Tuesday, June 23, 2009

159. Minimilian Returns

Contest winner: Linda Carrig

As Sir Lionel crept through the mysterious compound, he discovered that it was much larger than he had spotted at first. Clearly, the wizards here were caught up in more than one sinister plan.

Beyond the ring of huts he found a grove of walnut trees playing cricket with their own fallen fruit. Getting through it without being hit by a leathery, walnut-cored ball was quite tricky. Then there was the thicket of ash and yew trees that he found practicing archery, using bows and arrows made out of their own branches; Sir Lionel had to be very careful to avoid becoming a target. He edged nervously around a copse of whomping willows that he found sparring with each other, raining splinters and twigs from every collision of their powerful limbs. At the brink of a stream he encountered another variety of willows whose long, supple branches, trailing in the water, snatched up passing fish now and again. He wondered what they were called, and was trying to decide between "reaping rillows" and "wringing whompers" when he felt a wand-tip touch the back of his neck.

"Hands up slowly," said the wizard behind him. Sir Lionel obeyed, feeling the wand snatched out of his right hand as he did so.

"Turn around." Sir Lionel turned around. He ended up facing the same direction. The other man clicked his tongue with exasperation and said, "This time turn half-way around." This gave them the ability to look at each other. Sir Lionel wasn't much to look at after weeks of survival in the bush. The other man wasn't much prettier. Short, stocky, squash-nosed and lantern-jawed, he had hardly any neck and, by way of compensation, one enormous eyebrow. The eyes beneath it bulged suspiciously. "Keep it shut," he growled. "Wouldn't want to warn whoever is with you."

"No one is..."

"Who sent you?" the ugly wizard barked.

"Sent me?" Sir Lionel was on the point of telling the truth -- that he was there by pure chance, that his broom had elected to crash on the way to somewhere else -- when he realized that he needed a bargaining chip. Someone who would be coming after him if he didn't report. So he used his hesitation to look shifty and inventive when he replied, "No one sent me. My broom just crashed over that ridge..."

"Very likely," sneered the other. "Only question is, are you one of them RMB blokes, or did the competition send you? Eh?"

"I'd rather not say," was all Sir Lionel dared to improvise.

"Oh! It's like that, is it?" The stocky wizard brandished his wand threateningly. "We'll soon have the whole truth out of you, won't we? Now, turn around and march!" A moment later: "Oof! I meant turn half-way around!"

As his captor barked instructions from behind, Sir Lionel began to wonder how he could possibly get out of this tight spot. Then another voice hissed: "Stop! Hands up!"

"I already have my hands up," Sir Lionel sang over his shoulder.

"I meant the other one," the new voice said gruffly. "Now shut it, both of you, and turn slowly to face me..."

Since his former captor was looking the other way, he did not happen to see Sir Lionel's momentary look of joyful recognition. The tall figure holding them both at wand point was cloaked from head to foot, his face in shadow, his physique hidden by the loose fit of his dark cloak. He held two wands in each hand, all of them pointed at the man in the middle. He could be no one, Sir Lionel realized, but Spanky Spankison.

"Just try it," Spanky growled with all the menace of an approaching tempest. The other man left off trying to dig a throwing-knife out of an ankle sheath with his foot. The thick shoulders bunched and writhed. Sir Lionel was privately glad he didn't have to look at those enormous jaws grinding and gnashing.

"How many wands defend this place?" Spanky demanded. "Speak quickly!"

"I've got nothing to say," said the other wizard.

"Don't make me use these," said Spanky, waving the wands in his left hand threateningly.

"If you're RMB," said lantern-jaw, "there are rules. You can't torture me."

"That's a big if," said Spanky. Then he loosed a spell at his prisoner's right foot.

The man howled, more in terror than in pain, then looked down and howled again. "Yow-how-how-how dare you!"

Sir Lionel, who by now had joined Spanky and retrieved his wand, saw that their prisoner was suddenly mincing up and down in open-toed high heels, with painted toenails and all. The effect wasn't very lovely, given the man's hairy legs and the coarseness of his feet.

