Wednesday, July 29, 2009

161. Defensive Tattoos

Contest winner: Joe

After successfully picking the locks to seven doors in a row, Merlin felt himself struggling with the eighth and knew that another dose of liquid skill had worn off. He shrugged, looked meaningfully at Miss Pucey, and knocked instead.

The door opened by itself. Cautiously, the wizard and witch squeezed through the narrow gap. Then the door slammed so suddenly that Miss Pucey scarcely had time to jerk the hem of her robes out of the way.

Merlin was surprised to find a working laboratory in this deep dungeon. Retorts bubbled. Cauldrons stirred themselves. Liquids, glowing in the oddest colors, chased each other through coils of glass tubing. Candles smoked and flickered as they drifted through the air.

"They seem to be from home," Miss Pucey sniffed, inspecting her dusty finger after stroking the handle of a blue ceramic teapot. "No one has had tea here for at least a week."

"Maybe they prefer firewhisky," Merlin suggested. He made a sweeping gesture that gathered in all the simmering potions and distilling fumes. "These would have boiled dry by now if - "

His reasoning was interrupted when a disembodied voice shrieked, "Petrificus totalis!"

Merlin turned his head toward the voice. He saw no one in the direction from which the spell came. He flinched as it hit him. Then he completely failed to fall over paralyzed.

"That old gimmick won't work on us," Merlin sneered into the tangle of tubes and beakers from which the curse had emerged. He knew, though his assailant didn't, that his immunity to the body-bind curse owed itself to the one-time-only effect of a defensive tattoo. Since he wasn't naked, he couldn't see how the tattoo had actually leaped off his skin and absorbed the curse before it touched him. But he didn't need to know how it worked. He was just glad that it did. Under his breath he said a word of thanks to his old friend Anatoly.

Two more jets of light leaped at him through gaps in the forest of glassware, pewter and brass. Merlin wondered not what curses were flying at him, but how his enemy had managed to aim them through so many distracting and distorting surfaces. Both curses passed through his robes. Neither quite touched his skin.

"Nor those either," said Merlin, sidling toward the source of the spells. With a glance and a jerk of his head he told Miss Pucey to keep behind him. "You don't know who you're dealing with," he added menacingly.

"You have no call to come here," squeaked a shrill, desperate voice.

"Ah! How can we resist such a warm welcome?" Merlin taunted. "I don't know. Since you're so keen on chasing us off, I have to think you're doing something wrong. And then maybe we do have a call..."

"Imperio," muttered a voice unexpectedly close to Merlin's left shoulder. He instinctively dodged backward, bumping into Miss Pucey and upsetting a mortar full of glittering purple dust.

For a moment, even Merlin was surprised that the curse had no effect on him. Yes, that accounted for another of Anatoly's tattoos. Which ones were left, he wondered anxiously. Meanwhile he turned a thin smile toward his attacker.

At first it seemed no one was there. Then he spotted the thick, wiry eyebrows that almost grew together; the round, blue-tinted eyeglasses; the bruised, gnawed fingernails floating in space around a quivering wand; and the scuffed left boot standing by itself where the invisible wizard's foot should be.

Merlin shook his head sadly. "You're not all there, are you?"

"Shut up," said the nearly-invisible stranger. "There must be spells you aren't immune to. With my methods, it won't take me long to find them. So tell me sharpish: Who sent you?"

"I don't have to tell you anything," said Merlin.

"Legilimens!" screamed the voice under the eyebrows.

"Nope," said Merlin.

The eyebrows twitched. "Obliviate!"

"Uh-uh."

"Imperio!"

"Now we're beginning to repeat ourselves," said Merlin, mentally congratulating himself for having correctly guessed which curses he needed defense against.

Fortunately, the fight went out of Doctor Eyebrows right then. The wand lowered. "What are you?" whispered the see-through wizard.

"You're being naughty again, aren't you?" Miss Pucey improvised. She stepped around Merlin, in spite of his attempt to make a stile of his arm, and plucked the wand out from between the hovering fingernails. The latter fidgeted amongst themselves.

