It took a great deal of courage to stand there in that dark. Rincewind didn’t have that much, but stood there anyway.
Something started to snuffle around his feet, and Rincewind stood very still. The only reason he didn’t move was for fear of treading on something worse.
Then a hand like an old leather glove touched his, very gently, and a voice said: ‘Oook.’
Rincewind looked up.
The dark yielded, just once, to a vivid flash of light. And Rincewind saw.
The whole tower was lined with books. They were squeezed on every step of the rotting spiral staircase that wound up inside. They were piled up on the floor, although something about the way in which they were piled suggested that the word ‘huddled’ would be more appropriate. They had lodged -all right, they had perched – on every crumbling ledge.
They were observing him, in some covert way that had nothing to do with the normal six senses. Books are pretty good at conveying meaning, not necessarily their own personal meanings of course, and Rincewind grasped the fact that they were trying to tell him something.
There was another flash. He realised that it was magic from the sourcerer’s tower, reflected down from the distant hole that led on to the roof.
At least it enabled him to identify Wuffles, who was wheezing at his right foot. That was a bit of a relief. Now if he could just put a name to the soft, repetitive slithering noise near his left ear …
There was a further obliging flash, which found him looking directly into the little yellow eyes of the Patrician, who was clawing patiently at the side of his glass jar. It was a gentle, mindless scrabbling, as if the little lizard wasn’t particularly trying to get out but was just vaguely interested in seeing how long it would take to wear the glass away.
Rincewind looked down at the pear-shaped bulk of the Librarian.
‘There’s thousands of them,’ he whispered, his voice being sucked away and silenced by the massed ranks of books. ‘How did you get them all in here?’
‘Oook,’ repeated the Librarian, making vigorous flapping motions with his bald elbows.
‘Can they do that?’
‘Oook,’ nodded the Librarian.
‘That must have been pretty impressive. I’d like to see that one day.’
Not every book had made it. Most of the important grimoires had got out but a seven-volume herbal had lost its index to the flames and many a trilogy was mourning for its lost volume. Quite a few books had scorch marks on their bindings; some had lost their covers, and trailed their stitching unpleasantly on the floor.
A match flared, and pages rippled uneasily around the walls. But it was only the Librarian, who lit a candle and shambled across the floor at the base of a menacing shadow big enough to climb skyscrapers. He had set up a rough table against one wall and it was covered with arcane tools, pots of rare adhesives and a bookbinder’s vice which was already holding a stricken folio. A few weak lines of magic fire crawled across it.
The ape pushed the candlestick into Rincewind’s hand, picked up a scalpel and a pair of tweezers, and bent low over the trembling book. Rincewind went pale.
‘Um,’ he said, ‘er, do you mind if I go away? I faint at the sight of glue.’
The Librarian shook his head and jerked a preoccupied thumb towards a tray of tools.
‘Oook,’ he commanded. Rincewind nodded miserably, and obediently handed him a pair of long-nosed scissors. The wizard winced as a couple of damaged pages were snipped free and dropped to the floor.
‘What are you doing to it?’ he managed.
‘An appendectomy? Oh.’
The ape jerked his thumb again, without looking up. Rincewind fished a needle and thread out of the ranks on the tray and handed them over. There was silence broken only by the scritching sound of thread being pulled through paper until the Librarian straightened up and said:
Rincewind pulled out his handkerchief and mopped the ape’s brow.
‘Don’t mention it. Is it – going to be all right?’
The Librarian nodded. There was also a general,
almost inaudible sigh of relief from the tier of books above them.
Rincewind sat down. The books were frightened. In fact they were terrified. The presence of the sourcerer made their spines creep, and the pressure of their attention closed in around him like a vice.
‘All right,’ he mumbled, ‘but what can I do about it?’
‘Oook.’ The Librarian gave Rincewind a look that would have been exactly like a quizzical look over the top of a pair of half-moon spectacles, if he had been wearing any, and reached for another broken book.
‘I mean, you know I’m no good at magic.’
‘The sourcery that’s about now, it’s terrible stuff. I mean, it’s the original stuff, from right back in the dawn of time. Or around breakfast, at any rate.’
‘It’ll destroy everything eventually, won’t it?’
‘It’s about time someone put a stop to this sourcery, right?’
‘Only it can’t be me, you see. When I came here I thought I could do something, but that tower! It’s so big! It must be proof against all magic! If really powerful wizards won’t do anything about it, how can I?’
‘Oook,’ agreed the Librarian, sewing a ruptured spine.
‘So, you see, I think someone else can save the world this time. I’m no good at it.’
The ape nodded, reached across and lifted Rincewind’s hat from his head.
The Librarian ignored him, picked up a pair of shears.
