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26.12.2018

“Well, that’ll do.”

“I doubt it,” said Rincewind hopelessly

“What does it do, then?”

“Can’t tell you. Don’t really want to talk about it. But frankly,” he sighed , “no spells are much good. It takes three months to commit even a simple one to memory, and then once you’ve used it, pow it’s gone. that’s what’s so stupid about the whole magic thing, You know. You spend twenty years learning the spell that makes nude virgins appear in your bedroom, and then you’re so poisoned by quicksilver fumes and half-blind from reading old grimoires that you can’t

remember what happens next.”

“I never thought of it like that,” said the imp.

“Hey, look -this is all wrong. When Twoflower said they’d got better kind of magic in the empire I thought- I thought…”

The imp looked at him expectantly. Rincewind cursed to himself.

“Well, if you must know, I thought he didn’t mean magic. Not as such.”

“What else is there, then?”

Rincewind began to feel really wretched. “I don’t know,” he said. “A better way of doing things, I suppose. Something with a bit of sense in it. Harnessing – harnessing the lightning, or something.”

The imp gave him a kind but pitying look.

“Lightning is the spears hurled by the thunder giants when they fight,” it said gently, “established meteorological fact. You can’t harness it.”

“I know,” said Rincewind miserably. That’s the flaw in the argument, of course.”

The imp nodded. and disappeared into the depths of the iconograph. A few moments later Rincewind smelled bacon frying. He waited until his stomach couldn’t stand the strain any more, and rapped on the box. The imp reappeared.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” it said even before Rincewind could open his mouth. “And even if you could get a harness on it, how could you get it to pull a cart?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Lightning. It just goes up and down. “You’d want it to go along, not up and down. Anyway, it’d probably burn through the harness.”

“I don’t care about the lightning! How can I think on an empty stomach?”

“Eat something, then. That’s logic.”

“How? Every time I move that damn box flexes its hinges at me!”

The luggage, on cue, gaped widely.

“See?”

“It’s not trying to bite you,” said the imp. “There’s food in there. You’re no use to it starved.”

Rincewind peered into the dark recesses of the Luggage. There were indeed, among the chaos of boxes and bags of gold, several bottles and packages in oiled paper. He gave a cynical laugh, mooched around the abandoned jetty until he found a piece of wood about the right length, wedged it as politely as possible in the gap between the lid and the box, and pulled out one of the flat packages. It held biscuits that turned out to be as hard as diamond-wood.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered, nursing his teeth.

“Captain Eightpanther’s Travellers’ Digestives, them,” said the imp from the doorway to his box, “saved many a life at sea, they have.”

“Oh, sure. Do you use them as a raft, or just throw them to the sharks and sort of watch them sink? What’s in the bottles? Poison?”

“Water.”

“But there’s water everywhere! Why’d he want to bring water?”

“Trust.”

“Trust?”

“Yes. That’s what he didn’t, the water here. See?”

Rincewind opened a bottle. The liquid inside might have been water. It had a flat, empty flavour, with no trace of life. “Neither taste nor smell.” he grumbled The luggage gave a little creak, attracting his attention. With a lazy air of calculated menace it shut its lid slowly, grinding Rincewind’s impromptu wedge like a dry loaf.

“All right, all right,” he said. “I’m thinking.”

Ymor’s headquarters were in the leaning Tower at the junction of Rime Street and Frost Alley. At midnight the solitary guard leaning in the shadows looked up at the conjoining planets and wondered idly what change in his fortunes they might herald.

There was the faintest of sounds, as of a gnat yawning.

The guard glanced down the deserted street, and now caught the glimmer of moonlight on something lying in the mud a few yards away. He picked it up. The lunar light gleamed on gold, and his intake of breath was almost loud enough to echo down the alleyway.

There was a slight sound again, and another coin rolled into the gutter on the other side of the street.

By the time he had picked it up there was another one, a little way off and still spinning. Gold was, he remembered, said to be formed from the crystallized light of stars. Until now he had never believed it to be true, that something as heavy as gold could fall naturally from the sky.

As he drew level with the opposite alley mouth some more fell. It was still in its bag, there was an awful lot of it, and Rincewind brought it down heavily onto his head.

When the guard came to he found himself looking up into the wild-eyed face of a wizard, who was menacing his throat with a sword. In the darkness too, something was gripping his leg.

It was the disconcerting sort of grip that suggested that the gripper could grip a whole lot harder, if he wanted to.

“Where is he, the rich foreigner?” hissed the wizard. “Quickly!”

“What’s holding my leg?” said the man, with a note of terror in his voice. He tried to wriggle free.

The pressure increased

“You wouldn’t want to know,” said Rincewind

“Pay attention, please. Where’s the foreigner?”

