Page 7


"Brethren!" he shouted, getting tired of waiting. "And sistren!" The hubbub died away. A few flakes of dry and crumbling paint drifted down from the ceiling. "Thank you." said Ridcully. "Now, can you please listen? My colleagues and I," - and here he indicated the senior clergy behind him - "have. I assure you, been working for some time on this idea, and there is no doubt that it is theologically sound. Can we please get on?" He could still sense the annoyance among the priesthood. Born leaders didn't like being led. "If we don't try this," he tried, "the godless wizards may succeed with their plans. And a fine lot of mugginses we will look."

"This is all very well, hut the form of things is important!" snapped a priest. "We can't all pray at once! You know the gods don't like ecumenicalism! And what form of words will we use, pray?"

"I would have felt that a short non-controversial-" Hughnon Ridcully paused. In front of him were priests forbidden by holy edict from eating broccoli, priests who required unmarried girls to cover their ears lest they inflame the passions of other men, and priests who worshipped a small shortbread-and-raisin biscuit. Nothing was non-controversial. "You see, it does appear that the world is going to end." he said weakly.

"Well? Some of us have been expecting that for some considerable time! It will be a judgement on mankind for its wickedness!"

"Arid broccoli!"

"And the short haircuts girls are wearing today!"

"Only the biscuits will be saved!" Ridcully waved his crozier frantically for silence. "But this isn't the wrath of the gods." he said. "I did tell you! It's the work of a man!"

"Ah, but he may be the hand of a god!"

"It's Cohen the Barbarian." said Ridcully. "Even so, he might-" The speaker in the crowd was nudged by the priest next to him. "Hang on ..." There was a roar of excited conversation. There were few temples that hadn't been robbed or despoiled in a long life of adventuring, and the priests soon agreed that no god ever had anything in his hand that looked like Cohen the Barbarian. Hughnon turned his eyes up to the ceiling, with its beautiful but decrepit panorama of gods and heroes. Life must be a lot easier for gods, he decided. "Very well," said one of the objectors, haughtily. "In that case. I think perhaps we could, in these special circumstances, get around a table just this once."

"Ah, that is a good-" Ridcully began. "But of course we will need to give some very serious consideration as to what shape the table is going to be." Ridcully looked blank for a moment. His expression did not change as he leaned down to one of his sub-deacons and said, "Scallop, please have someone run along and tell my wife to pack my overnight bag, will you? I think this is going to take a little while ..." The central spire of Con Celesti seemed to get no closer day by day. "Are you sure Cohen's all right in the head?"" said Evil Harry, as he helped Boy Willie manoeuvre Hamish's wheelchair over the ice. "'ere, are you tryin" to spread discontent among the troops, Harry?"

"Well, I did warn you. Will, I am a Dark Lord. I've got to keep in practice. And we're following a leader who keeps forgetting where he put his false teeth."

"Whut?" said Mad Hamish. "I'm just saying that blowing up the gods could cause trouble." said Evil Harry. "It's a bit... disrespectful."

"You must've defiled a few temples in your time, Harry?"

"I ran 'em. Will. I ran 'em. I was a Mad Demon Lord for a while, you know. I had a Temple of Terror."

"Yes, on your allotment." said Boy Willie, grinning. "That's right, that's right, rub it in," said Harry sulkily. "Just because I was never in the big league, just because-"

"Now, now, Harry, you know we don't think like that. We respected you. You knew the Code. You kept the faith. Well. Cohen just reckons the gods've got it comin' to them. Now, me., I'm worried because there's some tough ground ahead." Evil Harry peered along the snowy canyon. "There's some kind of magic path leads up the mountain." Willie went on. "But there's a mass of caves before you get there."

"The Impassable Caves of Dread," said Evil Harry. Willie looked impressed. "Heard of them, have you? Accordin' to some old legend they're guarded by a legion of fearsome monsters and some devilishly devious devices and no one has ever passed through. Oh, yeah ... perilous crevasses, too. Next, we'll have to swim through underwater caverns guarded by giant man-eating fish that no man has ever yet passed.

And then there's some insane monks, and a door you can pass only by solving some ancient riddle ... the usual sort of stuff."

"Sounds like a big job," Evil Harry ventured. "Well, we know the answer to the riddle," said Boy Willie. "It's "teeth"."

"How did you find that out?"

