The color of magic, p.32
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       The Color of Magic, p.32

         Part #1 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 32

  Swish! went the stone. Death hummed a dirge, and tapped one bony foot on the frosty flagstones.

  Someone approached through the dim orchard where the nightapples grew, and there came the sickly sweet smell of crushed lilies. Death looked up angrily, and found Himself staring into eyes that were black as the inside of a cat and full of distant stars that had no counterpart among the familiar constellations of the Realtime universe.

  Death and Fate looked at each other. Death grinned - He had no alternative, of course, being made of implacable bone. The whetstone sang rhythmically along the blade as He continued His task.

  “I have a task for you,” said Fate. His words drifted across death’s scythe and split tidily into two ribbons of consonants and vowels.

  I HAVE TASKS ENOUGH THIS DAY, said Death in a voice as heavy as neutronium, THE WHITE PLAGUE ABIDES EVEN NOW IN PSEUDOPOLIS AND I AM BOUND THERE TO RESCUE MANY OF ITS CITIZENS FROM HIS GRASP. SUCH A ONE HAS NOT BEEN SEEN THESE HUNDRED YEARS. I AM EXPECTED TO STALK THE STREETS, AS IS MY DUTY.

  “I refer to the matter of the little wanderer and the rogue wizard,” said Fate softly, seating himself beside Death’s black-robed form and staring down at the,distant, multifaceted jewel which was the Disc universe as seen from this extra-dimensional vantage point.

  The scythe ceased its song.

  “They die in a few hours,” said Fate. “It is fated. ”

  Death stirred, and the stone began to move again.

  “I thought you would be pleased,” said Fate.

  Death shrugged, a particularly expressive gesture for someone whose visible shape was that of a skeleton.

  I DID INDEED CHASE THEM MIGHTILY. ONCE, he said, BUT AT LAST THE THOUGHT CAME TO ME THAT SOONER OR LATER ALL MEN MUST DIE. EVERYTHING DIES IN THE END. I CAN BE ROBBED BUT NEVER DENIED, I TOLD MYSELF. WHY WORRY?

  “I too cannot be cheated,” snapped Fate.

  SO I HAVE HEARD, said Death, still grinning.

  “Enough!” shouted Fate, jumping to his feet. “They will die!” He vanished in a sheet of blue fire.

  Death nodded to Himself and continued at His work. After some minutes the edge of the blade seemed to be finished to His satisfaction. He stood up and levelled the scythe at the fat and noisome candle that burned on the edge of the bench and then, with two deft sweeps, cut the flame into three bright slivers. Death grinned.

  A short while later he was saddling his white stallion, which lived in a stable at the back of Death’s cottage. The beast snuffled at him in a friendly fashion; though it was crimson-eyed and had flanks like oiled silk, it was nevertheless a real flesh-and-blood horse and, indeed, was in all probability better treated than most beasts of burden on the Disc. Death was not an unkind master. He weighed very little and, although He often rode back with His saddlebags bulging, they weighed nothing whatsoever.

  “All those worlds!” said Twoflower. “It’s fantastic!”

  Rincewind grunted, and continued to prowl warily around the star-filled room. Twoflower turned to a complicated astrolabe, in the centre of which was the entire Great A’Tuin-Elephant-Disc system wrought in brass and picked out with tiny jewels. Around it stars and planets wheeled on fine silver wires.

  “Fantastic!” he said again. On the walls around him constellations made of tiny phosphorescent seed pearls had been picked out on vast tapestries made of jet-black velvet, giving the room’s occupants the impression of floating in the interstellar gulf. Various easels held huge sketches of Great A’Tuin as viewed from various parts of the Circumfence, with every mighty scale and cratered pock-mark meticulously marked in. Twoflower stared about him with a faraway look in his eyes.

  Rincewind was deeply troubled. What troubled him most of all were the two suits that hung from supports in the centre of the room. He circled them uneasily.

  They appeared to be made of fine white leather, hung about with straps and brass nozzles and other highly unfamiliar and suspicious contrivances. The leggings ended in high, thick-soled boots, and the arms were shoved into big supple gauntlets. Strangest of all were the big copper helmets that were obviously supposed to fit on heavy collars around the neck of the suits. The helmets were almost certainly useless for protection a light sword would have no difficulty in splitting them, even if it didn’t hit the ridiculous little glass windows in the front. Each helmet had a crest of white feathers on top, which went absolutely no way at all towards improving their overall appearance.

  Rincewind was beginning to have the glimmerings of a suspicion about those suits.

  In front of them . was a table covered with celestial charts and scraps of parchment covered with figures. Whoever would be wearing those suits, Rincewind decided, was expecting to boldly go where no man - other than the occasional luckless sailor, who didn’t really count - had boldly gone before, and he was now beginning to get not just a suspicion but a horrible premonition.

  He turned round and found Twoflower looking at him with a speculative expression.

  “No- began Rincewind, urgently. Twoflower ignored him.

