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'And you,' said Victor. Laddie whirled back in a storm of sand and dropped the damp stick in front of him. Victor picked it up and threw it again. Laddie bounded off, yapping himself sick with excitement.
'Well, yeah,' said Gaspode, ambling along in a bowlegged swagger. 'Only I can look after myself. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. You think Dopey the Mutt there would last five minutes in Ankh-Morpork? He set one paw in some o' the streets, he's three sets of fur gloves an' Crispy Fried No. 27 at the nearest Klatchian all-night carryout.'
Victor threw the stick again.
'Tell me,' he said, 'who was the famous Gaspode you're named after?'
'You never heard of him?'
'He was dead famous.'
'He was a dog?'
'Yeah. It was years and years ago. There was this ole bloke in Ankh who snuffed it, and he belonged to one of them religions where they bury you after you're dead, an', they did, and he had this ole dog-'
'Yeah, and this ole dog had been his only companion and after they buried the man he lay down on his grave and howled and howled for a couple of weeks. Growled at everybody who came near. An' then died.'
Victor paused in the act of throwing the stick again.
'That's very sad,' he said. He threw. Laddie tore along underneath it, and disappeared into a stand of scrubby trees on the hillside.
'Yeah. Everyone says it demonstrates a dog's innocent and undyin' love for 'is master,' said Gaspode, spitting the words out as if they were ashes.
'You don't believe that, then?'
'Not really. I b'lieve any bloody dog will stay still an' howl when you've just lowered the gravestone on his tail,' said Gaspode.
There was a ferocious barking.
'Don't worry about it. He's probably found a threatening rock or something,' said Gaspode.
He'd found Ginger.
The Librarian knuckled purposefully through the maze of Unseen University's library and descended the steps towards the maximumsecurity shelves.
Nearly all the books in the Library were, being magical, considerably more dangerous than ordinary books; most of them were chained to the bookcases to stop them flapping around.
But the lower levels . . .
. . . there they kept the rogue books, the books whose behaviour or mere contents demanded a whole shelf, a whole room to themselves. Cannibal books, books which, if left on a shelf with their weaker brethren, would be found looking considerably fatter and more smug in the smoking ashes next morning. Books whose mere contents pages could reduce the unprotected mind to grey cheese. Books that were not just books of magic, but magical books.
There's a lot of loose thinking about magic. People go around talking about mystic harmonies and cosmic balances and unicorns, all of which is to real magic what a glove puppet is to the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Real magic is the hand around the bandsaw, the thrown spark in the powder keg, the dimension-warp linking you straight into the heart of a star, the flaming sword that burns all the way down to the pommel. Sooner juggle torches in a tar pit than mess with real magic. Sooner lie down in front of a thousand elephants.
At least, that's what wizards say, which is why they charge such swingeingly huge fees for getting involved with the bloody stuff.
But down here, in the dark tunnels, there was no hiding behind amulets and starry robes and pointy hats. Down here, you either had it or you didn't. And if you hadn't got it, you'd had it.
There were sounds from behind the heavily barred doors as the Librarian shuffled along. Once or twice something heavy threw itself against a door, making the hinges rattle.
There were noises.
The orang-utan stopped in front of an arched doorway that was blocked with a door made not of wood but of stone, balanced so that it could easily be opened from outside but could withstand massive pressure from within.
He paused for a moment, and then reached into a little alcove and removed a mask of iron and smoked glass, which he put on, and a pair of heavy leather gloves reinforced with steel mesh. There was also a torch made of oil-soaked rags; he lit this from one of the flickering braziers in the tunnel.
At the back of the alcove was a brass key.
He took the key, and then he took a deep breath.
All the Books of Power had their own particular natures. The Octavo was harsh and imperious. The Bumper Fun Grimoire went in for deadly practical jokes. The Joy of Tantric Sex had to be kept under iced water. The Librarian knew them all, and how to deal with them.
This one was different. Usually people saw only tenth- or twelfthhand copies, as like the real thing as a painting or an explosion was to, well, to an explosion. This was a book that had absorbed the sheer, graphite-grey evil of its subject matter.
Its name was hacked in letters over the arch, lest men and apes forget.
He put the key in the lock, and offered up a prayer to the gods.
'Oook,' he said fervently. 'Gook.'
The door swung open.
In the darkness within, a chain gave a fait clink.
'She's still breathing,' said Victor. Laddie leapt around them, barking furiously.
'Maybe you should loosen her clothing or something,' said Gaspode. 'It's just a thought,' he added. 'You don't have to glare at me like that. I'm a dog, what do I know?'
'She seems all right, but . . . look at her hands,' said Victor. 'What the hell has she been trying to do?'
'Tryin' to open that door,' said Gaspode.
'That door there.'
Part of the hill had slipped away. Huge blocks of masonry protruded from the sand. There were the stubs of ancient pillars, sticking up like fluoridated teeth.
Between two of them was an arched doorway, three times as high as Victor. It was sealed with a pair of pale grey doors, either of stone or of wood that had become as hard as stone over the years. One of them was slightly open, but had been prevented from opening further by the drifts of sand in front of it. Frantically scrabbled furrows had been dug deep into the sand. Ginger had been trying to shift it with her bare hands.
