After some minutes its search led it to Wayzygoose’s room. The air was full of greasy coils. Little particles of soot drifted gently on the air currents, and there were several foot-shaped burn marks on the floor.
The figure shrugged. There was no accounting for the sort of things you found in wizard’s rooms. It caught sight of its multifaceted reflection in the shattered mirror, adjusted the set of its hood, and got on with the search.
Moving like one listening to inner directions, it padded noiselessly across the room until it reached the table whereon stood a tall, round and battered leather box. It crept closer and gently raised the lid.
The voice from inside sounded as though it was talking through several layers of carpet when it said, At last. What kept you?
‘I mean, how did they all get started? I mean, back in the old times, there were real wizards, there was none of this levels business. They just went out and – did it. POW!,
One or two of the other customers in the darkened bar of the Mended Drum tavern looked around hastily at the noise. They were new in town. Regular customers never took any notice of surprising noises like groans or unpleasantly gristly sounds. It was a lot healthier. In some parts of the city curiosity didn’t just kill the cat, it threw it in the river with lead weights tied to its feet.
Rincewind’s hands weaved unsteadily over the array of empty glasses on the table in front of him. He’d almost been able to forget about the cockroaches. After another drink he might manage to forget about the mattress, too.
‘Whee! A fireball! Fizz! Vanishing like smoke! Whee!- Sorry.’
The Librarian carefully pulled what remained of his beer out of the reach of Rincewind’s flailing arms.
‘Proper magic.’ Rincewind stifled a belch.
Rincewind stared into the frothy remnants of his last beer, and then, with extreme care in case the top of his head fell off, leaned down and poured some into a saucer for the Luggage. It was lurking under the table, which was a relief. It usually embarrassed him in bars by sidling up to drinkers and terrorising them into feeding it crisps.
He wondered fuzzily where his train of thought had been derailed.
‘Where was I?’
‘Oook,’ the Librarian hinted.
‘Yeah.’ Rincewind brightened. ‘They didn’t have all this levels and grades business, you know. They had sourcerers in those days. They went out in the world and found new spells and had adventures-’
He dipped a finger in a puddle of beer and doodled a design on the stained, scratched timber of the table.
One of Rincewind’s tutors had said of him that ‘to call his understanding of magical theory abysmal is to leave no suitable word to describe his grasp of its practice.’ This had always puzzled him. He objected to the fact that you had to be good at magic to be a wizard. He knew he was a wizard, deep in his head. Being good at magic didn’t have anything to do with it. That was just an extra, it didn’t actually define somebody.
‘When I was a little boy,’ he said wistfully, ‘I saw this picture of a sourcerer in a book. He was standing on a mountain top waving his arms and the waves were coming right up, you know, like they do down in Ankh Bay in a gale, and there were flashes of lightning all round him-’
‘I don’t know why they didn’t, perhaps he had rubber boots on,’ Rincewind snapped, and went on dreamily,
‘And he had this staff and a hat on, just like mine, and his eyes were sort of glowing and there was all this sort of like glitter coming out of his fingertips, and I thought one day I’ll do that, and-’
‘Just a half, then.’
‘How do you pay for this stuff? Every time anyone gives you any money you eat it.’
Rincewind completed his sketch in the beer. There was a stick figure on a cliff. It didn’t look much like him – drawing in stale beer is not a precise art – but it was meant to.
‘That’s what I wanted to be,’ he said. ‘Pow! Not all this messing around. All this books and stuff, that isn’t what it should all be about. What we need is real wizardry.’
That last remark would have earned the prize for the day’s most erroneous statement if Rincewind hadn’t then said:
‘It’s a pity there aren’t any of them around any more.’
Spelter rapped on the table with his spoon.
He was an impressive figure, in his ceremonial robe with the purple-and-vermine hood of the Venerable Council of Seers and the yellow sash of a fifth level wizard; he’d been fifth level for three years, waiting for one of the sixty-four sixth level wizards to create a vacancy by dropping dead. He was in an amiable mood, however. Not only had he just finished a good dinner, he also had in his quarters a small phial of a guaranteed untastable poison which, used correctly, should guarantee him promotion within a few months. Life looked good.
The big clock at the end of the hall trembled on the verge of nine o’clock.
The tattoo with the spoon hadn’t had much effect. Spelter picked up a pewter tankard and brought it down hard.
‘Brothers!’ he shouted, and nodded as the hubbub died away. ‘Thank you. Be upstanding, please, for the ceremony of the, um, keys.’
There was a ripple of laughter and a general buzz of expectancy as the wizards pushed back their benches and got unsteadily to their feet.
