The last continent, p.7
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       The Last Continent, p.7

         Part #22 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 7

 

  Right, said Ridcully. Because we are not, and I want to make this very clear, we are not doing this in order to enjoy ourselves, is that understood?

  What about the Senior Wrangler? said the Dean nastily. Me? Enjoy it? There might even be prawns out there, said the Senior Wrangler miserably. Ridcully hesitated. The other wizards shrugged when he glanced at them. Look, old chap, he said eventually, I think I understood about the clams, and Ive got a sort of mental picture about your granny and the pineapple—

  —my aunt—

  —your aunt and the pineapple, but . . . Whats deadly about prawns?

  Hah, see how you like a crate of them dropping off the crane on to your head, said the Senior Wrangler. My uncle didnt, I can tell you!

  Okay, I think I understand. Important safety tip, everyone, said Ridcully. Avoid all crates. Understood? But we are not here on some kind of holiday! Do you all understand me?

  Absolutely, said the wizards in unison. They all understood him. Rincewind awoke with a scream, to get it over with. Then he saw the man watching him. He was sitting cross-legged against the dawn. He was black. Not brown, or blue-black, but black as space. This place baked people. Rincewind pulled himself up and thought about reaching for his stick. And then he thought again. The man had a couple of spears stuck in the ground, and people here were good at spears, because if you didnt get efficient at hitting the things that moved fast you had to eat the things that moved slowly. He was also holding a boomerang, and it wasnt one of those toy ones that came back. This was one of the big, heavy, gently curved sort that didnt come back because it was sticking in somethings ribcage. You could laugh at the idea of wooden weapons until you saw the kind of wood that grew here. It had been painted with stripes of all colours, but it still looked like a business item. Rincewind tried to seem harmless. It required little in the way of acting. The watcher regarded him in that sucking silence that you just have to fill. And Rincewind came from a culture where, if there was nothing to say, you said something. Er . . . said Rincewind. Me . . . big-fella . . . fella . . . belong . . . damn, whats the— He gave up, and glanced at the blue sky. Turned out nice again, he said. The man seemed to sigh, stuck the boomerang into the strip of animal skin that was his belt and, in fact, the whole of his wardrobe, and stood up. Then he picked up a leathery sack, slung it over one shoulder, took the spears and, without a backward glance, ambled off around a rock. This might have struck anyone else as rude, but Rincewind was always happy to see any heavily armed person walking away. He rubbed his eyes and contemplated the dismal task of subduing breakfast. You want some grub? The voice was almost a whisper.

  Rincewind looked around. A little way off was the hole from which last nights supper had been dug. Apart from that, there was nothing all the way to the infinite horizon but scrubby bushes and hot red rocks. I think I dug up most of them, he said, weakly. Nah, mate. I got to tell you the secret of findin tucker in the bush. Theres always a beaut feed if you know where to look, mate.

  How come youre speaking my language, mystery voice? said Rincewind. I aint, said the voice. Youre listenin to mine. Got to feed you up proper. Gonna sing you into a real bush-tucker finder, true.

  Lovely grub, said Rincewind. Just you stand there and dont move. It sounded as though the unseen voice then began to chant very quietly through an unseen nose. Rincewind was, after all, a wizard. Not a good one, but he was sensitive to magic. And the chant was doing strange things. The hairs on the back of his hands tried to crawl up his arms, and the back of his neck began to sweat. His ears popped and, very gently, the landscape began to spin around him. He looked down at the ground. There were his feet. Almost certainly his feet. And they were standing on the red earth and not moving at all. Things were moving round him. He wasnt dizzy but, by the look of it, the landscape was. The chanting stopped. There was a sort of echo, which seemed to happen inside his head, as if the words had been merely the shadow of something more important. Rincewind shut his eyes for a while, and then opened them again. Er . . . fine, he said. Very . . . catchy. He couldnt see the speaker, so he spoke with that careful politeness you reserve for someone armed who is probably standing behind you. He turned. I expect you . . . er . . . had to go somewhere, did you? he said, to the empty air. Er . . . hello? Even the insects had gone quiet. Er . . . you havent noticed a box walking around on legs, have you? By any chance? He tried to see if anyone could possibly be hiding behind a bush.

