Eric Page 12


“It's only a few hundred miles, it shouldn't take too long, should it?” said Lavaeolus, radiating anxiety like a lighthouse. “Oh.” Rincewind looked at the man's face. Ten years, he thought. And all kinds of weird

stuff with winged wossnames and sea-monsters. On the other hand, would it do him any

good to know? “You get home okay,” he said. “You're well known for it, in fact. There's whole legends about you going home.”

“Phew.” Lavaeolus leaned against a hull, took off his helmet and wiped his forehead. “That's a load off my mind, I'll tell you. I was afraid the gods might have a grudge against me.”

Rincewind said nothing. “They get a bit angry if you go around thinking up ideas like wooden horses and tunnels,” said Lavaeolus. "they're traditionalists, you know. They prefer people just to

hack at one another. I thought, you see, that if I could show people how to get what they wanted more easily they'd stop being so bloody stupid.“ From further along the shoreline came the sound of male voices raised in song: ” - vestal virgins, Came down from Heliodeliphilodelphiboschromenos, And when the

ball was over, There were - “ ”It never works," said Rincewind.

“It's got to be worth a try, though. Hasn't it?” “Oh, yes.” Lavaeolus slapped him on the back. “Cheer up,” he said. “Things can only get better.” They walked out into the dark breakers where Lavaeolus' ship was riding at anchor, and

Rincewind watched him swim out and climb aboard. After a while the oars were shipped, or unshipped, or whatever they called it when they were stuck through the holes in the sides, and the boat moved slowly out into the bay.

A few voices floated back over the surf. “Point the pointed end that way, sergeant.” “Aye, aye, sir!” "And don't shout. Did I tell you to shout? Why do you all have to shout? Now I'm going

downstairs for a lie down.“ Rincewind trudged back up the beach. ”The trouble is,“ he said, ”is that things never get

better, they just say the same, only more so. But he's going to have enough to worry about.“ Behind him, Eric blew his nose. ”That was the saddest thing I've ever heard," he said. From further along the beach the Ephebian and Tsortean armies were still in full voice

around their convivial campfires. “ - the village harpy she was there - ” “Come on,” said Rincewind. “Let's go home.” “You know the funny thing about his name?” said Eric, as they strolled along the sand. “No. what do you mean?”

“Lavaeolus means `Rinser of winds`.”

Rincewind looked at him. “He's my ancestor?” he said. “Who knows?” said Eric. “Oh. Gosh.” Rincewind thought about this. "Well, I whish I'd told him to avoid getting

married. Or visiting Ankh-Morpork.“ ”It probably isn't even built yet..." Rincewind tried snapping his fingers. This time it worked.

Astfgl sat back. He wondered what did happen to Lavaeolus.

Gods and demons, being creatures outside of time, don't move in it like bubbles in the stream. Everything happens at the same time for them. This should mean they know everything that is going to happen because, in a sense, it already has. The reason they don't is that reality is a big place with a lot of interesting things going on, and keeping track of all of them is like trying to use a very big video recorder with no freeze button or tape counter. It's usually easier just to wait and see.

One day he'd have to go and look.

Right here and now, insofar as the words can be employed about an outside of space and time, matters were not progressing well. Eric seemed marginally more likeable, which wasn't acceptable. He also appeared to have changed the course of history, although this is impossible since the only thing you can do to the course of history is facilitate it.

What was needed was something climactic. Something really soul-destroying.

The Demon King realised he was twirling his moustaches.

The trouble with snapping your fingers is that you never knew what it would lead to...

Everything around Rincewind was black. It wasn't simply an absence of colour. It was a

darkness that flatly denied any possibility that colour might ever have existed. His feet weren't touching anything, and he appeared to be floating. There was something else missing. He couldn't quite put his finger on it.

“Are you there, Eric?” he ventured. A clear voice nearby said: “Yes. Are you there, demon?” “Ye-ess.” “Where are we? Are we falling?” “I don't think so,” said Rincewind, speaking from experience. "There's no rushing wind.

You get a rushing wind when you're falling. Also your past life flashes before your eyes, and I haven't seen anything I recognise yet.“ ”Rincewind?“ ”Yes?"

“When I open my mouth no sounds come out.” “Don't be - ” Rincewind hesitated. He wasn't making any sound either. He knew what he was saying, it just wasn't reaching the outside world. But he could hear Eric. Perhaps the words just gave up on his ears and went straight to his brains.

“It's probably some kind of magic, or something,” he said. “There's no air. That's why there no sound. All the little bits of air sort of knock together, like marbles. That's how you get sound, you know.”

“Is it? Gosh.” “So we're surrounded by absolutely nothing,” said Rincewind. “Total nothing.” He

hesitated. “There's a word for it,” he said. “It's what you get when there's nothing left and everything's been used up.” “Yes. I think it's called the bill,” said Eric.