The double doors to the hall were locked and triple barred. An incoming Archchancellor had to request entry three times before they would be unlocked, signifying that he was appointed with the consent of wizardry in general. Or some such thing. The origins were lost in the depths of time, which was as good a reason as any for retaining the custom.
The conversation died away. The assembled wizardry stared at the doors.
There was a soft knocking.
‘Go away!’ shouted the wizards, some of them collapsing at the sheer subtlety of the humour.
Spelter picked up the great iron ring that contained the keys to the University. They weren’t all metal. They weren’t all visible. Some of them looked very strange indeed.
‘Who is that who knocketh without?’ he intoned.
What was strange about the voice was this: it seemed to every wizard that the speaker was standing right behind him. Most of them found themselves looking over their shoulders.
In that moment of shocked silence there was the sharp little snick of the lock. They watched in fascinated horror as the iron bolts travelled back of their own accord; the great oak balks of timber, turned by Time into something tougher than rock, slid out of their sockets; the hinges flared from red through yellow to white and then exploded. Slowly, with a terrible inevitability, the doors fell into the hall.
There was an indistinct figure standing in the smoke from the burning hinges.
‘Bloody hell, Virrid,’ said one of the wizards nearby, ‘that was a good one.’
As the figure strode into the light they could all see that it was not, after all, Virrid Wayzygoose.
He was at least a head shorter than any other wizard, and wore a simple white robe. He was also several decades younger; he looked about ten years old, and in one hand he held a staff considerably taller than he was.
‘Here, he’s no wizard-’
‘Where’s his hood, then?’
‘Where’s his hat?’
The stranger walked up the line of astonished wizards until he was standing in front of the top table. Spelter looked down at a thin young face framed by a mass of blond hair, and most of all he looked into two golden eyes that glowed from within. But he felt they weren’t looking at him. They seemed to be looking at a point six inches beyond the back of his head. Spelter got the impression that he was in the way, and considerably surplus to immediate requirements.
He rallied his dignity and pulled himself up to his full height.
‘What is the meaning of, um, this?’ he said. It was pretty weak, he had to admit, but the steadiness of that incandescent glare appeared to be stripping all the words out of his memory.
‘I have come,’ said the stranger.
‘Come? Come for what?’
‘To take my place. Where is the seat for me?’
‘Are you a student?’ demanded Spelter, white with anger. ‘What is your name, young man?’
The boy ignored him and looked around at the assembled wizards.
‘Who is the most powerful wizard here?’ he said. ‘I wish to meet him.’
Spelter nodded his head. Two of the college porters, who had been sidling towards the newcomer for the last few minutes, appeared at either elbow.
‘Take him out and throw him in the street,’ said Spelter. The porters, big solid serious men, nodded. They gripped the boy’s pipestem arms with hands like banana bunches.
‘Your father will hear of this,’ said Spelter severely.
‘He already has,’ said the boy. He glanced up at the two men and shrugged.
‘What’s going on here?’
Spelter turned to see Skarmer Billias, head of the Order of the Silver Star. Whereas Spelter tended towards the wiry, Billias was expansive, looking rather like a small captive balloon that had for some reason been draped in blue velvet and vermine; between them, the wizards averaged out as two normal-sized men.
Unfortunately, Billias was the type of person who prided himself on being good with children. He bent down as far as his dinner would allow and thrust a whiskery red face towards the boy.
‘What’s the matter, lad?’ he said.
‘This child had forced his way into here because, he says, he wants to meet a powerful wizard,’ said Spelter, disapprovingly. Spelter disliked children intensely, which was perhaps why they found him so fascinating. At the moment he was successfully preventing himself from wondering about the door.
‘Nothing wrong with that,’ said Billias. ‘Any lad worth his salt wants to be a wizard. I wanted to be a wizard when I was a lad. Isn’t that right lad?’
‘Are you puissant?’ said the boy.
‘I said, are you puissant? How powerful are you?’
‘Powerful?’ said Billias. He stood up, fingered his eighth-level sash, and winked at Spelter. ‘Oh, pretty powerful. Quite powerful as wizards go.’
‘Good. I challenge you. Show me your strongest magic. And when I have beaten you, why, then I shall be Archchancellor.’
‘Why, you impudent-’ began Spelter, but his protest was lost in the roar of laughter from the rest of the wizards. Billias slapped his knees, or as near to them as he could reach.
‘A duel, eh?’ he said. ‘Pretty good, eh?’
‘Duelling is forbidden, as well you know,’ said Spelter. ‘Anyway, it’s totally ridiculous! I don’t know who did the doors for him, but I will not stand here and see you waste all our time-’
‘Now, now,’ said Billias. ‘What’s your name, lad?’
‘Coin sir,’ snapped Spelter.
‘Well, now, Coin,’ said Billias. ‘You want to see the best I can do, eh?’