The last continent, p.40
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       The Last Continent, p.40

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 40

 

  Is this the same kind of water that floats through the sky and gouges out big caves in rocks? said the Dean. Er . . . yes . . . er, obviously, said Rincewind. Its good luck for us we only have the drinking and washing sort, then.

  Had, said Rincewind. There were hurrying feet behind them and a junior wizard ran up, holding a plate covered with a lid. Got the last one! he said. Its a gourmet pie, too. He lifted the lid. Rincewind stared, and swallowed. Oh dear . . .

  Whats up?

  Have you got some more of that beer? I think I might be losing . . . concentration . . . His cousin stepped forward, ripping the top off a can of Funnel web. Cartwright, you cover that pie up and keep it warm. Rincewind, you drink this. They watched him drain the tin. Right, mate, said the Archchancellor. How about a nice meat pie upside down in a big bowl of mushy green peas covered with tomato sauce? He looked at the colour change on Rincewinds face, and nodded. You need another tin, he said firmly. They watched him drink this. Okay, said the Archchancellor after a while. Now, Rincewind, how about a nice one of Fair Gos pie floaters, eh? Meat pie in pea soup and tomato sauce? Rincewinds face twitched a bit as amber blessings shut down vital protective systems. Sounds . . . good, he said. Maybe with some coconut on the top? The wizards relaxed. So now we know, said Archchancellor Rincewind. Weve got to keep you just drunk enough so that Dibblers pies sound tasty, but not so drunk that it causes lasting brain damage.

  Thats a very narrow window weve got there, said the Dean. Bill looked up at the roof, where the shadows danced among the stalactites, unless they were stalagmites. This is right under the city, he said. How come weve never heard of it?

  Good question, said the Dean. The men who built the cellar mustve seen it. Rincewind tried to think. It wasnt here then, he said.

  You said these stalag things took thousands of—

  They probably werent here last month but now theyve been here for thousands of years. said Rincewind. He hiccuped. Its like your tower, he said. Taller onna outside.

  Huh?

  Probly only works here, said Rincewind. The more geography youve got, the less histry, ever notice that? More space, less time. I bet it only took a second or two for this place to be here for thousands of years, see? Shorter on the outside. Makes serfect pense.

  I dont think Ive drunk enough beer to understand that, said the Dean. Something nudged him in the back of the legs. He looked down at the Luggage. It was one of its habits to come up so close behind people that, when they looked down, they felt seriously over-feeted. Or this, he added. The wizards grew quieter as Rincewind led them onward. He wasnt sure who was leading him. Still, no worries. Contrary to the usual procedures it began to grow lighter, although the proliferation of luminous fungi or iridescent crystals in deep caves where the torchlessly improvident hero needs to see is one of the most obvious intrusions of narrative causality into the physical universe. In this case, the rocks were glowing, not from some mysterious inner light but simply as though the sun were shining on them, just after dawn. There are other imperatives that operate on the human brain. One says: the bigger the space, the softer the voice, and refers to the natural tendency to speak very, very quietly when stepping into somewhere huge. So when Archchancellor Rincewind stepped out into the big cave he said, Strewth, its bloody big! in a low whisper. The Dean, however, shouted, Coo-eee! because theres always one. Stalactites crowded the cave here, too, and in the very centre a gigantic stalactite had almost touched its mirror-image stalagmite. The air was chokingly hot. This isnt right— said Rincewind. Plink. They spotted the source of the noise eventually. A tiny trickle was making its way down the side of the stalactite and forming droplets that fell a few feet to the stalagmite. Another drop formed while they watched, and hung there. One of the wizards clambered up the dry slope and peered at it. Its not moving, he said. The trickles drying up. I think . . . its evaporating.

  The Archchancellor turned to Rincewind. Well, weve followed you this far, mate, he said. What now?

  I think I could do with another b—

  Theres none left, mate. Rincewind looked desperately around the cave, and then at the huge translucent mass of limestone in front of him. It was definitely pointy. It was also in the centre of the cave. It had a certain inevitability about it. Odd, really, that something like this would form down here, shining away like a pearl in an oyster. The ground trembled again. Up there, people would already be getting thirsty, cursing the windmills as only an Ecksian could curse. The water was gone and that was very bad, and when the beer ran out people would really get angry . . . The wizards were all waiting for him to do something. All right, start with the rock. What did he know about rocks and caves in these parts? There was a curious freedom at a time like this. He was going to be in real trouble whatever he did, so he might as well give this a try . . . I need some paint, he said. What for?

  For what I need, said Rincewind. Theres young Salid, said the Dean. Hes a bit of an arty blager. Lets go and kick his door down.

  And bring some more beer! Rincewind called after them. Neilette patted Rincewind on the shoulder. Are you going to do some magic? she said. I dont know if it counts as magic here, said Rincewind. If it doesnt work, stand well back.

  Is it going to be dangerous, then?

  No, I might have to start running without looking where Im going. But . . . this rocks warm. Have you noticed? She touched it. I see what you mean . . .

