The color of magic, p.17
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       The Color of Magic, p.17

         Part #1 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 17

  Then the answer hit him. He looked from Hrun to the picture box. The picture imp was doing its laundry in a tiny tub, while the salamanders dozed in their cage.

  “I’ve got an idea,” he said. “I mean, what is it heroes really want?”

  “Gold?” said Twoflower.

  “No. I mean really want. ”

  Twoflower frowned. “I don’t quite understand,” he said.

  Rincewind picked up the picture box. “Hrun,” he said. “Come over here, will you?”

  The days passed peacefully. True, a small band of bridge trolls tried to ambush them on one occasion, and a party of brigands nearly caught them unawares one night (but unwisely tried to investigate the Luggage before slaughtering the sleepers). Hrun demanded, and got, double pay for both occasions.

  “If any harm comes to us,” said Rincewind, “then there will be no-one to operate the magic box. No more pictures of Hrun, you understand?”

  Hrun nodded, his eyes fixed on the latest picture. It showed Hrun striking a heroic pose, with one foot on a heap of slain trolls.

  “Me and you and little friend Twoflowers, we all get on hokay,” he said. “Also tomorrow, may we get a better profile, hokay?”

  He carefully wrapped the picture in trollskin and stowed it in his saddlebag, along with the others.

  “It seems to be working,” said Twoflower admiringly, as Hrun rode ahead to scout the road.

  “Sure,” said Rincewind. “What heroes like best is themselves. ”

  “You’re getting quite good at using the picture box, you know that?”

  “Yar. ”

  “So you might like to have this. ” Twoflower held out a picture.

  “What is it?” asked Rincewind.

  “Oh, just the picture you took in the temple. ”

  Rincewind looked in horror. There, bordered by a few glimpses of tentacle, was a huge, whorled, calloused, potion-stained and unfocused thumb.

  “That’s the story of my life,” he said wearily.

  “You win,” said Fate, pushing the heap of souls across the gaming table. The assembled gods relaxed. “There will be other games,” he added.

  The Lady smiled into two eyes that were like holes in the universe.

  And then there was nothing but the ruin of the forests and a cloud of dust on the horizon, which drifted away on the breeze. And, sitting on a pitted and moss-grown milestone, a black and raggedy figure. His was the air of one who is unjustly put upon, who is dreaded and feared, yet who is the only friend of the poor and the best doctor for the mortally wounded.

  Death, although of course completely eyeless, watched Rincewind disappearing with what would, had His face possessed any mobility at all, have been a frown. Death, although exceptionally busy at all times, decided that He now had a hobby. There was something about the wizard that irked Him beyond measure. He didn’t keep appointments for one thing.

  I’LL GET YOU YET, CULLY, said Death, in the voice like the slamming of leaden coffin lids.

  The Lure of the Wyrm

  It was called the Wyrmberg and it rose almost one half of a mile above the green valley; a mountain huge, grey and upside down.

  At its base it was a mere score of yards across. Then it rose through clinging cloud, curving gracefully outward like an upturned trumpet until it was truncated by a plateau fully a quarter of a mile across. There was a tiny forest up there, its greenery cascading over the lip. There were buildings. There was even a small river, tumbling over the edge in a waterfall so wind-whipped that it reached the ground as rain.

  There were also a number of cave mouths, a few yards below the plateau. They had a crudely-carved, regular look about them, so that on this crisp autumn morning the Wyrmberg hung over the clouds like a giant’s dovecote.

  This would mean that the “doves” had a wingspan slightly in excess of forty yards.

  “I knew it,” said Rincewind. “We’re in a strong magical field. ”

  Twoflower and Hrun looked around the little hollow where they had made their noonday halt. Then they looked at each other.

  The horses were quietly cropping the rich grass by the stream. Yellow butterflies skittered among the bushes. There was a smell of thyme and a buzzing of bees. The wild pigs on the spit sizzled gently.

  Hrun shrugged and went back to oiling his biceps. They gleamed.

  “Looks alright to me,” he said.

  “Try tossing a coin,” said Rincewind.

  “What?”

  “Go on. Toss a coin. ”

  “Hokay,” Said Hrun. “if it gives you any pleasure. ”

  He reached into his pouch and withdrew a handful of loose change plundered from a dozen realms.

  With some care he selected a Zchloty leaden quarter-iotum and balanced it on a purple thumbnail.

  “You call,” he said. “Heads or-” he inspected the obverse with an air of intense concentration, “some sort of a fish with legs. ”

  “When it’s in the air,” said Rincewind. Hrun grinned and flicked his thumb. The iotum rose, spinning.

  “Edge,” said Rincewind, without looking at it.

  Magic never dies. It merely fades away.

  Nowhere was this more evident on the wide blue expanse of the Discworld than in those areas that had been the scene of the great battles of the Mage Wars, which had happened very shortly after Creation. In those days magic in its raw state had been widely available, and had been eagerly utilized by the First Men in their war against the Gods.