‘Look, that’s my hat, if you don’t mind don’t you dare do that to my-’
He leapt across the floor and was rewarded with a thump across the side of the head, which would have astonished him if he’d had time to think about it; the Librarian might shuffle around the place like a good-natured wobbly balloon, but underneath that oversized skin was a framework of superbly-cantilevered bone and muscle that could drive a fistful of calloused knuckles through a thick oak plank. Running into the Librarian’s arm was like hitting a hairy iron bar.
Wuffles started to bounce up and down, yelping with excitement.
Rincewind screamed a hoarse, untranslatable yell of fury, bounced off the wall, snatched up a fallen rock as a crude club, kicked forward and stopped dead.
The Librarian was crouched in the centre of the floor with the shears touching-but not yet cutting-the hat.
And he was grinning at Rincewind.
They stood like a frozen tableau for some seconds. Then the ape dropped the shears, flicked several imaginary flecks of dust off the hat, straightened the point, and placed it on Rincewind’s head.
A few shocked moments after this Rincewind realised that he was holding up, at arm’s length, a very large and extremely heavy rock. He managed to force it away on one side before it recovered from the shock and remembered to fall on him.
‘I see,’ he said, sinking back against the wall and rubbing his elbows. And all that’s supposed to tell me something, is it? A moral lesson, let Rincewind confront his true self, let him work out what he’s really prepared to fight for. Eh? Well, it was a very cheap trick. And I’ve news for you. If you think it worked-’ he snatched the hat brim – ‘if you think it worked. If you think I’ve. You’ve got another thought. Listen, it’s. If you think.’
His voice stuttered into silence. Then he shrugged.
‘All right. But when you get down to it, what can I actually do?’
The Librarian replied with an expansive gesture that indicated, as clearly as if he had said ‘oook’, that Rincewind was a wizard with a hat, a library of magical books and a tower. This could be regarded as everything a magical practitioner could need. An ape, a small terrier with halitosis and a lizard in a jar were optional extras.
Rincewind felt a slight pressure on his foot. Wuffles, who was extremely slow on the uptake, had fastened his toothless gums on the toe of Rincewind’s boot and was giving it a vicious suck.
He picked the little dog up by the scruff of its neck and the bristly stub that, for the want of a better word, it called its tail, and gently lifted it sideways.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘You’d better tell me what’s been happening here.’
From the Carrack Mountains, overlooking the vast cold Sto Plain in the middle of which Ankh-Morpork sprawled like a bag of dropped groceries, the view was particularly impressive. Mishits and ricochets from the magical battle were expanding outwards and upwards, in a bowl-shaped cloud of curdled air at the heart of which strange lights flashed and sparkled.
The roads leading away from it were packed with refugees, and every inn and wayside tavern was crowded out. Or nearly every one.
No-one seemed to want to stop at the rather pleasant little pub nestling among trees just off the road to Quirm. It wasn’t that they were frightened to go inside, it was just that, for the moment, they weren’t being allowed to notice it.
There was a disturbance in the air about half a mile away and three figures dropped out of nowhere into a thicket of lavender.
They lay supine in the sunshine among the broken, fragrant branches, until their sanity came back. Then Creosote said, ‘Where are we, do you suppose?’
‘It smells like someone’s underwear drawer,’ said Conina.
‘Not mine,’ said Nijel, firmly.
He eased himself up gently and added, ‘Has anyone seen the lamp?’
‘Forget it. It’s probably been sold to build a wine-bar,’ said Conina.
Nijel scrabbled around among the lavender stems until his hands found something small and metallic.
‘Got it!’ he declared.
‘Don’t rub it!’ said the other two, in harmony. They were too late anyway, but that didn’t much matter, because all that happened when Nijel gave it a cautious buff was the appearance of some small smoking red letters in mid-air.
‘ ‘Hi”,’ Nijel read aloud. ‘ “Do not put down the lamp, because your custom is important to us. Please leave a wish after the tone and, very shortly, it will be our command. In the meantime, have a nice eternity.” ‘ He added, ‘You know, I think he’s a bit over-committed.’
Conina said nothing. She was staring out across the plains to the broiling storm of magic. Occasionally some of it would detach and soar away to some distant tower. She shivered, despite the growing heat of the day.
‘We ought to get down there as soon as possible,’ she said. ‘It’s very important.’
‘Why?’ said Creosote. One glass of wine hadn’t really restored him to his former easygoing nature.
Conina opened her mouth, and – quite unusually for her – shut it again. There was no way to explain that every gene in her body was dragging her onwards, telling her that she should get involved; visions of swords and spiky balls on chains kept invading the hairdressing salons of her consciousness.