Page 18


"That wasn't cheating!" Cohen growled. "Leavin' scrolls around to lure heroes to their death, that's cheatin"!"

"But where would heroes be without magic maps?" said Blind Io. "Many of' em 'd still be alive!" snapped Cohen. "Not pieces in some damn game!"

"You cut the thing in half? said Fate. "Show me where it says that in the rules! Yeah, why not show me the rules, eh?" said Cohen. dancing with rage. "Show me all the rules! What's up, Mr Fate? You want another go, is it? Double or quits? Double stakes?"

"You mutht admit it wath a good thtroke," said Offler. Several of the lesser gods nodded. "What? Are you prepared to let them stand here and defy us?" said Fate. "Defy you, my lord," said a new voice. "I suggest they have won. He did cheat Fate. If you do cheat Fate, I do not believe it says anywhere that Fate's subsequent opinion matters." The Lady stepped daintily through the crowd. The gods parted to let her pass. They recognised a legend in the making when they saw it. "And who are you?" snapped Cohen, still red with rage. "I?" The Lady unfolded her hands. A dice lay on each palm, the solitary single dot facing up. But at a flick of her wrist the two flew together, lengthened, entwined, became a hissing snake writhing in the air - and vanished. "I... am the million-to-one-chance," she said. "Yeah?" said Cohen, less impressed than the minstrel thought he ought to be. "And who are all the other chances?"

"I am those, also." Cohen sniffed. "Then you ain't no lady."

"Er, that's not really-" the minstrel began. "Oh, that wasn't what I was supposed to say, was it?" said Cohen. "I was supposed to say. "Ooh, ta, missus, much obliged"? Well, I ain't. They say fortune favours the brave, but I say I've seen too many brave men walkin' into battles they never walked out of. The hell with all of it- What's up with you?" The minstrel was staring at a god on the edge of the crowd. "It's you, isn't it?" he growled. "You're Nuggan, aren't you?" The little god took a step backward, but made the mistake of trying dignity. "Be silent, mortal!"

"You utter, utter ... fifteen years! Fifteen damn years before I ever tasted garlic! And the priests used to get up early in the countryside round us to jump on all the mushrooms! And do you know how much a small slab of chocolate cost in our town, and what they did to people who were caught with one?" The minstrel shouldered the Horde aside and advanced on the retreating god. his lyre raised like a club. "I shall smite you with lightning!" squeaked Nuggan, raising his hands to protect himself. "You can't! Not here! You can only do that stuff back in the world! All you can do here is bluff and illusion! And bullying. That's what prayers are ... it's frightened people trying to make friends with the bully! All those temples were built and ... and you're nothing but a little-" Cohen laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Well said, lad. Well said. But it's time you were goin"

"Broccoli," murmured Offler to Sweevo, God of Cut Timber. "You can't go wrong with broccoli? "I prohibit the practice of panupunitoplasty." said Sweevo. "What'th that?"

"Search me, but it's got them worried? "Just let me give him one wallop-" shouted the minstrel. "Listen, son, listen," said Cohen, struggling to hold him. "You got better things to do with that lyre than smash it over someone's head, right? A few little verses -it's 'mazin' how they stick in the mind.

Listen to me, listen, do you hear what I'm tellin' you? ... I've got a sword and it's a good one, but all the bleedin' thing can do is keep someone alive, listen. A song can keep someone immortal. Good or bad!" The minstrel relaxed a little, but only a little. Nuggan had taken refuge behind a group of other gods. "He'll wait until I'm out of the gates-" groaned the minstrel. "He'll be busy! Truckle, press that plunger!"

"Ah, your famous firework." said Blind Io. "But, my dear mortal, fire cannot harm the gods ..."

"Well now," said Cohen, "that depends, right? 'Cos in a minute or so, the top of this mountain is gonna look like a volcano. Everyone in the world will see it. I wonder if they'll believe in the gods any more?"

"Hah!" sneered Fate, but a few of the brighter gods looked suddenly thoughtful. "Anyway," Cohen went on. "it dunt matter if someone kills the gods. It does matter that, someone tried. Next time, someone'll try harder,"

"All that will happen is that you will be killed," said Fate, but the more thoughtful gods were edging away. "What have we got to lose?" said Boy Willie. "We're going to die anyway. We're ready to die."

"We've always been ready to die," said Caleb the Ripper. "That's why we've lived such a long time," said Boy Willie. "But... why be so upset?* said Blind Io. "You've had long eventful lives, and the great cycle of nature-"

