3,106
26.12.2018

A temporary solution was the construction, in various centres of magical lore, of large rooms made of denatured octiron, which is impervious to most forms of magic. Here the more critical grimoires could be stored until their potency had attenuated.

That was how there came to be at Unseen University the Octavo, greatest of all grimoires, formerly owned by the Creator of the Universe. It was this book that Rincewind had once opened for a bet. He had only a second to stare at a page before setting off various alarm spells, but that was time enough for one spell to leap from it and settle in his memory like a toad in a stone.

“Then what?” said Twoflower.

“Oh, they dragged me out. Thrashed me, of course.”

“And no-one knows what the spell does?”

Rincewind shook his head.

“It’d vanished from the page,” he said. “No-one will know until I say it. Or until I die, of course. Then it will sort of say itself. For all I know it stops the universe, or ends Time, or anything.”

Twoflower patted him on the shoulder.

“No sense in brooding,” he said cheerfully. “Let’s have another look for a way out.”

Rincewind shook his head. All the terror had been spent now. He had broken through the terror barrier, perhaps, and was in the dead calm state of mind that lies on the other side. Anyway, he had ceased to gibber.

“We’re doomed,” he stated. “We’ve been walking around all night. I tell you, this place is a spiderweb. It doesn’t matter which way we go, we’re heading twoards the centre.”

“It was very kind of you to come looking for me, said Twoflower. “How did you manage it it was very impressive.”

“Well,” began the wizard awkwardly. “I just ‘I can’t leave old Twoflower there’ and-“

“So what we’ve got to do now is find this Bel-Shamharoth person and explain things to him and perhaps he’ll let us out,” said Twoflower.

Rincewind ran a finger around his ear.

“It must be the funny echoes in here,” he said. “I thought I heard you use words like find and explain.

“That’s right.”

Rincewind glared at him in the hellish purple glow. “Find Bel-Shamharoth?” he said.

“Yes. We don’t have to get involved.”

“Find the Soul Render and not get involved? Just give him a nod, I suppose, and ask the way to the exit? Explain things to the Sender of Eignnnngh,” Rincewind bit off the end of the word just in time and finished, “You’re insane. Hey! Come back!”

He darted down the passage after Twoflower, and after a few moments came to a halt with a groan.

The violet light was intense here, giving everything new and unpleasant colours. This wasn’t a passage, it was a wide room with walls to a number that Rincewind didn’t dare to contemplate, and 7 passages radiating from it.

Rincewind saw, a little way off, a low altar with the Same number of sides as four times two. It didn’t occupy the centre of the room, however. The centre was occupied by a huge stone slab with twice as many sides as a square. It looked massive. In the strange light it appeared to be slightly tilted with one edge standing proud of the slabs around it.

Twoflower was standing on it.

“Hey. Rincewind! Look what’s here!

The Luggage came ambling down one of the other passages that radiated from the room.

“That’s great,” said Rincewind. “Fine. It can lead us out of here. Now.”

Twoflower was already rummaging in the chest

“Yes,” he said. “After I’ve taken a few pictures Just let me fit the attachment-“

“I said now-“

Rincewind stopped. Hrun the Barbarian was standing in the passage mouth directly opposite him, a great black sword held in one ham-sized fist.

“You?” said Hrun uncertainly.

“Ahaha. Yes,” said Rincewind. “Hrun, isn’t it? Long time no see. What brings you here?”

Hrun pointed to the luggage.

“That,” he said. This much conversation seemed to exhaust Hrun. Then he added, in a tone that combined statement, claim, threat and ultimatum: “Mine.”

“It belongs to Twoflower here,” said Rincewind.

“Here’s a tip. Don’t touch it.”

It dawned on him that this was precisely the wrong thing to say, but Hrun had already pushed Twoflower away and was reaching for the Luggage… which sprouted legs, backed away, and raised its lid threateningly. In the uncertain light Rincewind thought he could see rows of enormous teeth, white as bleached beechwood.

“Hrun,” he said quickly, “there’s something I ought to tell you.”

Hrun turned a puzzled face to him.

“What?” he said.

“It’s about numbers. Look, you know if you add seven and one, or three and five, or take two from ten. You get a number. While you’re here don’t say it and we might all stand a chance of getting out of here alive. Or merely just dead.”

“Who is he?” asked Twoflower. He was holding a cage in his hands, dredged from the bottom-most depths of the Luggage. It appeared to be full of sulking pink lizards.

“I am Hrun,” said Hrun proudly. Then he looked at Rincewind.

“What?” he said.

“Just don’t say it, okay?” said Rincewind.

He looked at the sword in Hrun’s hand. It was black, the sort of black that is less a colour than a graveyard of colours, and there was a highly ornate runic inscription up the blade. More noticeable still was the faint octarine glow that surrounded it. The sword must have noticed him, too, because it suddenly spoke in a voice like a claw being scraped across glass.

