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"Yes?"

"You meant I shouldn't've?" The keg was sizzling. "You pressed it?" said Cohen. "Welles! You said?"

"Can we stop it?"

"No," said Rincewind. "Can we outrun it?"

"Only if you can think of a way to run ten miles really, really fast," said Rincewind. "Gather round, lads! Not you, minstrel boy, this is sword stuff..." Cohen beckoned the other heroes, and they went into a hurried huddle. It didn't seem to take long. "Right," said Cohen, as they straightened up. "You got all our names down right, Mr Bard?"

"Of course-"

"Then let's go, lads!" They heaved the keg back on to Hamish's wheelchair. Truckle half turned as they started to push it. "Here, bard! You sure you made a note of that bit where I-?"

"We are leaving? shouted Cohen, grabbing him. "See you later, Mrs McGarry." She nodded, and stood back. "You know how it is," she said sadly. "Great- grandchildren on the way and everything ..." The wheelchair was already moving fast. "Get 'em to name one after met" yelled Cohen as he leapt aboard. "What're they doing?" said Rincewind as the chair rolled down the street towards the far gates. "They'll never get it down from the mountain quickly enough!" said Carrot, starting to run. The chair passed through the arch at the end of the street and raided over the icy rocks. As they hurried after it. Rincewind saw it bounce out and into ten miles of empty air. He thought he heard the last words, as the downward plunge began: "Aren't we supposed to shout some-thinggggg..."

Then chair and figures and barrel became smaller and smaller and merged into the hazy landscape of snow and sharp hungry- rocks. Carrot and Rincewind watched. After a while the wizard noticed Leonard, out of the corner of his eye. The man had his fingers on his own pulse and was counting under his breath. "Ten miles ... hmm ... allow for air resistance .. . call it three minutes plus ... yes ... yes, indeed ... we should be averting our eyes around ... yes ... now. Yes. I think that would be a good i-" Even through closed lids, the world went red. When Rincewind crawled to the edge, he saw a small distant circle of evil black and crimson. Several seconds later thunder boomed up the flanks of Con Celesti, causing avalanches. And that, too, died away. "Do you think they've survived?" said Carrot, peering down into the fog of dislodged snow. "Huh?" said Rincewind. "It wouldn't be the proper story if they didn't survive."

"Captain, they fell about ten miles into an explosion which has just reduced a mountain to a valley," said Rincewind. "They could have landed in really deep snow on some ledge," said Carrot. "Or there may have been a passing flock of really large soft birds?" said Rincewind. Carrot bit his lip. "On the other hand ... giving up their lives to save everyone in the world.. . that's a good ending, too."

"But it was them who were going to blow it up!"

"Still very brave of them, though."

"In a way, I suppose." Carrot shook his head sadly. "Perhaps we could get down and check."

"It's a great bubbling crater of boiling rock!" Rincewind burst out. "It'd take a miracle!"

"There's always hope."

"So? There's always taxes, too. It doesn't make any difference." Carrot sighed and straightened up. "I wish you weren't right."

"You wish I wasn't right? Come on, let's get back. We're not exactly out of trouble ourselves, are we?" Behind them, Vena blew her nose and then tucked her handkerchief back into her armoured corset. It was time, she thought, to follow the smell of horses. The remains of the Kite were the subject of keen but uncomprehending interest among the deitic classes. They weren't certain what it was, but they definitely disapproved of it. "I feel," said Blind Io, "that if we had wanted people to fly, we would have given them wings."

"We allow broomthtickth and magic carpeth," said Offler. "Ah, but they're magical. Magic ... religion ... there is a certain association. This is an attempt to subvert the natural order. Just anyone could float around the place in one of these things." He shuddered. "Men could look down upon their gods!" He looked down upon Leonard of Quirm. "Why did you do it?" he said. "You gave me wings when you showed me birds," said Leonard of Quirm. "I just made what I saw." The rest of the gods said nothing. Like many professionally religious people - and they were pretty professional, being gods - they tended towards unease in the presence of the unashamedly spiritual. "None of us recognise you as a worshipper." said Io. "Are you an atheist"?"

"I think I can say that I definitely believe in the gods," said Leonard, looking around. This seemed to satisfy everyone except Fate. "And is that all?" he said. Leonard thought for a while. "I think I believe in the secret geometries, and the colours on the edge of light, and the marvellous in everything," he said. "So you're not a religious man. then?" said Blind Io. "I am a painter."

"That's a "no", then, is it? I want to be clear on this."

"Er ... I don't understand the question." said Leonard. "As you ask it."

"I don't think we understand the answers," said Fate. "As you give them."

"But I suppose we owe you something." said Blind Io. "Never let it be said the gods are unjust."

"We don't let it be said the gods are unjust," said Fate. "If I may suggest-"

"Will you be silent!" Blind Io thundered. "We'll do it the the old way, thank you!" He turned to the explorers and pointed a finger at Leonard. "Your penalty," said Blind Io, "is this: you will paint the ceiling of the Temple of Small Gods in Ankh-Morpork. All of it. The decoration is in a terrible state."

