Thursday, April 16, 2009

156. In for a Sickle...

Contest winner: Linda Carrig
Runner-up: Dragonic

A canal in Venice. A moonlit night. The sound of a guitar playing behind some open window. A dog pauses while chasing a rat across a bridge, looks down and sees a head emerging from the water, then resumes pursuit.

Wisely, Rigel doesn't dismiss the Bubble-Head charm until he is well on dry land. He heaves himself wearily up a short flight of stone steps and collapses on the stone quay. Looking down, he sees a clutch of hideous women looking up at him from just below the water's surface. They favor him with rude gestures; he returns the favor. They linger, as if hoping he will come back down into the water, until he catches his breath enough to walk away.

Rigel's legs feel like pieces of cooked spaghetti as he trudges, dripping, through a narrow alley. He looks around carefully, trying to get his bearings and hoping he can get to his hotel without having to cross water. He absent-mindedly rubs the stoneskin ring that hangs around his neck on a leather thong. He owes his survival to its protection from the merhags' piercing fangs. On the other hand, the ring hasn't prevented the merhags from developing a taste for his skin. He shudders to remember the feeling of his arms, chest, and back being licked by dozens of slimy, black tongues.

A strange sound rouses him from his reverie. He peers ahead through the gloom. The sound comes again: a deep snuffling noise, like a very large creature stifling a sneeze. It seems to come from an angle in the passage ahead. The moonlight isn't much help in this narrow alley. Rigel edges forward cautiously, preparing to flee back to the canal. Then his breath catches in his throat as a dark shape moves out into the alley ahead. A huge, dark shape. How, he wonders, could he not have noticed that smell?

As he thinks this thought, Rigel turns on his heel... and stops. Another figure is coming up behind him. A human figure. "Go back," Rigel hisses in a stage-whisper. He says it again in Italian, but the figure keeps walking toward him at the same pace. He glances over his shoulder. The great beast behind him is just standing there, filling the alley. He looks ahead again, just in time to see the shadowy man transform into another hulking animal shape. Another hulking, stinky, menacing, animal shape.

"Cripes," Rigel squeaks. But the wonderful thing about Rigel is that he never freezes under pressure. Even while all this is happening - from the moment he has spotted the first wereyak, in fact - his fingers have been picking at the stitches tacking a slender strip of silk piping to the seams of his damp trousers.

The creatures have begun to close in, but slowly - cautiously. Rigel curses himself silently for leaving his wand tied to his arm by a shoelace. He must choose between escaping and defending himself; and since his first instinct was to pick his silken ladder free, escape is now his only option. If only he could use his wand for defense, he might be able to buy himself a bit more time to escape. As it is, the only spell he can count on (with his wand where it is) is Lumos.

He tries it. Light flares out of the tip of his wand, showing him every humped, shaggy, slobbery detail of the figure in front of him. The creature stops moving forward, wincing into the brightness. But the snuffling, shuffling noises from behind continue to draw nearer.

I don't know who these people are, Rigel tells himself, or why they all turn into yaks, but I have a feeling I should avoid them like Dragonpox...

"Nox," he says, putting out the wandlight. Then he throws the silken ladder upward with an expert snap of the arm. A moment later, a long thread hangs above his head, reaching vertically into the pale darkness above the cobbled alley. Rigel jumps for the end of the thread and shins up it. When he reaches the top, hanging in space, he looks down and sees two yaks directly below him, looking up.

A moment later, two dark human shapes have taken their place, one of them crouching to spring toward the bottom of the silken ladder. Quickly, Rigel swings the lower end of the thread around so that it hangs above him, and continues his climb. The next time he looks down, the alley is deserted.

When he finally reaches the roof of one of the nearby buildings, Rigel collapses against the stone tiles with a grunt of exhaustion. Bracing his legs against a lead gutter, he spools up the silken ladder and stuffs it into a trouser pocket. Then he rubs his cramped hands, wriggling for a more comfortable position as the roof tiles seem determined to dig into the sore muscles of his shoulders.

A passing breeze makes him shiver. Or maybe it wasn't the breeze. Rigel wrenches his neck painfully, looking around to see who or what might be on the roof with him. No one is there. He sighs, flops on his back, and almost chokes when a hand reaches up from the alley and grips the edge of the gutter, just between his feet.

This time Rigel has nowhere to escape to. His only choice is to fight. Clawing at the waterlogged shoelace tying his wand to his forearm, he racks his brains for a spell he can use in this situation. The first thing that comes to him is the disillusionment charm, which he casts on himself with a soundless movement of the lips, as soon as his wand comes free. He does it just in time, too. The owner of the hands pulls himself over the gutter a second later, seeing nothing but a loose shoelace dangling over the gutter.

