The color of magic, p.6
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       The Color of Magic, p.6

         Part #1 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 6

  “That’s him behind us,” he said.

  The enormity of this lie was so great that its ripples did in fact spread out one of the lower astral planes as far as the Magical Quarter across the river, where it picked up tremendous velocity from the huge standing wave of power that always hovered there and bounced wildly across the Circle Sea. A harmonic got as far as Hrun himself, currently fighting a couple of gnolls on a crumbling ledge high in the Caderack Mountains, and caused him a moment’s unexplained discomfort. Twoflower, meanwhile, had thrown back the lid of the Luggage and was hastily pulling out a heavy black cube.

  “This is fantastic,” he said. “They’re never going to believe this at home. ”

  “What’s he going on about?” said the sergeant doubtfully.

  “He’s pleased you rescued us,” said Rincewind. He looked sidelong at the black box, half-expecting it to explode or emit strange musical tones.

  “Ah,” said the sergeant. He was staring at the box, too.

  Twoflower smiled brightly at them.

  “I’d like a record of the event,” he said. “Do you think you could ask them all to stand over by the window, please? This won’t take a moment. And, er, Rincewind? “

  “Yes?”

  Twoflower stood on tiptoe to whisper.

  “I expect you know what this is, don’t you?” Rincewind stared down at the box. It had a round glass eye protruding from the centre of one face, and a lever at the back.

  “Not wholly, ” he said.

  “It’s a device for making pictures quickly,” said Twoflower. “Quite a new invention. I’m rather proud of it but, look, I don’t think these gentlemen would -well, I mean they might be -sort of apprehensive? Could you explain it to them? I’ll reimburse them for their time, of course. ”

  “He’s got a box with a demon in it that draws pictures,” said Rincewind shortly. ‘do what the madman says and he will give you gold. ”

  The Watch smiled nervously.

  “I’d like you in the picture, Rincewind. That’s fine. ” Twoflower took out the golden disc that Rincewind had noticed before, squinted at its unseen face for a moment, muttered “Thirty seconds should about do it,” and said brightly, “Smile please!”

  “Smile,” rasped Rincewind. There was a whirr from the box.

  “Right. ”

  High above the disc the second albatross soared; so high in fact that its tiny mad orange eyes could see the whole of the world and the great, glittering, girdling Circle Sea. There was a yellow message capsule strapped to one leg. Far below it, unseen in the clouds, the bird that had brought the earlier message to the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork flapped gently back to its home.

  Rincewind looked at the tiny square of glass in astonishment. There he was, all right - a tiny figure, in perfect colour, standing in front of a group of Watchmen whose faces were each frozen in a terrified rictus. A buzz of wordless terror went up from the men around him as they craned over his shoulder to look.

  Grinning, Twoflower produced a handful of the Smaller coins Rincewind now recognized as quarter-rhinu. He winked at the wizard.

  “I had similar problems when I stopped over in the Brown Islands,” he said. “They thought the iconograph steals a bit of their souls. Laughable, isn’t it?”

  “Yarg,” said Rincewind and then, because somehow that was hardly enough to keep up his side of the conversation, added, “I don’t think it looks very like me, though. ”

  “It’s easy to operate,” said Twoflower, ignoring him. “Look, all you have to do is press this button. The iconograph does the rest. Now, I’ll just stand over here next to Hrun, and you can take the picture. ”

  The coins quietened the men’s agitation in the way that gold can, and Rincewind was amazed to find, half a minute later, that he was holding a little glass portrait of Twoflower wielding a huge notched sword and smiling as though all his dreams had come true.

  They lunched at a small eating-house near the Brass Bridge, with the luggage nestling under the table. The food and wine, both far superior to Rincewind’s normal fare, did much to relax him. Things weren’t going to be too bad, he decided. A bit of invention and some quick thinking, that was all that was needed.

  Twoflower seemed to be thinking too. Looking reflectively into his wine cup he said, “Tavern fights are pretty common around here, I expect?”

  “Oh, fairly. ”

  “No doubt fixtures and fittings get damaged?”

  “Fixt -oh, I see. You mean like benches and whatnot. Yes, I suppose so. ”

  “That must be upsetting for the innkeepers. ”

  “I’ve never really thought about it. I suppose it must be one of the risks of the job. ”

  Twoflower regarded him thoughtfully.

  “I might be able to help there. ” he said. “Risks are my business. I say, this food is a bit greasy, isn’t it?”

  “You did say you wanted to try some typical Morporkean food,” said Rincewind. “What was that about risks?”

  “Oh, I know all about risks. They’re my business. ”

  “I thought that’s what you said. I didn’t believe it the first time either. ”

  “Oh, I don’t take risks. About the most exciting thing that happened to me was knocking some ink over. I assess risks. Day after day. Do you know what the odds are against a house catching fire in the Red Triangle district of des Pelargic? Five hundred and thirty-eight to one. I calculated that,” he added with a trace of pride.

