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The Color of Magic
In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part... See... Great A'Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked With meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination. In a brain bigger than a city, with geological Slowness, He thinks only of the Weight. Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T'Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and startanned shoulders the disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.
There are, of course, eight days in a disc week and eight colours in its light spectrum. Eight is a number of some considerable occult significance on the disc and must never, ever, be spoken by a wizard.
Precisely why all the above should be so is not clear, but goes some way to explain why, on the disc, the Gods are not so much worshipped as blamed.
Bravd and Weasel looked at the figure, now hopping across the road with one foot in a stirrup. "Fire-raiser, is he?" said Bravd at last.
"No," said Rincewind. "Not precisely. Let's just say that if complete and utter chaos was lightning, then he'd be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting "All gods are bastards".
"!" said the stranger...
"I wish to be directed to an hotel, tavern, lodging house, inn, hospice, caravanserai," he said.
"What, all of them?" said Hugh, taken aback.
"?" said the stranger.
Being Ymor's right-hand man was like being gently flogged to death with scented bootlaces.
"Food. You eat. No?" He made the appropriate motions.
"Fut?" said the little man.
"Yes," said Broadman, beginning to sweat. "Have a look in your little book, I should." The man opened the book and ran a finger down one page. Broadman, who could read after a fashion, peered over the top of the volume. What he saw made no sense.
"Fooood," said the stranger. "Yes. Cutlet, hash chop, stew, ragout, fricassee, mince, collops, souffle, dumpling, blancmange, sorbet, gruel, sausage, not to have a sausage, beans, without a hear, kickshaws, jelly, jam. Giblets." He beamed at Broadman.
"All that?" said the innkeeper weakly.
Rincewind smiled politely at the stranger and tried a few words of Chimeran. He prided himself on his fluency in the tongue, but the stranger only looked bemused. "It won't work," said Hugh knowledgeably. "It's the book, you see. It tells him what to say. Magic." Rincewind switched to High Borogravian, to Vanglemesht, Sumtri and even Black Oroogu, the language with no nouns and only one adjective, which is obscene.
He tried to fit the image around the word "quaint", or rather the nearest Trob equivalent, which was "that pleasant oddity of design found in the little coral houses of the sponge-eating pigmies on the Orohai peninsular".
"You say this is a tough place. Frequented, you mean, by heroes and men of adventure?"
Rincewind considered this. "Yes?" he managed.
"Excellent. I would like to meet some."
An explanation occurred to the wizard. "Ah," he said. "You've come to hire mercenaries ('warriors who fight for the tribe with most milknut-meal')?"
"Oh no. I just want to meet them. So that when I get home I can say that I did it."
Rincewind thought that a meeting with most of the Drum's clientele would mean that Twoflower never went home again, unless he lived downriver and happened to float past.
At about this time a hitherto unsuccessful fortune-teller living on the other side of the block chanced to glance into her scrying bowl, gave a small scream and, within the hour, had sold her jewellery, various magical accoutrements, most of her clothes and almost all her other possessions that could not be conveniently carried on the fastest horse she could buy. The fact that later on, when her house collapsed in flames, she herself died in a freak landslide in the Morpork Mountains, proves that Death, too, has a sense of humour.
It is said that when a wizard is about to die Death himself turns up to claim him ( instead of delegating the task to a subordinate, such as Disease or Famine, as is usually the case).
... what he didn't like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk. There were too many of them, too.
The Watch were always careful not to intervene too soon in any brawl where the odds were not heavily stacked in their favour. The job carried a pension, and attracted a cautious, thoughtful kind of man.
"I expect you know what this is, don't you?"
Rincewind stared down at the box. It had a round glass eye protruding from the centre of one face, and a lever at the back.
"Not wholly," he said. "It's a device for making pictures quickly," said Twoflower. "Quite a new invention. I'm rather proud of it but, look, I don't think these gentlemen would - well, I mean they might be - sort of apprehensive? Could you explain it to them? I'll reimburse them for their time, of course."
"He's got a box with a demon in it that draws pictures," said Rincewind shortly. "do what the madman says and he will give you gold."
At the Temple of the Seven-Handed Sek a hasty convocation of priests and ritual heart-transplant artisans agreed that the hundred-span high statue of Sek was altogether too holy to be made into a magic picture, but a payment of two rhinu left them astoundedly agreeing that perhaps He wasn't as holy as all that.
The box said, "It's no good. I've run out of pink."
A hitherto unnoticed door opened in front of his eyea. A small, green and hideously warty humanoid figure leaned out, pointed at a colour-encrusted palette in one clawed hand, and screamed at him.
