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26.12.2018

Rincewind ducked, jerked backwards like a tumbler, and came up running. Behind him he heard Druellae shout, and he redoubled his speed. Something caught the hood of his robe, which tore off. A he-dryad waiting at the stairs spread his arms, hurtling towards him. Without breaking his stride Rincewind ducked again, so low that his chin was on a level with his knees, while a fist like a log sizzled through the air by his ear.

Ahead of him a whole spinney of the tree men awaited. He spun around, dodged another blow from the puzzled guard, and sped back towards the circle, passing on the way the dryads who were pursuing him and leaving them as disorganized as a set of skittles.

But there were still more in front, pushing their way through the crowds of females and smacking their fists into the horny palms of their hands with anticipatory concentration.

“Stand still, false wizard,” said Druellae, stepping forward. Behind her the enchanted dancers spun on, the focus of the circle was now drifting along a violet-lit corridor.

Rincewind cracked.

“Will you knock that off,” he snarled, “Let’s just get this Straight, right? I am, a real wizard!” He stamped a foot petulantly.

“Indeed?” said the dryad. “Then let us see you pass a spell.”

“Uh-” began Rincewind. The fact was that, since the ancient and mysterious spell had squatted in his mind, he had been unable to remember even the simplest cantrap for, say, killing cockroaches or scratching the small of his back without using his hands. The mages at Unseen University had tried to explain this by suggesting that the involuntary memorising of the spell had, as it were, tied up all his spell-retention cells. In his darker moments Rincewind had come up with his own explanation as to why even minor spells refused to stay in his head for more than a few seconds.

They were scared, he decided.

“Um-” he repeated.

“A small one would do,” said Druellae, watching him curl his lips in A frenzy of anger and emberrassment. She signalled, and a couple of he-dryads closed in.

The spell chose that moment to vault into the temporarily-abandoned saddle of Rincewind’s consciousness. He felt it sitting there, leering defiantly at him.

“I do know a spell,” he said wearily.

“Yes? Pray tell,” said Druellae.

Rincewind wasn’t sure that he dared, although the Spell was trying to take control of his tongue. He fought it.

“You said you could read my mind,” he said indistinctly. “Read it.”

She stepped forward, looking mockingly into his eyes.

Her smile froze. Her hands raised protectively, she crouched back. From her throat came a sound of pure terror.

Rincewind looked around. The rest of the dryads were also backing away. What had he done? Something terrible, apparently.

But in his experience it was only a matter of time before the normal balance of the universe restored itself and started doing the usual terrible things to him. He backed away, ducked between the still-spinning dryads who were creating the magic circle, and watched to see what Druellae would do next.

“Grab him,” she screamed. “Take him a long way from the Tree and kill him!”

Rincewind turned and bolted.

Across the focus of the circle.

There was a brilliant flash.

There was a sudden darkness.

There was a vaguely Rincewind-shaped violet shadow, dwindling to a point and winking out.

There was nothing at all.

Hrun the Barbarian crept soundlessly along the corridors, which were lit with a light so violet that it was almost black. His earlier confusion was gone. This was obviously a magical temple, and that explained everything.

It explained why, earlier in the afternoon, he had espied a chest by the side of the track while riding through this benighted forest. Its top was invitingly open, displaying much gold. But when he had leapt off his horse to approach it the chest had sprouted legs and had gone trotting off into the forest, stopping again a few hundred yards away.

Now, after several hours of teasing pursuit, he had lost it in these hell-lit tunnels. On the whole, the unpleasant carvings and occasional disjointed skeletons he passed held no fears for Hrun. This was partly because he was not exceptionally bright while being at the same time exceptionally unimaginative, but it was also because odd carvings and perilous tunnels were all in a day’s work. He spent a great deal of time in similar situations, seeking gold or demons or distressed virgins and relieving them respectively of their owners, their lives and at least one cause of their distress.

Observe Hrun, as he leaps cat-footed across a suspicious tunnel mouth. Even in this violet light his skin gleams coppery. There is much gold about his person, in the form of anklets and wristlets, but otherwise he is naked except for a leopardskin loincloth. He took that in the steaming forests of Howondaland, after killing its owner with his teeth.

In his right hand he carried the magical black sword Kring, which was forged from a thunderbolt and had a soul but suffers no scabbard. Hrun had stolen it only three days before from the impregnable palace of the Archmandrite of B’Ituni, and he was already regretting it. It was beginning to get on his nerves.

“I tell you it went down that last passage on the right,” hissed Kring in a voice like the scrape of a blade over stone.

“Be silent!”

“All I said was-“

“Shut up!”

