The last continent, p.34
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       The Last Continent, p.34

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 34


  His head turned back and looked at the shoes again. He was sure that several of them had moved— A bottle shattered near his head. Glass showered around him. Up above, Darleen uttered a word hed never have expected on the lips of a lady. Rincewind raised his head cautiously and another bottle bounced off his hat. Some hoonies having a bit of fun, said Darleen, through gritted teeth. Theres always some joker— oh really?

  Give us a kiss, mister? said a young man whod leapt on to the edge of the cart, waving a beer can happily. Rincewind had seen some serious fighters in action, but no one had ever swung a punch like Darleen. Her eyes narrowed, her fist seemed to travel in a complete circle, it met the mans chin about halfway round and when he disappeared from the wizards view he was still rising. Will you look at that? Darleen demanded, waving her hand at Rincewind. Ripped! These evening gloves cost a fortune, the bastard! A beer can sailed past her ear. Didja see who threw that? Didja? I saw yer, yer mazza! Ill stick my hand down yer throat and pull yer trousers up! The crowd roared their appreciation and derision at the same time. Rincewind caught sight of watchmens helmets heading purposefully towards them. Er . . . he said. Hey, thats him! Thats Rinso the bush ranger! someone yelled, pointing. It wasnt bushes, it was just a sheep! Rincewind wondered whod said that, and realized it was him. And there was no escape. And the watchmen were looking up at him. And there was really no escape. The street was packed. There was another fight further up the procession. There were no nearby alleyways, the fugitives friend. And the watchmen were fighting their way through the throng, with great difficulty. And the crowd were having the time of their lives. And the huge kangaroo beer sign gleamed overhead. This was it, then. Time for a Famous Last Stand. What? he said aloud. Its never time for a Famous Last Stand! He turned to Letitia. I should just like to thank you for trying to help me, he said. Its a pleasure to meet some real ladies for once. They looked at one another. The pleasures all ours, said Letitia. Such a change to meet a real gentleman, isnt it, girls?

  Darken kicked a fishnet leg at a man trying to climb on the cart, causing with a stiletto heel what bromide in your tea is reputed to take several weeks to achieve. Too bloody true, she said. Rincewind leapt from the cart, landed on someones shoulder, jumped again very briefly on to someones head. It worked. Provided you kept moving, it really worked. A few hands grabbed at him and one or two cans were thrown, but there were also plenty of cries of Good on yer! and Thats the way! At last there was an alley. He jumped down from the last obliging shoulder and changed leg gear, and then found that the best way to describe the alley was as a cul-de-sac. The worst way was as an alley with three or four watchmen in it, whod ducked in for a smoke. They gave him that look of harassed policemen everywhere which said that, as an unwelcome intruder into their brief smoko, he was definitely going to be guilty of something. And then light dawned in the face of their sergeant. Thats him! Out in the street people started yelling and screaming. These were not the beery shouts of the carnival. People were in real pain out there. They were also pressing in so tightly that there was no way out. I can explain everything, said Rincewind, half aware of the growing noise. Well . . . most things. Some things, certainly. A few things. Look, about this sheep— Something brilliant passed over his head and landed on the cobbles between him and the guards. It looked rather like a table wearing an evening dress, and it had hundreds of little feet. They were wearing high heels. Rincewind rolled into a ball and put his hands over his head, trying to block his ears until the noise had died away. At the very edge of the sea, the surf bubbled and sucked at the sand. As the wavelet drew back it flowed around the splintered bulk of a tree. The drifting woods cargo of crabs and sand fleas waited for their moment and slid off cautiously, scuttling ashore ahead of the next wave. The rain banged into the beach, running in miniature canyons of crumbling sand on its way to the sea. The crabs surged across these like a homesteaders stampede, rushing to mark out territory on the endless, virgin beach.

  They followed the salty tideline of weed and shells, scrambling over one another in their search for a space where a crab can proudly stand sideways and start a new life and eat the heady sand of freedom. A few of them investigated a grey, sodden pointy hat that was tangled in seaweed, and then ran on to a more promising heap of soaked cloth which offered even more interesting holes and crevices. One of them tried to climb into Ponder Stibbonss nose, and was snorted out again. Ponder opened an eye. When he moved his head, the water filling his ears made a ringing noise. The history of the last few minutes was complicated. He could remember rushing along a tube of green water, if such a thing were possible, and there had been several periods where the air and the sea and Ponder himself had been very closely entwined. Now he felt as though someone had. with great precision, hit every part of his body with a hammer. Get off, will you! Ponder reached up and pulled another crab out of his ear, and realized that he had lost his glasses. They were probably rolling at the bottom of the sea by now, frightening lobsters. So here he was, on an alien shore, and hed be able to see everything really clearly provided everything was meant to be a blur. Am I dead this time? It was the Deans voice, from a little further away along the beach. No, youre still alive, sir, said Ponder. Damn. Are you sure? There were other groans as bits of tidal debris turned out to be wizards mixed with seaweed. Are we all here? said Ridcully, trying to get to his feet. Im sure Im not, moaned the Dean. I dont see . . . Mrs Whitlow, said Ridcully. Or the Bursar . . . Ponder sat up. Theres . . . oh, dear . . . well, theres the Bursar . . . Out at sea a huge wave was building up. It towered higher and higher. And the Bursar was on top of it. Bursar! Ridcully screamed. The distant figure stood up on the seed and waved.

