He sat down again.
‘Up,’ he commanded.
The carpet did not respond. Rincewind peered at the pattern, then lifted a corner of the carpet and tried to make out if the underside was any better.
‘All right,’ he conceded, ‘down. Very, very carefully. Down.’
‘Sheep,’ slurred War. ‘It was sheep.’ His helmeted head hit the bar with a clang. He raised it again. ‘Sheep.’
‘Nonono,’ said Famine, raising a thin finger unsteadily. ‘Some other domess … dummist … tame animal. Like pig. Heifer. Kitten? Like that. Not sheep.’
‘Bees,’ said Pestilence, and slid gently out of his seat.
‘O-kay,’ said War, ignoring him, ‘right. Once again, then. From the top.’ He rapped the side of his glass for the note.
‘We are poor little … unidentified domesticated animals … that have lost our way …’ he quavered.
‘Baabaabaa,’ muttered Pestilence, from the floor.
War shook his head. ‘It isn’t the same, you know,’ he said. ‘Not without him. He used to come in beautifully on the bass.’
‘Baabaabaa,’ Pestilence repeated.
‘Oh, shut up,’ said War, and reached uncertainly for a bottle.
The gale buffeted the top of the tower, a hot, unpleasant wind that whispered with strange voices and rubbed the skin like fine sandpaper.
In the centre of it Coin stood with the staff over his head. As dust filled the air the wizards saw the lines of magic force pouring from it.
They curved up to form a vast bubble that expanded until it must have been larger than the city. And shapes appeared in it. They were shifting and indistinct, wavering horribly like visions in a distorting mirror, no more substantial than smoke rings or pictures in the clouds, but they were dreadfully familiar.
There, for a moment, was the fanged snout of Offler. There, clear for an instant in the writhing storm, was Blind lo, chief of the gods, with his orbiting eyes.
Coin muttered soundlessly and the bubble began to contract. It bulged and jerked obscenely as the things inside fought to get out, but they could not stop the contraction.
Now it was bigger than the University grounds.
Now it was taller than the tower.
Now it was twice the height of a man, and smoke grey.
Now it was an iridescent pearl, the size of … well, the size of a large pearl.
The gale had gone, replaced by a heavy, silent calm. The very air groaned with the strain. Most of the wizards were flat on the floor, pressed there by the unleashed forces that thickened the air and deadened sound like a universe of feathers, but every one of them could hear his own heart beating loud enough to smash the tower.
‘Look at me,’ Coin commanded.
They turned their eyes upwards. There was no way they could disobey.
He held the glistening thing in one hand. The other held the staff, which had smoke pouring from its ends.
‘The gods,’ he said. ‘Imprisoned in a thought. And perhaps they were never more than a dream.’
His voice become older, deeper. ‘Wizards of Unseen University,’ it said, ‘have I not given you absolute dominion?’
Behind. them the carpet rose slowly over the side of the tower, with Rincewind trying hard to keep his balance. His eyes were wide with the sort of terror that comes naturally to anyone standing on a few threads and several hundred feet of empty air.
He lurched off the hovering thing and on to the tower, swinging the loaded sock around his head in wide, dangerous sweeps.
Coin saw him reflected in the astonished stares of the assembled wizards. He turned carefully and watched the wizard stagger erratically towards him.
‘Who are you?’ he said.
‘I have come,’ said Rincewind thickly, ‘to challenge the sourcerer. Which one is he?’
He surveyed the prostrate wizardry, hefting the half-brick in one hand.
Hakardly risked a glance upwards and made frantic eyebrow movements at Rincewind who, even at the best of times, wasn’t much good at interpreting non-verbal communication. This wasn’t the best of times.
‘With a sock?’ said Coin. ‘What good is a sock?’
The arm holding the staff rose. Coin looked down at it in mild astonishment.
‘No, stop,’ he said. ‘I want to talk to this man.’ He stared at Rincewind, who was swaying back and forth under the influence of sleeplessness, horror and the after-effects of an adrenaline overdose.
‘Is it magical?’ he said, curiously. ‘Perhaps it is the sock of an Archchancellor? A sock of force?’
Rincewind focused on it.
‘I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘I think I bought it in a shop or something. Um. I’ve got another one somewhere.’
‘But in the end it has something heavy?’
‘Um. Yes,’ said Rincewind. He added, ‘It’s a half-brick.’
‘But it has great power.’
‘Er. You can hold things up with it. If you had another one, you’d have a brick.’ Rincewind spoke slowly. He was assimilating the situation by a kind of awful osmosis, and watching the staff turn ominously in the boy’s hand.
‘So. It is a brick of ordinariness, within a sock. The whole becoming a weapon.’
‘How does it work?’
‘Um. You swing it, and then you. Hit something with it. Or sometimes the back of your hand, sometimes.’
‘And then perhaps it destroys a whole city?’ said Coin.