  Its not important, its just that its got my clean underwear in it. The boundless silence made an eloquent statement about the universes views on clean underwear. So . . . er . . . Im going to know how to find food in the bush, right? he ventured. He glared at the nearest trees. They didnt look any more fruitful than before. He shrugged. What a strange person. He edged over to a flat stone and, with a stick raised in case of resistance from anything below, pulled it up. There was a chicken sandwich underneath. It tasted rather like chicken. A little way away, behind the rocks near the waterhole, a drawing faded into the stone. This was another desert, elsewhere. No matter where you were, this place would always be elsewhere. It was one of those places further than any conceivable journey, but possibly as close as the far side of a mirror, or just a breath away. There was no sun in the sky here, unless the whole sky was sun – it glowed yellow. The desert underfoot was still red sand, but hot enough to burn. A crude drawing of a man appeared on a rock. Gradually, layer by layer, it got more complex, as if the unseen hand was trying to draw bones and organs and a nervous system and a soul. And he stepped on to the sand and put down his bag which, here, seemed a lot heavier. He stretched his arms and cracked his knuckles. At least here he could talk normally. He darent raise his voice down there in the shadow world, lest he raise mountains as well. He said a word which, on the other side of the rock, would have shaken trees and created meadows. It meant, in the true language of things which the old man spoke, something like: Trickster. A creature like him appears in many belief systems, although the jolly name can be misleading. Tricksters have that robust sense of humour that puts a landmine under a seat cushion for a bit of a laugh. A black and white bird appeared, and perched on his head. You know what to do, said the old man. Him? What a wonga, said the bird. Ive been lookin at him. Hes not even heroic. Hes just in the right place at the right time.

  The old man indicated that this was maybe the definition of a hero. All right, but why not go and get the thing yerself? said the bird. Youve gotta have heroes, said the old man. And I suppose Ill have to help, said the bird. It sniffed, which is quite hard to do through a beak. Yep. Off you go. The bird shrugged, which is easy to do if you have wings, and flew down off the old mans head. It didnt land on the rock but flew into it; for a moment there was a drawing of a bird, and then it faded. Creators arent gods. They make places, which is quite hard. Its men that make gods. This explains a lot. The old man sat down and waited. Confront a wizard with the concept of a bathing suit and hell start to get nervous. Why does it have to be so skimpy? hell ask. Where can I put the gold embroidery? How can you have any kind of costume without at least forty useful pockets? And occult symbols made out of sequins? There appears to be no place for them. And where, when you get right down to it, are the lapels? There is also the concept of acreage. It is vitally important that as large an amount of wizard as possible is covered, so that timid people and horses are not frightened. There may be strapping young wizards with copper-coloured skins and muscles as solid as a plank, but not after sixty years of UU dinners. It gives senior wizards what they think is called gravitas but is more accurately called gravity. Also, it takes heavy machinery to part a wizard from his pointy hat. The Chair of Indefinite Studies looked sidelong at the Dean. They both wore a variety of garments, in which red and white stripes predominated. Last one into the waters a man standing all by himself on the beach! he shouted. [10] Out on a point of rock, surf washing over his bare feet, Mustrum Ridcully lit his pipe and cast a line on the end of which was such a fe
arsome array of spinners and weights that any fish it didnt hook it might successfully bludgeon. The change of scenery seemed to be working on the Librarian. Within a few minutes of being laid in the sunlight hed sneezed himself back into his old shape, and he now sat on the beach with a blanket around him and a fern leaf on his head.