"If Robertus Magnus finds out," said the sad, slightly visible wizard, "he'll take all this away. And then I'll have nothing but stone walls to look at, and I'll run mad. Please..."

"You have nothing to fear from us," said Miss Pucey, "as long as..."

"All right!" screamed the one-booted miscreant. "It's a fair cop! Yes, all right, I was working on a way to make it rain up. But only for a good cause, you know? Only to move a bit of rain from a really wet area, to water the desert. I mean, all right, there was an interested party who would have paid me rather well..."

"Aha!" Merlin barked. Eyebrows clinked backwards into a tray of stoppered tubes. "A financial interest! And how do you know your client won't use your upside-down rain as a weapon? Who knows how much damage..."

While Merlin continued his withering tirade, Miss Pucey slipped unnoticed through the racks of beakers, whirring apparatus, and porcelain pots. She gave a low whistle when she found the door at the opposite end of the dungeon.

"...ever again!" Merlin finished, punctuating his words with a well-rehearsed jab that would leave Eyebrows unconscious for a few minutes. Provided, that is, Merlin had correctly guessed what he was aiming at.

He and Miss Pucey closed the door behind them and found themselves at the bottom of a set of worn stone steps. The staircase twisted out of sight, smelling faintly damp and smoky.

"I think this is it," said Merlin, shaking a bit more light out of his wand tip. He turned toward Miss Pucey and waited until she nodded. Then he began to climb.

+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #163 +++

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.

SURVEY: What has Rigel been up to since Chapter 156? (A) Infiltrating Il Comte's compound in disguise. (B) Organizing a ghost riot as a diversion. (C) Battling wereyaks. (D) All of the above.

CONTEST: Suggest a product that Jude the Insecure might sell at his "From Out of This World Outfitters" shop.

20 comments:

Robbie F. said...

SURVEY: What has Rigel been up to since Chapter 156? (A) Infiltrating Il Comte's compound in disguise. (B) Organizing a ghost riot as a diversion. (C) Battling wereyaks. (D) All of the above.

CONTEST: Suggest a product that Jude the Insecure might sell at his "From Out of This World Outfitters" shop.

Robbie F. said...

I recently got FTP privileges on MuggleNet, so you may notice that I've brought the original home of TMQ up to date with the latest 4 chapters (to say nothing of 76 long-delayed reviews on the Book Trolley). Though this labor delayed the current chapter a bit, I think you'll appreciate it in the long run. I hope things will flow more smoothly for some time.

greyniffler said...

I vote D, in reverse order: after escaping the wereyaks, he organizes the ghost riot and attempts to infiltrate Il Comte's closed little world.

Let me thing about that product.

Linda Carrig said...

Great defensive tattoos, Robbie! Love the laboratory. I'll have to think about the survey and contest so I'll get back to you. Whatever FTP is, good for you getting it! Way to go!

Dragonic said...

A or D. I dunno.

What about a box that can be used to trap a ghost to be called out at the desire of the user, like a genie?

Morning Star said...

I vote for D. I have no idea for the contest though, and since I'm going away tomorrow I'll have to pass on this one.

Linda Carrig said...

I think Rigel has been infiltrating il Comte's place to bring him down A). However, it is highly possible that he has used B) - organizing a ghost riot as a diversion - as a means of achieving this.

I'll have to think about a likely product for Jude the Insecure to be selling in his shop. I'll get back toyou on that.

greyniffler said...

Let's see: how about a pocket broom: it collapses into itself to fit into a pocket or purse? An Indian Rope Trick rope?

What about a creature that has the power to apparate through a human anti-apparition jinx? If it can be tamed or controlled by a spell, and if it can carry someone with it, it could help break security.

It's a little hard to decide what Jude the Insecure is likely to deal in and what Borgin and Burkes is wont to sell. JtI is a broker, though. Which one would deal in a wand whose heart was the hair of a Hairy McBoon (Quintaped)? Such a wand would want a very powerful witch or wizard for its control. Powerful and likely ruthless. The wand might have special power in transfiguration, but also in violent spells, and a special taste for vengeance. It might also be the choice of a wizard outmatched by the likes of Auntie or Uncle Leslie or the newly freed Il Comte.