“Strange,” it said. “Why can’t he say eight?”

EIGHT, hate, ate said the echoes. There was the faintest of grinding noises, deep under the earth.

And the echoes, although they became softer, refused to die away. They bounced from wall to wall, crossing and recrossing, and the violet light flickered in time with the sound.

“You did it!” screamed Rincewind. “I said you shouldn’t say eight!”

He stopped, appalled at himself. But the word was out now, and joined its colleagues in the general susurration.

Rincewind turned to run, but the air suddenly seemed to be thicker than treacle. A charge of magic bigger than he had ever seen was building up; when he moved, in painful slow motion, his limbs left trails of golden sparks that traced their shape in the air.

Behind him there was a rumble as the great octagonal slab rose into the air, hung for a moment on one edge, and crashed down on the floor.

Something thin and black snaked out of the pit and wrapped itself around his ankle. He screamed as he landed heavily on the vibrating flagstones. The tentacle started to pull him across the floor.

Then Twoflower was in front of him, reaching out for his hands. He grasped the little man’s arms desperately and they lay looking into each other’s faces. Rincewind slid on, even so.

“What’s holding you?” he gasped.

“N-nothing!” said Twoflower. “What’s happening?”

“I’m being dragged into this pit, what do you think?”

“Oh Rincewind, I’m sorry-“

“You’re sorry-“

There was a noise like a singing saw and the pressure on Rincewind’s legs abruptly ceased. He turned his head and saw Hrun crouched by the pit, his sword a blur as it hacked at the tentacles racing out towards him.

Twoflower helped the wizard to his feet and they crouched by the altar stone, watching the manic figure as it battled the questing arms.

“It won’t work,” said Rincewind. “The Sender can materialise tentacles. What are you doing?”

Twoflower was feverishly attaching the cage of subdued lizards to the picture box, which he had mounted on a tripod.

“I’ve just got to get a picture of this,” he muttered.

“It’s stupendous! Can you hear me, imp?”

The picture imp opened his tiny hatch, glanced momentarily at the scene around the pit, and vanished into the box. Rincewind jumped as something touched his leg, and brought his heel down on a questing tentacle.

“Come on,” he said. “Time to go zoom.” He grabbed Twoflower’s arm, but the tourist resisted.

“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.

“What?”

“It could be us,” Rincewind pointed out logically.

“Come on!”

Twoflower pointed. “Hey” he said. “It’s got my Luggage! “

Before Rincewind could restrain him Twoflower ran around the edge of the pit to the box, which was being dragged across the floor while its lid snapped ineffectually at the tentacle that held it. The little man began to kick at the tentacle in fury. Another one snapped out of the melee around Hrun and caught him around the waist. Hrun himself was already an indistinct shape amid the tightening coils. Even as Rincewind stared in horor the Hero’s sword was wrenched from his grasp and hurled against a wall.

“Your spell!” shouted Twoflower.

Rincewind did not move. He was looking at the Thing rising out of the pit. It was an enormous eye, and it was staring directly at him. He whimpered as a tentacle fastened itself around his waist. The words of the spell rose unbidden in his throat. He opened his mouth as in a dream, shaping it around the first barbaric syllable. Another tentacle shot out like a whip and coiled around his throat, choking him. Staggering and gasping, Rincewind was dragged across the floor.

One flailing arm caught Twoflower’s picture box as it skittered past on its tripod. He snatched it up instinctively, as his ancestors might have snatched up a stone when faced with a marauding tiger. If only he could get enough room to swing it against the Eye…

…the Eye filled the whole universe in front of him. Rincewind felt his will draining away like water from a sieve.

In front of him the torpid lizards stirred in their cage on the picture box. Irrationally, as a man about to be beheaded notices every scratch and stain on the executioner’s block, Rincewind saw that they had overlarge tails that were bluish-white and, he realized, throbbing alarmingly. As he was drawn towards the Eye the terrors-truck Rincewind raised the box protectively, and at the same time heard the picture imp say

“They’re about ripe now, can’t hold them any longer. Everyone smile, please.”

There was a flash of light so white and so bright it didn’t seem like light at all.

Bel-Shamharoth screamed, a sound that started in the far ultrasonic and finished somewhere in Rincewind’s bowels. The tentacles went momentarily as stiff as rods, hurling their various cargoes around the room, before bunching up protectively in front of the abused Eye. The whole mass dropped into the pit and a moment later the big slab was snatched up by several dozen tentacles and slammed into place, leaving a number of thrashing limbs trapped around the edge.

Hrun landed rolling, bounced off a wall and came up on his feet. He found his sword and started to chop methodically at the doomed arms.