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26.12.2018

Rincewind turned slowly, feeling the point of the sword scrape along his ribs. At the other end of the blade he recognized Stren Withel – thief, cruel swordsman, disgruntled contender for the title of worst man in the world.

“Hi,” he said weakly. A few yards away he noticed a couple of unsympathetic men raising the lid of the Luggage and pointing excitedly at the bags of gold. Withel smiled. It made an unnerving effect on his scar-crossed face.

“I know you,” he said. “a gutter wizard. What is that thing?”

Rincewind became aware that the lid of the Luggage was trembling slightly, although there was no wind. And he was still holding the picture-box.

“This? It makes pictures,” he said brightly. “Hey. just hold that smile, will you?” He backed away quickly and pointed the box.

For a moment Withel hesitated. “What? he said.

“That’s fine, hold it just like that…” said Rincewind.

The thief paused, then growled and swung his sword back.

There was a snap, and a duet of horrible screams Rincewind did not glance around for fear of the terrible things he might see, and by the time Withel looked for him again he was on the other side of the plaza and still accelerating.

The albatross descended in wide, slow sweeps that ended in an undignified flurry of feathers and a thump as it landed heavily on its platform in the Patrician’s bird garden.

The custodian of the birds, dozing in the sun and hardly expecting a long-distance message so soon after this morning’s arrival, jerked to his feet and looked up. A few moments later he was scuttling through the palace’s corridors holding the message capsule and owing to carelessness brought on by surprise – sucking at the nasty beak wound on the back of his hand

Rincewind pounded down an alley, paying no heed to the screams of rage coming from the picture box and cleared a high wall with his frayed robe flapping around him like the feathers of a dishevelled jackdaw. He landed in the forecourt of a carpet shop, scattering the merchandise and customers dived through its rear exit trailing apologies, skidded down another alley and stopped, teetering dangerously, just as he was about to plunge unthinkingly into the Ankh.

There are said to be some mystic rivers -one drop of which can steal a man’s life away. After its turbid passage through the twin cities the Ankh could have been one of them.

In the distance the cries of rage took on a shrill note of terror. Rincewind looked around desperately for a boat, or a handhold up the sheer walls on either side of him.

He was trapped.

Unbidden, the Spell welled up in his mind. It was perhaps untrue to say that he had learned it; it had learned him. The episode had led to his expulsion from Unseen University, because, for a bet, he had dared to open the pages of the last remaining copy of the creators own grimoire, The Octavo, while the University librarian was otherwise engaged.. The spell had leapt out of the page and instantly burrowed deeply into his mind, from whence even the combined talents of the Faculty of Medicine had been unable to coax it. Precisely which one it was they were also unable to ascertain, except that it was one of the eight basic spells that were intricately interwoven with the very fabric of time and space itself.

Since then it had been showing a worrying tendency, when Rincewind was feeling rundown or especially threatened, to try to get itself said. He clenched his teeth together but the first syllable forced itself around the corner of his mouth. His left hand raised involuntarily and, as the magical force whirled him round, began to give off octarine sparks…

The Luggage hurtled around the corner, its several hundred knees moving like pistons. Rincewind gaped. The spell died, unsaid. The box didn’t appear to be hampered in any way by the ornamental rug draped roguishly over it, nor by the thief hanging by one arm from the lid. It was in a very real sense, a dead weight. Further along the lid were the remains of two fingers, owner unknown.

The Luggage halted a few feet from the wizard and, after a moment, retracted its legs. It had no eyes that Rincewind could see, but he was never the less sure that it was staring at him. Expectantly.

“Shoo,” he said weakly. It didn’t budge, but the lid creaked open, releasing the dead thief.

Rincewind remembered about the gold.

Presumably the box had to have a master. In the absence of Twoflower, had it adopted him?

The tide was turning and he could see debris drifting downstream in the yellow afternoon light towards the river gate, a mere hundred yards downstream. It was the work of a moment to let the dead thief join them. Even if it was found later it would hardly cause comment. And the sharks in the Ankh were used to solid, regular meals.

Rincewind watched the body drift away, and considered his next move. The Luggage would probably float. All he had to do was wait until dusk, and then go out with the tide. There were plenty of wild places downstream where he could wade ashore, and then – well, if the Patrician really had sent out word about him then a change of clothing and a shave should take care of that. In any case, there were other lands and he had a facility for languages. Let him but get to Chimera or Gonim or Ecalpon and half a dozen armies couldn’t bring him back. And then – wealth, comfort, security…

There was, of course, the problem of Twoflower.

Rincewind allowed himself a moment’s sadness.

“It could be worse,” he said by way of farewell. “It could be me.”

It was when he tried to move that he found his robe was caught on some obstruction. By craning his neck he found that the edge of it was being gripped firmly by the Luggage’s lid.