"No pink, See?" screeched the homunculus."No good you going on pressing the lever when there's no pink, is there? If you wanted pink you shouldn't of took all those pictures of young ladies, should you? It's monochrome from now on, friend. Alright?"
"Alright. Yeah, Sure," said Rincewind. In one dim corner of the little box he thought he could see an easle, and a tiny unmade bed. He hoped he couldn't. "So long as that's understood," said the imp, and shut the door. Rincewind thought he could hear the muffled sound of grumbling and the scrape of a stool being dragged across the floor.
Rincewind allowed himself a moment's sadness. "It could be worse," he said by way of farewell. "It could be me."
"Hey, look - this is all wrong. When Twoflower said they'd got better kind of magic in the empire I thought- I thought..."
The imp looked at him expectantly. Rincewind cursed to himself. "Well, if you must know, I thought he didn't mean magic. Not as such."
"What else is there, then?"
Rincewind began to feel really wretched. "I don't know," he said. "A better way of doing things, I suppose. Something with a bit of sense in it. Harnessing - harnessing the lightning, or something.
The imp gave him a kind but pitying look. "Lightning is the spears hurled by the thunder giants when they fight," it said gently. "Established meteorological fact. You can't harness it."
"I know," said Rincewind miserably. "That's the flaw in the argument, of course."
The imp nodded. and disappeared into the depths of the iconograph. A few moments later Rincewind smelled bacon frying. He waited until his stomach couldn't stand the strain any more, and rapped on the box. The imp reappeared.
"I've been thinking about what you said," it said even before Rincewind could open his mouth. "And even if you could get a harness on it, how could you get it to pull a cart?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Lightning. It just goes up and down. You'd want it to go along, not up and down. Anyway, it'd probably burn through the harness."
"I don't care about the lightning! How can I think on an empty stomach?"
"Eat something, then. That's logic."
"Captain Eightpanther's Travellers' Digestives them," said the imp from the doorway to his box "Saved many a life at sea, they have."
"Oh, sure. Do you use them as a raft, or just throw them to the sharks and sort of watch them sink?"
Gold was, he remembered, said to be formed from the crystallized light of stars. Until now he had never believed it to be true, that something as heavy as gold could fall naturally from the sky.
At the back of his mind a bad feeling began to grow. He thought about how it might be to be, say, a fox confronted with an angry sheep. A sheep, moreover, that could afford to employ wolves.
"People robbing and murdering all over the place, what sort of impression are visitors going to take away? You come all the way to see our fine city with its many points of historical and civic interest, also many quaint customs, and you wake up dead in some back alley or as it might be floating down the Ankh, how are you going to tell all your friends what a great time you're having?
The disc gods themselves, despite the splendour of the world below them, are seldom satisfied. It is embarrassing to know that one is a god of a world that only exists because every improbability curve must have its far end
Picturesque meant - he decided after careful observation of the scenery that inspired Twoflower to use the word - that the landscape was horribly precipitous. Quaint, when used to describe the occasional village through which they passed, meant fever-ridden and tumbledown. Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the discworld. Tourist, Rincewind had decided, meant 'idiot'.
The sword struck a boulder concealed in the heather - concealed, a watcher might have considered, so artfully that a moment before it had not appeared to be there at all. It sprang up like a leaping Salmon and in mid-ricochet plunged deeply into the back of the troll's grey neck. The creature grunted, and with one swipe of a claw gouged a wound in the flank of Twoflower's horse, which screamed and bolted into the trees at the roadside. The troll spun around and made a grab for Rincewind.
Then its sluggish nervous system brought it the message that it was dead. It looked surprised for a moment, and then toppled over and shattered into gravel
... the day was wearing on and perhaps it would be a good idea - Twoflower thought - not to hang about, in the open. Perhaps there was a... he racked his brains trying to remember what sort of accommodation forests traditionally offered... perhaps there was a ginger bread house or something?
"And no cheating, Lady." he said.
"But who could cheat Fate?" she asked. He shrugged.
"No-one. Yet everyone tries."
"I'm not rescued, am I?" he said. "I'm captured, right?"
"And you're not letting me go?" It was a statement.
Druellae shook her head. "You hurt the Tree. But you are lucky. Your friend is going to meet BelShamharoth. You will only die."
"You know, I never imagined there were he-dryads. Not even in an oak tree."
One of the giants grinned at him.
Druellae snorted. "Stupid! Where do you think acorns come from?"
"I don't like it," said the picture imp, from his box around Twoflower's neck.