"Answer my questions," said Spanky, "or you'll be wearing a dress that goes with those shoes."

The prisoner stopped fidgeting and said, with a sudden coolness that chilled Sir Lionel's blood, "All right, ask away."

"Behind us," Spanky hissed out of the side of his mouth.

Sir Lionel wheeled around to look, but not fast enough to stop the disarming spell that blasted the wand out of his grip.

"Er, sorry, old boy," said Sir Lionel, addressing Spanky, though he was facing another short man he had never seen before. This one, however, was as sleek and handsome as their former prisoner was not.

"Give me their wands, Hugo," the genteel captor said in an almost beautiful voice. He shot a saintly smile at Sir Lionel, a smile that seemed to say that everyone was mistaken about who were the bad guys and who the good. "Ah! As I live and breathe, Mr. Spankison! I never dreamed of meeting you again."

"Nor I you," said Spanky, turning himself around. "Still got all your limbs, Minimilian? I was sure that hag would have eaten at least part of you. Well! It's an imperfect world!"

"We're in agreement to that extent," smiled Minimilian.

"What miserable scheme are you nursing now?" Spanky jerked his head toward the compound.

"Just business," said Minimilian, as cheerfully as ever. "Now, gentlemen, about face and march!"

For a few moments, they marched in silence through orchards of dodge-ball apple trees and groves of lemon trees that kept trying to squirt lemon juice at them. The only sound other than the rustle of leaves and the thump of hard apples against tree trunks was Minimilian's whistling. Sir Lionel recognized the tune: "Hex today goodbye, Portkey to tomorrow..."

"Business!" Spanky snorted, interrupting the tune. "Selling weaponized, magical creatures and plants? You must be hoarding the money for some big gesture, some..."

"Surely you don't expect me to confide in you?" Minimilian's laugh was like the jingling of little bells. "You seem to have me confused with an evil genius. You know the type, always explaining their dastardly plans, so that the hero can escape and put a stop to them. I'm not as clever as that. I'm just a reasonably shrewd businessman, and I'll keep my plans to myself, thank you."

"No: thank you," said another unexpected voice from behind Minimilian.

They all stopped marching.

"Hugo," said Minimilian, with a barely detectible edge of irritation in his voice, "I was hoping you might have covered our backs."

"Don't blame Hugo," said the female voice. "He's tied up, stunned, and gagged a couple orchards back."

"Is it finally my pleasure to meet the elusive Ilona Ilonera?" Minimilian turned around slowly, his hands up and disarmed. "Ah! As lovely as I had imagined!"

"I would prefer," said Ilona, aiming her wand steadily at the spot between Minimilian's wide, innocent eyes, "that you would just shut up."

"As you wish," he murmured sweetly.

Spanky rolled his eyes, though under the hood of his cloak they could not be seen. "Shall we tie him up and carry him?"

"I don't know," said Ilona. "I think I saw a colony of red ants on the way here. Perhaps we could just stake him down beside it..."

Hearing this, Minimilian beamed with satisfaction. He seemed to take it as a personal success when his enemies turned as evil as himself.

"...but I reckon we'd better just portkey him to the nearest RMB field-office for booking."

"It's up to you, dear," said Spanky.

Ilona sighed, then with her free hand began to rummage in the pockets of her robes. She finally brought out a greasy bicycle chain, which she placed around Minimilian's neck.

"I say," the little cherub squeaked uncomfortably. "I'll be sending you my cleaning bill."

"Do," said Ilona, with an equally angelic simper. "And now: three... two... "

"Hold that thought," snapped another feminine voice.

Ilona threw down all the wands in her hand with a strangled roar. Spanky and Sir Lionel put their hands up again as half a dozen figures emerged from the shadows of the juggling oaks, which immediately resumed playing a noisy game of hackey-sack with hundreds of acorns. The woman leading this squad of guards approached Minimilian with an air of disgusted authority. Minimilian, looking as innocent as ever, lowered his eyes before her -- not in embarrassment, but in deference.