  “What-” Rincewind tried to suppress a burp-“what for? ‘Scuse me. ” He helped himself to some more wine

  “For-” Twoflower paused. “I can’t say it in Trob, I don’t think the beTrobi have a word for it. In our language we call it-” he said a collection of outlandish syllables.

  “Inn-sewer-ants,” repeated Rincewind. “That’s a funny word. Wossit mean?”

  “Well suppose you have a ship loaded with, say, gold bars. it might run into storms or be taken by pirates. You don’t want that to happen, so you take out an ensewer-ants-polly-sea. I work out the odds of the cargo being lost, based on weather and piracy records for the last twenty years, then I add on a bit, then you pay me some money based on those odds-“

  “-and the bit-” Rincewind said, waggling a finger solemnly.

  “Then, if the cargo is lost, I reimburse you. ”

  “Reeburs?”

  “Pay you the value of your cargo,” said Twoflower patiently.

  “Oh I get it. It’s like a bet, right?”

  “A wager? In a way, I suppose. ”

  “And you make money at this inn-sewer-ants?”

  “It offers a return on investment, certainly. ”

  Wrapped in the warm yellow glow of the wine, Rincewind tried to think of inn-sewer-ants in circle sea terms.

  “I don’t think I unnerstan’ this inn-sewer-ants,” he said firmly, idly watching the world spin by,

  “Magic now. Magic I unnerstan’. ”

  Twoflower grinned. “Magic is one thing, and reflected-sound-ofunderground-spirits is another, he said. ”

  “Whah?”

  “What?”

  “That funny word you used,” said Rincewind impatiently.

  “Reflected-sound-of-underground-spirits?

  “Never heard of it. ”

  Twoflower tried to explain.

  Rincewind tried to understand.

  In the long afternoon they toured the city Turnwise of the river. Twoflower led the way, with the strange picture-box slung on a strap round his neck, Rincewind trailed behind, whimpering at intervals and checking to see that his head was still there. A few others followed, too. In a city where public executions, duels, fights, magical feuds and strange events regularly punctuated the daily round the inhabitants had brought the profession of interested bystander to a peak of perfection. They were, to a man, highly skilled yawpers. In any case, Twoflower was delightedly taking picture a
fter picture of people engaged in what he described as typical activities, and since a quarter-rhinu would subsequently change hands “for their trouble” a tail of bemused and happy nouveux-riches was soon following him in case this madman exploded in a shower of gold.

  At the Temple of the Seven-Handed Sek a hasty convocation of priests and ritual heart-transplant artisans agreed that the hundred-span high statue of Sek was altogether too holy to be made into a magic picture, but a payment of two rhinu left them astoundedly agreeing that perhaps He wasn’t as holy as all that.

  A prolonged session at the Whore Pits produced a number of colourful and instructive pictures, a number of which Rincewind concealed about his person for detailed perusal in private. As the fumes cleared from his brain he began to speculate seriously as to how the iconograph worked. Even a failed wizard knew that some substances were sensitive to light. Perhaps the glass plates were treated by some arcane process that froze the light, that passed through them: or something like that, anyway. Rincewind often suspected that there was something, somewhere, that was better than magic. He was usually disappointed.

  However, he soon took every opportunity to operate the box. Twoflower was only too pleased to allow this, since that enabled the little man to appear in his own pictures. It was at this point that Rincewind noticed something strange. Possession of the box conferred a kind of power on the wielder which was that anyone, confronted with the hypnotic glass eye, would submissively obey the most peremptory orders about stance and expression.

  It was while he was thus engaged in the Plaza of Broken Moons that disaster struck. Twoflower had posed alongside a bewildered charm-seller, his crowd of new-found admirers watching him with interest in case he did something humorously lunatic.

  Rincewind got down on one knee, the better to arrange the picture, and pressed the enchanted lever.

  The box said, “It’s no good. I’ve run out of pink. ”

  A hitherto unnoticed door opened in front of his eyes. A small, green and hideously warty humanoid figure leaned out, pointed at a colour-encrusted palette in one clawed hand, and screamed at him. “No pink, See?” screeched the homunculus. “No good you going on pressing the lever when there’s no pink, is there? If you wanted pink you shouldn’t of took all those pictures of young ladies, should you? It’s monochrome from now on, friend. Alright?”

  “Alright. Yeah, Sure,” said Rincewind. In one dim corner of the little box he thought he could see an easle, and a tiny unmade bed. He hoped he couldn’t.

  “So long as that’s understood,” said the imp, and shut the door. Rincewind thought he could hear the muffled sound of grumbling and the scrape of a stool being dragged across the floor.

  “Twoflower-” he began, and looked up.

  Twoflower had vanished. As Rincewind stared at the crowd, with sensations of prickly horror traveling up his spine, there came a gentle prod in the small of his back.

  “Turn without haste,” said a voice like black silk. “Or kiss your kidneys goodbye. ”

  The crowd watched with interest. It was turning out to be quite a good day.

 
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