"Why not?" inquired Twoflower.
"But you're a demon. Demons can't call things weird. I mean, what's weird to a demon?"
"Oh, you know," said the demon cautiously, glancing around nervously and shifting from claw to claw. "Things. Stuff."
Twoflower looked at him sternly. "What things?"
The demon coughed nervously (demons do not breathe, however, every intelligent being, whether it breathes or not, coughs nervously at some time in its life. And this was one of them as far as the demon was concerned).
"Run away and leave Hrun with that thing?" he said.
Rincewind looked blank. "Why not?" he said. "It's his job."
"But It'll kill him."
"It could be worse," said Rincewind.
"It could be us," Rincewind pointed out logically.
"What I'd really like is a nice mantelpiece to hang over, somewhere nice and quiet. I spent a couple of hundred years on the bottom of a lake once."
"That must have been fun," said Rincewind absently.
"Not really," said Kring.
"No, I suppose not."
"What I'd really like is to be a ploughshare. I don't know what that is, but it sounds like an existence with some point to it."
"You call," he said. "Heads or-" he inspected the obverse with an air of intense concentration, "some sort of a fish with legs."
"When it's in the air," said Rincewind. Hrun grinned and flicked his thumb. The iotum rose, spinning.
"Edge," Said Rincewind, without looking at it.
Rincewind, Twoflower and Hrun stared at the coin.
"Edge it is," said Hrun. "Well, you're a wizard. So what?"
"I don't do - that sort of spell."
"You mean you can't."
Rincewind ignored this, because it was true. "Try it again," he suggested.
Hrun pulled out a fistful of coins. The first two landed in the usual manner. So did the fourth. The third landed on its edge and balanced there. The fifth turned into a small yellow caterpillar and crawled away.
"You don't understand!" screamed the tourist above the terrible noise of the wingbeats. "All my life I've wanted to see dragons!"
"From the inside?" shouted Rincewind.
"Have you ever flown before?" said the dragonrider, without looking round.
"Not as such, no."
"Would you like something to suck?"
"Well?" he asked, in a whisper. "Any suggestions?"
"Obviously you attack," said Kring scornfully.
"Why didn't I think of that?" said Rincewind. "Could it be because they all have crossbows?"
"You're a defeatist."
"Defeatist? That's because I'm going to be defeated!"
"What happens next?" asked Twoflower.
Hrun screwed a finger in his ear and inspected it absently. "Oh," he said, "I expect in a minute the door will be flung back and I'll be dragged off to some sort of temple arena where I'll fight maybe a couple of giant spiders and an eight-foot slave from the jungles of Klatch and then I'll rescue some kind of a princess from the altar and then kill off a few guards or whatever and then this girl will show me the secret passage out of the place and we'll liberate a couple of horses and escape with the treasure." Hrun leaned his head back on his hands and looked at the ceiling, whistling tunelessly.
"All that?" said Twoflower.
"So calculating?" she rasped. "Hrun the Barbarian who would boldly walk into the jaws of Death Himself."
Hrun shrugged. "Sure," he said, "the only reason for walking into the jaws of Death is so's you can steal His gold teeth."
"You see, one of the disadvantages of being dead is that one is released as it were from the bonds of time and therefore I can see everything that has happened or will happen, all at the same time except that of course I now know that Time does not, for all practical purposes, exist."
"That doesn't sound like a disadvantage," said Twoflower.
"You don't think so? Imagine every moment being at one and the same time a distant memory and a nasty surprise and you'll see what I mean."
"I challenge you," said Hrun, glaring at the brothers, "both at once."
Liett and Liartes exchanged looks. "You'll fight us both together?" said Liartes, a tall, wiry man with long black hair.
"That's pretty uneven odds, isn't it?"
"Yah. I outnumber you one to two."
"It is forbidden to fight on the Killing Ground," he said, and paused while he considered the sense of this. "You know what I mean, anyway."
It is a little known but true fact that a two legged creature can usually beat a four legged creature over a short distance, simply because of the time it takes the quadruped to get its legs sorted out.
"Don't you get scared of heights?" he managed to say.
Twoflower looked down at the tiny landscape, mottled with cloud shadows. The thought of fear hadn't actually occurred to him.
"No," he said. "Why should I? You're just as dead if you fall from forty feet as you are from four thousand fathoms, that's what I say."