"You really must stop letting these people get the best of you," the woman said with a voice like the crack of a whip. Her red-black hair swayed down her back in a thick, tight braid. Her dark eyes flashed under upswept brows.

"I led them here, didn't I?" Minimilian shrugged. "I knew you would take control again."

Spanky and Ilona exchanged confused looks. Or rather, Ilona exchanged one with the shadows under Spanky's hood. Sir Lionel, reading her expression, knew they had expected Minimilian to be the man in charge.

The woman tied the three prisoners together and walked around them several times, eyeing them appraisingly. She didn't seem to need a wand, with seven -- make that eight, as Hugo emerged from the trees rubbing his head -- henchmen holding her prisoners at bay. Finally she said, "It's a pity we can't just kill them and throw their bodies to Audrey Four. But you know they'll have filed a mission plan with the RMB. Someone is sure to come looking for them. So what shall we do?"

"Hold them for ransom," suggested Hugo.

"Wipe their memories," suggested Minimilian.

The woman looked disgusted at the first suggestion, intrigued by the second. But she shook her head. "I'm leaning toward killing them anyway," she said. "Only, we can lay a false trail to the crash site in the next valley. Maybe scatter a few gnawed bones, make it look as though they died of crash-related injuries..."

"There will be a letter in the Daily Prophet about this," Sir Lionel blurted. "Take that woman's name, son."

"The name," said the woman, fixing Sir Lionel with a defiant stare, "which won't be any use to you, is O'Modo. Allie O'Modo. Now tell me, how can you write a letter when you're already dead?"

"The question you should ask," said Spanky, "is: How can you kill us so that it doesn't look like foul play?"

"How kind of you to redirect my thinking," said Allie O'Modo. "That's easy enough, though. I've been meaning to turn my pet garden-gnomes out into the next valley... for some exercise..."

Hugo laughed and clapped his hands. "At last," he said. "A live test!"

+++ SURVEY FOR TMQ #161 +++

Participation in The Magic Quill has gone down dramatically in the past several months. What do you think we should do? (A) Keep it going for at least ___ more chapters, and see if more readers contribute to the comments. (B) Tie up as many loose ends as possible within the next 4-5 chapters, and then bring it to an end. (C) Leave the loose ends hanging, and end it now because it's already too far gone.

Leave your response to this survey in the Comments. If you haven't left a comment before, please take the time and effort to do so -- especially if you would like to see TMQ continue. A little encouragement may fuel Robbie's creativity for a long time. And nothing would be more encouraging than knowing that the Magic Quill matters to more than 5 or 6 people!


Robbie F. said...

Participation in The Magic Quill has gone down dramatically in the past several months. What do you think we should do? (A) Keep it going for at least ___ more chapters, and see if more readers contribute to the comments. (B) Tie up as many loose ends as possible within the next 4-5 chapters, and then bring it to an end. (C) Leave the loose ends hanging, and end it now because it's already too far gone.

greyniffler said...

Participation is a habit. I'm afraid that when things run for too long, people get out of the habit of checking in and working on the questions.

What can we do to get the attention of people who have left? The person who checks in after a few weeks will be excited if there are a couple of episodes out (but not if there are too many; he'll feel he's lost the thread). But how do we wave the flag?

In the absence of a way to wave the flag (think, people!) getting an episode out every ten days will still help.

Linda Carrig said...

yyyyaaaahhhhhh! I won! hex today goodbye portkey to tomorrow...

Please keep up with the magic quill, please, please, please!!! I have no ideas on how to get more people interested though. Maybe greyniffler is right and a new installment every ten days would do the trick. I don't know.

Robbie F. said...

I am still very much at the mercy of editors at MN. Chapter 158 still has not been posted & I think some people following TMQ are watching MN for the updates. The 10-day rule would be doable if chapters I submitted were posted promptly & if I got more feedback... What do I do when I only hear from 3 people in a month's time?

greyniffler said...

