‘It’s a geas,’ muttered Rincewind.
Creosote swayed at him. ‘Abrim does all the ruling, you see. Terrible hard work.’
‘He’s not,’ said Rincewind, ‘making a very good job of it just at present.’
And we’d sort of like to get away,’ said Conina, who was still turning over the phrase about the goats.
‘And I’ve got this geas,’ said Nijel, glaring at Rincewind.
Creosote patted him on the arm.
‘That’s nice,’ he said. ‘Everyone should have a pet.
‘So if you happen to know if you own any stables or anything…’ prompted Rincewind.
‘Hundreds,’ said Creosote. ‘I own some of the finest, most … finest horses in the world.’ His brow wrinkled. ‘So they tell me.’
‘But you wouldn’t happen to know where they are?’
‘Not as such,’ the Seriph admitted. A random spray of magic turned the nearby wall into arsenic meringue.
‘I think we might have been better off in the snake pit,’ said Rincewind, turning away.
Creosote took another sorrowful glance at his empty wine bottle.
‘I know where there’s a magic carpet,’ he said.
‘No,’ said Rincewind, raising his hands protectively. ‘Absolutely not. Don’t even-’
‘It belonged to my grandfather-’
‘A real magic carpet?’ said Nijel.
‘Listen,’ said Rincewind urgently. ‘I get vertigo just listening to tall stories.’
‘Oh, quite,’ the Seriph burped gently, ‘genuine. Very pretty pattern.’ He squinted at the bottle again, and sighed. ‘It was a lovely blue colour,’ he added.
‘And you wouldn’t happen to know where it is?’ said Conina slowly, in the manner of one creeping up very carefully to a wild animal that might take fright at any moment.
‘In the treasury. I know the way there. I’m extremely rich, you know. Or so they tell me.’ He lowered his voice and tried to wink at Conina, eventually managing it with both eyes. ‘We could sit on it,’ he said, breaking into a sweat. ‘And you could tell me a story…’
Rincewind tried to scream through gritted teeth.
His ankles were already beginning to sweat.
‘I’m not going to ride on a magic carpet!’ he hissed. ‘I’m afraid of grounds!’
‘You mean heights,’ said Conina. And stop being silly.’
‘I know what I mean! It’s the grounds that kill you!’
The battle of Al Khali was a hammer-headed cloud, in whose roiling depths weird shapes could be heard and strange sounds were seen. Occasional misses seared across the city. Where they landed things were … different.
For example, a large part of the soak had turned into an impenetrable forest of giant yellow mushrooms. No-one knew what effect this had on its inhabitants, although possibly they hadn’t noticed.
The temple of Offler the Crocodile God, patron deity of the city, was now a rather ugly sugary thing constructed in five dimensions. But this was no problem because it was being eaten by a herd of giant ants.
On the other hand, not many people were left to appreciate this statement against uncontrolled civic alteration, because most of them were running for their lives. They fled across the fertile fields in a steady stream. Some had taken to boats, but this method of escape had ceased when most of the harbour area turned into a swamp in which, for no obvious reason, a couple of small pink elephants were building a nest.
Down below the panic on the roads the Luggage paddled slowly up one of the reed-lined drainage ditches. A little way ahead of it a moving wave of small alligators, rats and snapping turtles was pouring out of the water and scrambling frantically up the bank, propelled by some vague but absolutely accurate animal instinct.
The Luggage’s lid was set in an expression of grim determination. It didn’t want much out of the world, except for the total extinction of every other lifeform, but what it needed more than anything else now was its owner.
It was easy to see that the room was a treasury by its incredible emptiness. Doors hung off hooks. Barred alcoves had been smashed in. Lots of smashed chests lay around, and this gave Rincewind a pang of guilt and he wondered, for about two seconds, where the Luggage had got to.
There was a respectful silence, as there always is when large sums of money have just passed away. Nijel wandered off and prodded some of the chests in a forlorn search for secret drawers, as per the instructions in Chapter Eleven.
Conina reached down and picked up a small copper coin.
‘How horrible,’ said Rincewind eventually. ‘A treasury with no treasure in it.’
The seriph stood and beamed. ‘Not to worry’, he said.
‘But all your money has been stolen!’ said Conina.
‘The servants, I expect,’ said Creosote. ‘Very disloyal of them.’
Rincewind gave him an odd look. ‘Doesn’t it worry you?’
‘Not much. I never really spent anything. I’ve often wondered what being poor was like.’
‘You’re going to get a huge opportunity to find out.’
‘Will I need training?’
‘It comes naturally,’ said Rincewind. ‘You pick it up as you go along.’ There was a distant explosion and part of the ceiling turned to jelly.
‘Erm, excuse me,’ said Nijel, ‘this carpet …’
‘Yes,’ said Conina, ‘the carpet.’
Creosote gave them a benevolent, slightly tipsy smile.
