‘They’re building another tower!’ said Nijel.
‘Out of my palace, too,’ said Creosote.
‘The hat’s won,’ said Rincewind. ‘That’s why it’s building its own tower. It’s a sort of reaction. Wizards always used to build a tower around themselves, like those … what do you call those things you find at the bottom of rivers?’
‘Caddis flies is what I meant,’ said Rincewind. ‘When a wizard set out to fight, the first thing he always did was build a tower.’
‘It’s very big,’ said Nijel.
Rincewind nodded glumly.
‘Where are we going?’ said Conina.
‘Away,’ he said.
The outer palace wall drifted just below them. As they passed over it began to shake, and small bricks began to loop towards the storm of flying rock that buzzed around the new tower.
Eventually Conina said, ‘All right. How did you get the carpet to fly? Does it really do the opposite of what you command?’
‘No. I just paid attention to certain fundamental details of laminar and spatial arrangements.’
‘You’ve lost me there,’ she admitted.
‘You want it in non-wizard talk?’
‘You put it on the floor upside down,’ said Rincewind.
Conina sat very still for a while. Then she said, ‘I must say this is very comfortable. It’s the first time I’ve ever flown on a carpet.’
‘It’s the first time I’ve ever flown one,’ said Rincewind vaguely.
‘You do it very well,’ she said.
‘You said you were frightened of heights.’
‘You don’t show it.’
‘I’m not thinking about it.’
Rincewind turned and looked at the tower behind them. It had grown quite a lot in the last minute, blossoming at the top into a complexity of turrets and battlements. A swarm of tiles was hovering over it, individual tiles swooping down and clinking into place like ceramic bees on a bombing run. It was impossibly high – the stones at the bottom would have been crushed if it wasn’t for the magic that crackled through them.
Well, that was just about it as far as organised wizardry was concerned. Two thousand years of peaceful magic had gone down the drain, the towers were going up again, and with all this new raw magic floating around something was going to get very seriously hurt. Probably the universe. Too much magic could wrap time and space around itself, and that wasn’t good news for the kind of person who had grown used to things like effects following things like causes.
And, of course, it would be impossible to explain things to his companions. They didn’t seem to grasp ideas properly; more particularly, they didn’t seem able to get the hang of doom. They suffered from the terrible delusion that something could be done. They seemed prepared to make the world the way they wanted it or die in the attempt, and the trouble with dying in the attempt was that you died in the attempt.
The whole point about the old University organisation was that it kept a sort of peace between wizards who got along with one another about as easily as cats in a sack, and now the gloves were off anyone who tried to interfere was going to end up severely scratched. This wasn’t the old, gentle, rather silly magic that the Disc was used to; this was magic war, white-hot and searing.
Rincewind wasn’t very good at precognition; in fact he could barely see into the present. But he knew with weary certainty that at some point in the very near future, like thirty seconds or so, someone would say: ‘Surely there’s something we could do?’
The desert passed below them, lit by the low rays of the setting sun.
‘There don’t seem to be many stars,’ said Nijel. ‘Perhaps they’re scared to come out.’
Rincewind looked up. There was a silver haze high in the air.
‘It’s raw magic settling out of the atmosphere,’ he said. ‘It’s saturated.’
Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twen-
‘Surely there’s-’ Conina began.
‘There isn’t,’ said Rincewind flatly, but with just the faintest twinge of satisfaction. ‘The wizards will fight each other until there’s one victor. There isn’t anything anyone else can do.’
‘I could do with a drink,’ said Creosote. ‘I suppose we couldn’t stop somewhere where I could buy an inn?’
‘What with?’ said Nijel. ‘You’re poor, remember?’
‘Poor I don’t mind,’ said the Seriph. ‘It’s sobriety that is giving me difficulties.’
Conina prodded Rincewind gently in the ribs.
‘Are you steering this thing?’ she said.
‘Then where is it going?’
Nijel peered downwards.
‘By the look of it,’ he said, ‘it’s going hubwards. Towards the Circle Sea.’
‘Someone must be guiding it.’
Hallo, said a friendly voice in Rincewind’s head.
You’re not my conscience again, are you? thought Rincewind.
I’m feeling really bad.
Well, I’m sorry, Rincewind thought, but none of this is my fault. I’m just a victim of circuses. I don’t see why I should take the blame.
Yes, but you could do something about it.
You could destroy the sourcerer. All this would collapse then.
I wouldn’t stand a chance.
Then at least you could die in the attempt. That might be preferable to letting magical war break out.
‘Look, just shut up, will you?’ said Rincewind.
‘What?’ said Conina.