Rigel balances dangerously on the gutter itself, scarcely out of the reach of the man's arms. He owes his silent tread to his shoes having been left behind in the merhag larder.

The other man picks up the shoelace, sniffs it, then raises his nose to the moonlit sky and sniffs again. He turns his head slowly, eyes closed, then stops and opens them. He is looking directly at Rigel.

Rigel looks down at himself: still disillusioned! Can he see me? he wonders. Who are these people?

The wereyak's intent gaze is suddenly distracted by a clatter of stone on stone. His head whips around to look at a small avalanche of pepples on the adjacent rooftop. It appears that someone invisible is attempting to run away in that direction. Glancing back in Rigel's direction with a snort of disappointment, the man follows in a stooped scramble, keeping his hands close to the sloping stone tiles beneath him.

Rigel waits until his pursuer is out of sight before padding as quietly as possible in the opposite direction. He clambers over the peak of one roof and up the slope of another, easily hurdling a narrow alley, little caring that he has lost his way in one of the world's most confusing cities. After covering some distance without seeing any sign of pursuit, he climbs down a drainpipe and staggers wearily toward the nearest canal.

He spots a vaparetto tied to a stanchion and instantly, though with a twinge of remorse, decides to steal it. It takes but one flick of the wand to part the rope securing it to the pavement, and a brief twirl to get the propeller turning without the noise, smell, and bother of starting the engine. Within moments, he has rounded a point and found his bearings in a familiar canal.

By now dawn is not far away, its light already paling the eastern horizon. Rigel has never wanted anything as badly as the hot bath and soft robes that would await him at the Gritti Palace... but he does not steer in that direction. Biting his lip, he sets a course for the island of Il Comte di Bestemmia. He can think of no one else with the motives or resources to send two wereyaks after him. Il Comte must know he is working with Merlin to despoil him -- or, at least, to expose his treachery. And if Il Comte knows that much, he will know where Rigel lodges. His hotel will not be safe. Nowhere in this city will be safe, indeed, until they bring Il Comte down.

Although Rigel hasn't intended to get involved, he sighs and mutters to himself: "In for a sickle, in for a galleon..."


You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the following 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. [EDIT: This discussion is now closed.]

SURVEY: Whose storyline will be featured in Chapter 158? (A) Spanky. (B) Sadie. (C) Sir Lionel Niblet. (D) Harvey. (E) Endora.

CONTEST: Invent a whimsical name for a witch or wizard of historical importance. Also briefly describe what he/she did to become famous.


Robbie F. said...

SURVEY: Whose storyline will be featured in Chapter 158? (A) Spanky. (B) Sadie. (C) Sir Lionel Niblet. (D) Harvey. (E) Endora.

CONTEST: Invent a whimsical name for a witch or wizard of historical importance. Also briefly describe what he/she did to become famous.

greyniffler said...

Endora is my first choice, but if it's a choice between Harvey and some third person, I'll go with Harvey.

How about Bertrand the Bibulous, who devised a spell to prevent drunkeness. He could consume very large quantities of ale. But he was trying to fine-tune it so that he'd get just a little drunk, just enough to enjoy things. Unfortunately, he was a little more drunk than he thought, and botched the spell entirely, whereupon he spent six hours telling everyone in sight about it, and a day sleeping all the ale off. He spent another day recovering from the hangover.

People using him as a lesson in the risks of spellcasting tend to call him 'Bertrand the Garrolous' instead of 'Bertrand the Bibulous'.

Dragonic said...

I vote C.

How about 'Chief Red Smoke,' an important Native American Wizard, in fact, the very first one to interact with European Wizards and create a magic based on both European and Native magic in order to preserve the native magic?

Linda Carrig said...

Wow! I won! Pat myself on the back.

I vote C, I really want to know about those garden gnomes.

Cauldron Kate, the famous witch from the middle ages who was the first witch to write a cookbook especially for witches and wizards. Besides writing down recipes for potions she also wrote down recipes for food. However, her later recipes were a bit confused and she would get mixed up as to what was a potion and what was food.

Rehannah said...

I vote B.

Okay, how about a famous witch named Samirah Al Haqq, a renowned journalist with a knack for finding and reporting true stories (magical or otherwise) in both the African and Asian continents (she never stayed in one place too long).

While the creation of the veritaserum potion cannot actually be traced to her, it is now widely believed that Al Haqq did invent the potion with which the present veritaserum was derived.

