Mort, p.30
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       Mort, p.30

         Part #4 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 30

  Albert strutted along the row, poking the occasional paunch with his staff. His mind danced and sang. Go back? Never! This was power, this was living; hed challenge old boniface and spit in his empty eye.

  By the Smoking Mirror of Grism, theres going to be a few changes around here!

  Those wizards who had studied history nodded uncomfortably. It would be back to the stone floors and getting up when it was still dark and no alcohol under any circumstances and memorising the true names of everything until the brain squeaked.

  Whats that man doing!

  A wizard who had absent-mindedly reached for his tobacco pouch let the half-formed cigarette fall from his trembling fingers. It bounced when it hit the floor and all the wizards watched it roll with longing eyes until Albert stepped forward smartly and squashed it.

  Albert spun round. Rincewind, who had been following him as a sort of unofficial adjutant, nearly walked into him.

  You! Rincething! Dyer smoke?

  No, sir! Filthy habit! Rincewind avoided the gaze of his superiors. He was suddenly aware that he had made some lifelong enemies, and it was no consolation to know that he probably wouldnt have them for very long.

  Right! Hold my staff. Now, you bunch of miserable back-sliders, this is going to stop, dyer hear? First thing tomorrow, up at dawn, three times round the quadrangle and back here for physical jerks! Balanced meals! Study! Healthy exercise! And that bloody monkey goes to a circus, first thing!

  Oook?

  Several of the older wizards shut their eyes.

  But first, said Albert, lowering his voice, youll oblige me by setting up the Rite of AshkEnte.

  I have some unfinished business, he added.

  Mort strode through the cat-black corridors of the pyramid, with Ysabell hurrying along behind him. The faint glow from his sword illuminated unpleasant things; Offler the Crocodile God was a cosmetics advert compared to some of the things the people of Tsort worshipped. In alcoves along the way were statues of creatures apparently built of all the bits God had left over.

  What are they here for? whispered Ysabell.

  The Tsortean priests say they come alive when the pyramid is sealed and prowl the corridors to protect the body of the king from tomb robbers, said Mort.

  What a horrible superstition.

  Who said anything about superstition? said Mort absently.

  They really come alive?

  All Ill say is that when the Tsorteans put a curse on a place, they dont mess about.

  Mort turned a corner and Ysabell lost sight of him for a heart-stopping moment. She scurried through the darkness and cannoned into him. He was examining a dog-headed bird.

  Urgh, she said. Doesnt it send shivers up your spine?

  No, said Mort flatly.

  Why not?

  BECAUSE I AM MORT. He turned, and she saw his eyes glow like blue pinpoints.

  Stop it!

  I – CANT.

  She tried to laugh. It didnt work. Youre not Death, she said. Youre only doing his job. DEATH is WHOEVER DOES DEATHS JOB. The shocked pause that followed this was broken by a groan from further along the dark passage. Mort turned on his heel and hurried towards it.

  Hes right, thought Ysabell. Even the way he moves. . . .

  But the fear of the darkness that the light was dragging towards her overcame any other doubts and she crept after him, around another corner and into what appeared, in the fitful glow from the sword, to be a cross between a treasury and a very cluttered attic.

  Whats this place? she whispered. Ive never seen so much stuff!

  THE KING TAKES IT WITH HIM INTO THE NEXT WORLD, said Mort.

  He certainly doesnt believe in travelling light. Look, theres a whole boat. And a gold bathtub!

  DOUBTLESS HE WILL WISH TO KEEP CLEAN WHEN HE GETS THERE.

  And all those statues!

  THOSE STATUES, IM SORRY TO SAY, WERE PEOPLE. SERVANTS FOR THE KING, YOU UNDERSTAND.

  Ysabells face set grimly.

  THE PRIESTS GIVE THEM POISON.

  There was another groan, from the other side of the cluttered room. Mort followed it to its source, stepping awkwardly over rolls of carpet, bunches of dates, crates of crockery and piles of gems. The long obviously hadnt been able to decide what he was going to leave behind on his journey, so had decided to play safe and take everything.

  ONLY IT DOESNT ALWAYS WORK QUICKLY, Mort added sombrely.

  Ysabell clambered gamely after him, and peered over a canoe at a young girl sprawled across a pile of rugs. She was wearing gauze trousers, a waistcoat cut from not enough material, and enough bangles to moor a decent-sized ship. There was a green stain around her mouth.

  Does it hurt? said Ysabell quietly.

  No. THEY THINK IT TAKES THEM TO PARADISE.

  Does it?

  MAYBE. WHO KNOWS? Mort took the hourglass out of an inner pocket and inspected it by the gleam of the sword. He seemed to be counting to himself, and then with a sudden movement tossed the glass over his shoulder and brought the sword down with his other hand.

  The girls shade sat up and stretched, with a clink of ghostly jewellery. She caught sight of Mort, and bowed her head.

  My lord!

  NO-ONES LORD, said Mort. NOW RUN ALONG TO WHEREVER YOU BELIEVE YOURE GOING.

  I shall be a concubine at the heavenly court of King Zetesphut, who will dwell among the stars forever, she said firmly.

  You dont have to be, said Ysabell sharply. The girl turned to her, wide-eyed.

  Oh, but I must. Ive been training for it, she said, as she faded from view. Ive only managed to be a handmaiden up till now.

  She vanished. Ysabell stared with dark disapproval at the space she had occupied.

  Well! she said, and, Did you see what she had on?

  LETS GET OUT OF HERE.

  But it cant be true about King Whosis dwelling among the stars, she grumbled as they found their way out of the crowded room. Theres nothing but empty space up there.