  It was, indeed, a lovely day. It was warm, the sea murmured beautifully, the wind whispered in the trees. The Librarian knew he ought to be feeling better, but, instead, he was beginning to feel extremely uneasy. He stared around him. The Lecturer in Recent Runes had gone to sleep with his book carefully shading his eyes. It had originally been entitled Principles of Thaumic Propagation but, because of the action of the sunlight and some specialized high-frequency vibrations from the sand granules on the beach, the words on the cover now read The Omega Conspiracy. [11] In the middle distance was the window. It hung in the air, a simple square into a shadowy room. The Archchancellor hadnt trusted the window catch and had propped up the window with a piece of wood. A warning label pinned to it showed that some thought had gone into the wording: Do not remove this wood. Not even to see what happens. IMPORTANT! There appeared to be some forest behind the beach which rose a little way up the side of a small yet quite pointy mountain, certainly not tall enough to have snow on it. Some of the trees lining the beach looked hauntingly familiar, and spoke to the Librarian of home. This was strange, because he had been born in Moon Pond Lane, Ankh-Morpork, next to the saddle-makers. But they spoke to the home in his bones. He had an urge to climb . . . But there was something wrong with the trees. He looked down at the pretty shells on the beach. There was something wrong with them, too. Creepily, worryingly wrong. A few birds wheeled overhead, and they were wrong. They were the right shape, as far as he knew, and they seemed to be making the right noises. But they were still wrong. Oh, dear . . . He tried to stop the sneeze as it gathered nasal momentum, but this is impossible for anyone who wants to continue to go through life with their eardrums. There was a snort, a clattering sound, and the Librarian changed into something suitable for the beach. It is often said about desert environments that there is in fact a lot of nutritious food around, if only you know what to look for. Rincewind mused on this as he pulled a plate of chocolate-covered sponge cakes from their burrow. They had dried coconut flakes on them. He turned the plate cautiously. Well, you couldnt argue with it. He was finding food in the desert. In fact, he was even finding dessert in the desert. Perhaps it was some special talent hitherto udiscovered by the kind people who had occasionally shared their food with him in the last few months. They hadnt eaten this sort of thing.

  Theyd ground up seeds and dug up skinny yams and eaten things with more eyeballs than the Watch had found after that business with Medley the Medical Kleptomaniac. So something was going right for him. Out here in the red-hot wilderness something wanted him to stay alive. This was a worrying thought. No one ever wanted him alive for something nice. This was Rincewind after several months: his wizardly robe was quite short now. Bits had been torn off or used as string or, after some particularly resistant hors doeuvres, as bandages. It showed his knees, and wizards are nowhere near championship standard at knees. They tend to appear, as the book might put it, a knobbly savage. But hed kept his hat. Hed woven a new wide brim for it, and hed had to restore the crown once or twice with fresh bits of robe, and most of the sequins had been replaced with bits of shell stitched on with grass, but it was still his hat, the same old hat. A wizard without a hat was just a sad man with a suspicious taste in clothes. A wizard without a hat wasnt anyone. Although this particular wizard had a hat, he didnt have keen enough eyes to see the drawing appear on a red rock half hidden in the scrub. It started off like a bird. Then, without at any time being other than smears of ochre and charcoal that had been there for years, it began to change shape . . . He set off towards the distant mountains. Theyd been in view for several days. He hadnt the faintest idea if they represented a sensible direction but at least they were one. The ground shivered underfoot. It had been doing that once or twice a day for a while, and that was another odd thing, because this didnt look like volcano country. This was the kind of country where, if you watched a large cliff for a few hundred years, you might see a rock drop off and youd talk about it for ages. Everything about it said that it had got over all the more energetic geological exercises a long time ago and was a nice quiet country which, in other circumstances, a man might be at home in. He became aware after a while that a kangaroo was watching him from the top of a small rock. Hed seen the things before, bounding away through the bushes. They didnt usually hang around when there were humans about. This one was stalking him. They were vegetarian, werent they? It wasnt as though he was wearing green. Finally it sprang out of the bushes and landed in front of him. It brushed one ear with a paw, and gave Rincewind a meaningful look. It brushed the other ear with the other paw, and wrinkled its nose. Yes, fine, good, said Rincewind. He started to edge away, and then stopped. After all, it was just a big . . . well, rabbit, with a long tail and the kind of feet you normally see associated with red noses and baggy pants.

 
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