  Hes standing up, said Ridcully. Is he supposed to stand up on those things? Hes not supposed to stand up, is he? Im sure he shouldnt be standing up. YOURE NOT SUPPOSED TO STAND UP, BURSAAAR! How . . . Thats not supposed to happen, is it? The wave curled, but the Bursar seemed to be skimming down the side of it, skidding along the huge green wet wall like a man on one ski. Ridcully turned to the other wizards. He cant do that, can he? Hes walking up and down on it. Can he do that? The waves curling over and hes just sliding gently along the . . . Oh, no . . . The foaming crest curled over the speeding wizard. Thats it, then, said Ridcully. Er . . . no . . . said Ponder. The Bursar reappeared further along the beach, expelled from the collapsing tube of water like an arrow from a bow. The wave crashed over behind him, striking the shore as if it had just offended it. The seed changed direction, cruised gently over the backwash and crunched to a halt on the sand. The Bursar stepped off. Hooray, he said. My feet are wet. What a nice forest. Time for tea. He picked up the seed and rammed it point first in the sand. Then he wandered away up the beach. How did he do that? said Ridcully. I mean, the mans crazier than a ferret! Damn good Bursar, of course.

  Possibly the lack of mental balance means theres nothing to impede physical stability? said Ponder wearily. You think so?

  Not really, sir. I just said it for something to say. Ponder tried to massage some life back into his legs, and started to count under his breath. Is there anything to eat here? said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. Four, said Ponder. I beg your pardon?

  What? Oh, it was just some counting I was doing, sir. No, sir. Theres probably fish and lobsters in the sea, but the land looks pretty bare to me.

  It did. Reddish sand stretched away through the greyish drizzle to bluish mountains. The only greenishness was the Deans face and, suddenly, the shoots winding out of the Bursars surfing seed. Leaves unfolded in the rain, tiny flowers opened with little plopping noises. Well, at least well have another boat, said the Senior Wrangler. I doubt it, sir, said Ponder. The god wasnt very good at breeding things. And, indeed, the swelling fruit was not looking very boat-shaped. You know, I still think it would help if we thought of all this as a valuable opportunity, said Ridcully. Thats true, said the Dean, sitting up. Its not many times in your life you get the chance to die of hunger on some ble
ak continent thousands of years before youre born. We should make the most of it.

  I meant that pitting ourselves against the dements will bring out the best in us and forge us into a go-getting and hard-hitting team, said Ridcully. This view got no takers. Im sure there must be something to eat, mumbled the Chair of Indefinite Studies, looking around aimlessly. There usually is.

  After all, nothing is beyond men like us, said Ridcully. Thats true, said Ponder. Oh gods, yes. Thats true.

  And at least a wizard can always make a decent fire. Ponders eyes opened wide. He rose in one movement aimed at Ridcully, but was still airborne when the Archchancellor tossed a small fireball at a heap of driftwood. By the time the glowing ball was halfway to the wood Ponder had hit Ridcully in the back, so that both of them were sprawled on the wet sand when the world went whooph. When they looked up the heap of driftwood was a blackened crater. Well, thank you, said the Dean, behind them. I feel lovely and dry now, and I never did like my eyebrows all that much.

  High thaumic field, sir, Ponder panted. I did say. Ridcully stared at his hands. I was going to light my pipe with one . . . he muttered. He held the hand away from him. It was only a Number Ten, he said. The Dean stood up, brushing away some tufts of burnt beard. Im not sure I believe what I just saw, he said, and pointed a finger at a nearby rock. No, sir, I dont think you—

  Most of the rock was lifted off the ground and Sanded a hundred yards away. The rest of it sizzled in a red-hot puddle. Can I have a go? said the Senior Wrangler. Sir, I really think—

  Oh, well done, Senior Wrangler, said the Dean, as another rock fractured into fragments. Ye gods, you were right, Stibbons, said Ridcully. The magic field here is hugeV Yes, sir, but I really dont think we should be using it, sir! Ponder shrieked. Were wizards, young man. Using magic is what wizarding is all about.

  No, sir! Not using magic is what wizarding is all about! Ridcully hesitated. This is fossil magic, sir! said Ponder, speaking fast. Its whats being used to create this place! We could do untold damage if were not careful!

  All right, all right, no one do anything for a moment, said Ridcully. Now . . . what are you talking about, Mister Stibbons?

  I dont think the place is properly, well, finished, sir. I mean, therere no plants or animals, are there?

  Nonsense. I saw a camel a little while ago.

  Yes, sir, but that came with us. And theres seaweed and crabs on the beach and they got washed up too. But where are the trees and bushes and grasses?

  Interesting, said Ridcully. Place is as bald as a babys bottom.

  Still under construction, sir. The god did say it was being built.

  Unbelievable, really, said Ridcully. A whole continent being created out of nothing?

  Exactly, sir.

  Gazillions of thaums of magic pouring into the world.

  Youve got it, sir.

  Whole mountains and cliffs and beaches where once there was nothing, style of thing. Thats right, sir.

  Bit of a miracle, you could say.

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