“Ah, Gorphal,” said the Patrician pleasantly. Come in. Sit down. Can I press you to a candied starfish?”

“I am yours to command, master,” said the old man calmly. “Save, perhaps, in the matter of preserved echinoderms.”

The Patrician shrugged, and indicated the scroll on the table.

“Read that,” he said.

Gorphal picked up the parchment and raised one eyebrow slightly when he saw the familiar ideograms of the Golden Empire. He read in silence for perhaps a minute, and then turned the scroll over to examine minutely the seal on the obverse.

“You are famed as a student of empire affairs,” said the Patrician. “Can you explain this?”

“Knowledge in the matter of the Empire lies less in noting particular events than in studying a certain cast of mind,” said the old diplomat. “The message is curious, yes, but not surprising.”

“This morning the Emperor instructed,” the Patrician allowed himself the luxury of a scowl, “instructed me, Gorphal, to protect this Twoflower person. Now it seems I must have him killed. You don’t find that surprising?”

“No. The Emperor is no more than a boy. He is idealistic. Keen. A god to his people. Whereas this afternoon’s letter is, unless I am very much mistaken, from Nine Turning mirrors, the Grand Vizier. He has grown old in the service of several Emperors. He regards them as a necessary but tiresome ingredient in the successful running of the Empire. He does not like things out of place. The Empire was not built by allowing things to get out of place. That is his view.”

“I begin to see-” said the Patrician.

“Quite so.” Gorphal smiled into his beard. “This tourist is a thing that is out of place. After acceding to his master’s wishes Nine Turning Mirrors would, I am quite sure, make his own arrangements with a view to ensuring that one wanderer would not be allowed to return home bringing, perhaps, the disease of dissatisfaction. The Empire likes people to stay where it puts them. So much more convenient, then, if this Two Flower disappears for good in the barbarian lands. Meaning here, master.”

“And your advice?” said the Patrician.

Gorphal shrugged.

“Merely that you should do nothing. Matters will undoubtedly resolve themselves. However,” he scratched an ear thoughtfully, “perhaps the Assassins’ Guild…?”

“Ah yes,” said the Patrician. “The Assassins guild. Who is their president at the moment?”

“Zlorf Flannelfoot, master.”

“Have a word with him, will you?”

“Quite so, master.”

The Patrician nodded. It was all rather a relief. He agreed with Nine Turning Mirrors – life was difficult enough; People ought to stay where they were put.

Brilliant constellations shone down on the Discworld. One by one the traders shuttered their shops. One by one the gonophs, thieves, finewirers, whores, illusionists, backsliders and second-storey men awoke and breakfasted. Wizards went about their polydimensional affairs. Tonight saw the conjunction of two powerful planets, and already the air over the Magical Quarter was hazy with early spells.

“Look,” said Rincewind, “this isn’t getting us anywhere.” He inched sideways. The Luggage followed faithfully, lid half open and menacing. Rincewind briefly considered making a desperate leap to safety. The lid smacked in anticipation. In any case, he told himself with sinking heart, the damn thing would only follow him again. It had that dogged look about it. Even if he managed to get to a horse, he had a nasty suspicion that it would follow him at its own pace. Endlessly. Swimming rivers and oceans. Gaining slowly every night, while he had to stop to sleep. And then one day, in some exotic city and years hence, he’d hear the sound of hundreds of tiny feet accelerating down the road behind him…

“You’ve got the wrong man!” he moaned. “it’s not my fault! I didn’t kidnap him!”

The box moved forward slightly. Now there was just a narrow strip of greasy jetty between Rincewind’s heels and the river. A flash of precognition told him that the box would be able to swim faster than he could. He tried not to imagine what it would be like to drown in the Ankh.

“It won’t stop until you give in, you know,” said a small voice conversationally.

Rincewind looked down at the iconograph, still hanging around his neck. Its trapdoor was open and the homunculus was leaning against the trap, smoking a pipe and watching the proceedings with amusement.

“I’ll take you in with me, at least,” said Rincewind through gritted teeth.

The imp took the pipe out of his mouth. “What did you say?” he said.

“I said I’ll take you in with me, dammit!”

“Suit yourself.” The imp tapped the side of the box meaningfully. “We’ll see who sinks first.”

The luggage yawned, and moved forward a fraction of an inch.

“Oh all right,” said Rincewind irritably. “But you’ll have to give me time to think.”

The luggage backed off slowly. Rincewind edged his way back onto reasonably safe land and sat down with his back against a wall. Across the river the lights of Ankh city glowed.

“You’re a wizard,” said the picture imp. “You’ll think of some way to find him.”

“Not much of a wizard, I’m afraid.”

“You can just jump down on everyone and turn them into worms,” the imp added encouragingly, ignoring his last remark.

“No. Turning To Animals is an Eighth Level spell. I never even completed my training. I only know one spell.”