‘Ah, yes. The carpet. Push the nose of the statue behind you, peach-buttocked jewel of the desert dawn.’
Conina, blushing, performed this act of minor sacrilege on a large green statue of Offler the Crocodile God.
Nothing happened. Secret compartments assiduously failed to open.
‘Um. Try the left hand.’
She gave it an experimental twist. Creosote scratched his head.
‘Maybe it was the right hand…’
‘I should try and remember, if I were you,’ said Conina sharply, when that didn’t work either. ‘There aren’t many bits left that I’d care to pull.’
‘What’s that thing there?’ said Rincewind.
‘You’re really going to hear about it if it isn’t the tail,’ said Conina, and gave it a kick.
There was a distant metallic groaning noise, like a saucepan in pain. The statue shuddered. It was followed by a few heavy clonks somewhere inside the wall, and Offler the Crocodile God grated ponderously aside. There was a tunnel behind him.
‘My grandfather had this built for our more interesting treasure,’ said Creosote. ‘He was very-’ he groped for a word-’ingenious.’
‘If you think I’m setting foot in there-’ Rincewind began.
‘Stand aside,’ said Nijel, loftily. ‘I will go first.’
‘There could be traps-’ said Conina doubtfully. She shot the Seriph a glance.
‘Oh, probably, O gazelle of Heaven,’ he said. ‘I haven’t been in there since I was six. There were some slabs you shouldn’t tread on, I think.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ said Nijel, peering into the gloom of the tunnel. ‘I shouldn’t think there’s a booby trap that I couldn’t spot.’
‘Had a lot of experience at this sort of thing, have you?’ said Rincewind sourly.
‘Well, I know Chapter Fourteen off by heart. It had illustrations,’ said Nijel, and ducked into the shadows.
They waited for several minutes in what would have been a horrified hush if it wasn’t for the muffled grunts and occasional thumping noises from the tunnel. Eventually Nijel’s voice echoed back down to them from a distance.
‘There’s absolutely nothing,’ he said. ‘I’ve tried everything. It’s as steady as a rock. Everything must have seized up, or something.’
Rincewind and Conina exchanged glances.
‘He doesn’t know the first thing about traps,’ she said. ‘When I was five, my father made me walk all the way down a passage that he’d rigged up, just to teach me-’
‘He got through, didn’t he?’ said Rincewind.
There was a noise like a damp finger dragged across glass, but amplified a billion times, and the floor shook.
‘Anyway, we haven’t got a lot of choice,’ he added, and ducked into the tunnel. The others followed him. Many people who had got to know Rincewind had come to treat him as a sort of two-legged miner’s canary and tended to assume that if Rincewind was still upright and not actually running then some hope remained.
‘This is fun,’ said Creosote. ‘Me, robbing my own treasury. If I catch myself I can have myself flung into the snake pit.’
‘But you could throw yourself on your mercy,’ said Conina, running a paranoid eye over the dusty stonework.
‘Oh, no. I think I would have to teach me a lesson, as an example to myself.’
There was a little click above them. A small slab slid aside and a rusty metal hook descended slowly and jerkily. Another bar creaked out of the wall and tapped Rincewind on the shoulder. As he swung around, the first hook hung a yellowing notice on his back and retracted into the roof.
‘What’d it do? What’d it do?’ screamed Rincewind, trying to read his own shoulderblades.
‘It says, Kick Me,’ said Conina.
A section of wall slid up beside the petrified wizard. A large boot on the end of a complicated series of metal joints gave a half-hearted wobble and then the whole thing snapped at the knee.
The three of them looked at it in silence. Then Conina said, ‘We’re dealing here with a warped brain, I can tell.’
Rincewind gingerly unhooked the sign and let it drop. Conina pushed past him and stalked along the passage with an air of angry caution, and when a metal hand extended itself on a spring and waggled in a friendly fashion she didn’t shake it but instead traced its moulting wiring to a couple of corroded electrodes in a big glass jar.
‘Your grandad was a man with a sense of humour?’ she said.
‘Oh, yes. Always liked a chuckle,’ said Creosote.
‘Oh, good,’ said Conina. She prodded gingerly at a flagstone which, to Rincewind, looked no different to any of its fellows. With a sad little springy noise a moulting feather duster wobbled out of the wall at armpit height.
‘I think I would have quite liked to meet the old Seriph,’ she said, through gritted teeth, ‘although not to shake him by the hand. You’d better give me a leg up here, wizard.’
Conina pointed irritably to a half-open stone doorway just ahead of them.
‘I want to look up there,’ she said. ‘You just put your hands together for me to stand on, right? How do you manage to be so useless?’
‘Being useful always gets me into trouble,’ muttered Rincewind, trying to ignore the warm flesh brushing against his nose.
He could hear her rooting around above the door.
‘I thought so,’ she said.
‘What is it? Fiendishly sharp spears poised to drop?’