Rincewind gave this some thought. It sounded about right. “Okay,” he said. “The bill. That's where we are. Floating in absolute bill. Total, complete, rock-hard bill.”

Astfgl was going frantic now. He had spells that could find anyone anywhere, anywhen, and they weren't anywhere. One minute he was watching them on the beach, the next... nothing.

That left only two other places.

Fortunately he chose the wrong one first.

“Even some stars would be nice,” said Eric. “There's something very odd about all this,” said Rincewind. “I mean, do you feel cold?” “No.” “Well do you feel warm?” “No. I don't feel anything much, really.” “No hot, no cold, no light, no heat, no air,” said Rincewind. "Just bill. How long have we

been here?“ ”Don't know. Seems like ages, but...“ ”Aha. I'm not sure there's any time, either. Not what you'd call proper time. Just the kind

of time people make up as they go along.“ ”Well, I didn't expect to see anybody else here," said a voice by Rincewind's ear. It was a slightly put-upon voice, a voice made for complaining in, but at least there was

no hint of menace. Rincewind let himself float around. A little rat-faced man was sitting cross-legged, watching him with vague suspicion. He had a pencil behind one ear.

“Ah. Hallo,” said Rincewind. “And where is here, exactly?”

“Nowhere. S'whole point, innit?”

“Nowhere at all?” “Not yet.” “All right,” said Eric. “When is it going to be somewhere?” “Hard to say,” said the little man. "Looking at the pair of you, and taking one thing with

another, metabolic rates and that, I'd say that this place is due to become somewhere in, well, give or take a bit, in about five hundred seconds. “He began to unwrap the pack in his lap. ”Fancy a sandwich while we're waiting?"

“What? Would I - ” At this point Rincewind's stomach, aware that if his brain was allowed to make the running it was in danger of losing the initiative, cut in and prompted him to say, “What sort?”

“Search me. What sort would you like it to be?” “Sorry?” “Don't mess about. Just say what sort you'd like it to be.” “Oh?” Rincewind stared at him. “Well, if you've got egg and cress -” “Let there be egg and cress, sort of thing,” said the little man. He reached into the

package, and proffered a white triangle to Rincewind. “Gosh,” said Rincewind. “What a coincidence.” “It should be starting any minute now,” said the little man. "Over - not that they've got

any proper directions sorted out yet, of course, not them - there.“ ”All I can see is darkness,“ said Eric. ”No you can't,“ said the little man, triumphantly. ”You're just seeing what there is before

the darkness has been installed, sort of thing.“ He gave the not-yet-darkness a dirty look. ”Come on,“ he said. ”Why are we waiting, why-eye are we waiting?"

“Waiting for what?” said Rincewind. “Everything.” “Everything what?” said Rincewind. “Everything. Not everything what. Everything, sort of thing.”

Astfgl peered through the swirling gas clouds. At least he was in the right place. The whole point about the end of the universe was that you couldn't go past it accidentally.

The last few embers winked out. Time and space collided silently, and collapsed. Astfgl coughed. It can get so very lonely, when you're twenty million light years from home.

“Anyone there?” he said. YES. The voice was right by his ear. Even demon kings can shiver. “Apart from you, I mean,” he said. “Have you seen anybody?” YES. “Who?” EVERYONE. Astfgl sighed. “I mean anyone recently.” IT'S BEEN VERY QUIET, said Death. “Damn.” WERE YOU EXPECTING SOMEONE ELSE?

“I thought there might be someone called Rincewind, but -” Astfgl began.

Death's eyesockets flared red. THE WIZARD? he said.

“No, he's a dem -” Astfgl stopped. For what would have been several seconds, had time still existed, he floated in a state of horrible suspicion. “A human?” he growled. IT IS STRETCHING THE TERM A LITTLE, BUT YOU ARE BROADLY CORRECT. “Well I'll be damned!” Astfgl said.

I BELIEVE YOU ALREADY ARE. The Demon King extended a shaking hand. His mounting fury was over-ridding his sense of style; his red silk gloves ripped as the talons unfolded.

And then, because it's never a good idea to get on the wrong side of anyone with a scythe, Astfgl said, “Sorry you've been troubled,” and vanished. Only when he judged himself out of Death's extremely acute hearing did he scream his rage.

Nothingness uncoiled its interminable length through the draughty spaces at the end of

time. Death waited. After a while his skeletal fingers began to drum on the handle of his scythe.

Darkness lapped around him. There wasn't even any infinity any more.

He attempted to whistle a few snatches of unpopular songs between his teeth, but the sound was simply sucked into nothingness. Forever was over. All the sands had fallen. The great race between entropy and energy

had been run, and the favourite had been the winner after all. Perhaps he ought to sharpen the blade again? No.

Not much point, really.

Great roils of absolutely nothing stretched into what would have been called the distance, if there had been a space-time reference frame to give words like “distance” any sensible meaning any more.

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