  ITS HARD TO EXPLAIN, said Mort. HELL DWELL AMONG THE STARS IN HIS OWN MIND.

  With slaves?

  IF THATS WHAT THEY THINK THEY ARE.

  Thats not very fair.

  THERES NO JUSTICE, said Mort. JUST us.

  They hurried back along the avenues of waiting ghouls and were nearly running when they burst out into the desert night air. Ysabell leaned against the rough stonework and panted for breath.

  Mort wasnt out of breath.

  He wasnt breathing.

  I WILL TAKE YOU WHEREVER YOU WANT, he said, AND THEN I MUST LEAVE YOU.

  But I thought you wanted to rescue the princess!

  Mort shook his head.

  I HAVE NO CHOICE. THERE ARE NO CHOICES.

  She ran forward and grabbed his arm as he turned towards the waiting Binky. He removed her hand gently.

  I HAVE FINISHED MY APPRENTICESHIP.

  Its all in your own mind! yelled Ysabell. Youre whatever you think you are!

  She stopped and looked down. The sand around Morts feet was beginning to whip up in little spurts and twirling dust devils.

  There was a crackle in the air, and a greasy feel. Mort looked uneasy.

  SOMEONE is PERFORMING THE RITE OF ASH —

  It hit like a hammer, a force from out of the sky that blew the sand into a crater. There was a low buzzing and the smell of hot tin.

  Mort looked around himself in the gale of rushing sand, turning as if in a dream, alone in the calm centre of the gale. Lightning flashed in the whirling cloud. Deep inside his own mind he struggled to break free, but something had him in its grip and he could no more resist than a compass needle can ignore the compulsion to point towards the Hub.

  At last he found what he was searching for. It was a doorway edged in octarine light, leading to a short tunnel. There were figures at the other end, beckoning to him.

  I COME, he said, and then turned as he heard the sudden noise behind him. Eleven stone of
young womanhood hit him squarely in the chest, lifting him off the ground.

  Mort landed with Ysabell kneeling on him, holding on grimly to his arms.

  LET ME GO, he intoned. I HAVE BEEN SUMMONED.

  Not you, idiot!

  She stared into the blue, pupil-less pools of his eyes. It was like looking down a rushing tunnel.

  Mort arched his back and screamed a curse so ancient and virulent that in the strong magical field it actually took on a form, flapped its leathery wings and slunk away. A private thunderstorm crashed around the sand dunes.

  His eyes drew her again. She looked away before she dropped like a stone down a well made of blue light.

  I COMMAND YOU. Morts voice could have cut holes in rock.

  Father tried that tone on me for years, she said calmly. Generally when he wanted me to clean my bedroom. It didnt work then, either.

  Mort screamed another curse, which flopped out of the air and tried to bury itself in the sand.

  THE PAIN —

  Its all in your head, she said, bracing herself against the force that wanted to drag them towards that flickering doorway. Youre not Death. Youre just Mort. Youre whatever I think you are.

  In the centre of the blurred blueness of his eyes were two tiny brown dots, rising at the speed of sight.

  The storm around them rose and wailed. Mort screamed.

  The Rite of AshkEnte, quite simply, summons and binds Death. Students of the occult will be aware that it can be performed with a simple incantation, three small bits of wood and 4cc of mouse blood, but no wizard worth his pointy hat would dream of doing anything so unimpressive; they knew in their hearts that if a spell didnt involve big yellow candles, lots of rare incense, circles drawn on the floor with eight different colours of chalk and a few cauldrons around the place then it simply wasnt worth contemplating.

  The eight wizards at their stations on the points of the great ceremonial octogram swayed and chanted, their arms held out sideways so they were just touching the fingertips of the mages on either side.

  But something was going wrong. True, a mist had formed in the very centre of the living octogram, but it was writhing and turning in on itself, refusing to focus.

  More power! shouted Albert. Give it more power!

  A figure appeared momentarily in the smoke, black-robed and holding a glittering sword. Albert swore as he caught a glimpse of the pale face under the cowl; it wasnt pale enough.

  No! Albert yelled, ducking into the octogram and flailing at the flickering shape with his hands. Not you, not you. . . .

  And, in faraway Tsort, Ysabell forgot she was a lady, bunched her fist, narrowed her eyes and caught Mort squarely on the jaw. The world around her exploded. . . .

  In the kitchen of Hargas House of Ribs the frying pan crashed to the floor, sending the cats scurrying out of the door. . . .

  In the great hall of the Unseen University everything happened at once. [9]

  The tremendous force the wizards had been exerting on the shadow realm suddenly had one focus. Like a reluctant cork from a bottle, like a dollop of fiery ketchup from the upturned sauce bottle of Infinity, Death landed in the octogram and swore.

  Albert realised just too late that he was inside the charmed ring and made a dive for the edge. But skeletal fingers caught him by the hem of his robe.

  The wizards, such of them who were still on their feet and conscious, were rather surprised to see that Death was wearing an apron and holding a small kitten.

  Why did you have TO SPOIL IT ALL?

  Spoil it all? Have you seen what the lad has done? snapped Albert, still trying to reach the edge of the ring.

  Death raised his skull and sniffed the air.

  The sound cut through all the other noises in the hall and forced them into silence.

  It was the kind of noise that is heard on the twilight edges of dreams, the sort that you wake from in a cold sweat of mortal horror. It was the snuffling under the door of dread. It was like the snuffling of a hedgehog, but if so then it was the kind of hedgehog that crashes out of the verges and flattens lorries. It was the kind of noise you wouldnt want to hear twice; you wouldnt want to hear it once.

 
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