” barked a cold voice from so close to his left ear that Rigel flinched away from it. He collided with a pair of robed legs standing to his right.

“Be still,” growled the owner of the legs.

“You’ll give it back because it’s mine,” said Rigel, bracing himself against the sacks of beans.

“Yours?” replied the first voice – which, Rigel soon learned, always seemed to be barking, snarling, or snapping. “By what right?”

“By right of the fact that I spent good money on it,” Rigel snapped back. “Give it here.”

“Possession,” the second speaker observed. His inflections ranged from a growl to a hiss, with hints that at any moment he might begin to roar. “Property. Ownership. We find these concepts to be meaningless.”

“Today is the dawn of a new order,” Barker added, moving behind Rigel in a manner that made him nervous. “We are shaking off the shackles that muggles have placed on our minds. Wizards will rise, and…”

“…bump their heads against the rafters,” Rigel put in, “because they haven’t got the sense to raise a wandlight in the darkness.”

“All right, comrade,” said Growler. “Let’s look at you, then. Lumos!”

A wand-tip blazed with light, inches from Rigel’s nose. He winced. He could see nothing except dazzling, searing brightness.

“Not bad,” growled Growler. “Looks young, rough, rebellious. Ready to fight, ready to die, ready to kill for our cause.”

“I disagree,” barked Barker. “He looks like the idle rich to me. Too fattened by privilege to care for change, yet ungrateful to his betters — probably no threat to our cause, but we should kill him just to be on the safe side.”

“I know who you lot are,” said Rigel. “You’re the Black Elbow!”

“See?” huffed Barker. “He can identify us. Kill him now.”

Rigel grinned. “This is the greatest moment of my life!”

The lighted wand shook in his face for an uncertain moment. Its holder seemed nonplussed by Rigel’s reaction to his death sentence.

“The greatest moment?” Growler rumbled. “Which it is the latest moment. Don’t make this any harder that it needs to be!”

“But, I mean, this is so amazing!” Rigel beamed with ecstatic fervor. “I’ve been searching for you blokes since I was knee-high to a garden gnome. I want to join your – er…”

“Revolting organization?” suggested Growler.

Rigel almost laughed with joy. “Exactly! And I can be of service in so many ways. I have connections. Rich wizards. Dark wizards. Undead wizards. Witches whose words can reach millions. Dark creatures who could wreak terror…”

“Stop a minute,” Barker said harshly. He must have pulled down Growler’s wand arm, for as the light moved away from Rigel’s face, he could see more of their forms – especially the black ribbons tied around their wand arns, just above the elbow. Their faces were indistinct, but Rigel had an impression of sharp angles and beady eyes. Barker resumed: “This might be interesting… if you can be trusted, that is.”

“Maybe we should bring him before Madam Defaaaargh,” Growler rasped.

“Who? That witch who is always doing needlepoint? I don’t see what she can do. By now she could have finished a sampler the size of Siena, but she never seems to get past the second row of stitches…”

“No, you fool! That’s Signora Imbroglio, the club-footed contessa. I’m talking about the Madam Defaaaargh, the lady who does… you know, things… with knitting needles…”

“Ah! Yes! She will know how to poke the truth out of this one!”

“But surely,” said Rigel, with an openness to his face that would have astonished anyone who knew him, “you yourselves can think of a way to test my sincerity! Would any fat, privileged, rich wizard know the names of the months on the calendar that all people will observe when the revolution succeeds?”

“Er,” said Growler, who wasn’t sure he knew the names of the months himself.

“Go on,” Barker belled.

“Bezoar,” began Rigel, quivering with enthusiasm as he rattled off the list, “Boomslang, Snargaluff, Juxtipiary, Gigantril, Cornicus, Satyricus, Phoenicus, Grifonis, Centauris, Chalcember, Argentober, and Chrysember. That’s all thirteen, right?”

“That’s right,” said Barker.

“Hang on,” said Growler. “Wasn’t there something in there about a Dandelion?”

“No,” said Barker and Rigel in unison.

“I’m sure there was.”

“I’m sure there wasn’t,” Barker insisted.

“But surely you remember Wizard Fianchetto’s speech about the glorious Fifth of Dandelionuary?”

“Surely you remember that Wizard Fianchetto was turned into a toad for crimes against the revolution,” Barker returned.

“A miscarriage of justice!” Growler wheezed. “And even if it were not so, how would that change the calendar of the wizard revolution?”

“It didn’t,” said Barker. “Wizard Fianchetto’s memory has been condemned. He never existed. His speech was never delivered. There is no such month as Dandelionuary. Do you dare contradict me?”