  I was just thinking . . . Supposing someone was in a country who shouldnt be there? What would it do?

  Oh, the Watch would catch him, I expect.

  No, no, not the people. What would the land do? I think I need another drink, it made more sense then . . .

  Okay, here we are, we couldnt find much, but theres some whitewash and some red paint and a tin of stuff which might be black paint or it could be tar oil. The wizards hurried up. Not much in the way of brushes, though. Rincewind picked up a brush that looked as though it had once been used to whitewash a very rough wall and then to clean the teeth of some large creature, possibly a crocodile. Hed never been any good at art, and this is a distinction quite hard to achieve in many education systems. Basic artistic skills and a familiarity with occult calligraphy are part of a wizards early training, yet in Rincewinds fingers chalk broke and pencils shattered. It was probably due to a deep distrust of getting things down on paper when they were doing all right where they were. Neilette handed him a tin of Funnelweb. Rincewind drank deeply and then dipped the brush in what might have been black paint and essayed a few upturned Vs on the rock, and some circles under the lines, with three dots in a V and a friendly little curve in each one. He took another deep draught of the beer and saw what he was doing wrong. It was no good trying to be strictly true to life here; what he had to go for was an impression. He sloshed wildly at the stone, humming madly under his breath. Anyone guess what it is yet? he said, over his shoulder. Looks a bit modern to me, said the Dean. But Rincewind was into the swing of it now. Any fool could just copy what he saw, except possibly Rincewind, but surely the whole point was to try to paint a picture that moved, that definitely expressed the, the, the— Definitely expressed it, anyway. You went the way the paint and the colour wanted you to go. You know, said Neilette, the way the light falls on it and everything . . . it could be a group of wizards . . . Rincewind half closed his eyes. Perhaps it was the way that the shadows moved, but he had to admit hed done a really good job. He slapped some more paint on. Looks like theyre almost coming out of the stone, said someone behind him, but the voice sounded muffled. He felt as though he was falling into a hole. Hed had the sensation before, although usually it was when he was falling into a hole. The walls were fuzzy, as though they were streaking past him at a tremendous rate. The ground shook.

  Are we moving? he said. Feels like it, doesnt it? said Archchancellor Rincewind. But were standing still!

  Moving while standing still, muttered Rincewind, and giggled. Thats a good one! He squinted ha
ppily at the beer can. Yknow, he said, I cant stomach more than a pint or two of the ale we have at home but this stuff is like drinking lemonade! Has anyone got that meat pie— As loudly as a thunderstorm under the bed but as softly as two souffles colliding, past and present ran into one another. They contained a lot of people. Whats this?

  Dean?

  Yes?

  Youre not the Dean!

  How dare you say that! Who are you!

  Ook!

  Stone the cows, theres a monkey in here!

  No! No! I didnt say that! He said that!

  Archchancellor?

  Yes?

  Yes?

  What? How many of you are there? The darkness became a deep purple, shading to violet. Will you all stop shouting and listen to me! To Rincewinds amazement, they did. Look, the walls are getting closer! This place is trying not to exist! And, having done his duty to the community, he turned and ran over the shaking rock floor. After a couple of seconds the Luggage passed him, which was always a bad sign.

  He heard the voices behind him. Wizards had a hard job accepting the term clear and present danger. They liked the kind you could argue about. But there is something about a rapidly descending ceiling that intrudes into the awareness of even the most quarrelsome. Ill save you, Mrs Whitlow!

  Up the tunnel!

  How fast are those walls closing in, would you say?

  Shut up and run! Now Rincewind was passed by a large red, furry kangaroo. The Librarians erratic morphism, having briefly turned him into a red stalactite as an obviously successful shape for surviving in caves, had finally taken on board the fact that it would make for a terminally lengthy survival in a cave that was rapidly getting smaller, and had flipped into a local morphic field built for speed. Man, Luggage and kangaroo piled through the hole into the cellar and ended in a heap against the opposite side. There was a rumbling behind them and wizards and women were fired out into the cellar with some speed, several of them landing on Rincewind. Behind the wall, the rock groaned and creaked, expelling these alien things in what, Rincewind thought, was a geological chunder. Something flew out of the hole and hit him on the ear, but this was only a minor problem compared to the meat pie, which came out trailing mushy peas and tomato sauce and hit him in the mouth. It wasnt, actually, all that bad. The ability to ask questions like Where am I and who is the “I” that is asking? is one of the things that distinguishes mankind from, say, cuttlefish. [23] The wizards from Unseen University, being perhaps the intellectual cream or certainly the cerebral yoghurt of their generation, passed through this stage within minutes. Wizards are very adept at certain ideas. One minute youre arguing over the shape of a ducks head and the next there are people telling you youve been inside a rock for thousands of years because time goes slower on the inside. This presents no great problem for a man who has found his way to the lavatory at Unseen University. [24] There were more important questions as they sat round the table in BU. Is there anything to eat? said Ridcully. Its the middle of the night, sir.

  You mean we missed dinner?

  Thousands of years of dinners, Archchancellor.

 
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