Monday, December 22, 2008

58. Locking and Loading

Concept Contributed by: Angelbot

Merlin’s story continues as he and Rigel find themselves trapped in a sort of anteroom to a dragon’s lair, deep in the nether parts of Gringotts Wizarding Bank...

“We discussed our options in a heated whisper for quite some time. Rigel was of the view that we should sit around in the big empty cavern, whose only exit led straight into a dragon’s lair, and wait until starvation took us away. I reasoned that if we were both going to die anyway, we might as well do it by the faster and therefore relatively painless method of getting mauled, crushed, eaten, torn limb from limb, gassed, or fried by the dragon—and there were enough possibilities to make it interesting, too. Plus, if we were really lucky, we might find another way out through the dragon’s lair, without getting ourselves killed. I went so far in trying to persuade Rigel that I even convinced him—if not myself—that I sensed a draught of fresh air coming from the next room. So at last, with the worst grace you can imagine, Rigel consented to come along with me.

“'Good,’ I said, much relieved. ‘Now, we just need some weapons.’

“'You must be joking,’ Rigel hissed. ‘We can’t do anything to that creature without our wands. Nothing it would notice, anyway.’

“'You must have something in your bag of tricks,’ I pressed. ‘I don’t care if it scratches him—her—it. We may need a diversion, though. Even just a moment of surprise might save our lives. Go on, turn out your pocket universe.’

“He rummaged around for a while, and finally there were five items that could have been interpreted as weapons, lined up on the cavern floor. ‘I got all these at the Out of This World Surplus Outfitters,’ he said. ‘You’re not supposed to ask where they came from.’

“The first object was a garden tool like the ones Muggles use, poor dears, when they want to dig a hole in their gardens. ‘Surprisingly sharp,’ I remarked.

“'It’s been honed to razor sharpness,’ said Rigel. ‘I remember the tag said it could be “horribly handy in the hands of an underground sort of chap,” and we’re certainly underground now. Only the word “horribly” was misspelled.’

“'I didn’t take you for the kind to be bothered by bad spelling,’ I put in.

“'I’m not,’ said Rigel. ‘What bothers me is what that crooked shopkeeper was trying to get away with. When you deal with that sort, you must always keep your eyes open for loopholes and no-refund clauses. Anyway, this next thing was tagged as a “light sabre.”'

“'What a lot of bollocks,’ I said. ‘Light indeed! It’s so light that there’s no blade at all. Reminds me of the tale my nurse used to tell me about the Archmage’s New Robes. You’ve been taken this time, for sure.’

“'I wouldn’t speak so soon, if I were you,’ said Rigel. He picked up the bladeless sword-handle and suddenly, a long, deadly blade appeared, shining as if lit from within. He whirled it through the air as if born to swordplay, and the sound it made was like the air being sliced open. Then the blade went away and he tucked the handle into his belt, smirking at my look of awe and desire. ‘I’m afraid you would hurt yourself,’ he observed with devastating mildness. ‘The sword is a gentleman’s weapon, is it not?’

“Instead of calling him a name that cannot be repeated in mixed company, I asked through clenched teeth after the third item, a box tied up in a ribbon that had the words ‘ACME 5-in-1 Anti-R.R. Kit.’

“'It is supposed to contain a number of devices for catching roadrunners,’ Rigel said, uncertainly.

“'What’s a roadrunner?’ was what I wanted to know.

“'That’s to be opened only in the direst emergency,’ said Rigel, ignoring my question. ‘It was marked down because it tends to work against whoever tries to use it. The tag said it contained a portable hole, a convincingly three-dimensional wall poster showing the opening of a train tunnel, a plate of birdseed laced with high explosives, a bottle containing the sound of a yodeling voice loud enough to start an avalanche, and an inflatable Steinway grand that is designed to float in midair until someone walks under it.’

“'I don’t see how a piano-shaped balloon and a bunch of incendiary sunflower seeds are going to help us against a dragon,’ I griped, ‘but at least the portable hole might give us a place to hide. What’s next?’

“'A walking-stick,’ said Rigel.

“'Right,’ I said. By the cold way he was staring at me, I could see that the walking-stick had some significance that he wasn’t going to tell me. So I pointed to the last object in line and said, ‘And this? What are we going to do, invite the dragon to tea?’ For at the end of the line was a blackened, dented iron kettle which had clearly been left to boil dry a few times.

“'That,’ said Rigel, ‘is something I used to read about in the Quibbler when I was a boy. My father always insisted that it didn’t exist...’

“'Well?' I snarled, at the end of my patience.

“'Why, I would have expected you to twig it by now,’ he gloated. ‘It’s the sort of thing you wizard-of-fortune types are supposed to believe in passionately. And in fact, the only reason the thing is even on the market is that the Outfitters pillaged a world where our most spurious rumors are true. They had a whole shelf of stuff from there, like a Snorkack’s crumpled horn, an Icklibögg’s toenail, a memory crystal of Stubby Boardman singing “Azkaban Rock,” and this...the mystic kettle of Nackledirk!’

“It was my turn to give Rigel a stonily indifferent glare. He squirmed for a second, then said desperately, ‘I thought we might throw boiling water at the dragon’s eyes.’

“'And where will we get the water?’ I asked sweetly. ‘And how shall we heat it, pray?’

“'Then forget it,’ Rigel said, covering his embarrassment with anger. He aimed a kick at the kettle, and as it clattered away it made an awful noise. We both flinched, and Rigel’s face had a look that said, ‘What have I done?’

“The light coming out of the opening into the dragon’s lair grew brighter, and the deep thrumming sound turned into the hesitant, coughing, louder-breathing sounds of a dragon beginning to wake up.

“If looks could kill, I belive the look I was giving Rigel at that point should have crippled him for life. He looked at me with uncharacteristic meekness for a moment, then realized that I was his servant after all, and turned brusque. ‘The spade and the 5-in-1 thing are yours. I’ll take the staff and the light sabre. If we must go in there, we had better do it now, while it’s still half asleep. Once that thing wakes up, it may not shut its eyes again for a week.’

“'Aren’t you the dragon fancier,’ I whispered as we tiptoed toward the vaulted arch leading into the dragon’s lair.

“'I’ll go to the left, you go to the right,’ Rigel said nervously. ‘On my!’”

[Originally posted 7/8/05]

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