Mort, p.27
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       Mort, p.27

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 27

  This place doesnt look big enough.

  Do you know anything about m-dimensional topography?

  Um. No.

  Then I shouldnt aspire to hold any opinions, if I was you, said Albert.

  He paused in front of a shelf of glasses, glanced at the paper again, ran his hand along the row and suddenly snatched up a glass. The top bulb was almost empty.

  Hold this, he said. If this is right, then the other should be somewhere near. Ah. Here.

  Mort turned the two glasses around in his hands. One had all the markings of an important life, while the other one was squat and quite unremarkable.

  Mort read the names. The first seemed to refer to a nobleman in the Agatean Empire regions. The second was a collection of pictograms that he recognised as originating in Turnwise Klatch.

  Over to you, Albert sneered. The sooner you get started, the sooner youll be finished. Ill bring Binky round to the front door.

  Do my eyes look all right to you? said Mort, anxiously.

  Nothing wrong with them that I can see, said Albert. Bit red round the edges, bit bluer than usual, nothing special.

  Mort followed him back past the long shelves of glass, looking thoughtful. Ysabell watched him take the sword from the rack by the door and test its edge by swishing it through the air, just as Death did, and grinning mirthlessly at the satisfactory sound of the thunderclap.

  She recognised the walk. He was stalking.

  Mort? she whispered.

  YES?

  Somethings happening to you.

  I KNOW, said Mort. But I think I can control it.

  They heard the sound of hooves outside, and Albert pushed the door open and came in rubbing his hands.

  Right, lad, no time to —

  Mort swung the sword at arms length. It scythed through the air with a noise like ripping silk and buried itself in the doorpost by Alberts ear.

  ON YOUR KNEES, ALBERTO MALICH.

  Alberts mouth dropped open. His eyes rolled sideways to the shimmering blade a few inches from his head, and then narrowed to tight little lines.

  You surely wouldnt dare, boy, he said.

  MORT. The syllable snapped out as fast as a whiplash and twice as vicious.

  There was a pact, said Albert, but there was the barest gnat-song of doubt in his voice. There was an agreement.

  Not with me.

  There was an agreement! Where would we be if we could not honour an agreement?

  I dont know where I would be, said Mort softly.

  BUT I KNOW WHERE YOU WOULD GO. Thats not fair! Now it was a whine. THERES NO JUSTICE. THERES JUST ME.

  Stop it, said Ysabell. Mort, youre being silly. You cant kill anyone here. Anyway, you dont really want to kill Albert.

  Not here. But I could send him back to the world.

  Albert went pale.

  You wouldnt!

  No? I can take you back and leave you there. I shouldnt think youve got much time left, have you? HAVE YOU?

  Dont talk like that, said Albert, quite failing to meet his gaze. You sound like the master when you talk like that.

  I could be a lot worse than the master, said Mort evenly. Ysabell, go and get Alberts book, will you?

  Mort, I really think youre —

  SHALL I ASK YOU AGAIN?

  She fled from the room, white-faced.

  Albert squinted at Mort along the length of the sword, and smiled a lop-sided, humourless smile.

  You wont be able to control it forever, he said.

  I dont want to. I just want to control it for long enough.

  Youre receptive now, see? The longer the master is away, the more youll become just like him. Only itll be worse, because youll remember all about being human and —

  What about you, then? snapped Mort. What can you remember about being human? If you went back, how much life have you got left?

  Ninety-one days, three hours and five minutes, said Albert promptly. I knew he was on my trail, see? But Im safe here and hes not such a bad master. Sometimes I dont know what hed do without me.

  Yes, no-one dies in Deaths own kingdom. And youre pleased with that? said Mort.

  Im more than two thousand years old, I am. Ive lived longer than anyone in the world.

  Mort shook his head.

  You havent, you know, he said. Youve just stretched things out more. No-one really lives here. The time in this place is just a sham. Its not real. Nothing changes. Id rather die and see what happens next than spend eternity here.

  Albert pinched his nose reflectively. Yes, well, you might, he conceded, but I was a wizard, you know. I was pretty good at it. They put up a statue to me, you know. But you dont live a long life as a wizard without making a few enemies, see, ones wholl . . . wait on the Other Side.

  He sniffed. They aint all got two legs, either. Some of them aint got legs at all. Or faces. Death dont frighten me. Its what comes after.

  Help me, then.

  What good will that do me?

  One day you might need some friends on the Other Side, said Mort. He thought for a few seconds and added, If I were you, it wouldnt do any harm to give my soul a bit of a last-minute polish. Some of those waiting for you might not like the taste of that.

  Albert shuddered and shut his eyes.

  You dont know about that what you talk about, he added, with more feeling than grammar, else you wouldnt say that. What do you want from me?

  Mort told him.

  Albert cackled.

  Just that? Just change Reality? You cant. There isnt any magic strong enough any more. The Great Spells could of done it. Nothing else. And thats it, so you might as well do as you please and the best of luck to you.

  Ysabell came back, a little out of breath, clutching the latest volume of Alberts life. Albert sniffed again. The tiny drip on the end of his nose fascinated Mort. It was always on the point of dropping off but never had the courage. Just like him, he thought.