'Stupid thing to do in this heat,' said Victor, vaguely. He looked from the door to the sea, and then down at Gaspode.
Laddie scrambled up the sand and barked excitedly at the crack between the doors.
'What's he doing that for?' said Victor, suddenly feeling spooked. 'All his hair is standing up. You don't think he's got one of those mysterious animal premonitions of evil, do you?'
'I think he's a pillock,' said Gaspode. 'Laddie shut up!'
There was a yelp. Laddie recoiled from the door, lost his balance on the shifting sand, and rolled down the slope. He leapt to his feet and started barking again; not ordinary stupid-dog barking this time, but the genuine treed-cat variety.
Victor leaned forward and touched the door.
It felt very cold, despite the perpetual heat of Holy Wood, and there was just the faint suspicion of vibration.
He ran his fingers over the surface. There was a roughness there, as though there had been a carving that had been worn into obscurity over the years.
'A door like that,' said Gaspode, behind him, 'a door like that, if you want my opinion, a door like that, a door like that,' he took a deep breath, 'bodes.'
'Hmm? What? Bodes what?'
'It don't have to bode anything,' said Gaspode. 'Just basic bodingness is bad enough, take it from me.'
'It must have been important. Looks a bit temple-ish,' said Victor. 'Why'd she want to open it?'
'Bits of cliff sliding down an' mysterious doors appearin',' said Gaspode, shaking his head. 'That's a lot of boding. Let's go somewhere far away and really think about it, eh?'
Ginger gave a groan. Victor crouched down.
'What'd she say?'
'Dunno,' said Gaspode.
'It sounded like “I want to be a lawn”, I thought?'
'Daft. Touch of the sun there, I reckon,' said Gaspode knowledgeably.
'Maybe you're right. Her head certainly feels very hot.' He picked her up, staggering a little under the weight.
'Come on,' he managed. 'Let's get down into the town. It'll be getting dark soon.' He looked around at the stunted trees. The door lay in a sort of hollow, which presumably caught enough dew to make the growth there slightly less desiccated than elsewhere.
'You know, this place looks familiar,' he said. 'We did our first click here. It's where I first met her.'
'Very romantic,' said Gaspode distantly, hurrying away with Laddie bounding happily around him. 'If something 'orrible comes out of that door, you can fink of it as Our Monster.'
'Hurry up, then.'
'What would she want to be a lawn for, do you think?'
'Beats me . . . '
After they had gone silence poured back into the hollow.
A little later, the sun set. Its long light hit the door, turning the merest scratches into deep relief. With the help of imagination, they might just have formed the image of a man.
With a sword.
There was the faintest of noises as, grain by grain, sand trickled away from the door. By midnight it had opened by at least a sixteenth of an inch.
Holy Wood dreamed.
It dreamed of waking up.
Ruby damped down the fires under the vats, put the benches on the tables, and prepared to shut the Blue Lias. But just before blowing out the last lamp she hesitated in front of the mirror.
He'd be waiting out there again tonight. Just like every
night. He'd been in during the evening, grinning to himself. He was planning something.
Ruby had been taking advice from some of the girls who worked in the clicks, and in addition to her feather boa she'd now invested in a broad-rimmed hat with some sort of oograah, cherries she thought they were called, in it. She'd been assured that the effect was stunning.
The trouble, she had to admit, was that he was, well, a very hunky troll. For millions of years troll women had been naturally attracted to trolls built like a monolith with an apple on top. Ruby's treacherous instincts were firing messages up her spine, insidiously insisting that in those long fangs and bandy legs was everything a troll girl could wish for in a mate.
Trolls like Rock or Morry, of course, were far more modern and could do things like use a knife and fork, but there was something, well, reassuring about Detritus. Perhaps it was the way his knuckles touched the ground so dynamically. And apart from anything else, she was sure she was brighter than he was. There was a sort of gormless unstoppability about him that she found rather fascinating. That was the instincts at work again -intelligence has never been a particularly valuable survival trait in a troll.
And she had to admit that, whatever she might attempt in the way of feather boas and fancy hats, she was pushing 140 and was 400 lbs above the fashionable weight.
If only he'd buck his ideas up.
Or at least, buck one idea up.
Maybe this make-up the girls had been talking about could be worth a try.
She sighed, blew out the lamp, opened the door and stepped out into a maze of roots.
A gigantic tree stretched the whole length of the alley. He must have dragged it for miles. The few surviving branches poked through windows or waved forlornly in the air.
In the middle of it all was Detritus, perched proudly on the trunk, his face split in a watermelon grin, his arms spread wide.
'Tra-laa!' he said.
Ruby heaved a gigantic sigh. Romance wasn't easy, when you were a troll.
The Librarian forced the page open and chained it down. The book tried to snap at him.
Its contents had made it what it was. Evil and treacherous.
It contained forbidden knowledge. Well, not actually forbidden. No-one had ever gone so far as forbidding it. Apart from anything else, in order to forbid it you'd have to know what it was, which was forbidden. But it definitely contained the sort of information which, once you knew it, you wished you hadn't.