“Did you say that?” asked Rincewind.
Twoflower gave him a worried look.
“I’m Twoflower,” he said. “surely you remember?”
Rincewind put his head in his hands.
“It’s happened at last,” he moaned. “I’m going out of my mind.”
Good idea said the voice. It’s getting pretty crowded in here.
The spell pinning Rincewind to the wall vanished with a faint “pop.” He fell forward and landed in a heap on the floor.
Careful- you nearly squashed me.
Rincewind struggled to his elbows and reached into the pocket of his robe. When he withdrew his hand the green frog was sitting on it,
its eyes oddly luminous in the half-light.
“Yes?” said Rincewind.
Put me down on the floor and stand back.
The frog blinked.
The wizard did so, and dragged a bewildered Twoflower out of the way.
The room darkened. There was a windy, roaring sound. Streamers of green, purple and octarine cloud appeared out of nowhere and began to spiral rapidly towards the recumbent amphibian, shedding small bolts of lightning as they whirled. Soon the frog was lost in a golden haze which began to elongate upwards, filling the room with a warm yellow light. Within it was a darker, indistinct shape, which wavered and changed even as they watched. And all the time there was the high, brain-curdling whine of a huge magical field…
As suddenly as it had appeared, the magical tornado vanished. And there, occupying the space where the frog had been, was a frog.
“Fantastic,” said Rincewind.
The frog gazed at him reproachfully.
“Really amazing,” said Rincewind sourly. “A frog magically transformed into a frog. Wondrous.”
“Turn around,” said a voice behind them. It was a soft, feminine voice, almost an inviting voice, the sort of voice you could have a few drinks with, but it was coming from a spot where there oughtn’t to be a voice at all. They managed to turn without really moving, like a couple of statues revolving on plinths.
There was a woman standing in the pre-dawn light. She looked she was – she had a – in point of actual fact she…
Later Rincewind and Twoflower couldn’t quite agree on any single fact about her, except that she had appeared to be beautiful (precisely what physical features made her beautiful they could not, definitively, state) and that she had green eyes. Not the pale green of ordinary eyes, either these were the green of fresh emeralds and as iridescent as a dragonfly. And one of the few genuinely magical facts that Rincewind knew was that no god or goddess, contrary and volatile as they might be in all other respects, could change the colour or nature of their eyes…
“L-“he began. She raised a hand.
“You know that if you say my name I must depart,” she hissed. “surely you recall that I am the one goddess who comes only when not invoked?”
“Uh. Yes, I suppose I do,” croaked the wizard, trying not to look at the eyes. “You’re the one they call the Lady?”
“Are you a goddess then?” said Twoflower excitedly. “I’ve always wanted to meet one.”
Rincewind tensed, waiting for the explosion of rage. Instead, the Lady merely smiled.
“Your friend the wizard should introduce us,” she said.
Rincewind coughed. “Uh, yar,” he said. “This is Twoflower, Lady, he’s a tourist-“
“-I have attended him on a number of occasions-“
“And, Twoflower, this is the Lady. Just the Lady, right? Nothing else. Don’t try and give her any other name, okay?” he went on desperately, his eyes darting meaningful glances that were totally lost on the little man.
Rincewind shivered. He was not, of course, an atheist; on the Disc the gods dealt severely with atheists. On the few occasions when he had some spare change he had always made a point of dropping a few coppers into a temple coffer somewhere, on the principle that a man needed all the friends he could get. But usually he didn’t bother the Gods, and he hoped the Gods wouldn’t bother him. Life was quite complicated enough.
There were two gods, however, who were really terrifying. The rest of the gods were usually only sort of large-scale humans, fond of wine and war and whoring. But Fate and the Lady were chilling.
In the Gods’ Quarter, in Ankh-Morpork, Fate had a small, heavy, leaden temple, where hollow-eyed and gaunt worshippers met on dark nights for their predestined-and fairly pointless rites. There were no temples at all to the Lady, although she was arguably the most powerful goddess in the entire history of Creation. A few of the more daring members of the Gamblers’ Guild had once experimented with a form of worship, in the deepest cellars of Guild headquarters, and had all died of penury, murder or just Death within the week. She was the Goddess Who Must Not Be Named; those who sought her never found her, yet she was known to come to the aid of those in greatest need. And, then again, sometimes she didn’t. She was like that. She didn’t like the clicking of rosaries, but was attracted to the sound of dice. No man knew what She looked like, although there were many times when a man who was gambling his life on the turn of the cards would pick up the hand he had been dealt and stare Her full in the face. Of course, sometimes he didn’t. Among all the gods she was at one and the same time the most courted and the most cursed.
“We don’t have gods where I come from,” said Twoflower.
“You do, you know,” said the Lady.”Everyone has gods. You just don’t think they’re gods.”
Rincewind shook himself mentally.
“Look,” he said. “I don’t want to sound impatient, but in a few minutes some people are going to come through that door and take us away and kill us.”