  You cant do anything to me with the book, said the old wizard warily.

  I dont intend to. But it strikes me that you dont get to be a powerful wizard by telling the truth all the time. Ysabell, read out whats being written.

  “Albert looked at him uncertainly”, Ysabell read.

  You cant believe everything writ down there —

  — “he burst out, knowing in the flinty pit of his heart that Mort certainly could”, Ysabell read.

  Stop it!

  “he shouted, trying to put at the back of his mind the knowledge that even if Reality could not be stopped it might be possible to slow it down a little”.

  HOW?

  “intoned Mort in the leaden tones of Death”, began Ysabell dutifully.

  Yes, yes, all right, you neednt bother with my bit, snapped Mort irritably.

  Pardon me for living, Im sure.

  NO-ONE GETS PARDONED FOR LIVING.

  And dont talk like that to me, thank you. It doesnt frighten me, she said. She glanced down at the book, where the moving line of writing was calling her a liar.

  Tell me how, wizard, said Mort.

  My magics all Ive got left! wailed Albert.

  You dont need it, you old miser.

  You dont frighten me, boy —

  LOOK INTO MY FACE AND TELL ME THAT.

  Mort snapped his fingers imperiously. Ysabell bent her head over the book again.

  “Albert looked into the blue glow of those eyes and the last of his defiance drained away”, she read, “for he saw not just Death but Death with all the human seasonings of vengeance and cruelty and distaste, and with a terrible certainty he knew that this was the last chance and Mort would send him back into Time and hunt him down and take him and deliver him bodily into the dark Dungeon Dimensions where creatures of horror would dot dot dot dot dot”, she finished. Its just dots for half a page.

  Thats because the book darent even mention them, whispered Albert. He tried to shut his eyes but the pic
tures in the darkness behind his eyelids were so vivid that he opened them again. Even Mort was better than that.

  All right, he said. There is one spell. It slows down time over a little area. Ill write it down, but youll have to find a wizard to say it.

  I can do that.

  Albert ran a tongue like an old loofah over his dry lips.

  There is a price, though, he added. You must complete the Duty first.

  Ysabell? said Mort. She looked at the page in front of her.

  He means it, she said. If you dont then everything will go wrong and hell drop back into Time anyway.

  All three of them turned to look at the great clock that dominated the hallway. Its pendulum blade sawed slowly through the air, cutting time into little pieces.

  Mort groaned.

  There isnt enough time! he groaned. I cant do both of them in time!

  The master would have found time, observed Albert.

  Mort wrenched the blade from the doorway and shook it furiously but ineffectually towards Albert, who flinched.

  Write down the spell, then, he shouted. And do it fast!

  He turned on his heel and stalked back into Deaths study. There was a large disc of the world in one corner, complete down to solid silver elephants standing on the back of a Great ATuin cast in bronze and more than a metre long. The great rivers were represented by veins of jade, the deserts by powdered diamond and the most notable cities were picked out in precious stones; Ankh-Morpork, for instance, was a carbuncle.

  He plonked the two glasses down at the approximate locations of their owners and flopped down in Deaths chair, glaring at them, willing them to be closer together. The chair squeaked gently as he swivelled from side to side, glowering at the little disc.

  After a while Ysabell came in, treading softly.

  Alberts written it down, she said quietly, Ive checked the book. It isnt a trick. Hes gone and locked himself in his room now and —

  Look at these two! I mean, will you look at them!

  I think you should calm down a bit, Mort.

  How can I calm down with, look, this one over here almost in the Great Nef, and this one right in Bes Pelargic and then Ive got to get back to Sto Lat. Thats a ten thousand mile round trip however you look at it. It cant be done.

  Im sure youll find a way. And Ill help.

  He looked at her for the first time and saw she was wearing her outdoor coat, the unsuitable one with the big fur collar.

  You? What could you do?

  Binky can easily carry two, said Ysabell meekly. She waved a paper package vaguely. Ive packed us something to eat. I could – hold open doors and things.

  Mort laughed mirthlessly. THAT WONT BE NECESSARY.

  I wish youd stop talking like that.

  I cant take passengers. Youll slow me down.

  Ysabell sighed. Look, how about this? Lets pretend weve had the row and Ive won. See? It saves a lot of effort. I actually think you might find Binky rather reluctant to go if Im not there. Ive fed him an awful lot of sugar lumps over the years. Now – are we going?

  Albert sat on his narrow bed, glowering at the wall. He heard the sound of hoofbeats, abruptly cut off as Binky got airborne, and muttered under his breath.

  Twenty minutes passed. Expressions flitted across the old wizards face like cloud shadows across a hillside. Occasionally hed whisper something to himself, like I told em or Never would of stood for it or The master ought to be tole.

  Eventually he seemed to reach an agreement with himself, knelt down gingerly and pulled a battered trunk from under his bed. He opened it with difficulty and unfolded a dusty grey robe that scattered mothballs and tarnished sequins across the floor. He pulled it on, brushed off the worst of the dust, and crawled under the bed again. There was a lot of muffled cursing and the occasional clink of china and finally Albert emerged holding a staff taller than he was.

 
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