The Last Continent Page 39


'And on the inside?'

'You climbed it. Two storeys.'

'You're trying to tell me you've got a tower that's taller at the top than it is at the bottom?'

'Good, isn't it?' said the Archchancellor happily. 'That's . . . very clever,' said Rincewind. 'We're a clever country—'

'Rincewind!' The voice came from below. Rincewind looked very carefully down the steps. It was one of the wizards. 'Yes?' he said. 'Not you,' snapped the wizard. 'I want the Archchancellor!'

'I'm Rincewind,' said Rincewind. The Archchancellor tapped him on the shoulder. That's a coincidence,' he said. 'So am I.' Ponder very carefully handed the bullroarer back to the little Librarian. There, you can have it,' he said. 'I'm giving it to you and, in return, perhaps you can take your teeth out of my leg.' From the other side of the rock came the voice of reason: There's no need to fight, gentlemen. Let's vote on it: now, all those who think a duck has webbed feet, raise your hands . . .' The Librarian swung the thing a few more times. 'Doesn't seem to be a very good one,' said Ponder. 'Not much of a noise . . . honestly, how much longer are they going to be?' . . . whum . . . 'Eek!'

'Yes, yes, very good . . .' . . . whum . . . whum . . . whUUMMMMM . . . Ponder looked up as yellow light spread across the plain.

There was a circle of blue sky opening above. The rain was stopping. 'Eek?' It occurred to Ponder to wonder what a little old man was doing painting pictures in a bare landscape on a whole new continent . . . And then there was darkness. The old man smiled with something like satisfaction, and turned away from the drawing he'd just completed. It had a lot of pointy hats in it, and it had faded right into the rock. And he was as happy as anything, and had drawn all the spiders and several possums before he found out what was missing. He never even knew about the very strange and unhappy duck-billed creature that slid silently into the river a little way off. 'Got to be at least some kind of cousins,' said the Archchancellor. 'It's not a common name. Have another beer.'

'I had a look through the Unseen records once,' said Rincewind morosely. They never had a Rincewind before.' He upended the can of beer and finished the dregs. 'Never had a relative before, come to that. Never ever.' He pulled the top off another can. 'No one to do all those little things relatives are s'posed to do, like . . . like . . . like send you some horrible cardigan at Hogswatch, stuff like that.'

'You got a first name? Mine's Bill.'

' 's a good name, Bill Rincewind. Dunno if I've even got a first name.'

'What do people usually call you, mate?'

'Well, they usually say, “Stop him!”' said Rincewind, and took a deep draught of beer. 'Of course, that's just a nickname. When they want to be formal they shout “Don't let him get away!”' He squinted at the can. '

's much better than that other stuff,' he said. 'What's this say? “Funnelweb”? 's a funny name for a beer.'

'You're reading the list of ingredients,' said Bill. 'Really?' mumbled Rincewind. 'Where was I?'

'Pointy hats. Water running out. Talking kangaroos. Pictures coming alive.'

'That's right,' said the Dean. 'If that's what you're like sober, we want to see what effect the beer has.'

'Y'see, when the sun's up,' said Archchancellor Bill, 'I've got to go down to the prison and see the prime minister and explain why we don't know what's happened to the water. Anything you can do to assist would be very useful. Give him another tinnie, Dean. People're already banging on the gates. Once the beer runs out, we're in strife.' Rincewind felt that he was in a warm amber haze. He was among wizards. You could tell by the way they bickered all the time. And, somehow, the beer made it easier to think. A wizard leaned over his shoulder and put an open book in front of him. 'This is a copy of a cave painting from Cangoolie,' he said. 'We've often wondered what the blobs are above the figures . . .'

'That's rain,' said Rincewind, after a glance. 'You mentioned this before,' said Bill. 'Little drops of water flying through the air, right?'

'Dropping,' Rincewind corrected him. 'And it doesn't hurt?'

'Nope.'

'Water's heavy. Can't say the idea of big white bags of the stuff floating around over our heads appeals.' Rincewind had never studied meteorology, although he had been an end-user all his life. He waved his hands vaguely. 'They're like . . . steam,' he said, and hiccuped. '

's right. Lovely fluffy steam.'

'They're boiling?'

'No, no. Nono. Ver' cold, clouds. Sometimes they come down ver' low, they even touch the ground.' The wizards looked at one another. 'Y'know, we're making some bloody good beer these days,' said Bill. 'Clouds sound bloody dangerous to me,' said the Dean. 'We don't want them knocking over trees and buildings, do we?'

'Ah, but. But. They're soft, see? Like smoke.'

'But you said they weren't hot!' Rincewind suddenly saw the perfect explanation. 'Have you ever huffed on a cold mirror?' he said, beaming.

'Not on a regular basis, but I know what you mean.'

'Well, basically, that's clouds! Can I have another beer? It's amazing, it doesn't feem to have any essect on me, no matter how much I dnirk. Helps me think clearerer.' Archchancellor Rincewind drummed his fingers on the table. 'You and this rain stuff – you've got to be connected, yes? We've run out of water and you turn up . . .' Rincewind burped. 'Got to put something right, too,' he said. 'Pointy hats, all floating in the air . . .'

'Where did you last see them?'

