Well … Rincewind hesitated. Yes, he thought, er …
She’s pretty good company, eh? Nice voice?
Well, of course …
You’d like to see more of her?
Well … Rincewind realised with some surprise that, yes, he would. It wasn’t that he was entirely unused to the company of women, but it always seemed to cause trouble and, of course, it was a well known fact that it was bad for the magical abilities, although he had to admit that his particular magical abilities, being approximately those of a rubber hammer, were shaky enough to start with.
Then you’ve got nothing to lose, have you? his libido put in, in an oily tone of thought.
It was at this point Rincewind realised that something important was missing. It took him a little while to realise what it was.
No-one had tried to sell him anything for several minutes. In Al Khali, that probably meant you were dead.
He, Corona and the Luggage were alone in a long, shady alley. He could hear the bustle of the city some way away, but immediately around them there was nothing except a rather expectant silence.
‘They’ve run off,’ said Conina.
‘Are we going to be attacked?’
‘Could be. There’s been three men following us on the rooftops.’
Rincewind squinted upwards at almost the same time as three men, dressed in flowing black robes, dropped lightly into the alleyway in front of them. When he looked around two more appeared from around a corner. All five were holding long curved swords and, although the lower halves of their faces were masked, it was almost certain that they were grinning evilly.
Rincewind rapped sharply on the Luggage’s lid.
‘Kill,’ he suggested. The Luggage stood stock still for a moment, and then plodded over and stood next to Conina. It looked slightly smug and, Rincewind realised with jealous horror, rather embarrassed.
‘Why, you-’ he growled, and gave it a kick – ‘you handbag.’
He sidled closer to the girl, who was standing there with a thoughtful smile on her face.
‘What now?’ he said. ‘Are you going to offer them all a quick perm?’
The men edged a little closer. They were, he noticed, only interested in Conina.
‘I’m not armed,’ she said.
‘What happened to your legendary comb?’
‘Left it on the boat.’
‘You’ve got nothing?’
Conina shifted slightly to keep as many of the men as possible in her field of vision.
‘I’ve got a couple of hairgrips,’ she said out of the corner of her mouth.
‘Don’t know. Never tried.’
‘You got us into this!’
‘Relax. I think they’ll just take us prisoner.’
‘Oh, that’s fine for you to say. You’re not marked down as this week’s special offer.’
The Luggage snapped its lid once or twice, a little uncertain about things. One of the men gingerly extended his sword and prodded Rincewind in the small of the back.
‘They want to take us somewhere, see?’ said Conina. She gritted her teeth. ‘Oh, no,’ she muttered.
‘What’s the matter now?’
‘I can’t do it!’
Conina put her head in her hands. ‘I can’t let myself be taken prisoner without a fight! I can feel a thousand barbarian ancestors accusing me of betrayal!’ she hissed urgently.
‘Pull the other one.’
‘No, really. This won’t take a minute.’
There was a sudden blur and the nearest man collapsed in a small gurgling heap. Then Conina’s elbows went back and into the stomachs of the men behind her. Her left hand rebounded past Rincewind’s ear with a noise like tearing silk and felled the man behind him. The fifth made a run for it and was brought down by a flying tackle, hitting his head heavily on the wall.
Conina rolled off him and sat up, panting, her eyes bright.
‘I don’t like to say this, but I feel better for that,’ she said. ‘It’s terrible to know that I betrayed a fine hairdressing tradition, of course. Oh.’
‘Yes,’ said Rincewind sombrely, ‘I wondered if you’d noticed them.’
Conina’s eyes scanned the line of bowmen who had appeared along the opposite wall. They had that stolid, impassive look of people who have been paid to do a job, and don’t much mind if the job involves killing people.
‘Time for those hairgrips,’ said Rincewind.
Conina didn’t move.
‘My father always said that it was pointless to undertake a direct attack against an enemy extensively armed with efficient projectile weapons,’ she said.
Rincewind, who knew Cohen’s normal method of speech, gave her a look of disbelief.
‘Well, what he actually said,’ she added, ‘was never enter an arse-kicking contest with a porcupine.’
Spelter couldn’t face breakfast.
He wondered whether he ought to talk to Carding, but he had a chilly feeling that the old wizard wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t believe him anyway. In fact he wasn’t quite sure he believed it himself …
Yes he was. He’d never forget it, although he intended to make every effort.
One of the problems about living in the University these days was that the building you went to sleep in probably wasn’t the same building when you woke up. Rooms had a habit of changing and moving around, a consequence of all this random magic. It built up in the carpets, charging up the wizards to such an extent that shaking hands with somebody was a sure-fire way of turning them into something. The build up of magic, in fact, was overflowing the capacity of the area to hold it. If something wasn’t done about it soon, then even the common people would be able to use it – a chilling thought but, since Spelter’s mind was already so full of chilling thoughts you could use it as an ice tray, not one he was going to spend much time worrying about.