“I dare it!” said Growler.

“See?” Rigel whispered at Barker. “He’s the impostor! He’s the enemy of our revolution!”

“I’m beginning to see that,” Barker confessed.

“Nonsense!” Growler retorted in a voice that Rigel felt through the sack of beans beneath him. “I was among the first to wear the sign of the Black Elbow. I forget nothing, least of all our first ideals! Down with transfiguration, charms, astronomy, and all those bourgeois forms of magic! Children in wizarding schools should be taught practical skills instead, such as how to turn a bowl of thistles and acorns into a five course meal for a family of six, how to fix scrapes and cuts, how to knit a warm winter shawl out of navel lint and eyebrow trimmings…”

“Banned heresies!” shouted Barker, drawing his wand. “Renounce them, or I’ll turn you into a toad here and now!”

Growler trembled. “Renounce them?”

“Aye! And beg for reeducation by the Party Obliviators!”

“Shall I forget, then, the teachings of Madam Adriana degli Melanzani? Shall I forget the great goal of our revolt against the Statute of Secrecy – which is to bring the benefits of magic to bear on the needs of all mankind?”

“Aye, and a thousand times aye!” Barker thrust his wand into Growler’s face. “Purge that cursed name from your memory! And spare no more pity for the muggles. Wizards are made to rule them. And we of the Black Elbow are made to rule all wizards!”

“That’s going too far,” Rigel whispered to Growler. “Don’t you think so?”

“I ought to turn you into a toad,” Growler growled at Barker.

“Try it,” Barker barked at Growler. “You’ll be lucky if I don’t turn you into a caterpillar first.”

“You would, you disgusting power-monger,” Growler hissed.

“And I’d step on you too,” Barker added.

“Do him before he does you,” Rigel murmured to Growler.

“What’s that you’re saying?” Barker demanded.

Rigel leaned toward him and whispered, “I’m doing all I can to hold him back. If I were you, I would move quickly at the first sign…”

Growler shook his wand hand threateningly at Barker. “I’ve half a mind…”

“Oh, no you don’t!” Barker howled, flourishing his wand. “Mangi zanzare!”

As he began this spell, however, Growler pointed his wand and blurted: “Coltivi verruche!”

Rigel caught his lit wand as it dropped out of Growler’s fingers. Then he drew his feet up onto the sacks of beans, avoiding the angry hopping and ribbiting on the floor below. “Idealists,” he muttered, shaking his head. “They’re so easy…”

He looked at the rectangle of starlight above him. “Now,” he asked himself aloud, “how do I get back up there?”

“Tsk,” said a voice behind him.

Rigel threw himself down and rolled to the side. He came up with his wand pointed directly at…

…the most beautiful witch he had ever seen.

“An opportunity to explore a place like this only comes once in a lifetime,” said this vision of perfection. Surrounded by furs and silks, cascading tresses and tasseled cushions, she reclined on a hovering carpet at eye level, just within the glow of his wand-tip. Everything about her seemed to laugh at everything about him – his predicament, his mischievous dealings with Barker and Growler, the expression on his face.

“Who are you?” Rigel breathed.

“When you can asnwer that question yourself,” said the lady, “I will speak to you again. For now, why don’t you see what lies beyond the door to your left?”

“I have to help my friends,” Rigel said, though he glanced in that direction, unable to restrain his curiosity.

When the witch said nothing in reply, he turned toward her again — but she was gone.

Rigel’s heart sank. “Thanks a lot,” he muttered. “You could have given me a lift out of here on that carpet of yours.”

His reproach fell on no ears whatsoever. Grumbling to himself, he stepped gingerly over the two squabbling amphibians on the flagged floor of what seemed to be a storeroom, sidled through a narrow gap between two shelves full of tins and glass jars, and approached the door. Closer-to, in the light of his wand, he saw that it bore a sign: NO AUTHORIZED PERSONS BEYOND THIS POINT. TRESPASSERS WELCOME!

“Looks like I have no choice anyway,” said Rigel. At his touch the door swung open, and he walked through. Before he could turn back, it closed itself.

+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #170 +++

You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the 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: Which type of gatekeeper should Merlin and Miss Pucey meet in their next adventure? A) A pair of talking paintings, of which one can only tell the truth and the other only lie. B) An animated suit of armor that attacks anyone who approaches on foot (as opposed to walking on their hands, etc.). C) A statue that tells riddles. D) A mirror that shows your worst fear. E) Write-in candidate ______________.

CONTEST: Come up with the name for the witch Rigel encountered in this chapter.

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