She would usually employ an invisibility cloak to undertake the vast majoriy of her investigations, and unfortunately has not been seen since the 19th century.

TWZRD said...

I'm trying to remember; is it Spanky who's looking for Sir Lionel? If so, I'm voting for A. I would think that could lead rather quickly to C also, which would be fine with me.

Famous W/W:

(Cauldron Kate -- food or potion? That's too funny.)

How about Clement the Clean? Invented all sorts of cleaning spells for house and body at a point in history when folks weren't sure if baths were healthy or not. Other witches and wizards used to follow him about sniffing and thinking he smelled funny (as in, didn't smell ripe like everyone else.) He didn't throw his clothes away when they got soiled like most, or even subject them to beating on the rocks by the river, but just spelled away the stains; so he was also the butt of many jokes about how long he'd worn the same thing.
Clement is said to have died from an accident while trying to invent a shaving spell.
He's considered the Wizard Patron Saint of housewitches and (in some quarters) of house elves, and roundly maligned by small boys who dislike having the dirt spelled out of their ears.

Dragonic said...

The Great Tylenenkhamen was an ancient Egyptian wizard who founded medicinal wizarding. He had several theories about magical healing, although none came into practice until after he died, because during his life he felt his new magics could better serve the already dead by preserving them then the actual living.

greyniffler said...

There was the first wizarding gossip columnist, Quentinella the Quisquilian. While the adjective does not appear in every dictionary, it is a real word, a fifteen-dollar word meaning 'trashy.' Heck, if I was stuck with a name like "Quentinella" I'd be Quisquilian too.

TWZRD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TWZRD said...

Po the Polisher

The first maker of a wand may be lost to history, but it is widely believed that Po the Polisher (c. 1150 BC, Shang Dynasty) was the first wizard to create a wand that was polished and had bilateral symmetry. The oldest known polished wood and ivory wands have been recovered from tombs closely succeding Po's dates.

Ao Po (aka Po the Polisher) was chopstick maker to the Empress, and his technique for making flawlessly smooth chopsticks was probably responsible for his alleged invention of the polished, symmetrical wand. Tradition holds that the improvements in accuracy and predictability of Po's wands were so obvious that other witches and wizards began to fear and distrust _. (Possibly, Po had immoderately tested his new wands on the unsuspecting.) Finally, Po was ambushed, and his secret forced from him with threats of death. Concern over what the Empress would do if her favorite Zhu maker turned up missing finally prevailed, and Po was obliviated and released. He was said to have forgotten his wand polishing, but thereafter the symmetrical wand became the standard in China, and eventually throughout the known world.

(...unless of course you are Ron Weasley or Cinema Belatrix)

Linda Carrig said...

I have another wand witch:

The Saintly Witch (or is it which?) Hazel was the witch who developed wand-making (in Europe as opposed to Po the polisher who operated in China). She used hazel wood and twigs to fabricate her wands and was the inventor of using magical cores. She went all over Europe giving away her wands to witches/wizards. Very kind and helpful to everyone, she was considered a saint and a shrine was set up in her memory where wand-smiths pay homage to this saintly witch. Patron saint of wand-smiths. BTW, I think I already used this saint in another survey/contest. I hope that's ok?

Dragonic said...

Matrius Madison was a Feudal Wizarding Lord in the early Medieval great Britain who went to battle very sparsely against other Lords. He instead chose cooperation,a nd would have been a fifth founder of Hogwarts had Slytherin not challenged his place. He chose to withdraw instead of fight with SLytherin. Despite this, he is known as the founder of the Madison Clan, which is famous for not going to the Crusades, founding the Ministry in Britain, and holding the place of Minister for what can almost be called a Dynasty.

Evensong said...

Survey: (A) Spanky.

Contest: Gertrude the Grotesque - (1879-1900) At fifteen, poor Gertrude Gillyfeather tried to invent a beautifying spell, but it backfired badly. Her face was horribly disfigured. Not only that, but anyone who looked at her also became disfigured. Poor Gertrude became a complete outcast in the town where she grew up, forced by the townspeople into the wild moors outside the village, from which she wandered far and wide. She became quite an accomplished herbalist, but could never achieve any success in it for obvious reasons. She was killed shortly after her 21st birthday. The saddest part? She didn't need any beautifying spell - she was originally quite lovely. Just the usual muddle about self-conscious and self-depracating teenagers. *sigh*

Robbie F. said...

Don't worry...a new chapter is coming tomorrow!

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