‘Um?’ said Rincewind, vaguely. He looked down blankly at the blue and gold pattern underneath him, and added, ‘You’re flying this, aren’t you?’ Through me! That’s sneaky!’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Oh. Sorry. Talking to myself.’
‘I think,’ said Conina, ‘that we’d better land.’
They glided down towards a crescent of beach where the desert reached the sea. In a normal light it would have been blinding white with a sand made up of billions of tiny shell fragments, but at this time of day it was blood-red and primordial. Ranks of driftwood, carved by the waves and bleached by the sun, were piled up on the tideline like the bones of ancient fish or the biggest floral art accessory counter in the universe. Nothing stirred, apart from the waves. There were a few rocks around, but they were firebrick hot and home to no mollusc or seaweed.
Even the sea looked arid. If any proto-amphibian emerged on to a beach like this, it would have given up there and then, gone back into the water and told all its relatives to forget the legs, it wasn’t worth it. The air felt as though it had been cooked in a sock.
Even so, Nijel insisted that they light a fire.
‘It’s more friendly,’ he said. ‘Besides, there could be monsters.’
Conina looked at the oily wavelets, rolling up the beach in what appeared to be a half-hearted attempt to get out of the sea.
‘In that?’ she said.
‘You never can tell.’
Rincewind mooched along the waterline, distractedly picking up stones and throwing them in the sea. One or two were thrown back.
After a while Conina got a fire going, and the bone-dry, salt-saturated wood sent blue and green flames roaring up under a fountain of sparks. The wizard went and sat in the dancing shadows, his back against a pile of whitened wood, wrapped in a cloud of such impenetrable gloom that even Creosote stopped complaining of thirst and shut up.
Conina woke up after midnight. There was a crescent moon on the horizon and a thin, chilly mist covered the sand. Creosote was snoring on his back. Nijel, who was theoretically on guard, was sound asleep.
Conina lay perfectly still, every sense seeking out the thing that had awoken her.
Finally she heard it again. It was a tiny, diffident clinking noise, barely audible above the muted slurp of the sea.
She got up, or rather, she slid into the vertical as bonelessly as a jellyfish, and flicked Nijel’s sword out of his unresisting hand. Then she sidled through the mist without causing so much as an extra swirl.
The fire sank down further into its bed of ash. After a while Conina came back, and shook the other two awake.
‘I think you ought to see this,’ she hissed. ‘I think it could be important.’
‘I just shut my eyes for a second-’ Nijel protested.
‘Never mind about that. Come on.’
Creosote squinted around the impromptu campsite.
‘Where’s the wizard fellow?’
‘You’ll see. And don’t make a noisy. It could be dangerous.’
They stumbled after her knee-deep in vapour, towards the sea.
Eventually Nijel said, ‘Why dangerous-’
‘Shh! Did you hear it?’
‘Like a sort of ringing noise?’
Rincewind walked jerkily up the beach, carrying a large round rock in both hands. He walked past them without a word, his eyes staring straight ahead.
They followed him along the cold beach until he reached a bare area between the dunes, where he stopped and, still moving with all the grace of a clothes horse, dropped the rock. It made a clinking noise.
There was a wide circle of other stones. Very few of them had actually stayed on top of another one.
The three of them crouched down and watched him.
‘Is he asleep?’ said Creosote.
‘What’s he trying to do?’
‘I think he’s trying to build a tower.’
Rincewind lurched back into the ring of stones and, with great care, placed another rock on empty air. It fell down.
‘He’s not very good at it, is he,’ said Nijel.
‘It is very sad,’ said Creosote.
‘Maybe we ought to wake him up,’ said Conina. ‘Only I heard that if you wake up sleepwalkers their legs fall off, or something. What do you think?’
‘Could be risky, with wizards,’ said Nijel.
They tried to make themselves comfortable on the chilly sand.
‘It’s rather pathetic, isn’t it?’ said Creosote. ‘It’s not as if he’s really a proper wizard.’
Conina and Nijel tried to avoid one another’s gaze. Finally the boy coughed, and said, ‘I’m not exactly a barbarian hero, you know. You may have noticed.’
They watched the toiling figure of Rincewind for a while, and then Conina said, ‘If it comes to that, I think I lack a certain something when it comes to hairdressing.’
They both stared fixedly at the sleepwalker, busy with their own thoughts and red with mutual embarrassment.
Creosote cleared his throat.
‘If it makes anyone feel better,’ he said, ‘I sometimes perceive that my poetry leaves a lot to be desired.’
Rincewind carefully tried to balance a large rock on a small pebble. It fell off, but he appeared to be happy with the result.