The color of magic, p.16
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       The Color of Magic, p.16

         Part #1 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 16

  Rincewind lay on the floor, concentrating on not going mad. A hollow wooden noise made him turn his head.

  The Luggage had landed on its curved lid. Now it was rocking angrily and kicking its little legs in the air.

  Warily, Rincewind looked around for Twoflower The little man was in a crumpled heap against the wall, but at least he was groaning.

  The wizard pulled himself across the floor painfully, and whispered, “What the hell was that?

  “Why were they so bright?” muttered Twoflower

  “God, my head…”

  “Too bright?” said Rincewind. He looked across the floor to the cage on the picture box. The lizards inside, now noticeably thinner, were watching him with interest.

  “The salamanders,” moaned Twoflower. “The picture’ll be overexposed, I know it…”

  “They’re salamanders?” asked Rincewind incredulously.

  “Of course. Standard attachment. ”

  Rincewind staggered across to the box and picked it up. He’d seen salamanders before, of course, but they had been small specimens. They had also been floating in a jar of pickle in the curiobiological museum down in the cellars of Unseen University, since live salamanders were extinct around the Circle Sea.

  He tried to remember the little he knew about them. They were magical creatures. They also had no mouths, since they subsisted entirely on the nourishing quality of the octarine wavelength in the Discworld’s sunlight, which they absorbed through their skins. Of course, they also absorbed the rest of the sunlight as well, storing it in a special sac until it was excreted in the normal way. A desert inhabited by discworld salamanders was a veritable lighthouse at night.

  Rincewind put them down and nodded grimly. With all the octarine light in this magical place the creatures had been gorging themselves, and then nature had taken its course.

  The picture box sidled away on its tripod. Rincewind aimed a kick at it, and missed. He was beginning to dislike sapient pearwood. Something small stung his cheek. He brushed it away irritably.

  He looked around at a sudden grinding noise, and a voice like a carving knife cutting through silk said, “This is very undignified. ”

  “Shuddup,” Said Hrun. He was using Kring to lever the top off the altar. He looked up at Rincewind and grinned. Rincewind hoped that rictus-strung grimace was a grin.

  “Mighty magic,” commented the barbarian, pushing down heavily on the complaining blade with a hand the size of a ham. “Now we share the treasure eh?”

  Rincewind grunted as something small and hard struck his ear. There was a gust of wind, hardly felt.

  “How do you know there’s treasure in there?” he said.

  Hrun heaved, and managed to hook his fingers under the stone. “You find chokeapples under a chokeapple tree,” he said. “You find treasure under altars. Logic. ”

  He gritted his teeth. The stone swung up and landed heavily on the floor.

  This time something struck Rincewind’s hand heavily. He clawed at the air and looked at the thing he had caught. It was a piece of stone with five-plus-three sides. He looked up at the ceiling Should it be sagging like that? Hrun hummed a little tune as he began to pull crumbling leather from the desecrated altar.

  The air crackled, fluoresced, hummed. Intangible winds gripped the wizard’s robe, flapping it out in eddies of blue and green sparks. Around Rincewind’s head mad, half-formed spirits howled and gibbered as they were sucked past.

  He tried raising a hand. It was immediately surrounded by a glowing octarine corona as the rising magical wind roared past. The gale raced through the room without stirring one iota of dust, yet it was blowing Rincewind’s eyelids inside out. It screamed along the tunnels, its banshee-wail bouncing madly from stone to stone.

  Twoflower staggered up, bent double in the teeth of the astral gale.

  “What the hell is this?” he shouted.

  Rincewind half-turned. Immediately the howling wind caught him, nearly pitching him over. Poltergeist eddies, spinning in the rushing air, snatched at his feet.

  Hrun’s arm shot out and caught him. A moment later he and Twoflower had been dragged into the lee of the ravaged altar, and lay panting on the floor. Beside them the talking sword Kring sparkled, its magical field boosted a hundredfold by the storm.

  “Hold on!” screamed Rincewind.

  “The wind!” shouted Twoflower. “Where’s it coming from? Where’s it blowing to?” He looked into Rincewind’s mask of sheer terror, which made him redouble his own grip on the stones.

  “We’re doomed,” murmured Rincewind, while overhead the roof cracked and shifted. “Where do Shadows come from? That’s where the wind is blowing. ”

  What was in fact happening, as the wizard knew, was that as the abused spirit of Bel-Shamharoth sank through the deeper chthonic planes his brooding spirit was being sucked out of the very stones into the region which, according to the Discworld’s most reliable priests, was both under the ground and Somewhere Else. In consequence his temple was being abandoned to the ravages of Time, who for thousands of shamefaced years had been reluctant to go near the place. Now the suddenly released, accumulated weight of all those pent-up seconds was bearing down heavily on the unbraced stones.

  Hrun glanced up at the widening cracks and sighed. Then he put two fingers into his mouth and whistled.

  Strangely the real sound rang out loudly over the pseudosound of the widening astral whirlpool that was forming in the middle of the great octagonal slab. It was followed by a hollow echo which sounded, he fancied, strangely like the bouncing of strange bones. Then came a noise with no hint of strangeness. it was hollow hoofbeats.