“Yes,” said the Lady.
“I suppose you wouldn’t tell us why?” said Twoflower.
“Yes,” said the Lady. “The Krullians intend to launch a bronze vessel over the edge of the Disc. Their prime purpose is to learn the sex of A’tuin the World Turtle.”
“Seems rather pointless,” said Rincewind.
“No. Consider. One day Great A’tuin may encounter another member of the species chelys galactica, somewhere in the vast night in which we move. Will they fight? Will they mate? A little imagination will show you that the sex of Great A’tuin could be very important to us. At least, so the Krullians say.”
Rincewind tried not to think of World Turtles mating. It wasn’t completely easy.
“So,” continued the goddess, “they intend to launch this ship of space, with two voyagers aboard. It will be the culmination of decades of research. It will also be very dangerous for the travellers. And so, in an attempt to reduce the risks, the Arch-astronomer of Krull has bargained with Fate to sacrifice two men at the moment of launch. Fate, in His turn, has agreed to smile on the space ship. A neat barter, is it not?”
“And we’re the sacrifices,” said Rincewind.
“I thought Fate didn’t go in for that sort of bargaining. I thought Fate was implacable,” said Rincewind.
“Normally, yes. But you two have been thorns in his side for some time. He specified that the sacrifices should be you. He allowed you to escape from the pirates. He allowed you to drift into the Circumfence. Fate can be one mean god at times.”
There was a pause. The frog sighed and wandered off under the table.
“But you can help us?” prompted Twoflower.
“You amuse me,” said the Lady. “I have a sentimental streak. You’d know that, if you were gamblers. So for a little while I rode in a frog’s mind and you kindly rescued me, for, as we all know, no-one likes to see pathetic and helpless creatures swept to their death.”
“Thank you,” said Rincewind.
“The whole mind of Fate is bent against you,” said the Lady. “But all I can do is give you one chance. Just one, small chance. The rest is up to you.”
“Gosh,” said Twoflower, after a while. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a goddess.”
The door swung open. Garhartra entered, holding a wand in front of him. Behind him were two guards, armed more conventionally with swords.
“Ah,” he said conversationally. “You are ready, I see.”
Ready, said a voice inside Rincewind’s head.
The bottle that the wizard had flung some eight hours earlier had been hanging in the air, imprisoned by magic in its own personal time-field. But during all those hours the original mana of the spell had been slowly leaking away until the total magical energy was no longer sufficient to hold it against the Universe’s own powerful normality field, and when that happened Reality snapped back in a matter of microseconds. The visible sign of this was that the bottle suddenly completed the last part of its parabola and burst against the side of the Guestmaster’s head, showering the guards with glass and jellyfish wine.
Rincewind grabbed Twoflower’s arm, kicked the nearest guard in the groin, and dragged the startled tourist into the corridor. Before the stunned Garhartra had sunk to the floor his two guests were already pounding across distant flagstones.
Rincewind skidded around a corner and found himself on a balcony that ran around the four sides of a courtyard. Below them, most of the floor of the yard was taken up by an ornamental pond in which a few terrapins sunbathed among the lily leaves.
And ahead of Rincewind were a couple of very surprised wizards wearing the distinctive dark blue and black robes of trained hydrophobes. One of them, quicker on the uptake than his companion, raised a hand and began the first words of a spell.
There was a short sharp noise by Rincewind’s side. Twoflower had spat. The hydrophobe screamed and dropped his hand as though it had been stung.
The other didn’t have time to move before Rincewind was on him, fists swinging wildly. One stiff punch with the weight of terror behind it sent the man tumbling over the balcony rail and into the pond, which did a very strange thing; the water smacked aside as though a large invisible balloon had been dropped into it, and the hydrophobe hung screaming in his own revulsion field.
Twoflower watched him in amazement until Rincewind snatched at his shoulder and indicated a likely looking passage. They hurried down it, leaving the remaining hydrophobe writhing on the floor and snatching at his damp hand. For a while there was some shouting behind them, but they scuttled along a cross corridor and another courtyard and soon left the sounds of pursuit behind. Finally Rincewind picked a safe looking door, peered around it, found the room beyond to be unoccupied, dragged Twoflower inside, and slammed it behind him. Then he leaned against it, wheezing horribly.
“We’re totally lost in a palace on an island we haven’t a hope of leaving,” he panted. “And what’s more we- hey!” he finished, as the sight of the contents of the room filtered up his deranged optic nerves.
Twoflower was already staring at the walls.
Because what was so odd about the room was, it contained the whole Universe.
Death sat in His garden, running a whetstone along the edge of His scythe. It was already so sharp that any passing breeze that blew across it was sliced smoothly into two puzzled zephyrs, although breezes were rare indeed in Death’s silent garden. It lay on a sheltered plateau overlooking the Disc world’s complex dimensions, and behind it loomed the cold, still, immensely high and brooding mountains of Eternity.