Tuesday, December 23, 2008

71. The Time Vault

Concept Contributed by: Jade T.

The six wizards were not long in escaping from the chamber of horrors under the fountain of Ursulina the Unwholesome. They had the silken ladder, after all, by which they climbed up to the roof of the chamber, to say nothing of the portable hole, which brought them out near the fountain again. Then an argument broke out as to which way to go. Jaan was in favor of going back to the wand-tree preserve, but Merlin and Rigel vetoed that proposal on the grounds of a disgruntled leprechaun with an army of bowtruckles under his command. This left three other archways, leading to stairs that led toward places unknown.

At length, they decided to go through the archway directly opposite the way they had come in, and they took care not to fall through the trick step that would send them back to the chamber of horrors.

The stair descended for a while, then turned sharply and leveled off. Presently, their path intersected a larger corridor lined with sealed vaults on both sides, with a railroad down the center.

“We’re back in the civilized part of the bank,” Rigel breathed.

Merlin snorted. “That’s if you call anything the goblins do civilized.”

“Well, we had better make this escape attempt count,” countered Rigel. “For I think we’ve finally picked the correct way out of that Pit. The other tunnels probably only connect to the other sealed entrances to the Pit. If they seal the one we just found, there may not be another way out.”

“That’s good thinking,” said Merlin. “In that case, we can’t afford to be caught. Do you know what that means?”

Rigel shook his head.

“That means that I need to put out this wandlight, and you need to take off the Cloak of Visibility.”

“Have you lost your mind?” Rigel gasped. “We would be blind! It’s pitch dark down here. How would we ever get out?”

The others waited for Merlin’s answer, looking back and forth between him and Rigel with wide, scared eyes.

“I have two ideas,” Merlin finally said, and everyone except Rigel gave a sigh of relief.

“First, if we follow these rails one way or the other, they will eventually lead us somewhere.”

Everyone, including Rigel this time, looked glum again. Who would look forward to stumbling along a railroad in pitch darkness?

“The other idea that I have,” said Merlin, “is that somewhere in that pocket locker of yours, amongst all the bits and bobs of dark magic you collected while you were planning this bank heist, you surely have a Hand of Glory.”

Rigel gulped.

The reason Rigel gulped, as any wizard or witch would know, is that a Hand of Glory is a truly loathsome dark object. For one thing, its primary use is for thieving and sneaking. For another, the results of using them are often nasty, so that most magical people suspect they are bad luck for whoever uses them. And for a third thing, to make a Hand of Glory requires several deeds so gruesome that they almost belong in the same category as the unspeakable Horcrux. To put a point on it, an innocent person has to die, and their grave has to be violated, and that’s one of the nicer parts of the process. Even old Borgin in Knockturn Alley only dares to sell them second-hand (no pun intended). But to buy one directly from the manufacturer is to deal with the lowest, darkest, most twisted people in the magical world.

“Blodwen’s nose,” Merlin swore, when Rigel finally dragged his Hand of Glory out of the pocket-locker. “It’s still in the original wrapper!”

“Don’t open it,” Anatoly advised, knowingly. “It will lose half of its value.”

Merlin boxed Anatoly’s ear.

They did, indeed, open the package. With a mixture of fascination and revulsion, they found a candle (also in Rigel’s pocket), lit it, and put it in the shriveled hand, which came alive just enough to grip the candle. Then Rigel put away his cloak, and Merlin put out his watery wandlight, and everyone joined hands in a line with Rigel at the front, and they began their careful hike along the railroad by the light of a Hand of Glory.

“The only thing we have to avoid is being seen by anyone carrying a lantern or torch of their own,” Rigel explained as they tiptoed forward. “They won’t see our light at all. In pitch darkness, we are as good as invisible.”

“I appreciate your saying this,” said Merlin. “It does wonders for the shivers running up and--”

“What’s that?” Slavik interrupted. Because he didn’t have a free hand to point, he shoved Merlin’s shoulder in the direction of whatever he had seen.

“That’s interesting,” said Rigel. “Someone seems to have left a vault wide open.”

“Let’s take a look,” Anatoly suggested.

“I don’t know,” said Merlin. “If the goblins don’t care whether we get into a vault, it probably contains something we don’t want to steal.”

“Something they want us to find,” Rigel agreed – yet he turned toward the open vault. A sign beside the gaping doorway said: THE TIME VAULT.

“That makes not sense,” Slavik complained. “How are they putting time in a vault?”

Merlin chuckled. Then he laughed. Everyone stopped, and Rigel looked around at him. When he was finally able to speak, Merlin wiped the tears off his face with his sleeve and said, “It makes perfect sense. You can save time. You can borrow time. You can make up for lost time. You can steal time, invest time, waste time, and spend time. As the whole world knows, time is money. So why not put time in a bank vault?”

For a long while, no one moved or said anything. Merlin’s face fell. He had expected someone either to laugh, or to call him a fool. Instead...

“This I want to see,” said Anatoly. And before Merlin could say another word, he was swept forward with all the others, into the mysterious shadow of the vault door.

[Originally published 11/12/05]

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