"Didn't have to. It's always teeth in poxy old riddles." Boy Willie grunted as they heaved the wheelchair through a particularly deep drift. "But the biggest problem, is going to be getting this damn thing through all that without Hamish waking up and making trouble." In the study of his dark house on the edge of Time, Death looked at the wooden box. PERHAPS I SHALL TRY ONE MORE TIME, he said. He reached down and lifted up a small kitten, patted it on the head, lowered it gently into the box, and closed the lid. THE CAT DIES WHEN THE AIR RUNS OUT? "I suppose it might, sir," said Albert, his manservant. "But I don't reckon that's the point. If I understand it right, you don't know if the cat's dead or alive until you look at it." THINGS WILL HAVE COME TO A PRETTY PASS, ALBERT, IF I DID NOT KNOW WHETHER A THING WAS DEAD OR ALIVE WITHOUT HAVING TO GO AND LOOK. "Er... the way the theory goes, sir. it's the act of lookin' that determines if it's alive or not." Death looked hurt. ARE YOU SUGGESTING I WILL KILL THE CAT JUST BY LOOKING AT IT? "It's not quite like that, sir." I MEAN, IT's NOT AS IF I MAKE FACES OR ANYTHING. "To be honest with you, sir, I don't think even the wizards understand the uncertainty business." said Albert. "We didn't truck with that class of stuff in my day. If you weren't certain, you were dead." Death nodded. It was getting hard to keep up with the times. Take parallel dimensions. Parasite dimensions, now, he understood them. He lived in one. They were simply universes that weren't quite complete in themselves and could only exist by clinging on to a host universe, like remora fish. But parallel dimensions meant that anything you did, you didn't do somewhere else. This presented exquisite problems to a being who was, by nature, definite. It was like playing poker against an infinite number of opponents. He opened the box and took out the kitten. It stared at him with the normal mad amazement of kittens everywhere. I DON'T HOLD WITH CRUELTY TO CATS, said Death, putting it gently on the floor. "I think the whole cat in the box idea is one of them metaphors," said Albert. AH. A LIE. Death snapped his fingers. Death's study did not occupy space in the normal sense of the word. The walls and ceiling were there for decoration rather than as any kind of dimensional limit. Now they faded away and a giant hourglass filled the air. Its dimensions would be difficult to calculate, but they could be measured in miles. Inside, lightnings crackled among the falling sands. Outside, a giant turtle was engraved upon the glass. I THINK WE SHALL HAVE TO CLEAR THE DECKS FOR THIS ONE, said Death. Evil Harry knelt in front of a hastily constructed altar. It consisted mostly of skulls, which were not hard to find in this cruel landscape. And now he prayed. In a long lifetime of being a Dark Lord, even in a

small way, he'd picked up a few contacts on the other planes. They were ... sort of gods, he supposed. They had names like Olk-Kalath the Soul Sucker, but, frankly, the overlap between demons and gods was a bit uncertain at the best of times. "Oh, Mighty One," he began, always a safe beginning and the religious equivalent of "To Whom It May Concern", "I have to warn you that a bunch of heroes are climbing the mountain to destroy you with returned fire. May you strike them down with wrathful lightning and then look favourably upon thy servant, i.e. Evil Harry Dread. Mail may be left with Mrs Gibbons, 12 Dolmen View, Pant-y-Girdl, Llamedos. Also if possible I should like a location with real lava pits, every other evil lord manages to get a dread lava pit even when they are on one hundred feet of bloody alluvial soil, excuse my Klatchian, this is further discrimination against the small trader, no offence meant." He waited a moment, just in case there was any reply, sighed, and got rather shakily to his feet. "I'm an evil, distrustful Dark Lord." he said. "What do they expect? I told 'em. I warned 'em. I mean, if it was up to me ... but where'd I stand as a Dark Lord if I -" His eye caught something pink, a little way off. He climbed a snow- covered rock for a better look. Two minutes later the rest of the Horde had joined him and were looking at the scene reflectively, although the minstrel was being sick. "Well, that's something you don't often see." said Cohen. "What, a man throttled with pink knitting wool?" said Caleb. "No, I was looking at the other two ..."

"Yes, it's amazing what you can do with a knitting needle," said Cohen. He glanced back at the makeshift altar and grinned. "Did you do this. Harry? You said you wanted to be alone."

"Pink knitting wool?" said Evil Harry nervously. "Me and pink knitting wool?"

"Sorry for suggestin' it," said Cohen. "Well, we ain't got time for this. Let's go and sort out the Caves of Dread. Where's our bard? Right. Stop throwin' up and get yer notebook out. First man to be cut in half by a concealed blade is a rotten egg, okay? And, everyone ... try not to wake up Hamish, all right?" The sea was full of cool green light. Captain Carrot sat near the prow. To the astonishment of Rincewind, who'd got out for a gloomy evening walk, he was sewing. "It's a badge for the mission," said Carrot. "See? This is yours." He held it up. "But what is it for?"

"Morale."

"All, that stuff," said Rincewind. "Well, you've got lots, Leonard doesn't need it and I've never had any."

"I know you are being good-humoured about it, but I think it's vital that there is something that holds the crew together," said Carrot, still calmly sewing. "Yes, it's called skin. It's important to keep all of you on the inside of it." Rincewind stared at the badge. He'd never had one before. Well, that was technically a lie ... he'd had one that said "Hello, I Am 5 Today!", which was just about the worst possible present to get when you are six. That birthday had been the rottenest day of his life. "It needs an uplifting motto," said Carrot. "Wizards know about this sort of thing, don't they?"

"How about Morituri Nolumus Mori, that's got the right ring," said Rincewind gloomily.

Carrot's lips moved as he parsed the sentence. "We who are about to die .. ." he said, "but I don't recognise the rest."

"It's very uplifting," said Rincewind. "It's straight from the heart."

"Very well. Many thanks. I'll get to work on it right away," said Carrot. Rincewind sighed. "You're finding this exciting, aren't you?" he said. "You actually are."

***

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

***