"Ach, the great cycle o' nature can eat ma loincloth!" said Mad Hamish. "And there's not many as would want to do that," said Cohen. "And I ain't much good with words, but... I reckon we're doing this 'cos we are goin' to die, d'yer see? And 'cos some bloke got to the edge of the world somewhere and saw all them other worlds out there and burst into tears 'cos there was only one lifetime. So much universe, and so little time. Arid that's not right..." But the gods were looking around. The wings had shattered and broken off. The fuselage smashed down on to the cobbles, and slid on. "Now is the time to panic," said Rincewind. The stricken Kite continued to scrape across the flagstones in a growing smell of scorched wood. A pale hand reached past Rincewind. "It would be advisable," said Leonard, "to hold on to something." He pulled a small handle labelled "Sekarb". Now the Kite stopped. In a very dynamic sort of way. The gods looked down. A hatch opened in the strange wooden bird. It fell off and rolled a little way. The gods saw a figure get out. He appeared, in many ways, to be a hero, except that he was far too clean. He looked around, removed his helmet and saluted. "Good afternoon. O mighty ones," he said. "I do apologise, but this should not take long. And may I take this opportunity to say on behalf of the people of the Disc that you are doing a wonderful job here." He marched towards the Horde, past the astonished gods, and stopped in front of Cohen. "Cohen the Barbarian?"

"What's it to you?" said Cohen, mystifed. "I am Captain Carrot of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, and I hereby arrest you on a charge of conspiracy to end the world. You need not say anything-"

"I don't intend to say anything." said Cohen, raising his sword. "I'm just gonna cut your -ing head off."

"Hold it, hold it," said Boy Willie urgently. "Do you know who we all are?"

"Yessir. I believe so. You are Boy Willie, aka Mad Bill, Wilhelm the Chopper, the Great-"

"And you are going to arrest us? You say you are some kind of a watchman?"

"That is correct, sir."

"We must've killed hundreds of watchmen in our time, lad!"

"I'm sorry to hear that, sir."

"Ow much do they pay you. boy?" said Caleb. "Forty-three dollars a month, Mr.Ripper. With allowances." The Horde burst out laughing. Then Carrot drew his sword. "I must insist, sir. What you are planning to do will destroy the world."

"Only this bit, lad," said Cohen. "Now you could go off home and-"

"I'm being patient, sir. out of respect for your grey hairs." There was a further burst of laughing and Mad Hamish had to be slapped on the back. "Just a moment, boys." said Mrs McGarry quietly. Are we thinking this one through? Look around you." They looked around. "Well?" Cohen demanded. "There's me, and you," said Vena, "and Truckle and Boy Willie and Harnish and Caleb and the minstrel."

"So? So?"

"That's seven," said Vena. "Seven of us, against one of him. Seven against one. And he thinks he's going to save the world. And he knows who we are and he's still going to fight us ..."

"You think he's a hero?" cackled Mad Hamish. "Hah! Wha' kind o' hero works for forty-three dollars a month? Plus allowances!" But the cackle was all alone in the sudden quietness. The Horde could calculate the peculiar mathematics of heroism quite quickly. There was, there always was. at the start and finish ... the Code. They lived by the Code. You followed the Code, and you became part of the Code for those who followed you. The Code was it. Without the Code, you weren't a hero. You were just a thug in a loincloth. The Code was quite clear. One brave man against seven ... won. They knew it was true. In the past, they'd all relied on it. The higher the odds, the greater the victory. That was the Code. Forget the Code, dismiss the Code, deny the Code ... and the Code would take you. They looked clown at Captain Carrot's sword. It was short, sharp and plain. It was a working sword. It had no runes on it. No mystic gleam twinkled on its edge. If you believed in the Code, that was worrying. One simple sword in the hands of a truly brave man would cut through a magical sword like suet. It wasn't a frightening thought, but it was a thought. "Funny thing," said Cohen, "but I heard tell once that down in Ankh- Morpork there's some watchman who's really heir to the throne but keeps very quiet about it because he likes being a watchman .. ." Oh dear, thought the Horde. Kings in disguise ... that was Code material, right there. Carrot met Cohen's gaze. "Never heard of him," he said. "To die for forty-three dollars a month," said Cohen, holding the gaze. "a man's got to be very, very stupid or very, very brave ..."

"What's the difference?" said Rincewind, stepping forward. "Look, I don't want to break up a moment of drama or anything, but he's not joking. If that... keg explodes here, it will destroy the world. It'll... open a sort of hole and all the magic will drain away."

"Rincewind?" said Cohen. "What're you doing here, you old rat?"

"Trying to save the world," said Rincewind. He rolled his eyes. Again? Cohen looked uncertain, but heroes don't back down easily, even in the face of the Code. "It'll realty all blow up?"

"Yes!"

"S'not much of a world," Cohen muttered. "Not any more ..."

"What about all the dear little kittens-" Rincewind began. "Puppies," hissed Carrot, not taking his eyes off Cohen. "Puppies, I mean. Eh? Think of them?"

"Well. What about them?"

"Oh ... nothing."

"But everyone will die," said Carrot. Cohen shrugged his skinny shoulders. "Everyone dies, sooner or later. So we're told."

"There will be no one left to remember; said the minstrel, as if he was talking to himself. "If there's no one left alive, no one will remember." The Horde looked at him. "No one will remember who you were or what you did," he went on. "There will be nothing. No more songs. No one will remember?" Cohen sighed, "All right, then let's say supposing I don't-"

"Cohen?" said Truckle, in an unusually worried voice. "You know a few minutes ago, where you said "press the plunger"?"

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***