  “The goddess said two men were going to be sent over the Edge,” he said, his eyes gleaming, “and you remember Tethis the troll saying you’d need some kind of protection? The Krullians have got over that. These are suits of space armour. ”

  “They don’t look very roomy to me,” said Rincewind hurriedly, and grabbed the tourist by the arm, “so if you’d just come on, no sense in staying here-“

  “Why must you always panic?” asked Twoflower petulantly.

  “Because the whole of my future life just flashed in front of my eyes, and it didn’t take very long, and if you don’t move now I’m going to leave without you because any second now you’re going to suggest that we put on-“

  The door opened.

  Two husky young men stepped into the room. All they were wearing was a pair of woollen pants apiece. One of them was still towelling himself briskly. They both nodded at the two escapees with no apparent surprise.

  The taller of the two men sat down on one of the benches in front of the seats. He beckoned to Rincewind, and said:

  “?Tyo yur atl ho sooten gatrunen?”

  And this was awkward, because although Rincewind considered himself an expert in most of the tongues of the western segments of the Disc it was the first time that he had ever been addressed in Krullian, and he did not understand one word of it. Neither did Twoflower, but that did not stop him stepping forward and taking a breath.

  The speed of light through a magical aura such as the one that surrounded the Disc was quite slow, being not much faster than the speed of sound in less highly-tuned universes. But it was still the fastest thing around with the exception, in moments like this, of Rincewind’s mind.

  In an instant he became aware that the tourist was about to try his own peculiar brand of linguistics, which meant that he would speak loudly and slowly in his own language.

  Rincewind’s elbow shot back, knocking the breath from Twoflower’s body. When the little man looked up in pain and astonishment Rincewind caught his eye and pulled an imaginary tongue out of his mouth and cut it with an imaginary pair of scissors.

  The second chelonaut-for such was the profession of the men whose fate it would shortly be to voyage to Great A’Tuin - looked up from the chart table and watched this in puzzlement. His big heroic brow wrinkled with the effort of speech.

  “?Hor yu latruin nor u?” he said.

  Rincewind smiled and nodded and pushed Twoflower in his general direction. With an inward sigh of relief he saw the tourist pay sudden attention to a big brass telescope that lay on the table.

  “! Sooten u!” commanded the seated chelonaut. Rincewind nodded and smiled and took one of the big copper helmets from the rack and brought it down on the man’s head as hard as he possibly could. The chelonaut fell forward with a soft grunt.

  The other man took one startled step before Twoflower hit
him amateurishly but effectively with the telescope. He crumpled on top of his colleague.

  Rincewind and Twoflower looked at each other over the carnage.

  “All right!” snapped Rincewind, aware that he had lost some kind of contest but not entirely certain what it was. “Don’t bother to say it. Someone out there is expecting these two guys to come out in the suits in a minute. I suppose they thought we were slaves. Help me hide these behind the drapes and then, and then-“

  “-e’d better suit up,” said Twoflower, picking up the second helmet.

  “Yes,” said Rincewind. “You know, as soon as I saw the suits I just knew I’d end up wearing one. Don’t ask me how I knew - I suppose it was because it was just about the worst possible thing that was likely to happen. ”

  “Well, you said yourself we have no way of escaping,” said Twoflower, his voice muffled as he pulled the top half of a suit over his head. “Anything’s better than being sacrificed. ”

  “As soon as we get a chance we run for it,” said Rincewind. “Don’t get any ideas. ”

  He thrust an arm savagely into his suit and banged his head on the helmet. He reflected briefly that someone up there was watching over him.

  “Thanks a lot,” he said bitterly.

  At the very edge of the city and country of Krull was a large semicircular amphitheatre, with seating for several tens of thousands of people. The arena was only semi-circular for the very elegant reason that it overlooked the cloud sea that boiled up from the Rimfall, far below, and now every seat was occupied. And the crowd was growing restive. It had come to see a double sacrifice and also the launching of the great bronze space ship. Neither event had yet materialised.

  The Arch-astronomer beckoned the Master Launchcontroller to him.

  “Well?” he said, filling a mere four letters with a full lexicon of anger and menace. The Master Launchcontroller went pale.

  “No news, lord,” said the Launchcontroller, and added with a brittle brightness, “except that your prominence will be pleased to hear that Garhartra has recovered. ”

  “That is a fact he may come to regret,” said the Arch-astronomer.

  “Yes, lord. ”

  “How much longer do we have?”

  The Launchcontroller glanced at the rapidly-climbing sun.

  “Thirty minutes, your prominence. After that Krull will have revolved away from Great A’Tuin’s tail and the Potent Voyager will be doomed to spin away into the interterrapene gulf. I have already set the automatic controls, so-“

  “All right, all right,” the Arch-astronomer said, waving him away. “The launch must go ahead. Maintain the watch on the harbour, of course. When the wretched pair are caught I will personally take a great deal of pleasure in executing them myself. ”

  “Yes, lord. Er-“

  The Arch-astronomer frowned. “What else have you got to say, man?”

  The Launchcontroller swallowed. All this was very unfair on him, he was a practical magician rather than a diplomat, and that was why some wiser brains had seen to it that he would be the one to pass on the news.

  “A monster has come out of the sea and it’s attacking the ships in the harbour,” he said. “A runner just arrived from there. ”

 
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