JtI might harbor some resentment toward the Weasley's because of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes' self-defense line. Still, he probably can find someone willing, for a price, to part with a pair of seven-league boots. Or bloodhound shoes, that help their wearer track somebody. He might even get his hands on some of Albus's silvery little instruments, whatever their purpose. Though most have probably ended up in the Department of Mysteries or next door in the Spelling Engines Agency ... but I wouldn't put it past JtI to have a contact in there.

Linda Carrig said...

He might have a clever cauldron on hand; small collapsible cauldron that mixes instantly any potion or antidote you might need at any given time. Just whisper/mutter the name of the potion and it will instantly appear in the pot. Very handy to have! And it fits right in your pocket when not in use.

jziskovs said...

Wow I won Thanks alot ... Great chapter Robbie!!!

I vote for D

no sure about the product.. let me think about it...

Sir Read-a-Lot said...

I vote D, sort of. Rigel meets up with two future versions of himself (the ministry did not hold a monopoly of timeturners) from a few hours ahead. Then the three of them split up to attempt the separate missions, which intersect in strange ways. Preferably made more confusing by rapidly switching from the perspectives of each of the three Rigels at different parts of their missions. Of course, then Rigel reaches the point where he uses the time turner to go back in time, and we watch the whole fiasco again, but from different perspectives at different points of the adventures. Then repeat for the third Rigel.

If that is too complicated, stick to three Rigels and three missions. Or just three Rigels.

And I realize this is a little late, but for the contest from #160, Ilona has also been using time turners in #159 post-hypnotism-recovery.

As to Jude the Insecure, I think it would not be difficult for him to procure a Golden Cap, specifically the one that summons the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.

Speaking of Jude, whatever happened to the Luggage?

Rehannah said...

Hey again Robbie, I vote D.

When you say 'from out of this world' it makes me think of outer space or something, so maybe Jude has a star (a relatively small one compared to the Sun) or star dust that can turn night time into day (but only for the small area that the star/star dust is located or brought to).

greyniffler said...

Jude the Insecure might be able to find a copy of an obscure or long-forgotten spellbook, or treatise on magic. Whether Hogwarts would put it in the Restricted section or the Headmaster's private library is another question altogether.

greyniffler said...

I can also imagine a pair of tents connected by a magical stairway or passage.

A magical paint-by-numbers kit is probably going a little too far.

Linda Carrig said...

A magical paint by numbers kit? I don't know about the story but I wouldn't mind having one of those! Be really cool I think.

greyniffler said...

There might be some kind of magical abacus to aid the weak arithmancacist.

greyniffler said...

Surely there must be a market in old and possibly worthless X-marks-the-spot treasure maps? Who buys and sells in such a market? Collectors, who think they are bogus. Adventurers, who hope they are real. Claimants, who are sure they are real. Deluded collectors who feel sure they have actually got a real one.

JtI may be able to break into this network of collectors and adventurers to procure a map, with whatever magical properties you like.

Linda Carrig said...

I love maps...

How about some magic soap that washes away any spell/hex leftovers?

greyniffler said...

Say, I wonder what that glittering purple dust was. You know, in the mortar that Merlin upset?

TWZRD said...

Wow, what a great couple of tales I had to catch up!
Are we still current with the comments here?
I recall Rigel was on a roof in Venice last we saw him, or some such. He'd better be infiltrating, but I seem to recall there was a wereyak in the vicinity, so maybe I'll go for D also.

That shop is quite a place. I think the McBoon wand or the star dust are terrific. The "hex away" soap sounds right for it too. Let's see...
What about a text full of survival spells (finding food, drying ones self after a freezing swim, making your own replacement wand or cauldron from common found materials) that pops up into a tent -- one that resists brush fires or high winds of course.
I think you can still read it in tent form, but it's a bit like playing "Twister" to find your text.