“Not here. They’ve got him at Broadman’s place.”

“Everyone’s looking for him! You’re Rincewind aren’t you? The box

– the box that bites people ononono… pleasssse…”

Rincewind had gone. The guard felt the unseen leg-gripper release his – or, as he was beginning to fear, it’s – hold. Then, as he tried to pull himself to his feet, something big and heavy and square cannoned into him out of the dark and plunged off after the wizard. Something with hundreds of tiny feet.

With only his home-made phrase book to help him Twoflower was trying to explain the mysteries of in-sour-ants to Broadman. The fat innkeeper was listening intently, his little black eyes glittering. From the other end of the table Ymor watched with mild amusement, occasionally feeding one of his ravens with scraps from his plate. Beside him Withel paced up and down.

“You fret too much,” said Ymor, without taking his eyes from the two men opposite him. “I can feel it, Stren. Who would dare attack us here? And the gutter wizard will come. He’s too much of a coward not to. And he’ll try to bargain. And we shall have him. And the gold. And the chest.”

Withel’s one eye glared, and he made a fist into the palm of a black-gloved hand.

“Who would have thought there was so much sapient pearwood in the whole of the disc?” he said.

“How could we have known?”

“You fret too much, Stren. I’m sure you can do better this time,” said Ymor pleasantly.

The lieutenant snorted in disgust, and strode off around the room to bully his men. Ymor carried on watching the tourist.

It was strange, but the little man didn’t seem to realise the seriousness of his position. Ymor had on several occasions seen him look around the room with an expression of deep satisfaction he had also been talking for ages to Broadman and Ymer had seen a piece of paper change hands and Broadman had given the foreigner some coins. It was strange. When Broadman got up and waddled past Ymer’s chair the thiefmasters arm shot out like a steel spring and grabbed the fat man by his apron.

“What was that all about, friend?” asked Ymor quietly.

“N-nothing, Ymor. Just private business, like.”

“There are no secrets between friends, Broadman.”

“Yar. Well, I’m not sure about it myself, really. It’s a sort of bet, see?” said the innkeeper nervously “inn-sewer-ants, it’s called. It’s like a bet that the Broken Drum won’t get burned down.”

Ymor held the man’s gaze until Broadman twitched in fear and embarrassment. Then the thiefmaster laughed.

“This worm-eaten old tinder pile?” he said. “The man must be mad! “

“Yes, but mad with money. He says now he’s got the -can’t remember the word, begins with a P, it’s what you might call the stake money- the people he works for in the Agatean Empire will pay up. If the Broken Drum burns down. Not that I hope it does. Burn down. The Broken Drum, I mean. I mean, it’s like a home to me, is the Drum…”

“Not entirely stupid, are you?” said Ymor, and pushed the innkeeper away.

The door slammed back on its hinges and thudded into the wall.

“Hey, that’s my door. ” screamed Broadman. Then he realised who was standing at the top of the steps, and ducked behind the table a mere shaving of time before a short black dart sped across the room and thunked into the woodwork.

Ymor moved his hand carefully, and poured out another flagon of beer.

“Won’t you join me, Zlorf?” he said levelly. “and put that sword away, Stren. Zlorf Flannelfoot is our friend “

The president of the Assassins’ Guild spun his short blowgun dexterously and slotted it into its holster in one smooth movement.

“Stren!” said Ymor.

The black-clad thief hissed, and sheathed his sword. But he kept his hand on the hilt, and his eyes on the assassin.

That wasn’t easy. Promotion in the Assassins Guild was by competitive examination, the Practical being the most important indeed, the only – part. Thus Zlorf’s broad, honest face was a welter of scar tissue, the result of many a close encounter. It probably hadn’t been all that good-looking in any case- it was said that Zlorf had chosen a profession in which dark hoods, cloaks and nocturnal prowlings figured largely because there was a day-fearing trollish streak in his parentage. People who said this in earshot of Zlorf tended to carry their ears home in their hats.

He strolled down the stairs, followed by a number of assassins. When he was directly in front of Ymor he said: “I’ve come for the tourist.”

“Is it any of Your business, Zlorf?”

“Yes. Gringo, Urmond – take him.”

Two of the assassins stepped forward. Then Stren was in front of them, his sword appearing to materialise an inch from their throats without having to pass through the intervening air.

“Possibly I could only kill one of you,” he murmured, “but I suggest you ask yourselves which one?”

“Look up, Zlorf,” said Ymor.

A row of yellow, baleful eyes looked down from the darkness among the rafters.

“One step more and you’ll leave here with fewer eyeballs than you came with,” said the thiefmaster. “So sit down and have a drink, Zlorf, and let’s talk about this sensibly. I thought we had an agreement. You don’t rob- I don’t kill. Not for payment, that is,” he added after a pause.