'In the brewery with no beer in it. Said it's haunted, haha. Pointy hat haunting, hahah . . .' Bill stared at him. 'Right,' he said. He looked at the forlorn figure of his distant cousin, now very close up. 'Let's get down there.' He glanced at Rincewind again and seemed to think for a moment. 'And we'll take some beer,' he added. Ponder Stibbons tried to think, but his thoughts seemed to be going very slowly. Everything was dark and he couldn't move but, somehow, it wasn't too bad. It felt like those treasured moments in bed when you're just awake enough to know that you're still nicely asleep. It's amazing how time passes. There was a huge bucket chain now, stretching all the way from the harbour to the brewery. Despite the tangily refreshing oak spiciness of their Chardonnays, the Ecksians weren't the kind of people to let a brewery burn. It didn't matter that there was no beer in it. There was a principle at stake. The wizards marched through the crowd to a chorus of mutters and the occasional jeer from someone safely tucked away at the back. Smoke and steam came out of the main doorway, which had been burst open by a battering ram. Archchancellor Rincewind stepped inside, dragging his happily smiling relative with him. The smouldering Roo Beer sign, reduced to a metal skeleton, still lay in the middle of the floor. 'He kept waving at it and going on about points hats,' Neilette volunteered. 'Test it for magic, Dean,' said Archchancellor Rincewind.

The Dean waved a hand. Sparks flew up. 'Nothing there,' he said. 'I said we—' For a moment some pointed shapes hung in the air, and then vanished. 'That's not magic,' said one of the wizards. That's ghosts.'

'Everyone knows this place is haunted. Evil spirits, they say.'

'Should've stuck to beer,' said Archchancellor Rincewind. Neilette pointed to the trapdoor. 'But it doesn't go anywhere,' she said. 'There's a hatch to the outside and some storerooms and that's about it.' The wizards looked down. Below was utter darkness. Something small skittered away on what sounded very much like more than four legs. There was the smell of very old, very stale beer. 'No worries,' said Rincewind, waving a tin expansively. 'I'll go down first, shall I?' This was fun. There was a rusted ladder bolted to the wall below him. It creaked under his weight, and gave way when he was a few feet from the cellar floor, dropping him on to the stones. The wizards heard him laugh. Then he called up: 'Do any of you know someone called Dibbler?'

'What – old Fair Go?' said Bill. '

's right. He'll be outside selling stuff to the crowd, right?'

'Very likely.'

'Can someone go and get me one of his floating meat pies with extra tomato sauce? I could really do with one.' The Dean looked at Archchancellor Rincewind. 'How much beer did he drink?'

'Three or four tinnies. He must be allergic, poor bastard.'

'I reckon I could even eat two,' Rincewind called up. ''Two? 'No worries. Anyone got a torch? It's dark down here.'

'Do you want the gourmet pies or the ordinary?' said the Dean. 'Oh, the ordinary will do me. No swank, eh?'

'Poor bastard,' said Bill, and sorted through his small change. It was indeed dark in the cellars, but enough dim light filtered through the trapdoor for Rincewind to make out huge pipes in the gloom. It was obvious that some time after the brewery had been closed, but before people had got around to securely locking every entrance, the cellars had been employed by young people as such places are when you live with your parents, the house is too small, and no one has got around to inventing the motorcar. In short, they'd written on the walls. Rincewind could make out careful inscriptions telling posterity that, for example, B. Smoth Is A Pozza. While he didn't know what a pozza was, he was quite, quite sure that B. Smoth didn't want to be called one. It was amazing how slang seemed to radiate its meaning even in another language. There was a thump behind him as the Luggage landed on the stone floor. 'Me old mate Trunkie,' said Rincewind. 'No worries!' Another ladder was eased down and the wizards, with some care, joined him. Arch- chancellor Rincewind was holding a staff with a glowing end. 'Found anything?' he said. 'Well, yes. I wouldn't shake hands with anyone called B. Smoth,' said Rincewind. 'Oh, the Dean's not a bad bloke when you get to know him—What's up?' Rincewind pointed to the far end of the room. 'There, on a door, someone had drawn some pointy hats, in red. They glistened in the light. 'My word. Blood,' said Rincewind. His cousin ran a finger over it. 'It's ochre,' he said. 'Clay . . .' The door led to another cellar. There were a few empty barrels, some broken crates, and nothing else except musty darkness. Dust whirled up on the floor from the draught of their movement, in a series of tiny, inverted whirlwinds. Pointy hats again. 'Hmm, solid walls all round,' said Bill. 'Better pick a direction, mate.' Rincewind had a drink, shut his eyes and pointed a finger at random. 'That way!' The Luggage plunged forward and struck the brickwork, which fell away to reveal a dark space beyond.

Rincewind stuck his head through. All the builders had done was wall up and square off a part of a cave. From the feel of the air, it was quite a large one. Neilette and the wizards climbed through behind him. 'I'm sure this place wasn't here when the brewery was built!' said Neilette. 'It's big,' said the Dean. 'How'd it get made?'

'Water,' said Rincewind. 'You what? Water makes great big holes in rock?'

'Yes. Don't ask me why— What was that?'

'What?'

'Did you hear something?'

'You said, “What was that?”' Rincewind sighed. The cold air was sobering him up. 'You really are wizards, aren't you?' he said. 'Real honest-to-goodness wizards. You've got hats that're more brim than point, the whole university's made of tin, you've got a tiny tower which is, I must admit, good grief, a lot taller on the outside, but you're wizards all right, and will you now, please, shut up?' In the silence there was, very faintly, a plink. Rincewind stared into the depths of the cave. The light from the staffs only made them worse. It cast shadows. Darkness was just darkness, but anything could be hiding in shadows. These caves must've been explored,' he said. It was a hope rather than a statement. History here was rather a rubbery thing. 'Never heard of 'em,' said the Dean. 'Points again, look,' said Bill, as they advanced. 'Just stalactites and stalagmites,' said Rincewind. 'I don't know how it works, but water drips on stuff and leaves piles of stuff. Takes thousands of years. Perfectly ordinary.'

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