  The precise origins of the Mage Wars have been lost in the fogs of Time, but disc philosophers agree that the First Men, shortly after their creation, understandably lost their temper. And great and pyrotechnic were the battles that followed - the sun wheeled across the sky, the seas boiled, weird storms ravaged the land, small white pigeons mysteriously appeared in people’s clothing, and the very stability of the disc (carried as it was through space on the backs of four giant turtle-riding elephants) was threatened. This resulted in stern action by the Old High Ones, to whom even the Gods themselves are answerable. The Gods were banished to high places, men were re-created a good deal smaller, and much of the old wild magic was sucked out of the earth.

  That did not solve the problem of those places on the disc which, during the wars, had suffered a direct hit by a spell. The magic faded away slowly, over the millenia, releasing as it decayed myriads of sub-astral particles that severely distorted the reality around it…

  Rincewind, Twoflower and Hrun stared at the coin.

  “Edge it is,” said Hrun. “Well, you’re a wizard. So what?”

  “I don’t do - that sort of spell. ”

  “You mean you can’t. ”

  Rincewind ignored this, because it was true. “Try it again,” he suggested.

  Hrun pulled out a fistful of coins.

  The first two landed in the usual manner. So did the fourth. The third landed on its edge and balanced there. The fifth turned into a small yellow caterpillar and crawled away. The sixth, upon reaching its zenith, vanished with a sharp “spang!”

  A moment later there was a small thunder clap.

  “Hey, that one was silver,” exclaimed Hrun, rising to his feet and staring upwards. “Bring it back!”

  “I don’t know where it’s gone, said Rincewind wearily. “it’s probably still accelerating. The ones I tried this morning didn’t come down, anyway. ”

  Hrun was still staring into the sky.

  “What?” said Twoflower.

  Rincewind sighed. He had been dreading this.

  “We’ve strayed into a zone with a high magical index,” he said. “Don’t ask me how. Once upon a time a really powerful magic field must have been generated here, and we’re feeling the after-effects. ”

  “Precisely,” said a passing bush.

  Hrun’s head jerked down.

  “You mean this is one of those places?” he as
ked.

  “Let’s get out of here!”

  “Right,” agreed Rincewind. “if we retrace our steps we might make it. We can stop every mile or so and toss a coin. ”

  He stood up urgently and started stuffing things into his saddlebags.

  “What?” said Twoflower.

  Rincewind stopped. “Look,” he snapped. “Just don’t argue. Come on. ”

  “It looks alright,” said Twoflower. “Just a bit underpopulated that’s all…”

  “Yes,” said Rincewind. “Odd, isn’t it? Come on!”

  There was a noise high above them, like a strip of leather being slapped on a wet rock. Something glassy and indistinct passed over Rincewind’s head, throwing up a cloud of ashes from the fire, and the pig carcass took off from the spit and rocketed into the sky.

  It banked to avoid a clump of trees, righted itself, roared around in a tight circle, and headed hubwards leaving a trail of hot pork-fat droplets.

  “What are they doing now?” asked the old man.

  The young woman glanced at the scrying glass. “Heading rimwards at speed,” she reported. “By the way -they’ve still got that box on legs. ”

  The old man chuckled, an oddly disturbing sound in the dark and dusty crypt. “Sapient pearwood,” he said. “Remarkable. Yes, I think we will have that. Please see to it, my dear - before they go beyond your power, perhaps?”

  “Silence! Or-“

  “Or what, Liessa?” said the old man (in this dim light there was something odd about the way he was slumped in the stone chair). “You killed me once already, remember?”

  She snorted and stood up, tossing back her hair scornfully. It was red, flecked with gold. Erect, Liessa Wyrmbidder was entirely a magnificent sight. She was also almost naked, except for a couple of mere scraps of the lightest chain mail and riding boots of iridescent dragonhide. In one boot was thrust a riding crop, unusual in that it was as long as a spear and tipped with tiny steel barbs.

  “My power will be quite sufficient,” she said.

  The indistinct figure appeared to nod, or at least to wobble. “So you keep assuring me,” he said.

  Liessa snorted, and strode out of the hall.

  Her father did not bother to watch her go. One reason for this was, of course, that since he had been dead for three months his eyes were in any case not in the best of condition. The other was that as a wizard - even a dead wizard of the fifteenth grade, his optic nerves had long since become attuned to seeing into levels and dimensions far removed from common reality, and were therefore somewhat inefficient at observing the merely mundane. (During his life they had appeared to others to be eight-faceted and eerily insectile. ) Besides, since he was now suspended in the narrow space between the living world and the dark shadow-world of Death he could survey the whole of Causality itself. That was why, apart from a mild hope that this time his wretched daughter would get herself killed, he did not devote his considerable powers to learning more about the three travellers galloping desperately out of his realm.

  Several hundred yards away, Liessa was in a strange humour as she strode down the worn steps that led into the hollow heart of the Wyrmberg followed by half a dozen Riders. Would this be the opportunity? Perhaps here was the key to break the deadlock, the key to the throne of the Wyrmberg. It was rightfully hers, of course; but tradition said that only a man could rule the Wyrmberg. That irked Liessa, and when she was angry the Power flowed stronger and the dragons were especially big and ugly.

 
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