Rincewind stared into Coin’s golden eyes, and then at his sock. He had pulled it on and off several times a year for years. It had darns he’d grown to know and lo-well, know. Some of them had whole families of darns of their own. There were a number of descriptions that could be applied to the sock, but slayer-of-cities wasn’t among them.
‘Not really,’ he said at last. ‘It sort of kills people but leaves buildings standing.’
Rincewind’s mind was operating at the speed of continental drift. Parts of it were telling him that he was confronting the sourcerer, but they were in direct conflict with other parts. Rincewind had heard quite a lot about the power of the sourcerer, the staff of the sourcerer, the wickedness of the sourcerer and so on. The only thing no-one had mentioned was the age of the sourcerer.
He glanced towards the staff.
‘And what does that do?’ he said slowly.
And the staff said, You must kill this man.
The wizards, who had been cautiously struggling upright, flung themselves flat again.
The voice of the hat had been bad enough, but the voice of the staff was metallic and precise; it didn’t sound as though it was offering advice but simply stating the way the future had to be. It sounded quite impossible to ignore.
Coin half-raised his arm, and hesitated.
‘Why?’ he said.
You do not disobey me.
‘You don’t have to,’ said Rincewind hurriedly. ‘It’s only a thing.’
‘I do not see why I should hurt him,’ said Coin. ‘He looks so harmless. Like an angry rabbit.’
He defies us.
‘Not me,’ said Rincewind, thrusting the arm with the sock behind his back and trying to ignore the bit about the rabbit.
‘Why should I do everything you tell me?’ said Coin to the staff. ‘I always do everything you tell me, and it doesn’t help people at all.’
People must fear you. Have I taught you nothing?
‘But he looks so funny, He’s got a sock,’ said Coin.
He screamed, and his arm jerked oddly. Rincewind’s hair stood on end.
You will do as you are commanded.
You know what happens to boys who are bad.
There was a crackle and a smell of scorched flesh. Coin dropped to his knees.
‘Here, hang on a minute-’ Rincewind began.
Coin opened his eyes. They were gold still, but flecked with brown.
Rincewind swung his sock around in a wide humming arc that connected with the staff halfway along its length. There was a brief explosion of brick dust and burnt wool and the staff spun out of the boy’s hand. Wizards scattered as it tumbled end over end across the floor.
It reached the parapet, bounced upwards and shot over the edge.
But, instead of falling, it steadied itself in the air, spun in its own length and sped back again trailing octarine sparks and making a noise like a buzzsaw.
Rincewind pushed the stunned boy behind him, threw away the ravaged sock and whipped his hat off, flailing wildly as the staff bored towards him. It caught him on the side of the head, delivering a shock that almost welded his teeth together and toppled him like a thin and ragged tree.
The staff turned again in mid-air, glowing red-hot now, and swept back for another and quite definitely final run.
Rincewind struggled up on his elbows and watched in horrified fascination as it swooped through the chilly air which, for some reason he didn’t understand, seemed to be full of snowflakes.
And became tinged with purple, blotched with blue. Time slowed and ground to a halt like an underwound phonograph.
Rincewind looked up at the tall black figure that had appeared a few feet away.
It was, of course, Death.
He turned his glowing eyesockets towards Rincewind and said, in a voice like the collapse of undersea chasms, GOOD AFTERNOON.
He turned away as if he had completed all necessary business for the time being, stared at the horizon for a while, and started to tap one foot idly. It sounded like a bagful of maracas.
‘Er,’ said Rincewind.
Death appeared to remember him. I’M SORRY? he said politely.
‘I always wondered how it was going to be,’ said Rincewind.
Death took an hourglass out from the mysterious folds of his ebon robes and peered at it.
DID YOU? he said, vaguely.
‘I suppose I can’t complain,’ said Rincewind virtuously. ‘I’ve had a good life. Well, quite good.’ He hesitated. ‘Well, not all that good. I suppose most people would call it pretty awful.’ He considered it further. ‘I would,’ he added, half to himself.
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, MAN?
Rincewind was nonplussed. ‘Don’t you make an appearance when a wizard is about to die?’
OF COURSE. AND I MUST SAY YOU PEOPLE ARE GIVING ME A BUSY DAY
‘How do you manage to be in so many places at the same time?’
Time returned. The staff, which had been hanging in the air a few feet away from Rincewind, started to scream forward again.
And there was a metallic thud as Coin caught it onehandedly in mid-flight.
The staff uttered a noise like a thousand fingernails dragging across glass. It thrashed wildly up and down, flailing at the arm that held it, and bloomed into evil green flame along its entire length.
So. At the last, you fail me.
Coin groaned but held on as the metal under his fingertips went red, then white.
He thrust the arm out in front of him, and the force streaming from the staff roared past him and drew sparks from his hair and whipped his robe up into weird and unpleasant shapes. He screamed and whirled the staff round and smashed it on the parapet, leaving a long bubbling line in the stone.
Then he threw it away. It clattered against the stones and rolled to a halt, wizards scattering out of its path.