3,110
26.12.2018

Twoflower grabbed him quickly.

“Steady on,” he said cheerfully. “We’re nearly there.”

“I wish I was back in the city,” moaned Rincewind. “I wish I was back on the ground.”

“I wonder if dragons can fly all the way to the stars?” mused Twoflower. “Now that would be something…”

“You’re mad,” said Rincewind flatly. There was no reply from the tourist, and when the wizard craned around he was horrified to see Twoflower looking up at the paling stars with an odd smile on his face.

“Don’t” you even think about it,” added Rincewind, menacingly.

The man you seek is talking to the dragon-woman said the dragon.

“Hmm?” said Twoflower, still looking at the paling stars.

“What?” said Rincewind urgently.

“Oh yes. Hrun,” said Twoflower. “I hope we’re in time. Dive now. Go low.”

Rincewind opened his eyes as the wind increased to a whistling gale. Perhaps they were blown open – the wind certainly made them impossible to shut.

The flat summit of the Wyrmberg rose up at them, lurched alarmingly, then somersaulted into a green blur that flashed by on either side. Tiny woods and fields blurred into a rushing patchwork. A brief silvery flash in the landscape may have been the little river that overflowed into the air at the plateau’s rim. Rincewind tried to force the memory out of his mind , but it was rather enjoying itself there, terrorizing the other occupants and kicking over the furniture.

“I think not,” said Liessa.

Hrun took the wine cup, slowly. He grinned like a pumpkin.

Around the arena the dragons started to bay. Their riders looked up. And something like a green blur flashed across the arena, and Hrun had gone. The winecup hung momentarily in the air, then crashed down on the steps. Only then did a single drop spill.

This was because, in the instant of enfolding Hrun gently in his claws, Ninereeds the dragon had momentarily synchronized their bodily rhythms. Since the dimension of the imagination is much more complex than those of time and space, which are very junior dimensions indeed, the effect of this was to instantly transform a stationary and priapic Hrun into a Hrun moving sideways at eighty miles an hour with no ill-effects whatsoever, except for a few wasted mouthfuls of wine. Another effect was to cause Liessa to scream with rage and summon her dragon. As the gold beast materialised in front of her she leapt astride it, still naked, and snatched a crossbow from one of the guards. Then she was airborne, while the other dragonriders swarmed towards their own beasts.

The Loremaster, watching from the pillar he had prudently slid behind in the mad scramble happened at that moment to catch the cross dimensional echoes of a theory being at the same instant hatched in the mind of an early psychiatrist in an adjacent universe, possibly because the dimension-leak was flowing both ways, and for a moment the psychiatrist saw the girl on the dragon. The loremaster smiled.

“Want to bet that she won’t catch him?” said Greicha, in a voice of worms and sepulchres, right by his ear.

The loremaster shut his eyes and swallowed hard.

“I thought that my Lord would now be residing fully in the Dread Land,” he managed.

“I am a wizard,” said Greicha. “Death Himself must claim a wizard. And, aha, He doesn’t appear to be in the neighbourhood…”

SHAL WE GO? asked Death.

He was on a white horse, a horse of flesh and blood but red of eye and fiery of nostril, and He stretched out a bony hand and took Greicha’s soul out of the air and rolled it up until it was a point of painful light, and then He swallowed it.

Then He clapped spurs to his steed and it sprang into the air, sparks corruscating from its hooves.

“Lord Greicha!” whispered the old Loremaster, as the universe flickered around him.

“That was a mean trick,” came the wizard’s voice, a mere speck of sound disappearing into the infinite black dimensions.

“My Lord… what is Death like?” called the old man tremulously.

“When I have investigated it fully, I will let you know,” came the faintest of modulations on the breeze.

“Yes,” murmured the loremaster. A thought struck him. “During daylight, please,” he added.

“You clowns,” screamed Hrun, from his perch on Ninereed’s foreclaws.

“What did he say?” roared Rincewind, as the dragon ripped its way through the air in the race for the heights.

“Didn’t hear.” bellowed Twoflower, his voice torn away by the gale. As the dragon banked slightly he looked down at the little toy spinning top that was the mighty Wyrmberg and saw the swarm of creatures rising in pursuit. Ninereed’s wings pounded and flicked the air away contemptuously. Thinner air, too. Twoflower’s ear popped for the third time.

Ahead of the swarm, he noticed, was a golden dragon. Someone on it, too.

“Hey, are you all right?” said Rincewind urgently.

He had to drink in several lungfuls of the strangely distilled air in order to get the words out.

“I could have been a lord, and you clowns had to go and-” Hrun gasped. as the chill thin air drew the life even out of his mighty chest

“Wass happnin to the air?” muttered Rincewind. Blue lights appeared in front of his eyes.

“Unk,” said Twoflower, and passed out.

The dragon vanished.

For a few seconds the three men continued upwards. Twoflower and the wizard presenting an odd picture as they sat one in front of the other with their legs astride something that wasn’t there, Then what passed for gravity on the Disc recovered from the surprise, and claimed them.