  Hrun’s warhorse cantered through a creaking archway and reared up by its master, its mane streaming in the gale. The barbarian pulled himself to his feet and slung his treasure bags into a sack that hung from the saddle, then hauled himself onto the beast’s back. He reached down and grabbed Twoflower by the scruff of his neck dragging him across the saddle tree. As the horse turned around Rincewind took a desperate leap and landed behind Hrun, who raised no objection. The horse pounded surefooted along the tunnels leaping sudden slides of rubble and adroitly side stepping huge stones as they thundered down from the straining roof. Rincewind, clinging on grimly looked behind them.

  No wonder the horse was moving so swiftly close behind, speeding through the flickering violet light, were a large ominous-looking chest and a picture box that skittered along dangerously on its three legs. So great was the ability of sapient pearwood to follow its master anywhere, the grave goods of dead emperors had traditionally been made of it…

  They reached the outer air a moment before the octagonal arch finally broke and smashed into the flags.

  The sun was rising. Behind them a column of dust rose as the temple collapsed in on itself, but they did not look back. That was a shame, because Twoflower might have been able to obtain pictures unusual even by discworld standards.

  There was movement in the smoking ruins. They seemed to be growing a green carpet. Then an oak tree spiralled up, branching out like an exploding green rocket, and was in the middle of a venerable copse even before the tips of its aged branches had stopped quivering. A beech burst out like a fungus, matured, rotted, and fell in a cloud of tinder dust amid its struggling offspring. Already the temple was a half-buried heap of mossy stones.

  But Time, having initially gone for the throat, was now setting out to complete the job. The boiling interface between decaying magic and ascendant entropy roared down the hill and overtook the galloping horse, whose riders, being themselves creatures of Time, completely failed to notice it. But it lashed into the enchanted forest with the whip of centuries.

  “Impressive, isn’t it?” observed a voice by Rincewind’s knee as the horse cantered through the haze of decaying timber and falling leaves.

  The voice had an eerie metallic ring to it.

Rincewind looked down at Kring the sword. It had a couple of rubies set in the pommel. He got the impression they were watching him.

  From the moorland rimwards of the wood they watched the battle between the trees and Time, which could only have one ending. It was a sort of cabaret to the main business of the halt, which Was the consumption of quite a lot of a bear which had incautiously come within bowshot of Hrun.

  Rincewind watched Hrun over the top of his slab of greasy meat. Hrun going about the business of being a hero, he realised, was quite different to the wine-bibbing, carousing Hrun who occasionally came to Ankh-Morpork. He was cat-cautious, lithe as a panther, and thoroughly at home.

  And I’ve survived Bel-Shamharoth, Rincewind reminded himself. Fantastic.

  Twoflower was helping the hero sort through the treasure stolen from the temple. It was mostly silver set with unpleasant purple stones. Representations of spiders, octopi and the tree-dwelling octarsier of the hubland wastes figured largely in the heap.

  Rincewind tried to shut his ears to the grating voice beside him. It was no use.

  “-and then I belonged to the Pasha of Re’durat and played a prominent part in the battle of the Great Nef, which is where I received the slight nick you may have noticed some two-thirds of the way up my blade,” Kring was saying from its temporary home in a tussock. “Some infidel was wearing an octiron collar, most unsporting, and of course I was a lot sharper in those days and my master used to use me to cut silk handkerchiefs in mid-air and - am I boring you?”

  “Huh? Oh, no, no, not at all. It’s all very interesting,” said Rincewind, with his eyes still on Hrun. How trustworthy would he be? Here they were, out in the wilds, there were trolls about… “I could see you were a cultured person,” Kring went on. ” seldom do I get to meet really interesting people, for any length of time, anyway. What I’d really like is a nice mantelpiece to hang over, somewhere nice and quiet. I spent a couple of hundred years on the bottom of a lake once. ”

  “That must have been fun,” said Rincewind absently.

  “Not really,” said Kring.

  “No, I suppose not. ”

  “What I’d really like is to be a ploughshare. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds like an existence with some point to it.

  Twoflower hurried over to the wizard

  “I had a great idea,” he burbled.

  “Yah,” said Rincewind, wearily. “Why don’t we get Hrun to accompany us to Quirm?”

  Twoflower looked amazed. “How did you know?” he said. “I just thought you’d think it,” said Rincewind.

  Hrun ceased stuffing silverware into his saddlebags and grinned encouragingly at them. Then his eyes strayed back to the Luggage.

  “If we had him with us, who’d attack us?” said Twoflower.

  Rincewind scratched his chin. “Hrun?” he suggested.

  “But we saved his life in the Temple!”

  “Well, if by attack you mean kill,” said Rincewind, “I don’t think he’d do that. He’s not that sort. He’d just rob us and tie us up and leave us for the wolves, I expect. ”

  “Oh, come on. ”

  “Look, this is real life,” snapped Rincewind. “I mean, here you are, carrying around a box full of gold, don’t you think anyone in their right minds would jump at the chance of pinching it?” I would, he added mentally -if I hadn’t seen what the Luggage does to prying fingers.

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