The sudden departure of several quintillion atoms from a universe that they had no right to be in anyway caused a wild imbalance in the harmony of the Sum Totality which it tried frantically to retrieve, wiping out a number of subrealities in the process. Huge surges of raw magic boiled uncontrolled around the very foundations of the multiverse itself, welling up through every crevice into hitherto peaceful dimensions and causing novas, supernovas, stellar collisions, wild flights of geese and drowning of imaginary continents. Worlds as far away as the other end of time experienced brilliant sunsets of corruscating octarine as highly-charged magical particles roared through the atmosphere. In the cometary halo around the fabled Ice-System of Zeret a noble comet died as a prince flamed across the sky.
Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying.
Plants on the disc, while including the categories known commonly as annuals, which were sown this year to come up later this year, biannuals, sown this year to grow next year, and perennials, sown this year to grow until further notice, also included a few rare re-annuals which, because of an unusual four-dimensional twist in their genes, could be planted this year to come up last year.
"... falling isn't so bad, you know. It's only the landing that hurts..."
"What are you staring at?" he said.
"It's just that-" said Twoflower.
"-compared to last night-" said Rincewind.
"You're so small," finished Twoflower.
"I see," said the troll carefully. "Personal remarks now." He drew himself up to his full height, which was currently about four feet. "Just because I'm made of water doesn't mean I'm made of wood, you know."
"I'm sorry," said Twoflower, climbing hastily out of the furs.
"You're made of dirt," said the troll, "but I didn't pass comments about things you can't help, did I?"
"Sometimes I think a man could wander across the disc all his life and not see everything there is to see," said Twoflower. "And now it seems there are lots of other worlds as well. When I think I might die without seeing a hundredth of all there is to see it makes me feel," he paused, then added, "well, humble, I suppose. And very angry, of course."
"The Krullians intend to launch a bronze vessel over the edge of the Disc. Their prime purpose is to learn the sex of A'tuin the World Turtle."
"Seems rather pointless," said Rincewind.
"No. Consider. One day Great A'tuin may encounter another member of the species chelys galactica, somewhere in the vast night in which we move. Will they fight? Will they mate? A little imagination will show you that the sex of Great A'tuin could be very important to us. At least, so the Krullians say."
Death sat in His garden, running a whetstone along the edge of His scythe. It was already so sharp that any passing breeze that blew across it was sliced smoothly into two puzzled zephyrs, although breezes were rare indeed in Death's silent garden.
I DID INDEED CHASE THEM MIGHTILY. ONCE, he said, BUT AT LAST THE THOUGHT CAME TO ME THAT SOONER OR LATER AlL MEN MUST DIE. EVERYTHING DIES IN THE END. I CAN BE ROBBED BUT NEVER DENIED, I TOLD MYSELF. WHY WORRY?
"Why must you always panic?" asked Twoflower petulantly.
"Because the whole of my future life just flashed in front of my eyes, and it didn't take very long..."
I HAVE COME FOR THEE, said the invisible mouth, in tones as heavy as a whale's heartbeat.
Death Himself always came in person to harvest the souls of wizards.
"What am I going to die of?" said Rincewind.
The tall figure hesitated.
PARDON? it said.
"Well, I haven't broken anything, and I haven't drowned, so what am I about to die of-? You can't just be killed by Death; there has to be a reason," said Rincewind. To his utter amazement he didn't feel terrified any more. For about the first time in his life he wasn't frightened. Pity the experience didn't look like lasting for long.
Death appeared to reach a conclusion.
YOU COUlD DIE OF TERROR, the hood intoned. The voice still had its graveyard ring, but there was a slight tremor of uncertainty.
"Won't work," said Rincewind smugly.
THERE DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A REASON, said Death, I CAN JUST KILL YOU.
"Hey, you can't do that! It'd be murder!"
"You're not Death! Who are you?" cried Rincewind.
"Death couldn't come," said the demon wretchedly. "There's a big plague on in Pseudopolis. He had to go and stalk the streets. So he sent me."
"No-one dies of Scrofula! I've got rights. I'm a wizard!"
"All right, all right. This was going to be my big chance," said Scrofula, "but look at it this way - if I hit you with this scythe you'll be just as dead as you would be if Death had done it. Who'd know?"
"I'd know!" snapped Rincewind.
"You wouldn't. You'd be dead," said Scrofula logically.
Below, the whole Universe twinkled at Rincewind. There was Great A'Tuin, huge and ponderous and pocked with craters. There was the little Disc moon. There was a distant gleam that could only be the Potent Voyager. And there were all the stars, looking remarkably like powdered diamonds spilled on black velvet, the stars that lured and ultimately called the boldest towards them...
The whole of Creation was waiting for Rincewind to drop in. He did so. There didn't seem to be any alternative.
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