At that moment Liessa’s dragon flashed by, and Hrun landed heavily across its neck. Liassa leaned over and kissed him.

This detail was lost to Rincewind as he dropped away, with his arms still clasped around Twoflower’s waist. The disc was a little round map pinned against the sky. It didn’t appear to be moving, but Rincewind knew that it was. The whole world was coming towards him like a giant custard pie.

“Wake up!” he shouted, above the roar of the wind. “Dragons! Think of dragons!”

There was a flurry of wings as they plummeted through the host of pursuing creatures, which fell away and up. Dragons screamed and wheeled across the sky.

No answer came from Twoflower. Rincewind’s robe whipped around him, but he did not wake. Dragons, thought Rincewind in a panic. He tried to concentrate his mind, tried to envisage a really lifelike dragon. If he can do it, he thought, then so can I. But nothing happened.

The disc was bigger now, a cloud-swirled circle rising gently underneath them.

Rincewind tried again, screwing up his eyes and straining every nerve in his body. A dragon. His imagination, a somewhat battered and over-used organ, reached out for a dragon… any dragon.

IT WON’T WORK, laughed a voice like the dull tolling of a funereal bell, YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN THEM.

Rincewind looked at the terrible mounted apparition grinning at him, and his mind bolted in terror.

There was a brilliant flash.

There was utter darkness.

There was a soft floor under Rincewind’s feet, a pink light around him, and the sudden shocked cries of many people.

He looked around wildly. He was standing in some kind of tunnel, which was mostly filled with seats in which outlandishly-dressed people had been strapped. They were all shouting at him.

“Wake up,” he hissed. “Help me!”

Dragging the still-unconscious tourist with him he backed away from the mob until his free hand found an oddly-shaped door handle. He twisted it and ducked through, then slammed it hard. He stared around the new room in which he found himself and met the terrified gaze of a young woman who dropped the tray she was holding and screamed.

It sounded like the sort of scream that brings muscular help. Rincewind, awash with fear-distilled adrenalin, turned and barged past her. There were more seats here, and the people in them ducked as he dragged Twoflower urgently along the central gangway. Beyond the rows of seats were little windows. Beyond the windows, against a background of fleecy clouds, was a dragon’s wing. It was silver.

I’ve been eaten by a dragon, he thought. That’s ridiculous, he replied, you can’t see out of dragons. Then his shoulder hit the door at the far end of the tunnel, and he followed it through into a cone-shaped room that was even stranger than the tunnel.

It was full of tiny glittering lights. Among the lights, in contoured chairs, were four men who were now staring at him open-mouthed. As he stared back he saw their gazes dart sideways. Rincewind turned slowly. Beside him was a fifth man -youngish, bearded, as swarthy as the nomad folk of the Great Nef.

“Where am I?” said the wizard. “in the belly of a dragon?”

The young man crouched back and shoved a small black box in the wizard’s face. The men in the chairs ducked down.

“What is it?” said Rincewind. “A picture box?” He reached out and took it, a movement which appeared to surprise the swarthy man, who shouted and tried to snatch it back. There was another shout, this time from one of the men in the chairs. Only now he wasn’t sitting. He was standing up, pointing something small and metallic at the young man.

It had an amazing effect. The man crouched back with his hands in the air.

“Please give me the bomb, sir,” said the man with the metallic thing. “Carefully, please.”

“This thing?” said Rincewind.

“You have it-“

“I don’t want it!”

The man took it very carefully and put it on the floor. The seated men relaxed, and one of them started speaking urgently to the wall. The wizard watched him in amazement.

“Don’t move.” snapped the man with the metal-an amulet, Rincewind decided, it must be an amulet. The swarthy man backed into the corner.

“That was a very brave thing you did,” said Amulet-holder to Rincewind. “You know that?

“What?”

“What’s the matter with your friend?”

“Friend?”

Rincewind looked down at Twoflower, who was still slumbering peacefully. That was no surprise. What was really surprising was that Twoflower was wearing new clothes. Strange clothes. His britches now ended just above his knees. Above that he wore some sort of vest of brightly-striped material. On his head was a ridiculous little straw hat. With a feather in it.

An awkward feeling around the leg regions made Rincewind look down. His clothes had changed too. Instead of the comfortable old robe, so marvellously well-adapted for speed into action in all possible contingencies, his legs were encased in cloth tubes. He was wearing a jacket of the same grey material…

Until now he’d never heard the language the man with the amulet was using. It was uncouth and vaguely Hublandish – so why could he understand every word?

Let’s see, they’d suddenly appeared in this dragon after, they’d materialised in this drag, they’d sudd, they’d, they’d – they had struck up a conversation in the airport so naturally they had chosen to sit together on the plane, and he’d promised to show Jack Zweiblumen around when they got back to the States. Yes, that was it. And then Jack had been taken ill and he’d panicked and come through here and surprised this hijacker. Of course. What on earth was “Hublandish”? Dr Rjinswand rubbed his forehead. What he could do with was a drink.