And Twoflower…

He was lost, he knew that. Either the building was much bigger than it looked, or he was now on some wide underground level without having gone down any steps, or -as he was beginning to suspect -the inner dimensions of the place disobeyed a fairly basic rule of architecture by being bigger than the outside. And why all these strange lights? They were eight-sided crystals set at regular intervals in the walls and ceiling, and they shed a rather unpleasant glow that didn’t so much illuminate as outline the darkness. And whoever had done those carvings on the wall, Twoflower thought charitably, had probably been drinking too much. For years.

On the other hand, it was certainly a fascinating building. Its builders had been obsessed with the number eight. The floor was a continuous mosaic of eight-sided tiles, the corridor walls and ceilings were angled to give the corridors eight sides if the walls and ceilings were counted and, in those places where part of the masonry had fallen in Twoflower noticed that even the stones themselves had eight sides.

“I don’t like it,” said the picture imp, from his box around Twoflower’s neck.

“Why not?” inquired Twoflower.

“It’s weird.”

“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). “Oh, things,” it said wretchedly. “Evil things. Things we don’t talk about is the point I’m broadly trying to get across, master.”

Twoflower shook his head wearily. “I wish Rincewind was here,” he said. “He’d know what to do.”

“Him?” sneered the demon. “Can’t see a wizard coming here. They can’t have anything to do with the number eight.” The demon slapped a hand across his mouth guiltily.

Twoflower looked up at the ceiling.

“What was that?” he asked. “Didn’t you hear something?”

“Me? Hear? No! Not a thing,” the demon insisted.

It jerked back into its box and slammed the door. Twoflower tapped on it. The door opened a crack.

“It sounded like a stone moving,” he explained.

The door banged shut. Twoflower shrugged.

“The place is probably falling to bits,” he said to himself.

He stood up.

“I say!” he shouted. “Is anyone there?”

AIR, Air, air, replied the dark tunnels.

“Hullo?” he tried. lo, Lo, lo.

“I know there’s someone here, I just heard you playing dice! “

ICE, Ice, ice.

“Look, I had just-“

Twoflower stopped. The reason for this was the bright point of light that had popped into existence a few feet from his eyes. It grew rapidly, and after a few seconds was the tiny bright shape of a man. At this stage it began to make a noise, or, rather Twoflower started to hear the noise it had been making all along. It sounded like a sliver of a scream, caught in one long instant of time.

The iridescent man was doll-sized now, a tortured shape tumbling in slow motion while hanging in mid-air. Twoflower wondered why he had thought of the phrase “a sliver of a scream”…and began to wish he hadn’t.

It was beginning to look like Rincewind. The wizard’s mouth was open, and his face was brilliantly lit by the light of – what? Strange suns, Twoflower found himself thinking. Suns men don’t usually see. He shivered.

Now the turning wizard was half man-size. At that point the growth was faster, there was a sudden crowded moment, a rush of air, and an explosion of sound. Rincewind tumbled out of the air, screaming. He hit the floor hard, choked, then rolled over with his head cradled in his arms and his body curled up tightly.

When the dust had settled Twoflower reached out gingerly and tapped the wizard on the shoulder.

The human ball rolled up tighter.

“It’s me,” explained Twoflower helpfully. The wizard unrolled a fraction.

“What?” he said.

“Me.”

In one movement Rincewind unrolled and bounced up in front of the little man, his hands gripping his shoulders desperately. His eyes were wild and wide.

“Don’t say it!” he hissed. “Don’t say it and we might get out! “

“Get out? How did you get in? Don’t you know-“

“Don’t say it!”

Twoflower backed away from this madman

“Don’t say it!”

“Don’t say what?”

“The number.”

“Number?” said Twoflower. “Hey, Rincewind-“

“Yes, number! Between seven and nine. Four plus four”

“What, ei-“

Rincewind’s hands clapped over the man’s mouth. “Say it and we’re doomed. Just don’t think about, right. Trust me!”

“I don’t understand,” wailed Twoflower.

Rincewind relaxed slightly; which was to say that he still made a violin string look like a bowl of jelly.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s try and get out. And I’ll try and tell you.”

After the first Age of Magic the disposal of grimoires began to become a severe problem on the Discworld. A spell is still a spell even when imprisoned temporarily in parchment and ink. It has potency. This is not a problem while the book’s owner still lives, but on his death the Spell book becomes a source of uncontrolled power that cannot easily be defused.

In short, spell books leak magic. Various solutions have been tried. Countries near the Rim simply loaded down the books of dead mages with leaden pentagrams and threw them over the Edge. Near the Hub less satisfactory alternatives were available. Inserting the offending books in canisters of negatively polarized octiron and sinking them in the fathomless depths of the sea was one (burial in deep caves on land was earlier ruled out after some districts complained of walking trees and five-headed cats) but before long the magic seeped out and eventually fishermen complained of shoals of invisible fish or psychic clams.