"But that's not fair," said Carrot. "He's not a young man, and it took the great Angelino Tweebsly twenty years to paint that ceiling!"

"Then it will keep his mind occupied." said Fate. "And prevent him thinking the wrong sort of thoughts. That is the correct punishment for those who usurp the powers of the gods! We will find work for idle hands to do."

"Hmm," said Leonard. "A considerable amount of scaffolding ..."

"Vatht amounth," said Offler, with satisfaction. "And the nature of the painting?" said Leonard. "I would like to paint.. ."

"The entire world." said Fate. "Nothing less."

"Really? I was thinking of perhaps just a nice duck-egg blue with a few stars," said Blind Io. "The entire world." said Leonard, staring off into some private vision. "With elephants, and dragons, and the swirl of clouds, and mighty forests, and the currents of the sea, and birds, and the great yellow veldts, and the pattern of storms, and the crests of mountains?"

"Er, yes," said Blind Io. "Without assistance," said Fate. "Even with the thcaffolding," said Offler. "This is monstrous," said Carrot. Blind Io said: "And if it is not completed in twenty years-"

"-ten years" said Fate. "-ten years, the city of Ankh-Morpork will be razed with heavenly fire!"

"Hmm, yes, good idea." said Leonard, still staring at nothing. "Some of the birds will have to he quite small ..."

"He's in shock," said Rincewind. Captain Carrot had gone quiet with anger, as the sky does just before a thunderstorm. "Tell me," said Blind Io. "Is there a god of policemen?"

"No, sir." said Carrot. "Coppers would be far too suspicious of anyone calling themselves a god of policemen to believe in one."

"But you are a gods-fearing man?"

"What I've seen of them certainly frightens the life out of me. sir. And my commander always says, when we go about our business in the city, that when you look at the state of mankind you are forced to accept the reality of the gods."

The gods smiled their approval of this, which was indeed an accurate quotation. Gods have little use for irony. "Very good." said Blind Io. "And you have a request?"

"Sir?"

"Everyone wants something from the gods."

"No, sir. I offer you an opportunity."

"Yon will give something to us?"

"Yes, sir. A wonderful opportunity to show justice and mercy. I ask you, sir, to grant me a boon." There was silence. Then Blind Io said. Is that one of those ... wooden objects, wasn't it? ... with a handle, and ... mmm ... beads on one side, and a sort of... thing, with hooks on ..." He paused. "Did you mean one of those rubber things?"

"No. sir. That would be a balloon, sir. A boon is a request."

"Is that all? Oh. Well?"

"Allow the Kite to be repaired so that we can go home-"

"Impossible!" said Fate, "It sounds reasonable to me." said Blind Io, glaring at Fate. "It must be its last flight."

"It will be the last flight of the Kite, won't it?" said Carrot to Leonard. "Hmm? What? Oh, yes. Oh, certainly. I can see I designed a lot of it wrong. The next one - mmph."

"What happened there?" said Fate suspiciously. "Where?" said Rincewind. "Where you clamped your hand over his mouth?"

"Did I?"

"You're still doing it!"

"Nerves," said Rincewind, releasing his grip on Leonard. "I've been a bit shaken up."

"And do you want a boon too?" said Leonard. "What? Oh. Er ... I'd prefer a balloon, as a matter of fact. A blue balloon." Rincewind gave Carrot a defiant look. "It's all to do with when I was six, all right? There was this big unpleasant girl... and a pin. I don't want to talk about it." He looked up at the watching gods. "I don't know what everyone's staring at, I'm sure."

"Ook." said the Librarian. "Does your pet want a balloon as well?" said Blind Io. "We do have a monkey god if he wants some mangoes and so on ..." In the sudden chill, Rincewind said. "In fact he said he wants three thousand file cards, a new stamp and five gallons of ink."

"Eek!" said the Librarian, urgently. "Oh, all right. And a red balloon too, please, if they're free." The repairing of the Kite was simple enough. Although gods, on the whole, do not feel at home around mechanical things, every pantheon everywhere in the universe finds it necessary to have some minor deity - Vulcan. Wayland, Dennis. Hephaistos - who knows how bits fit together and that sort of thing. Most large organisations, to their regret and expense, have to have someone like that. Evil Harry surfaced from the snowdrift, and gasped for breath. Then he was plunged back down again by a firm hand. "So it's a deal, then, is it?" said the minstrel, who was kneeling on his back and holding on to his hair. Evil Harry rose again. "Deal!" he roared, spitting snow. "And if you tell me later that I shouldn't have listened to you because everyone knows Dark Lords can't be trusted. I'll garotte you with a lyre string!"

"You got no respect!"

"Well? You are an evil treacherous Dark Lord, right?" said the minstrel, pushing the spluttering head back into the snow. "Well, yeah, of course ... obviously. But respect costs nothi nnnn n n nn"."

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