Robbie, can you put a reminder in each episode that the most prompt posting is here?

Linda Carrig said...

It's frustrating I know, but don't go and eat your wand!

Dragonic said...

I would also like to see the Magic Quill continue. SO I guess I vote A, with no specific numbers in mind. For the record, I know that I have several friends that I've drawn to the Quill who never vote;there are people who read this but don't participate. Although, I would like to seea few loose ends wrapped up in the next few episodes. ONe of the good things about one chapter per ten days is that it keeps the chapters coming. But when we have several story lines going on at once, its easy to forget them during long breaks. SO close up a few story lines and keep going.

greyniffler said...

I would second Dragonic on all points. With a lot of storylines in motion, it's hard to keep track of them all, especially when the interval gets large.

Maybe, if you have (say) story lines A, B, C, D, and E, you could do a couple of episodes together, say for instance A.1 and B.1 . The answers for the A line and the B line will be not depend on each other.

And of course I encourage lurkers to speak up now.

TWZRD said...

I thought five or six posters was pretty good. I PM'd a few at the Quill who used to participate somewhat regularly and reminded them where to find the new stories. One wrote back and said that she'd post as soon as she'd caught up on the considerable backlog.
Robbie, I haven't seen any signs of burn out in your story lines,(this compound full of sporting trees and uber-gnomes is so promising!) and I'd hate to lose the Quill at just the time of year when I actually have time to play around with such. (June/July)
I do agree that wrapping up a story line or two would make things easier to follow. When we were at the pub lots, it gave it continuity, although I wouldn't miss any of the places we've visited for anything.
I was going to suggest that if Robbie just needs a vacation, he should post notice in all the current threads that he'll be back on X date. I think most or all of us would still be here. It's all a matter of knowing what to expect. The worst thing that ever happened for me with the Quill was when Mugglenet stopped sending me weekly e-mails linked to new posts. I don't suppose it's even possible to offer that sort of thing again, is it?

Anyway, Greyniffler may be right about 10 days, but mid-year when I'm working, every two weeks is about my speed. The most important thing is a routine that's predictable.
Well, my final thoughts are:
1. Please don't stop yet (at least not for good).
2. As part of my working vacation, I'll have no computer access for most of August, but after I get back, I'll do my best to visit at least every other week.

Joe said...

I vote for keeping it going. I've been lurking every since the quill started.. I love the story.. and all the intertwined paths it is going down. I say take your time putting out each issue with maybe a Its gonna be a month before the next one because I need a break for the longer gaps...

greyniffler said...

To disagree with Joe (sorry), I think that the longer waits are when you lose people. I try to check TMQ at least twice a day. I know that not everyone can do that, but I also know that as a site stretches toward inactivity I get more likely to forget to look. It helps if you know when to expect the update. (I read webcomics that update every day, on weekdays, on alternate weekdays, and weekly; I have no problem checking them on schedule. None of them offers the opportunity for contribution that TMQ offers.)

TWZRD said...

... and postings during summer vacation are slow everywhere. It isn't just here at the Quill.

Sir Read-a-Lot said...

A. Definitely a.

I have always enjoyed reading the Magic Quill, even if I often lurked. I will try to be more vocal, but regardless, don't go away!

Linda Carrig said...

come on you lurkers out there! No more lurking! Only kidding, but it would be nice to get more feedback.

greyniffler said...

This is, after all, interactive fiction. We need you all to do your part. (And more ideas might help Robbie work a little faster, too.)

Patrick said...

Please continue with The Magic Quill. It's by far the best part of MuggleNet (imo), and I always look forward to it. I'd suggest you keep going to round the total out to 200 chapters, if possible, but I know that you need readers' input. You are appreciated, even by lurkers.

cv675 said...

I also vote A. I have loved TMQ from the beginning, but have not been a big poster. I usually check MN one or two times a week, but have not seen updates in a while, so I have slowed the pace. I would love to see a lot more episodes though.

Keep up the great work!