Mere household geography wasn’t the only difficulty, though. Sheer pressure of thaumaturgical inflow was even affecting the food. What was a forkful of kedgeree when you lifted it off the plate might well have turned into something else by the time it entered your mouth. If you were lucky, it was inedible. If you were unlucky, it was edible but probably not something you liked to think you were about to eat or, worse, had already eaten half of.
Spelter found Coin in what had been, late last night, a broom cupboard. It was a lot bigger now. It was only because Spelter had never heard of aircraft hangars that he didn’t know what to compare it with, although, to be fair, very few aircraft hangars have marble floors and a lot of statuary around the place. A couple of brooms and a small battered bucket in one corner looked distinctly out of place, but not as out of place as the crushed tables in the former Great Hall which, owing to the surging tides of magic now flowing through the place, had shrunk to the approximate size of what Spelter, if he had ever seen one, would have called a small telephone box.
He sidled into the room with extreme caution and took his place among the council of wizards. The air was greasy with the feel of power.
Spelter created a chair beside Carding and leant across to him.
‘You’ll never believe-’ he began.
‘Quiet!’ hissed Carding. ‘This is amazing!’
Coin was sitting on his stool in the middle of the circle, one hand on his staff, the other extended and holding something small, white and egg-like. It was strangely fuzzy. In fact, Spelter thought, it wasn’t something small seen close to. It was something huge, but a long way off. And the boy was holding it in his hand.
‘What’s he doing?’ Spelter whispered.
‘I’m not exactly sure,’ murmured Carding. ‘As far as we can understand it, he’s creating a new home for wizardry’
Streamers of coloured light flashed about the indistinct ovoid, like a distant thunderstorm. The glow lit Coin’s preoccupied face from below, giving it the semblance of a mask.
‘I don’t see how we will all fit in,’ the bursar said. ‘Carding, last night I saw-’
‘It is finished,’ said Coin. He held up the egg, which flashed occasionally from some inner light and gave off tiny white prominences. Not only was it a long way off, Spelter thought, it was also extremely heavy; it went right through heaviness and out the other side, into that strange negative realism where lead would be a vacuum. He grabbed Carding’s sleeve again.
‘Carding, listen, it’s important, listen, when I looked in-’
‘I really wish you’d stop doing that.’
‘But the staff, his staff, it’s not-’
Coin stood up and pointed the staff at the wall, where a doorway instantly appeared. He marched out through it, leaving the wizards to follow him.
He went through the Archchancellor’s garden, followed by a gaggle of wizards in the same way that a comet is followed by its tail, and didn’t stop until he reached the banks of the Ankh. There were some hoary old willows here, and the river flowed, or at any rate moved, in a horseshoe bend around a small newt-haunted meadow known rather optimistically as Wizards Pleasaunce. On summer evenings, if the wind was blowing towards the river, it was a nice area for an afternoon stroll.
The warm silver haze still hung over the city as Coin padded through the damp grass until he reached the centre. He tossed the egg, which drifted in a gentle arc and landed with a squelch.
He turned to the wizards as they hurried up.
‘Stand well back,’ he commanded. ‘And be prepared to run.’
He pointed the octiron staff at the half-sunken thing. A bolt of octarine light shot from its tip and struck the egg, exploding into a shower of sparks that left blue and purple after-images.
There was a pause. A dozen wizards watched the egg expectantly.
A breeze shook the willow trees in a totally unmysterious way.
Nothing else happened.
‘Er-’ Spelter began.
And then came the first tremor. A few leaves fell out of the trees and some distant water bird took off in fright.
The sound started as a low groaning, experienced rather than heard, as though everyone’s feet had suddenly become their ears. The trees trembled, and so did one or two wizards.
The mud around the egg began to bubble.
The ground peeled back like lemon rind. Gouts of steaming mud spattered the wizards as they dived for the cover of the trees. Only Coin, Spelter and Carding were left to watch the sparkling white building arise from the meadow, grass and dirt pouring off it. Other towers erupted from the ground behind them; buttresses grew through the air, linking tower with tower.
Spelter whimpered when the soil flowed away from around his feet, and was replaced by flagstones flecked with silver. He lurched as the floor rose inexorably, carrying the three high above the treetops.
The rooftops of the University went past and fell away below them. Ankh-Morpork spread out like a map, the river a trapped snake, the plains a misty blur. Spelter’s ears popped, but the climb went on, into the clouds.
They emerged drenched and cold into blistering sunlight with the cloud cover spreading away in every direction. Other towers were rising around them, glinting painfully in the sharpness of the day.